The greatest privilege of my role as President of The National Crittenton Foundation is the opportunity to be led by young women and women whose journey as children began marked by the kind of exposure to violence and adversity that most would deem unimaginable. If seen in a movie you would think it is fiction and yet, it reflects the real life experience of many many girls in this land of opportunity.
Today, there is a silent epidemic of violence against girls and young women raging across the United States – one that injures, demeans, oppresses and marginalizes girls from coast to coast. And yet, somehow, pushed by their will to survive, the courage to conquer another day and the resilience, grit and fortitude that is born out of determination to thrive they stand tall. They speak out, they break the silence and they say, “No more.” It is their voices that must lead this growing movement for change. We must listen, act and be accountable. And so this week as part of our “We Are Not Invisible” Campaign dedicated to these women Warriors, TNCF is privileged to share with you this week – the expression of how they see the world through their own writing.
Today, it is our honor to share with you 7 chapters written by Tanya from South Carolina.
His scent intensified as the taste of his tongue drove itself further into my mouth. My eyes close.
My heart is pumping quicker now.
Please…slow down. My mind is says.
It’s ok; remember this is familiar.
My heart is slowing down now.
Is he really kissing me right now?
Yes he is. Answered my mind.
I thought that he was mad at me for telling.
I guess you were wrong.
When Gene told us that we were going to his house I immediately got scared. It had been such a long time since I saw him last. I didn’t even know that she still talked to him since he left. I tried to stall for as long as I could, but for whatever reason this day she was not allowing us to stay home alone. Thinking back now, that does seem a bit curious to me. Of course I was only twelve so there was no questioning what choices she made for my brothers and me, we were to follow them no questions asked.
“Hurry the fuck up! Get your ass down here now!”
My feet must get moving now, no more stalling. Gene is pissed and if I don’t hurry she will come get me, and I DO NOT want that.
“I’m coming now mama!”
All the way up here I can hear the air shift as it mimics her jerked and brisk movements.
My shoe…where is my other shoe? I can never find my shoes. Maybe if you cleaned this room you might be able to find stuff. I tell myself.
“There it is; thank God!”
While lacing my black sneaker I notice that my stomach is an even bigger balloon of dread.
She will hit me. I know it. Why did I have to make her mad today, of all days? Gene has a very short fuse and I will pay for making her wait.
The tears fall the moment my feet pause at the top step preparing to walk downstairs.
Wipe your face! You know this will make her madder.
Taking a deep breath helps to calm me as I start my descent down our concrete stairs.
There are eleven steps.
I thought that she would be at the end waiting on me, gloating. To my relief she is not there.
Gene enjoys her dominance over us. She has all of the power.
Where is she? I wonder.
I can see that the front door is closed and dead-bolted, this means we all are leaving out of the back door.
Finally, the last step.
As I peek my head around the banister I see her waiting in the kitchen.
The large rip in our back screen door allows me a clear view of my brothers as they wait for me to come join them.
I can feel her anger. I muster all of my bravery and finally make the trek to the back door, hoping against all hope that her anger has simmered enough to only fuss at me. I do not want a bruise today. We will be outside around lots of people on the bus and I don’t want the stares.
I made it! I’m out the door without any hits. I optimistically say to myself.
I breathe a deep sigh of relief.
It takes a few seconds for me to realize that the right side of my face is stinging and throbbing at the same time. When the force of the impact clears I hear her,
“I told your ass to hurry up! You don’t fucking listen! Stupid ass! Get the fuck out my way before I get my stick and really give your ass something to cry about!”
All I can do is move as quickly as I can, keep my distance, and cry as softly.
For those moments I, at least, was able to forget about my fear of seeing him again.
I have always liked the name Genevieve. I’ve often wondered how she got that name. I have been just as curious about why she named me Isabella.
Is she even my real mother?
I don’t believe so.
She can’t be.
My real mother would never treat me this way. She gives hugs and shares her love with me all the time. She protects me.
I am always searching for a way out.
Maybe someone can adopt me?
But who? Where would they come from? How would they find me?
I hate my life.
I was six. He was my stepfather then; living with Gene, my brothers, and me. I liked him. Don was funny. I did wish that he and Gene would not fight so often though.
Don was a lifesaver for us. With his own special formula, in his own special way he helped to balance my mother’s moods and physical aggressions she would bestow upon my brothers and I.
Don had the most captivating eyes.
They were a very light hazel color. When he would stare me in my eyes it felt as if he was trying to hug me without touching me. He towered over my mother. His skin was so much lighter than ours. Don always had treats for us kids. He was fun and nice.
My mind still likes to think that he really loved us.
Surely I wasn’t his first love.
He was mine.
I would not understand this until I was thirty-three years old.
At first I think I’m dreaming.
I’m sleepy. There it is again.
“Izzy?” His voice urges.
This time it sounds more like a question.
“Izzy, are you awake?”
My throat is dry, so all I can muster as a response is a hoarse whisper, “Huh?”
I can feel his presence nearer to me now.
“Shhh honey, I need you to be quiet so that you don’t wake your brothers. Come on, get up and come with me.”
He loves me. I don’t question. I follow.
I let out a gasp when my feet touch the cement floor.
The fog of sleepiness causes me to forget that our floor is always cold.
“Shhh sweetheart. Remember be quiet.” Don reminds me.
I tiptoe over and around all the junk in me and my brothers’ room and make my way out of our bedroom door.
He is there, waiting, extending his powerful hands to me, hands that are patient, giving, and loving. Hands that never hit me with anger and rage. Even in the dark I can see them.
My hands are so small and tiny compared to his.
I lift my hand to place it in his.
“Come on.” He says.
My mother’s bed is huge. It fills up most of the space in her bedroom.
I know that my mother is not home. Us kids are never allowed in here whether she is home or not. I wonder why I am here as Don continues to guide me further into the room. This is a little strange. The only available light is from the moon as it shines through the thin curtain hanging at Gene’s window.
Don leaves me standing in front of their bed as he walks across to the other side of the bedroom. I look down to look at my toes.
This is my favorite nightgown. I think to myself.
It is so soft.
I love the ruffles and little pink bow on the top.
The flowers are all over; they go all the way to the bottom where the end touches the top of my feet.
My feet are cold.
I try to keep thinking of my nightgown even though I can feel Don looking at me now. I can always feel the instant his eyes are on me.
I want to look up, but I’m feeling a little uneasy now because I know that he will be staring at me.
And there they are…those eyes.
Why am I getting a little scared now?
This is weird.
He says my name.
It is soft and very quiet, a little more than a whisper.
He asks me how I am doing.
“Fine.” I say.
“You know I love you, right?” he says.
I shrug my shoulders at first because I am nervous. I say, “Okay” quietly because I don’t want him to feel bad.
Don’s hands find their way to my face. He holds a cheek in each palm as he squats in front of me.
“I’m going to put you on the bed, ok?” He says.
I shake my head up and down in a yes gesture.
“I want to talk to you for a little bit.”
His hands land perfectly up under each of my armpits. He lifts me with ease.
I wonder if Mama will be back soon? I think to myself.
I finally ask my first question to him out loud.
“Where is Mama?”
Don isn’t answering my question. The bed moans as he sits beside me.
“I don’t know why your Mama always treat me so badly.” He says.
“I do everything I can to help her, and she still treats me like shit. I love her, but that never matters.”
I don’t understand everything, but I don’t have to. He has my six-year-old empathy and compassion tonight. Because of this I am listening. I listen until it is time to follow his instructions of how to turn and move my body to accommodate him. I do this without resistance.
I hope Gene does not focus on me at all anymore today.
I can see the bus coming just as she tells us to get over to where she is. “The bus is coming!”
Gene shouts. “Y’all kids better get your asses over here, now!”
I am the first one in the line. The boys line up behind me horsing around but she doesn’t say anything to them. I always get in trouble the most.
Finally the bus is in front of me. It makes so much noise, but its cool inside. I am happy. I climb on the bus and slowly walk until Gene tells us where to sit.
I am thinking of him.
What will he say when he sees me? Does Gene not even remember what I told her?
I knew better than to ask her any questions.
I wonder how much longer will this bus ride take?
My stomach does a summersault when I see her get up and ring the bell, signaling to the bus driver that we are getting off at the next stop. I begin to feel very sick and I need to go to the bathroom, but I dare not say anything.
I wish I were invisible.
As the five us begin our walk, I know it can’t be too much longer until we get to Don’s place.
We pass a number of dingy old houses with chipped paint, that once upon a time were white and vibrant I’m sure. Now all of them look extremely old. Just ahead I see a grouping of red brick apartments.
I wonder if Don lives in those apartments? I think to myself.
“Over there, on the left; that’s where we are going.” Gene says, as if she is reading my thoughts.
My youngest two brothers, the twins, were playing and running so fast that they reached the apartment complex before we did.
Don lived in Apartment A. The three steps that we need to climb to get to his front door were of grey stone; it also wobbles when it is stepped on. Gene is the first to quickly scale the step with the boys closely behind her. I choose to linger at this bottom step as I watch Gene’s closed fist made contact with the screen door. This door is not much different from ours, except it is missing the big rip in it. The main door is open. This allows for a fuzzy view of the hallway. I can hear the television. I smell chicken. Gene barely starts her knock when his silhouette emerges and starts walking towards us. Gene is laughing. She is happy to see him. I stand directly behind her out of his field of view. I want him to see me last.
The screen door squeaked as he opened and held the door for us to enter.
I feel frozen and realize that I have been holding my breath.
“Well, hi, Izzy.” Don said.
I couldn’t talk. My vocal cord is sealed shut.
His voice is so familiar, and oddly soothing at the same time. Although a bit more rugged than I remember.
Say something! My mind urged.
She’s going to turn around if you don’t say something.
I couldn’t look directly at him.
He isn’t as tall as I remember. His complexion is darker too.
“Izzy, are you okay?” Don asked.
Hurry up and say something, she is coming! My mind yelled.
“ Hi Mr. Don, I’m fine. Just a little thirsty.” I managed to gush out just as Gene was nearing the door. Disaster avoided, she sat on the sofa in front of the television.
“ I have drinks in the fridge, and I made some chicken for y’all to eat.” He said. I climb the steps, walk into his apartment and settle on sitting in a small chair furthest from Gene.
It doesn’t take long for Don to call us kids in the kitchen for drinks and food. Gene and Don sit together on the larger sofa in front of the television. Him and Gene laugh a lot. He smokes cigarette after cigarette. They both drink liquor. Gene made us go outside after a while.
There is only a sliver of light left in the sky when we hear Gene’s call for us to come inside. Most of my uneasiness is gone. Don isn’t mad at me. My brothers and I rush into the apartment ready for a drink. Once inside, Gene announces
“Yall are staying the night with Don, I have some stuff to do. I’ll be back tomorrow.” The boys are happy. They are smiling. My uneasiness is gaining momentum again. I swallow to help calm myself. I notice that Gene is about to leave now. I keep my eyes averted. Gene slides the purse on her shoulder. Without another word she walks to the door. I feel those eyes pulling me.
Wanting me to look in them. I hear the screen door slam as Gene exits. I will my head to slowly rise. I can’t help myself, I am curious.
Just as I suspected, there they are, staring back at me.
Hugging me from afar.
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