If you’ve been a follower of mine for a while, you’ve likely noticed the changes. About a week ago I announced on my FB page that I was changing my name and I gave a brief explanation as to why. Today for the first time publicly, I want to explain the ins and outs of this name change and why I finally felt ready to.
First, I have to tell you a story. It’s a story I wish my late mother could have told and it’s one I think she would have one day felt strength enough to tell, but she didn’t get to before she passed. And usually I am not one for telling the stories of others, but because this one involves my very existense, I want to tell it now, believing in my core that she would want me to share it without fear or shame.
I am an illegitimate child. My biological parents were barely dating when I was conceived and to my knowledge, my biological father has no idea I am his. He did see that my mother was pregnant so he was aware, but she opted not to tell him that I was his specifically. There are reasons for this. But, you have to go back several years to find them.
My mother was married at 17 years old, a week shy of her 18th birthday. She married her first husband, 3 years older than her, and together they started a family. My mother gave birth to my older sibling and then when that sibling was almost two years old, my mother and her first husband divorced.
After their divorce she was in her mid-twenties and enrolled in college. She and her first husband shared custody of my older sibling and for the first time in her life she was dating and experiencing her young adulthood. Through her roommate she met my biological father, a law student at the University of Alabama, and they entered a casual, physical relationship.
During this time she was also seeing her ex on a regular basis because of sharing custody of my sibling and on a few occasions they were also sexually intimate.
Sometime in the fall of 1984, my mother realized she was pregnant. She knew she had been using birth control with her ex, but on a few occasions had not with her casual hookup, my biological father. And the timing of my conception lined up with her encounters with him. She knew I was his and she panicked.
My mother did what made sense to her: she called her own mother. And her mother urged her to tell her first husband that the baby was his, ask him to consider remarrying, and then just put the whole thing behind her. My mother didn’t want this. She didn’t want to remarry that man and she didn’t want to walk away from her freedom. But this was Alabama in the ’80’s. A single mother trying to go to college and support two children would not have had much help or kindness. So, she did as she was told.
She called up her first husband, told him the child she was carrying was his, and they quietly remarried quickly after. No one in the family spoke a word about the scandalous timing and their first divorce was never mentioned again. Everyone on both sides of the family agreed not to speak of it and to never mention it to the children (my siblings and I).
My mother and her first husband went on to have my younger sibling after I was born and they remained married until we were all in our early teens. At this point they divorced after hating each other for years. Their marriage and our home life was one marked with years of domestic violence, abuse, and sometimes sheer terror, all tucked away behind a happy facade.
From an early age I felt different from my “father” and his family. I loved him dearly and when I was a child he had moments where he was so full of love and grace and kindness. But, it always came at a cost. He was quick tempered, cold, and demanding. He frequently reminded us that we could have it so much worse and we should just be grateful he isn’t as abusive as his own father was.
When I was 4 he called my siblings and I into our living room to announce that he had physically assaulted our mother because during an argument she’d called him a “curse word”. I remember shifting my eyes to my mother sitting on a chair in the corner, her head hanging, the left side of her face red and swollen, her eyes half-open and staring at the floor, lips squeezed tightly together, trying not to cry in front of us.
I will never understand why he told us this. I will never understand why he paraded his abuse in front of my 2 year old sibling, my 7 year old sibling, and myself at just 4. I believe perhaps he wanted us to know that he was powerful and he was in control, even over her. Message received.
The abuse continued for years. Sometimes with him just landing blows and sometimes with both of them tied up together like cats. When they divorced the fighting didn’t end. One morning he came by the house. I do not know why. I woke up to the sound of screaming downstairs and the back door slamming. My bedroom window overlooked the driveway. I ran to it and stared out.
They were fighting. He was walking to his car and my mother was following. She screamed, “Leave my children alone!!!” She threw fists. When he tried to get into his car, she shoved her weight against the car door. He punched her and pushed her back. She fell to the ground. He tried to get into his car again, but she reached for him. He pushed her down to the ground, lodged a knee in her chest, pinning her arms beneath it, grabbed a handful of hair at the nape of her neck, and got down into her face. He threatened her life, through gritted teeth, before springing up and into his car.
Within a few hours he was arrested. Police collected photos of my mother’s face, neck, and arms, covered with scratches and bruises. I will never forget the bruises. According to her statement, he’d begun hitting her inside the house and she snapped. She followed him out because she wanted him to never come around the house or her children again. He was charged with domestic battery. His father hired a lawyer and instead of jail time he was given Anger Management courses.
For the next 13 years of my life I grappled with the events of that morning. It took over a decade (and years of therapy) for me to understand that he was truly abusive and not just to her, but to his children as well.
We feared his big, leather belt and setting him off, which was terrifyingly easy to do. He would raise it high, and bring it down against our backsides. We weren’t allowed to cry or move. He’d command us to stand still and take our punishment and if we put our hands behind our backs to buffer the blows, he would simply hit our hands too, then add to our strikes as punishment for putting our hands there.
When I was 7 I told a lie. He took a bar of soap and shoved it into my mouth, screaming at me to bite it. I sobbed and bit into the soap. He shook it in my mouth like I was a puppy. He screamed into my face as I wept, the bar of soap too big for me and stretching my small mouth to the point where the corners of my mouth split, the suds seeping down the back of my throat, choking me.
He put me on my first diet and workout regimen when I was 9. He hated the thought of any of his children being chubby or “less than perfect”. He defended and to this day protects my rapist. He has spent his 60 years alive fueled by his carnal lust and his desire for power and keeping up appearances. All of his children now despise him with only one pretending not to, for reasons I don’t understand but I accept are their own choice.
I hate him.
I hate him more than my rapist. I hate him more than I have ever hated anyone. I hate him because I loved him and wanted only for him to love me back, and I was never good enough for him.
So, when I learned at 20 years old that he was not my biological father, I felt such a rush of relief. And when I cut him out of my life completely at 26, I felt freedom for the first time in my life.
But, I have carried his name with me these past 33 years. I have worn it in shame because I never want to be associated with him or his family or that name again. The name of liars. The name of abusers. The name of secrets. The name of shame.
I have borne that name for long enough. And now I am ready to release it.
I am in the legal proceedings to have his name removed from my identity. And I have chosen to take on my partner’s last name and a family name on my mother’s side: Moon. The Moon name appears only briefly, as it is several generations back. I chose this because while I wanted a family name, I also wanted my own identity, and the other names in my family are strong, common, and easily recognizable in my area. I want to be my own person. And so, I have chosen Moon, the maiden name of one of my ancestors, Mary Catherine (Moon) Calvert.
I’ve been thinking on this for over a year. When my mother passed away, suddenly many things came into focus. And additionally, I saw life as something that truly is special and worth celebrating. I can not celebrate my life while wearing the name of my mother’s abusive first husband, a man who is not even my father. So, I am legally releasing it and moving forward in my life.
So, hello. It is so nice to meet you.
My name is Tamara Moon-Graves. And I have so many more stories to tell.