“I was the second child born into my very violent and dysfunctional household. The first two years of my life were spent in and out of battered women and children shelters, and by my third birthday my 23 year-old mother found the strength and courage to relocate from Maui to the state of Oregon. After a couple years of life on our own, Mom decided it was time to move back to the islands when I was five years old and I got to reconnect with my father. I came to love all of him—his incredibly loving and giving side as well as his drug-abusing and violent persona we saw all too often.” –Me. Taken from my Masters in Social Work personal statement.
In case you aren’t aware, October is domestic violence awareness month. It’s also breast cancer awareness month–another meaningful issue–which seems to take center stage nowadays. For me, domestic violence strikes a special chord and I’d like to take some time to reflect on the issue because this month has unearthed a painful past.
The prevalence of domestic violence in the U.S. is staggering; one of every four women will experience DV within their lifetimes (and many are too afraid to come forward and be counted). If you think about it on a personal level, that means you could sit down with three of your best friends, at least one of you have experienced some type of physical, emotional, mental, economic or verbal abuse.
My childhood consisted of fun-filled yet terrifying weekends with my drug-addicted, violent father. When I was in the seventh grade, my best friend Brittany taught me the word “incarcerated” so that I could sound sophisticated when I told people where my father was (I secretly prayed that kids my age wouldn’t know the word and thus think my father was on vacation for his company or something). I cannot begin to describe the sheer horror and shock I felt as a helpless child sitting in a dark closet with my big brother and step-sister as we waited for the violence to stop. The way my step-mom’s hair and blood clumped together on the steps after dad would drag her upstairs. The completely implausable excuses my step-mom came up with when people asked how she had suddenly broken two ribs or lost three teeth. And then the promises that it would never happen again.
I was a child. And though I wasn’t the one being tossed around like a ragdoll, I am a survivor. I understood sheer terror and pain before I ever took a breath. I offered comfort and solace before I knew I had a choice–and I became an advocate and an activist the day I was born. I attended my first women’s rights march while I was still in diapers, gave my first speech against domestic violence when I was ten years old, and started organizing classmates for volunteer activities at the ripe age of thirteen. I’m now in my Masters in Social Work program to share my story and to offer hope.
To foster awareness in our community, Maui county’s domestic violence agency Women Helping Women held an incredible candle-light vigil in remembrance of all the women and children in Hawai’i who have lost their lives to domestic violence since January. We started the evening by sign-waving on one of the busiest roads in town.
After sign-waving, the Peace Peeps (a children’s group made up of local survivors) hosted the candle-light vigil! These kids are incredible. They put together skits and poems about peace, and one of the teenagers unveiled a brilliant piece of art he made specifically for the event. I could just cry thinking about it…
[this photo brings tears to my eyes: Auntie NaniFay, my greatest mentor and role-model, with Kawai, a DV survivor who has been in my life since she was still toddling. When I was Kawai's age, Auntie NaniFay supported me in the same way at vigils.]
[we all planted seeds that will grow into the plants the kids will bring next year.]
Benjamin Acob, Maui County prosecuting attorney, has put together Men Helping Men and the white ribbon campaign, which symbolizes “a personal pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.” He rocks.
Most importantly, the evening featured empty chairs for the women and children who were lost to domestic violence this year. For space reasons I’ve made the photos smaller, but I encourage you to click on each photo and read the ways in which these women and children were killed.
When people learn of my past many ask about my relationship with my father. Is he “better”? Why do you still talk to him? To which my answer is always, “Of course I still see my father. He’s the only one I’ll ever have. And he is who he is. I don’t get to choose my parents.” Dad never got “better”. In my opinion, his complex, painful past would never allow for that. But me? I’m in a better space now. I may never stop having flashbacks or feel perfectly safe, but I am in a space of understanding, empathy and compassion. I have learned that what my father does is not attached to what I do, and that his wrong-doings are of no fault to me. My focus isn’t on the past. It’s on the bright, ever-expansive future that awaits me and all of these brilliant kids!:
If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic violence and would like to seek safety, visit the hotline. If you are afraid your internet and/or computer usage might be monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224.