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survival

Guest Posts, Siblings

Harold and His Purple Crayon

September 23, 2023
Harold

Note: The below is adapted from Amy Turner’s acclaimed memoir, On the Ledge, published by She Writes Press.

Arriving within 30 months of each other, my brothers, Harold and Jimmy, and I had been a force from the beginning. We’d vanquished babysitter after babysitter. Live-in housekeepers escaped in the night, presumably ashamed to admit they were no matches for three toddlers. That we were preverbal had been absolutely no obstacle to our planning and execution. We were invincible. Back then, the three of us were one indestructible piece; even we couldn’t tell where one of us ended and the others began.

On our way to visit our son at college in 2010, Ed and I stopped for lunch. I needed frequent breaks. Just the sight of vehicles speeding by disoriented me. Two months earlier a pickup truck had plowed into me as I was crossing the street. Miraculously, I’d sustained no broken bones, but still suffering from a serious concussion, I probably shouldn’t have been traveling. However, regardless of my dizziness and throbbing head, I was determined to return to normal life.

Ed and I were talking about which of the parents’ activities we’d want to attend when my cell phone rang. Not wanting to talk on my cell in a public place, I sent Jimmy’s call to voicemail and retrieved the message from there.

“Ame, call me as soon as you can. Umm, it’s important.”

I looked at Ed and sighed. After 30 years of marriage, he knew my family as well as any of us knew each other. “Harold?”

“I’m sure. Oh, God, not now.”

When Jimmy described the policeman coming to his door and asking, “Are you the brother of Harold Turner? I’m sorry to inform you . . . ” I could feel the threads that I thought had frayed to nothing long ago tighten around me in a final, fleeting hug, then snap—one by one.

As a child, I thought that, of the three of us, Harold might be the most special. In one of my parents’ few joint expressions of playfulness, we were each “given” a tune that featured our first names. Although Harold’s song—”Hark the Herald Angels Sing”—was a bit of a stretch, he also had what our family prized above all—a book, actually a series of books, with his name in the title: Harold and the Purple Crayon. Published in 1955, a year after Harold’s birth, the book had been ready for him just as he was ready to be read to. About four-years-old and appearing simply as a black outline on a white background, fictional Harold realized his dreams and evaded perils, by drawing one unbroken line with his large purple crayon. He drew himself to the moon, and escaped a dragon and a drowning. However far away his adventures took him, in the end, he always remembered how to draw himself back to where he most wanted to be: at home, sleeping in his bed, the blanket drawn up to his chin, and his face at peace under a moon perfectly framed in his window.

If I’d heard this news about Harold at any other time in the previous 20 years, I would’ve been sad, but not surprised. What little I knew of Harold’s life during those decades had included his identifying the body of his second wife, who was murdered after she left a bar; moving from apartments to motels; and then alternating between the streets and couches of bar acquaintances slightly less down-and-out than he. Arrested several times for public consumption of alcohol and vagrancy, for years, Harold called only to ask for money—initially polite requests that always ended in angry demands. I still remember my head pounding in rhythm with the percussive and frightening hard C’s—”may not recover normal cognitive function, brain damage due to continuous grand mal seizures electroshock therapy”—as a psychiatrist described Harold’s condition eight years earlier, in 2002. Harold would recover well enough to resume drinking.

As children, Harold, Jimmy, and I were platinum blondes, but Harold’s hair darkened earlier and to a greater degree than ours. In the summer, his light brown freckles gained territory and could almost masquerade as a tan. Invariably, his face also showed red patches where the freckles stopped and the zinc oxide had been hastily applied, if at all. I still picture Harold on the tennis court—straw-blond hair and slightly sunburned face, fighting back tears after losing to his best friend, whose only advantage was a killer instinct.

I remember sitting on my twin bed, as a 15-year-old, facing 14-year-old Harold and 13-year-old Jimmy on the guest bed opposite me, the three of us crouched so far forward that our knees touched. My brothers were whispering in an anxious duet—”Wait, What? Dad was going to jump? That’s why he was gone when we were little?”—when our mother, arriving home from an AA meeting earlier than expected, walked in.

After a moment of stunned silence, she erupted. “Amy, what did you tell them?”

Buoyed by the self-righteousness of a heroine saving her brothers from a lifetime of ignorance and misery (and by the confidence that my psychologist would defend me should my mother punish me), I did the unthinkable in our family: I yelled back.

“I told them about Dad’s suicide attempt and the mental hospital. Dr. Ferdinand just told me. They have the right to know.”

Her yell had been scary enough, but the glare that followed my outburst was chilling. When she barked, “Harold and Jimmy, go to your rooms right now,” they were already scurrying to the door. She stared at me once more then shut the door with enough force to make clear the topic was now closed.

In high school, Harold’s drinking and drug use already had a desperate, determined quality, different from the usual teenage experimentation. He would try anything and was brazen in doing so—sometimes in his room at the top of the back stairs, out of earshot of my parents’ bedroom. While pot was becoming popular in our high school and some kids were using psychedelics, Harold was one of the very few who snorted heroin. How he did this and maintained good enough grades to get into Harvard was hard to fathom.

A week before Harold’s memorial service in Fairfield, Iowa, I began an archaeological dig in our basement to locate his letters to me during the year I spent in Switzerland. Desperately wanting once more to be an 18-year-old girl with a 17-year-old brother, I sat on the basement floor and, as the tears streaked the dust on my face, read them all: “It’s no big deal, Ame. I’m just having fun.”

Had I taken the letters upstairs to read, the dig would have ended there. I would never have noticed an unfamiliar trunk—the kind we had taken to summer camp—its once shiny black surface peeling and gray, its reinforced corners dented, and its metal lock now rusted and disintegrating. When I opened it, I could’ve been peering into Harold’s coffin. There he was—documented in glowing report cards, newspaper clippings of undefeated basketball seasons, tennis trophies, academic awards, childhood drawings, college essays, and postcards from camp.

I examined each artifact, hoping that this autopsy of sorts might pinpoint the source of his suffering. There was the expected anatomy of any academically and athletically gifted student. There were cards for Christmas and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, the products of obligatory elementary school activities, but then there were others that I am sure no schoolteacher had a hand in: Harold’s thank-you notes to our parents that I would never have written as a child, or as a parent could ever have expected to receive, including—notes for Christmas presents, for a trip to a football game, or for just being “great parents.”

Also in the trunk, in a stack held together by a deteriorating rubber band, were my letters to him. When I saw my rounded, girlish print, I was embarrassed for my 18-year-old self who had thought her naïve threats could solve Harold’s problem—”Mom’s going to kill you if you don’t stop doing drugs.” Yet I realized she had not yet been jaded by the decades of worry and unheeded pleas that would follow.

Most of my memories of Harold’s vulnerability and sweetness had been obliterated by his anger and arrogance, the byproducts of decades of drinking. But as I read a note he’d written at age ten to my parents, “Thank you very much for making Sat. the 25th such a wonderful day, someday I’ll do it for you . . .” and one he’d written eight years later to my father regarding their victory in a crucial doubles match, “Perhaps the time that has passed since our glorious match has wrapped our experience in gold. Whatever the case may be, gold or fool’s gold, I will treasure it the same,” all echoes of his drunken rants were gone. In the silence, I could almost hear the soft beating of his heart.

As Harold told it, during his freshman year at Harvard, he noticed a group of students who—unlike his circle of friends—always looked rested, clear-eyed, and happy. When he asked them why, they said they’d started Transcendental Meditation (TM). Wanting that clarity and peace (and, though he didn’t say it at that time, sobriety), he started right away. With my parents’ blessing, he took time off from college in 1974 to become a TM teacher. After returning from teacher training, his social life mainly involved leading residence courses or watching tapes of Maharishi with other meditators.

But Harold was a “periodic,” like my mother had been, which meant that periods of sobriety were eventually followed by ever-longer stretches of binge drinking.

In 1987, Harold moved to Fairfield, Iowa, the TM organization’s centerpiece in the U.S., with his girlfriend-soon-to-be-wife, hoping, I believe, the influence of meditators might keep him sober. But it wasn’t enough. Whenever my mother, a fixture in AA by then, urged Harold to go to a meeting, he would taunt her, “You were drinking at my age. I’ll stop drinking when you did, when I’m thirty-five. Leave me alone.”

If Harold stopped drinking in 1990 when he turned 35, it wasn’t for long. His marriage broke up two years later, and by 1996 he was married to Trudy, whom he met in a bar. She also had multiple arrests for public intoxication. “She’s really nice, Ame, you would like her,” he’d occasionally slur on my answering machine. I hoped to God his situation wouldn’t get any worse, but one afternoon in early December 1997, I came home to hear him leaving a message—howling himself hoarse—”TRUDY WAS MURDERED!  DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO IDENTIFY A DEAD BODY?  OH GOD, HER FACE.” When I picked up the phone, my shuddering triggered a wave of nausea, as if Harold’s words landed in my gut, not my brain. I tried to ask questions, said I was so sorry, but he just kept yelling. “I was at home. We had an argument. This guy gave her a ride home from the bar… in a DITCH, they found her nude…IN A DITCH! During the next few months, Harold called about once a week to leave the same message, as if for the first time. Eventually I couldn’t force myself to pick up. (Later I would learn that a thirty-seven-year old man, pleaded guilty to Trudy’s murder and was sentenced to fifty years in prison.)

But at the time of Harold’s death fourteen years later, at 56, he had made incredible progress. During his eleven-month term in an Iowa jail for public intoxication (imposed because of his repeat offenses), he had been off anti-seizure medication, cigarettes, and alcohol. Upon Harold’s release, his close friend Jean (whose unwavering dedication to him was much appreciated but often baffling) moved in with him and ensured his abstinence continued. Still compromised physically by his stroke and suffering memory lapses, Harold didn’t have the wherewithal to rebel. Occasionally, though, I’d receive a voice mail from him: “Hey, Ame, I’m with this girl Jean. She’s attractive and all but such a pain. She won’t let me drink, or even smoke.” And so, with the help of the Iowa correctional system and Jean, Harold had accomplished what he hadn’t been able to since he’d been in his twenties: just over a thousand consecutive days of being clean.

I last saw Harold in 2008, in Fairfield, two years before his death and a few months after his jail release. As he told stories from his college days at lunch with Jimmy and me, his joy cast a soft focus on him so that I could no longer make out his receding hairline or the canyons that years of drinking had carved into his face. For a moment, I saw him at 18—by then, six foot two and slim, his once gangly arms and legs had found proportion, making him a natural for dancing, tennis, and basketball—any activity requiring a glide. The images of him in effortless motion are what stay with me: on the dance floor at my wedding, moving with an innate rhythm that belied our physically uptight upbringing; on a tennis court, arcing fluidly through a forehand; and on a basketball court, launching the ball toward the basket with one graceful flick of his palms and fingertips, his body erect, his feet suspended two feet in the air.

In one of my favorite photographs of Harold and me, we’re standing next to each other, smiling, our two-year-old children—his daughter Katherine and my son Matt, born a month apart—playing at our feet. I still marvel that they look more alike than most fraternal twins I know.

As Ed drove the two of us from the Cedar Rapids airport to Fairfield, I closed my eyes to silently practice the remarks I planned to give at Harold’s memorial the following day. But as I began, I suddenly pictured the windshield of the oncoming pickup truck, felt the same vulnerability that had buzzed through me moments before it struck me. I was shivering. It was as if Harold’s passing had ripped off protective layers so deeply buried I hadn’t known they existed until they were gone. I squelched a sob. My primal connection to him, I realized, had less to do with our being 13 months apart than with our seeking a sense of security from each other that our alcoholic mother and suicidal father couldn’t provide in those early years. I let myself cry, and Ed reached over to rub my shoulder. I hoped Harold and I had been forgiven, and that whatever pain we’d caused each other—his drinking, my inability and, at times, unwillingness to help him—could no longer obscure what we’d felt since his birth: a bond that, had we known the word for it back then, would have been love.

Soon after we arrived in Fairfield, Jean recounted the story of Harold’s death. The night before, Harold had eaten little and told her that he’d just had two great telephone conversations: one with his daughter, Katherine, and the other with Jimmy, who had told him to “hold fast.” Jean was happy that Harold had had a chance to speak to them but his cell phone indicated that no calls had been made or received.

The following morning, Jean had left early, after first making sure Harold was warmly covered in bed. When she returned three hours later, she’d found Harold on the floor. As she described how the duvet had been draped over his body, I envisioned him in a cocoon of white comforter—its edges almost carefully, and perhaps lovingly, tucked under his chin to reveal only his face.

Half-smiling, I shook my head slowly and brushed away the tears sliding over my cheekbones. I was relieved for Harold, and us even more so, that he’d died peacefully of “natural causes.” Had he died at so many other times in his life, there would surely have been painful details eliminating the possibility of consoling ourselves with a story of his redemption.

At the memorial service, the speeches, like the photographs surrounding us, recalled Harold at his handsomest, happiest, and fullest potential. When Katherine, by then 24, began her remarks by saying she’d read a children’s book that meant a great deal to both of them, I knew its title before she mentioned it. However, I was surprised and moved to learn that Harold had often asked her to read it to him over the phone, even as recently as last month. Listening to his daughter read Harold and the Purple Crayon in the full yet silent church, I realized that, although Harold had never stopped creating his own perils, he must have hoped that one day, like the fictional Harold, he would be able to draw his means of escape and find himself at home, at peace, and safe from himself. He had finally done just that.Amy Turner

Amy Turner was born in Bronxville, New York, and is a graduate of Boston University, with a degree in political science, and of New York Law School, with a Juris Doctor degree. After practicing law (rather unhappily) for twenty-two years, she finally found the courage to change careers at forty-eight and become a (very happy) seventh grade social studies teacher. A long-time meditator and avid reader who loves to swim and bike, Amy lives in East Hampton, New York, with her husband, Ed. They have two sons. Amy’s first book, On the Ledge, A Memoir, was published by She Writes Press in 2022.

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Wondering what to read next? 

A personal look at how trauma harms both the body and soul.

Fifty-five years after Amy Turner’s father climbed out on a hotel ledge and threatened to jump—a story that received national news coverage—Amy is convinced she’s dealt with all the psychological reverberations of her childhood.

Then she steps into a crosswalk and is mowed down by a pickup truck—an accident that nearly kills her.

Poignant, intimate, and at times surprisingly humorous, On the Ledge offers proof that no matter how far along you are in life, it’s never too late to find yourself.

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Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Abuse, Guest Posts

The Adults We Couldn’t Trust

June 5, 2022
sex

I spent the spring of 2020 sewing masks when I was supposed to be teaching teenagers to resist sexual coercion.

Feeling immobile and useless, I would have done anything that seemed like helping.  I learned to make masks from an online video. In it, the smiling CFO of a hospital chain in the Midwest shows us how to stitch two six-by-nine pieces of cotton together and make pleats so the mask follows the shape of a face. There’s a man in the video whose only job, it seems, is to ask what she’s doing at each step of the process and express his approval. The CFO sounds happier than a person who works in a hospital should be. I imagine people on ventilators just down the hall. Her perfect pleats and bright patterned fabric are ridiculous. And comforting.

***

I teach self-defense. I missed the groups of teenage girls who came in expecting to fight off a creepy stranger with kicks and punches out of an action movie. Instead we’d teach them to resist coercion and assault from a guy they know and like. My co-instructor, a man dressed in 50 pounds of protective gear, would portray that guy—the one at the party who invited her to go somewhere quiet. To listen to music, he said. All night he made her feel special, getting her drinks, ignoring other girls’ flirtations.

But when they get to the upstairs bedroom, all he wants is sex. He’s charming the first time she refuses. Telling her she’s beautiful, and it’s not a big deal. When she refuses again, he yells. He could have any girl at the party, and why did she make him waste his time? We teach her to get up to leave. He blocks the door and grabs her wrist. We teach her to break the grip; to yell, “Let me leave!”; to strike the head or groin.

My co-instructor’s protective gear makes it possible for students to practice defending themselves by striking him with as much power as their bodies have. He is trained to portray that guy, every coercive word and gesture, every abusive rant. That way she our students feel scared or angry or immobile in all the ways they would if this party were real, and they learn to access their power in the midst of all those feelings.

***

Instead of telling hard truths I spent most of 2020 piercing my fingers with straight pins, taking seventeen tries to thread a needle. Every part of the process is tedious. Lining up the fabric, stitching around the edges. Still, making something out of thread and fabric reminds me of home. My grandmother sewed. My mother made needlepoint pillows. Every stitch was as tight as the clench of her jaw when my father made an inappropriate joke.

I haven’t sewn since I was in high school and on costume crew for the fall musical. I joined because I didn’t get cast, and that’s what all my friends who didn’t get cast were doing. We met in the basement below the auditorium. We sat in a tight circle and talked about how not to get caught sneaking out of your bedroom, or the tragedy of having small breasts. About how pretty I would be if I let one of them do my hair and makeup. But mostly the girls on costume crew talked about sex. About what they would and wouldn’t let their boyfriends do. About giving hand jobs to theater guys who took forever to get excited, guys I now realize were probably gay. The intimacy almost made up for not being upstairs with the kids who did get cast.

One day, in an isolated corner of the basement, a girl who was blonde and pretty told me and she’d been raped by a family friend. She didn’t tell her parents. They were already disappointed in her. There was no adult at school that any of us thought we could tell. All the adults ever wanted to talk to us about was drugs. And they loved to talk to us about drugs. They showed us film strips about teenagers who thought they were just experimenting but wound up ruining their lives. They held all-school assemblies where recovering addicts spoke to us, as if living embodiments of ruined lives would hit us harder than the films. There was a counselor whose job it was to pull kids out of class and tell them not to be influenced by their peer groups. Though the football team was using as many drugs as anyone else, she only came for the kids who wore all black and listened to punk bands.

It wasn’t true that they never talked to us about violence, but violence was for poor people—and the poor people in our imaginations were almost always Black. We read The Color Purple, and no white teacher helped us untangle Blackness and poverty from rape. From their silences we learned that violations like rape lived in the parts of the city our parents wouldn’t let us visit.

***

Some of the scenarios we teach begin with girls lying on the gym floor, as if they’re sleeping. My co-instructor pins their arms. With some, he plays an ex-boyfriend who insists she owes him sex. With others it’s an acquaintance, drunk, not stopping when she tells him she wants to sleep. I kneel at each girl’s head, talking over the verbal abuse. I remind each girl to breathe, to focus on finding a way out. In order for this assault to proceed, he has to move bed sheets or clothes. In each of those moments, she could get a hand or foot free, and use it to strike a vulnerable part of his body.

They can do it in a classroom. Pretending to sleep on a wrestling mat, other girls cheering for them the minute they start fighting back. But using your body to stop another person from harming you is a complicated calculation, especially for a teenage girl. When the difference between intimacy and violence is not as stark as it’s supposed to be, most people are left with painful choices. “If it was a boyfriend or a family member, I would feel bad about hurting them,” one girl wrote in response to an anonymous survey of students who had taken our class. “The idea of hurting someone you love is difficult. It’s kind of sad if you think about it because someone I love is hurting me,” wrote another. In that same survey, one young woman responded that she slapped her now-ex-boyfriend in the groin after he didn’t stop when she said no.

 ***

In high school I was the confidant of girls who were having sex, living vicariously through the blow jobs they gave or hated. I loved getting to be part of someone’s erotic life without the pressure of having one of my own. It was disappointing not to be desired, but also a relief. I didn’t have to balance my own wants with those of a boy who’d been taught all his life to be entitled. I didn’t have to listen for the sound of a garage door, and then rush to throw on enough clothes to fool a parent into thinking we’d been watching TV.

I worked hard to avoid the reality of my body. I wore mismatched socks and loud patterned clothes that were always a few sizes too big. One day I wore a Kleenex box on my head. Another day, a toy sailboat. The fact that I’d declared war on my body went unnoticed, because my rage was expressed with mismatched floral patterns. My clothes were my protest. Or they were my strategy for how to feel special without getting the kind of attention that could lead to sex.

My mother, who followed most rules, always told me she was proud of me when I left the house. Some mornings, at the kitchen table, I saw tears she could not completely stifle, as she told me how glad she was that I had the courage to be myself. I didn’t know who that self was any better than any other teenager, but because I was voluntarily different, most adults assumed I did.

Every bright green tutu I wore took me further away from having to become a sexual being. When I did fall in love, it was always the same drama. The boy never loved me back. He was distant and unkind, but only because he was so tortured. Sometimes I was his confidant, the only person he could trust with his suburban teenage demons. Eventually he’d start dating another girl, someone thinner than me, with shinier hair and better makeup. He’d ignore me until they had a fight. Then, he’d call me at a too-late hour to tell me that I was the only one who understood him.

***

There were too many things we called sex when I was a teenager. One of my friends cried hard the Monday after her first time. Her hip-length hair was oily, her whole body smelled like bad breath. She wore a sweater a couple sizes too big, though it was almost summer. She pulled me into a stairwell. Her whole body shook as she told me that her boyfriend wanted it but she didn’t. He was thick and tall, and he heaved and sweated on top of her as she lay pinned to a couch. Her mother had found out, and told her she was selfish. A pregnant teenager would ruin her father’s career, and how could she be so careless?

I couldn’t believe how white and weak my friend looked. She, the most outspoken girl I knew. She played  the lead in the spring play and didn’t care that she intimidated her co-star. She was my protector too. In the hallways, when kids mocked me for my outfits, she yelled at them to shut up.

***

I had only one boyfriend in high school, and our relationship lasted three weeks. He called every night and asked me questions about myself. At a cast party in someone’s parents’ basement, he tongue kissed me. I opened and closed my mouth, trying to follow the rhythm of his lips. I felt like I had no choice but to kiss, though nobody forced me. And maybe he could tell that everything but the shell of my body was gone. And maybe that’s why he didn’t try to touch me anywhere else.

***

I have a special kind of anger toward men who give women safety advice that has no basis in evidence. I have a special kind of disappointment, too, in women who fill up the seats at lectures given by these men. Who nod solemnly as the man, who is usually a police officer, tells a packed classroom that if we get attacked it’s because we weren’t being smart.

Here are some examples of the advice these men give: If you live alone, put a pair of men’s boots outside your back door. Do not change clothes in front of an open window. Don’t wear a pony tail; it’s easy for an attacker to grab. If you live in an apartment building, don’t do laundry alone. (That one comes from the NRA’s Refuse to Be a Victim Course, which also advises us not to use a public bathroom alone.) If a creepy man is walking behind you, get on your phone. Pretend you are calling your boyfriend (say a man’s name loud enough for the creepy man behind you to hear). Pretend you live in one of the apartments you are walking past and that you can see your boyfriend through the window. Say loudly into your fake phone call that you’ll be home soon. Pull the fire alarm. (Every rapist is afraid of firefighters and apparently will wait until they show up.) Don’t go out alone after dark. (That one came from the police in stereotypically liberal Cambridge, Massachusetts. A woman had just defended herself against a man who grabbed her from behind, a detail not mentioned in the press release the police issued. Also, it was winter in the northeast so five o’clock is after dark.)

Too often when men tell women how to be safe, it’s about limiting our lives and depending on them. The good guys will keep the bad ones away.

***

Here’s what the research actually shows. Criminologist Sarah Ullman analyzed the National Crime Victimization Survey as well as several other studies. She separated the ways women resist rape into four categories: forceful physical resistance (kicking, punching, hitting), non-forceful physical resistance (pulling away, fleeing), forceful verbal resistance (yelling), and non-forceful verbal resistance (crying, pleading, reasoning). Of these, the strategy least likely to stop a sexual assault is non-forceful verbal resistance. Everything you learn when you’re taught to be a woman—to plead, concede, do nothing and pray he won’t hurt you worse—is the exact opposite of what works.

The self-defense programs that have been shown by research to decrease sexual violence have some things in common. They are explicitly feminist and invite young women to challenge gender socialization. They give women the chance to practice recognizing and resisting coercion, and they have young women define what they want out of sex.

The reality that rape can be stopped by ordinary strength is not common knowledge. Maybe because women resisting rape unsettles so many. What would men who inhabit traditional ideas of gender do if the women they love didn’t need their protection? How would feminists ensure that the responsibility for rape stays with the perpetrators and the culture that creates them? Being capable of stopping rape doesn’t make you responsible for it, but that nuance is too often lost.

***

A girl in my English class wrote a short story about rape. The teacher responded by talking about grammar and sentence structure. Reading it made me feel hollow and alive at the same time. I wanted to crawl inside the typed pages and live there until I understood something about my own life.

I spent my adolescence in a state of numbness, walking into walls and rows of lockers. I couldn’t concentrate. I drew flowers on my math homework and looked at the ceiling instead of the teacher. So they sent me to reading specialists and speech pathologists but never asked if anything was wrong at home. And what would I have said if someone did ask? My experience, like smoke, was not solid or substantial enough that I could touch it. And, like smoke, it was suffocating me.

Sometimes when I teach, I look around the room and try to guess which girl is me. The one whose father’s violations are so subtle that she’s not sure they count. The one who feels desired in a way that shreds her, who lives on the receiving end of intimate attention that feels thick and heavy, like hairy hands covering her mouth, making her gag. Does she—like I do—gag at almost anything? Does she struggle to trust intimacy or attention?

Trauma fragments memory. For some, it overwhelms the nervous system to the point where the cerebral cortex—the part of the brain that forms linear memories—shuts down. When this happens, people are left with shreds of images, nothing that can be narrated as a series of events. Instead, the abuse lives in the parts of the brain that don’t have language. Implicit memories, they’re called. Physical sensations and strong emotions that hit people at unpredictable times. Offering clues about what happened, but usually not enough.

I have taught hundreds of teenagers, and I still can’t imagine what it would have been like to be seventeen and learning I could protect myself from a person I love. I know I wouldn’t have picked up the physical skills as quickly as most of my students do. I might not have been strong enough to hit or kick as hard as they do. I probably couldn’t have projected confidence by standing with my head up and my shoulders back. Or maybe I could have. And maybe if I’d been taught I could interrupt rape with my body, I wouldn’t have spent so many years in a state of numbness.

I interrupt hundreds of rapes a year. Rapes that are simulated and choreographed enough to be safe but also real enough that the lower parts of my brain experience a true threat. Every day I inhabit this newly constituted body. Fierce, physical resistance has become as instinctive as breathing. I can’t remember what it felt like when I didn’t think I was powerful.

***

In high school, most of the girls who told me they’d been raped had reputations for being sluts. I’ve gone to enough conferences where experts in the room talk about “risky behaviors” and ways people put themselves in harm’s way because sexual abuse broke them and they’re not yet fixed. I have no doubt that trauma breaks people, but it troubles me how quick we are to understand sex as a form of self-harm. I can’t help wondering if there’s another reason the girls I knew in high school chose to have as much sex as it takes to be called a slut. If they did it again and again until they made it their own. If that was the way they made their bodies to feel powerful.

Maybe that’s why I still think about the girls I used to know. Because there is something still unfinished about my own relationship to sex. I want to be the kind of person who believes that sex and pleasure are as important as power and resistance. I want to stop pretending the erotic is frivolous, easily cast aside to make room for the next social justice struggle. I want to be as free, ecstatic, sexy, and bold as a teenage girl who has given up on trying to win other people’s approval.

Meg Stone is the Executive Director of IMPACT Boston, a nationally recognized abuse prevention program. Her writing has been published in HuffPost Personal, Newsweek, Boston Globe, Dame, and Ms.

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Have you pre-ordered Thrust? 


“Blistering and visionary . . . This is the author’s best yet.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change

Guest Posts, cancer, motherhood

Malfunctioned Muliebrity

July 31, 2020
never

By Jessica M Granger

The sights we see and the sounds we hear now have none of the quality of the past.
-Virginia Woolf

I remember feeling guilt the first time I met my daughter. I was told I could never have children and that was true until a medical procedure to treat my endometriosis while I was stationed in Texas left me pregnant by a man I had grown to hate. I decided to keep her, gave him control over my body when I decided to keep the fetus I never thought I would have and refused to give up. I was tentative when they placed my daughter in my arms. Then she opened her eyes as if she knew exactly what was going on and stared up at me with the will of a fighter. I was locked in that aged wisdom she carried in the most beautiful brown eyes I had ever seen.

*

I was headed into Kroger grocery center today and saw a man, anger in his balled fists, his body swelling, his face contorted to fit the fear he was trying to instill in a woman. He stormed away from her as she stood in the middle of the street, palms up in a questioning gesture of his unprecedented eruption, and it made me think of you. I could see myself in her and turned away, huddled deeper into my winter coat, my shoulders caving in toward my center, arms hugging my chest, and I wondered if the approaching car would hit her. Then I realized it didn’t matter.

*

My stepfather is a heavy drinker. He had been drinking at Thanksgiving dinner last year when he thought it was a good platform to inject the recent political campaign into our family discussion. He was reeling from excitement that a man who refused to be politically correct would finally put women in their place. He slammed his fists into the table in a thumping sound that enhanced every syllable of his speech. “I’m sorry, but no woman could pull me from a burning building,” he told me. “Dad, I can pull you from a burning building and I am a woman.” “Well, you’re different. You’re a veteran and you save lives every day,” he shouted, spittle flying from the corner of his mouth. I explained many women are braver and strong than I am, that there are women across the globe just like me, women willing to face danger head on and overcome it. His eyes held mine for a minute when I was done. He lingered in my words as he swayed in the oak dining room chair. When he finally spoke, he said, “You win,” but I don’t feel like I’ve won anything.

*

I think part of why I chose a male heavy career is to prove everyone wrong.

*

One day, on a walk in the cold, bitter nowhere of Eastern Europe, a stranger put his hand on my shoulder, right above the stitched American flag on my Army uniform, and recited a practiced statement I asked my interpreter to translate. He said, “I won’t walk down the street behind a woman.”

*

A woman once told me I could never be a mother and a writer.

*

Without my glasses on, I must lean in close to the mirror and see the real me in clarity. The one who smiles on the outside, who checks every blemish and tells herself it’s going to  be okay, the woman who traces the lines of her aging face back to the beginning of who she once was before the plastic surgery to repair the injuries to her broken nose after a car accident with a friend.

*

It was very early in one of my pregnancies that I discovered a second line accompanying the first, like the world’s most positive equal. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband so we could share the joy we’d been hoping for and anticipating for months, which turned into years, which turned into a crimson swirl as it left my womb to mix with the water of the shower floor a few days later.

*

The Army is a lot like miscarriage.

*

There is hope at the beginning of any pregnancy. There is happiness and love. Your expectations are high and you have dreams for the future. You picture the baby and question whose eyes will grace its face. Then suddenly it’s gone and you’re left to mourn what you never had, the miscarriage process irreversible. You can’t catch the bits of blood clot and reform it into a child, push it back into your vagina as if your life had never come apart in the first place.  Neither can an Army contract.

*

My defenses have morphed into a gilded cage around me that quivers at the proximity of a man.

*

One day, out of nowhere, I decided I’d had enough. Saying “out of nowhere” seemed to appease everyone who felt uncomfortable walking through a home riddled with holes in the drywall, pretending not to listen to the berating, to the words he truly meant when he was drunk. They said maybe I deserved it, the idea alleviating the pressure within them.

*

Being a single mother was a true test of my feministic ideology.

*

My mother allowed my biological father to go free when she petitioned the court to release him from past and future child support payments as she filed for bankruptcy due to her inability to both feed us and pay her bills. The bill collectors would be calling as I entered the house after school. They’d ask for my mom, but I kept telling them she was at work. “She won’t be home until after six o’clock,” I’d say, but they kept calling. I’d unplug the phone when my mom got home. I knew she was tired, because I could see her swollen feet stretching the nylon of her stockings when she’d finally sit on the couch. She would never eat until my brother and I had finished our meals. I remember being so angry with her then, because I imagined she was suffering in some way, but she only said, “I’m free,” when I asked why she did it.

*

I struggle with my obligation to be there for my children and my obligation to leave them at a moment’s notice to be there for my patients.

*

When something goes wrong in brain surgery and they ask me to call one of the guys to fix it.

*

I was stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when I went into labor with my daughter. I was walking the hospital halls, timing my contractions with my ex-husband’s watch. They were three minutes apart. I Googled contractions and read a few articles about them. I called the Nation Naval Medical Center’s maternity ward, where I was supposed to deliver. I told them about my contractions. “Should I come in?” I asked. I was so confused; I had never been in labor before. The lady asked for my pain level, “On a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being no pain, with 10 being excruciating pain, how do you rate your pain?” I stopped walking and turned inward. I could feel my daughter shifting around, her small body rotating low in my pelvis. There was bile rising in my throat and I felt nauseous, but I wasn’t really in any pain. “Maybe a four ma’am,” I said. She laughed at me in a good-natured manner. “Oh sweetie,” she said, “you are definitely not in labor if your pain is a 4.”

*

I hate the person I pretended to be with you.

*

I was six years old when I discovered Santa Claus was the figment of a dream I could never keep. I’d begged my mother for a toy kitchen. My brother and I were dressed in our blue snowman pajamas and eager to get to bed so we could open presents in the morning, but we never actually fell asleep. A few minutes later, alone, my mother began assembling the kitchen for us as we listened under the covers. I was devastated that Santa wasn’t real, but I remember she wanted us to be happy. The next morning I can remember wishing she would be happy too.

*

My drill sergeant had my graduation certificate from basic training in his hands. He looked down at my name, then at me. He asked the crowd who crazy belonged to. The crowd was silent, no one wanted to claim me, and no one understood who I was. As I turned red, my mother caught on and stood proudly. “Jessica, is that you? Are you crazy? I’m crazy’s mom!” she kept repeating as she took her place at my side and accepted my accomplishment on the brittle certificate. It was a day no one would ever forget, September 12, 2001. I was seventeen-years-old. The World Trade Center back home had just been hit by two planes and the buildings collapsed, taking lives and our will to live without the lost with them.

*

I remember the day my daughter Marleigh apologized for the pain I’ve endured. I became upset with myself because she wasn’t supposed to found out. I should have been more discrete, should have lowered the pitch of my late-night sobbing to a dull roar.

*

I took a day off from work to run errands. I went to the courthouse to file for divorce and I had a yearly appointment at my OB-GYN. It was a few days before my 27th birthday. My doctor came in and grabbed my hand, my tiny one being engulfed by his much larger hand. I looked up at him, waited for him to speak. He kept my hand, but rolled a short stool over with his foot and sat in front of me. “How are you feeling?” he asked me. “I’m going through a lot, but I feel better than I have in months.” “How are things at home?” he asked. “I’m doing much better now that I asked my husband to leave,” I said. I knew something was wrong by my doctor’s posture, the way he worked to seem smaller than his 6’7” frame, but I couldn’t get my mouth to form the words to ask. I leaned in toward him, kept eye contact, and lingered in this final moment of reprieve. “We found some irregular cells on your cervix, but they’re not anything we’ve seen before,” he said.

*

The words possible cancer written on the front of my chart.

*

By the time I was sixteen years old, my family was already talking about my children. I knew that I would want them one day, but I also knew I was too young to worry about it. I consoled myself with this to cover the stigmatization of being a Hispanic American woman and a mother. In the end, it took me eight years after having Marleigh to garner the courage to have my son Cameron, because I worried what people would think of me, the breeding machine.

*

Marleigh approached me recently about a problem she was having with a boy in school who was bullying her. I told her the reason he’s messing with her is because deep down he really likes her. I ignored what I’ve lived for repeating what I’ve heard all my life.

*

I teach my children values I don’t believe in.

*

At each delivery they’d ask for my birthing plan when I never took the time to make one. The hospital staff would smile and tell me I was doing great. They’d ask if I wanted to watch my children breech with the use of mirrors. Each time my answer was a resounding no.

*

I remember the first time I felt around in the dark for you and you weren’t there. I’d had a nightmare and realized it was you.

*

From the time I was full of angst, a defiant teenager, I knew I wanted to donate my organs and save someone even while I was dying. My only condition was that my eyes be left in my body so no one ever had to witness what I had.

*

I called my mom during my cancer testing. I sat in a Sonic parking lot and mustered up the courage to finally press the number programmed on speed dial. My mom was upset that I hadn’t told her sooner, but she’s sensitive, and I went back and forth on waiting to tell her until I knew for sure. If I received a clean bill of health, I would have stressed her for no reason, but I needed her to understand the situation and why I was making certain decisions for the future. “I’m getting married,” I blurted. I was so afraid to tell her, to disappoint her again, because I had already done it so much throughout my life. She scoffed at my outburst and told me I didn’t know what I was doing. I tried to explain myself. “Mom,” I started, “I want to try and have another baby before they have to remove my cervix.” Cervical cancer is a slow progressing cancer, the replicating cells destroying the organ in a lumbering manner. My team of physicians agreed to let it go untreated while I had another baby if the test results came back positive. I called Granger, my best friend at the time, to ask him if he would have a baby with me. “Of course I want to have a baby with you,” he said, “but I want to do it the right way and get married.”

*

Last October, Marleigh’s boxer Loki, passed away after eleven years together. She had lost thirty pounds in six months, the dog’s ribs standing starkly through her brown fur. She began to have seizures, her body locking up as her eyes shifted rapidly when her brain began to depreciate from the pressure of the tumor. I took her to the veterinarian, but she was too old to treat a serious ailment so the veterinarian gave me his best guess. “With her symptoms, it’s most likely a brain tumor,” he said. I went home and called my parents, asked them to help soothe Marleigh in the days after we made the decision to put Loki to sleep. My daughter was devastated to lose her lifelong companion, the dog that cuddled her in bed while I left for work in the middle of the night.

*

The moment one of your children is grieving and you have no idea how to console them because you are already grieving what you once were.

*

I once witnessed my father drag my mother from the bank she worked in all the way to our house down the street. He had one hand fisted tightly in her hair as her skin tore on the concrete of the inner city street, but he kept on going. I sat pressed to the window, but I didn’t try to help her. Her eyes bulged as she begged him to stop, but he never heard her.

*

I am a fatherless daughter.

*

When I was pregnant with Marleigh, the doctors gave me the option to abort her at thirty-two weeks due to abnormalities in her growth. No one could explain what was wrong. Her long bones were being calculated at two percent of a normal child’s, they said she would be a dwarf, but there was no history of it in my family or her father’s. She was killing me from the inside. I had lost thirty-five pounds due to a diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum that kept me in and out of the hospital. I was weak, I needed relief. Begged for it and felt selfish afterward. In that moment, when they all sat staring at me in pressed, white coats, with ambiguous expressions on their faces, I remember being at peace with my own death if only she would live. I just wanted it to end.

*

My eyesight is failing.

*

Before I ended that call with my mother, before the results of the biopsy came back as irregular cervical cells, non-malignant, before I knew the struggle with my cervix would follow me as I aged, I knew that what I needed in my life was a stable relationship and that stability was Granger, the person who knew and accepted me more than I accepted myself at times, the person who would never raise his voice to a woman with my past. I told my mom I was sorry I upset her, but she needed me to know she just didn’t understand. “Why don’t you wait for love?” she asked me. “I do love him and he loves me,” I said, “It’s just time I saved me from myself.”

Jessica M Granger holds a bilingual MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas El Paso. She is an Army veteran, divemaster, writer, and mother who seeks to understand life by writing about it. Her work can be found in TheNewVerse.News, SHANTIH Journal, The Molotov Cocktail Magazine, As You Were, and Ruminate Magazine, among others. She currently resides in Columbus, Ohio.

On Being Human Online Workshops

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Other upcoming events with Jen

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Anti-racist resources because silence is not an option.

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Guest Posts, Marriage

Finding Forgiveness in the Cheating

September 27, 2019
slept

By Anonymous

My husband made me a martini. He had taken a red-eye from Las Vegas where he spoke at a tech conference some days before and returned home early this morning. All day I watched him deliberately move about the room, organizing his desk and paperwork, a glint dancing in his eye, a sneaking smile at the corner of his lips. He was keeping something from me. Every cell in my body sensed it, suspicious gestures aside, since I pulled into the driveway two hours in his wake. I had been away myself, putting the last touches on a collection of essays up in Seabrook.

We were sitting on the couch when I swallowed the last drop of my drink. It was 7 p.m. Talking heads on the TV were yammering on about the Pats, but the words all ran together. Whatever he was concealing seemed an impromptu triumph between us, formless and muted, nonetheless an unfamiliar presence.

He placed his hand on my thigh. His touch was subtle, loving, foreboding. I gazed into my glass, lamenting its emptiness. His eyes penetrated my cheek and he said: “I slept with a twenty-six-year-old girl in Vegas.”

He had a reason for waiting to tell me; the vodka would lessen the blow. I’m not argumentative when I drink. Just pickled. But I wasn’t entirely drowned in it, not too far removed to do the math. That’s what my mind jumped to first. Twenty-six. Half my age.

I sat unmoving, gazing into the glass, the reality in its fullness seeping into the coils of my pickled brain. Did he just say what he said?

Thing is, Chris and I have this gentlemen’s agreement.

When Chris and I met I was having a sporadic fling as a fit and invincible forty-two-year old with a married billionaire, Max Litoris. Once a quarter or so, Max would fly into Logan to attend a meeting at a startup he had poured venture capital into and we continued to hook up. Chris was okay with the situation. We’re big on a relationship that values honesty, full disclosure and “being adults.”

Out of fairness, sparked in the aftermath of evenings spent with Max (featuring preliminary Tanqueray and tonic, then hot sex in his Four Seasons’ suite), Chris and I spoke of his taking advantage of an opportunity – if it presented itself.

Incidentally, the last time I saw Max, five years ago, I later received an email from him accusing me of making his dick itchy. For the first time in years of cheating, the guy had Guilty Dick. His kids had recently flown from the nest and he and his wife bought a new home, embarking on a new and exciting life together. To quote Howard Hughes at this point is not only fitting, it’s irresistible: “I’m not a paranoid deranged millionaire. Goddammit, I’m a billionaire.”

I replied, what the hell is chlamydia? And Chris and I checked into Mass General’s STD unit. Imagine this: a couple devoted to one another go to a clinic because one has taken liberties outside the relationship and there’s talk of an itchy dick.

It’s a grueling experience, right?

Wrong.

Chris and I were in this together. And we checked out clean.

What about Max?

I can’t tell you what his reaction was to my report of cleanliness because I deleted every email he’s ever sent to me. Including, the dirty ones.

As for the twenty-six-year old…

The opportunity presented itself to Chris eleven years after we made our Gentlemen’s Agreement.

Despite the agreement and amid his depiction of the endeavor, words enunciated with the softness of goose feathers, I held up the empty martini glass and asked for another.

He had listened to the girl’s sad story. Bought her nachos. Paid her. Kissed her, his lips to hers, his fingers to her hoo-hoo. Let her ride his willy, perched on top of him. 

After the second martini, two glasses of wine and a shot of ginger Cognac, Chris got me into bed and held my hand. I took my hand away.

The next morning, I woke with I slept with a twenty-six-year old slithering through the coils of my aching brain. Before asking Chris to recount his confession, I asked him how I did in the reaction department the night before. He told me I handled it well. I hadn’t gone, as he expected, “ape shit.”

His acts were uninhibited because, he stressed, I granted him that freedom beforehand. He showed me the things he did with her; the same hot and sexy way he is with me.

Remember, it’s about being fair.

I had stepped out on him; doesn’t matter how long ago, how hot I was, how fat and gray I am now.

But this is a testament to our relationship. For as the minutes and the hours passed, my feeling offended lifted just like my hangover. I grew happy for him. Checkmark on the bucket list. At 65, Chris scored with a twenty-six-year-old.

Hell, he wasn’t looking for it. She came into the bar in Dick’s Last Resort and sat her young and sweet ass down, donning faded denim cutoffs, next to the only classy guy in the joint who was dressed in a suit and tie. She laid down a calculated bet and won.

I love Chris. Love that he’s already been to the clinic. I love our honesty and trust. I love how no one knows about the intimate facets of our relationship.

And the gentlemen’s agreement?

I hope it’s never enacted again.

****

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Guest Posts, suicide, Surviving

Depression is Still A Duplicitous Asshole

August 12, 2018

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 HOME to 741741. The world needs you.

By Angela M Giles

This weekend marks the four year anniversary of Robin Willam’s suicide. I still cannot watch anything with him in it, it makes my heart hurt too much. I know this is irrational. But it is real. Perhaps it is my fear of seeing a flicker of darkness cross his face, or perhaps it is hearing him say something that hits too close to his end that prevents me. I know how his story finishes, I want to remember enjoying his work.

Suicide is a complicated act, its shroud is depression and it is often accompanied by something else, another disease that really gives ideation heft. In the case of Robin Williams it was Parkinson’s disease, in the case of my father it was alcoholism. In my case it was a combination of diagnosed issues, packed in trauma, tied up in emotional abuse, both at the hands of a lover. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

When Death Keeps You Alive

October 4, 2017
life

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 Lisbeth Welsh

“Adrian died yesterday.”

I was 11.

“Adrian died yesterday.”

Adrian was 20.

He seemed like such a grown up to me then.  Now I’m staring 40 square in the eye. I realize how short his twenty years actually were. My last memory of him is the top of his legs.  I stood looking out of my parents upstairs landing window. His gold Ford Sierra was parked outside.  I looked down from above, his torso and face obscured by the sun visor.

“Lets go see Adrian.” My friend Sara said.

“No not tonight.”

I was 11. He was 20. How would I know ‘not tonight’ would turn into ‘not ever again?’ How could I know that I was staring at him in the exact seat he would die in the next day? I will spend the rest of my life wishing I’d run out to that car.  But I was 11. It wouldn’t have re-written history. I know that.  I know that because I have spent years battling my own monsters.  Twenty years. No more than the amount he survived.  From eating disorders to self-harm to depression and anxiety.  With no self-respect and little self worth. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Converse-Station, poetry

The Converse-Station: Laurie Easter Interviews Alice Anderson

August 28, 2017
poetry

Jen Pastiloff here. I’m the founder of The Manifest-Station. Welcome to The Converse-Station: A place where writers interview writers. With the site getting so much traffic, I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Today’s is no different. It’s between Laurie Easter and the amazing Alice Anderson. 

By Laurie Easter

Alice Anderson is an award-winning poet and author of the new memoir Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away: A Memoir, published by St. Martin’s Press on August 29, 2017. I met Alice at the AWP conference in Washington DC last February, where I picked up a copy of her breathtaking poetry collection The Watermark. Alice’s writing reflects the spirit and charm of her personality. Honest, straight-forward, and intensely beautiful. Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away is a book that sucks you in and doesn’t let go. Both harrowing and full of love, it is a story of survival, resilience, and redemption that will resonate for a long time to come. It has received rave reviews, including starred reviews from both Kirkus and Booklist.  An excerpt from Alice’s memoir Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away can be found online at Good Housekeeping. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/relationships/a45620/some-bright-morning-ill-fly-away-alice-anderson/

 Laurie Easter: There is a tendency to classify works of literature. And while some writers may resist labeling their work, taxonomy allows publishers to target a desired audience. For example, some of the sub-genres of memoir include travel memoirs, divorce memoirs, coming-of-age memoirs, etc. One thing I find interesting about your memoir, Some Bright Morning, I’ll Fly Away, is that the book occupies space within many sub-genres. As readers, we get glimpses of the narrator coming of age in scenes from her childhood and young adult life. We witness her in varying locations: Sacramento, Paris, New York, and Mississippi. We experience the multitude of traumas she lives through and observe how she deals with the devastation of childhood sexual abuse, physical pain and suffering from accidents, Hurricane Katrina, mental and emotional abuse by her husband, domestic violence, and the ultimate threat of losing her children. Each one of these narrative threads could categorize the book as a particular type of story—a trauma and redemption story, a navigating the chaos story, a mother’s fierce love story. To me, the one key element that stands out is Resilience. The book is many things, but above all else, I see it as a story of the resilience of not only this one woman and her children, but of human nature and the body. And that resilience gives me hope.

How do you see this story? What kind of narrative is it for you? If you were to distill it down to one key element to label it, what would that look like? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Forgiveness

Not Quite Forgiveness, a Yoga Story

July 21, 2017
forgiveness

“I have lost friends, some by death…others by sheer inability to cross the street.”
― Virginia Woolf

By Nina Gaby

It was with the best of intentions that I shut down my old life as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in upstate New York and packed up my family and got a quick prescription for Paxil and clonazepam and became an innkeeper in a small village in Vermont. Let it now be known that if you need two prescriptions to convince yourself that what you’re doing is right you might want to take another glance at it. Instead I went to a psychic in a strip mall and interpreted her words as confirmation (what she really said was light some white candles, take a bath with herbs, and think on it.) And while I fully understand I’m using this as a seductive hook here–after all who hasn’t at one time considered the cliché of running away to a simpler life of baking scones and turning down crisp bed sheets and not only smelling the roses but actually having time to grow them–that isn’t really the story.

The story is that for the past fifteen years I have been angry that the story fell apart. As it unraveled into petty interpersonal and not so petty financial conflicts, the small community we had moved to took sides. Think wrong table in junior high school cafeteria. We were not only collateral damage from 911 and eventually lost the inn, our life savings in one of the tech industry debacles, my mom, my dog and the old friend who lived across the road in our new village dismissed me in a way that felt cruel and confuses me to this day. I still feel shame for sounding like such a victim, as it was likely the victimhood that put us at disadvantage in our community in the first place.

Forgiveness has never been a consideration, anger being my stronger suit. Sometimes forgiveness is not even an option, even though we want to believe it is, as if we have more control than we really do. And that’s the real story. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts

My Last Halloween

October 31, 2016

By D. Michael Whelan

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

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

Guest Posts, Surviving, Young Voices

The Aftermath Of Assault Leads To A Call For Help

October 4, 2016
assault

TW: This piece discusses sexual assault and its aftermath.

By Ashley N. Doonan 

I am a doctoral student in Rhetoric and Writing at Bowling Green State University. I teach Freshmen English as well as take courses within my program. I come from New England, and I have only been in the Midwest for about a month and a half. Unfortunately, my experience here has already been tarnished.

On September 1st, 2016 I was robbed of a vital piece of myself. The violation—the shrieks, the moans, the blood—all as I was forced down and pressed into the carpet rhythmically against my will for what seemed like hours. After that day, I resorted an old coping mechanism of mine—that is, not eating. That numbness, that lapse back into my eating disorder sucked me in almost instantaneously.

Things started to decline quickly, and there’s no doubt that one cannot maintain an eating disorder while simultaneously succeeding in a Ph.D. program. Therefore, I have sought out a dietician who is highly supportive and specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. However, she does not accept insurance and the standing rate for the comprehensive six-month package costs $3,250. “Begin WELL” was the program suggested to me based on my assessment (more information on that can be found here).

As a graduate student, I simply don’t have that type of money nor do I have any financial support from my family. As of today, I have a second job, however, my university limits the amount of hours that graduate students can work. I am extremely uncomfortable asking others for assistance but I know how much I need to be seeing this dietician in order to stay in school and avoid a higher level of care. My dietician is willing to work with me via monthly payments versus paying for the entire package at once.

During my eating disorder in past (you can read more about that here) I found that hunger stole my voice. The year wherein I was too afraid to go to class, when I’d come up with any and every excuse not to go out with friends—I refer to that period of time as “the silent years.” Little did I know, my sexual assault and subsequent relapse into my eating disorder would pull me back into the realm of silence. The work that I do currently involves discussing the rhetoric of mental health—a topic that will likely become my dissertation. I believe that advocacy for mental health issues is one of the most vital things one can do; for me at the current moment, that means vocalizing my story because I know that I need assistance to make it through this. Moreover, I hope to reclaim my voice because I refuse to let my trauma and eating disorder rid me of it.

Even the smallest of donations would be appreciated, as I am doing everything that I can to stay out of the hospital. My GoFundMe page can be found here.

Warmest wishes,
Ashley N. Doonan

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff 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 Pastiloff at her Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human in Dallas Oct 22. Click the link above to book. No yoga experience needed- just be a human being! Bring a journal and a sense of humor. See why People Magazine did a whole feature on Jen.

 

Check out Jen Pastiloff in People Magazine!

Check out Jen in People Magazine!