“Except my name. I’ll give up all that other stuff, but only if I get to keep my name. I’ve worked too hard for it, your honor.” ~ Tina Turner
My mother married Ron Good when I was in kindergarten. Shortly thereafter, he started sexually abusing me. In the second grade, my Mom put a notice in the paper to change my name from Titcher, her maiden name, to Good – her married name.
I remember the adults talking about how this was a big deal because my “real” dad could object, and everyone knew that he had already beat my stepfather bloody on the sidewalk. This was before anyone knew of the sexual abuse.
In my second-grade mind, I was just excited I would be a G instead of a T. That meant I could get in the lunch line sooner. This name change would also demystify some of the segregation I felt being a black child in a white house in a white town with a different last name then my parents. Often I was asked if I was a foster child or adopted. My mother is white, my father is black and my step-dad/abuser – white.
I was excited; I knew a name change would give me the appearance of being part of the family and, equally, I secretly hoped that my dad would object. I knew my step-dad was “mean” – that was the best way I could describe it without an adult vocabulary. My father did not object, and so my Mom, me, and my step-dad went to the judge’s chambers, and I became Good.
Later in life, I married a few times, and each time I kept my Good name. This perplexed my husbands. Why would I want to keep a name that held such trauma and weight for me? My husbands all supported me through the various stages of my awakening to suppressed childhood memories and healing.
I never took their names. I had a strategy and was in a long game toward justice for the crimes committed against me. I decided at 18 years old that I would make something of myself in a public way as an artist, poet and always keep my Good name, because the day would come that Ron Good would be held accountable and I wanted people to be able to connect Ron Good to Crystal Good, to me.
I didn’t want there to be any confusion about who he abused. I feared changing my name would disconnect me from people’s memories. I also believed that by keeping my Good name, anyone whom he had ever harmed – at one of my sleepovers or camping trips – might come forward, and together we could start a collective healing journey.
Then finally, I had my victory. My stepfather was found guilty and sentenced for his crimes. Judge Bloom said it was one of the most “heinous crimes” he had seen in his courtroom and gave him the maximum allowed, with a hefty fee and lifetime probation. Judge Bloom said he wished he could do more.
The local news was there; there were local articles. My case was public. It was known across my West Virginia valley that Ronald K. Good is a pedophile who had been charged and sentenced for molesting me and my childhood best friend, Tracy.
I stood in the courtroom during his sentencing, 20 years after my stepfather had first violated my friend and me, we spoke our peace. I read a letter that I wrote at age 18 to the court. I told the court while speaking directly to my stepfather; “Your name is Ron Good, and I have tried to make you “good,” but you are not.”
I left the court with a sense of freedom. He left in handcuffs. I began the struggle of deciding what to do about carrying my Good name. I realized I didn’t have to anymore.
My mission was accomplished, my stepfather was in jail, and many other people he had abused found me and reached out to me for support. I finally had the opportunity to be free from my name.
I imagined I might find a new husband one day, and I would change my name officially. Or maybe I could change my name to Roosevelt or Rockefeller or any host of creative names like Goodwoman that I tried on. I even asked all my ex-husbands if I could have their name now.
They all said yes.
Then along came January 9, 2014, known as the “West Virginia Water Crisis” when a chemical MCHM was negligently dumped into the Elk River, and the use of water in any form for 350,000 people in 12 counties stopped. I and many others got our water from an Army tanker. I had learned to survive and stepped into a new form of personal agency as the lead class representative. I took and continue to take my role seriously.
I share this to say that the naming of this case was poetic, Good vs. American Water.
The case was settled in a 121-million dollar payout to all who endured the Crisis. For me, the settlement victory stretches beyond the monetary compensation or structural changes and into the place where the Good, in my name, was a baptism of sorts. This legal case will live on in history, and seeing GOOD on hundreds of boxes, on thousands of documents has allowed me to claim my own name.
It is my name – all my own – and it is Good.
Claiming your self and naming yourself, giving meaning to yourself, and your experiences is powerful.
On my journey toward moving from a victim carrying the literal weight of my abuse in my name, I learned to feel and move into an identity that is not defined as a “survivor,” but as a person who has experienced abuse and given meaning to myself and my name, not in light of trauma but from my own creation.
I’ve found healing in understanding that, at my most fragile moments of child development, I was stunted. Abuse of any kind stunts emotional growth, but you can go back, learn these skills to amend the past. You can learn new coping skills for the ones that no longer serve you. I’ve started the hard and deeper work, both emotionally and intellectually, to learn and to grow past my trauma stories.
I’ve made many mistakes along the way that made me question if I was carrying an energy in my name. Over and over again, I have attracted the archetype of my stepfather – an abusive, manipulative, sexually deviant man.
At some point, I had to recognize that these men were indeed creeps and are responsible for their creep behavior, but that also meant I, too, was responsible for analyzing my patterns of behavior.
By claiming survivor, you tell a story of a victim, and this has made me very vulnerable to creeps. By claiming survivor, society awards you with applause, but this is often just pity and can hold you in a cycle of rinsing and repeating your survivor/victim story or other alterations of victimhood for applause and acceptance.
It’s a delicate dance that did not allow me to move out of my story and into a future free from sexual and emotional predators – both men, women, and my own self-abuse tactics.
I do not have a crystal ball. However, Ball was one of the names I considered. I cannot see the future, but in looking back, I had no proof that if I kept my name, Good, others would come forward. I simply had faith in a spirit that still leads me today. I know that defining my own name as a whole Crystal, with a whole lotta truth-telling, self-reflecting goodness is the Good in my name.
I still may change it, my last name – but that’s my choice. For now, Crystal Good serves me because it reminds me that life, like a good name, is what you make it.
Proverbs 22: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.”
Photo: @Crystal Good All Rights Reserved