It’s time for me to confess something very few people know about me. I can be a complete and total chicken when it comes to emotional situations, BUT not in the way that such things usually manifest themselves in the majority of the population. In person or over the phone I am great at dealing with people dealing with their emotional struggles. I’m a pro. You want me in your foxhole in a time of crisis. However, I become a total wuss when it comes to my favorite TV characters to the point that I stop watching my favorite shows for fear that something bad might happen to a beloved character. You would laugh if I listed all the shows I’ve stopped watching because I wanted to keep their character safe from harm in my mind. I stopped watching the last two seasons of the incredibly underrated USA Network series In Plain Sight because I wanted to believe in my mind that my beloved cranky Mary would ultimately have the ideal relationship with her disaster-prone mother and sister that she always wanted. I stopped watching HBO’s critically acclaimed series Six Feet Under after the third season because I so wanted David and Keith’s relationship to work out that I couldn’t bear the thought that they might nor find true happiness. I stopped watching Showtime’s The L Word after Season 2 because, good lord, who needs that much lesbian drama in their lives? I certainly don’t – and I’m a lesbian. Sheesh! I can’t stand to see characters I’ve grown to love continue to suffer. Don’t get me started on reality television. I can’t even go near any of it. If it involves a Real Housewife, a Kardashian, a Bachelor/Bachelorette or celebrity judges I can guarantee you I’ve never seen an episode.
This aversion to conflict I have can sometimes also extend to people I see on TV whose stories captivate my attention. In 2003 I happened to catch an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show featuring the documentary filmmaker Angela Shelton. Even for Oprah standards this episode was beyond riveting for me. Angela was on the show to talk about the documentary film she’d made called Searching for Angela Shelton in which in 2001 she’d embarked across a 57 day tour across the U.S. to go out to interview the many Angela Sheltons there are in in our country. Turns out there are a lot of Angie Sheltons out there. She was able to interview 40 of the 76 Angela Sheltons she found via internet search. It turned out that of the 40 Angelas she talked to, besides having the same name in common, 25 of them had been beaten, raped or molested during the course of their lives, including our originating Angela. I was glued to my chair as Original Angela set up each clip for the audience to see of “Angelas” telling their stories of domestic violence and sexual abuse – some on camera, some not. The best clip of the show was when we see Original Angela visit her father on Father’s Day. We see her sitting on the porch respectfully confront her father, his face blurred, over the events of her childhood. We see him lie and manipulate the truth, then cutaway to Angela’s stepbrother and stepsister sharing their own stories of how he had molested them all. I was so moved by Original Angela’s bravery that after watching the show I ordered a copy of the documentary off Angela’s website, http://angelashelton.com, excited that I was making a contribution to this worthwhile project. Yay!
And then the DVD came in the mail. And I promptly put it on a shelf to gather a thick coat of dust for eight more years. I never even took it out of the plastic wrap. I would think about it from time to time, even tell people about how great it was and how THEY should see it. Clearly there was something there I didn’t want to look at in my own life.
Life rolled on and with the advent of Twitter I was able to catch up with the Angela Shelton of 2012. Last Friday I tweeted her and confessed that I had, in fact, never watched her documentary I proclaimed to love so much. Being the newly self-proclaimed “Thoroughly Unreasonable Woman” I had to do this thing I’d been avoiding.
I tweeted her, “Afraid of looking at and experiencing the pain. I should get over that, shouldn’t I?” She tweeted back “Yeah, get over it. It has a very happy ending, is funny in a lot of parts and the angry parts – scream along with them!”
I made a promise that I would watch the DVD by midnight Sunday night. On Sunday afternoon after making brunch for my partner/wife (I can’t settle on the right term for what we are.) I settled down with my laptop to finally watch this thing. I slit the dust-laden plastic wrap open, extracted the disc, popped it in my machine and hit “Play.” So how was it? In a word – cathartic. You see, I’m an Angela Shelton, too. What had me avoid watching the film was an unwillingness to own that I had much in common with many of these ladies. I am a survivor of domestic violence myself. Half my lifetime ago I was involved with a man who verbally and physically abused me. Not only did I tolerate the behavior, I married my abuser. I’ve been hit and kicked publicly, not to mention the things I endured in private. I know what it’s like to file a domestic violence petition and live in fear of what might happen to me as a result of that decision. I also know what it’s like to be served with a domestic violence petition myself. I now cannot buy a firearm in my home state of Kentucky, not that I had ever planned on it, anyway. I went through the system and it was ugly and horribly embarrassing to have to detail my personal life in such a public way. I remember sitting across from him in my lawyer’s office. He noticed a small can of pepper spray I then carried on my keychain.
“Is that for me?” he said. “Don’t you know that if I was going to kill you I would have done it a long time ago?”
Well, that was a relief. I could cross off being murdered from my list of worries. Ugh.
What made it worth it to me to reclaim my life started with a thought I had one January night in 1995. I looked at him while we were watching TV and I realized the relationship I created with this man was something I alone had chosen. No one else put me in the space I found myself in. I also saw no one was going to get me out of the situation but me. This realization gave me the strength to change my situation. As part of my domestic violence petition I was ordered by the court to attend four sessions with a domestic violence counselor. Very nice lady. I remember being happy to meet with her because I knew, no matter what, I was never going back to the life I’d had before. And I never did.
When I look back on my life at that time I can’t believe that girl was really me, but it was. I have tremendous compassion for her now. I understand her completely and I’m at peace with that time in my life. I’ve also forgiven my ex-husband. I wish him well wherever he is. I also want to say I like men. I love all people. And no, what happened with him didn’t turn me into a lesbian. It just took me a lot longer than most people to figure out that part of my life for myself. I’m incredibly proud of my recent marriage last November to my partner of 10 years. (More on that event in another post!) Someone close to me recently remarked at how Jaime and I relate to each other. They thought we are far too nice to each other.
“After 10 years together you all really speak to each other so lovingly?” this person said, rather incredulous. “Listen,” I said, “Given what she and I have been through in our lives, all either of us has ever wanted in a partner is someone who can be truly kind to us, so get over it!” Ha!‘
I hear our Original Angela is getting married again soon. I’ve never met her, but I’m incredibly happy for her. I know she settled her past with her father long ago and has moved on to the next stages in her life. I imagine all the other Angelas have, too. I hear she wrote a follow-up book about her experience making the documentary called Finding Angela Shelton. Good for her! I can’t wait to read it soon.
If you’re reading this post and have never had these kinds of life experiences, count your blessings. Be open to the possibility that there are people in your life who are in such a bad spot who might really need a friend to confide in. Create an environment for people to tell you the truth about what they’re going through. If you’ve been in an abusive relationship and have come out on the other side of it, I acknowledge the heck out of you. Share your story, especially with the younger generation. They need to see how to choose differently and change the predictable course of their lives and see that you are now thriving. Show them the way out. Even better, show them how to avoid going down the road of domestic violence at all. If you are still with your abuser, email me. I’m here for you. I will always listen.
In the meantime I’ll be on Netflix. I’ve got a lot of shows to catch up on.
“You did then what you knew what to do. When you knew better, you did better.” – Maya Angelou
Want a copy of Searching for Angela Shelton? Click here – http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0031P33PU Worth every penny and more!
Follow me on Twitter @juliamaddoxnyc. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org