For most people, middle and high school are hard years. In fact, most of us just try to survive them and then breathe a sigh of relief and head off to jobs or colleges where we can essentially start our new lives. For other people, the years are even harder, which was the case for Kimberle, a black woman growing up in a predominantly white area in Oregon. Kimberle already was dealing with “colorism” within the black community (where favoritism tends to go to light-skinned people versus darker-skinned people), so when she moved to Eugene during her middle school years, she also encountered blatant racism head on.
“I was made fun of for my dark skin but also because I was so thin,” Kimberle recalled. “I was called horrible things like ‘tar-baby’ and ‘burnt match’. I was also from the South and had an accent, so often I was told to repeat myself so people could understand me. I really struggled at first.” She struggled so much that her parents decided it was best to have her stay with relatives in Detroit for a year to prepare her to move back, which she did at the start of high school.
But there was one boy who took a genuine interest in Kimberle, but he was also her brother’s best friend. “He seemed like he really liked me for me,” she recalled. It may have been this ‘real’ attention that caused Kimberle to overlook some red flags with the boy--he already had issues with marijuana and some drinking in high school. “But I was really hurt when he broke up with me,” Kim said. His reason was that he was worried about Kimberle’s brother’s feelings about the relationship, and so he broke it off. “I really felt he was choosing my brother over me.”
During college, Kimberle found herself drawing the attention of men who always had a way of making her feel poorly about herself. One man in particular gave her a laundry list of how she could look differently in order to be ‘beautiful.’ It was during this time that she met her son’s father who she calls, “a big lapse in my judgment.” He was abusive, and a gang member without a job. Kimberle realizes he wasn’t a great choice, but she said she is grateful that she got her son out of the relationship.
Around this time, her brother’s friend from high school called to reconnect with her. Kimberle talked about the fact that he doggedly pursued her attention, but she was still angry with him for the way he broke up with her in high school. “I wasn’t very nice to him,” she admitted. But when she discovered she was pregnant, he (her brother's friend) was the only one that didn’t disappear on her. “He told me he loved kids, which surprised me about him.” He went on to join the Marines, however, when Kimberle wouldn’t move to Eugene to be with him.
Kimberle went through a pretty dark period during this time while trying to deal with her son’s dad. “I was trying to get him to help me watch my son while I was working,” she explained, “but when I confronted him about issues I was seeing, he became physical with me.” It put her in such a dark place, that she attempted to take her own life. “I was put in the psych ward but it I had a revelation while I was there,” she explained, “I was going to pull my life together and start over.” Life started to fall into place for Kimberle and her son--she found a new apartment immediately within her budget and childcare that worked in her favor. Almost immediately after starting to get back on her feet, her high school boyfriend finished his stint in the Marines and asked to move in with Kimberle. “I said yes,” she said.
The ex-boyfriend (now current boyfriend) was clearly an alcoholic from the start. He would often blackout and Kimberle said their house was almost “decorated” with empty alcohol bottles. He was also not very nice to Kimberle’s son. Kimberle’s therapist at the time suggested that her boyfriend just “didn’t understand kids” since he didn’t have any of his own. After an initial roller coaster of a start to their new relationship, her boyfriend proposed to her and they eloped shortly after that.
Kimberle and her husband decided it was best for her to be a stay at home mom to their daughter after she was born. They both agreed she would do this until their daughter entered kindergarten. But even though things looked good on the outside, her husband was continuing to drink, and his relationship with Kimberle’s son was getting worse. “He never told my son he was proud of him. I had to force him to spend any time with my son...he was not investing in my son in any way.”
When her son was 13 years old, he told a friend that he was thinking of taking his own life. As a result, her son was placed into a facility, and part of his program was family therapy. It was there that Kimberle’s son made a brave confession: he felt like his stepfather didn’t like him and that was a big part of what made him feel like taking his own life. His stepfather, however, treated the therapy sessions like this was simply his stepson’s way of getting attention and a ultimately, a huge waste of time. Instead of therapy helping things get better at home, it started her husband into a deeper spiral.
“He started drinking more,” Kimberle explained, “he was doing things like punching holes all the way through doors.” It was at this point that a friend overheard Kimberle and her husband fighting severely. “I called my friend to make sure she got home, and she said she was surprised to hear from me. She thought I might be dead because of what she overheard.”
Later, her husband asked her if the Lord helped her. “I was thinking that it was a strange question, but I thought maybe he was asking because he knew how important faith was in my life and maybe he wanted to finally get help from his drinking and anger issues through the church.” When Kimberle replied, “Yes, the Lord helps me,” her husband replied, “Good. Because I feel like I’m going to do something crazy.” It was the last straw. Kimberle, in fear of what may happen to them, took her children and went to a friend’s house.
Her husband tried to get Kimberle to return, but she refused. “I even cancelled our daughter’s birthday party, because we didn’t have anywhere to hold it, and I was not going to do it at the house with my husband.” she said. Her husband decided to go to a rehabilitation program, which he did for a month. When he finished the program, he decided to let Kimberle and the children return to the home, and he would move out and continue to pay some of the bills. He did not follow through, however, and Kimberle found herself struggling to make ends meet. She struggled for a long while to find a decent job, even though she had her Bachelor’s degree. After the encouragement of her mom and family, she got licensed and started selling insurance, following in their footsteps.
Kimberle is currently in the process of divorcing her husband, but she wanted to tell her story as a cautionary tale to other women to let them know they don’t have to settle. They don’t have to take the next person who shows them attention. Her focus now is simply learning that it’s ok to be by herself. “When I think back on it, I held my friends in much higher regard than I did the person who was supposed to be the closest person to me,” she said. “It’s so much better to be by yourself than be with someone who doesn’t value you at all.” When she thinks back over her relationship, she admits she wasn’t really that into him from the start, “but he wasn’t a good choice but he showed me all this attention, so I thought he must really care about me. I thought he was all I could get.”
Today Kimberle is finding her own voice, the voice that lifts herself high and tells her she is worthy. She has a great support system in her friends--they know she is working on finding her value, so she is working on allowing them to build her up while also telling her what she needs. She listens to podcasts, prays, journals, and continues to go to therapy. Church is also a large part of her journey. “I do whatever I can to flood my mind with positive messages.”
Kimberle has also learned to recognize that how she feels about herself is reflective of the people she interacts with. It reminds me of Proverbs 23:7 “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Meaning, how we feel about ourselves inside (or even subconsciously) will be reflected outwardly in our lives. We sometimes want to look for the answers as to “why is this happening to me” in the outside world, but perhaps the answer is instead within us. Kimberle is an example of looking inwardly on ourselves makes us vulnerable but it also makes us stronger. I so appreciate Kimberle having the courage to look within and share her story with the world. May you also find the courage to do so.
DISCLAIMER: #seetheinvisible stories are stories told to me, nothing more, nothing less. I make no judgment as to their claims of validity of facts or circumstances, but rather I see myself only as the conduit people choose to help tell their story to the world. It's my hope that through the process of bringing this story to the public, it will foster connection, inspiration, and brotherhood. One human to another. I hope that by reading others' invisible stories, you find a bit more of your own story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nicole Severson is the owner of Nicole Severson Photography in Beaverton, Oregon. While she adores all types of photography, her heart lies in photographing families through documentary photography. She grew up in small-town Wisconsin where she was a middle school English teacher for 13 years. Storytelling has always been a theme in her life, and when she started photography professionally five years ago, she knew she had found the perfect outlet to tell stories in a visual way. Photography finally beat out teaching (it was a hard fought battle, though), and after resigning from teaching, she and her family moved to Oregon to be close to her oldest son (she is self-proclaimed “bad empty-nester”) and to restructure her photography business into a full time gig. Her newest venture is blog titled #seetheinvisible in which she talks to people about their invisible every day stories and visually tells their story through a photo essay component, which she hopes to continue doing well into the future.