In September 2016, Millie fell victim to spousal abuse, calling the cops on her then-husband after he smacked her in the face. Three years later, she is separated from her abuser — who is in prison — is engaged to a supportive man who understands her past, and subscribes to a new perspective on life, refusing to be treated poorly by anyone.
“She seems like a whole different person now,” said son-in-law Justin Wheeler. “I know the same thing is happening to a lot of other people, so I’m glad she’s as open as she is, and that she’s willing to share her story and use it as a way to empower other women and people who are in the same situation.”
Wheeler, of Forest Park, wrote a song, “Cinnamon,” celebrating Millie’s recovery from abuse. His band, Chelusier, released the song on June 1 and, for the time being, will donate all proceeds from it — and their entire discography — to Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter in Oak Park. Chelusier is a four-person alternative rock band — “kind of like Jimmy Eat World,” Wheeler said — which has performed at Amy’s Winehouse in Forest Park, the Elmhurst Art Museum, Reggie’s Rock Club in Chicago, and elsewhere.
Featuring fast-paced lyrics like, “Hushed tones precede crushed bones, you see / Let’s plant the seed for better society,” the song is named after Cinnamon, the advocate who helped Wheeler’s mother-in-law recover from the incident. The song offers listeners a bright, acoustic take on a serious topic. Wheeler, who counts Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson as influences, said the band aimed to keep the sound light to make sure the message remained accessible. Millie, he said, approved the song and lyrics before it was released.
“She’s just been really open about her journey and what it’s done for her to experience a new sense of freedom, and that’s why the song is more upbeat because of her progress, and her whole attitude,” Wheeler said. “It’s about growth; it’s about really becoming who we are supposed to be and not being held back by anyone.”
Wheeler noted Millie was married to her abuser for 20 years.
“When they were still together, sometimes if she wasn’t able to answer, she would get hundreds of phone calls, that kind of thing,” Wheeler said. “He would kind of prevent her from seeing family members. She couldn’t really visit with her parents that often, if at all, and he would have to be there. … He was a priest in the church, which gives another layer of, ‘You have to act a certain way as to not bring disgrace to the family,’ or whatever — maintain appearances because of this position.”
Millie was able to use the justice system to get away from her husband, who eventually went to prison. Wheeler said writing the song helped him process the experience, but he waited until last year to show the song to his bandmates.
Bassist Matt Morsovillo, of Forest Park, said he wasn’t surprised to hear “Cinnamon,” since Wheeler often presents the group with music written from his personal life. The two attended Dominican University together, which Morsovillo said was “really, really heavy into social justice,” so nothing is too weighty for the friends to discuss.
“If it’s about our family, we’re going to talk about it,” he said.
Going forward, he said the band plans to write more songs about social justice issues, naming cancer, Pride month, and diabetes as examples.
“To hear the story, to know how far and how bad it was, it made it really personal for me; it brought it home,” Morsovillo said. “Domestic violence is still a topic a lot of people really don’t talk about. I think it’s kind of ingrained, sadly, in our culture. We just wanted to write something with more of a punch,” he said.
Drummer Omar Cornejo, of Oak Park, said he believes “Cinnamon” represents a turning point for the band which, until this point, mostly sang love songs, although they did record a song about immigration.
“It kind of reminds me of when The Beatles began their careers, singing love songs, nice songs but, in a way, silly songs,” Cornejo said. “Then when they released ‘Revolution,’ I think they changed completely and became more socially involved.”
Listeners can download the single at Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Spotify. Chelusier hopes to raise at least $200 for Sarah’s Inn.