I Wanted Books, At 14, My Mother Made Me a Bride
In the spring of 1983, I was 13 years-old when I overheard a conversation about the step- grandson (Jay) of the woman who was the head of the church (I’ll call her Phera) that my mother was a member of coming to the city. Surely enough, Jay came to town, and, began going to the church. I also remember Phera and my mother talking about Jay needing to find a nice girl and get married. Later, I found out that Jay had just been released from prison. At the expense of me naturally maturing and missing out on normal childhood experiences (prom, dances, celebrations, summer camps, football games, extracurricular activities, ect.), my later thoughts were that marriage was a sense of assurance that, perhaps, Jay would calm down and never return to prison.
Although my childhood was very unstable, I was an accelerated student at Aldine Senior High in Houston, Texas. I had been placed in advanced classes and frequently sat among 10th, 11th and 12th graders. That piece of normalcy was about to dramatically change. I usually walked home from school, but the afternoon of October 19, 1983, I was a car rider. I clearly remember wearing the red knickerbockers that I wore the year before during an audition for an Annie play in middle school.
I stood outside of my high school with homework and books in my hands as I waited for my ride. When my mother arrived, she said: “You’re getting married today.” I looked at her with unease and afraid to say much of anything, but, ‘Okay.’ She had a strong attitude, an intimidating demeanor, and, a heavy backhand slap in the face that she oftentimes used when she was angry about something.
I couldn’t express how I really felt. My mother had already provided parental consent for Jay to obtain the marriage license. She carried me to the county courthouse in Houston, Texas and I was married off to 26-year-old Jay. I went from the school house and a deep passion for education to child bride in one afternoon.
It wasn’t the first time that I had been forcefully separated from my mother. I was one of those bright outspoken children who oftentimes expressed how I felt about things: I told the truth. It got me in major trouble one time. At the age of 5, in the name of me not “worrying her anymore,” she had my sisters pack my clothes and carried me to a complete stranger. I kicked, screamed and cried the entire ride to the strange woman’s house…begging my mom not to take me. When we finally arrived, it took my sisters nearly two hours to get me out of the car…I cried and cried and cried. My mother stood on the outside of the car screaming, “Get her out of there now.” She was beyond angry. It was an unexplainable vexation with no mercy. It looked like a scene from Cinderella only there wasn’t a slipper nor timeline to return home.
I stayed with the strange woman for two years. I cried to return to my mother, and, after almost two years, she finally listened to my cry and carried me to my grandparents’ house. From there, I was finally united with my mom again.
Of course, the reunion was short-lived. The marriage was more of “permanent” way to get rid of me. It was a sort of forced adulthood and all of the responsibilities associated with it, but at the age of 14.
My relationship with my mother teeter-tottered throughout my teens, 20’s, and, early to mid 30’s. I forgave her over, and, over, and, over again. I tried to move on, but, for one thing, she hated that I explained the marriage as an “arranged marriage.” She didn’t see it as a forced marriage. As if, at 14, I was psychologically or physically mature enough to even grasp what marriage meant, she said she didn’t want me to “hold anything against her.” In fact, she went into a rage every time I would try to have a conversation with her about it. It was a moot subject — don’t ask, because I don’t want to discuss it.
The problem was, she didn’t forget, and, she never forgave herself for all of the things she had done. As if I didn’t have the right to explain the ordeal through my lens and the other 5 senses through which I experienced it, she continued to try and alter the way I explained my child bride experience. As she began to see that I came to understand the spiritual dimensions of the problems in our relationship and the lights were on about what happened, she admitted that ‘she needed help.’ In 2003, she said, ‘The things that I was taught were wrong.”
I tried to, to the extents that I could, be of help. However, all of the showers of love, attention, time spent and well thought out gifts weren’t enough. I even suggested professional help. My sister and I also sought out help from unknown and well-known ministries. I remember giving her books written by the late John Osteen of The Oasis of Love church in Houston, Texas (my pastor at the time). I recall gifting her T.D. Jakes’ “Woman Thou Art Loose” book in 1996. However, the more I, we did and gave, the more she wanted access and control. She always wanted something more. Something deep and out of sight. That “something” wasn’t an option.
Today, my gift of forgiveness remains. However, subjection to further abuse is not negotiable. I choose stability. I choose love versus hate. I choose a healthy mind, body, spirit and soul. Heaven answered my years of tears.
Although the marriage was arranged between her and the leader of the very small church we attended three days a week, I never lost my Christian faith. My faith and education helped me move forward.
I’m overjoyed for daughters and women who have phenomenal relationships with their mothers. However, I’m sure that they would admit that it takes working through differences, relinquishing the need to always be right, agreeing to disagree, mutual love, respect, and concern for each other, understanding that mothers and daughters are two different people with sometimes very different perspectives, open lines of communication, and, a willingness to listen to understand. I now teach mothers and their tween and teen daughters the very same things through my signature I Love You, But, I Can’t Stand You Right Now(TM) seminar and book.
All relationships require work. Contrary to popular belief, all healthy relationships have had a great deal of constructive conflict. However, a relationship filled with ongoing destructive conflict, one wherein parties don’t respect each other and can’t at least agree to disagree, is unhealthy…heaviness grievous to be borne.
Healing starts with an acknowledgment that you have the right to talk about an ordeal through your lens of understanding. I hope that my story validates someone’s feelings this Mother’s Day and beyond. If you’ve lived through and survived an ordeal, your take on it is not just an opinion. It’s a personal experience, and, you deserve to be heard.