The Life Story of Kimberly Carter
Transcript Dates of Interview: April 3, 1996 and May 1,1996
Interviewed by Elizabeth F. Fales
Kimberly Carter is a modern day heroine. As she self describes she says, “I’m a lesbian. I’mAfricanAmerican. I’m a woman. I’m an alcoholic/drugaddict. Plus, I have a mental health problem. And that doesn’t stop me. ” Kim says loudly and clearly, “I’m proud, and I’m here to stay.”
Kimberly Carter is a courageous woman who has broken down her own personal barriers to her soul, faced her own personal challenges with her self, and made peace with her own fear with her psyche. There was a day when she worked the streets, living day to day to survive. She says, “God works through people. ” And she says her own silent God kept her alive through many miracles when she was using.
Many years later she finally found herself with a safe place to stay at Crossroads for Women and Evodia House, both residential programs for women in recovery from substance abuse.
Today, she lives in her own apartment in Portland with her two cats, Peg and Sybil, works part‑time at D’angelos, volunteers as a group leader of a women’s support group at Mercy Hospital, visits the local youth center to share her experiences with drugs and alcohol with at‑risk youth, and goes to four or five Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a week for her spiritual connection and to keep her sober from drugs and alcohol. Kim is a great example of life and within this transcript shares her experience, strength, and hope as she lives life sober today.
Wednesday, April 3,1996
Today, my life is much better than it was three years ago. I have ups and downs even though I still go through my ups and downs. I see my life as wonderful compared to what it used to be. I have a goal in life that I want to do with myself. I have the
promises that I can do things for myself that I couldn’t do three or four years ago. I’m amazed how far I came in this life. There are a lot of traumas and tribulations I went through. I’m amazed how far I came in just a short period of time cause three years ago I was on my death bed as I say because of the fact that I was using. I was on my death bed. Drinking and drugging has a lot to do with my story. When I used to drink and drug, I didn’t give a damn about nobody. I can say I care about people, and I care about myself first. I care about other people because it begins with me. That’s it right there. It begins with me, and it ends with me. And I believe that wholeheartedly.
I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I grew up in a family‑‑‑ my father used to drink, my uncle used to drink, my grandfather used to drink, just about everybody drank and drugged or whatever. My fond memories of growing up is being overseas in Spain for four and one‑half years‑‑‑ and living with my grandmother. That’s where I went to school‑‑‑ at my grandmother’s house. I would go home on the weekends and go to my grandmother’s every weekend. I’m not going to give you all the little details as to why I lived with my grandmother instead of my mother because that’s a whole different story.
I lived in Spain. I loved it because it brought me out of some of my horizons. When I was little, I was very prejudice of white people because I didn’t know none. My neighborhood I grew up in was black and Italian, so I never saw any white people when I was at the age of eleven. When I used to see whites, I didn’t know they existed because all I saw was all blacks. And I come to find out there was other people beside me when I moved to Spain. And I saw all kinds‑‑‑ whites, Indians, Italians, Africans, English, British, German. There were all kinds of people in Spain. And that’s what taught me how not to be prejudice because I went to Spain. My Mom and Dad were prejudice, but I didn’t want to be prejudice like they were. My boss was a British white man and French Jewish, and I wasn’t prejudice at all. When I came back from Spain to Florida, I saw all kinds of people. I saw them as one. I was prejudice because I didn’t know no better. All I knew was what my parents taught me, and what my family gave me. But, when I moved to Spain and came back, I wasn’t prejudice at all.
Spain was nice. I liked Spain. I always wanted to graduate from high school there, but I didn’t. I graduated in Florida instead. I was eleven to sixteen (when I lived in Spain). I played a lot of sports, I did a lot of bike riding, I did a lot of field trips in school. We did lots of stuff in the public school. I learned a lot in Spain. I traveled all over Spain on overnight trips or two days and two nights trips. (We came to Spain because) my father was in the Air Force. He had to take his family on his last tour, so he brought all of us, my sisters and brothers. (I went to school) on base like Portland
High School. There was American and Spanish people. It was mixed. We learned how to speak Spanish. I used to know Spanish really, really good, but I forgot it all because I don’t use it. I still understand a little bit of it.
I looked up to my older sister‑‑‑ my older sister and my older brother. There’s some problems with my older brother that happened to us, but I don’t want to get into that. I want to keep this message positive. I always looked up to them because I always wanted to be like them. How have they made me the way I am today? My mother and my father were strict, especially my mother. And she treated us like little kids even though we were eighteen years old. There were things that we couldn’t do that other kids could do but we could not do. But, I’m glad because that brings me to where I am today.
Sometimes I think my higher power is my mother and father. They are part of God because God works through people if anybody didn’t know that. It’s like he brought you here. I think God works through people. How has he changed my life? He’s changed my life in so many different ways I can’t even explain. He knew I was patient. He knew I’d get what I want sooner or later. He knew I was a nice person. He knew that I needed some guidance, and he guided me along with people helping me out. He’s like my strength. Everyday I think of him. Because when I was out there using, I knew God was out there. I didn’t know my God and the higher power was the same people.
I knew God used to save my life millions of times. And when I was going in mens’ cars not knowing whether I was coming home dead or alive, that was God. When I went off a cliff in a car with a friend of mine driving, I was in the back seat not wearing a seat belt, that was God again. When I went to jail the first time. And then went to jail the second time, that was God, anytime anybody tried to straighten my life out. And how I think of him today is‑‑‑ he’s like my mother and father, my spiritual being, like both of my parents. Like I said, both my parents know I’m alive. They know
I’m sober. They know I quit smoking. They know I’m a lesbian because they didn’t approve of me being a lesbian before, but they approve of me being a lesbian today. Don’t ask me how I know these things, but I just do. These are spiritual things.
I was scared of my higher power at first because I thought my higher power had to be somewhere in church. I didn’t want nothing to do with church because every time I heard God, it had to be in church. I used to pray walking around. That’s how I used to get what I want. Now I get on my hands and knees. I pray walking around, too, plus I get on my hands and knees and pray to my higher power in the morning, at night, or whenever I need him to keep me away from a drink, a drug, or cigarettes.
I stopped smoking cigarettes when I was sixteen months sober. My higher power couldn’t talk because I was using the cigarette the way I was using the drink. I was going chasing it‑‑‑ how I was going to have my last cigarette. When I would run out of my last two cigarettes, I would wonder where I was going to get my cigarettes from. So, it was like a drink for me. Plus, it wasn~t doing no good for my health. It was making my health uncomfortable because I have asthma. It wasn’t doing me no justice for my health, so I had to quit. I quit on my own with patches and stuff.
So, I’m glad I quit just like I’m glad I quit drinking. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. I wouldn’t be seeing my daughter the way she is today. I wouldn’t be seeing my family the way they are today. My family is proud of me from how far I came in a short period of time.
All I want is for people to care. When I see people that can care for what I’m doing and not try to change me‑‑‑ I’m a dyke, and I’m proud of it. I don’t want people to try to change me the way I am. I wear my hat backwards, and I wear my hat forwards. I walk like a man. Yes, I do. That’s me. That’s my strong walk. When I walk like that, it’s a strong walk. I don’t where dresses. I hate dresses. I hate high heeled shoes. I hate laces. But, that don’t mean I don’t want other women to wear that. If a woman
wants to wear that, that’s fine for her, but for me, I feel very uncomfortable. For six years, I used to wear dresses with my ex‑girlfriend. I wore dresses, heels, make‑up, lipstick, all that stuff for six years. And I was very uncomfortable. It wasn’t me. I didn’t want to be that way. I wanted to be a lady but a lady in my own way. My way. I could be a lady in my way.
I’m a woman. I didn’t need anybody to take care of me. I took care of myself. There was times I wished somebody would take care of me, but nobody take care of me but me. My God takes care of me. My mother and father takes care of me now. They both are proud of me where I came from. Even me. I’m proud of where I came from. Me first. Me first.
I listen to music a lot. When we get done, I’ll show you all my CD’s. I use my music. I use those meditation books. My meetings. When I go to meetings, that reminds me of church for me. That’s church for me. I go everyday or every other day. I’ll go to at least four meetings a week. I usually go to four meeting a week. That’s my church. That’s as close to God as I’m ever going to get besides being inside a church. But, I haven’t gotten that far being inside a church yet. Christmas time I went to church with a friend of mine. That was nice. But, for me to commit myself to go to church every Sunday, I don’t do that yet. I don’t know why. I have spirituality. Someday maybe I will go to church, but when I am going to go, I don’t know.
Life being on the streets is not fun. Life for me being on the streets wasn’t fun. I had good times, but I was drinking during the bad times too because I drank no matter what, good times or bad times. I drank no matter what. Yes, I was sexually abused. I was mentally abused. I was raped. I’ve been through all those things. What message do I tell them? I just be honest with them. I just tell them that, hey, there’s nothing out there that’s worth dieing for. I’m not willing to die for my freedom anymore. I have more freedom the way it is today. I don’t want to go kill myself. Because every time I was getting inside a car, or drink a drink, or smoke a cigarette, or do some cocaine, I was killing myself everyday. And I don’t want to kill myself anymore. When I decided to get sober in 1993, I told myself, I either die with my mother the way she died or get sober. And I gave myself an ultimatum. My mom would have been dead thirteen years at that time. So, I decided to get sober instead. And what I say to people is that I’ve done it. I’ve been there. I’ve smelled it, tasted it, been there. I’ve seen it. There’s nothing I haven’t seen. I could tell them, being a woman, you don’t have to be ashamed because you’re a woman and an alcoholic. Just be truthful. Be honest. And be strong about how you think you’re worth. You’re disease is on your shoulder no matter whether you have a good day or a bad day for me.
My disease constantly sits on my shoulder. I drink and drugged on good days. I drank and drugged on bad days. Every single day my disease is sitting on my shoulders. And I try not to go along with it. Because if I go along with this. I get tired. I get depressed. I just want to give up and say fuck off to the rest of the world. So, I’m staying with life this time. There’s no more going back. I came here. This is it. This is the last straw. I never got sober before, but this is my last straw because I was literally killin~ myself when I was out there using.
Well, I get called a dyke a lot anyway. When somebody else calls me a dyke, I don’t like it because I think it’s a put down. They think that’s a moral issue. Just like my drinking. When I call myself that, which I am that, I feel comfortable. I feel comfortable for you to tell me that‑‑‑ we can do that together. It’s like when somebody calls me a nigger. I don’t like it. But, my own race, we play with it in our own race. If somebody outside of my own race called me that, I am getting upset, just like being called a lesbian. It still do (happens). (It happens) when I’m out in the street minding my own business. It’s a racial attack.
Even though I’ve been in Maine for thirteen years, I get what I want. I get what’s coming to me sooner or later. I’ve been in Maine thirteen years and people have mistaken me as a man because my hair is short and I walk the way I walk, they associate me as a man. They don’t listen to my voice. It bothers me some days more than other days. It depends on what kind of mood I’m in. Some days it doesn’t bother me at all and other days, I just correct them. I say, “Sir, sir, my name‑‑‑‑my name is Kim.” And they say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” They apologize and stuff like that. I love being a lesbian. I’ve been trying for me to come out for so many years. Even though I know that I’m a lesbian, and I came out when I was drinking, I feel better about it because I am sober.
When I was drinking I would hang around a lot of gay people and go to parties and stuff like that. I never hang around with any straights, and I like hanging around with straight gay people. Straight means not drinking or drugging. I love my gay friends today. I like being where I am at. I’m comfortable because I’m comfortable with the way I’m dressing. I’m comfortable with the way I walk. I’m comfortable with the way I wear my hair. At first, I wouldn’t be able to wear my hair this short because I looked too much like a man. But, fuck that. I’m not here to please nobody else. I’m here to please me. At first, I used to keep a hat to my head hiding my head. I’m a beautiful person. I don’t need to hide anymore. I hide for so many years that why would I want to hide now. Noway. I’m here. You hear me tape. I’m here. I’m here to stay!
One thing my counselor said, she wrote something in my book to me. She said, “Look out world. Here comes Kim.” Drinking and drugging is not worth all that bullshit cause bullshit is bullshit. First thing you have to do is first you have to admit you have a disease. First thing. Second thing is you have to admit that you want to do something with your life. And third thing, you have to think of something that is stronger than you are as in your higher power, and I believe that. My cats help me out. I got these two cats‑‑‑ I’m allergic to cats to be honest with you. I’m allergic to them. But, I love my, I love my‑‑‑‑ you can tell she loves me too. I found her when she was about this big. This is Peg. I found Sybil her size now when I got Sybil.
Being a black lesbian. I’m the only one that’s here. And being an alcoholic at that. I love it because I’m the only one. Since I’ve been in Portland, I haven’t seen a black person or a gay woman or a black woman since I’ve been in Portland. I’ve seen a gay straight (sober) man, but he’s like, he’s like ashamed of his own race. He likes to be around white people a lot and tries to put the black people down, and he’s black himself. Everybody putting each other down. That’s not good. Have peace in the world. I want peace in my life. I struggled for too long for me to not have no peace in my life.
I’ve got all three. I’m a lesbian. I’m African American. I’m a woman. I’m an acholic/drug addict, plus I have a mental problem‑‑‑ a mental health issue. And that doesn’t stop me. The more I have‑‑‑ the more I have, the more I’m going after it. I’m going to keep going until my higher power says, “You’re done.” I’m not yet. If I was done, I’d be dead or in a hospital somewhere.
My dream is to be a substance abuse counselor with dual‑diagnosis. My dream is to stay here until I find me a house, stay in this apartment until I find me a house. When I find me a house or a condominium, I’m going to get it. That’s my dream. My dream is to help other women and help other men think about how dangerous this disease is
I’d like to work with some people who have AIDS‑‑‑ outreach stuff about AIDS, that AIDS is something serious and not something to play with. Alcohol and drugs is serious, not something to play with. You can give up the drink, but that’s not all that you need to give up. You need to give up the old life, the old friends, the old habits. That’s when you know you are doing something different, when you know you’ve given up all this stuff that were triggers.
My perception of my world was blur‑‑‑ very blur. I didn’t give a damn about anything or anyone. I didn’t give a damn about myself. What changed my thinking was when I knew I had a place to stay like Evodia House. They helped me out a lot. I recommend a lot of women to go there‑‑‑ Evodia House and Crossroads. If it wasn’t for them, I’d be dead. I couldn’t be one of these people that goes straight to M and that’s it. I had to do more because I needed a lot of structure. Lots and lots of structure. And I got it through Crossroads and Evodia House.
I collect postcards. I have about eight photo albums of postcards. I’m a collector‑‑‑ I’m a serious collector. I collect CD’s. I have over a hundred. I like R&B‑‑ rhythm and blues. Michael Jackson was one. Mariah Carey. Boys to Men. All for One. Do you want me to keep going? I got a lot more! I like new music, too. I like music I’ve never heard before because when you go into a dance club and you hear the same music over and over again. When I come home, I can say, oh I’ve got this. They don’t even play that at the club. By the time it gets to the club, it’s going to be old. I already have it. Do you know what I’m saying? I pick it all up. I’m making sure I stay that way, too, because I love my music. It helps me. I’m getting a bike next month for my birthday. So that’s as close to me getting a car as I can get. So, I’m looking forward to buying a bike for my three years anniversary, and my birthday, and almost a year and a half of not smoking.
My favorite food is Chinese. I like any Cajun food, Cajun dishes. I like fried chicken. I like pork chops. I love rice. I love rice. I could eat rice every day. I love rice. I like ice cream. My mom used to cook all kinds of fried chicken, all kinds of pork chops, rice, turkey, black bean soup, ham. I learned how to cook by my mother. My mom used to never let us cook when we were growing up, so I used to watch her. I would watch her carefully. I’d say, “Mom, why did you put that in there,” and she’d say, “You see, that’s why I didn’t want to let you watch me cook because if you don’t like something.
When I cook and put hot sauce on your food and you say, ‘no, no, no, no, no. Well, guess what? You’re eating it.” It’s for the taste, not to make it hot. It’s like a pizzazz to it like salt and pepper. One of my ex‑girlfriend’s used to watch me cook and she’d say, “How do you know how much to put in there?” And I’d say, “You take a pinch of this, a pinch of that and that’s it.~ I learned that from my mother. I like to cook for a lot of people. I don’t like cooking for one‑‑‑ for me. When I was at Evodia House, I cooked for thirteen women. I’d make stir‑fried chicken and stuff like that‑‑‑ or baked chicken or whatever. I cooked for thirteen women, and I used to cook for 21 women. I love cooking for a lot of people. I like to see people’s faces smiling. I’m being honest with you. Every time I used to cook at Evodia House, nothing would be left‑‑‑ nothing. I remember you used to say, what’s to eat, and I’d say, “It’s all gone.” So cooking is one of my things I love to do.
I hated Florida. Florida is where I started to drink a lot. I used to start skipping school. (I lived) near Alabama in the panhandle. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it one bit. The only thing that was good that came out of that was cosmetology school. Everything’s changed now, but I learned about that. I was on a work‑study program. I’d go to school part of the day and to cosmetology the other part of the day.
What makes me strong? God, my mother and my father, my daughter, my self, my self first. Where do I get my wisdom from? I get my wisdom from all the mistakes I’ve made. I try not to make the same mistakes over and over. The first time, I understand. The second time you make a mistake, it’s like, ok. The third time, something’s wrong. So I know for me getting sober, this is the third time even though I never got sober before. This is it. There’s no more of that acting like an asshole anymore. So, I’d had enough. I’m done. I’m finished.
What makes me stronger today? All my pain. Every day, every morning I wake up in chronic pain. But, I don’t let it stop me because if I did, I’d be dead. Until God says you can’t do it anymore then I’ll stop. When I was growing up, I was told I’d be retarded and stupid because I was very slow in school. But I wasn’t as slow as I let people think I was. I let people think I’m slow. I play that game. I play the same game at work. They don’t know I’m out at work. They don’t know I’m alcoholic. They don’t
know I’m a lesbian. I make you think that I’m one way at home. I don’t even talk about my personal life. When a guy comes to see me, they think he’s my boyfriend. They don’t know that he wants to be my boyfriend, he wishes he could be my boyfriend, but he ain~t.
(I work at) D’angelos. (I volunteer at) Mercy (with a women’s group for substance abuse). I go to youth centers at least once a month and speak to the women there. Last week I did a group. I turned this group around. And one girl was angry. She was a very angry person. I could just feel her anger because I used to be that way myself and I say to her, “Is there anything you want to talk about?” and she says, “No.” And I looked at her and then I talked to the other girls and I came back to her. And I said, “I can understand why you’re so angry. And she looked at me and she said, “Why?” And I said, “because I’ve been exactly where you are. I did the same thing.” And then she started to get a little smile and she started to wake up that she’s not the only one that has all this anger. And I told her, “I understand what you’re going through. I’ve been there. I’ve done it.” She just looked at me and said, “Yeah, oh thank you.”
A lot of the women out there now thank me because they went to Crossroads for Women or Evodia House. There’s a couple of them now that I knew at the hospital that came from the hospital and went to Evodia House. I’d say a good six or seven of them, maybe eight of em, because I told them they should go to Crossroads for Women or to Evodia House, they’re there now. They went to Crossroads and Evodia House. And they thank me for that.
I’m trying to get a friend of mine now‑‑‑ one of my friends now to go to Evodia House because she’s relapsed. I told her, I said, girl, you need some structure. I said, “Do you want me to be honest with you?” She said, “Yeah.” I go, “Well, you need structure. You need Evodia House really bad.” You need Evodia House really bad. She says, “Well, what about this and I don’t like being…” I said, “Well, I didn’t either.
Whatever you’re talking about, I’ve been there. I didn’t like somebody telling me what to do or what time to come in or where… But the thing is, I needed structure, and that’s what you need.” Forget that apartment. Forget the car. You can take the car with you, but you can forget that apartment. That’s where you need to go. Instead of going off and acting like a little heathen. I will be volunteering for Mercy Hospital‑‑‑ it will be two years in June, and I never even dreamed to be there for this long.
Wednesday, May 1,1996
When I went to Spain, I was very prejudiced. From age eleven to age sixteen. And I was very prejudice. When I was little, the only thing I saw was black. We had Italian people in our neighborhood and I thought they was white. I thought my whole neighborhood was all black, and I didn’t realize that we had mixture. One day I was going through the institute in Philadelphia and I saw this white girl dressed in a Catholic uniform and I thought, now what is she doing in Philadelphia? Because I thought Philadelphia was all black. I didn’t know Philadelphia was white, too. I didn’t know that. And that sticks with me. When I saw my first white girl. And then I asked why my grandfather was whiter than me‑‑‑ he was really light too. And I asked, now why is a white man in my family. And he says, “Well, he’s not white. He’s Italian.” And I said, “Ohhhh.” That’s when I started to get to know a little bit about what it’s like to be an Italian because I was part Italian, part African American, part Indian.
My childhood living with my grandmother was nice. It was really, really nice. We got to go on field trips. Our school had field trips and stuff like that. We were more our kid. We did kid things. We played kickball. We played volleyball. We played basketball. We played all kinds of stuff, kid’s stuff.
When I lived with my mother, it was different. When I lived with my mother, it was like living in a jail cell because she was overprotective of us. I couldn’t be me. By the time I was twelve years old, I knew something was different about me. I liked my women friends. I didn’t know what to do about this. I hid and hide the whole concept of being a lesbian. I didn’t know what the word lesbian meant. I remember a teacher that I fell in love with when I was fifteen, she was 44. She didn’t know I even liked her. I didn’t let her get close. I always knew when she was going to get sick. If you do that, you are going to be sick tomorrow. I cared about her, and she cared about me. She brought the feminine out of me. She didn’t make me feel inadequate. I really liked her. I liked her a lot. And I liked her family. I met her in Spain. I didn’t meet her in Florida.
Maine reminds me a little bit of Florida‑‑‑ how small it is, compared to Philadelphia, Florida was real small just like Maine was. I hated the school there because I wanted to graduate overseas. Because my father had to leave Spain and come back to the states, I had to graduate in Florida. He came to Florida to retire from the Air Force. I didn’t like Florida. Philadelphia had a lot of culture in it and Spain had a lot of culture. I saw a lot of stuff there. I went all through Spain.
But in Florida there was nothing‑‑‑ it was flat. It was really, really flat. There was nothing earth shattering. There was nothing that made me want to stay there. I just wanted to get out of there. I graduated there. I’m going to show you my senior picture‑‑‑ that’s my senior picture right there. [Kim pointed to her senior picture hanging on her wall.] In the blue one. That’s my senior picture. Even back then, my mother wanted to cut my hair. I had real long hair and she wanted to cut it short and I said, “No, don’t cut my hair. Let me get my senior pictures done. When I get done with my senior pictures, then you can cut my hair.” She didn’t even cut it before my graduation. I liked my hair back then‑‑‑ long. That was the style. Make it nice and even and stuff like that. It was like a bumble bee. I looked like a little beehive. Bees stayed in my hair though. They stayed in my hair. Pretty soon I would have had a bees nest. It was pushing it. They would fly in my hair and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like bees in my hair. I didn’t like flies in my hair either. Well, Florida, ahhh…l can’t even explain to you why I didn’t like Florida. I didn’t like it. It stunk because they have paper mills there.
You gotta have a sense of humor because if you don’t have a sense of humor, life is dull. A sense of humor is another way of letting out that energy that you have inside. You feel much better and you just release some tension.
[What was the difference between Spain and Florida?] The culture, oh, It was the culture, it was the people, it was the surroundings. It was just everything. Spain had mountains. It had all kinds of people there. It wasn’t just black. It wasn’t just white. It was all the nations of people there in one little place. And, um, I had fun when I was in Spain. I learned how to play basketball. I learned how to play baseball. I learned how to play football. I learned how to ride a bike there.
By the time I was fifteen, I knew I was a lesbian. I drank and drugged over being a lesbian because I didn’t know what to do with it. Even when I was in Florida, I had women hitting on me. I had women hitting on me when I was in Spain. I had women hitting on me when I was in Florida. But, I didn’t know what to do? I’ve probably been a dyke since I was ten years old. I didn’t know what to do with it. You know, get away from me. I was in denial. Just like my drinking. I was in denial. I’m glad I didn’t come out then because I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I love where I am at today. Everything happens as God wanted it to happen. I wasn’t ready. When I turned 29 when I met my ex‑girlfriend, by that time, I was ready. And it was funny, two weeks before I got into the relationship being a lesbian, I told a friend of mine that my life was going to change. I had clairvoyance. She said, “Why?” I said, “The next relationship I get into is going to be with a woman. And she looked at me and said, “Really?” I said, “Yeah.” Two weeks later I met my ex‑girlfriend. Two weeks later I met her. I met her at the unemployment office. So I knew then, I was coming out. But, even when I was coming out, I was kind of shy and in denial still. I wanted to come out of the closet so bad. Now, I’m glad.
Being an African American, being a lesbian, being an alcoholic, drug addict, and mentally ill‑‑‑ all of that doesn’t stop me. Once I got that I was what I was, I didn’t let nothing stop me. I tried to put everything that I am in the positive. When people say, “Oh, I can’t find a job because I’m black.” And I proved them wrong. “Well, I can’t find a job because I’m a woman.” And again, I prove them wrong. “Well, I can’t find a job because I’m a lesbian.” I proved everything everybody said they couldn’t do, I did. Now, every time I hear people say it’s hard to find a job… I always did. When I took two years off without working, I wasn’t ready for work. I knew when I started working, it was time for me to start working part‑time. And I worked part‑time, and I’m still working part time. I’m not ready to go work full‑time.
It was like my higher power gave me stuff that I only needed what I could handle. So he gave me the part‑time job. He gave me volunteering at Mercy Hospital. He gave me my alcoholism and to be sober after a certain amount of time. He led me to a strong foundation. If it wasn’t for a strong foundation, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. When they say get in the middle of AA, I got in the middle of it. When they said, get a sponsor, I got one. I didn’t fuss or fight over it because I knew I needed help‑‑‑ I knew I needed long term help for a very long time. I was scared. Don’t say I wasn’t scared. I was scared.
I came to Portland. I didn’t know nobody but my brothers. But, at that time, I wasn’t speaking to my brothers because of childhood issues. I wasn’t speaking to them. I didn’t want nothing to do with them. Today, due to my sobriety, I speak to them today. We contact each other. We go do things together. He sees I’ve changed. I see that he’s changed. I forgave him. I forgave him. I didn’t forget. But, when stuff comes up for me, I don’t blame him for it anymore just like I don’t blame my parents for what they did anymore. They raised me the best that they could‑‑‑ especially my mother. My mom was just overprotective.
Forgiveness is within yourself. If you haven’t forgiven yourself, you can’t forgive anybody else. It begins with you. You gotta learn to put things aside. Forgiveness is like stopping the shame. Stop being a victim. Stop blaming everybody. I always used to blame everybody for my problems. I blamed my mother, my father, my brother, and everybody else in my life for why I was drinking, why I was drugging, why I couldn’t come out and be a lesbian. I was really afraid‑‑‑ afraid of what people were going to think of me.
I came out when I was drinking. And that scared me. Everybody used to call me, “Dyke this, Dyke that…” I didn’t like that word. I didn’t like the word dyke because I was ashamed of it. I was afraid of it. That’s why I didn’t come out. That’s why I was scared. Forgiveness is for me to have peace within yourself. If you don’t have peace within yourself, you can’t forgive yourself or anyone else. I can’t tell somebody else something unless I did it myself. I have to do it myself first. And you have to be sure. No wishy washy because wishy washy doesn’t do no justice. You have to do it right then and right there and you have to do it right.
I had a pretty big grudge against my brother, but I did my fourth step on my brother. The fourth step is the moral inventory‑‑‑ taking a moral inventory of people you have resentments against, people who did things to you. A lot of my things had to do with sex. My fourth step had a lot to do with sex because of the traumas that happened to me when I was younger because of the rapes and incest. That’s what mine had a lot to do with. And I thought I was a nasty‑‑‑ I thought I was a bad person because that’s what I did and I slept around a lot. But, I’m not ashamed to say I slept around because everybody who hear this tape‑‑‑ sleeping around today is not safe. It ultimately brings AIDS, brings sexual disease, it’s not good for you. It’s good to use a condom. I don’t sleep around because even though I broke up with my girlfriend‑‑‑ ah, ex‑girlfriend, it will be three weeks tomorrow, I don’t sleep around. If I can’t find nobody who will be a part of me, then I won’t do nothing about it. I’d rather be alone than be with a one‑night stand.
I went to Lewiston this weekend where I used to live, and I saw some people that I used to use with and they saw me. So they told me that I look good. It had been three years since I’d seen these people. I was there at the AIDS Project with a friend of mine. I’m doing the AIDS Project working with a friend of mine whose HIV positive and alcoholic. They don’t have a lot for people who are alcoholic. They can give shelter, money, AIDS awareness, they can go to seminars, they can go to all kinds of places to know about AIDS. People want to say black people don’t have AIDS. Black people do have AIDS. AIDS is everywhere. This is not a one person disease. This is not a gay disease. This is not a straight person’s disease. This is everybody’s disease. And if one person is going to catch it, everybody is going to catch it whether you’re black, white, or Japanese or whatever, you’re gonna catch it if you keep doin….like I used to work the streets and when I worked the streets, I could have been infected too with AIDS. And I advice anybody not to work the streets because the streets is nothing but hard core. There is nothing about the streets that’s fun. And um… I’m not ashamed to say I worked the streets. I did. If it wasn’t for working the streets, I wouldn’t be where I am at today. I got arrested for working the streets, and I don’t feel ashamed about that either.
First thing you don’t do is push. First you have to be willing to listen. Textbook stuff…it’s not all about college. It’s all about … how much you are aware of yourself and how you are aware of other people. Don’t push because if you start pushing people and telling them your business or whatever, all they are going to do is close up. If you be let loose, like we’re talking right now, very loose, be very free. It’s like trusting. If they don’t have your trust, you lost them. You can’t just, “Oh, you better tell me because this or you better tell me because that,” or, “you better do this because I know better than you because I graduated from college.” That’s not true.
Trust is something that you give someone. Like if somebody gave you their life story and they said, “I trust you with this.” Trusts that you don’t tell people what you heard. Trust in anonymity‑‑‑ whatever you hear here stays here, the twelfth tradition.
That’s trust. Because if you don’t have that trust then you’ve lost anybody. If I sit here and talked to you right now and you took this and put it in the paper without me knowing it, that’s mistrust and I would get mad at you for violating my rights to keep this quiet if I wanted it to be quiet. Even when I told people anyway and I say not to, that’s mistrust.
When I talk about how I used to work the streets, that’s then. This is now. Trust is viewing me by what I am today, not what I was back then. That’s like telling my daughter that she has to be raised just like I had to be raised. My daughter is nothing like the 1950s. This is nothing like the 50s. This is the 1990s. You can’t tell a child how I was raised and try to put it on my daughter. It won~t work. You just gotta let God handle it and let God take a part of it and he’ll help you out. But, I can’t tell my daughter that she can’t do this because my parents wouldn’t let me do it. It’s not going to work. It’s not going to work at all. Be accepting for whatever she’s going through. If she becomes a lesbian or if she marries a white man, that’s her problem, that’s her. That’s up to her. I’m not going to tell her she can’t … she can’t, um…it is not nice for her to be a lesbian. I can’t tell her that. You know. I didn’t like anybody telling me that either. You know. She’s supposed to be who she wants to be. If she going to be in jail for the rest of her life, well then, that’s what she’s going to do. There’s nothing I can do about it. I did all I can do.
You gotta let kids make their own mistakes. Just like people tried to tell me I’m alcoholic. You gotta let me find that out for myself. The only way I would do it is to do it myself. It ends and begins with me. When people say, “Oh, Kim, you’re alcoholic. I think you should go do this.” When people tell me that, I go and do the opposite. When people say I’d better do this, that’s when I say, girl, “The hell with yall.” And I go do what I want anyway. Just like my daughter. It’s not that she’s not like me. She’s a lot like me. But she is different. She’s different because she’s her own person. She’s a lot like me. I’m just hoping she doesn’t lead the same life I did, but there’s nothing I can do about it if she does. I’m hoping she’d be smart enough after a while to come out of it. There’s nothing I can do to change that.
I don’t use this word a lot, but the word “nigger” is for someone who is ignorant. And they use it on black people because they think black people are ignorant. Even though this is 1990, you can see a bunch of people, white guys or whatever, calling me names, or you could be walking down the street or there’s a bunch of girls. There’s people who are just ignorant. They don’t realize the word “nigger” is someone ignorant. That’s what it is. Someone who’s very ignorant and don’t know nothing‑‑ who think everything is their way and their way only. We don’t have not rights to say we’re dirt. We get kicked in the face. We have no rights. And I have every right to be here. And I have every right to get a iob. I have every right to have an apartment.
I find prejudice everywhere. A lot of Rednecks‑‑‑ I call them Rednecks‑‑‑ who come into D’Angelos where I work, you can tell by when the white girls be taking their money and I take over, they look like, you mean I gotta have her touch my money. Even though some people might not know what it is, I can tell when somebody is prejudiced. I can tell when somebody don’t want me to touch their money. Even they could be just having a bad day, but I can tell the prejudice ones that don’t want to be bothered with a black person. “Oh, we got one here in Maine?” It’s a look they have or they stare like they never saw a black person before. Especially with kids when kids stare at you, because when kids stare at me, I stare right back because prejudice starts with kids.
Prejudice begins with kids. If they hear their parents talking about the word “nigger,” they going to say it. If they hear their parents talking about that they don’t like black people, they don’t like black people themselves because they don’t know nothing about being black. They want a suntan though. They all want a suntan. Everybody wants a suntan, but nobody wants to be black because they’re afraid that this color might come off some kind of way and it doesn’t work that way.
Prejudice is what is with inside yourself. I was prejudice of gay and lesbians when I first tried to get sober. Because I didn’t know enough… usually people are prejudice because they don’t understand…. you know that thing on tv about discrimination. They don’t understand what they don’t know. And that’s where prejudice starts. They don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know nothing about being black. They don’t know nothing about being lesbian. They don’t know nothing about being female. They don’t know nothing about being a single parent. They don’t know nothing about being a female, so they all be prejudice because they are all scared. So when they all get scared, they take their anger and they turn it around and instead of pointing at themselves, they point at other people. So they take their anger and put it on other people.
Philadelphia. I lived there in my childhood from the age that I was born until I was eleven. And then I came back when I was eighteen. From 18 to 22. 1 lived there four more years. Total I lived in Philadelphia off and on for 14 years. Not straight though. I liked living in a big city. I liked going to concerts. I liked going to movies. I loved seeing the plays. I liked going to the museums. I liked going in the trolley cars. I liked just traveling around. I liked my job even though it was housekeeping. I liked that job because I got paid really well. I left all that to come to Maine. I had a brother who lived here and my sister lived here and my little brother lives here. I’ve got two sisters and two brothers. I got a sister older than me and a brother older than me and I got a sister younger than me and a brother younger than me. I’m the middle.
Philadelphia was big. I went to a lot of funerals when I was in Philadelphia‑‑‑ my grandmother’s, my mother’s, my uncles, my aunt, lot of death, my fathers. I had an aunt who died before I was eleven. Then my aunt died in 76. It was every even year, there was someone dieing in my family. That’s when I knew my mother was going to die. I knew that my mother was going to die. I knew my mother was going to die. I had clairvoyance and I knew my mother was going to die. 1979. It was like every even year, somebody died in my family for a while. First it was my aunt in 76, then my grandfather in 1978, and then it was my mother in 1980, then my father in 82, then my grandmother in 83. That one broke the cycle right there. I went to a lot of funerals. I wrote this paper about my mother and I knew she was going to die. Do you mind if I read it? I was 23.
On this day I was talking to my best girlfriend on the phone. All of a sudden I got a bad feeling about something was going to happen to someone in my family. I was talking to my best friend about this feeling. I told her that someone close to me was going to die between July and September of 1980. I told her that my mother was going to die in July of 1980 of cancer. The said to me, “Why?” It told her I didn’t know why but I knew and then my best girlfriend said I shouldn’t feel that way about my mother because nothing was going to happen to her. I couldn’t help the way I was feeling. Thanksgiving and Christmas was too perfect. I knew something was going to happen with my mother. She put on a front to the family in January of 1982. In February of 1982, my mother told the family that she had cancer in her right breast. I didn’t let my mother know about my feelings. Approximately 9 am on Friday, February 7th my mother had a doctor’s appointment. I was home by myself and had another feeling that my mother was going to have an operation on February 10, 1980. On February 12 before she came home and told us, my mother wondered why I was smiling. I wasn’t smiling because she was going to the hospital, I was smiling because I was right about her and I told her about this. My mother was amazed at my feelings and she cried. For a long time after she cried, she asked me if I had any other feelings about her. I told her no but I did. I wasn’t the only one in my family to have this feeling. My sisters and brothers had the same feelings. My mother died July 31st at approximately 9:05.
Final Comments by Elizabeth F. Fales
Kimberly Carter speaks loudly and clearly about her experiences with drugs and alcohol and where these experiences have brought her. There is nothing subtle about her joumey. She acknowledges her history and she knows that it took everything she experienced to get her to where she is today. She says, “Drinking and drugging have a lot to do with my story. ” And she acknowledges, “When I used to drink and drug, I didn’t give a damn about nobody. ” Today she says that, “It begins with me and ends with me. My God takes care of me.”
Kim’s life has taken her from the big city of Philadelphia as a child to adventures in Spain as an adolescent to the Panhandle of Florida as a young adult and eventually to Maine as a young woman. Kim has faced many changes and challenges and come out strong and clear. She speaks clearly and honestly about her experiences with prejudice in Maine and her contrasting cultural experiences living in Spain for four and one half years and then retuming to Florida.
Kim also speaks about her process of coming out as a lesbian and what it is like to be an African American lesbian woman in Portland. She says that still today in 1996 she is called a “nigger” and a “dyke” and shares how these attacks feel for her. Kim speaks of forgiveness, prayer, and her higher power which keeps her going each day.
Kim shares her experiences as a volunteer at Mercy Hospital and the youth center as she helps other individuals recover from addiction to drugs and alcohol. Kim speaks her truth clearly from her soul and as she does so, empowers those who hear her to speak their truth as well.