I'm on mile 5 of 10, running the longest leg for my Ragnar Relay team. We are running from Madison, Wisconsin back to Chicago. It's early June so the sun isn't at her hottest yet. But it's midday and you can see the heat rising off of the pavement, making the road ahead shimmer. I'm reduced down to my sports bra and shorts as I hear my mom's voice ringing in my ear, “Dress 20 degrees warmer when you run. If you are still hot you can always take layers off.”
I am lost in my thoughts. Feet pounding the pavement, stride after stride. Pushing my body harder than I have in a long time. I’m proud of myself. It took a while, but I am proud.
I hear more footsteps, another runner coming to pass. I wait until they get closer before opening my mouth to say some words of encouragement. It’s a runner thing.
But she beats me to it.
“Beautiful tattoo!” She genuinely exclaims, almost as if she knows my pain behind it. It’s as if, she too, is a Survivor.
Taken aback, I reply “Thank you!”
She continues on.
I wasn’t yet a mother on that sweltering day in June. I was still recovering from years of self-destruction and abusive relationships.
I remember 2 months before, a weekend in April, I had returned home to Michigan for a quick visit with my family. Sitting with my mom in our living room. There were tears, uncontrollable tears. Tears of sadness as I poured my heart out to her.
She sat there patiently while I declared that I never wanted to be in love again. The suffering I went through was too much. My healing heart couldn’t bear the thought of being broken, not even one more time.
As I cursed love, I also confessed my heavy fear of child bearing. The thought of bringing another human, let alone more than one, into this dark and cold world terrified me. Knowing what I know, everything I have been through.
No, I wouldn’t…
My relationship with my mom hasn’t been the easiest, your typical mother daughter affair. But in this moment, she was more than my mom. She was my refuge.
She didn’t cut me off as I unloaded years of plight on to her. She took it all in, collected her thoughts and so beautifully consoled me.
As I remember that day, my stomach begins to knot up. Anxiety creeps in.
You see, I am now a Wife and Mother. A Mother of two.
I am a Mother of two who has seen the darkest depths of humanity.
A Wife. A Mother. A Survivor, as my tattoo boldly testifies.
But I fear the day I have to explain this tattoo to my children. There is so much to tell, so much innocence lost.
How do I tell my daughter that her mother was a victim of child sexual abuse, by not one but 2 members of the family? That for years she feared the dark and locked her door at night. That she turned to men, sexually, because that is all she knew.
How do I tell my son that his mother allowed young men to take their fists to her face? That one time in college she had too much to drink and became a rape statistic. That she still fears the dark.
How do I tell my children that their mother lost herself in alcohol, barely making rent, and dug for loose change everyday to quench her thirst? That she drank to erase the memories. That she drank to hide from her past.
How do I tell my children that not everyone has good intentions without taking away their innocence? Is it fair to tell them the truth? How do I warn them of the shadows without causing them to fear the light?
My parents did their best to keep me safe while warning me of those shadows.
“Don’t talk to strangers.”
“If anyone touches your privates, tell us”
“If you need a ride home from the party, please call.”
Words I can hear myself saying to my kids years from now.
But kids will be kids and my words will most likely glide in one ear and right out of the other, with no thought of them lingering as they run off with their friends to play.
So until then, I will think back to that day with my mom. My memory of her so vivid. Her words echo in my heart. Her presence unmoved by my waves of emotions.
She has been here before, she too a Survivor.
My worries coming to a calm, I have reached a decision.
The day my children ask about my tattoo, I will tell them my truth.
I am a Survivor. Coming from generations of Survivors.
I will speak of the shadows, not so they fear the light, but so they know what courage and strength looks like in the darkest of nights.
That courage and strength looks like me. It is me.
I would not be the Mother I am today without it.
JOURNALIST: Shea Gardner