Trigger Warning: Racism. Domestic Violence. Violence Against Women
My friends who know me, know I stop. I stop for hurting people. I stop for hungry people. I usually don’t have cash or change to hand out but I almost always have some food in my bag. It’s what I can do. I’ll tell you if you need to go to a hospital or doctor or not. One of these days, stopping might get me in trouble, but I’ll probably keep doing it.
It embarrasses my friends.
It embarrasses my husband.
It embarrasses my family.
I keep stopping because I take the role of the nurse in the community seriously. Everyone who knows me knows I’m a nurse. You shouldn’t be shocked. And don’t go #notallnurses on me because we all know there are different kinds of nurses.
I feel guilty about what I’m about to write. I’ve felt guilty for a long time, even though I was a young child when this happened. But I want to speak out about this culture White people have created and what has been adopted. Because ignoring violence against women, especially Black women, is a huge piece of White supremacy that needs to come apart.
It was a sunny day. I don’t remember what time of year. It was in East Nashville. Somewhere along Eastland Ave. We used to live on Benjamin St. I went to Cora Howe Elementary. I think we might have been coming
I don’t remember where we were going but I was walking with my mother. There was an apartment building nearby that had a reputation. Most of East Nashville had a reputation at that point.
A Black woman came running out of the building, screaming for help. A man ran out after her and tackled her, beating her on the ground. I wanted to run to the payphone and call 911. I told my mother we needed to help. She held me harder and said “Just keep walking.”
Now.. was my mother afraid for her own safety? Probably. Was she afraid for our safety? Probably. But could she have knocked on a door or done SOMETHING? Yes. My mother worked for the Metro Nashville Police Department for years. She wasn’t a police officer, but her call would have brought half a squad. I’ve seen it happen.
And she didn’t. She walked us to the car, she got in, and she never looked back. We lived close by. She could have driven home and called for help and never identified herself to the abuser. She didn’t.
I remember that woman. I remember she had long, natural hair. I remember this because the guy used her hair as a weapon. It was how he stopped her before he tackled her. I remember her screaming in our direction, because we were the only people out there. But I don’t know what happened to her.
I also remember my mother and step-father(s) abusing me and my sister.. I remember when we tried to get help because our parents had threatened us with beatings if my sister failed a test. My sister, suffering from undiagnosed dyslexia, failed the test. My sister is INCREDIBLY smart. She’s just dyslexic. But when we went to the Kroger on Gallatin Rd, that had a giant “Safe Place” sign in the window, we weren’t helped. The police jumped to help one of their own. My sister and I were taken to a counselor, we were never allowed to speak without our parents present, and we were told if we persisted with our complaint, we would be split up, pulled from our school (the only haven we had), and how selfish we were to accuse our parents of these behaviors. I remember how we went to subsequent “therapy” appointments after that, where the therapist called us lazy and told us we had to do more to help our mother. Our abuser. Again, we were not allowed to speak without our parents present.
So now I stop. I call 911 if it’s needed. I help. If I need to, I’ll scream my head off to draw attention to what’s happening. You don’t get to abuse someone near me and feel that’s it’s okay because no one stops. I’m going to stop. If I can’t stop you myself, I’m going to get someone who can. I couldn’t stop when I was a little girl, but I can stop now.
Making rules for yourself and standards for the people you associate with IS NOT easy. It doesn’t even really get easier. But it does lead to a more fulfilled and honest life. I’m not done learning, changing and growing. But learning to stop was one of my earliest rules for myself as an adult, and it’s a good place to start.