Being as I have officially reached my half-way point in life, at 35 years, I can really reflect on the last half of my life and have some real talk. Both with myself, and with my friends.
My whole entire life (well, the first half, stop correcting me) I was known as Virginia. People have forever been trying to give me a nickname. Seriously. There is the EVER ANNOYING Vicky, Ginny, Ginger (!?!?!), Vagine (but in the gross sense because kids are mean), and Virg. Ewwww. I never took a liking to a single one. I only ever answered to Virginia. I get asked all the damn time about if I realized I’m named after a state (and I mean, HOW COULD I NOT KNOW, LIVING IN THE USA!?!?!?!), they play the “There REALLY IS a Santa Claus!” with me, they mention queens, etc. Name games are so fun unless they are about you. It’s slap-your-knee funny except it isn’t. Everybody in my life called me Virginia.
And then my life stopped on April 14th, five entire years ago. And Vee was born.
It wasn’t foreseen but it should have been. For a legit decade, ten years, 3,650 days give or take a few, I had been living in my own personal hell. Granted, there were good days. Of course there were. I won’t say it was non-stop. It just gradually began to feel that way, slowly, like you’re falling asleep. Little by little, Virginia was fading away as each day, week, month, and year passed. That light I had been born with was dimming. I could see it and yet I couldn’t find the strength to relight it.
It’s weird, what trauma will do to you. It’s even more bizarre what repeating trauma does. To you. Today I woke up and felt blah. It’s unlike me but it does happen. My head and my heart very rarely are on different pages, because for the better part of the last five years I have been trying to rebuild who I am, because I gave myself a chance to start over. I talk so much about rewriting your shitty first draft but five years ago, ON THIS DAY, I threw away the whole damn book. I grabbed a new pen, found page freaking one, and started the HELL OVER. Today, though, my head was happy and my heart was heavy. I already knew why, though. I’m forever remembering numbers and dates and moments in my life. I can’t help it.
When I met Kulia, forces in nature began to bring us together. First with daily lunch dates, even though that’s not the right way to describe it. I hadn’t told one single person about what I had been going through for the past ten years and yet with her, I began to feel like maybe I could. How do you reach out to your family and friends, out of what would seem like nowhere, and say to them, “I’ve been a victim of domestic violence for the past decade?” How do you start that conversation? And what would they do? If they hadn’t seen it, or noticed it, or even wondered the whole entire time, could you trust them to know what to do? And WHAT DO YOU DO? That’s the real question. It is the question I had been asking myself, over and over, every day, for the past 120 months. It isn’t lost upon me that if one of my friends had come to me and said ANY of the words I had about what I was going through, I wouldn’t have known where to start, either.
I’m not blaming anyone for not helping me. I couldn’t even help myself, guys.
She (Kulia) talks often about how she thought I was happily married when we met. It isn’t just that I was putting on a show for anyone, but more because I can find a reason to smile every day. I had my boys, who I will forever acknowledge as my life savers and that wasn’t lost upon me. Without them I don’t know if I would be here, today. I had a fantastic job. There were positive things in my life and I used them as a shield. My smile was my sword. As we learned more about each other, I felt safer. I started to feel like the old me. I had a sincere laugh around her. Without knowing what she was doing, she was bringing me back to the ground, because all I had been doing, what was helping me deal, was floating outside of myself. I rarely felt like I knew who I was. She started to help me remember.
As I remembered how to blossom he noticed the changes. I started to find words to tell him that I used to be afraid of saying. I started to defend myself. It didn’t take him long to piece together that it was around the time her and I became friends. Except this time, I wasn’t getting convinced to stay. I told him I didn’t love him. I told him I never had. And he lost his damn mind. He started to pull the boys into it. Brought Samuel into the living room and demanded he choose, in that moment, if he wanted to live with him or with me, should we split. I started to see a maniac emerge, when all I had known was Devil’s Rage. When I wasn’t home he would harass my phone. He had to travel to the mainland for a few days and I didn’t answer his calls one night. He was upset I had gone out to dinner with friends and before I knew it, there was something like seventy-eight missed calls on my phone.
The more psychotic he became, the more I knew my life was becoming precarious. I read a statistic recently that said that 50% of domestic violence victims lose their life to their offender. It brought me back to those moments. He came home and big fights happened. More and more frequently and I didn’t know how to stop them anymore. I didn’t even want to. One day on my way home from work, as I walked there, he called me. “I’m in the car. With your kids. We are headed to the airport. You’ll never see them again.” And then out loud, in a scary voice, he said, “Tell your Mom bye, boys.” I tried to run home, frantic, because I didn’t doubt any of it for one moment, but I wasn’t a runner then. I couldn’t go more than ten seconds without having to stop and catch my breath. I never hated my body as much as that day, thinking I would never see my children again.
And then April 14th. My REBIRTH-DAY. Another dinner date with friends. Kulia was with me. As we enjoyed our meal and some wine, he called. A lot of times. I wouldn’t answer because I was hashtag OVER IT. Of course, he made it about the boys. “Abraham is sick and has a fever and there is no medicine in the house. I bet you don’t even care,” his voicemail said. So, I told her I had to get home. She took me to get medicine and then dropped me off. The next time I called her was for her to find me at a busy intersection.
I won’t go into everything that happened that night. I don’t even think I remember all of it. It was one of the scariest nights of my life, and then the best. Without thinking about it, without giving it a second thought, I found myself, less than four hours later but what only seemed like four minutes, jumping out of a moving vehicle and running, again, for my life. I didn’t have my kids with me. The threat of them leaving the island was still very real but I couldn’t stay with him and give him ONE MORE DAY with me, not one more moment. I had to trust that he would keep his word, just this once, and not run off with my little men.
When I told my Dad about it, for the first time and not without some anxiety, a few days later, he said he was proud of me. “You have to show yourself some respect, Mija,” he told me. And it finally made sense. We went on to have an incredible conversation about divorce when I got back to the mainland, a couple weeks later. It was one of the best conversations we had as father and daughter, in a way we never had before.
Whenever I think about that April 14th in my life, I feel my heart race. It has replayed in my dreams many times. I can’t escape it and this is the first time I’ve woken up on it and not hated the day. Never because of what I did to help myself, but more because of what had to happen for me to find that insane second of courage to finally do it. I feel like this is the first time, in the past five years, that I woke up and felt like I had finally forgiven myself for it, which seems backwards. Shouldn’t I be so proud of having done all that?
Yes, I am. But it’s hard to acknowledge every piece of that puzzle, for me. Sharing my story has helped me move forward, but it has come with a price that I didn’t know would be paid. Thinking about it keeps it fresh in my mind. My heart gets tender, my brain wants to forget, my body finds itself in fight or flight and I can hardly breathe sometimes. A friend told me recently that she’s like me, an open book. I agree to an extent that I can be, but so much remains off topic. So much still, hasn’t allowed itself to come to surface.
And then I try to imagine how Kulia must have felt, to get a call from me just so many hours after she had dropped me off, at a place she knew I wasn’t safe in. She had to have known that it wouldn’t be a happy call, although it was the happiest call, too. And to put herself out there and be vulnerable, without knowing what could come next. I try to remember that when we argue. That even when I’m upset with her or her with me, she has never made me want to jump out of a car and risk injury to myself. She’s never made me feel like I’m garbage or unwanted. She’s never made me think the next breath could be my last. When she answered my phone call, she never said no to me. She took Vee and made it feel right, made it feel like love.
She’s continued to encourage me to find this voice and use it. When I said I wanted to be on the board of the local DVSAS (Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services) in the area, she knew it was the place for me. And it happened! I was just voted on, unanimously, by the board this week and begin a new chapter, as a Domestic Violence Victor. I can use my words and my love to help others in this community. My mid-way point has just continued to get better. It feels amazing to be seen as someone who can make an impact. I mean to do just so.
I will never say starting over is easy. It was the fourth hardest thing I’ve ever done, and yes, I keep track. I have found so much beauty, though, in those moments. I’ll continue to share them with you all, as I find the voice for them. And April 14th will no longer be a dark day for my life. It is light and I will honor it.
Happy REBIRTH-DAY to me!