On R. Kelly, abuse, and finding your way back home
Anyone who knows me, knows my relationship with my mother hasn’t always been the greatest. Most of my high school years were spent slamming doors in her face, lying about where I was and who I was with, and breaking her rules.
When it came time to apply for colleges, all I wanted was enough distance to prevent us from having to share a roof any longer. I applied all over – Connecticut, Boston, Philly. In the spring of my senior year in high school, my parents wrote a check to Cabrini College (now Cabrini University).
I’m pretty sure my mom and I were fighting about something the day she and my dad moved me into the dorms. She’d given me the silent treatment on the way to Pennsylvania, and didn’t say much as we unloaded the Tahoe. Later, Dad would tell me to cut her a break, that this was hard for her, that she cried that whole night.
My first day of class was a few days later, and I was psyched. Before I grabbed my books and headed to class, I got a call from Mom. She said she wanted to wish me luck, that she knew I was going to be great. Before I knew it, she was in tears, sobbing about how she forgot to bring the chocolate chip cookies she made down to Pennsylvania.
Every year, with the exception of last year (2016), my mother has made me chocolate chip cookies on my first day of school. The tradition dates back to kindergarten when she used them as a bribe to get me to let go of her hand. Last year, she got me a SoulCycle gift card…and gave me the cookies the next day.
Annoyed at her blubbering, I rolled my eyes, said I needed to go, and hung up without so much as an “I love you”. Although I’d only been there a few days, college was shaping up to be pretty awesome. Erin and George were my two best friends – we’d take trips to WaWa, watch movies, and had almost all the same classes. Life was sweet…and then I met “D”.
Erin was the only one of us who had a car. One night, she parked in front of our building only to discover that it does take about two seconds for your car to get towed. After we sold off the beer and liquor we had leftover from the party the week before, we resorted to going door-to-door begging for change.
D answered the door wearing nothing but a towel. He smiled at me, and I loved him for it. I explained why I’d knocked on his door and he laughed before giving me a twenty dollar bill and his phone number. The next week, we took a walk to the edge of campus where Cabrini meets Saint David’s Golf Club. We hopped the fence, and lay by the 11th hole, watching our breath disappear into the cold November sky.
D was easy to love. On my birthday, he made me a birthday cake. In the center was a mountain of pink sprinkles that you could tell had been fanned out to mask the error. He made me feel as if there were something special and incredible and worthwhile about myself. It was easy to bail on friends, skip class, blow off going home to see my parents – especially when he asked so nicely.
At the end of the first semester of my second year at Cabrini, the office of financial aid sent me an e-mail informing me they would not be renewing my scholarship. I remember the woman at the financial aid office being particularly unforgiving stating, “Miss Sharkey, you have to actually attend the classes to earn the merit upon which your scholarship was given.”
I blamed my friends – my jealous, petty friends. I blamed my parents – their control issues, their rules, their unwillingness to give me a $15,000 chance to fix things next semester. But mostly, I blamed the school. Everyone skipped classes – why was I the only one being punished?
D was convinced the distance was going to kill us – that I was going to find another guy, that my parents were going to prevent me from visiting, that I didn’t love him enough. And so, I decided to prove my love by running away from home and moving in with him. I cut my parents out of my life and didn’t look back.
Things were good for a while. It seemed natural – like it was always meant to be just the two of us. But my parents were relentless. They called, e-mailed, sent letters. Erin was the first to tell me that Mom found her number in an old phone of mine, and was calling people asking for information.
I headed her off, calling all my friends and advising them not to tell her where I was, to say they hadn’t heard from me, to lie. I got frustrated when people asked me why I was doing this, what was happening, if everything was okay. Of course I was okay…I was with D.
Cabrini got wind of my disappearance, and began performing random searches on D’s dorm. I’d hide in the closet, under the bed, in the bathroom. The pressure was mounting – we needed to move out, my parents needed to back off.
I blamed D’s violence on our living situation, on his finals, on the weather. He always apologized, always told me he loved me, always promised it would never happen again. But bruises turned to broken bones, cracked ribs, dislocated shoulders. And soon I came to know what all victims of domestic violence know – eventually, my abuser was going to kill me. But more than that, I realized I didn’t want to die.
On the last night we saw each other, D left me on the side of the road with no shirt and no shoes. He’d raped me, beaten me, and left me almost three miles from where we lived at the time. I walked to the train station where a man gave me his phone and told me to call whoever I needed to, after giving me the shirt off his back. I called my mother.
At nineteen, I was an adult in the eyes of the law. I was old enough to make my own decisions, choose my own relationships, be my own person. But at nineteen, all I wanted to do was be loved. I was convinced this was love – that it was love that had driven D to violence, that is was love that would see us through the shitstorm we were in.
The fact was that I wasn’t making my own decisions. I wasn’t my own person. I wasn’t loved.
I firmly believe the reason I was able to make it out of this situation alive is because of my mother. My mother whose endless calls, e-mails, and letters conveyed one simple message: she still loved me.
She do anything – cross any ocean, drive any distance, pull down the heavens if it meant I was safe. The reason she didn’t give up her search wasn’t just because she knew I needed help but because she wanted me to know she was there for me.
So to the parents of these girls, all I can tell you is not to give up. Keep fighting for your girls. Keep loving them. Keep calling, keep texting because when all this falls apart – and it will – they need to know they can still come home.