MORE THAN A VICTIM OR HERO — A SURVIVOR
By Fred Dickey
Dec. 23, 2013
We are going up to her bedroom for the interview, this blond lady and I.
We are at Broadway and 10th in the unchic part of downtown San Diego where she lives.
She takes out her keys and struggles to unlock a heavy, windowless, wooden door at street level. It creaks. Once inside, there is another, a stockade-like steel gate covered by heavy mesh. There is a key for that also. When opened, it clangs like a vault door. Rising just ahead is a wide staircase ascending to a second-floor open area that must have been a hotel lobby a long time ago.
The lady takes the steps slowly, her cane touching every step. At the top of the stairs, the landing leads to an old-fashioned front-desk counter that has not seen paint in well over a half-century. The space is empty, devoid of anything put there by humans, including humans. It is musty and dim. There is no sound. There is no pulse. It is a dead building.
“I understand this was a hangout for criminals back in the ’20s,” she says.
They left their musk behind.
We walk over to her rental unit. Another key to struggle with, and it opens to a small room about fifteen by twelve. The space also has a tiny bathroom and a narrow alcove with a kitchenette, just large enough for a small refrigerator, a vintage microwave and a sink. The small window looks out on a facing window a dozen feet distant. A double bed crowds everything else to the walls, including a tiny table served by two old office chairs. You reach it by squeezing past the bed. The furnishings are mismatched thrift shop.
This is where Kathy Kadineh lives, and she’s damn glad to have it because it’s nicer than the place across the street she recently moved from. She is also able to share mutual support with her 29-year-old daughter, Mahak, who occupies a similar unit on the floor above.
In a neighborhood of the unmoneyed and unsteady, this place is a jewel, or at least a shiny rhinestone. It’s warm, quiet and sort of affordable. It’s safe if you’re prudent, although Kathy says, “Around here, people have their problems.”
Broadway and 10th is not the place to age gracefully, and no one seeks it out. What brought Kathy here, roundabout, was the pursuit of love. People will do some desperate things, even self-destructive, to find a pair of arms to hold them.
Kathy was born a Sullivan 63 years ago to an authoritarian father who not only didn’t spare the rod, but wore out several on her and her four brothers. She says he was as mean as a bull in a cow pasture, and with less self-control.
“I was beaten every day,” Kathy says, and grew into adulthood never having felt loved.
Families often drift apart, but hers ruptured. When her father died at age 38, it fell on Kathy to take care of her mother, who was also a victim in the household and who over time became addicted to pain pills. Her brothers treated their sister like the Mississippi dirt on which they lived.
When Kathy finally escaped, she went looking for what she never had — and only found more of what she had fled.
In 1982, at age 32 and living in Chicago, she trustingly walked into the arms of Javad Kadineh, also 32, who had come to this country to escape the upheaval caused by the overthrow of the shah of Iran a few years earlier.
Let me tell you about Kathy’s take on him. He was pretty good at making money running a stable of taxis, but he put too much of it into smoking opium. He thought women were, well, mere women. He had a mean streak and discovered using it against his wife was essentially risk-free. Kathy says the apple she married fell close to the family tree.
“I never had a good relationship, and I wanted love so bad. I was just looking, looking, looking. I felt this was it. I felt he was the one,” she says.
“The second week after I met him, the abuse began. The first time, he wanted me to drink a shot of vodka. I said, ‘No. I’m not going to drink it.’ He kept saying, ‘You’ve got to do it because I said you’ve got to do it.’ Then, he got really mad and threw it (the glass) against the wall, broke it, and began beating me.”
Was he drunk?
“No. He didn’t drink that much. I don’t know why, but I continued with the relationship.”
They moved to San Diego that year, were married here and lived mainly in this city for about 15 years. He owned taxis and made money, then lost it. Smoked opium, and then would quit. All the time, he treated Kathy like hired help, except you don’t beat up hired help.
The prevailing wisdom is that women who had abusive fathers seem to equate that behavior with love and acceptance. Odd, but it happens often enough to deserve credence. Perhaps their sense of self has been so beaten down, they come to think they’re unworthy of anything better and become partners in their own victimhood. Whatever, it happens over and over again, ad nauseum, with stress on the last word.
“The first time I got pregnant, I was 32 and didn’t know that much about it, as crazy as that sounds. When I told him I was three months along, he said, ‘No. You’re not going to have it.’ He gave me $225, dropped me off at a clinic and said, ‘You’re going to go in and get it done.’ … Now, when I think about it, I can’t even believe I did everything he told me to do, but he was just like my father. When you’re born into chaos, you only feel normal in chaos, I think.
“I went to the clinic, as he said. When it was finished, they gave me a Valium and told me that it had been a boy. Then I came back and ended up in a 72-hour (mental health) hold at the hospital (in grief).”
Were there other miscarriages?
“Yes, caused by the beatings. But when I got pregnant with my daughter, as soon as I told him, he said, ‘You’re going to do the same thing you did before.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not, not this time. I’ve read too much. I know too much. This is a real child.’”
Even when the girl, Mahak Jovanna, was born, Kathy says her husband paid little attention to the child and called her “your daughter.”
Beginning in the late ’90s, Kathy and her husband traveled back and forth to Iran, six months here, six months there. She taught English over there and was accepted by her husband’s family, or seemed to be.
In 2005, her husband was stricken with cancer. She managed to keep from him the fact that it was terminal because she knew he wouldn’t be able to handle it. She decided to take him home to die.
When the three of them landed in Tehran, she saw for the first time how grasping and mean her in-laws could be. She said they took possession of her sick husband and turned him against his wife and daughter. They convinced him that Kathy had poisoned him. They made demands that she surrender the deed to his house, his car and other possessions. It was clear to her that the family wanted her husband’s property and would fight dirty to get it.
Looking back, did you love your husband?
Would you now?
“If he came in the room right now, I would not want him to touch me. I would not want him around. I would like to be able to say something to him. I would say, ‘Why did you let (your family) hurt your daughter?”
What did they do to you and Mahak?
Kathy absorbs the question, sighs and begins to recall wounds that refuse to heal. I cannot examine her memory or talk to her late husband’s family, as I would like to, but something stabbed her soul, and perhaps it was this.
“When they came to our home to take him away, they put him in a wheelchair and headed toward the elevator. My daughter, she went to him, and said, ‘Bubba,’ which is their word for father, she said, ‘Bubba, I love you,’ and kissed him on the cheek. He did not respond, and the whole family pushed her back and took him away. Two hours later, they called for his legal papers.
“The next morning we went to his mother’s house, where we had been welcomed many times. We went in. There was his brother, whom I had known for over 20 years. He said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going to see my husband.’ He hit me and said, ‘No, you’re not.’ He threw me up against the wall. All the women (of the family) just watched.
“I fell on the floor. My daughter went to grab her uncle. He slapped her, broke her finger and choked her. I was on the floor. Nobody was helping me.
“I could hear my husband yelling. I crawled to him. When I got in his room, I grabbed his arm and I said, ‘How could you let your brother do this?’ He looked at me and said, ‘Go.’”
After her husband died that year, Kathy decided to stay in Iran and fight for her daughter’s inheritance. Her husband had owned a house worth at least $300,000, among other possessions. She taught English and held on for five years while trying to wend her way through legal blocks erected by the family.
Kathy said she learned in a personal way just how corrupt official Iran is, and how powerless women are in that society.
Finally, in 2010, she accepted about $40,000 — 10 cents on the dollar — from her in-laws for her daughter and fled back to the U.S.
Almost four years ago, mother and daughter settled back in San Diego and set about dreaming: Mahak would work and go to school; Kathy would find a job she enjoyed, and they would find happiness in this city for the first time.
Not to be. Look as they might, the jobs weren’t found. And the longer they were unemployed, the more unemployable they seemed to become. And the money drifted away.
Finally, after many months of living on savings, they were broke.
A kind woman allowed them to move into a storage shed she owned, but it had no running water and no electricity. They eventually ended up downtown and were put up by the Salvation Army.
How does that happen to people and their families? Simple. Mostly bad decisions that lead to an inescapable corner. In Kathy’s case, it was marrying a bad guy and staying with a bad guy. Her daughter? Well, she loves her mother, but that’s not a bad decision.
Today, Kathy’s monthly income is $970 from Supplemental Security Income and a pension. Her rent is $640 per month.
Mahak earns minimum wage working full time for Goodwill. Her rent is $725.
They buy groceries at a 99-cent store. Christmas will be spent alone and will not include a turkey.
Mahak will not abandon her mother. For her part, Kathy dreams that Mahak will achieve her potential in mainstream society.
To get by, they pawned Mahak’s TV and Kathy’s laptop computer and cross. She pays the pawn shop a few dollars interest each month and hopes to redeem the possessions someday.
Kathy volunteers as a mentor-tutor at the International Student Center at San Diego State University, where she hopes to make some money teaching English. She wants to contribute to others and to earn.
She relies on the nearby Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center for companionship and assistance. There she receives some meals, a free cellphone, a bus pass and medical help for a chronic orthopedic problem caused by a long-ago auto accident. She says of that organization, “I love these people, all of them. So many times I went to them crying, and they found a way to help.”
Never once in our talk did Kathy grumble or express self-pity, only the desire for her and Mahak to work their way into a better life. They are industrious and frugal. They have their Christian faith and each other. And, finally, they are no longer abused.
In today’s social discourse, we trivialize the meaning of “hero” and play loose with “victim.” We need a good word for those who are ill-treated or abused, but who won’t quit and strive to carry their own load. Survivors like Kathy and Mahak are not of society’s fat, but of its sinew.
Fred Dickey’s home page is www.freddickey.net
His email is email@example.com
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