Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you do choose.
— Michelle Rosenthall
A feature on a local person usually doesn’t go down the rabbit hole of a person’s trauma and her battles scraping to get out of darkness.
A few artists I’ve interviewed unleashed catharses into their personal journeys, including personal hells; however, after reading my drafts, many have declined to “expose” so much of their lives for public consumption. The exposing of one’s trials and tribulations is powerful to readers, but many times opening up in person is easy; seeing it in print is devastating.
“Out of sight, out of mind” is not a great place to find healing, though, and a person like Oregon Coast resident Kiera Morgan faces those demons head on. She embraces the good, bad and ugly of her totality.
The Central Oregon Coast (where I live) has remarkable narratives of people who face down homelessness, incarceration, depression, poverty, illness — what some call the school of hard knocks to the tenth power. Trudging out of the dark into the bright burning light serves up powerful survivors’ tale. It is a microcosm to the rest of the USA, the world.
Kiera Morgan fits this to a tee. I met her last year at Depoe Bay’s Neighbors for Kids (a non-profit for families in need of a place for children to be when parents are working) while I was giving a presentation on an anti-poverty program I am heading up in Lincoln County.
Her nose for news quickly motivated Kiera to get me on camera for her weekly show, “Coffee with Kiera.” This is a newish Lincoln County digital platform of her own creation: Pacific Northwest News and Entertainment.
A few months later, here I am talking to her on phone, my first interview conducted with the impersonal tools of social distancing.
I ask Kiera several times — “Are you okay with the dirty laundry aired and published in a newspaper?”
I am not ashamed of where I came from. I think my story could be a learning lesson for others.
ACES — the deck is stacked
Her story is one of reclamation — radio DJ-ing, theater and a newshound background. She has been out here since 1994. Setting down coastal roots entailed pain, struggle and personal discord. Kiera is now at her sweet spot — a good marriage to Tony Thomas (with Rogue Brewery in Newport for 12 years) and her own involvement in civic and community programs.
She has been on (or is currently a member of) such diverse advisory boards as the Salvation Army, Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, Partnership Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse and Central Coast Child Development Center.
Sort of the “why” of Kiera’s involvement in these social services non-profits weaves back to her early years as well as her adulthood: she was born in Idaho 55 years ago; moved to Bend; ended up in Gresham by the age of five. She’s spent time in Portland, Pendleton, Sweet Home and, finally, the Central Oregon Coast.
Though she’s not “just” defined as a child of early divorce, Kiera recalls a stepdad who was an abusive alcoholic. She ended up emotionally and physically battered.
We bring up ACES — Adverse Childhood Experiences. I’ve worked in education, with gang prevention programs, newly released prisoners and foster teens. Training around ACES, I was galvanized to in understanding my students’ and clients’ childhood traumas. Those negative events early on have concrete outcomes — future violence victimization and perpetration, lifelong physical and mental health issues, substance abuse, homelessness and plethora of lost opportunities as adults.
The adage, “it takes a village to raise a child,” is pivotal in how society should create neighborhoods, communities and situations where children can thrive. Letting children fall through the cracks and live in abusive, impoverished homes nullifies many possibilities of a thriving adulthood.
Kiera emphasizes how our communities pay for this as fellow citizens get involved in substance abuse, are challenged with illiteracy and fall into myriad unhealthy lifestyle “choices.” As a community, we pay in many ways for these people failing through the cracks:
Poverty, violent parents, substance abuse in the household and being a foster youth are all high-influencing ACES.
Kiera ticks off all of the above. Her biological father was out of the picture, she says, not because that was his choice. Her mother was not emotionally sound to break away from an abusive husband, her step-father.
She moved in briefly with her biological father who was a chef and baker in Rhododendron at an operation centered around rental cabins.
“I would go to the restaurant for meals,” she says, emphasizing how she rode her bike to friends’ homes, and was able to hang with farm animals at her friends’ parents’ farms.
“My dad was good-natured, a very positive person. He would literally give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. He was a happy man, and everyone called him, Hap.”
Getting back up
Kiera’s time with her biological father ended when a private detective, hired by Kiera’s mother, stated he saw Hap letting his young daughter hang out by herself in their cabin while her father was just around the corner working in the restaurant.
More ACES: whipped by her step-father, and bruises on her body. “I literally had the design of his belt on me because he hit me so hard.”
Her biological father would show up to his sister’s house. They called the police once, and the step-father told the officer the marks were evidence of normal disciplining. Nothing happened to the abuser.
The young Kiera witnessed her stepfather’s heavy drinking. She had the marks of being swatted and belted, and she held in the emotional pain. The vicious cycle of a mother allowing the abuse of the child by a male step-parent put Kiera front and center into his rage. She was grabbed by the throat, her hair pulled and head slammed against the wall.
The next day the sixth grader showed a teacher the fingerprint bruises on her neck and welt on the back of the head.
Is this proof enough, or do I have to die before you believe me?
This journey has more twists and turns in Part Two published on the OCT website, but as one bookend to her life, Kiera reiterates, “I want to be like my dad — loving and a smile on my face. It’s important for me to expand my web site. It puts me at peace knowing I can help others through the news site.”
PTSD may stand for post traumatic stress disorder, but the label could mean Personally Tough Strong Dame after spending time with Kiera Morgan.
So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive
— Audre Lorde
Kiera is open about her life, about survival. She recounts how she was living paycheck to paycheck in Sweet Home. She was with an alcoholic, a husband who “did get physical with me, punched me.”
She emphasizes leaving an abusive spouse is not always an option. Kiera knows the psychological underpinnings of “battered spouse syndrome” by heart. She went back to this fellow many times.
One instance, Kiera’s sister came to get her, and Kiera spent her time couch surfing, virtually homeless. She lived in her car. “Nine months pregnant. Jeff found out where I was. He told me he missed me. I knew better, though, but I went back to him.”
The vicious cycle of believing a man can and will change when the bottle or the needle are more important in their lives is not atypical.
At the end of her pregnancy, she was quickly feeling massive heartburn. Eventually she went to OHSU where she was diagnosed with toxemia, which meant bed rest. On Sept. 10, 1992, a six-pound, nine-ounce Nick was born.
Foster parents bow out
Being put into a foster home and being told that you are just like their own daughter is powerful. More impacting is having these foster parents tell you they are done fostering and want out of the deal.
Kiera had that experience in 8th grade. Afterward, she got packed up and sent to a different foster home, this time in Gresham. “They had lots of kids. It was that they needed a babysitter for the other foster kids, and I was it.”
Kiera laughs, telling me she constantly listened to the Billy Joel song, “My Life.”
She had an older foster sister, aged 16, who stole and used drugs. “I could have easily gone down that path.”
Her Aunt Jean told her that she was going to be her daughter. Another change in schools. “It was tough, even though I knew Aunt Jean loved me. I really loved music and that what really helped me get through some rough parts.”
She was obsessed with record clubs, and she got into Queen, the Bee Gees, Journey, Cheap Trix and others.
My aunt always encouraged me to work. I babysat and worked at an after-school program for a Montessori School.”
Theater, she says, was a lifesaver for her. She was involved in the Overlook Acting Company that gathered in North Portland. She calls those people “my theater family.”
She also got involved in the Big Sister program. That sister, Lois, paid for a plane ticket to go to Alaska so Kiera could visit Lois’s family. But tragedy struck — her biological father was killed in a sandstorm in Idaho, hit from behind by a semi. Kiera had only been in Alaska two days when she got the news of his death.
She graduated from high school in 1983 at age 17 and went to work for a window treatment company.
More tragedy. Her foster mom was aged 60 when she was diagnosed with an inoperative brain tumor. Kiera took care of Jean for three weeks, before she passed away.
“I’ve been on my own since age 17.”
After she died, an ex-husband of Lois showed and took away the house.
Kiera was working in Beaverton for a dry cleaners, and then the day care center, and landed another job, at an Albertson’s bakery. There, she met a woman whose husband was director of the National Broadcasting School in Portland.
Work, buses from one side of Portland to the other, and this amazing school. She graduated as valedictorian. Her first gig was with KFIR AM/FM in Sweet Home.
It was a country station. “I had grown up on KGON since I was a baby. I was a rock ’n’ roller.”
Country Western music grew on her.
She ended up in an abusive relationship, but he was the father of her son. She ended in a domestic violence shelter in Pendleton. One thing led to another and she drove to Newport, found jobs and a house and ended up at the Shilo Inn as a DJ.
She was in a small trailer up the Alsea River near Waldport, Oregon.
Nick is 28 years old and had his first baby July 2019 with Amelia. Three years ago, Keira and Tony (they were married in 2001) bought a house in Newport Heights.
Kiera’s life is one of struggle, but with plenty of highlights too: working for KZVS-Toledo, KFND, delivering newspapers, retail work for the Chocolate Basket. She also works for KSHL — the Wave, 93.7 FM — doing sales and PSAs.
She and Tony have his son, Nathan, and girlfriend sharing the house with Rocky the cat and two shih tzus.
Her takeaway at the end of the interview:
I want people to feel hope.
Q & A Rapid-fire
PH: What makes you tick inside?
KM: What makes me tick, is work. I am a hopeless workaholic. I like to stay busy and be in touch with what is going on around me.
PH: What do you like about this county, this community?
KM: What I like about Lincoln County and this community is the willingness to help others when they are in need. When the chips are down for someone or an event creates a situation where people need help, like right now, we step up and help.
PH: What advice would you give a young woman who is in a viscous and abusive relationship? The elevator speech.
KM: I would say to a woman in an abusive situation that they should use their best judgement to protect themselves and loved ones. Don’t always believe everything your abuser says. If you can get out and do so safely there are those who can help you recover and get back on your feet. Most of all get counseling!!
PH: What are two big changes you have seen since first moving to Lincoln County almost 30 years ago?
KM: One of the biggest changes I have seen is the effort to help those and a better understanding of homelessness. I think people now realize that those who are homeless are not that way because they are lazy, they are families who work but simply can’t afford high rents and costs of getting into homes or apartments with fees and credit checks. I am also proud of the changes being made to have a better understanding between law enforcement, the community and those who have a mental illness and the work to get them the help they need.
PH: What are the top two issues that need addressing in Lincoln County?
KM: One of the top issues that concerns in Lincoln County, in my opinion, remains the lack of quality child care! Families often can’t afford the high cost of child care so they turn to the next best thing. This is not always a safe choice but when we live in a county that is not a M-F, 9-5 community it leaves parents with little choice. There is an extreme lack of infant care. This makes two parent families choose between only one parent working or having to work opposite shifts, which puts a strain on families. If I have said it once I will say it a thousand times “you can’t have economic development without childcare.” Families need a safe place for their kids to go for them to be able to work, it also defeats the purpose when the parent is working is paying nearly all of their paycheck to childcare. Help from the state or from companies is essential. Homelessness would be the second. There are many options that could be explored that have been done in other areas including creating small house communities, instead of trailer parks that would be managed by programs such as Grace Wins or the programs in Lincoln City.
PH: If you could do some things over in your life, what would they be?
KM: I am old enough now to realize that the mistakes that we make in our lifetime are what helps us to learn and grow as a person and become better. Love and appreciate those you have in your life, as we truly never know when things can change.
PH: What’s your basic life philosophy?
KM: My basic life philosophy is happiness. Do what makes you happy, treat others with the respect and kindness that you would like to be shown.