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Abuse

Abuse, Guest Posts

F*ck Self-Help

October 21, 2018
By Zoe Brigley

Because I work and teach on domestic violence, people sometimes write to me unexpectedly with their own stories. They are usually women (though abuse does happen to men and non-binary folks too), and often they have questions about whether a partner’s behavior is abusive. Very often it is.

Sometimes these can be liberating stories. A woman once wrote to say that finally, after ten years of an abusive relationship, she had left, and her life had changed irrevocably. Food was more flavorsome, smells were more vivid, colors luminous, as if she had been imprisoned in grey world.

Other stories are less comforting. I spent a month writing back and forth with a friend on Facebook living in another country. Her abusive boyfriend had dumped her, except she wasn’t really dumped: it was more a test to see how much she would put up with before he took her back. We talked many times about working to forget him, and to create a new life. Then one day on Facebook, she posted a photograph of the two of them on vacation, relaxing at a beachfront hotel. She stopped writing to me then, and while I hope that she is happy, I can’t help thinking about what I could or should have done to help her. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts

Closet Shots

April 20, 2018
closet

By Adele Zane

Your father just shoved you into his bedroom closet and slammed the door, entombing you. You tell yourself to get a grip, but your ears still pound and your hands still clench. You pant through your nose, purse your lips, squeeze your eyes shut, and grit your teeth. You do all of this so your head won’t explode like a watermelon rifled against a wall. So what, you tell yourself, this is nothing. Why not view it as a refreshing alternative to his usual forms of discipline? This one beats a harried chase through the house till he corners you in the dining room where you drop to the floor and curl up like a pill bug.

His fancy eel skin belt, the buckle flying, raining down on your back and thighs. In fact, when you think back through the fifteen long years of your life, as far as his punishments go, this shut-in-the-closet one is easy. It hasn’t involved belts, wooden spoons, or yanking of hair. So get ahold of yourself, calm down, and above all, do not cry. He hates that. He says it’s manipulative and that he’s way too smart to fall for what he calls crocodile tears. Whatever that means.

It’s Saturday afternoon and time for his nap. No one in your family will want to wake him once he falls asleep. Even as a toddler you knew not to go near him when he slept, but if you had to, to wake him for a phone call or because it was dinnertime, it was safest to stand at the foot of his bed, and say, Daddy, Daddy, several times with increasing loudness. If that didn’t work, then you would touch his big toe lightly, recoiling fast so he couldn’t clobber you when he came up from his dreams, arms swinging at imaginary assailants.

You realize you could be in here for hours. The door doesn’t have a lock; you could open it if you wanted to, but you won’t and neither will anyone else. Now that you’ve calmed down, you better find some way to entertain yourself. You slowly turn around and move your arms like you’re doing the wave at a football game until you find the pull chain to the overhead light. You wonder if turning it on is against the rules of his new made-up-on-the-spot punishment. You decide to chance it and pull the chain, real slow so it doesn’t make a clicking sound. The bare 40-watt bulb illuminates two identically tailored pinstripe suits, one brown and one navy, from Roos/Atkins, his favorite store, and lots of work pants and shirts from Penney’s and Sears.

On the floor are his polished black dress boots and his dusty work boots—the ones he whistles for you to come and remove from his feet when he gets home from work. You quell the urge to kick his stupid shoes and yank his dumb clothes from their hangers because you know your father can go from charming to ballistic in less than a second without discernible provocation. This would be too discernable an act of provocation. You could go through his pockets—maybe there’s something interesting in them—but he’d know you looked, for he’s all-knowing or so he tells you and you can’t take that risk even though you doubt he would really know. You dare yourself to look in his jacket pockets anyway. Nothing much—a silver lighter, a toothpick, and a couple of pennies.

What is interesting is what’s lined up against the wall to your left, almost as tall as you are. Careful not to touch, you use your index finger to count them. There are a total of nine zippered cases of soft beige suede, each holding either a rifle or a shotgun. You don’t know what makes a rifle a rifle or a shotgun a shotgun. Is there a difference? You’d never realized he had this many, but then again, you’ve never hung out in his closet either. To your right are shelves he built. On the shelves are boxes and boxes of bullets and a pair of sheathed hunting knives. He’s got enough firepower to kill every deer, duck, and quail in the state of California, and maybe Nevada too. At least that’s what it looks like. He’s even got handguns nestled in boxes. You read their labels: .44 Mag, .357 Mag, and something called a 1911. Why the heck does he need all these? To sneak up on an unsuspecting pheasant? You think it’s extreme overkill to own so many guns and smile to yourself at your wittiness.

You hear the thwack, thwack of a tennis ball being hit back and forth. Your father, now lounging on his bed atop a faux fur bedspread the unnatural color of a teddy bear, smug in the knowledge that his oldest daughter is confined ten feet away, has resumed watching the Wimbledon finals, a match between Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe. You hear him fire up a Camel no-filter. His chain smoking makes your family and your house smell like you all roll around in dirty ashtrays.

But back to the guns. He didn’t put you in here so you could peruse his gun collection, choose your favorite one.

For a moment you flirt with the fantasy of hurting yourself, but it seems too obvious a move given the situation. Too bad you didn’t pay more attention when he first showed you how to load his BB gun, then how to aim and shoot at the paper target he’d taped to a stepladder in the basement. A good starter gun he’d called it. You’d bawled and made it clear that unlike him, you weren’t interested in weapons or hunting or killing animals. Besides, your eyesight is so bad you didn’t even come close to hitting the target itself let alone the bullseye.

To kill time, you imagine the headline in the San Francisco Chronicle, if you successfully loaded a gun, and managed to fatally shoot yourself in the closet’s three-by-six-foot space. Poor Misunderstood Girl Shoots Self Dead in Father’s Closet. Now you’re feeling sorry for yourself. How about Trapped Teenage Girl Shoots Self Because of Idiot Dad and Stupid Family. Your attempts at amusing yourself wear thin, and you collapse down to sit cross-legged on the cherry red shag carpet to wait him out. You cover your face with your hands.

You’re lulled into sleepiness by the sound of the television audience’s polite applause and the announcer’s soothing voice as he loudly whispers Love, Fifteen. Your dad’s rooting for Connors. You think Connors is a hotheaded jerk and hope he loses to the black guy Ashe. If your father knew you were dozing during your punishment, it would anger him even more. You don’t want to do that because he can be inventive. Besides his trusty belt, he has a dog whip for special-occasion infractions. It stings like hell and leaves the nastiest welts, worse than the belt buckle. He’s careful to hit you above your knees so the marks aren’t visible below your skirts, but his thoughtfulness doesn’t keep you safe at school. It’s against the rules to take your gym clothes into a bathroom stall to change, but you do it anyway. You don’t have a choice, you have to; you know instinctively that if anyone were to see your body, it would be too difficult and embarrassing to explain.

You imagine standing in front of your dresser and contorting your body in the mirror so you can count the multicolored welts that adorn your butt and thighs, fingering them gently, monitoring them day to day as they change from angry red to mellow yellowish purple. Proof of his unfairness or your uselessness. You’ve dozed off but wake up fast when you hear your mother’s voice. Maybe she’s come to remind your father you’re still in the closet.

“Manuel. Wake up. Ashe won, but Wide World of Sports is about to start or maybe there’s some soccer on. Want me to get you some Sanka?”

You’re happy Connors lost. Then you hear the jingle of the keys that hang from your father’s belt. A sound that elicits fear in your family because it tells you he’s coming but doesn’t telegraph what mood he’ll be in when he gets to you. The closet door opens before you can jump up to pull the chain and turn off the light. You pray he doesn’t notice.

“Had enough?”

He looks down at you on the floor. You look up, squinting against the daytime brightness. You pull yourself to a standing position using the ammo shelves as leverage. Your legs don’t quite cooperate. You remember to drop your eyes to the carpet because looking directly at him is considered a challenge to his authority. Yes, I’ve had enough, you tell him, because that’s what he wants to hear.

“Good, I hope you learned your lesson,” he says.

“Can I get back to my algebra homework, Daddy, please?” you remembered to say please.

He flicks at a speck of cigarette ash on the ratty terrycloth robe he wears over his work pants.

“Say sorry to your brother then go make me some Sanka. Not too hot, and don’t fill it too full either.”

“Yeah, say you’re sorry.”

You raise your eyes at the sound of your seven-year-old brother’s voice. Across the bedroom, he stands next to your mother and little sister, his arms folded across his chest like an angry genie-child denying wishes. You grit your teeth and take a deep breath through your nose, careful to keep your face blank. He is the worst brother anyone could ever have in your opinion, but you don’t want to sit in a gun-filled closet for the rest of your life so you apologize to him.

“I don’t believe you,” he says, tapping his foot for emphasis.

“That’s enough Mark,” your mother says, “she’s been in the closet for hours.”

You blink your eyes slowly and force your mouth into what you hope passes as an apologetic smile and try again.

“Really Mark, I’m sorry,” you say, “sorry I yelled at you. I just got to study.”

Your brother looks at your father, then back at you and states, “I can come in your room anytime I want.”

You admonish yourself to stay calm. Yes, your father shut you in the closet because you yelled at your do-no-wrong brother, interrupting an important tennis match, as well as your homework; however, this closet punishment trip wasn’t so bad, you handled it.

“Sure, anytime you want, Mark.”

He smirks with triumph.

You remind yourself that in three years you’ll graduate high school, you smile for real at the thought and head to the kitchen to try to make your father the perfect cup of Sanka.

Singer and songwriter Adele Zane was born in Brazil, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York with the fine artist Richard Rosenblatt and their rescued terrier, Wally. She has taken memoir writing classes at both FreeBird Writing Workshop and Gotham Writers Workshop.

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#metoo, Abuse, Guest Posts

On Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo, My Past and My Daughter’s Future

January 21, 2018
story

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 Jane Rosenberg LaForge

My father was a storyteller. He most enjoyed telling stories about his family, my sister and I included, how life befuddled and bedazzled us, as it did to his immigrant parents. He consumed novels, newspapers, and magazine articles, and then sought out his usual interlocutors, my mother among them, to comb through every last detail so he might glean the correct implications. But he hated science fiction and fantasy, because so much was left to hocus pocus, or some deux de machine that you had to accept, lest you deflate the whole project.

My father also experimented with religions other than the Judaism he was born into. He investigated everything from Scientology to Catholicism, because he wanted   a “proscribed life” without the endless debate of the familiar Talmud. He wanted to rely on an already tried wisdom, not just rituals but an ethos that would be all encompassing and reassuring.  That he wanted this spelling out of what to do and how to do it on his own, secular terms belied the purpose of religion, and he wound up settling for a life of doubt, since the alternative—faith—could not be explained in rational terms, and was too supernatural. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts

Kintsugi, or Golden Joinery

December 17, 2017
kintsugi

By Michelle Oppenheimer

  1. Poetry Workshop in a Domestic Abuse Shelter

On Tuesday there will be a poetry workshop. Flyers taped to the kitchen cabinets, posted on the bulletin boards that line the front hallway announce it. Some of us sign up. Some of us want something more, something to do with our time, something to release us from the hamster wheel of the present. One of us drags a cracked plastic bin from under her bed: the poems she’s written for years that she hides still.

We show up for the first meeting, not knowing what to expect. The poetry lady is young, wears a funky dress and red-plastic framed glasses. She begins by lighting a jasmine-scented candle, asks us to focus on the flame as we calm our breathing. She reads aloud a poem about a diver exploring a sunken ship. She asks us what we think it is about. A woman in a crisp ironed blouse and floor-length black skirt says it is about finding our own truth.  The poetry lady, making eye-contact, nods. A woman in plaid pajama bottoms and broken purple flip-flops says it is about women being silenced. The poetry lady agrees and suggests it is also about salvaging what is ours. She invites us to write a poem, perhaps inspired by what we have just heard. Some of us begin scribbling right away. One of gnaws her pencil eraser. One of us gets up, banging into furniture, and leaves the room. Continue Reading…

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…

Abuse, Guest Posts

Blame

May 12, 2017
blame

By Jill Goldberg

The morning sun was streaming in through the big window, bright and nearly blinding. We were both sitting at the kitchen table; she was putting on her makeup, and I sat across from her, watching. My older brother was already at school, and my half-day school didn’t start until the afternoon, so it was just the two of us, together. She always put on her makeup, every day, at the kitchen table. She never, ever went a day without makeup. Her light-up makeup mirror was round and big and double sided, and her makeup, a mix of brands, was kept in a plastic food storage bag. As a wide-eyed five year old, I loved watching my mother’s daily makeup application.

Usually we would talk about plans for the day or something similar, but this time she wasn’t saying anything to me. I was talking to her about the doll I was holding, but she wasn’t responding. Something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. Her face looked different to me, but I didn’t really know what exactly was different. It was puffy somehow. Then I realized that she wasn’t actually putting on her makeup, she was holding an ice pack on her face and she was crying. 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…

Abuse, Guest Posts

The Gatekeeper I Couldn’t Leave: Why an Educated Woman Stays

March 24, 2017

By Joyce Hayden

No, I wasn’t poor.  I didn’t have five children.  I wasn’t disabled in any way.

I was college educated.  Privileged, white, middle-class.  Had parents and siblings who loved me.

Friends who cared.  I had a job and a checking account.  I had a car, or at least access to one.

It’s difficult to recount how love became control in such a short time.  Or how long it took for me to see it.  And then accept.  And then take action.

I’m not sure any of the reasons make sense of it.  But, it matters, because:

  1. Though I often doubted it on wind-lashed winter nights, I was never the only one. We are countless.  We are too often the silent countless.
  2. Too many of us continue to remain stuck, unable to put the first first down. To stop the ride.

Kevin was my partner on Magical Mystery Rides in our shiny orange Karmann Ghia on dirt roads through New Hampshire and Vermont.  He was smart.  He was funny.  He was street wise.  He was handsome.  He was an artist, a writer, a wood carver.  Using sharp metal tools and sandpaper, he could smooth the bones of a leaf fairy’s ankle skin soft in thick basswood.  That’s right: he didn’t carve stout orcs and wart covered trolls or guns and muscle cars. He carved leaf fairies and forest gnomes. And I  was in LOVELOVELOVE!

It’s true he was my gatekeeper.  My tormentor.  My abuser.

He accounted for every second of my time and every cent I made.

It would be impossible to count the days and months that added up to years of living in real or expectant fear.

As a result, sometimes the rebel in me needed to yell and I would start something.  Purposely press his buttons, even though it would have been so much easier to walk away.  Like the time I gave a co-worker a ride to the restaurant, and after our shift, she finished first, she went to the nearby bar, the bar Kevin had forbade me to enter, and I had to go fetch her for her ride home.  Would it have been just as easy to say No, when he asked if I’d gone to the bar?  Of course.  But some nights I was tired of so many rules, so many seemingly ridiculous demands. Rules made from possession and jealousy.  So instead, I stood my ground.  In my purple mini skirt, my bare legs, left hand on my hip, I threw my long blonde hair back and said “Yes. Yes, I did go in.  I had a beer.  Then I got Shari and we left.  What’s the big fuckin’ deal?”  Well, I should have known not to turn my back and walk away.  I had carpet scrapes on my knees and elbows, cauliflower shaped bruises on my chest for weeks after that.

But the main reason I didn’t shake a fist and run, grab the keys and speed away, was this:

He was the first human being I ever told that I’d been molested as a kid.  He said exactly what I needed to hear, and feared I never would.  It was Christmas time, two months after we met.  We’d just bought a tree together at Faneuil Hall one snowy night, threw it in his pick up, and half drunk, pulled and pushed it up the three flights of stairs in my Brookline apartment building.  When it was standing up right in the red metal base, and a couple strings of colored lights adorned the branches, Kevin motioned me to his lap, and although I can’t recall what prompted me to say so, because we’d already been having sex, but I confessed that I’d been molested.  I didn’t dump the full trilogy on him.  I just told him about one time when I was 12, lying on the gurney, alone with Dr. Palmer in the examining room on Hinsdale Drive.  I don’t know why, but I needed Kevin to know.  To know then, two months in, not in two years or 20.  And Kevin, seeing me turn red in the telling, probably feeling my body stiffen, contract, pulled me closer and said something to the effect of, “I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t change anything.”  And for a sparkling moment, I too thought, “Right.  It doesn’t matter.”  But it did.  It did for years.  It made me feel wrong, feel guilty. As if I’d lured the doctor, as if I’d seduced him, though that word was not part of my vocabulary back then.  But Kevin’s consolation helped ease my mind.  Helped me put the PTSD on the back burner for awhile. That might seem insignificant, but for me, who had held the secret for years, Kevin’s response was a tremendous gift.  I was accepted, not blamed, as I had anticipated.

Perhaps one incident of molestation wouldn’t have mattered, wouldn’t have misshapen me so poorly.   But when they are spliced all together, from the babysitter’s foster child, to the family doctor, and the uncle, the years of fear, of hide and seek and trying to stay as invisible as possible, the ages 5 to 12,  then it’s clear why that girl only felt safe in shadows. She was home alone at the house on Dixon Drive while the rest of the family went to Uncle Bob’s every weekend. She wiggled her way out with babysitting jobs she lied about having.  Alone from Friday night til Sunday afternoon, keeping herself awake with Sgt Pepper and The Animals, until the sun came up, then sleeping til noon.

By the time she found a man who loved her, despite the sexual abuse, by the time she found a man she felt she could have consensual sex with, she, me, I, was 25 years old.  He loved me.  He accepted my flaws.  My past.  My body of what I then believed to be “damaged goods”.  He wanted me.  And that made me feel safer than I’d ever felt in my life.  Ever.  Why would I leave that?  How would I ever find that again?

When things got tough, after words and name calling thrust through the air like swords, after wine bottles missed my head and smashed to pieces on the floor, I had one focus:  To get us back to those early days.  The magical mystery days.  The sitting on his lap, loving me despite days.  We had it all once.  I was convinced we could have it again.  That was my goal.  If I just did xxx; if I would stop doing zzz.  If, if, if, I could get us back there.  Kevin gave me everything I’d never had.  What I interpreted as complete passion and devotion.  No judgment.  He knew about me and he wanted me with him.  He never used my past against me.  Not once.  Not the way my own mind used it against myself.

That is why I stayed for another five years after the first time he hit me.  I never thought I’d find that initial approval and tenderness.  Someone like me doesn’t throw love and acceptance away very easily.  Not when it took 25 years to find in the first place.  Not when I was convinced and repeatedly told I’d never find it again. Not when the man I loved would stop for birds that lay wounded at the side of the road, take them home, try to nurse them back to health.  He did this even though the birds, despite his eye drops of water, despite him staying up with them all night, despite the worms and bugs, would inevitably die.

When Kevin brought me into his world, it was fun.  It was the three of us together.  Kevin, me and our black lab Crystal.  It felt like a fairy tale.  I don’t care what it looked like from the outside; from the inner circle of us three, it was playful, it was adventurous, it was loving, it was camaraderie, it was thick as thieves joy.  And that’s it.  When it comes down to it, that’s why.

We finished each other’s sentences.  We knew each other from the inside out.  We knew each other’s deepest secrets.   One night I was driving home from my waitress job at Daniels in Henniker, NH.  It was early November. I was driving slow.  Really slow. My grandfather had just passed away, and on top of that, our favorite dishwasher, a kid who studied at the local college, had been killed a few hours earlier in a car wreck on black ice.  So I was driving 30 mph in a 55, on a sharp curve near Lake Todd, when a car came flying around the bend, tires squealing, and he wasn’t slowing down.   And he was in my lane…about to hit me head on.  What they say is true:  I saw my life flash before my eyes.   I thought I was dead.  I thought I was going through the back windshield.  I thought I was a nano-second away from becoming star dust.  But I turned my steering wheel to the right, quickly and sharply, and my car stalled in the ditch.  Mr. 100 Miles Per Hour kept going, fast as hell in the wrong lane.

I was shaken when I arrived home.  Legs like mush as I climbed the long flight of stairs to our house.  The second I opened the door, Kevin bolted over to me. I shrank back.  He grabbed my biceps and shook me.  “Where’ve you been? Where’ve you been??”  I couldn’t speak; I was still in shock from the close call and confusion of Kevin’s fear disguised as anger.

“Ten minutes ago,” Kevin said, “I felt in my entire body that you were in mortal danger.  I felt your heart stop.  I called the restaurant and you’d left.  But you should have already been home.” We lay down together on the couch.  There’d been many nights I’d come home to him yelling at me for being so late.  I was used to that.  It was normal everyday life.  But this night I knew we were connected in a way I’d never experienced with another soul.  I had nearly died.  He had felt it.  He knew it.  How does one turn her back on that  kind of love?  There were more days like that than there were filled with fists.

When I love someone, I see their potential.  I’m too often blinded by it.  I know the goodness in them.  I couldn’t leave until I saw that potential fade.  Until I’d watched him throw all his chances and potential out the window.  I couldn’t leave until I realized in my bones, not just understood in my mind, that nothing I’d ever done was enough to make him hit me.  I couldn’t leave until my love had turned to pity, my respect to disgust.  No one but me could carry me to that moment.  No one could tell me it was time to go and expect me to act.  People tried.  They told me I deserved better.  People saw who he was.  They saw who I was.   But I couldn’t leave until I could see it: see who he was; see who I really was.  I stayed until I realized he was never going to change.  I stayed until I realized that I wanted and deserved something better.  I stayed until I believed that the next time he really might kill me. I stayed until I finally believed I had the right to open the gate, put the key in the ignition, and go.

Former English Professor, Joyce Hayden, recently left her job to complete her memoir The Out of Body Girl. An artist and writer, Joyce’s work can be found on her website: joycehayden.com

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Abuse, Guest Posts, Relationships, Young Voices

Swing

February 8, 2017
swing

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

CW: This essay discusses abusive relationships.

By Laura Zak

Nana had a swing in her backyard. And Dad said once it was fresh white, back when he was a boy, running off in the woods to see which of his friends could pee the farthest.

And when I was thirteen, the paint flaked off under my fingernails. And sometimes I let my fingernails scratch the metal just to hear them screech.

And my younger sister Jessica and I used to swing and eat Klondike bars. And Nana would squeeze herself between us, her feet skimming the ground. And once she told us “Girls, you never let a guy hit you.”

And I laughed because I thought she was joking.

That was five years after Britney released “Hit me Baby One more Time.” Nana still hated Britney for her song. We ate Klondike bars and Nana told us that if some guy ever tried that, just say: “listen bub, see my finger? See my thumb? See my fist? You better run.”

And my laugh was fresh white paint. Of course, Nana. Jessica and I knew better than to let guys pull back their fists, let them swing.

And I don’t know why Stanley kicked Jessica out that night. We were both living in Lubbock, our hometown, and she called, asking if I would pick her up. Her voice shook. She was only eighteen.

And I did pick her up, of course I picked her up, I ran out to my car, barefoot, jacket flying open. And my hands didn’t work well putting in the keys. And the street lamps were heavy and parking lot held more emptiness than anyone could bare as I drove fast fast to his apartment.

Jessica waited under a carport. Her eyes were small, her eyes were scared.

When I hugged her, she thanked me for picking her up. When I asked if she was okay, she said she was fine. She never said why she had all her clothes in her backpack or if this was the first time.

At first Mom and Dad liked Stanley okay. I met him when Dad cooked us all eggplant parmesan. Stanley was seventeen. He wore a button up shirt. He said lots of yes sirs and no ma’ams.

Jessica had told us he would be bringing his baby and he did. The baby’s eyes were small, her eyes were scared. She cried and cried and cried.

And once he left, Mom said told me she didn’t like how Stanley was not-even-graduated and had a baby. And I knew what Mom meant was not-even-graduated and no-ring-on-his-finger with a baby.

The first time she and Dad did it was their wedding night.

And when Jessica and I were fourteen, fifteen, we bought V-rings and promised we’d stay virgins until our wedding nights. And I know now the V-rings weren’t born for our minds alone.

But I don’t know when Stanley changed. When he went from being that sing-song motion on the backyard swing, to nails and nails and nails making the metal screech.

And once Dad made shrimp pasta for dinner. And Jessica and I stood in the kitchen, the fan ticking off its rocker.  And I remember the light spinning on her face. And under her eye, a yellow bruise.

And I asked her what happened. She said she fell going down the stairs.

And she’s never been good at lying. But I believed her because falling was too cliché, as unbelievable as Britney really asking some guy to hit her again.

Because, of course, Nana. Jessica and I knew better than to let guys pull back their fists, let them swing.

And one night at Nana’s house, Jessica locked herself in the bathroom. She thought everyone was sleeping. I heard her go and my eyes opened wide like street lamps. I was scared. So I snuck out of bed, crept to the bathroom door.

And her crying stopped my feet. And I listened to her cry, her sobs holding more emptiness than I could stand as she begged Stanley to take her back. Please please please please please, she said. Over and over and over.

I know there were many times she cried in a bathroom, please please pleasing Stanley not to break up with her.

And I still don’t know how or why they finally did break up. If she left him or if he kicked her out for good. I was in Costa Rica, living in a house fenced with barbed wire and glass, when Mom told me. When I came home, Jessica only told me they’d gotten a restraining order.

And once Jessica and I were dancing at a club called Heaven. Across the bright, drunken faces, she saw Stanley. Jessica said “we have to go now.” And we did.

And once, years later, Mom said “he almost killed my baby girl” and her lip shook.

And once, years later, under the fan blades and the light, Jessica told me that Stanley beat her. Sometimes it was just because she took too long putting gas in the car.

And I don’t know how to ask Jessica about the rest. So our silence rocks back and forth between us. And there are no streetlamps. Just an emptiness we’ve learned to stand. And my imagination colors in all the empty space with dull metal and broken glass.

Laura Zak calls Lubbock, Texas her homeland. She now lives in Moscow Idaho and has realized the most striking similarity between Lubbock and Moscow is their respective spots in their respective state’s panhandles. Laura enjoys to cook with pans that have handles, is in her third year at the University of Idaho’s MFA program studying creative nonfiction. If she had to describe her writing, she would say that she’s interested in exploring sexuality, desire, play, and magical worlds.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts March 3-5, 2017.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
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Abuse, Guest Posts

My Last Halloween

October 31, 2016

By D. Michael Whelan

When I was younger, I loved Halloween. I think it was getting to play dress up, pretending to be something else, something of your choosing. Every day of my life I was pretending to be something else just to stay safe. I was pretending not to be gay, because my parents knew, but warned me what would happen if I told anyone else. I was pretending everything was okay at home. That home wasn’t actually a warzone, where I had to match wits with a mad woman, just to be allowed to eat, sleep or stay inside. Beatings were unavoidable, but I became a master at figuring out how to work with them, so they inflicted minimal damage. I learned how to figure out my mother’s moods and what made her tick. I was strategic, sometimes making sure the beatings weren’t big, but when she was on the edge I knew she would have to blow completely in order for me to be safer as the night wore on.

See, I was always pretending. I was always lying. I was always someone else. I was the bright and lazy student, because not doing your homework because you were playing one of your mother’s psychological games did not fly. I was the student who didn’t appreciate his parents, because whenever the police were contacted about said abuse, it just made things worse. I was defiant, but only because I intended to survive. I was a liar, but never a liar about the things people thought I lied about. I was too crafty, too good at lying – people never knew what I was lying about. They never did either. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

Revolutions Have Started this Way.

October 9, 2016

By Heidi Hutner

 

Since the release of Trump’s leaked and lewd bus tapes, the Internet has been abuzz with the topic of misogyny and violence against women. Amid Friday night’s Twitter conversations, author Kelly Oxford shared the story of her first sexual assault and then requested others to share theirs. By Saturday evening, more than 9.7 million women tweeted their first sexual assault tales, according to Oxford.

One of these was mine:

My sister’s 19-year old boyfriend (naked in my sister’s bed) told me to take off my clothes. When I refused, he bullied and shamed me. I was eight.

 

While woman continue to tweet #notokay, many Clinton opponents on the left argue across social media that the eleven-year-old Access Hollywood footage of Trump was leaked “just” to divert attention from the recent Wikileaks of Clinton’s emails. Many claim, Trump’s behavior, while deplorably sexist, pales next to Clinton’s bad deeds.

 

These opponents state, however, that their dislike of Clinton has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman or that she’s old—yes, ageism and sexism go hand-in-hand. As Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak writes, “A woman her age is supposed to be invisible. But Hillary Clinton, who is 68, refuses to disappear — and there is no shortage of people who despise her for it.” Many Clinton opponents say the ‘feminism question’ on all counts—whether about Trump or Clinton—is just a diversion from more important issues.

  Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts

An Open Letter to My Childhood Abuser (I Choose Me)

August 15, 2016
abuser

By Mariann Martland

Dear You (the one who stole my childhood),

Time creeps in without me noticing, and suddenly it’s morning again and you’re not here. Yet, you are. You’re always here. You’ve always been here.

I don’t mean to think of you. I mean to live everyday with purpose, meaning and intention, but it’s so damn hard since I began to recall the dark magic you played on my life – it was so very dark.

I feel a tapping on my eyelids, reminding me that I’ve not slept all night, but it seems pointless now. Nothing will change when they reopen:

You’ll still be gone and you’ll still be here, living in my mind. I will feel just as exhausted, for the terrors of the night play hard. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts

Of Mice and Memory

June 6, 2016
abuse

By Avery M. Guess

Dealing with the consequences of abuse looks a lot like this:

You go into your kitchen one morning and pull the small frying pan out of the bottom cupboard—the one to the right of the stove, one of the two or three in this rented house’s kitchen you have to close just right if you want the latch to catch—because you are determined to eat better and save money and because you love egg sandwiches with cheese for breakfast.

You see what looks like a mouse turd. You wonder how it got there—how there could be a mouse in your kitchen that had previously only harbored black ants and four (maybe more, but definitely four) termites prior to your landlady spraying for them while you were out of town at a writing conference in Tennessee.

You step on the garbage lid opener and dump the offending turd, clean the pan, cook your egg. Sooner than later that day you are pretty sure it wasn’t the poop of a rogue rodent you saw, but your imagination playing tricks on you. You see something in everything. Patterns that aren’t there. This was nothing. Never mind the now half-remembered odd sounds coming from the same cupboard over the last couple of weeks. Sounds you also dismissed because they came like memories—only every so often and gone before you could recognize them as something real, something tangible. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts

19 Years (and 2,000 Miles) Beyond Sweaters and Smiles

May 4, 2016
abuse

Trigger Warning: This essay discusses abuse.

By Lindsey Fisher

Nineteen years have passed since I left him, a decade since he last tried to contact me — time enough that I can almost forget the sound of his voice, can almost imagine that the things he did to me happened to someone else long ago and far away. Except that they didn’t. They happened to me. On October 23rd, I published an article on Vox.com about my recovery from the violent relationship that consumed my teenage years. Two weeks later, my former abuser reemerged, like an unwelcome ghost from the past, to make good on his decades’ old threat to me: just like he said he would, he denied everything.

I had left his name out of my article, scoured it of identifying details about him, his family, where we grew up, our school. He was so far removed from my life that revenge was beside the point. I wanted to use my story to help others, to take a terrible thing that happened to me and make some good come from it. To that end, I think I was successful: my article was shared several thousand times on social media. Teachers and parents wrote to say that they would use my story to help guide the teens in their lives toward healthier relationships. A friend used my piece as a springboard to come forward about the abusive relationship she had endured in her twenties. A college junior reached out to share that my past was hers, too. She had felt alone, as if no one else had been through what she had, but my story gave her hope that she would find her way to a happy, healthy adulthood. Continue Reading…