I AM ALIVE, UNFLINCHINGLY
I have really been vegetating this Saturday. I have not yet deigned to open my door, or do anything more than list to NPR (it has been A LONG TIME since I have had an NPR Saturday, which is neither good nor bad, it just is). Also, I have been Facebooking and it was a post on there that I found a spark of inspiration to write about.
Overall I am doing very well. From the superficial, mainly in the form of a boomin’ haircut by my girl Frankie the Barbette, to the more material and meaningful, getting ready for school the week after next as well as my working a full schedule, I have no complaints about where I am at or where I am going. So I am just expressing myself and “there is nothing to see, keep moving folks,” as on Face Book there was a haunting tale of a woman and my takeaway from it, or one of them, was that her mistakes in life did not invalidate her worth as a human being.
Domestic violence is an insidious creation in human society. No matter how advanced or supposedly evolved a people claim to be, the relics of superstition and sexism still haunts how its men and women relate to one another. As I read the story, “Explicit Violence”, I sat reading through it and struggling to keep myself from identifying with the character and the feelings of déjà vu that were attached to her situation. I have always told myself that I cannot make a full “claim” to any of the victimizations that are seem to be so common today. There is no way in good conscious I feel I can make the claim of being raised in a single-parent home, fatherless and directionless, because my Mother worked super hard at making sure that we did not feel as if we were “missing” anything; beside I did know and have a father and to me that was that.
When it comes to observing classic domestic violence, there was maybe one episode, and then I guess it was remembered that my Mom was the youngest of 13, and there were several brothers who were BIG BROTHERS available for her to call on. So most of my exposure to men striking women was like so many of my social commentaries, based on observation and not experience.
When we lived in the 48235 a cousin of mine had a girlfriend who lived four blocks east from us. They were in their teens, smoking weed together and drinking the occasional malt liquor in the basement. But another thing I can remember is his beating on her even as she tried to “love” him as best as a child could love someone. Whether it was verbally or physically, the abuse seemed to be codified between them as she would wonder where “her man” was and she would call looking for him. Eventually, after her unsuccessful tracking efforts, he would come home and the two of them would scuffle, presaging their crappy adulthood that was then yet-to-be.
Seeing the two of them interact seemed more as I was even further removed from them, as though I was behind a third wall separating them from any reality that I could have conceived as a young boy. It was like there was a disembodied voice describing their association much the same way that sports announcers detail the events that are taking place. And though the each moment was spontaneous, it was also predicated on the obvious. In the 70’s there was a method to relationships that was, though changing, still based in the chauvinism of the thousand of centuries that it took to allow women to have civil rights and for them to emerge from the status of chattel, despite slavery having ended in the United States hundreds of years prior. This form of disrespect had begin to be choked off in greater society, but a particularly virulent strain of this chauvinism apparently was resistant to the intellectual and workplace advances the lower you stand on the societal totem pole. Being solidly in the middle and mobile classes as well as immature did not except one from relationship that were from the past.
One of the reasons that this relationship has maintained the effect on me that it has is due to the example that it did set. It was a “how not to be” primer on how to relate to women. My cousin’s girlfriend gave all that she could as a teen-age girl could, from putting up with his abuse, both physical and emotional, and still striving to be everything she could be to the young man she loved.
From the big things such as financing his senior trip to Toronto, to the more mundane purchases she made for him, as giving him money for a nickel-bag of weed and a quart of malt liquor upon request, she was there for him. It seemed like she was genetically programmed to wait on him, and she did her level best. But her best as that young an age, it was never enough to please him, and he would treat her with an indifference that was pathological.
Like many impressionable boys and young men, as influential as the media is on a life, I always thought that an influence much more direct played a larger role on how he would deal with women in his life. His parents, his Father and my Aunt, had the kind of relationship that was typical of the era for African-Americans, where their actual marital status was ambiguous, and his work history was more like a fable of what a head-of-household should be. I remember how “normal” it was for my Aunt to be the sole legitimate wage-earner and for it to be accepted that her husband was man who takes advantage of social engineering as well as the flaws of his fellow man to earn a living.
His flaws, which included maintain a not-so-secret second family, were all visible in his sons (the cousin of which I speak also has a younger brother doing a lifetime bid in California). My cousin would try to hustle, but his was one case where the Mark Twain suggestion of “Fail again, fail better”, would do far more harm than good. If you blink your eyes rapidly and count for 30 seconds, I would not be surprised if the total would not be more than the amount of days he spent in gainful employment. He has had several stretches as a “guest of the state” and the last that I knew of his status, he was a 12-cylinder Jaguar from the era of that nameplate’s less-than-glowing quality ratings, now trying to run on 3, with the spark dying in those remaining cylinders. The child in me misses him; the adult, not-so-much. But watching his Father maltreat my Aunt and his with his high-school girlfriend, I made sure that I was going to bring something to the table so that I would have “earned my position” and not simply try to assume a mantle that I had done precious little to have given to me.
Those are but two examples that helped form my relationship model. Watching “Phil Donahue” at the time and knowing that the current tide was inevitably shifting between the sexes and that “the sista’s would be doing it”, women asserted their newfound power and their status in position in society growing constantly. It would be years of course before I would be able to conduct “field experiments” that affirmed my attitudes about women and the social shift in society, but there were those who would be slow adapters… my starter wife was one such case.