Trying to get up early one rainy morning, I saw a message request from a woman I did not know personally. As I tried to fight my sleepy gaze, my inner urge to read the message prevailed. When I read it, I realized it’s no longer just a very typical “morning message.” It’s a hard-hitting story of a 55-year-old survivor of sexual and domestic abuse from Vancouver who had just read some of my previous stories online.
Since I started my work as a magazine writer, I had the chance to meet several people with different stories about their own experiences. In each story, there’s always a lesson that leaves my eyes wide open. And now, I think it’s about time to share the most serious story I am about to write.
Deciding to share one’s story is brave and, in some cases, a risky act. For this one, I tried to shed the anonymity of the person involved in the topic. But upon opening my conversation with her, she said to me,
“I have no problem if you’re going to use my real name.”
From that, I can say I met another survivor.
I did not just converse with a woman who’s giving me her full consent. In fact, I witnessed a woman who is willing to open and share her true identity. I saw a figure who is no longer afraid to reveal herself out from the dark that once scared her growing up.
Beyond those rose-colored glasses people once used to perceive her, they never realized what they saw towards her are just a surface of her bigger self, a tip of an iceberg of what Susan Garrison is about to tell us about her “survivor’s story” from sexual and domestic abuse that she witnessed as a young and innocent kid in a place called the city of angels: Los Angeles, California. But to young Susan, it’s the place where she first met the devil that will forever ruin her innocence: her stepdad.
THE SUSAN GARRISON STORY
“The man who adopted me was an extremist and physically abusive to my older brother. I grew up in a war zone till he left. Then, here comes the step-dad who was a pervert and control freak.”
As the conversation with her moves on, I asked this survivor if there comes a time that as a young lady, she already wanted to run away, and in just a split second, she said,
“Yes, or kill him.”
She already wanted to run away, yet she feared leaving her mother at the side of her abusive step-dad.
“I couldn’t bring myself to leave my mother with him… He was also horrible to her… When I was younger, I tried to tell my mom about the harassment but she refused to believe me. Once she died, I made it quite public in a small community page.”
There are days when she chose to starve herself because she was so afraid to go outside her bedroom as her step-dad was in the kitchen. Being in that situation, Susan considered their house as unsafe. It is inside those four corners wherein she was exposed to heart-wrenching experiences that caused her trauma. Because of these scenarios, she had no choice but to stay outside together with her peers. It feels like the outside world became her ally while home became her ultimate enemy.
But upon choosing the outside world, she realized it can be cruel too.
“Step-dad made it clear that he wanted to have sex with me. That’s why I made sure that I was never alone with him inside the house. I went hours without eating if he was in the kitchen. Most of the time, I’m out with people who introduced me to drugs and alcohol when I was thirteen. I spent years overcoming alcohol, and sometimes I still fail at that.”
When she finally graduated at seventeen, she moved away from Los Angeles California, away from her abusive stepfather. Just when she thought that the world can already be nicer to her, then came another life lesson that challenged her ability as a woman.
A SURVIVOR’S PLEA FOR DISCRIMINATION IN THE WORKPLACE
When she’s about to start her own life, she tried submitting a resumé to an employment office in Oklahoma. However, the employment office told Susan to just dump her resumé because it would intimidate the men they were hiring.
“I also got told in Texas at the company I was employed by that they would never hire a woman for the sales counter. Just after, I used my employee discount to buy parts and tools to start my own electronic company and became their competition.”
She already started to rule her own life away from her step-dad who once traumatized her childhood. Yet, another abusive person entered into the fray.
“I later married a man who was emotionally and physically abusive, but I escaped.”
When I followed up a question with regards to her painful past, I am a little bit skeptical about asking her, because I just felt like I am letting her relive a moment she considered as the greatest nightmare of her life.
PICKING UP THE PIECES
“I wished I had more confidence back then as I should have now. It took me too many years to overcome the uncomfortable feelings I had about my body. I also missed out on having a good man to respect and to learn to love from. “
With all the abuse she experienced at the hands of men she thought will accept her for who she is, it turned out those men became the ultimate cause of her destruction.
She starts picking herself up to be her own definition of a survivor.
After asking her if she was already traumatized by other men, she answered me with a very heart-breaking truth,
“Yes, I have… Along with the men I chose. And now? I can’t seem to find an attraction to men sexually anymore. I’m afraid they will ruin my peace now. I haven’t felt the passion in a decade, and now it worries me… I’ve lived in seven States while running away from different men who just weren’t right for me. I still haven’t found one who is… Right for me.”
After her 2nd divorce, she changed her last name to her true birth mom’s last name.
“She found me when I was already thirty years old, and finally! I felt like I already belong somewhere.”
For the longest time, Susan is in search of what a “safe home” looked like and felt like. And finally, she succeeded.
When the light outweighed the dark, Susan finally took back all the power from all those abusive hands of men. She is now using it to take ownership of her own body. After all, she can finally use the name she can finally be proud of—Garrison.
“Important people in my life already know my story. I don’t believe I should have shame over being the young victim. My goal is to get victims shouting it loud and posting about what is being done to them. And by using my name, I am being an example to them… Hopefully.”
She lives her life now as an independent woman working on her dream job as a Tech Advisor. She’s loud and proud working in a workplace dominated by men.
Susan later found out that her third husband was already imprisoned because of the domestic abuse he did to his new girlfriend, the same thing Susan had experienced with him looking back.
Knowing about Susan Garrison’s story, I was reminded how each one of us has always had an inspiring story to tell. No matter how good or bad a story is, there’s always an underlying lesson we can get from it.
We, as individuals, it’s easy to describe someone by just trying to base on what our vision could only see. Some of us tend to consider someone else’s body as perfect by just looking at their appearance. We try to base someone else’s success based on their cars, houses, and other material possessions that we perceived them to have. However, if we try to shift our own paradigm of truths, we can be astonished how there’s more to life than what our eyes could only see.
There are some survivors’ stories like Susan that we still haven’t heard before as, sometimes, tragedy can also happen inside our home.
As I ended the conversation with her, I had one last question: If there’s one message that young Susan in Los Angeles wanted to hear from the 55-year-old Susan now, what do you want to tell her?
“Forgive yourself for allowing their behavior. To that younger Susan, you did not know how to articulate properly with other adults… And I did forgive myself finally last year.”
As I grow in my field as a writer, I learn that I am no longer just writing for myself, I am writing for everyone out there who has stories to tell. Whereas, my body of work is also becoming an instrument that amplifies their untold stories.
As a writer, I want to empower and bring new inspiring messages to other people. And I chose Susan Garrison for this story because I believe that she really embodies that message.
There are five words I described her during the first time we met: fighter, beautiful, survivor, brave, and inspiring. But upon putting my feet into her story, I got the chance to know her even better. I understood more regarding her pain and suffering. I know that I cannot fully carry the whole weight she had, but through this story, the weight will become so uplifting to others.
Now, I only have one word to describe her: free!
Aphro Apollo (Roel Pulido Pagal) is a contemporary author and a senior student of BA Communication at the University of Northern Philippines. This young literary figure is pursuing his career in writing while attending his regular class. One of his goals in life is to become a Fashion journalist in Condé Nast, New York someday. His mantra, “Never underestimate the power of silence” really make things fall into place for him.