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TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contain information about sexual assault and/or rape which may be triggering to survivors.
By Audrey Freudberg.
I met him at the outpatient psychiatric program at UCLA.
He held my hand when I was afraid.
And I was afraid there all the time.
Afraid of the men, especially, because
of the rape.
This Minister I was seeing for counseling,
he came to my apartment so I could talk, be comforted, be guided.
Only that afternoon, October 7th, he didn’t let me talk.
He didn’t comfort me and he sure didn’t guide me.
That afternoon he came to my apartment on the pretext of helping me.
He didn’t help me at all.
He helped himself to me, laughing at me the whole time I said No, I don’t want this.
He said, “You want this. All real women want this.” and ejaculated his slime into my mouth and laughed again because he came in my mouth when I’d told him not to.
He spread himself all over and in my body and broke me into a million pieces of despair and hopelessness.
Hours later he glanced at his watch and said, “Oh shit, I have to go.” He laughed at me, as he pulled on and zipped up his pants.
I stumbled off the couch and stood, bewildered, lost and no longer me.
He was me and I was gone, sucked up and into his drab olive body.
He laughed again and as he walked out the door he said, “You’re not a nun anymore.”
The screen door slammed behind him and I heard the stomping of his footsteps as he went down the stairs outside my apartment.
I stood, half naked, a few feet from the door, wide open, looking at the screen door. staring at the screen door. Soul rotted and stinking of him.
Where was I?
Looking down from the ceiling to where I’d escaped as he violated me in every way on that couch.
It’s the only thing that kept me from going into the kitchen, getting knife and stabbing it into my chest.
The pain was
filled my body
as it stood there
and I watched me
walk into the kitchen
to get the Carob Chip cookie I had bought at The Good Earth restaurant earlier that day.
It was dark.
The light was on but
it was dark in the kitchen
dark in my heart
dark in my soul.
I ate the cookie
every last little chip and crumb
the pain was
the shame was
I felt disgusting.
Greg held my hand when I had to walk into the group room where the other patients stood chatting and talking or sat quiety on the couches waiting for process group.
I wasn’t afraid of Greg. His soul wasn’t drab and murky olive. It was shiny, glowing green. Green like the leaves of the trees in the springtime.
He took my hand in his and as we walked into the room, the shattered pieces of my heart began piecing together, bit by bit.
One day we took a picnic lunch to the Botanical Gardens. I was wearing a mustard yellow shirt with a red, mustard yellow, black and white jumper over it.
A dress. I was wearing a dress for the first time since
The first time because after
it hadn’t felt safe to
Greg and I walked hand in hand into the gardens and found a spot on the hill on the west side with long, soft, green grass, green like the leaves in the springtime, green like the kindness of Greg’s soul.
We ate our lunch and then
Greg took me onto his lap and wrapped his arms around me.
I felt safe with Greg.
Safe for the first time, since
since maybe ever.
All I knew was my breath slowed to an easy rhythm, the palpitations in my heart disappeared, the cold in my fingers and toes warmed and I
snuggled in against his beating heart and warm body.
I turned and then we faced each other
and he kissed me
and I kissed him back
for the first time since
since the Minister bit my lips til they bled.
Greg was gentle, his lips moving softly
My heart filled with love
For the first time since before
The armor around it melted as I melted
into Greg’s embrace.
My heart opened and filled with love
I fell in love with Greg
that warm afternoon
in the Botanical Gardens at UCLA.
We kissed a long while
and there was excitement
in my belly
for the first time since before
Excitement and hope and longing
Greg fed my longings with loving kisses
and I fell
I fell in love again that afternoon
More in love with each moment.
My heart was full and
I didn’t remember the coldness that set in
The warmth in Greg
warmed me up
and I felt
warm and loved and alive
for the first time since
long before the rape.
I had my own sexual trauma at thirteen. It took only a few minutes. I can’t remember it all, but can still feel the pebbles and grit embedded in my opened-up palms, see my ripped jeans, and taste the blood inside my mouth from where my face was shoved into the ground. I can still smell their boozed-up breath on my neck and feel their thick hands and fingers. It was a one time event, but my perpetrators went to school with me. I had to face all three of them for the next five years in classrooms and even at parties. I had no one to talk to, no therapy, no coping strategy.
I begged my parents and the male police officer, who spoke with me about it immediately afterwards, to drop it. I gave no details. Details would have made me cry.
“I’ll be fine.” I said.
What I wanted to say was, “Shut up. Shut up.”
And like a miracle, they did. My parents and the cop, they shut up. In a span of less than fifteen minutes, they were gone.
I was left alone with the sound of my body hitting the pavement hard and the boys laughing and squealing in my head. It was like taking a deep inhale, closing off your ears, eyes, nose and mouth, and never exhaling again. I failed to mention “the event” again until I was 30 and in therapy for self-hatred so thick, I could stir it. Thanks God for the panic attacks that led me to the office of a persistent and wise therapist. I had no idea my low self-esteem and carefully hidden self-destructive behaviors were linked to what happened at thirteen. All I knew was I had spiraled to a black bottom and couldn’t find my way back up. Continue Reading…
In strange places, nonetheless.
This particular morning I was power walking through the aisles of Target, in search of cereal bars for a quick breakfast before meeting a friend I hadn’t seen in years. My mission: timeliness. Lately I’d been succumbing to the sultry pull of lateness, but truly, this tendency irked me. I prided myself on maintaining consistent timeliness as a teenager because my mother had provoked near-insanity in my nine-year-old-self, shuttling me to every.single.appointment at least ten minutes late. Nowadays, I’m able to calculate the theoretical ratio between the necessary time remaining for travel and my estimated lateness like a pro; yet, this never fails to inspire raw panic within me. So, this morning’s mission of timeliness would be accomplished with power walking and way-faster-than-the-speed-limit driving. Perfect.
Approaching my turn at the register, I thrust my bag at the cashier while searching for my credit card with the furthest bill date.
“I have my own bag.”
Silence, yet comfortably so. I glanced upward.
“Hello. How are you?” asked the cashier, deliberately leaning forward. He was an older man with graying hair and wrinkled skin. Wearing a bemused expression, his voice playful, he was so clearly entertained by my frenzied state that I couldn’t help but giggle.
(In truth, I was embarrassed I could ignore someone so easily. *Mental note: ask everyone how they are. Always.)
“I’m so sorry, how are you?”
“I’m ok. Just take a breath, relax.”
He had amiable eyes. How was he delivering this somewhat condescending message with such kindness?
“I’m just in a rush, I’m sorry!” I apologized; I couldn’t remember the last time I acted like this. I acknowledged my rudeness because maybe, just maybe, doing so would eradicate my ignorance. It was a desirable and convenient theory.
“Keep breathing, keep breathing. I’ll get a move on. Relax…!”
I was still looking for the right credit card. Which one had the lowest balance?
“Miss, I need this.”
The man had been grabbing at the bag between my fingers; I didn’t even realize I was still holding it. Gripping it, actually. I mumbled, “Sorry, sorry.”
“It’s ok, it’s ok!” he conveyed with laughter. There was a type of softness in his voice that I couldn’t quite place. I finally lifted my gaze to swipe my card and grab my now-full bag.
“Have a nice day!”
He laughed again: “You too, miss. You too.”
“And I’ll try to slow down!” I added. Perhaps this was an obligatory sentiment, but at least I tried. He laughed again.
With this exchange complete, I power walked back to my car and pulled out of my parking spot with the swiftness of person practiced in the art of driving under time pressure.
And then I began to think.
Sometimes, the universe speaks to us in the form of an elderly Target cashier.
This man was kind enough to reach over my barrier, my cocoon of speed and agility, my downward look indicating I did not want conversation, and speak to me. He dared unravel a few of the myriad threads holding my world together, protecting me like a shield, and whisper a message with his kind eyes.
This man was a messenger. Was he my particular messenger? No, probably not, but he was a messenger of sorts. And now it was my turn to absorb his words and decipher their meaning. I concluded that our conversation could mean three things:
- I was not meant to live in the extremely fast-paced area of Bergen County.
- I should always show kindness toward the people around me.
- I need to engage.
I began to ponder the last point. Lately I felt like I’d been trying to slow down, yet hated it: I would spend hours scrolling through meaningless pages on my laptop at early hours of the morning, my eyes half-closed in sleepiness. If this was relaxation, I wanted no part of it. But what if slowing down meant I needed to engage in my surroundings, rather than aimlessly numb my brain?
What if, like a child, I could find grandeur in any moment? I liked this idea: life could expand and contract based on my level of engagement with the world.
I considered a world in which everyone sustained such a high level of engagement: happily acknowledging other people in the street, admiring the leaves and the way their waxy exteriors glisten in the sun, searching for knowledge with eyes fixed ahead instead of looking at phones for quick-fix stimulation. An open-armed world built on a foundation of wonder.
Clearly this type of world could be created only by certain messenger-type people, those brave enough to pick others up, shake them, and say, “What are you doing, asshole? There’s a whole world out there! Look at it!”
And yet…what if we’re all messengers, just in disguise? Only a few kind-hearted souls may reveal themselves as such, but maybe we all possess the potential for deliverance deep within our bones. Everyone could experience life in broader colors, perceiving grandiosity on every corner. For those that view the world in grey, well, any one of us would gladly point out the colors and encourage them to see.
Because we’re all messengers.
Sometimes, the universe kicks us in the ass and says, “Wake up, now!” in the form of an elderly Target cashier who just gets it.
And for that, I am grateful. I will lace up my messenger shoes and continue forward, because every person deserves to own a pair.
Every person deserves to know they’re worth it.
“Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that’s what.” ― Salman Rushdie
Serenity House, Room 114. Hidden on a hillside among Santa Barbara’s majestic coastal oaks. The slick ad reads like a vacation destination. It is not. Serenity House is a hospice facility, a place people go when they can no longer live at home. It’s a place people go to die.
In my mind’s eye, the door to Room 114 is closed because I wasn’t there when you died, when they blessed your body and anointed it with oils. When the ghost of you didn’t haunt me.
In my deepest dream-space, you are still alive in that room. Heart pounding, I know my biggest fear is beyond the heavy oak door, and I must enter alone. I press the cold metal handle and walk inside.
You are there, propped in bed and shirtless, not dressed in a jewel-toned silk shirt, like the ones you used to wear. I place blessed salt on your chest. You, for purifying, salt of the earth, my father. And me, for salting the dark field of my childhood. I don’t want to go back. I can’t.
Enough salt, enough tears. We’re free to love and forgive now in new spirit bodies. Continue Reading…
My brother and I retreat through the vestibule of the funeral home. I pick my way through four inches of uncleared snow in the parking lot, navigating in my oh-so-appropriate black stiletto knee-high boots, and climb back into the cab of his pick-up. I slam the door as he starts the engine, and reach for the pack of cigarettes we had bought for the occasion on the dash. “Where’s the fucking lighter?” Jeff fishes through his coat pocket, pulls out an AC/DC lighter, and passes it over as the heater in the truck comes to life.
“Lager’s. Now.” A divey bar with peanut shells on the floor, orange vinyl booths, and wagon-wheel light fixtures. A decor mode not uncommon in that part of the world. Perfectly appropriate to a day such as this.
Rap, rap, rap.
There is a man at the window of the pick up. He is wedged between the window and the side mirrors which extend far out in this monster of a truck.
I look to Jeff. “Oh shit. Are you kidding me?” I hit the automatic button to roll down the window, against my better judgment, although ignoring him and leaving the parking lot would have resulted in taking this poor guy out with the side mirrors.
“You must be Julie. We didn’t get a chance to speak. I’m Pastor Dave.” He is breathless, partially from the four degree weather and his lack of a coat, and partially from the chase he just gave us out of my father’s viewing.
“Are you coming to the memorial service?”
“Um. I don’t think so, no.”
“Can we talk for a moment?”
“I don’t believe there is anything to talk about.”
“And you are?” He leans further into my window. I move the cigarette to my left hand, trying to keep the smoke out of his face, and let it burn.
“I’m Jeff. That asshole in there was my step-father.” Continue Reading…