Bestselling author Connie May Fowler tells her own extraordinary story for the first time–the harrowing years of her childhood followed by the abusive relationship she endured as a young woman–and how the unconditional love of her dog helped her escape her physical and emotional bonds. Before Women Had Wings, Connie May Fowler’s award-winning and bestselling fictional account of domestic abuse, touched thousands. In this piercing memoir, Fowler chronicles the emotional battery and physical abuse that marked her own passage to adulthood. She draws a searing portrait of growing up with her manipulative and needy mother, a woman unable to give the love and comfort every child has a right to expect. And then, as a young woman, Fowler found herself involved with a man whose behavior disturbingly echoed her mother’s. The man she lived with alternately displayed a desperate need for her or rejected her as if she were worse than useless. With heart-wrenching candor, Fowler records the abuse she suffered at his hands, from his constant attempts to undermine her self- confidence to his acts of brutal physical violence. The unconditional love Fowler longed for finally came–in the shape of an adoring Labrador puppy named Kateland. With Katie at her side, she was able to withstand her mistreatment and the crushing weight of her childhood and, miraculously, managed to create a small refuge from the horrors that surrounded her. This is the story of her decision to end the years of mistreatment and even to open her life to a new, gentle man, whose love and understanding helped to transform her. Well known for her fiction and her work with victims of domestic abuse, Fowler now offers a strong helping hand to women everywhere in this startling, revealing, and ultimately inspiring memoir.
CONNIE MAY FOWLER is an essayist, screenwriter, and novelist. Her previous books include Sugar Cage, River of Hidden Dreams, and most recently, Remembering Blue. Her 1996 novel, Before Women Had Wings, won the Southern Book Critics Circle Award and was made into a successful "Oprah Winfrey Presents" TV movie. Remembering Blue won the Chautauqua South Award for Fiction. She and her husband are cofounders of the Connie May Fowler Women with Wings Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding women and children in need. She lives in Florida.
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She is hiding under a blue tarpaulin. Her siblings, all tan and brown, run and hop, nipping at each other, uncaring whether I choose them or not. They have a good life. They live outside and have sticks to play with. If it rains, they seek shelter under the house. Shade is there, too. And so is Mama. Mama with all that milk. But she's drying up, and these long-boned, orange-grove Crackers know it. In fact, she doesn't look very healthy at all.
Skin and bones and skin and bones. Where do you run to when you're nothing but skin and bones!
"The paper said you had black Lab puppies."
He points at the tarpaulin. "She's over there."
I look at the lone black pup and then back at the Cracker with his sky-colored eyes and sunburned face. Two barefoot boys, maybe three and five, chase the pups and giggle wildly each time they bait one into a game of tug.
"Their daddy is a Lab. That there is the mama. She's a shepherd. We only got one black one."
He smiles, as if her rarity in this litter makes her extra special, and I wonder two things. In the classified ad, why did they credit only the father's bloodline? Especially since five of the six puppies bear no resemblance to their Labrador side. And why isn't the black puppy playing with her siblings? Is she sick? Hurt? An outcast based on color? Size? Temperament?
"Hey, sweetie," I say to her from across the yard.
I approach slowly and kneel beside her. "How are you, little bit?" I ask, trying to make my voice comforting, as though a gentle nature is something all humans possess.
A star-shaped patch of white gleams on her chest. Other than that, she is tip-to-toe black. I offer her my hand. She looks at me warily and then averts her gaze. I take her into my arms. At my touch, she tenses. I understand from both the cautious posture of her eyes and the rigid trembling of her body that this dog, just weeks old, knows about mistreatment. She begins to whimper. Low, baleful, constant.
"It's okay, baby, yes, everything is gonna be all right."
I hear the Cracker say, "Looks like a keeper to me!" and he laughs loudly. It's a laugh made fat with good-ol'-boy intentions.
"Has she seen a vet?" I can see from her distended belly that she's wormy.
"Nah. I thought I'd leave that up to whoever is lucky enough to take her home. Besides, seeings how we ain't got room for no more dogs, we're probably just gonna croakersack whichever ones are left past this weekend. Back in the creek, you know." He nods toward a slow-moving rivulet of brown water that flows at the edge of a cane-break, sucks his teeth, and then yells toward the house, "Gracie, get me a beer." He looks at me. Slow. Up and down. "You want one?"
I shake my head no, flushed with rage, unable to match his blatant gaze. I feel his violence. It is palpable in each tremor of this puppy's underfed body.
"She's mine. I'm going to take her," I hear myself say as I ferry the dog to the car.
The older of the two boys is stomping, yelling, "Bye-bye!" The pups are scattering out of his path. His brother snags one by the scruff and carries it through the dirt as if it's a rag doll.
The Cracker yells, "You sure you want only one?"
Gracie steps onto the porch. She is as thin as the shepherd dog. I don't know if she's the Cracker's daughter or wife. He takes the beer from her and slaps her fanny. She slumps on the porch steps, arms folded in front of her, and stares at the dirt.
I am unbelievably grateful when the engine, after three sputtering tries, finally cranks.
My new dog is curled on the seat beside me, a tiny black curlicue, frightened and not understanding. As we travel out of the groveeven as my car shakes violently, banging along on its nearly nonexistent ball jointsI tell her, over and over, my hand stroking the bony ridge of her back, "I'm gonna take good care of you."
I name her Kateland, after Caitlin Costello Price in the movie The Verdict. I identify with Caitlin. She's long-suffering, and even though it takes forever, she finally does the right thing and testifies.
When I tell the receptionist at the vet's office how to spell Katie's name, I don't intentionally mess it up. But once I realize my error, I feel no compulsion to fix it. Katie doesn't care how her name is spelled.
She is a kind dog. She sleeps with me, on my side of the bed, right up against my belly. Every night before dozing off, she licks my hand. When the lights are out, I cannot see her. But I cling to her. And I think, she to me.
You pick her up by her scruff and inspect her as if you are an animal know-it-all.
"Don't handle her like that," I say.
You measure your words evenly, as if speaking to a child who is hopelessly dense. "That's the way it's done."
"No, it's not."
"Jesus, Connie, my father was a vet. I know what I'm doing."
You set her down and then try to force open her jaws. She squirms out of your grip. Quickly, I pick her up and hold her to my chest. She"s trembling as much as on the day I brought her home.
You look over my head and saythat old arrogance shining through"l'll have her trained in no time."
"I mean it, leave her alone."
And in my mind I'm saying, You motherfucker. You motherfucker.
You look at me with a bored, superior gaze and, for the first time in months, I stare right back, certain that if you hurt this dog I will kill you.
I am fixing supper. Katie lies on the floor, ever-watchful for any morsel I might toss her way. I spice the ground beef (I have given up my vegetarian ways, living with you). Salt, pepper, garlic powder, Worcestershire, and finely chopped onions. I mix it together with my bare hands, the raw meat cold and bloody against my skin.
You have been missing in action since about three yesterday afternoon. Still, here I am, preparing an evening meal, as if this domestic ritual will set my world straight. I have fantasies, like maybe you've been killed in a car crash, and I don't know whether to be upset or joyous. Each time a car slows in front of the apartment I peer out the window, hoping against all odds that it is you returning home.
Maybe I'll call the sheriff. Maybe I'll say, "Are there any accident reports involving a slick silver Audi driven by a drunk?"
Why should I fear being abandoned by you? I should hope and pray that you're gone for good. I slap the meat into patties and try to remember how long my mama has been dead. Two, three years? I can't recall. Same with Daddy. People ask, "How old were you when he died?" and I shrug my shoulders.
"I'm not sure. Little."
And they look at me as if I were a loon for not pinning down how old he was, how old I was, how old Mama was.
Maybe I can't remember because the numbers frighten me. They are cold, unchangeable. The opposite, I hope, of life.
Here's a memory to choke on:
"I'm little. How many years I am slips around me. Sometimes I grab it tight, sometimes it skitters away. Five? Five and a half? Maybe even six. One, two, three, four, five, six. I can count that far! Even to ten but I don't feel like it. Oh well, doesn't matter, I'll figure everything out later, on my fingers.
I have on a decent outfita new shorts set my mama sewed for me. It's blue with tiny yellow rocket ships zooming between all white stars. Mama can sew good, except she makes me thread her needles cause she says she's blind as a bat. I've got my doll with me. She's sitting beside me in the back seat of the Rambler. A little smile on her face. She's perfect. I like her white underwear.
Mama is driving and smoking and cussing Daddy. Deedee is riding shotgun. That's what Mama calls it. She ain't got no gun, though. She's just helping Mama find Daddy's car. She's a big priss, sitting up front, peering out her window, acting like she's better than me just 'cause Mama told her that one day she'd let her shave her legs.
My doll has good legs. If she were real, she'd end up marrying a leg man. I stretch mine out. They're freckled from the sun. My toes ain't got no paint on 'em, either. When I get big, I probably won't be attracting no leg men. But how about
"Constance Anita May, get your goddamned feet off the back of my seat before I smack you!"
I do as I'm told, but I'm not happy about it. Mama is a meanie. I hate her! I pick up my doll and whisper right in her face, "I weren't hurting nobody."
Mama slows the car and I stretch my neck to see out the window. There's a pretty sign up there. Words written in diamonds.
"There it is!" Deedee says as if she's just won a treasure hunt.
"Bingo!" Mama stops right in front of the bar, but she keeps the car running. "Connie, go in there and get that son-of-a-bitch father of yours."
I don't want to go. I don't like the way those drinkers look at me. They cuss a lot. Bars stink and floozies live there. Mama said so.
Mama turns around, her hand raised, her green eyes shifting back and fortha sure sign she's about to blow. "What did I just tell you!"
I leave my doll in the car. She'll probably thank me for it later.
There ain't no ladies in here. Just men, drinking, laughing, playing pool. And a lot of smoking. I stand right inside the door. I don't move. I just look around. With my eyes. Nobody has seen me. Maybe I'm invisible. I like that jukebox over there. It's lit up. Yellow. Red. Green. I gotta pee. Bad. I don't know where my daddy is. Maybe that weren't his car. Maybe Mama was wrong.
I look with just my eyes one more time. Pool games. Tables. That back room through all this smoke. Maybe this is Hell, right here where I'm standing. Mama says her grandma believed in Hell on earth. The bar. It's crowded. Maybe he's down on the end and that's why I don't see him.
That's my daddy's name! The bartender with his belly floating like a balloon above his pants. He said it.
My daddy swings around on his barstool. "Hey, sunshine!" He's grinning like a jack-o'-lantern. No wonder I couldn't see him. His back was to me. "Come here. Don't be scared. Nobody's gonna bite."
I inch on over to him. I know about inchworms. They're everywhere. Sometimes I let them crawl through my arm hairs. Daddy seems real happy to see me. He lifts me onto his lap and introduces me to his buddies.
"This is my baby girl. Ain't she the pertiest thing you ever did see!"
They all say yep and the bartender reaches over with his ham-sized paw and shakes my hair. I press my face against Daddy's shirt. It smells like starch and sweat. Mama's gonna claim that's the stink of women and liquor.
"What do you want?" Daddy asks. "Cherry Coke? Pickled egg? How about a Slim Jim, sunshine?"
I shake my head no. I try to make him understand. I do my serious face, the I-mean-business face. "Mama's waiting out in the car."
"She is!" Daddy seems real surprised. Does he think I walked here? "Well, what's she doing out there?" He tosses some paper money on the bar. "Let's go get her. Later, boys," he says.
I'm too big to be carried, but Daddy don't pay that any mind. To tell the truth, I kinda like it. Maybe these bar fellas think I'm some paralyzed childall weak and pale and pretty like my dolland Daddy's being the hero, walking us straight out of Hell.
WHEN KATIE WAKES Reading Group Companion, Copyright 2002 by the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group A Division of Random House, Inc. RG Logo All of our reading group companions are now available on-line at www.randomhouse.com/resources/rgg.html Doubleday Logo Doubleday • 1540 Broadway • New York, NY 10036
1. Domestic violence is about one person using emotionally, physically, sexually and psychologically abusive tactics to gain power and control over another. What forms of abuse did Connie suffer at the hands of her abusive partner? Her mother?
2. During her relationship with her abuser, Connie rarely defends herself. But the day she brings Katie home Connie says to him, "don't handle her like that" and "I mean it, leave her alone". Why do you suppose she's willing to stand up to him for Katie? How dangerous was it for her to do this?
3. What does Katie mean to Connie? What roles does she play in her life and why was she so important that Connie wanted to write about her?
4. There is often a cycle in families that repeats violence from generation to generation. How many generations of violence does Connie reveal from her history and what are the different ways that she expresses her understanding of the cycle? Why is understanding the abuse by her mother so important in understanding the abuse by her partner?
5. Typewriters have an important role in this story. Connie is not allowed to use her abuser's and Mika later gives her one as a gift. What do you think the typewriter means to Connie? Why do you think she risks using her abuser's in secret? What does she mean when she says "this typewriter helps me be independent?" How?
6. What do the braces mean to Connie? The surgery? Why would her partner not be supportive of her getting the dental work done?
7. Why does Connie think she wants to kill herself? Considering how hard her life was with her mother, wouldn't you think she would be grateful to have freedom? Why does she say in the book that she doesn't want to live without her mother? What does this tell us about child abuse?
8. Connie talks about how she, just like her mother, will not call law enforcement for help. Why not? What happened when her mother did? Do you think law enforcement's response to battered women has changed since then?
9. Just before her mother dies, she says to Connie, "go to hell". And Connie thinks, "maybe there is time left for me to still be a good daughter". Is Connie responsible for the abuse by her mother? By her partner?
10. The number one question asked about battered women is "why don't they just leave?" Why didn't Connie "just leave"? Is this a book about staying or leaving and why?
11. Did Mika save Connie or did Connie save herself? Who is the hero and why?
When Katie Wakes 5 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
Imagine my surprise when I realized that Connie May Fowler used to live in the very same area of town as I did. I didn't know when I picked up this book at the library. That fact just added a little bit more to this fabulous book for me. This is an incredible book, I read it in two days...I just couldn't put it down. Now I'm back to the library for more of her books!
More than 1 year ago
tough to read about the abuse but hard to put down, couldn't read fast enough to find out what was going to happen to the author and her dog :):):). found this book on a whim at the bookstore but so glad i picked it up!!
More than 1 year ago
After just finishing reading this book, I still feel the emotions I felt while reading it. It is a deeply emotional experience to read what a person can go through in life, and at the time, thinking they deserve this poor treatment from another human being. Being a petlover myself, her dog Katie, hooked me right away. What a wonderful loyal dog, Katie was for Connie. I too, like another book reviewer, wanted to jump into the scene and grab the man by the neck. His treatment of her was unforgiveable. My weekend ended well, as the book took a turn that make me smile through my tears. A very, very good book.
More than 1 year ago
This is a terrific book! I couldn't put it down. Fowler is a terrific writer. I could actually feel her fear and desperation. I wanted to jump through the pages to strangle her batterer myself! It is a triumphant story of courage and hope.
More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book. Connie is a gifted writer and a fierce woman whosurvived deplorable abuse yet kept her soul and humanity. God bless katie a furry angel.
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful book that I hated to put down. Connie May Fowler is an amazing woman for being able to overcome her tragic childhood and emerge as a strong, successful woman and a skilled writer. Her journey is well worth reading.....
More than 1 year ago
Connie May Fowler, is best known for her novels such as 'Sugarcane,' and 'Before Women Had Wings.' What many of her fans didn't know, was her struggle for survival. In her memoir 'When Katie Wakes,' Fowler wrote about suffering abuse both as a child and later as an adult. While in her late twenties, Connie, lived with an abusive boyfriend who beat her on a daily basis. That was until the day, she adopted a beautiful female black Laborador Retriever she named Kateland, who helped Connie change her life around for the better. The parts I liked best about the book were the flashbacks to Fowler's childhood. It helped me better understand why she stayed with her abuser. Personally, I applaud Connie May Fowler for sharing her personal story. Her story is one of hope and survival.
More than 1 year ago
Message of hope and inner strength. Wonderful book by a fantastic person.
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