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]





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.





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.


On Endings

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.


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.


On Getting What I Wanted

The first time that Caleb hit me, he pounded my head with his fist.

He yelled, Is this what you wanted? Is this what you wanted? Is this what you wanted?

By then, it was what I wanted.

It was what I wanted because I wanted him to stop berating me, stop scaring me, stop backing me into corners. I thought that, if he hit me, then he would realize he had gone too far because I thought that everyone knew that hitting your wife is wrong.

I can be so fucking smart, but I am also so fucking naive.

Getting what I have wanted has been accompanied by so much loss.

I dreamed about having sex with Caleb the other night. It was the most amazing sex, but even in my dream, I knew that it was wrong.

No one has ever made me feel like he made me feel, and I still miss that.

I have never had better self-esteem than I do right now.

What does that say about how I used to feel about myself?

Because I still feel pretty shitty about myself.

I had a really wonderful evening with a friend tonight. She is so easy to talk to, and I just connect with her. We talked about someone who used to be a really close friend of mine, but is no longer.

My friend asked what I thought had happened to cause this rift, and I responded that my book deal happened.

I got what I wanted–a book deal with a major publishing house.

When the final offer for my book came through, my agent called me on the phone. She was initially in a cab. She then spoke to me from the first floor of a hotel lobby.

She said, “Don’t tell people what you were paid. Writers get jealous, and advances are arbitrary and mean nothing. When people ask you what you got paid, just say ‘Enough to write the book.'”

Writers get jealous.

I got what I wanted, and I lost a friend–or many–in the process.

Just to be clear, I only received enough to write the book. It actually wasn’t even enough to write the book. I’ve recently had to borrow money from my parents.

We all need to talk more honestly about money, okay?

Faculty members keep telling me that they hope I’m “investing” my book advance. I want to say to them, Do you realize my TA salary is $15,700 dollars?

My rent is $16,800 per year.

I love y’all who think I can “invest” this windfall, but I’m still barely keeping my kid off of free lunch.

I have moved into the elite school district. Reed and I went to the open house, and the “feminist” moms from my English department who supported the sexual predator all snubbed me.

My heart was broken because I feared that my outspokenness would harm Reed, but he is doing fine. He has already made friends and fit into his new school. He is so resilient.

No one matters more to me than Reed.

I saved myself from dying for that kid.

Maybe I should rephrase that.

That kid saved me from dying.

I am very good at getting things that I want, but they do not usually turn out the way that I wanted.

I wanted River Guide.

I still remember the first time I talked to him on the boat ramp at Corn Creek. He made prolonged eye contact, and my coworker laughed and took a swig of his beer because he saw what was going on.

For the rest of the summer, I exerted my energy on River Guide. I am not a good flirt and not very forward, so instead, I was just nice. I would make him coffee in the morning and take it to his boat, then he would make coffee and bring it to my A-frame.

I finally ran into him in town and invited him to go to the Blues, Brews, and BBQ festival with me. My hand shook as I entered his number into my phone.

We were there for hours. He does not drink, so neither of us had liquid courage, but we ended up going back to my parents’ house (they were conveniently camping). He said that he wanted to watch the dry lightning storm play out.

We lay in the grass and watched the dry lightning storm until we were no longer watching the lights above us.

I got what I wanted with River Guide.

It went on for two years.

He broke my heart, but a heart that has already been firmly broken is less easy to damage.

There is so much I have wanted.

I want you to love me.

You, random stranger, I want you to love me.

When will I love myself?

I have been pursuing a particular man for a long time. It has been a joke with my friends. Finally, he said, “I really like talking to you. We should get a drink sometime.”

It’s a very long story, but we got a drink. We got more drinks.

Things ended badly.

He said, “I don’t want to cause you pain.”

I said, “You don’t have the power to cause me pain.” (I wasn’t trying to be a dick. I was trying to reassure him because I had taken his words at face value.)

He said, “OH, I GET IT.”

And I said, “Well, I like you, but I don’t care about you to the point where you could cause me pain.”


So I guess that he really wanted to cause me pain?

There were other things that I don’t want to discuss here for fear of violating his privacy.

I had thought that I had a good read on him, that he was “a mess” but basically harmless.

He is not harmless.

I got what I wanted with him though, didn’t I?

What do I do if my wants are not congruent with my needs?

Caleb, too, was what I wanted.

I pursued him. I made him mine.

And then he destroyed me.

His fist connected with my scalp. Is this what you want? Is this what you want?

It was what I wanted.

And now?

I honestly don’t know what I want.

I just want my heart to be whole.


On Giving Up

I think a lot about rivers because I grew up near one. Rivers are a recurring motif in my memoir.

Rivers are a recurring motif in my life.

Every man that I have loved has been connected to a river in some way.

What is love, and how do we define it?

People keep telling me that Caleb didn’t love me, that his love wasn’t love, yet I felt that he loved me.

I know that he loved me.

I know that I loved him too.

I have been sifting through my many emails with Caleb. He loved to lunch with me. To nap with me. We were both so kind and thoughtful to each other in the beginning.

I read our early emails back and forth, and they are loving, considerate of the other person’s feelings, needs, and desires.

The other night, I had a beer with a male friend, and I told him, “I will never again meet a man who writes to me in that way because guys just don’t usually do that.”

Maybe I have just not known enough men who have loved me.

There was a day when I was floating the river with River Guide. He was in his hardshell kayak, and I was in an inflatable.

I flipped and swam in a rapid. I dropped my paddle. It should have floated, but it was cracked and sunk. River Guide caught my boat, guided me to shore, and then, we had to calculate what to do.

I had no paddle.

He grabbed a big stick for me. He told me to use it as a rudder.

Then, he followed me as I floated along in that big, inflatable kayak. At one point, I floated into a rapid backwards. “Am I okay?” I asked.

He nodded yes.

He didn’t look like he believed it.

Caleb and I didn’t have engagement photos taken, but my friend, Jen, took some unofficial ones for us.

We were standing next to the river.

We were standing on a rock in a stream that flows into the river.

We were on the river in a driftboat. Me rowing, Caleb leaning back and drinking a beer.


Caleb once tried to throw our car keys into the river as a way of terrifying me. We were on a deserted highway with no other keys.

They landed on a rock instead.

He once stretched out on to ice to save our dog who was trapped in the river.

I thought that I was going to lose them both, but I didn’t.

When Reed was a baby, I used to fantasize about throwing myself into the river.

Once, there was a man who sat on the bridge in my hometown without his shoes on.

Who would try to kill themselves from that bridge? It wasn’t even that high. Maybe a hundred yards, max. He was sitting above the shallow end.

He jumped off.

He survived, but broke both legs.

I never threw myself into the river, but I, too, am broken.

I am broken, but I hide it well.

The man I am involved with says, “I am afraid of fucking things up with you,” and I say back to him that I am magnificently fucked up myself.

Still, we both know that I am not as fucked up as him because, though I am broken, I hide my fractures well, and like the rest of the men I have dated since I left Caleb, he does not read my writing (which is where the fractures are revealed).

When I was in high school, my male friend jumped off the bridge during high water. He challenged me to do the same, but I wasn’t a strong enough swimmer. I made it–almost–to the side, but I couldn’t quite get there. I grabbed on to a branch. My face surfaced, then slipped back under the water. I could see the fear in another friend eyes. She was standing on the shore and couldn’t help me.

I finally managed to pull myself in.

That branch was stronger than I was; it pulled me to shore.

Wait, no. I pulled myself to shore.

There is no branch that is stronger than I am.

I have been scared of the river ever since, have dreamed of drowning, of being swallowed by dark water.

This summer, I had another frightening experience in a river, mostly due to my own panic. A new friend calmed me and guided me to shore.

I have dreamed of being swallowed by dark water, and while some of those dreams are terror, others are fantasy.

At the end of my marriage, I fantasized about killing myself every, single day. I knew how I would do it. I am not going to tell you how I would have done it because I do not want you to get any ideas, but I did not kill myself because of Reed.

Last summer, things ended for real between River Guide and me, and it was hard. I could have loved him, but he did not feel the same way about me. Still, shortly after that end, I went backpacking with my father and brother. We climbed, and climbed, and climbed. The landscape was rugged, and beautiful, and it was the first time that I had climbed a mountain with my father and brother in years. I never dreamed that I would be nearing 40 and single, but in that moment, I was so grateful to be in those mountains–with my father and brother–with the same kind of freedom that I had in my twenties before I met Caleb.

And as I climbed that mountain, I thought, River Guide taught me so muchRiver Guide taught me how to not fall in love with someone.

Because in my twenties, I fell in love with everyone, you see?

I am no longer that woman who loves every man I get involved with. I like them, and I respect them, but I have not loved anyone since Caleb, and because of how that ended, I am going to be cautious with my love from now on.

I am a sentimental person, an open person. I wear my heart on the outside of my body, and I can love so hard, but I will never love as hard as I once did, and that is a good thing.

I have not given up on love, but I am trying to give up on loving those who are not good for me.

I no longer love everyone I get involved with.

The man I’m involved with tells me that he doesn’t see me as a hook-up. He sees me as serious relationship potential, but he’s not sure that he really wants that either.

I want to say, But what if I don’t see you as either? Isn’t there something in-between?

I should probably give up on him. He is not afraid of hurting me. He is afraid of getting hurt himself.

I am not afraid of getting hurt because both he and I know that I am more likely to hurt him.

Maybe I am naive.

All I know is that, the other night, while I was walking home, just after having run into the man I’m involved with, River Guide sent me a text.

He wrote, “How is your summer? How is the book?”

And I wrote back a pleasant response, and that was it. There was no more.

I could have loved him, but I did not love him.

Though many would say that I gave up on him too late, I think that I gave up at just the right time. Only I knew when I was ready to let that dream go.

When I think of him, I do not think of heartbreak. I think of walking towards him as he walked back up from the river, of how he smiled and held out his arms, of how he kissed me. I think of how I felt that kiss all the way into my toes.

It was not yet the right time to give up.

We both knew when it was time to give up.

And though I undoubtedly should have given up on Caleb sooner, there are other times in my life when my persistence saved me.

The time to give up was not when I wanted to throw myself into the river.

The time to give up was not when I wanted to kill myself.

I never fantasize about killing myself now.

I no longer want to be swallowed by dark water.

I now want to surface the dark water.


River Rudder
River Guide took this picture. This was not the stick that I actually used as a rudder. He scrambled down the hillside and found a substitute rudder for me because we had the same sense of humor, always.