Seventeen years ago, Tricia St John lost her left hand and two fingers on her right in a domestic violence incident.
She has fought her way through fear, emotional and physical abuse, separation from her children, the loss of her limb, and discrimination, only to come out stronger on the other side. She wants people to see she more than a survivor.
She recently got her driver’s licence, will be graduating with an associate degree in social work this year, and is in the process of writing her fourth and re-writing her first book.
For her strength, St John was recognised by the Traditional Afrikan Women’s Organisation with the Harriet Tubman/ Claudia Jones Award on March 27.
She said while she felt appreciated, happy and honoured, she also felt such honours were ineffectual.
“In the earlies I used to be on TV talk shows and in the newspapers a lot. I might reach somebody and make a difference in their lives, which I’m glad about, but it didn’t do anything much for me personally except rehash the memories. It’s not giving me employment, not putting food on the table, not paying the bills, not giving me counselling, or doing anything else for me.”
She said she conducted her own type of therapy when she wrote her first book, Before Me, After Me, Now Me, in 2005. It told her experience of domestic violence but, she said, it was missing some aspects and was not done to the best of her ability. Which is why she is rewriting it.
Her second book, published in 2006, was Moving On, and her third was a book of poetry called Chains Falling, published in 2014. The working title of the fourth is Asking for the Husband You Want and Getting the One You Get.
St John had been in an abusive relationship for years and one day left Princes Town with her two sons. A few months later, her former partner found her and took their children away from her.
She recalled that on April 2, 2004, four years later, after not having seen her sons in almost two years and missing them desperately, she decided to visit them at school. By the time she was ready to leave, it was late so she decided to stay the night at her sister’s home, which was in the same yard as her ex.
They saw each other, said good evening and went their separate ways. But, when she stepped outside on the road to take a phone call, he came up behind her and attacked her with a cutlass. She turned around, raised her hands to protect her face and lost her left hand and two fingers on her right.
She remembered screaming and while he was still chopping her, she ran into a neighbour’s yard and fell down near the gallery. When the neighbour came outside to see what the commotion was, he ran off.
“In the years of abuse and hitting and quarrelling and carrying on, he always used to say, if he can’t have me then nobody else could. I think he said it so many times that he actually believed it. By the time I was ready to get away from him, I believed it too, that he was some kind of psycho, but after four years I didn’t think that he was actually just waiting there for an opportunity to attack me.”
At some point, while she was still in hospital, he gave himself up to the police but was soon out on bail.
After her injuries she needed help so she moved in with her sister in Princes Town. However, she was visiting a friend in Diego Martin when she found out he was out on bail. Her initial reaction was fear and her friend took her to the Diego Martin Police Station. It was arranged for her to spend a few nights at different safe houses and then about a year in witness protection with her sons. There is where she wrote her first book.
“It started to wear on my nerves. Everywhere I went I had to go with armed police officers and the children had to be taken to school and brought back home. I started to feel as if I were the person who was trapped when I didn’t do anything wrong. So I packed up my georgie bundle and I left witness protection.”
She felt safe enough in Princes Town during the day on the road with people around her, but she felt the area was too small since her attacker also lived there, so she moved to Port of Spain about two months later.
He was out for five years before he was convicted of attempted murder with grievous bodily harm and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
She disparaged the local justice system questioning why someone who tried to kill her would be given bail and allowed to roam free, as well as the length of time it took for his case to be brought to court.
In addition to that injustice, St John is concerned about losing her home as her mortgage is in arrears. She gets a disability grant but it is not enough.
In a Newsday article, two years ago, she made a plea for employers to give her a chance to work. She would love to get a job but when she goes to interviews people think she is not capable. Things have not changed for her since then.
“When it comes to employment I keep bouncing into the same wall. People keep thinking that I can’t do things and they treat me accordingly. It’s frustrating, depressing and very annoying. I am not incompetent. At home I cook, clean, bake bread, everything.
“I don’t like the word handicapped or disabled. When I look at myself it’s not what I see. If I start to see myself in that way, I’ll give up, so I never apply those words to myself.”
Now a mother of four, St John recalled someone trying to discourage her from getting her driver’s licence because she “would not be able to handle all the crazy drivers on the road.” It had the opposite effect and instead convinced her to go get it, which she did in March.
She intends to continue studying at The College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts to gain her bachelor’s degree in social work. And has been attempting to raise funds for a prosthesis.
In 2018 and 2019, she had a fashion show and tea party but could not host the event in 2020, or this year, due to the pandemic. She is brainstorming ideas to continue her fundraising.
Asked what message she had to women in abusive relationships, she said they have to believe they are worth more than the situation they are in, especially if they are financially dependant on the other person.
“Anyone in a toxic relationship, whether there is violence or not, the person who needs to leave has to reach their own level of tolerance. If they don’t reach the point where they say, ‘I had enough of this and I am worth more than this,’ then all the help in the world from others would not help them. Because even if they don’t go back with that exact person, they will go with someone similar, and it would be repeated.”
Once in a while someone amazing comes along and here I am – the message on the T-shirt Tricia St John wears is testimony to be seen as more than domestic violence survivor.