How We’re Tagged

Unknown-7When I was 12, I would sometimes duck into the Kroger at the corner of William and Sprigg, on the walk home from St. Mary’s Catholic School, and take a few bites from the bulk food bin.  And by take, I mean steal.

I knew stealing was wrong, of course I did, and my heart pounded each time with the fear of getting caught, but I felt justified and kept on.  We didn’t have food at home; my mother had to work until midnight; it would be 4 more days until she got paid; I hadn’t had money for lunch that day and I was really hungry; etc…. Until one day the store manager grabbed me hard on the arm and told me he’d had his eye on me, that I was in big trouble and he was going to call the police.

I thought about this when I saw how my last post about my grandmother was labeled.  On a page with several other stories tagged History, Science, Poetry, Hot Dogs, Scotland, and Culture, I both saw and felt the undesirable words next to mine:  Domestic Violence.  

This morning I watched this interview with Floyd Mayweather.  The charming smile, the handsome and successful boxer, the photo of him smiling and hugging his 3 children.  The $30,000,000 he will make this weekend while being celebrated and cheered by thousands of admirers.  The serial abuser who, unlike with Ray Rice, has nothing for the public to see; nothing concrete to point to and say, “yes, that is horrific and wrong.”

Grandma Ann and me.  Winter 1965.

Grandma Ann and me. Winter 1965.

While I’m sure there were a number of reasons my grandmother and my family didn’t talk about the abuse she suffered at the hands (and voice) of my grandfather, I know one thing: she would have hated the “Domestic Violence” tag.

Her story is a certainly a domestic violence story, but there’s such a complexity of definition held within those two too-small words.  She would be relieved that there are no photos, no video evidence.

I imagine my grandmother, long dead now, looking at her face in the morning mirror and thinking, “This is not me; this is not my life,” and feeling the shame of it, the denial, the what-if-other-people-find-out and oh dear god what will they think? Not what will they think of him — the charming neighbor, handsome riverboat captain, Catholic churchgoer, Bible reader, outstanding cook — but what will they think of her?

She would not want this to be our memory of her, of the vibrant and incredible woman she was.

It occurs to me now that, even at age 12, I wasn’t really afraid of the Kroger store manager or the police or even of being punished.  I was fraid of being tagged — Thief — of my mother and family and teachers and schoolmates looking at me forever thinking how sad, that that’s who I was.

That that’s all I was.

My grandfather was respected to the day he died.  Ray Rice (we all know it) will play football again.  Floyd Mayweather will forever be revered as a champion.  But how will we tag the women who suffered at their hands; how will we remember them?

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