On Breaking His Guitar

I’m watching Nashville–please don’t judge–and there is a scene where a woman who has been assaulted takes a self-defense course. She keeps shying away from the instructor. She is unwilling to tap into her own aggression. As happens in convenient television show narratives, she comes back to the workshop the next week. The guy taunts her a bit. She gets aggressive and attacks him. As he struts away unharmed, he says something along the lines of, “That’s what I was looking for. Nobody mess with this woman.”

As though she was empowered? By beating on a man who clearly wasn’t injured and didn’t feel harmed?


The mythology of the perfect victim is pervasive, and maybe those victims exist, but just to be clear, I tried to fight back.

Most of us fight back.

For a long time, I didn’t try to fight back, and then, I did. When I tried to fight back, he held me down. He spit in my face.

He spit in my face–not once, but three times. He wanted to make sure that I knew I was powerless.

After that, I continued to fight back, but in different ways. I threw things at him that I knew wouldn’t hit him. I shouted insults.


I fucking broke his guitar

That’s right. I broke his guitar. And it was a nice guitar. A really nice guitar.


He was screaming at me, looming so close. I was holding the guitar poised, begging him to stop.

It was at the beginning of when he was regularly abusing me physically. I held that guitar and begged him to stop. I was standing next to the frame of a bed that he had built with his father. Together, they had harvested wood from their property, sanded it, then formed it into a bed frame.

I cried.

Begged.

Then, I fucking did it.

I smashed that guitar on to the wood he had once harvested himself.

He had thought that he was calling my bluff.


He calmed immediately.

He gathered up the guitar pieces and piled them into the corner of our bedroom. He embraced me. He told me that he forgave me, that he understood.

And what was I to do? What was I to think? I was, after all, the asshole that had broken my husband’s expensive guitar, though we were living in near-poverty.

He never got angry at me for breaking his guitar. He never guilted me, and I now know why, which is that he had always known that he was in the wrong.

I had assumed that he was out of control, and that my response was worse because I was not. I had assumed that I was the person who should feel guilty, but the truth was that I was just trying to protect myself because he had created sheer terror in me.


What I have learned from years of physical abuse is that men are physically stronger than me, though I am not a weak woman.

And this is why I struggle with portrayals of women taking self-defense classes and suddenly conquering the world.

I am not against self-defense classes. I support those fully. But all women who have been held down by a man know that there is no defense.

We need men to change. That’s truly the only salvation we can have.

 

On The Future

“The future loomed before me like a buffet full of hungry, lonely people.”

I wrote those words over four years ago in “It Will Look Like a Sunset.” I sat up in my bed while Reed slept in the next room, and I wrote and wept. I was not yet divorced when I wrote the initial version of that essay. I wasn’t even entirely sure that I was going to get divorced.

My future was still unknown.

All of my biggest fears are fed from their unknowability.


I am someone who spends a lot of time analyzing the actions/feelings/reactions of myself and others. Some might say that I have made a career out of this.

Still, there is so much that I can never know.


The other night at a bar, a man asked if he could read the astrological charts of my friend and me. He said, “Astrology is a science. I have researched it. Some people are good at it, but not because they understand the science. Those people are just a little bit psychic.”

I thought of one of my party tricks, which is that I’m remarkably good at guessing peoples’ signs. The other night, I accurately guessed the sign of almost everyone at a table I was sitting at. Most of these people were strangers. Some might say that I am a “little bit psychic.”

I was only stumped by one woman. I was completely wrong about her. She was smug. She said, “I’m a Capricorn.”

I, too, am a Capricorn.

Maybe I couldn’t guess her sign because it was also my own.

I’m certainly not a “little bit psychic” in regards to myself.


We all see others more accurately than we see ourselves, don’t we?


Thanksgiving is a painful day for me. One of my most painful memories happened on a Thanksgiving Day. I stuffed everything I could fit into laundry baskets, piled those into the backseat of my car, and officially left Caleb.

I ate at a Chinese Buffet with my friend, and the future loomed before me like a buffet full of hungry, lonely people.


The future is here.

I made a friend at the gym recently, and he asked me to send him my sunset essay. When I sent it, I wrote that I always feel compelled to tell people–particularly when they only know me from one context–that I am okay.

I am okay.

But I am still lonely, and I am still hungry.

Some days, I’m not even sure what I hunger for.


When I got my book cover, I texted a picture of it to River Guide. We are not generally in touch. I had to pull away when he started seeing someone else because it was too painful for me, but I still think of him fondly.

He sent back congratulations. He told me that he was walking a former student–a young woman with a traumatic past–down the aisle at her wedding that weekend.

I thought, “I will never date another man as kind as you.”

I remembered when he told me about that student. I was dog sitting for a friend, and he was staying with me. We had taken the dog for a walk into the hills. It was a hot night, the road so very dry. There were no trees or shade. We stopped at a ravine and looked down into it, and it was full of bones.

Mounds and mounds of animal bones. We were at an animal graveyard.

The chalky white bones were stacked upon each other, and they formed a kind of art, but it wasn’t beautiful. It wasn’t redeeming.


We turned around, and he told me about his student, showed me pictures of her on Facebook. I felt irrationally jealous; I knew that she would have him in her life for longer than I would.


That night, we had the best sex we’d ever had. It wasn’t the last time that we had sex (I’m not even sure that there has been a last time yet), but it had that kind of urgency, of finality.

The dog whined to be let out, and River Guide got up, padded to the door naked, and let her out.

He was that kind of person. The oldest of nine children. I never had to do a thing when I was with him. He took care of me so well.

Sometimes I wonder how well he takes care of someone he loves. Sometimes I think that it must be amazing to be loved by him.


I have a friend who loves very freely. Since I’ve known her, I’ve heard her say that she has loved multiple people. I’ve realized that we all love very differently. I am reserved with my love. I have only loved three men in my lifetime.

I have to be reserved with my love because, for me, once love is born, I am unable to kill it.


River Guide kissed me for the first time while we laid in the grass under a dry lightning storm at night.

The lightning flashed above us, bright streaks in the darkness.


I realized after reading his text about walking his student down the aisle that I might have been a little bit in love with River Guide.


How tough can I make myself? How resistant to love? How immune can I make myself to the pleasures of intimacy?


I talked to Reed today, and he told me that they’re having Thanksgiving with his stepmom’s parents rather than Caleb’s parents this year. He loves his stepmom’s parents. They sound very kind. They call him their “first grandchild.” Still, he was grumpy that he didn’t get to go to his dad’s parents’ house (likely because he didn’t get to see his cousins). He said, “We never had to do this when you and dad were married.”

I pulled out my mom card–reminded him that I only had one grandparent, and he was lucky to have so many.

My mother was orphaned. I never knew her parents, and really, neither did she.

My father’s father died when I was very young.


I have two very, early memories.

The first: My family was living in Forest Service Housing at Hughes Creek Guard Station in the middle of the Idaho woods. My father was shoveling the walk, and I was watching from the doorway in my snowsuit. He motioned for me to come out, and I ran out excitedly, then was terrified.

The snow towered above me.


The second: My mother received a phone call in the kitchen. She crumpled to the floor.

I ran to her. “Mommy, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“Your grandfather died,” she said.

I didn’t know yet what it meant to die, but as I watched my mother curled up on that floor in the morning sunlight–my mother who I had never seen cry before–I knew that the snow would always tower above me, and the sunlight could not protect me.


It’s Thanksgiving, and I’d love to write something optimistic, but holidays are hard for so many of us. Today has been hard for me. The sunlight so oppressive.

A friend said on another person’s post that Thanksgiving has another name, and it’s Thursday.


Still, as I talked to Reed, and he told me about the family Thanksgiving that they were having, I felt no envy. That Thanksgiving didn’t appeal to me at all.

I told my mother today that–abuse aside—I was isolated when I was married to Caleb, and I would take friendships over a romantic relationship any day.

I spent my evening eating really good food with a bunch of kind, progressive folks with PhDs, and I don’t have a lot to complain about.


It may not be perfect, but I would take the life I have now over the life I had then.

The future is here, and though it’s hard, it’s better.

It’s so much better.

 

 

Survivor Stories, Guest Post: So Much to Say (or, On Reporting My Sexual Assaults to the Dean of Students at the University of [redacted])

So Much to Say (or, On Reporting My Sexual Assaults to the Dean of Students at the University of [redacted])

By: Daniel Garcia

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1. Before

 

I see a snapshot of a young man—a boy, really—on the floor of a music practice room. He is, in fact, myself, but in this picture that I have of myself, I feel like someone else. I can’t see myself clearly; the room is so dark. My crotch is scribbled out. My mouth is a smeared X; Run, I want to tell that boy-me. Don’t let him touch you. There is a man’s chest pressed against my back, and then we are on the floor, and my traitorous thighs are holding the man and he is whispering to the me, Mommy loves you, Mommy loves you, and his hands are everywhere. The walls are lined with fuzzy gray pads to soundproof the room. The scent of wine fills the air. I die. I die. I die. I die.

 

*

 

Four months later, I met up with a stranger outside of my dorm. I asked if I could kiss him. He got skittish. He started to leave, but I reassured him that I wouldn’t push him do anything he didn’t want to. He asked if I would suck his dick. I said sure.

 

In my dorm, we fooled around on the couch, doing nothing more than oral and groping. I told him to let me know when he was close. He pulled his shirt up, the muscles on his belly crunching as I took him into my mouth. A few minutes later, he grunted, put his hand on the back of my head, and shoved down, flooding my mouth before I could pull off.

 

It wasn’t a hookup anymore.

 

*

 

I was fourteen the first time I heard that happiness was a choice. After school that day, I relayed the idea to my mother, who liked the idea, too. “Happiness is a choice,” she said slowly, trying the words out loud, letting them sink in.

 

If happiness is a choice, then I wonder if the opposite is true, if unhappiness is a choice. If that’s the case, then I must’ve chosen to be unhappy sometime after my first assault. I must’ve asked to be an unhappy person. Being sad must be irresistible.

 

Can’t say no to being sad, can’t say no to being raped.

 

*

 

I am bisexual. If I’m being honest, however, I’m probably biromantic and homosexual. For me, I find it hard to separate sex and romance from one another, often using sex as a method of acquiring emotional intimacy with another person. I don’t think love would save me, but I think it would be a source of happiness.

 

One day, I would like to fall in love with someone with a nice smile, good shoulders, and strong but gentle hands. In most of my fantasies, this someone is a man, though I keep my options open for any opportunities that come my way.

 

*

 

I can’t remember if I was fifteen, or if it was after a pep rally or the last day of my freshman year, but once, my friend Jake came up behind me, pressed his chest against my back, reached around and started playing with my nipples in a crowd of freshmen.

 

*

 

Once, I fell in love with a friend who raped me. He was handsome when he was sober, when he smiled and got enough sleep. He had good shoulders, but his hands weren’t very gentle. I used to touch myself and say his name, imagining his hard body above me, making love to me, my nails scratching down his chest, his back.

 

*

 

I was also fourteen when I learned about “goobering,” and “gobbling.” Goobering was when one made one’s hand into the silent duck position, followed by the prompt jabbing of said hand into an (usually) unsuspecting friend’s crotch. Gobbling, on the other hand, was the same thing, except the fingers are stuffed up the person’s buttcheeks, usually followed by a series of laughs from the both parties. Everyone in high school did it to one another.

 

*

 

Sometimes, I walk past the survivor advocate’s office on campus and I feel sad.

 

*

 

When I told my mother about my first assault, she asked, “Why didn’t you report?”

 

I said, “I didn’t know. I didn’t know it was assault.” Because it didn’t fit into what an assault was supposed to look like. Because I didn’t want to have to go through it again. Because I didn’t think anyone would believe me. Because I didn’t think you would believe me.

 

I’ll probably never tell her about the other assaults. If I did, I imagine she’d probably ask me what I’m doing to make this happen to me so much.

 

*

 

One day, I would like to come without remembering what it was like to be raped.

 

*

 

Earlier this week, I brushed my teeth too hard, and the gum covering the tooth next to my right big tooth split. I spent the next five minutes dabbing at the gum with toilet paper. The blood wouldn’t stop flooding my mouth.

 

*

 

There’s a story in my family that my mother once passed down to me: A scorned mistress of my grandfather’s cursed his lineage with brujeria; all of the men in his line after him would always remain dissatisfied emotionally and physically. If they found love, it would end tragically or would fade quickly. Sex would never be any sort of fulfillment. Always emotionally vacant, these men. Always unhappy. Always vacant.

 

Apparently, the only way to remove the curse is to burn the effigy she made in my grandfather’s name. It is, according to my mother, buried somewhere under a tree in the country of Panama.

 

*

 

The third man who assaulted me never kissed me, which I’m ultimately glad for. Once we were in my bed, he pulled my shorts down. He said in his thick accent, “Okay, time to fuck you now,” and I said no for once, and then I said it twice, and then three times, and then four times, and he wouldn’t stop touching me, and he wouldn’t stop trying to put it in me, until I wiggled out from underneath him and took his short cock into my mouth.

 

It was the only way I knew how to fight back.

 

He didn’t come. I stared out at the light coming from the bathroom after he left, wondering if I was assaulted again. I figured it was another bad hookup.

 

It’s what I figured every assault was.

 

*

 

Two months before that, Jake messaged me on Facebook, telling me how impressed with my strength he was. He said, in reference to my openness about being assaulted, “I know you have been through a lot.” Even now, I’m hesitant to call what Jake did assault, not because he was a friend, but because, in high school, the experience of having my nipples tweaked without permission was just…normal.

 

*

 

Two years after high school ended, the man I loved came up behind me, pressed his chest against my back, made his hand into a silent duck, then gobbled me in his apartment. I wasn’t laughing.

 

I wonder if he thought that was normal.

 

*

 

what am I doing to make this happen to me so much what am I doing to make this happen to me so much what am I doing to make this happen to me so much what am I doing to make this happen to me so much what am I doing to make this happen to me so much what am I doing to make this happen to me so much what am I doing to make this happen to me so much

 

*

 

Sometimes, when I have sex, I feel very vacant, and sometimes, sex feels like a great way to pass the time. I like to think that, despite the things that have happened to my body, there are still some things that men can’t fully take from me.

 

*

 

Sometimes, faking an orgasm is the only way I know I haven’t been raped.

 

*

 

Sometimes, I imagine the convenience of a bloody mouth. A man catcalls and I flash him a red grin. A man tries to steal my body and a scarlet ocean spills onto his flesh. No amount of scrubbing would get the stains out of his skin.

 

*

 

I can’t remember what his come tasted like. I just remember being angry. Then empty. I remember getting up and walking to the sink in the dorm room, spitting into my hand, then walking back over to the couch.

 

I’ll never fully understand why I did it. The best I can come up with is that, in the face of the assault, the first rape, the second rape, the fourth assault, my brain did what it could to protect me from it: Convincing myself each time that I must have consented. See? You must’ve secretly liked it. Just look between your legs. There’s no way he could’ve forced you. You did that. Slut.

 

Fingers slick, I gripped myself and a few minutes later, I came.

 

He watched the whole time.

 

*

 

What I fully understand is that none of this would ever hold up in court. None of it.

 

*

 

August 30, 2017

 

I freeze on the way to my first class, looking at the man who has just walked out of the library, walking in my direction. For the rest of my life, I will always remember that body, that frizzy hair, that face. I will always remember his penis in my mouth.

 

After class, I go to the university’s student union. A few minutes later, the survivor advocate comes out and smiles at me. “Come on back, [redacted],” she said. In her office, we make small talk for all of thirty seconds before I say, “I want to report.”

 

*

 

I am still trying to scrub the stains out of my mouth.

 

*

 

At the end of it, she gives me a few pamphlets. She reminds me that I don’t have to do anything when the Dean emails me if I don’t want to. I can choose to have an investigation launched, or not. I have options.

 

*

 

In the emails, there is a brief message that contains a link to a secure website that contains an official notice from the Dean. At the bottom of the email, it says: If you fail to open, read, and respond to this notice in a timely fashion it may impair your ability to persist as a [university name redacted] student.

 

*

 

September 1, 2017

 

[full name redacted]

Sent electronically to [email redacted]

PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL

 

[redacted],

 

As referenced in my last six emails correspondence to you, I work in the Dean of Students Office and I am contacting you because my office received information alleging that you may have been but probably weren’t subjected to a violation of the [university name redacted] Code of Student Conduct relating to sexual assault.

 

I would appreciate the opportunity to interrogate meet with you to provide you more proof of your victimhood information about our process of disenfranchising survivors and make sure that you are aware that no one will believe you of your lies options, including the resources unavailable to men you. Please contact me at [phone number redacted] or [email redacted]. If you continue to waste my time I do not hear from you by September 5, 2017 I may have to take limited action on this false report and I would prefer to have you be a good victim and go through everything that happened to you again provide the dirty details further input into the process before an investigation is launched that happens.

 

Sincerely,

 

[redacted]

Senior Associate Dean of Students

 

*

 

In 2015, a student reports being sexually assaulted by a man employed by the university. The man’s attorney says: “It is becoming popular right now for people to sue universities claiming that they have been victims of sexual assault and blame the university. Many times there are real victims in these kinds of cases. This case, in my opinion, is not a case with an actual victim.”

 

*

 

September 8, 2017, 2:09pm

 

I will meet with the Dean of Students in less than an hour. I will put on the new jeans, the new hoodie, and the new sneakers my mother bought for me on Labor Day. I will wear the anchor necklace with the rose charm superglued on it. I will wear this because it reminds me that I’m a survivor.

 

*

 

Victim’s Demographics:

Name: [redacted] / Sex: Male / Current Age: 22 / Hair: Brown / Eyes: Brown / Race or Ethnicity: Hispanic-Latino / Height: 5’6 / Weight: [redacted]

 

*

 

I survived.

 

*

 

Perpetrators’ Demographics:

Name: Brent Tyson / Sex: Male / Age at time of assault: 22 / Hair: Brown / Eyes: Brown / Race or Ethnicity: White / Height: 5’9 – 5’10 / Weight: unsure, perhaps 140lbs – 160lbs, lean build, very toned / Crime: Non-Penetrative Sexual Assault (1 count of) / Educational Status: Student

 

*

 

I will walk across campus to the student union. I will walk the stairs to the fourth floor, and I will walk past the survivor advocate’s office.

 

*

 

I survived.

 

*

 

Name: Andy Trapis / Sex: Male / Age at time of assault: unsure, perhaps 20 / Hair: Black / Eyes: Brown / Race or Ethnicity: Half-black, half-white / Height: 5’7 – 5’8 / Weight: unsure, perhaps 150lbs, lean build / Crime: Rape (1 count of) / Educational Status: Student

 

*

 

I will not walk into her office this time. I will walk into the room next to hers and tell the student receptionist that I have a meeting with Dean [redacted] at 3:00pm.

 

*

 

I survived.

 

*

 

Name: Brendan Tyson / Sex: Male / Age at time of assault: 23, perhaps 24 / Hair: Brown / Eyes: Brown / Race or Ethnicity: White / Height: 5’9 – 5’10 / Weight: unsure, perhaps 140lbs – 160lbs, lean build, very toned / Crime: Rape (1 count of) / Educational Status: Student

 

*

 

The Dean will come out and invite me back to his office. I will hesitate for a second, standing in the doorway. I do not know what will happen after this.

 

*

 

Name: Ali Al-Hashim, gave name of Alex to victim / Sex: Male / Age at time of assault: between 24 and 27 / Hair: Black / Eyes: Brown / Race or Ethnicity: unsure, most likely Arab or Middle Eastern / Height 5’8 – 5’11 / Weight: unsure, perhaps 180lbs, muscular build, somewhat toned / Crime: Sexual Assault, possibly Rape (1 count of) / Educational Status: Student

 

*

 

I survived.

 

*

 

Timeline of Events:

Autumn, September 2014; victim age 19, assaulted in music annex on campus by B. Tyson / Winter, January 2015; victim age 19, raped in victim’s dorm room by A. Trapis / Summer, July 2015; victim age 20, raped in B. Tyson’s apartment / Spring, May 2016; victim age 21, assaulted, possibly raped, in victim’s apartment by A. Al-Hashim, same apartment complex as July 2015 rape

 

*

 

Of course, these aren’t their actual names.

 

But you knew that already.

 

*

 

Still, I will walk inside his office, ready.

 

*

 

2. After

 

September 12, 2017

 

 This notice serves to inform you that I am closing this complaint without further investigation because at this time I do not have a sufficient amount of information to conduct an investigation, specifically, no respondent has been named.

 

*

 

I sit in a man’s lap, and my thighs straddle either side of his waist. I do not know his name, he is a stranger in my bed, his mouth is on mine, our tongues greet one another, and I press my hands to the muscles on his chest, leaning into him. He reaches around and grabs a handful of my ass. I do not tell him that I am sad.

 

Author’s Bio: Daniel Garcia is a poet and writer based out in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He is currently pursuing his degree in creative writing and goes to church frequently–and by church he means poetry slams. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Write About Now Poetry, SlamFind, SUGAR Magazine, Rathalla Review, Apology Not Accepted, Hawaii Pacific Review, and more. When he isn’t writing or slamming, Daniel can be found giving as many hugs as possible, living by the words “You are all that you have,” and falling off the edge of the Earth. He is the 2017 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) Head to Head Haiku Slam Champion.

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On Endings

Cover
Now available for pre-order. Seriously. For real.

My students often ask me about personal essays, “How do you know where to finish?”

Life is ongoing, you see? So how do we know when to finish?

I always tell them that I don’t have an answer, that I usually know how I want to finish an essay when I start it, that the final line is often the impetus for the entire piece.


I am someone who sees endings before I see beginnings.


My book is finished. It is off to the galley printers.

On campus, people keep asking the standard question, “How are you?”

And I keep answering, “Good. I’m really good.”

My friend Brad once said that we are all existing in a competition of “tired.” We ask one another, “How are you?” And we respond, always, with “Tired. I’m tired.”

But you know what? Right now, I’m good. I’m really good. The writing of my book has come to an end, and for that, I am grateful.


I write about being in the gym a lot. That is not because I spend so much time in the gym, but because, lately, I haven’t been doing that much to write about.

Tonight, I ran on the treadmill. I had my final physical therapy appointment yesterday, and my physical therapist gave me permission to exercise fully, so I went for it today. I pushed myself, and pushing myself physically did something to me emotionally.

I wanted to cry; I wanted to rage.

In the window, I could see the reflection of the man who I met in the gym. I could see him looking at me, seeking my approval.

I ignored him. I ran faster.

I could see the reflection of the man on the machine behind me. That man had seen me out on one of the rare nights when I was  out drinking with friends. At the time, that man had laughed and said “hello” guiltily (as had I). Then, I texted the other man from the gym, and he showed up and escorted me home.

I was home by 10:30 pm.

Nothing happened with either man.

Still, they now both give me that look.

You know that look.

We all know that look.


I am so tired of endings.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot write the ending to my own story.


I had sent my book a while ago to a writer I admire, and she wrote back today with many kind words, but what struck me the most was this, “… I will forever go back to it to try and figure out how you made this gorgeous, difficult, complicated, hopeful piece of art.”

How did I make it?

I don’t even know because I was in a trance.


Thank goodness that I didn’t have Reed for the summer because the entire summer was stuporific.

How did I even function?

I didn’t.

I didn’t even have my body because of my back injury. My body, too, was angry at me. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t walk up the stairs. I couldn’t even clean my house.


I did all of that stuff anyway because, when a single mother is ill, who takes care of her?

No one.


Every night, when I close my eyelids, and every morning, when I open them, I am only ever alone.

This is a lesson I have learned.


I have so many endings that I want to talk about. So many endings that have hurt me.

Pete / my first love / the alcoholic / No one will ever again break my heart like he did / Clayton / the only emotionally stable man I’ve ever dated / I wasn’t good enough for him / Caleb/ the love of my life/ I married that motherfucker / River Guide / I could have loved him / He didn’t love me.

There are so many others.

So many heartbreaks.


The guy from the gym yelled at me in front of all of the other gym members who were there.

He yelled, “You just can’t get over yourself, can you?”

He later said that he missed me. He said that our fall-out had been keeping him awake at night. He said, “As, I’m sure, it has you too.”

I said honestly, “I haven’t really thought of this at all.”

He looked hurt, and I overcompensated by talking about how busy I am.


What I wanted to say was, “If you knew me better, then you would know that I have had my heart broken in the worst way possible, and an aggressive guy yelling at me in the gym does not have the capacity to hurt me.


What my therapist said was something along the lines of, I hate this guy because he’s driven you back into therapy, though you don’t care about him at all.


There was a time when I was skiing with a friend. She was braver than me and took off from the normal run to the trees, so I followed. But I crashed.

I landed in a tree well, which is a very dangerous trap of loose snow around a tree. The snow in a tree well is basically like quicksand, but maybe worse

As I dug to get a foothold, I felt myself sinking into that depth. I hadn’t yet heard tips on how to get out of tree wells, but I intuited them. Lean into the solid. Get yourself out on your elbows.

I could feel the ground under my feet caving below me, but I knew that meant I was supposed to depend upon my arms. I used my elbows to edge my way out.

And in the end, I survived.

I’ve always survived.

The end to this story is a woman who went through hell but still loves herself,


But really, the end to this story is the tunnel left in the wake of that darkness.

What could have happened in that tree well?

Why do we all need to face our own tunnels?

To learn to use our elbows to edge our way out?

 

Me Too: On The Spectacle of An Issue (Guest Post)

By: Anonymous

When the Harvey Weinstein scandal hit the news, the first thing I told my friend was: “It’s a good thing I filed my sexual harassment complaint when I did so nobody could accuse me of jumping on a bandwagon.” I paused and added, “That’s the next dark cloud on the horizon.”

I filed my complaint last winter, and it is ongoing, so I can’t join everyone saying, “Me too,” on social media to raise awareness of sexual harassment and assault. Most of these posts add, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy/paste.”

Even if I could copy/paste “Me too,” I wouldn’t. I’m afraid that this move plays into the dangerous logic that sexual violence is serious because it’s everywhere. In fact, it’s serious because it’s anywhere. We’re showing work places that we’ll make a big deal when sexual harassment and assault impact large numbers of employees. We’re prompting the minimization but not necessarily the eradication of sexual violence. And yes, we’re inviting people to see future victims as if they’re on a bandwagon. That is not fair.

As it is, I can’t copy/paste “Me too” online because I said it on the record. I filed a formal complaint. I had a lawyer until I couldn’t afford one. I halted my career progress to research law and policy so I could prepare my own documentation and evidence. I lost interest in my life as I saw it through the gaze of an investigation and the rumors it brought. I heard through the grapevine that all my colleagues know I filed a complaint. Only two of them reached out unprompted to say they were sorry about what happened. After writing this statement, one more colleague wrote to me, acknowledging that the “Me too” posts must feel isolating. During a time when few people will look me in the eye and when someone who spread the word about my complaint recently pretended not to know me at a meeting, that message made me feel human again.

I remind myself that I’m not objective about the way people are treating me. Others explain that everyone at work has been mandated not to talk to me about my complaint. That seems fair, but a speech act of disclosure is different than a speech act of hospitality. We live in a culture that is more curious about disclosure than invested in hospitality though. People will ask each other what happened. With few exceptions, they will not reach out to say they’re allies.

Ultimately, I’m afraid that everyone who copies/pastes “Me too” is responding to the spectacle of an issue that has finally become legible in scale and volume. This is okay if they’re also responding to the instances of actual violence that are legible right in front of them. What I’m saying is that my social media feeds are full of “Me to’s,” but my life is not full of allies.

Saying “Me too” in a formal complaint silenced me. Finding the news wires circulate everything I cannot say is deadening. I inhabit the isolation of dysphonia, but a lot of victims currently embroiled in sexual harassment and assault cases do so too. To them, I say: thank you for trying to prevent others from becoming victims where you work, live, study, dream, and hope to thrive. To them, I say: we will get our voices back, and until then, we must believe that we expended them when it mattered most.

 

On PTSD Reactions

 

My graduate advisor had his annual party tonight to welcome the new graduate students. I always love this party.

I knew that, if I get a job–which I hope that I do–this would be the last of those parties for me. I wore a gold, velvet tank top that I had paid full price for at J. Crew (I never pay full price at J. Crew, but I really loved that tank top). I wore long dangly earrings made out of brown and gold leather threads.

I liked my outfit.

I said to two of my friends, “One of the nice things about having lost weight is being able to wear cute clothes.”

One of my friends reached over unexpectedly and hugged me. She said, “I met you for the first time at this party four years ago, and you don’t even look like the same person.”

My other friend said, “It’s not just that you’ve lost weight. It’s that you’re so much happier. You don’t seem stressed in the same way.”


The other day, I ran into a different friend, and when she asked “How are you?”

I answered, “Good. Really good.”

Then I thought, When was the last time that I said that?


I divorced Caleb, then moved to Athens the next day. I would have met those two friends from the party only a few weeks after my divorce. No one knew my story then.

I didn’t even know my own story then.

I was so sad.

And then, soon enough, I was angry.


And then, the anger consumed me. It manifested against Caleb, but it also manifested against his friends.

Who were they to disbelieve me?

If they did believe me, then who were they to devalue me by remaining friends with him?

Who were they to assume that I was doing “fine” because I had gotten out?


One of Caleb’s friends wrote to me that it seemed like I was doing well, so what was my problem?

She was an aspiring writer, but had not published, so I presume that her assumption that I was doing well was because I had become a pretty prolific writer?

Writers judge by those standards. “Oh, that person must be doing well because they’re publishing!”

When in truth, at that time, I would take breaks from my writing and jog past the McDonalds by my apartment building as a way to work out some of my stress, and the McDonalds employees would laugh at me through the window because I was so obviously out of shape.

I cried so often and so hard.

I ran the stairs at my apartment building.

I needed to make my body hurt, so that I couldn’t feel the pain in my heart.


Caleb once told me that we can only feel pain in one part of our body at a time.


When I was running those stairs, I only felt pain in my legs.

My heart, for a moment, was free.


And that anger led to this blog. That anger is why this blog is called Apology Not Accepted. That anger led to me complaining to the DA’s office about the handling of Caleb’s case, about his sentence being that he only had to write me a a letter of apology.

That anger led to me getting an apology from the Prosecuting Attorney on behalf of the state of West Virginia.

I got an apology on behalf of the state of West Virginia, and it wasn’t enough.

The anger was still there. Still eating me alive.


I wasn’t angry at Caleb. I was angry at everyone around him.  His mother. His friends. His workplace.

Who were they to love him?

Who were they to love him when I felt so unloved?


So, I started lashing out, both privately and  publicly. I privately messaged people to tell them just what I thought of their alliance with Caleb (and I was not kind), and I publicly engaged in battles that I should not have with men who claimed to be feminists but were still in contact with Caleb.

Every time that I lashed out, I left the exchange having gained nothing. No one changed their mind. No one said, “You know, you’re right. I really have messed up in my support of your abuser, and I know that now.”

But the truth is that the people who would have said that had probably already allied themselves with me because there were plenty of Caleb’s friends who also said to me, “I am on your side.”


Last night, I messaged a female professor who had known Caleb, and I thanked her for having always been supportive of me from the beginning.

I said to her “I regret how assertive I was with some of those Boise dudes about their support of Caleb (though they generally denied to me that they supported him), but then I think of the Boise women and how I always felt supported by the women, and I realize that, as much as I hate to be the case study in PTSD and reactionary responses, maybe I’ve done something to help those dudes realize how to–actually–support women who have been abused by their friends.”

And I was sincere.

My PTSD caused me to react in an overly aggressive manner to people who are really of no consequence to me, but, still, maybe they needed to hear it?

Maybe they needed to hear that they can’t claim to be feminists while remaining allied with a wife batterer?


In reality, I am sassy, but a generally agreeable person. I love very fully and am a loyal friend.  I am an approval seeker who will always try to meet expectations. When talking about the academic job market, one of the full professors in my department who is known for his brutal honesty looked at me for a long time, then said, “I am not worried about you. You just need to get a campus visit because they will like you when they meet you.”


Still, around that same time, on Facebook, I was aggressively countering a rather famous writer’s claim that he was a feminist with my own evidence that he wasn’t.

I did the same thing on another writer’s post. One of his friends, a stranger, jumped in to tell me that it would be a lot easier to listen to me if I “wasn’t so angry.”

I learned then about tone policing.

It could have been career suicide for me, but I didn’t care. Sometimes, I am just the vehicle and PTSD is the driver.


My PTSD is on mute right now, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve surpassed it. Only, that I’m not having those incidences of rage or sadness.

But I don’t want to discredit the value of those incidences. So many people tell me that I’m “brave,” but so much of my “bravery” has been PTSD. PTSD is ridiculously emboldening, and a lot of good can come from that.

I’ll never be grateful for PTSD. It is honestly the worst,  but it also isn’t a permanent state of being.

Right now, I’m the person who when a friend says, “How are you?” I answer, “Good. Really good.”

On #notmylife

I was texting with my friend Shane recently, and the subject of Caleb and his new job came up. I mentioned that Reed had told me that Caleb is commuting from his parents’ place, and the new wife is home alone with the baby during the week.

I mentioned that I had found Caleb’s schedule, and he is still teaching 5 classes, but now teaching at a pretty anonymous community college.

I mentioned that I couldn’t see how the new job was an upgrade at all, and in fact, appears to be a downgrade.

I mentioned how a friend had commented that it seemed as though Caleb had “just fled” WVU (there was definitely pressure being exerted to get rid of him there).

I mentioned how awful it must be for Caleb’s wife to be home alone with a new baby while he works at a job that surely can’t be gratifying in the way that he desires.


But then, I texted, “I’m just grateful that’s not my life.”

And Shane texted back, “#notmylife.”

So, that’s my new motto: #notmylife.


It was once my life, but is no more.


Do you want to know what my life is now?

Grace and Frankie marathons on my couch.

Jimmy John’s delivery three times in one week because I don’t want to cook.

Afternoon naps whenever I want (if I’m not teaching).

Beer at the nearby brewpub with my neighbor on a weeknight.

Travel to writer’s residencies in Belgium, Vermont, and Washington.

So many friendships, both new and old.

A PhD, a Best American Essay, and a book with HarperCollins.


The other night, in the car on the way to see his father, Reed said, “Do you think that my dad believes everything he says about you?”

I said, “I don’t know. He was married to me for almost a decade, so I feel like he’d know me by now.”

“Wait, I thought you were only married for 5 years,” Reed said.


Reed was 7 when I left his father, yet he thought that we had only been married for 5 years. I have no doubt that this is due to his father trying to recreate the narrative of his “first family.”

The first family must surely be downplayed as inconsequential.

We never really existed.

When did you get married?” Reed asked.

I told him the date.

“So, [dad’s baby] was born on the day of your wedding anniversary?” Reed asked. “I guess that means he’s probably extra happy about that day?”

I said, “Well, wedding anniversaries are sad after a divorce, so he’s probably happy to have something to replace that memory with.”

Reed said, “If [my stepmom] ever divorces my dad and he loses [my sister] like he lost me, then he’s probably going to be really sad on that day.”

But then he said, “But if [my stepmom] divorces my dad, then I’m going to lose my sister too.”

I said, “If [your stepmom] divorces your dad, I’ll make sure that you still have a relationship with your stepmom, your sister, and your step-grandparents. I promise.”


But Reed’s stepmom is not going to divorce his dad. Caleb is smarter and harder. He knows what he’s doing now. And the stepmom, according to Reed, wants to be a stay-at-home mom.

This is not an indictment of stay-at-home motherhood, but in this particular instance, I cannot think of a better way in which Caleb could have trapped his new wife. How could she ever leave him if he’s the sole provider?


Tonight, in the car on the way home from his father’s house, Reed told me that his English teacher had asked them to write about a moment that had changed their life. He said, “I wanted to write about when my dad broke your foot, and I came home, and you were in a cast and on crutches, but then, I thought, ‘No, that’s way too dark for the other sixth graders.'”

He didn’t say that with sadness. He said it with humor.

Dark, dark, humor.

I raised this kid. I get him. I giggled. “Yeah, probably too dark,” I said.

He giggled harder, “Definitely too dark,” he said.

Then we ranked our household in order of weirdness, and Reed ranked it as the following:

  1. Teddy the dog (weirdest)
  2. Me (next weirdest)
  3. Bob the cat (kinda weird)
  4. Reed (not weird at all)

Though I shouldn’t admit it, I actually agreed with Reed’s ranking.


I love this kiddo, and I love my life. I have pangs when Reed sends me things like pictures of his dad with his baby sister, but they’re just that–pangs.

I was full-on suicidal when I was with Caleb. I’ll take “pangs” over that any day.


But it’s not my life anymore. It’s her life now. Hopefully, she’ll read this. Hopefully, she’ll learn sooner than I did.

Regardless, #notmylife

Guest Post: Empathy for the Abuser

By: Dr. Buddhini Samarisinghe

Sympathy for the devil  Empathy for the abuser

The man who abused me told me that he had a lot of baggage.

He told me he had an unhappy childhood. He told me that he grew up without his father, who abandoned his family when he was younger so that he had to step in to take care of his siblings and mom. He told me his mom was abusive, and that his grandfather had abused his mom. He told me that he never felt loved, and that he never felt safe, and that he never felt supported.

The man who abused me told me he had a past history with mental illness. He told me that he had been diagnosed with depression, and that he was institutionalized as a teenager when he tried to kill himself. He told me that he has been on various medications for his illness sporadically, and that these medications were responsible for his mood swings.

The man who abused me told me that he had a past history with substance abuse.

The thing is, the man who abused me was also a compulsive liar. He lied to me about his finances, his relationships, and his work. He lied about the most insignificant things, like when he told me that he is not a smoker, and hates cigarettes – I found out this was a lie when I spoke to several of his other victims who told me he was actually a chain smoker.

I know that the man who abused me used his baggage to entrap me. I know that I explained away a lot of his abusive behaviors because of his baggage. The man who abused me is a skilled manipulator. Gaslighting is second nature to him, and he would spin stories to fit his agenda without batting an eyelid.

As a survivor of his abuse, it’s hard for me to separate the truth from his lies. I spend a lot of my time trying to do this – alone, with friends, with my therapist. Sometimes, questioning the things he told me feels wrong because of the essence of the question. Think about it – “did he really experience childhood abuse or was he just saying that so I would feel sorry for him?”. Now try to imagine how awful a childhood abuse survivor would feel to have their experiences questioned like this.

As a survivor of his abuse, I often notice that I am expected to take these ‘extenuating circumstances’ into account when I consider his abuse. As if his baggage is somehow an excuse for what he did. As if I owe him empathy – as if I owe him the courtesy – to take these things into account when I take stock of my devastated sense of self. I hate how I am expected to be kind and empathetic and watch my language when I talk about this man who harmed me because he (allegedly) has a history of mental illness/substance abuse/childhood abuse. Accounting for his baggage and nuancing how I express my hurt and anger feels wrong. It’s wrong to expect the survivor of abuse to have empathy for their abuser.

I am not at a place where I can feel compassion for my abuser. I still hate him for what he did to me, and it is a hatred that feels everlasting. It burns bright, like the sparks from an oxyacetylene torch, blinding me to anything else other than a desire to see him suffer. I don’t know if I will ever get to a place where I can stop hating him, but I know that any lessening of hatred needs to come from within me, when I feel ready for it. It cannot come externally, from people who had the luxury of not experiencing his abuse telling me how I should and shouldn’t process my experience.

Buddhini

Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe is a science writer with a background in molecular biology and cancer research. Her writing can be found at Jargonwall. She is also the founder of STEM Women, an initiative dedicated to promoting and celebrating women in STEM. Follow on Twitter @DrHalfPintBuddyFacebook and Google+

Guest Post: On Loving Someone Who Has Been Abused.

By Anonymous

I knew you both way back when. The hot-shot lawyer and his beautiful girlfriend, the social worker. Soon to be your fiancé.

You were both so young and new in your careers and ready to take on the world.

I have to admit. I thought you were an odd pair. There was a little bit of me who thought you were gay. Just like me.  Soon you were married, and we were all happy for you.

Late one night there was a knock on my door. There she stood on my porch. Tears in her eyes.  There had been a fight. You called her a cunt and told her to get the hell out. I opened my door and let her in. She spent the night on my couch, and when I woke in the morning, she was gone.

We all remained friends through the years. Eventually we moved in different directions but still stayed in touch. But then we lost touch.

Fast forward several years. I find her on Facebook. You have 2 children together and you are divorced. She and I reconnect like no time has passed. You and she have two beautiful children. A boy and a girl. I hear horror stories about the drinking and the abuse. Emotional and physical. Now I hate you. How can you do that to three beautiful souls?

Five years after reconnecting on Facebook, she and I are married. You are living your life alone. Bitter and unhappy.

I have been through the tears and the anger. The depression and the anxiety. Counselors and psychiatrists. Therapy and medications. All to combat the damage you caused.

I may not be a man, but I am ten times the man you are. I love my family and I will do anything to protect them. From you or anyone else. No more Christmases hiding in a hotel because you are drunk and raging and feeling sorry for yourself. Do you remember that?

We’re all doing well now. Life is good and we are a family. An unconventional family, according to some, but a family nonetheless. We are not looking back. We are full of love and a bright future and happy endings.