Ten years ago this coming August I lay face down in the dirt, covered in bruises while a maniac sped away in his truck with my five year old daughter. I didn’t see her for three months during which time I went through the shelter system in the US, initially as a battered woman then as a homeless person.
I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting on this past episode, although if I wanted to I could choose any horror in my life to discuss, from sexual and physical abuse and poverty as a kid to the suicide of my mentally ill first husband. So why does this one period in my life seem to have a meaning beyond those that came before? Because it didn’t happen to me, it happened to an innocent child; my child.
I’ve always been clear about the people and circumstances around me and this awareness has contributed to my jaded view of what this world is. There is a deterioration in the social structure on this planet that is hardly surprising given the sham compassion on which we’ve built our communities. I suppose you couuld say that at least the human race has progressed to faking respect for the vulnerable.
Right about now you may be thinking that I am full of shit and that is your right but the bare knuckle facts are that I am in a position of authority to speak about things like corruption, ineffective social programs with their anaemic and feeble attempts to do anything but line their pockets with tax free money and create barriers for those who suffer daily and need help. Oh yes, I have the credibility to say how it really is and not the mass delusion that passes for truth on this planet.
I could wax eloquent for you and make the filth palatable and easy to swallow, but then that would defeat the purpose of this post which is to plant a seed or two that may or may not sprout and eventually flower. At least I will have dug the hole and dropped it in, which as it happens is my entire purpose for breathing.
For those you who know this story, feel free to flee to the more subtly pleasing social environs of twitter, facebook or god forbid, the real world. What follows is the timeline that came to the astounding sum total of ten years, an entire decade of persecution, abuse, terror, poverty, homelessness and yes, writing. I could go back to when I first went to the us and regale you with stories of beatings, intimidation, rape and isolation but overkill is not what I’m aiming for here as you will see.
Time line of my previous ten years:
August 1 2002: My child’s father beats me and kidnaps our five year old daughter. I call the state police who then turn the matter over to the tribal police. The tribal cop comes and the first thing he asks me is if I am drunk, NOT if I am okay although he can see my body is black and blue. The fact that I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs seems to be lost on him. My gut sinks as I take my very first step on the path of degradation, humiliation and persecution courtesy of all sorts of agencies.
August 1 2002: I enter a domestic violence shelter. I meet some other women. I am inconsolable. I am now taking the second step on the path, this one is all about nightmares, PTSD and the daily diet of terror and dread I feel for my missing child. The fear for her safety consumes my every breath and yet this seems to be unimportant to those around me who are supposed to be helping sad little fuckers like me. Early on I am beginning to smell a rat in the social service sewer and boy is that bastard pungent!
August 2 2002: I am informed that only tribal police will handle this case as it occurred on the reservation. This is not an revelation to me as I know the full well the score of all things tribal with regard to my child. The evil monster who took her is related to the chief in a neighboring tribe and is a landowner in this reservation. My goose is cooked and I know it. They take photos of my bruises and say all the lies they have memorized by rote: “we’ll keep an eye out for the vehicle. We’ll call you as soon as we locate them.” I look in the cops face and say “Bullshit.” He looks away. I leave.
August 3 – September 7: I live in the domestic violence shelter. Everyday I file new paperwork with the court and I am told I have only one option for legal representation: An attorney who works for the tribe. Legal aid won’t represent anyone in a tribal court, thus my right to fair representation is another lie I must swallow. Having no choice I see this attorney. He is a fool. I recoil, realizing that my child and I are on a downward spiral with no end in sight. What do I do? I say fuck you! That is my child and I WILL find her and you can all kiss my arse. He shakes his head as if I am mentally ill or at the very least seriously deluded and naive. This entire time is spent in on and off the reservation, waking up in terror with nightmares that are more horrifying than anything Stephen King could conjure. Eventually, a bench warrant is issued, but no one is actually looking for my baby, but they sure are filing lots and lots of paperwork! The sheer volume of court orders, statements and warrants would make lead anyone to conclude that much was being done to save my child. On september 4, my child’s birthday and one day after my 40th birthday, they inform me he has been located and ordered to return my child to me and appear in court. I sit in the tribal court, filled with expectation, arms aching to hold my little girl. I sit some more. In fact, I sit there for four hours until I am newly informed that she won’t be coming after all as it is clear he is ignoring the order of the court. No one seems very perturbed by this new development and it becomes clear to me and the social worker with me that this was all a ruse and not real at all. Something happened to me then and there, a resolve built on the foundation of indignation and anger. They were fucking with me from the get go but I was going to rescue my child if it killed me. Little did I know this would nearly happen in two different ways. Finally, this episode ends and I am sent elsewhere to live.
September 7 – September 28: I live in the YWCA shelter for homeless women. My entire time there is spent trying to stay alive, eating from the food bank, (when I eat at all) getting a crash course in jurisprudence and the mountain of corruption I must climb as well as finding a lovely, rather large lump in my breast. This lump is examined at the free clinic. The physician’s assistant tells me after a mammogram and an ultrasound that the lump is not normal and if I wait to have it removed I could die. Ah, a new horror but oddly one that strengthened my resolve felt previously in the tribal kangaroo court. I am now on a mission and I don’t give a shit who tells me no. I have to find my child and take her home to where we were born and get this thing out. If I don’t I will die and she will be left in the care of an abusive monster. When my time runs out at this shelter I am given two options: a Pentecostal shelter for homeless women or the street. I choose the shelter.
September 28 – September 29: I enter the Pentecostal shelter towing my one posession: a suitcase containing every photo of my child, her toys, some of her clothes and my notebook filled with anguished poetry and letters to my now dead first husband. I have one outfit and I am wearing it. I do however have the luxury of two pairs of underwear and three pairs of socks. I am doing well for a homeless person and I damn well know it too! Although I have been living on Starbucks week old donuts that they donate to the shelters from the bottom of their generous corporate hearts, my 5’7” frame is carrying only 98 pounds and I am feeling it. Anaemia is now my bosom buddy and we black out everywhere together just us two. It is in this state of physical weakness I enter the intake office of this shelter to encounter who I have soon began accurately referring to as Nazi Iris. Her finger jabbing in my face while she asserted in her harsh German accent that I needed to accept that I was NOT going to ever find my child was only enhanced by the room filled with concentration like bunks lining the walls. The irony that I carried a copy of Anne Frank’s diary in my suitcase was not lost on me. After being told I could either 1. Take a shower in the morning or 2. Eat breakfast, that we were not permitted to swear, accept help or share transportation with each other, use a cell phone, miss prayer services three times a day or not be in our bunks by 10 pm, I decided to leave the following morning and take my chances on the street. But before I left I place that copy of Anne Frank’s diary under my pillow, proving that I still maintained a bit of my soul despite efforts but others to destroy it.
September 29- October 2: I live on the street. I eat nothing. I have no coat and it is cold. I learn quickly that you have to choose your spots carefully and that cat napping is all you should ever do lest you find yourself raped, robbed (yeah I know I had nothing of value but nothing of value is something to a junkie) or murdered. After a few days of this, the water from the bus station fountain is all that is keeping me alive physically but mentally, emotionally and spiritually, my little girl is the power inside me. On my morning trek to the water fountain I meet one of the girls from the YWCA shelter and she informs me she now has an apartment. I begin living there, where we sleep on the floor and eat mouldy bread and rotten food from the local food bank. I am happy though because I can now sit on a toilet without fear I will catch something. This way of living goes on for some time and I bond with this beautiful woman and two others from the shelter who also stay with her. They gave me the love and emotional strength I needed to carry on until I finally found my child.
This is of course the condensed version of events because I am concerned about that attention span business we no longer have thanks to twitter and soundbites. Bear in mind though that the people and experiences I’ve left out were life altering to me. Perhaps if I believe it will matter I will attempt once again to find a publisher but until unicorns dance on rainbows I’ll keep it in my word program and marvel at our surival, the power of love and the immense size of my balls when challenged.
Tomorrow I will post part two. Oh I bet you can’t wait for that! Highlights: wiping shit off walls in a care home, being drug through court and having a lump removed from my breast and so much more!