Most people know Robin Givens as boxer Mike Tyson's ex-wife. But, in her new memoir, "Grace Will Lead Me Home," the actress goes beyond the tabloid sensation that was her volatile marriage and recounts a domestic violence legacy that has haunted her family for three generations.
Her book reveals that even after Givens divorced Tyson, her campaign of destruction continued.
In the end, Givens credits motherhood for providing her with clarity. "Grace Will Lead Me Home" is her redemption story.
Here's an excerpt.
I have known of God all of my life. I was raised Catholic, going to mass every Sunday. When we had a special request of God we said the Rosary,
and if we were even more concerned we resorted to novenas. I believed in God and, from every indication, God believed in me. Of course I wanted God to be pleased with me, but most of all I wanted God to make me happy ... and indeed the relationship was quite rewarding. But ritual and even religion do not ensure a relationship with God. It is by experiencing God that we get to know him ... and it is in knowing God, truly knowing God, that we get to know ourselves. After years of ritual and religion, I was finally introduced to God by Michael. I can say that surely I know God by name. God has a way of getting your attention and making sure you never forget. For me this relationship is ... home.
I awakened at my usual time, though it had been a late night, especially for the boys. I had let them stay up until just after we blew our horns, threw our confetti, and kissed one another -- Happy New Year! They were in the deep and peaceful sleep that childhood permits, the kind of restful sleep that grown-ups envy, since it brings such great comfort and renewal. On my way to the kitchen, I stopped to close Buddy's bedroom door. I lingered for a moment. He practically looked like a man now at twelve years old, sprawled out in a bed that until recently swallowed him up. We really need to have some more shelves built, I thought, before continuing down the hall. Buddy is running out of room for his tennis trophies. I reached Billy's room next. Before I closed that door, I took a moment and smiled, as I breathed in the fragrance of yet another blessing -- my golden-haired six-year-old boy. Life has been good to me, I thought.
I headed through the living room and toward the kitchen. Draped in a big, shaggy throw, my sister Stephanie was asleep on the sofa. We had stayed up late sipping a little champagne and sharing some resolutions, but mostly reminiscing about Christmas holidays as kids. She decided to spend the night and was sleeping as peacefully as the boys. I stood at the doorway to the kitchen and realized the boys would be much more excited about chocolate croissants than with my making eggs. I turned and tiptoed back to my bedroom, not wanting to disturb anybody. I grabbed my down coat and a pair of boots from the closet. I felt eager now. The time alone would be as much a treat for me as the croissants would be for the boys. I stuffed the flannel pajama pants I was wearing into my boots.
"Where are you going?" Stephanie asked, pushing her long dreadlocks to one side as she lifted her head from the pillow. "Sorry, I was trying not to wake you," I apologized. "I'm going to get some breakfast for the boys. I was thinking about chocolate croissants. Do you want something?" "Chocolate?" She thought for a moment, fluffed the pillow, and lay her head back down. "Too sweet for me . . . make mine plain." "I won't be gone long," I assured her, as I eased out of the apartment. And she simply answered, "We're fine. Take your time."
I stepped out into a bright day that felt more like the anticipation of spring than the dead of winter. Not knowing quite where I was headed, I walked. Alone for a rare moment, enjoying the silence, able to hear my own thoughts -- I kept walking. I took deep breaths along the way, refreshed by the crispness of the cool air. I replayed every moment of this holiday in my mind as I walked across Fifty-fourth Street and headed north. I passed Petrossian's where, on Christmas Eve, Mom and Stephanie had surprised me with a belated birthday celebration. "Rob, can we take a break now?" Stephanie had asked, pretending to be tired of shopping for toys. They indulged me with champagne and caviar, and we laughed for what seemed like hours. It was like old times.
I walked up Seventh Avenue, where only the night before the ball had dropped into a new year. It appeared the city had already moved on. The streets were swept clean. Only bits of confetti that had resisted the brooms remained, and I spotted a black top hat made of paper, with a bold fuchsia feather and silvery, sparkling numbers that reminded me of the year I had just entered, anticipating it with love, hope, and forgiveness -- 2006. Forgiveness, in particular, had been a long time coming. I reached Columbus Circle. "Hey, Robin. How's it goin'?" yelled a policeman standing with two other cops. I was delighted to answer him: "Great!" "Happy New Year," they all said. I closed my eyes for a moment and repeated to myself, "It is going great." I was as excited to be in New York as the tourists who were out first thing this New Year's morning. I hadn't lived in New York for quite some time. I had called several places home in an attempt to find one that would be truly home -- a place where I'd find warmth on the coldest days, light on the darkest nights, and solace in times of suffering. But with my family and so many friends here, the fact is that New York has always been my home.
Yet there had been a time when this home did not provide the comfort that it should, when being in New York meant living with a bit of anxiety and fear. A memory from that time surfaced, a young woman telling me, "He should have kicked your ass . . . he should have killed you." I looked away from my friend -- we had been engaged in a conversation.
She had coaxed me from my apartment, away from feeling sorry for myself and out for a movie. Now I gazed into this stranger's face distorted with anger. Through the venom I could still see the innocent beauty of a girl who had to be in her early twenties, about the same age I was then. And I marveled at a campaign of hate that led this young woman to believe that another young woman deserved to be brutalized. So when Michael threatened casually and with conviction,"I don't have to kill you ... I'll make it so bad you'll want to kill yourself. You'll have to leave home, you won't feel safe anywhere," I believed him wholeheartedly, and his words proved prophetic. There was really no need for his warnings. And with every display of his power, I lost more and more confidence. When I objected that a newspaper story wasn't true, he simply responded, "I have the power to make the truth what I want it to be." The lies seemed to sell papers, and they certainly manipulated public opinion and fueled ill will. But most painful of all, most frightening of all, they confirmed my husband's power. "If you sling enough mud," I once heard Phil Donahue say, "some of it is bound to stick."
Headed north on Broadway, I stared up at the street sign?Sixty-fifth Street. I hadn't planned to walk that far, but certainly I was enjoying it, despite the memories that at one time would have been quite painful. I could now recall them with greater understanding, and I could focus on happier, more recent events.
The boys and I had arrived in New York about a week before Christmas. We spent the week shopping and just reveling in the city and each other. The kids had been looking forward to snow but the weather was more like spring. Now, I looked up again to see where I was ... Seventy-fourth Street. Just a few more blocks to Zabar's. Stephanie and I did a lot of our growing up just a block away from here. Mom always made sure we had something special from Zabar'son holiday mornings, and I found myself making my way there now. Perhaps that memory of childhood rituals, the desire to give my children similar memories, had been leading me uptown all along. I felt happy and hopeful and free. But above all else, I was thankful that my present moment, my here and now, was beyond anything I could have imagined.
Eightieth Street, finally. There was a short line, so I took a number and waited at the counter. After a few moments, the counterman yelled, "Number 64!" I waved my ticket and said, "That's me." He smiled in recognition and said, "Hey, Robin, what can I getcha?" "I'll take a dozen chocolate croissants," I answered. "What, no pumpernickel? No rugelach?" he prompted, remembering the specifics of my mother's usual order. I smiled back, tickled by just how familiar I was to him and how familiar he was to me. "No, I'm just here to get chocolate croissants for my boys." Suddenly I was bursting with pride, feeling I was continuing a family tradition in, literally, my own special flavor. "I bet they're getting big, huh? I haven't seen 'em in a long time," he went on. "Really big," I answered, now smiling from ear to ear. "Well, you're in luck, Robin?I have some chocolate croissants right out of the oven." Oops! I'd almost forgotten about Stephanie. "Make that ten chocolate and two plain." "You got it." He handed me the bag of chocolate croissants first -- "Careful, they're hot" -- and then the bag of plain ones. "You take care and say hi to your mom. And Robin, Happy New Year!" Once again, I was pleased to say "Happy New Year!" in return.
I left the store carrying both bags and a cup of coffee I'd gotten for myself and headed down Broadway. I wondered if the boys might be awake and asking for me. It was too warm for gloves so I pulled them off and stuffed them into the pocket of my big down coat. This walk had reminded me just how much I love New York, but it was also difficult to put out of my mind the reasons why I felt I'd had to leave my home, the events that had shaken my family loose from its core,but not from each other. My mom added extra locks and an alarm to an apartment that for years had been kept safe simply by the protective scrutiny of our doormen. The safety and, most of all, the sanctity of home felt violated I fumbled in my pocket, past the gloves, and pulled out my cell phone. I scrolled down the stored numbers and stopped at one in particular. I felt anxious about making this call. My legs felt a bit weak and my head felt a bit light, but actually I felt a bit lighter too. There was a bench in front of a coffeehouse near Seventy-second Street. My heart was pounding and I took the liberty of sitting there, cell phone in hand, as I sipped my coffee and drifted off in thought ..."Rob, come on! Ma told us to hurry up," Michael said, rushing down Broadway. But I wasn't trying to hurry or even keep up. "Michael, the snow is so great!" I yelled as he got farther away. On my hands and knees in the fresh snow, I made a couple of snowballs to catch him by surprise.
"Will you come on?" he called once again. "No," I answered, as a snowball struck him in the chest. "Rob, stop it," he said, dusting the snow off his coat, unfazed by my attack. "Do you have the list?" "No," I answered again, throwing another snowball. This one was even less successful than the first, as he turned away so it never even touched him. I became a little pouty. He wasn't playing and my snowballs were all duds. "What do you mean, 'no'? Ma gave you the list. I know I saw it."
He was taking this shopping far too seriously. "It doesn't matter. I don't need a list, I already know what to get. I don't know why she bothers to write a list anyway." Maybe now he'd relax and play a bit. "She always gets the same thing," I went on, preparing another snowball. "Everybody in Zabar's knows what she gets. Every holiday breakfast, it's the same thing. Pumpernickel bread, brie, mango chutney, whitefish," I said, walking toward him. "Salmon roe, roasted red peppers, and a loaf of French bre -- " Bam! What felt like a boulder of snow covered my face and pushed me back onto my butt. Even before I'd had a chance to throw my latest bullet, he'd gotten me. I screamed, "I can't see! I can't see!" "You can see, Rob," he said, bending over to wipe the snow off my face. "Open your eyes, silly." "That hurt," I said. "It did not," he said, kissing my cold cheek. "You should have seen your face. Pow!" He laughed, pretending to fall back into the snow, mimicking the way I'd looked when his snow-bomb hit. Now I was laughing too. "You were so busy running your mouth, you didn't see it coming." There were times when I just loved his laughter, when it was warm and comforting. Those were the times when he was the very definition of a friend.
He pulled me to my feet, dusted off my coat, and hugged me tight. "You're cold," he said, holding my chilled hands in his to warm them. "I love you," he whispered in my ear. And with a loving pat on the butt, he said, "Let's go, Rob." "Hello? Hello? Robin, are you there?" The voice jolted me from my memory. I'd nearly forgotten that I had pressed the "send" button on my phone. I hesitated to answer ... but only for a brief moment.
"Mom, it's me." But of course she knew that already. The pounding of my heart made it hard to hear my own thoughts ... but there was only one thought that was truly important. I took a breath, a deep cleansing breath, and let it out. "Please forgive me." I'd already said I was sorry at least a thousand times over the years, and heaven knows I was sorry I'd brought him into her life. But there was something different about today. I had let go of the past and I had forgiven. I had forgiven Michael, and nothing is more empowering than the act of forgiving. True forgiveness is simply, purely redemptive. Forgiving had reminded me that my life was a gift from a far greater power than The Baddest Man on the Planet. Michael truly did not hold any power over my life, and he could not take away my living -- unless I allowed him to do that.
The things I intended to do, the living I was intended to do, all I was intended to be could never truly be taken away. That's true for all of us. I had forgiven Michael and I needed my mother to forgive me. She had been a fierce protector of the gate, and it was as if I had opened it and all hell broke loose.
"Please forgive me," I said again, and added, "I wish I had listened." As I pressed the "end" button and slid the phone back in my pocket, I realized that she had already forgiven me, and she had just been waiting for me to reach the place where I could forgive myself. A long chapter of our lives had come to an end. There was nothing left to be fixed, to be changed. I could live in the promise of today and in the hope of tomorrow. I am going to do something that would've been impossible not so long ago. I am going to reflect on my life honestly, clearly, without blinking or looking away. No matter how sordid the details or how painful the remembering, it's important for me to honor and even celebrate the path that led me here. I'm doing it for myself, to document my journey. I'm doing it for my children because, of all that I have and all that I wish for them, our greatest gift to our children is our walk with God. And I'm sharing it with you because when we look back at the chapters of our lives, there's at least one that was so horrible that we were afraid it would be the last chapter. I call this chapter "Michael" -- maybe you've named yours after a husband or wife, a parent, an addiction or some other disease. Maybe you're going through that chapter right now.
Despite the superficial differences, all these chapters share a rock-bottom sense of despair and hopelessness. In my Michael chapter, I feared for my family and for my life. There were so many days I was sure I couldn't go on, and almost as many days when I didn't want to. But things change when we change -- and not a moment before.
We forgive, we are forgiven, we grow, and we go on. Sometimes change is hard to see. I suppose it's like Buddy in his bed, on the morning of New Year's Day. One day the bed swallows him up and then, before you know it, you wonder how the bed can hold him. That's how life is. One day it may seem it is too much to handle; that all of our efforts to change have gone in vain -- then oh so suddenly we find ourselves transformed and we are bursting at the seams, with joy.