Tuesday, August 19, 2014

This Charming Man

I wrote earlier in the year about an anniversary that was coming up.  The date has passed and since "unpacking" that piece of baggage, I've been far less affected by its existence. 

Recently, I was going through old boxes of papers stored in the attic, little bits of memory.  Old letters, report cards, photos.  The kind of box everyone has with remnants of their past they cannot seem to be able to part with inside of it. 

Within this box, I found a padded envelope.  No postmark, no address.  Only "pictures of Jen" scrawled upon it in pencil. 

I knew then where the envelope came from.  It was a collection of photos I'd given to my old boyfriend which he had kept for an unexpected amount of time, considering we'd broken up when I was sixteen and he had returned them all to me when I was 29.  And in turn, I had put the envelope into a box and hadn't looked at it until now, at 38. 

Inside, it was as it claimed to be - a small pile of photographs of me, maybe 10 in all, stretching from baby pictures to mid-high school.  One of my middle school honor passes was in there as well.

There was a stray sheet of folded notebook paper inside as well. I unfolded it, not sure what it would be.  To quote my favorite line from John Travolta in the classic film, "Look Who's Talking", - 'Could be lunchmeat, could be peaches.  Who knows?'

But I knew. 

The top of the page held the date of that anniversary for all the world to see - 3/3.  And then, the opening paragraph. 

The remorse was a good plan, as openers go.  Hell, after reading through it, I almost feel bad for the guy.  It goes on like this for a little while. 

And then, we close with this:

Charming.  No time for a signature, apparently.  Not that I wouldn't know who had written it. 

There are so many sick things wrong with this letter, not even mentioning the fact that it was written to begin with, or the events that inspired its writing. 

You could point out that it reads like abuse itself.  It starts out innocuous, apologetic, sorrowful.  Genuinely remorseful for what happened.  Then it moves on to blaming the victim.  And then, the threat. 

In retrospect, this letter is the best summary of what that relationship was like.  What I thought I wanted in life, what I thought I deserved. 

Part of me wonders why he wrote it to begin with, but more than that, why he held onto it for close to fifteen years without giving it to me. 

It makes me wonder what kind of sick partnership I was involved in for so long.  Such a sick relationship I was only able to completely walk away from a handful of years ago.

I often felt unworthy of love when I was younger, and I fell prey to it when I started dating This Charming Man.  He saw that in me and used it.  It made me try all the harder to be  worthy of what he called love.  To try not to do things wrong.  To be better.  To be prettier.  To be thinner.  To look more like the girls he always cheated on me with.

Walking away for good was one of the hardest things I'd ever done.  There was still a part of me, years later, that felt some tie to him.  No matter my anger, my sadness, or how what I had suffered in the past manifested in me, I still struggled with that connection.  Even though we were never "together" again, there was still this sick, weird "friendship" between us.  Some unexplainable tie, some reason I felt responsible for him.

Had I read this "apology" twenty-two years ago for my public beating, who knows how I would have reacted?  I'd like to say that I'd have rejected it out of hand, walked away and been done with him forever.  But I know better.  Honestly?  I think if I had read this back then, I'd have gone right back.  I'd have been swayed by his words and the fact that he said he loved me.  I'd have eaten it up and thought it was romantic. 

And probably, I never would have seen my 38th birthday. 

So I guess the point of all this is that, despite the years it took and the convoluted way I got there, is that I did find it in me to walk away.  That I was able to finally say "fuck you" to the bullshit connection I had felt.  To know that I was worthy of far more than This Charming Man would ever have been able to give and that he was far sicker than I had previously given him credit for. 

This letter, this horrid piece of paper, is a road map for me - of where I've been. 

And how very, very far I've come.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

How Far We Haven't Come

The internet’s response to what happened to Christy Mack has bothered me on so many levels.  It fills me with horror that someone would beat someone so viciously.  That if she hadn’t gotten away when she did, he could have killed her.  

It frightens me that the majority of the responses have been that she deserved it.  That she asked for it.  Along the lines of “What did she expect?”

Unless the specific words “Please beat me and break my bones and turn me into someone unrecognizable” pass your lips to someone else, no one, NO ONE, asks for this.  

No one wants to have to face their bruises in the mirror.  To ache and wince when moving.  To hide behind long sleeves or sunglasses.  To make up flimsy excuses to doctors or friends or loved ones.  

And certainly this woman who happens to have a profession so many deems “unsavory” didn’t ask for it or deserve it either. 

Let me ask you this: If the pornography industry is so disgusting, so beneath them, then why does it generate millions of dollars in revenue every year?  If it’s the worst thing on earth, who’s watching it?  Have we compartmentalized this into believing that the bodies belonging to the genitalia on screen aren’t actually people?  Do we view them as being subhuman because of their profession? 

I can’t look at those pictures of her without wanting to cry.  I don’t give a good god damn what she does for a living.  No profession, no matter how lowly you might consider it, makes a person deserving of treatment of that nature.  

What we do to rape survivors in the age of the internet and its anonymity isn’t enough?  Now we’ll add in domestic violence.  We are an awful, shameful species if this is what we have come to as a people.  

Technology may have progressed but it’s left humanity far behind.   It’s opened the door for every ignorant and hateful person to have a voice and express that voice without thought of its impact.  It’s allowed humanity to regress into a dark mob carrying torches and pitchforks. 
It scares the hell out of me.  

How can you bring awareness to an issue that’s been going on for time out of mind when the overwhelming response is “She asked for it”, or to be called a whore, or worse?  

I feel compassion for what happened to Christy Mack.  I feel empathy for her.  I feel admiration for being brave enough to post her statement and her photos of the abuse knowing what sort of response she could anticipate from the masses – and she did it anyway.  I don’t care what her profession is.  Wouldn’t matter if she was a porn star or a particle physicist.  Because no one deserves to be beaten.  No one asks to have 18 bones in their face broken.  Men have been beating women – and women have been beating men – forever.  It shouldn’t be acceptable.   Victim shaming shouldn’t be a thing.  And it is.  And it breaks my goddamn heart. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

An Anniversary

March 3, 1992

We all have moments in our lives that leave a tattoo on us, seen or unseen, be it a scar, a disfigurement, or a memory so powerful and vivid that no passage of time will fade its edges to grey. 

There is always the choice with those moments - we can let them define us and the path we choose to follow or we can absorb them, find a lesson and move on whilst carrying them. 

This moment, or series of them, this memory is one that I fight recall on.  There are glimpses, there are portions that I can see in my mind with perfect clarity and there are others that are completely gone, as if someone took a cigarette and randomly burned holes in them. 

It took me years to process and internalize the lessons this day contained.  There were too many to take in that day, or even that year. 

Each year that has passed since that day, almost 22 of them now, I remember.  Some years it's nothing, just a flash of the past and gone and some it's a whirlwind.  I'm still a few days out from the day and for whatever reason, it's weighing on my mind.  It's compelled me to put these thoughts down in hopes to empty them from my head. 

It was my shadow for two years, following me wherever I went.  How often everyone else talked about it I will never know in the days that followed the event, but that is less important than how much it was in my thoughts.  How it hid in the back of my mind during every class, every conversation, every party, every moment spent with friends.  It went with me everywhere, it became my birthmark.  I was "that girl", the one that, for a short time, was gossip fodder. 

To me, I was unremarkable in school.  I was smart, I had good friends, I was on the outskirts of popularity.  I was fine with that, I never yearned for the upper echelons of high school society.  I loved where I was, with my fellow damaged and broken kids who were the best friends you could have asked for. 

Despite having wonderful friends, I had secrets.  I know we all do.  But my secrets came to light on March 3rd.  And when they did, I saw the true colors of the world in a lot of ways. 

I'm reliving it in my head as I write this and despite being 22 years out, the hurt hasn't dampened.  The shame hasn't either.  The disgust that I was a different person, a weaker person than I am now.  That I fought to be after that day. 

I had a boyfriend back then.  I'd fallen for him hard in the seventh grade.  He was as broken as I was, was even less popular than I was, and was, in a junior high sense, a bad boy.  Street wise but not book smart, I found him devastating.  We dated off and on.  We were volatile and he was manipulative.  We hated or loved one another depending upon the day. 

My friends hated him.  My parents hated him.  He wasn't very nice to me.  He had moments of being very kind and thoughtful and he had moments where his evil showed in his eyes.  My own self loathing kept me wrapped up in it all. 

This day in particular, we were arguing.  He was high, as he often was during school.  It got him through the day. 

I was losing patience with him for some reason.  He was belligerent.  We were standing in the hallway, outside of my math class where I would enter when the bell rang.  My classroom was in the same hallway where my locker was housed.  The hallway was full of yelling students, a cacophony of teenagers and banging locker doors and the squeak of sneakers on linoleum.  The kids lining the hall at their lockers were my friends, my classmates.  People who knew me.  In a school with a total population of 500, there were few faces you wouldn't at least recognize.

We started to argue.  About what I don't recall.  I do remember him being angry about how I was speaking to him, telling me that I was acting like an asshole to him because I was in front of my friends.

This statement, for whatever reason in that moment, made my temper flare.  I did something I'd never done before.  I slapped him across the face.

The force of the slap doesn't matter.  I felt it wasn't very hard but that doesn't change what I did, doesn't make it better.

His countermeasure was to punch me in the head.  Punch me on the side of my head that wasn't against the concrete wall of the hallway that drove me into the wall.  There are moments that followed the blow that I don't recall.

What I do remember was the look in his eyes before he struck.  I remember that.  Cold.  Angry.  Unbelieving.  Betrayed.

He hit me and walked away.  Walked to his class.  Turned his back as if nothing had happened, as if fifty of our fellow students and a few teachers weren't standing in his wake.

The bystanders didn't really matter, in the grand scheme.  Sure, they witnessed the abuse - the revealed secret being that this wasn't the first time I'd had hands laid on me - but they stood there.  I remember some of the faces but not many.  I remember the noise and then the silence.

I remember standing alone.

I remember walking dazedly into my classroom, unable to say much of anything.

One person came to my aid.  One.

He was a boy in my class.  Not one of my circle of friends.  We had classes together and more often than not, I ridiculed him.  Not in a bullying, go out of my way sort, but in an opposing political viewpoint kind of way.  His enjoyment of arguing with our global studies teacher was often more than I could take, his conservative leaning in opposition to my liberal views.

But he walked to me in that math class and put his arm around me and steered me to the guidance office, into the welcoming arms of my guidance counselor.  She knew me well, knew most of my secrets, knew my history.  I don't think she was surprised to hear what had happened.  She listened, she hugged me.  She and the boy took care of me before determining I needed the nurse's office.

She knew better than I that the nurse's office was where rumors went to be born.  We crafted a futile, temporary cover story that I'd hit my head on a door when a classmate had closed it on me accidentally.  I think we all knew better.  There had been too many witnesses and it would only be a matter of time before everyone knew.  This was a band aid, enough to maybe get me through the afternoon.

I hid in the nurse's office for the afternoon.  I had a concussion.  Couldn't go to sleep, not that it would have come anyway.  My mom was called.  I don't know who called her, don't remember that at all.

Then came the vice principal's office.  I was never a troublemaker, had never spent time in the office.  I sat before his big desk; head pounding, heart racing.  I had no idea at that moment what was going on in my life.
I listened to him drone on about how he'd been informed of what had gone on and that my boyfriend (ex boyfriend now? I wondered then) had been spoken to.  That he had been suspended for the following day despite the fact that I had hit him first and that I should be punished as well.

I should be punished as well.

I hit him first.

I remember being dumbstruck at those words.  I had hit him.  But I was positive I was living - and would continue to - my punishment for rising up to make a statement about what abuse I would continue to take.

I'd attempted to stand up for myself and got slapped down.  Not just by someone I loved but by a school administration. 

Life is a fucked up place.  I saw that day that the herd isn't likely to stand up and do the right thing and that rescue can come from the least likely places.   I saw in the days that followed that you can't anticipate how people will react to much of anything. 

I had a teacher try to get me to talk by pulling me out of class- not out of the goodness of her heart, but because she wanted gossip.  I had a classmate who I'd known since first grade tell me that I was a bitch, with the most contempt in his voice that I'd ever heard, for getting him suspended.  Such venom from him, such hatred. 

If there was other gossip, I was insulated from it.  I can most likely thank my friends for that.  I had enough without any more nonsense from acquaintances. 

If that's how my classmates remember me, the girl who got the shit beaten out of her, that's fine.  I was that girl. 

But I'm not just that girl anymore.  I was 16 then and had no idea how to cope with it.  I'm 38 now and there are moments when I'm still not sure.  I cry for that girl, that 16 year old who had been through so much already and was then presented with this.  I refuse to feel another ounce of shame for what happened, a second of embarrassment. 

In those few moments, I learned so much that it took years to understand.  People you know will disappoint you when you need them most.  People who mean nothing to you can be the most helpful.  People charged to protect you can be your biggest betrayer. 

And now that I've unpacked this bag I've carried for 22 years, maybe it's put away for good.  And March 3rd can pass every year from now on without the twinge of memory. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Today is my birthday.  I'm not huge on birthdays, never have been.  I think that happens to most people, especially as we grow older, but having one in the dreary midst of winter always makes it more complicated to celebrate, if you do celebrate.  Countless plans changed and parties cancelled due to snowstorms....yeah, it was a pain in the ass as a kid.  Plus having both of your siblings' birthdays within two weeks of your own....further complications.  Lots of sharing.

So thanks to Facebook and my own lack of "privacy", the whole world knows that I turned 38 today.  Another year older....

Except it's really only in years.  In maturity, I waver somewhere between my son's age (6) and early to mid high school (16).  Fart jokes are still funny.  I'm guessing they probably always will be.

I've spent a lot of time over the course of the past year working on who I am, how I feel about that person, and how to be better at being me.  How to be better to those around me as well.  And that's why I'm writing this now - not to ask for more birthday wishes or to garner center of attention status because I'm the birthday girl.  I left my tiara at home.

I'm thankful.  I have gratitude for a million things - at all times but today, seeing the outpouring of "happy birthday" messages has been overwhelming.

I know that Facebook tells you that it's my birthday - just like it does for everyone else who posts it.  And I know we all have that moment of freedom where we can decide to wish someone a happy birthday or not. To those of you who decided to do so - thank you. 

I'm grateful that I woke up on my birthday to my husband who inspires me and loves me no matter my faults every single day and to my son who wants nothing more than to sit on my lap and play video games with me.  I'm grateful for the phone call from my mother this morning, when I got to listen to her sing Happy Birthday off key after only two sips of coffee.  I'm grateful that I will get to listen to my grandmother do the same after I get home from work tonight.  I'm grateful for my favorite coworker ever, Gloria, who makes me see the world a little different every day and who brought me flowers and a card (and cake pops) this morning. 

I'm grateful for every message, text, phone call and post that I've received today.  Some made me cry a little, some offered a chance to reconnect with people with whom I haven't spoken in a long time, some made me laugh, and all of them made me smile. 

This birthday, I see the world from different eyes.  I see it with hope and happiness and peace and perspective.  I see what I have and what I cherish and what I want to keep.

I see promise.

And as it grows closer to the time to blow the candles out on this day, I don't think anyone could wish for much more than that.