The Architecture of Violence

Sharine, just like my father, was our great-grandmother’s child, one of the select few that was raised in the care of the family’s matriarch. My mother would explain, “Sharine has lost anyone who ever really cared about her,” my great-grandmother, my cousin Nancy (a beautiful person who we literally watched disappear as Diabetes ripped one extremity after another from her), and my Aunt Cat, one of the sisters. This is not exactly true however, because I have explicit memories of my cousin Varee, Sharine’s sister, adulterized by the sudden role of surrogate mother while still in her teens. There have been others, family friends, as well who have “taken her in.” Sharine’s biological mother, my cousin Annette, has sufferred from drug addiction for decades.

Yesterday, I met Sharine’s only daughter. Her eyes were closed, her lips were formed in a smile, her hair was “all over her head,” and she was lying on a stretcher in Anderson’s Funeral Sevice in New Brunswick, where she was brought, mysteriously, from an Essex County morgue. Although we know that Sharine’s daughter Dalaysia Marie Rhymer was raped and murdered in her home, and we know that her injuries included broken ribs, a fractured skull and a lacerated liver, and we know that she was taken too soon, we have no idea how she ended up at Anderson’s, like my grandmother and my great-grandmother, who are buried just a few minutes away.

On Seamen Street last night I told my Uncle Benny that my grandmother willed Dalaysia home and he corrected that, “while that was all well and good” we needed to find out who aided in that move on this side of the sky. Sharine, Annette and Sharine’s boyfriend are all currently under investigation by New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services for child abuse. With a family as fractured as her’s/our’s we just do not know the “whole story.” Newark police have arrested Oquan Blake, the boyfriend, and charged him with felony murder, aggravated assault and several counts of aggravated sexual assualt. The last thing Sharine remembers about that day is arriving home to find Oquan dousing seven-month-old Dalaysia in the shower and then swabbing her vagina and anus with Q-Tips, trying to figure out where the blood was coming from.

On Seamen Street you are suppossed to swing back and forth between two houses, one right across the street from the other. The first was my great-grandmother’s and is now one of the sisters. It is a four-story converted multi-family house that in its “heydey” was filled with kin and food and song. The second originally belonged to another one of the sisters and is currently owned by her daughter, a way to keep an eye on “Mother,” I suppose. Sharine and I spent the hour before arriving at Anderson’s in both of these family landmarks.

My one Aunt never pulls any punches. As she put it yesterday, “I know this is not what you want to hear, But! . . . The “But” included every related thing from “you need Jesus” to “you are a Queen.” I learned later that evening that this sister was the fighter growing up, and that she had everybody’s back and that’s why you got to walk on over there across the street. There are so many secrets, the most well guarded one is that my great-grandmother’s house has become so empty and I fear that my Aunt there is so alone. She told Sharine that she has been hanging with all the wrong people and rhetorically asked, “why don’t you ever come visit me?”

Dalaysia, frighteningly, has never met any of this family. She didn’t make it to her first family picnic, and no one, at the last picnic, even knew Sharine was pregnant. We will all see her, for the first time, in a communion dress, in her casket, at the viewing Friday morning.

Two days ago I found Sharine in Newark. When she answered the phone I asked her where she was and if she felt safe there. Once she assured me that she did I told her to stay there because I was coming to see her. When I got to her that night, followed soon thereafter by my cousin, we asked her if there was anything she “wasn’t telling us,” told her that because of the news media, criminal justice and DYFS “attention,” “all this stuff was going to come out anyway.” In hindsight, I doubt that this statement is even true. There is plenty of shit that gets “swept under the rug” in these cases. Sharine, like anyone else, may have been entitled to her secrets.

I asked if her boyfriend was abusive to her, told her that I would not judge her, even told her that I had been involved in an abusive relationship before. What I did not tell her was that my son’s father raped me. That I knew exactly what it was like to be 21, a single parent, in an abusive relationship with a man who drank, and used drugs and “didn’t have a pot to piss in.” I just showed up, pretending to be “family” alone.


10 thoughts on “The Architecture of Violence

  1. Words can hardly express…thank you for having the courage to put your family’s face on this tragedy. I wish that I had been old enough to do the same, old enough to be able to understand and talk about my 24 year-old cousin who murdered a man back in 1995. He was high on drugs, and had robbed the man and his sister’s house several times before. And our family was/is fucked up. On both sides. Or doing the best they can with what they have. Either interpretation works. Or I wish I was aware enough and courageous enough to write about the violence I witnessed growing up, and the dysfunctional teenaged relationships and encounters I had, and how without counseling I don’t think I’d be able to have a healthy, violence-free relationship now.

    Trauma separates us, even from our family. It makes me sad, but it also makes me angry. I loved you, and you hurt me. What gave you the right to do that? What gave you the right to change my world like that? That I can’t even communicate with those connected to me, those the universe gave me to, to raise me, to care for me?

    I pray that Dalaysia’s soul is at peace, that she is no longer afraid, and the person who hurt her and those who could have protected her but did not are brought to justice, either in this world or the next.

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  2. Oh Tanji: I cannot even begin to express my sorrow. God bless that baby and the rest of your family, and thank you for your courage in sharing your story. My prayers are with all of you. Big hug.

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  3. Like an architect, you’ve built a story, illustrating for us the structures and circumstances that failed to support and protect Sharine and Dalaysia. Girls, in particular, are vulnerable to this type of violence, in the US, and all over the world. As a civilization, we devalue our girls and women; treat them like objects, and abuse them. Why? You’re courageous for sharing Sharine and Dalaysia’s story, in addition to your own.

    My prayers are with you and your family during this difficult time.

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  4. Tanji, this is incredibly brave of you to discuss this so publicly. It helps so many people who have been in or are going through similar trials in life to know that they aren’t alone and to know that bad things happen. I hope that your sharing brings you some level of peace and I am praying for you and your family.

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  5. Thanks for the support. This past two weeks has been such a journey. Because of this blog, and the rally I attended today in my cousin’s honor, I have been able to speak out and I appreciate the safe space.

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  6. ….. praying a peace that surpasses human understanding for you and your family. Your courageous heart are CERTAINLY a blessing to those who know and love you.

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