by Len Lear
As a young woman, Fiona Harewood checked off all the boxes for failure. Now 57, Fiona grew up in Guyana (the only English-speaking country in South America), where she admits she “did not do well in school … I used to get so nervous while taking exams that I could not pass them.”
Her personal life was even worse. She got married and had two children, but her husband was so abusive that she was afraid to even be in the same country as her abuser. So after a six-year marriage, Fiona left her country and moved to Barbados. “The hardest thing I ever did in my life was leaving my children with my mom in Guyana,” she said, “but I had no choice.”
But it was déjà vu all over again in Barbados. Fiona married her second husband, who would eventually be just as abusive as the first one. That marriage, which produced Fiona’s third child, dissolved after five years, followed by a third horrific abusive relationship with a man.
As a result, Fiona fled Barbados and came to the U.S. in 2001 to be with another man from Barbados, whom she would marry. Fiona already had three strikes, but she was not out because her third marriage, now of 16 years duration, has been a happy one overall. Her two adult daughters live in Ohio, and her adult son in Missouri.
Fiona, who has lived in Philadelphia now for seven years, also got her student act together. When she came to the U.S., she was cleaning houses to scrape out a meager existence, but she went back to school at age 44 and eventually graduated six months ahead of time in 2009 from Peirce Business College in center city with a Bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies. She later earned a master’s degree (2019) from Drexel University in public policy.
But Fiona was also spending years on her passion, a book about abusive relationships that she hopes will help female readers avoid the alligator pit she found herself drowning in. That book, “River Never Smooth: Reclaiming Power After Abuse,” has a publishing date of Jan. 19. “My global online pre-launch empowerment just started,” she said, “and will culminate in an online and in-person launch party on Sunday Jan. 26, 2 to 4 p.m., at the Germantown Friends School Library.
“Through ‘River Never Smooth,’ my message to victims is that there is hope, and healing is available for the people who get up, seek help, take a stand and with divine intervention, forgive. We know we are healed when those memories surface, and it feels surreal.”
The book, published by Author Academy Elite (not self-published), has been sent to experts in the field of spousal abuse, and their reviews have been unanimous raves. For example, Irene L. Brantley, program director at Women in Transition in center city, said, “I could not put the manuscript down. Fiona has a way of telling a story that documents what happened while making the reader feel the emotions of the characters … No matter where you are in life, you will be uplifted by ‘River Never Smooth,’ and your faith will be renewed.”
When Fiona started writing her book, she wrote it as fiction but later revisited it and made it a first-person memoir, with her dirty laundry hung out for all to see. “At first, I was not ready to take on the critics who I knew would say things like ‘Well, then why didn’t you just leave?’ Of course, it is not easy to leave. The abuser is completely controlling. Women are often afraid that if they leave, they will wind up dead.
“In the Evening Star Writers’ Group, which I went to on and off for 11 years, a consultant said, ‘You have to own it,’ and I wanted to reach women with my own story, so I redid the book, making it completely non-fiction …
“Every case of abuse is different. Some women stay for the children; some stay for financial reasons; some are in denial. Some can be fixed, but some are so toxic that the woman has to get out and rise above their circumstances and be ‘overcomers’ … They must have support, though, or they will fall through the cracks. The controlling men often do not want the abused woman to have any friends. Luckily, I did have a very good girlfriend who listened. If I knew then what I know now, I’d have done therapy also.”
Fiona worked as a paralegal for a downtown law firm and then as a clerk to a manufacturer’s representative for a Mt. Airy company, 69, Inc., for five-plus years. She also attended Mizpah Seventh Day Adventist Church for 10 years when it was in Germantown. (It’s now in Frankford.) And the writers’ group where she started writing this book was at a member’s house, renowned author, Karen E. Quinones Miller, in Mt. Airy. Fiona now works as a staff assistant to the regional director of the U.S. Department of Labor.
“River Never Smooth” is now available from amazaon.com. It will soon be available in hardback and e-book. More information at www.fionaharewood.com