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Abuse

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…

Abuse, Guest Posts, Mental Health, Relationships, Trust

I Should Hate You, But I Don’t: Loving and Letting Go of a Pathological Liar

February 12, 2016

TRIGGER WARNING: This essay deals with the damage caused by a pathological liar. 

By Ashley Gulla

I didn’t think I could survive you.  I didn’t think I could find my way out of that dark, black hole I found myself in a few years ago.  Even when you couldn’t take it anymore and quietly slipped away from me, I had no idea how to surrender.  I don’t know the pain of losing a child, so it may have been ignorant of me to think, but the death of “us” left an aching, empty space I imagine was comparable.  Or at least I did when I was in the process of letting go.  Because I wasn’t just letting go of you, I was letting go of my innocence, and that was a heavy price to pay for loving you.

That empty space still exists but it’s different now.  It’s just as vast as it ever was but it’s not nearly as dark or scary.  Those parts of me — my fear, my insecurities, hopelessness and obsessiveness — don’t hurt to touch anymore.  I’ve stared the monster that lives in my head straight in its eyes, and I’ve learned to be friends with her.  I, even some times, find myself lost in that emptiness, with a sense of appreciation and humor, over that the fact that I’m still standing after everything.  And some days, standing would be an understatement.  I’m dancing, flying!  Other times, not as often as before, I’m crawling.  But I’m still here, and I’m happy.

I don’t miss you.  I don’t wish things were different.  And for the first time in the last three years, I’m happy you’re not the one surprising me at work, or finishing my sentences when I can’t find the right word, or wrapping your arms tightly around me as we both fall asleep.  I cringe remembering how foolish I was.  How much trust I instilled in you.  How I hung on every single word, when I knew better.  And I always knew better, but I desperately wanted to know different.  I recognize now how desperately I wanted you to be different.  And how unfair that truly is.

But I also remember every single night I cried until I had nothing left inside, not because you were unfaithful, but because of the cat and mouse game you played with me.  Because story after story after story was just another way to manipulate me to feel a certain way:  jealous, insecure, guilty, afraid, secure, happy, loved.  I became a shell of myself trying to sustain a relationship that wasn’t sustainable.  The very spirit of who I am and why you loved me, which I believe you did, was missing.  Or, hiding really.  Scared.  Angry.  Hurt.  Broken.  Shaking somewhere in a dark corner, away from the world.

I lost myself in the process of trying to hold you to a standard that just wasn’t possible.  To say my heart was crushed would be putting it lightly.  I was not only learning how to accept that “we” were never going to be, but more importantly, how to trust myself again because in the midst of trusting you, you taught me not to trust myself.  With every reassuring lie and false promise, you convinced me that my intuition, logic, and understanding of the world was wrong.  I knew better.  But I wanted to know different. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Things the Missing Would Tell You

December 12, 2015

Trigger Warning: This brief essay deals with child abuse.

By Keema Waterfield

Halfway through my first pregnancy I imagine my mother, age 19. She is unwed, the weight of my future self putting a bend in her back, widening her hips. The ghosts of her childhood trail behind her like lost buttons: all those years with her brother, the powerlessness, the shame, the guilt, the angry mother, the denial. That black place the hurt goes, overflowing. A baby sister she can’t protect looking at a lifetime of worrying at those same choppy waters.

How my mother’s heart must have ached at the thought of me.

It isn’t hard to imagine.

My own ghost is a man we knew by the name of Ray, but whom we later learned was wanted in fourteen states, give or take. He had one eye and a gun, both of which he laid on me in my top bunk somewhere around my third birthday, his pants around his ankles. Mom away for a few days, picking up furniture. My baby sister in the bottom bunk making a noise in her throat that no person of sound mind could hear without offering comfort.

I think of Ray when I hold my growing belly on dark mornings after another visit to the bathroom. I think how ponderous the shape of sorrow is. How little it takes to upend a childhood, like a table on its side: dishes broken, food soiled, water glasses emptying themselves onto the hardwood floor.

At dinner now the table is upright and the lamplight has grown reluctant listeners, but there is still a world of missing children out there. Missed. Misused. If you’re lucky and some part of you makes it back people tell you slow down, be a kid, but the missing learn early that childhood is a mercy only sometimes granted, and dessert is offered only to those who suffer gently.

I’ve been thinking about silence lately, how much it makes me want to break open all the windows in the world and scream. Because I know now what my mother knew then: the missing don’t have a say.Keema_Waterfield-Author_Photo

Keema Waterfield is a 2011 MFA grad from the University of Montana’s nonfiction program. She has been published in Pithead Chapel, Redivider Journal, Understory, and the Anchorage Press. The title essay from her forthcoming memoir “Inside Passages”, won the 2011 Cross Genre Award at Mason’s Road.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. 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. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016.
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.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on November 30th. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on November 30th. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Abuse, courage, Guest Posts, Surviving

Stranger Savior: Escaping Abuse

December 6, 2015

Trigger Warning: This piece deals with physical and mental abuse and contains graphic language. 

By Candace Roberts

We train our kids to know, “stranger-danger” these days, but my escape from my abuser finally happened by a “stranger-savior”. In a gas station parking lot, I watched the stranger mouth, “monster” as my abuser was ferociously banging my head into the driver side window. I was in the driver’s seat and his hand was reached from the outside with a firm grip on my long dark brown hair. I was in shock and couldn’t believe what was happening.

The woman clung on to her cell phone and called the cops. I saw her mouthing the report off to the dispatcher. She backed up and drove away horrified. That was the first time and the last time I ever saw that angel. I wish I could have thanked her.

I was horrified, too. But, ironically not for my life or safety, rather for my reputation and knowing that I would be embarrassed if any one else saw me in that situation. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, Self Image, Sexual Assault/Rape

Encounters On A Train

November 3, 2015

By Yana Walder Cook

Sensitive material is contained in this essay. Mention of rape/sexual assault.

I grew up in post-Soviet Union Collapse Ukraine. In 1990s, being a female teenage girl was a hazardous liability. I watched girls disappear into the dark underbelly of nightclubs, human trafficking and drugs and did my best to escape that. All through middle school I bartered potatoes for English lessons. The year twin towers fell I turned 16, and given one lucky break, I found myself in Boston with a United States Green Card. I ended up on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts where I slowly healed from years of scarcity and violence. I diffused into the scenery and went to the ocean every day, until my writing and my love of travel brought me face to face with the reality of human trafficking again.

I met a Ukrainian girl on a night train in Italy; it was 2011. I was travelling from Vienna to Venice. My laptop sat open on the table between us and she watched me typing at it until it got very dark. She ordered us each a glass of steaming black tea and a cookie.

“I have a story for you,” she said at around midnight. “It is a story of hundreds of girls like me; half of these stories will have died with the body they belonged to, And those stories that survived will never see the light of day because of the shame and stigma and the powerlessness…”

Listening to her was like looking fear right in the face, but there she was sitting across from me, so I knew the story was going to end well somehow. She was like quiet ash, beautiful, sad, soft-spoken, transformed by life into fine mincemeat. Here is Sefi’s story.
***

When this story began her name was Serafine. The name was given to her presumably by her mother.. at least that was her hope. She knew she was born outside of Kharkiv in Ukraine, but she never met her mother because for one reason or another she could not keep the baby and gave up Serafine at the hospital. This story began when she was 14 years old. That day in November of 1999, she got busted for smoking, which was prohibited. At the orphanage of 200 kids between four and seventeen years old, her only reprieve was smoking a cigarette in the outhouse above a hole in the floor over a pile of shit. Hiding away, she thought about how it was even possible to feel this alone even though she shared her bedroom with 18 other girls her age. And she thought about how painfully cold it will be to go pee in this outhouse in about a month. No indoor toilets at this orphanage. Continue Reading…

Abuse, courage, Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

La Llorona

October 29, 2015

By Alma Luz Villanueva

I lived in Santa Cruz, California, for sixteen years while my youngest son grew up, became a surfer, a runner, and went off to university. So, when I heard that eight-year-old Madyson Middleton was missing from the Tannery Arts Center, where she lived with her mother, I immediately began to worry in a personal way. Also, one of my granddaughters is exactly Madyson’s age, and I was to find out later that she knew Maddy from school. And so, the night of July 26, 2015 I kept checking for updates- was she found yet. Then I finally gave up, went to sleep after midnight. I kept seeing her large, beautiful, child eyes, awake when I checked the clock, back to dreaming. In the very pit of my stomach, where the truth lives, I knew she was no longer alive- but I refused to believe it. And her mother, her young mother- I imagined what she was going through. Her beloved child missing.

I felt the horror in every cell of my body like small fires. And I remembered myself at seven, an older thirteen year old friend saying it was okay to go to the park by ourselves. Buena Vista Park, San Francisco, the early 1950s. I was wearing a brand new dress and twirling around because I thought I was beautiful, special, in my brand new dress. My grandmother had made large curls on my thick, dark hair, held by barrettes- I remember they matched my dress, soft pink. I never left the street by myself, my grandmother, Mamacita, watching me from the window as I rode my Hopalong Cassidy bike with rainbow streamers on the handlebars. She’d yell my name, “ALMA,” and I had to answer like a song we knew together. Alma means Soul, and she’d often say (in Spanish), “Tu eres mi Alma…You are my soul.”

When my older friend, Peggy, and I got to the playground area we had swinging contests to see who could go higher. Of course, she was stronger as her feet pierced the sky much higher than mine. But I didn’t mind, I remember I was just happy to be swinging with my new dress blowing around me. I remember wondering if Mamacita was calling my name, waiting for me to sing back to her. I remember wanting to go back suddenly, like a pain my eight-year-old stomach. Continue Reading…

Abuse, courage, Guest Posts, healing

Crying Turned Me Into A Real Girl

October 17, 2015

By Janine Canty

Living with a cruel man for seventeen years teaches you that tears only bring more pain. Tears on habitually bruised and torn skin stings. Tears only feed a fire you can’t control and don’t understand. At first you might try crying in the shower or  over the sound of the washer. He watches in the shower. He’s deaf in one ear, but he hears over the washer.

He knows your hiding places and what your voice sounds like when it’s trying not to cry. He can see your tears before they form. He anticipates them before they fall. They are Mardi gras and Christmas rolled into one for him. Proof that he is right and you are crazy. Your wet eyes and begging give him fuel.. Pass him his manhood with your ravaged face. Slumped shoulders. Downcast eyes. A cup of black coffee. Extra sugar and shaking hands. I hate coffee. I taught this body not to cry in order to survive.

Numb is good. Numb is quiet. Numb is nirvana among the shattered green plates and ripped shirts. I kneel on broken glass with bloody knees. I hold a piece of glass in my palm. I wonder what it would feel like to open my wrist. To see my life flowing out onto the floor. Among the glass and cat hair. Turning the couple of cheerios the dustpan missed, red. My hair is tangled. Dirty and in my eyes. My face is aching  and dry. I wonder what my casket might look like. I wonder if my Mother will cry. I envy her if she still can.

***

I’ve become my own memory at 31. Have I stored up enough numb to end me like a broken sentence?  Pull the glass down my wrist. Let someone else clean my stain and non tears. Wipe the flesh that used to be a girl named Janine, away. The baby coughs once, then again, from a jenny lind crib. He’s had that cough a day too long. The house is chilly.

I touch the back of his head lightly with the hand not still holding a piece of glass. Like an admonishment. A reminder. A warning. I pick up a doll my daughter has kicked out of bed. I chuck it towards a cracked toy box. I’m cradling the glass in my hand gently, the way I once cradled them. I don’t cry when I sweep up the mess. I  wrap the glass carefully so none of the kids cut themselves. I’m not satisfied.

I slip my feet into the monsters slippers. I carry the bag to the shed behind the house. I push the lid down firmly on my non tears. My non-suicide.  My non-self. I get in the shower while he’s not there to see.

I don’t cry. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Anonymous, Fear, Guest Posts, Self Image

Working On It

September 28, 2015

By Anonymous

He took me to sushi on our second date and I told him how it’s neutral Zen glamour reminded me of the Japanese restaurant I’d waitressed at in New York in my twenties. The uniform so by far the nicest thing in my closet, I wore it to a wedding. A dress with stains like salt flats in the armpits,  that forced me to hover around the reception, arms clamped by my sides.

“The big broad comedy version of that,” he started, “is she gets to the wedding and has forgotten to take her name tag off.”  He was a half hour writer, I was one hour. He smiled at his own pitch, and I felt like he got it. That he got me.

I was attracted to him and never fake laughed once, until the end of the night, when he said, “People working on themselves, if I hear anymore about people ‘working on themselves…’” and I giggled praying no self-help mantras scribbled on post its fell out of my purse.

We started dating. He said I was confusing — a mix of a 50’s housewife and Gloria Steinem. I fell in love because every time he spoke I was surprised by how emotionally intuitive and funny he was.  Like when one of my job interviews got cancelled and I rolled out the slogan “Rejection is God’s protection.”

“Well,” he said, one eyebrow raised, “if it rhymes, it’s definitely true.”

At which point we laughed until we were pink.

The night I really fell for him, though, was the night we had plans and he texted that he couldn’t make it. He’d had a meeting at a poncy members only club  earlier about a feature. Disappointed, I asked him to call me. Hours later he came over, explained he wanted to be the best version of himself around me.  After the meeting, (which didn’t go well) he went to the horrible valet which is like a Tesla/RangeRover/SmartCar parade. His old truck wouldn’t start, and the valets explained that his car wouldn’t “go.” He had to call a tow truck and the whole debacle crushed my heart. Because every time I walk into the stuffy place, I feel like I am at a wedding in a waitress uniform again. I fell for him that night.  For his vulnerability and his reticence.  For the guy part that didn’t want to be a mess and the sensitive part that knew that standing me up was hurtful. I thought we could work. I thought it was my kind of guy who could hold both.

A few weeks later, on my couch, he noticed a book, the Dalai Lama’s “The Opening of The Wisdom Eye.” He picked it up, thumbed through it, settled on a page and read aloud. I listened, sort of soothed. Most of the quotes were about grappling with death. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, healing

An Open Letter To The Rapist Who Claimed My Virginity

June 21, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88Sensitive material: contains mention of rape and sexual assault.

By Kalee Prue

Dear Brian,

I typed your name into the Facebook search box tonight on a whim. I had done it before one other time, years ago. I vaguely remember seeing your blurred smiling face in a baseball cap, and the feeling of disgust that suddenly welled up in the pit of my stomach, I had to click away. This time was different though, perhaps I have grown softer over the years since then and now… and I have surely grown softer in the years since you stole my innocence in the house that “Merch” built. This time instead of just your smiling face that made me want to punch the SCREEN until it shattered into a million pieces, there was two small, beautiful, golden haired, smiles in pink dresses on each side of your dimples… And your smile… was so happy… so radiant with joy sitting there between those two tiny angels, that instead of disgust… instead of rage… the only thing that welled up in me was an overwhelming feeling of joy in my throat for you… and in that instant… just like that, forgiveness happened.

Fifteen years ago you wanted to pretend that next morning that nothing had happened, and I went right along with you out of shame. I made believe while working and selling right along side of you for weeks afterward that nothing had happened. To the few I told, I made believe that we had made love. That I had finally been “made love” to. You pretended nothing had happened to everyone, after all, you were my team-leader and dating each other was inappropriate, as you had been telling me after every time we had kissed up until that point. Of course the same was true after we… well, after YOU had sex with me… but then you moved on very quickly from encouraging my puppy-love crush in the moments we stole off alone together, to dating another girl who was part of your sales “team”. I’m sure I could write pages on what that did to my self esteem, but I won’t… I want to focus on the rape itself. Because YES, Brian, what you did was rape, though it took me years to call it by name. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Binders, Guest Posts, healing

Palms Up

June 16, 2015
Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

By Telaina Eriksen

“I’ve noticed you’ve gained weight. I mean, I haven’t been staring at your body…”

“A lot of weight,” I say.

“I just mean to say… I just want to encourage you… I’m not saying it right, but you deserve to be thinner and healthier.”

I feel the tears spill out of my eyes. So much shame. Ancient shame that I have carried with me ever since my mother slapped my arm repeatedly for salting a saltine when I was four or five years old. Good people aren’t fat. Fat people are ugly and bad and lack control and self-discipline. Men do not like fat girls and if men don’t like you, they won’t marry you, and if you aren’t married, if you don’t have a man, what good are you? The Gospel According to My Mother.

“It’s how I deal with things,” I tell my friend, oversimplifying.

“This fall, I think I know how you felt. I gained a lot of weight, was very heavy for me. I remember thinking, ‘why not? I’m happy with myself’… I’m not saying it right… but I love you. I want you to be happy.”

I am so huge, I require an intervention. I love my friend but I feel like sobbing. Doesn’t she think I know? Doesn’t she know that I always know? Maybe I am naïve enough to believe that some people just accept how I look and aren’t secretly judging me.

I get into my minivan after our conversation. I reach down to feel my stomach, feel the exact proportions of my shame and worthlessness. The exact dimensions of my failure as a woman.

***

As near as I can figure out and remember, I was sexually molested off and on from the time that I was about four to when I was about nine. When I was nine years old, I had my tonsils out and due to complications, almost died. I was without oxygen to my brain for not merely seconds, but minutes. It felt easy to blame my fragmented childhood memories on that illness.

The feelings I remember most from my childhood are terror and anxiety.  Nightmares plagued me. During the daylight hours I constantly sought attention, distraction, love. At night I sucked my thumb and tried not to wet the bed.

***

Here is a list of the things I need to be doing at this exact moment:

cleaning the house

baking my son’s vegan birthday cupcakes

walking the dog

placing the new boxes of tissue around the house (it is cold and flu season after all)

turning in my grades for the semester

mailing the Christmas box to my siblings in another state

scooping the cat’s litter box

cleaning off the top of my desk

loading the dishwasher

wrapping my son’s birthday presents

doing laundry

losing weight

being a good friend, wife, mother and daughter

being Zen (while also being understanding, charming, evolved and happy)

making time for the important things

reducing my social media time

reading more

gossiping less

achieving perfection. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts

Forever Me and You, In My Memory, Not Yours

June 16, 2015
Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Sensitive material in this essay: Mention of rape/sexual assault.

By Stephanie Santore

I can’t be in public places because of you. I can’t tolerate large crowds. I can’t tolerate loud noises. This is after almost ten years. You still linger with me. I carry you with me wherever I go. I can’t tolerate strange people asking for a beer and the simple transaction between two humans that requires getting you, that stranger, the beer you need. I’m afraid of the dark. I’m afraid of strange noises, I’m afraid that the headlights behind me having a person behind the wheel that wants to follow me home, knowing I am alone. They all know I am vulnerable. You know I am vulnerable. I carry weapons of various degrees. I never use them. They make me feel safer, just in case. But it doesn’t stop the mistrust. It doesn’t stop the fear. It’s in case you come back for me, in another form, another shape. Or even if you ever decide to come back for me just as you are. Knowing I did nothing. Knowing I am afraid. The girl you knew I was, hence why you chose me in the first place. FUCK YOU. Because you were right.

I never used to be this way until I met you. Yet it’s funny to say that, because I barely know you. I know that I am only a passing moment of supposed pleasure that happened in your life. But to me, you’ve been the bane of my existence. Everything I am. Everything I feel. Everything I do or everything I feel, or everything I have not been able to do or feel, has been because of you.

I like to feel that I am in control my life. But I’m not.  I act like I am. People think I am. Sometimes, I think I am. Sometimes, I really am. But they don’t know you. They don’t know the stranger that took over my life. They don’t know what you’ve done. In the darkness. Hidden within my secrets. In the years of anything other than the truth. I don’t want to admit that you’ve won, because you haven’t. I have faced many battles and still, I have won. You were there for every single one, in the back of my mind. The many silent “fuck you’s” my conscience has voiced, to no one other than me, no one other than you, hoping you get them, somehow, some way, wherever you are.

In a fucked up way, I have you to thank for some of my accomplishments. I have done them out of overcoming you, I have done them to spite you, I have done them to prove to you that I can. I have battled you and won. I have succeeded for many things beyond you. But still, you are always here. You are always with me. Deep down, you are there. You never go away. I suppose you have long forgotten me. But I will never forget you. I think that’s how it’s supposed to go. How you always imagined it to be. You move on. But I get to live with your ghost until I breathe my last breath of this life that is supposedly mine.

Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, The Hard Stuff

A Misguided Hunt for Answers

June 6, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

Sensitive material. Mention of rape/sexual/assault.

By Leila Bruch

I was desperate, so I called his cell phone three times in under an hour. I knew he was free. He was probably watching the phone blow up and crowing to all his roommates that the crazy bitch from a few weeks ago was looking for more.

Next, I sent a text: “You need to call me because we have a problem.” I’ve watched enough TV to know how to use a possible pregnancy to get a recalcitrant man on the line.

Lo and behold, my phone began to ring.

Once his name, “Do Not Answer,” appeared, my stomach turned on me. My brain followed suit, and pleaded for me to let the phone ring. My rage steeled the weaker parts of myself as I answered and spat, “You are one sick fucker.”

On the other end of the phone, my rapist was silent.

“When was the last time you got tested?” I snarled.

I didn’t feel remotely bad about the false pretense. I knew I wasn’t pregnant because the morning after he assaulted me, I ran across Saturday traffic dribbling both ways on a six-lane highway to buy Plan B.

This occurred back when Plan B was only available behind the Pharmacy counter, so I marched to the back of the CVS and muttered my request to the sneering white-coated pharmacist, who passed me a clipboard. I bent my head low and copied my driver’s license number, name, and other probing details on the first open line. All the while, I could feel the pharmacist’s eyes on my unwashed hair.

I pushed the clipboard back when I finished. After she examined the information I provided against my ID, the pharmacist picked up the slim rectangular box by two clawed fingers and dropped it into a bag. I swiped my card for the fifty dollar fee, and when it cleared, I clutched the bag and ran back across the street. I already knew what to do with the two tiny pills; it wasn’t my first time taking Plan B. It was, however, my first time taking Plan B without being certain I’d had inadequately-protected sex.

That’s one of the problems with sexual assault – sometimes, you don’t know what has been done to you.

~

Three days before the pills and several weeks before the call, I was in a group of undergraduate women beginning a semester away from campus with a tour of the library at one of the universities in Washington, D.C.  As we stood around the library’s entrance, we talked awkwardly about our course load, the things we missed about campus, and the internships we’d just started.

Across the hallway stood an attractive Hispanic man with a wide smile. I noticed him, and he noticed me. It didn’t take long for his fixation to become the topic of spirited conversation. “He’s cute,” someone squealed. “Oh, my gosh, he’s coming over here!”

The man sauntered over and offered his hand as he introduced himself as Arnaldo.* He asked for my number and I wrote it on scrap of notebook paper.

Later that night, Arnaldo and I spent an hour on the phone, talking about our families and his career aspirations after law school. When Arnaldo asked if he could take me out the next day, I agreed.

The next evening, plans shifted from a date to kebabs and cards. Arnaldo came to my apartment with three of his friends. I invited the two women in my group who weren’t returning to campus that weekend to join us, and we all wandered across Jefferson Davis Highway to the Kebab Palace.

During dinner, I noticed that Arnaldo’s personality was different than it had seemed on the phone. The night before, he’d talked about family and school, and now he was waxing poetic about his love of partying. I didn’t have much interest in the D.C. party scene, so I zoned out in favor of considering the various items on my weekend to-do list.

Before long, the whole group trooped back to my apartment. Soon, they were all crowded around my dining room table. One of Arnaldo’s friends dealt cards while another explained the game and the third opened a twenty-four pack of cheap, canned beer.

Meanwhile, I escaped to my room, where I scoured my email for a message I’d been expecting from my internship coordinator.

The sound of Arnaldo closing my door startled me. He walked across the room, turned me around, and shoved me against my desk. He kissed me, and I pushed him away.

“Hey, don’t do that,” I said. “I don’t want to kiss you – I barely know you.” I laughed, trying to take the sting off my rejection.

Arnaldo pouted and loitered in my room for a few minutes while I puttered around with my laptop. “Are these your friends?” he asked, pointing up at a series of photo collages taped to the white wall above my bed.

“Yeah.”

“And that’s your family?”

“Yep.”

As I walked to my door, he grabbed my waist and kissed me again. This time, I wasn’t laughing. “I’m serious, Arnaldo. I don’t want you to kiss me. Not tonight.”

Arnaldo trailed me with a hangdog look that stuck around too long.

These should have been my first clues, but I was naïve about Arnaldo’s intentions. I let him stay.

The next day, when I told an ex-boyfriend about what eventually happened, he got hung up at the same crossroads. There was a long silence, which he broke by saying my name. That’s when I knew I was in for a ration of shit; he only used my name when he was disappointed. “Why did you let those guys into your apartment?” he asked. “You hardly even knew them. What did you expect?”

In a few weeks, my ex’s retraction and apology came via Facebook message. “I just finished taking sexual assault training. I realize you didn’t do anything wrong. What he did was wrong. It was not your fault.”

Part of me still didn’t – still doesn’t – buy it. I had invited the rapist in with all his friends. I could have kicked him out at the first sign that he didn’t take “No,” as my real answer. The truth was that I hadn’t.

Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, healing

The First Time I Was Raped.

June 1, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Elin Stebbins Waldal

Sensitive material is contained in this essay. Mention of rape/sexual assault.

The first time I was raped was in the backseat of a car. I was 16.

In those days the legal age to drink was 18 and underage drinking mostly went unnoticed. It was pretty typical for all of us kids to first hit the Connecticut bars, then, once they closed, head to either Port Chester or Purchase — state line border-towns in New York where the bars stayed open past midnight.

The guy I liked was already there when my friends and I showed up at the bar that night — he was easy to spot, head up close to the low ceiling. It was a weekend night and the narrow rooms of the house-turned-drinking-hole were crowded.

Not long after he invited me out to his car.

A blue car parked in the back lot. He asked me there because he said it was somewhere we could talk. A place where the sound of music and the noise of the crowd wouldn’t reach. We would be able to hear each other and not have to shout. It would be quiet. He wanted time with me alone.

He wanted to talk with me.

When we reached the car, he suggested the back seat. Did I want to split a smoke? Sure. That all sounded great.

Truth is — I wanted him to kiss me. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Binders, Guest Posts, Relationships

Finding Love After Trauma.

May 13, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Alana Saltz

Everything terrible he did to me was supposed to be a joke. The first time I made a self-deprecating comment, he slapped me hard in the face. When I was being indecisive, he put his hands around my throat. During a phone conversation, he said that he would lock me in a box and throw me in the ocean if I ever cheated on him. I told him that his comment bothered me, and he said, “Don’t cheat on me then.”

Whenever I managed to gather my courage and confront him about the things he did, he told me he was just joking. He didn’t seem to understand that I didn’t like the way he was joking. It really wasn’t funny.

Several times during the course of our relationship, I ended up going home from his apartment and throwing up. The first time it happened was after he slapped me. I felt the nausea coming on and rushed out of his place so he wouldn’t see what I knew was about to happen. He was a smoker, so I blamed it on the cigarette smoke. And maybe it was. But the fear and anxiety that rose up in me when he slapped me, or put his hands on my neck, or made threats that weren’t enough like jokes, made my stomach turn even harder.

I found myself throwing up several more times, something that rarely happened to me, despite having a history of anxiety disorder and anxiety-related nausea. This was something new.

We were only together for six weeks. I couldn’t handle the nausea and the fear I felt around him anymore. He didn’t make me feel safe. When I broke up with him, he yelled at me. He told me he never should have trusted me or opened up to me. I kept saying I was sorry. I couldn’t make the real reason why I was leaving him come out.

You scare me.

– – –

I’d never been in any sort of abusive relationship before. I wasn’t sure this even counted as one. I felt shaken but was afraid of overreacting. After a few months, I took steps to move on. I went to a “Geeks and Nerds” singles mixer held by a Meetup group in Culver City. There, I met a very chatty, very eager guy who latched onto me for the entire night.

He decided we were meant for each other because we were both in our mid-20s, had Jewish backgrounds, loved music, and grew up on the east coast. At the end of the night, he kissed me and told me he wanted to see me again the next day. When I got home from the mixer, I spent the night curled up in my bed clutching my stomach, waves of nausea hitting me hard.

I didn’t see him again. For the next six months, at the end of every date I went on with someone I met online, I came home with a bad stomachache. It got to the point where just the thought of dating was enough to bring queasiness.

I began to see a new therapist who specialized in anxiety disorder and cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT was something that had helped me in the past. It focused on fixing distorted thought patterns and the behaviors caused by them. Anxiety had made me nauseated many times, but it had never made me throw up before. Obviously something was very wrong.

My therapist assured me that, although it would take time to recover from the trauma I’d experienced, I would eventually be able to be with someone again. She taught me meditation and breathing techniques. She trained me to think of the situation in new ways. Still, the stomachaches came. I felt like I’d resolved things in my mind, but my body wouldn’t let me date.

“Will I ever get better?” I asked her, over and over again.

“Yes,” she told me. “When you find someone you feel safe with, this will go away. But you have to work on it too. You have to retrain your mind and body not to associate men with danger.”

But I couldn’t make it stop.

– – –

Almost a year after the breakup, I went on a first date with a man named PJ. We had been in touch online for almost two years but hadn’t met in person yet. We talked now and then, each time never quite connecting, never taking it to that next step of actually meeting.

But there was something about PJ. I liked his round glasses and funny beard, the fact that he was an artist and creative, and the things he said in his profile about how he tried to always be there for people. I had a feeling that he might be someone I could trust, someone who could really care about me. I still had my worries about the anxiety and nausea, but I didn’t think he would make me feel nervous or pressured. He seemed safe.

PJ and I met up at a café halfway between his place in Redondo Beach and mine in Pasadena. We chatted for a few hours about art, writing, and Doctor Who while sipping boba teas. He was intelligent but not arrogant, laid back but energetic, interested but respectful of my boundaries. We spent the week before our second date talking online and on Skype. I shared some of my short stories and essays, and in return, he showed me his art and sent me a poem. His poem, “a wake,” was about wanting someone to see him. He wanted someone to see who he really was and then tell him not to wake up.

It was his dream, and it was my dream too. That was when I knew that we might be onto something. Continue Reading…