Our vendors: Darnesha (The Curbside Chronicle, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA)

Interview by Sarah Richert, The Curbside Chronicle

Tell us a little bit about yourself.  Where are you from?

I am 24.  I moved from Houston to Oklahoma City almost three years ago. I grew up in Houston. I was really a fun, bubbly child.

I have an older brother, so I’m kind of a little boy on the inside, if that makes sense. We would watch a lot of wrestling together on TV. We stayed with my mom, and we shared a room until I was about 12. He would chew on my Barbie doll feet and we’d play fight to toughen me up. I definitely look up to him as a big brother.

You said you were raised by your mom – was your dad in the picture?

My dad was here and there. My parents separated when I was 3 years old.  My mom progressed into another relationship, and me and her boyfriend had some serious issues. He would fondle me. That’s when my mother and I’s relationship went down the drain. I was telling her about it and telling her I was going to report it, and she was telling me that she didn’t believe me or she wanted to record it happening to make sure. She was kind of lost in that department, so I felt like I had to make that decision for her and moved out of her house at the age of 13.

How old were you when that started?

It started when I was 12 after I had started developing. It was little things here and there, like I would go to sleep on the futon in the living room after school and he would touch my breasts under my bra. I had my eighth-grade dance and you know how you dress real nice – he was making remarks like, “you really look sexy,” and, “come on over here.”

Once I woke up with my pants unbuttoned and unzipped in my bedroom. He would try and break into my room at night – I had a deadbolt lock on my bedroom door. He’d try to pick my lock; I’d sleep with a knife under my pillow. I’d wake up every few hours and just look at the door. I wasn’t getting sleep; I was failing my classes.

He would punish me by taking my bedroom door off the hinges, letting me know that I didn’t have any privacy.  Those were the little ways of his to maneuver his way in.

Did his actions progress?

After a year, I’d had enough. I was looking forward to her trying to do something about it and she’d just ignore it. I didn’t want to say anything because I was trying to give her a chance, and I didn’t understand the situation being 12. If I hadn’t said anything or told my grandmother and got the police involved, then I probably would’ve been raped. But I’m glad that I do have a voice.

I tried to take him to court on my sixteenth birthday. It was her turn to get up to testify, and she didn’t want to get up there. The lawyer said he could get 5-10 years for what he had done to me, but he only ended up getting 5 years’ probation. It was a very hard process as far as our mother and daughter relationship.

How long has your mom been with him?

She’s been with him since I was 3 years old, and she’s still with him and married. She actually met him hitchhiking one day, and she’s been with him ever since he picked us up.

You said you moved out of your mom’s home when you were 13, correct?

I’ve been pillar to post since then, moving to my dad’s side of the family, then a few cousins on my moms’ side, and an uncle’s house. When I told my family, they were completely shocked. They didn’t know what they were going to do with me. I felt like I was a burden all the time, so I was very troubled as a teenager… But I made it. I graduated high school.  I do have a diploma and all.

What was high school like for you?

I did get picked on a lot. I wasn’t that popular. I didn’t have the popular shoes. I wasn’t in cheerleading or dating a football player or nothing like that. I did sewing and crochet class. I just really got picked on here and there. It was my name, my hair – I’d get called nappy-headed. Sometimes I wore flooded pants. But once I graduated and started embracing my name and myself, I became cool in my own way and people accepted me more. I was still finding myself in high school, and I still am, but I’m better at it than when I was 18.

What did you do after high school?

After that, I went to Houston Community College. I wanted to get an Associate’s [degree] in Science, but since I didn’t make good grades in high school, I had to take remedial classes and work my way up from there. I was doing pretty good until I got pregnant.

I met a man 22 years older than me. I was 19 and he was past 40. He lived across the street from my grandmother’s house. It was very embarrassing because everybody knew that we were talking, and I was meeting up with him around the corner. It was just bad as far as my mindset at that point in life.

What drew you to him?

My vulnerability. I felt like due to what happened to me as a kid, it was okay. And it confused my family about my past too. They began to wonder if I tried to come on to my mother’s boyfriend and if I’d been lying about him. That was very emotional because I was like, ‘Why would I want to be with an older man at the age of 12 years old?’ But they didn’t believe me.

What was it like getting pregnant?

I made the decision to get an abortion. It was terrible. But I knew how my grandmother would’ve looked at the situation. We were already having our own issues since I was a burden on her. I was working two jobs. I was taking classes. I really was trying to be more responsible. Everything was good until that happened.

We both made the decision together. He gave me the money and took me. It was terrible. You’ve got people outside protesting; they’ve got their signs up and their kids. I felt like it was going to come back and haunt me forever.

So, when I got pregnant again at 21, I decided to keep the baby. I felt bad about the first abortion. I felt like if it happened for a second time, maybe it was meant to happen. Maybe having this child would save me.

What was it like making that decision?

People have to make decisions. It may be better as far as the state paying money for a child that no one wants, as far as the child going through the system. It could have saved the child from the biggest heartache. That’s how I feel about it now. But in the beginning, I felt terrible about it.

I have to start being accountable for my decisions. I’m the one who decided to keep progressing the relationship. I could’ve ended it; I could’ve stopped him. I’ve done a lot of thinking on it. In the beginning, I felt like I did what I had to do. But now that I have a child, it’s harder. I think it was meant for me to have my daughter. She was meant to open up my eyes and help me forgive myself and my family for my past.

What’s the best part of being a mom?

I love running around with her and watching her smile. Picking her up, her calling me mom. It’s like, wow, she really looks up to me.  I really have to change my ways to give her the best life.

Change your ways?

I was embarrassed. I didn’t want people to know I had a child with somebody who was 22-years older than me. I was embarrassed I got myself in that situation, and I took a very long time to get myself out of it.

He would leave me and the baby at the house for days, and I don’t know where he’s at. He had a phone but wouldn’t answer it and then he would come back home and act like he’d done nothing wrong. And then he stopped working and we struggled to stay in housing. I started seeing a pattern of having a home one day to being homeless the next. I only stayed with him as long as I did because I was terrified to be a single mother. Because I saw the struggle. I saw that your goals don’t get met when you’re a single mom – like your dreams are shattered. I didn’t want to have her and feel like that. I still wanted to accomplish my goals and dreams. Even though I have flaws, I wanted to give this girl the best life I could. I finally said I would take the risk rather than repeat my history of poor decisions.

Can you tell us about your experience with homelessness?

When he would disappear with his friends, me and the baby would go to Star of Hope in Houston and we would sleep there overnight. I had this big diaper bag and you could put her inside of it. So, I made her like her own little bed out of it, and I just lay next to her on my mat in the shelter. Before I was pregnant with her, we would get into real bad fights and he would lock me out of my own apartment. I would sleep at a bus stop. I had an umbrella to cover me up, and I was just on the bench until he said I could come back in.  It was really a controlling type of relationship.

How did you finally leave him?

We had moved to Oklahoma City from Houston because he had friends up here and said he could get work. We were in an apartment at this point, and I was working a security job. I didn’t have a car. On weekdays, I would catch the bus. But on weekends, I would ride my bike from SW 59th St. to NW 50th St. for work. He would go to jail and I would just be stranded at the house with the baby, unable to make my shift. He wasn’t going to work. He was using his money for things other than rent. He would leave us all the time without warning. It was really hard to find stability.

I just couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t want to be homeless. I was tired of losing jobs because of him. I was tired of finding phones and stuff to pawn for money. I didn’t want to do any of it anymore. I had already left him mentally and I finally was ready to leave him physically… Right after I left him, doors started opening for me.

What doors opened?

Well, I found out about Curbside. That’s actually been saving my behind. I work for a staffing agency in addition to Curbside, but they don’t use me every day. There are days I’m not needed and out of work. But luckily, I have Curbside on those days… It has helped tremendously. There are times when I get out there as early as 6AM. I am able to make a living off of it. From my own experience, I can pay my bills because of Curbside.

How does it feel to be back in stable housing?

I have a house! No more rooming houses, no more bus stops, no more shelters, I have a full home with a backyard.  I feel great! I felt like I had to go through the worst things possible to get to this point. And I’m going to continue moving forward. I recently made a resume and am actively looking for more permanent work. I have a dream of becoming a registered Vet Technician.

Why a Vet Tech?

I’ve always loved animals.  I would feed the stray cats when I was staying with my grandma and she would get so mad. I had a cat named Bear when I was staying with my mom. She was gold and white. I would pick her up and give her baths. She was an alley cat, but I always put stuff on her like hats and clothes. I’ve just always been drawn to animals.

What are some of your hobbies?

I do like crocheting. People think I learned it from my grandma, but I actually learned it in middle school. We had a crochet club. I kinda wanna get back into that. My other hobby is gardening. I haven’t done it in a while. Now that I’ve got a house, I’m definitely looking forward to that. I like giving back to the earth. I like plants and watching them grow. I do have a sewing machine. I’ve made a quilt before and a dress. Those are a few things I do enjoy. I enjoy walks at the park to clear your mind. I want to try doing yoga. Simple things that put your mind at peace.

How do you feel about your future?

I feel like I’m in a good place. I definitely needed this time to heal. There’s always somebody out there doing worse than you. There’s always somebody out there doing better than you. But at the end of the day, everybody is running their own race at their own pace. And that’s something I had to learn. I feel like I’m getting to restart my life again. And whatever it is going to be, I know it’s going to be good from here on out.