Monica "Focus On The Beauty"

Photography by    Karen Rawlings

Photography by Karen Rawlings

From the beginning, I can honestly say my life has never been easy. I was born with a birth defect, experienced childhood abuse, and was often shut out by my peers. I am not sure if being shy and quiet was in my nature but it was the way I learned to cope with feeling alone. It wasn’t until high school when I felt confident of who I was. I was on the dance team, auditioned and was accepted into the top choral group, worked all the time, made friends with the underdogs, and managed to maintain passing grades in school. I have always had a big heart despite what life threw at me. I loved anyone that loved me back. My love for people would play a major role later in my life.

At age seventeen, I learned that I was pregnant. Not only was I pregnant but I was in the eleventh grade. If this was not hard enough, I had to tell my parents that I was pregnant, in the eleventh grade, and I was carrying a child that would be born half African American. I was able to hide my pregnancy until I was four months along when my mother found out from a note from my friend. Needless to say my parents were disappointed in me. I had people tell me that an abortion would be the best because the world would not accept my child. Honestly, I contemplated it. I went as far as to schedule the appointment and check-in for it. I couldn’t do it. I told my child’s father that I wanted to leave, I wanted my baby and I didn’t care who liked my decision. We left without hesitation.

I continued through eleventh grade and lived life to please myself. Nothing and no one else mattered but my baby. I lost friends, and family members exiled me from their life. I didn’t care. I loved this child. I would do anything and everything to make him happy and keep him safe. After delivering my son by emergency C-section, I remember waking up in the recovery room. “Do you have any friends left?” were the first words I heard when I woke up. Dazed and confused, I had no idea what the nurse watching over me was talking about. She repeated herself. I then realized she was referring to me having a mixed race child. I verbally defended my child as much as I could given the state I was in, but this would soon be only one situation out of many where the color of my children would determine how people spoke to and treated us. While I was lying in the recovery bed, I swore that my son would not have to accept others mistreating him.

In the twelfth grade, I became pregnant again and was sent to the alternative school for “those type of kids”. There was a daycare in the school that provided parental education and I completed all of my school work three months ahead of my peers which was a plus. I walked across the graduation stage six months pregnant and had a nine month-old baby in the stands. I continued to work to provide for my children and be the exception to the rule. By the time I was twenty one years-old, I had three sons. All by the same father, conceived in love. Four months after my youngest was born, my husband decided he didn’t want his family and he left the home. There I was, three biracial boys to raise on my own. I not only provided the income but I provided all of the guidance. I quickly taught myself what a young African-American boy would need to survive in this world. I already knew, given my history, that life was unfair, and to survive I had to wear my armor at all times.

There were too many incidences of when I had to go to my boys’ school to speak to their teacher, principal, and/or school counselor and explain why racial slurs should not be used by other students towards my sons. There was a school counselor who said my youngest son was making gang signs, in the fifth grade, when he was making the sign, ‘okay’. A teacher accused my middle son of drawing a cross which represented the cross for Christ but she insisted it was a gang symbol; he was in the fifth grade at that time as well. I personally watched a school principal standing on the corner of the street watching others students bully my son and get ready to beat on him. The principal made no call for help. In high school, fights became more frequent as my sons were tired of the racism they experienced. I never sugarcoated how people filled with hate and ignorance act. One student threatened to hang my middle son and when he became angry and responded, he was sent home. He never put his hands on the other student. I saw the video, my son’s side of the argument was correct. The other child, never got in trouble and my son remained suspended.

Monica-003-2.jpg

I can go on and on about how my sons were followed in stores, treated differently by family members, accused of being the aggressors; but what worries me the most is their interactions with police. One of my sons was racially profiled by a police officer while I was driving down the street. The officer accused my son of being an adult and robbing a local grocery store. He stated, “You look just like to suspect”. I nearly came unglued. It is a feeling a parent should never experience. I then realized my sons were growing up even though they were my babies. My promise to protect them at all costs became increasingly more difficult. The world I warned them about was coming for them. To sit down and talk through how to respond to a police officer was sickening. Hearing that people drive by my sons while playing basketball and yell racists slurs is sickening. Knowing that a Neo-Nazi, bearing his tattoos of hate in pride, was in a small convenience store with them is sickening. Not being able to tuck them under my arm and shield them from hate devastates me.

Through all of this, my sons love all people. They give without taking. Their manners are polished and their smiles are bright. Despite being on this rollercoaster of life, they still have their love for God, their family, and for the underdogs. I managed to gain the confidence when they were in middle school to go to college in order to support them and show them that they can do anything they set their minds on. Working full-time, going to college full-time, and taking care of my sons was definitely a challenge. The love of my sons kept me going. I did not want them to think that they weren’t capable of being whoever they chose to be. Initially, I wanted to be a registered nurse but I was not accepted into the program due to being a single parent. With my armor on, I continued to attend classes and was led to counseling. I double majored and graduated with honors. I then immediately went on to get my Masters degree in counseling. The real achievement for me was seeing my sons in crowd cheering for me.

Along this path, I had an ex-boyfriend that attempted to strangle me. If the domestic violence center in my hometown didn’t demand that he was charged, he would never have had any consequences. I was in other abusive relationships throughout the years but never lost my faith in love. While my two oldest sons were small, my car caught on fire and I had to throw them in the pasture before the car was engulfed in flames. One man was upset with an ex of mine and shot at my car while I had had my sons in the backseat. The man I was with beat me on the side of the highway, while saying that the incident was my fault. My sons and I have been homeless once and struggled financially throughout the years. In 2016, my first grandchild Nova, was stillborn at 7 months. My heart continues to ache for her and the loss all of the possibilities.

Within the last three years I have lost all of my peripheral eyesight in my right eye due to having three retinal detachments. The last detachment left me completely blind but I was able to find a doctor that was able to save some of my vision. My left retina started to detach but the doctor was able to laser it before it had a large hole. This is another experience that has me terrified. I never know when my eyes may decide to give out. Every aspect of my life has been affected by this. I constantly live in fear that I may not see my sons one day. I may not get to see the innocence on my grandchildren’s’ faces. But I try not to focus on this and focus on the beauty in the world instead.

As a newly empty nester, I don’t know what lies ahead of me. From the time my identity was secure, I have had someone to take care of. I had someone to love and need me, despite my flaws. I now travel in life alone, knowing that I will always have my sons as my co-pilots. I have learned in life to stand up for what you believe in even when you are standing by yourself, never let the past define who you are, love unconditionally, and take time to enjoy the roses (just smelling them cheats you out of enjoying their beauty). I am thankful for the life God has given me. I do not understand the “whys” often and when I struggle I lean on my faith even more. I use my sense of humor, empathy, and ability to not remain upset for a long period of time as my armor. As my journey continues, I learn more about myself. I won’t ever give up because in my eyes I still have those babies boys I have to protect and be a good example for. I can’t always say I embrace changes but I know that I will make it through whatever I may face. I continue to have hope that we can all love and accept one another. When in doubt, I remind myself of Philippians 4:13-23 “I can to all things through Christ which strengthens me”.

February 2018

Monica-001.jpg