It started with a conversation in a college violence prevention class that, despite its community-based comprehensive peace pretenses, was dominated by heated voices that jumped at the chance to blame those persecuted by institutions. During this particular session, the unstoppable vehemence carried by deep voices attempted to draw blood on the topic of women as abusers.
“Women abuse—how come we don’t read about that?” shouted a charismatic single father with limited visiting rights, one hand clutching his impassioned breast. “Why’s it always got to be men?”
“Yeah,” corroborated the white Trump supporter seated next to him, the same marriage-counselor-to-be who didn’t know what a clitoris was until I explained it to his straight-presenting ass in front of a giggling classroom a week before.
The portly professor bumbled over an adequate intro to gender privilege when the thirty-year-old conservative’s tablemate continued. “I’m a great man, and a great father.” He sighed. “Man, women get away with so much,” to which his other (until then silent) supporters mumbled approvingly. I bristled in my chair.
If I was a braver person, I would have taken the floor then and told them all the story of the woman who gave birth to me. Unfortunately, I only seem able to start her tale with the time she abused.
Starting in 1996 for my father, 1998 for me, and 1999 for my brother, she abused us. The physical abuse of my brother began before he left the womb. The incidences of economic, emotional, and physical abuse my father came to know in the middle of his marriage make it hard for him to interact with other people and trust his feelings when it comes to manipulation. The neglect I endured erupted into physiological harms that I still have, not to mention the sporadic nightmares and (allegedly) the spoken language concerns, too. But while our abuse ended with the decision of the state family court in January of 2001, hers did not.
The year for her is 1977, after she came home from a marijuana and alcohol binge with her high school friends and started trashing the people I would come to know as Papa and Tutu’s house. This, paired with their youngest daughter failing math and science (her strongest subjects) and shirking her duties when it came to chores and helping out with her eldest brother, the one with trisonomy 21, was what got her to a psychiatrist. I don’t know if this is when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder or sometime later, but by the time my father met her in 1990, family were describing her as “weird” and “moody.” It wasn’t until the early 2010’s when the term “bipolar” would even become part of the lexicon of my aunt and her husband when discussing her sister.
Jumping to the mid 1990’s, after self-medicating with gateway, social, and even bipolar-specific drugs and years of waitressing and catering for hotels, she gets the urge to gamble, and not for just a weekend splurge. It starts just one or two vacation days at a time. Then she begins to skip work without telling her coworkers or my father. Soon, she’s out at the casinos for three to four sleepless nights at a time. She’ll do anything to get there, including reckless driving, the beginning of her trips to jail. Then she’s diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and, more disastrously, multiple sclerosis. If she wants kids (and she does, or at least the society she lives in says she does as a married woman), she can’t take the pills she’s prescribed. She sacrifices her safety to be a mother.
Now, between her arrest record, the trial, her work history, and her disabilities, she can’t get a job. With the money from social security insurance checks, she can barely afford to stock the fridge of her government-provided apartment with a couple of boxes of pasta, so she goes to jail because she can’t pay her credit card bills or taxes. When the court found out she wasn’t paying our child support, the state government started taking the money out of her SSI check because even though she could never play the mother for us, she was still expected to give everything to her white children.
The woman who abused me is the victim just as much as I am, but because I can shake my finger at her and she can only blame a system that works against poverty class middle aged neurodivergent and disabled women, my abuse has been survived and hers is viewed as an example of “justice” for all the women who abuse who aren’t “caught.”