Hero or Villain?: Bringing it All into the Light

The first three things Rosemarie told me when she met me. One, she was a fine, fierce black woman old enough to be my mother and I better never forget that. Two, she was HIV positive which was not AIDS, and I should not get the two confused. Three, her favorite drink was Diet Dr. Pepper and did I want one to go with the chicken she just cooked up?

Rosemarie and I spent the next few years together, sharing stories over Reuben sandwiches in downtown Denver and sitting on park benches in the (then) new Stapleton neighborhood. I met her children and grandchildren, aunties, cousins, uncles, and her partners. Rosemarie and her siblings grew up in a single-parent household with her mother’s boyfriends coming and going. Her mom was either at work or partying at home; Rosemarie quickly took charge of raising the younger ones and managing the home. She took great pride in making sure everyone grew up into successful, “good” people. “No drug dealers, hookers or cheats in the bunch. None of us are perfect but by God, none of us turned out rotten.”

Rosemarie shared stories of abusive boyfriends of her own, sitting up tall when she told me she finally chased the last one out of her house with a knife. “He punched my jaw one final time and I just snapped. I was chopping up some onion and I turned and charged him. I must have sounded like a wild animal! I chased him out into the middle of the street and told him if he ever came back I would cut him so badly no one would recognize his sorry face.” After that the neighbors began to talk to her and she found friends and community on her block.

Throughout our time together I started to see different sides of Rosemarie. Her oldest daughter didn’t speak to her and, after Rosemarie’s death, I learned that she used to beat her daughter with a wooden spoon so “she’d turn out ok.” Near the end of her life when she was in extraordinary pain, I realized Rosemarie was buying pills off the street instead of talking to her doctor.

We try to make others, and ourselves, all good or all bad. Some of us try to hide the less-flattering aspects of ourselves or use our past to justify present actions, or as explanations of imperfections. In reality we are all, always, a mix. This week let’s take some time to honor our strengths and our weaknesses, trusting that all of our parts are critical in making us who we are today.