Plymouth Fireworks Snippets

Plymouth fireworks are held within a day or so of the Fourth of July, and about 10,000 people attend. To get a decent viewing spot, it’s advantageous to arrive hours before they begin. Since we’re on Siljander time, we had to park about a mile away, and I had to carry our bag, with full water bottles.

As we settled in on a hill, after deliberating which spot was best, we checked our phones, read on Kindle, and texted and Snapchatted family.

Imani texted me: “I’m jealous of that girl eating cake.”

I texted her back: “Her cake fell in the grass.”

She showed me how much shorter her right leg is than her left. I pointed out her different scars and said, “Dun, dun, dun, you could make a cool tattoo with them.” Laughing, she said, “I could have a tree on this leg and birds on the other,” pointing to smaller scars on her left leg.

As we listened to the Minnesota Orchestra, we waited for fireworks and the uncertain arrival of family. My sister texted me that she was just getting out of the shower, and I responded, “I think you’re going to miss this one, punk.” Nonetheless, I told everyone where we were sitting.

Imani: “We need a bat signal that we can shine up that says ‘Siljander.'”

We were surrounded by masses of people: some having picnics and drinking wine, a few with dogs, lots of kids and strollers, and people clearly more organized than us with amenities they had brought with them.

When fireworks started, a lot of us stretched out on the grass to watch. Young guys hollered – and made their presence known. As patriotic music played, the crowd cooed and cheered. The finale was worth everything with spectacularly bright pops of fireworks that were like paparazzi flash bulbs at the Oscars.

I thought about how I missed moments like these with my daughter because I was at work in the past. But now we got to enjoy fireworks together and chill together.

I thought about veterans and people who have been around gun violence.

As we walked the long way back to our car, we saw people we had seen on the way there: a thin man with wild white hair and an Indian family with a mother, father, and two adolescent boys. I shone the flashlight on my phone so she could see where she was going. We both listened in as a group of boys told riddles:

What do you call a man with no arms and legs on your wall? Art.

What do you call a man with not arms and legs in the pool? Bob.

There are 28 cows and 28 (20 ate) chicken. How many are left? 28.

How do you get down off an elephant? You can’t; you get down off a duck.

On the way home, Imani sang the song “Amore” to me. Then she unplugged my phone from the car charger and plugged hers in. Dean Martin sang “Amore” to us and she said, “Sing it, Dean-O!” After singing along, and playing Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra, she remarked, “Imagine if these men had never gone to the studio. The world would be less bright – ahhhhh!!” Somehow, the conversation turned to pancakes. Imani said, “I need pancakes in my life.” I told her that we have a mix, but it’s easy to make pancakes from scratch, and they’re better. Maybe we will remember that we want pancakes this weekend when we have time to get the ingredients and make them.

 

 

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1999 in technology and poor people struggles

In 1999, the Internet was still new and rudimentary. Email was a novelty. And computers started to become more mainstream. I had never owned a computer, and that was not unusual, but I had used computers at home and school. My parents bought their first computer – an IBM – around 1990; it had a big boxy monitor and used floppy disks. Mostly, we played games on it like Tetris, Paratrooper, Space Strike, and Snack Attack. At school, we used Macintosh computers, which were produced by Apple. I took a computer science class in the early 1990s, in which I learned about basic animation and links. In those early days of public technology dissemination, I was a budding techie and bonafide computer nerd.

With my paltry wages, I couldn’t afford a computer and really had no need for one. All of my business communications were hand-written and mailed via the U.S. Post Office. One day, in my mail, I received information about working from home. This was very appealing to me, as I was working long days and was away from my baby more than I was with her. It didn’t take much to be swayed to take a chance and sign up for a payment plan to enroll in a medical billing program. Perhaps many poor people fall for these offers. All of the curriculum would be mailed to my apartment and could be completed on my own time. But there was one problem: I needed a computer to do the training and eventually work from home.

Since there was no way I could afford it, I decided that I would ‘creatively’ finance a computer to use for my new entrepreneurial venture by writing a check for it that I would pay back, expecting that I would be in a position to pay it back in no time with my promising career. Whenever my bank account had gone in the red, as it often did, I paid the overdraft fee and repaid it as I could. Logically, I assumed that I could do the same thing to purchase a computer – just that it would take longer to replenish my account. Being 20 years old and desperate, I had no knowledge of any additional repercussions, like criminal charges. Vanessa came with me to Best Buy, where I wrote a bad check for a Sony VAIO desktop computer, which came with promotional AOL CD-ROMs with trial subscriptions to the Internet – a bonus to my questionable investment. I thought I was in business.

Jeff

After living at my parents’ for about a year, and working at the Fingerhut factory and other factories in Saint Cloud, and then ‘upgrading’ to an office job as a staffer at Becklund Home Health Care, I met Jeff. It was a serendipitous meeting, like many significant connections often are. A personal care assistant (PCA) named Dave came into my office one day, saying that he worked with a man named Jeff who needed some hours filled. He said that he was ‘private pay,’ which meant a higher wage. When I found out that it was $15 per hour, I could not pass it up. Sometimes the timing is right because I was burning out on being in the office and I longed to work directly with people again, which was my passion. It did not take much convincing to arrange a meeting with Jeff – a weekend shift at the end of June, 2000. I was 21 years old and Imani was 2 years old.
My parents had company from Arizona the day I started with Jeff, and the house was buzzing with energy. With my hair slicked back with gel, my nose and many ear piercings, and jean shorts and a T-shirt, I made my exit and got into my mud-brown Lincoln Continental Mark 5, which was like a tank, or a boat without sails on the freeway. This was a new chance for me and I felt deeply honored to be asked to serve Jeff.
When I parked in Jeff’s guest spot at his townhome neighborhood, and put the car in park, the shifter fell into my lap. Luckily it was already in park. Not wanting to delay my new assignment and being dedicated to utmost professionalism, I ignored my broken car and walked confidently to Jeff’s front door, ready to work. As I made my way across Jeff’s front yard, his mother, who went by ‘Mimi,’ said, “Oh, Jeff, is she ever cute!” She would remind me of that for years to come. When I rang the doorbell, Mimi opened it immediately, dressed in a red, flowing dress. “You must be Bridget,” she smiled warmly, ushering me toward Jeff, who was lying in his hospital bed in the living room. “Hi, Jeff,” I said, “What would you like me to do first?” I asked him. Both Mimi and Jeff were so charming, and their home looked rich. It was enchanting and relaxing to be there, especially with all the chaos in my life. I told them that their back yard on the neighborhood pond looked like the French Riviera, and they were tickled.
And because of Jeff and his promise of a stable job, I once again moved into my own apartment with my daughter and re-enrolled in college.

Uptown Minneapolis Party Nights

Here is a little excerpt from my book, which is about my first weeks living on my own in Minneapolis, trying to find my way after being displaced by my family because I left their church. One of my college friends introduced me to a bar around this time, and I found a home there because I had nothing else.

Warmth flowed through my body as the humid air kissed my taut, tan skin. After a couple beers, my breathing relaxed and my thoughts slowed. It was all about the moment. My friends were laughing around the bar and I was smiling at everyone with my dark outlined lipstick, white teeth, and a sense that life was nearing perfection. Everyone seemed to be my friend who was there to talk to, confide in, and savor. When our favorite songs came on the jukebox, we shrieked in shared recognition and sang along – sometimes using our beer bottles as pretend microphones. Those were the days when you could still smoke inside, and a cloud of our collective and constant cigarette smoke hung around us as a byproduct of our good times. Into the early morning hours, we would carouse and feel on top of the world, as if nothing could touch us. “I love you all!!!” I thought. Surely, they felt the same way about me. 

The sun came up fast after these nights. Through heavy eyelids, I squinted at my alarm clock. It was after 10:00 a.m., and I had to be at work at Lenscrafters by 1:00 p.m., where I was still training as an apprentice optician. My cats, Freya and Venus, were in bed with me, playing with each other. They were my backup alarm clock. Rustling around in my king-sized pink comforter with large tulips, I stuck my feet out and closed my eyes. This was the best bed ever, and it took up much of my studio apartment. Friends laughed when they came over because it was so all-consuming and made me look like all I did was hang out in bed. But it was a bed that I had bought with my babysitting money several years before, from an ad in the newspaper. There was a lot of storage space: a giant headboard that spanned the bed, with an oval mirror in the middle and cubbies on each side, drawers along the base of it, and a long tunnel from the foot to the head. It was made of dark wood, maybe oak, possibly painted particle board, and it was adorned with rustic gold accessories and drawer handles that clinked when they dropped after use. I rolled over again and the cats jumped off. My head was spinning, but I had to get up.

Sitting up, I looked out my row of long windows out at Minneapolis, which was already well into the work day, stretching forward toward the chipped green polish on my toes. Today was a 1:00-7:00 shift, which meant that I would be at the bar by 8:00 p.m., with a beer in hand by 8:15. Unless I had a couple beers from my keg first. Leaning back, I looked in my headboard mirror at my makeup-smeared face. What time had I even gone to bed?

What depression is like for me today

This is week two of being pretty depressed. And I realize that I’ve been depressed for a long time. I lose track of how long. There are phases. It’s been a lifetime. Years and years and years. It ebbs and flows and sometimes I’m not even that self-aware of it because it’s so normal. And then there are times when I feel happy and realize how depressed I’ve been. I will have a moment of inspiration and feel alive. And depression is not just about being sad, a lot of times it’s melancholy, hopelessness, and lack of energy. It’s a very weird thing to live with. It can be dark, beautiful, and not always painful. Sometimes it’s like being under water and everything looks like that. And it can be many shades, not always gray. And I realize that this is part of my existence. I don’t think it will ever be cured and I’m not sure that’s the point. Understanding would be nice because pressure and judgment don’t help at all. Love and empathy are everything. It’s not because you need attention, it really is life blood when you are sinking like a rock. And with all I’ve learned, I will never tell anybody that happiness is a choice, they should be grateful, someone has it worse, they just need to do this or that or look on the bright side. I will just be there and be a friend and not instruct. I won’t tell them what to think or what they should do. I will just accept someone else’s feelings without having to control them. And I don’t have to understand everything to support someone. I don’t need to project my life experiences onto someone else or make it OK. Sometimes the most powerful things we can do are validation, apologies, and showing up. Telling me not to live in the past minimizes my pain. Comparing me to someone else is disrespectful. You don’t have to have the answers. Nobody really has the answers. Unconditional acceptance is wisdom. I’m glad when someone listens.

Nurse Kathy & Receptionist Mary

While Baby Imani was in the hospital, we got to know Nurse Kathy – a woman with a heart-shaped face and heart-shaped life. Close to retirement, she was still as joyous as someone just beginning a career of her dreams. Her smile shone from her eyes as she worked. When I met her for the first time, she hugged me, pulled back to smile directly at me, and then embraced me again. It made me feel warm all over, and safe – like everything would be OK because she was there. Along with her beautiful smile, she laughed from the inside, with her head back, and sang or hummed as though she didn’t have a care in the world. I needed her validation, after having been abandoned during my pregnancy, and before that, losing everything when I left home and church. It was a wonderful surprise at a time when I had almost nobody.

“Hi, Bridget! Look at your little angel, I put a bow in her hair,” Kathy said. Drawing closer to the isolette, I peered in at my tiny baby attached to tubes and sensors under three banks of lights. Her miniature face was covered with an eye guard attached to pieces of velcro stuck to the sides of her head. And on the top of her fragile head, still recovering from birth trauma, adorned by a sparse coat of jet black hair, was a bright, pink bow, set in Vasoline.

In that moment, we were honored as a family. Kathy gave us a gift, symbolized by a plastic bow with a dab of Vasoline. My daughter was treated like she was special, and worth loving by not only me, but people who would meet her. And I as her mother was regarded with respect, as I was presented with my decorated child. Kathy moved us beyond what we were thought of by judgmental society to a position of grace. Here in this NICU on the University of Minnesota campus, I was more than a teen mom, and Imani was more than my assumed mistake. We were important.

When I visited Imani every day, Kathy was often there. Sometimes she would be changing Imani’s diaper, or cleaning her up, singing as she did. Like every visit, I parked in the hospital lot, took the elevator up to the 4th floor, and was buzzed in to the NICU through the double doors. Mary was at the desk during the day, and we chatted while I signed in. She would one day mail me the records of my sign-ins as a keepsake. All day, she greeted parents, family members, and professionals, as though each one mattered to her especially. Her imprint on me is lasting because she made me feel welcome. There were not many places in the world where I felt welcome in my situation. But Mary. Mary made me feel welcome. With people like Kathy and Mary, we would make it.

3 Rules – Disability Etiquette

Etiquette is a part of life wherever we go, and it depends on context. How we behave in one situation can be different from how we are in another situation. We follow etiquette when we socialize, talk to our bosses, and go to the doctor. It can include cultural sensitivity. Using disability etiquette is important for respectfully interacting with disabled people. Here are 3 simple rules:

  1. Boundaries: Disability information is personal, sometimes medical, information. Just as you wouldn’t ask someone personal questions, like how much money they make, it is inappropriate to ask someone about their disability. Asking questions about someone’s disability is invasive and crosses personal boundaries. If someone wants to offer information, that is their choice. But it’s not OK to ask someone questions like, “What happened to you?” or “What’s wrong with you?” Imagine if someone else asked you the same thing and how uncomfortable you would feel. Also, everyone has a different comfort level with sharing personal information. Some people may say that they invite questions – however, that doesn’t mean that it is fine to approach other people the same way. Everyone has their own preferences. ‘Disability disclosure’ is sensitive. Professionals and others are not permitted to disclose a person’s disability. This is unethical. The rest of the community needs to learn more about disability etiquette, and with increased awareness of appropriate boundaries, we can be more effective and respectful.
  2. Equipment, services, and accessibility: When a disabled person uses a wheelchair or service animal, those are extensions of the person that may not be touched without permission. Don’t push someone’s wheelchair without permission and don’t pet service animals (they are on duty). Treat the person’s equipment as part of the person’s ‘bubble.’ Don’t pick up equipment either, such as a communication device. Out in the community, it is important not to create additional barriers for disabled people. Even if you are only going to be a minute, do not ever, under any circumstances, park in designated disability parking spaces. It is an act of discrimination because it makes it harder for a disabled person to access the community. It’s also arrogant and a slap in the face to disabled people, who already deal with enough barriers when trying to participate in life like everyone else. Don’t block disability entrances or door buttons or ramps. And if you use a public restroom, make sure to leave the disability stall available for use. Try to be aware when you are out and about and be open to hearing how you can be a community member who promotes accessibility.
  3. Helping, supporting, and assisting: You may tend to be a helpful, caring person who likes to assist people. You may be a nurturing type, and that’s great. But using disability etiquette, you will not assume that someone needs help unless you are asked. There are some situations when you may ask someone if they need something – for example, if someone is in danger or a crisis. Under ordinary circumstances, resist making assumptions about the person and what they need or want assistance with. If you are going through a door and someone is right behind you, you can hold the door just as you would for anyone else. If you see a disabled person approaching a door, let the person manage it on their own. It may seem to you that someone is struggling, but maybe that is how the person does things. It may look difficult to you, but is fine for them. One way that we can be more supportive is to be aware of our privilege. We don’t decide for someone else, without our privilege, what is best for them. Disabled people have agency over their own lives and it is not your job to act like their caretaker. It’s condescending and patronizing. So to be most respectful with appropriate boundaries, be courteous, but wait to be asked for your help.

There are many more disability etiquette topics. Hopefully this was informative and food for thought. There are lots of articles online to learn more like this one from the United Spinal Association. 🙂

10 Things You Need to Know About Ableism

Ableism is a term that many people have not heard before. Like all the other -isms (racism, sexism, etc.), it means discrimination – in this case, toward disability. Ableism assumes that being ‘abled’ is the standard, so being ‘disabled’ is inferior. Ableism, like all the other -isms, is complex and hard to understand. But it is rooted in oppression of disabled people. (And I use ‘identity-first language,’ since many self-advocates are starting to prefer that.) There are aspects of ableism that even seem nice! That’s why it can be deceiving, subtle, and perhaps ironic. So here are 10 general things you need to know about ableism:

  1. Pity: Many of our perceptions of disability are based on pity. Often the first reaction to hearing about a person’s disability is grief or regret, or even fear. We have been socialized to consider disability a misfortune or something unwanted. Often, when a baby is born, we hear, “He/she is perfect and has all his/her fingers and toes.” That is sort of an ableist statement because the value is on having a proportionate body. That thinking is extended to our minds, as well. If someone doesn’t fit the prescribed template of what is deemed an acceptable human being, then it is viewed as problematic. We don’t want your pity, though. Gillette Children’s Speciality Healthcare, a major provider of healthcare services to disabled children and adults, created a “Cure Pity” campaign that was aimed at tackling the real barrier: pity. Sure, disabilities can mean obstacles and struggles, but many of them are societal. We can focus on problem-solving and working toward solutions, rather than pitying the individual for being who they are – a full person. We can focus on the social model and address community barriers, instead of treating people as less human.
  2. Tragedy narrative: This is very related to pity. The tragedy narrative is a pervasive, negative story about disability that treats disability like it’s bad. How would you like to be told every day that what you are is tragic? These are messages that get internalized and create social barriers to independence. Instead of thinking of disability as a tragedy, we can reframe it as diversity. It is a normal part of life. Disabled people can and do live great lives! That may surprise some people. Living with disability, my reality is different from how it may look on the outside. Focus on the abilities of the person. And keep in mind that what we value is taught. We just have not been taught much about disability that is accurate. We will live better lives with better understanding. We may need to reject what we have been taught.
  3. Inspiration porn: This is a term that raises eyebrows, because, “porn.” Good. We need to call it what it is. And what is it? This is when disabled people are portrayed as inspirational things, or are objectified for ableist delight. Often in the media, a disabled person will be glorified for something ordinary, as though nobody expected anything from them. If people think you can’t do anything, then of course they will be impressed when you do something basic, like leaving the house. Yawn. How about applauding something actually meaningful, like accomplishing something significant, not just breathing. It is also media representations of people that cast disabled people as dependent on abled people. It’s not disability advocacy to perpetuate disability tragedy stereotypes like helpless, broken victims who need to be saved either physically or spiritually by a non-disabled person acting like a hero. Think about the juxtaposition between disabled and non-disabled people in these scenarios. Disabled people are not objects, props, or tokens to make you look good. We are not special angels or people born to teach us about love. We are every bit as human as anyone else. We deserve respect on our own terms. You don’t need to take us to prom or let us score the winning goal. We’re good. If you want to hold the door for someone, wait until you are asked. The hardest thing for people about this one is it seems so nice! But don’t be fooled. You don’t get to be the saint or hero at a disabled person’s expense. Be your own hero.
  4. Low expectations: Disabled people are underestimated constantly, and it is discrimination. Due to social programming, we don’t expect that someone who is disabled can do as much as a non-disabled person. I call ableism! If someone is physically disabled, assumptions are made about their cognitive abilities. So even if you are a little wobbly, people will also figure that you are mentally incompetent. Not that it’s a bad thing. We don’t understand our own humanity very well. Psychology is still a very new science, and it wasn’t long ago that we held all sorts of ridiculous notions about science. It’s no wonder that we don’t get it yet. IQ tests, for example, are way overrated. IQ does not equal intelligence. It’s one type of test that measures limited information. It’s like using a teaspoon to measure everything in the world. There are many cultural differences, learning styles, and types of intelligence. It is impossible to measure them all in a quantified way. Get to know people. We’re all talented and you can learn from everyone. Disability doesn’t mean inability.
  5. Compensation: This is related to everything on this list. When we feel sorry for someone, we may be inclined to compensate for what we think they are lacking. It may look like bending the rules, coddling, and making excuses. Basically, it looks a lot like enabling because we don’t want to add more burden to what we already feel is a burdened life. Hold up! Being disabled doesn’t mean that you live such a bad life that everyone around you should try to compensate for it. We don’t want freebies and passes because people feel sorry for us. We want equality and access. Everyone is working toward greater self-sufficiency, on their own terms. This means support and appropriate challenges that fit the individual, which should also be ‘self-directed’ or promoted by the person – at times perhaps with support or facilitation. Compensation is like telling people what to do – it takes away their personal power.
  6. Minimization: This is also related to everything on this list. Where to start, there is so much of this. Minimization is when we try to make something small. It goes hand-in-hand with invalidation (rejected, ignored, judged). A statement representing minimization and invalidation could be: “A lot of people have it worse than you.” That type of a statement is essentially saying that your problem is small and you are wrong to feel that way. That does not help the person at all – it’s demeaning. Perhaps the intent is to try to make the person feel grateful, but it says to the person that their disability experience is their fault. Some disabilities are mental illnesses, and that is the worst thing you could say to someone who is depressed, for example. It treats the disability as though it is something you can wish away, when it is a medical, physical condition – including those that are psychological. Have you ever analyzed a brain scan, like an fMRI? OK, then sit down. If you are not a medical doctor or clinical psychologist, specific to that individual, you are not qualified to tell someone what to think or do about their physical condition. Listen and learn, and don’t instruct. You’re out of your league.
  7. Tokenism: People are not things. That is all. Don’t treat someone like their disability is all they are.
  8. Over-helping: Compensation is related to over-helping because people sometimes feel like they need to do more for someone to make up for what they think they can’t do or would have a hard time doing. Don’t just tie someone’s shoes because you think it will take forever and you feel bad for them. Stand by if you are needed, but don’t act like a parent and start doing things for people that they didn’t ask you to do. How annoying! So what if it takes someone longer than you to do what they need to do. They are on their timeline, not yours. Chill.
  9. Poster child syndrome: Back in the day, the Muscular Dystrophy Association did telethons that exploited children with muscular dystrophy for the purpose of fundraising. Barf. They didn’t know better, but they just shouldn’t have. Jerry Lewis, you were better than that. It isn’t fair to make someone into a poster child for their disability type(s). It labels someone as just their disability when that is only part of who they are. It would be like referring to you as only your height or weight. It takes a whole, complex person and shrinks them down to a living stereotype. Please don’t.
  10. Lack of accommodations: The largest issue is the lack of accommodation – not the disability itself. A person with limited mobility who may use a wheelchair is held back by the lack of physical access, for example. Every one of us needs different types of community supports, whether or not we are aware of what they are. We just haven’t typically expanded support to accommodate disability. We change buildings now, like doorways and ramps. But not all disabilities are physical and some of the newest changes have been in technology and content development. Society has typically served a very narrow segment of the population and that is part of the reason that society is comfortable only with a subset of certain diversity spectrums. We can open our minds to consider much more variety of human experience. Then maybe we won’t feel so bad when someone else’s life is different from ours. Universal design is the future, so that we are being inclusive of disability on the front end, and not adding accessibility features as an afterthought. Who wants to be an afterthought? I thought so.

Pop quiz: what is ableism? Hopefully you will remember at least part of this list. And remember, listening, even with conflicting messages from various perspectives, is key to increasing disability understanding. Also, disabilities are all over the map from physical, cognitive, intellectual, developmental, and neuropsychological. You don’t have to be an expert, but you can show you want to make an effort to learn. Thanks for reading and making an effort! 🙂

Disability is Diversity

A lot of times when I tell people that my daughter has cerebral palsy (CP), they respond with all sorts of reactions and usually seem to feel really bad about it. One person recently meant to be nice, but said she basically wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning if that were her. We actually laughed about it because it’s so far from our reality. Society unfortunately sees disability as a tragedy or problem, and that you can’t live a good life. That is so far from the truth. My daughter has had a great life. It has been rough at times, and a lot of it is because society doesn’t get it. As a parent, what has been most difficult is the lack of support, especially as a single parent. It’s been the two of us against the world. The attitudes out there are suffocating. And we know from experience that community support is essential. That’s why it’s important that we promote accessible, affordable healthcare. There are community programs that are critical to living a quality life with opportunities. The reason my daughter has had a good life is not because it’s been easy, but because despite all the obstacles, she has been able to do what she wants and become the person that she is meant to be. We both appreciate all the work that people have done to create a more inclusive society, and we talk about this a lot. Of course there is still a long way to go and a lot of it will come from changes in perception and attitudes. Using a social model, we may challenge barriers, rather than focus on the individual as somehow less human. Every one of us needs different types of community supports, whether or not we are aware of what they are. We just haven’t typically expanded support to accommodate disability. We change buildings now, like doorways and ramps. But not all disabilities are physical and some of the newest changes have been in technology and content development. Society has typically served a very narrow segment of the population and that is part of the reason that society is comfortable with only a subset of certain diversity spectrums. We can open our minds to consider much more variety of human experience. Then maybe we won’t feel so bad when someone else’s life is different from ours.

I will not be owned

What the world does to you as a woman is something to ponder. As a young girl, I was soft and sweet. It was what society expected of me, but it was also my sensitive personality. As time went by, I had to fight, even though I didn’t always want to. It became necessary to survival. When I was sexually abused as a child, a part of my soul was silenced. When I went to college and learned to drive at the same time, after already working for many years, I had to stand on my own. When I left my cult religion, I had to leave everything I had ever known behind. When I became a mother, I had to face the world that considered me and my beautiful gift illegitimate. When I worked to raise my daughter, and balance the world on my shoulders, I also had to teach her how to survive this life as a woman. When I finally escaped every controlling and abusive situation, and there were many, I had to rebel against the system at hand. When I became an advocate, I had to use my own voice, even though people didn’t understand it – so I often spoke alone, though knowing there were others out there who were hearing me and knew they weren’t alone. When I have had to fight because society doesn’t understand how to deal with traumatized, depressed, grieving survivors, I had to know I was enough even though I was told that I was broken. And now as a scarred, tested, wise woman, still not even old, I am this. I will not let anyone beat me into submission, fuck with my mind, tell me what I can’t do, strip me of my dignity, steal my rights, or hush me with their ignorance. I am a woman who has been through the alleys and the valleys, and I may be tired and heartbroken, but I will not be owned. I will not be owned by you for any reason, especially not your desire to kill my spirit as a woman and mother, disabled person, or survivor of poverty and violence. I will not be owned.