"When he forced me, I thought it was normal. I was like, maybe this is just what women have to do. Maybe this is our life." [An Interview]Read Now
When I was a little girl, I was raped by an uncle when I was five. It was somebody… its really complicated. All this stuff gets jumbled in my head. My father sent us there to be babysat by his biological aunt who he felt really connected to because his father left them and his mother developed an extreme mental illness as a result. His mother became a hoarder, she became really overly religious, she would bring homeless men in the house.
And so, the aunt, who was my dad’s mother’s sister, she married this guy - I don’t even know his real name but we called him ***** - and my parents would send us there because my dad really wanted to believe he had a family. But ***** … he would chase me in the basement and do things… but we had no idea it was happening to my sister too. So we’re both having this thing happen to us and we have no idea its going on. What I found out as an adult is, the way it became exposed was that my sister mentioned it at church thinking nothing was wrong with it. She said, oh yeah, my uncle ***** puts his penis in my mouth. And so the church people called DHS and the social worker came.
MW: How old was your sister?
Probably less than ten. She had no idea that what she had said meant anything. This stuff was going on in our house and our parents said, if the they talk to you, just say no comment. Don’t talk to anyone about this. They asked me what happened and I told them he kissed me on my neck and my mom was like, oh that’s all that happened, not a big deal. So for me, this type of sexual thing was considered normal, like anybody was allowed to own me because this happened and there was nothing said and there was nothing done, so my body, in my mind was for anybody.
So it went on from there to being molested at a camp by a counselor. I remember it was an afro-centric camp so that probably skewed my view in some ways. I don’t know. And so this camp was supposed to be empowering for black people but it didn't really seem empowering for black girls because this black afro-centric guy was putting his hands all over me. And the camp didn't really seem like they believed me when I said something, and the only reason I said something was because some of the other girls were telling me, this is bad, and I was like, this is what happens, right? So I don't think my mom ever asked me anything about it, she was just like, are you going to continue going to that camp? And I was like, I don’t think so, I don’t know. My brother was making a big deal about it, like, we need to sue them, we need to do this, and we need to do that, and I was so ashamed I wanted to disappear. I wanted to go away.
Somehow I imagined being -- not that nothing happens to white people but it happens to us in a different way. I imagined like "The Bluest Eye," [by Toni Morrison] like being some little rich white girl with my dad in a different place, that cared for me, who stepped in and protected me, but the only way I could get it is if I wasn’t black, because my dad had too many issues with his own dad leaving, to worry about what was happening to his children. So… after that I really grew up thinking, okay, nothing happened there. All that happened was that my mom took me out of camp. Nothing was said. One of the camp directors asked the counselor who did it to me, in front of me, okay, did you do this? And he was like, naw man I wouldn’t do that, I didn’t do that. I don’t know if he was ever even fired. I remember some of the girls at the camp wanting his attention. He was that older guy and all the girls wanted his attention, like he was going to make them a woman or something. I was like, am I supposed to be a woman now? Is this supposed to have done something positive to me? All I know is I felt like someone let the breath out of me, like a bridle on a horse. Like someone had taken me somewhere and taken the breath out of me and I don’t know who I am or where I’m going. Or whats happening to me. As I got older I really think people didn't even know who I was. Between all that physical abuse by my dad, chocking us literally, choking us figuratively, calling me worthless, even at times calling me a whore, I felt I must have done something for this stuff to happen to me and I felt like I needed someone to protect me from myself, and from the people outside who might get me.
I went through a lot of stuff, I guess. I ended up getting married. To a guy that raped me. I was 23. There are some parts of it that I’ve never said. I was 23. I had just been sexually abused by someone I was dating and a friend was like, we need to go out, we need to cheer up. I had called Women Organized Against Rape and they never … they said somebody was going to call me and nobody ever called me. And even though they couldn't tell my color over the phone, I was like, this isn’t for me, nobody helps me, nobody ever helps black women, nobody cares about that type of stuff. And nobody called me back. So my friend was like, we need to go out, so we go to this lounge. And this guy with this accent comes over and he’s like, why you look so sad? I’m dressed in all black - black shirt, black pants, black boots, black hat - a black soul. Black skin. And he said, why you look so sad? And I said, I don’t want to talk about that. And he said, well if I'm going to talk to you more, I need you to be happy. So we end up exchanging information. He walked me to my car, and he started coming over. He was always there. Whenever I felt empty, he was there. He started coming over on Wednesdays , and he started staying from Wednesday to Sunday, and I’m thinking, you know eventually, … that he can protect me. Because he’s this guy who is always talking about - he’s big and bad and he beat up his boss, and if anybody hurts me he was going to get them and I was like, okay, this is what I need. He was from central Africa. When he forced me I thought it was normal; I thought if I wanted to keep him there, this is what I had to do. It happened before and no one did anything about it, so I was like, maybe this is just what women have to do. Maybe this is our life.
So I was pregnant. I was pregnant with the guy's baby who was not a citizen, who was not a permanent resident, whose student visa was running out, who was a rapist. Who, had some type of record that I didn’t know about. And so he came when he found out I was pregnant. First of all I had to go get the test by myself. I asked him to come with me and he said, no you can do that by yourself, you’re grown.
So the sweet, I don't want to see you sad type thing, it didn’t really matter anymore, But I was still clinging to that. I needed somebody to love me, I needed somebody to protect me. My dad didn't protect me, my dad was holding on to something else, my dad hurt me, even in his presence he was absent from me. This was like my parent's relationship. This was the same stuff I would see between them, my dad breaking plates, he would chase my mom outside and call her motherfucker, just all kinds of stuff. So I figured, I need to be nice. I need to get him to stay with me. So I go get the test. He’s excited, he’s like, you have to lay down in our bed, don’t do anything, I’m so excited. But the next morning I’m in the shower and he comes to me with a knife. Holds the knife up to me and says, you have to get rid of this baby. I don’t know where this calmness... I don’t know if this was normal to me, but I said, I can’t get rid of it. You gon' have to give me some time. I don’t even remember what happened after that, but I remember my sister found out I was pregnant and she said she would keep the baby and I should get rid of him and not tell him I was keeping it. And this is the same thing my dad's mom did with his brother when she left her husband. And I just had this pull like, I need someone to protect me. If I have this baby, who’s going to protect us? Who’s going to protect us when somebody comes to rape my child or rape me or come get me? And I just thought, if I could just get him to love me, If I could just get a man to be there then I'll be alright.
So I ended up secretly marrying him. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want my dad to know I got pregnant. I didn’t want him to think of me as a whore. I didn’t want to feel like, I'm a black woman, I can't get raped, that's not what happens to us. I'm strong. So I didn’t tell anyone. Because my dad couldn’t protect me. He wasn’t going to. So I went and found somebody on the street in New York to be a witness. We got married in City Hall. I felt like I was delusional, like I must have been someone else. I married him three days after he came at me with a knife and told me to have an abortion. Then I went and I had the abortion. Like I was the walking dead.
MW: What was it that you felt like you needed him to protect after you had the abortion?
I had the abortion and I felt like my dad would have thought of me as a whore. I had the abortion and I didn’t want to have it, first of all. But the main reason I did it because I was scared and I thought my father was going to look at me like a whore if he found out I was pregnant for any reason. He wasn't going to believe that I had been raped because it just doesn't happen. So I married him thinking, this is all I have. I'm not having this baby because he's basically threatening me not to have it. There was nobody I felt like I could really go to. Go to the police? that wasn’t even an option. S when I married him I felt like I was out of my mind, you know? Stockholm Syndrome type thing. I felt like I needed somebody and nobody… I felt like an empty hole like there was nobody there. Although he was crazy, the one thing he was, was there. Always, just there. There. And if I could keep that, maybe that could protect me from everything that had happened. Maybe I just needed to be better. Maybe I just needed to make sure I didn’t do whatever it was that made him rape me. I don’t know if that makes sense...
MW: No, it does.
I deleted some of the stuff that happened because its so long. There were other instances, like from five until 26, there were issues of sexual abuse. And so for me, he told all theses stories about beating people up and fighting for girls he’d dated before and I was like, okay, this is what I need. I need somebody who is going to keep this away from me. But I never realized all this talk, he was directing towards me. All this violence talk changed to, I'm going to put a knife to your throat, to, you had the abortion now you married me, nobody knows you maimed me. When I introduced him to my father I thought, I'll pretend I have a dad. When he talks to him he is going to feel like, this girl has somebody. He is going to see a dad, because a lot of people think young black girls don't have dads, but I had one. Even if he's... you know... he's a person. So it will scare him if he's not going to protect me. Even if my dad doesn't. But when he met my dad, my dad basically cursed my mom out and cursed me out and ran upstairs and left me and this guy and my mom downstairs.
So in hindsight, I'm like, well damn. There goes this idea that this girl had somebody. Now he's probably licensed to be like, oh well you know, I'm going to use her. So for me it was like, supposed to fill in this father void, I guess, so I married him. You know I'm studying clinical psychology now, and I wish to God there was some type of syndrome for after a woman has been traumatized and has an abortion. I was out of my mind. Like in the same way that somebody gets drunk and they get married, then annuls the marriage. I was completely insane. So the relationship turned to physical abuse. Not just sexual, but physical. I started to wear Muslim garb just to cover scars. And so he doesn't have a VISA anymore, doesn't have permanent residency, is not a citizen, so I'm married to him. But nobody knows that I'm married to him because in mind I was going to be better. I was going to make this thing better.
MW: So at this time, he was living with you in your apartment?
He came whenever he wanted to. He always said that he was going to stay, but he'd be gone for days at a time, and then he'd come back, do what he was going to do to me and then he would leave. I don't remember when he came to finally stay with me. Maybe after a couple of months or something, he came to stay. And I'm thinking when he came to stay with me, this is going to make everything better. We're going to live together, we're going to be a family. I converted to Islam because he was a Muslim. I figured we're going to pray together, we're going to go to the Mosque together, we're going to pray five times a day and God is going to take this away. Because that's what folks say God does, he heals, he changes this stuff.
It didn't change at all. I went to the people at the Mosque and I told them, I'm secretly married to him. I told them the whole story. And I heard crazy things like, he can hit you but he shouldn't hit you so hard that you bruise. Maybe its because you're light-skinned. Its not really that bad. I went to the church after awhile and they said, you're not supposed to get divorced, you're not allowed to get divorced. You need to stick it out with your husband. You need to pray for him. I'm thinking all of this is messing my brain up. I don't know if that's too much for…
MW: No, that is amazing. First of all, you're a poet and the way you speak is poetry and I can't wait to type it out and I can't wait for you to read it. You're just so eloquent. And this story is...is... I don't really have any words for it. I'm just so sorry you had to go through all of that.
MW: I said I'm so sorry you had to go through all of that.
MW: Thank you.
MW: And I want to know...how did you get free?
This is one thing I remember very well. I don't know what to call God now. I don't know what He or She really goes by but there was this one night after being in this for two years. After being isolated from my family, after not being able to come inside, like literally locked in my apartment, while he was sleeping I got up and I went into the second room and I laid out the Islamic prayer mat. And instead of trying to pray in Arabic, in the correct formatted form, I just laid on the mat with no garb on, and I said, I don't know whether to call you Allah or Jesus or anything, I don't know what your name is, but I need help. I said, if I'm meant to leave this, if this is the type of life I'm not supposed to be living, if I'm missing something, if this has been my lot in life but you're ending it, end it for me now because if you don't, I'm going to die. And I got up after laying there flat out and it seemed like the stars and everything were so big, everything was with me that night. When I got up it seemed like I was a whole 'nother person, like I was made new. And I got up the next morning and I felt like I had to leave. He went to work, I packed a bag, and I left. And it wasn't that easy because with this being my norm in life, I felt like I was hurting him by leaving. I felt like I was messing up his life. So I came back with my brother-in-law and my sister to come get my stuff and he's coming in from work. He has no idea that I left.
MW: Oh wow...
He's coming in and we're coming out with like rocking chairs and everything, and I passed out on the floor. I don't even remember it, my sister said I passed out. I don't remember how I got out of the apartment after that, I don't remember nothing. I don't even remember in between, what happened, because I ended up going back to him. I had no... no right to being in the world without him. And I think he represented so many things. He wasn't just this person, he was my Dad, he was my uncle, he was my camp counselor, he was date rape, he was all these people that I felt like I had done something to cause them to do something to me and I had to go back to him and make it right. So I went back again after getting a protection order because he stalked me, and my parents left, they went to California for vacation. They didn't seem really concerned. They said, whatever you want to do, if that's what you want to do, go ahead and do that with your life.
So I dropped the protection order, I went to court. The judge was like, if you drop this order, I can't protect you. And I'm looking at him like, Judge, I don't remember y'all protecting me. I didn't think this consciously ... but I could feel, like, this is not protection. I mean he's outside, he's waiting to protect me. I just have been doing something wrong. I've been doing something wrong with all this people. So I go back to him and after awhile I just said, I'm going to make up this story again that I had a dad at home. I said, if I don't leave -- because he wasn't going to let me leave this time, he had placed knives all over the apartment -- I said, if I don't leave, my dad is coming here to get me. And he said, okay. But just make sure you come back. So I left. So I stayed with my sister. But my sister's husband eventually kicked me out. Because he said, if he wouldn't have married my sister, he would have married me.
MW: Oh my Goddddd...
And so, I'm carrying all this stuff with me, and I'm like, how could you say that? How could you be one of these people after I trusted you to be somebody else? So all of these people are shaping my view of men. He said, if I wasn't with your sister, I would be with you. You have to leave. Because I had started to try to see people, and I had started to try to date and get my life back... it was over a course of like a year or so I stayed with them, and he said he was jealous.
And so I ended up moving in with my parents. That wasn't good because my Dad... my credit was messed up because of my ex-husband, I still had this order of protection, I'm still looking over my shoulder, but eventually I got enough money. I saved up every dime, nickel or whatever, I paid things and I ended up moving into my own apartment. On top of that I realized how much in jail either I was or I wanted to be. I'm not sure. I asked the apartment if they could put bars on my window. In a suburban good neighborhood. I said, I don't know who's coming in here. And they said, we don't really do that in this neighborhood, I think you're safe. But I would literally go into the apartment and leave the door open because I was more afraid of what would be in the apartment rather than what would be outside, if that makes sense.
MW: That makes sense.
Like if somebody was going to be waiting for me, like if somebody was going to pop out of the closet, or any shadow that looked like a person, anything , any noise...
So yeah, I got that apartment. Now I am where I am now. I go to counseling. I got a dating coach to try to help me try to figure out patterns that I developed, like feeling like I have to please somebody in order for them to like me. If somebody is really genuinely liking me and showing me affection, I get scared and I don't talk to them anymore. I'm trying to be open to love and I'm really hopeful... and just opening myself to loving myself more...which is finding that person... maybe there's more than one, you don't know - maybe there's people out there who are just not looking to hurt people, who are looking to love, who have the God in them to treat me in the way that Beyonce said, when you love me, you love yourself. Love God Herself. So. I don't know if I talked too much.
MW: Not at all. How old are you now?
MW: Oh wow. The fact that you can tell the story with that much insight and reflection into the process of abuse for you… like - for example - the way you are so clear about what you needed from him. That means that you're so far advanced in your healing. That’s just so awesome. That means you can see the lay of the land. You might still be in the land, but at least you can see it.
I feel like I really just got to the point to where I can look back at it and actually see with new eyes… like my eyes have been replaced or something. I have… I don’t know - a new opening in my soul or something. I look back and like… I used to feel like, oh my God, why do I keep running into these creeps? (laughs) I guess a lot of women do… run into guys who only talk about sex because they want that. And I thought it was something that I was doing to bring them to me, like this has always been me. And I was like, you know what, no. No its not. And I’m not going to blame myself for other people. I’m going to protect myself because I can do that. I don’t need anyone to do it. I can do it myself.
MW:I wish I could hug you. I’m such a hugger. (laughs)
MW: Do you have any advice that you want to give women who… might not be as far along in their healing process?
I would say, always write. Always write. Always reflect. That way you can look back and see how you were thinking a couple of years ago compared to how you are thinking now, and see how far you’ve come, and give yourself the credit you deserve for making it so far through so many negative things. You know, we ask ourselves - why does this stuff keep happening to me? But you been beating it like a boss but you didn’t realize it. But if you look back, you see how boss you did.
MW: (Laughs) Yes! Like, you are a boss, and you left a manual of your bossness.
MW: Thank you, that was perfect.