Browsing Tag

surviving

Abuse, Guest Posts, Letting Go, Mental Health

Yellow

November 10, 2019
smoking

By Kelly Wallace

I was still in love with my ex when I broke up with him over the phone late at night at the Hilton Garden Inn in Ithaca, NY. It was the first Sunday in June 2017. I was there for my friend’s 20th college reunion. My ex was making me question my sanity. I wasn’t telling my friends what was going on because I was ashamed. We argued for hours. We had tried therapy. It failed.

I had had enough.

According to an article titled “In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship? 5 Steps to Take” on the website Psych Central “…Is it me or him? You feel anxious around him, believing that somehow you can make things right again, you want to feel the love you did when the two of you first got together. Deep down, your biggest fear is that his opinions of you are right..that there really is something wrong with you, and you just may not be loveable the way you are.”

I was enough for myself.

***

We talked for hours in his kitchen and he made me pesto with the basil that was almost dead from his garden box. He referred to his ex, Stephanie, as “shitbag” when he told me about her. She was the mom of one of his students. He taught elementary school band in a suburb of Boston and retired at 40, a few years earlier. She had had her eye on him for a long time. When her daughter was done with band she swooped in. They met for coffee. She was still married. She told him she was divorcing soon. They started dating. Three years of them breaking up and getting back together should have been a red flag.

For me it was an invitation.

It’s August 2018, a little over a year after I have ended things with my ex. I’m on week two of vacation with my mom but take a side trip down to Boston to get away from the 250 sq. ft. cabin we are sharing on Sebago Lake in Maine. Throughout the trip Mom is coughing up a storm. In the morning. At night. It drives me bonkers. She has COPD and sounds like death.

She smoked for 15 years. 3 packs a day until she quit.

***

I am creepy.

On my side trip to Boston away from my Mom and her coughing I take another side trip-to Medway, Massachusetts, a rural town 45 minutes west of Bean town. It’s sleepy, woods, twisty two lane roads and ponds. My ex hated it and left to live in Portland, Oregon where I live. We live. We live on the same block. I don’t talk to him.

He stares at my driveway when friends come to visit and studies their cars. They come to the door saying the same thing over and over: “Did you know your ex was standing in his yard totally staring at me as I parked and got out of the car?”

“Yes.”

It’s beautiful in Medway. On the radio, the Dj asks: “how are you creepy? There’s something trending on Twitter about being creepy.” I think about calling into the radio station to tell them what I am doing but decide to pull over to the side of the road and use my notepad on my phone to write down what the DJ is talking about. This is perfect for a story.

***

My parents divorced almost 35 years ago. Dad is bald, 69 and glasses. He is home resting in Oregon after falling off a ladder and breaking his right shoulder and hip. He texts me: “Boston. My aunt so and so lives there. I haven’t been out that way in a long time.” He has so many aunts I can’t keep them straight.

He was in the hospital for two weeks undergoing intense physical therapy. Sometimes I feel like he is judging me but I don’t know. I don’t know what the what is. There’s something in me that wonders. He has yellow teeth. He’s a lawyer. There are no grey areas. He is black and white. Law and order.

Right before he fell I had a phone reading with a psychic. The psychic, Donna, kept talking about him in the past tense. I corrected her.

“But he’s alive.”

“I hate to tell you this dear, but, I’m talking to him from the other side.”

“What does that mean?”

“He will be passing soon.”

That was a year ago.

According to the AARP, the increased chance of older people dying after hip fractures has long been established in a number of studies. Now a new study has found that breaking other major bones also may lead to higher mortality rates for older adults.

***

My ex was a heavy smoker. When he quit smoking twenty years ago he was living at home in Medway with his parents. He started chewing Nicorette, that terrible gum. His Dad worked for a pharmaceutical company and would bring home bags and bags of it. He became addicted to the gum and then had to wean himself off it.

One day my ex’s dad came home from work and my ex was searching in the couch cushions for a piece of that gum, in case one had fallen out of his pocket.

“Why don’t I just give you a piece of that gum?” His dad said.

“No dad,” he turned an easy chair over and was searching under it. “This is what I need to do to stop chewing that gum.”

According to WebMD, “Most users of nicotine gum…see it as a short-term measure. GlaxoSmithKline, marketers of Nicorette, advises people to “stop using the nicotine gum at the end of 12 weeks,” and to talk to a doctor if they “still feel the need” to use it. But that guideline hasn’t kept some people from chomping on it for many months and even years.

My ex’s childhood home in Medway is two story, purple with a horseshoe driveway and even more rural than I imagined. I drive to the end of the cul-de-sac, put the car in park and look at the front windows. That’s where he was hunting for the Nicorette under the couch. I drive away because I’m creepy. A half mile away there’s a “Stephanie Drive.” His ex’s name. I pull over to write the detail on my notepad. Another perfect idea for the story.

***

My fourteen-year old formerly feral cat, Billie, died two months before that night we broke up on the phone in Ithaca, NY. Billie would go over to my ex’s house on her own and spend time there. I had to get another cat right away. The house felt lonely without her. My ex and I went to Purringtons and he found a tuxedo with a little white star on his head staring out the window at all the people walking by on MLK, Jr. Blvd. I put a hold on the cat with the star on his head, Starboy, and took video of him playing with a Donald Trump catnip toy. My ex was coughing in the background and talking excessively. He was always talking so much with his dull yellow teeth. They were yellow because he smoked for over a decade and never went to the dentist.

I said something to him and sounded annoyed in the video.

According to the website Empowered by Color, “…The color yellow can be anxiety producing as it is fast moving and can cause us to feel agitated.”

My teeth were yellow after a friend committed suicide and I started smoking a pack a day for almost two months. I quit shortly afterward. Cold turkey. No Nicorette gum.

Starboy’s eyes are green.

My ex eventually did quit the gum.

***

The motorcycle cops started going by my house escorting the hearses following closely behind. It became a regular Sunday morning routine along with me reading self-help books with Starboy and his green eyes curled up next to me on the couch. There’s a cemetery nearby. I would tear up as the cars drove by with their flashers. Yellow. Blink. Yellow. Blink. I was determined to be different.

Billie’s eyes were yellow.

My house is green.

***

After she is done coughing Mom goes into the kitchen in our cabin in Maine and rustles plastic bags, pushes buttons on the microwave, talks to herself and clinks spoons while she eats her breakfast. “What are you doing in there old lady?” I wonder. Her ocd and need for order marching her around like a drill Sargent. I get up from reading in bed. She separates crookneck squash from the trash into a plastic bag. It’s not for compost. It’s to keep it from smelling up the regular trash she tells me.

***

I text my best friend back in Portland about the weird food separation. “She’s crazy,” she texts me back. I probably shouldn’t use that term to describe my mom. According to the article, ‘Personal Stories: Don’t Call Me Crazy,’ on the NAMI website…”Mental illness is an illness, even though some choose not to accept it. ‘Crazy’ has been a word to portray those who suffer with mental illness as dangerous, weak, unpredictable, unproductive and incapable of rational behavior or relationships. It is a word used without any serious thought or consideration… It is a word that can be used to criticize an individual or group, keep a stigma in place or, when used in commercials, sell cars, sweets and even peanut butter.”

***

While I drive around Medway I hear my ex in my head telling me I’m crazy. He told me things like, “northeastern women had an edge.” He didn’t need to tell me that. I had spent considerable time on the East Coast. I knew about that edge. I had friends in New York. I had plans to move there at one point. He said I wouldn’t survive in New York because I wasn’t assertive enough.

“Bobby, from Leominster,” The DJ says in his thick Boston accent. “What’s the creepiest thing you have ever done?”

“For a while I was collecting corn snakes,” Bobby from Leominster pauses. “That didn’t really attract the ladies.”

“Ugh,” the DJ says. “That’s pretty weird.”

This is perfect for a story.

***

During my verbal fights with Mom when I was in high school she would say “you’re just like your father.” I didn’t know what it meant except that I was bad. I was always the bad one. I carried a yellow blanket and sucked my thumb until 10. I was the bad one for reporting that Dad’s dad, my paternal grandfather, molested me. My grandparents hid the blanket in their closet. Dad’s silence. The paternal family’s silence made them complicit. The police searched my grandparent’s house and found the blanket.

***

My paternal grandmother allegedly called me “Crazy Kelly.” Whenever we argued my ex called me crazy. After we broke up I wondered what nickname he had come up with for me.

Crazy?

Crazy Shitbag.

***

My ex told me he had a lot of projects he wanted to tackle when he bought his house in Oregon. He wanted to install a new roof himself on the back side of his house. “I don’t want you doing that,” I told him when we were together. I didn’t want him breaking a bone or ending up in the hospital.

A year after we broke up I saw shingles being loaded onto the roof of his house.

I didn’t care if he broke a bone.

He deserved it.

***

I was a smoker for 5 years.

My mom smoked for twenty years.

My ex smoked for 15.

My dad never smoked.

I wasn’t going to end up like any of them.

 

Kelly Wallace developed a writing style that both roots in the moment and peels back the layers of human nature at the Pinewood Table writers group led by award-winning authors Stevan Allred and Joanna Rose. Kelly’s writing honors include publications in VoiceCatcher and Perceptions magazines, fellowships at the Summer Fishtrap Gathering and the Attic Institute, and residencies at Hypatia-in-the-Woods. A graduate of Wells College in Aurora, New York, and an entrepreneur in Portland, Oregon, Kelly avidly photographs odd sights while out driving for her day job. Kelly is an active and recognizable member of the Portland writing community, consistently engaging with hundreds of readers and authors of all genres and levels of writing.

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Current Events, Guest Posts

Serendipitous Endurance At the End of the Anthropocene

September 24, 2019
notre dame

By Meghan O’Dea

“Watching online as an irreplaceable monument to human history goes up in flames while helpless to do anything about it is extremely 2019,” read a Facebook post from Gin and Tacos, the popular political blog cum meme factory. The update came shortly after news broke that the Notre-Dame de Paris, arguably the best known cathedral in the world, was on fire and might burn to the ground.

While it was hard to argue with that take, given that our sitting President felt his response to the tragedy best included ill founded advice about firefighting, it seemed to me that it wasn’t just extremely 2019, but summed up the majority of my adult life. In the roughly fifteen some odd years since I began seriously considering things like my own mortality and the permanence of the universe, it was often easy to feel that the good times were already long gone, the best of human history long since converted to a conflagration that my generation would watch dim into embers.

After all, I came of age in the wake of another iconic building burning the ground in a cataclysm of Biblical proportions, when a plane flew into the World Trade Center on September 11th. George Bush Jr. was President. The Sopranos was still on air, just a few years into its six season meditation on death, decay, and the inherent moral struggle of American in the early aughts.In hindsight it seems clear that whatever the precise moment my adulthood actually began, if there is such a quickening, all our narratives neatly cleave into a long series of befores and afters.

Isn’t that always the way of both serious tragedy and adolescence? The prelapsarian prologue and whatever slouching epilogue follows the present narrative in which we can’t help but center ourselves. Here we are again, I thought to myself as Notre Dame’s iconic spire crumpled into ash like a spent stick of incense, glowing orange at its dying core. Another casualty in the anthropocene. Another horror strangely juxtaposed with an otherwise ordinary workday.

In a strange bit of serendipity, I was rewatching an episode from the final season of The Sopranos the day before the Notre Dame fire. The episode that kept me company as I carefully packed dirt around the thin, white roots of a fiddle leaf fig tree was ”Cold Stones,” in which matriarch Carmela Soprano and her friend Ro, a fellow mob wife, visit Paris together.

As the pair tour the ruins of some Roman baths, Carmela becomes overwhelmed by the weight of history, and all its banal glory. “Generation after generation, hundreds and hundreds of years, all those lives,” she says, gazing upward in unconscious imitation of the pose assumed by a whole host female saints, not to mention the blessed Virgin Mary, in countless iterations in the Western canon.

Carmela raises her eyes to the heavens, appearing for a moment as if she is about to ascend into inspiration. Instead, she looks down, her nigh-spiritual reverie abruptly cut short by the abrupt intrusion of her own mortality. “It’s so sad,” she says, trying not to cry.

She reaches out to touch the rough stone wall next to her, the tangible evidence of the kind of immutability of great cities that stands in such stark contrast to the way our own lives shuffle insignificantly on regardless of the bigger picture. Sometimes the synchronicity of the universe brings me immense joy, and sometimes it seems to highlight many of the themes that make art like The Sopranos so compelling, that sense of the inevitable, of decay, that the golden age has passed, never to return.

When it seemed for a few hours as if Notre Dame might really be reduced to nothing but ash, the sense of mourning I felt was, like most of the other things I have grieved for on various occasions, not exactly the thing in and of itself (as philosopher Immanuel Kant would put it), but for whatever that thing represented. I don’t mean to say I was unmoved by the loss of one of the greatest structures built by man, a thousand year old emblem of faith and art and durability. What I mean is that, in the face of such an abstract loss—the loss of a place I have been to only once and over a decade ago—I instead turned to something a little closer to home, both literally and metaphorically.

Watching Notre Dame burn, my thoughts turned to the person I knew who must be most affected, a close family friend who is like an aunt to me, a French teacher who has been to Notre Dame innumerable times in her life and has brought many students to see it for the first time. I thought of her not only because of her connection to the place, but because she suffered a far greater loss last year, when her husband, an art historian and beloved professor, passed away suddenly of pancreatic cancer.

No one saw it coming. Just a few weeks prior, he had stood at the top of Machu Picchu with my parents and a group of university honors students. How unfair that she should suffer such a loss, only to be confronted with another, however more abstract, so soon.

I myself had been with Dr. Townsend on another such college enrichment trip fifteen years ago when I saw Notre Dame and the nearby Sainte-Chapelle. At the time I was vaguely unimpressed in the way that only privileged, myopic teenage girls can be. The city I wandered felt far away from A Tale of Two Cities and Toulouse Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge and Monet. It felt like any other large, European city, no more in touch with its romantic past than I am now to the brash, careless young woman I am learning to no longer be.

Notre Dame was a beautiful item on our itinerary, but at the time it seemed like a place I could easily come back to. There was no urgency to the occasion. Only a few cockeyed photos are preserved in our digital family album. I’m embarrassed to admit that I barely remember it. And yet I spent the day nervously checking the news for updates on the state of the cathedral. I felt my stomach churn as I watched slightly stale footage of the spire falling an hour or so after the fact.

After work, I head to the bar, as I have after so many other tragedies— Dr. Townsend’s death included. The before and the after. By then, the fire had only just begun to cool, emergency responders saying that while damage was extensive, the blaze did not create a total loss. No one had been killed. The injuries were few. Still, I am more tempted than I have been in several newly sober months to order a glass of red wine. It seems an appropriate toast to gay Paris, where I read on Twitter that French resilience includes a blend of laughter, tears, and du vin.

Instead, I request a cold bottle of Einbecker, a German beer— “alkoholfre!” it proclaims on the label. The bar I’ve chosen reliably keeps a case of NA beers in the fridge, much as the pharmacy that once took up this storefront kept a variety of pain relievers in stock, some more benign than others. This is the kind of hip joint that capitalizes on nostalgia for things like old pharmacies, where the old lathe walls are left purposefully exposed, the wainscoting topped with stacks of antique books, two of the pharmacists’ old diplomas and certificates still framed and decorating the walls.

As I slide my credit card across the counter I realize the lyrics to the song that’s playing are not only improbably in French, but ridiculously on the nose. “L’argent est sur la table” sings Mark E. Smith, the lead mercurial singer of post-punk British outfit The Fall. He died last year, cancer of the lungs and kidneys. “Le money est sur la table,” the song goes. “The money is on the table in the brick house refurbishment of pubs in the hideaway.” That old, double-edged serendipity, the closest thing I possess to a higher power.

What blindsided Carmela in that episode “Cold Stones” was what blindsided me first as a naive, ignorant teen: that sensation of echoes throughout time and history, the reverb. The way a song randomly selected by an algorithm can seem to highlight the day’s events, which in turn can provide one the space and language to grieve a death that was too close for comfort. The way a thirteen year old episode of television is made newly relevant simply because I happened to rewatch it just preceding a tragedy that evokes a similar, if more acute, sense of morbidity and loss.

Why do I reflect on all this? What does it all mean? As a writer my job is to tease meaning from seemingly disparate events and braid them into something sturdy we can run through our hands to reassure us, the way Carmela reaches out to run her hands over that rough stone, the way I reach out to David Chase’s work to help explain my feelings about Notre Dame. But I struggle here to make sense of all these artifacts, to construct anything solid out of all this ash.

Edward Burmila, the political science professor behind Gin and Tacos, made an astute observation about our collective helplessness as we watch Notre Dame, and the world, burn. His post smacks of the cheerful digital nihilism that has special appeal for Gen Xers and Millennials who slogged through the Great Recession only to reach a span of years in which a generation of beloved artists and idols began to drop like flies, and when too many of the survivors were revealed to be a bunch of rapists, abusers, and racists.

It’s a moment in which populism and extremism and hate have been resurrected in our national consciousness like the villain at the end of a slasher film who the characters naively assumed to be long dead. We fret about social security and preventable epidemics and climate catastrophe—a whole other type of conflagration that looms just over the horizon. And yet we go on living our lives as best we can, like all those generations Carmela references at the baths, like the fifty some-odd generations that have lived and died since the first stone of Notre Dame was laid.

We consume our fatalism in bite-size chunks, a scrap of digital ephemeral quickly read and disposed of, if not entirely forgotten. But in this there is a strange, ironic sort of hope to be found in what appears to be a well of despair. How many generations before us have felt a similar sense of doom, have watched their own disasters unfurl, and have carried on because there was no other choice, because this is what our parents and aunts and uncles and loved ones would have us do?

Death comes for us all, it’s true, as cruel and unfair and undesirable an outcome as that may be. But first life has a peculiar habit of continuing to unfurl. And there are forms of resurrection, too, we can’t seem to extinguish, a human tendency towards hope. After all, that’s what makes Notre Dame such a potent symbol even for those, like me, who have barely scratched its surface, or for the vast majority who have never been at all.

Even in what seems like— and in many cases truly is— an era of unprecedented loss, both personally, nationally, and globally, what else can we do but carry on living, no matter how futile it seems or uncertain the future may be? Perhaps it is simply enough to raise a glass of whatever gives us strength and courage, to give our best effort at making the dead proud, and to try our damndest to head off the next inevitable blaze.

Meghan O’Dea is a writer and editor who traded southern Appalachia for the Pacific Northwest. She writes about camping and the outdoors by day for The Dyrt magazine. In her spare time she travels, hikes, and writes essays and articles that have been published in Bitch Magazine, Playboy, the Washington Post, the Rumpus, Nylon, Refinery29, and more. She loves opossums, cats, and small houseplants.

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Guest Posts, Surviving

Rewriting Scars

August 9, 2019
trash

By Rachel McMullen

When the city started charging for collection, my family started to burn our trash. We didn’t even dig a hole, we just tossed a white plastic bag full of mixed garbage on a grass-less part of the backyard and poured enough gasoline on it to start a fire with a huff. We would watch the flames struggle to dismantle the various materials, melting them down into a colorful liquid that simmered with viscosity. As any child would be, I was curious about this unintended chemistry experiment: like a bonobo probing the earth for a protein reward, I poked the blue of the fire to return the plastic syrup cooking within. I dropped down crossed-legged in the dirt and lifted my prize eye-level, admiring the aquamarine ooze of a what was once a toothpaste tube. Bubbles popped in the muck as huge drops curdled from the end of my stick and fell back onto the edges of the still-burning refuse. Suddenly, my skin sizzled as melted plastic tore through my left leg, breaking down each layer as if it weren’t even there. I remember thinking that tin cans were stronger than my own body. As a knee-jerk, but still delayed reaction, I ripped the now hardened drop of plastic away from my skin faster than a Band-aid, ripped it away with all the now-dead skin underneath, ripped it almost hard enough to not feel the pain before the blood came. And when it did, when it cascaded down my leg and ran toward the fire-torn earth, it drew my blood away toward its dusty innards. I sat in quiet meditation, bleeding but transfixed by the mirrored shape still hot in the palm of my hand: a figure-eight, a bowknot without its tails, infinitely emblazoned in discolored tissue. A symbol of our trash, of my body, burning hot in the backyard. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving, Tough Conversations

On Survival

May 10, 2019

By Serena Trujillo

Step 1:

The trick is to stay alive. Like clockwork. There is a clock that lives in the dining room, it is my fathers. It is the only thing in the house he cleans. The clock looks like marbled wood and is shaped like a stain. I am too afraid to touch it and far too small to reach it. “The trick is oil”, my father whispers as I stretch my body toward the plaque of time, “and keeping it high enough so that you and your sisters cannot reach it”. My father is short, I bet I can reach it in a couple of years. He laughs.

Step 2:

My mother tells me to stomp. “Keep your legs and your head up high.” It is a fifteen minute walk to the coin laundry. We go at night because that is when my parents are awake. I am afraid of the dark but I am not allowed to say so I just stomp. It keeps the cockroaches away. It keeps the dark away. The dark can’t be loud, can it? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parents

A Manual For Girls Who Struggle With Their Moms

April 14, 2019
fixed

By Amy Turner

    1. Do not be afraid. You will encounter therapists and gay men* who will nurture you in ways she never could . They will see you without judgement. This is because despite being big hits on Bravo, they have been forced to collectively shirk judgement /and or this is their job. Both work.(*Apologies for basic stereotype but when your best guy friend finds Sandra Bernhard more intriguing than Sandra Bullock, you’ll collapse, finally understood.)   

Continue Reading…

#metoo, Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

I Am A Man And I Am A Survivor

March 13, 2019
assault

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

By Arturo the Cuban

I am a man who is the survivor of sexual assault perpetrated by a man when I was a child.

Someone who was a member of our family so to speak. He was my mother’s common-law husband for ten years. He was the reason I disappeared from home around the age of 11. He was the reason I became a street kid until the age of 16.

I never spoke out. Not as a child anyway. There was the fear of embarrassment that comes from being raised in a tight-knit Hispanic family. I would later find out that I wasn’t his only victim. He also tried to perpetrate the same acts on my cousin who was much older. My cousin beat his ass. He told everyone. My mom’s so-called marriage was done and we moved a couple cities over.

It was then that I came out and spoke to some close friends at the time. We were a tight-knit community of hardcore kids who spent most of our time between the Lower-East Side of Manhattan, The World Trade Center, and Washington Square Park in New York City. We took care of each other in order to survive in a city that was not only harsh, but violent at the time.

I would go home every few days or so. Make an appearance. Let my brothers and my mom know I was alive. It was on one of those trips home that one of my closest friends came with me and beat the living shit out of the perpetrator. Did it stop him from ever doing it again?

I would find out later that it did not.

It turns out that the only thing that could stop a monster like this was death. He is dead. Not because his life was cut short, but because several massive strokes and heart attacks would inevitably take his life. He died after living more than ten years with a bag of shit attached to him, pissing himself. He died after spending decades moving all over the country for what I assumed was to avoid detection. Out of fear of being ratted out. I know this because my youngest brother shunned our biological father and considered this sick fuck his dad.

He called him Pop.

God I hated that shit. But as a kid I didn’t want to destroy the image in my younger brother’s head of what a father is. He treated my brother well. As far as I could tell anyway. I remember asking both of my brothers, in a roundabout way if they shared similar experiences. I didn’t go into detail as they laughed it off. As I suspected, I was alone. At least for awhile.

My father wasn’t around much. So I felt that for my brother to have a father figure was a good thing despite the evil only I knew lurked within this man.

The three women he was with after my mother, spoke of him raping them. His daughter too. For the first time in my life I felt a kinship with some of his other victims. I spoke to them and they encouraged me to speak out. But I didn’t. At the time I felt like maybe they were using me to get back at him. Revenge. I was just a teenager at the time. A very confused one at that.

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Kids” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Those kids in the movie didn’t just represent my life. They were a part of it. Some of them were my friends. I wouldn’t get involved in drugs or alcohol until later in life. At the time I was a straight-edge kid. No drinking. No drugs. No cigarettes. None of that. Well, except some weed. I’ll admit I sucked at being a straight-edge. But we all shared so many commonalities when it comes to sexual assault.

It was then that I tried to speak out. Nobody in my family heard me. I was just some street kid who was perceived as some junkie bum who slept on park benches. It was a tactic that was used to ruin my credibility. I was confused they said. Looking for attention they said. Looking for some kind of out for my bad decisions. All of us were treated the same way. It was a time when no matter what a child, male or female, would say, the word of the perpetrator would be taken over that of the victim.

Because of that I lived my life with resentment towards my mother, my brothers, and everyone else who ignored me. At the same time I was to preoccupied with being a part of a community of street kids that took care of each other. We had older brethren, as we called them, that helped look after us. They showed us how to eat, bathe, survive. Occupying empty warehouse space. Squatting. Buildings that were abandoned as the city skirted bankruptcy.

No one ever came to check on these places. We lived in abandoned factories occupying an entire floor. For as bad as it was, we had each other. We made the best of it and had some really great times. Most of those friends are gone now. Dead. Drug overdoses, suicide, murdered. All a result of struggling to cope as they all got older.

I survived.

I survived with a sense of guilt. I wasn’t there. Forced to move away and live with my biological father. A move that would save my life. The guilt overcame me not because I felt that I was to blame. But because the city was in recovery mode and the sanctity and security that came with being a street kid was quickly disappearing. My street family was dying and I was nowhere to be found. A ghost thousands of miles away. No contact. No connection. None of it.

I miss them. I always will.

We were all survivors who no one gave any credibility to. But when I look around I still see some of us in the real world. Some are quite successful. An actress. The front-man of a world renowned Hardcore band. An author. And me. A still struggling, but not starving, artist.

I’ve had my share of successes too. From a semi-popular underground band, to a studio musician for many popular artists, to a government contractor. If you know my story, all that came crashing down four years ago after a mild stroke.

I’m a survivor.

But today I struggle As millions of other people are. Listening to the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and how all these men treated her, talked down to her, and dragged her name through the mud undoubtedly brought out some very hardcore feelings for many women (and men) up to the surface. Everything that has happened surrounding Dr. Ford is emblematic of the suffering all sexual assault victims struggle with. My wife included.

I’ve never written about what happened to me and like Dr. Ford I’ve never really talked about it to anyone but my wife and my former therapist. I didn’t do so because I never felt like I had the support of anyone other than my wife.

When Terry Crews came out about the assault against him, I almost had the courage to do this but I just couldn’t. Instead I reached to him on Twitter and told him that I believed him and that I got him. I did so without ever revealing what happened to me. He responded with gratitude and thanks. I didn’t share my story out of fear. I saw what so many other men were doing and saying to him. I was disgusted. I wished I had that strength.

Today is different. After hearing Dr. Ford’s testimony and seeing how people were treating her online I became angry. Some of my closest friends and even family spent more time victim shaming her than listening to her. I found myself in a deep debate defending a girl I barely know.

She is the daughter of someone I once considered a friend. She joined in the conversation about victim shaming and sharing her story only to be shamed and treated like complete shit for not speaking out sooner. One of the people shaming her was mutual friends with the perpetrators of her assault. Yet he rose to their defense (while claiming he “never heard” of anything happening to her) by saying the same shit over and over again.

“You should have come out sooner!”

“You’re not a victim until you file a police report!”

“Waiting 30 years ruins your credibility!”

As I fought tooth and nail defending her she left the conversation. I imagine it was too much to bear. She kept talking to me via text and I continued to support her in every possible way I can.

I just kept getting angry and went on the attack. I lost my composure. Started hurling insults and fighting back against what I kept referring to as rapist apologists. I called them every derogatory name under the sun. I was in a fit of rage. I probably shouldn’t have gone that far, but I did and I don’t care.

Because I’m a motherfucking survivor.

Then I told her. The girl I was defending. I told her I was sexually assaulted too. By the time all that was over. She was thankful. Grateful. I felt good about what I did. At least for a little while

Then it all started to sink in. The words of Dr. Ford made my anxiety explode. Crippling depression also started to set in. I had the shakes all night as I tried to hang out with the wife and kids binge watching Trailer Park Boys. I needed to laugh. I just couldn’t. I mostly faked it and tried to enjoy our family time. After all that’s what kept me going until now. Living for the moment and trying to repress those horrible memories.

A day later, here I am. Shaking from the nightmares of what happened to me. Shortness of breath as I write this to finally tell my story. I need to. I have to let it out. I cannot bear witness to this any longer by myself. I need support. I need to give support. We all do. We need to be here for each other. Encouraging others to speak up. I have no family support aside from my wife.

The last time I brought this up to my mother, she asked that I not mention it to my brother for fear of causing a rift in my broken ass family. It was never mentioned again. Terry Crews’ story is what gave me the courage to tell my mom. But her response led to me to feel so much shame that I shut up about it. AGAIN She wants to protect my brother and his image of the perpetrator.

But what about me?

The man is dead. Never brought to justice. Fuck him. If my brother doesn’t want to acknowledge what happened to me at the hands of the monster he holds so dear, then fuck him too. After 33 years since the last time I was assaulted, it’s my fucking turn to speak my truth. I will hide it no more. I will not be silent to the appeasement of anyone else.

Mom, if you’re reading this, I love you. But I just can’t anymore. I can’t. I’m doing this for me, for my friends, for my wife, and every other woman and man out there that struggles with these thoughts. These horrifying memories. I’m doing this so I can move forward with MY life and so that I don’t live under a cloud of shame anymore for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. I’m sorry mom, but fuck that shit. It’s nothing against you, but we are at the dawn of new age. I love you with all my heart. But you need to understand that I AM A SURVIVOR OF SEXUAL ASSAULT.

I’m taking my life back from him.

The dead man.

May he rot in hell.

Arturo is a front-line anti-racism activist, essayist, and upcoming author; advocating for equality, justice, and accountability. He is a married father of three young men and a stroke survivor. He is currently working on a series of books focusing on social issues and racism in America. Arturo is also a freelance journalist.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Writing & The Body

Powerful Child

March 10, 2019
swim

By Monica Welty

Strong currents of chlorinated, blue silk push against my body and I push right back. I also pull. We work with and against each other: me pushing forward, the water sliding back along my body. Spiraling and bubbling in my wake and then calming until I flip and come back again, heading in the opposite direction. I cup my hand to grab a swirling ball, like a wizard’s spell in his open palm. On land, water cupped in my hand drips down between the crevices of my fingers but in the water, I grab hold of it and use it to my advantage.

I love the muffled world under here. Even though I can’t breathe, it feels as if my chest is heaving like a track and field sprinter. Even though I can’t feel the sweat pouring off me, the salinated beadlets are instantly dissolving into this chemical-laden universe. Even though I feel as sleek and strong as any sea mammal, my skin, my temples, my thighs are pulsing and burning from the hot blood flow of my movement. Until I turn my head to put my ear to the bottom of the pool, all I hear is a tamped down world and the heavy breathing I am not doing. Then, I hear my quick gasp for air, my lifeline, the moment that both fuels me and slows me down. Back into muffled bliss, I feel more keenly the splashing water on my forearm and elbow as they leave the water momentarily in my flurry. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Guest Posts, Surviving

Everyday Objects

March 1, 2019
heroin

By Elsa Williams

It is the spoon I always hesitate before picking up. It’s mixed in with the rest of the mismatched flat wear in the drawer. But if I need a spoon for one of my daughters, something for applesauce or Ovaltine, I rummage a little longer to find a different one.

The spoon is Oyster Bay, a discontinued pattern popular in the 70s. It looks more or less indistinguishable from the rest of our old, scratched up flat wear. But for me, it has always had a double meaning. A wholesome meaning– cereal, ice cream, coffee – and a secret, forbidden meaning.  Not just “drugs”, but heroin. Not just “doing” heroin, but injecting it.

***

The story starts with a different Oyster Bay spoon. Twenty four years ago, my friend Lila was holding up my roommate’s spoon and giving me a wicked grin.

I had invited Lila and a couple friends over for dinner. And I had asked her to please, please not say anything about drugs. I didn’t want to risk getting kicked out of my apartment, or even drawing too much attention to myself. The rule in the flat was that everyone stayed out of each other’s business, but one of my roommates had taken it on himself to forbid me to have any of my junky friends in the house. He was sullen and mean and seemed a little unhinged, and if he decided to make a stink with the landlord, he probably could have gotten me kicked out. But I wasn’t going to ban Lila from my apartment.

Lila had been my closest friend and my lifeline at school, the one person who understood me. When I got back to school that fall and found her consumed by heroin, I felt lost and abandoned. I was trying to find a way for us to still be friends.

I hadn’t understood what a wide zone there was between “experimenting” and full-blown addiction. Lila was chipping, doing heroin without a physical dependency, but that didn’t mean it would have been easy for her to quit. She was in love with heroin; it was the only thing she wanted to talk about.

Lila and our two friends were sitting around the rickety kitchen table while I tried to figure out how to make garlic bread in a toaster oven. Almost everything in the kitchen belonged to one or the other of my roommates, and I hadn’t thought much about the spoons, until Lila picked one up, and announced, “What a marvelous spoon. The bowl is so large. Think of how much it could hold.” Then she put it back down on the table and, vamping it up, leaned down to check how flat the bowl sat.

I winced, and tried not to egg her on.

***

Twenty one years ago, I was painting a picture of that spoon.

Lila had dropped out of school, and I felt unmoored. Lila always seemed to know what to do, even if it was a terrible idea. I decided I would take the same painting class she had. I went to talk to the instructor to see if she would let a biochemistry major like me into her class. I always got better grades in art classes, and they helped keep my GPA up. But I also wanted to do this thing that Lila cared about.

Feeling burned by Lila, the teacher asked me, “You’re not addicted to anything are you?”

I said, “I’m fine,” which wasn’t entirely true. Lila and I had started getting high together two months before she left. Now I was the one who was pining for heroin. It was seeping into everything, including all my painting assignments, a series of still lives that were supposed to be about the breakfast table: a spoon, a coffee cup, a small plate. The spoon was taking over.

I wasn’t a gifted artist like Lila, but unlike her, I showed up to class sober, and I did the work. I spent a lot of time studying the spoon from different angles, trying to capture every curve and reflection. The bowl had a teardrop shape. The handle had a fine line down the center and a little scallop on the bottom, like two very thin fingers had been pressed into the metal and drawn up its length. The handle was thick and solid, but the edge tapered into a thin graceful line around the bowl.

I thought I was being clever, hiding the secret meaning of the spoon, but it was obvious to everyone, including my painting teacher. One painting in particular had started out grey, but a little bit of yellow had turned it poison green. The spoon, bent by its reflection in the mug, dominated the picture.

The instructor sighed when she told me, “You obviously have some things you need to work through,” but she didn’t try to intervene. At the end of the class, she said, “When I first saw you, with your green hair and your leather jacket, I was worried. But you really put in the work.”

I moved out of that apartment before the end of the semester, and, as much as I wanted to take the spoon, I didn’t. I didn’t want to be a thief as well as a junky.

***

Twenty years ago, I was scrubbing the back of a different Oyster Bay spoon before my baby brother came over. This spoon belonged to my boyfriend Michael, from a small collection of things his mother had been able to give us for our apartment. I was in graduate school, and we were trying to make a home together, but drugs were taking over. I had been doing heroin off and on for three years, and I was trying very hard to keep everything from spiraling out of control. But I don’t think Michael could imagine himself surviving to 40, to 30, to 25. He would be dead from an overdose within 6 months.

I’d always been protective of my brother, and I didn’t want him to see any of that. I was cleaning the apartment from top to bottom, sweeping up piles of cigarette ash, and pulling orange syringe caps out from between the sofa cushions. And scrubbing the black scorch marks off the back of our spoons. The needle exchange gave out bottle caps to use as disposable cookers, and we should have been using those. But spoons had a certain old school glamour.

When I quit for good, a year after Michael died, I packed the drug spoons away, along with a scant couple boxes of Michael’s things. His mother wanted the flat wear back, and she wanted his leather jacket, and she wanted me to apologize for her son’s death. I was grappling with my own guilt and complicity, but I could not accept her conviction that everything was my fault. I never gave her the apology she needed, but eventually I gave her his leather jacket.

***

Fourteen years ago, I gave the drug spoons to Goodwill. I was sorting through my things, after moving in with the man who is now my husband. I wasn’t sure why I had held onto the spoons. It seemed like a dangerous kind of memento, sure to raise questions if my future mother-in-law found them, so carefully wrapped up with my most precious objects. But I pulled the Oyster Bay spoon out of the Goodwill pile. It was the one spoon that had other meanings: the quiet contemplation of the breakfast table, the careful observation of painting, the accumulation of little things that add up to making a home.

Sobriety has been a process of leaching the drug associations from everyday objects, including the veins in my arms. And I was hoping that even a former piece of drug paraphernalia could find a place in our silverware drawer.

Elsa Williams is a biomedical scientist living in Medford, Massachusetts with her husband and two children. She is working on a memoir about her early 20s and blogs about feminism and harm reduction at worn-smooth.tumblr.com.


https://www.amazon.com/Being-Human-Memoir-Waking-Listening/dp/1524743569/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1539219809&sr=8-1

Jen’s book ON BEING HUMAN is available for pre-order here.

Join Lidia Yuknavitch and Jen Pastiloff for their WRITING & THE BODY RETREAT. Portland April 5-7, 2019. Click the photo above.

 

Guest Posts, Making Shit Happen, Self Love

On A Scale Of One To Ten

February 25, 2019
10

By Lisa Todd

I’m in the kitchen making guacamole when Diana calls to me from the family room. “Hey,” she asks, “How are you doing today?” I sigh as I turn on the faucet and watch the water run over my hands while I thought. How was I doing?

I sighed again. “Well,” I started. “On a scale of 1 to 10, either 10 being the best you could feel and 1 being the worst you could feel, how are you feeling?” Diana said. We’d used that scale of 1 to 10 since her surgery 9 years ago (was it already 9 years ago?) when the nurses at the hospital would ask what Diana’s pain level was like. “How is your pain today?” they’d ask and I would cringe inwardly, thinking of the hardware recently installed in her to stop her vertebrae from twisting and turning into a painful S shape. Over the years, the pain scale took its place in our family vernacular. And now my daughter uses it today to check on me. I smile to myself at her kind heart, thinking not for the first time that I’m a lucky mom to have her in my life.

“I guess I’m at a 5,” I said, thinking about my day. One woman who spent 20 minutes reading instructions and asking me, “Am I missing anything?” after each step of the instructions. Another woman who didn’t like my instructions and so complained to her cohort leader that “the woman in licensure wasn’t giving me a straight answer.” The coworker who graciously spends part of her summer work hours helping me navigate my busy days and comes into my office to cry and rage about the stressful job she’s in. The stacks of licensure requests that stress me every day because I feel I’m not getting through them fast enough. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, Surviving

The Inedible Footnote of Child Abuse

February 20, 2019
beets

By Diane Sherlock

Beets.

String beans.

Cooked carrots.

Cottage cheese.

These were the flavors of my childhood abuse.

There was no bodily autonomy in the house I grew up in. No privacy, no warm baths without ice water dumped from above, no agency over my body, and my brothers and I had no say in what we ate. Three seemingly random vegetables were force-fed.  Why those three? Why not? They were the favorites of the reigning narcissist of the house. They were our mother’s favorites. Reject them, reject her. The essence of narcissistic abuse.

I cannot be forced to donate blood, organs, or tissue, even when I’m dead, but in my mother’s house, I had no say in much of anything to do with my body. Suicide ideation became a way of life. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Surviving

Stonehenge, Survival, and Me

January 23, 2019

By Angela M Giles

Today is the day of my father’s death.  He was a successful suicide, which is to say my father failed at living. The loss of him, his choice not to stay with us, hurts, badly. This is something I have to carry, and it is a permanent wound that is deep and open. My body has been carrying so much, for so long.
 
I have been in London over the past days and it has been a satisfying and humbling trip. Satisfying because the time here has been utterly, fantastically delightful. Humbling, because this was a trip that was cancelled after a car accident that I was lucky to survive.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, loss

Partenza

January 6, 2019
partenza

By Kate Solovieva

partenza
[noun]

Italian.

  1. Departure, leaving
  2. Take-off
  3. Sailing of a boat

Within a couple of days of finding out about my impending miscarriage, I stop meditating. Not consciously, not on purpose. Yet… the first thing I do in the morning is no longer the five or ten minute session of just being, just sitting there. Instead, I go back to my default bad habits – pick up my cell phone, scroll through social media feeds, be entertained, be distracted.

Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Is it so unreasonable to NOT want to sit in these feelings?

This sucks.

Forgive me, if I do not want to focus on this right now. It sucks plenty, even without sitting and focusing on how much it sucks.

And so meditation falls by the wayside, and with it, morning reading, and with it, morning writing. My journal goes unused week after week.

For someone who does not like emotions, being told to sit with them is not unlike being told to sit in a swimming pool slowly filling with water.

“Relax!”, you are told, as the water is creeping up your ribs, and squeezing your chest.

“Sit with it”, as the water is filling up your ears, and mouth. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Writing & The Body

Her Own Beast

December 19, 2018
animal

By Natalie Singer

Once there was a girl who had a wild animal. She had never touched the animal but she knew deep inside her body and her soul that it was hers. She didn’t remember when she first understood she had an animal, maybe she was 12 and it was her first summer away at sleeping camp and she stayed in a canvas tent on a metal cot made up with a sleeping bag and old threadbare floral sheets that felt soft when she rubbed them between her fingers with three other girls including one named Frankie who peed her bed. Frankie peed her bed but she also showed the girl how to peg her jeans tight around her mosquito bitten ankles and hide her candy in a lockbox under the cot so the counselors wouldn’t find it and how to whisper late into the night without getting caught while the July rain drip drip dripped on the dirty canvas roof of the wooden platformed tent. Maybe she met the animal then, that summer, at the summer camp in the mountains with the tents among the pines. Continue Reading…

Chronic Illness, Guest Posts, parenting

Little Elephant

December 12, 2018
elephant

By Amy D. Lerner

You know the story of the blind men and the elephant? They’re trying to figure out what this creature is in front of them. Each of the men feels a different part of the elephant, the trunk, the foot, the tail, and describes the elephant based on only that one part. They each come up with wildly different ideas about what an elephant is, and not one of them sees the big picture, the whole elephant.

My elephant is only 3 feet tall and 35 pounds, yet this story is still true.

Like many people, I make up stories and make metaphorical leaps, from an elephant to my four-year-old daughter, without even thinking about it. My mind is a runaway steam engine—I can’t help thinking of that image—and metaphors are the coal.

“The way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor,” write George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By, the seminal book on thinking in metaphors that was published in 1980. We tend to speak and think in metaphors without being aware of it and without stopping to think about how our metaphors are guiding us, but they are, Lakoff and Johnson insist.

Studies have shown that by thinking about the story of the blind men touching the elephant, it’s as if I’m actually touching the wrinkled and rough skin of an elephant. In other words, metaphors are stored in the same part of the brain as the things they represent: the idea of kicking the habit stimulates the same motor area of the brain as kicking a ball does. Metaphors are deeply embedded in our minds, and they’re linked to the most basic human functions. Continue Reading…

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