These are my credentials. And I use them.
Education allows me to speak with authority, and it’s not because of the letters after my name. I can think and speak with authority because that’s what an education teaches you to do. That I was married for longer than anyone I know who isn’t over 70 also gives me cred. Clearly I know how to make things work. It doesn’t hurt that I’m still young enough for my words to count with more than just the over-the-hill set. That I am straight is something beyond my control, but I know such things are the norm, the assumption, and I use that to my advantage. Why? Because I can. For the eight years before my husband and I married, while we cohabited, we used the gender neutral term partner, as in “my partner and I just picked out a kitten.” It was purposeful. I wanted to make people think. I wanted them to have to consider who I was, who I might be; to ask, rather than assume, if they wanted to know personal information. It should go without saying, then, that a good many of our friends are gay, lesbian, or transgender, but I would have done it regardless. I use my straight status as a personal protest against bigotry. Because I can. In the HIV-ravaged ‘80s and ‘90s, that was particularly important.
White. That is the best credential of them all. It is also the best weapon; nobody sees it coming. With the current unrest -- and outrageous rhetoric -- about immigrants, my white skin lets me say... damn near anything. In the ‘90s, when my friend Jose, a Nicaraguan immigrant with a strong accent, was treated poorly by clerks or wait staff, I had something to say about it. Subtle, but perfectly clear. If someone wanted to take me on, I had my Uncle Joe, born and raised in Puerto Rica. Two of my cousins have brown skin so dark they could pass for black. Of course all of my family members are citizens under the law, so such cred only goes so far. But now I get to pull out the big guns. Grace and William Bertocchini, my great grandparents, both Italian immigrants.
What no one but the family knows, and then probably only those of us who have seen the birth certificate, is that one of our forebearers is listed as “white” and the other is listed as “dark.” Which is code for "too brown to pass but not yet negro..."? Who knows. Clearly that’s a standard that was - and now is no longer. Except that it is. Just not on birth certificates. It is enough that my blond-haired, blue-eyed grandfather was considered white while his wife, with dark hair, eyes, and skin, was not; but there’s more. They came to the US without papers, at least Grandma did. Grandpa died before the opportunity to learn his citizen status ever came up. Grandma was brought here by two church ladies as an indentured servant. They paid her passage. Once in the New World, she owed them labor. Honestly, I am not making this up. That means she came here to do work that other Americans would not do or were unwilling to do for the pay offered. It also meant that Grandma earned her freedom the old fashioned way: by the sweat of her brow; purchasing it with years of her life in service. And now here am I, the first great grandchild and proud bearer of academic letters after my name. Imagine.
Those of you who are regular readers of My Zero BDay Blog know that I am all about full disclosure in the service of speaking what usually goes unspoken. Many cannot speak their truth - and the range of reasons is staggering - but I can speak, and so I do. Like I said, credentials will get you everywhere. I have spoken here about my days caring for my friend Jose as he died from complications due to AIDS and I have spoken here about the fact that I am bipolar. Today, I am here to speak about domestic violence.
That was kind of a long lead in, wasn’t it?
The fact is, I was preparing a very different blog for today, and yesterday, and over the weekend. And I will post it, just soon as it stops eating me alive. It’ll happen. In the mean time, I’m posting someone else’s blog. Sort of. You’ll have the link because her blog is beautiful and courageous. What I have for you here is...
My response to “Breaking the Silence” written by H.C. PALMQUIST
Dear H.C. PALMQUIST, I'm going to write my response before I scroll through your reader comments, because if I read that first, the images in my head will submerge and be lost to consciousness. I have no doubt you know what I mean.
Like you, I met my man at twenty and, like you, I was just grateful to have someone love me. David, I’m going to call him David, was a dozen years older and therefore, in my eyes, wiser. The subtle game of emotional push pull not only sucked me in, but so activated my childhood wounds that I quickly fell into the role of very unbalanced girl to his very patient man; he was my savior.
It was easy to isolate me. My family relationships weren’t healthy and I had no friends to speak of, except a best friend who was busy playing mother superior to my recalcitrant child. Moreover, I was so damaged that I could not honor my own response to feeling isolated and controlled, except to struggle with my partner, which was perfect because feeling crazy was my set point. My childhood, which included sexual abuse in conjunction with being raised by a Jekyll and Hyde drunk, had made me an expert at walking barefoot on broken glass and making it look like I was dancing Swan Lake. I was tailor made for an abusive man.
At the start, David’s abuse was so subtle that I didn’t see how I was being groomed to be the crazy (and battered) woman to his wise Zen master persona. Before I left, however, he had beaten and controlled me in all the obvious ways; I wasn’t clueless. Like you, I responded by taking us to counseling where I was told that flowers weren’t a real apology for a beating, but I wasn’t buying it. We got engaged. I was so invested in things being fine - being fixable - I didn’t see, until long after I left him, that David was both a drunk and a sexually violent man. For abused women the truth submerges, and all that remains is the glassy surface of a perfect lake. That’s all we want.
Here’s the lucky part, just before my 23rd birthday, I walked away from David and into the arms of the man who married me, a man whom my family adores to this day, even though we’ve been divorced for years. In retrospect, my husband was both very good to me and also a “healthier” more socially acceptable version of abuse, but that’s another story, and I’m not here to cast blame.
My wake up call with David, I kid you not, was a soap opera. In a single scene I saw that, no matter how angry they get, a man and a woman simply do not resort to the kind of behavior I was being subjected to. I still shake my head when I remember that.
Here’s the real corker. Upon meeting my fiance, my abusive alcoholic mother immediately saw through him. Of course she did; takes one to know one. But I could not hear her words. Her own behavior had so damaged me that I could not see the love she also had for me, nor believe her concerns for my welfare, which were genuine. Whatever doubts I was harboring at that early point in my relationship with David, I dismissed them in that moment. Like you said to Jason: The problem with a handbook [or a warning from family] is that every woman thinks it won’t happen to her.
Thank you for everything you have shared in this blog. I am SO proud of you. Not only did you pull yourself out of an insidious and lengthy cycle of abuse, but you took the risk of telling your story in a public forum. There is no greater courage.
I also have a special, personal, thank you to say. Reading this entry in your blog brought me the clarity I needed to finish my own. I’ve been struggling for far too long with the latest piece, and now I know why. Thank you, thank you, a thousand times thank you.
aka Sins of the Eldest Daughter
PS - I have decided to post my response to your blog (with a link to you) as preamble to the post I am currently writing. I hope you don’t mind. Truly. Like you, I have taken my struggle to a public forum as a way of encouraging understanding for and conversation about difficult topics. Again, my thanks for your courage and your willingness to speak out. May your new life open to you with the sweet beauty of a budding flower.
Dear readers of My Zero BDay Blog. The next time I post, it will be the blog I just referred to - Another Loose Cannon Gone Bipolar - and I hope to have finished it before the end of the week. Until then, may all your hours bring you the surprise of possibility and all your days end with the satisfaction of having acted on those new possibilities. ~Dina
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