[Content: Abuse, Ableism, murder, death, grief, relief, and feelings about these things.]
This time last week, I was getting ready for both the DC and virtual vigils for People with Disabilities who have been murdered by their family or care givers. This time last week, I was also learning that my primary abuser was dead.
ASAN and other groups around the nation (and a little bit beyond, too, on an individual basis) held vigils for People with Disabilities who have been murdered by their care givers. You can read about the details of why “now” from Zoe Gross writing for ASAN, as she addresses that better than I could in the call to action for the vigils.
The bottom line is that we live in a world where our basic blocks of culture devalue our existence to the point where our murders are called Mercy Killings. Our murders become about the burdens we place on our parents, on our cost to society, and on non-disabled people’s projections of our possible quality of life. Even our names are erased, made eternal children regardless of our age of death because of who it is who killed us. George Hodgins was 22, and still the headline read “Sunnyvale Mother Kills Autistic Child.”
When I was a child, Rick, my mother’s second husband, excused his abuse of me as treatment. The less excusable stuff he saved for when my mother wasn’t home. Sometimes, he even baited me, purposefully getting me wound up so that I would act out in a way that would justify what he wanted to say or do.
And people believed him. The cops believed him the one time I got the nerve to call. The parts my mom saw made her believe him, at least for a while, and her notes about the behaviors he triggered are scary. In them, I look irrational and dangerous, while in my memories I was provoked and terrified. Without knowing the cause, a kid like I was screaming, or charging to escape, or throwing myself into walls is scarier than I ever saw myself. He played my needs to suit his and to make the unacceptable acceptable. He provoked the worst to suit his own behaviors, to make sure I fit the idea of deserving what happens that we are fed daily.
When the vigils were announced, I decided that those of us who couldn’t make it to a live vigil should have to right to hold vigil as well. It’s an emotional topic for me, how people from rural areas and housebound folk are discounted in movements. Even in the (broader) disability movement, there’s a tendency to devalue those who can’t make it out to a vigil or a rally. It saddens me, it angers me, and it motivates me. So last week was spent preparing for the virtual vigil.
When the time came, I was able to do it from the Washington, DC vigil’s site. We used tiny chat, and it was kind of cool. I had everything prepped for the time, I only had to show up and do it.
Then, Friday midday, I called my mom and heard. I heard that I was free. That the constantly looking into the crowd in fear he would be there could no longer be fulfilled. That we knew where he was, and knew he’d never be able to inflict harm on me again. That all the damage is already done. That he had died, natural causes, in Pensacola, Florida.
I went into shock about an hour later, though I had thankfully managed to meet up with Melody Latimer by the time it hit full force. Thanks to her, I didn’t accidentally walk into traffic or misstep off the metro platform. She made sure I got myself food if I wanted it, and then plopped me down in a safe space so she could work and I could process and come out of it.
The same time that I was mentally preparing myself to run a chat vigil, to mourn fellow people with disabilities, I was writing a letter to friends to tell them about the end of my own nightmare. As I prepped on site that evening, I realized that I would no longer have to fear death from his hands. As I reviewed the list that managed to fit on the fliers, I realized that all it would have taken was a slip, a weight distribution in the wrong area during restraint, a swerve when I tried to escape the car, and my name could have been on that list. That that list is truly my peers.
When a gentleman came up before the vigil and commented that we had forgotten a certain little boy whose mother had poisoned him, all I could do was thank him. The number of names that could fit on the flier or the poster board is such a small percentage of the names and stories of those killed by their care givers. It’s a countless wordless horrors, the murders that society mitigates because of our disabilities, the deaths inadequately mourned because our would be mourners are told people like us would have been better off.
I feel sick, too, to think of how many of them might have been stopped if only our world didn’t dismiss our abuse as needed. If our lives weren’t devalued, how many of the PwD who were starved to death before the neglect was noticed would be part of that count? How many people would be growing older and living if the tiny abuses and dehumanizations that make people justify murder weren’t justified by disability? If we lived in a world where my abuser hadn’t been able to get away with it as long as he did would the people we mourn still be alive?
The virtual and in person DC vigils went well. We remembered. We tore down the excuses and justifications. We mourned.
In the hallowed out space of relief, I remembered what we were fighting for. Just because one of my nightmares was over didn’t mean my future was safe, or that other people’s nightmares couldn’t come true.
One week ago, we observed the deaths of the people for whom our fight for equality comes too late. We hoped to someday never see a new name on the endless list. We hoped to change it all, one day at a time. We mourned our dead, and renewed our commitment to fight like hell for the living.
The next day, Daniel Corby, aged four, was killed by his mother.