Kao Lai Lee | Contributing Writer
On October 22nd, 2015, Rosetta Peters came to our Gender in Global Perspective Class. Peters is pursuing an Associate of Arts degree and an Associate of Science degree in horticulture /Landscape Design. She is also pursuing the Creative Writing Certificate and a Gender Studies Certificate.
After Professor Jiang introduced Rosie as a woman with a long list of accomplishments, including the Outstanding Student of 2014-2015 in English, a published writer, an emerging public speaker, a beloved TLC tutor, an editor for The Century Times, a business owner, and a single mother to five children, Rosie said with a smile on her face, “Wow. That’s lot to live up to.”
After hearing so many praises, I wondered if Peters was going to talk about her success and how she met all those expectations. Peters instead told us that she would tell us about her struggles. Her struggles became a long journey that inked in my and maybe many other students’ memories, for every word she spoke was like chapters of an unforgettable book.
She began her story by talking about how her parents were drug addicts. People I knew who were drug addicts are usually addicted to a specific drug, but her dad was addicted to many. I was surprised she knew and could count them all. It was understandable that she finally gave up on him, although it must have been hard for her to make the choice. She believes that there is no point in helping someone who doesn’t want to help themselves. I agree. After all, the first step to solving a problem is to realize what the problem is.
Peters also spoke about how her mentally disabled mom tried to sell her as a child. It reminded me of the day when my parents left me at an unknown relative’s house an entire day and never picked me up because they forgot about me. I hold this pain with me all the time whenever I need a ride home with fears that they would forget about me again. I now realize that it would hurt me more if I was less valuable than money to my parents, especially my mother.
In addition to her parents’ addiction, Peters was verbally and physically abused by her Irish great grandmother. Whenever Peters was unsure of something, such as her identity, her great grandmother would verbally abuse her. Although I never met my great grandmother, I thought a lot about my grandma. She loves me now like I am her own daughter. If I were of another race, would she love me the same? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.
The chapters of her journey suddenly skipped to her abusive and unhealthy relationship. Peters was about eight and a half months pregnant when her domestic partner came home drunk and physically abused her. As she stated every word out loud, images that I constructed in my head came flooding in, which lead me to tear up a couple of times. She described a scene in which she was grabbed by her hair and dragged away from the couch. What struck me the most was when she described how she held her body up with her arms as she was facing the floor to protect the baby in her stomach. Not only that, her seven-year-old daughter had to witness such a scene.
From this story, I could hardly keep my mind from bursting as I was just struck by the strong image I constructed. When she stated how she lied about the abuse because of embarrassment and shame, I could feel a strong connection to those emotions. Whether it is abuse or not, it is true that when you lie so much to others, you began to lie to yourself by pretending that everything was okay.
When I realize that the days that I should be happy the most might be the day someone needs help, it makes me sad. July 3rd is my birthday—the day that Rosetta Peters had her final abuse from her domestic partner.
As I sat there realizing this, I suddenly thought about the short story by Ursula K. Le Guin, called “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” In the short story, there is a utopian society called Omelas. Everyone, but one child, was happy. The child was poorly treated and was a sacrifice for everyone’s happiness. Those who acknowledged their privileges believe that they should be happy to replace for this child’s ungiven happiness. Others were mad, sad, and disgusted, for they wanted to help the child but realized that if they did, Omelas will crumble. They walked away and never returned to Omelas.
The point is that nobody did anything. Realizing that I am happy while there may be people out there in desperate need of help and support, I felt as if I were one of the people who walked away. July 4th, the day when my family celebrated my little brother’s and my birthday, Peters made a choice to leave the abusive relationship. Strangely, it was also Independence Day. She stated that the F5 tornado that hit on May 22nd, 2011 brought her back on her feet to protect her children. Ironically. Even though she lied to her children that they were going to Walmart, they ended up at Walmart to buy a new tire for her car.
Although she left her life in Joplin, Missouri, she still had to deal with the new challenges that came her way. She talked about how she lost the house she wanted to settle in because of her bad credit. Later she was able to rent an old leaning house. I understand how it feels to be in her situation considering that my family had to drop a house we wanted to settle in, and now, we are currently living in a rental. Peters telling her eldest daughter to “look at the positive” reminds me when my mom told us that “just be happy that we have a roof over our heads.” I teared up when I remembered my mother’s words. As Peters said, “It could’ve been worse.”
Besides struggling to find a home, Peters cried when she told us how she had to let her brother go because she could no longer help him anymore in order to protect her children. I thought of my four brothers, and I couldn’t imagine myself, telling them that I couldn’t help them when they have nowhere to go. However, I acknowledge her decision because sometimes the things we value the most may not work with another, and we have to let one go.
People are afraid of making difficult decisions, but Peters said that it was okay. She said, “Just because you made a bad choice doesn’t mean you have to beat yourself up.” When she left her domestic partner, her eldest daughter went back to live with her father, blaming her for breaking up the family. Peters didn’t stop her and wrote a poem called “A Letter to my Daughter for Her Sixteenth Birthday.” She came back two years later, right after Peters sent it to her. Everyone makes mistakes, and our mistakes are not really out of bad intention; therefore, it is okay to forgive ourselves. After all, the choices we make give other people choices too.
Peters’ journey became very valuable to me. I have a friend who struggled to make things better for her family and for the sake of her promise to her father after they lost their home. In terms of abusive relationships, she had none. However, like Peters, my friend puts everyone ahead of her. She always seeks the best for them and would make difficult choices to protect them even if it means she have to let go of something else. I don’t have much experience to relate to them, but I have learned to appreciate what I have more.
I may feel like one of those people who walked away from the utopian society of Omelas, but I have to acknowledge that I am just an individual, and I can’t appear in front of every person who needs help. I remind myself that people, like my friend and Rosetta Peters, are not seeking for others to pity them but to understand them.
In a previously delivered speech, Peters talks about the meaning of “Mitakuye Oyasin” in her own language: “We are all related, or we are all connected.” This is an idea that I think about a lot nowadays. When I don’t understand something, things just come around to help me understand them even though I am really reaching for an explanation. I am not seeking for them, but because I am able to meet people like Peters and my friend, I am able to construct a new way of thinking.
In a Ted Talk, I remembered someone saying, “There’s no such thing as harder.” Everyone struggles. I struggle with balancing time with my family, friends, and education. I struggle internally with self-esteem. I find myself looking down at myself, and I almost never give myself a break from insecurities. I build my confidence and it falls right back down. I am trying so hard to keep myself standing on my feet.
No matter who we are, we all have a closet that we hide in. Even though I sometimes think my struggles are harder than theirs, I have to realize that everything is hard. Individual experiences differ; therefore, it is not right to say whose is harder.
Regardless of which shoes I am in, there are always obstacles. I am thankful to have met Rosetta Peters, for I am now able to reflect on a lot of things. I know that everyone has choices in life since we all have free wills to try and achieve the best things possible for ourselves.