A grant from the Sari A. Rosenbaum Fund for Women and Girls made it possible for Maria to have an artist mentor her as she explored her own talents and gifts. For her final project, she chose to paint a portrait of Community Foundation and Fund for Women & Girls founder, Sari Rosenbaum, from a photo we provided. The portrait captures Sari’s spirit, strength and kindness, and it is displayed proudly in our office. Maria gave permission to share her story and for that we are extremely grateful. (Note the hand print in the lower left corner of the portrait – that’s Maria’s daughter’s hand.)
An open letter to all whom this may concern:
I learned of Sari’s drive and passionate work to help victims of domestic violence only through discussion after this painting was completed. I couldn’t get these words out at that time, as this is a very personal and emotional struggle so many of us have gone through or are still enduring. Now aware of Sari’s mission, I feel compelled to tell this story.
I began painting this trapped and living in an extremely violent, abusive relationship. I had convinced myself I could leave at any moment, however reality continued to prove otherwise. Through numerous and difficult attempts, I caved at some point not able to bring myself to leave or even speak about the abuse. I lived with it. We lived with it. For our 5 month old daughter it was all she knew. Everyday life was chaotic, dangerous and terrifying. Yet I had chosen this man, this life … so I felt the need to do my best, hoping we would all come out stronger as a family. The violence and many forms of abuse only got worse. I kept thinking about the painting of Sari I had started. I knew I needed to finish it, but every day I was made to believe I couldn’t do anything right. Every moment I thought about my daughter and what kind of a mother – what kind of a person I needed to be. I thought about what kind of a person I know I am. Everything in my life was conflicting.
It became apparent Sari’s painting would never get finished under those circumstances.
For me, painting is a form of prayer. The unfinished painting was a constant proof of how unhealthy a life [we] were living. I felt desperate to raise my daughter in the best ways I am able. I was not a bad person, nor a bad mother, but I was an enabler for allowing the situation to continue. I realized that choice was mine alone to make. Nobody can decide your fate but you.
We left suddenly and didn’t look back. We couldn’t. I had endured (and my daughter had witnessed) four endless nights of violence and suffering leading up to this moment. I felt in my core we would both be dead unless we left that day.
And so we left.
With a determined mind and faithful heart, anything is possible.
It was never easy and it is still tough-going, yet I am grateful every day to see my daughter and know we are safe from the attacks. She is the most incredible blessing I’ve ever known.
After finally leaving, I allowed myself to read about abuse and realized that this was “textbook.” Most cases actually are. Now I know what to look for and I will teach my daughter so she won’t be naïve as another person tortured by that cycle comes along. In our community, in our nation, and in our world, domestic violence is an epidemic. I had no idea of this problem, of this reality, until I lived through it. I am lucky to have lived … and even more lucky that my daughter is healthy and alive. Your choices directly construct your life and your effect on others.
You cannot force another to choose something, but you can encourage and hope. Even from a distance.
This portrait of Sari directly helped me leave my abuser. With every brush stroke it helped me regain strength I rendered lost and had forgotten. I had become comfortable living a nightmare, and this painting was proof I need to wake up, especially for the sake of my infant daughter (whose handprint is underneath my signature).
We are forever grateful to Sari for her life and legacy, to the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, who funded this piece and so much more … to the Buttonwood Tree, for allowing me the honor of painting her, and to everyone who finds strength within to make the choice of never enabling abuts. It can be an incredibly heart-wrenching decision, maybe the hardest decision of our life, but it is for the good of our community and to the benefit of all.
With sincerity and love always,
Maria Louise and Indica
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