Browsing Tag

guilt

Family, Fiction, Guest Posts

Overdrawn

March 25, 2022

The phone rings. Ying-ying takes a quick glance at the wall clock that reads 8pm, tosses the apple core she has been nibbling on into the trash can, and hurries from the kitchen to the living room. She unplugs the phone from the socket but sees only a string of zeros, the kind of call that one makes through the Internet. She wonders for a second what to do, but then decides to answer it.

“Hello?” she greets.

No one answers for a moment, but then an accented male voice starts to bray. “Am I talking to Tan Ying-ying,” the voice asks, “born on June 4th, 1994, current address 355 Yangshupu Road 5-14-1, Hongkou District, Shanghai?”

Yes, yes, and yes. Ying-ying gasps in recognition of her personal details bared by the voice, but his unrushed tempo brings about a tinkling echo: somebody else has announced the same information to her before, and that was not too long ago.

“Yes, this is she,” so she says, with affected calmness, “and are you—”

But he is speaking already. “—Good. And, as of today, Sept 28th, 2017, you’re still working at Primavera Organic Food Import Co., located at 75 Dinghai Road, Yangpu District?”

“Correct. But are you—”

“—Great. And our record shows your mom is … well, I’m sure your mom is still who she is. So, Miss Tan, I am calling from Miles Finance, to remind you that your loan is due tomorrow, at 12 pm sharp.”

She is right, then; she is experienced dealing with his kind. “Yes, I knew the call must be from you guys,” her default self is coming back, “I’ll have the money ready.”

“Wonderful, wonderful. And let me remind you, Miss Tan, that we won’t accept money wired from you directly, coz we use separate accounts to track outgoing and incoming funds. A colleague of mine will meet you at the McDonald’s at 1500 Pingliang Road—near the intersection with Lilin Road, at 11:45am, and he will take you to an ATM nearby, where you can then make the deposit.”

The voice pauses there, as if to wait for her jotting down the details. “Since my colleague has to confirm you adhere to all our terms,” it then resumes with slight relaxation, “please bring your copy of the loan contract. Jus’ to go over the numbers again, your principal is ¥24,050 and your annual rate is 36%, so adding a ¥500 signage fee, the total due for your four-month loan is 27,436 yuan. OK, so my colleague will see you tomorrow, and please remember: there’ll be consequences should you fail to honor our conditions in any manner.”

“Sure, I—”

But he hangs up already. They always have the upper hand, dictating the loans’ terms and nipping off phone calls, but all that power would cease after 12pm tomorrow, when the last cent of her debt is cleared. Ying-ying feels a hope rising inside her, one that heightens and churns out a restlessness, urging her to swipe open her bank app to double-check the money. She does that and ensconces on the assurance that the digits bring about, but the sight of a sidenote stings her eyes and bursts her transient calmness. She finds herself rereading the sidenote, the one line announcing that all the money is transferred in from the account ending in 4591; and as she scrolls down and counts the many more transfers from there, the growing sum pulls her deeper into a flashpoint, where her cheeks burn in shame and embarrassment.

So yes, how shameful and embarrassing this is, because the 4591 account belongs not to her but her mother, a widowed schoolteacher five years away from retirement, withering alone on the outlying Chongming Island. In the silence befalls her apartment, 14 stories above the street noise, Ying-ying pictures her mother making the transfer, not on her old Nokia but over the small village bank’s actual counter, filling yet another form under the teller’s suspicious gaze.

That picture pains her: how much trouble she has caused. She is 23 now and makes about ¥6,000 a month, why does she still rely on monetary help from her mother? She shuts her eyes and retrieves her first day in college, when she and her mother took a crowded bus to the downtown campus, only to find that her three dormmates had all come in by private cars. They were city girls, beautiful with fashionable clothes and exquisite makeup; their fathers looked powerful, their mothers had their hair piled up in towering buns—a banker, an owner of factories, a high-ranked bureau chief. Ying-ying had never been so close to such people; her classmates back home all had peasant, shopkeeper, government functionary parents. And when she introduced her mother and explained her father had passed, she suddenly felt a hesitance, her cheeks unexpectedly blushed.

Her mother sensed it; she became unusually reticent. They sat in the corner of the campus canteen and had their lunch, her mother only said how happy Ying-ying’s father would be to see her attending college, how much she hoped Ying-ying would excel in her chosen major of Spanish (all majors were declared at the time of college application). Ying-ying listened but did not engage. She looked at her mother’s worn blouse draping loosely off her thin shoulders, streaks of white hair sticking out in the thin black layer that hardly covered the skull, and her heart hardened with a new recognition of her mother: an unceremonious, unenviable woman, leading her staid life in a sleepy backwater. She had the sudden feeling that her own life up to that point had not been her destined one; she should have lived like her roommates, butterflies soaring high, or koi floating elegantly about.

She yearned for changes and change she would. Her roommates were willing to lend a helping hand, so before she learned to pronounce y as igriega, she’d already bought her first lipstick on their advice. Later, when she karaoked in her finest outfit, when she sipped coffee with exquisite makeup on her face, she could sense others’ widened eyes fixing on her. She realized she had always longed for this feeling, actually, to be looked up to by widened eyes; she recalled how her second-grade classmates talked about her after her father had died (“she has only a mother but no father”), or how they laughed at their teacher—Ying-ying’s mother—who had patches on her clothes and thus must be poor. She wished they could see her now, all the envy and shame and regret on their faces.

To support herself she economized her mother’s allowance and tutored high schoolers, but still the demand outpaced income faster than she had expected. Unable to bear the mortification of asking her roommates to help but fidgeting on the brink of finance, she reached out to an Internet lender for the first time in her sophomore winter. She thought she had found the solution until she realized how frequently new bills from them continued to arrive, with interest compounded too much and too soon.

She rolled back her splurges and skipped meals, but still borrow new loans to cover the old ones. With nowhere else to turn, she finally sought help from her mother. She would never forget that day, September of her junior year, when she called her mother first thing one Saturday morning (she stopped coming home to save bus fares), choking on hesitation so revisiting again the topic of weather.

“Ying-ying, what’s wrong?” her mother finally cut the chase.

“Mama, I—borrowed more money from the Internet than I could repay—” She let her story all out; she expressed remorse.

The requested amount came in two days later. But as her old debts and new purchases prompted the second, and then the third rescue request, her mother’s initial readiness ebbed and worries flowed. She rode one after another those two-hour-long bus rides to meet and talk; she reached out to Ying-ying’s professors for intervention. Even though in the end, she still gave in to the requests every time, she referred to Ying-ying’s father increasingly often as if she was in this more for his sake than Ying-ying’s (“right before your father passed, I promised him to look after you to my capacity”). And every time Ying-ying heard her talking like this, she couldn’t help but recall that when she brought home a report card with bad grades back in primary school, her father would only pat her head and encouraged her to do better next time, while her mother would go as far as to scold her, deducting a week’s pocket money as her punishment.

She lived through the junior and senior years like that, on the brink of finance and having a tense relationship with her mother, but as she graduated, as she settled into her clerk position at an importer of Latin American fruits, things did get better. With rent and commute added to the equation, with her roommates swanking in graduate schools abroad, she found the life she had once so desired losing its charm, she rolled out longer durations of self-constraint. She paid off more debt with her own salary, but even though she had only one meal every day, even if she bought no new clothes in months, there remained compounded interests, and there was now an empty apartment to be filled. She had been asking much less from her mother, but she could not let go of the credit line of Momma Bank.

That credit line had dwindled. For the most recent, 27,436 due, she had to ride a two-hour bus home, kneeled, and kowtowed—the traditional pose of a subordinate appealing to her superior—before her mother for the first time. “Mama, this will be the last time I ask you for help,” she promised as pain shot up her knees, “consider it a loan, and I swear I’ll pay you back!”

“I really hope so, Ying-ying,” her mother murmured, but it was still loud enough for her to hear, “this would really be the last time I help you as your mother.”

What could she possibly mean by that? Ying-ying looked up to the tears trickling down along her mother’s cheeks. The words seemed meaning she would really say no after this, cut her off from her life even, but the lack of finality in her tone led to the suspicion of bluffing, and the further tiny signs of reconciliation—like she offered the bus fare when Ying-ying took her leave—elevated the suspicion to a make-belief. No need to worry because this is really the last time, Ying-ying thought as she wobbled with the bus heading back to Shanghai, I will save and pay her back.

That was last Saturday. For the past five days, this has been Ying-ying’s working assumption, the foundation of a general hopefulness she had been feeling. She reorients herself to here and now, paces to the window, and props her elbows on the sill and looks at the city lights. Tomorrow: the life of her past three years is coming to its end. The guttering lights expand to the horizon; the superimposed reflection of her lithe silhouette has hundreds of eyes flicking inside. And to that reflection Ying-ying flashes a smile, on the foreknowledge that in about 15 hours, her life will be back in her control.

The money is ready. She has to go to the bank counter, as the amount to be withdrawn is too large for an ATM. She lingers in the bank’s waiting area, picks up a free newspaper, and camouflages the wads before feeding them to her handbag. It is still early. She stands in the sun, checks the time, and determines she can afford to walk to the appointed McDonald’s. This is actually preferred, since she is unwilling to go through the subway security check with the money.

So she walks. The skyscrapers of Pudong District glisten at the horizon, high above and beyond the drab low-rises of her current street. Before her father died, in 2003, her parents had taken her downtown every year, celebrating her birthday with an afternoon in the parks and a good dinner. Her father would also buy her a new toy; even her mother allowed her an extra cone of ice cream. Back then, so many parts of Shanghai looked like this, locked in a past that had never changed. But now, see how glamorous and posh the city has become.

Both she and the city have tried, then, to transform toward some vision of a better self. But while the city has successfully progressed, she finds herself entrapped in her borrowed buying power. Were you even happy back then, the voice that is her mind asks, back in college when you bought so much stuff? She realizes that her sybaritic self is already on the way to phasing out, as her mind is now focused on her freedom, what to do with it once she regains it after 12 o’clock. Treat yourself better, she thinks, treat Mama better also.

The erhu music played by a panhandler brings her thoughts back, so she pauses and gives him a five. Ahead, the appointed McDonald’s is already in sight, so she walks up to it and plants herself underneath a sidewalk sycamore. In no time, a skinny man emerges out of nowhere, his eyes locking with hers for long seconds. Yet before the thought “you are early” materializes on her vocal cords, his figure passes by her and heads to the restaurant, the sight of his back soon disappears behind the doors.

Not him, then. She scans the other passersby, but no one returns her attention, and fifteen minutes later she begins to wonder whether she has misheard the instruction, that she is expected inside rather than outside. So she walks into the McDonald’s and surveys the space, but again finds not the debt collector she has been looking for. Without a better plan, she seats herself down by the window. There is no way to dial back the all-zero Internet number, and Miles Finance’s website lists only an email address. She fumbles her handbag for the signed contract that she was asked to bring along, sifting to no avail for another piece of contact information.

There seems nothing else she could do, then, other than head back. She takes the subway and skips lunch. Back in the office, she tries to refocus on her work but finds concentration has left her. Staring at client orders of Peruvian avocados and Ecuadorian pitayas on the monitor, her mind keeps drifting to the nebulous loan shark that never showed up, all the unknown consequences that might or might not occur.

It is not until past one that her phone rings again, the same flashing string of zeros. She presses the green button to accept it, her questions ready to vault out once it connects.

But the other side is a split second faster. “Miss Tan,” the same accented voice brays, “where are you?”

“At work,” she says, rising and walking into an empty meeting room for privacy.

“You didn’t show up for your appointment.” Closing the glass door of the meeting room behind her back, she cannot believe her ears.

“How can you say that? I waited for an hour, and it was your guy who didn’t show up.”

“No, my colleague says he didn’t see you. He got there at 11, and waited till one o’clock.”

“What does he look like?” she thought of the man she locked eyes with again. “Is he a thin, short man probably in his forties, wearing a white jacket?”

“No, my colleague is a tall guy in his twenties.”

“Are you sure he went to the McDonald’s at 1500 Pingliang Road, near the intersection with Lilin Road?” She still is so confused, her voice starts to tremble.

“Exactly, that’s the one, with a row of sidewalk sycamore trees before its entrance.”

All dead-ends, then. But is it? Suddenly, she sees a way to add up all these contradictions. “You’re lying!” she yells, truculent now. “I waited for over an hour, and nobody showed up!”

“Well, Miss Tan,” the voice slows down a little but soon regains composure, “what matters is that my colleague didn’t see you, and so we’ve not received your funds by the deadline of noon.”

“No, if you didn’t have this stupid rule to meet in person, I—”

“The point is, Miss Tan,” he again cuts her off, “you didn’t repay your debt by noon, so you’ve breached our contract. The consequence is that you owe us 37,436 now, your original due of 27,436 plus a 10,000 penalty.”

Everything dawns on her. “No, I owe you nothing!” She shouts with a sudden burst of energy, “I’ll not pay even a cent of this so-called—”

“Well, too bad, Miss Tan,” the voice sneers, “we can go to court, and you’ll lose, coz we have bank statements showing us we’ve funded your account, while you’re not able to prove—”

But she cuts him off this time. “How many victims have fallen for your scam?”

“Whoa, missy, hold on,” the voice feigns surprise, “you’re the party at fault here. We can go and settle this in court, and we’ll win because our banking statement can prove our funds have indeed gone to your bank account. But if the judge asks you, ‘Tan Ying-ying, do you have evidence showing you’ve paid them back?’ you’ll have none simply because you haven’t.” He pauses there a little, as if to let his logic settle on her mind. “So, think about it, Miss Tan, your best chance is to stick with the contract, and pay back the total by the end of next week.”

“You black-hearted son of a b!” she resorts to invectives, “your guy didn’t show up!”

“Calm down, Miss Tan,” the voice sneers. “The old saying goes: the books must be balanced, and the debt must be repaid. This is the dao of the universe. We know where you live and work, as we know your mother’s name and address. We wish you both well, and we expect you to pay us back by the end of next week.”

And with that, he hangs up.

She deflates in a chair; she is suddenly exhausted. Her mind is all blank, yet still an instinct tells her to call mother. There was no answer, so she tried again. Her arms quiver uncontrollably when she makes the attempt; she inhales and exhales for minutes to stabilize herself.

“Ying-ying?” Five rings after, a lukewarm voice vibrates in her ear, “what’s up?”

“Mama, —I, I got scammed,” it is so hard to bring these words, “I need to borrow from you another 10,000 yuan.”

A sleek bus leaves behind the glistening towers of downtown, crosses the Yangtze through a serpentine tunnel, and ascends a colossal bridge over a distributary. Curling in it and on a window seat, Ying-ying sees Chongming Island’s green fields open up before her, the roofs of farmhouses glistening in the afternoon sun. Merely a week ago, she had promised mother the last bailout, yet here she is again, requesting an even more exorbitant sum. How would her mother take it?

She walks in the direction of home from the bus depot, and the familiar fields and houses somehow relaxes her a little. It was on these same streets that her father and mother took her for after-dinner strolls, she recalls, a time when everything seemed simpler: relationship with her mother, relationship with herself.

She longs for that simplicity, but finds the longing interrupted by anxiety as she gets closer to her childhood home. At the door, she has to pinch her own thighs—her habitual way of dealing with anxiety—to calm her jitters. She counts to ten and lets out a deep exhale, and then starts to knock on the door. Hearing no response, she turns the doorknob and finds it unlocked, so she lets herself in, adjusting her eyes for the dark.

“Mama?” she calls in small volume, “are you here?” Finding no mother in the kitchen, she passes the living room and retreats into even deeper darkness, until she reaches her childhood bedroom at the other end of a corridor. Goosebumps rise over her arms, because of the unexpected sight of a motionless statue sitting on the bed she used to sleep on.

“Mama!” she gasps and strides to the bedside. It is only until this moment, in this point-blank range, that she sees her mother’s tearful eyes, the half-dried watery traces on her cheeks. Backlit by the small window, the pilings outlining her mother’s jacket are all visible, so many of them standing along her silhouette, a miniature army guarding all the latent emotions.

Words vault out of her mouths: “Mama, I am sorry—” But a force of unknown origin breaks them midsentence, and the momentum of it pulls her knees onto the ground. “My last time, truly. You know, I was tricked,” she kneels there and starts a new line, but her confidence is drained, her story sounds unbelievable even to her own ears.

She places her hand on her mother’s knees instead to plead for her last chance, but her mother withdraws from her touch. From under the mattress on which she sits, her mother then draws out a red-covered booklet, and hands it toward her. Even amidst the deepening gloom, the golden-colored characters shine on the cover: Adoption Certificate.

She had no expectation of this, not an inkling at all. She takes the certificate and flips open the cover; spasms are firing all over her arms. Her first glance takes in the names of her own father and mother, their birthdays address and ID numbers; then, beneath a family photo, there is this italicized line at the bottom: This is to certify the adoption mentioned above is appropriately done according to the People’s Republic of China Adoption Law, and is valid henceforth.

Date: July 4th, 1994.

Just one month after she was born.

“Mama, am I adopted?” she asks, a bolt of lightning lances across her entire autobiography, “why are you telling me only now?”

Her mother remains silent. But her body shakes, her tears drip onto the floor. She struggles to stand up and then bends down by the bedside in a prostration position. Her hands then stretch into the narrow space under the bed, yanking out a parcel of cash after some impatient fumbling.

“Mama, I won’t need it now—”

“Ying-ying, take it …”

“Mama, please!”

“… Take it, Ying-ying … I just went to the bank earlier, and this is all the money I have left. You know, from the beginning, it was really your father’s idea to adopt you … He always wanted children but couldn’t, and although I was OK without one, he persuaded me to adopt you when he first saw you … He liked you instantly, you know, at the orphanage. He said, let’s adopt her and treating her like our own …. We didn’t tell you so that you’ll feel no different growing up, and when he passed, I had promised to take care of you to the limit of my capacity … And now, Ying-ying, all that I have left are in this package, so I really cannot help you any longer as your mother…”

Ying-ying inches forward on her knees until she reaches her adoptive mother, then holds her legs as if they were life’s most precious treasure. Her body spasms uncontrollably, her lung bellows out loud sobs. And at that moment, a deluge of myriad emotions breaks the walls and gushes in, overwhelming both the mother and the daughter.

Hantian Zhang is a writer living in San Francisco. He is a data scientist by day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change.

Guest Posts, Shame, suicide

Sex, Guilt, and Suicide

October 29, 2017
suicide

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting CONNECT to 74174. The world need you.

By Donna Baier Stein

The first boy I fell in love with in college hung himself from a tree north of San Francisco, a short distance off the Pacific Coast Highway U.S. 101. I don’t know exactly how far up the highway from the Golden Gate Bridge or exactly what kind of tree. I do know at least one of the secrets that led him to take his life and how damaging long-lasting guilt can be.

Decades later, I decided to write a story in which he—let’s call him Don R.—was a character. I had to research “suicide by hanging.” The gruesome physical details I read made me regret confronting the painful memory. I realized that because I hadn’t seen Don’s body, part of the terrible impact of his act had bypassed me. But I also realized, after he appeared in a second story and a third, how much and for how long, his choice to end his life affected me.

When Don took his life, I—and his other friends and family—were halfway across the country in the Midwest. I was in Lawrence, Kansas—a listless undergrad who had returned, to my own and my parents’ dismay, from a semester at Bryn Mawr. I felt like a failure. My academic drive faltered, my mood plummeted. I found myself looking for any reason to affirm that life was really, really painful.

My first sight of Don R.’s high-voltage grin jolted me. His blue eyes sparkled, and he bounced as he walked around the K.U. campus—sometimes affectionately called “the Athens of the Midwest”—in his white leather Adidas Pro sneakers. We met through mutual friends, and when he asked if I’d like to go see Easy Rider with him, I grinned back an enthusiastic Yes. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry, Race/Racism

Thole–. (a lyric on my American guilt)

November 21, 2015

By Joe Jiminez

 

I watched a video:  men’d hurled bodies onto a freeway.

In front of my television I paused, unthinkingly—

Bodies.  Asphalt.  Sky—.

México.  This is where my mother is from—.

With my eyes, I listened.  For something often comes when we shut down frenzy and instinct and let the body be a body—.

A body is a form, a physique, anatomy, skeleton, a soma.

A body is a torso and hair, main parts, heart and nerves, tendons and toes.

At my computer screen, I paused.  I was watching it again—the bodies in México thrown onto pavement.  The frame, and I gawked at the bodies’ dismal shapes, a geometry all at once unfamiliar and wonted because pixels.

Killed men strewn across a dark road…  Eons ago, the land also suffered so many insufferable deaths.

A living room shrine dedicated to a woman named Rosa Diana Suárez:  white party dress, photographs, wall-painted ivy, a tiger in a tree.  Offerings of chicken and chewing gum, and her father made this in memory of her—.

“impunity is the main motive of the gender[ed] crime…”

Don’t you remember?

Land and specie and dominance—how is this not the same?

Thole—.  That is the syllable for it.

How it means to tolerate, so distinct from allowances.  Or the slim permissions we make to seek some horror and not ourselves be eaten with it.  “to endure something without complaint or resistance;  to be afflicted and to suffer—.”

We thole.  You thole.  I thole.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Jen Pastiloff, Jen's Musings

Lying to Ourselves.

June 11, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Jen Pastiloff.

Hi, from Aruba. Whoa! I am in Aruba.

I.

Am.

In.

Aruba.

I’m trying to blog more in an effort to remember details. So hi. Here I am.

I have this chalkboard in my room at home where I have written YOU ARE A WRITER: SO WRITE! because I don’t carry a notebook, thinking (naively) that I will remember that man with a speedo, a selfie-stick and a beer precariously taking a photo on the edge of a cliff in Aruba, and how I thought about my mom’s second husband Carl because the speedo man had his beer in one of those cooler things which I just had to google “What are those foamy things you put a beer in to keep it cold?” because I couldn’t think of the name of them (apparently they are called Koozies) and Carl used to drink his beer out of said Koozies. I have been thinking about Carl a lot because there are cacti everywhere here on the island and he collected them- had hundreds in his yard at home. He only drank Coors and I keep seeing Coors ads here so I think maybe, in some way, his spirit is here, and I wonder if he had ever been to Aruba but I can’t ask him because he is dead a long time now and that man in the speedos looks like he may fall into the ocean because of his dumb fucking selfie, so I want to write this stuff down but because I don’t carry a notebook or jot things down. I memorize it until I sit down here, at the table by the window, the wind blowing on my back, and I think if only I had a table at home where the wind blew on my back like this, I would really write, I would really get shit done.

Right.

Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to lie to ourselves?

Unknown

Carl, if you were here, dude, you’d go crazy for the Bringa Mosa Bush and the Yatu Cactus. Also, we hardly wear shoes here and you’d love that. You hated shoes. Especially when you ran on the beach, which to me is just about the worst thing in the world. I tried to do yoga on the beach yesterday and I felt like I ran a marathon, it was that exhausting. My hands kept sinking deeper and deeper into the sand and I had nothing solid to balance on so I kept falling over. You used to run with Monet on the beach at sunset. I miss Monet. Every West Highland Terrier I see is him. We used to call him MoMo. You didn’t, but my sister and I did, especially after you and my mom got divorced and we moved back to New Jersey. MoMo and the cats, Runt and Tiger. And when I drank beer I high school, I thought of you because you were the only person I knew that had drank beer. I don’t recall my father every drinking so lord knows where I got my affinity for it. His thing was speed. Anyway, you’d love it here. So would Monet. There’s so many dogs everywhere. And cactus plants.

And Koozies. (I wonder why they are called that?)

I think sometimes I am afraid of remembering.

I should start writing things down more though because details, they’re everything. I think my mind can store it all, the way that boy with the braces from Houston was collecting rafts in the pool to build a bridge and run across, how proud he was of his achievement, and the way the woman who worked at the hotel bent down by the edge of the pool, a You are making my job more difficult pair of eyes, the way she stooped to collect the glass candles so we wouldn’t break them, her mouth a line of blame. Meanwhile I can’t even remember what I did last week so I should totally start taking notes.

Maybe I am afraid of remembering.

I remember sitting on the floor of the airport in Dallas a few days ago and how there was a little girl in a chair next to me with a sweatshirt on that said Birthday Diva. I asked her if it was her birthday. She had just turned 13 and had these huge stuffed animals on her lap. Her mom snapped photos of her as I sat on the ground and charged my phone. A man talked to me but I have no idea what he said. I wonder how often I lie to myself.

My sister is not feeling well back in the States, in Georgia. I don’t know how to not experience it in my own body. With her, or my mother. I do not know how to separate them from myself. I do not know how to not feel guilty.

I have moments- sitting here, the wind, the perfect Aruban wind and my God, is it ever fucking perfect, I would marry the goddamned wind if I could- sitting here with my coffee and the wind on my back, the sun burning the little patch of skin that is exposed, I do not feel guilty. I feel settled in my body, my ears are ringing as usual, but I am writing and the tinnitus can’t stop me, not when I am truly in it.

I so rarely get truly in it, not lately anyway. This past year I have hardly written a word. Right now though, I don’t feel guilty or like an appendage of anyone else- I am not aware of my hearing loss, or my family, or how dare I be happy because I am in it, waist-high, swimming in the bluest water you have ever seen. I am writing. I hate that hashtag (maybe because I so rarely write) but here I am #Iamwriting and so I am spared the responsibility of my guilt and how it weights me to the bottom of the sea where not only am I deaf, but I can’t breathe. So, there’s moments, brief ones, where I float and I sit on airport floors and watch Birthday Divas, everything still ahead of me, a possibility, not yet a disappointment. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, motherhood

Rebound Tenderness

May 12, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Laurie Easter

I nearly let my child die.

There it is—the stark truth, according to my mother’s-guilt brain. It’s been many years since it happened, but this fact has bored into my psyche the way carpenter bees bore into wood, settling there like an egg in a perfect hole inches below the surface. I don’t talk about it with anyone, not even my husband.

This is how it would go if I could reverse time:

My twelve-year-old daughter comes home from the pizza parlor and says “My stomach hurts.” I quiz her like a professional, asking “Where does it hurt?” And even though she says “all over,” I ask more questions and run through a series of tests for appendicitis—despite the fact I have no medical training and only know now, in retrospect, what signs to look for.

I palpate the lower right quadrant of her abdomen, applying hand pressure slowly and gently with a quick release to check for sudden pain in that area. Rebound Tenderness.

OR

“How does this feel?” I ask as I palpate the lower left side of her abdomen, pressing down slowly and gently then releasing quickly to check for sudden pain in the lower right quadrant. The Rovsing’s sign.

OR

I have her lie supine and apply resistance to her knee as she flexes her right hip by raising her leg against the pressure of my hand. If she feels pain, I have her turn and lie on her left side and extend her right leg behind her to check again for increased pain with this movement. The Psoas sign.

Once I finish with any number of these procedures, intuiting the signs of acute appendicitis, I whisk her to the emergency room, where the doctors confirm my suspicion and prep her for surgery to remove the as of yet un-perforated appendix. They catch the appendicitis in the preliminary stages, and using Laparoscopy, they slice into her with a one-inch cut that heals into a barely noticeable sliver of white near her bikini line. She spends at most two nights in the hospital and is back at the gym, working out with her gymnastics team, in a couple of weeks.

Yes, that’s how it would go. Neat and clean and orderly.

This is how it went:

My daughter came home from the pizza parlor two days after recovering from the flu and said “my stomach hurts” to which I asked “where does it hurt?” She said “all over.” I worried I had let her go out too soon after being sick and thought maybe she was having a relapse. I tucked her in and said good night.

She slept until noon and complained about her stomach when she awoke; then she began vomiting. Her temperature was 101 degrees. She had no desire for food, but I made miso broth and herbal tea and encouraged her to drink as much as she could as often as possible so she wouldn’t become dehydrated. She spent two days in bed, getting up occasionally to go to the bathroom or lie on the couch in the living room. On that second day, she said she was feeling better and had relief from the previous stomach pain. But she was weak from the fever and vomiting and continued to rest in bed.

That’s when it happened.

Later that afternoon, I walked into my daughter’s room to check on her while she was sleeping. Her face, normally alabaster in complexion, had a sallow pallor. I knew this look. I had seen it once before. It was the look of death. Five years earlier, my friend, Teri, who had cancer, had this same sallow skin tone when she refused to go to the hospital to be treated for a common infection. We called the ambulance anyway. The doctors at the emergency room said that if we hadn’t brought Teri in, the infection, not the cancer, would have killed her. As I looked at my daughter’s face, this memory flitted across my consciousness like a butterfly alighting on a flower, only to rise into the air and flutter away.

That was the moment. The omen I did not heed. Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts, healing

An Unfinished Life

April 1, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Rachael Koenig.

When my sister calls me in the morning much earlier than she usually does, I know there is something specific she wants to tell me, and I am proved right as she shares the news of the death of a successful young comedian and writer the day before. She knows his sister well. I am not familiar with his name, but I know why she called to tell me.

It doesn’t quite hit me yet as I talk to her on the phone.  “Oh my God, how terrible,” I say, “I can’t even imagine,” which is something that comes out of one’s mouth automatically when discussing these things, but I correct myself when I realize I CAN imagine, because it happened to us. And, then I think to correct myself again, because it happened to HER, our second sister, but I realize I was right the first time, because it’s still happening to us.

I google the comedian and read about his successes. Writing and producing hit television shows. Famous friends and peers. Regular columns on comedic sites and youtube clips of standup shows. I read his articles and watch his clips. He is hysterical and talented. A life to be envied. And I think what I always think  – what potential; how tragic; what an unfinished life. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Dear Life., Guest Posts, healing

Dear Life: Why Can’t I Let Myself Be Happy?

January 28, 2015

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

Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by author Lisa Kaplin.

Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter.

ps, I will see you in London in a couple weeks! My Feb 14th workshop there is sold out but there is room in Atlanta, NYC, Philly, NJ, Chicago. All info on workshops here.

logo 

 

Dear Life,

So…. Wtf is going on in my life? That is my question. Let me break it down, pleasantly 🙂

1. I left my husband of a 13 year marriage, (new him since I was 11) 5 years ago because I fell in love

2. My husband was abusive and cheated and I knew I deserved more

3. The man I fell in love with- is amazing with faults

4. After finally getting divorced (because he fought it) I then couldn’t let go

5. I was not a good human. I was selfish and aborted twins because I was afraid I would hurt my ex husband and afraid I wasn’t strong enough to take care of them alone. I accepted in my fucked up brain that no one could truly love me for eternity and help me. How the hell was I going to raise the two I already had. But all bullshit aside I knew I wasn’t capable of doing it. But I still hate myself and wish I could take it back.

6. I have lived with the guilt for too long

7. I birthed an amazing crazy human boy two years later that changed my life for ever

8. I still do not forgive myself for my abortion of the twins

9. I have made so many life changes. I have begun to live my life the way I want. Healthier. More peace. More quiet. More everything

10. Why am I still searching? Why am I still afraid? Why can’t I let go of my past and love and live in this moment?!?!

Sooooo… Wtf Is wrong with me? Why can’t I let myself be happy??? Why am I always afraid of really living and enjoying and seriously just being?
Sincerely,

Searching

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss

The Other Side of Loss.

January 21, 2015

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

By Rene Denfeld

I come from a family of suicides.

My older brother killed himself by eating pain pills and then putting a plastic bag over his head—just in case. My mother followed a few years later, willing herself out of this world. Cousins, siblings, nephews: dead. Even those who survive often bear the marks or memories of trying.

When someone you love kills himself or herself—and when it happens over and over again, as in my family—suicide becomes as ordinary as crossing the street. It becomes your hand on a glass of milk. It becomes you opening the mail, you going for a walk: see that bridge? See that truck? It becomes the freeway ramp you recall your brother made his first attempt to kill himself, driving the wrong way, desperate for collision. It becomes the plate of food you look at and see your mother, denying herself until she literally starved to death, a gasping skeleton clutching your hand in a bed, so devoid of fluids she could not cry.

When the people you love kill themselves, it becomes a common thing, a normal thing, and an everyday you-could-do-it-too thing. It haunts you. It asks, why not you? What gives you the right to survive? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

The Poop of Life.

June 8, 2014

The Poop of Life or: When Guilt Masks Shame. By Debra Cusick.

When Jen asked me to write something, I thought I’d scribble about guilt because her post on that topic inspired our meeting. So, I did what any good teacher would do, and I went to see what one of my gurus, John Bradshaw, has to say on the subject. His book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, taught me that shame, disguised as toxic guilt, ruled my life. He says, “people will readily admit guilt, hurt or fear before they will admit shame.” So I’ve decided to examine the girl behind the curtain of guilt and expose my toxic shame. I’m free writing, so I have no idea how this will go.

For as far back as I can remember, I had nightmares about a boogieman in the basement closet, who’d appear out of nowhere and slowly come to get me. I could see the evil in his eyes and ran like crazy, to the foot of the stairs. As I’d get about half way to the top, everything would go into slow motion, my feet would turn into sandbags, and I’d stare in horror as his hand came closer to grasping my ankle. I’d awaken–dripping with sweat, heart pounding, ears ringing– and run to my parents bed, only to be further terrorized by my dad’s snoring that soon became the gruff voice of the boogieman, as I into and out of sleep. I couldn’t find what I needed.

Years later, as I recounted that story in group, my therapist told me “The first memory you have becomes your life script. What do you think yours is?” After thinking about it, I concluded that I had erected a “no win” agenda. If I tried to be a “big girl,” the boogieman would come for me, but seeking comfort from my parents (whom I instinctively knew not to awaken—more food for thought) just lead to more misery.

Bradshaw says, “Shame is internalized when one is abandoned. Abandonment is the precise term to describe how one loses one’s authentic self and ceases to exist psychologically.” I lost my authentic self on Sunday, September 25, 1965, when I was 10. The day my mother died. The day before, an ambulance came to our house and took her away. I had been playing in the front yard, when it arrived. I ran inside and hid behind a couch. I could see paramedics wheeling the gurney to the front door with her on it. She saw me peeking though the cushions and in a drug-induced stupor whispered, “Good-bye, Debbie.” Little did I know it would be the last time I’d ever see her.

When the hospital called that morning, I answered the phone. A voice I didn’t recognize asked to speak to my father. Shortly thereafter, he and my oldest sister left in a fury. Two hours later, when they returned, I was practicing my future cheerleader moves in the front picture window. The moment I laid eyes on my father’s face, I knew. Mother’s dead. I had no idea what death meant, but I knew she was dead.

She had explicitly requested that my seven-year-old brother and I not see her dead. She knew she was dying. She knew she had metastatic breast cancer. But I didn’t. People who are sick get better. Even if they go to the hospital, they get better and come home. But she didn’t. I never saw her again. So I sent a part of me with her. Some might say she abandoned me that day. But she didn’t. I abandoned me that day.

Something else happened that day. I decided that—upon seeing my father’s stricken face—I had to save him. I had always been a daddy’s girl, and I couldn’t have a sad dad. Right then and there, I decided I had to be perfect, so he’d have something to take the place of his grief over the loss of my mother. From that moment on, I vowed to myself that I’d make him proud and never disappoint him. Little did I know that within hours of my mother’s death, which completed the fracturing of my family of origin, I’d create two roles for myself, to mask my shame.

The next few days are all a blur, but at the party which normally follows a funeral, when everyone of Irish descent drinks away his pain and laments the dearly departed with laughter and tears, I could only imitate the adults and must have spoken too loudly or merrily because my dad leaned over to whisper for me to “knock it off,” reminding me that “we just buried your mother.”

In this one sentence, I further cemented my no-win script. If I’m happy at an inappropriate moment, I have no heart, but if I express sadness, I’m a baby (later Drama Queen or Depresso). I had disappointed my dad on the very day I had vowed to be his rescuer! SHAME ON ME!

And the shame—too terrifying to admit—turned into guilt. And the guilt reinforced my no-win script. In becoming an overachiever, to make my dad proud—and hide my toxic shame from the world—I set myself up to experience the wrath from peers who wanted what I got. When I made cheerleading, I felt guilty about beating out other girls. Girls whose mothers didn’t want them hanging around with me, because “she doesn’t have a mother.” When there was a competition, I had to win—to make dad proud—but when I did, my peers accused me of thinking I was better than they were.

Society does an excellent job of telling us how to meet its unreal expectations, but I wasn’t going to fail. By god, I had failed to keep my mother from dying; I couldn’t let my father down, too. So, I earned straight A’s, participated in sports and music and honor societies and went to Girl’s State and dated the captain of the football team (which really made my dad happy) and was a homecoming princess and won the staring role of Maria in The Sound of Music, and earned a 1st in State in vocal competitions, got accepted to Northwestern University’s Music School. And felt guilty every step of the way.

If there were ten reasons to feel proud of myself and one reason to feel guilty based on something I heard other’s say, I listened to the voices that accused. I no longer felt guilty. I personified guilt. And I allowed it to wreak havoc in my life. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted (other than love) because I wasn’t a self. I had no idea what “going within” meant because I had no within to go. I operated as an overachieving shell, who won the cookie after a backflip and the accolades that accompany success. And, as long as it worked, I didn’t have to contemplate the shame I felt, if ever there were a quite moment in my world.

I finally crashed at the age of 40, when I couldn’t get my alcoholic husband to quit drinking (and all the other things that go with it). Admitting I’m powerless over the alcoholic? Inconceivable. In my own world of denial, there was nothing I couldn’t achieve. So, I cracked. But—unlike Humpty Dumpty, whose horses and men couldn’t put him back together—I took all the energy I had spent on others (and avoiding my fractured self) and used it to uncover, discover and recover my abandoned self. And while guilt and overachieving alarms still ring, when I stop working my program, I have my tool belt on at all times and know where to go, when I’m tempted to check out over the poop of life.

About Debra Cusick:  I was born, and grew up in NW Indiana, but I tell people Chicago because I am exactly 28 miles SE of the Loop, right over the boarder and can get there faster than most people living in the burbs and besides, it sounds much cooler.  I went to college at Northwestern, right on Lake Michigan but graduated with a Master’s in English from Purdue. I became a single mom—of two of the coolest kids on earth—when they were 4 and 9 months, respectively, and got five jobs in a week, determined to stay in our house.  Ever the overachiever, I worked from home and as a direct report in Chicago, till the kids were both in school all day.  By then, I took a full-time job as the Director of Marketing for the largest prison lighting manufacturer in the USA (before there were too many slammers and more ill-sentenced inmates).  In 1991, I tried my hand at marriage again, and produced my third child, who must have bargained with the gods to come back this life to teach me more than I knew I could learn.  She is a blessing. The marriage wasn’t. I finally had to choose between death and myself . . . and since you’re reading this, you know which I chose.  Seven years of intense experiential therapy later, I emerged, whole for the first time, probably, since birth. I sucked in everything I could from the lighting industry and eventually worked as a manufacturer’s representative in Portland, OR, calling on the architectural and design communities.  I’ve always been a sucker for beauty, natural or man made, and Portland gave me both. Things brought me back to my house in Indiana—which I had rented to strangers for the three years the kids and I lived in OR—and I began teaching composition, research and technical writing at Purdue University Calumet, while I sought more jobs in lighting to pay the bills.  Since 2001, I have served as an adjunct instructor at seven universities (not all at once, but close) and sold outdoor architectural, custom library, architectural asymmetric lighting and specialty lamps. Three years ago, I started to work for the biggest lighting manufacturer on earth, where I conduct energy audits to show large industrials, schools and other huge energy suckers how to save money and cut their carbon footprint.   I was born with drive and a will to succeed.  I just had to learn self-love first.  That has provided the journey of my life.  With many teachers, right when I needed them, my glass has managed to stay at least half-full.  When I take the time to indulge in them, my passions include reading, cooking (I went vegetarian a year ago and LIVE off recipes from Thug Kitchen and other amazing places on the Internet), gardening and interior design.  I have truly made my home, which I share with Patrick—the kindest, coolest and most understanding man I have ever known—and Max, and Cassie—our two longhaired miniature dachshunds—into a sanctuary of peace and creative inspiration.  If my life is half over, I still have time to carry out the rest of my dreams.

About Debra Cusick:
I was born, and grew up in NW Indiana, but I tell people Chicago because I am exactly 28 miles SE of the Loop, right over the boarder and can get there faster than most people living in the burbs and besides, it sounds much cooler. I went to college at Northwestern, right on Lake Michigan but graduated with a Master’s in English from Purdue.
I became a single mom—of two of the coolest kids on earth—when they were 4 and 9 months, respectively, and got five jobs in a week, determined to stay in our house. Ever the overachiever, I worked from home and as a direct report in Chicago, till the kids were both in school all day. By then, I took a full-time job as the Director of Marketing for the largest prison lighting manufacturer in the USA (before there were too many slammers and more ill-sentenced inmates). In 1991, I tried my hand at marriage again, and produced my third child, who must have bargained with the gods to come back this life to teach me more than I knew I could learn. She is a blessing. The marriage wasn’t. I finally had to choose between death and myself . . . and since you’re reading this, you know which I chose. Seven years of intense experiential therapy later, I emerged, whole for the first time, probably, since birth.
I sucked in everything I could from the lighting industry and eventually worked as a manufacturer’s representative in Portland, OR, calling on the architectural and design communities. I’ve always been a sucker for beauty, natural or man made, and Portland gave me both.
Things brought me back to my house in Indiana—which I had rented to strangers for the three years the kids and I lived in OR—and I began teaching composition, research and technical writing at Purdue University Calumet, while I sought more jobs in lighting to pay the bills. Since 2001, I have served as an adjunct instructor at seven universities (not all at once, but close) and sold outdoor architectural, custom library, architectural asymmetric lighting and specialty lamps.
Three years ago, I started to work for the biggest lighting manufacturer on earth, where I conduct energy audits to show large industrials, schools and other huge energy suckers how to save money and cut their carbon footprint.
I was born with drive and a will to succeed. I just had to learn self-love first. That has provided the journey of my life. With many teachers, right when I needed them, my glass has managed to stay at least half-full. When I take the time to indulge in them, my passions include reading, cooking (I went vegetarian a year ago and LIVE off recipes from Thug Kitchen and other amazing places on the Internet), gardening and interior design. I have truly made my home, which I share with Patrick—the kindest, coolest and most understanding man I have ever known—and Max, and Cassie—our two longhaired miniature dachshunds—into a sanctuary of peace and creative inspiration. If my life is half over, I still have time to carry out the rest of my dreams.

 

Jennifer Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and over New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up:  SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson, Vancouver. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. Join a retreat/workshop by emailing barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com. If you want to attend the July 6th London workshop sign up now as it’s almost full.

 

healing, Owning It!, The Hard Stuff, Video, Vulnerability

A Video About Guilt Wherein I Tell It To F*ck Off.

May 19, 2014

Eff Guilt. With my dirty hair, bad lighting, no makeup, and a big ass glass of wine, I send you a video I did on one take. Because that’s how I’m rolling right now. Free. Or, as my friend Kathleen Emmets would say, “F*ck it.”

Here is the blurb I wrote on guilt:

Sitting here with my broken foot has allowed me a lot of time to think. I’ve been thinking about guilt and how so much of my life has been swaddled in guilt. The last words I said to my dad when I was 8, and he was 38 were: I hate you. Then he died. Just like that. I mean, there were a few hours in between where I jumped on a bed and my aunt babysat while paramedics tried to revive the life back into him but basically the time between those words and his death was minimal. I felt guilty. All my life, my “go to” emotion is guilt. I take off work, I feel guilty the whole night. I feel guilty for this or that. It’s work for me to let go of guilt. It’s an old old deeply imbedded seed.
So, I’m laying around, pretty much immobilized because of my foot. And I’m bummed. I won’t lie to you. Why would I? I’m a truth teller. I’m bummed, but get this- I feel oddly calm and present. You know why? For the first time, in a long time, I don’t feel like I SHOULD be doing something else, I SHOULD be somewhere else, that I have to go, go, go. Because I can’t. I truly cannot move right now so I have to be still. Normally, if I lay around with pajamas on, I feel guilty. I do it but I feel guilty about it. But right now I am freed of any guilt and I feel good about that. I have space to write and create, even though I am a little sad. What I realize, even though I already knew this obviously, is that guilt is a trap. It immobilized me way more than any broken foot could.
I am so tired of it. It keeps you from being here. It keeps us locked in a land of SHOULDS, and I SUCK.
When my foot heals, I will remember this moment of absolute freedom- this moment of knowing that the only possible place I can be is right here. Yes, I am forced (literally forced) to learn this knowledge the hard way but you reading this? You don’t have to break your foot to release yourself from the prison of guilt.
If you f*cking like something, like it. And be done with it.
The prisons we build for ourselves are far stronger than any casts on our feet.
So, I don’t feel guilty that I should be out enjoying this gorgeous sunny day.
I don’t feel guilty that I am not out exercising.
I don’t feel guilty that my hair is ten days unwashed.
I don’t feel guilty that I feel frustrated.
I don’t feel guilty that I am sitting all day.
I don’t fel guilty that I took a week off of work.
I hope you understand the freedom I am talking about here.
It took a broken foot for me. For you? Just do what you’re gonna do. And let that, be that.

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xo Jen. ps, I am only doing ONE workshop in LA. June 7th. I have only a couple spots left so book asap here or email barbara at jenniferpastiloff.com to sign up. 

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen’s leading a long weekend retreat to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up:  Los Angeles, SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, Dallas.

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

You Did Not Cause Your Rape.

February 3, 2014

Note from Jen: Trigger Warning within this post. This post is not written by me. There is graphic mention of rape and sexual assault! I am posting this anonymously, per the author’s request. I think this is such an important step in her healing, but also, this needs to be talked about. This is not your fault, whoever you are. In light of so many recent discussions about the rape culture we live in, I wanted to share this powerful post with you all. Please do not stay silent. Please find what you need, even if you start here with this post and this community on this anonymous blog post. You are NOT alone or at fault. I have been in contact with the author for many months now and this is the first time she has talked about this, let alone written about it. It is beautiful and brave and I bow to her. May you all find the healing you need and the community you need. I hope this is a start. Please post comments to the author as she will read them all. 

***

I never knew going for a run was something I could regret so much.  That I could regret for so long.  That one choice, one night would change the way I look at myself, the way I interact with people – my basic identity and self-esteem so much.  But it did.

I wasn’t even a runner; I was a soccer player.  I played soccer almost every night of the week, year round.  Once every couple months, each team had to take a hit and play in the latest time-slot – kick off didn’t begin until eleven o’clock.  It was a brutal time-slot for most; the moms who would have to get up with their kids in the morning, the twenty-somethings who had to go to work – but I’m a nighthawk and I was a student, so it didn’t matter to me.

My week had been particularly stressful and I was gearing up for a stressful weekend.  It was a long-weekend and all my local family was heading out of town to be with the rest of my family.  I wasn’t able to attend because I was shooting a wedding that weekend and hosting about six people at my place who were coming to the wedding from out of town.  I’m not a great host, I didn’t know the people very well and the wedding was going to be widely attended by guests from a part of my life I was trying to disengage from.

So when I got home from soccer late that night, I was totally wired.  I decided I needed to run off some more anxiety and frustration, so I took off in my soccer gear straight from my driveway and headed to the trails near my house.

The neighborhood I live in is safe.  It is one of the safest in my state.  There’s not a lot of crime here – and the crime that is here is usually frauds and domestics.  Needless to say, crime was never really at the forefront of my mind when I was trying to make choices or discern whether I should do something.  That was probably another mistake.

There’s a half-mile stretch of well-lit sidewalk on a main road when you leave my driveway.  Then you have to go through a parking lot and through a clearing in the woods and down a dirt path to get to the hiking trails of the local nature park.  Once you hit the parking lot, that half mile separates you from the nearest houses.  Once you’re through the clearing, the trees shield your visibility from any passing traffic.  Really, it’s the perfect place to hide.  Or to commit a crime.  But again, that wasn’t on my mind at the time.

Now, I could launch into an explanation about why those things should have been on my mind.  I could talk about my background, my education, the fact that my best friend is a decorated police officer – all the things that should have made me stop and think.  But I wasn’t thinking about those things; I was thinking about other things.  I was thinking about how great the soccer game I’d just played was.  I was thinking about how much cleaning I had to do to prepare for the wedding guests.  I was thinking about how screwed I’d be if it rained that weekend and how that would screw up my photo ideas.  I was thinking about how I wouldn’t get to see my two baby nieces that weekend because I was stuck doing this wedding on a long weekend.

So while I was totally wrapped up in all that, I forgot to be smart.  I forgot to think about myself.  And I made a stupid choice.  Like I said, it’s a choice I am always going to remember.  And it’s a choice that some part of me, even if it is the smallest part possible, is going to blame myself for for the rest of my life.

Because I was raped that night.  Twice.  All those specifics about what would make the area an excellent spot for a crime that I wasn’t thinking about – someone else was thinking about.  And they were waiting.

Which is crazy.  Because… I mean, it was the middle of the night.  And who goes on trails in a park in the middle of the night?  Trails with no houses around?  So who would wait there in the off chance that someone does?  But they did.  And I did.  So it happened.

I think I would have been able to get away if there had been one guy.  My high school made all the girls take self-defense every year in P.E.  I was the most fit I’ve ever been.  I’m strong.  I’m resourceful.  So, if there was just one, I think I would have gotten away.  But there were two.  And I couldn’t get away no matter how hard I tried.

The thing that surprised me the most – and still surprises me today – was how not violent it was.  It was sexually violent, but it wasn’t violent; they didn’t beat the shit out of me, they didn’t try to kill me.  They just restrained me and took turns with me; I had a few bruises from their grasp and a few scrapes from when they pushed me up against a tree or forced me to my knees; one of them hit me once, not even very hard, when I bit him from said position.  But my face showed no signs of violence.  And no one I knew would even bat an eye at scrapes because of my intense soccer schedule.  It’s like they knew exactly what to do to keep me quiet.

If my face had had a bruise on it and someone would have asked me what happened, I probably wouldn’t have been able to hold it in.  Not in the few days following the attack, not while I was still grieving and processing.  If my best friend, the police officer – or my mom – or my sisters, had asked what was wrong, or what happened, I wouldn’t have been able to keep it to myself.  But my family was already gone for the weekend, my best friend didn’t see my until after the wedding and… even looking at photos from the wedding now, I don’t know that I can even tell something terrible had just happened.  So no one asked.

They didn’t ask and I didn’t feel like I could tell them.  Because my best friend is a cop, I know exactly what “rape victims” go through when they report.  You go to a hospital where you strip all your clothes and let a stranger examine every inch of your body for evidence, do a full vaginal exam and give you a bunch of pills to fight unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.  Then you sit in a room with a cop, either male or female (who you already know because your best friend is a cop so you know all her co-workers), and answer questions, explain your story, say the same thing over and over again, so they can see whether you’re lying or not.

And then you try to explain to your cop best friend, who was told what happened by the cop who interviewed you, how you let yourself get raped.  And then no one… ever… looks at you the same way again.

Then they look for the guys but because they’re strangers and they wore condoms, odds aren’t good to begin with.  If they do find them, if they get charged, if they make it to court – everybody knows what happened.  Everybody knows what they did to you.  It becomes a completely public record and the proceedings are open to everyone.

And I cannot speak for other people who have gone through this, but when I was laying on the cold ground in the middle of the night after something like this happened to me, I was only thinking about what other people would think.  So knowing what I knew and knowing who I knew and not really yet understanding the gravity of what happened to me or how my choices following the attack could weigh just as heavy on me as the choices leading up to it, I got up off the ground, composed myself, walked home and sat in the shower in the hottest water I could bare for as long as I could bare and tried to get the feelings I was feeling to wash down the drain.  That may sound like such a clichéd “movie of the week” thing to do, but that was my experience; telling a rape victim not to shower until they’ve sought medical attention is ridiculous.  I understand why they tell you that, but come on; I’ve never felt so dirty and gross and disgusting.

I hadn’t had sex before that.  I was eighteen and “waiting” or whatever (I’d never even had a PAP).  Obviously, I knew what was happening to me; I didn’t grow up under a rock.  But there were so many things I didn’t understand – like whether all sex hurt like that, or whether they were making it hurt more because of what they were doing to me.  Personally, I think they were making it that way because it hurt significantly more after I bit the one guy and pissed him off than it did before.

Six months later, after I started having meaningless, random sex with a meaningless, random guy a bunch of times to just try to get these guys off me and out of my head, I felt guilted into getting my body checked out because “I could knowingly be giving someone something I caught from the rapists” and blah blah blah.  So I did.  And I’m healthy (and I went back for the appropriate follow-up blood tests, etc).  I also stopped having sex because it was hurting me in my current state way more than it was helping me.

Around the same time, I told a friend what was going on.  Coincidentally, it was the friend whose wedding I was at that weekend (a detail I left out when I told her).  She has since completely severed all contact with me.  Perhaps me telling her has nothing to do with that, but it seems like curious timing – so that experience hasn’t led me to open up to more people around me.  In fact, I am afraid that whoever if reading this right now, if they know me, will do the same thing.  I’m terrified of people not loving me.

Long term, I question every day whether I made the right choice after the attack.  I don’t really think I did, but I think it is much too late to change those choices now.  No one around me knows.  I went to see a counsellor once; I don’t plan on going back.  And everyday when I look at the people around me who I love and who I think love me, I always wonder if they know.  If they can tell by looking at me.  If there is some silent signal that this happened to me.  And I wonder if they’ll continue loving me if it was ever confirmed.  If they ever read this.

I’m sure I give off red flags; I’m sure there are things I do that have just become part of my personality that I do because of what happened; I hate being touched by most people and even my closest friends recognize that I want to initiate and be in control of any physical contact.  I am neurotic about locking doors and windows when I am in my house or any other.  I insist on the buddy system when walking anywhere after dark.  I had never really cared about these kinds of things before; I guess I thought I was invincible, and now I know I’m not.

And there’s always this internal battle going on.  Part of me just wants to be another statistic, because nobody notices a number; but if I am just another number, my experiences can never ensure that someone else doesn’t have to have the same experiences.

~Anonymous.

**Hateful, mean or snarky comments will not be approved.

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Next Manifestation workshop is London July 6. Book here.

Jen works with many young women like the brave author of this piece on her retreats and workshops.

Forgiveness, Travels

Guilt-Away.

July 11, 2012

Guilt is the state of being responsible for the commission of an offense. It is also a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation. It is closely related to the concept of remorse. 

That’s how Wikipedia defines Guilt.

I arrived at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris from Pisa to discover that of the two bottles I had (over)packed in my orange suitcase, the red one cracked and broke in my (over)packed luggage. Mind you, I had missed the actual wine tasting in Tuscany at the winery because I had been ill so someone got them for me per my request because of my FOMO, as my friend Sara Lieberman, author of The Handbags Tale,  calls it.

FOMO= Fear Of Missing Out. I just had to have Italian wine! I couldn’t possibly leave Tuscany without chianti, could I?

I sat on the floor of the airport in my long white dress and new Italian boots as I opened the case to check the damage. Immediately glass and red wine exploded everywhere. People stared. I didn’t care. My clothes were drenched in red wine!

My new clothes.

My white clothes.

My silk.

My gifts. 

My white bras.

I was upset, naturally, but I actually sort of laughed. My number one rule is: If you fall you must laugh.

Or tried to laugh, despite having no actual voice from being sick. At this point I had been sick ten days and I knew that I was being tested in some way.

Ok, I thought, it’s just stuff. Just stuff. Things and stuff. And broken glass.

Needless to say, I was frustrated because I hadn’t listened to my intuition which strongly whispered to me as I packed in Tuscany: Jen, give those bottles of wine away as a gift. You do not have room. Plus, it’s dangerous putting wine in your suitcase. Plus, if one was to break you know it will be the red one. 

I ignored my intuition and it came back laughing at me. Wearing a burgundy and chianti broken-glass colored shade, it snickered at me for being such a fool.

Arriving at the Le Bristol, the fanciest hotel I have ever set foot in, I immediately ask the concierge if they can take the clothes to their in-house dry cleaner. They assure me in lovely French accents that red wine is very hard to remove but they will do their best. 

Merci.

As a side note, I am traveling with my childhood babysitter who I was reunited with after her only son was killed at age 19 in a drunk driving accident in Northern California.

This put my dilemma in a file called IRRELEVANT very quickly.

I let it go.

It’s just stuff. Stuff and things. 

The dry cleaners got almost all the wine out for a small (big) fortune and I was happy. But non-attached. I had made peace with the wine and the wine debacle.

The few stains that remain will remind me of this trip, this moment in the not-so-straight line of my life.

As I was looking for ways to get red wine out I stumbled across Wine-Away. 

So I invented something called Guilt-Away.

Would you like a bottle? Or a case?

As I led my retreat in Italy with 25 people I got very ill. Sicker than I have been in years. So sick that I couldn’t speak. So sick that at one point I really thought I was dying. That kind of sick.

At first, the guilt I felt was insurmountable. How could I have brought all these people here and let them down? How could I let this happen?

My brain goes to the path of guilt because it is the path of least resistance. Just like our bodies take the path of least resistance, so do our brains. I have spent many years of my life felling guilty, which is a dirty broken thing that presses into the corners of your soul like a sky in December descending for the day. The last words I spoke to my father before he died where “I hate you” so naturally I have spent much of my life feeling as if I caused his death, or at the very least, should be punished.

So here I was in Italy with that same familiar pull of guilt. So heavy, it weighs down your boat and sinks you before you can even get out to sea and observe the horizon in the distance to allow you some clarity. Once you get to the bottom it is too late; you have sunk and everything looks cloudy and muddy and water gets in your eyes and up your nose and you can’t breathe.

You get the picture.

As I sat on the cold airport floor in Paris I realized that along with Wine-Away I would like to always carry Guilt-Away so whether wine spills or Guilt starts to call me, I have my defense. I will spray it away like it never existed. Maybe there will be a slight remnant but it will be so faint that it will just be a memory rather than a reality.

State the facts, speak the truth. 

(Iyanla Vanzant taught me that. Memorize it.)

Fact: I got very very sick. Very very very sick.

Truth: My retreat had an amazing time and Kylee Lehe (who I have been mentoring) taught 3 beautiful classes and was given an opportunity to really rise to the occasion. I had been overworking and was run down.

Story: I should feel bad because I got sick and let everyone down. They had a miserable time because I couldn’t babysit them. I was boring.

Things always go wrong.

I got sick because I was being punished.

Guilt-Away: I take my bottle of Guilt-Away and rid myself of any of the story. The story is what keeps us stuck in the dry Desert of Guilt with no water or air.

I can breathe again now.

I am sitting in my hotel room in Paris and using my Guilt-Away to clean up any remorse I have over not feeling 100% and being able to go out and explore. Any guilt I have at sitting here and staring out the French windows. Any guilt I have about doing anything other than what I am doing at this very moment.

What will you use your Guilt-Away for? Share below anything you need Guilt-Away to remove or clean up.