Browsing Tag

surviving

Guest Posts, memories, Sexual Assault/Rape

Freshman Orientation

July 26, 2017
memory

CW: This essay discusses sexual assault. If you or someone you know has been assaulted, find help and the resources you need by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, or visit www.RAINN.org.

By Shannon Brazil

All those parenting cliches you hear, it goes by in the blink of an eye and its over before you know it. I hate to tell you, but they’re all true. Five minutes ago our firstborn stood between my husband and me holding our hands and we swung her into the air. One, two, three, wee. Now, the oldest of four, fourteen years old, she walked in front of us wearing my old Doc Martins. From the actual 90s. Her hair, long bleached blonde. Day-glo blue at the tips. The three of us pushed through the double doors of her high school and the sign that read, Freshman Orientation Night.

Inside the building there were glossy linoleum floors. Florescent lights overhead. And the bright, boundless energy of teen volunteers. We handed maps. Maps that were highlighted in pink to mark popular sites like the caf and the gym. My stomach pulled into tight twisted knots. Knots that made sense. The grief of babyhood to childhood to adulthood. All wrapped up in my daughter. Except not.

Except a hard something clogged the back of my throat somewhere near the cafeteria. I fished a cough drop out of the bottom of my bag. Told myself to get a grip. On the down-low I joked with my husband about how much I hated high school. My husband was an A student. Me, I barely made it through. Head in the clouds, my grade school teachers said. Doesnt apply herself, they said in high school. Late-bloomer, the guidance counselor had hoped. But she wasn’t making any promises. Lucky for my kids, I was a mom who defended the dreamy late bloomers of the world. I would help teach each one of them how to apply themselves in their own good time. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

Instructions

July 24, 2017
wait

By Meg Weber

I. Before

Wait for the elevator to open, the green one in the lobby of the hospital where she gave birth to you. Wait for the doors to close, buttons to light up, the soft rise of the lift and the faint ding of arrival. On the sixth floor, walk the sterile hallway to the same room she was in last time. Brace yourself to see her, frail and exhausted, curled up in her hospital bed.

Wait for her eyes to peek open just long enough to notice you before she returns to fitful sleep. Feel your veins pulse with more emotion than you want to swim through. Wait for her to wake up again or for the shift change. Wait until you can’t bear to wait anymore.

Turn your attention to the view: forested hills to the north, evergreens for miles. Watch cumulous clouds drift across the bluest blue sky. Notice contrast and light. Feel hope and despair. Take photos of the clouds to add to this week’s study of darkness and light strewn across the spring skies of Portland.

Send a photo of the slightest wisp of a cloud to the person who carries you through your grief. Tell her it reminds you of your last time together. Wait for her text reply. Hope that this one won’t be swallowed in the ether but will arrive like an arrow of compassion sent directly to your heart. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Letting Go

The Seven Stages of Alone

July 23, 2017
alone

By Jenna Tico

Like most roads to hell, it is paved with vision boards. Watered with four-dollar wine, and the metaphorical blood of the men who have “wronged you.” There is at least one volume of sad poetry; probably bought on impulse while waiting in line at the bookstore, impossibly dense text in one hand (“I’ll finally have time to read Kafka!”) and a cheap spiral notebook in the other. Later, you will label this your “INTENTION JOURNAL,” and stare at it each night before going to bed; with every intention of cataloging your intentions, but instead, watching four hours of Lifetime original movies. Which like most roads to hell, are paved with vision boards.

Stage One: Shock

It’s a Nicholas Sparks world, and we’re all just buying tampons in it; and at some point, you probably meant to be here. You probably caught a movie (or twelve) that taught you that, to live the life of your dreams, you must have one of two things:

  1. an easily accessible window, should John Cusack arrive with a boombox, or
  2. a self-induced period of solitude in your twenties; preferably in a rent-controlled apartment; preferably one with exposed brick.

And at some point, the sea of boyfriends inevitably parts; in its place, their echoey chorus of “I’m just not ready” and the expanse of that which you always thought you thought you wanted: Alone. With no end in sight. A space that, while sanctioned by sitcom, remains exhaustingly absent from the cultural consensus on womanhood. Everyone tells you to spend time alone. No one seems to understand, nor believe, that you are.  That the beast of your life leading up to this point, every dream you had for the people you’d loved, has sunk its teeth into your apartment. Noticeably absent of exposed brick. Likely missing several essential qualities, such as street parking, and glue. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

Poison In My Home

July 16, 2017
poison

By Kirsten Wasson

There is poison in my home. And the poison is my son.  My one and only child—Jonah, my soulful-eyed, shy-smiling son who paints landscapes of rocks that seem to have opinions, empty shimmering roads, and mounds of land floating in green fields rippling on the canvas. My son, an actor-hopeful who, with no help from anyone managed to get himself a manager for acting, a contract with L.A. Models. Jonah, my only living family–only child of an only child of only children, my blood, heart, and soul. My poisoned and poisonous son.

Maybe the poison is the reason my hands are shaking. Maybe it’s the reason I walk around and around my apartment like an addict looking for where he hid his last pill. Maybe the poison is the reason I keep wanting to get to CVS to buy bleach and then wash my son’s dingy gray-white  shirts; I want to make something clean.

It is the week of Thanksgiving.

It’s been exactly a year since Jonah came to the full realization that all the memories and dreams about his father touching him when he was about 3 are accurate. A year ago, Jonah flew to Syracuse, New York for Thanksgiving at his dad and stepmom’s house. He spent three days there. Then he got back on the plane, and ordered a drink–after having been stone cold sober for two years and eight months. Working the steps in a rehab, and then a sober living community, and then moving on, out into a relationship with Anna, and working in a rehab. After all that, he just got on the plane and ordered a drink.

Jonah didn’t tell me about the drink on the plane; he told Anna, and said that he thought he was able to have a drink with her now and then. She was naïve; she didn’t understand addiction. She loved Jonah. He said he wanted to be able to have the occasional drink with her, that he’d decided he could drink like a “regular person.”  And so, Anna drank like the regular person she was, while he drank like an addict, keeping bottles in his backpack and on the grounds of their apartment complex. He was also consuming pot most of the day, though she didn’t know.

One night Jonah got furiously angry at something small and then furiously sad at something small and, Anna told me later, he said in a wild, quiet voice that he’d realized in Syracuse that his dad had molested him. “I knew it when I got in the car with him at the airport.  When I looked in his eyes.”

Anna repeated this to me a month and a half later; she called me just as I was getting into the elevator at school in Westwood where I taught English as a Second Language.

“I have to talk to you.” Anna’s usually low, gravelly voice was squeaking.

“Hold on. I’m getting into the elevator. Is Jonah OK?”

“Not really. Call me back.”

I rode the elevator down, imagining he’d lost his job as an R.A. at the rehab, or they’d gotten into a bad fight. I walked out of the building and across the alley to the Westwood Village Memorial Cemetery where there were benches for me to sit, and where no one but the dead could hear the conversation. Anna started with some background, about having been at her wit’s end with his recent behavior–mood swings, violent nightmares, and general erratic behavior.

“And he’s drinking. All the time.”

“What?! When?” I was shocked. He was, as far as I knew, completely sober.

“Since Thanksgiving.  Since Syracuse.”

“What?!”

“Kirsten, that’s not even the point. Jonah told me something. Those nightmares he’s having…they’re about something…that happened to him.”

It was about 4:30 on a hot L.A. February afternoon, and the graveyard was just getting cool, as the sun lowered and the sprinklers came on. I stood up and walked to a spot near the wall of famous dead, Marilyn Monroe among them. It had surprised me that Marilyn didn’t have a mausoleum in the cemetery; just one square in a bank of lost lives. But she did, every day, have fresh flowers, jammed into the alabaster cup by her name and dates.

“I don’t know what you are saying.”

“Jonah made me promise not to tell you.”

“I’m sure he did, but I need you to tell me.” I could feel that she wanted to tell me but felt loyal to Jonah. Anna and I did like each other and, to some extent, trusted one another.

“The dreams about being hurt. When he was little. Those are real.”

I remembered an awkward conversation with Anna a few months earlier; Jonah was working the night shift at the rehab center, and she and I went to a movie and had Chinese food.  She seemed both listless and worried, not like her usual tough, lively self.  She told me that Jonah had bad dreams about being chased or attacked, and would wake up flailing his arms, even trying to hit her. I listened but couldn’t really hear it, and I shelved it in some drawer of my brain. But now I remembered the conversation, my own uncomfortable-ness, and my thinking Anna was whining.

“Someone hurt him?” That made sense. Nine years of wondering why my son was so troubled, so angry, and a drug addict in and out of four rehabs. I had a cold, clarifying feeling I’d just been slipped a piece of paper with an essential clue. I got off the bench and started to stride across the graves, their wet, glistening grass.

“Was he…abused? Like, molested?”

“Yes. And he knows who.”

For a second I thought. “His dad. Is it Art?” A bizarre conclusion, but I was spinning, and reaching toward what made no sense, and what might just make perfect sense.

She was quiet.

“If it was his dad, Anna, then say nothing.”

Anna said nothing.

It felt like a thin, silver snake slithered inside my bloodstream, moving from my head, down my neck, into my heart cavity. Around me, the sprinklers were shuddering, rhythmically spraying into the air. The bottom 4 inches of my slacks were soaked. I was shocked, but not that surprised that Art had molested our son. I couldn’t have known back when it was happening because it didn’t happen when Art and I were still in the house together. I realized that, tried assuring myself with the idea that because I didn’t know, this was not as horrible as it was.

Here’s the “sense” it made: my ex-husband had been emotionally sadistic to me, and our sex life consisted of me tolerating a number of things I hated. I never once climaxed with him in ten years, and he didn’t care; I was, he told me, “frigid.”  There was also the glaring fact that Jonah had had a lot of intense tantrums from three to four whenever Art came to pick him up. I had thought the tantrums were about the divorce and separation anxiety. My therapist said it was normal. More things fell into place, including the baby talk Jonah used after returning to my house.

Three weeks after Anna told me, I brought it up with Jonah, despite Anna’s request that I not. I had to hear it from my son’s mouth, and know what he was feeling. We were in Woodland Hills, sitting on a bench outside of Trader Joe’s.

“Please don’t be mad at Anna, but she told me what you remembered. Or realized. About your childhood. When you were little.”

Jonah stood up, walked stiffly and swiftly around the bench. “I can’t fucking believe she told you that.” Then he threw himself on the bench. He looked away from me, down Ventura Boulevard, his long legs crossed at the ankles, his arms folded in a white t-shirt, his profile so defined: large forehead, long eye-lashes, full lips, and strong jaw. So like my mother’s, I often thought.  Without turning toward me, he said,

“Well so now that you know. Can you imagine that Dad would do that?”

“I can.”

He asked me a few questions about why I could, and I told him, without too many details. Still not looking at me, Jonah commanded: “Do not say a single word to Dad. Not a word. I would lose it. And become crazy.”

“Okay, Jonah,” I nodded.

A few days later, I found a therapist specializing in trauma, and Jonah saw her for a few visits and then stopped. She’d told him she needed him to be sober. Jonah was drinking, and also—although Anna didn’t know nor did I, imbibing pot all day.  By May, he’d lost his job at the rehab, and Anna had thrown him out. I didn’t blame her; he was yelling all the time, and punched a few holes in their walls. He was driving drunk.  He was poisoned and poisonous.

A funny thing about Jonah is that he always gets work, and always works hard. So, he got a certificate as a security guard, faked the drug test somehow, and got a job at L’Hermitage, a luxury hotel in Beverly Hills.  For four months, he lived in air b’ and b’s with four beds in a room or hostels, and worked nights at the L’Hermitage. When he spotted a celebrity, he’d text me. Escorted Tom Cruise and crew down elevator. Seemed nice. A lot of fillers in that face.” I’d get messages on my phone under my pillow as I was falling asleep. “Saw Cher fall down in the hall. Completely drunk. Pretty like a ghost.” I’d squeeze the phone in my palm until it started to sweat. My boy. At least he’s in touch. He is working. My son was damaged and in pain and I could do nothing.

Jonah was twenty-four years old, financially self-sufficient. I couldn’t make him go back to rehab, and he wasn’t even admitting that the drinking and pot were a problem.  I thought about Jonah all the time during that summer and saw him every few weeks. His affect ranged from forced smiles, “It’s all good, Mom,” to raging about Anna to crying about her. He shut me down when I brought up the molestation. He lost his contract with his modeling agency, and his acting manager was clearly almost done with Jonah because he missed appointments, and probably his auditions were lousy.

After years and years of therapy and Al-Anon, I know I can’t guide my son. I kept mumbling to myself the one Al-Anon slogan I could almost stomach, “Let Go and Let God.” Sometimes I prayed. Sometimes I hoped he’d get caught driving high and go to jail. Sometimes I thought about buying a gun and getting on a plane to Syracuse. I mean really thought about it. I looked up gun shops and the rules about purchasing a weapon in California.

In October I went to Chicago for a work conference, and let Jonah stay in my apartment and use my car; I was still thinking I should do things to help him. I was still in denial.  When I called to see how things were going, he screamed at me for checking up on him.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?! Leave me alone, Mom!”

“I’m worried about you driving when you’re tired and…maybe high?”

“I have a life, Mom. Or I’m trying to. Leave me the fuck alone.” He hung up.

I realized I’d made a mistake by letting him stay in my place and use my car, but all I could do was to ask God, who I wasn’t sure I believed in, to not let Jonah die.

When I returned, my apartment was a mess. Mad, worried, but not yet aware that Jonah’s life was close to imploding, I swept and swabbed and folded laundry. And then I found the piece of paper stuck in the couch that listed the drugs he’d bought, how much they cost, and the days he’d bought them. I recognized “Ox” for Oxycotin, but didn’t know “Roxies,” “Norco,” or “Girlfriend.”  He was doing opiates and cocaine.

***

Lucky to be alive, my son. Jonah does not feel lucky. He feels, he told me recently, “tainted.” I never heard him use that word before, and it’s not one I’d imagine him using. “I never feel clean, Mom. No one knows what I really look like–on the inside.”  I wanted to tell him he was beautiful and clean and good on the inside, but I don’t know what it feels like to be molested by a parent when you’re three years old. I don’t know how you carry a secret—one that you don’t even know the meaning of—for years, then find it inside dark dreams and feel it within yourself like a heavy, aching weight that will not let you go.

***

When, in late October after my Chicago trip, I told him I had found the scrap of paper, he shut me down. Into my cell phone I spoke sharply but still trying to sound like a person who understood him, telling him I knew he was doing pills and cocaine.

“I think you probably want me to know, Jonah. You left that paper for me to find…don’t you think?

“I fucking did not. You think you are so fucking smart. Have me all figured out. You don’t even know what that paper meant.”

“I looked up the things I didn’t know.”

“Aren’t you a genius, Mother.”  I don’t know who hung up first.

Every day I worried. Every day I tried to lead the life of the normal. I succeeded about twenty percent of the time. Most days I floated blankly through my new job as a counselor at a high school, then grocery shopping, yoga, talking to friends on the phone, making dinner, lying on the couch for hours watching tv. I got especially attached to “American Horror Story,” where the evil spirits, self-mutilation, and toxicity resonated.

Then in the middle of November, we had a conversation about his “tapering off.” Jonah called around ten one night from L’Hermitage on his cigarette break. I was still up, very alert, as I’d been waiting for months for this call.

“I know I can’t do this any longer, Mom.  I want to stop the opiates. I know I can; I did it before, right?! I’ll taper off. I am tapering off, actually.”

“Right. But before–you were in rehab, taking suboxone, that helped with the cravings, and you had around-the-clock professional care.”

“I want to quit, Mom. I’m already down to half of what I was using the last few months.”

Wanting to believe him, I said he could stay at my house the week of Thanksgiving—for 6 nights. During that time he would decide if he were going to go to rehab again or not. Monday he’d have to leave—for rehab or back to one of crappy hostels where he’d been staying.

The first few days I cleaned up his addled messes around my apartment after he left for work at noon, and then watched my favorite show. Scenes of carnage and violence—a decapitated witch spewing racist epithets, a couple having sex in a filthy hotel room, both aware of a stinking corpse in the bathtub, a woman gouging out her own eyes with a kitchen knife—these scenes kept me steady.

On Thanksgiving, Jonah and I went out to dinner. We both dressed up.

His pants wouldn’t stay up because he’d lost so much weight. I gave him my belt. I drove us  to a place I’d seen in a local magazine that looked classy and funky. The waitress flirted with him–as every waitress has ever done since Jonah was around nineteen. Jonah was warm and funny and sweet to me. He asked me about work, and whether I ever thought I’d meet the right man and how much that mattered to me. I didn’t flinch when he ordered a beer. And then I ordered a glass of wine. My salmon was perfectly grilled. On the way out, I asked the flirty waitress to take a photo of us.

It was like getting to see the sunlight after months inside somewhere cold and dark. I bathed in the strange grace of our being out to dinner together–a mother and son on a holiday–a bath made of milk and honey and normalcy. For the hour and a half we were out together, I did not think about whether Jonah would choose to go to rehab. I did not think about the fact that this was the anniversary of his recognizing that his father had molested him, and his starting to use again.

He had the couch, and I went to sleep in my bed for a few hours. I woke to hear the TV blaring.  I came out, and Jonah had fallen sleep in his clothes on the top of the sheets and blanket I’d left for him. His phone was right by my foot. I turned off the TV, and unlocked his phone; his password was his birthday. So I saw then, that earlier the same day he’d contacted someone to buy “chrissy.” That, I found out online–back in my bedroom–was crystal meth. And from what I could see on his phone, he’d been doing it for months.

I should have known: the weight loss, the staying up all night driving around after the hotel job, a certain hollow look in his eye. I should have noticed that hollow look. But he’d had not that look before, because he’d never done meth before. I pulled the covers off my bed and lay down in a hard nest on the floor next to my son. He was completely still on the couch.  I listened  to him breathe, thought of him breathing in his crib at two. Sometimes I slept on the floor next to him back then. His breathing calmed me, and I didn’t want to sleep next to Art. Now Jonah was sweating, and occasionally moaning. Eventually I went back to my bed because I saw we were both ghosts of our former selves, and if I were going to be the parent I better get sleep.

And although I intended to confront him in the morning. I could not. I thought he might run away if he knew I’d discovered the crystal meth. I needed time to think, to talk to someone else. There were three days until Monday. So I let him sleep late, shower, go to work. “Bye, Mom. See you tonight.”

Jonah leaves my apartment with a furtiveness that makes me nauseous. I feel the wet heat coming out my eyes. Then I pick up Jonah’s clothes, turn his pockets inside out. I look in his toiletry bag but find only toothpaste and floss. There is poison in my house, and the poison is my son, his pain, his attempt to numb his pain. My blood, my heart and soul. Now I know: My meth-addicted son. I walk around and around my apartment like an addict looking for his last bit of dope, last sources of known relief. My poisoned and poisonous boy.

Kirsten Wasson works as a college counselor at a high school in Los Angeles; four years ago she left a job as an English professor in Ithaca, New York, to move to LA and begin her life over at the age of 50. For many years she wrote a blog about the experience (www.lostandlaughinginla.wordpress.com), and she is now finishing a memoir on the subject. Kirsten has previously published a book of poetry with Antrim House Press, and her non-fiction pieces appeared in The Ithaca Times for ten years. Active in the L.A. storytelling scene, she recently won a “Best Of 2016” at the SHINE storytelling venue in Santa Monica.

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Abuse, Guest Posts

Fool Me Twice

July 14, 2017
fool

CW: This essay discusses domestic violence.

By Zoë Brigley Thompson

So a student e-mails me. She works at a domestic violence shelter, and she has a question.

Many of the women I meet, she writes, have been abused not once but multiple times by different people. But why?

I think about the problem logically. I see what she is thinking – how perhaps without realizing it, she is shifting the blame from the abusers to the women. I send her a study from the Department of Justice on “repeat victimization.” I point out the victim-blaming. I do not say that I know repeat victimization very well. I keep the personal to myself.

There is a well-known saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, and it applies so well to what people think about repeat victimization. But this framing of victims as masochistic is just another way for abusers to excuse responsibility. People often ask about victims of intimate partner violence, Why didn’t they just leave? But they don’t understand the emotional and psychological power that abusers have over their victims, especially in repeat victimization. Continue Reading…

cancer, depression, Guest Posts

Where Are All The Silver Linings?

June 30, 2017

CW: This essay discusses depression and suicide. If you or someone you know needs helps now, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911.

By Melissa McAllister

Even before cancer, I was intimately acquainted with depression and anxiety.  We shared more than one dance together.  We fight.  We makeup.  We fight.  We breakup.  That’s just the way it’s always been.  On and Off.  I managed this relationship with an assortment of tricks.  There are the therapists I would purge all my thoughts and feelings onto weekly.  There is the pharmacy where I routinely picked up the latest antidepressant and anti anxiety pills I was prescribed.  Sometimes they even tossed  in a mood stabilizer or an antipsychotic for good measure.  And then there was the doctor who I checked in with on a regular basis to make certain all was going as planned.

As a person so prone to depression and anxiety, believe me when I tell you – keeping that many appointments and having that many interactions in order to procure those tiny little things that are going to hopefully help you feel better is fucking hard to do.  If you suffer from depression and/or anxiety, you know exactly what I mean.  But I managed, mostly. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Letting Go, Relationships

Lessons for When You Want to Not Want

June 12, 2017

By T.A. Burkholder

  1. Go two hours south to a small college on a hill because a boy you like wants to go there (though the boy won’t go there and the boy won’t like you back).
  2. Before leaving, dig with glee through dusty mounds of dead people’s clothes at the “dollar-a-pound” warehouse. In a sea of jeans and t-shirts, be the one in flowered polyester.
  3. Fall immediately and awkwardly in love with an unattainable, moody artist. Renew this heartbreak regularly with other unattainables.
  4. Stop shaving, stop wearing a bra and repair your glasses with duct tape. Pretend this is because you don’t care what people think.
  5. When you accidentally attract a boy who serenades you, don’t speak. When you show up at his door later, don’t say why. End the year untouched and return home for the summer to watch Jeopardy! with your parents.
  6. Blame everything on your tiny, isolated school and start fresh at a big, city university. As a joke or a social experiment or a cry for attention, tell everyone your name is Bob and stick with it the whole, mostly friendless year. In the fall, return to the gem-green grass of that first small school.
  7. As a joke or a social experiment or a cry for attention, shave your head down to the scalp. Keep it that way even when people call you Sinead. Keep it that way even after your mother worries that people will think she’s a bad mother.
  8. Smoke one cigarette a day while standing in your room singing along to the same Laurie Anderson song. We’re gonna save ourselves. Save ourselves.
  9. Promise yourself, on a regular basis, that today will be the first day of many when you find perfection in silence. No stupid questions. No wrong answers. No conversations that require the treachery of words.
  10. Threaten yourself on a regular basis with the fact that you know where your father keeps his gun.
  11. Instead of kissing the beautiful, complicated, black-haired woman you eat lunch with, pick a fight and never apologize.
  12. Streak frequently in groups both large and small, each time running back towards your clothes a little slower.
  13. Allow a mutual acquaintance to broker a hook up between you and a guy you don’t really like. For a few weeks, let the raw mechanics of your bodies bring you a tight, silent thrill. But remember, he doesn’t need to know your heart is raw and easily bruised. Or that your nerves are mostly burnt-wire black. Or that want – so close to need – winds through you like blood.

Continue Reading…

Addiction, Guest Posts

Bottomless

June 5, 2017
drugs

By Sailor Holladay

One of the hardest things I’ve done is high school step aerobics on mushrooms. Where was the sweat coming from, my body, my mouth or somewhere else?

I didn’t know how to come to school not high. The piece of land I lived on, strewn with busses, trailers, and porto-o-potties, was a place for holding rock concerts and outdoor raves, not for supporting me or the other kids living there in succeeding at school. The Valley was full of children doing whippets inside of tents that had lost their poles and men around campfires peaking on LSD while wearing sleeping bags as pants. There was no homework help. Instead we mixed solids and liquids and tried to feel something.
As a kid I was afraid all of the time. Some of the time it was that fear that pulses inside your butt, but most of the time it was the fear of getting caught even if I wasn’t doing anything worth catching. Drugs numb that fear, but then give you a legitimate reason to worry about getting caught.

Going to school and caring about it made my life harder at home. Whenever I tried to tell my parents new found information like grass was green and the sky was blue, they looked at me through the pot smoke with a blank stare, “Everybody knows the grass is blue and the sky is green, Sailor.” The rage that filled me got me out of there, if only physically. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, suicide

Prednisone at the Wheel: Losing my husband, but Finding My Way Home

May 28, 2017
prednisone

By Jill Stegman

I never imagined after nearly forty-two years of marriage, that I would be left on a strange street looking for a bus hundreds of miles from home.

But I had jumped out of the rental car my husband was driving, so intent on getting from one ravaged Youngstown, Ohio, each neighborhood even more boarded-up, shut-down, and depressing than the next. It was clear: we were a world away from Central California, where our two children had befriended tarantulas and lizards on our five acres of property.

“No, I’m not letting you drive,” he’d said, clamping his fingers more tightly on the wheel and speeding up to fifty in a twenty-five mph zone. My husband, Don, had gone from a clean, fit, REI-clad former surfer and cyclist with a smile for everyone to an unshaven and angry ghost of his former self, wearing a frayed t-shirt and sweatpants.

“Stop!” I screamed, as he picked up speed, the houses and street corners becoming a gray blur. “Let me out!”  I couldn’t believe this was the same man who had always been my protector for forty-two years of marriage. One thing for sure: he was not at the wheel Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape, Tough Conversations

English Club: A Story of Gang Rape, Trafficking, And A Dragon

May 21, 2017

CW: This essay discusses rape and sex trafficking. For survivor support, contact RAINN for confidential online and phone support, https://www.rainn.org/get-help.

By Katie Ottaway

For three years all I remembered was the tea. The tea wasn’t even that good.

I was abroad teaching English, and planning a summer of pre-dissertation research.  My classes were in the evening, and it was not uncommon for my students to bring friends to audit.  In the few minutes before I commenced my advanced English class, I overheard a conversation that a handful of my male students were having in their local language.  I didn’t catch it all, but I understood that they were talking about me, and my class, and falling asleep.  They were discussing whether or not I would make the cut.  There was some discussion of numbers.  At the time, I naturally assumed that they were critiquing my pedagogy, maybe discussing if their new foreign teacher was hot or not, and talking about finances as most students do.  I didn’t like the fact that they were talking about me within a few feet of me, thinking that I couldn’t understand, so I spoke to the class in their language for the first time.

After class, one of the students approached and asked if I had understood their conversation.  I bluffed a little, and replied that I had understood enough of it.  His eyes widened, and he assured me that they were talking about a different class and a different teacher.  He only returned a couple times, and never made eye contact.  His friend, G, who was privy to the conversation maintained good attendance, and even became somewhat of a teacher’s pet. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage

Water Baby

May 19, 2017
MISCARRIAGE

CW: This essay discusses miscarriage.

By Hanna Bartels

It started with red and it ended with water. And in between, I waited at the Starbucks counter and I rested my fingertips on the contour of the beginning. A habit, a protective hand. But the baby beneath that barely there bump stopped growing the day before. My baby was now just my pregnancy and the next day would be just blood and tissue.

I rubbed my thumb against an angel pinned to an impossibly small blanket in my pocket. Over a bead of blistered plastic at the bottom of the left wing where the mold opened too soon and hot resin seeped out.

When someone you know dies, you mourn the loss of them. Their smell, the sound of their voice, how your days transform without them. But when you lose a pregnancy, your life doesn’t change at all. Your belly should swell, your house should fill with bouncers and swings and carriers and bottles and dirty diapers. But instead, you drink your coffee and the world spins on its axis.

The warped angel was a reminder: I was pregnant once, and now I am not.

***

Four days before, I’d noticed a spot of red on my toilet paper.

I rummaged through my medical file, searching for the number the nurse had first starred and then circled at my first prenatal appointment.

My mother-in-law called down the hall, good morning and cheerful, asked if she should make coffee. She was in town for a cousin’s wedding and my husband, a surgical resident, was at the hospital.

Just one second, I told her, I’ll make it.

I pushed aside flour and sugar in my cabinet to reach the coffee I hadn’t touched in months.

I just had some spotting, I told her as I scooped ground beans into the filter. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

When “Yes” Means “No”: On Trauma

May 15, 2017
trauma

CW: This essay discusses sexual abuse and trauma . For survivor support, contact RAINN for confidential online and phone support, https://www.rainn.org/get-help.

By Kit Rempala

One of the most beautiful and terrifying things about trauma is its relativity.  It changes from person to person.  My therapist says trauma is a defense mechanism – it shields us from the exiled emotions which well up to the surface every time our minds touch upon the permanent bruise which houses memory of the initiator.  She says defense mechanisms are not our weakness; they are powerful tools that indicate just how strong we are in the face of adversity.  She says although the initiators and their actions are not a part of us, the defense mechanisms – the traumas – are a part of us.  And no part of us is bad, or defines us.

But what do we do when cases of trauma are not so clear-cut?

I should have known.  I should have listened to my friends.  I should have listened to my instincts.  I believe in the core, primal, animalistic intelligence preserved in the human condition – the one that, when it prompts us to “Run!” is usually correct.  I’m a smart woman.  I am college-educated, I come from a well-adjusted upbringing in an upper-middle-class home, and I very rarely question my own judgments.  And then there are other times…

I met “D” when I was nineteen.  I had scarcely dated, and so I jumped at the opportunity for another’s attention, to feel desirable and wanted.  He seemed like a nice enough guy: polite and witty.  But even on our first date my neighbor’s dog growled at him as we walked to his car.  I shrank away from his hulking form in the passenger’s seat, and again during the movie, and again on the way home.  When I kissed him goodnight my apprehension was eclipsed by his powerfulness, the way he pulled me so tightly to him and pressed his lips so hard against mine.  It made me feel small in a way I never had being 5’11” tall.  My body shook, but not with the butterflies from a new connection. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, Social Media

Why I Don’t Just Unfriend Him

May 5, 2017
trauma

By Christie Tate

“You can just unfriend him.  At least hide his profile.”

This is good advice, advice I’d be well served to take.  I’ve just told my best friend about the latest offense my Tea Party pro-Trump second-cousin has committed on social media.  This cousin triggers me to the moon with his red state propaganda.  I haven’t laid eyes on him since my grandfather’s funeral in 1981.  I was in third grade.  I remember only that his face was wide and flat like the surface of the moon.  We share the same last name and a handful of relatives that I’m not close to.  We were “reunited” on Facebook a few months ago when my first cousin put me in touch with his daughter.

I didn’t know he was a pro-Trump guy at first.  The posts were all about his grandbaby and his beloved Texas Aggies.  Babies I can get behind 100% of the time; the Aggies I could take or leave.

Then, over the summer the Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas erupted in gun violence and police officers were killed in the line of duty.  I posted something that was pro Black Lives Matter, and his response was racist, offensive, anti-Constitutional, and impossible to ignore.  I held my phone and in that tiny square for REPLY I told him why Black Lives Matter was important and that he was wrong about who was to blame for the violence.   I cited numerous incidents were young black men were killed at the hands of trigger-happy, racist police officers.  After I published my remark, I shook like someone soaking wet in a snow storm.  Had I just taken this man with my father’s smile to task?  Was I now in trouble?  I was 43 years old, sitting in the office where I work as a lawyer, shaking like I’d just thrown a Molotov cocktail through an elderly person’s window. Continue Reading…

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…