“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
In the words of the beloved poet, Maya Angelou:
“The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.”
A woman enduring violence is like a caged bird; trapped by fear, longing to be free and hoping that her song will be heard.
I was introduced into a world of violence, when I was born. My mother was in an abusive relationship with my father. My first memories are tinged with violence and pain. More insufferable than the pain I endured, was the violence I witnessed against my siblings. I recall admitting to things that I did not do, so that I would get the beating instead of one of them. There is no way for a child to heroically survive rages against them by a parent. It haunts me still, the memory of my father savagely beating my little brother into the floor. I asked myself, why I didn't do more to protect him. Why didn't I throw myself over him, anything? I was the big sister, I should have protected him. So it began…the self blame.
When I was 6, I was molested. The boy was the teenage son of family friends and someone I had known my entire short life. Our families were members of the same faith and congregation. The “case” was presented to the congregation elders. I was forced to face my attacker. I was a small young girl in a small room, surrounded by men and subjected to the glare of the young man who had hurt me. My father was there, but he had never protected me. My mother waited in the car out in the parking lot. Women were not allowed to be part of congregation “judicial” proceedings. I could barely breathe and when I opened my mouth to speak; my voice would not come out. I was frozen with fear. So I learned...it was my word against his.
When I was 17, I was working to support myself and living alone. I was in my first “adult” relationship with a 21 year old man. When I became pregnant, he changed both into a stranger and into someone I recognized. The first time, he punched a hole in the wall near my head. The next time, he slapped me and pushed me into the wall. I came from a violent past and had vowed that no one would ever hit me. I called the police. The officer that responded became antagonistic during the interview. I still recall his gloved hand as he placed it on the wall and leaned in to me. “I can take both of you to jail and we can sort this out there,” he said. So it continued…the cycle.
When I was 20, I broke free. I fled with my son to a women’s shelter in a small rural town. I had no one, friends or family. My only possessions were a few of my son’s things. The officer that left me at the shelter, returned the next day with his wife and son. They showed us kindness, they gave us something to eat and clothes to wear. Later, another officer and his wife took us in. They gave us a place to live and the feeling of family. With their support and encouragement, I became a police officer as well, in September of 2001. So I found…hope.
Within a few years; I had a new life, new friends, and a good career. I remarried and had a baby on the way. Life’s trials had not ended, but my new support system was there to help me through a major health crisis. My marriage ended, but my ex-husband is a decent man. We have a healthy relationship and can co-parent our son. When I was well again, I joined the Board of Directors for the women’s shelter where I had once lived. I served for the following eight years. Together, we raised the donations for the building of a new women’s shelter. I also became a CASA volunteer, a court appointed special advocate, for abused children in foster care. My ongoing health issues did not allow me to continue in the field of law enforcement, but I returned to college to finish my bachelor’s degree.
Four years ago, I found World Pulse. I found a place to share and support other women. Women whose mission it is, in the words of Maya Angelou, “not merely to survive, but to thrive.” Inspired by my volunteer work with World Pulse, I am pursuing a degree in International Relations. I hope to one day work for a nonprofit organization. I am also seriously contemplating law school. So…I now believe in my dreams.
I am no longer a caged bird, I am not afraid, and I am free. I have found my song and my voice.
“A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.”
~ Maya Angelou