Double Vision

A while ago, in the refuge, I met a young woman with her mum.  She’s 16. and when I met her she was shut down. Closed face, hardened. Staunch.

Things happened, and her mum has disappeared, so she’s living, with her sister, with a caregiver – a wonderful older woman, with a large family who have taken the girls in, and made them their own. And I have also made her my own, with her permission.

I’ve been in her life now for a little over two months, and I wanted to tell you about a special day that we had a couple of days ago. After a big shopping day we had a few weeks ago, her caregiver alerted me to T’s need for glasses. I promised I’d organise it, and then got hectic busy. Her caregiver didn’t let me forget though, bless her, and so a few days ago I found a local optometrist and made an appointment.

I went to T’s school to pick her up, and waited a while for her. When she walked up, and saw me, her face immediately broke into a huge grin. And mine did too. She’s such a joy, and I am incredibly in awe of her, and her spirit.

As soon as we got in the car, she said: How have you BEEN? I’ve missed you! And I reciprocated, because I had missed seeing her lovely face. And it struck me that the question itself was an indicator of what a rate of knots she’s forging ahead at.

I took her to lunch, and we sat and ate and talked. We talked about her counselling and how that was going, we talked about her mum as T starts to process why her mum has done what she’s done. We talked about her spirit, her mauri. How powerful her’s is. How kickarse. How much I admire her.

And then we talked more about her sister, about what it means to look after people, be responsible when you’re not really ready.

We walked into the optometrist and sat down. T looked really unsure, as she always does with new people, and in new situations. But they put her completely at ease. All pālagi women, they fussed over her just enough, and not too much. They gave her agency – could see she was nervous and invited her to look at frames while she was waiting. She is still not confident in decisions she makes, but every time she makes another one, says the word NO she emboldens. Finally a pair was chosen – I don’t want to look too nerdy, she said – and they were lovely too. Makes you look like a very smart confident woman, I said. She grinned.

When it was time for the eye test, the optometrist immediately put her at ease. Chatting away, but not too much. Looking at her directly, speaking to her gently ( I had asked for someone who would be gentle with her). And I could see T visibly relaxing in the chair.  The whole time the testing was happening, all the fiddling around that happens, the optometrist constantly checked in with her – are you okay? You’re doing so well! – and it seemed to take a very short time indeed, compared to eye tests I’ve had in the past. She told her stories of not being able to see when she was a child, how glasses had made her life so much easier, what a great tool they were. She also asked her about her friends – were they going to accept her with glasses? Were there any other kids in her classes with glasses?  Made her aware that the glasses would have a blue tint to protect her young eyes from UV, and that some of the kids would find that a bit weird. T thought about it, decided her friends would be okay, that enough kids had glasses at her school for it not to be a problem – and she gave her a couple of lines to say if anyone gave her a hard time. This is what she told her to say, and I could cry just thinking about it: “My glasses mean I am more powerful than ever.”. T grinned so hard, I thought her face would crack. “They’ll understand that” she said.

The optometrist talked to her about what sort of sight she had, how easy it was to deal with, and how it presented no problem at all. By this time, T had completely relaxed with her, and we were done. We agreed that when the glasses were ready that they would text T, her caregiver, and me, and that I would be the one to bring her to collect them. The optometrist asked to see the frames and exclaimed at how great they were. ” I haven’t seen those ones yet! They’ve only just arrived.” And T said, so proudly “I chose them by myself”. Such a simple statement, with so much meaning to all of us.

I gave the optometrist a hug as thanks, and feedback, and she said to me very quietly: She’s a very very special young woman.

I had tears in my eyes when she said that. Because she’d seen. She knew what all of this meant. How smart T is, and how hard school has been for her. How not being able to see properly has impeded her schoolwork and the teacher’s understanding of her intelligence. What a difference these glasses are going to make to T’s confidence. She saw all of it in a very short time.

As we walked out, all staff waving to us and telling us what a pleasure it had been, T’s smile remained on her face. “Well, that went VERY well” she said.  I agreed, and as we walked out of the building, and saw a chemist, I said to her “I wonder if they have earrings in here”, and they did. She chose a very smart pair – subtly hanging little squares of glass. She didn’t put them in – her ear piercings are still relatively new and she wants to do the right thing – but she told me that with the glasses and the earrings, she reckoned she’d be unbeatable. I think she’s right.

You know, I talk to so many women in a day’s work. I hear their pain, and often see it too. I empathise and relate. But I don’t carry their sadness. I seem to have heard most of it before, and am able to let it go, not my pain.

But this child, and others like her. This child, so smart and wise. So kind, and thoughtful. This child who isn’t a child. This young woman. She is imprinted in my heart now. Anyone who meets her sees her light immediately, and that makes their world better. What a privilege to get to know her. She gives me so much hope, and makes my eyes bright with love. I see so much clearer when I’m in her company.  That she’s so open with her feelings, and so wanting to express them. I asked her if she believed everything I’d told her about who she was: smart, kind, powerful, affecting. She turned to me immediately, and said yes. We could all learn from her.

A love letter to my abuser

Today I was a bitch,

I was stupid.

A waste of space.

An idiot,

Bad.

A witch,

Horrible.

Insane.

Fat.

Ugly

I was a bad mother.

You combined some of them to call me a fucking stupid bitch. Idiot.

That you are going to have my children taken off me. Incapable insane whore.

You are so clever, your mind is sharper than mine after all the hours of broken sleep and breastfeeding your children.

After I  juggle jobs and childcare. You are cleverer than me.

After I clothe your children and kiss their boo boo you are cleverer than me.

After I get up early, again, a second job to pay the bills. You are cleverer than me.

After I wait in queues and fight for assistance.. You are cleverer than me.

After I parent for 24/7 when you refuse to come pick them up for weeks, you are cleverer than me.

You have used the courts as a new weapon and your words as a control. You are cleverer than me.

You’ve silenced me,  and I’m tired.

images

So this is my Love letter to you, my abuser.

The only name I can call you.

Because these days that you back me into the corner and pummel me with words and hit me with insults and try and cut me to the core with your barbs until I just don’t think I can go on any further,  these days when I have no tears left so that I wish you would go back to just abusing me with your hands instead of your words because at least then you stopped, these are the days that I howl into the night and cry out to my sisters in whispered message boards and I am remembered…

That I am a deeply  loved and loving mother.

That I am a smart, valued, wise, and kind,

That I AM good,

That I’m sane, healthy,

A beautiful woman.  

I am a wonderwoman.

And it might just be enough…

From the writer – wonderwoman

I have written this after a day of unrelenting insults and disgusting words that have got me so down. So low. After weeks of failing to pick up his children and childcare arrangements and beginning of year school costs and all those stresses that get the average functioning family down.

But these men; that hold esteemed positions in our community, that you know, that you admire. They use their brains and their contacts, their resources of courts and systems and privilege as their new weapons. The other men around them continue to hold them up to, even if they know. They use the fact that they are “too important “ for anyone to criticise.

This man learnt instantly he was not allowed to put me in hospital, I gave him no second chances yet he still put me there more than once, and finally the police agreed it was enough so now he does it in other ways.

Yet sometimes when I am especially low and fragile I wish for that over this, because at least then it is short sharp and over (I apologise to other women that have suffered ongoing physical violence that would of course disagree). But for me, and so many others this is torture. Emotional, verbal abuse and threats that just keep coming, The NZ courts system can or will do nothing, and they often add another layer by silencing or imposing a gag order so the abuser can legally and freely continue to abuse with the permission of the courts.  

It is a life time sentence.

Somedays I feel strong and I want to shout it from the rooftops but I am not allowed. I am silenced. Somedays it is all too much and I really don’t think i can make it through.

Today I am tired of it all.

Meeting A*

Sometimes,  in this job, you meet someone very special. Someone you know you will likely have in your life for some time. Someone who deeply touches, and moves you with their honesty. Today was one such day. Let me tell you why.

Yesterday, when I went to the refuge, K told me about A* and a little about her situation because she wanted to know if The Aunties could help getting A* some furniture. So I talked to the Board, and we decided to try and raise $3000 so that A* could have what she needs, and not have strangers delivering their second hand furniture to her. Because that’s normally what happens – if someone offers furniture, I put them in touch with the woman who needs it, and they coordinate delivery themselves. But not in this case. A* has newly left an intensely dangerous situation, and would prefer that strangers not come to her house.

And then today, K asked me if we could organise A*’s drivers licence for her, and sent me A*’s phone number. I rang A* after a long day, and we talked. And talked and talked and talked. She has what I call shut in syndrome – something that is particularly noticeable in women who are naturally bubbly, but have had to shut their mouths for a long long time.  In the course of our phone call, it transpires that she’s been waiting all day for delivery of a washing machine, and fridge. Her children, two older, are there to run interference. They’ve been waiting since 8am, and they’re still waiting at 7pm. She doesn’t want to leave the house without them so they’ve had no food all day. Horrified, I offer to bring her some food. And she cries. “Come and see me!”. She lives not very far away, and so I do. I pack a bag with food for her and the kids, just enough for a snack, and I drive down the road.

She greets me with a huge hug, and lots of laughter. She introduces me to her kids, her niece. She and they and I, we laugh. She talks more about her story. She wants to tell YOU her story. She wants to tell you her name. Because, she says, she wants him to know she is not defeated. And primarily, she wants other women to know it’s not too late to leave, it’s never too late to leave. She doesn’t quite believe it when I tell her that you will all believe her. That whatever she says, you will know it’s true. Because nobody has ever believed what he did to her, nobody has ever heard her voice. And she wants, most emphatically, her voice to be heard. She has agency in her own life.

So one day, in the near future, I will take my laptop to her house, and she and I will sit down and she will tell me everything she wants you to know. If you are still living with domestic violence, if you’ve left that years ago, or whether you have never known what it’s like, she wants you to hear. She wants you to see her. “These will be my words, Jackie, but you must write them for me.”

And so, I will. And you will hear her. She deserves to be heard. We owe her that.

Aunty *A – a love letter

I want to tell you about Aunty *A. They are a person I love very much, and they are going on a big adventure very soon, so this is my way of paying tribute to them.

Aunty *A came into my life a few years ago. They mean the world to me, because at a time when I lost my way, they were there, and they have helped me to be the very best me I can be, and they keep me centred in a way nobody else has ever been able to.

Aunty *A  is an integral part of The Aunties, has advised me, warned me, counselled me, and moderated me all the way to here. They have heart, compassion and wisdom. They have calm, and tranquillity, and thoughtfulness. Sometimes their calm is maddening, but I always listen.

Aunty *A is a finer human being than most human beings I have met, and it is because of them that I stand tall, sure in my knowledge and heart.

Aunty *A and I know what it is to live with domestic violence. And both Aunty *A and I have struggled back from that brink. We know what this is. We see each other. We feel each other. We hear each other. We love each other.

I love you Aunty *A.

Forever and always.