Why are you participating in Unconventional Apology Project?
"When I first heard about the Project, I thought 'Oh my God… there’s somebody else who has a story that’s similar to mine…VERY similar.'"
When I first heard about the Project, I thought “oh my God…there’s somebody else who has a story that’s similar to mine…VERY similar." So I had an immediate connection with you, who I hadn’t met, because I heard your story. It helped me as strange as it may seem, it helped me to know that somebody else had the same experience and could kind of understand what it means to go through some of these things. So, I thought it would be a great opportunity with what you were doing to help touch other people and share the story that I don’t often share so that maybe it can help somebody else.
Had you ever had the opportunity to discuss the story you are sharing with us today?
"I actually was offered an opportunity about 7 or 8 years ago to tell the story, but I wasn’t ready to tell it publicly…or so publicly. "
I actually was offered an opportunity about 7 or 8 years ago to tell the story, but I wasn’t ready to tell it publicly…or so publicly. Because I was actually offered an opportunity to participate in McDonald’s 50th anniversary because my first job was at McDonald’s when I was…you know, soon after these incidents happened, that was kind of how I survived…with my McDonald’s job. But I chose not to participate at the time.
What makes right now the right time?
"I think talking about it, not only will it help somebody else, it could help me with some of the things I’m still affected by."
I think right now is the right time because I’ve come to what I believe is a place of peace with the situation, but I still believe in so many ways it affects me. So I think talking about it, not only will it help somebody else, it could help me with some of the things I’m still affected by.
What domestic abuse experience do you want to share?
"...he shot my mom 5 times on the sidewalk in front of our house and in front of me and my two sisters."
The domestic violence incident that I want to talk about today is the incident that occurred between my parents. It was 1984 and I was 15 years old. My father came to our house (my mother and father were divorced at that time), he shot my mom 5 times on the sidewalk in front of our house and in front of me and my two sisters. My two sisters were 17 and 19 at the time, and my 1-year-old nephew was also there. It was about 9 o'clock in the morning, and gosh, I remember it like it was yesterday. My 17-year-old sister had just graduated from high school the day before. And my 19-year-old sister was getting married the day after. So, my sister graduated on Thursday, June 14th, my sister was getting married Saturday, June 16th and my father killed my mother on Friday, June 15th. So, [cries, short break].
So, there was lots of chaos at the house, of course because we were preparing for my sister’s wedding. The wedding was going to be in the backyard (we had a large backyard). So, I was not being very cooperative. I was pretty much a sassy, what they called back then a “fast tail” 15-year-old, you know, always had something to say; the last word. I wasn’t being too cooperative because I wanted to be a bridesmaid in the wedding and my sister thought I was too young to be a bridesmaid, so I thought ok then I’m not gonna, you know, help make this process smooth. I was an usher in the wedding, but I wanted to be a bridesmaid. That morning, it was about 9 o’clock in the morning and my mom came into the room and she said, “Girls, it’s time to get up it’s 9’oclock on the day before the wedding, it was way too late to be sleeping." So she said, "Girls it’s time to get up, the minister’s gonna be here soon and everybody’s gonna be here soon for the rehearsal and I need you guys to get up. Your dad just called and said he’s gonna stop by." I drug myself out of the bed because of course I’m trying to be a little difficult because [laughs] because I wasn’t a bridesmaid. But she said “Sharon! Get up! Get up! Sharon do this, Sharon do that” all morning. So then she said, “Your dad’s outside”. Because he had shot her ten years before, when I was 5, he wasn’t allowed to come in our house. So when he did come over he would just pull up at the curb on the wrong side of the street, where his car door was curbside and we’d come right out of the house to the car and talk to him. So that was typical for us to do that and we did that this morning.
But that morning she said he was outside. So we were in our pajamas and we came outside and I was like leaning over the hood of the car and looking at him through the front windshield. And, he called me baby girl, and he said “How you doin’ today baby girl?” And I said “I’m doin’ good daddy, I’m just tired of this wedding” whatever you know? Everything was not about me so I had that attitude and so he gave my sister Michelle, who had just graduated from high school, an envelope for her graduation, and he gave my other sister an envelope and I knew it was money for her wedding and I didn’t get an envelope [chuckles]. So I wasn’t happy about that, so he was like trying to talk to me and I was like “Ehhhh whatever.” And then he said, “Where’s your mom?” And my sister Michelle said, “Oh she’s in the house getting ready for the wedding and the pastor will be here in a little bit and then we have the wedding rehearsal.” And then he said, “Oh well tell her, she could come outside and say hello.” Which, in hindsight was really strange…she never did that…and he never asked her to do that.
My sister Michelle ran back to the front porch and said “Mom, dad said that you could come out and say hello” and so, she did. She came out and had my 1-year-old nephew in her hands, in her arms and she said, “Hi how are you?” They exchanged pleasantries and I’m still leaning, looking at him through the front windshield, and he says “I’m doing good” and so she told him that he was looking good. And the reason why she told him that was because he had emphysema and he already had one collapsed lung, so he had oxygen on and he had oxygen on that morning. So, she was saying from him being sick…his illness “you’re looking good.” And he said, “Thank you.” And she said, “Oh you know, the baby is taking his first steps” and he says, “Oh really? Let me see!” And since we were in a semi-circle around his car window, my two sisters, they took a step backwards so that my mom could have room to put my nephew down on the ground to show him that he could walk. I didn’t have to move because I’m leaning up against the front of the car. Then everything was just like in slow motion, you know? She put him down and then she took a couple steps back to open her arms for him to walk into her arms and I saw him go under his leg and pull out this gun and it was just all really in slow motion. I couldn’t speak and I’m thinking “What’s that?” you know? I didn’t know and I just heard Pop! Pop!...Pop! Pop! Pop! And I stood up and as soon as I stood up from the car, he drove off. And I looked and my mom was laying on the sidewalk and so I took off running.
The only thing I knew to do was to run and get the pastor of our neighborhood church who lived on the next block. So I went running towards his house and I looked back towards my house after I got across the street and my sister was laying in the yard and my mom was on the sidewalk and my other sister was on the front porch…laying on the front porch. So I didn’t know at the time if he had shot all three of them or not, I didn’t know. Before I could get to the pastor’s house, he was jumping over his back fence. He heard the shots and he was running from his backyard to his front yard and I told him that my father just shot my mother and I think he may have shot my sisters. Everybody was coming out of their house at the time and [pause] I realized that he didn’t shoot my sisters, he shot her five times and she was on the sidewalk and she couldn’t talk. And people said, “Get the kids outta here!” and they took us inside the house. I don’t even think I made it to my bedroom when the police got there and they put us in the police car and took us to the police station and um…she died on the sidewalk [cries but continues to speak]…while we were at the police station.
Nothing seemed real you know? Because we had a really good relationship with him and I just couldn’t imagine that he would do that in front of us…that he would traumatize us like that. And so I had so many mixed feeling about it, like “Oh my God!” So, one of the reasons as a side note, that I don’t drink and I don’t smoke is because my mother smoked cigarettes and she drank socially and we always had people at our house. Our house was a gathering place in the neighborhood and all my friends and their parents, everybody came to our house because she cooked all the time and took everybody in, and we always had somebody living with us, which I picked that up from her [laughs]. But, even though she was shot 5 times with a .22, she could have potentially survived if her organs were stronger. She was 62 years old at the time. She had me when she was 47. But, if she didn’t smoke and her lungs were healthier, and if she didn’t drink and her kidneys were healthier, she could have potentially survived that shooting. And that’s what the doctor said, that she wasn’t strong enough to do that. So, I don’t smoke and I don’t drink [cries and continues to speak].
"It affected me and I ended up in abusive relationships and I thought that I was gonna die in those relationships and that’s just what was supposed to happen. That’s just what happens."
Something that we don’t talk about in our family, and when we did, probably about maybe ten years ago, I realized that it affected everybody in a different way. And in a lot of ways it upset me that everybody was affected by it differently—my sisters and my brother weren’t affected by it the same way because I really loved him you know? And it was really hard for me to hate him, even though I hated what he did. And then I felt like “Oh my God” I was just creating havoc that whole week and that morning, oh my God, and her last minutes of being able to speak, she was fussing at me because I was moving so slow, you know, trying to get everything situated and I wasn’t making anything easy on anybody that morning. That just weighed on me for so many years, you know? So I always questioned whether she really knew that I loved her so much [cries] and I thought, now I don’t have a chance. I know she knew my sisters loved her because they didn’t give her any lip or anything like that. I just really wasn’t sure if she KNEW just how much I really, really loved her, so it was hard for me to lose her at that time. And then, most of my family didn’t want me to live with them because you know they thought “Oh, no she always got something to say, ole’ fast tail girl, I don’t have time for that.” So all of us were split up. I did go to San Francisco and live with my aunt and uncle for 3 months and I said, "I can’t be here, I’m gonna have to go home. I just need to go home." No body talked about it. Even immediately after, it was like it was just “Oh school is gonna start in September, we need to figure out what we’re gonna do.” You know? It was like WHAT? You know? So pretty much, from the time that I was 16, I’ve been taking care of myself and we don’t really talk about it. It affected me and I ended up in abusive relationships and I thought that I was gonna die in those relationships and that’s just what was supposed to happen. That’s just what happens. And eventually, I was able to come out of those relationships, alive. Wounded, but alive. And raised my 2 kids to the best of my ability. So, that’s my story.
[Short break to collect herself]
"The only thing that I didn’t have peace with and that I was very aware of at the time, was the fact that I wasn’t sure that she knew that I loved her and that I felt like I hadn’t really given her enough to be proud of…for her to say 'I’m proud of her.'"
One of the things I’ll say about my journey from there to here...I started doing youth conferences for at risk girls and boys and I did those for 3 years in conjunction with one of my friends who is a City Council member for the City of Carson and we held conferences at Cal State Dominguez. The conference that we had for girls…it was the acronym R.O.S.E. Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere and then we had the S.O.S. conference for the boys, which was Saving Our Sons. So that was kind of my way of trying to affect kids who potentially had gone through some difficult times or situations in their families. It was 21 years after my mom had passed away and I thought up to that point that I had really had a place of peace. The only thing that I didn’t have peace with and that I was very aware of at the time, was the fact that I wasn’t sure that she knew that I loved her and that I felt like I hadn’t really given her enough to be proud of…for her to say “I’m proud of her.” In that 21 years, I just had so many great things happen in my life: professionally and my kids were doing great; life was really good for me. But I couldn’t really own or enjoy that success because I just wanted to hear her say, “I’m proud of you.” Other people in my family who knew what happened and of course my friends would say “I’m so proud of you! Who would’ve known! We never thought Sharon Greene!” You know? Even though I believed they were proud of me, I just needed to hear it from her and I couldn’t.
So I was at this youth conference, and the kids were in workshops right before lunch and I was out in the courtyard getting prepared for the next workshop and I was talking to a youth pastor (I had never met him before), but he brought a group of girls to the conference from his church. He was sitting outside and we were talking about the conference and how great it was. So he asked me kind of a random question about me, and so I told him kind of what happened between my parents (not all of the details), but just what happened between them. I said you know, “I just want her to be proud of me. I feel like I didn’t give her the opportunity to say I’m proud of all my kids. As parents, they should have that and I robbed her of that. The last moments of her life she was fussing at me because I didn’t want to get out of the bed and I didn’t want to do this and I didn’t want to do that. I just want her to be proud of me.” Part of what I do when I do talk about it…how I got to this point without SO many missteps, but it could have been so much worse and if I had ended up on the street, if I had ended up on drugs, or prostitution; being 16 and alone in Compton, people would’ve said “Oh, that child you know she just didn’t have a chance.” They would be able to rationalize why I was in that situation. It would make sense that people could think that that’s likely what will happen versus what really happened. But, times were really, really tough and I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t have people to call because I didn’t talk to my sisters for 13 years after my mom died. The family just kind of shattered and we all thought we were close to each other, we thought we had a close family, but we realized, I don’t think we were close to each other; we were all close to my mother but we didn’t have close relationships with each other. We were all together because of her and when she was plucked out of the middle, we really didn’t talk for years. It wasn’t because anything happened it was just because what do I say?
When I was trying to find my way, I’d have to think about what would she tell me to do in this situation or what would she expect if I did this and it turned out this way, what would I have had to hear from her as far as being chastised you know? So I would make decisions based on what I thought she would tell me to do or what she expected me to do. And those were my sink or swim moments. Whenever I found myself in a sink or swim moment, it was me channeling what I thought she would want me to do and I was able to come out of that relatively well. So I shared that with the pastor when I was telling him about what happened. He said, “As parents” and this stuck with me, I know it’s going to be with me forever, and now I tell this to other people: “As parents, we are responsible to equip our children with the tools necessary to become successful adults. That’s our job. And we typically have 18 years to do that, before it’s optional of what they decide to—they think it’s optional before that, but it’s really not! [Laughs] Before they can really assert what it really is that they want to do. So we try to give them as much as we can, as many tools as we can to make sure they are successful adults." And he said, “You believe that you didn’t allow your mom to see the full results of her work, BUT you clearly attribute your sink or swim moments to what your mom told you, would have told you or would have expected from you. And you lost her at 15. She did her job. She did her job. And she did it in 15 years [cries]. She didn’t need 18 years because if she didn’t do her job, you wouldn’t have that to draw from. So, you didn’t rob your mom of anything. Be grateful and understand that she did everything she could, and above and beyond where most people may have been at that time with raising their kids and it was enough for you to survive situations that you needed to survive. You need to release that burden.” That was the only thing I knew. I never understood why my father did that to my mother because he wasn’t around to tell it—he died 3 years later from his emphysema. So, I never had those answers.
My sister said that he called her from jail when he first got arrested to tell her that he shot our mom (this is my older sister; we have the same father but different mothers) she said, “Why would you do that?” and he said, “Because I only have 6 months to live” that’s what the doctors told him—that he only had 6 months “I didn’t want her to take credit for raising my kids.” So in his mind, according to what my sister says, he was taking her with him and he ended up living another 3 years after he killed her. He had gotten an invitation for my sister’s wedding and he couldn’t come because he wasn’t welcome at her house, but she sent him an invitation so he could have it for his scrapbook. The invitation had "Ms. Edna Greene, requests the honor of your presence at the wedding of her daughter” and that was where he felt she was getting all of the credit for raising us [cries, but still speaks] and thought that he was being left out. My sister, in deciding how she was going to get the invitation went to the Hallmark store and got a wedding book on wedding etiquette and the etiquette book said, “If your parents are divorced” and they had rules for all types of scenarios: “If your parents are divorced and one parent is paying for the wedding, then it’s that parent that is to be acknowledged in that way.” My mom paid for the whole wedding, so that’s why my sister put down my mom. He got the invitation I think the day before, and that’s what sparked him to come to our house and do what he did. So, it was just clearly about etiquette you know? And she lost her life for that.
What no longer lingers in your heart and mind about your experience? What has opened up for you as a result?
"...the human side of me about just wanting her to be proud and know that I loved her and that was what I carried, which I was finally able to release."
That burden that I just spoke about is definitely what no longer lingers. [Pause] It was a long time. I came to grips with the incident itself once I started going to church. I was made to go to church by this lady who kind of stumbled into my life and kind of took on that mother role for me. I didn’t really know how to care for my daughter properly when I had her (it was in ’89, and so this was 6 years later). So this woman offered for me to come into her house even though I was at my mom’s house still, so I didn’t need a place to stay, but she said, “You come over and stay and I’ll help you understand how to take care of your daughter.” And so I did. Then she got me in the house and said, “If you live in the house, you have to go to a church service on Sunday.” And I’m like “Well, I have my own house [laughs]! And you’re putting down these rules when I could just go back home!” You know? So I stayed and I started going to church and I was only going to church because I had to. I remember one morning she wasn’t feeling well and she wasn’t gonna go to church. I got up and got my daughter ready and went to church without her, which was the first time I had done that. Any time I had an opportunity to skip it, I skipped it. It was through that process spiritually that I started to believe that you don’t always have the answers to these questions and they’re not always necessary. You can still heal from it if you, for me, if you believe in God and believe he has the power to intervene in any situation at any time, and he chose not to in that situation, then I have to trust that decision not to intervene. And his intervention could have been a lot of things. It could have been that he convicted my father’s heart when he was driving to the house and caused him to turn around and go back, he could’ve caused him to get into an accident on the way and he didn’t make it to the house or he could’ve even allowed him to make it there and shoot her and her survive the shooting. So there’s lots of ways that I believe God had the power to intervene in the situation and for whatever reason he didn’t. And so to question him, that would be to question God. And so once I got to that point spiritually, I had this peace about not having the answers and not understanding and all of that. It was the other kind of, the human side of me about just wanting her to be proud and know that I loved her and that was what I carried, which I was finally able to release.
I haven’t figured out what has opened up for me. I haven’t figured that out. I haven’t figured it out. Wow [pause].
I just try to be a great mom. I am a lot like my mother. I never thought I was gonna have kids because my mom had a home day care center and every day we were around a lot of kids when we got up to go to school in the morning and when we came home. So I thought “I’m not having kids, it’s just not gonna happen.” And then I had my daughter and at the time, I was in an abusive relationship, and she became my lifesaver. I thought I was going to be killed in that relationship. Everything I did and every decision I made, I made for her so that she wouldn’t experience the same things that I experienced. I didn’t really love myself or have the courage enough to make those decisions for myself, but I knew I had an obligation to her and she didn’t have a choice. And so I figured if I’m going to die at the hands of somebody else in a domestic violence relationship, which was really a reality to me—for some people it’s in the back of your head, but for me it was ever-present that that cold have happened. I don’t feel like that anymore, but at that time I did. But I thought that at least I’ll die trying to save my kids, which I actually think that’s what my mom did when she left after he shot her the first time. In hindsight, now, I believe a lot of things she did, she operated in fear. Because why would you send a man that shot you dinner every week? He burned down her house when I was a child. Why would you do that? Why do you care? And I think she probably had fear and wanted to make nice and keep things nice so that it wouldn’t escalate. I didn’t realize that then, but I realize now that that is the reason she did some of the things she did. So I think that going through two very abuse relationships and being able to relate it to that is what caused me to leave.
Now, you CANNOT talk to me sideways in a relationship [laughs]! You start getting there and I’m like “Oh, no!” It makes me really nervous, so I think that awareness came from that.
What is the definition of love and how does that love feel?
"I think that love is when you [pause] feel about a person in such a way that whatever their needs are, you are THERE to help and you NEVER feel like you’re going out of your way. "
That’s really interesting, because I think…I love my kids. It’s like beyond words. And I always tell them I can’t really [cries] string together enough words in the right order to really express how much I love them. There’s nothing that I would not do for them. I think that love is when you [pause] feel about a person in such a way that whatever their needs are, you are THERE to help and you NEVER feel like you’re going out of your way. People don’t understand this…if you’re doing something for somebody and you feel like you’re going out of your way, and you really don’t want to do it and it’s a hassle, and it’s an inconvenience or whatever, people don’t understand that that’s how you know—at least that’s how I feel. I had that one time, and that was when I as married. I literally felt like there was nothing that my ex-husband wouldn’t do and the things he did, he never felt like he was going out of his way to do it for me or for the kids. That he really loved me and probably is the reason I haven’t gotten married again because I haven’t felt that anybody really gets it. They mind something you know? All of those things and gifts don’t mean anything to me. I can buy whatever I want to buy; I don’t need you for that. I just need to know that the things that you do for me, you don’t feel like you’re going out of your way, because I don’t feel like that with the people that I LOVE. So that’s what it means.
What does leaving a Trail of Existence mean to you?
"It’s really important for me to live my life in a way that people think that I gave them some value…that it wasn’t just wasted…that I wasn’t just existing."
Everything. EVERYTHING. Everything. My mother affected so many people positively. People attribute so many defining moments in their lives to my mother and what she did, whether it was take them in, or feed them when they didn’t have anywhere to go or anything to eat, they knew they could always come to our house and eat. And you know you hear these things after, and you know I still hear them years later about “Ms. Greene, Ms. Greene, Ms. Greene!” And her legacy that she’s left is what I would want people to say about me. It applies personally—what my friends would say about me, what my kids would say about me, what people would say about me professionally; the type of work product that I leave if people stumbled across something that I’ve done. It’s really important for me to live my life in a way that people think that I gave them some value…that it wasn’t just wasted…that I wasn’t just existing. Even if I was just good to people, it’s just more than that. I want what people say about me to be sincere. The only way that I can make sure is how I live my life and interact with people. So that’s how I feel.
Do you have any parting thoughts?
"...we don’t have to be defined by our circumstances, incidents, or situations that occur in our lives."
My thoughts, first, is that we don’t have to be defined by our circumstances, incidents, or situations that occur in our lives. I learned that through this journey. And although I am affected by it still, and not very far removed from it, I learned to put things in perspective and use my journey and focus on the positive parts of this. I was just sharing earlier: the glass is half full, it’s never half empty for me. I’m smiling ALL THE TIME and people ask me, “Why do you always smile?” I was just asked last week by the City Manager where I work—because everytime he sees me I'm smiling, “Why are you always smiling?” And I said, “Well, because there’s more things to be thankful for than not.” And that’s really my perspective, that there’s more things to be thankful for than not. I could not imagine this journey without my two kids. I could not imagine this journey without all of their friends that have become kids [laughs] and slept in the house and who I cook for. And one of my son’s friends who also plays in the NFL, I asked him during Christmas time when they were at the house, “Why are you guys always ending up at my house? [Laughs] I know you mothers and they’re pretty much like me, why didn’t you end up at their house?” And they said, “Well Momma Sharon, that’s because you always cook! My mom’s not cooking for 8 boys or 10 boys!” And that let me know that I’m way more like my mom than not [laughs]. Because here’s the girl that thought she’d never have any kids and now I have 22 year old boys calling me Momma Sharon and coming to the house to eat! That sounds very familiar [laughs]! Those are the things that have filled my life over the years that have made living such a joy. I wish that we talked about it more so that we all could understand how these things affect each other.
But, I am sometimes more giving…well not sometimes, OFTEN, more giving than people deserve [laughs]! But people will say, “Why do you keep doing that? Helping here and helping there. Why do you keep doing that?” It’s just who I am and for me, the only way I know how to be is how I am. And some people are going to benefit from that when they don’t necessarily deserve it. My blessings come from being who I am and sharing what it is I have to share without expectation that I am going to receive something back or that a blessing has to come directly from this person. At the end of the day when I lay down and it’s quiet at night, I go through a checklist of my day: Was I a good mom today? Check. Was I a good sister today? Check. Was I a good friend today? Check. Was I a good employee today? Check. If I am in a relationship, was I a good partner today? Check. And that’s how I define my valuev—that all of those relationships and things that I did good today. And if there’s somewhere where I feel like I fell short, I try to instantly correct it. [In this moment, you can feel Sharon turn within. She says the following faintly, but in reflection and with peace] And, I got that from my mother. I got that from my mother.