Real Stories…Real Jamaicans…Real Survivors: Meet Mary

Meet Mary………a 37 year old Jamaican woman. Mary was born in the parish of Westmoreland, where she grew up with three sisters and one brother. She recalled the unpleasant memory of being sexually molested by a cousin who was ten years older. She never talked about it and always wondered if her parents knew about the occurrence. In spite of this horrible memory, Mary led a ‘normal’ childhood and there were fond recollections of her childhood years. Still it became an observable fact that life is filled with erratic and unpredictable events.

At the age of 10, Mary experienced the death of her youngest sister, Jane. Seven year old Jane left school in the early afternoon; she was on the morning shift (7am to 12pm). While crossing the road by herself in the school zone area (the school cross guard was in the bar drinking), a car bore down on her at an incredible speed and slammed into her body, sending her little body flying in the air; she came down on the ground with immense force and her neck was broken. Mary was on the school’s evening shift (12pm-5pm) and they brought the body to the school for ‘accurate’ identification. The rumor spread like wild fire around the school and teachers and students, including Mary, ran out of their classes and gathered around the car to take a look at the lifeless body. Mary got close to the car and with a shocking and frightening realization, Mary recognized the face of her sister. It was an awfully traumatic experience for Mary. Needless to say, her family came through this tragedy and it brought them closer. She saw how hard it was for her parents to handle the sudden death of a child. It appeared to be exceptionally hard for her mother. Mary’s father became increasingly overprotective and controlling. Mary was extremely outspoken and perceived to be rebellious.

She had graduated from High School and was still deciding what she wanted to do. She finally chose Computer Science as her education career path, to please her father. Family members suggested and encouraged her parents to allow her to complete her education abroad. Her parents conceded. Mary left for the States in her late teens to continue her education. She was hesitant as she had never left the safety of her family and lived apart from them, especially her siblings, who were her best friends. Nevertheless, with the help of family abroad, she signed up at a college in California. Slowly, Mary got excited at the prospect of embarking on her educational journey in another country. She resided with her uncle, aunt and seven cousins and had a splendid time with her ’crazy’ cousins, albeit she missed her immediate family. Her parents and siblings came to visit occasionally and she was always grateful for their visits. She also made occasional visits to Jamaica. However, within a short period of time, her uncle (who was a minister) accepted a ministerial position in a neighboring state. Mary did not want to go because the process of acceptance into college was complete and she was about to begin classes within a month. In spite of her resistance, Mary’s parents told her she had to go with her uncle, as she was not old enough to be on her own; she eventually complied.

The new home was not that accommodating for Mary. There were not enough rooms for her to claim one as her own because all the rooms were occupied by her cousins. Her bed was a ‘folded’ bed which she had to unfold at nights and fold up and put away in the mornings. She began to feel like an outsider and felt like her uncle did not want her to live with them in his new home. She began to feel as if she was being a burden. Mary desperately wanted to start her college classes, but her present situation prevented her from achieving her goal in a timely manner. She had to work fulltime and extra hard to assist with the house bills. Prior to this, she was working part time. Her aunt made her complete a lot of chores in the home and she did not feel like she belonged there anymore. Her college future seems a bit foggy. She was attending college part-time in the evenings, which proved to be very difficult because she did not have her own personal transportation and the college was a couple of miles away. Mary finally decided that if she was going to fulfill her education desires, it was up to her to make those changes. Without going into too much details about her awkward situation at her uncle’s home, she told her parents that she will not complete her studies at this pace. She wanted to go to school full time. Her parents agreed. Her father finally called to let her know that a friend had consented to Mary staying with his family at their home while she attends college full time. Mary relocated to Virginia. She signed up with a nearby college and changed her major to Computer Information Systems, which she anticipated completing within three years. Mary’s main desire was to return to Jamaica as soon as possible. Mary was grateful to her father’s friend and his family for accepting her into their home. She obtained an evening part time job at a shoe store where she had her first encounter with racial discrimination. Mary was not used to being perceived as ‘less than’ because of her skin color, and she found it highly offensive and disrespectful. Of course, Mary took control of the situation and was swift in her retaliation. She handled the matter in such a graceful, but firm manner and as a result, the perpetrator was fired and she was promoted to part time shift manager. Yet again, life proved to be an unreliable foundation for constant optimistic occurrences.

While working on her shift one evening, Mary was held up at gun point in a robbery. Both Mary and her supervisor (who was working with her that evening) escaped without any physical harm being done to them. Shortly after this episode, her beloved mother was diagnosed with cancer of the liver. The doctor had given her mother 10 months to live. As the doctor had predicted, her mother died in the 10th month. Mary’s mother died on the day she (her mother) was born. In spite of Mary’s devastated loss, this was strangely comforting. It was if her mother was allotted those precise years on earth. Mary withdrew from classes and went home to Jamaica for the rest of the semester. She found it difficult to return to the US to complete her education, but her father encouraged her to accomplish what she started and then return home to Jamaica. She hated to leave her family; however, she reluctantly complied. Mary returned to her father’s friend family. They were there for her during her time of loss, for which she was thankful.

Life continues to demonstrate that it is as inconsistent as the wind on the waves at sea. Mary found herself in an extremely uncomfortable situation. Her father’s friend began to make subtle sexual advances towards her. They were done in playful manner that confused Mary and she was not sure if he was being playful or he was intentionally being inappropriate with her. One day he deliberately touched her on her breast and Mary knew without a shadow of doubt that he was indeed trying to seduce her. She was taken aback and shocked. This was her father’s friend! On top of that, he was one of the Pastors of the church! Mary was shattered, as did her faith in a God who would allow this to happen to her. She felt her self worth cheapened. She decided not to tell her father for fear that he would not believe her. She knew the knowledge would destroy the friendship between her father and his friend. Mary knows now it was foolish, but she decided to be a martyr and did not reveal the incidences to her father immediately. Of course, revealing this to the wife of her father’s friend was out of the question!. She of all persons would not believe her either! Mary was so confused and afraid. She decided to leave the home. She explained to everyone that she feels it was time to be independent and acquire her own space. Mary was considered an adult, and her family had no choice but to support her decision. So in less than a month, she moved to another area of Virginia and stayed with her soon to be step-mother for three (3) months (yes, her father was about to be re-married). Mary left her step-mother’s home and moved in a 3 bedroom house with two other friends.

During this time of transition, Mary continued to attend her college classes. It was at this time that Mary discovered she had a growing dislike for her computer classes. They were not difficult classes, but she was beginning to loathe her computer courses. Mary started to develop serious doubts about her chosen career. She started to pray and seek direction in her educational pursuits. She wanted a profession she would enjoy for the rest of her life. After a lengthy soul searching, and conducting an in-depth search on the various fields of study, social service (psychology) was the most intriguing. Mary sought guidance from her family members and friends, but finally made her decision to complete a 360 degrees of personal transformation. Not only did she switch her major to Psychology, Mary switched colleges. She was ecstatic! For the first time in a long while, Mary felt at peace. She realized she already had the skills for this field and she undeniably knew that she made the right choice.

Still, Mary’s life was about to offer her another memorable experience.

A couple of months after this dramatic change in her educational journey, she was lying in bed one morning, both friends having gone to work. She was anticipating going to class shortly. Mary lazily opened her eyes and fear coursed through her as she saw a strange and unfamiliar man in her room. His chilling words would haunt her for days to come: “ I am going to kill you”. The man lunged at her and Mary was repeatedly stabbed with a screwdriver and sexually assaulted (Mary was a virgin at that time). Mary escaped with her life. It was clearly a miracle how she got away from this brutal attack. In spite of what had happened to her, Mary was determined not to be a victim. As her physical wounds begin to heal, she reassigned herself to her classes, and along with the personal support of her teachers (they were aware of what had happened), she completed the semester with a 4.0 average. Mary never discontinued school from that moment forward. She voluntarily attended therapy sessions to assist her through the emotional turmoil she suffered as a result of the incident. Her psychology classes also became ‘therapy sessions’ for her, as they gave her additional psychological awareness to her emotional plight. She applied this educational insight to her own personal emotional troubles, and she continued to be steadily healed.

As a result of the assault, Mary found it difficult to be alone in an enclosed area. Consequently, she had to quit her job because she worked in a confined file room space as a File Room Coordinator, and she was experiencing panic attacks on account of being in such a limited space. This was disturbing to her because she was never an overly- timid person. Even so, Mary was determined not to let anything get in the way of her dreams. Her pastor and his wife had moved her into their home after the incident, and she completed her undergrad college years while residing with them. They were so accommodating and understanding. Mary was so appreciative of their willingness to help her reach her goals. They became ‘family’ to her. Needless to say, Mary graduated with honors from the university with her bachelor degree in psychology. Mary was energized to further pursue her education and within a month of graduation, she relocated to Texas to complete her Masters degree. Mary chose to rent an apartment a few miles from the college campus. She was terrified at the prospect of living by herself, but Mary was able to conquer her demons of fear and lived alone for awhile before she acquired a roommate. She completed her Masters within two years and then relocated to North Carolina.

The words “I can’t” are virtually absent in Mary’s vocabulary. She is totally convinced that anyone can accomplish anything they set their minds and heart to, no matter what obstacles are in their path. Mary believed that this perspective is at the center of the fierce Jamaican pride that is instilled in the hearts of every Jamaican. She is grateful for being brought up in a culture in which you are not given a choice in being excellent in whatever you do. For Mary, being Jamaican simply means “ naturally surpassing every impediment and reaching for the highest achievement possible”. This is clearly illustrated in our international successes and achievements and unfortunately, our downfalls. Mary wishes all Jamaicans everywhere will make productive choices. She is currently in the process of establishing her own corporation, in which she will be able to support and steer misguided children/teens in their realization of the possibility of achieving their goals and dreams. She wants to instill in their young hearts and minds that they can do the impossible, despite the odds. Mary’s heart is still on her homeland and she plans to return to the land of her birth, and be a part of the societal transformation of the displaced youths of the Jamaican society. She is not married, but is currently dating a wonderful Jamaican man. Marriage is in the future, she says with a twinkle in her eye. However, her heart is to direct and guide the next generation in their path of achieving the impossible………because she knows, firsthand, that with God, ALL things are possible!


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