Tag Archives: abuse

We All Make Mistakes

I can still remember when Corey and Topanga broke up. I’m guessing many from my generation can. Boy Meets World; TGIF; quality thank goodness it’s Friday television programming. Topanga was crying; her family was moving to Pittsburgh, away from her childhood sweetheart, and what was the point in continuing a relationship when they couldn’t be together?
I had middle school play practice the next morning. Eighth grade, so it was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. So and so had kissed so and so. So and so had gone to the movie with a bunch of so and sos, all of whom shall remain nameless I remember so vividly though because it was the start of something for me–my friends were talking about real boys, and I was talking about Corey and Topanga breaking up as if they were real people, because, in a way, they were. 
I’ve written stories in my head for as long as I can remember, intending to inscribe them for the masses but never being motivated enough to publicize my fiction. Samantha and Rebeckah were (are; let’s be real, I still write them in my head as I fall asleep) my favorites. Both had terrible lives marked by notable happy endings, followed by more terrible, followed by more happy. Every bad is met with its match in good. And in my stories, they always met a boy, and that boy was what saved them. Somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that meeting a boy would save me too. 
*
How to make a mistake:
Step one: Evaluate all possible choices. 

Step two: Evaluate all possible outcomes. 
*
It was hot in the church on the afternoon of June 2nd, a few years after I graduated high school. I sat in a pew, my annoyance marked with my traditional silent eyeroll that I hid from B with my then-long bangs. Just a few more things, they kept telling us. Just a few more, then we could go. It turned out wedding rehearsals were harder than they looked. It was a bunch of go here, do this thing, do that thing, go there, sit. Move. Wait. 
We were poor, so our after-rehearsal dinner consisted of a bunch of meat thrown on the grill on the backyard deck by B’s dad, who had left the rehearsal early to commence the cooking festivities. So far as we knew, everything was fine. Until the phone call: “So everything is fine.” Nothing is fine that starts with that phrase. “There’s just been a small fire on the deck.”
It was another event in a string of events that shaped a loud and clear broadcast stating it was wrong to marry B. We lost our church, our free catering, our pastor, our wedding counselor, all in the weeks before the wedding. But we kept plunging ahead. Or rather, I kept plunging ahead, because I wanted the happy ending I knew existed. I thought. I knew it was a mistake. I made it anyway. This one mistake set in motion many other events, many other mistakes, much more unhappiness. I kept thinking that I had done the thing I was supposed to–I had gotten married–and that this would be the thing to save me because it was always the boy that would save the girl.
That night, after the dinner, I sat on my bed, my last time without B in my apartment, and I painted my toenails with sparkly silver nail polish while my good friend sat across from me and told me not to do it. Not to go through with it. Not to marry B. But I did it anyway because I thought I was supposed to. Girl meets boy; girl marries boy; girl produces many children and stays home to take care of the family for all eternity. I wanted to do the right thing. 
But I made a mistake; my life was none of these things. When everything disintegrated, despite looking for someone else to save me, I had to be the one to save myself. 
*
How to make a mistake:
Step three: Choose what you think is the expected outcome, the one that everyone else wants. 
*
I know this great dog who shall remain nameless, since that’s how the rescue game is played. She came to the rescue with her mother and two sisters from a backyard breeder in New Jersey that saw what was amazing inside the mommy dog and used it to make himself money (it’s no wonder I wanted to adopt the mommy dog then…). This puppy was my first real placement of a dog I loved. I drove her to the house, I dropped her there. I celebrated when she stayed, and I lived for the picture and video updates and the times I got to visit in an era of my life when I wasn’t seeing many rescues doing well. When so many dogs would act out or bite or never leave and sit Saturday after Saturday not finding a home, it was nice to be reminded that good homes did exist, that all dogs have good inside somewhere, and that they all have a place, like we all have a place. But then this dog made one mistake, and she came back to the rescue. Her return was the right thing for everyone, but right or not didn’t make it suck any less for any of us. The mistake was too colossal, too all-encompassing, to come back from, a permanent black mark on an otherwise impeccable record, and a black mark of the biggest sort. 
*
How to make a mistake:
Step four: Do that thing that everyone else wants. 

Step five: Watch the results and know that you’re screwed. 
*
I think it was pack instinct that drove this dog to do the thing she did. “I must protect the pack, because the pack protects me/because the pack loves me/because the pack has brought me my happy and I must return the favor.” It’s impossible to know for sure though. But what I do know, both from my own life and the lives of those around me, is that we make the biggest mistakes trying to live up to the expectations of those around us. We make the biggest mistakes when we’re genuinely trying to be the best we can be. It doesn’t make us bad; it doesn’t make us unworthy; it just means that we have not found our place yet because we haven’t learned to define ourselves outside of other people’s expectations. 
Doesn’t this make us all just like dogs? We want to please so badly sometimes without a thought to the consequences that we plunge headlong into situations we can’t come back from. If you stick to the norms, follow the expected commands to their given outcomes, and don’t step out of line, everything will be fine. Right?
*
How to make a mistake:
Step six: Do not repeat; learn from the thing you’ve done. 
*
Queue the after-hiatus Boy Meets World Cory-without-Topanga episode that ended with Topanga outside the door in the rain, her hand pressed to the glass and her long brown hair slicked against her skin as she declared she was moving back to live with her aunt and would be together with Corey forever. I wish all decisions ended so happily. I am too old, have wasted too much time, to make the wrong ones. Writing stories, living with and in characters, does nothing when they always have a happy ending, because those endings do not exist through others–and it’s a mistake to believe they do. We write our own stories. We make mistakes we can’t take back. We live. We learn. 

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Consent

“Can you look me in the eye and honestly tell me you think it’s your fault?”

On the side of the brown filing cabinet was a newspaper article I had read at least 17 times–bringing awareness of sexual assault to the masses, one campus group at a time–but I read it again anyway because what else was I going to do but tell her the words that she wanted to hear and I didn’t want to say?

“Seriously.” M had a way of leaning in her office chair that made it look she was sitting in front of the television at home and watching Netflix. Her arms draped over the armrests of the chair as she fiddled with her glasses, cleaning them on the weave of her sweater. 

“No.” I had a dream that saying what she wanted me to say would get me out of her office a few minutes sooner. No such luck.

“I don’t believe you. Tell me why.”

M knew me too well. “Tell me why not,” I retorted, drawing the hood of my sweatshirt up over my head and shoving a freshly unwrapped Hershey Kiss from the candy bowl into my mouth so that I wouldn’t have to say anything else for at least the next sixty seconds.

“Did you ask for it?”

“Did I say no?”

*

A year or so ago, I met this great girl named Fern. Greenish yellow eyes that seemed to change when I looked into them, reddish orange fur, a great pink nose, a beautiful wagging tail. Yes, a dog. The first thing you see when you come to Fern’s house is how low to the ground she gets as she wiggles up excitedly to get pets. You don’t notice her ears that are cropped ridiculously short in an attempted effort to make her look ferocious, because you’re too busy watching as her army-crawling front end struggles to keep up with her bouncy butt. And then you sit on the couch, and Fern sits on you, and as you pet her (because let’s face it, you have no choice in the manner) you realize that she’s a pit bull and that that doesn’t matter in the slightest, because she defies all your preconceived expectations of her breed.

Fern’s beginnings don’t lend themselves to the dog she is now. She started out in a junkyard in Pennsylvania and came to the animal rescue with a fear of men and the world and a collar embedded in her neck. She was scared of everything even after she was freed and with a loving family. The Fourth of July came in her new home, and she was scared of the loud noises and the fireworks and wanted nothing more than to stay inside.

*

“Did you say no?” M parroted back.

“Do you always have to answer every question I ask with a question?”

M stayed silent then, waiting me out.

“No,” I finally caved, “I didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t have an answer to that question.” And I didn’t, not really. It seemed inappropriate to ask her if she would have said no if she thought she was going to die. “I didn’t say yes. But I didn’t say no.”

“Well, you’re the English major. So you tell me. Does the absence of the word no signify consent?”

*

See, to look at Fern now, it’s quite apparent that she didn’t ask for her past. She didn’t say “chop off my ears and chain me in a yard all alone and do whatever abuse you want to try and make me ferocious and mean.” Fern did not say yes, but Fern did not say no either, because Fern is a dog–and dogs do not say no because dogs don’t speak. 

I probably know less about Fern’s former life than many, but no one knows precisely what she went through. I can make some guesses, based on the opposites of my positivity training. If you want a dog to be well mannered and friendly, you treat them in a loving and respectful manner. But if you want them to be scary and angry and hate people, I assume it would be the opposite. Dogs respond to the way they’re treated. And in that vein, I can make the following leaps–Fern was previously owned by a man. He probably yelled a lot. Maybe banged things to scare her to where he wanted her in the yard or to keep her from approaching him or just plain banged things around the junkyard (and really, that’s all the same, because who wants to listen to loud banging sounds while confined to a chain 24/7?). He may have hit her, kicked her, in an attempt to teach her that humans suck so that she’d go after any trespassers. 

Again, I don’t know these things. I don’t want to think about these things. But if the secret to reversing her skittishness of people was her loving home, then isn’t the opposite true?

Fern did not ask for the things that happened to her, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. 

*

I shook my head so that my hood slid back down my then-lengthy hair and unwrapped another chocolate. I sat chewing it for so long, letting the chocolate melt in my mouth, that the ticking of the desk clock started echoing in my head. I hated the silence. “Do you think…” My voice trailed off, and I went to finish the thought with yet another chocolate and found the bowl empty. 

“Yes?”

“Maybe…we do what we need to do to survive.”

“Did you ask him to do what he did?”

“I didn’t say no.” The words were starting to sound lamely flat the more that I said them. 

“Did you say here I am, come get me?” M put her glasses down gently and pushed them away from the edge of the desk. 

“Excuse me?”

“Here I am, come get me? Is that what you said that night?”

I fumbled under the sofa bench I was on for my purse. “I’m going to go,” I said, standing up. 

She grabbed my wrist, gently, but she grabbed it. She had never touched me before. I sat back down, but she didn’t let go. “The fact of the matter is, you didn’t. You didn’t say that. You wouldn’t say that, because you didn’t want it. The absence of consent is not consent. You did not say yes. He had no right to take what he did from you.”

*

Fern’s a great dog. She always was, but her first owner clearly never saw that because he wanted her to be something she wasn’t. Now she’s one of the best trained dogs I’ve ever met (love and respect will do that, I promise, try it and you’ll see). She’s a little skittish at night sometimes, but it’s understandable. I’d love to actually study PTSD in dogs, because I really do believe it’s a thing. Give me a few weeks of uninterrupted time and see what will happen. But Fern works as a therapy dog and visits people in nursing homes to bring them comfort when they’re feeling lost and lonely. I imagine that Fern understands somewhere inside that she too was once lost and lonely, and that no one should have to feel that way. I believe she fills the world with as much joy as she can because that way, the two plus years where she had no joy are way in the world past where they belong.

*

“I think,” M continued, “that until you accept that none of the fault for the rape is on you, you’re not going to go anywhere.”

My brow creased as I looked at her. I had asked her never to use that word. I never used that word. 

She read my expression instantly. “The absence of the word doesn’t mean the word does not exist.”

When I didn’t see it coming, when I should have seen it coming, when I should have done something, when I did nothing, when I did not ask for it in the first place so none of the fault was on me. 

“The absence of the word doesn’t mean the word does not exist,” I echoed. 

*

Dogs like Fern are the perfect example of my therapist’s law of consent. Like I said, dogs can’t speak. But spend five minutes with Fern. Heck. Spend one minute with Fern. Did she ask for her sour beginning in life? Did she ask for what happened to her? No. But she absolutely did not say yes. 

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Happy Valentine’s Day

The first time has stuck with me in strange technicolor detail that enters me at such random times–when I see a flower, when I hear a song, when someone gives me a card. We were sitting on the couch in the apartment I shared with his sister, a red and yellow plaid deathtrap that I covered with a gray blanket, watching a movie. He pulled the blanket over us to have what he jokingly referred to as happy movie time; I said no. It was the first time I said no. It was the first for a lot of things. It somehow escalated from there, yelling and screaming and me wanting to cuss but not because I was still a good woman of God then, or so I thought. I remember the precise moment it occurred to me: You are unhappy here. Go.

 
So I did. 

My keys were in the always empty crystal fruit bowl on the two-seater kitchen table, and I stood up and scooped them up without fanfare. I said nothing to him. He may have asked where I was going; he definitely paused the movie we had started. We hadn’t gotten to the pants off stage of things, so all I needed was my coat and I was gliding out the door before he even knew what was happening, on an elated high because how had I never realized before that it was as simple as walking away?

I mean. It was never that simple.
 
He had me by the elbow before I was at the door to the parking lot, said some words about how I couldn’t go, how we would fix it, how I could change. Me. Me change. I didn’t want to change then. I opened the door and he dug in with his fingers as I stepped through, sinking through the coat like a falcon on prey. 
“You can change, I promise you can.” 
God, his fingers hurt. Asshole. 

We were suddenly at the car, a tornado of emotions and rage and something called love that wasn’t actually what it was named for. He threw me to the ground like I was nothing because I was nothing, so I screamed fire because it seemed like the thing to get people to come. He backed off; I got in the car and drove away as he banged the back hood and then threw himself down like a toddler in a fit. It was dark, but I still saw his shadow in the rear view. My elbow stabbed; I cried. 

Fast forward a few weeks. I told myself that I loved his sister too much to leave. I didn’t know, then, what that love was. I thought I could go back to the apartment she and I shared and not be involved with him, just with her. We made a rule that he was not allowed inside, but I came home the week before Valentine’s Day and he was there, on the tattered couch, ready and waiting with the blanket and a very clearly planned agenda. I locked myself in my room. He came every night that week with gifts I had no need for–a teddy bear, roses, chocolate–and then the Phantom of the Opera tickets. It was a limited run engagement of the movie starring Emmy Rossum as Christine, and it was playing at one moviehouse in Wisconsin. Like the Phantom himself, he had banked on the fact that I wouldn’t be able to resist the music. He guessed correctly. 

There were red rose petals on the seat of the car when I opened the door; the car smelled of sickly sweet flowers layered over the normal blend of Axe and All Spice. He took me to dinner at Outback when we normally only went as expensive as Chili’s, and he told me over an onion blossom and then filet mignon that he was sorry for his part in things but he knew I could change. “You can be better. Then we can be better.”


It’s my fault you’re not better?




I didn’t say anything. 

He paid, for everything, when before we had always split. Was he actually changing? Was this how it was supposed to be between us, a quiet storm held back by steak and movie candy? We got in the car to go home after, me quietly humming after Emmy’s haunting vocals and him clutching the wheel at ten and two. His hand slipped down to my thigh. 

“So we’re together again, then?”

It was a choice, a simple yes or no in a car going nearly 70 miles per hours down the freeway, and I said yes because it seemed easier. I had to be with someone to be whole, and if not him, then who? I let his hand stay on my thigh. I let it drift. I forgot how my elbow had hurt and resolved that yes, yes I would change, because it was better this way. 

“Happy Valentine’s Day.”

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The Rainbow

The most popular girl in our seventh grade class was Lissa. She wasn’t all that
pretty, at least I didn’t think so. But I wasn’t one to talk. The special thing about her was that she was just incredibly engaging. Everyone wanted to be around
her, to have her sit at their table during lunch. 

Lissa’s birthday party was the talk of the cafeteria on this particular day. I heard that the invitations were selective, not like the normal “everyone in the class gets one” invites that we had grown up with. I heard she was handing them out herself. I also heard that they were on glittery Lisa Frank stationary, with cute, brightly colored animals all over them. God, I wanted that invitation. I viewed it as a ticket to…something. I wasn’t sure what exactly. Fitting in? Knowing that I really had friends? I was always trying to figure out what I was missing and how to make up for it rather than trying to fit where I actually fit as I was. 

I stared at my red segmented lunch tray as Lissa passed the invitations out at our table. She gave one to everyone—everyone that is except for me. I stared at my gloppy middle school cafeteria slop and tried to figure out what I’d done to not be the recipient of the rainbow colored door to the rest of my life. 
I rarely ate lunch in the cafeteria after that day; I hid in the bathrooms or in a teacher’s classroom whenever I could get away with it. Alone. That day with Lissa was the day where I stopped really trying to connect with my friends on a genuine level. Where I let myself drift away from the herd because I realized I’d never be like them; where I stopped being seen. 

The thing about B is that he saw me. I think that’s what drew me to him really. He had this power in the beginning to make me the center of his everything, and his gaze was that rainbow I had been missing. At least I thought that he saw me. His rainbow held all the things I thought I had to be. Girlfriend, wife. Mother. Perfect. Beautiful. 

One of the last times I saw him before he went away, in a crowded aisle in the local Target a month or two after we filed for divorce, I found myself remembering my first kiss. Not with him. It was a boy named Adam, in the local teen coffeehouse in front of the Coke machine. Adam was running down the steps wearing a green puffer jacket that smelled like pot, intent on getting to the sofas where his friends were. I don’t know why I did it, but I reached out and grabbed him by the collar and laid one on him. “Wow,” was all he said. I felt nothing, but Adam told me later he felt everything. 

I realized in Target that I couldn’t remember a single kiss with B in any clarity, while my three second Coke machine relationship has a lasting mark. My first memory on that vein of myself with B is his hand down my pants on the local baseball diamond. There was only me and him, a possession, an ownership. He saw me as a thing. I desperately wanted to see him as that rainbow. 

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Being Human

Human.  Belonging to man or mankind; having the qualities or attributes of man; of or pertaining to man or to the race of man.  A human being.  Not a thing.  A person.  Nowhere in the definition of being human does it reference gender or race or experience.  Nowhere in the definition of being human does it say one person is less than another.  It’s very black and white on paper; if you look like a human, you are one.  But the world, unfortunately, does not work that way.  There are many people who turn their backs, who won’t stand up for what’s right.

Not me though.  I’m a soap-box girl.  I feel deeply and passionately about a few topics, and while I may be afraid to talk about my own, personal experiences, I am not afraid to talk about the topics themselves.  I’m not afraid to talk about discrimination.  Because it’s horrible, and it’s wrong.

Today I heard three statements that were greatly offensive.  That cut me, deeply.  Society should know better.  But instead, ignorance is rewarded.  Topics that have no business being jokes are pushed into every day conversation; people give no consideration to those they may hurt.  They say the first thing that comes to mind with no consideration for their audience.  There are people who use positions of power to force their opinion onto others.

They forget that we are all human.

*

“Abuse is less likely to occur when partners can make each other happy.”

Interpretation: abuse within relationships is the fault of the victim because that victim did not do enough to keep their partner happy.  Had the victim been good enough for their partner, their partner would have been happy and they would not have gotten hurt.  This is a common misconception that many victims of relationship violence have, and statements like this only help to drive that home.

In the first days of February, 2012, Josh Powell of Washington opened the door to his home, informed his children that he had a “really fun surprise” waiting just inside for them, and swept them from the arms of the social worker who was delivering them for visitation.  With a shrug of his shoulders, he proceeded to slam and lock the door in the social worker’s face.  While the social worker stood outside, helpless to stop him, he attacked his two songs in a blatant act of aggression with a hatchet and lit his gasoline doused house on fire.  All three of the Powells died of carbon monoxide poisoning, adding further to the tragedy that had befallen the family when Susan Powell, wife to Josh and mother of the boys, disappeared in 2009.  It is believed by many that Josh murdered Susan, but her body has never been found.

Even though he was the only real suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Powell was allowed to maintain custody of his two boys for nearly two years after her disappearance.  Losing that custody was perhaps akin to losing the last marble Powell had left in his head.  Not seeing any other way to handle things, Powell lashed out and took the lives of both his children and himself.  Powell didn’t hurt his wife or children because they made him unhappy.  Powell hurt his wife and children because he was unhappy.

The important thing to note here is that the boys did nothing wrong.  They were innocent bystanders, literally pulled into the lion’s den.  Susan Powell did nothing wrong.  She was more than good enough.  She was beautiful.

Josh Powell is the only one in this situation who did anything wrong.  He was anything but good enough.

*

“Date rape is frequently caused by alcohol.”

Interpretation: alcohol causes date rape.  By extension then, if a person drinks alcohol and is then raped, it is their fault because they drank.  This statement plays right into the idea that it is the fault of the victim.  They led the rapist on.  They should have protected themselves.  This doesn’t acknowledge the offender at all.

In Steubenville, Ohio, 2012, a teenage girl went out to a party.  But instead of partying by the definition of the word, she was sexually assaulted, dehumanized, and then blamed by her community because she dared to go after the football players who attacked her.  Her town supported the football players because of their ability to play the game and bring notoriety to the town’s team.  This support even stretched to school officials; William Rhinaman, the director of technology at the local high school, covered up for the football players by tampering with evidence and helping them hide the truth.  Sadly, these things are more common place than many people realize.  On CNN, another case from Maryville, Missouri, was featured where in a teenage girl was raped but her county attorney refused to prosecute, saying “there was not a criminal offense.”  The statement that date rape is caused by alcohol does nothing but perpetuate this cycle where innocent women (and men) are put into this situation.

Date rape isn’t caused by alcohol.  Date rape is caused by some asshat not being able to keep it in their pants.  Whether the victim has been drinking or not, they don’t deserved to be raped.  Nobody deserves to be raped.  It’s a violation of everything that it means to a human being; it’s a taking away of something that the victim can never get back.  It’s a domination of one person over another that should never be allowed to happen.

It’s not okay.

*

“Gays wouldn’t need to marry if they could just cohabitate.”

Interpretation: gays just need to live together; they don’t have any reason to get married.

Imagine, if you will, your partner or child has been in a horrible accident.  You rush to the hospital and do everything that you can to make sure that they are okay, up to and including making medical decisions that are in their best interests.  You are involved; you are included.  You have power in what happens next for your loved one.

Many LGBT couples in committed relationships don’t have that right.  In many states, they can live together to their heart’s content, but they can’t make medical decisions on behalf of their partner.  This differs from a husband/wife relationship in that a partner could be forced to watch their partner on life support with no legal grounds in which to make medical decisions.  Where a husband/wife relationship gives both people the option to make decisions, many relationships on the LGBT side of the spectrum lack this right.  And that’s not all.  In Florida, a lesbian woman lost her partner in a car accident and was then forced to give up the children they had raised together because she was not allowed to legally adopt them.  A gay man lost his partner of several years in the 9/11 attacks, but was not allowed to collect any federal aid because he was not allowed to obtain a legal marriage.  Cohabitation, while effective in some ways, does not give people the same rights as a marriage.  To reserve marriage as something special, something that only “a certain group of people” can obtain, simply isn’t fair.

LGBT people aren’t asking for special rights, or rights that put them above others.  They just want to have the same rights as everybody else.  They want to make decisions for their loved ones; they want comfort and ability.  They want to be with the person that they love.  To say that they have no need to marry is simply offensive.  If you love someone, you love someone.  That’s just that.

*

Human.  Having or showing the positive aspect of nature and character regarded as distinguishing human from animals.  Subject to or indicative of the weaknesses, imperfections, and fragility associated with humans: a mistake that shows he’s only human; human frailty.  The definition of human in no way references gender, race, or experience.  When society blames the victim or denies people the rights that they are meant to have, the person in question loses their sense of being human.  And that isn’t fair.  No one should have to feel that way.  No one should be made to feel like they are less than anyone else.

I read an interesting concept on this phenomena:  If someone is stupid and leaves their car unlocked, resulting in things getting stolen from within it, does anyone say “Let’s not punish the thief?”  No.  Because it’s cut and dry.  Theft is wrong.

So why isn’t rape wrong?  One person forcing another to commit sex acts against their will?  That’s less than car theft?  Why isn’t abuse wrong?  Why isn’t discrimination based on race and gender wrong?  We’re all human; we’re all people despite the way that we look, act talk.  Despite who we love.  Nobody should be treated any differently than everybody else.  Everybody should have the same rights.  But the world doesn’t work this way.  People are ignorant.

I just don’t get it.  When speaking, we can never know who our audience is.  People don’t understand that.  It’s impossible to know the background of the people you’re talking to, the things they have been through.  And there are so, so many things.  Everybody has a story.  Everybody has a thing that hurts.  Like the news story I read yesterday, overweight people, old people, drug users, lonely people, eating disorders, rape victims, abuse survivor, LGBT…et cetera, et cetera.  Everyone has a thing.  And making fun of or alienating a person in ANY form based on these things is just simply NOT okay.

Abuse, of any kind, is wrong.

Rape is wrong.

Discrimination is wrong.

It is wrong to make fun of the overweight, to make fun of the underweight, to make fun of the lonely girl who sits in the corner.  It is wrong to make judging comments about something or someone just because they are different than us.

To joke about people, to casually pass over them in conversation like they don’t exist, like their experiences are trivial, as if it’s the fault of the victim or the person simply because of who they are, says that these things are okay.

Let’s make these things not okay.

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I Am

When I think of adjectives to describe myself, confident, articulate, and skilled are not the first things that pop into my head.  That’s not my tape; that’s not the dialogue that plays.  So when I hear it, I don’t always know how to respond.  True or not, it isn’t the norm.  

I am ugly.

Inarticulate.

Today, I cried.  So many reasons.

I am stupid.

I was sitting in my literature class today taking a reading quiz.  I got done early, because I always do.  My mind was wandering, and as I looked around the classroom my eyes came to rest on the bulletin board three feet to my left.  There were several posters.  Two of them were out of date.  But one was new and had never been there before.  “If you’ve ever been the victim of sexual assault, family violence, or a violent crime, there is help.”  And then it listed all sort of hotlines.  

I understand the measure, I really do.  Some people need these things; some people would write this information down and even use it.  But I already have this information, because I have used it.  At the first opportunity, I snuck over to the bulletin board and turned the poster around before tacking it back up.  I stared at the blank side for the rest of class, because I remembered the words from the other side.  

Sexual assault.  Rape.  

Shit.

I am broken.

There is something wrong with me.  

I met with my advisor yesterday about the classes I was planning to take.  We discovered that I only need three classes to graduate.  Among the three classes I had put into my enrollment shopping cart was my advisor’s Shakespeare course.  I’ve been wanting to take this class since I was in my first year of undergrad.  I have always liked Shakespeare, and I’ve already read quite a bit of him.  This class has interested me not only for that element, but also because I have only been able to take my advisor for a lower level course.  I would love to have her as a professor for an upper level; she’s brilliant, I adore her, and I really want to get a solid A on a paper for her.”

“I need to be honest with you,” she said when I told her all these things, the reasons why I wanted to take her class.

“I’m going to shoot myself in the head taking this at the same time as Senior Seminar?”  

“No.”  She leaned back in her chair.  “There’s a lot of work that deals with sexual assault.  Graphic scenes of rape, and we will be discussing these things in class.”

I twitched at the mention of the word rape.  

“Spousal abuse.  Titus.  The Taming of the Shrew.  And I’m not sure this is the course for you.”

I looked out the window.  I had been excited minutes before and suddenly found myself sad in a way I didn’t know how to deal with.  Because it was still interfering.  Always interfering.  I wanted to cry.

“Why don’t you take Eco-crit instead?”

Because I wanted this.  Because I wanted Shakespeare.  Because I wanted to be normal, just once.  Just one time.

I am never going to be normal.

Never going to measure up.

Never going to be okay.

In psychology today, the professor greeted us before opening with “So, how many of you are parents?”  She followed this up with “How many of you aren’t parents?”  After this, she asked “Why have you chosen to not have children?”  And she called on me, of all people.  Me.  I walked out of class before I started to cry.  I leaned against the wall outside the classroom that led to the courtyard, debating going outside but recognizing the fact that it was much too cold.  I sat down on the floor in between the two sets of doors and I watched the trees blowing back and forth and the sun shining and I let tears fall.  

I am a failure.

Murderer.

It’s hard to lose someone you love.  It’s even harder to lose everything at the same time.  And that’s what happened to me.  I lost it all.  The hardest part for me has been the not knowing why my son died.  Why my marriage broke.  What I did to deserve the acid rain that made my entire life disintegrate for so long.  It is in my nature to blame myself.  That’s the tape; that’s what I have been told my entire life.  

I am not good enough.

I am always amazed to learn what other people actually think of me.  In that over the edge moment today, at just the right time, I read beautiful words that someone I deeply respect had written about me.  And my brain had a moment in which it clicked.

I am not broken.  I am not a failure.  I am not lost.  

I cried again.  But because for that moment, that awesomely wonderful, fantastic and beautiful moment, I could see what this person saw.  

I am strong and powerful and awesome, and not just on the days where I feel good.  Every day.  I am these things even when I don’t remember.  I am these things, because other people see them in me.  Other people see me.  

I am.

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