Christal Ann Rice Cooper

Christal Ann Rice Cooper
Chris on July 3, 2017

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Guest Blogger RONDA RACHA PENRICE: "Fighting For Their LIves" On Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the "Silent Witness" exhibit . . .

Christal Cooper

*Article previously published in South Magazine November issue
**Copyright granted by South Magazine, Ronda Racha Penrice, and Blake Crosby
***http://www.southmag.com






                
       Sadly Lauren Smart’s letter was read in court – after her death.  On Saturday, June 7, 2014, Norman Smart killed Lauren Brown Smart.  She would have been 35 on July 10.  Even more horrifying, her oldest boy from her first marriage, just six at the time, witnessed it all.  Her other son with Smart hadn’t even turned a year old.   


       Responding to a call from Norman Smart, police found Lauren on the floor in the mater bedroom of their Wilmington Island, Georgia home on her back, with abrasions on her forehead, arms and elbows and blood stains on the carpet.  Norman was then charged with murder. 


       During the trial, the medical examiner testified that Norman Smart beat, strangled and stomped a reportedly drunk Lauren to her death – the pattern of his shoes matched the injuries on her body. 


       There’s no way to sugarcoat the horror of this crime  - nor its pervasiveness in this country.  Every day three women are murdered by a current or former male.  Twenty people (including a small number of men) are victims of intimate-partner violence every single minute, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Every nine seconds, reports Domestic Violence Statistics, a woman is beaten or assaulted.  Over 38 million women experience domestic violence every year.  Sadly, as many as 10 million children witness this type of violence annually.

       A woman’s level of education doesn’t shield her form abuse and neither does her economic status.  Domestic violence may be stereotyped as a crime of the poor and uneducated, but that’s far from the truth.  Women of all backgrounds are victimized.

       Melissa (nor her real name) truly debunks those stereotypes.  This well-known socialite and independent professional in Savannah never imagined she would become a victim of abuse.  Yet, just a few months into her relationship with a man she believed to be a great match, she found herself a victim.  


       Looking back, she says, “My first red light should have been one evening when he was upset and ripped my car keys out of my hand.  I attributed it to a bad day at work.”  There was no explaining away what happened to her during their “romantic” getaway to the Bahamas, however.  “He got upset with me one night and pushed me, in my pajamas, out of our room and threw my suitcase at me.  I got another room in the hotel and had every intention of flying out the next day.”  


       But she didn’t.  The next morning, the hotel manager told her, “He’s very upset.  He feels terrible – maybe you should talk to him.”  She followed that well-intentioned but very bad advice and spoke to her boyfriend.  “He apologized profusely; said he was going to get help, all the things you expect him to say,” she recounts.  “He told me about the therapy he was going to and the breakthroughs he head with his anger-management issues.”  


       Not long after, it happened again.  “For whatever reason, something triggered his rage again one night, “ she recalls.  “And he came up behind me and hit me so hard that my teeth went through my lips.  I hit the ground and screamed,  “I’m bleeding!”  He said, “You think you’re f---ing bleeding now?” and he picked me up by my hair, stomped my head on the ground and dragged me through the house and let (me) go in the front yard.  I had on jeans and a tank top and it was 30 degrees outside.” 


       Waiting until she could safely go back in the house, Melissa quickly grabbed her purse, got into her car, and left.  “I didn’t go to the hospital immediately.  I was in disbelief,” she explains.  ‘I was that typical (woman), ‘How could this be happening to me?’”    


       She then called the therapist her boyfriend had been seeing and got another shock.  ‘I’m sorry.  I don’t know this person.  You need to call the police,” the therapist told her.   


       Enter organizations like Savannah’s SAFE (Savannah Area Family Emergency) Shelter Center for Domestic Violence Services that, for the last 35 years, assists women less able than Melissa to find refuge form abuse.  Former journalist Cheryl Branch has dedicated nearly 20 years to SAFE Shelter, serving as executive director since 2007 after heading the shelter’s outreach program where she regularly helped women get restraining orders, among other services.    




       “Abusers don’t see anything wrong with what they do,” Branch says matter-of-factly:  “I firmly believe it’s a learned behavior.  Often, one or both of the people in an abusive relationship grew up in a home where there was some kind of abuse – verbal, emotional or physical.”     


       Low self-esteem, Branch says, affects women of all backgrounds.  It’s also an abuser’s number-one weapon.  By and large, women blame themselves for the way they are treated.  Women rationalize the behavior by saying to themselves, “I am going to fix that bad by,” says Branch.  “He had a rough life.  And I, through the power of my love, am going to transform him.”  


                                          Wendy Williamson 


       Many of the calls SAFE Shelter receives come from concerned family and friends struggling to help a love done reluctant to leave an abusive relationship.  Branch advises they reassure their victimized loved ones, “I’m here for you.”  When women do leave an abuser, SAFE Shelter aids them in numerous ways, especially in holding the abuser accountable and offering programs for children in order to break the cycle of abuse.  


       “We didn’t even have battered-women shelters until the 70s’ in this country, “Branch notes, explaining that awareness has improved, but still has a ways to go.  A powerful reminder is ‘Silent Witness Initiative,” a national art exhibit that travels to various venues and events featuring life-sized, free-standing silhouettes bearing the names of deceased victims.  

                                 Photo by Blake Crosby
                                 https://www.facebook.com/blakecrosbyphotography?fref=ts 
                                 
For Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, the Chatham County Silent Witness Exhibit will be on display in Savannah for the first time – and Lauren Brown Smart is one of the 13 victims highlighted.


       “We get so numb to statistics and you need that reminder that this was a daughter, a sister, a mother,” Branch says of “Silent Witness.”    


       Sunni Brown, Lauren Brown Smart’s mother, needs no such reminders, though.   The horrific aftereffects of her death haunt Sunni every day.  Lauren’s oldest son, now seven, who witness his mother’s death, ahs been in therapy since the murder, but still fears that Normal Smart, despite being sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 20 years for cruelty to children will still come for him.  And now, the youngest grandson, who is nearing two, is in therapy too.    


       She says what pains her most about the tragedy is that “two children have to grow up without a mother.”  Brown says she hopes the telling of Lauren’s story will help a domestic-violence victim get out of an abusive relationship before it’s too late.     





Saturday, October 24, 2015

Poetry Chapbook Dedicated to Victims of Domestic Violence: Men, Women, and Children.

Christal Cooper


*Poems Copyright by Christal Rice Cooper
**Images attributed to Renee Sheridan and copyright by Christal Rice Cooper


Chapbook of Poetry
Dedicated To All Victims of Domestic Violence: 
Men, Women And Children.



FOR WORSE

Now these screams,
this yank of hair.
You’re tired of dreams.

Each punch
demands obedience,
kick to the ribs.
Laughter
when I collapse to my knees.
You kick my face, flat on my back,
ripping my clothes, “What do you think of that?”

My eyes are shut
I pretend I am dead.
You grunt, and stand,
grab a shovel, and hit my head.

Cold snow and hot blood,
my last incantation,
is frozen.



PREY

When I lay in bed,
he permeates
the corners of my body,                      
blocks me
from everything
But him. 

Blood floods
my arms and legs.
Freezing.

His bloodshot eyes bleed on me:
His lips open to yellow bones,             
embedded in thick red gruel,
his tongue stretching, sliding

He rams in me,
surging with energy              
exploding with disdain.         

After he is finishes,
he walks out the door
into another corner.



DOMESTIC MURDER

I come through the door
as a cold night comes.
Cutting.

My hand on the blade
her heart in gaps
chafed lips kissing her damp mouth bloody.
Good night.

Cold,
the handle in my hand
her soft soul cutting the velvet of night.


TEARS

He did it mostly at night,
at home.  Drunk

Beat her face
with his fists
When she cried
he laughed
ripped her skirt

She said to go
to our room.
But he said, watch.

She tried not to cry,
tried to smile
Wanted us to think
she enjoyed it.

He turned her over
on her stomach
swung his belt
beating her red, black and blue.

He put his pants on.
fastened the belt.
And left.

We would hear her whimper then.
But not this time . . .

For the first the time in my life
I wanted to hear her cry.



THE LAMB

Thomas hears them
in an upstairs room
Wrestling, he thinks,

Then Father says honor
to Mommy
The way to honor life
is to take it away.

Now he remembers
Father as a lion.
He didn’t believe.
But Father ate mommy,

and growled.
And Thomas ran,
to the woods beyond -
the branches tearing at his eyes,
bark gritty in his mouth,
the wings of deer flies
clinging.

He wore pajamas, they said
with sad blue lambs,

Wet hair in his face
Deer flies pasted to bare legs

He wore pajamas, they said
with sad blue lambs.
sweat rolling down his legs
And blood

He hid behind a bush
unspeaking,
wiped his blood and smelled it. 
Mother’s.
The way Father taught him the hunt.

And he ran,  Called her.
Asleep, Father said.
like he said when she swallowed
Sixty-nine pills.   And Thomas called 9-1-1.
The white people came.

Long ago, she sang
But not tonight. 

Tonight there is gurgling.
a growl.
Then running,
and dogs yelping.

He hid with them in the straw
on the doghouse floor.

Then Father,
panting,
as if he carried heavy things.

There was a noise-
the kind of sound a lion makes
while eating prey.
Then the counting of sixty-nine pills,
white like moons,
in the palm of Father’s hand.

The dogs stopped yelping
Thomas stood
beneath the moon
He didn’t know
he was standing beneath the moon
until he felt the light,
and  Father’s hands
crushed the sad blue lambs



BEAUTIFUL BOY

This is what righteousness sounds like,
the sound of his zipper’s teeth, opening

Even now I hear the groans,
You’re my beautiful boy.

I hate that word
My wife asked why I cringe, I say,
because of the beatings

My empty food, my full vile,
cooking of my belly,
his pearl onion bleeding over me,
in me,
God’s mana.

He made me wait
till it dried, scrapped it on a plate.
When I vomited it back up,
he put that on the plate, too.

This is the Lord’s Supper
No room to move my tongue
that weapon of bad burn
fleshy pink elephant.

Even now.
I feel the stream of onions
scalding my tongue, throat.

I vomit hot air.
I feel beautiful.

I want to be frozen,
not his inebriated angel
He was, is, will be
I Am The Great I Am

his beautiful boy
shedding pink blood.

Pink, Beautiful
marked out
of our dictionaries, books,
magazines, newspapers

I scare my wife, but not
little boy blue, asleep,
swimming beautifully
in a pink sea of repetition.

The sins of the father

I wake up with desire,
not for my wife.
For my boy.

Forgetting what I remember
Remembering what I forget.

I put the gun, bullets
in the freezer,
in the garage,

My own land
No man’s land.



MARK

Mark was severely beaten and had sustained serious injuries –abdomen injuries, defense wounds, brain swelling, his liver was almost split in two, bruising on the back of his hands, blisters on his chest, and burn marks (from what experts believe was a sauntering iron) on his thighs and ears.  Mark succumbed to his injuries and died due to severe bleeding.

Excerpt from The Altus Times article dated Sunday, April 6, 2003
By Chris Cooper

I shop at Belles and Beaus
for a blue onesy
and white booties, then

drive to the grave marked
by dead grass and weeds,
and a flat stone epitaph,
Mark Gomez
1986-1987 . . ..

The police said
His clothes were red.

I lay the onesy beneath the stone,
and then the booties,
as if I were dressing a baby

just before he climbs on the beer-stained couch
to sit next to Mommy’s boyfriend,
to feel his whiskered face.

Maybe he was sucking his thumb, giggly,
Marked for death.

Must every mother cradle guns
shimmering like the twinkling star,
pacing the park
where the vulnerable
crawl and play?
Where he hunts

I am at home, watching the news.
After ten years his sentence is carried out.
Imagine the sound
of his body cells boiling.

I walk into my son’s room
marked by life, asleep,
his body swaying with each breath.
His clothes are laid out for tomorrow:
red onesy, toddler jeans.

Someday I’ll say I knew
I’d hold him safe -
but even now

my arms are empty.


Other Poems Written By Chris Rice Cooper