Say we know someone who is going through life and a half, and perhaps we feel as though they aren't doing all they can to get themselves out of a particularly bad situation. We decide to give them (often unsolicited) advice, and almost always start off our self-righteous diatribes with:
“Well, if it were me…” and/or, “Well, if I were you…”
In 2001, the musical group City High released their most renowned song: “What Would You Do”. The song was praised as an “anthem” for single mothers worldwide who joined the (often unjustly) frowned-upon world of sex workforce to support their children.
By Jacqueline-Elizabeth, AFROPUNK Contributor*
Sung from the perspectives of an unnamed male partygoer, and his junior high school classmate-turned-stripper/prostitute (Lonnie), he runs into her at a party she’s entertaining at, pulls her aside, and proceeds to tell her how shocked he is to see where the road of life has led her.
Offended, Lonnie explains that she has become the single mother of an infant son with a drug-addicted father, makes a living as a stripper and prostitute, and points to the turning point in life as being raped by her father as a child.
Her former schoolmate (and later, in the bridge of the song, said schoolmates friends listening to the story) think she's just making excuses for herself as to why she can't make a better life for herself and her son.
The end of the music video shows Lonnie rushing home from the party, set on turning her life around for the sake of herself and her son.
Regardless of how the video ended, each and every one of us judged Lonnie whether we realized it or not, and formed our own theories and ideas about what we would do in her situation.
As we’re supposed to; it's the essence of the song. I certainly was one of those people who had the ignorant mindset of not feeling a shred of pity for anyone who stayed in an abusive relationship, or makes excuses for themselves as to why they just can't do better and pull themselves up and out of a bad situation.
Now, at twenty-seven, I feel very differently about the song (as well as Lonnie’s circumstances) than I did at twelve. I came to the realization of how much of a hypocrite I would be to continue feeling as though Lonnie (or anybody else in negative situations) deserves anyone's judgement. Least of all my own.
In my life, I’ve done things I swore I would never do, or allowed things done to myself that I couldn't have ever imagined foreseeing me tolerate.
I'm reminded that once upon a time, I said “Never”.
A week or so ago, I watched ID Network’s Evil Lives Here. A woman detailed her real-life account of having survived a man who put her and their children through an unimaginable hell. Her fear of him was so severe that she lied to the police every time she was questioned about the abuse.
“Fear is a powerful thing”, she gave, as her reasoning for never taking their children and escaping. The ordeal ended only after her eleven-year-old daughter finally went to the police.
The episode picked at one or two open wounds of my own. Around this time last year, and while in a violently abusive relationship that lasted three short months, I became pregnant.
I wanted nothing to tie me to that dangerous man for the rest of my life, and coupled with the psychologically and emotionally damning doubt of my own maternal abilities (amongst with other reasons), leaving him and terminating the pregnancy was the best way I knew how to avoid winding up with my own feature on ID Network.
Our “storybook” romance began the way that episode of Evil Lives Here started out:
“I thought he was the man of my dreams.”
You couldn't convince me he wasn't the blessing of my Higher Power I’d been praying for my entire life. He met Every. Single. One. of the desirable qualities I (thought) I sought in a man; we even shared the same exact birthday.
For a time, I did a damned good job of forcing myself to be happy and trying not to resent him for saying that an abortion was out of the question despite my vehemently wanting one.
All too soon, I saw the signs, and despite my love of surfing and swimming, I chose to lackadaisically tread the murky waters of denial like I wasn't surrounded by obvious undertows:
He often threatened to kill me, kill my family, and even go to my disabled mother's nursing home to rape and kill her if I tried leaving. There was no distinction between his verbal and physical abuse; both were equally damaging.
An “unapproved-by-him” text to my sister earned me a backhand and swollen lip. He watched me obsessively. I wasn't even trusted enough to use the bathroom without him standing there and watching me.
When he drank, his violence escalated to unimaginable levels.
Two months into my pregnancy, he came home at around three in the morning, wasted and wanting sex. When I got sick of telling him “no” sixty times (our usual bedtime ritual), I went to sleep on the couch. He stormed into the living room, snatched the blanket off of me, and proceeded to drag me by the wrist back to the bedroom. I heavily emphasized my “no” by way of yanking, screaming, scratching, and biting at him.
Shame on me for having the audacity to deny him sex, because my 6’4 ex swung me around, grabbed me by the shoulders, and knocked me clean over the bed right into our nightstand where I faithfully kept a pitcher of water for my morning/noon/night/all-the-time-sickness. He broke my collarbone and gave me a concussion. I took to cowering behind the couch.
The water spilling only served to incite him further and he blamed me entirely for it as he yanked me bodily over the sofa. When he started threatening to beat my ass (and he did), I rushed to get a roll of paper towels.
As I bent down to clean up the spill, he grabbed the back of my neck, forced me down to my knees, and proceeded to shove my face into the water and hardwood floor like a dog that had just urinated on it.
He replaced his hand with his foot and stepped on the back of my head, all the while using the mistakes of my past that I confided in him to wear my soul threadbare. When I couldn't clean up fast enough, he kicked me as hard as he could and then spit on me.
Hours later, as he slept, he held me in what I'm sure to him was a loving embrace. To me, it was like a spring-loaded vice that could snap my neck at any given second. I stayed awake; numb and hollow.
Two nights later, his hands were closed around my throat with all of the force he could muster for once again denying him sex.
I never believed I would allow myself to be treated even a fraction of the way that I allowed him to treat me.
And sure enough: Open mouth; insert foot.
I stayed with him for the remainder of my first trimester, justifying his behavior, accepting his apologies, and constantly lying to myself, friends, my family, his family, and even the police that everything was fine.
With the help and support of very remarkable people in my life I that don't deserve, I made the decision to escape back to Los Angeles, terminate the pregnancy, and reclaim my life (and though an ongoing battle, the “reclaiming my life” part is one I'm determined to win).
The only good that came of those brief, three months was that it showed me just how abusive of a person I'd been to good men in the past, and to people in general. It made me correct my ways, as harsh lessons of irony are supposed to.
Today, whenever I find myself presented with the question, “What would you do?”, regardless of the situation or the context, I now understand that there isn't any shame in responding “ I don't know”--
As opposed to giving a blind and casually flippant response driven by ego, or how I idealize myself handling a particular situation a certain way.
*Chicago-born and raised Androgynous AltModel and Pokemon Master, Jacqueline-Elizabeth (AKA Kurosune Suicide / JaxJax Attaxx of the SuicideGirls, and Cosplay Deviants) developed a lifelong love of reading and writing at ages two and three, scored her first big writing gig as Nerdy But Flirty's first, Black writer, and was later recruited by the Jace Hall Show (now TwinGalaxiesLive!) as also not only their first Black writer, but their first female one as well.
Her interests include watching anime, cosplaying, modeling, reading manga, gaming, 420 shenanigans, surfing, increasing her number of tattoos, rainy days in bed journaling, and writing about anime, manga, and hentai for Jamie Broadnax's site, BlackGirlNerds.com