By: Kaia Gallagher
In Some Bright Morning I’ll Fly Away, Alice Anderson proves she is a survivor no matter what life throws at her. Her memoir recounts a decade-long battle to protect her three children from a vengeful, violence-prone ex-husband. The courts provide little help, encouraging family reunification rather than assuring the safety of an abused spouse.
Anderson is no stranger to hardship. Early in her writing career, she recounted her determination to overcome her father’s sexual abuse in an award-winning book of poetry. Human Nature is a harrowing description of a young girl’s fight for a future despite a childhood filled with incest and violence. It won the 1994 Elmer Holmes Bobst Award for Emerging Writers.
Despite her early success as a poet and international fashion model, Anderson is haunted by her past: “Something about [being a model] made me feel used up, consumed, like I was the little girl my father gobbled up all over again, his sexual abuse consuming in a drunken, hungry rage all the best parts of me until I was nothing, but a pretty, performing doll.” She becomes ripe for a relationship with Liam, her ex-husband whom she sees as someone trying equally hard to escape his family demons. Her spiral down into acquiescence is gradual, with an ever-tightening noose that threatens to erase not only Anderson’s very identity but also her life.
After a courageous escape, Anderson finds that the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina mirrors the displacement and chaos in her own demolished life. She hopes for protection from the Mississippi Family Court only to discover that if she reports her husband’s violence to the police, her children will automatically be placed in foster care. Her husband warns her, “If you leave, I’ll have you good ol’ boy’d right out of Mississippi so fast you won’t know if you should scratch your watch or wind your ass.” More ominously, he assures her he will kill her without a second thought.
Despite evidence of her husband’s attempt to strangle her and a psychologist’s assessment of his predilection for violence, the court continues to allow her husband visitation rights. It’s a grueling story as the court battles never cease and the threat that Anderson might lose her children is ever present. Victims of spousal abuse will recognize the familiar themes of domination and control; the linkages between mental illness, alcoholism, and violence; and the difficulty abused women have in enforcing protective orders and protecting their rights.
The personal cost of the struggle is high. Anderson second-guesses her lifestyle choices relative to how they might be perceived by the courts. She wants to fly away, but through it all, her desire to protect her children keeps her determined to fight, “In some ways, I gave up on life. I certainly gave up on the idea of love. I felt like I’d come so close to the edge so many times I couldn’t take that risk again. Every time I tried to have a little something extra, things went terribly wrong. So, I finally accepted that custody of my children was perhaps the only thing I got. And that was enough.”
It’s a cautionary tale of the emotional and legal costs of battling a relentless spouse who is more determined to seek full custody of his children for revenge rather than any fathering instincts of his own. Anderson shows what it takes to rise above it all, despite the odds, despite the discouragement, living with her scars and getting better each day.
Her prose is lyrical, written with a poet’s sensibility as she writes a story she hopes might be an inspiration for other families experiencing the same type of struggle, “I imagined somewhere in the endless crowd there was someone just like me, who carried the ghost of fingerprints around their neck. Somewhere was a mother who’d taken her children and run. Somewhere was a trio of siblings who knew what cruelty meant. Somewhere was a family who’d lost it all.” Through this survivor’s story, Anderson demonstrates the grit that helped her rise above it all and live again. In the end, her memoir is an inspiring tale of determination by a mother whose three children become more important than her own life.