Listen to the full audio of Ashley's interview here. Read her transcript below.
Why are you participating in Unconventional Apology Project?
“At my mother’s service, I said that my mission in life would be to share her story…to be a voice for the voiceless.”
A couple of reasons. Namely, I stumbled across this Project on Twitter. I was actually searching for different organizations or events that were coming up for Domestic Violence Awareness Month for 2016. And so in the midst of that, I was just scrambling, scrambling, looking…because on February 18th of 2016, my mother was murdered as a result of a domestic violence situation. And so from there, obviously that in itself is life changing. That is enough to just rock your world and it did. So, finding ways to keep her spirit alive. Finding ways and reasons to do thing to 1, motivate myself and 2, to follow through on what her mission was and what she wanted to do which was to share her story and her experience with domestic violence and be a voice and a vessel and an impacter of change for women and even men who are in the midst of this. So coming across the Project and meeting Chantal and Tiffany and just having a good time in the midst of this horrific and traumatic event that has happened in my life, was very much an inspiration for me to keep up on what I said I would do. At my mother’s service, I said that my mission in life would be to share her story, would be to be a voice for the voiceless and you know fortunately my mother’s spirit is still with me and she carries me every single place that I go. But you know, in the physical sense, she’s not here to continue on to share her voice and to share [big smile] you know the way that she laughs and the way that she would tell you how it is and you know would still be very honest and loving and just the adornment she had in her spirit was so infectious that, how could I not follow through? And even though it’s very scary, to say, “This is what I’m gonna do and I’m gonna take this on and I don’t know what kind of life it’s gonna take on its own, but I’m just gonna do it because I have to do it.” And so when I found it… and you know what? The interview went extremely well and I connected and I felt that this would be a positive and a very safe space to share the story and follow through on my word and connect with people who share that same value and level of importance of creating a conversation about domestic violence and how impactful it can be on so many people. It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t discriminate.
Have you ever had the opportunity to discuss the story you are sharing with us today? What impact did it have on you?
“Telling the story and connecting with different people has really brought a light back inside of me. It’s really lit a fire to say, ‘Hey, I’m not alone in this.’”
Yes. It had a very liberating impact because the story, the experience, the situation in itself is extremely, extremely heavy. It’s a heavy burden to carry. It’s a heavy feeling to feel. I was driving the other day and it came across me where it was like…I feel more. And it sounds trivial. “I feel more.” What do you mean? You always feel. You’re human, you feel. But to really let things sink in and when you reach the depths of this despair and this hurt and this trauma and just the horrifying nature of it, you feel the lowest of the low and the darkest of the darkest pit of feelings that you can get to. And when you’re able to find things and people and have support that lifts you up and your highs become extremely high and you feel like, “Ok, I can make it another day. I can do this.” So, for me, I’ve become more expressive because of this situation and there’s so many feelings inside that you’re not accustomed to, how can you hold that in? How can you…it’s impossible to walk around and be a functional part of society and hold all of this in. It’s gonna come out in some way. And so, for me it’s very important to channel the energy, the anxiety, the depression, the uncertainty in a positive and really constructive way. And framing domestic violence and framing murder and framing intimate partner violence in the best and most digestible context possible. Telling the story and connecting with different people has really brought a light back inside of me. It’s really lit a fire to say, “Hey, I’m not alone in this.” There are a lot of people who are experiencing it, have a friend and don’t know what to say to them, have seen their mother or aunt or cousin or best friend experience these same things but don’t know where to turn. You don’t wanna seem less than. You don’t wanna be ashamed. It’s your pride. There’s nothing wrong with self-care. There’s nothing wrong with talking about things that are really happening to you that you could not anticipate what happened. Who signs up for this? I know I didn’t. So, you have to find a way. And for me that way has been talking and sharing and reaching out. And anytime I see something that could be reminiscent to take me to that place that I’m still healing from, it just lights something in me. It gives me joy to have an impact on someone’s life. So talking about it has definitely been very instrumental in my healing process.
What domestic abuse experience do you want to share?
“For her, it was a long bout or a long dealing of being kind of entrenched in a situation where you never really felt like you could escape…I mean escape from the mental bondage. The escape from the psychological play on your vulnerabilities.”
My experience with domestic with domestic violence that I will be sharing is the story of my mother and her life. For her, it was a long bout or a long dealing of being kind of entrenched in a situation where you never really felt like you could escape. And when I say escape, I don’t mean escape in terms of he’s monitoring your odometer on your car or he’s tracking your every move. I mean escape from the mental bondage…the escape from the psychological play on your vulnerabilities. You know you meet someone, you grow up with them, you feel like they have your best interest. “You’re my friend. We grew up in the same neighborhood. You know my people, I know your people. We’re growing together.” When you don’t really realize, everyone’s intent is not as pure or as genuine as yours. And you don’t realize how these situations can be harmful and dangerous and life changing and fatal. And to go from knowing someone when they’re 15 and 16 and 17, 18 years old to when they’re actually an adult and they’re displaying some major risk factors and harmful behaviors, but still just trying to love a person through it. Still trying to give them the opportunity and a chance to let them grow and show you whatever it is you’re hoping for. And in this situation, that wasn’t the case. And so while my mother is just [big smile] a gem. She is a gem. She is a diamond. She is an amazing, amazing woman, amazing mother, amazing sister, amazing cousin, friend, worshipper you know? Just everything. There’s no way you could be in a room with her and…1, you didn’t even need to be in the room with her to hear her [laughs]. Let’s start there. Let’s take it back a little. You would hear her coming. You would hear her laugh. And then you would just come around the corner; you’d see her smile, just bright as day. She had the most infectious smile, loudest laugh and she was one that was just so down to earth and down to do any and everything with you. Like, you could count on her; she had your back. Like, “What’s going on? Alright, this is what we’re gonna do.” And you know she would curse you out, but she would pray with you at the same time [big smile]. And she would pull out her scriptures and she would say, “And I was reading my bible…” She would call me - she’d be up on the prayer line first thing in the morning – 6 am. And she’d call me and would say “I was up on the prayer line this morning and I just gotta tell you what the Lord said.” And then just run it down [big smile]. [Gestures as though on the phone] And I’d be like, “Alright mom, I still got about another 30 minutes before I need to get to where I need to go to, but I appreciate you, thank you.”
Ashley's mother would write down her favorite scriptures on these index card size papers. She now uses her mother's cards to find peace and refuge in moments of reflection.
And it’s things like that, that really establish and let you see that it’s really about what’s inside of you. It’s about your character. It’s a bout your soul, it’s about your spirit and how you’re able to touch people through that. And learning also that your body is a vessel for your spirit. And no matter where you go or what you do, your spirit and the essence of that glow and that energy is what transmits things and changes people’s lives. And my mother was a life changer. She was a life changer. And I won’t even say “was”, I’ll say “she is” because her spirit lives in me because I am her and she is me. She dealt with a lot of adversity in her life. And she dealt with a lot of you know, soul searching. She was a young mother - she had me at the age of 18. And she and my father separated. When I was about 6 years old, she got into another relationship with a man and they went on to have my twin sisters. And they are 21 [big smile], my babies. During that time, me being a young child…I was 6,7,8 years old. I didn’t know what was going on. You know? One minute he’s here, next minute he’s gone. And 6 months later we’re moving. “Why are we moving?” “Let’s start fresh.” “Ok, let’s start fresh.” I’m getting new friends, and a new school you know? I got new toys out of the deal so I’m fine. But not realizing what is happening with the adults and why these things are happening and why he would disappear. My sisters are young, so, “Why are you not here?” And knowing that these were the building blocks of something greater to come. And the situation being, you have someone who suffers from mental illness and it not being addressed. And you become incarcerated and the justice system seemingly is doing what they need to do. You don’t follow a law, you’re on probation, you go back to jail. But are you dealing with the issue at hand? Are you dealing with the root of why this person is doing what they’re doing? Why are we using tax dollars to continually keep this thing going? Keeping this person behind bars and are you really keeping these victims safe? Yes, you have PFAs and yes, you have all these things in place, but they’re pieces of paper that takes a process and takes time, but when someone’s in a moment and they need safety, they need shelter, what can you do?
“But you’re so focused and you’re in a such a fit of rage and you have a target and by any means necessary, you are going to get to that target. And that target is my mother.”
As time went on…let’s take it to about 2001. I was in high school – I just got to high school. I was in 10th grade. And he was out. He got released from prison. And he was out for about 2 years. And you know, moved in with us and doing the family thing and seemingly again…everything is fine, everything is cool. And then conflict starts to happen and you hear some yelling start and you hear doors clamming and you hear phone calls and cursing out and popping up and banging on doors. And it’s like, “Well, mom, what’s going on?” And it’s like, “Don’t worry about it, I got it.” And again being 15, you know something’s going on but you don’t know what. And so we were told you know, “Stay out of grown folks’ business.” “I’ll handle it.” “You go do your homework.” “Go to your after school activities.” “It’s fine.” And it’s like ok, you have that, until something happens that commands your attention where you have someone busting the glass in your front door and running in your home and running with a knife to find your mother. To do what? And there’s children in the house. And not only just children, but two of your own children. But you’re so focused and you’re in a such a fit of rage and you have a target and by any means necessary, you are going to get to that target. And that target is my mother. And as I’m standing in her bedroom with her, trying to save our lives, trying to barricade this door so that this man does not get in because who knows what he’s going to do. Waiting for the police franticly calling people to be like, “You gotta call 911! You got get somebody here!” And to really just be like, “What the f-. What is this?” You wanna process, but being 15 you’re like, “This is wrong. This is not right. This is not someone who is loving. This is not life. This is not what they tell you life is supposed to be like.” Sitting here trying not to let this person get through this door who said that they love you, that they care about you, that they love your mother and they care about your mother, but you’re trying to cause her physical harm. Why? So there’s that incident.
So there’s more build up. Things kind of chill out after that. Police are involved and there’s some separation. And I remember…it was about 2003 at this point. We went down for spring break to my aunt’s house. You know, my sisters and I give my mom a break for the weekend and you know, hang out with the family. And she comes to pick us up. And so we said our goodbyes. We come out of my aunt’s apartment building. And we’re loading up the car and something just told me, “Look to your right. Just look to the right. Just look.” And as I looked, I see this car coming. And I’m looking, and I’m like, “Hey mom…that looks like his car.” And as soon as she turns to look…slams on the gas and guns it. Just full on, [motions with her hands to press hard on the gas] just there. And it’s like, “Oh my God!” And had it not been for…there was a truck that we were getting into and there was a tree just ahead of it. The tree on the right side on the passenger side is what stopped his car and it was wedged in between the truck. But in the meantime as I’m standing there, I just saw my mother get hit by a car. And not just get hit by a car, get hit, fly in the air. And at the time, my mom was over 200 pounds. So it’s like, really some acrobatic things happening here. Up in the air, come back down, land on the windshield, roll off the hood of the car onto the grass and it’s like…I’m stuck. I’m stuck. And when she was running, just before the impact, she was pushing my sisters out the way, just pushing them. And tried to run, she tried with all her might. To be standing there what seemed like forever—it probably was 30 seconds, maybe, but it seemed like a lifetime. It seemed like a lifetime. To stand there and it’s like, “Is she gonna pop her head up? What just happened? What just happened? I did not just see this happen. What just happened?” And I’m just screaming, like “Mom! Mom!” I went to church and I prayed a little bit, but I’m just like, “Lord! Where’s my mom?” Like, “Mom! Mom! Mom! Oh my God! Mom!” “What if she doesn’t get up?” And then [snaps and sits up] she pops up. And she’s like so dazed and out of it. But I just remember her just looking over at me and she’s like, “Ashley, run! You run!” And I’m just like, it’s still is not registering. Like, it’s not registering. It’s not registering. And it’s like, “Ok, run.” And as I’m running, I can see you know he’s like trying to get out the car and he’s kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking. And I’m like, “Oh, I gotta run! I gotta run right now!” We run in the building and I’m running with my sisters and I open the door and my mom is just running, she’s trying to run. Her arm is literally hanging off. Like, hanging. And somehow she found the strength, God gave her the strength to get up and to run and to protect her children. It was…insane. It was insane. There’s no way you would think that these things…you see it on TV, and you see whatever. Your mind doesn’t really conceptualize it, that these are the things that can happen to me, that can happen in my life. Even if it didn’t happen in my life…to witness it. First hand and then to be like, “What if I didn’t look over?” And she would’ve been closer in the street. She could’ve died in that moment. Then I would not have had her to grow up as a young woman.
And so it’s like, ok, you have that and then the shock of like, “What is going on?” As you’re waiting for police to come and you’re transported to the emergency room. I just remember sitting in the waiting room and I was sitting very close to the doors and my back was to one of the windows, but you couldn’t really see inside of the ER, but they kept me in the waiting room. And my grandparents were there and my aunts were there and they were all in the back with my mom. And I just remember, the sound…of…her…shrieks and screams and just the pain as they were popping her shoulder back into place. And I will never [begins to cry], ever forget that. Because you just don’t…you never wanna see people that you love, you don’t wanna see them hurting. Let alone, the trials of trying to break a person mentally and spiritually and physically and to hear her screaming [shakes head] was so awful. Just awful. Like, awful. And it pierced my soul, it pierced my spirit and it affected me in a way that I didn’t even realize. And when they say your subconscious starts to develop, and things build and build and build…I just was in so much shock that all I knew was I had my mom and I had to take care of her. I had to nurse her back to health. I had to be there for her. It was my responsibility because she took such good care of me and she loved me SO much that I had to protect her and I had to make sure that she was ok.
And it was the start of a very just kind of…you put a wall up and you just go. And you just do what you have to do. You do what you have to do to get through the day; you do what you have to do to just get stuff done. And I took it on, you know? And because of that situation, my mom wasn’t able to do household things, she wasn’t able to do my sisters’ hair, she wasn’t able to take me to cheerleading practice because she really needed to take time to get herself together and self-care. But because of the woman that she is, and was…she is a caretaker. She is a nurturer. And she still wanted to be up and about for other people. And I even find that in myself to where it is so much easier to take care of others; to tend to their issues, to tend to what they…you know solve their problems, deal with whatever adversity they’re going through. But to deal with your own, to work on yourself is the hardest but most important work you will ever, ever do in your life. And she, at that point, I don’t think she was ready to do all that needed to happen, but she was doing it because when my 16 birthday rolled around in July, we were on the Spirit of Philadelphia. We had a good time and we danced and we took pictures and we ate and you know, we walked around Philly and we had a good time. And so it’s like, when you have those moments, it kind of it doesn’t erase what happened but it just makes it easier. Like, “Ok, well, she’s gotten to this place or she seems like she’s much better so she is better.”
So from that situation, there was court; there was a lot of legal proceedings that happened and he was put behind bars. He was sentenced to about 15 years. And so that takes us to about 2015. And in 2015, this gentleman was able to be released from prison…on [air quotes] “good behavior”. And go into a work release program and live in a halfway house and was given an opportunity to reestablish himself as a productive citizen of society…seemingly. Now, what boggles my mind is, yes, a person can be behind closed bars…behind bars and be civil amongst other inmates, but you’re not being triggered in a way that caused you to be put behind bars, so of course, you’re not in an intimate relationship with your fellow inmates. You don’t care what they do; you don’t care how they spend their time. You’re not in control of their thoughts, feelings, emotions. You don’t know their family dynamics. You don’t know their vulnerabilities. You just know that we’re all in this hellhole and we’re all trying to get out at some point. So, we’re gonna do whatever we need to do to make that a reality. And the underlying issue, not the tip of the iceberg but the whole iceberg underneath of issues and life challenges and not knowing who you are and where you come from and past history of domestic violence and criminal records with other women; and this is a long standing issue and a long-standing problem and you’ve been incarcerated on 3 different occasions for the same type of issue. Why wasn’t this addressed on a more serious level? Why is it like, “Oh, you have good behavior. You didn’t cause us any other problems so we’re gonna sign these papers and let you outta here. Thanks. Check in with your P.O. Your parole officer and um, don’t come back.” But did you address the anger management? Did you address any domestic violence training? Any sort of workshop? Any sort of group counseling? And sort of therapy? Any required time with a mental health professional? Any sort of medication? Is there a chemical imbalance of some sort? Is there a personality disorder here? What is causing you to continually show up in these domestic violence situations? Why are you becoming so upset with your female partner and causing so much turmoil in their lives and physical harm and mental harm? Why? What is going on inside of you that is causing all these things to happen? What is it? And no one took the time to get to the root of that issue. Because had they gotten to the root of that issue, history would not have repeated itself in the manner in which it did.
“And coming in and being there, without him anywhere near her, she was thriving. She was thriving, she was loving, she was living, she was feeling amazing about herself.”
He was released to the work release program to live in a halfway house. Once he had actually completed his time there – about 6 months I believe—7 months, then on his last month, January 30th, he had completed his time and was able to full on go and find a residence of his own. So at that point, my sister wanted to get her own place and so he said, you know, “I wanna help you. You’ve got the baby now. This is what you can do. You can get your own space. Move out of your mom’s and get your own space.” So she’s like, “Alright, I don’t really trust you that much, I don’t even really know you that well, but I see you’re trying to be proactive.” My mom was in such a forgiving space that, yes there was a lot of fear, there was a lot of anxiety, there was a lot of dread behind him being released because in her mind, she knew. She knew what was gonna happen. She knew that they had unfinished business whether she wanted that or not, they had unfinished business. And he was coming for her. How he was coming for her, no one really knew, but he was gonna try it. So they had been in communication – December, January, because my younger sister had her daughter, my niece, in September of 2015. And so that somewhat prompted him to try to have a more active role and become more present. And when that happens, you fall into old habits unfortunately because it’s comfortable. It’s dysfunctional. In no way shape or form is it right, in no way shape or form is this where you should be, but there’s some level of hope and there’s some level just, as humans, in our nature to nurture and to love, especially as a woman. So you wanna just help a person. It genuinely starts as “I just wanna help you.” I’m at a place in my life where I built my faith, she was very active in her church and teaching Sunday school and working with children and you know, her Bible study group was very important to her – every Wednesday night. She did not miss it. [Laughs] The pastor, he would say, “She would be the first person in that seat over there, every Wednesday night.” So she had gotten in a place to where, “I know what I need to fulfill my spirit, to fill my soul, to give me enough strength, enough, love, positivity, mercy and grace and forgiveness to get from where I have been to where I see myself going. And I know that I am bigger than my situation. I know that I have been a victim of domestic violence, but I am a survivor. And I’m not gonna lay down and give up. I am a survivor and I’m gonna share my story. And I’m gonna prevail and God is gonna see me through. He’s provided all my needs. He’s picked me up, he’s forgiven me, he’s done the unimaginable, for me and my life, despite my poor decision making at times. But he still kept me and he’s here, so I have to not give up on myself and keep going.” And so when she had arrived to this place over the last 5 years and just being more engrained and confident and self-assured in who she was as a woman, not just a mother, but “I am a woman of God, I am a friend, I am a sister, I am a daughter, I am an entrepreneur. I have hopes and dreams and I am a visionary. And I know my position in life and I know where I stand. And I’m not in a position to fall for anything. Not anymore.” And coming in and being there, without him anywhere near her, she was thriving. She was thriving, she was loving, she was living; she was feeling amazing about herself.
A photo of Ashley’s mother, Inga Coffee. Ashley described her as a “Selfie Queen,” and shared this photo with Unconventional Apology Project to demonstrate her bright personality.
Then you have this person seeping in and she said, “Anye”—she called me by my middle name, she said, “Anye, the devil is trying to tempt me, because you know he comes to kill, steal and destroy. And I bust my behind to get to where I am today. And I have a lot more to do. But this man, I don’t know what’s gonna happen.” And I said, “Well mom, you know, like don’t worry about it. Like, we’ll figure it out. Like, we’ll…whatever you need.” I said, “But, don’t let that overtake your mind.” And she said, “I’m not worried about him, it’s just that I just know the situation.” And as someone…I’ve never been in an intimate partner relationship where it’s been violent, but coming from someone who knows it, who’s dealt with this person and known them for over 20 years, there’s a certain level of certainty that you have that no one else can have in that situation. So in doing that, she knew. And when I say she knew, and when everyone says she knew…she KNEW. She knew what she was dealing with, she knew that it could go either way and there’s only one of two ways that this could go, but, “I’m just gonna pray and do what I need to do because, God got me. And I’m tired of living in fear.” She would say, “I’m TIRED. I’m tired of being fearful, I’m tired of being taken advantage of, I’m tired of people playing on my weaknesses. I just wanna be strengthened. I wanna be uplifted, and I want to grow.” And it’s like, “Alright, I’m with you. I want that too. You know? I’m with you, I support it wholeheartedly.” But it’s what we think in our minds that something is gonna be and how something is gonna play out…God has a completely different plan for you. You ask for healing, you ask for refuge, you want rest. You want these things. You really want to have and practice forgiveness. And truly forgive a person because it only affects you, you don’t wanna hold onto it. She was at a point in her life where, “I know what you’ve done. You wronged me. You’ve afflicted me, you’ve hurt me, you’ve done it in front of my children. What more can you do? What more are you trying to prove? I wanna forgive. I wanna help you out of the kindness of my heart, but we have to have boundaries.”
“…People make their own decisions, and as much as you want to guide them and direct them and show them and tell them; sometimes it’s bigger than you. It’s bigger than any influence that you can have. And in this situation, it was bigger than any influence that I could have.”
And so we fast-track to: the last day I saw my mother was either January 17th or the 30th, because I picked up my niece and then she came with my sister to pick her up. That day I went to pick up my niece…he was sitting in her living room. And, as soon as I crossed that threshold…as soon as I looked to the left, I was like, “Well what the fuck is going on here? What’s this? I’m confused.” And she wasn’t herself. My mom was always on the go, [starts bouncing in her chair] she likes to move. She likes to move, she liked to do, she liked to do this…she can’t sit still. But in this moment, it was an anxious, “Let me go. Let me, let me. Alright Ash. Let me get the bag. Alright, let me do this. Alright, let me get that. Ok, come one she’s ready, let’s get the baby outside, let’s…” It was a push. And it…as soon as I saw it, something comes over you and I don’t trust it. I’m not here for it. I don’t trust it. I’m not here for it. I don’t agree with it. “I don’t even know why you’re here.” But then a part of me was like, “Well you cannot bug out in this moment because, what if something transpires right here, right now. Are you prepared for that? What if, you know, she doesn’t wanna hear what you have to say?” So it’s like, ok, you just…you save it for later. Save it for later. “Alright we’ll discuss it when he’s not around because I don’t want to…when I leave, something transpires and it’s like, oh my God I done lit a fire and I left it and I didn’t help to put it out.” So I’m talking about it with my sister and she’s like, “I know and I don’t agree with it and this or that, but they’re gonna make their own decisions.” And then that’s also a critical point as well, people make their own decisions, and as much as you want to guide them and direct them and show them and tell them; sometimes it’s bigger than you. It’s bigger than any influence that you can have. And in this situation, it was bigger than any influence that I could have.
So my sister moved into her apartment on February 1st of 2016, and my work schedule was like crazy and I was working on a launch brand and you know, I’m in communication. I’m texting, I’m FaceTiming, I’m calling. “Whatchu need?” But I hadn’t had an opportunity to be present. And I was feeling in myself, like, “Alright Ash, you need to get there. You gotta make it a point.” Because the week prior, I was driving home from work. I take the train into the city and so I got off the train and I got to my car and I’m driving home and something spoke to me. Now, in the moment, I thought I was crazy. I didn’t know what was happening. And it was like, something came over me and was like, “Your momom’s gonna die.” And I was like…”I’m sorry, what? Where is that coming from? And who would say a thing like that?” And it’s like, your momom’s gonna die. Your momom’s gonna die.” And I remember driving and thinking like, “Oh my God. Why is this happening?” And then a couple days later, it happened again, while I’m driving or I’m in my car and I’m like, bawling my eyes out because I’m like, “What-is-this? What is this? Like, what?” And you dare not speak it or say that to anyone else, because I don’t wanna give that life. I don’t wanna speak that over someone’s life. And I’m thinking, “Is it saying momom? Because my grandmother…like ok, they’re a little older but you know they’re in pretty good health. And like, well my mom, well yeah, I got my mom and I need my mom. I need my mom and my grandmom, like I need all my people. Like, I need my people.” And that second time, again I’m just bawling, bawling, bawling and I’m like, “Lord, no! What does this mean? You can’t do this to me. I’m grateful, but just give me some more time. Just give me some time to just…I’m working on it, I’ve got some things in place, just give me some time.” Well, I had about two weeks.
I was leaving work. I usually catch the 4:09 train with my coworker, and that day, my director was getting a little antsy and she was mad that people were leaving before 4 o’clock and I’m like, “I hear you girl, but I gotta get to this train station. I gotta hit these two blocks, so, imma be online when I get home - Imma crack my laptop, I swear.” So, my coworker, she leaves, and I’m like, “I’ll catch up with you” and so, I go to leave and I’m running, running. I get down the steps. I see my coworker. I see the train is late. I’m like “Alright, I can breathe.” So, we’re chit chatting, we’re chit chatting. We’re talking about work, we get on the train, we sit down and we got right on the train car and you know there’s two seats that face each other, so we’re sitting there and my aunt had called me earlier in the day but I didn’t call her back. So she FaceTimed me again and I’m like, “Oh, before I send this email, let me talk to my aunt and I’ll tell her that I’ll call her when I get to my car.” And, she FaceTimed. And I’m like, my usual bubbly self, like, “I’m ‘bout to handle some business, imma call you.” And, no. Because, I answered that call and life as I knew it was over. And, life-over. Life was over. It was over. And when I saw her crying, face just as red and pink as it wanted to be. And my aunt’s a softie…lil’ bit, so she cries. It’s fine, she cries, but it was not one of those cries. It was a very eerie, very “something has happened”…something has happened and she’s like, “Did you talk to your sister?” And I’m like, “No.” And she’s like, “You gotta call your family.” “Well you are my family, who am I supposed to call? What do we do?”
So I call my sister and she answers, and…that call…was…I don’t even know if there’s enough words to describe that phone call. I don’t know if there’s enough anything to really describe what that moment meant, what it felt like. Just, all of it. Like, to hear her voice on the other side of that phone. The way that she was screaming and squealing and the shrieks and the pain, the shock in her voice. Ugh, it…the most horrific, terrifying feeling ever. Ever. To hear her screaming and to scream, [begins to cry] “Mommy’s dead.” And it’s like, “What? I need you to talk to me.” And she’s just screaming and screaming and screaming and screaming and screaming. And I’m like, “I don’t understand. I don’t understand what you’re saying to me right now. I don’t understand what you’re saying right now. I need you to talk to me. I need you to really explain. What are you talking about? ‘Cause I’m not understanding you. I need you to calm down.” And she’s screaming and she’s like, “Ashley, I need you to get here. Ashley you gotta get here. You gotta get here. You gotta get here.” And I’m like, “Ok, I’m coming. I’m coming! I’m coming! I’m coming! I promise! I’m coming!” And my coworker, God bless her. She was there with me in that seat like, head down, just held my hands, like head down. Head down in the seat. And my body was just shaking and trembling and shaking and I couldn’t keep my legs still. And she’s just holding and gripping my hands and she’s like, “Ash it’s alright. Who do we call? What do we do?” And I just jumped into like Project Manager mode, like, “Alright, I gotta get this person on the line, I know this person’s in the area, I know that person’s in the area. Let me call, let me call. I’m calling all my friends. I called my ex, I’m like, “Listen. Where are you? You off today? Ok, I need you to go over here. I need you to go see what’s going on. Something’s happening with my mom. I need you to go over there.” I called my other friend, “Listen. I need you to go over here, check the scene.” I called my other friend like, “Where are you at? I need you to go with my sister; they said they’re taking her to the police station. I need you to go.” Like, “Somebody call me, somebody just go. I’m on my way, but I’m not close. I’m on the train and I’m trying to get there.” It was the [stretches out every word] longest train ride of my life. Like the longest. The longest. And my coworker’s like, “Alright, we’re gonna get off at my stop and then I’m gonna drive you to Delaware and it’ll be fine because you can’t drive.” And I’m like, “Just take me to my car” And she’s like, “No. You cannot drive. I will take you there.” And then in the midst of it, like people are calling and there’s work stuff coming in and before I could allow myself to feel the final confirmation that this is true, this is reality, I said “I’m not going to further upset myself and let this overcome me because I need to get there and I need to think clearly and I need to understand what is happening because I don’t wanna miss something key in this moment. So to the best of my ability, you gotta hold it together because somebody’s gotta hold it together. Because I don’t know if everyone is going to have the strength to hold it together. My mother is the strongest woman I know. And if something has happened to her, then it is on me to rise to the occasion. I gotta rise to the occasion. I gotta ask the questions, I gotta figure out what’s going on, I gotta get to the bottom of this.
“…There was no way to manipulate and control her over a long period of time without harming her physically because you were not going to break her spirit.”
I remember getting to the police station and I’m already pissed off because I’m like, “Why am I at the police station? Where is my mother? Where is my mother? You’re sending me to the police station; you’re not sending me to the hospital.” My aunts are calling every hospital. They’re calling all their contacts at hospitals. She’s not in anybody’s emergency room. “Where is my mother? And why are you not telling me where she is? And if this is something serious, you need to tell me. Because…don’t bullshit me. What is going on?” And, we see Victims Services and I’m like “Ugh, fuck.” And then I see one of my sisters and then it’s like, you just…you hug and you cry. You hug and you cry. And two of my friends were there that I had looking. And they were like, “Yeah we saw that the street was blocked off and the news trucks were there and they had the whole block blocked. And there’s this person and that person and that person and this person.” And I didn’t wanna ask, “Well, was the medical examiner there? Had the M.E. arrived yet?” So it’s a waiting game. It’s a waiting game. It’s a waiting game. And my friend worked for the city and was able to call and ask, like, “What is what?” And he delivered that news to me. He delivered the news and gave the confirmation. [Cries] “Ashley, she’s gone.” And when I got to the police station initially and I didn’t see him there. I didn’t see him there. I see everyone else and I don’t see him there. And I’m like, “Where is he? Where is that motherfucker? Where is he? Where is that coward? Where is he? Where is he? Where is he?” And then to get that confirmation, to get the confirmation. Like, the only person who gave two fucks about you, who cared about you, you stabbed her to death. And you left her. You left her. You left her there. You left her there like she was nothing. Like nobody cared for her. Like nobody cared for her. Like she didn’t have family, like she didn’t care for you as a person, as a human being. She wouldn’t even leave a hurt dog in the street. She wouldn’t! But you left her there like she was worthless, when she was priceless. And it’s just so hard to fathom with a logical mind, how someone could do THAT. How could you do that? You cannot be mentally sane and stable. You cannot be of sound mind and body and do something like that to someone. How? How? Like how? How is that possible? And to now affect hundreds of people’s lives off of one decision. One decision. You got angry, you were frustrated, you couldn’t control, her. You couldn’t break her spirit. Because the woman you knew her to be 13 years ago, before you were incarcerated, is not the woman that she was on that day, is not the woman she had grown to be. And, there was no way to manipulate and control her over a long period of time without harming her physically because you were not going to break her spirit, because her spirit was not going to be broken. It was not. Shoot your best shot, but it’s not gonna happen. And it didn’t happen. So you had no other resort but to harm her physically.
“So now we’re faced with going through legal proceedings of a murder case. Not an assault. Not a battery. Not a possession of a deadly weapon with the intent to harm, no. This is a first degree murder.”
And she had lost a lot of weight. She was lookin’ good [big smile]. Some people say that, if she still had the weight on her, she would’ve had a fighting chance, but she was smaller than me. And…you did that. That was the only way to exercise power. That was the only way to exercise real control. And allowing yourself to fall into a fit of rage. It shows the seriousness of dealing with people and using
After going through a period of healing during the last 5 years of her life, this time period for Ashley’s mother was characterized by great confidence and hope for the future.
discernment to know that if you feel something inside of you, if you know in your heart of hearts, your gut, your spirit, something is telling you that…”Abort mission, red flag throw in the towel, walk away.” And it is not easy to walk away. In no way am I saying that. But what I’m saying is that, you have to pay attention. And you have to make a plan for yourself. And you have to know that, no matter what the circumstance and whatever the situation is in that moment, the only constant in life is change. And you have the power to change the things and the situations that you encounter in life. You have that power innately. You’re born with that power. But choosing to exercise that power at the right time in the right way with the right help with the right resources is what’s so critical. And my mother tried. She tried. But she was tired. You know? She didn’t feel like the justice system was on her side. How was it that this man was eligible to get out of prison on good behavior and within, not even 30 days of being fully able to be and live on your own outside of being under surveillance with a curfew, that is the only time that you were able to function as a productive citizen in society? And so, I will caveat to say this: he has not been sentenced and the trail is still pending, so technically he is innocent until proven guilty, however, I know. The history shows. The situation itself shows. So now we’re faced with going through legal proceedings of a murder case. Not an assault. Not a battery. Not a possession of a deadly weapon with the intent to harm, no. This is a first-degree murder. And it’s like, let that just sink in. Murder. I still don’t get it. It’s there, it’s a word, I know the definition, I know what it means. But, to have your logic and your emotions catch up and to sink as one, so that you’re able to accept and process, it’s a whole different ballgame—completely different.
I’m still very early on in my healing process. I’m still very much learning how to be in this new space of life. Every day is a challenge because every day I think about my mother. I think about, what were her last moments like? You know? Like, I think about the plans we had for her 46th birthday. That she was 6 weeks shy of. I think about all the milestones in my niece’s life that my mother will not physically be present for. I think about my sisters who, now, do not have parents. Like, my sisters don’t have parents. They have family, yes, that love them. But, to not have a mother be able to look at you with the love and adornment and just the preciousness that only embodies a mother’s love…to not have that anymore in a physical sense is traumatizing. To have to go your life without the person that taught you everything that you know—the person that has loved you and cared for you to not be present anymore and having to accept that their spirit is around, but still trying to learn how to build your spirituality in the process and learning just how to build yourself up in the process, but you have all these feelings coming at you like 12 tons of bricks. Constantly. Everyday there’s this, there’s that. Especially for these types of situations with domestic violence, you are unable to put the situation to bed. Put it to bed. This happened, you know, there was a major loss; it’s traumatizing. You have to plan a funeral, you have to you know take care of their affairs. You have to clean out their home. You have to close out their accounts. You have to you know, tend to their lives in such a finalized, “We have to close it, we have to take care of business.” And taking care of business is cool and fine, but how do you say we’re gonna take care of business when we’re talking about somebody’s life? It’s a hard pill to swallow. Extremely hard every day. Every minute of the day. Every moment.
“I don’t want the experiences that she encountered with domestic violence that shaped the story and the trajectory of her life, to overshadow who she is as a person, what she embodied, what she stood for, the people’s lives that she impacted. The impact she had on herself and the growth that she was able to manifest overtime.”
The biggest challenge at this point is, I want her to rest peacefully. I want her to be at peace. I want her to not be tired. I want her spirit to shine and glow and to still watch everything that we’re doing. But you start to find peace and create this level of acceptance as you start to build and craft this new life, but over here, throughout this experience, you still have to go through the justice system. You know? I have to sit at the head of the table with a deputy, attorney generals, and lead homicide detectives and Victims Services individuals and more social workers and more attorneys and go through the “facts of the case”. And “Oh, hey, let’s go through this,” and we’re gonna need to come to her home before you dismantle everything and we just wanna do a walk through.” And, “We wanna have you come in for this meeting so that we’re gonna talk about prosecutorial strategies and what we think is on the table.” And, “Ok, well, the death penalty has now been outlawed in this state so we’re gonna have to take this route in terms of how we present our case.” And who wants to hear that? And I remember sitting in our last meeting at that boardroom like…and just crying. Bawling my eyes out. Because, “I’m really sitting here with you all. I’m appreciative that you made time to answer my questions, don’t get me wrong, but the fact that I’m even sitting here having to discuss this and discuss my mother in a sense of yes, the ‘victim’”. And so we wanna ensure that the “victim” and get justice for the [deep sigh]. It’s like, but when you’ve never seen your mother as a victim and you just admire her for all that she does and her strength as a person, as a woman, as a mother, to then be classified as “the victim”, and “We have ‘the victim’s’ autopsy report.” And, “Yes, we have all the belongings and that’s under the evidence for the victim.” And it becomes so surreal. It’s like you’re standing in the middle of a tornado and you’re just watching life happen around you. [Gestures in circles with her finger] and you’re watching and you’re watching and you’re watching. And you’re like, “Somebody get me outta here. Get me out! Get me out! Like, get me out!” And if this is anything like what she had experienced: the fear, the terror, the looking over your shoulder, the walking on eggshells, like not knowing how to feel, what to feel, what to do, when to do it, how to do it, “But I know I have to do something”; I admire her even more because that kind of strength, that kind of tenacity, that love and that genuineness that she possessed…is astronomical. That is a force to be reckoned with. And I don’t want the experiences that she encountered with domestic violence that shaped the story and the trajectory of her life, to overshadow who she is as a person, what she embodied, what she stood for, the people’s lives that she impacted. The impact she had on herself and the growth that she was able to manifest overtime. I don’t want those positives to be overshadowed by, “Well, why did she even let him back in her space?” And, “Well, her kids were grown, she didn’t need to interact with him.” Or “Well, didn’t she see this coming?” And, while that’s very easy and very valid questions on the surface level to ask a person, let’s take a step back a little bit and look a little bit deeper. And we’ve all had experiences and adopted habits and things that we know are not good for us, but for whatever reason, you feel compelled because it’s something that you’re accustomed to, it’s something that you’re comfortable with. Dysfunction is never something that you just want. Who wants to operate in dysfunction just because? You know? No. But because that’s a comfortable space and it takes a lot of energy to do self-work to propel you to another level, you have to be uncomfortable. And people get comfortable. And all we wanna do is be loved and understood and accepted. And when someone at the surface level is providing you with that and manipulating you because they know your life – they know all your vulnerabilities. They know everything about you. So, how could you not stay and try to make it work? Because it seemingly looks different.
“…It just so happened that my mother experienced domestic violence. And in experiencing domestic violence, her life was taken. And I want people to understand and to know that even in the midst of these situations, you are not defined by your circumstance.”
So I think with the experience the she’d gone through, I really just want the narrative to be that we all encounter different issues, different scenarios, different…we’re different. We all have a unique experience in life and it just so happened that my mother experienced domestic violence. And in experiencing domestic violence, her life was taken. And I want people to understand and to know that even in the midst of these situations, you are not defined by your circumstance. You are not defined by your today, by your yesterday. It is only a matter of what you decide to change. What do you decide to do? How do you decide to take the power over your life? And create whatever it is that you wanna create? To have an idea and to really work to make it come to life. To find that happiness that you’re looking for in another person and realize that it’s within yourself. And when you have it within yourself, no one can take that away. And when you start to have that confidence and that bravery and that courage and that tenacity, that fire, that sass of, “This is me. And this is what I’m going to do.” And she would say, “I’m Inga Coffee, and I came to represent!” And when she said it, now she said it with a lot more fire than I just said it, but when she would say it, it was so bold, it was like, “You have the audacity!” And it’s like, “Yes I do. Because if I don’t do it, if I don’t take pride and take stock in myself, who will? If I don’t love myself, if I don’t put my best foot forward then who will? So I have to be audacious with myself and I have to have the courage and believe and have the strength within myself and in my maker, to fill me up when I feel like my tank is empty.”
“…Yes this has been a tragedy and this is a tragic situation, but I wanna create a triumph from this. I wanna show that you can still be victorious before it becomes fatal.”
And that is what she did. And so this time around when this man came back into her life, he was faced with a new breed of a woman that he had not encountered before and the only way to break her was physically. And so I know that it’s hard. It’s hard, but I know that eventually, my days will continue to get better. The things that my mother has poured into me, I want to pour that into other people. And that will continue to give me the strength to get through a day, to get through…at first I was living minute-by-minute, then I progressed to hour-by-hour, and then I progressed to day-by-day. And I’m in that day-by-day phase. And, you know, some days are better than others but I have to reflect on the goodness that she embodied and what she represents. And the fact that I have a phenomenal support system behind me to catch me on those days when I’m falling and I’m slipping, to be a listening ear, to reminisce and really highlight, yes this has been a tragedy and this is a tragic situation, but I wanna create a triumph from this. I wanna show that you can still be victorious before it becomes fatal. Before you feel like you’re so backed in a corner. You can get out and you just need a plan. And you have to use your resources. And so it’s a matter of, just living through the legacy that she started and just carrying it on. Carrying it on.
What no longer lingers in your heart and mind about your experience? What has opened up for you as a result?
“…Learning how to reframe and change my perspective on this situation has allowed me to continue to get up everyday and not give up on life.”
I would say that since it is still very fresh, the immediate shock and the immediate agonizing nonstop pain. Like, it would feel like I was walking around with someone with a steel-toe boot on my chest all day, everyday, making it hard to breathe. Like, my heart literally hurt. And it was like, everyday, everyday, everyday. And it’s like “Lord, at what point does it subside? ‘Cause I still have to show up for life at the same time, so what am I supposed to do?” And people kept telling me that, “Overtime, it won’t be the same. It won’t be like it was, but it will get better. You’ll learn how to cope in a new space.” And, I will say that those immediate feelings of feeling like, “What more do I have to live for? Why am I living? Why after everything that I’ve gone through? I’ve done everything right, I’ve gone to school, I made Honors Society, I help around the house, I graduated from college, I done travelled the world, I’ve gotten a masters degree. I’ve made her so proud and I’m doing what I think is the right thing to do all the time. Why am I having to experience this and have the most important person taken away from me? Why?” And when you think about it as what I’ve lost and all these things being removed and thinking so me, me, me, me, me, my eyes opened up and it was, “Well what about your mother?” And, “What does she deserve?” And “What about her receiving the rest and the solace and the peace and the love and all the things that she’d been fighting for?” And she said it. She said, “I’m tired.” And so just because you pray to God or pray to whomever, higher being, that you want strength and you want healing, you want forgiveness…it doesn’t always mean that it’s going to happen here on earth. You may find spiritual healing, you may find a spiritual awakening, you may be able to rest peacefully, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be within the vessel of your body. And so learning how to reframe and change my perspective on this situation has allowed me to continue to get up everyday and not give up on life. And feeling that I do have something to live for because for a period did not think I had a life in front of me that was worth living. And to even think that in my mind, it goes against everything I am as a person. It goes against who I’ve been raised to be, it goes against my internal ambition and just the essence of who I am – to give up, to wanna quit. That is not me. That’s not an option. Quitting is not an option. My mom would tell me, “If the answer is no or they shut a door in your face, you find a way. You make a way. You create a door and you walk through it proudly.” And that’s what I had to do and it took me some months and I still have a ways to go. In no way am I gonna sit here and say today, I am healed, I am 100%. No. Because this is something that I will carry for the rest of my life. But, I say that to say, those feelings of feeling like I am unable to desire more or to dream of more, to still want to achieve the goals that I once set out to achieve, has no longer no been a hindrance. It is what pulls me out of the bed on days when I don’t wanna get up. On times when I’m just not feelin’ it and I just wanna be depressed and sad, my anxiety is high, it gives me a reason to smile and remember to have an attitude of gratitude and to remember how grateful I am to have a woman who has loved me so much and was so proud of me so how can I stop now? How can I let all that she’s gone through and all the sacrifices that she made in her life for me and for herself, to let fall by the wayside and not live a legacy that’s not worth creating so that it’s worth telling. And she started something that I have taken on and I want to finish. I want to continue to help set a stage for these conversations and to let her live on and change the narrative of, “What does it mean to be affected by domestic violence?” Change the narrative that it doesn’t have a one size fit all. It’s a thing that can just happen. And it’s a matter of how do you deal with it once it does happen.
So, there’s a shift happening within me. There’s a shift happening around me and learning each and everyday how to manage that and grow and let myself grow within that space even if it’s not the growth that I once set out to make. It’s still growth. And it’s purposeful. So I’m just rolling with the punches. One foot in front of the other. Literally. [Big smile] literally.
“I am no longer afraid or apprehensive of her level of safety, because I know that she committed herself to building her faith and she is in Heaven and her spirit is at rest.”
I know that my mother is safe. I no longer have to question, is she ok? Is she safe? Is she looking over her shoulder? Is she walking on eggshells? Is he making her feel less than? Is he causing unrest in her spirit and trying to deter her from achieving what she set out to achieve? So, I am no longer afraid or apprehensive of her level of safety, because I know that she committed herself to building her faith and she is in Heaven and her spirit is at rest. And in knowing that, for me at this point, each day growing in acceptance and my level of acceptance of that fact has helped me to really work on myself and really get to know myself and really get to know and understand all the things that she saw in me that I could not see. All the things that the people around me see within me that I have yet to fully accept and believe and stand firm on my special gifts that I have. What makes me unique to the world? And embracing it and finding the courage and the strength and the bravery and the love to own it. And it’s like if you’re gonna do something, you have to do it. You can’t just, “Oh, I used to take my time, alright I’ll do this. Maybe tomorrow I’ll do that.” No, it’s really like if you are setting out to accomplish this goal, what do you need to do to make it a reality? And don’t half step. Give it your all. Because if you’re not giving it your all then I don’t feel like you’re living. You’re not walking in your purpose or really on the journey to uncover what it is and what it can be. And as much as some days these feelings can come at you and they pull you and they want to deter me and you have anxiety attacks and you’re like, “I can’t do this. I don’t know. I don’t know.” When something comes over you and you just have to level set and you have to take rest and for me that’s just taking the time to just read more and really invest in myself. To spend time in prayer and be more mindful of, “What is going on today right now? What can I celebrate today? What did I accomplish today?” And if it was simply just getting out of bed to wash my hair, that’s to be celebrated because I did it. I set out to do it and I did it. So tomorrow, I’m gonna get up, I’m gonna do my hair and check off some things on my to-do list and know that that is progress and that is progress to be celebrated because it is specifically unique to me and it is my lane and I am pouring into myself so that I am able to pour into other people.
What is your definition of love and how does that love feel?
“…Life is constantly changing and its unpredictable, but when you have love, that can be your constant. Because love doesn’t die, you pass it around, you pass it on, you share it and it’s a beautiful thing.”
My definition of love is being able to just be. Being able to just be with yourself. It’s knowing that perfection is not an option. Nothing will ever be perfect. And for me it’s…we’re human, we’re flawed. The only person or being that is perfect is God. And as humans we strive to be in his likeness. And once you accept that people are flawed, there’s no doubt that it’s easier to 1, accept yourself and build your love and your worth for yourself and also love people and genuinely love them. Love them through their flaws. Love them through their mistakes. Love them for the way that they make you smile or the way that they make you feel important. When you call to say, “Hey I didn’t hit someone’s bumper when I was parallel parking today.” You know? Like, the small things but that person is so excited to hear from you and to share moments with you. Love is about the action. You can tell someone, “I love you.” “Ok, so where do we go from there? What is that? How do you go about showing me that?” How do you, you know, I’m having a rough day and you get me a scented candle or you know I like Talenti so you have a jar for me waiting. Or you know, you answer my phone calls, you show care and concern and you show up. My biggest thing is you show up. You don’t have to bring gifts, you don’t have to go over the top, but it’s a matter of can I count on you? Is there loyalty? Is there kindness? Is there pure and gentleness? Can I be vulnerable with you and vice versa? Can we grow together? And love is about showing and doing and being able to feel the genuineness of it. That is just so important to me. Like, I need to feel you, I need to see you, I need to hear you. And whether it’s a silly thing or it’s a serious thing. And it’s like, “Alright how are we gonna work through this? Alright, let’s get a game plan.” And my friends are like, “You’re always trying to…” And I’m like “No, we gotta get a plan. We gotta do this and then we can do that.” And I’m like, “No, it’s fine. We’ll get through it.” You know you wanna feel like you have support. You wanna feel like you have people to call on because life can be lonely. And sometimes it’s ok to be alone, but who really wants to be lonely.
And I feel like until you really learn to value the good things and the bad things about yourself, you can then really love yourself. And you start to really want to work on yourself and invest in who you are. And when people see you starting to take yourself that much more seriously, they will take you seriously as well because they see the work. They see the dedication, they see the commitment, they see the loyalty to your ideas, they see how you are just steadfast and perseverant. “This is what I wanna do, this is how I’m gonna do it.” And, “I don’t know all the in-betweens but, let’s just dive in there and see and try.” I think when you have that, it’s so exciting because life is constantly changing and its unpredictable, but when you have love, that can be your constant. Because love doesn’t die, you pass it around, you pass it on, you share it and it’s a beautiful thing. When you really start to understand and embody it and embrace it. You can have all the Gucci bags in the world, but the Gucci bags aren’t gonna hug you back. You know? You can love that but the materialism cannot fill the voids that we have inside as people. And loving yourself and knowing yourself and being convicted in who you are, stand for something. Know your position within yourself, know your position in life, know your position with other people. And once you can define those things, I think love will come to you. It’s the law of attraction. And so that’s just the inevitable.
It feels all warm and fuzzy on the inside. And it makes you smile and you blush, but then you feel like…that kind of sense of fight or flight comes in where you wanna just protect those that you love. You wanna provide for them, you wanna cook for them, you wanna nurture them, you wanna give them a hug just because. Love should be a good feeling. Love should feel good. It should not be harmful. It should not be degrading. Love should be genuine. Love should be your happy place. It should make your heart skip a beat. It’s cheesy, I know, but it is so true.
What does leaving a Trail of Existence mean to you?
“…It’s one of the reasons I’m here today to know and to share who my mother is, what she stood for. Her life is not defined by this tragedy because there’s a lot of good that can come of this.”
It’s something that’s important to me because when you’re leaving that trail; essentially, you’re leaving a legacy. And you have the power to dictate what that narrative will be. What it will look like, and it can be a reflection of you: the good, the bad, the ugly. But leaving a Trail of Existence, I think should serve as something positive or something as a learning experience for those to come. For people to reflect on your impact and how you make them feel. And my mom would say that all the time; that it’s not about worldly things. It’s not about having things, amassing stuff, it’s about how you treat people and how you make them feel. But at the end of the day, that’s what they really remember. People remember their interactions with you, or if you listened. If you were kind of tapped out, and texting and just went through and right over your head, or if you took the time to really engage and to give eye contact and to show genuine care and concern. And so in all my interactions, I feel compelled to do that—to treat people the way that I want to be treated. And so leaving a Trail of Existence is extremely important. And it’s extremely important because it’s one of the reasons I’m here today to know and to share who my mother is, what she stood for. Her life is not defined by this tragedy because there’s a lot of good that can come of this. There is a lot of positive things that can alter different individuals lives. It can show and be a testament of forgiveness, because she had a testimony of forgiveness, it can be a testament of being a survivor and what that really looks like. It can be a testament of, just because you’re in Philadelphia one day, you can be in L.A. the next. It’s a testament of how life is about growth and change and when you have a legacy that can serve as inspiration that can motivate and impact change on such a high level, with an issue that impacts so many people, it’s a remarkable thing to have the opportunity to do so. And when you do it, you should do it extremely well. So leaving your Trail of Existence isn’t really about making your life worth living. Like, what are you doing today that can really positively impact or cultivate or innovate someone, something to alleviate pain, discomfort, trauma? To then create a space for love and engagement and honesty and loyalty to grow and brew to create more innovative ideas to come to life because you see something and you wanna affect change. You wanna then create your own legacy and let that affect generations a hundred years from now.
Do you have any parting thoughts?
“Your circumstance today is not the end of your life. “
My parting thoughts are…2016 when I started this year; I created a vision board at the end of 2015. So at the top of the year, I was extremely excited. Extremely motivated. Just ready to dive in deep because I saw all these things on my board. And I had all these plans with my mom. I said “You know what? I’m a year older. We’re gonna reinvent our relationship. That’s my girl. We gotta take a trip. We’re gonna do a birthday something, I know it.” I’m like, “I know it. I’m just gonna get through the top of the year, March will be here, it’s Easter”–her birthday fell on Easter. So I said, “We’re gonna do something good.” But you make these plans and you create these ideals and then life happens. And when life happens, it commands your attention because you then are faced with a situation that you’ve never been faced with. You’re dealing with a situation that your mind at one point, it was inconceivable to you, and to have that then become your reality instantaneously, and there’s no rewind, there’s no anything. It’s all hands on deck, right now. There’s no second-guessing. If you are in this, if you are on the team, you show up. You rise to the occasion and you make it work.
Ashley with her mother. Ashley says that her mother’s spirit continues to be with her through these difficult times of healing from this tragic loss.
So throughout this experience, I have been forced to recognize myself. I’ve been forced to recognize and understand my mother. I’ve been forced to reach out for help and support because I’ve been raised to be extremely independent. And you go for what you want. You get up and do what you need to do. You educate yourself, you know who you are, you know your position and go for it. And in that, to now be so vulnerable and so stuck to where I have no choice but to lend my hand and extend it to those around me to say, “I need you.” But then also before I even have to say, “I need you,” to see the people just swarm in and come around me like a beehive and everyone’s just there. And to feel that, not that you think your family doesn’t love you or they’re not there for you, but you haven’t experienced that love, and that commitment to family and the unit and the structure and what it takes to keep it together. And so going through this experience of losing my mother and having to accept that you get one and no matter where I search, she’s in me and I have to deal with me. And then also recognizing that this is not something that I can go through and deal with alone. I need people. I need to use the resources around me. I need my family to call me and to check in with me. I need them to ask if I got out the bed today. I need them to see if I made it to work. I need them to just say “Hey, come work out with me.” I need that interaction to keep me afloat and so in no way would I even be able to sit here today if I was in this by myself. Because if I was in it by myself, I might’ve committed suicide. Because there’s no way that you can handle and muster and break through these feelings on your own. We’re strong as human beings. I think I’m an incredibly strong human being, but that kind of strength I don’t have and so I’m extremely grateful for the people that I have around me that have stepped in and showed out and have really just picked me up and have been a crutch. And have just, “I got you. I got you.” And to not only say it, but to do it and to do it consistently has been remarkable for me in this experience. And not being afraid to say that, I have a couch—when I say couch, I mean therapist, and I go every week. And it’s extremely, extremely helpful in 1, learning more about myself. 2, understanding the complexities behind domestic violence. Understanding the psychology behind these types of relationships. Understanding the risk factors of what it means for intimate partner violence and what the common person that hasn’t experienced it or who only knows these surface level issues that may see the situation; it’s black or white, does not understand there is a deep, deep, dark grey area that we do not explore or take the time to explore and you really need to. Because when you don’t it’s just easy to pass judgment on the women and the men who are in the midst of these situations and in these relationships.
So, I would say as my final thought, don’t be afraid to feel because you need to feel these emotions. You need to feel what you’re going through, and what your body and your mind are telling you. Logic and emotion are trying to meet and you deal and meet them in the middle. You won’t be able to change your circumstances. You won’t be able to change where you are to get to where you’re trying to be. And when you get to a point when, in a relationship that you may be in, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. A lot of times people get isolated. Your family’s tired of hearing the story and they’re tired of getting phone calls in the middle of the night and the police are tired of coming to your house, but don’t stop calling for help. Don’t’ stop reaching out, and know that there are resources. There are people who are trained to do this. If you don’t wanna call your sister, call the hotline. Go to your local hospital. Make a plan to help get you out because you can get out. Your circumstance today is not the end of your life. And I say that from the depths of my soul with everything that I have because I can’t call my mom. I can’t stop by her house. We had her last birthday dinner. You know, I hold onto, I did that. That was the last one that we had but I’m glad I did that. And you don’t wanna get to a point where you don’t even have the option anymore. You don’t wanna have the option if you’re a mother, if you’re a sister if you’re a cousin, if you’re an aunt if you’re a friend, you don’t wanna lose that option of being able to reach out to that person or vice versa thinking well I’ll be fine but then you’re not fine and then you end up in an emergency room on life support. That’s not fine and it doesn’t have to get to that level.
“…Don’t be afraid to use your voice.”
So, final thoughts; don’t be afraid to use your voice. Know that there are always people and places that you can go for shelter, for safety, for refuge. There are always people that will listen, even if you think that they won’t. That’s the manipulation. That’s the psychological abuse. There is always someone who will be willing to listen to vouch for you, to care for you, to nurture you in your time of need. And so have the courage and know that it’s ok. It’s ok to be afraid. It’s ok to be scared. It’s ok to be nervous. It’s ok. You have to know that it’s ok. And your feelings are valid. But you also know that it is ok to seek help—it is ok to reach out to those who are in a position to help you because they want to whether you believe it or not. But you’ll feel it once you take that step and no one can take that step for you in these intimate partner relationships and there’s violence. You have to do it for you and you can do it and it starts with making a plan.