Why are you participating in Unconventional Apology Project?
"...it’s really hard for us as LGBT people to admit and accept that our relationships have a lot of the same challenges and issues that heterosexual couples have, because we’ve been advocating for our civil rights for so long. Most people don’t really know that domestic violence can happen to anyone."
Well to be quite honest, when I saw it (at Frida Fest and on The Huffington Post), I thought “Wow, that’s such an important way to open the dialogue” because people have many misconceptions about domestic violence and about being a survivor. And then I thought…all of my work since I’ve graduated college has been in activism and social justice, but I thought, “Wow, this is able to make such a big impact on how people talk about the conversation”. So I thought, “Wow, even though everything else that I’ve done, I feel like if I could be involved somehow in this, I will be able to do more.” More than my work at the LGBT Center and telling lesbians to get pap-smears [laughs]. More than telling people that…that’s actually part of the talk at the end of my tour of the LGBT Center that I received was this great dialogue from my former colleague: it’s really hard for us as LGBT people to admit and accept that our relationships have the a lot of the same challenges and issues that heterosexual couples have, because we’ve been advocating for our civil rights for so long. Most people don’t really know that domestic violence can happen to anyone. They have a preconceived notion as to who can be involved in that…in those situations. So that’s why I’m here.
Have you ever had the opportunity to discuss the story you are sharing with us today? What impact did it have on you?
"People say, if they’ve never been a victim or a survivor of domestic violence, they say, “Well, why don’t you just leave?” But you don’t fall out of love with someone when they become violent with you. And I think that’s the one thing that no one really understands unless you’ve been in that situation."
I’ve always been the type of person in my family, in my school, and in my community...everyone always said would be really successful. I’ve always been a very driven person. So, for me, when the violence started with my ex towards me, it was really like…in my mind, a big failure; a big misstep, a lack of judgment, a lack of planning, a lack of good common sense. And so I felt really ashamed. And at that time, I felt like I let that happen to me. So I didn’t tell anyone for a couple months while it was still going on because I thought, “Well if I don’t tell anyone, then only I know what’s happening. It’s not really real.” But it got really bad to the point where mentally, I was able just to get up for work, shower and go home. I wasn’t able to really do anything else. And my very best friends who I shared what was going on…they were the only ones. They called my mom. And there I was. I was a 25 year-old woman living in California, with a great job at a major university doing really important work and my mom had to come out so I could get out of that situation. That was just very shameful for me. It was very shameful because I should’ve been able, I thought at the time, to deal with it myself. And I couldn’t. People say, if they’ve never been a victim or a survivor of domestic violence, they say, “Well, why don’t you just leave?” But you don’t fall out of love with someone when they become violent with you. And I think that’s the one thing that no one really understands unless you’ve been in that situation. So, of course I knew in my head, like, “She threw you down the stairs, she punched you so many times that it’s hard for you to sleep on your left side.” Of course I knew that those were wrong things…that those were not okay. But, because no one else knew it wasn’t really real. So I stayed longer until other people found out.
What domestic abuse experience do you want to share?
"...the person that was always charming and attentive and all about me was very gentle but strong and supportive, became very controlling…very demanding. And I believe it was because it was the first time I was isolated. I didn’t have any family. I didn’t have any friends out there or a support system."
I was 22 when I met her. And from the moment I met her, I wanted to be with her. From the moment I saw her across the room, it was a political science class…that’s how we met at DePaul, was political science class. And I thought, “Oh, I’m gonna make sure to sit next to that girl and get notes from her” [laughs]. And I did! And so all through college, we were just friends and that was because I feel like I’m a very good judge of character, and I could tell that she was the type of woman who would walk in the room and everyone else would be drawn to her. Women and men…everyone else would just be drawn to her. And I also knew, not that she was abusive to women, but also that maybe she did not give them the respect that they deserved. And so I thought, “I’m not gonna be that person. No thank you.” But that drove her ego, so for years she asked me out and pursued me. Anytime I was single, she would try to get me to go on a date with her. Nothing abusive…it was actually very charming and endearing. And then one day, I got weak and I said yes. And so we went out and started dating, and I thought, “Why did I wait so long?” because she was so lovely at first. She was lovely to me, to my family. Just everything that I thought that I deserved, and I did deserve, she was that for a long time. She went away to law school in California, we were living in Chicago, and a year later, I followed and I got a job at a university out here, at UCLA. It was like a switch had gone off. So, the person that was always charming and attentive and all about me was very gentle but strong and supportive, became very controlling…very demanding. And I believe it was because it was the first time I was isolated. I didn’t have any family. I didn’t have any friends out there or a support system. I come from a family where my mom was raised by a single mother of 8. My dad had 4 brothers and sisters and his father was in Iwo Jima in the Marines in the South Pacific. So I was raised to be a strong woman, to be independent. My mother is an educator, so I was raised to be very good in school and very hard-working and successful. So, the fact that I left that whole community, my great friends in Chicago and a good job, not a great job, for her…and then she started to act that way. No physically abusive, but emotionally, I thought, “What the fuck did I do? I had a great life in Chicago; I have 3 younger sisters who are my best friends. And I left all of that for this person? It’s such a big mistake.” And I thought about that one night and I thought, “You know what? I’m gonna give it another 6 months, I’m gonna give it a year, and if her attitude stays like this? I’m out. I’ll move back to Chicago, I’ll get a good job and I’m out.”
"And when I went to walk past her she pushed me down the stairs. It was really bad. She got really physical and I couldn’t go to work for a week."
That night, we were driving back from Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios…something out there, to Orange County where we lived at the time, and there was a song playing. It was “It Girl”…some poppy song [laughs] and she was like singing it to me in the car and I was thinking about it in the car like, “God, I’m so in love with her and she’s such an asshole sometimes but we can work through that.” And the next day, I think I left my email open on my computer or something like that…when I moved to California she was very, I think because we were living together, she got very jealous. “Who are you texting? Who are you emailing?” I’m a very loyal person. When I commit to someone, I commit. So, those accusations just floored me. I’ve never had anyone say that to me before. And so I guess I left my email open on her computer and she read an email from years ago, from before we were together about me being in love with someone. YEARS ago. And she came down asking me who this someone was. And with my personality, I said, “It’s really none of your business. It wasn’t for you.” I just wouldn’t give it the time of day. I just would not engage. And that’s the first time. So I was sitting on the couch and she pushed me. And I remember thinking in my head, “Did that just happen to me? Did she just push me?” I could not believe it! I was shocked. I was floored. To this day, I was just like, “What?!” And then after that day, it just got progressively worse. I love to cook. And how I show my love is through food. I have a Mexican mother [laughs]. One day I made green enchiladas, which is my favorite dish to make. My Mexican mother, from my time living in Mexico, taught me how to make it before I even spoke much Spanish, so it has really great memories for me. And I was simmering the tomatoes and I was blending it and straining them and making this green sauce. And I was like, “Well, I’ll make dinner and I’ll talk about that it’s not acceptable and how we’re gonna move forward. Are we gonna see a therapist? Or am I gonna leave her?” She came home from school and I was setting the plates down on the table and she just got really violent and just really angry and really accusatory of me of cheating. Just really horrible things. And at one point, she picked the plate of enchiladas up…so it was cheese and chicken enchiladas, the green sauce, sour cream, potatoes, carrots, lettuce; I mean it was the whole spiel. I go all out when I make enchiladas [laughs]. And she picked it up and she threw it at me. She threw a plate of food at me and I couldn’t believe it. Like, “what did you do? You just threw a plate of food at me?!” And then from there, I said, “You know what? I’m not dealing with this.” I said, “I’m not dealing with this.” I went to walk past her and go down (we lived in a townhome) so to go down the stairs. And when I went to walk past her she pushed me down the stairs. It was really bad. She got really physical and I couldn’t go to work for a week. Because how would I have explained to my boss or to anyone, like my home life is chaos. It’s like a warzone. I mean I don’t know what a warzone is but I imagine it’s feeling like you’re fearful of your life. And that’s what that was. So, the next couple of months it just kept getting worse and worse.
Before I moved out to California, one time she sent me a red bra or something like that. I was wearing it one day because I was still trying to make it work with her. And so I was wearing it in California in Placentia where we were living. And she said, “Why are you wearing that bra?” And I said, “I didn’t really think about it. I just put this bra on.” And she was like “Who are you going to see? Why would you wear that bra?” And I remember thinking, “My life is fucking chaos. And I am in the middle of this chaos. What am I gonna do to get out of it?” At that moment, I said to myself, “That’s it. That is it.” And then she proceeded to push me down and she raped me. She said, “If you’re gonna wear that red bra for someone, it’s gonna be for me.” [Long pause]. There’s many more stories about everything that happened.
Still, even though it’s been a number of years and I’ve moved on, it makes me mad. But, mad at myself. Because I-am-smarter-than that. I have better decision-making skills than that. When someone says something that’s not ok to me, I put them in check [laughs]. You know? So I was not doing that with the person I was supposedly gonna spend the rest of my life with. We were together for two years. It was a year and a half later that I moved out to California. So, you think you know someone but I don’t think you really do until you’re pushed in stressful situations and you see how someone reacts to that.
What no longer lingers in your heart and mind about your experience?
What has opened up for you as a result?
"I’m no longer angry and I’m no longer mad about what had happened."
I’m no longer angry and I’m no longer mad about what had happened. I’ll be honest—sometimes, I still do get mad at myself because I think, “I am smarter than that. I am smarter than to have stayed in that chaos.” And then I remind myself that I needed to be done when I left her because I never wanted to go back. When I left…when I kicked her out [laughs], I wanted that to be it. To this day I can’t sleep on my left side because of where she punched me (not just once). I don’t really think about it anymore except when someone says, “How did you move to California?” You know?
I wouldn’t consider myself a religious person. My Catholic parents would probably die if they heard this [laughs] but, after 16 years of Catholic school, I consider myself more agnostic. I don’t really know if a higher power exists or not. But, I used to think, “Well if God does exist and if Heaven does exist, and my grandmother is up there who lost my grandfather when she was young and pregnant, in a horrific plane crash, surviving with 8 children? What would she have thought about me staying with this woman?” When my grandmother was strong enough to raise all of her children, to keep a family together and to keep a home. They did have an actual house, but a home. They made a such a warm and loving home. I used to think, “God, I really need to do better. That’s really a disservice to my family to stay with her.” But I don’t really think about that anymore. So that no longer lingers.
It has affected my relationships after her. My romantic relationships and friendships and work relationships. I think now it’s really hard for me to let someone in. It’s really hard for me to go there in my head and fall in love. I’ve been in love twice. Once was with her. And I would love for that to happen again. But, it makes me nervous [smiles]. Because what if I fall in love with someone again and, they become abusive? I mean, I know now that I would leave or I could leave, because I had already left someone once. But, it’s a lot, you know? It took me years to come out of that fog and to be whole again. To be myself again and to wake up, but not have that as the defining part of my day, so that makes me nervous.
What is your definition of love and how does that love feel?
"Love is being vulnerable and letting someone in."
Love is being vulnerable and letting someone in. When I think back about the happiest time in my life, I have a few memories. Going to opening day at the Cincinnati Reds with my grandfather. We had a very special relationship. I think about a conversation I had in the car with him, right before he died, where he told me a story about someone he served in the South Pacific and World War II with and how that man was gay. Everyone else would really talk about that man, but my grandpa said, “I don’t care who someone loves. I care how they treat people and how they love others.” And I know at that moment that he was telling me that he knew I was a lesbian, but that I didn’t have to say it. So, for me, love is family. And love is commitment. And love is safe, although exciting.
When my grandfather died, we had a military funeral for him. We had bagpipes and people spoke. It was a full church. When we were walking out and they were lowering his casket into the ground, my dad’s family was all standing around there. And I thought, “That is love.” You know? That is decades' long love. Love is being at the table at Thanksgiving, with my 30 plus relatives [laughs], making sure we pass the food fast enough before it gets cold. Making sure you get my aunt’s corn soufflé or green bean casserole or something else…my mom’s apple pie. In Spanish they have two ways to say I love you. They have the romantic kind and just love without romantic connotations. I often wish we had that in English. Because I love so many people and then so few [laughs].
What does leaving a Trail of Existence mean to you?
"...my existence is not from a trail of my domestic violence."
I think people feel like a lot of times, people who have been involved with domestic violence…that they’re only always going to be the victim or the person that was harmed and that will define them. A Trail of existence for me means that my existence is not from a trail of my domestic violence. You know? My existence is when I work…right now I work at an all girls public school and I work on the fundraising at that school. And the majority of our students, of our young women come from pretty impoverished backgrounds. And my Trail of Existence is working to change those outcomes Because I feel like if we change a lot of the reasons that people fall into situations, then we can help change their outcomes.
Do you have any parting thoughts?
"The biggest thing that helped me was telling those closest to me what happened because it was able to make the situation real. And it was able to…you know…when I told my mom; she was a fucking voice of reason. She reminded me of who I was."
What being a survivor has taught me is that people who experience domestic violence go all across the spectrum. It does not discriminate based on socioeconomic class, based on sexuality, based on gender identity, based on race, you know? Name every category that we as a society categorize ourselves in…we can be found in those areas. The biggest thing that helped me was telling those closest to me what happened because it was able to make the situation real. And it was able to…you know…when I told my mom; she was a fucking voice of reason. She reminded me of who I was. I was her first-born daughter and I was all of these things and this was not one of them. One of them was not accepting that love and that treatment from someone because that’s not what love is. It can happen to anyone. I never thought that being a lesbian that I would experience domestic violence because we think in our heads as a society that it’s always the bigger man hitting the little woman. But it happens, you know? With gay men; it happens especially high with trans women; it happens with lesbians as well.
We often have small talk with participants during the wrap up portion of the interview. We asked Rebekah’s permission to include something she said about her parents after the interview was technically complete. It’s a perspective we felt was important to share. We try to include as many real-life complexities of domestic violence as possible and the many waves it makes in the lives of those we love. Here’s what she had to say.
Those closest to me are gonna read this and it’s really gonna hurt them. Not that I did anything, but it’s gonna make them sad. It’s gonna break my mother’s heart. So I talked to my mom about it before and I sent her your website and she’s like “Oh my God that’s so amazing.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but I was thinking, I’m gonna be really nervous if you read it. I really don’t want you to be sad and heartbroken because you’ve been an amazing mother. Nothing you could’ve done could’ve prevented this.” And I said the same thing to my dad. Because having four girls you know? He’s the protector. And my mom just sent me a text back, and she said, “I’m just so proud of you. And I ’m gonna give you $50, you should buy a new dress for this [laughs]” And I’m like, “Oh I’m 30 years old with my own job, thank you.” But it was really cute; it was really sweet.
I think love does not discriminate. You don’t fall in love with someone thinking “Oh, I’m gonna fall in love with them because they’ll never hurt me.” I mean maybe some people do but I don’t think that. I fall in love because I go with how I feel in my heart. And then they become violent and you’re like, “Fuck. Could I have prevented it? Could I have seen the warning signs?” Maybe, but when you’re in love you’re not gonna listen to anyone else. I would’ve never listened to my parents if they said, “Don’t be with her because we see this or that.” No amount of education or being there everyday [could've prevented this]. Everyday when I got home, my mom was there. My mom put us on the bus. My dad was at every recital, every concert. My parents were really present. I was so lucky to have that. And I know, because they’ve said a few things to me, I know they feel guilty about what happened with my ex. You have to let that go. There’s nothing you could have done that would’ve stopped me from falling in love with her.