I was very excited to wear my favorite dress to Roselle’s party. I remember asking my mom several times if it was time to go to the birthday party of my classmate. This was my first party and I was happy that my kindergarten friend invited me. I remember my mother walking me into the party and Roselle running up to me to give me a hug. I was so happy to see the balloons and the outdoor picnic table set up for the festivities. I waved goodbye to my mom and joined the rest of the kids in the backyard. A few minutes later, Roselle’s mom informed me that my mom was back to pick me up. I was sad to leave so early, I felt as though I had just arrived. I said goodbye to Roselle and joined my mother in the car.
“Why did you come so early to pick me up?” I asked my mom. “I wanted to stay and play with my friends.” My mother then explained that Roselle’s mom had called her to come pick me up. I was confused. “Did I do something wrong?” I asked.
“No,” my mother replied. The next day of school, I ran up to Roselle in the school yard and tried to give her a hug—our usual greeting. Not responding to my hug, she said, “I’m sorry. I cannot be your friend. My mom said that black people are bad and I’m not allowed to play with you.”
“Okay,” I mumbled, going off by myself to watch the other children play. Little did I realize that scenes like this would reoccur throughout my childhood.
“ I cannot be your friend. My mom said that black people are bad and I’m not allowed to play with you. ”
I am the oldest sister of two siblings, the first American-born on our mother’s side. My mother’s parents and siblings emmigrated from Russia. My dad’s family were American-born of Jamaican and Dominican descent. My mother and father divorced when I was three. My father played no role in my life. Although I recall brief moments of seeing him around, we had no relationship. He basically abandoned his children. We lived with my mother’s parents and were often left in their care. My mother’s family did not accept my mom’s decision to enter into an interracial marriage and she spent much of her adult life as a target of her family’s ridicule and abuse. Which trickled down to us.
My mom was told that in giving birth to me, she put a stain on the family surname. When my mom was pregnant with my sister, one of her brothers kicked her down a flight of stairs which resulted in a birth defect my sister suffers from today. When I was eight years old, I was asked to clean out the attic. Finding several photographs of my mother at younger ages, I was captivated by her beautiful platinum blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes. Those eyes seemed so sad now, even angry. My mother was a very beautiful woman. Her beauty was something I coveted, and I remembered praying many nights that God would let me wake up blonde, blue-eyed and white like my mom. God never answered my tearful prayers and pleas. Morning after morning, I woke up with my black skin, brown curly hair, and brown eyes.
Then, among these photos and other papers, I came across my parents’ marriage license. I noticed that the marriage date was September of 1969. I was born in April of 1970. I wondered if my parents were married because of me. I grabbed the paper, made my way back downstairs, down to the first floor where my grandparents lived. I found my grandmother knitting in her rocking chair. I bluntly asked Babushka, (grandmother in Russian), if my parents married because my mom was pregnant with me. Showing her the marriage license I had found, her response seared its way into my mind. “I told your mom she should have had an abortion and this mess would not be happening.” I froze, trying to process what she had just told me. You wanted me aborted. I was a mistake. My grandmother’s messed up life was my fault as was my mother’s messy life. I was the cause of it all. No wonder she hated me.
“ I told your mom she should have had an abortion and this mess would not be happening. ”
I wasn’t being overly dramatic in believing my mother hated me. She had countless fits of rage and would tell me she hated me and that I was a blood sucker of her life. During the 19 years living with my relatives, my brother, sister, and I endured horrific abuse. Our self-esteem and self-worth were shattered and I believed it to be my fault. I had zero value.
Although there were some moments of laughter and profoundly tender moments with my caregivers, I was mostly impacted by their adverse treatment of us. I make no excuses for their terrible acts but I do believe they were probably doing the best they knew at the time. My mother worked day and night to provide for us since my father was medically released from paying her child support. We were left in the care of my grandparents or to fend on our own. More often than not, my mother left us without food in our three-room, second-floor apartment above my grandparents. She struggled financially and emotionally and used alcohol to numb her pain. Her frustration was displayed before us and on us as she slapped us, punched us, and threw things at us.
I was petrified of that woman. I tried my best to stay out of her way. I became very quiet and learned not to want, need, or feel for anything. Although my heart hurt, I tried to suppress my pain and anger.
I was so desperate to find some remnant of worth that I became an over achiever—my attempt to earn value. I was a straight-A student most of my life and spent Saturday mornings in Russian school, Saturday afternoons participating in ice skating lessons, dance lessons, and gymnastics, and Sundays in church. My grandparents would make sure we had access to these things. But the outcome for me in all of this was that I could never be good enough.
“ Her frustration was displayed before us and on us as she slapped us, punched us, and threw things at us. ”
My sister on the other hand had more of a zest for life, and often found herself at the end of a slap across the face. On one occasion my mother became so angry with my sister she grabbed a newly brewed pot of coffee and threw it at her. My sister cried from the burns and the small pieces of broken glass wedged in her leg. My brother seemed to be the family’s main target. His beatings were the longest. My grandparents would often call my uncles to come assist them with disciplining us. I would listen to their complaints—how they wanted to send us off to a military school or to send us back to Passaic, where the other “niggers” lived.
My uncles often counseled their children to keep away from us because we were “bad” or “wild Indians.” One of my uncles in his frustration with repeated pleas from my grandmother to help with us, grabbed me by my shirt collar and pushed me backwards down a flight of stairs. As I was tumbling down, I truly believed I was going to die. I landed at the bottom, on my back and laid there for a minute or so until I realized that I was not dead.
Each of us reacted differently to this treatment. One of us would continually urinate in the bed at night and often run away from home, another would have bowel movements in their under garment, while another would become a masterful liar to avoid any interaction with the adults or with anyone else. Once when my grandfather smelled the bowel movement in the underwear, he dragged that child into the bathroom and dropped the child’s pants, taking the human feces from the under garment and shoving it into the child’s mouth.
“ I tried really hard not to be bad because I was desperate for them to love me. ”
I tried really hard not to be bad because I was desperate for them to love me. I wanted to be worthy of their surname. Despite my best efforts, I could never cut it. I tried my very best to be good and help out as much as possible around the house and yard. But I couldn’t escape their disappointment, their frustration, anger, and seemingly hate. Despite my straight-A’s, quiet nature, over-helpfulness, ability to fluently speak, read, and write Russian, I was a failure. I was never really told why I was so bad but I drew the conclusion that it was because of my bi-racial ethnicity.
“Nigger” was a word many cousins, friends, and neighbors used. I had no safe space in my life. I attended Russian school on Saturdays where I was rejected and made fun of. I wasn’t accepted by the children at primary school either. Even the teachers were ignorant and added fuel to the fire. In sixth grade social studies class, Mr. Hagman taught about the relationship between the settlers and the Indians. To demonstrate a point of co-mingling with the races, he had me stand up in class and explained to my peers that I was a mulatto. For the rest of the school year the students called me the “mule toe.” That name was swapped out with “tar baby,” “jungle bunny,” “oreo cookie,” and most commonly “nigger.” I was spat on, pushed, had my hair pulled, and called names throughout school.
It wasn’t until the eighth grade where I actually began to act out against my classmates. My rage boiled over one day when I found myself acting like my mom. I got right into a girl’s face on the playground and screamed as loud as I could at her and pushed her down. My mom was called into the office and the school offered to pay for me to go to a school in a more “diverse neighborhood” because they feared for my well-being. My mom refused and I remained in that school district. The rage I felt became the only emotion I would ever allow myself to feel. Until I met my eldest daughter’s father when I was 15 years old.
“ I did give him everything. My money, my virginity, and most of all, my heart. Like everyone else, he broke it. ”
I was amused that any boy wanted to talk to me, because for years I was reminded about how ugly I was. That I looked like a monkey. I was so desperate to be loved that I would have given him anything just so he would eventually tell me he loved me. I did give him everything. My money, my virginity, and most of all, my heart. Like everyone else, he broke it.
I remember the first time he hit me. He was driving me home from the local mall where I worked and began accusing me of flirting with one of the customers. I laughed and told him he was nuts and became increasingly angry because he was calling me names at that point. I told him to pull over and let me out of the car. He hauled off and pushed the side of my head so hard that it smashed against the passenger side window. I hit him back as a knee jerk reaction. He slammed on the brakes and began hitting me on the back of the head. I yelled for him to stop, telling him I was sorry. Six years of physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual domestic violence followed and ended with restraining orders and his incarceration for running over a police officer who was assisting me and my baby girl in getting away.
In order to cope with my abuse, my defense mechanism was to become numb. I was proficient at turning off all my emotions. I made sure I didn’t feel. I maintained a tough exterior. Any time I attempted to let my guard down, I was unable to cope with the pain. I often wanted to die, even planned and semi-attempted suicide on several occasions. I walked through my life just getting from one day to the next—from childhood, through adolescence, into teenage years and early adulthood. I found it extremely difficult to trust anyone, and impossible to truly bond. All my relationships were very superficial and I lived in a perpetual bracing myself for the inevitable disaster lying in wait.
“ When I woke up the next morning, I had the strongest urge to buy a Bible. ”
In 1993, I was sitting in my home unable to sleep around 12 AM, while my 4-year-old daughter was fast asleep. I was feeling lonely and filled with resentment and bitterness. I was flipping through channels on the TV when an image caught my attention. The screen displayed a large billboard with images of a wine bottle, a crystal ball with a psychic looking into it, and a lottery ticket. The words on the screen read, “What are you going to hell for?” I was 23 years old and hadn’t thought of heaven or hell since I was a child. I remember thinking, You can go to hell for a lottery ticket? Aloud I said, “God, if you are real and this is true, you are going to have to show me who you are because I don’t know you at all and I don’t believe that you’re there.” For the first time in my life, God answered me. When I woke up the next morning, I had the strongest urge to buy a Bible. So, I dressed my daughter and drove to the local bookstore at the mall. I purchased two books that day, The Living Bible and a children’s book for my little girl called “God Made Me Special.”
I read the children’s book to my daughter that day and put the Bible on the nightstand in my room. Early evening after putting my daughter to bed, I opened the Bible and read it from cover to cover. That night my life was changed. I was fascinated by God, His word, His story, my story through His words. I knew I was a sinner and wanted so desperately to know this fascinating God.
As I began to re-read the Bible, I started to follow the Levitical law to the letter, as best I could. I felt exuberated by the notion that God was real. I was created by Him. Somehow the sky seemed bluer. But as the days rolled by, my friends began to worry about me. I dressed with long skirts so my ankles wouldn’t show. I removed pork, shellfish, and more from my diet, wore scarves on my head when out in public, and threw away all my cassette tapes and books. I didn’t mind that my friends thought I was crazy and began disowning me. I had discovered that there was a God and I was going to follow Him. One friend in particular laughed and told me to concentrate on reading the book of Matthew.
“ After he finished, he asked me if I’d like to repent and accept Jesus as my savior. ”
That evening, I meticulously read through Matthew. I was so angry when I finished, I threw the Bible across the room. What did God want from me? I was so confused. I’m trying to follow His law and with sincere joy in my heart while doing so. I’m now reading that all that will not save me, will not get me closer to Him, because I could never be good enough to attain salvation. The law and rules I understand, but all this about not mattering what I eat or drink but to trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding—that’s what I thought I was doing by the eating, washing, and dressing rituals.
Later, I happened to receive a phone call from this same young lady. I informed her how I was distressed over my confusion and rattled off so many questions. She didn’t know how to help me but she knew someone who she thought could. That woman was Zoraida Haddad who listened to me and then invited me to a Bible study at her church. First, though, I decided to return to the church of my youth—the Russian Orthodox Church. I attended there three times a week, and after mass on the second week, I met with the priest. I had so many questions, but his answers always seemed to end in a discussion of church history.
I wasn’t satisfied. I decided that I would attend a Sunday School class at Zoraida’s church the following Sunday before mass. I attended that class, and after the teacher greeted me, she asked me when I had been born again. When I said I didn’t know what that meant, she assured me that I wasn’t born again. I was offended. I decided I didn’t belong there. But the next week I felt drawn back, although this time I went to a different Sunday School class. This teacher told me he asks all new attendees if they are born again. Not again, I thought. “No, I’m not,” I said. “I told the lady last week I don’t even know what that means.” He explained that when the Lord sends a new person to his class, he stops the regular lesson and gives a salvation message. He began going through scripture after scripture that spoke of Jesus, sin, the Father’s love, and salvation. After he finished, he asked me if I’d like to repent and accept Jesus as my savior. I was still confused and said, “Not yet, if that’s okay.”
“ After we prayed, she told me that angels were rejoicing over my salvation. ”
After class he introduced me to his fiancé and her best friend and invited me to a weekly home Bible study. They invited me to sit with them during service. However, I told them I was going to my own church; that I was just here for Sunday School because my priest couldn’t really answer the questions I had. They smiled and said they hoped to see me next week. After a few weeks, I decided to stay for the church service. I was shocked that there was a band, clapping hands, singing and dancing. I was intrigued but felt very weird. I kept thinking that this was a display of sacrilege. I left before the pastor began preaching. I went to my church service and spoke with the priest after mass and told him of my experience. He told me to never go back there again because those people were of the devil.
I contemplated his answer. I had seen demons in my mother’s face as she screamed at me. I just couldn’t believe that all those happy faces in that church and the joy so prevalent in that room was demonic. I liked these people. Genuinely caring, they had invited me into their homes, shared meals with me, offered friendship. I went back to the church on a night when an evangelist was speaking. I decided to stay for the full service and not leave no matter what. When the evangelist began to preach, my heart pounded for the full 40 minutes he spoke. When he gave an altar call, I jolted out of my seat and ran to the altar where I vocally sobbed for long minutes in repentance. When I was able to compose myself, the altar worker asked if I was ready to give my life to Jesus. “Yes, absolutely!” I replied. After we prayed, she told me that angels were rejoicing over my salvation.
Although I wasn’t fully aware of the new journey I was embarking on, my spirits were lifted—not burdensome anymore. Over the years I struggled with healing from my past, reconciling my choices and consequences, and learning to forgive others and myself. I was often angry when I read scriptures of how God is a God who sees and hears, because He saw and heard so much in my life but still allowed it. I struggled with God’s words of how He permits rain on the just and the unjust, because there were times I wanted people to pay for what they did to me and my siblings. Sometimes I would almost feel like I was turning into my mother, sad and full of anger.
“ God will always remain faithful to me. ”
During all these times God would remind me how much I’m loved and how much He has done for me. The book of Hosea is particularly important to me. I needed to know like Gomer, no matter how “bad” and “unworthy” I’ve been, God will always remain faithful to me. He cleaned me up and will keep me clean. Hosea 11: 8-9 says: “Oh, how can I give you up, Israel?/ How can I let you go?/…My heart is torn within me,/ and my compassion overflows./ No, I will not unleash my fierce anger./ I will not completely destroy Israel,/ for I am God and not a mere mortal./ I am the Holy One living among you,/ and I will not come to destroy.” To prevent our destruction, God provided His Son in order to absorb His wrath caused by our sin; and through Christ, over time, He quenched my anger.
Our God’s love returns again and again for those who are His. This amazes me. Christ speaks of retrieving just one lost sheep, to bring it back to His flock. He values us [me] so highly that Jesus suffered torture, humiliation, and excruciating death just to draw me out of my mess and into His marvelous light. I’m moved to tears to know how much the Creator and Sustainer of all things knows me, sees me, and loves me to the point that He gave His all for me so that I could live eternally with Him. So that I can bear His name, Christian.
I am not worthless. I am God’s child. I am born again of incorruptible seed (1Peter 1:23). I am healed by Jesus’ stripes (Isaiah 53:5). I no longer rely on my own “toughness” for I am “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might” (Colossians 1:11). I no longer need to be afraid because God has given me a spirit “of power and love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). “I press on toward the goal to win the prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward” (Philippians 3:14). Finally, I know that the angry, bitter woman is buried in Christ because Galatians 2:20 says, “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” I no longer feel desperate to be loved and seen, for I am greatly loved by the God Who sees all (Ephesians 2:4).