For as long as she can remember, she wanted to be a mother. The kind of mother she never had - a loving, nurturing caregiver who gave her children a safe home. She had never felt safe - her mother came in and out of her life at random, and her earliest memories were moving from house to house, being passed around in a circle of relatives and “friends” she never stayed with long enough to get to know.
By the time she was 16 she believed her only escape was to find her “person”. Someone who would actually stick around. She watched the kids in her neighborhood and school pairing off, looking for a new life - a life apart from the poverty, need and crime they had always known. During high school she fell in love with a boy she had known most of her life. He was the charismatic one, the rebel, the only kid she knew who was going places. He escaped the confines of their neighborhood and came back sometimes to tell his stories. When she was 18 he asked her to marry him - her, the girl no one ever really noticed, and she was over the moon.
He ushered her into eight years of abuse, coming in and out of her life whenever he needed a “fix”. He strung her along with false promises and lies, and worked on her emotions and psyche until she believed he was the only person who would ever love her, ever be there for her. Whenever she tried to stand up for herself, he asked a simple question: “Has anyone ever wanted you, other than me?” It defeated her every time, because he was right. No one had ever wanted her. No one had ever loved her. No one had even pretended to, except him.
Finding out she was pregnant changed everything. It gave her life purpose, and it was the first thing no one could take away from her. It meant a fresh start and an end to the worthlessness she had always felt. She now had a reason to be alive - to be the mother and caregiver of this miracle. To her astonishment, her husband decided he wanted the same thing. He got a full-time job and rented an apartment in a safe neighborhood. He showed up every day after work and shared her excitement of becoming parents. For the first time in her life, for several glorious months, she felt safe, and like the entire world around her was changing for the better.
Until he disappeared again, turned off his cell phone and vanished like he had so many times before. A few days later the landlord came to the door and served an eviction notice, his eyes moving away from her heavily pregnant belly. He apologized but said there was nothing he could do; the rent hadn’t been paid in months and he had no choice but to take legal action against them.
In the next weeks she learned her husband had fathered two other children with other women, both of whom were seeking child support. He had used her identity to buy a car and take out huge debts, and had stolen from his employer and been fired. She received an anonymous letter from a post code far away, saying only, “I’m sorry to do this to both of you, but I have to be true to myself, and the truth is I don’t want to be married to you, and I don’t want to be a father.”
The trauma crashed down on her like a tidal wave, annihilating her life. At 9 months pregnant her worst fear had come true: she was alone, bankrupt, evicted, and facing giving birth in a homeless shelter. She’ll never forget the bus ride to the shelter and her uncontrollable shaking when she walked through the front door, or the woman at the desk who looked at her belly, looked at the trash bag carrying her possessions, smiled at the tears rolling down her face, and said, “Honey, we’re here for you both, and you’re going to be okay.”
She’ll never forget the case manager who sat with her as she wept, handing her tissues and listening to the whole story. She won’t forget the people she met who shared their own stories of abandonment and trauma, and how gradually, moment by moment, she began to realize she wasn’t alone.
She’ll never forget how two weeks later her case manager drove her to the hospital, and two women from the Hope Center stayed with her throughout the birth of her son. She won’t forget what it felt like to realize the first faces her baby saw were full of love - love beaming back at him in all directions, love she had forgotten existed. And she’ll never, ever forget what it felt like to learn over the next months that not only was her son loved and wanted - she was loved and wanted too, and she always had been.
Two years later Michonne still returns to the Topeka Rescue Mission to volunteer, baby stroller in tow. Through services at the Children’s Palace she was able to bring her son into a nurturing environment and begin her own journey into healing. She now has a job, an apartment, and is working on a college degree. Through free legal counseling services she was able to get a divorce and gain full custody of her child.
Michonne’s story is one of thousands that come through our doors every year. Through the incredible love and generosity of our donors and community, Michonne has been able to turn her pain and trauma into a story of triumph, a story she works at every day with the continued support of the Topeka Rescue Mission and the Topeka community - the people who consistently show her by their actions that she is wanted, and worthy, and loved. †