From "Grace Will Lead Me Home" a memoir by Robin Givens, reprinted with permission from Miramax Books
I have known of God all of my life. I was raised Catholic, going to mass
every Sunday. When we had a special request of God we said the Rosary,
and if we were even more concerned we resorted to novenas. I believed
in God and, from every indication, God believed in me. Of course I
wanted God to be pleased with me, but most of all I wanted God to make
me happy . . . and indeed the relationship was quite rewarding. But ritual
and even religion do not ensure a relationship with God. It is by experiencing
God that we get to know him . . . and it is in knowing God,
truly knowing God, that we get to know ourselves. After years of ritual
and religion, I was finally introduced to God by Michael. I can say that
surely I know God by name. God has a way of getting your attention and
making sure you never forget. For me this relationship is . . . home.
I awakened at my usual time, though it had been a late night, especially
for the boys. I had let them stay up until just after we blew our
horns, threw our confetti, and kissed one another — Happy New Year!
They were in the deep and peaceful sleep that childhood permits, the
kind of restful sleep that grown-ups envy, since it brings such great
comfort and renewal. On my way to the kitchen, I stopped to close
Buddy's bedroom door. I lingered for a moment. He practically
looked like a man now at twelve years old, sprawled out in a bed
that until recently swallowed him up. We really need to have some more
shelves built, I thought, before continuing down the hall. Buddy is
running out of room for his tennis trophies. I reached Billy's room next.
Before I closed that door, I took a moment and smiled, as I breathed
in the fragrance of yet another blessing—my golden-haired six-year old
boy. Life has been good to me, I thought.
I headed through the living room and toward the kitchen. Draped
in a big, shaggy throw, my sister Stephanie was asleep on the sofa. We
had stayed up late sipping a little champagne and sharing some resolutions,
but mostly reminiscing about Christmas holidays as kids. She
decided to spend the night and was sleeping as peacefully as the boys.
I stood at the doorway to the kitchen and realized the boys would
be much more excited about chocolate croissants than with my making
eggs. I turned and tiptoed back to my bedroom, not wanting to
disturb anybody. I grabbed my down coat and a pair of boots from
the closet. I felt eager now. The time alone would be as much a treat
for me as the croissants would be for the boys. I stuffed the flannel
pajama pants I was wearing into my boots.
"Where are you going?" Stephanie asked, pushing her long
dreadlocks to one side as she lifted her head from the pillow.
"Sorry, I was trying not to wake you," I apologized. "I'm going
to get some breakfast for the boys. I was thinking about chocolate
croissants. Do you want something?"
"Chocolate?" She thought for a moment, fluffed the pillow, and
lay her head back down. "Too sweet for me . . . make mine plain."
"I won't be gone long," I assured her, as I eased out of the apartment.
And she simply answered, "We're fine. Take your time."
I stepped out into a bright day that felt more like the anticipation of
spring than the dead of winter. Not knowing quite where I was headed,
I walked. Alone for a rare moment, enjoying the silence, able to hear
my own thoughts — I kept walking. I took deep breaths along the way,
refreshed by the crispness of the cool air.
I replayed every moment of this holiday in my mind as I walked
across Fifty-fourth Street and headed north. I passed Petrossian's
where, on Christmas Eve, Mom and Stephanie had surprised me with
a belated birthday celebration. "Rob, can we take a break now?"
Stephanie had asked, pretending to be tired of shopping for toys.
They indulged me with champagne and caviar, and we laughed for
what seemed like hours. It was like old times.
I walked up Seventh Avenue, where only the night before the ball
had dropped into a new year. It appeared the city had already moved
on. The streets were swept clean. Only bits of confetti that had resisted
the brooms remained, and I spotted a black top hat made of
paper, with a bold fuchsia feather and silvery, sparkling numbers that
reminded me of the year I had just entered, anticipating it with love,
hope, and forgiveness — 2006. Forgiveness, in particular, had been a
long time coming.
I reached Columbus Circle. "Hey, Robin. How's it goin'?" yelled
a policeman standing with two other cops. I was delighted to answer
him: "Great!" "Happy New Year," they all said. I closed my eyes for
a moment and repeated to myself, "It is going great." I was as excited to be in New York as the tourists who were out first thing this New
Year's morning. I hadn't lived in New York for quite some time. I had
called several places home in an attempt to find one that would be
truly home — a place where I'd find warmth on the coldest days, light
on the darkest nights, and solace in times of suffering. But with my
family and so many friends here, the fact is that New York has always
been my home.
Yet there had been a time when this home did not provide the comfort
that it should, when being in New York meant living with a bit of
anxiety and fear. A memory from that time surfaced, a young woman
telling me, "He should have kicked your ass . . . he should have killed
you." I looked away from my friend — we had been engaged in a conversation.
She had coaxed me from my apartment, away from feeling
sorry for myself and out for a movie. Now I gazed into this stranger's
face distorted with anger. Through the venom I could still see the innocent
beauty of a girl who had to be in her early twenties, about the
same age I was then. And I marveled at a campaign of hate that led this
young woman to believe that another young woman deserved to be
brutalized. So when Michael threatened casually and with conviction,
"I don't have to kill you . . . I'll make it so bad you'll want to kill yourself.
You'll have to leave home, you won't feel safe anywhere," I believed
him wholeheartedly, and his words proved prophetic. There was really
no need for his warnings. And with every display of his power, I lost
more and more confidence. When I objected that a newspaper story
wasn't true, he simply responded, "I have the power to make the truth
what I want it to be." The lies seemed to sell papers, and they certainly
manipulated public opinion and fueled ill will. But most painful of all,
most frightening of all, they confirmed my husband's power. "If you
sling enough mud," I once heard Phil Donahue say, "some of it is
bound to stick."
Headed north on Broadway, I stared up at the street sign — Sixty-fifth
Street. I hadn't planned to walk that far, but certainly I was enjoying
it, despite the memories that at one time would have been quite
painful. I could now recall them with greater understanding, and I
could focus on happier, more recent events.
The boys and I had arrived in New York about a week before
Christmas. We spent the week shopping and just reveling in the city
and each other. The kids had been looking forward to snow but the
weather was more like spring. Now, I looked up again to see where I
was . . . Seventy-fourth Street. Just a few more blocks to Zabar's.
Stephanie and I did a lot of our growing up just a block away from
here. Mom always made sure we had something special from Zabar's
on holiday mornings, and I found myself making my way there now.
Perhaps that memory of childhood rituals, the desire to give my children
similar memories, had been leading me uptown all along. I felt
happy and hopeful and free. But above all else, I was thankful that
my present moment, my here and now, was beyond anything I could
Eightieth Street, finally. There was a short line, so I took a number
and waited at the counter. After a few moments, the counterman
yelled, "Number 64!" I waved my ticket and said, "That's me." He
smiled in recognition and said, "Hey, Robin, what can I getcha?"
"I'll take a dozen chocolate croissants," I answered.
"What, no pumpernickel? No rugelach?" he prompted, remembering
the specifics of my mother's usual order. I smiled back,
tickled by just how familiar I was to him and how familiar he was
"No, I'm just here to get chocolate croissants for my boys." Suddenly
I was bursting with pride, feeling I was continuing a family tradition
in, literally, my own special flavor.
"I bet they're getting big, huh? I haven't seen 'em in a long time,"
he went on.
"Really big," I answered, now smiling from ear to ear.
"Well, you're in luck, Robin — I have some chocolate croissants
right out of the oven."
Oops! I'd almost forgotten about Stephanie. "Make that ten chocolate
and two plain."
"You got it." He handed me the bag of chocolate croissants first —
"Careful, they're hot" — and then the bag of plain ones.
"You take care and say hi to your mom. And Robin — Happy
Once again, I was pleased to say "Happy New Year!" in return.
I left the store carrying both bags and a cup of coffee I'd gotten for
myself and headed down Broadway. I wondered if the boys might be
awake and asking for me. It was too warm for gloves so I pulled them
off and stuffed them into the pocket of my big down coat. This walk
had reminded me just how much I love New York, but it was also difficult to put out of my mind the reasons why I felt I'd had to leave
my home, the events that had shaken my family loose from its core,
but not from each other. My mom added extra locks and an alarm
to an apartment that for years had been kept safe simply by the protective
scrutiny of our doormen. The safety and, most of all, the sanctity
of home felt violated
I fumbled in my pocket, past the gloves, and pulled out my cell
phone. I scrolled down the stored numbers and stopped at one in
particular. I felt anxious about making this call. My legs felt a bit
weak and my head felt a bit light, but actually I felt a bit lighter too.
There was a bench in front of a coffeehouse near Seventy-second
Street. My heart was pounding and I took the liberty of sitting
there, cell phone in hand, as I sipped my coffee and drifted off in
thought . . .
"Rob, come on! Ma told us to hurry up," Michael said, rushing
down Broadway. But I wasn't trying to hurry or even keep up.
"Michael, the snow is so great!" I yelled as he got farther away. On
my hands and knees in the fresh snow, I made a couple of snowballs
to catch him by surprise.
"Will you come on?" he called once again.
"No," I answered, as a snowball struck him in the chest.
"Rob, stop it," he said, dusting the snow off his coat, unfazed by
my attack. "Do you have the list?"
"No," I answered again, throwing another snowball. This one was
even less successful than the first, as he turned away so it never even
touched him. I became a little pouty. He wasn't playing and my snowballs
were all duds.
"What do you mean, 'no'? Ma gave you the list. I know I saw it."
He was taking this shopping far too seriously.
"It doesn't matter. I don't need a list, I already know what to get. I
don't know why she bothers to write a list anyway." Maybe now he'd
relax and play a bit. "She always gets the same thing," I went on, preparing
another snowball. "Everybody in Zabar's knows what she gets.
Every holiday breakfast, it's the same thing. Pumpernickel bread, brie,
mango chutney, whitefish," I said, walking toward him. "Salmon roe,
roasted red peppers, and a loaf of French bre—" Bam! What felt like a
boulder of snow covered my face and pushed me back onto my butt.
Even before I'd had a chance to throw my latest bullet, he'd gotten me.
I screamed, "I can't see! I can't see!"
"You can see, Rob," he said, bending over to wipe the snow off
my face. "Open your eyes, silly."
"That hurt," I said.
"It did not," he said, kissing my cold cheek. "You should have
seen your face. Pow!" He laughed, pretending to fall back into the
snow, mimicking the way I'd looked when his snow-bomb hit. Now
I was laughing too. "You were so busy running your mouth, you
didn't see it coming." There were times when I just loved his laughter,
when it was warm and comforting. Those were the times when
he was the very definition of a friend.
He pulled me to my feet, dusted off my coat, and hugged me
tight. "You're cold," he said, holding my chilled hands in his to warm
them. "I love you," he whispered in my ear. And with a loving pat on
the butt, he said, "Let's go, Rob."
"Hello? Hello? Robin, are you there?" The voice jolted me from
my memory. I'd nearly forgotten that I had pressed the "send" button
on my phone. I hesitated to answer . . . but only for a brief
"Mom, it's me." But of course she knew that already. The pounding
of my heart made it hard to hear my own thoughts . . . but there
was only one thought that was truly important. I took a breath, a deep
cleansing breath, and let it out.
"Please forgive me." I'd already said I was sorry at least a thousand
times over the years, and heaven knows I was sorry I'd brought
him into her life. But there was something different about today. I
had let go of the past and I had forgiven. I had forgiven Michael, and
nothing is more empowering than the act of forgiving. True forgiveness
is simply, purely redemptive. Forgiving had reminded me that
my life was a gift from a far greater power than The Baddest Man on
the Planet. Michael truly did not hold any power over my life, and
he could not take away my living—unless I allowed him to do that.
The things I intended to do, the living I was intended to do, all I was
intended to be could never truly be taken away. That's true for all of
us. I had forgiven Michael and I needed my mother to forgive me.
She had been a fierce protector of the gate, and it was as if I had
opened it and all hell broke loose.
"Please forgive me," I said again, and added, "I wish I had listened."
As I pressed the "end" button and slid the phone back in my
pocket, I realized that she had already forgiven me, and she had just
been waiting for me to reach the place where I could forgive myself.
A long chapter of our lives had come to an end. There was nothing
left to be fixed, to be changed. I could live in the promise of today
and in the hope of tomorrow.
I am going to do something that would've been impossible not so
long ago. I am going to reflect on my life honestly, clearly, without
blinking or looking away. No matter how sordid the details or how
painful the remembering, it's important for me to honor and even celebrate
the path that led me here. I'm doing it for myself, to document
my journey. I'm doing it for my children because, of all that I have
and all that I wish for them, our greatest gift to our children is our
walk with God. And I'm sharing it with you because when we look
back at the chapters of our lives, there's at least one that was so horrible
that we were afraid it would be the last chapter. I call this chapter
"Michael"—maybe you've named yours after a husband or wife,
a parent, an addiction or some other disease. Maybe you're going
through that chapter right now.
Despite the superficial differences, all these chapters share a
rock-bottom sense of despair and hopelessness. In my Michael chapter,
I feared for my family and for my life. There were so many days
I was sure I couldn't go on, and almost as many days when I didn't
want to. But things change when we change—and not a moment before.
We forgive, we are forgiven, we grow, and we go on.
Sometimes change is hard to see. I suppose it's like Buddy in his
bed, on the morning of New Year's Day. One day the bed swallows
him up and then, before you know it, you wonder how the bed can
hold him. That's how life is. One day it may seem it is too much to
handle; that all of our efforts to change have gone in vain—then oh
so suddenly we find ourselves transformed and we are bursting at the
seams, with joy.
Copyright © 2007 Robin Givens
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in
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