A Witness and Volunteer with a Story to Tell
This piece was written by guest blogger Alessandra Jimenez*. Aly is a child witness and volunteer here at CORA. We’re proud to be part of the complex, healing and powerful process of telling her story.
*All names have been changed for this piece.
Alessandra “Aly” Jimenez, recently graduated from Skyline College with an Associate of Arts degree in English. Alessandra, an aspiring writer, unsure of her next step in life, heard about CORA’s volunteer program through a family member. After learning about CORA, the sole domestic violence agency in San Mateo, Aly began volunteering in August 2015. She felt apprehensive, yet extremely excited to start because she had never submitted her written work to an agency. Aly volunteers for the Development department and continues to learn new writing techniques each week.
As nervous as she was, Aly never fully realized how CORA would help her in her own healing process. Aly was born four and a half months premature as the result of a domestic violence conflict. Sometimes her childhood felt anything but normal. The lack of normal experiences started from the very moment Aly was born. Her mother Jade started to feel labor pains after getting into a physical argument with her husband. Forced to leave her home with no shoes or help, Jade eventually made it to the hospital. For three days, Jade struggled to keep Alessandra in the womb. By the third day, Jade had no other choice but to deliver the baby. Alessandra was born in 1992, barely weighing a pound. Aly was so tiny she could fit in the palm of her mother’s hand. Miraculously, Aly was more physically developed than most premature babies at her stage. She had a full head of hair, fingernails and strong lungs. However, this did not mean Alessandra’s birth was free of complications.
Aly was only a newborn when she endured her first surgery in a string of many. The first procedure she had done was to shut an underdeveloped heart valve. Although her surgery was successful, doctors still needed to monitor her health and growth rate. Aly spent the first five months of her life in an incubator. After reaching the weight of six pounds, her parents were finally permitted to take her home.
At the age of two, Aly was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP). Doctors claimed she would most likely never be able to walk, speak or do much of anything in terms of mental capacity. As a result of CP, Aly remains wheelchair bound to this day. However, with help from her mother and her grandmother Ellie, she made several developmental strides throughout her youth. Aly consistently learned new objectives and grew stronger every day. She began Early Childhood Education as a toddler, where she made friends. At the time, Aly was happy, but she quickly realized how different she was from her peers. Although she was in a special education program, she felt different because there were not many other students in wheelchairs. When she turned six years old she began attending a mainstream public elementary school in 1998.
Throughout her youth, she experienced a multitude of surgeries that became a blur over the years. It was one corrective surgery after another as a result of her Cerebral Palsy and, later, her scoliosis. The exact years and specific procedures are difficult for her to remember, but her visible scars remind her every day of the pain she endured. Thirteen scars mark her body, stemming from six major surgeries. For a time, as difficult as some aspects of her childhood were, parts of her childhood were great. She looked back fondly at times she had with her family when they went to Nevada every year to see the snow. She also remembered a time she and her family went to Disneyland for the first time in the winter of 2000. Despite the fact that it poured sheets of rain for a week, she still had a lot of fun.
Aly’s happy childhood shattered in 2003. Her parents began the processes of separation, divorce and custody. Aly, Jade, her sister Rose and Ellie were forced to leave the home they had lived in for over a decade to move away from her father, Matthew. Unfortunately, it was not simply just the divorce or the move that caused Ally to feel like her entire life was forever changed. It was the reason behind the divorce. The custody issue was quick and easy since Matthew wanted to have as little time as possible with his daughters, but the persistent arguments between Jade and Matthew only complicated the situation. Aly did not understand why her parents were both so angry at each other. They fought and yelled loudly at one another. But Aly and her sister Rose never saw it as anything more than verbal anger spewed back and forth throughout their thirteen years of marriage. Occasionally Aly was curious about the state of her being. Questions about why she was in a wheelchair or why she had CP would pop up every so often when they were driving in the car. During those times, Jade would explain that she had the flu or that she fell over a vacuum cleaner. It was not until the following year, in 2004, that Aly finally learned the actual truth about her father and her parents’ marriage.
Aly’s father, Matthew, a child of domestic violence himself, pushed Jade over a vacuum cleaner for not wanting to do housework at his request. That single event caused Jade to not only have a fractured rib, but also caused her to give birth to her premature daughter. Aly’s disability was set in that moment. Her first reaction was utter disbelief, but then she thought back to previous years when Matthew would curse Jade out, cursing at her in every way possible. Aly also learned that her father was a serial cheater and liar. Anger bubbled up inside her like puss in an infected wound. She was furious at what her father not only did to her mother, but to her as well. Aly had to live every single day in a wheelchair because of Matthew, who also continued the cycle of generational and familial abuse. By 2005, Aly and Matthew’s relationship was mostly severed. Matthew was absent from her life for several years with the exception of texts on her birthday every year.
Life seemed easier for a time up until 2007, when Aly’s scoliosis became so severe that she needed major surgery – a spinal fusion. Before Aly could even get the surgery she needed to regain the weight she had lost months prior. The exact number did not matter, but the reasons behind her actions did. She could not control her own body at times. As much as she grew to hate her father, there was this negative little voice in her head which was not her father’s. It was her voice and it influenced many of the decisions she made. Her weight felt like the only aspect of her life she could control, so she adopted some unhealthy eating habits. Part of the reason behind her decision was because she hated her body as a teenager. However, with some help from her doctor, mother and her mother’s boyfriend, Adam, she got the help and treatment she needed to become strong enough for surgery. While she did not blame everything on her father, his abandonment weighed on her heavily.
Like many children of domestic violence, she felt like it was her fault. She believed she could have done something more to help her family. Aly also wondered why she felt like her father never really loved her. Matthew gave her the answer to that question after she spent seven years wondering. A couple of months after her eighteenth birthday, Matthew sent her an e-mail. In that e-mail he spoke of an ultimatum as to whether or not she really wanted a father in her life. Similar to the incidents she’d seen with her mother, Matthew cursed Aly out while he also explained his extreme desire for wanting sons rather than daughters. He also mentioned that he did not want a daughter like her, someone who was disabled.
Aly was instantaneously crushed. Instead of delving back into a dark place in her mind, she decided to apply for college. There she found her passion for writing. Aly formed new friendships and after a year and a half she found her first love, Josh. It took a while for Aly to open up her heart to him, because she did not trust people easily. She was very aware of the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship. Aly was nervous and her father’s words broke her spirit. There were many times when she did not feel confident enough in herself or her abilities. Fortunately, Josh and her mother were both really positive influences in her life. Writing not only became her passion, it served as therapy. After hearing about CORA and completing the necessary training needed to volunteer, she hoped to use her skills to help others at CORA. Little did she know, through her volunteering, CORA would help her heal too.
After completing the forty-hour DV training, she was grateful to understand more about domestic violence. From the lessons learned at the DV training, Aly realized she was not the one at fault. Although she still carries the pain of abandonment and verbal abuse from her father, she realizes she was never responsible for her father’s actions or emotions. Those scars are the only ones that are not visible but, like all her other scars, the pain remains. Nevertheless, her past turmoil and scars give her strength to keep going.
As of today, she is happy and proud of how far she has come. Aly admires her mother for her strength and for simply being there for her every single day. Jade’s journey ties directly in with Aly’s journey of life. The next step in Aly’s path is to write down her story – no matter how uncomfortable it may feel to her. Aly hopes her work and her story will someday aid in the fight against domestic violence.