What She Left

By Stephanie Ramage

Yesterday was the second anniversary of my mom’s death.
I didn’t talk about it. Didn’t reach out to my siblings. I always choose the coward’s way out when it comes to dealing with loss: Ignore it, and it’s almost like she’s still there, in Dudley, Ga., quietly living a life that was lonelier than it should have been.
That’s my greatest regret, that there wasn’t someway for mom and I to work out the emotional distance and awkwardness of our relationship.
We were very close when I was a kid, after my teenage brother Phillip passed away. Mom often compared me to herself and, in truth, tried to impose her beliefs, values, and aspirations on me to an extent that I found smothering.
My rejection of her was almost total.
For many years, I couldn’t be in the same house with her for more than a few hours without getting a migraine. At the first painful twinges of halo, I would excuse myself and flee for my home–not the one where I grew up, but wherever I was living.
I loved her tremendously. I still do. But I couldn’t give her the thing she wanted most–a complete capitulation to her religion, one I stopped believing in during my early 20s. She was perpetually disappointed in me and I felt that disappointment like a knife in my heart every time I was around her.
I wanted to be close to her. I wanted to be able to really talk with her. But I was like a moth craving the warmth of a BugZapper. If I got close, it would’ve destroyed me.
Still, I would make that infrequent journey home, my hopes high that this time could be different, usually with a gift of some kind for Mom, a necklace, a pin, flowers, perfume, anything nice that I could manage on my starvation wages. It was a personal tradition I had begun when I was still in grade school. When I was nine, I went without lunch for two weeks so I could use the money to buy her a cameo pin she had admired at Belk’s for her birthday.
But my sacrifices were insignificant compared to hers and always would be. She was a woman of sorrow, acquainted with grief to a degree that most of us would only see in some sweeping epic film: She lost two of her sons before they were men, one a baby, the other a smart deaf kid who died in her arms.
She married exactly the wrong man and constantly reminded her children that she only stayed with him for their sakes. She endured horrible poverty in her marriage to my Dad–the kind in “Ol’ Yeller” and “Where the Lilies Bloom.” It would be many years before her work in a pants factory and his at a pulpwood mill would hoist them and their six kids into the lower middle class.
She also endured violence that I now consider the hallmark of my upbringing.
My father was a brute who abused her and his children, and no amount of whitewashing or wishing it wasn’t so will ever change that. The real pain of being a survivor of child abuse is the confusion of loving someone who is sometimes okay and sometimes terrifying. Those raging parents are rarely total monsters, and my Dad was not; he could be the most generous, charming person you could ever meet, and outside our family he apparently usually was. But the man the outside world knew was rarely the one I saw at home.
So given what my mom had suffered for all those years, what right did I have to expect any kind of concessions from her at all? Why should she give a little ground when she had already lost so much, hurt so much, and in large part because of me, because of her children?
My Dad I could sometimes talk with as we got older, but talking with Mom became more and more difficult.
On his death bed, my Dad told me he was sorry and asked my forgiveness. I gave it unreservedly. That apology was like medicine, it put the world right and knitted up my broken heart.
I was holding my mom’s hand when she died. I remember a great wave of relief, first because I knew her suffering had stopped, and then because I hoped that in the afterlife she would be freed from her disappointment in me. At least I wouldn’t have to face it anymore.
I wish our relationship had not been that way. Worse, I look at my relationship with my son and I see, with horror, that in some ways it is a mirror of my relationship with Mom. I smother. I give too much and expect too much in return. I see what he can be, and in my mind what I see is so much more glorious and desirable than what he wants for himself.
My disappointment in him has been sharp and I haven’t skimped on the guilt, generously employing my mother’s tactic: “Do you know why I didn’t take that job in DC? Because of you! Because I wanted you to be close to your dad!” I suffered for him and, my god, how I have reminded him of my suffering.
And now, it’s hard for him to be around me, because martyrs are not fun to be around, not easy to talk to; there is no way you can be honest with them.
That’s frightening considering how much trouble a teenager can get into, how important it is that they be able to tell their parents what they’re up to.
My final gift to my mom will be learning, perhaps too late, the lessons of her cautionary tale. Acceptance of my son as he is will trump the shining vision I’ve pushed him toward, never realizing until now that I was pushing him away.
It may be too late for us to transcend the template my mother gave me, but if ever there were something worth the effort, it’s his love for me.

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This is my 7th day on the job. The City of Atlanta will soon be providing an easy and easy-to-find way for citizens with hard-to-solve issues to get in touch with me. In the meantime, the best way is through my city email. It is sramage@atlantaga.gov

Please don’t feel discouraged if I refer you to existing problem-solving resources within the city government–I come in when those avenues have been exhausted. However, if yours is an issue that I can help solve, I’ll engage in that process as quickly and effectively as I possibly can.

–Very best, Steph

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Recently, I was presented with an opportunity to continue my mission of public advocacy in a dramatically different role.

[Here's the mayor's Press Release announcing citizen advocate.]

On Monday, I became the City of Atlanta’s first ever Citizens Advocate, and while the title may be new, the work itself is something I have done with greater or lesser degrees of success as a journalist for many years.

Like most journalists, I have listened to the citizens, become acquainted with the problems they have encountered with their government, investigated the source of those problems and researched some solutions for them. As the city’s Citizens Advocate, I will still do that, but with a measure of authority that will allow the taxpayers more control over their government and ensure greater accountability.

Every city department has a resolution process in place in terms of customer service or professional standards. In those cases where problems have proven resistant to the city’s traditional channels of resolution, it will be my job to investigate what went wrong, identify those policies, procedures or personnel that have proven to be roadblocks to resolution, and present a report of my findings to the administration.

No doubt some of you may be concerned about my future; you might even be shocked that I have chosen this path. I am grateful for your concern, but it’s important to note that Mayor Kasim Reed didn’t just ask me to join the team, he asked me to join the team and bring my criticisms with me.

I think that it would be very disingenuous of me not to take the job. After all, what kind of person would I be if I continue to offer criticism of the city, but I am not willing to do what I can to help solve its problems when given a perfect opportunity to do so?

The city will publicly announce the job a little later and will offer more information about it at that time.

Thank you, as always, for your faith in me. I hope I will continue to be worthy of it. SR

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The Ramage Report has learned that a member of the Atlanta Police Department’s motorcycle unit, who was injured in an accident while on duty last night, was admitted to the intensive care unit at Grady Hospital with a ”bruise” on his brain. The term bruise, according to medical sources, likely means a hematoma in this case. The hematoma will be monitored daily to make sure it isn’t spreading. The injury is usually not life-threatening, according to my sources, and the outlook for recovery from that kind of injury is generally good. 

He also has a chipped pelvis.  In answer to some inquiries: The Ramage Report has not been informed of any leg injury.

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The Ramage Report is fielding early reports that a member of the Atlanta Police Department’s motorcycle unit has been injured in an accident tonight on MLK near Centennial Olympic Park.

Anymore information would be appreciated. Let’s pray he’s okay.

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Once again, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Police Foundation have trundled out the old saw about Atlanta’s crime problem being a matter of perception (“Survey looks at how Atlantans feel about crime,” April 2, 2011).

They do not seem to understand that when one quibbles that a very real crime problem is overshadowed by perception, they are actually creating the old problem of “the lady doth protest too much”:  Their protestations seem to hint that all is not as it appears.

Why this fixation on perception? Why the need to undermine and discredit the citizens? Once again, the AJC has set itself opposite residents far more aware of their own circumstances than any news reporter possibly could be.

When a woman in Grant Park says she doesn’t feel comfortable opening her garage door until her car doors are locked and her engine is started, I trust her judgment. As a journalist and an advocate, I would never imagine that it is my job to question the common sense of residents who are far more familiar with their neighborhoods than I am.

 I do believe the Atlanta Police Department does a heck of a job with inadequate equipment and personnel—and congratulations is certainly in order for the lowered incidence of crime, but we must always remember that most crime goes unreported. Not just in Atlanta, but everywhere. I personally have known people who were robbed who did not report it. Why? They were traumatized and scared, afraid that somehow the perpetrators would find out they’d reported them and come back for more. Or, they felt intimidated by the whole process of reporting a crime. APD officers themselves can attest to instances when they’ve practically had to beg a victim to step up and give them details for a report.

So, it’s important to understand that when residents say they don’t feel safe, they aren’t just basing this on crime numbers—which fall prey to a number of factors outside the power of citizens. They are also basing their feelings on things that they know have happened in the neighborhood that the police may not know about. Continue reading

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This just in from the Atlanta City Council:

Please note the Atlanta Police Department’s Zone 6 Beat Redesign Informational Meeting planned for TODAY, Thursday, March 31st has changed locations.
The new location is the Entrepreneurium, 1599-A Memorial Drive SE, Atlanta 30317. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m.

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Some are casting accused Athens cop-killer Jamie Hood, 33, as a victim because police killed Hood’s brother years ago. Hood himself told his acquaintances—the so-called “hostages” he held to stave off the closing loop of a manhunt—that he feared the police because they killed his brother.

The Daily Mail, a British paper basing its coverage on that of Atlanta’s own WXIA, Channel 11, begins its story with Hood’s apology for killing Athens Clark-County Police Officer Elmer “Buddy” Christian last week and his statement that “you know, they killed my brother. They were going to kill me.”

An apology offered with an excuse isn’t quite an apology, but it made great TV. Hood gave himself up to authorities three days after the killing on the condition that he be allowed to surrender on live TV because, he claimed, he was afraid of cops.

His orchestrated spotlight-grab has a lot to do with why the story reached the British tabloids and other international outlets. It also, let’s face it, plays into time-honored stereotypes about Southern law enforcement and blacks. Continue reading

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The Atlanta Police Department has chosen a name for the unit formerly known as Red Dog: APEX, the acronym for Atlanta Proactive Enforcement & Interdiction. True, there is no “X,” but the unit hasn’t been obsessed with details in recent years and APEI doesn’t have the same ring to it.

The 36-person unit is scheduled for training March 28 through April 1. It will be under the command of Lt. J.D. Patterson.

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In 2010, the Atlanta Police Department responded to more than 73,000 commercial and residential alarms. A staggering majority, 54,700, were false, eating up hundreds of personnel hours and dragging officers away from fighting real crime.

With the APD stretched thin already, false alarms present a dangerous waste of police resources, a problem Atlanta shares with other cities.

North of Atlanta, at the Sandy Springs Police Department, Lt. Steve Rose says suburban traffic ensures an alarm call takes about 45 minutes for each officer who responds, and sometimes longer. The SSPD gets between 800 and 1,200 calls for alarms each month. Most, he says, are false, which creates hazards that go beyond mere inefficiency.

DeKalb County Police received 74,452 alarm calls in 2009 (the most recent numbers available), of which 73,136, or 98 percent, were false.

“Nationally, we know that about 99 percent of all alarms are false,” says Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn, chair of the alarm management committee for the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police (GACP). “It is an enormous problem for police.”

Alarms, he says, both false and valid combined, account for about 10 percent of the demand on police across the country.

Read more of my story on false alarms and what they cost us at The Buckhead Reporter, where I’m currently helping out a little:


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