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Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

Truth or Dare

April 23, 2017
dare

CW: This essay discusses sexual abuse.

By Galla Peled

“Truth or dare?” Russell, our babysitter for the night, demanded. Russell was the oldest cousin. He was 17, and deemed responsible enough to babysit. Every Saturday night my parents dropped me off at my cousin’s split level home in suburban Detroit, while they went out for dinner and maybe a show with my aunt and uncle. Every Sunday morning they came to pick me up, and we would all have breakfast together before we went home. My mom made tomato sauce for my Aunt’s scrambled eggs and we kids took turns shaking cinnamon sugar out of a plastic bear dispenser onto our toast.

Shortly after the adults went out, we gathered on the brown shag carpet of the master bedroom and closed the door.  Playing there with the door closed felt clandestine and was a little bit exciting. “Truth or dare?” Russell pressed his sister, Lizzie. She and I were both six, and Neil, Lizzie’s other brother was eight. Lizzie had lost a hand at Blackjack and the rules were that if you lost, you had to choose a truth or a dare. Since Russell was the oldest, he always got to deal and make up the rules. For some reason he almost always won; Neil, Lizzie, and I took turns losing. With each loss we removed an article of clothing. Once we were naked, when one of us lost a hand, we had to choose a truth or a dare. Our choice could be overruled by the dealer, so essentially we were always dared to fulfill his fantasy. It was a punishment for losing.

TRUTH: Childhood sexual abuse can be defined as any activity that engages a child in sexual activities that are developmentally inappropriate.

DARE:  Lizzie was flat chested and hairless. The veins that stood out on her skin were as blue as her eyes, her six-year-old body a stretched-out version of a toddler. She instinctively used one arm to cover her nipples and the other to cover her private parts. She cowered next to the bed. “Dare!” Russell decided for her, and challenged her to walk atop his spread-eagled legs as he reclined back on his elbows. His penis stood in the nest between his legs, threatening all of us with its presence. We knew if she could not complete the dare to his satisfaction, she would have to perform another task until he was appeased. I watched, afraid for her, but stimulated at the same time.  The woolen carpet scratched my own private parts and I liked how it felt. At least I still had my shirt on. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage, Surviving

Flamethrower

April 21, 2017
water

By Lori Fetters Lopez

Some days it’s enough that he breathes. The exchange of air grates on my psyche like the high-pitched squeal of a six-year-old at the sight of a spider. A childhood dream to be a pilot, he sits with his hands grasping the yoke of a computer flight simulator. At his perch, he can turn from the pretend to the surreal. An endless choice of television shows filled with intolerable stupidity, followed by commercials selling drugs with side effects more damning than the symptoms they claim to cure. It all culminates into a farce. He’s been deployed for months and I’m left with only the memory to fuel my fire.

Hands on hips, I look at the obstinate water softener spewing its juices over my walls. I’m lost in incredulity wanting to collapse into the wet. Yesterday, I replaced the damn thing, the day before, the water heater. It mocks. Disgusted, I walk into the garage where the car lays in shambles begging me to crawl beneath its underbelly hoping for an altered result. First, the valve cover gasket, then the radiator, and now the gas tank.  The large door stands open revealing that another rain has brought our grass to grow. The lawn mower sits in the corner, a pigheaded child too engrossed in a video game to go to the bathroom, it leaks. Fixed before he left, obvious the repair was in vain; the first fill drains onto the floor. The mailbox leans forward as if reaching for the next letter too long overdue. Someone crashed into the pole and I replaced it. Too tired for more, I forgot the concrete anchor to gird its pole. I could call someone, pay someone, but that’s not who I am. I persevere. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, The Body

Figure Modeling

April 19, 2017
naked

By Jera Brown

The moment I disrobe and step up naked on a platform where anywhere from two to a dozen pairs of eyes are staring at me has never bothered me. I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. Before I started figure modeling, I’d enjoyed other public nudity experiences which led me to believe I’d be a good candidate for the gig.

There were other reasons I started modeling. As a broke graduate student, it is a way of supporting the arts without the ability to buy much. It’s also physically challenging, and I love a good challenge. And — though this was not something I consciously admitted to myself when I considered modeling — I believed it would help me love my body more. I was wrong.

I model for members’ organizations where artists pay a fee for studio space and access to models and for classes where new and intermediate artists learn how the body works and discover their unique style. Here’s how it works: Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image

Pale Pink Robe

April 16, 2017

By Anonymous

I have a pale pink silk robe hanging in my closet.  Every time I open the door, it makes me feel delicate and artful and foreign and adventurous. In life, I am better off in a gray zippered sweatshirt because of the coffee I dribble, the olive oil spatters that zap me when stir-frying onions, the mascara wiped on my sleeves from the night before. Once a week I put the silk on, feel chilly, and go back to the sweatshirt.

But, god, I love that robe.

I bought it at the Casbah on Sunset. The Casbah was my favorite place to write ten years ago. Everything was beautiful and curated and sheer and perfect and the coffee was strong and there was the sense that the owner didn’t treat the staff like garbage. It was a good place to be. A good place to write and get hopped up on caffeine and candied apricots and look at huaraches and baby T-shirts and Turkish towels I could not afford.

When I look at the robe in my closet now, I think of the day I got it. I was with two friends. I had stared at it during previous visits. The perfect, barely blushing pin-up, nippley shade of pink with a muted, red, woodblock pattern, a simple cut, sheer-ish, a belt. Continue Reading…

Abortion, Guest Posts

The Boy With No Name

April 14, 2017
winter

By Carmen Calatayud

When my son died
a thousand miles away
I made my arms a cradle.
~Kelle Groom, from the poem “Marguerite”

In the dream, it’s wintertime and I hate winter. I’m scared of the cold in the dream as well as in real life because my body can never get warm enough.

There is a hill with a naked tree, its limbs shivering. There is snow and wind and a dead grey sky, as though winter will never end. I’m not sure I can survive if there’s no escape from the cold.

Then a voice: I know this is the winter of your discontent. I have not forsaken you.

I wake up sobbing and realize I was weeping in my dream. I’m weeping into my pillow even though there’s bright desert sunlight streaming into this bedroom in Tucson. This voice, a mixture of Shakespeare and Jesus, is unlike anything I’ve ever heard in a dream. I’m convinced it was the voice of some deity or higher power that hasn’t forgotten me. With a broken voice, choppy from the sobs, I tell my boyfriend about the dream.

This dream comes one week before I learn the reason I’ve been feeling so sick for the past 2 ½ months, much more than usual. I’m pregnant.

***

When I was the moon, I wasn’t whole. Just a blue half-circle drifting through the sky. After I sloughed off pieces of myself I became a quarter moon, a sliver of light that gingerly rocks back and forth like a porch swing.

This is what I remember after the abortion—just a sliver of me being left, and a sliver of a child being sucked out of my uterus with a vacuum that hurt more than I could have imagined. It hurt so badly that I asked the doctor to stop. He couldn’t. I got dizzy from the sharpness of the puncture and suction.

My son was sucked out of me and spit into the sky. I couldn’t imagine where else he could go, so I saw his pieces in the Sonoran Desert darkness.

Each small star was a spark of my boy, glitter above me every night.

***

I go to the doctor because I feel sick, more than I usually do from what is chronic fatigue syndrome. Since the doctor is concerned about an ovarian cyst, she does a sonogram. I look at the screen as she drags the gel-covered wand back and forth across my skin, until a black and white picture appears.

“You’re pregnant.”

“Are you sure?” I’m stunned and feel my cheeks burn from the shame that I’m pregnant and didn’t know it. I’ve been nauseous for weeks, and had missed my period, but my period was already erratic. I thought it was the flu.

It’s a few days before the 12-week cut off for legal abortions, so the doctor reminds me that I have to decide quickly.

“I’ll support you whatever you decide,” she reassures me, her voice steady, warm. Then she pauses and I hold my breath.

“But you need to know that this is going to be a difficult pregnancy.”

I imagine what it would be like to hold my son. What he would look like, how he would sound. An August-born boy. I consider who his father is: a father of two young children who need and deserve attention, a heavy drinker, cocaine user and gambler who insists he is my soul mate. All of these addictions wash through my insides and create a pool that never drains. My body is heavy with this water, swollen and scared.

***

Little boy, if circumstances were different, I might have had you. I might have weathered being sick for nine months straight. But I didn’t believe I could survive what my life had become and hold you above it.

I sit outside the apartment door on a warm winter night in the desert. The stars are out. I see pieces of you float freely and sparkle in this universal life of yours.

You race across the Milky Way while my life stands still on Earth.

I’m stale and pale white, afraid of your father, an empty future, and the shrinking amount of change in my jar.

Poet and writer Carmen Calatayud is the daughter of immigrants: a Spanish father and Irish mother. Her book In the Company of Spirits was a runner-up for the Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Award and a finalist for the Andrés Montoya Book Prize. Recently her poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, Origins and Cutthroat. The Boy with No Name is an excerpt from her memoir. Visit carmencalatayud.com. 

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Activism, Guest Posts

Interdependence Day: A Letter on the Occasion of my 37th Birthday

April 12, 2017
independent

By Chris Shorne

I have been loved from the time I was small. Before my sight was unblurred I was seen and touched. Someone picked me up. Then another. Lips kissed my forehead. Before I knew what was forehead what was mouth. Before I knew there was a body and its inextricable parts and that this part was mine, I felt the sensation. Something new, something already. All the organic wires of a body were firing and firing together when eating came with touching, with the warmth of another human body spreading through this that I would come to know as my own, separate, human body.

It is not my mother who is the writer, but me. Still, she writes some abstract things in the form of dark lines on a white page and it aches me. That center spot of my chest—what is that?—grips. And so, compelled, I write. And I’m not sure it is me who is the author here. I’m not sure there has ever been a singular author. It hurts a little, to be loved like this. I don’t know why. Everything I’ve ever learned has led me up to this: I don’t know why it is I who have been so blessed. But I’ll take it.

Here I go. Yes, this is the biggest thing I’ve done. Being an international human rights accompanier in Guatemala. Standing alongside people walking into harassment and threats and jails, walking anyway, to maintain their land, to claim their culture. It is my big and it is so much less than the work the Guatemalans are doing. But I get to stand with them, walk alongside them for a little while. And, for me, it is big. “This is huge, Chris,” my ex-girlfriend used to say. I loved that. Even when it wasn’t huge, I loved it, because it meant what was happening with me was important. It meant she saw me as important. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Politics

Still Gonna Do (#ShePersisted)

April 10, 2017
secretary

By Leigh Hopkins

When I was a literacy center director in Philadelphia, I worked with thirty after school programs run by neighbors who were doing their best to give kids what schools couldn’t get to. Programs held in abandoned dollar stores and storefront churches, or in homeless shelters run by activist nuns. Bodega reading circles. White-haired volunteers reading to kids in synagogues and mosques.

My nonprofit shared the program’s early successes with big foundations like Ford and Pew, and because our centers often worked in partnership with “faith-based organizations,” the Bush White House wanted to know about it.

Churches they understood.

White House staff visited our programs and invited us to Washington. When it came time for the final interview that we hoped would lead to funding, I spouted literacy and poverty statistics while stressing the need for the separation of church and state. I emphasized the importance of program quality, replicability and scale. After two hours of questioning, they began to wrap things up. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

A Funny Thing About Rape: A Video Essay

April 9, 2017

CW: Discussion of rape and sexual assault. Sexual assault is not your fault. If you need to talk: 800.656.HOPE, , .

By Mary Jo Smith

There’s been a lot of talk about rape lately.
As someone who was raped, I thought I’d join the conversation.

So, there’s been a lot of talk about rape lately. Because, you know, we just had a presidential election. In which we elected a president who likes to grab women by the pussy. Ok, wait. To be fair, I don’t want to paraphrase what our President said, because the media does that kind of stuff all the time and then you form an opinion about somebody based on what you think they said, but it’s not really what they said. So, let me be clear. What our president really said was, quote:

“You can do anything, grab them by the pussy.”

Oh, that’s what I said. OK.

Now, a lot of people got really angry, on Facebook, about what our President said. And I’ve been thinking about it, you know, cause I’m a woman, so I’m supposed to have opinions. So, here’s my opinion: Everybody needs to calm down. I mean even our shiny, new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, when asked, if what our president said constituted sexual assault said:

’I don’t know.’ Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Making Shit Happen, Politics

Born To Run

April 7, 2017
office

By Andrea Askowitz

My mom has spent her entire adult life volunteering for the Democratic Party. She’s also an artist and was also very active in the women’s movement. She was the president of the local chapter of National Organization for Women and the head of the Miami Women’s History Coalition. She campaigned for equal pay for equal work and worked so hard for the Equal Rights Amendment that I can still recite the language: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The amendment died in 1982. I was 14.

My brother and I grew up under women’s lib, which meant there were no distinctions between chores. There was setting the table and taking out the garbage. There were no boy colors or girl colors. I had a purple bicycle, my brother had yellow. There wasn’t even a distinction in clothes. My mom tells me that at three years old, I only wanted to wear my brother’s clothes, so in every picture from that era there I am in beige corduroys and a brown T-shirt that said, “Keep on Truckin’.”

My mom campaigned harder for Hillary Clinton than anyone I know. She campaigned harder than everyone I know, combined. She spends summers in New Hampshire and in the heat of June, July, August, and September, at 75 and with bad knees, she walked door-to-door. For Hillary’s win in New Hampshire, I credit my mom. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry, Young Voices

Three Attempts at Being Coherent

April 5, 2017
relic

By Sun Rey

referendum.

Was there ever a space where my body was nothing but a placeholder?
That when I wrapped my lips around your tongue, the depth of my flesh was nothing but a barometer: certain pigment, certain
pressure.

Should she do the same, would there be a difference? Is there a difference between two brown queer girls? Or is the space we occupy tied up so tightly by Tiny Minority status that we are fossilized as we are breathing— you can’t tell the difference between a Hindu and a Muslim— I keep hearing you say “oh wow i’ve never met anyone like you!”— you can’t help touching my hair— you spread the baby oil across my bumpy skin with gloves on— i mean—
you saw who i was didn’t you?
you saw who i was you didn’t
just line up the faces i’ve been collecting into neat cornrows:
tall, gay.
brown skin, hairy arms.
arab name, black hair.

Let me pray to my many-fingered God
that you didn’t just mean to choose me as a relic. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Health, The Body

Why We Must Remain Vigilant: An Affordable Care Act Story

April 3, 2017
vigilant

By Jenny Giering

For me, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act is a life and death issue.

I used to define myself in various ways: a musician, a mother, a wife, a yoga devotee, a cook. Some friends (and my husband) called me the Energizer Bunny. Now: I am the poster child for Universal Health care.

The day I got my breast cancer diagnosis, I was in the process of re-certifying through the Massachusetts Health Connector (Massachusetts’ version of the state health insurance exchanges) for the following calendar year. My local Navigator, a local public health official trained to help with the application process, told me about Massachusetts’ Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program, a Medicaid initiative designed to cover middle and low-income women through their treatments. We were relieved to discover I qualified. Our two children were simultaneously enrolled in MassHealth (Massachusetts’ Medicaid program) and their care became free as well. This was what saved our family from financial ruin. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Humor, Resistance

Recovering My Alternative Factuality: A Thank You to Mr. Trump

April 1, 2017
security

By Nina Gaby

DJ, may I call you that? It’s informal but then again, you are “for the people” of which I am one. Saying “President Trump” just carries all sorts of negativity, and this here is a little thank you note. Don’t worry, I’m not an academic or anything. I don’t even have an MFA. (That’s a college degree for people who are serious about their writing.) I just wanted to check in.

First off, DJ, you got me back in the pool. Last time I was this depressed was right after Reagan’s election. I’d just stopped drinking. I was all sorts of bloated and baggy-eyed (you know what I mean, bro) and wow, if I didn’t just swim my way out of that depression and addiction! I was gorgeous! Not a “10” but I bet you’d have looked twice at me, all artsy and zaftig1. Sober, however, I might have been a bit rejecting of you and for that I’m sorry in retrospect. You know I’m older now and have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and shoulder shit and stuff and can’t really swim, but I’m back in the pool….I strap on one of those belts and jog back and forth, back and forth, just thinking about you. (PS I’m also doing yoga and lifting weights again, thanks to you.)

And who knew pink was my color? I never wear hats. But that march, well, a whole new me. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

On Having “Issues”

March 30, 2017
issues

By Laura Romain

Last night I dreamed about my ex-fiancé’s new girlfriend. In real life, I know nothing except her name, but my dream turned her into everything I wish I could be: radiant, smiling, lighthearted.

I dreamed that I shouted at her. I cursed her relationship with my ex. I seethed with jealousy that I would never acknowledge in my waking life. Why did this woman—the product of my own imagination—trigger such animosity in me, such envy?

Here’s the truth: the worst part wasn’t that she was beautiful. It wasn’t the bright sweep of her hair, the perfect gleam of her teeth. It wasn’t even that she’d entered into a relationship with my ex.

The worst part was that she was happy. In other words: not anxious, not depressed. It wasn’t her looks or her relationship status that truly made me jealous. It was her mental health.

Somewhere deep in my subconscious, I believe that life is easy for people who don’t have fears and anxieties and merciless self-criticism strapped to them like sandbags. I believe that their work comes naturally to them, whereas my negative self-talk makes sitting at my computer feel like hurling myself in front of a firing squad. I believe that mentally healthy people are guaranteed fulfilling, successful relationships, whereas I second-guess myself to the point that I have no idea what I even think of the men I date. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape, Writing & The Body

Livor Mortis

March 29, 2017

By Megan Collins.

My first husband wanted to pee on me. I kid you not. He wanted me to dress down to my skin and lay in that cold vessel of a tub with the drain stabbing me in the head so that he could piss all over me. Can you imagine? I did. I could die. My tombstone a metal faucet with an inscription in scum, ‘Here lies girl who once was. Wild. May daffodils grow in her stead’. I tell you this so that you know what the face of death looks like when she’s staring at you from across a cafe; the grocery store. What the separation of body and a spirit look like walking around in human skin. It is a body covered in piss owned by a man you despise, with the life spirited away.

 

For the record, I told him I would not. That even the thought of it made me feel dirty and disgusted. So he told me I was a stuck up cunt and that the reason for his late night voyeurism of underage Asian girls and naked, male, jock on jocks with throbbing veiny dicks was because I was stifling his sexual exploration. Continue Reading…