Sunday, April 17, 2011

Haven't I Said This Before?

Lashanda Armstrong, Susan Smith and Andrea Yates all had a commonality: Each mother drowned their children. For Lashanda, it was driving her minivan into the Hudson river and killing all inside, including herself and three of her four young children.  Her oldest son was able to escape and go for help. For Susan Smith, it was strapping her two toddlers into their car seats and releasing the brake on their car, watching as it sank into a lake in Union, South Carolina. She blamed "a black man", saying that she had been carjacked at an intersection, and kept up the ruse for nine days.  Racial profiling, anyone? For Andrea Yates, it was the denial of her extreme mental illness and hallucinations and a doctor who took her off of her medicine two days before she drowned her five children in a bathtub, saying "Think positive thoughts". She had told her mother-in-law several times that she filled the bathtub with water "in case I need it". In the first two cases, the women were described as good moms who would never do anything harmful. In Andrea Yates' case, let's face it: there were many many warning signs that were flat-out ignored by her husband, his family, their loony pastor (who might just be as culpable as Andrea) and mental health professionals.

As I reflect on these tragedies, I wonder how it would be possible for a woman to find herself in such an impossible situation.  I remember growing up that we moved early and often, and that there was little permanence to our residences.  Things happen in families; bad things, tragic things and events from which one might never recover.  In my mom's case, it was the loss of her husband, leaving her with three young children and another on the way.  What kept her from becoming a homicidal maniac?  What keeps any woman from doing the same?

I'm not sure I know. But I have a few ideas.
My niece Jessica and Me
Janis showing Britton her new tattoo

For the record, I love my mom.  She's a lot tougher than you might imagine a sixty-five year-old woman could be.  She is not well educated and she is certainly not well-off. But my mom can do things- practical things- which will forever escape me.  For instance, she can knit, crochet and quilt.  She can make clothing. She is a decent photographer and in my younger years, made beautiful stained-glass objects, including a lampshade and several window hangers.  She and my step-dad taught me how to skin and process a deer.

My mom had support her whole life. Not so much financial support, but emotional.  She was able to count on other women when her plans and ideas went astray.  My dad's sister, Lorraine, was there when my dad was killed.  They had spent years together raising children- Aunt Rain (as we call her) had four of her own, and only one boy out of eight). Eventually, my mom moved "home", to Dayton and had others to count on; aunts and female cousins and some high school friends.  She made friends along the way, too. Currently, my mom lives in Joseph, Oregon, with her husband, and spends time with her women friends and she also visits my sister in Dayton, because they are the ones who keep her sane.

I want to know where the women were in the lives of Lashanda, Susan and Andrea.  There is no mention of Andrea having women friends or even an intervention by her own mother.  Susan's mom betrayed her.  When Susan's step-father molested her, he was only required to leave the house for one night.  Then Susan's mother brought him home, saying she would rather sacrifice her child for her husband.  He continued to rape her for years and years afterwards.  Susan didn't have female friends- other women were merely competition.  Of Lashanda I know nothing.  I suspect, however, that for whatever reason, she didn't have many women to rely on or trust.

Did we not used to band together as women to spend time working and talking and raising children together? I remember camping and family reunions and friendships~ many of which still continue today from when I was a child.  I do know where my friends are.  They serve different purposes in my life. Sometimes my women friends and I plot the takeover of the world.  Sometimes we complain and listen to each other's problems (then plot the overthrow of the world).  Sometimes we just go have fun and be silly and other times we buckle down and work our asses off together to accomplish more and keep each other focused.  We talk about the men in our lives.  Yes, men, we talk about you!  But it's not what you think.  Ok, sometimes it is what you think.  But not all of the time.  Not all of my female friends are heterosexual, and we still talk about men- but also about women and people in general. And women talk about politics and how the world might be a better place. We inspire each other and act as that safety valve for letting off steam when circumstances (even those of our own doing) make life a daily pressure cooker. My friends remind me to be gentle with myself and that I am worth taking care of.

Shelly and Mindie
This is not to say that I don't have important male friendships in my life.  I do. I have a number of healthy friendships with men.  One of my favorite men is my first cousin, Christian.  It's nice to have a shared family history and to speak frankly to one another without fear of hurting each other's feelings. It's good to have someone call me on my bullshit. Men need other men too, for the purpose of community and yes, even an emotional connection so that when things go bad (or good), you know that someone has your back. I'm not certain how those things work but I believe there is hunting or sports involved, plus a little beer and a ton of Brut cologne.  Or Old Spice.

Mindie and Kat
Orinda and Me- friends since 1986
Perhaps if more people had healthy same-sex friendships and a feeling of connection and belonging, there would be less pain in the world.  My life is made better by the friends I have made and kept up with, most especially my women friends.  For me, this is one of the factors, one of the things that makes a difference between the Lashonda Armstrongs, Susan Smiths, and Andrea Yates' of the world and the rest who do not commit violent acts. It's not the only thing, but community and belonging are important components of mental health.  So today instead of grading papers, I'm going to go to Norman and Oklahoma City and catch up with some friends.
Family! My cousin Chryssee, her daughter (my "niece") Allie, and my Grandma


1 comment:

  1. I completely agree. Sometimes I hear about people taking antidepressants or going to therapy and such and I think to myself...can't you get together with friends over margaritas and/or take a kickboxing class? Not that other things aren't also helpful for good mental health, but I completely agree that it starts with healthy friendships.