LAURINBURG — After losing her mother at the age of 8, Pamela Morrow Blount was told that she and her siblings would never be functioning members of society.
That overheard conversation between her grandmother and a psychologist defined the course of Blount’s life as much as witnessing her mother’s stabbing at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, who broke into their home after her mother finally left their abusive relationship.
“I just remember hearing her screams and I remember feeling blood drops hit my shirt as he was stabbing her,” said Blount. “I can specifically remember her saying ‘Don’t let my children see me die,’ and that didn’t faze him at all.
“I had to live my whole life without my mother because he decided that if he couldn’t have her, nobody else could.”
Blount was one of three guest speakers during Friday’s Scotland County Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center fundraiser, featuring Pearls for Creative Healing’s “End the Silence” photography exhibit. Blount grappled with a frenzy of conflicting emotions both during her mother’s abusive relationship as well as in the aftermath of her death.
“You struggle with that because you don’t know if you’re happy she’s gone because now she’s out of this and she doesn’t have to deal with that, but how can you be happy because you don’t have a mom?”
Blount credits faith as a crucial part of her resolve to carry on and share her experience, in the hopes of inspiring other women suffering or recovering from abuse.
“I went on to finish high school, so did all of my siblings,” she said. “We went to college and we have families. I have a sister that’s a minister. Today we function by the grace of God.”
Of the more than 20 portraits of domestic violence survivors featured in the exhibit, all were black and white, with one subject wearing red shoes and another holding a knife, the blood of her abuser a stark red on the blade on the day she finally retaliated in the only way she felt able.
All of the photographs — such as one taken through the rear view window of a car with the gaze of the subject, sitting in the driver’s seat with one hand on the wheel, reflected in the rearview mirror and another of a woman sitting behind police tape over a chalk body outline symbolizing the death sentence hanging over her head while she remained with her husband — aimed to capture the spirit of their subject’s personal journey away from abuse, and the scars that will never heal.
The photos also reflected the sufferings of children caught up in abusive relationships, witness to all but powerless to change it. Prison bars were superimposed over the image of one woman, who was photographed wearing a shirt with a picture of her 23-month old son, killed by his father two days after she tried to leave him. The face of another subject was arranged in a triptych, with her hands over her eyes, ears and mouth to reflect the experience of her children during the time she was abused.
“To have to watch somebody kill your mama and you’re 8 years old, just stab her to death and the children have to watch that, and then you grow up and it’s heartbreaking, said Maria Dudley, a former domestic violence worker, of Blount’s photo and story.
Sandra Guynes, founder of Pearls for Creative Healing, named the organization in honor of domestic violence victims themselves, who like pearls become what they are through a harrowing ordeal.
“They’re like that nasty irritant that enters into a shell and then becomes this beautiful pearl,” she said. “It’s tough and beautiful and all the things that are formed from that terrible thing.”
The exhibit tours statewide, and most of the audiences fall into a hushed silence similar to the one hanging over more than 50 people at Scotland Memorial Hospital’s Dulin Center on Friday when survivors share their stories.
“The exhibit is about ending the silence for these women — for their stories to be told, everyone else has to be quiet for a minute,” Guynes said.
Also, Guynes aims to pass on stories of domestic violence like an heirloom string of pearls in order to bring about domestic violence awareness and activism. Speaker Alceen Ford-Meggett, who along with her mother suffered her father’s verbal and emotional abuse — and later physical abuse at the hands of her second husband — said that ignorance of domestic violence is all too common.
“People still don’t want to talk about it, and they still want to keep it a secret even when it’s staring them right in the face.”
Though they may have remained silent, some attended Friday’s fundraiser as a step in their own emotional journey away from domestic violence.
“It’s so touching listening to someone talk about that,” said Amber Marcengill of Hamlet. “I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum as the product of alcoholic addicts, so I saw a lot of stuff growing up and unfortunately I put myself in the same situation.
“This is now a chance, being older, wiser, smarter to be able to support others and see what others have gone through.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.