December 2011. This month’s featured veteran is Evelyn Thomas. This is her unedited story, in her own words.
My Mother’s Letter
Last Saturday, for the first time in years, I went to the beach, pulled off my shoes and socks, place my feet in the cold Pacific Ocean. I began my journey of transformation into the new me. For many years (21 years to be exact), I lived in this deep dark dungeon of pain, guilt, shame, and anger. To the outside world, I appeared to have it all together.
I was a college graduate with a Master Degree in Education. I was secondary educator. I earned local prestige for mentoring 10 students to begin a Gay Straight Alliance; in the school’s 100 year history. I was the first in my family to attend college. I honorably served in The Army National Guard and The U.S. Marine Corps. My wife and I were one the 18,000 of LGBT couples to get married in the State of California. Finally, I was held a national hero for my advocacy work to Repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
Little did anyone know is that I was suffering in a deep-seeded anguish of pain from the death of my son. Taj Amin Thomas was born on June 14, 1990. Taj is my only child. My pregnancy was the result of a rape. I was sexually assaulted by my superior officer. The father of Taj was my rapist.
Taj lived for a day. I held the tiny body of my son in my hands; all one-pound seven ounces of him. His green eyes looking up at me, I remember saying to him, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry I did not protect you. His body so frail, I could see the many blood vessels and veins throughout his body. I could feel the very beat of his heart.
The first time I held my son, was the last time I held him. I felt the very last beat of his heart and his spirit escaped his body. Apart of my soul died that day. My life would never be the same. The one part of me that was pure and good died. I became emotionally numb. The pain was too unbearable for me to handle.
I lived in a dark abyss for 21 years. I lived an emotional numb existence. I had anger outbursts. I began to drink every night. Anyone and everyone that cared about me, I pushed away. I went days without any sleep; the nightmares of the attack, the violent dreams of murder and torture of my rapist. I had anxiety attacks. I did not trust people. I feared people. I became a recluse a prisoner of my own home.
In January 2011, when I nearly lost my life, is when I got the courage to ask for help. On a rainy day, I drove along a west to east interstate. I changed lanes and swerved to miss a truck that pulled in front of me. My truck rose up on the right tires. The truck nearly flipped over. When I finally stopped, my truck faced north and south. I stopped all the traffic on the interstate, and was nearly rammed by 4 on-coming vehicles. This was my wake-up call. I need help.
This is the first time, since the death of Taj, I have spoke of the traumatic events that lead to the pregnancy. It was in early 1990, I was a young woman. Two years out of high school, with one semester of college, a graduate of 2 military boot camps (Army & U.S. Marine Corps), one-year of experience in the Army as a Logistics: Material Storage and Handling Specialist, on Memorial Day Holiday Weekend in May 1988 I began my career in the U.S. Marine Corps with the 1st Marine Division Headquarters Battalion Supply Company. I reported to duty on a Friday, a three-day holiday weekend. I was temporarily placed in transitional housing, The Women’s Barracks.
Within in a month I was transferred to Supply Company, placed in coed housing, single Marine barracks. I shared a barrack’s room with another female Marine. This was a short experience. I enjoyed knowing her. I wonder what ever happen to her. She encouraged me to join the company’s women’s baseball team. She played short-stop. I played third base. She was the first openly gay woman I met serving in the military. This was in the late 1980s, a time when it was taboo, forbidden, and against the law to be gay and serve in the military. It was during the “ban on homosexuals” serving in the military. I met her just a few months before she was discharged from the military. She received a Court Martial. She once told me, they offered her a deal. “If she would give them the names of the other lesbians in the company, she could remain in the military”. She said, “I could not do it”. Still to this day, I remember the smile on her face as she walked away forever.
I thought about how just a year ago, I was questioned by my Army boot camp drill instructors. I was stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I was assigned to 1st Training Brigade 3rd Battalion 61st Infantry Regiment Delta Company. A month into boot camp, I’m sitting in my platoon sergeant’s office, with 5 drill instructors staring at me. I was interrogated, questioned about the sexuality of two female Army recruits, “Were they homosexuals?” “Have I witnessed anything unusual, funny, or sexual between the women?” I answered no to both questions. Then I was asked, by my platoon sergeant, “Are you sure”. I replied, “I am sure.” An entire day of training was halted to conduct an intensive hands-on investigation. In which 8 women were questioned. The same group of women, for about a month, that spent their entire free-time huddle around two bunks, sharing stories, laughing and crying, while the women in question, performed a massage. This bonding time happen every night. It became popular. It got us through the toughest days of boot camp. Sadly, it ended, due to the investigation. All 8 women remained in the military.
Now when, I reflect back on this experience. I was young and naïve and had little knowledge of military law. I think about how this investigation actually was an inquisition, a witch hunt. I can lay my head down on my pillow and sleep with ease knowing I did not play a role in the character assassination of those two female Army recruits. I thought what a year it has been.
After baseball, I tried out and made the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Basketball Team. It was a great time in my life. I was happy. I had a full time job. I had an honorable job. I earned a Good Conduct Medal. I was promoted. I was playing my favorite sport basketball. Since the age of 12, I spent all of my social time at the neighborhood basketball courts or at the local community center playing basketball. I played all through middle school and high school. My high school basketball coach went on to coach the USA Women’s Olympic Basketball Team. It was a good time in my life. This happiness did not last too long.
I eventually got two roommates. However, I was removed from this barracks room in placed in isolation. My roommates broke into my footlocker, stole a letter, read it, and gave it to my commanding officer. In the letter my mother asked me about a woman I was dating at the time. This was enough information to begin an investigation into my professional and personal life. I was ordered to report to the company commander. In his office, the captain read me my Miranda Rights. He stated, “Your roommates are afraid of you. They you will do something to them, because you’re a lesbian. Are you a homosexual?” Literally shaking in my boots, I replied no.
That very day, I was isolated from female and male Marines. I was placed in a room along. For a month, my room was trashed. I was harassed on a daily basis. This is when the rape occurred.
A Lance Corporal, my superior, betrayed my trust and used his color of authority to commit the heinous crime. I was raped in my barracks room. After attempting to report the rape to another superior officer, instead of dealing with the crime, I was transferred to a different battalion. The Marine was never charged with a crime. My superior never reported the rape. The Marine was never prosecuted. My pregnancy was the result of a rape.
I had a tough decision to make. I was pregnant with my rapist child. Will I keep the baby or will I get an abortion. Could I live with myself knowing that I aborted my child? Will I regret my decision? Every year when I celebrate the baby’s birthday, will I remember the rape? What will I say about the father? How will I explain what happen to me? All these questions popped in my mind. But still deep in my heart, I kept feeling that life was growing inside me. I have the gift of life within me. I could not destroy a life that is pure and innocent.
I decided to keep the baby. One night, at 5 months and 3 weeks into the pregnancy my water broke. I immediately went to the Navy Hospital. Doctors could not explain the reason why my water broke in such an early stage of the pregnancy. The next morning, 8 male doctors entered my room. They tried to persuade me to get an abortion. The statements they made, “your baby will spend the 1st year of their life in the hospital. He will be mentally and physically handicapped. It will be too difficult for you to handle. Your still young and vibrant, you can have another child some day. You should abort the child.” I replied, God has the final say. I want you to do everything possible for the survival of my child.
I was transferred to a military hospital with a pediatric intensive care unit. The plan was to keep me in the hospital for the duration of my pregnancy. However, if I show signs of depleting health, the doctors concerns would be to save my life not my child’s.
I was placed on a heart monitor. Taj was placed on a heart monitor. I heard his heart beat for the very first time. Every night I fell asleep to his heart beat. Every morning I woke up to his heart beat. The beat of his heart gave me strength to handle this scary experience. Every few hours, the nurse would check my vital signs and extract blood. Just in case Taj needed a blood transfusion at birth. I bonded with my son. He was alive to me.
When my water broke, it released the amino fluid surrounding Taj. He was not protected and I was not protected from developing an infection; an infection would place my life in danger. A week had passed. On the morning of June 14, 1990 (about 0730) I developed a 101 degree temperature. This was a sign to the doctors I had developed an infection. The doctors decided to induce my labor. When the nurse shot the drug into my IV tube, Taj’s heart beat rapidly changed. It was about 9 that night and I only dilated 1 centimeter, and my temperature was increasing to 103 degrees. The doctors made the decision for an emergency caesarian, because my life was in danger. It was a life birth.
The first time I held my son, was the last time I held my son. He weighed one-pound seven ounces. He was delivered, through an emergency caesarian section, at 6 months. His small body, transparent skin; I could see the tiny blue, red veins and blood vessels all over his body. Taj in my arms, I felt the very last beat of his heart. I looked into his green eyes, I just kept repeating, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry I did not protect you.”
For the first time, I can grieve for my son. I can shed tears for him. Yes, I am a survivor of Military Sexual Trauma. I am a veteran with PTSD. Yes, this has caused me many daily challenges in my life. But it does not define me.