By Zaneta Williams
I remember it. I remember what happened. I don’t think of it often. It rarely comes up for me now. But, sometimes, the flashbacks come at the strangest times. Typically, they happen whenever I tap into some form of deep pain that I may be in and experiencing at the time.
The recent videos of police officers murdering African-American men, women and children brought back memories of one of the most painful times of my life. The flashbacks don’t come as frequently as they did over twenty years ago. But they creep back up, whenever I need to purge, to release, to get clear. To shift.
Write it down, I hear myself saying. So, I stopped being busy and I decided to tell the story to the world.
I’ll be 49 this year. It happened when I was 23, broke, and didn’t have my college degree that I had worked so hard to obtain. Disillusioned with school, and feeling like a ship without a sail, I was living back at my parents’ home. I was a complete mess.
An argument with my father landed me out of his house and living with my oldest sister and her three children, my niece and nephews. Scared, confused, troubled, and exhausted, I looked for an escape from my life. Unfortunately, I found it. I was looking for love in all the wrong places and had no idea that I was.
I met him at the reggae club. He was older, cool, and interested in me. Soon, I was in his bed. Too soon, and way too young. A few months had passed, and I had had enough. I decided he was not going to sleep with me and everyone else and lie to my face about it. He never did anything for me, really, except invite me into his bed. I foolishly decided I was going to tell him that I did not want to see him anymore, and that I needed to get my things. I fussed and accused him of what I knew to be true. I lamented, I was hurt, and I didn’t want to hear a word he said. He tried to stop me from leaving the house he shared with his mother, who was out of town. And then, like a light switch, he turned into a monster and he started to beat me, in and outside of his mother’s home.
I remember how shocked I was as I realized that he was actually hitting me and doing “kung fu” moves against my body. All I wanted was my wallet, and the things out of my purse that he snatched, while telling me I could not leave. I kept telling him to give me my things, and that I just wanted to go. He kept hitting me.
I remember seeing him reach for the baseball bat. I had slept in that bed countless times before and never knew it was hidden behind it. He reached for it, while I was lying on the floor after another blow he had thrown against my body, and he began to swing. I instinctively covered my head. I heard it crack against my hips. He stopped. I begged him to not hit me anymore. I heard Maya Angelou’s poem, “And Still I Rise,” reciting in my head. I heard voices telling me to stop crying and to get up slowly off of the floor.
I rose. He looked like a madman; eyes wide and bucked, clutching the bat as if he had a score to settle. I slowly left, ran across the street, sat on the curb and cried. I was bleeding. I didn’t have my car keys. It was the middle of the day. Who was home? A car with two Black women drove by. They stopped and asked me what was wrong. I remember the concern in their eyes. I begged them to call the police.
When the police came, I was hysterical, babbling, crying and there was only one officer listening to me, but no one comforting me. One cop began to verbally attack me, and the other just watched me and listened. The abuser came out of the house calmly stating that we lived together and had had an argument. “Liar!” I screamed. I told them that I did not live there, and that he had my things and would not let me leave. I told them that he had beat me, and that I was the one who asked someone to call the police.
The abuser was so calm. He knew what to say, and how to say it. He was icy cool, and never wavered. His disposition was like a light switch, that he turned off and on. I realized I had not known him the entire time we were together. He stated that I was lying, and that he had not done what I said he had. The officers looked at me with suspicion. The police kept telling me to be quiet, and even threatened to arrest me for trespassing; me-with the chipped tooth, and swollen lip. I pleaded, and at one point, they all smiled and laughed together after sharing their thoughts with one another about women. I remember the abuser saying, “You know how they can be.” They looked at one another and laughed. I stood there in utter amazement.
If he had done what I said, where were the bruises, they wondered. The bruises were hidden under my clothes, so they believed him. They also believed him because he and they were all against me, I told myself. I was stunned, but I was still loud, raising my voice, so they again threatened to take me to jail for trespassing. All I wanted was my stuff.
I left. As I rounded the block, I saw the cops at the intersection. Were they following me, I wondered? I began to plead with them again to take me back to the house so that I could get my things. The mean cop threatened to arrest me again. The one cop who initially was listening more than the other saw something in my eye, saw my tears, and I saw the humanity enter into his face. He argued briefly with the other one, and agreed to escort me back to the house and to go inside with me.
He had hidden everything. I looked through the drawers of his dresser and saw my wallet. I decided it was better than getting nothing after they began to yell at me to hurry up and get out. The abuser was stating that it was against the law to allow me to search his room.
I will never, ever forget that day. At times, it seems like a dream; a nightmare. Sometimes, it feels like it happened to someone else. Afterwards, there were so many bruises on my body that a family member almost retaliated. I was black and blue, inside and out, for a very long time.
Because he knew so many in the music and grassroots Black community, the word circulated that I was lying. Men — and far too many women — sided with him, after I pressed charges. He sent people to my day job on my off days, and I was fired. He showed up at my performances, and I would shake from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. I remember leaving out of the back of the club where I was singing before I finished the set for fear that he would harm me again. Pressure from him — and many unsavory characters that he sent my way — forced me to drop the charges. I began to be afraid for my life, and the lives of my family members.
Fast forward twenty plus years later, and I am reflective and accepting of the life lessons I learned from that time period of my life. I learned to really pray. Much of what I also learned has to do with being mindful of who I choose to be around, and what led me to choose a man as he is. Also, I have developed a discerning eye for men who are even vaguely misogynistic. I am also learning to speak the reality of what I want in my life. I also pay attention to what men say and also what they do not say to me. Therapy, healing and spiritual work, meditation, prayer, solitude, and lots of reading and reflection led me through that time. Over the years, at least three men have asked to marry me, but I declined them all. I know that I still have a great deal of work to do still surrounding trust, but I am learning not to blame all men for the actions of one. I have many sacred, platonic relationships with men, and every day presents more of an opportunity to love myself. I am grateful to be alive.
I will never, however, forget the nonchalant, dismissive attitude of the police. The ones who vowed to protect and serve. The ones that I asked to be called to save me from an abuser. The ones who laughed at me, threatened me, and did not believe me. I never forgot how both officers banded together with the abuser and shared a laugh about women, as I stood there after being beat, with a baseball bat. It was like something out of the movies, except it was very real and it happened to me. I have never, ever forgotten that fateful day. I remember….