At Bitter Southerner, author Rachel Lord Elizondo interviews Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey about something awful they have in common: “both their mothers were murdered by their former partner in Georgia.” In a connection forged in pain, loss, and anger, they explore behavior norms such as “stand by your man” and the state of Georgia’s reluctance to institute gun control measures that could have protected their mothers.
Trethewey and I compare our stories. We were both young women when our mothers were murdered. Both of our mothers were employed and well-educated. Trethewey’s former stepfather killed her mother in a suburb outside of Atlanta, while my father committed the murder-suicide in my mother’s house in Ben Hill County in south-central Georgia. Trethewey was the child of an interracial marriage in Mississippi — her mother was Black and her father was white — when such marriages were still illegal; I am white, and I was born in Georgia. Trethewey’s mother had sought help from a shelter; my mother didn’t. Her mother lived in an apartment complex with dozens of neighbors around; mine could have screamed at the top of her lungs and not been heard.
Trethewey’s mother, as a Black woman, faced increased risk. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 51.3% of Black adult female homicides are related to intimate partner violence. Additionally, in 2017, for female victim/male offender homicides, Black females had the highest rate at 2.55 per 100,000, meaning a rate higher than their white, rural counterparts.
The rural landscape where my mother was killed presented its own unique challenges, such as neighbors not being able to hear or being within running distance, gun ownership being more prevalent, and limited resources in terms of victims services and access to medical care.
I ask Trethewey for her opinion, wondering if these differences and similarities can reveal how the system failed our mothers in their own unique way. We went from being the interviewer and the interviewee, the virtually unknown freelance writer and the well-known poet and memoirist, to just two people whose lives were marred by the ugliness of domestic violence. Two women angry with the state of Georgia, their lawmakers, and all the systems that seemed to fail their mothers and so many people before and after them. Trethewey, 35 years out from her experience, sees the opportunity for connection.