When Being an African Lesbian Mother Became a Crime
When Being an African Lesbian Mother Became a Crime
By daring to speak and live her truth as a lesbian, Zimbabwean immigrant and mother of two Ruth Marimo knew she was endangering her life.
Ruth Marimo was a mother, Zimbabwean immigrant, abuse survivor, and lesbian. In this excerpt from OUTsider, read about the night her ex-husband turned all that against her to add one more identity: inmate.
I find myself sitting on a shiny metal stool, writing on a shiny metal table, wearing an orange outfit with big black letters that say CASS COUNTY JAIL. Tears are streaming down my face and falling like raindrops onto the paper on which I'm trying to write. The cold temperature of the room infuses a chill right into the core of my weak bones.
"What's my crime?" you ask. I'm an alien — illegal in this foreign land, put here in this jail cell by the person I've spent the last seven years of my life with, the person with whom I bore two beautiful children, the citizen to whom I'm still legally married, the person who nearly took my life a little over a month ago.
I had separated myself from Ted at the beginning of the year. It was September 20, 2008. In my heart and mind, I had no emotional, physical, or spiritual ties to Ted. Legally, we were still married, but I had started the process of acquiring a lawyer. Because I knew that he would turn my immigration status against me, I had started to look into what options I had to obtain legal residency without him. …
When I had confessed to Ted my feelings toward other women … he used this as an excuse and a means for where all the blame would lie. … That's how complicated my world is now. I was daring to indulge in the part of me that always existed, but I was also endangering my life. I was still married to a man whose anger was unsurpassed.
He would, without a doubt, make my life a living hell.
November 9, 2008 was the day of his most brutal attack on me. I cannot say I had known this day would come, in the way it came. I knew there would be an eventual showdown — I just never envisioned this.
It was a Sunday and Ted had not shown up all weekend, not even to get his kids. It was after 10 at night and the kids were fast asleep, both of them in bed with me, for we would have an early day the next morning.
In my sleep, I could hear the door opening downstairs. I had locked and chained the front door, so Ted was letting himself in through the garage door.
The next thing, he was standing above me, mad, and screaming at me. "You have another thing coming! You know that? Reality is going to hit you real hard. This is the biggest mistake you ever made, and I will make you regret the day you were born."
"Okay, Ted, do whatever you need to do. The kids and I are sleeping, and we have an early day tomorrow. Please just let us sleep."
"Get out of that bed right now. Those kids are mine, not yours. Their name is Browner, not Marimo. They're Americans, okay? Not Africans! You hear me." His tone was getting angrier, his voice rising.
"Please, Ted. You can't wake the kids. Please, can you just let me sleep? I have to work in the morning."
"Well, I have all your documents, and you're going to pay, Africa."
I could see that he would not leave it alone. I decided to get up out of bed to remove the noise from the room and avoid disturbing our sleeping angels, because that's exactly what they looked like in their sleep. The children were so peaceful and so free, with no idea what was about to take place in their home, between the two people who had brought them into this world.
As I was walking, he was shadowing me. I was inquiring about the whereabouts of my documents. As I reached the kitchen, I turned to face him. Without hesitation, he kicked me in the torso with a boot-encased foot. I landed hard on the ground.
He followed me there with a barrage of fists. I did my best to cover my face, but it seemed to be his main target. He punched me with such force and power. He stood and replaced his fists with his boots, pounding at my head and face, then my torso. I started to beg him, please not to kill me.
I had never seen him this enraged. His entire face and neck looked red. He was shouting obscenities and telling me that today was my dying day. I believed him. He was much too strong for me to try to fight. I was simply holding on to life, glad that at least my children were sleeping and not witnessing this.
Seemingly tired of punching and kicking me, he grabbed my throat with both hands and started to squeeze. I was 28 years old and this was the way I would die. I felt my life slipping away. I became dizzy and faint. I could no longer resists or try to shield myself. I was lying limp on the ground, reduced to a dwarf by this man who had transformed into a Hulk-like figure right before my eyes. I was not sure how much time went by, but he released me, as if transformed back into a human being.
He frantically searched for the phone to make a 911 call. I lay motionless for a few minutes, but I could hear him telling whoever was on the other line about how I had attacked him with a knife and how he tried to defend himself. Something moved me to get up off the ground. My head was heavy and pounding, as if I had been struck with a hammer. There was chocolate pudding smeared all over the tiled kitchen floor.
I found my phone to make a 911 call to say I had been beaten. I ran outside the front door in an effort to find safety. I could feel my forehead swelling. Flashing lights appeared in both directions of Parkview Boulevard.
An officer ran toward me with something drawn, asking, "Where is the knife? Drop the knife."
"I have no knife. He is lying. I never had a knife."
"Let me see your hands."
I put both hands up, as if to surrender, to show the approaching officers that I was not the threat my attacker had painted me to be. As the first officer got close to me, the first thing he said was, "Wow, your head is swelling!"
"Can I get some ice?" I asked.
"Stay out here. We will get it for you."
The cop entered the premises, while another started to question me about the events that led up to this point. I told them my version, which was, of course, entirely different from the one Ted was telling the officers inside.
The officers traded places. The ones inside came out to question me, while the ones questioning me went inside to question him. Someone gave me an ice pack, which I held to my bulging forehead. My head felt bumpy everywhere I touched. My right eye began to shrink. The officers spent about 45 minutes investigating both our stories and the scene. They came out and told me that they had decided to put him under arrest. He had yelled something about me being an illegal immigrant the minute the police arrived. I was escorted to my basement in order to be out of his path as they escorted him to the waiting police car.
On December 31, 2008, I was awakened by a ruckus outside my bedroom window. The noise of people talking had also awakened Chrissy, who lay next to me. I got out of bed and walked to my bedroom window and looked out. Two black cars were parked behind my Red Nissan and Chrissy's white Honda. On the street, an SUV was also parked. I couldn't tell how many Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were out there, milling about, wearing badges and bulletproof vests.
My heart immediately sank. I knew exactly who those people were and, furthermore, who it was that they were after. The knock came. Chrissy, bewildered and worried, demanded to know what was happening.
"I don't know. Stay here," was all I could say. When I answered the door, an imposing redheaded man had a large image of me on his clipboard.
"Are you Ruth Marimo? Can we talk to you about the protection order you have against your husband?"
This was an unnecessary lie for him to tell. It was Ted who had brought them to my door, so I knew they were not at all concerned about the protection order I had against him.
When three of them let themselves in, two men and a woman, one man remained outside. In case I tried to run for it, I guess. Before they even began to interrogate me, I begged for them to let me tell my sleeping friend to leave. The red-haired men, instead, demanded she join us all in the kitchen.
"No, I insist this has nothing to do with her. I want her to go," I stressed.
The lady interrupted her colleague. "Okay, tell her to go."
I went back to the bedroom and said, "I'll explain everything later. Please do me a favor and leave."
Chrissy tried to protest; but from the look on my face, she seemed defeated and threw on some clothes. She made her way out, passing through the demeaning figures who stood in my hallway. I managed a quick hug. I could see the guy outside go after her toward her car.
I took a seat at the kitchen table. My heart was pounding; my rib cage was almost giving way.
"What's your legal status here, ma'am?" was the first question.
I answered honestly, telling them all about where my status was and my recent attempts to adjust it through Catholic Services.
They next inquired about my job. Again, I was stupid enough to be honest.
When a person is arrested, the police usually say, "Whatever you say can and will be used against you." I found out the hard way that this was true.
Before this, I was working as a [registered nurse], saving American lives. I had paid taxes since my very first job in this country. I had worked long and hard and put all my heart into every job I ever had. Besides my immigration status and my inability to disclose the truth about that — in order to survive — I had always been honest about everything else I did.
I was a model worker — ironically, a model citizen. I had even saved a choking baby! I had made people's lives better with my care as a nursing assistant, then as a nurse. Still, here I sat, not having killed anybody or stolen from anyone, having been legally married and still married to an American citizen for almost six whole years. My husband had the power to put me in a cold room with nothing, and it would require $25,000 for me to even get out of that situation.
On borrowed paper, the day after my incarceration, I had written a letter to my new best friend and the very first woman in my life, Chrissy. I apologized frantically for the scene that had taken place in her presence, somehow trying to explain the situation and my innocence. I pledged my love, but I also admitted that it was possibly over, voicing my understanding if her decision was not to continue this anymore. I was sure that was what she would be forced to do. …
That day, with my calling card, I dialed Ted's cell number. After the recorded warning by the message, informing him he was receiving a call from an inmate, he answers.
"What do you want?"
"I just need to tell my kids I love them."
"Well, now you know how it feels, don't you? I went two whole months without seeing them—"
I cut him off by saying, "Look, you won. You got me here. All I'm asking is to tell Chido and Simba that I love them. I don't have much time."
He hesitated, then called out their names.
Chido came on the phone. "Mom, are you in jail because you broke the law?"
"Yes, honey, I am in jail, but listen to me, okay? I want you to know that I love you so much, and I'll always love you, even if you don't see me for a really long time, okay?"
I couldn't push back the tears. After saying she loved me, too, she worriedly gave Simba the phone.
"Are you in jail, Mommy, cuz you're a bad person?"
"Handsome Boy, I need you to know that Mommy loves you so much, and that I'll always love you for as long as I live, okay?"
"But why are you sad, Mommy? Why are you crying?"
"I am crying because I miss you so much, and I wish I could hug you and kiss you."
"I love you, Mommy."
"I love—" Before I could finish, someone hung up the phone.