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.
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.
#nationalpreemieday: This was Imani at 5 days old. She was 2 pounds, 6 ounces, and 14 weeks early. She had a significant brain hemorrhage and a condition that causes blindness, was fed through an IV, lived in an incubator, and was breathing with a ventilator here that I’m holding in place. Plus a list of other issues and a prognosis filled with uncertainty. She didn’t breathe on her own for months, and went home when she was apnea and bradycardia free for 24 hours – which means she didn’t stop breathing and her heart rate didn’t drop. I had just turned 19, was a victim of sexual abuse & had complications that were genetic & accelerated by socioeconomic stress & domestic violence. I was unmarried, living with a schizophrenic roommate who died from suicide. We moved from place to place to survive on home care worker wages and were regularly in imminent danger. I almost died in a car accident that happened because I was sleep deprived & malnourished. She almost died many times from a number of causes. I didn’t know if my child was safe much of the time because I had to leave her with unstable people who were all I had in order to work. It’s a long, traumatic story. I still can’t believe that we are still surviving. Nobody knows what it has been like, except for us. Our triumph is not in any vainglorious declarations, but in the next day building on the last, toward a vision of happiness that includes transforming the ugly into beauty around us and for others.
I’ve been working on my first book, which is coming along pretty well. I have several advisers and reviewers. And I’ve shown the manuscript to quite a few people already. I don’t have a release date, but it’s any day now. It will focus on the socioeconomic impacts of disability and poverty from the perspective of a single mother. Hopefully it will educate people about some of the challenges the parents and single parents have raising children with disabilities in the community.