For Tay Washington, August 12, 2017, started off as a normal day. She ran some errands, and then stopped to see a friend at Friendship Court with her sister.
When Washington learned crowds were gathering downtown, she drove over to take a look.
“I was amazed by all of the people with their signs,” says Washington. “I took a picture [and] proceeded to go home, [but] I got detoured” to Fourth Street, unable to drive forward or turn around.
“Me and my sister [were] staring at the crowd because we had never seen so many people before,” she says. “And then it was a blackout…All I heard was screaming and hollering. I didn’t see any help. When I opened my eyes, it was just chaos. I thought a bomb had went off.”
After a few moments, her sister realized that somebody had rammed into their Toyota Camry from behind. But it was not until later that they learned that 20-year-old self-proclaimed neo-Nazi James Fields, Jr. had intentionally sped down the street, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring more than 30 others.
Washington was diagnosed with an ankle fracture. She started doing physical therapy, but her pain only worsened. Eight months later, a visit to an orthopedic specialist revealed that she had complex regional pain syndrome, a chronic condition with no cure.
Washington visited multiple specialists, but none of the medications and treatments she was given helped. She was also repeatedly put down and not taken seriously, she says.
“My job now is my body, taking care of it, so I do not flare up in so much pain that I cannot live day-to-day life,” she says.
Now 30 years old, Washington wants to work, but says she cannot because of intense pain and brain trauma, which causes her to have explosive episodes. Before the car attack, she had been on her way to becoming an EMT, and says she had received multiple scholarships and awards.
Though August 11 and 12—and the ensuing investigations and trials—made international headlines, it has not been easy for Washington to get the assistance she needs, both for herself and her daughter, who is now 11. She says she’s been denied disability benefits multiple times, and hasn’t been able to claim unemployment, since she hasn’t had a job in three years.
The Charlottesville Area Community Foundation’s Heal Charlottesville Fund has been Washington’s main source of financial support for the past three years, but CACF Director of Programs Eboni Bugg says donations have dwindled, and the fund is now out of money. Only three people—including Washington—have requested assistance from the fund in recent months.
Washington’s mother, Emma, a licensed practical nurse, covered some of her daughter’s expenses for a while, but when her 31-year-old son, Telvin Washington, was murdered in their hometown of Belzoni, Mississippi, last year, her own pain and trauma became overwhelming—her PTSD and panic attacks make it too difficult for her to work.
Washington says the last check she received from the fund will help her get through the next three months, but after that, she will have no source of income. She is also in need of long-term medical and emotional support, as well as legal counsel, and is accepting donations directly through GoFundMe.
“I feel left. I feel stuck. I feel invisible,” she says. “I’m screaming for help as Black young woman.”