Stepping Out of the Pages of My Foremothers’ Violent History

A writer’s personal account of breaking a cycle of violence attached to love, of finding the inner strength to alter the course of her life and the coming story her own daughter will live and tell. One in three women in the United States have been victims of intimate violence in the United States, this number is approximately the same across race and ethnic groups, according to the National Latin@ Network! The number is also likely under reported.

March 17th 2016 marked a year since I chose life. A year ago I was on the way to embarking on a completely new life, I had gripped so tightly and dug my nails in so deeply, because I thought it was a second chance. I had finally bit through the prickly coarse rope that was my abusive relationship – I was out, finally. Following the footsteps left in the path, I repeated the same story that colonization forced one of my foremothers to write. A story that starts with patriarchal religion and ends in self-hatred. Without much choice, she authored a story that became reality for all of the women in my family, one that I also began telling my daughter, but could not continue. I knew the ending all too well, there would be no interesting plot turns, no magical manifestations, it is all captured in that distant stare passed the present moment, passed whatever is taking place, that exists in the women from my family. In stepping out of those pages, out of his-story I began to rewrite my story and I knew I would have to conjure all strength to keep the pen in my hand. My strength has a purpose, I cannot stare passed it numbly when it can become her-story.

My mothers come from a small agricultural town, the people tended to the crops and the crops sustained the people. San Nicolás de los Agustinos, a town founded by Catholic missionary priests devoted to St. Augustine. Every community event, personal milestone and family routine revolved around the church in some aspect, making the church a force that shaped individuals. The Catholic Church’s ideals penetrated every aspect of an individual’s life, dictated social norms and claimed presence in all social interactions. One of the most damaging lies told, was that there is something to be gained from enduring suffering, pious devotion to oppressive hierarchies are somehow rewarded in heaven. In this hierarchy stratified according to patriarchy, women are shaped to be docile, submissive, and above all, quiet. “¡Es tu cruz!” (bear your cross) is what one of my mothers was told by her mother when she chose to seek divorce after the deception, the abuse, the hard blows to her expectant body as she forcefully rolled down the stairs. With more than fingers bound, las mujeres were taught to obtain self-worth from standing beside a man as his property, never a self-actualizing individual. She was supposed to withstand under the sacred institution of marriage, even if it meant suffering like Jesus on the cross, era nuestra cruz. In choosing to walk away from her husband, from her cross, her family walked away from her, leaving her marked. We saw their backs. 

They exist marked, women in my mothers’ town who will wear nothing but black until their death, because their husband has passed away. Women in my family that have lived marked have internalized it. Inside, it has festered into self-hatred, driving us to accept only what we think we deserve. We accept mistreatment of the mind, body and soul, which chips away until nothing is left. Fueled by a sick devotion that overpowers the instinct to protect the self, and those dependent on us. Devotion from which the pages of my story were made.

Me hubiera gustado conocerte así como estás en unas fotos, llena de risa, con colores y cortes atrevidos en tu cabello. Vistazos de plática entusiasmada sobre una vida que creo que ni tú conoces. No entiendo lo que quedo, no te puedo leer. ¿En cuál momento te distes por vencer? Nos pudimos ayudar ambas. ¿Por qué te dejaste arrebatar el lápiz, y cortar las manos? ¿Por qué nos dejaste sufrir tanto? ¿Por qué nos fallaste? 

(I would have liked to know you as you are in some pictures, full of laughter, bold cuts and colors in your hair. Glimpses of animated conversation about a life that I don’t think even you know. I do not understand what is left, I cannot read you. At which moment did you give up? We could have helped each other. Why did you allow the pencil to be wrestled from you, and your hands cut? Why did you let us suffer so much? Why did you let us down?)

 “I am many things, but a bad mother is not one of them.” This is the one thought that powered me through dismantling the home that I had created for eight years. My story had been one of having patience for all of the wrong things, and forgiving at my own cost. A misguided history that stretches over 15 years, I sat through it all. Hate that would diffuse into every corner of what stopped being a shared space. Vigilant judgment that kept my internal critic healthy and thriving. Looming control over my shoulder that became the center of all of my experiences. Intimidation that drove me to my knees in crippling fear. Hands that bruised my body, but the words, hitting sharp, they marked, sliced and infected my skin. “I am many things, but a bad mother is not one of them,” became my mantra as I jumped up and started to walk. I packed only what I needed, took my daughter in hand and never looked back, because looking back meant that I would not leave. Three broken hearts. In accepting that my daughter deserves better, I closed the story and stepped out of those pages. I then took the pen to begin rewriting, because I did not want my story to be my daughters as well.

In the form of an instinctual glimpse, as I took a left turn onto oncoming traffic, I was resuscitated, shocked back to life. Without looking, blinded by crippling anxiety I made a left hand turn blindly, without caution. I was hit. I was on my way to him. Having lived so long with the slow suffocation of suppression, I thought it was another chance at happiness and love. In shock, with the entire left hand side of my car scraped down to the shiny metal, I parked on the curb and collapsed on a grass patch. In surrender, I waited for him wanting him to help me fill the new pages. Sitting under the sun near the lemon tree, smelling jasmines I met happiness. I made a home in the new possibility without any hesitation, fear or precautions. Dark Brown skin became my protective walls, long black lashes provided shade, breath became my source of warmth, laughs kept my belly full, intimacy satisfied my thirst. 

I lost touch with myself as I grasped desperately to find ways to re-member myself whole. From outside of myself, I watched as I turned the page to my new story. I tore it. I severed the page permanently, threadwork all exposed. I couldn’t mend it, not on my own, not this time. Broken, with pages scattered around me, dirty black converse at the tip of my vision, a river flooded my eyes with an intensity that was entirely fueled by the past. On March 17, 2015 I spoke and there was no going back, I was hospitalized for suicide watch. I had taken the time to write my last words to my daughter, ones that I imagined she would read in her quest to understand, because I am her and she is me. Awake in sleep I was asked a series of questions by one man and then another, they told me that I needed to make a choice. Accepting the labels meant that I could be free of burden, relish in detached euphoria for as long as I wanted, while denying meant that I would have to face everything head on, even if I wasn’t ready. I said no to their pills, their synthesis, their process, because they did not offer real solutions. Realizing that my truth was not within those blank walls, the impersonal amenities, the monitored existence, I chose the bus token. The amount of energy invested was irrelevant, how fast and far I could run was not going to make the difference, all I could do was to move forward by standing still.

“You are hurting Cynthia, you are in pain,” were the repeated words of my therapist throughout our sessions, as she explained post-traumatic stress. Previously, having been diagnosed as bipolar, with chronic depression and monstrous anxiety, I doubted myself. The pressure to take medication continued, “just temporarily,” “the smallest of doze.” Hearing it so many times, from so many people restlessly, I debated. In trying to make sense, taking medication meant that I was settling without addressing the root cause – that I was accepting of my problems being beyond my reach – and beyond a real solution. Moments when my existence in this country has been validated are rare, I will waste away waiting. I commit to myself; the solution is within me. It is ok to be who I am.

My home is within me. I need to use my strength to be able to write the story of a little brown girl who found her home within herself and began to heal from a legacy marked by patriarchy. I need to extend my own hand to myself, in the same way that my daughter offers hers when I forget to look at the moon. My eyes have widened, as I transitioned into another stage of life, I can now see with more than just my eyes. I now have the ability to finely titrate with all of my senses to pursue a balance that should never be perfected. The intention is practice.

Related Media:

Bringing Community Together to Fight Cat Calling and Sexual Harassment

This Week in Peace Column: You Must Shine As You 

This article is part of the category: Gender and Sexuality 
This article is part of the tags: Catholic Church  / Domestic Violence  / Patriarchy 


Powerful testimony, honest, transparent, fearless...also sadness, struggle, change...I feel you and wish all the healing transformation possible for you to be who you want to become con orgullo y amor a ti misma❤️

Post a comment

Valid XHTML 1.0 Valid CSS