A 36 year old African-American woman with braids. She sits in an office chair, tipping backwards. She’s chewing gum. In the background, there’s the sound of women’s voices. It sounds as though a woman with a strong Spanish accent is speaking very quickly sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes it might be a made-up combination of the two languages.
Jasmine: D’you hear that? Huh?
In the background, we hear the Latina’s voice say, “those roses he gave me? He turned them upside down and shoved the stems – with all the thorns – up into my….”
Jasmine: You heard that, now. I can’t listen anymore. Every Monday, we sit listening to each other’s stories. They’re blendin’ into one big ol’ mess to me. Who cares? Every Monday we groan, cough, nod, flinch, and shake our heads. For what? It’s not like men are gonna stop doin’ it!
We hear a different woman’s voice. She’s obviously white and educated. We hear her say, “When you have the strength you’ll leave”. The white voice drones on.
Jasmine: (Pops her gum and snorts) She sure will. She’ll leave him. She’ll come here and stay for a couple weeks or months. Then she’ll go back to her husband. Back and forth. Back and forth. (chews gum loudly for a moment) Come to think of it, I think this is like the seventh…no. Eighth time I’ve left DeJuan.
The white voice comes into focus to say, “Seven times is the average” and then the Latina’s voice starts speaking really fast.
Jasmine: White girl’s name’s Cecily. Cecily says to me, “No one will be angry or doubt you if you go back. It just means you need to gather more strength. But in this moment, you took a big step.” Can you believe that shit? (mimicking the white girl) “In this moment, you took a big step”. (snorts) A step. That’s right, honey. We’re trapped on a hamster wheel. Only thing we can do is step!
Long pause. She thinks. We hear the voices of the women in the background
Jasmine: Cecily said she had an abusive husband. Guess he stalked her across the country after she left him. (pause) I don’t feel sorry for her. She wasn’t stuck. She moved across the country! Means girl’s got money, a car, and somebody helpin’ her. She never had to plop her ass into a shelter.
I got seven kids. Youngest’s three. DeJuan didn’t want me using birth control ‘cause the number of kids showed off his virility, I guess. White girl Cecily called that reproductive abuse. Can you believe the names they make up for things? (sarcastically) “Reproductive abuse”.
Total silence in the room. Jasmine puts her gum in a tissue.
Jasmine: Tastes like shit after a while. (pause) I met DeJuan at church. My mama knew his grandmother. She raised ‘im ‘cause he mother left him. Drugs. (pause) Look, I went to college. On scholarship and I graduated with honors in English. I wanted to be a playwright. Matter of fact, my play was put on at the Goodman. That’s in Chicago. It was this sweet little story about this girl and her grandmother’s last words. The play started with her grandmother dying. She says, “Who cares about love? Compassion’s all that matters.” The rest of the play is about this woman trying to prove her grandmother wrong.
An African American woman’s voice says, “You got any Kleenex? Girl’s cryin’ here.” We hear some shuffling around. Cecily laughs. “Unbelievable that we never have any out for group!”
I hate “compassion”. Easier not to give a fuck.
I felt sorry for DeJuan because his parents left. My mom was always sayin’, “Be nice. Imagine if you were in ‘his situation’.” He’d hurt me and Mama’d tell me, “Forgive him. His mama was an addict.” Over and over again. I could’ve drowned in all that compassion! Mama convinced me to marry him ‘cause he needed someone to love ‘im. Can you believe? That play’s about me.
Compassion. Com- meaning “together with” and in Latin “pati” means “to suffer”. Together with suffering. My mother wanted me to be together with DeJuan to suffer. (laughs) Who said mama doesn’t know best? I suffered. Shit! I suffered a LOT.
The group bursts out in raucous laughter.
So, DeJuan was in the army. We lived all over the world. Germany. Turkey. Bosnia. Tanzania. Australia. Lebanon. We never stayed anywhere long so I never got to know anybody. He got me pregnant in every country we lived. And punchin’ me was his favorite pastime ‘specially in the last part of a pregnancy. Can you believe that? You know what it’s like to be having contractions when your whole body is bruised and achy? And he seemed to get off watching me dealing with labor pain on top of what he’d done to me. Made him feel so strong.
No one ever asked me about those bruises. I know the doctors and nurses saw ‘em bruises. They just chose to ignore it. Course, DeJuan would never leave me alone in the hospital. He chatted away playing the nervous Dad. As if! Once I had the baby, DeJuan could care less. He was more interested in knowing how long it’d be before he could knock me up again. Certainly did prevent me from writing any plays, making friends, or staying in touch with anyone. I was just alone with the babies in some country where I didn’t speak the language.
The voices of the women are louder again. They are talking back and forth – it sounds like friendly banter.
Jasmine: I guess I discovered was a new word: comsolum. Com – together with and Solum – alone. Lonely togetherness. That’s what abuse is.
Short bio: Amy is an Associate Professor of Theater at Beloit College in Wisconsin. Sarno’s community-based play-writing work integrates oral history, archival research, and interactive community workshops. Her most recent project, Plan B, explores what happens when intercultural relationships turn violent. She also wrote Imprints, which includes collected ghost stories of Beloit, WI. In Imprints, Sarno explores the notion of sacred places within the city’s collective unconscious. Other projects have included “CasiNO!” and “Choosing Survival”, and “Do You See What I’m Saying?” a collaborative oral history/ theater project that examines the struggles and triumphs of a significant neighborhood in Beloit’s African American community.