Today, Petergay Dunkley-Mullings serves as the Director of Nursing at Arcturus Hospice & Palliative Care in Atlanta, GA, where she resides with her husband and daughter. She is proud to have never given up on her dream of becoming a nurse despite all the challenges along the way. She is also happy to have created a better life for her child, and continues to be a beacon of hope for those who have experienced abuse. In a time of greater awareness and public solidarity for domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes frequently perpetrated against women, Petergay’s memoir offers solace to fellow victims and inspiration for all. You can learn more about Petergay and “Can’t Afford to Fail” at her website.
Exclusive Interview with Petergay Dunkley-Mullings on her unforgettable life story, healing through writing, and inspiring young women
When did you first begin to write? What inspired you to start?
I originally started writing in November 1998 when I realized that my ex-husband intended to keep me hostage in his home without access to family and friends. Initially, my goal was to leave a paper trail just in case anything happened to me.
Readers will learn that you were born and raised in Jamaica before coming to the U.S. Can you talk about the significance of where you were born as it pertains to your story (and/or) touch on the key cultural differences between these two countries.
There are a lot of cultural differences between Jamaica and the U.S. During my experience growing up in Jamaica I noticed a marked difference in our culture, including the fact that men are often reverenced without consideration for the voice of a minor, especially young women. Unfortunately, sexual abuse and incest are a known part of our culture, which most are either afraid or ashamed to address. Jamaica lacks proper social support for victims of various types of abuse, so often victims are forced to fend for themselves. On the other hand, the US affords lots of resources and support for anyone who is going through abuse of various kinds. Furthermore, the U.S justice system is more inclined to protect victims of abuse with current laws in place. Americans are also more vocal in the fight against abuse and provide victim advocacy.
Your book details many extreme hardships that you have endured. What was something that brought you joy or hope during these times?
Throughout my hardships, my primary focus was to be a better mom to my son so I could one day return to get him. Even after the death of my son, I remained focused on self-improvement in the way of pursuing financial stability in preparation for my next child. I made a vow that I would do everything in my power to make sure I wouldn't have to leave another child.
Can you explain why you chose the title, Can't Afford To Fail for your memoir?
The title Can't Afford To Fail came about after I examined my life's journey and realized that at each crossroads in my life I was faced with dire situations where I couldn't afford to fail. For example, when I tried to escape from my ex-husband -- if I had failed I am almost certain that I would have ended up dead. The same was true when I ran away from home and was forced to live on the street. Surviving homelessness meant that I had to be vigilant in order to avoid predators who often prey on hopeless young females, in this case, I also couldn't afford to fail.
What impact did writing this memoir have on your healing process?
Writing this memoir provided me great relief in the sense that I no longer feel as if I have to be ashamed of my past as I now come to realize that I did nothing to deserve the abuse that I have endured. Lately, I feel at peace knowing that I didn't allow my past to define my destiny and most importantly I didn't choose to become an abuser due to my past experiences.
You've shared your story with people in your life before publishing this book. How has sharing your story helped people in the past?
Over the years of working in different industries, I realized that sharing my stories has inspired and changed the lives of many women, especially young girls who don't seem to believe that there is a way out of their current situation. I have also realized that some women often seem to think that they are alone in these dire situations, and knowing someone who has lived through a similar situation is somewhat reassuring.
What is the main message you hope readers take from your book?
I would like to convey a message of hope to anyone who finds themselves in abusive situations, particularly young girls. I am a living example of how anyone can rise above homelessness, hopelessness, abuse and neglect as long as they believe that they "Can't Afford To Fail". The first thing is to understand that there is always a way out as long as one is willing to make that life-saving change.
In her memoir, Petergay Dunkley-Mullings candidly details a tormented past. She traces her personal history from an impoverished childhood in Jamaica, to an uncertain young adulthood in the US, all the way until her father’s death. Despite all that she endured, Petergay was able to rise above her struggles and find great success in her career. Throughout her retelling, she discusses what inspired her to keep moving forward and describes moments of hope that made life worth living.