Did you know that April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month? In all honesty, every month is a National Something in America. Through writing for clients in various industries, I know that April is also National Heartworm Awareness Month and National Financial Literacy month. But isn’t it something when a national awareness campaign hits at the time when you are living through the reason for said cause?
Since launching my blog in 2015, I have mostly focused on travel stories and sharing my perspective as an immigrant adjusting to life in the United States. Aside from reminiscing on the island life in Jamaica, I don’t often delve into my past. Perhaps the closest I came to disclosing any details of the child abuse I faced was in a very popular article on my blog, How to Build a More Positive You.
Still, I have never told the full story, and I don’t plan to do so now either. But, I do believe that since life events have conspired to make National Child Abuse Prevention Month particularly important to me this year, some good can come from sharing some of the gory details. Awareness is always best when personalised and there are so many people enabling abusers by offering only deaf ears to children. I want you to see its effects. I want you to see what happens when you don’t listen.
Fact Is Stranger Than Fiction
In 2016, I wrote a short story series called The Moreau Witches. A year after I published it on my blog, I began to see parallels between the story I had written and my own past. When I expanded it into a novel, I steered clear of the facts and added my own embellishments, but the core plot of the story is no fiction.
My biological father did abuse my mother and I. My mother did flee to another country to escape him, but could not take me with her because I stayed behind for school. My father then did everything in his power to make my life a living hell, including trying to prevent and then trying to put an end to my college education.
For these and other reasons that I will discuss later, most of my mother’s family refers to him as Judas. Of all the things Judas did, however, the one great act that earned him his name was reporting my mother to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the early 2000s. This was also the act that marked the end of my parents’ marriage.
A Damning Letter
Fast-forward to mid-March of this year.
One night, while I was working on my blog, Mom came to see me. She had a look on her face that was half-part amusement and half-part sadness. “Did I ever show you the letter Judas sent me after he called immigration on me?” she asked.
“I heard about it,” I replied, “but I never read it.”
She set down a thick envelope on my coffee table. “You don’t have to read it now, but I thought you might like to see it.”
After I finished my writing, I set the laptop aside and began to read. In the letter, Judas confessed to reporting my mother to ICE. However, he painted himself as this saint of a man who was only trying to save his family and prevent his wife from leaving him—the wife who had already left him, and who only tolerated him for propriety’s sake and to maintain a relationship with me.
After about seven pages of apologising and making a case for himself, he then followed up with a three-page post-script. These three pages were a completely different tone. Where he had ended with hoping she would one day forgive him and wishing her the best, he now began to lash out at her and tell her it was all her fault and he wanted her back. If you have ever seen an episode of Criminal Minds or a Lifetime movie with a stalker-ex-type psychopath, you know the kind of letter I’m talking about.
I immediately returned it to my mother. “This man is crazy,” I said as I set it down on her own coffee table.
“Yes,” she agreed. “I didn’t even remember I had it. I just wanted you to see it before I throw it out.”
“Don’t throw it out,” I told her. “You never know when that crazy ass man might show up again. You might need that as evidence one day.”
“I guess,” she said with a shrug and then she locked it away. I think the Universe was listening, because here’s what happened the very next week.
When Social Analytics Discover Dark Truths
As many of you know, I own an independent public relations firm. We work with small businesses and take on portions of work from bigger clients. As part of my company branding, I am obligated to stay up-to-date with social media, whether I like it or not. As far as work obligations go in life, this is hardly one to complain about.
One day, while doing maintenance work on my personal Instagram account, I noticed a particular follower recommendation. My blood ran cold when I saw the name. He has a very unique name with an alternative spelling, so there was no doubting the identity. The picture also further confirmed it. What was worse, I was one of only two accounts he had chosen to follow.
I had not spoken to this man since he was allegedly on his death-bed in 2013 or 2014. He had become seriously ill and his family members had sought me out via email and social media to pressure me into speaking to him before he died. I had called and could barely recognise the voice on the other end of the line. Prior to this moment, we had not exchanged words since 2006 or 2007. He asked if he had a son-in-law or grand kids and begged me to come see him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I want you to know I’m sorry.”
The words put a lump in my throat. “Sorry for what?” I asked him. I wanted him to say all the words, to tell me he was sorry for the hurt and pain he had caused me and my mother for years. A general apology was not enough.
“I want to tell you in person,” he replied. “I need to see you. Come visit me in Kingston. I’m dying.”
I did not remind him of the things he had done, or point out that he had no right to ask anything of me. Instead, I told him I would not visit him in Kingston and that I wished him well. I was at work and could not linger on the phone. Goodbye.
Needless to say, he did not die.
The Follow-Up Email
After seeing the Instagram account, I dropped by Mom and asked to see her phone. I immediately looked for his account and blocked him from hers. As for me, I decided to let it be. I cannot block him from my blog unless I know his IP address, so what good was it to block him on Instagram? What was he going to do with a bunch of pictures?
“I can’t believe it,” Mom said. “We just found that letter and now this.”
When I woke up the following morning, there was an email awaiting me. Naturally, because I own a business, my email address is public. It was via this business email that he sent me a message saying he needs his daughter back. I felt the tremors of rage course through me.
I closed the email and took hours to think and decide what I wanted to say. I knew whatever words I sent would be final. There would not be any exchange, no back-and-forth. This was only to drive the point home that I was not interested in any reconciliation whatsoever.
After a few hours, I returned to my computer and typed up an email telling him that I wanted nothing to do with him. I told him of the night terrors I had suffered in college, because of him. Of the nights I woke up to my own screams, begging my grandma to come help me, because he was coming to beat or kill me.
The worst part about that recurring nightmare is that it was no mere dream. It was a real event that ended in me running out of my house in the pitch black night to my grandmother’s house, my face so swollen I was barely recognisable. When the police showed up, they could not believe he had struck me so hard. He was let off with a warning, but I digress.
I told him that since then I had grown and I was happy and thriving. I told him I would not allow him to undo all that hard work and that if he contacted me or my friends and family again, I would return his favours. Not only had Judas reported my mother to ICE while she was in the process of seeking asylum and residency in the United States, but he also stole my passport and tried to have it revoked by the Jamaican government when I stole it back at 16.
Oh, the stories I could tell about my life! Does it not sound unreal? I have often had to ask myself if it were all true. Did I really live through these things? Did they really happen to me? Am I sure?
And then, I spend time with the people who lived through it with me, with my mother and my grandmother and my cousin and my aunt and my high school friends, and the accounts are the same. And, I realise, My God, this was actually my life. This was actually me!
Whether or not he has replied to the email I sent, I do not know. I don’t care to know. I blocked his email address after responding and filed the email chain to spam. I have no curiosity whatsoever. My mother and I have since taken the necessary precautions to protect our home and to ensure my Dad—the man who voluntarily took on the role of being my father when the one I had been assigned would not—knows what he looks like.
Half a Family Discarded
If you have read this far, you are probably trying to make sense of what I have said. Maybe you are sad or angry. Maybe you have your own trauma that it brings to mind. Why did no one step forward to help me? There are family members who did, and I will not name them here, because for all I know Judas is reading this and may target them.
But, the vast majority of his side of the family did nothing. Not only did they call me a blatant liar, but my last memory of his family is this. When my mother announced their separation publicly in the newspaper—a Jamaican custom, prior to divorce—and when she initiated court proceedings to pass custody to my grandmother, his family threw me to the wolves.
I told everyone I could what was happening. I told his brothers and his sisters and his nieces and nephews—my aunts, uncles and cousins. Almost no one believed me. Instead, they had a big family meeting where they sat me down on the tiled floors of the living room and everyone took turns hurling insults at me, my mother and my grandmother.
I was called a Demon Spawn. My mother was called a whore. My grandmother was a witch. Accusation after accusation they cast at my feet and then when they were done, one uncle asked me, “What do you have to say for yourself?”
I looked up at him, numb and defiant. “What is there to say?” I replied. “You have already said everything yourself.”
“So, that’s it then?” he replied. “You don’t have anything to say to defend yourself.”
“Defend myself,” I chuckled bitterly at the thought. There I was, sixteen years old and alone, surrounded by half a dozen or more adults who had helped to ruin my life. “What’s the point?” I replied. “None of you have ever believed anything I have ever said, and I’m tired of wasting words. If you have nothing more to say to me, I would like to leave.”
“What a disgrace you have brought upon us!” one aunt wailed. “What will people say? They’re going to say we mistreated you and you ran away!”
Isn’t that exactly what happened? I thought to myself, but I didn’t speak the words. Instead, as I stood and walked to the door leading out to the veranda, I said, “What I can tell you is this, you can either escort me back to my home, or one day you will come here and find me gone. Either way, I won’t be staying.”
Judas chose the latter and had me police escorted back to my family’s property. “When you leave, make sure you take everything with you, because anything you leave, I’m going to burn it,” he told me.
I didn’t care. I was so happy to be back home with my grandma. My God, even now I remember the relief as I threw myself into my grandmother’s arms. I had been forcibly removed from my family’s property for months. I had been banned from speaking to my mom and my grandma. I had been threatened. And now, I was home.
I would love to tell you, the story got better here, but it did not. First, there was family court. The judge was so appalled by the case before her that she said, “You are a minor, but I believe the best course of action is to grant you permission to live and care for yourself. I don’t know which one of these people are telling the truth, but I caution you not to allow anyone to use you as a pawn. Your grandmother will receive legal custody on paper, but you are free to live where and as you please.”
I chose to live in the home my great-grandmother had given to my grandma, who had then given it to my mom and who had then given it to me. This was the home from which I had been forcibly removed. It also put me right next door to my grandmother.
There were three people on the panel that day and after being given my early independence, as well as receiving a restraining order against Judas, one of the men motioned that he would like to speak. “You know what I think?” the man said to me. “I think you are a spoiled brat and that everything you said is a lie.”
I looked him dead in the eye, unshaken and undisturbed. I had heard those words before from people who mattered far more to me then, and who do not matter to me now. “Thank you,” I said to him and then I left the court room with my grandmother.
In the months that followed, my biological father broke into the family home and stole my mother’s personal property, including building material she had bought to repair and expand the house. When the police arrived, he claimed he had not broken into the home and was just taking the materials he had bought. The receipts were in his name as Mom had been overseas when the order was placed and so we had no proof.
I was furious. I told my grandmother to go for some kerosene and a match and I stood by the old broken down car he had been restoring that had been parked in front of our house for years. “When you leave, make sure you take everything with you, because anything you leave, I’m going to burn it,” I told him.
In the end, I didn’t set the car on fire. It was parked too close to the house. A week later, it was gone. A part of me still wishes I had risked the sweet pleasure of watching that green Morris Minor burn.
Karma Came Full Force
If you pity me after reading this, there’s no need. The only part of this story that ever moves me is when I think of that absolute relief I felt when I was returned to my grandmother. Save your pity for the paternal half of the family who called me a liar. Within a year or two, with his favourite punching bag gone, he had turned on them.
I heard his sister fled the property to live on the other side of the island and still could not escape him, the same aunt who had wailed about what people were going to think. What did people indeed think when she left?
She and some of the others were sorry now. They believed me. They wanted reconciliation. It was too little too late. I denied their offer of reconciliation. I had already made my escape, no thanks to them. Why should I volunteer to re-enter the flames?
But, perhaps the person you should really save your pity for is the man who will die spurned by his only legitimate child. In my email I told him:
When you die, don’t leave me anything… You will find I can be as cold and heartless a daughter as you were a father, and that is the only lesson I will ever thank you for.