“Tomorrow was created yesterday.......And by the day before yesterday, too. TO IGNORE HISTORY IS TO IGNORE THE WOLF AT THE DOOR.”
― John le Carré, A Most Wanted Man
When I was younger, I was raised to have an instinctual fear of firearms, because they killed women we knew. I was three or four when my mother was tapped to be the executive director of a tri-county domestic violence center in rural Pennsylvania. As her child, I often accompanied her as she grew into her role, one often fraught with fear and anxiety. My mother received death threats for trying to better the lives of battered women, and needing the partnership of the authorities in each county, the men from whom she was often asking cooperation were very often perpetrators. She would travel to colleges and give presentations, showing slides of women no longer recognizable to themselves: puffy and purple, with the confidence literally beaten out of them. I can still move through the images in my mind, they are so ingrained.
Guns also lingered freely in the hands of my grandfather, father, and uncle, all of whom were hunters and alcoholics. My father, a self-proclaimed sportsman, had rifles in his clear, glass gun cabinet, standing tall and intimidating, shiny and dark next to the sinewy, curved bow and razor sharp arrows. They spoke to me of the times when they spit out their bullets into the muscular flesh of deer, piercing their hearts, the pulsating blood eventually slowing to a trickle, the reflection of their eyes fading to a dull sheen. He kept the stuffed head of one of them, its glass eyes empty, the horns brittle, the fur coarse and golden. Examining its massive skull, I understood from a young age that the spirit departs and leaves behind its temporary home, a mere shell. I also understood that the deer’s soul had not parted with its temple willingly, and that cold, molded steel played a role in surrendering the breath of the living. My father at least had the decency to lock the frail cabinet doors, the molten sand quivering when shut, providing a tiny speck of comfort that the cold barrels were under lock and key, however false.
With my grandfather and uncle, guns were a more constant threat. They were located throughout my grandparents’ house, and often trotted out when one of them had been imbibing, upping the ante on the nervousness already surrounding their tumultuous relationship. Every time we went camping as a family, weapons were the undesired members who always managed to show up. I was taught by my grandfather to shoot a B.B. gun, to hold the long barrel balanced in my palm, my eye trained to gauge the distance and line up my potential target, an empty can of generic soda. My finger learned to pull the trigger, listening for soft ‘pfop’ as the b.b. would tear through the surface of the frail aluminum, marring its colorful skin. I would do this over and over, moving down a line of cans perched on ragged tree stumps, each slightly off center, and only made less even by the constant impact that warped their bodies. I can remember the rush when I would hit the target exactly where I had aimed, feeling a sense of accomplishment for my steady hands. And then one trip, I accidentally hit a bird, forever silencing its song, and I recognized that my hands had no right to hold such life detracting power. After that, I put the gun down for good. I still dream of the shatter of its voice, how its notes perfumed the air, and then evaporated into quietude with the pull of my finger.
While my grandfather was a philosophical drunk who mostly wanted to talk about god, Montaigne, and existentialism after swigging his forbidden, hidden vodka, he consistently picked at my uncle when intoxicated. As my uncle grew older and began drinking himself, this often ended in savage eruptions, harsh words thrown at each other across the small kitchen, the anger then flowing over and out into the backyard, where I witnessed the violence grown men were truly capable of as they pummeled their meaty fists into each other’s face. To this day, boxing makes my stomach churn, a constant reminder of their bruised and bloodied knuckles, lips doubled in size, and purple splotches that eventually faded, taking evidence of their bloodshed into invisibility.
My uncle, especially, made me nervous as he aged, and it became clear that he likely suffered from some form of mental illness that seemed largely ignored by those closest to him, or perhaps I was just shielded by secrecy. His world began to crumble in high school when he discovered that a woman he loved had suffered a horribly traumatic past, and she left him, his heart in tatters. He attempted to go to college but had trust issues with his roommates, who didn’t recognize boundaries and consistently robbed him of his food and possessions, and he returned after one semester. Eventually, he enlisted in the Marines, but walked away during a field exercise, going AWOL. I remember the sheriff’s car speeding down the road to my grandparents’ house to pick him up after he had found his way home from South Carolina as I stood outside playing in the garden. He was removed in handcuffs, head down, defeated. Somehow, he was given an honorable discharge, but spent the rest of his life living at home, with hardly any friends save my grandmother, seemingly a brutal byproduct of PTSD, addiction, and trauma that remained unresolved. Yet, he had his guns to keep him company. He quit drinking for a long spell and seemed to improve. He found employment where his loyalty seemed to pay off, and he finally seemed to be creeping from his self-imposed shell. He made a couple of friends. Still, there would be awkward moments when he would laugh to himself for no reason, or, when feeling anxious, he would snap his fingers over and over, often increasing the frenetic rhythm. It instilled a fear in me that I could never shake, and there was always, and still lingers, a sense that he should never be angered. When he again took up alcohol later in life, he slowly began retreating once more into himself.
When my grandmother died suddenly from an aneurysm, my uncle was devastated, and I remember my mother’s anxious concern that he was staying at the house, alone, surrounded by firepower and the ability to join his mother with a mere twitch of his finger. It was the first time I can remember anyone in my family vocalizing what I had always felt: he should not be someone trusted with weapons. My family, always good at burying the darkness, never uttered these unspoken fears, maybe never wanting to believe that he might be capable of any destruction, despite signs to the contrary. Although he has never injured anyone, the mere possibility feels too real for me to assuage my fears and pretend it didn’t (or doesn't) exist.
I am stymied by how little has changed, as I have grown, when it comes to our fallacy that guns are merely innocent bystanders. That they don’t infuse the hands that cradle them with a godlike, drunken power that enables men to communicate their fury in death. When mixed with rage, and a select sense of white, male injustice, that sense of authority and control becomes deadly, and the metal machinery accompanying becomes no less than a direct accomplice. It feels unreal that we continue to treat these horrific moments of bloodshed and violence as if they should be weaved into our collective narrative, another trauma to bury alongside other denials, such as slavery and native genocide. By ignoring historical travesties, by continuing to shun the crisis of domestic violence, and refusing to deal with the mental health plight we have created, we have now set the stage whereby younger, white, men, modeling what our society has repeatedly both glorified and suppressed, have turned their sights onto our most innocent. It is no secret that many domestic abusers suffer from mental illness, and that mass shootings are often linked to offenders with a history of domestic or family violence. They are not isolated incidents of single, affected men who have merely gone over the edge. It is a clear case of us now reaping what we have sown by disregarding the historical roots of these increased incidents of savagery.
When I taught in documentary film program with AmeriCorps in Pittsburgh ten years ago, I worked with adjudicated youth who often had gang affiliations and lived in some of the more desolate, and brutal, sections of the city. My first group did a film about African American homicide, which was framed by police brutality and gang violence. We filmed in sections of the city that, a decade later, are still rife with nightly shootings and extreme violence, exacerbated by unresolved poverty and racism, such as Homewood. Often my students would come in after school and talk about the shootings in the neighborhoods they lived in, the sound of bullets echoing through the deserted streets at night, the repetitive trauma building a callousness to the shock. Yet, it wasn’t until I worked in the public school system in Santa Fe that I learned about keeping a bucket in my classroom in case my students had to urinate or defecate during a lock-down, and I while I felt uneasy in certain situations in my previous role, I never had a moment where I outright felt unsafe.
Working in a middle school here, we were taught to prepare for the worst in all scenarios, but never has it seemed a more real possibility. The immature suggestion of conservatives that teachers carry responsibility as a first line of defense by packing firearms in the classroom does nothing to stem the cultural bleed that implies that our children are not as worthy as the metal so many long to carry in their hands. It is horrendous to recognize that many teachers go to work daily, saying good bye to their own families, knowing they might need to choose between being a human shield casualty that leaves their own kin devastated, or allowing innocent children to perish at the hands of reckless, violent, and white men.
My heart feels waves of desolation and the ache of helplessness. When my ten-year-old comes home, somber, and asks me when he can expect someone to come and shoot at his school, and I am left speechless in how to reply, because I now know it is a possibility. When my five-year-old daughter details step by step what actions are taken during a lock-down. When I drop my children off at school and take as many extra seconds as I can to linger on their faces as I drive away, the heart restless and uncomfortable, because you just never know if it’s for the last time. For all those parents, whose babies will never come home again, the ghost children who became mere memories after leaving their homes in the morning, and especially for those who had the audacity to believe their children would be safe and didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.
Like the brave, student survivors who have risen to the occasion, fueled by righteous fury, we should all be called to act. Support students walking out of classrooms and protesting, or let’s do one better, and encourage the entire country to strike until those in power, who have financially bartered in the currency of innocent blood, get the message that we will no longer tolerate the anguish, fear, and loss that their greed has wrought. Strike until concrete changes are made that strive to end domestic violence, treat mental illness, and gun control is enacted that prevents the horrendous cycle of mass shootings in our schools that are becoming as commonplace and comfortable in our psyche as our other historical moments of shame.
I can’t believe that we are allowing the slaughter of our future, body by body.
I can’t believe my uncle still has his guns.
February 14, 2018
Dear Phenomenal You,
This love letter to my inner goddess, the brilliant and beautiful soul that inhabits my brilliant and beautiful body, is long overdue.
I don’t say it near enough, but I love you. I mean, I really fucking love YOU.
You have survived so much during your time here on earth, the tiny blip that it may be in view of the lifespan of the universe. There has been so much to overcome, and heal. The scars that litter your soul are tattoed reminders that life often brings us challenges of endurance that test our capacity for love and its limitations. Yet, despite so many trials and tribulations you are still standing, and our heart wants to give the ovation you deserve. For remaining open. For never sacrificing your ability to love in the face of adversity.
For all the times you have felt like the world could not hold you, with your dreams and ambition so large, or the moments when you have felt as though you were a mere imposter. In reality, you are a mystical, magical, gorgeous, energetic wave of triumph and joy that not everyone can handle. As you settle into these bones, feeling more and more at home with who you are rather than what people expect you to be, you have become more at peace with letting those who don’t recognize your awesomeness go their own way. That process has been long and arduous, fret with misgivings, insecurity, and dread. But I am proud of how you stand now like a woman who has come into her own, sans apology, and holds the sacred ground she’s grown from with strength, dignity, and confidence. You have become adept at showing those without reverence for all you are how to find the door and walk themselves out, without regret.
I’m proud that you have found value in learning to give to yourself, and that you are not afraid to be alone (in fact, you seem to embrace it). You have learned to recognize that independence and self-dedication are incredible gifts, and that loneliness is mostly contrived from social expectation. After two marriages and countless relationships where your giving heart couldn’t help but put your significant other in the spotlight, it feels wonderful to bask in the glow of your own attention. You have learned that anyone who wants to be invited into your heart or bed must be nothing less spectacular than yourself, and just as generous. And now you discern that companionship, romance, and partnership are not a goal, but merely something to augment everything beautiful that is already there, and if it happens, how lovely. But if not, you are just as content to enjoy life on your own terms, on your own. There is nothing that can complete you when you are already the entire package wrapped in silver lame, and more.
If I had one wish for you, it would be for greater gentility when you fail. Understand the growth that comes from not always getting what you want, and how it can form and shape you in a direction you may have never considered. How failure can be your best friend because it means you aren’t afraid to gamble and risk, and the achievement of picking yourself up time, and time again, is an act of the highest form of love. It means you give yourself undying permission to be imperfect, and that you have come to a place where you believe in yourself so much that you can’t imagine not betting on your own house. You’ve become a high roller in the spirit of your own existence. Stop being so hard on yourself. The only expectations you should strive to meet in this life are your own.
Enjoy the body you work so hard to maintain and keep well. Let the sweat that burns from the inside out be the heat that fans your desire and motivation. Have the most incredible sex you could dream of, explore your sensuality to its utmost, and experience orgasms that quake you from head to toe. Don’t give time or attention to those who can’t, or won’t, put the same time and effort into making you feel good that you would put into yourself. And enjoy traversing your body on your own time and terms, so you know intimately what makes your tick, and exactly what you want and crave.
You are full of laughter, and joy. Dreamy. Intelligent. Funny. You are kind, brilliant, and carry a vibrant lust for life that is contagious. You are light, and love, and all things you always hoped you would become, because you always were.
May you always rock fishnets like it’s nobody’s business until you die.
May you know you are the phantasmagoric brought to life.
that I am unlovable.
the throat clenching gasp that who i am may never feel enough, as if i am an unglazed, clay vase that cannot hold enough water to quench the flowers, freshly cut and thirsty, because so much evaporates into the sunset.
the creeping dread that who i feel i am is not how you see me. that my strength is invisible and unwanted, that the passion that dwells below the surface, pulsing and radiating, goes ignored.
or i go beyond enough. too much. too vocal, too direct, too honest, too focused. feeling that i must dial myself back, make myself smaller for the comfort of others, shrinking the best parts of me so that i will not seem like more than what they can manage.
this vibrancy of my being, the range of my mind, the sea of all that is mine and beautiful is not a place where people feel they can swim without drowning.
the angst that despite all that i encompass, all the beauty I know flourishes, i will feel empty without the reflection of myself in the eyes of another to feel complete.
the scars of two divorces i cannot erase, hanging in the ethos, haunting…the ghosts of failure circling, longing for company.
It’s a date. It’s not a date. You’ve known them for seven years. You just met them five minutes ago. You met on Tinder. In a coffee shop. At school. In the library. In line at CVS.
You’re unsure she wants what you want.
You’re single. Taken. Married. Divorced. An ethical non-monogamist. Woman. Man. Trans. All the various spectrums in between.
You want to wrap your arms around her, feel the soft flesh connect with your own.
Her lips-plump, skinny, fat, soft, moist- are all you can stare at, and you fantasize the feeling of them setting fire to your own.
Her hand, strong but feminine, sits empty and you imagine your fingers grasping it tight.
Your fingers long to graze or stroke the plane of her body, mapping muscles and flesh.
Her voice trembles, shakes, or seems unsure. She says nothing at all. She speaks with authority.
You want to touch her right there _________. Her body screams say ‘yes’, but her actions and eyes yell ‘no’. She smiles, seems relaxed. Or she moves your hand without a word.
The aroma of her perfume clouds your head in desire, and you feel stirred.
Her skin is butter soft, and your fingertips long to explore every inch. Slowly. With ferocity. Delicate. Sweet. Starved.
You want her to touch right here _______. She keeps moving your hand away from where you want to place her. She moves her hand or mouth there by telepathy. Or she just holds your hand.
She wears fishnets and you want to draw the circles on her thighs with your hand. She wears jeans and you want to trace the seam of her calf with your fingertip. She wears shorts and you want to rub the crest of her knees. She wears nothing at all, and you want your hands everywhere.
You are 99.9% sure she wants what you want.
Dear Audre Lorde,
I have been reading your essay The Uses of the Erotic repeatedly lately, hoping to find it, perhaps, a salve to the burning wound that so many women, such as myself, continue to suffer and endure in society today. On the heels of nationwide women’s marches, your words feel ever more relevant today, and yet I can’t help but feel the disappointment you would share with me if you were still walking this earth, knowing that despite our forward movement in so many spheres, where the erotic is concerned, in some areas, little seems to have changed.
One of tenants you speak of regards the erotic as an element of joy, the sense of finding such happiness in the acts of living and being. I am not sure that women are any happier since your essay first appeared in 1981. Certainly, we have created for ourselves, through persistence and advocacy, more opportunity, albeit some of it afforded by men as a pacifier, yet we still seem to struggle with the power of the erotic as a form of existence. Instead, we become stretched thinner and thinner by the multitude of responsibilities and expectations placed upon our shoulders from the various roles we are called to engage: daughter, sister, lover, mother, friend. All these hats, none interchangeable, perch precariously upon our psyche, as the depth of requirements to be successful at each has widened.
In addition to being pulled in a multitude of personal directions, we also have not yet reached equilibrium in the workforce. As the economy sits stagnant, women bear the brunt, continuing to make less than their male counterparts, creating a vicious cycle of feeling that we must work harder just to be considered as capable as those who do the same job. It feels surreal to know these things, and yet watch nothing being done, even as we continue to ask for fairness.
Another you speak of is the erotic as a source of feminine power, not just sexual, although that too continues to feel taboo in a world where it is considered indecent to watch a woman bare a breast to feed her child, even as we drive down highways with plastered billboards of 90 foot women scantily clad in lingerie. This disconnect feels as powerful as ever. Our divine right to our feminine continues to suffer from oppression, as men insist on claiming a majority share of power for themselves, occasionally opening the door to throw us a bone, thinking this will pacify the simmering desire, quietly building, to regain what is rightfully ours. Their fear of the feminine overtaking the hyper-testosterone laden society we have endured for so long overshadows any capacity to witness how healing and inclusive feminism strives to be.
I think you would be pleased to see that the sands of politics seem to be slowly drifting in our favor, but we will likely only reach this untapped potential when we recognize that we can no longer uplift and perpetuate the current male models of leadership that are divisive, only hoping to break in and swim with the sharks. Rather, we need our own paradigm, one that embraces the strength of the erotic and brings into the fold diverse voices that are being marginalized, particularly in communities of color. We need women who want to run for office with compassion and inclusiveness, not merely mimicking the male successors she is striving to overcome. Instead, we should be backing women who understand these principles and shun the notion that politics, or any arena, must be a continuation of the male influence that came before, and pave a new path that allows for shared ideas, knowledge, and compassion for our communities. The old ways employed to break ground can no longer sustain the weight of the challenges that we face, and it is time to move to sturdier pastures.
I long to touch the depths of such passion that the erotic brings, affording the knowledge and grace that who we currently are as women is but a fraction of our potential. That for all the for five steps into the future, we often still find ourselves gradually, and often invisibly, guided back three, only to begin again believing we are gaining momentum when we still often concede in our ‘best interests’. Many women continue to support the same structure of power built by men, for men, in the hopes that they will recognize us on their own as equals, when we should be consolidating to burn down their faulty towers and rebuild our own, based on all that the erotic offers: balanced power, happiness, and pleasured derived from all areas of our lives, not just snippets and scraps.
It is my hope for women that I am not reflecting on this topic again, in another 37 years, and longing for the same eroticism to enter our lives and allow us to reach our full promise, or that we continue to struggle with conveying our deepest desires and needs, and still find areas of our life unfulfilled and lagging. I dream of a world where women are placid in every possible realm: we have careers where our immeasurable talents are esteemed, and we are truly recognized by those fortunate enough to be in our orbits. I fantasize that our society acknowledges the pillars of humanity we are, and builds upon those by providing more than adequate supports that allow us to be our best mothers, lovers, sisters, friends, and selves. That we are revered, rather than rebuked, abused, oppressed or negated. I aspire for us to have our moment of reckoning, drawing the force within us to counteract and overcome all that we have suffered and endured.
Mostly, Audre, I yearn for all that I know I am to be in the light of day, and for that awakening and naked truth be a source of comfort and peace, rather than fear and intimidation. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t say I have my heart set on incredible, consensual, ethereal sex, and the reverence of my feminine spirit in its act. Yet that is but a drop in the bucket of what eroticism envelops and what we deserve. I hope, just as you did, for so much.
May I get all we have both desired.
I’ve been asking myself that very question for several months now, as I debate whether to keep my ‘married’ name or return to my ‘maiden’ name. I feel at a loss, because the connection to either is bittersweet at best, and disgruntled at worst. My maiden name, Wyble (why-bl) was handed to me via my birth certificate, my father laying claim to me as his seed. I’ve never loved it, suffering through years of elementary and middle school where it was mispronounced on accident and on purpose, or where it was skewed into a form of teasing torment. My relationship with my father is just as complicated, including an almost ten year stretch where we didn’t speak, and very little (once yearly) communication now. There is not much we see eye to eye on: him, a born-again conservative that shuns evolution, and me, the-progressive-as you-can-get, socialist agnostic. The thought of the weight of his name, and our relationship, feels too heavy to return to that appellation.
When I met my second husband, and we decided to get married, I was delighted to take his name, mostly to escape the former. Baldwin. Simple and easy to pronounce, and it flowed with my first name. It’s the name of my younger children, and connects me to them. But it is also a permanent, invisible tie to my now ex-husband, and the thought of sharing anything with him, including his name, is highly unappetizing. It makes me feel like a part of myself still belongs to him, while I am working to reestablish myself as my own person. As if, as I evolve, he hangs precariously above, reminding me how little I gave to myself during our marriage. It is a constant symbol of broken promises, heartache, and disappointment that leaves a lingering, bitter taste in my mouth when I say it out loud, as if I gargled lemons and vinegar.
Women seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to names, and the expectations of legacy. Many of us are indoctrinated with our father’s names, only to surrender it in the future for marriage, with another man laying claim through his moniker. I admire women who consider that possibility when pondering their nuptials, and say no. But it still doesn’t diminish the rights many of our fathers lay on our heads by extending us their names, and the baggage that comes with them.
Names inform who we are, who we are meant to be. We develop kinship with our names, attachments to what they represent and how we self-identify. I find it repulsive that the practice of women taking their husband’s last name was originated with the concept of erasing the wife: only the husband was recognized, so women melted into the background by taking a given name, marking them as property. It wasn’t until 1972 that women could even legally use their ‘maiden’ names.
So for us women who have been marked by our fathers, and then excised through marriage: if we prefer neither, where does that leave us? A special name purgatory where we can neither our chosen selves, nor wish to be what others have projected onto to us?
I am contemplating choosing my own last name, something I love, that resonates with me, and me alone, despite the headache the paperwork would bring. A word that defines who I feel I am, and who I hope to become. For me, that would be something bold, and risqué, and larger than life. Or perhaps I could follow in the footsteps of Prince, and just delete the surname, going only by my forename. At the least it would be clear who I put first. It would be clear to whom, exactly, I belong, and whom I answer to: no one except my dynamic, warrior self.
The world is full of grey, hues and distinctions that we aren’t always taught to navigate with poise and ease. Perspective is a huge part of how we regard the encounters that we negotiate, and how we gain such viewpoints comes largely from what we see and hear, what is modeled for us day in and out by our families, friends, and the media that engulfs us in the present day. It is a tricky business to watch the world around you project certain images and notions, yet then be told that you are responsible for ignoring what they teach. Yet, I feel like this is what we ask women to do over, and over, and over, again.
We are surrounded by films and books that show romance and love as almost violent forces that we may or may not be able to control: the man sweeping a woman into his arms, then leaning forward to kiss her, because she didn’t know that she wanted THIS. I feel like much of what we are indoctrinated to believe sex should be carries elements of this model. I believe that men have been taught that women may not know what they want, and so it is their job to lead us to the possibilities, even if they must do so with an element of force. On the other hand, women seem to be taught that we don’t know what is best for ourselves and our physical forms, which is perpetuated not just through the barrage of media and art forms that reinforce this code, but also through decades of medical practices, particularly around birth, that leave us without truly having a say over what happens to our bodies.
But this post is about Aziz Ansari, and the muddled actions that have hotly been debated, because of a controversial article posted on Babe that has outed him as a guilty party in sexual assault. I have read the original article several times, a few rebuttals, and a few that have taken a wider view of introspection to discuss the culture around sexual norms. My favorite twitter post this week captured the heart of how I feel:
If we are talking about perception, which seems to be the main issue, and if we are going to be real with ourselves, then we are talking about centuries of ingrained misogyny that tells men they do not have to be responsible for not only the pleasure of their partners, but for their comfort and safety. One article talked about Ansari only being guilty of not reading minds, and how this was just a bad ‘date’. I think any date where someone gives a name to a physical maneuver that another is continually attempting to use on one’s body in a fondling attempt (‘the claw’) goes beyond ‘bad’. There is a disconnect that goes larger than just missing ‘cues’. And it goes beyond women being taught to say no, or excuse themselves, or have ‘cab’ money at the ready, as another article suggested, along with claiming that women are ‘dangerous’ at this moment in #metoo for discussing such messy conditions. We have ignored for too long the emotional burdens and responsibilities that women have shouldered that require us to learn the cues of others, because that is the hallmark of nurturing. You cannot take care of people if you cannot read into the things they don’t say (parenthood is rife with these puzzles). Men, I feel, have abdicated much of this to their female counterparts, to their detriment. So if we can recognize that our perceptions are not matched, why are we not talking about it, rather than assigning blame to women?
What this article brought was a revelation to women that we have been living with assault and categorizing it as other things we ‘just need to live with’. ‘Bad’ dates are just something we should power through as we search for whatever it is we are seeking. It revealed that women feel that it’s not only okay for a woman to be subjected to treatment where she felt uncomfortable and gave uncomfortable signs with her body, and felt obligated to perform acts that she wasn’t really into, but that it’s seemingly a rite of passage. And even worse, not only should we just accept these awful realities as something ‘normal’, but we should defend the men who perpetuate them.
For me, #metoo is supposed to do exactly what it is doing right now: calling into question practices and beliefs around sex, harassment, assault, and gender inequalities that we are not comfortable admitting, never mind discussing. The fact that the woman in the article felt doubt as to whether she was assaulted and had to seek outside validation tells us an enormous amount about how the confidence women feel in society believing them. And the articles that defend Ansari are a testimony to such distrust, and I applaud Babe for sticking to its guns and publishing what they felt was right.
But where do we go from here, now that the water is murky, and we are in areas that no longer display strict polarities?
First, I want to hear from men, who have been auspiciously silent on this topic. Every article I have read dissecting this issue has been written by a woman. I feel that silence has a lot to do with fear that they have participated in such behavior themselves, and don’t want to reflect and/or admit such things. In addition, the leadership they need to have conversations among themselves seems lacking right now. But someone needs to step up, because SILENCE IS COMPLICITY. Men need to be vocal, and we need to hear from you what you can, and want, to do to help change the dynamic. It isn’t just about poor behavior that men might not have been aware of, but its perpetuation. What are your responsibilities? If you don’t feel you can read signals, how about a conversation around consent, and checking in? I personally am growing tired of the argument that consent removes romance and spontaneity from the sexual narrative. What it eliminates is ambiguity and confusion. Consent can be the sexiest move a partner can make. A partner who has enough forethought and consideration to ask me permission to kiss me, or touch me, or check in to make sure I am feeling comfortable, while creating a safe space where I can be honest about what I want, is completely alluring. Consent is hot and titillating, and if women feel they are losing something by giving up such autonomy over their bodies, and men feel they are losing something because they relinquish a certain element of sexual control, then I feel some self-reflection is long overdue on both sides. Where did we get the notion that our bodies are not our own? Where did you learn that women want a man who ‘takes control’? When did you become aware that sex is for the 'taking'? Where have these ideals sprung from? What has been modeled? What have you seen or heard?
Second, please stop shaming women for coming forward with stories that challenge the narratives we have woven for ourselves. Stop telling women they must do more than they are already doing. We have enough on our plates from all the other roles society has handed down to us that we shouldn’t have to worry that men can’t be responsible enough to cultivate an atmosphere of respect and comfort when it comes to intimacy. Stop victim shaming and blaming acts that women have experienced that cause you discomfort because of a permissiveness you displayed that you might have been conditioned to believe was a ‘norm’. Let go of the notion that women should have to accept such behavior, or that women are not worthy of being heard and supported because they acted differently in a moment that you might have considered acting. If you are vocalizing that you do not want to participate in something sexual, and you are physically indicating such, and you go home crying and feeling like you need to seek refuge in a shower, there has been an element of assault. What we need to start talking about are the invisible ways we are assaulted: the mental, verbal, spiritual, and societal ways we are sometimes coerced into doing things that we want to say ‘no’ to but lack the language and confidence to navigate. It is not always so simple as to state that a man did not physically force himself, and so there was no ‘harm’. There other ways of intimidation and abuse in our society that we continually ignore, and we need to begin to hear each other and discuss how to rebuild our sexual landscapes in ways that we feel heard and listened, and feel safe.
Third, to my artist friends, literary writers, dramatic writers, and all those who have a direct influence on the images we create and place in this world for others to soak in and digest: we need to begin to create the stories and images that shape what we want our sexual topography to look like. Write bold, female characters that embrace sex scenes where consent is a part of the narrative, and men that support those women. Envision the ideal of how both men, women, and those who identify in the spaces between, should be treated, and create THAT. We need new media, art, and literature that emboldens us to strive for what we should want, not what we have been conditioned to believe.
Lastly, please reflect on how you learned what romance, love, and sex should be. What did you grow up witnessing in adult relationships? On television? Movie posters? Music? How have you been taught to react to those you attracted to, and how you been taught to approach intimacy with them? What can you change? What is your responsibility to your sexual self, those you engage with sexually, and the community at large? How would you like things changed for your own children or future generations? How can we create dialogues? Who can be the leaders to bring others together for constructive dialogue? What are the disparities faced across economic, racial, and gender lines that may need more support and more action? How can we work to uplift everyone so that we can all feel sexually safe?
I understand things aren’t going to change overnight, because changing an entire culture takes the energy and participation of a majority, and often one that is sometimes slow and unwilling to join the cause. While there definitely seems to be generational differences in what women should feel they should tolerate or not, and what men may feel they should be responsible for or not, change is inevitable, and once the dragon is woke, we can no longer pretend that we are unaware of the ways that we have been influenced by our environments and the detrimental effects of their impact. Instead, we should strive for creation of terrain that serves us equally, and allows us to utilize communication and respect over force and blame. The grey should not frighten us, or have us begging for dichotomy. Rather, we should we welcome what it is allowing us to uncover, and its provocation to redefine what sex and gender equality means in our relationships. It is an invitation to expose ALL the ways we have been hurt and traumatized, not just the obvious forms, and with that, a way to seek healing and justice, both long overdue.
There are two things I have always believed in, even though they seem somewhat opposed: ambition, and servitude. The former I learned by watching my mother, who was finishing her master’s degree as I resided in her womb, and who pursued her doctorate for over ten years when I was teen/adult. Her persistence and dedication to herself taught me that women should pursue the things they love, no matter how much life seeks to interrupt: marriage, children, work, health or the unexpected. In watching her, I learned that our passions, as women, are just as valid as those of men, if not of greater importance, since women often sacrifice those things we love so greatly to support others in their pursuits. Ours, her hard work whispered to me, carry as much weight, and deserve a solid place in the imaginings of our heart. Because of having such a role model, I decided to pursue a twenty-year dream of obtaining my MFA in creative writing, which I finally, blissfully, began in the fall of 2016.
I learned servitude from my grandmother. She was a secretary at a votech high school for decades, having sacrificed her dream of a nursing career to help provide for the three children she and my grandfather birthed. She was a spitfire and dedicated to the tenants of the Catholic church in the best possible way that religion can offer. Endlessly, she volunteered to sit on committees, visit with the sick, take meals to those in need, and just offered herself up as an example of gracious spirit and love to all those she encountered. It was by spending time with her and watching her give time and time again that I felt the call to be a member of AmeriCorps, twice, and follow in her footsteps. It is why I have volunteered at almost every school my children have attended in some capacity for the past 11 years. I am currently the parent association president for my older children’s arts high school, raising money to help our arts departments and providing gap funds to teachers and the student body. Before that, I spent two years fundraising close to $15000 for summer dance programs that are often prohibitively expensive for students coming from one of the poorest states in the nation. I believe that opportunities take a village, and that offering my time and talents is one way that I can justify walking this earth, or as Muhammed Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”
Working as a lactation consultant in a community hospital, I often find myself coming in on days off to work or teach, as practicing IBCLCs and CLCs are scarce in our community, most working for community agencies. When our doula coordinator left her position last winter, and our childbirth educator abruptly stepped down, my supervisor was planning to cancel our prenatal classes. New Mexico has one of the poorest rates of prenatal education in the country. I’m a certified Lamaze instructor. I didn’t hesitate to ask to take over, rewriting the curriculum and slowly building what has become a solid childbirth class series for our community, and one that is affordable. And from March to the end of this year, I worked a 13-14 hour day every Wednesday, teaching until 9:00pm, because meeting the needs of the women in my community, and advocacy for women, has always been at the central core of who I am.
Around the same the classes began, I found myself living on my own post separation, a single mother of four, with two teenage children who live with me full time from my first marriage, and co-parenting a ten and six-year-old. My second husband, whom the older children lived with for 10 years and call ‘dad’, didn’t even ask if they had a desire to maintain a residence with him. In fact, the first thing my son said to me after we announced our separation was, “You know I am going to live with you, right?” Even though I had tried to salvage my marriage for the sake of my children for as long as I could, I found myself, for the first time in over ten years, able to breathe. My ex-husband wasn’t bad, per se, but he had a quick to ignite temper that often led to verbal abuse of our children (particularly my elder son), and sometimes, myself. But no matter how much you hope that people will want to change and aim for a higher self, it isn’t always enough.
My ex-husband put our younger children in counseling, not telling me until after they had begun, on Wednesday evenings, as that was a day he knew he would have them, per our hastily draw up custody agreement. I didn’t object to the modality: I am a big believer in the power of therapy. But I couldn’t participate, as I was committed to teaching those evenings for the remainder of the year. The therapists only called me for three separate occasions: to come in a sign the appropriate forms, the last week of June to come in and address some issues my son felt he was having with his siblings, and the following Wednesday, where they left a vague message that some disturbing themes had come up in sessions with both the kids. I called back right away when I finished teaching that evening, but they wouldn’t provide concrete details. I made an appointment to come in the next evening after work.
When I arrived, both my children’s therapists, part of a graduate school program that required clinical hours, sat me in a room with their supervisor. They went over the issues that had come up: for my daughter, during play therapy, she had discussed and acted out a scene involving suicide. With my son, there was sand play with sexual overtones that was also had contained violence. They told me they wanted to bring in someone who was an expert to discern if my children might have been subjected to abuse. I was in shock, but I immediately agreed, disclosing my own history as a survivor of sexual abuse (something I am very open about), and offered my full cooperation. I was also told that a referral had been made to CYFD, although they never told me directly that who was the target of the investigation. But they insinuated that there was concern regarding my older son, describing incidents between him and his younger brother out of context, that I calmly and thoroughly explained. I left the counseling center in a stupor, and sat in my car, where I called a co-worker/friend to talk and began uncontrollably crying and shaking for next 20 minutes. I then drove to my workplace to be surrounded by love, because I work with some of the most amazing labor and delivery nurses on the planet, who had been the rocks I leaned on throughout the rough year of my separation.
The next day, I was to pick up my children from their summer program. I tried in vain to reach out to my ex-husband, because I wanted to talk about what the counselors had discussed, and I wanted to see if he was okay. We were also to meet that evening to try to mediate the finances of our divorce on our own. Something in my gut began screaming, and I listened. I left work early to get my children, arriving to find they had never showed up that day. I drove to his apartment, but he wasn’t there. I called, emailed, and texted my ex-husband. No response. Finally, late in the afternoon, again surrounded by my co-workers, I called the police, more afraid than I had ever been in my life. What if an accident had occurred, and they were hurt? Initially, the officer didn’t want to do anything. We didn’t have a formal parenting plan in place. I told him I was worried my ex-husband might have left the state, and I broke down in sobs. The officer finally agreed to investigate, and I gave him my ex-husband's address.
Hours later, I was sitting in a restaurant with my older daughter, restlessly waiting, when the officer called me back to inform me that my children were safe with my husband, but he had filed a protection order against me. He had gone in on a Friday afternoon, at 3:00pm, around the time I was at his home. I was to have no contact whatsoever with my children for the next 14 days until the hearing, and if I saw them in public I was to remain 100 feet away. I broke down completely in the middle of the restaurant, my spirit lying in pieces on the tile floor.
I consulted with one attorney the following Monday who had to recommend me to others as she was to be out of town after the date of the initial hearing. Consultations aren’t free anymore. I paid over 200 dollars to find out she couldn’t help, but got a list of referrals. I went to the courthouse and paid to get a copy of the PO filed against me, because I still had no idea what accusations were being leveled against me. The reasons listed were scant and without substance. I called four other attorneys over the next couple of day, because finding a lawyer in July in my small city is like a needle in a haystack, and lucked out with one who had criminal experience, which proved invaluable when I received a call from the SVU unit for an interview. I also received the awaited call from CYFD, arranging interviews for my older daughter, myself, and with the directors of the dance program my older son was attending in Chicago for the summer.
I met with the SVU detective, whom my lawyer advised me not to talk with. One thing she discussed was a concern raised from my younger daughter’s drawings that the therapists had given her, showing her at her father’s watching television and playing with her dad and brother, while in the drawing of my house she was playing with her siblings while I folded laundry. I let that sink in. Part of the accusation of neglect was that I FOLDED LAUNDRY, a single mother of four who was parenting seven days a week, while my ex-husband had up to four days a week where he was completely childless to do such laundry. I was also questioned because my son, a gifted student, was reading Alexie Sherman’s Diary of a Part Time Indian. In my mind, all I could think was how happy I had been that he agreed to read a work of fiction, since he usually only gravitated toward nonfiction and fought us about reading. It had been a book his siblings read when they were just a bit older, and we talked through any questions he had about the content.
I met with the CYFD case worker in our home, a tough, no-nonsense woman fitted in boots and jeans. Her first question when we sat in my dining room was straight to the point: did I think my husband might be doing this out of spite? She then commented that she had been doing this a long time, and had an instinct for when things didn’t seem to match up. We talked for a bit about my relationship history with my husband, and the kids, and she walked through each room of my house, only momentarily pausing before moving on. It took less than 20 minutes.
For those two weeks, I sat in agony. I stopped sleeping, and only found solace in exercise, writing, preparation for the hearing, and my work. It helped me to help others. It gave me relief to teach and be around expectant families full of the promise of parenthood. It was one of the few glimmers of hope that sustained me during this awful period. Friends from work created a Go Fund Me, and I raised part of the $2500 retainer my lawyer would require, the rest emptying my savings.
We went to court, and my lawyer negotiated an agreement to have the protection order dropped that included keeping the custody schedule the same (I had them Sunday morning to Wednesday morning, with every other Friday), while I begrudgingly agreed that my older children would not be left alone with my younger children. Our divorce would likely be settled in formal mediation, where I felt I could hopefully renegotiate that stipulation, and I desperately wanted to see my kids, not wanting to risk the protection order being increased for any length of time (I might have only gotten short visitations). That afternoon, I raced to pick them up. My son ran to me and hugged me so hard I thought he might hurt my ribs. But my daughter, my baby that I breastfed until she was four, looked at me with cold formality and would not hug me at first. Again, a piece of my heart irretrievably broke on the spot, and that night I lay in bed, weeping for all we had lost.
But we began rebuilding, although my ex-husband still had not reached out to the twins, and had not had contact with them since Father’s Day. It was an adjustment, particularly when my son came home from Chicago at the end of the summer. He was, rightfully, angry that he had been accused of any kind of potential abuse, and was extremely upset with his former stepfather for allowing all of this to occur. The kids were unsure how to ‘be’ around one another, and I found myself nitpicking normal sibling behavior that I was worried might be misinterpreted. I started therapy during the two weeks they were taken from me, and that helped me tremendously, particularly recognizing the abuse I had endured but felt incredible shame admitting. However, my younger kids remained at the same counseling center, and I began to insist that we find a new therapy group, particularly after I found out that he sat in the room with them when they made the phone call to refer me to CYFD. Because of our custody schedule, I asked for someone who could see them Fridays, when we both had availability and rotated the children. A couple of weeks later, I received a letter from the CYFD case worker with a simple, checked box that indicated the claims made against me were ‘unsubstantiated’. I never heard back from the SVU detective, but my lawyer found out the kids had been taken for forensic interviews and nothing that indicated abuse had been disclosed. I finally felt that we could begin to leave that experience behind, in the dust, where it rightfully belonged.
In October, my ex-husband and I sat with a mediator to haggle through the finances of our divorce. His lawyer came without having any prepared documentation of his income and other financials, which took up sizable time. At the end of it, I was still left with most our credit card debt, and would only be receiving less than $50 a month in child support despite him earning a great deal more than me, as he insisted on paying for an afterschool program that was more a luxury and not a necessity, as I would have gladly used my lunch hour to pick up the children and bring them to my work daily. He nickeled and dimed every point, and despite us not owning a home or any other mutual property of value, the proceedings took six full hours instead of the four I budgeted, and I was now also left with legal debt to the tune of over $4000.
Since we didn’t get to issues with the kids, and my ex-husband continued to refuse change of any kind to the kids’ schedule, I filed for a priority consultation with the court. I wanted to change the days we were following, as the transitions felt like too many for the kids, and it always felt frantic. I also hoped to finally switch counselors. We had called other therapists, and I had finally found one that could see them on Fridays, but he had dragged his feet and she became booked. Ideally, I hoped for a week on/week off, as I had not had a full weekend with my children since March. I dreamed of taking them camping when the weather eventually warmed, or just having a Saturday to go on a day trip. I also wanted my older children to can be left alone with their siblings, so that they could walk the dog together, roller blade, go the park, or even just watch a movie while I ran to get a gallon of milk. The younger kids had been asking endless questions of why they always had to be with me when they wanted to stay home or do things with their siblings, and I had no answer to give. I also still didn’t know what my husband had told them during the two weeks of my absence from their life, and so finding the appropriate response felt impossible.
We finally met with the mediator. She asked me to rehash my relationship from when we met. It felt crushing to discuss and relive a relationship so fraught with abuse and trauma. We had moved 8 times, and had a period of homelessness. My husband had at least 10 different jobs during our relationship, often chronically underemployed, some of which he was abruptly fired from, and we had been hand to mouth for 90% of our time together. He had often been unhappy or seemed to have conflicts with supervisors. I had worked at three places during our entire relationship, only leaving my educator position at a local middle school when my program folded in NM, then working with WIC as a peer counselor as I returned to school to become an IBCLC, and only leaving that when I gained full time employment at the hospital. Otherwise, I had been pregnant, or a stay at home mom, working on my childbirth certification. I cried most of the session. We discussed the issues with the therapists and I brought in the treatment summaries, which I felt were biased, where one therapist had written that I, “seemed to not react to the news” when they discussed the themes of the scenarios my children had acted out, my shock being misinterpreted for callousness. I outlined why I felt it was in the best interest of the kids to have a week at a time: less transitions, time to settle, quality time with parents, which I felt having a whole weekend at a time would give, since I had to maintain my work schedule as an hourly employee to feed my family. I had also decided to scale back my prenatal teaching to every other month, and changed the day to Monday, so that I could have more quality time with my kids and give more flexibility to participate in their therapy, even though I still felt strongly that I needed to do that work for my community.
When I got the priority consultant recommendations, I was stunned. It was recommended that I receive LESS time, a schedule of Wednesday to Friday with every other Sunday. She had called the executive director of my children’s counseling center who claimed, “the Father has consistently brought the children to counseling, and has shown concern and involvement, whereas Mother has regularly neglected to bring the children to sessions.” This led the consultant to decide, “Mother’s inability or unwillingness to participate in the children’s counseling and to regularly get them to sessions is another indication that she is not taking their mental health seriously, and that she has potentially neglected to adequately respond to their emotional needs.” It stated that she felt the younger children needed to minimize contact with their older siblings, as she still had concerns based on the accusations that had been raised in July. The ones CYFD investigated and found unsubstantiated, the same ones where they reported no abuse during their forensic interviews.
I met with my lawyer, who was also stunned, as my ex-husband had not asked for increased time. We filed an objection, finally got a court date, and yesterday I finally got to sit in front of a white, male judge and give voice to my story. I discussed how I had been unable to participate in counseling as I had committing to teaching, and my ex-husband enrolled them without asking me, then refused the change the day of the week since he did not want the kids to experience any shifts. I discussed why I do the work I do, helping women, how teaching in a population with health and economic disparity is a passion, and how essential it is I continue that work for our community, even if on a smaller scale. How I work hourly and often need maintain at least 40 hours a week just to afford rent, utilities, food, and pay down the debt I was left from our marriage. I have no savings, and have even begun contemplating a second job or leaving the job I love since the raise I have been asking for still has not come to fruition, and my kids come first. Despite this, I maintain and excel in graduate school, and still give back by volunteering with my children’s school, because I want to model for my children a woman who not only pursues her own dreams through hard work, but also believes to help others achieve theirs as well. Because what is lost in our society today is that open, giving heart that allows us to lean on each other in times of need, and gives us the perspective to see those around us as humans who hurt and bleed the same. It is a sense of connecting to others outside of technology, knowing them as people, and recognizing we are all in this together, not just individually for ourselves.
I discussed how I have supported my older daughter’s participation in therapy for the past three years, and how my son only stopped formal therapy with a counselor for his first semester this year (he is resuming), because he chose to take extra academic classes and has a more rigorous schedule than in the past, and the guidance counselor, whom he would talk with regularly, just returned from maternity leave. Both are high performing students, and amazing human beings, who will be leaving in a year and a half to seek their own journeys as adults, and this time, this now to be together as a family, is something we will never be granted again.
My husband’s lawyer made it a point for the judge to know that I leave my children for 20 days a year to attend two, ten-day graduate school residencies, so the younger children are ‘used’ to being away from me. I could hear the oxygen suck from the room when I openly admitted that my older children had one night they spent alone when I was away at my a residency. I never got to clarify that it was due to a family issue my friend who was staying with them had to deal with at home, the night before I came back. Or that she lives less than 2 miles away, and they had a laundry list of people I compiled for emergencies. I also trusted them when they told me they felt capable being on their own for one evening. A product of the 80s and 90s, I can remember being left home alone as a teenager when my parents took short trips, having family phone numbers at the ready, which would probably qualify as intentional neglect these days.
My ex-husband kept repeating how he felt I wanted to make modifications to the schedule, when what he really meant is that I had been leaning on him as my co-parent to help me. Since I had had the children on Mondays, and public schools love to give more Mondays off than any other day of the year, I was constantly the one having to take them to work, since I couldn’t afford to take off, or hire a babysitter. So I would ask him to split those days here and there, or if I could bring them by if I had a meeting they couldn’t go to with me, or I had an appointment for one of my other children, since I manage all of them. And because kids are incredibly unpredictable, sometimes you must shift things to accommodate their needs, and when you are an hourly employee as I am versus the salaried employee my ex-husband is, every minute missed on the clock counts. His tone as he discussed how I depended on him, because I always have felt that good co-parents should be able to rely on each other, was just short of bitter resentment.
But the most damning moment came when my lawyer pointed out to my ex-husband on cross examination that he had opposed changing our schedule because he did not feel that the children should be without seeing each parent for five days or more. Yet, with the court recommendation, that is exactly how long they would go without seeing me. She asked him directly if he felt that being without their mother for five days was in their best interest since he previously opposed such a length for both of us, and he had not requested additional custody. I watched him squirm, sitting with his eyes slanted to the right, staring at the floor as he had for most of his testimony. He sighed and licked his lips, then repeated what he had said for almost every question my attorney asked, not answering anything at all, “I only want is what is in the best interest of the children, and if the court feels this way…”
For the ten years we were married, he never voiced it was against the best interests of our children to spend most their time with me as he jumped from job to job, or as I supported him when he needed time to complete his BA degree, and then when I encouraged him to get the MA degree he completed in December. He didn’t ask for addition time because I truly believe he knew deep in his soul it was not in their best interests, but he still wouldn’t vouch for me as a woman and mother. He should have just punched me, and then threw me under a moving bus.
And the judge bit. At the end of testimony, he called a recess, and when he returned, I knew the verdict before he said a word, because he wouldn’t look at me. Then his opening sentence mentioned how difficult and complex our case was, and how his decision wasn’t intended to disparage me as a mother. Tears started welling in my eyes. And then he said that because I seemed ‘overwhelmed’ as a single mother of four and a graduate student who worked full time, that he was adopting the recommendations, because I needed to ‘prioritize’ some things. I completely lost it and almost fell in a heap to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably. He also felt that despite the investigations that had cleared any us of any charges from the summer, he felt that those allegations should be treated as if they had really happened and not ‘fictitiously’, and that warranted me less time, even though I had 50% shared time with them for the last SIX MONTHS without an iota of concern. We were mandated to six months consecutive counseling before I can petition a change, and when listing therapy groups, he at first mentioned us utilizing the center where my children still attended, although when under oath I said multiple times they had made me feel unsafe. Then (and I think he genuinely thought he felt he was exhibiting compassion) he said that if a neutral first choice wasn’t available, a place I had already contacted prior to the hearing as I am very eager to remove my kids from the inexperience they have been subjected to, I could draft a list of three counselors, but my ex-husband would get to choose. It was the only thing I got that I asked for, and it was still an afterthought.
In addition to now only getting to see my children for five overnights every fourteen days, I also lost my petition for us to each have a child for one of their birthdays each year, since my ex-husband had my daughter last year and I had our son, and I hoped to reverse this year. Instead, because he gets the even years, I will miss my daughter’s birthday for the second year in a row. Again, it is time lost that can never be replaced.
Here is some of what I learned: single mothers of four children who dare to work full time, help their communities, pursue their dreams, and try to model service for others get punished. Instead of finding a way to help lift me up, the court instead found a way to try to break my spirit, and drove a greater wedge between all of us. I saw very clearly the vested self-interest my ex-husband has, despite continually trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, because he is still a father to people I love more than anything in the world. I do not see a foreseeable future where I can feel forgiveness on the horizon. I’m giving myself the permission to feel rage. I learned that men can abandon children that call them father and who expect them to be a part of their lives after a decade, and suffer absolutely no consequences for such desertion, while women can be put through exhausting processes that pick apart their lives and actions, and still not be trusted or believed. I learned that you can fully cooperate with investigations, be completely cleared, and still be told you are not trustworthy. The rules of accountability for gender are ripe with inequality. I learned that our patriarchal society is fear based and concerned with covering its own ass, which is part of why I felt the judge issued the verdict he did. CYFD in New Mexico has come under fire, at times rightly so, for being understaffed and allowing children to slip through the cracks, resulting in horrendous outcomes. I’m not deaf and blind to the political aspect of that reasoning. But I’ve also been the more stable and consistent parent for ten years. I barely watch television. I’m not an addict. I don’t have mental issues. I’m a nonsmoking vegetarian who exercises every day. Occasionally, I like a good bourbon, or a glass of wine. I probably should sleep more. But I’m mostly an ambitious woman who can multitask with incredible efficiency, who doesn’t waste the small, precious time she’s been allotted for her life, and who believes that giving back should be a central part of community and living. And I was penalized for that, as were my older children, who are two incredible, loving, smart, and kind individuals who work hard, are talented artists, and who love their siblings with full hearts.
I learned that anything you do or say can be twisted to serve the wants of others. I learned that hurt men do strange things to cling to their own sense of importance and self-worth. I learned that sexism is alive and well, and that we still have such a long way to go to balance the scales of justice. I learned the importance of electing women to positions of power, particularly women who understand the self-sacrifice that many women endure so that they can do more for others, as we often do. My judge should be up for reelection this year, and I will be vocal.
We need to have conversations about how we treat women in this country, and the invisible bias wrapped in disproportionate expectations for mothers versus fathers. Let’s talk about the wage gap, the outrageous costs of childcare, paid maternal leave, and how we perceive women who work versus those who do not. Let’s get real about how we punish families who are struggling, and how economics plays a role in how justice sees individuals, because it is not blind. I am not unaware how fortunate I am that I had representation because I could scrape together a retainer, even though how I will pay the remainder of my legal costs is something that keeps me up at night, even though the outcome without a lawyer likely could have been so much worse. At close to a staggering $10000 later for my fees, I can’t help but think of how much better that money might have been saved for my older children to take driver’s education, for college, for emergencies, or a million other things my kids need.
I wrote this because I want other women who have suffered similar fates to know they are not alone. For all the women who have come out of abusive relationships and still feel further abused by the systems that are supposed to help, not harm. For those financially struggling but who would and have to spare any expense to fight for their families. For those single mothers, holding down one job or more, who may rely on sibling babysitters, who live paycheck to paycheck, who want more and have the audacity to go after it, who might be championing women every day in positions that often don’t pay enough, or who feel the same call of servitude I always have: I see you. If you are a WOC, I see you more, because I know the struggle for you is so much greater. At the end of the day, we need to face such injustices. We need to scrutinize how we treat women in our culture, and begin to demand that men relinquish some of the power that has led to such fragmented bureaucracy. We need to critically analyze and address who benefits from systems that result in broken families and more trauma, because society does not. It wasn’t just that my children lost time with their mother: this was a loss for all women, especially those on their own working hard to provide for others and better themselves in the process. No one is winning when women can’t be seen, when our ambitions become a liability, or we can’t serve our very own communities to promote health, or create opportunity. Instead of begging to be heard, let’s start demanding those with power to listen: let’s be OVERWHELMING, and create the change we need so that women will no longer be ‘overwhelmed’.
We live during interesting times upon us in this country, as we endure a national government that seems not only bent on controlling women and their bodies, but also oppressing them as living, breathing human beings. Not only have they made it clear that we are incapable in their eyes of making solid choices about the skin we inhabit, or what may be best for our futures, but they have, beginning with the top of the shaky totem pole, blatantly disregarded and disrespected women publicly and professionally at a level that should be intolerable. Instead, somehow, we continue to trudge through the unending deluge of masculine, self-worth hypertrophy that may, in the end, see us all evaporated in dust simply because even the size of a button is a threat to the security of the male ego.
I know many men sympathize, and I believe there are many men who ‘get’ it, and who are staunch supporters of women’s rights in all the best ways. I know there are men out there doing their best, day in and out, to be decent human beings, and who examine the heavy-handed privilege they have been born into simply by the grace of a marked box on their birth certificate that certified them as a ‘male’.
I say this to recognize that there are many great men who have been there to support women as we see our rights, and the rights to our own bodies, stripped away, and who are fighting the good fight, and I salute you. But I also say this to recognize that it is simply not enough anymore to be the supporter who is fighting the fight as allies in power. Rather, men, it’s time you abdicate some of your power.
We have a fascinating mayoral race in my humble abode of Santa Fe. Four men, and one audacious woman. Of the four men, three are city councilors, and the fourth a very successful entrepreneur. Some of them were raised here, some migrated from elsewhere. Some were educated locally, some at Harvard. But they all share that unique, singular trait of being men, and more importantly, men in power, and men who have known success both politically and in business.
And then there’s Kate Noble.
I watched a debate of all the candidates tonight, and she blew me away. She grew up in Santa Fe, and knows the heart of the community, but she’s also worked abroad, and it gives her a very distinct understanding of the big picture of inclusiveness. Her answers were well prepared and eloquent, and having worked for the city government for years in economic development, she has her finger on the pulse of what the region struggles with and the infusions it needs to stop bleeding our youth. She’s the perfect blend of insider and outsider, the prodigal daughter that leaves for a time, but comes home to use the wisdom and experience she has gained to strengthen a world she has never truly left.
Yet, with all this direct and indirect experience, all the understanding of the inner workings of the city but personal experience that captures a larger perspective, it is possible this may not be enough for her to win. Even though the conservative competitor has gained audience with a ‘raised in Santa Fe’ label, and she shares that same direct experience of being raised in the City Different. Although while he bumbles through answers without any concrete plan (other than we need a bowling alley?), Kate is meticulous guiding us through her vision for what this city could be. And I sit wanting to bang my head against my laptop while mumbling: “What’s it going to take?”
Seriously, I’m asking. What do women have to do? How accomplished do they have to be? How much more experience do they have to list on their resume to be recognized as someone worth throwing support to?
The nail in the coffin is that Kate’s closest progressive competitor is well versed and popular, with a laundry list of supporters. He’s a great candidate in his own right, who was a very successful entrepreneur, and who understands economics just as well. However, at the end of the day, I am so endlessly tired of being presented with male candidates when there are so many capable women with bold ideas and fresh perspectives. And it would really nice if men could, just once in a while, recognize they that don’t need ALL the power, ALL the time.
I, flat out, have ‘male fatigue’ (particularly when they come in ‘white’).
Because men are everywhere you turn. Men take up all the oxygen in the room. Men are constantly rewarded with more and more power, and as we continually see from the damage that is being unwound from the #metoo movement, it is frequently abused. I am not insinuating that any of the male candidates in this election are in that vein by any stretch. But I am saying that in a city where the female population has the edge, hovering around 51%, where is our representation? If we are, technically, the majority in this town, where is the equal balance of women that are our voices in power? And where are the men who support women, and women support women, and why aren’t they supporting a woman who has the substance and qualifications that this city needs?
Women fight for basic privileges that men take for granted: we are beaten, raped, abused, and told what to do with our bodies at alarming rates and insidious ways. We facial institutional sexism and a hierarchy that has boldly, and without remorse, degraded women and their roles in society. We are constantly asked to prove over and over how worthy we are when a man is granted that support with ‘invisible’ discrimination, often hidden in his lauded qualifications. And if you are a minority woman in this country, you face an even greater risk of mortality from all the above with a large heaping of racism on top. It’s exhausting to feel underrepresented from every angle.
I think it is easy to pick the male candidates with business acumen and back them. We’ve been doing it for centuries. It speaks to an ingrained pattern we return to, where we seek wisdom from the predominate gender and race that has owned those power centers much longer than we often care to acknowledge. When women attempt to inject themselves into the same roles, they are often unfairly criticized and scrutinized, because power begets power, and it likes itself. Like attracts like. White attracts white. Men attract men. So the cycle continues to spin, because to engage in that sort of self-examination requires the acknowledgement that you are willingly participating in a system that perpetuates systemic prejudice, even if you, yourself, do not feel that those values are a part of who you are as an individual. And that’s a hard truth to swallow. It’s difficult to critique the self, and honestly scrutinize why you choose to back who you choose, because the answers might not be want you want to hear.
Thankfully, the pendulum is slowly swinging, and much of the darkness men have operated in is coming to light. Structures and the old guard are crumbling, and with it, I hope, an advancing notion that the best man does not always need to be the one to win. Rather, women can, and often are, best within their own right, and can be who is best for all. It begins with a simple recognition of what lies on the horizon: the future is female.
I, for one, pledge to do whatever I can to see to it that the intelligent, thoughtful, and compassionate women we have in our midst are brought into leadership roles that allows for more diversity and an all-inclusive perspective. I dedicate myself to supporting and backing quality women in my community, and the nation at large, who not only have the experience, but the heart and courage, to want to take up leadership roles in male dominated paradigms. How much braver could a woman be?
My quest begins with my vote on March 6th for a unique woman who dares run for mayor against a sea of men in our quaint western city.
Santa Fe’s future should be Mayor Kate Noble.
Want to learn more about why Kate should be our city leader?
it’s not just the pounds, it’s the baggage. the years of emotional trauma that have been heaped upon your soul and weighed you down in ways you were never aware. how your shoulders used to lean forward to protect your heart, how you dressed to be ignored rather than noticed.
it began before the separation. you stopped drinking coffee over a year and a half ago and never looked back. you became a vegetarin for two weeks in the spring of 2016 and never stopped (although you consider yourself pescetarian now). it laid the foundation, the groundwork, for the bigger health choices to come. it made starting a fitness routine easier, having given your body a break from stimulants and heavy protein.
the past six months have been challenging, but you have stared them down. you channeled energy into building muscle, releasing old wounds and tension, into reshaping yourself into the goddess you always knew lie dormant. it was a gradual process, like the taking the stairs at work, and arriving at the top floor so winded you had stop and take a moment to catch your breath. then you began to exercise, for real, cashing in some personal training sessions you won at an auction, and which have been your salvation and accountability. now you run up those stairs, hands full, and just keep going.
the scale says you’re down 55 pounds, but you’ve gained strength, and muscle, and you’re 6 sizes smaller than when you began. as quickly as you buy new clothes, they seem to swim on you, all the anger and frustration melting away the harder you train. you don’t miss a day of working out, and you feel the difference if you do. it keeps you balanced and whole, and allows you to burn off all the fury from the other aspects of your life that are less than ideal.
you’ve formed a love affair with kale, and eat more whole foods than ever before. you stopped eating sugar 6 months ago, and that alone has lent you more focus, stamina, stability. your skin looks radiant from all the water you inhale, and you feel younger than you probably did at 25. more confident, more self-assured, a woman who knows what she wants, and more importantly, can communicate it.
you would like to think this might have eventually been your path if you had been able to salvage your marriage, but in your heart of hearts you recognize that dishonesty. the marriage, its dysfunction, left you no room to truly feel good. the weight was the protective suit you weaved to buffer the chaos, and sometimes abuse, that you weathered over and over. the marriage was nothing more than the rock that the tethers the balloon that wants to fly.
sometimes you need to lose it all to gain even more, allowing yourself the courage and space to let the aspects of your life that are no longer serving you to dismantle and break. you need to watch things crumble and burn, feeling the heat of the blaze as the inferno wipes away all the things you thought were important but that were superficial. a house. a car. a status. an extra ‘r’ between the ‘m’ and ‘s’ before your name. these are all replaceable, but you are not.
in the wake of such destruction, you know that there is beauty, life and grace. you know that you are still fortunate to wake every morning and sleep every night. you know that your heart still beats with passion, and the drumbeat of your soul now has an audience that will listen because the previous confusion has been wiped clean. you know that you are strong, not just in your body, but in your conviction and soul. you know that amidst the ash that has been scattered, you are the phoenix, rising with majesty, ready to soar.
Today we would have been celebrating your life, if cancer hadn’t weaved itself through your body, and ended your time on this earth prematurely. Our friendship would have spanned 21 years, no small feat. I don’t know that I will ever stop feeling your absence as an empty hole inside my heart. Not a day passes that you don’t drift into my thoughts, and I often feel it is your spirit’s way of communicating, so I listen for your twangy words echoing around me. Ever so gently and yet with fervor, you constantly whisper: don’t hold back.
Don’t hold back:
Pursuing what you want, creating your own happiness, and recognizing when to put yourself first.
Dreaming fantastic, outrageous aspirations that put you at the center of everything you feel you deserve.
Hugging and telling those closest to you every day how much you love and care for them.
Satisfying your needs, be they material, physical, spiritual, intellectual or emotional.
Telling people when they have hurt you and need to do better.
Taking care of the delicate, amazing body you have been given to inhabit.
Buying that handbag or dress that makes you feel oh so good.
Falling in lust or love, or anything in between.
Loving every single second of the precious, precarious life you have been granted, and taking everything it brings with open arms.
Celebrating for no reason.
Making difficult decisions that have your best interests at heart.
Becoming instant friends with total strangers.
Saying ‘yes’ to all the things that terrify you, or seem too risky to initiate.
Taking as many selfies and photos as you can to document your joy.
To please, comfort, or conform to others.
Sharing your stories, your journey, your wild and wonderful life.
Giving less than all you are in everything you do or touch.
I love you to pieces, still…always.
it’s been a year. 365 days. and it feels miraculous that i am still standing.
we started that morning in terse silence, a continuation of our avoidance of each other for the past few days. another argument where my son had been at the center, where i was forced to choose, and that choice had become clearer and clearer as time marched on. he was only 15, and sowing his independence by pushing back, and it irked you to your core. i had to step in, and i was so tired of that dance. exhausted from the desire for forgiveness, side stepping the habitual pattern of anger that continually surfaced over and over.
you locked the bedroom door, and we began a vehement discourse that devolved into shouting, our younger children knocking on the door as they cried in fear. you wanted, again, my exoneration for your lost temper, and i was incapable of offering that grace. in a fit of more anger and frustration, you threw out what was to become our destiny: after the holidays, we were DONE.
i emerged from the bedroom to see my children’s eyes pooled with tears, reflecting my own. we had planned an outing to a local immersive arts venue, Meow Wolf, and i had zero desire to participate, let alone as a family. But my children pleaded, and i capitulated, throwing on my coat, and avoiding your glances from the passenger seat as i drove, the car ride rife with tension.
when we arrived, it was as if nothing had transpired. the kids traipsed off, you trailed them, putting on the face you wear well that hides the inner turmoil and rage beneath the surface. i am not so fortunate: my countenance betrays everything i am thinking or feeling at any given time, so i got lost. wandered away from our ‘group’, a fractured entity that found solace hiding in nooks and crannies where I could reflect and breathe. i missed watching my children play, but the thought of standing by them, pretending that i was okay as the life around me i had known was slowly crumbling, felt unbearably inauthentic. it was a vision of my solitary future, but it was the first semblance of peace i had for days.
after we reunited, you announced that you had additional shopping to do, but you would try to meet us later. inside, i heaved a sigh of relief. i would get a reprieve from having to feign a united front, so i dropped you off at home, and then the kids and I headed downtown to Canyon Road for the annual farolito art walk. it was warmer than usual, but as the sun began to disappear across the horizon, the weather dipped into its usual desert chill. we trudged down the hill to meet some of my older kids’ friends, the younger children impatient. finally, with our adopted brood, we wandered back up the hill, stopping for the annual hot chocolate, to warm our hands by small fires, and to listen to carolers belting out our favorite tunes.
we ooed and aahed at the lights, and the mood was jovial, feather light. it was perfect. i forgot about you, forgot about the strife, forgot about what the days ahead would bring with the revelation that ‘we’ were no more. you never did make it, the traffic too heavy, as you explained when we finally arrived home a few hours later. as soon as we walked back into the house, i felt cloaked in a hood weaved from repressive sadness. we ate dinner, sat in silence with the children, dragged out the gifts after everyone fell asleep, then rolled to our separate edges of our bed, and fitfully, i finally fell into slumber. it was simultaneously one of worst and best Christmas Eve’s of my life.
this year, i awoke with a sense of dread. i knew for weeks that this day was going to be hard, and emotional, and i wasn’t sure how i would manage. we had an open house the day before, and i immersed myself in cooking and feeding people, something that always brings me joy. the twins were downstairs when i woke in the morning, with a friend who had spent the night. they were watching a crazy show about a guy who travels the world subconsciously trying to get himself killed by handling snakes and catfish. they were so full of life and laughter, and it was contagious.
we jovially cleaned up the house, and the younger children arrived. i exercised as they ate lunch, then showered, dressed, and prepared to work a parking lot fundraiser at the twins’ school, down the street from Canyon Road. that took an hour, and my older daughter refused to walk with us, complaining of having to stand in the ‘cold’ 47-degree weather for such a long time. the younger kids begrudgingly went, my older son tapping into my emotional sensitivity and throwing encouragement about how much fun we would have.
my reached the entrance to the art walk, and a sea of people enveloped us, and the complaining began from my younger son. he was relentless, not more than a minute passing by without a comment being thrown out about how slow everyone was, or how he was annoyed by something. we walked half way up the hill before my younger daughter broke down, crying that she wanted to go home. i had envisioned us gleefully walking, soaking in every moment, relishing our first Christmas Eve on our own, as freeing as the year before. instead, we were fractured, and miserable, and as soon as the tears began to well in her eyes, they pooled in my own and began to fall. the inevitable damn of emotion that i had felt collecting in my subconscious broke, and poured out all the sadness of remembering. we rushed back to the car, and drove home in silence.
i prepared dinner, then retreated to my room to finish wrapping gifts, where i could openly cry and allow myself the space to grieve. except i wasn’t sure what I was mourning, because the one thing apparent to me was how little I’ve missed you. i have been so happy. my life with my children more relaxed, and fun, without the shadow of worry that i would have to defend someone and constantly put myself in the position as the peacemaker who had to sacrifice so much of her own comfort to protect those she loved. but maybe that was the crux: maybe it was the guilt of having a life richer than anything i had dreamed when we were together. a sense of remorse that we couldn’t build this in our marriage, but something i have been able to construct in solitude, brick by brick, without your absence hindering my own growth and forward motion.
and then as suddenly as it began, the water in my eyes dried, and the ghost of Christmas Eve past seemed to vanish. i wandered downstairs and prepared hot chocolate for the kids, extra marshmallows, and sat at the dining room table, sipping zinfandel and soaking the image of my home: the kids curled up together on the couch, the tree setting the room ablaze in a soft glow, everything toasty and warm. after their movie ended, i carried my younger daughter up to bed. tucked in my younger son, asking endless questions about where Santa was headed. gave them both extra kisses, so grateful that i could spend this day with them, that i wasn’t feeling their absence in a way that i expected to feel yours but didn’t.
truthfully, my heart feels full, so expanded, that most days it seems it might burst. i’m filled not just with an enormous amount of love for my children, but an ungodly amount of love for myself, something i had neglected for over ten years. in my desire to be a good partner, i ignored so much of me, overlooking all the areas of my heart that needed tending. it wore me down emotionally, physically, intellectually, spiritually. and when i would give one of those areas attention, i could always feel your hesitation, a fear emanating that perhaps i would outgrow what you had to offer. and i did.
i expected this day would hang over my head like a gloomy cloud, reminding me of what i had lost. instead, i realized how much I have gained. how many new opportunities i will have to enjoy this holiday on my own terms, without you. and that i feel no palpable regret for that recognition. it is my hope that you find the same. that you are happier apart than we were together. that this holiday marks not just the end of something significant, but the beginning of a life that is better lived, and better loved.
so, I offer you my forgiveness, because there is nothing else i can give you that wasn’t already collected. not just for a year ago, for its jarring and unsettling division, but for everything in between. for all that you have put me through, and all that i have had to endure. because i have cultivated so much tenderness that malice has no place in who i have become.
my gift to you is absolution.
my gift to myself is serenity.
may we both get everything we desire, and so much more.
I’m just going to say exactly what this piece is about: fuck the ‘good' guy.
I’ve resolved not to use these words to describe men anymore, because language imparts power. It was a phrase often used to reference my ex-husband, mostly by people who never saw what I saw behind closed doors, and who only knew the public persona that many find engaging and charming. It seemed to happen with even greater frequency toward the end of our relationship, when I was plagued with confusion about whether I should continue to stay in a toxic situation and make a ‘go’ of it for the sake of our children, or cut the losses of the years and the time we had invested in each other. Generally, it went like this: we would be out socially, and inevitably someone, usually a woman, would make sure to announce to me, “Wow, he’s such a good guy. You’re so lucky.”, whereupon I would politely smile outwardly and cringe on the inside. Then, cue my mind retreating into its cocoon of self-doubt where I would begin a self-inquisition about why I was even considering leaving him. The way people addressed me, the way they put him on a pedestal, made me question everything I was feeling, succeeding in plaguing me with sadness, and greater determination to make a relationship work that was bringing an enormous amount of misery to my life. Where was that good guy? And why wasn’t he showing up for me?
Every time I heard the phrase, I wanted to reply with my own questions, running through my mind like a waterfall: “You seem so surprised at his goodness. Are there a limited number of ‘good’ men? Have we discovered them dwindling like an almost extinct, wild caterpillar in a rain forest? Is there a shortage? Are we running out of ‘good’ men like we run out of supplies during a hurricane? Are there only three left on the shelf with a stampede of women running to claim them as fast as they can?” Not exactly a polite, social hour inquiry.
Was my ex a ‘bad guy’? At times he’d straddled that line, but not to his core. There were moments of redemption, kindness, and love. Yet, thanks to the magic of #metoo, and some very brave and savvy women, I happen to believe society is beginning to recognize that most men aren’t always as straightforward and simple as we would like to believe. But therein lies the dilemma many of us face: what do we do with the men who have what I have termed, a ‘shadow self’, but who appear to be ‘good’? A ‘shadow self’ indicates those who may have the best of intentions but for whatever reason, aren’t able to fully commit to being their best person. In the case of my ex-husband, his ‘shadow self’ was a persistent anger that would rear its ugly head and often lead to poor communication and decision making where interpersonal interaction was concerned. For someone like myself, who grew up surrounded by people yelling at each other through the veils of alcoholism, or because it was what their parents did to them, raised voices and fury don’t work well for me. I shut down, and I retreat, because self-preservation kicks in hard. And when I’ve told you this doesn’t work, why I withdraw, and the behavior persists, well then, it becomes a darkness that overshadows the rest.
I’ve discovered other male acquaintances and friends whom I might have termed as ‘good guys’ who have a variety of shadow selves, which mostly, when boiled down, seems to be a pattern of saying one thing and doing another. Insisting that “I respect women” while watching pornography at home, for example, (and usually shitty porn at that). Or telling female friends how much you understand and empathize with women, while inwardly seething that they are not rushing to fuck you, and treating them like garbage when things don’t go your way. Overall, they aren’t ‘bad’, but they are not doing much to elevate the male race to a better consciousness, either. They are stuck in their own quagmire, claiming that they get it, when they only continually sink themselves with their own behavior.
By now, I’m sure a guy reading this has already defensively scoffed at this entire piece, “but women aren’t always good women”. And he’s right. Some are not. It just so happens that when men usually talk about women as being bitches, whores, or cunts, other people actually tend to believe them, whereas with women, we could be shouting our truth until our voices whither from fatigue and someone will still be stating, “yeah, but __________ (fill in the blank with whatever you, as a woman, didn’t do that you should have been responsible for, even though the responsibility should be falling on the man who is flawed in the first place).” To be fair, we all have some form of a shadow self, but the spectrum is large and varied. I believe that women are culturally raised to scrutinize and hate their shadow selves, whereas men often seem to treat them as an appendage that must be tolerated by those who love them, without apology.
The expectations have never been equal, not even close.
For me, I think that rather than a constant determination to find a ‘good guy’, we should become more concerned with recognizing ‘shade’, the guys who really are fleshy bags of shit that no woman should have to endure, and who are often cunning enough to know how to position themselves as the ‘good guys’. It’s why we compartmentalize the behaviors of some men, because they often seem to have such redeeming qualities that how could that one bad thing they’ve done speak for the entirety of who they are? And maybe, sometimes, it doesn’t. But when men defy accepting responsibility for those bad things and instead seek to defend their poor actions by waving a list of all the ways they are ‘good’ (or allowing others to wave it for them-which is, frankly, even worse), they have rightfully earned such a reputation that should be considered, ‘dastardly’. And yes, we should do what we can to make sure everyone else knows it, too. Because those shadows do their best damage when cloaked in secrecy and darkness.
In culling the worst of men, the true ‘good’ guys will naturally rise to the top, like a rich cream. We will know them by how their own actions speak for them, and how others speak of their actions. It’s simple, really: actively listen to women. Treat other people like human beings and not objects. Apologize when you act like an ass, or you do something that brings harm or hurt to others, especially when they let you know you have harmed them. If you continually do the same things over and over, seek the help you need to overcome that negative pattern. Don’t make petty excuses for shitty behavior. Don’t allow others to defend you, or defend others, when poor behavior is being questioned. If you’re not sure you should say it, stop. If you’re not sure someone wants your advances, stop. If you’re unsure someone wants to be touched, stop. If you unsure about any interaction, it’s safe to mentally say to yourself: stop.
But, until men have worked these things out for themselves, and figure out they contain the power to overcome those ‘shadow selves’ that keep them mired, you’ll be hard pressed to find me calling any of them ‘good’ (as far as I am concerned, ‘’good men’ are an endangered species at the moment, right up there with the Sumatran rhino). Women suffer from enough heaped on insecurity and self-doubt without adding to that pile, and as a woman, I want other women to clearly decipher what it is they want without my opinion muddying their mental waters, and more importantly, for us to recognize what it is we all deserve.
This story is an answer to a recent fiction piece published in The New Yorker, Cat Person (read the original here). My issue with the story falls on many levels: the craft felt incredibly sloppy for a piece published to such a large readership, yet it gained praise for its 'relatability'. The loose, unimaginative phrasing felt like a diary journal in the vein of creative nonfiction, and that vexed me.
Second, while I, too, found myself emotionally mirrored in Margot's insufferable sex experience, I, as a woman, feel we should be claiming more for our female characters. Had this been nonfiction, I think it would have been more compatible to have such ruminations on a personal experience. But all I could think was how I didn't want my daughters to ever read this and feel that this is how they could expect their own sexual experiences to turn out. Yes, many of us have fucked out of rote. We have been conditioned to do so, to roll over, to meet the needs of others before our own. I'm glad we've sparked a conversation around bad sex, and the roles women are expected to play in those moments. But if you want to change the paradigm, then it has to be rewritten, literally, and fiction is the vein to do so. I felt that opportunity was lost in the original.
So, my project in the last 24 hours was to rewrite the story as I would have wanted to read it, with the literary craft and ending I feel female characters deserve, and now demand. How our stories are told has become increasingly important, and I couldn't just read the original and just 'take it'.
Winter’s grasp was around the corner, the end of her first sophomore semester looming, when Sheila met Mark. It was the middle of the week, a time usually reserved for quietude before the activity of the weekend began to creep in with enthusiasm. The theater’s energy was diminished, and as he approached her counter, Sheila traced his features, cataloguing in her mind the contours, determining how attractive he was to her. Endearing, perhaps, but not so attractive that she would have asked him out in a social setting. More like that teenage boy sitting toward the front of the classroom, the one with the hair just slightly disheveled, pudgy, leaning over his desk trying to diminish his size, eyes cloudy, although she was certain he was well through a third of his life, if not more, and should have outgrown such insecurity.
As a previous coffee steward, she’d learned that coquetry would augment her dented, scratched steel tip jar, and now it was an automated response to interaction, even though cinema counter workers didn’t profit from the same reward system. She heard him mumble his selection, and with rote sarcasm, uttered, “Good & Plenty…better than Bad & Insufficient.” He barely glanced up at her, thanking her quietly, forcing her to stretch to return his change, her arm lingering in his space, yet acting as though her presence was empty wind. She was puzzled by how invisible he made her feel.
Surprisingly, he returned a week later, ordering the same candy, but throwing her a snarky compliment, “Well, you didn’t belittle my candy choice. That’s a start.”
“What can I say? I plan to go far here,” Sheila replied, acquiring a small whisper of confidence from his gaining his meager attention. As she prepared to close for the evening, he unexpectedly strode to her, and demanded her phone number. His boldness threw her off balance, and she found herself uttering the digits, even though he didn’t even bother to ask her name, referring to her as the ‘Cinema Candy Girl.”
Weeks passed as Sheila and Mark built rapport via text, swapping humor, his wit always one step ahead than her own, forcing her to engage in a way that felt like work. There was an ebb and flow to the timing of his responses directly proportional to own: he would respond promptly after her initiation, but if she delayed, he was curt, and she would have to begin the conversation again. Occasionally, she tired of this childishness, but her loneliness would overcome her, and she would once more send a GIF, or a joke, and the cycle was reborn. Although the exchanges were shallow and impersonal, her ego was stroked when they would have a good ‘streak’, and things seemed to flow in their communication.
One evening, she whined about the lack sustenance she had on hand, and out of the blue, he told her to meet him at the local Wa-Wa so he could buy her a box of Good and Plenty. She thought he was joking, until he said, “Knock it off. I’ll meet you there in fifteen.” Obligingly, she donned her parka over her onesie and set off into the stark air.
Confusingly, he acted as though this was a daily occurrence between them, barely saying hello. He took her in to purchase a snack, but she exited weighed down by some necessities and a couple of useless trinkets: chips, a slushie, a novelty lighter, a rock shaped like a heart.
“I appreciate you taking care of me,” Sheila whispered as they stood under a fluorescent bulb scattering intermittent, pulsing light. He stood in the flicker, his winter coat fluffy and round, a plaid, Sherlock type hat situated on his head. He almost seemed alluring in the soft glow.
“No problem, Cinema Candy Girl,” he mumbled, then his hand reached to lightly cup her elbow, and he bowed his lips to a small patch directly above her right eyebrow, planting a kiss so delicate she felt like a ceramic doll. “Do good on your exams, we’ll get together when you finish,” he whispered before leaving. Her belly flip flopped recalling that tender moment over and over as she walked home.
During winter break, Sheila lived and died by the ‘ding’ of her phone, constantly announcing her nonstop conversation with Mark to everyone in earshot. First thing in the morning, they would exchange pleasantries, as if they had spent the night and woke together. At night, it was repeated. They developed an intricate, fictional love triangle involving his two dogs, Cal and Mel, and her childhood puppy, Rico, where Mel was constantly jealous of Rico’s outward affection toward Cal.
They communicated so much that Sheila’s father asked if she had become involved with someone. Sheila smiled coyly, before stating, “Mark. He loves the cinema.”
Her father’s eyebrows scrunched and folded, and he replied, “There are some things we’d like to know about him.”
Sheila giddily shared this exchange with Mark, and was rewarded with heart emojis, setting her own heart ablaze with affection.
As soon as she returned to school, Sheila anticipated seeing Mark as soon as possible, yet he became elusive. He was always, “tied up at work” sending her promises that they “would get together soon”, which irritated Sheila. She began to feel powerless, and insecure, so when he invited her to a movie, she jumped at the invitation.
He wanted to see a movie that they could have viewed at Sheila’s cinema, but she demurred and asked to go to Cineplex at the edge of the city, where there wouldn’t be many students. He arrived to get her in a black, dusty Accord, with garbage falling out of its various nooks and crannies. As they coasted down the highway, silence sat between them, and he barely turned to look at her. For the first time, Sheila recognized how little she knew about the man next to her, and wondered if he had lured her, unsuspectingly, into a trap to rape or dispose of her.
As if reading her thoughts, he blurted, “I’m not Ted Bundy.” She laughed nervously, but then felt a pang of guilt, blaming herself for the awkward quiet, for being the girl who worried that every man she dated might be the ‘good’ guy who finally did her in. Of course, wasn’t every girl THAT girl?
“Well, if you needed a victim, I’ll be yours,” she threw out in response, and he guffawed, sliding his fingers to her thigh, quickly touching and then reverting to his quiet self, leaving her to awkwardly try to engage him without luck. He finally seemed to lighten up at the theater, trying to poke fun at his Good and Plenty order with the girl at the counter, only succeeding in embarrassing himself, and primarily, Sheila.
They sat stiffly in their seats for the entire film, and as they left, Sheila felt confused and horribly unsure of herself. Perhaps it was her casual dress, the yoga pants and a hoodie, she thought, as she systematically tore herself apart in search of an answer for his seemingly lack of interest. Picking her up, he had quipped something about how he didn’t expect to her get so dressed up, but now she worried that he felt she had underestimated his investment in the date, as she glanced at his chinos and blue oxford shirt.
“Want to go to a bar?” he questioned, but as though he were doing it to be kind, and not because he wanted her company. Sheila felt he wanted her to decline, and that might end their relationship. The hope she felt after their weeks of communication crumbled on the floor between them, and the thought of such rejection found her passively replying, “Sure, if you’d like.”
“Do you want to go?” he asked. She turned her head away, feeling like an insurmountable wall had sprung up between them, fighting her eyes as they formed jewel like droplets in the corners.
He poked her. “Why are you pouting?”
“I’m not pouting.”
He sighed. “Should I take you…?”
She interrupted and demanded, “No, I want a drink. That film was heavy.” They had watched an artsy World War II drama, which she had initially thought he was jokingly suggesting when he named the title. He then scoffed, and snapped how his judgement regarding her taste in films must have been an error, and perhaps she would prefer the latest rom-com, which made her fold.
Yet, he looked embarrassed when she commented, and it dawned on her that maybe he had wanted to make a good impression, but misunderstood that just because she worked at an art house cinema, it didn’t mean she wanted to watch the same kind of films, especially on a first date. Perhaps he felt slighted from her initial joke, explaining the silence and discomfort they shared. She melted a bit with these imaginings, and felt warmth toward him for the first time that evening.
He asked her where they should grab a drink, and she offered her usual watering hole, but he twisted his mouth and told her he knew someplace with more class. It was an off the grid spot, unmarked, and as they stood in line, she chewed her lip knowing he was going to be disappointed when he discovered that she wasn’t yet old enough to gain entrance. Mark went ahead of her, and when the doorman glanced at her ID and refused her entry, he continued inside without glancing back. “Mark,” she called out weakly, trying not to draw more attention than necessary. He kept walking until another girl grabbed his arm and spun him around so he could see Sheila standing alone outside.
“You’re not 21?” he asked, incredulous.
“I’m sorry…I’m only twenty.”
“But you said,” he began.
“I said I was in my second year. I figured you knew.” She felt like he was glaring at her, as the crowd in line watched.
“Didn’t you take a year off though?” He was seemingly insistent on proving she was a different age than the one on her license.
“I’m twenty.” As soon as the words tumbled, so did hot tears, overtaking her eyes, and she felt like there was no way they could recover, and suddenly the act of being with him felt like a burden.
But the tears seemed to be a sort of witchcraft, her vulnerability a catalyst for Mark to encase her in his arms, whispering, “There, there. It’s fine, darling.” Like at the Wa-Wa, she felt like a fragile creature in his arms that demanded his tenderness. He brushed the top of her hair with his lips and her body melted into his, the pangs of their struggle slowly evaporating.
“You must think I’m crazy, getting this emotional over a bar rejection,” Sheila said to him. His eyes said the opposite. In his glassy irises fixated on her with warmth, she saw herself, a split-second image of perfection, her hair ablaze in the incandescent wash of the lamppost, snowflakes tumbling around her, her mouth aglow with joy.
In this perfect moment of anticipation, he leaned closer, then dove downward, his mouth covering her own, and she felt the shock of his tongue as it invaded her mouth, nearly touching her uvula. Despite how wretched he felt inside her mouth, a feeling of superiority washed over her, knowing that she understood how to kiss better than this thirty-something man, and it boosted her ego momentarily.
When they finished, he led her by the hand to a different bar, more of a gaming hall, dust kicking up from its wood, slat flooring, the bouncer chair empty at the door.
“Want a martini?” he asked, and she wasn’t sure if he was serious or poking fun. She was unsure of what to ask for; typically, she went to places where her friends could order rounds at the bar, bringing pitchers of cheap beer back to the table where they would clandestinely share. Fearing his disdain for the few labels she could name, she requested a beer, nonspecific.
As they sat and talked, Mark finally began to resemble the man she recognized from her IPhone. He quipped about the movie he chose, and Sheila recognized that she had been astute: his stillness must have been nerves. She noticed how closely he seemed to monitor her replies, how badly he seemed to want to impress her.
Sheila chuckled at his attempts to pigeon hole the other woman he seemed to think she was: the art house cinema snob who had film experience because she took one semester of video production. But it still rubbed her with an uneasiness, that perhaps he had worried she was embarrassed to be seen with him, and that perhaps he had felt wounded. His discomfort opened the door for her empathy, and his susceptibility to her opinion inflated her self-importance, making her feel dominant. She began to joke about her job at the cinema, her co-workers, the films they showed, anything that she felt would lend itself to comforting him, and would help boost his esteem. It was a way to manipulate and control. She could see in his responses how his nervousness melted away.
After a few drinks, stoked by the power she felt, she began to consider going to bed with him. He must be eager, she imagined, to have her, and perhaps he would work hard to impress her. She felt something stir, and a tiny fire lit in her pelvis.
When he finished his drink, she announced, “Shall we go?” For a moment he appeared crestfallen, as though the evening had slammed a door shut in his face, until she tenderly grabbed his hand into her own and pulled him toward her to leave. His face was awash in the knowledge that she desired him, and his visible desire for her turned her on.
She turned to him outside and leaned in to meet his lips, but he merely grazed her cheek with his own. “You’re intoxicated.”
Lying, she replied, “That’s not true.” She pressed her breasts and belly into his chest, wrapping her arms around his waist, and she felt him quiver and exhale. It made her feel sexy, feeling him shake beneath her touch, the fire inside her gaining strength.
He detached himself and whispered, “Let’s get you back to your dorm,” then guided her by the arm to the car. Once seated, she leaned over and into him again, and he finally capitulated to kiss her. If she leaned back as his mouth covered hers, the kiss became bearable, almost sweet. As they intensified, she swung her leg over his body and found herself sitting across his lap, and she felt his body straining against his zipper to be free against her thrusts. He stifled moans as she rocked back and forth, and then he swung her back to her seat.
“I would have thought you were too old to be fooling around in the front seat. You are twenty,” he jokingly chastised.
Sheila blew him a raspberry. “Well, where to?”
“What about your dorm?”
“If you’re into voyeurism… I have a roommate.” Sheila dryly replied.
“No, not really.” He laughed.
“Your place?” She countered.
“Is that okay?”
His house was a happy bungalow, close to campus, surrounded by forest, where blinking Christmas lights surrounded the entrance arch. As they turned to exit the car, he became serious, “Don’t forget, I have dogs.”
“I remember…our messages?” She reminded him, and they stumbled out into the chill.
He floundered with his keys in his fingers, cursing when he couldn’t get the right fit in the lock for what felt like hours. To calm him, she took her fingers and drew figure eights across the wide yolk of his shoulders, but it only succeeding in him bumbling more, so her hand arrested and waited.
Finally, he swung the door open and sheepishly announced, “This is it.”
Stepping into the dark, her eyes had to adjust to the shapes presented to them, eventually discerning shelves of books, rectangular games, plastic encased albums, and mounted pictures.
“This is nice,” Sheila commented to herself, believing it as the words fell out of her mouth. She sighed with relief, realizing that she had never been to man’s home to have sex. It had always been a clandestine act, avoiding roommates and interruptions. She liked that she enjoyed the same things he scattered in his living area, and it relaxed the dawning that she was completely on his territory.
She glanced out of the corner of her eye and caught him observing her reaction to his space. It triggered a tiny alarm that perhaps she had misjudged him, and that he was merely waiting to get her into his kill space, skillfully set up in another room. During her reverie, Mark crossed the distance and suddenly his mouth was on hers, tossing her jacket and purse onto the couch, then pulling her into his bedroom, his hand clumsily rubbing against her breast as the other squeezed her left ass cheek, almost pinching.
The room was sparse: a wooden crate sat next to a lumpy box spring and mattress, a bottle of Jameson teetering on top when he sat down, until he grabbed its neck and poured some down his throat. He shoved the bottle into Sheila’s hands, while he grabbed his Macbook and fumbled. For a second she thought he was checking his email, until a rock melody began to waft in the background.
As he undressed, Sheila watched from her perch on the mattress. He yanked off his shirt and his pants crumpled to the floor, and as he bent to remove his dress shoes, she stared at his flabby, waving belly, swathed in dark, swirling hairs, and she suddenly felt the fire extinguish. But she wasn’t sure she could tell him no. She had initiated, and persisted, and now they were here. It wasn’t that she felt he would take something she didn’t want to give, but that she felt disappointment in herself for attempting to make this entire situation into something that it might desperately never be. In her own longing to be wanted, she had forgotten she needed to desire him too.
She sat in her guilt as he finally shook off his trousers, raising the bottle of whiskey to burn her lips and throat, and clobber her inner hostility for what was coming next. He ripped the bottle from her hands, then his body fell against her own like dead weight, his mouth insistent and wet, his fingers probing with lifeless rhythm, roaming from her breasts to her crotch, killing any desire as she lie there, motionless.
She attempted to rekindle something by wiggling from underneath and then rolling him to his back, taking control by sitting astride him, and shutting her eyes to recall his sweet softness of his kiss at Wa-Wa. A tiny flicker. Sheila ran with it, removing her hoodie, and she felt Mark’s hand cup her breast under her bra, pinching her nipple painfully. To compensate, she moved his hand to the back of her bra, but he fumbled worse than he did with his keys, and ordered her to remove it, and with a swipe from one hand, she peeled it off her body. His face was a mixture of hunger and contentment, like the other men she had bedded, and again, his hunger for her sparked eagerness in herself.
Leaning down, she kissed him, imagining the thoughts that must be circling his mind. “She’s perfect, nineteen, and if I don’t get her, I may perish.” As she continued to play this script in her head, she felt her body grow warm, kindling her own libido. She moved against him, slowly grinding, then slid her hand into his boxers and stroked him, encircling his entire member with her small hand. He moaned, an awkward, feminine yelp, but she wanted him to stop. He took his fingers and moved them into her panties, slipping his fingers into the moist pool between her thighs, the tension in his body melting away. His index finger gently rubbed her clitoris, and she bucked as she became further aroused. Then, as his middle finger scratched the inside of her, she recoiled, and he pulled his hand away like it was burnt, his face looking up at her apologetically. Again, the blaze building inside her extinguished.
As if suddenly dawning on him, he asked, “Hey, are you a virgin?”
Fueled by the drinks and discomfort, Sheila began to laugh. It began as a giggle and then racked her entire body, her arms and legs quaking until she rolled herself into a fetal position, attempting to gather her breath.
“What the hell is so funny?” Mark icily replied.
“I just…” Sheila sighed, still chuckling. “It’s just…” She stopped when she saw his countenance. “No, I’m not.”
Mark’s faced flashed with a wave of anger, and resentment. He thought he was the center of her humor. In fact, she had recalled her first time, carefully planned, in a fancy hotel that her mother had reserved, after Sheila and her boyfriend of over a year had finally determined they wanted to sanctify their relationship sexually. That was ten lovers ago. The mere thought that this date would be anything close to what she would accept for her first time was laughable.
She felt a stab of guilt for his discomfort. “I didn’t mean…I’m sorry. I wasn’t poking fun at you. It was kind of you to ask.”
“Well, we can take our time,” he whispered, as he rolled his body on top of her. His hands began to grope for any loose flesh, and then he took three fingers, pushing them inside of her, scraping her from the inside out. To ignore the pain, she floated outside her body, picturing her almost naked self, thighs leaning outward as Mark lay between them, his soppy mouth leaving behind indelible traces of him across her skin, and his hand disappearing inside her over and over, saw-like, abrasive.
He pulled his hand out and leaned to the side, slightly crushing her left leg, as he pulled a condom from a hidden space by his bed, and began to roll the latex over his disappointingly short but chubby penis. Again, he seemed incapable of dexterity, and as he plodded through this task, she envisioned the positions he might like: mounting her from behind, plopping her on top, and then pinning her beneath him. Those images created a wave of revulsion so strong she felt her stomach churn. Why was she doing this if this was the last place she wanted to be? What obligation was there to see this nightmare through? She suddenly had no desire to be his sex toy for the evening.
“Listen, I’m not sure we should be doing this.” Sheila remarked candidly, preparing for the hurt that flickered in his eyes after the words hung in the air between them. He had finally rolled the condom on properly.
“Why? I thought…” His voiced betrayed confusion, irritation, and defensiveness.
“I just don’t think we’re…compatible.”
What she didn’t utter hung in the air between them, frozen.
“How can you tell that? I haven’t even fucked you yet.” He rolled onto his side and pouted, rubbing his hand through his hair, an effort to self soothe. His erection began to slowly diminish, the condom becoming a deflated sac.
Sheila didn’t know how to reply, how to say that sometimes you can’t grow into wanting, the spark had to be there, she didn’t want to have sex for the sake of having sex. At least not sex that she could very well predict by this point was going to be bad, awful. Sex where he would merely toss her around like a rag doll, mentally referencing all the pornography he had ever seen and wanted to try, and she would be expected to lie there and take it. Sex where she would have to pretend that she was enjoying him inside her, rubbing her heart raw with every thrust. Sex where she would have to fake orgasm, acting like she enjoyed his clumsy movements, when after she would feel like a tiny piece of her soul had to be sacrificed for his pleasure, because his value as a man carried more worth than hers in society, at least for this moment.
She couldn’t find the words to describe how lonely she would feel in the aftermath of his coitus, knowing that she relinquished her own pleasure in exchange for emptiness. How a previous experience had left her shaken and hollow for months, and she had no desire to serve his interests above her own, permitting him to prey on her nurturing underbelly and feminine tenderness, as she had been conditioned to allow since birth. And how disgusted she felt with herself that she had even questioned her own judgement in the first place to boost her own confidence and insecurity.
Instead, in silence, Sheila found her bra on his musty carpet, and began to dress as he turned his head slightly to watch, bitterness splashed across his features. After her hoodie was placed back over her head, she merely stood and said quietly, “I’ll call an Uber.”
She wandered out to the living room by herself, gathered her parka and bag, and then slipped out into the freezing winter air. It was only then that she realized she hadn’t seen a single dog, and wondered if he had lied about them, knowing she loved them, to make himself more attractive to her.
The next morning, her roommate Denise asked about her ‘date’. Sheila poured out the details, but when she reached the part where she decided to stop, her roommate sucked in her breath. Sheila looked at her with curiosity, “What?” Denise began to weep. Sheila hugged her hard as Denise cried and shared a recent, parallel experience. Denise wiped her eyes. “It never occurred to me that I could just leave.”
A week later she and Denise sat in their room, drinking wine and joking, when Sheila got a random string of texts, her phone lighting up in the dim space with desperate determination:
“I shouldn’t be doing this, but I can’t stop thinking about you.”
“Can you tell me what I did? Why did you leave?”
“Have you screwed that many guys? Is that why you laughed when I wanted to know if I was your first?”
“Is there someone else?”
“Who is he?”
“Are you fucking him now?”
Sheila paused, then decidedly turned the phone off.
My Creative Nonfiction piece, To All the Daughters, was published as an Amuse Bouche: A La Carte selection of Antioch's Lunch Ticket today! It's a love letter to my daughter about sex, pleasure, and sexuality.
Check it out here: lunchticket.org/to-all-the-daughters/
I’ve found myself engaging in political discourse the past couple of days regarding the movement of #MeToo, and how it is not allowing for a spectrum of repercussion. Of course, this is has been blown up by the resignation of Al Franken, accused of what might be best described as ‘sexual misconduct’, as his actions feel more ambiguous than other more straightforward cases that have been made public recently. As many of the opinions I’ve read state, it doesn’t seem that in this case, ‘the punishment fits the crime’, or why should he be ‘ruined’ for exercising poor judgement that might have stemmed from misunderstandings. I have seen one opinion go so far as to accuse other women of not ‘dealing’ with this kind of behavior by standing up to it on their own, and then devolving into disparaging women for dressing a particular way then not wanting to accept the ‘consequences’ of such choices.
Whew. Wow. There’s a lot to unpack there. Let’s start with the gray.
Right now, the pendulum has swung. We went from a culture that allowed for the systemic, secretive exploitation and abusive of women, that often went undisclosed, to men being outed in very public arenas, practically overnight. We went from permissive, excessive abuse perpetuated by men who adopted it as a cultural norm, to what is now in the space of what I call, ‘zero tolerance policy’. There are women who were supporters of Franken who are not okay with this, and I can understand that frustration. They don’t feel that a little ass or waist grabbing should be enough to sink his ship. I contend that it’s exactly what is deserved in these times.
The question I want to pose to women who are outraged about these seemingly ‘innocuous’ infractions (usually the comparison is made to Weinstein) is WHY ARE WE STILL DEFENDING THE BEHAVIOR OF MEN THAT PROMOTES THEIR ABILITY TO ‘TAKE’ WHEN IT REINFORCES THE NEGATIVE CULTURE THEY HAVE CREATED, AND THAT WE, AS WOMEN, HAVE HAD TO ENDURE AND SUFFER IN? Yes, I’m shouting.
It doesn’t matter if a signal was misinterpreted, or a man felt an advance might have been warranted, but instead was rebuked. We are missing a huge, crucial part of this equation: men need to ASK before they touch women. They need to seek CONSENT before they go in for the kiss or grab a woman on her body. I don’t care what signals men might be misconstruing: if you didn’t ask, she’s harassed. Period. And if a man is worried that if he asks she’ll say no, well, that’s her RIGHT. Period. And he probably shouldn’t be trying to do what he’s doing in the first place.
Now, that said, I believe in redemption, and I believe in forgiveness, but that also comes with owning what you did and not playing if off as a version of an event that you ‘remember differently’. We all have our interpretations. But I will not continue to excuse men of poor choices and behavior simply because they do not see fault in their actions, because it has been our cultural NORM to allow such permissiveness, and they have owned all the power in that domain. Men have been getting away with such incidents for so long that I am not sure that they truly realize which of these actions is wrong. It’s time to learn, and sometimes, you learn the very hard, and public way, as Franken just has. If your action made someone feel threatened or unsafe, no matter what your memory tells you, then it shouldn’t have happened.
Another aspect I want to address is the continuation of questioning women’s motives, and how I have observed women commenting on women as a whole. So many women have raised questions about why these allegations against Franken have sprung up, and again, we’re falling backward into the trap of not believing our own. I’ve also seen a common thread of women stating ‘I have dealt with this, and it’s up to women to just walk away, or suck it up when it happens’, again reinforcing the cultural NORM we have all been force fed by the dominant white, male contingency for centuries: it should just be part of what we deal with. When I read one post where it discussed how if women wanted to continue to dress in braless shirts and short skirts they should learn to navigate the unwanted attention they will likely receive, I wanted to bang my head against a wall.
FUCK THAT NOISE.
Often, women are their own best oppressors. Why do women seem to constantly strive to devour their own? Judging other women gets them nowhere but landing back into the same cultural mess that we are trying gradually extricate ourselves from, one man at a time. We shouldn’t be bothered by what other women wear, because it really doesn’t matter. If it’s not your body, it’s not your place to judge, or assume her intention, which I am almost 100% sure never includes, “Well, I think I’d like to be assaulted tonight, I think the short, red skirt in my closet will do”. We have to stop tearing each other down in an effort to allow men to save themselves. Because the more we don’t believe each other, the more we call each other whores and sluts, the more we scathingly critique each other’s motives, then the more we give away any of the power dynamic shifting back towards us that might help equalize, and give breathing room for us to not have to endure such systemic acts of repetitive violence.
Cultural and systemic oppression are challenging narratives to overcome. Men have had the upper hand for so long when it comes to using sex as a method to yield power over others that it can actually make us feel uncomfortable when we see men who we hold in high esteem, those we thought we good allies, fall before us. It makes us want to search for ways to excuse behaviors, and we want to find the gray, so that we can feel okay about those people we championed who let us down. I want to say this again in a different way to let it sink in: he made some distinct choices at different points that demonstrate behavior that should not be accepted. Forgiven, possibly. But not acquitted without repudiation for what has transpired.
We need to believe women. We really, really do. Will there be times when that belief is questioned? Yes. But instead of trying to find ways to discredit the stories of women because we want to find ways to excuse the men we thought were upstanding, we need to listen. Part of why this sexual behavior has been tolerated for so long was that women didn’t feel they could have a voice without facing steep repercussions. Women, when they did speak out, lost careers and reputations for facing those who violated them. Some courageous women have finally made it possible for women to be heard, and believed, without losing everything in the process. For myself, I refuse to toss that powerful progress to the wind so that a man who chose to be photographed inappropriately groping a woman’s breasts can receive leniency.
So, maybe you feel sorry for Al, but I don’t. He’s not an innocent casualty in all of this. His actions may appear to fall in the gray when it should be clear to all of us. Ask before you assume or touch. Don’t use language that makes people uncomfortable. CONSENT, CONSENT, CONSENT, CONSENT, CONSENT. Give people the choice to say no. Give women the right to have autonomy over their bodies, and how others perceive they can treat them. And if you do wrong someone: say it, apologize, and mean it. We finally have a window of opportunity to create a paradigm shift that could initiate change that is concrete and long lasting. But if women eat each other alive first (or defend men doing the same), if women continue to tear women down because we still want to perpetuate the notion that the poor choices of men deserve our advocacy, we’ll see that window shut before we can fully air our society. Then we revert to choking on the oppression we’ve been breathing, the dark and sinister actions that have been silently violating women’s rights for so long that we didn’t realize how far the cancer had spread, how sick it has made us all, the irreversible damage it has done to so many.
“I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself…Many times in romance I have been a victim of my optimism.”
This is the essay I dread writing, because the things I must say, the words I need to plant on paper to honor my grief and tribulations won’t come easy. They’ve been floating in my heart, longing for a home to share their story. But despite their desire for a place to land, they are allusive and cunning in face of my pursuit.
I don’t know how to write about emotional and verbal abuse. I can expound on the horrors I have faced from physical, sexual trauma in my childhood and young adulthood. Those stories flow through and out me without pause, surrendering to the necessity of being told. I can share how those instances and experiences have shaped me physically, mentally and emotionally: the pain that I endured and stuffed inside my body until I grew so large from self-hate I almost burst. But how do you describe the kind of abuse that happens under the table, sly and hidden? How do I write about how the abstraction of words, shuffled concoctions of letters, can do such invisible damage that it makes me long for the assault of the physical?
I hoped after my first marriage I would know and do better. That the battle scars left from my first husband’s more blatant attempts to control and cajole through language would be a constant reminder to never take that shit again. I was smarter than that, and despite his efforts to tear me down, I refused to melt into the nothingness he might have preferred, even though the discomfort lingered and begged for attention.
I can still hear Carlos’s voice wafting into my ear, one of the more memorable moments occurring during his family’s visit to see us in Puerto Vallarta shortly after I had given birth to our preterm twins. His family had a hotel suite, and we lounged in the living area, catching up, his grandfather frying a potent fish that I knew I had no intention of eating. My body still felt like a deflated sac, and I was plagued by anemia, exhausted from the lack of iron circulating through my veins and maintaining my new role as a full-time mother to two tiny babies.
Carlos pulled me away from the small gathering asking if we could talk for a moment, and gently ushered me into the connecting bedroom. He sat me down on the bed, and for a second, I considered eyes I once mistook for soulful, and assumed that what would tumble from his lips would be a declaration of love, something sweet to bolster my confidence as a new mother during this precious moment of privacy. The corners of his eyes crinkled in a slightly critical manner, his glance filled with gravity. He leaned in and said to me, “Amor, I am concerned that you haven’t lost any baby weight yet, and that you seem okay to be heavy. Do you want to be fat?”
My heart dropped to the floor and flat lined, a wave of potent bitterness rising to the back of my throat. I was barely two weeks postpartum. Carrying twins, I had gained roughly 50 pounds, a great deal of which exited my body when the children were ushered into this world. I felt sickly and was barely eating enough to maintain my own needs, let alone the breast milk I was providing for my children. I burst into a wave of tears and sadness, allowing the torment of the pause following his statement wash over us in embarrassed waves. Carlos immediately became defensive, as he usually did, and feebly attempted to justify his questioning. I merely darted my eyes in fury and proceeded to hotel hallway, where I sat alone, bawling, my back leaned against the room door until I felt my spine tingling from the pressure, allowing the physical pain to take the edge of the psychic heartache that kept crashing over me.
And so, it went for the remainder of our relationship: he would often make a callous or offhanded comment, sometimes we would argue, but most times I would crawl into the invisible shell of emotional withdrawal I had created for myself as a protection against his thoughts. I shut down, the metal security walls tumbling around my heart, refusing to budge an inch, often ignoring him until I sensed some form of safety when I could speak. I hate myself for my silence. I hated him even more for the poison of his sentences.
Despite this, I desperately hoped he might become a better man, the man I could see deep down under his insecurities. I also felt that perhaps distance had given him perspective: he had missed a year of his children’s lives when I returned to the United States when they were five months old because I just couldn’t live without the support of my family. It appeared that he had mellowed, and seemed more willing to focus on our relationship moving forward rather than backward once he arrived in the US. But shortly after, the ‘honeymoon’ of our reunion ended, the ugly head of words masked as violence reared once more, and I found myself flung right back into a well of self-doubt, feeling like I was damaged goods, as if I deserved the hatred spewed in fits of anger in frustration. Yet, due to his fiancé Visa status, I found myself standing before the Justice of the Peace, my heart full of gritty reservation, hearing the words ‘I do’ tumble from my lips, like a Hail Mary prayer for my children. It was evident on our wedding night, when he curled in bed with his back ignoring my fingers, leaving me cold and untouched, that he harbored a deep-seated resentment that I was unsure I could ever overcome to make our relationship stable.
He didn’t physically harm me, but his words flew around rooms in clouds of fury and angst. I learned that cowering was the best way to ride out the storms. Often, I would lock myself in our bedroom, him pounding on the door, eventually softening to a quiet knock, willing me to let down my reserve. During these times, I felt torn that my children were in another room. What if they woke? What if they saw their father in a rage?
Eventually, holding all my fear and inaction inside caught up to me, and my gallbladder began failing. I ended up having to go to the emergency room for intense pain, waving across my body as it had for the previous year, coming and going in spurts but without ever pinpointing a cause. It was only functioning at 18%, and I had to have surgery to remove it, giving me a slight reprieve of a five-day hospital stay. But it was nerve wracking, leaving my children in his care, because he could barely take care of himself, his expectations always bearing down on my shoulders to provide meals, housekeeping, childcare, and work a full-time job. Yet, I took that time in the hospital to reflect, peering inside my heart to listen to what it felt I should do next. Without question, it said ‘divorce.’
I had wanted so badly to maintain our relationship for at least a year, at which point Carlos would be eligible to apply for a Visa on his own. If our marriage ended before the designated time, then he might not be eligible to stay in country. But I had run out of adrenaline to sustain me, and I could no longer pretend that this was something that I wanted, or that was healthy. I couldn’t take the yelling, the apologies, the flowers brought the morning after he broke a side table in a fit of rage as I listened in our bedroom to the wood splintering and cracking, thankful it was not my body.
I broached the subject of divorce, and he balked. He became angry and suspicious. He thought I was having an affair. I told him I wanted him to be happy. He told me I was fat and ugly, and that no one else would have me. His verbal diatribes became more threatening, and I finally broke down and went to a consultation with a lawyer on the sly, retaining his services. When Carlos was served with papers, he was so angry I thought we had reached the moment where his fists might finally stroke my face. He kept breaking things around the house, then begging me to stay.
Two weeks after the papers were served, I moved out of our home on a Saturday morning when he was working, rising early to throw as much as I could into boxes for the movers. I didn’t tell him I was leaving. I collected as much as I could, and the movers worked swiftly to empty the house of furniture and its contents, which were driven to storage. I went to my mother’s house, a few blocks away, and waited for the storm I knew would burst when he arrived home and realized I left with our children.
Sure enough, he called that evening, spouting obscenities, detailing how he planned to exact his fury. He told me I was the devil. Then he started driving past my mother’s house, over and over, parking outside and waiting in case I wandered outside. I still felt unsafe, so I transitioned with our children to temporarily live with my grandmother who had a quiet, more rural home twenty minutes away. Amid his increasing threats, I filed for a protection order, and was granted the piece of paper meant to be an invisible shield from his wrath, even though I knew that it contained no real power, and that often those orders left women with even less protection than intended. Hanging over my head, constantly, was a fear that he would take our children and attempt to travel back to his native Mexico, where child custody was not reciprocal. I watched my babies like a hawk every minute of every day, vigilant to exhaustion.
We began to move forward with legal proceedings. I was forced by the court to attend a mediation class with him, which wholly uncomfortable and frightening. He kept his composure in public, as he always did, but I could hear it his voice, the distinct lilt of the bitter tone that he reserved for me when he wanted to scream but was forced to play nice. It was a nauseating experience, and I hated the system for thrusting me into a space that felt so unsafe.
He hired a lawyer, and we met with our counsels to sit and create a custody order and plan. We had no assets, and I wanted nothing from him. But he did want a favor for me. He had missed a window of opportunity to apply for a Visa on his own under special circumstances, so that he could remain in the country. Now, he needed me to vouch for him for the paperwork to be processed. I felt my heart tug in two separate directions: one for my children, and the opportunity to have their father present and in their lives. The other, a glimpse into my future, always worrying if he might attempt to go back with the kids. Having to wonder if he was stalking me, or following me, lying in wait for a moment of vulnerability where he could hurt me physically. The life I could probably never have, the people I could never date, because his shadow would be everywhere, and I would be constantly afraid that choices I might make for my happiness might incite his ire. Despite the sadness I felt from the weight of the decision, and having it rest upon my shoulders, I firmly told him no. He would have to find his path or way that was not dependent on my support.
I received physical custody of our children, and we were both granted legal custody. Carlos was to have supervised visitation, and we arranged to meet on the following Saturday. It was a blistery, January morning, and I bundled the kids against the harsh wind to travel across town on the bus to the center where the supervised meeting was to occur. We arrived early, and were placed in a colorful visitation room, the second hand of the clock emitting a visible click as it circled away time. Jacob and Kudra made their way to the corner, where they investigated the various toys that were placed to captivate and occupy. Five minutes rolled by. Each second seemed to languish. Ten minutes late. The kids became bored, tugging at my jacket and beginning to whine to go home. At the twenty-minute mark, the kids were finished waiting and approached mutiny. As we had stayed for the required time, the woman in charge of overseeing the supervision said we could leave, as it appeared that he would not be attending.
The kids were confused about the visit. I was confused, and frightened as to why Carlos had not appeared. We made our way back to my parents’ house, where they momentarily forgot their father and dug into their piles of games and toys upon our return. I couldn’t ignore the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that he had decided to retreat, and had left our children behind. Two weeks of non-communication followed, my attempts to call him met with vain silence, which was unnerving. It was uneasy, maneuvering day after day without a response or contact with him. I began to be concerned for his well-being, even though my gut instinct told me that he had decided to leave the country. Finally, after two weeks, I got a crackling call from him, informing me had gone home to Puerto Vallarta. He wished to maintain his relationship with the kids via phone. After the conversation, I hung up, and I wept for what felt like hours, all the pent-up fear and frustration finally bursting and releasing in wave after wave. I cried for my children, for the inexplicable hard decision I had to make that I knew would affect them, and I shed tears for all the moments when he had made me feel scared, ugly, and downtrodden. Then, when my eyes could give no more, I inhaled the largest breath I could, exhaling loud and with force. It was as though I was a newborn babe learning to breathe again for the very first time.
During this time, I began service with AmeriCorps, where I met my future husband. On the surface, from what I observed, he was intelligent, comfortable with himself, and a great dancer. When we met, he was involved in a long-term relationship, and I was just creeping out from under the rock of my detrimental marriage. We circled around each other for a few years, seeing each other at poetry readings and clubs, sharing the same social scene. Three years after we initially met, at an anniversary party for the lounge I co-owned, he popped up, single and alone. We reconnected, and there was a very intense attraction from the beginning. Our first date, later that week, was a smashing success, and we found we could talk on the phone for hours. He told me he loved me two weeks after we first met, and I felt the same with every fiber of my being.
But our relationship had some rockiness from the start. He suffered from anxiety, especially in large groups of people. He had been jumped the year before at a club when he defended his sister against members of a college football team, and it had a huge impact on his ability to feel comfortable around in a crowd. He took medication to help ease his symptoms, but he would sometimes get cagey if we were in places where people would multiply, or if he felt someone was looking at him in an off way. In addition, the twins were now five, and could give Mary Poppins a hard run for her money. He struggled with this role in our relationship, and his place in the life of my children. A bit naïve, I truly believed that it part of my responsibility to find someone who could be a father figure, to make up for the loss they had sustained three years prior. It never occurred to me that it was more essential that I found someone who was as good for me as I thought he could be for them.
After six months, he and I hit a major road bump and he broke up with me, saying he just couldn’t do the relationship anymore. Five years younger than me, he was still partying with his friends, and I had voiced my displeasure with his behavior on several occasions. I remember lying in bed, feeling such intense loss that I thought my soul was being torn to shreds. I was crazy in love and the thought of suffering through such heartbreak was unbearable. He stopped by my house to return some music, bringing me a letter. My emotions got the best of me, and I broke down in front of him, and he began pouring out all the reasons why he was scared it wasn’t going to work. Then he broke down, and we sat together and cried. After that, our relationship seemed to gain strength, and four months later, I discovered we would be expecting our first child.
I had hoped that my pregnancy would soften him, and make him want to create change for himself, especially considering his own family dynamic, where his father was a recovered philanderer and drug addict who had two children outside of his marriage. We moved in together, and I hoped for the best for myself and the kids, because he had so many wonderful qualities that I kept hoping they would grow in intensity and outshine the rest. But his behavior gradually began to slide. He yelled at the kids a lot, his anxiety beginning to trickle into his relationship with them, and he would go out with his friends occasionally on the weekend, returning piss ass drunk, sometimes vomiting wherever he lay, leaving me to clean up his mess. It was like having another child I never asked for.
After our son was born, it seemed that maybe that shift had finally taken hold, and that he might be leaning in the direction of wanting to scale back. Although fatherhood still poked at his anxiety, he seemed to manage it with greater control and aplomb. His relationship with the twins seemed to improve as well, his heart opening a bit wider to let them in.
A year later, we moved across the country, losing the community and family support we had leaned on, staking out our possibilities in Denver. He got a position working for the regional transportation company driving a bus, something he had become extremely interested in after we had taken a babymoon trip to Colorado in my 8th month of pregnancy. At first, it seemed like a good fit: an active job that wasn’t social services, and with the potential to advance. But slowly, I began to see him wither away: the odd shifts and long hours took their toll, his mood swings became more frequent, he was more irritable, he lost weight, he wasn’t sleeping enough, and we didn’t see him much. Around this time, he also decided, carte blanche, that he would stop taking his medication for anxiety and depression, because he feel he needed to go without chemicals in his system.
Almost six months in, he unexpectedly quit his job, bowing under pressure and believing he would end up fired, and things went from bad to precarious. He found temporary jobs here and there filling in at apartment complexes for their residential leasing agents. A few months later, I broke my ankle in a severe fall, and was wheelchair bound for two months. We were barely surviving, and it wore us down quickly.
He eventually found a position in social services again, and we slowly began to right our ship, but Denver became more expensive, and it became harder for us to maintain. We were treading water, but barely. We took a road trip to visit a close, college friend of mine who lived in Santa Fe, and I instantly fell in love with the land, people and the culture. I quickly secured a teaching fellowship at a local middle school, and he agreed to move after he got a position as a program manager with a homeless youth organization. I thought that maybe we had finally found the place where we could heal and become the family I longed for.
So, we uprooted once again, and finally had enough income to be able to rent a house, not an apartment, and began building our lives in the City Different. Except the same patterns began to emerge. His hyper reactions to the kids and other situations began to intensify. He was drinking more, getting so intoxicated at one of my work functions that he vomited in the car, and I left him in his clothes on the floor of our family room, I was so disgusted. And then he quit his job, out of the blue, and we were thrown right back into the huge financial stresses we thought we left behind. A few weeks later, I discovered I was pregnant, and that only piled on more.
Three months later, my grandmother died suddenly, and my family opened the door for us to come back to Pittsburgh by offering us her home to live in. I had doubts about returning someplace that I left with great intention, but my husband was sold and determined to be closer to his parents. Reluctantly, I agreed, and in my sixth month of pregnancy, we moved cross country following the route we had traveled to leave. Despite being in my grandmother’s home, which I cherished as a happier part of my childhood, I hated Pennsylvania. The long, drab days with endless gray, and being stuck in a rural home as we only had one car wore down my spirit. There was an undertone of racism that felt nefarious and insufferable, and I didn’t want my children to grow up in a place where they would not be considered for their whole person. My husband bounced from job to job, finally landing something more concrete and stable, but the financial toll was enormous. I had given up my career pursuit to stay home, and after our daughter was born, despite my deep joy of motherhood, I missed working and adult socialization, feeling stuck in isolation.
Then, less than a year after our return, my husband and my uncle had a huge argument, partially incited by his kneejerk style of speaking before thinking, and before I knew it, I was no longer speaking with my family. My mother and I attempted to discuss the issue, created from an incident between my uncle and younger son, and she gave me an ultimatum to leave my husband and stay in the house, or to be on the streets. It was a horrendous choice, and as a new, unemployed mother with no resources who still felt she saw glimpses of what could be in the eyes of a man she loved, I chose him.
We became homeless and were forced to move in with his parents, where his younger sister and her two young children already resided. While I had what I thought was a good a relationship with his parents, I wasn’t interested nor prepared to see them daily in a more intimate light. His father, like him, was hot headed and often spouted off without thinking, and yelled way too much. His mother, the ever-vigilant care taker, was extremely passive aggressive, and did everything that was required for maintaining the house and caring for his sister’s children, but with buried resentment.
I slept in his mother’s bedroom with all four children, and my husband slept on the couch. I worked tirelessly to arrange for the twins to attend the same school to ease the transition, prepared them in the morning, and was present every afternoon. During the day, I made endless phone calls, working on selling my share of my business so that we could have the financial means to move back west, even though it pained me to cash in what I hoped would be my children’s college fund. I did the shopping, and the cooking, breastfed my daughter, played with my four-year-old son and tried not to spend day after day crying in a stupor.
Yet, that apparently was not enough, and one night, as I sat in the living room, I overheard him and his mother in the kitchen, where she relayed that I wasn’t living up to her expectations as his wife, especially because he shouldn’t have to work a full-time job and come home and do the laundry. As I sat, I waited to hear him respond, to tell his mother all the ways I contributed that weren’t obvious: giving him the encouragement to finish his bachelor’s degree, never criticizing him for quitting jobs that weren’t a good fit despite the terror I felt, or just being his confidant and rock who had chosen him when my family gave me no alternative. My ears were greeted with deafening silence as he sat in silent agreement, but I heard the crack in my heart from his betrayal.
Stuck, and again still hopeful that maybe returning to New Mexico would help us regain something we desperately needed, we packed up and moved cross country once more. I regained my previous position but with a part time schedule, and he became a stay at home dad for our youngest. It didn’t sustain him the way it did me, and he began looking for part time work since we could split our days. I relished my work, and looked forward to shifting into a full-time role at the beginning of the next school year.
As part of my job, I was required to travel for a training for a week, and I left for Boston in the middle of a hot New England summer. During that trip, I became close with one of my co-workers, developing a crush that I knew I wouldn’t act on, but that breathed new life in me. My marriage was stagnant, the intimacy slowly falling by the wayside from the trials, tribulations, and physical separation we had sustained, until it felt like a distant memory. Being friends with Will brought me back in touch with a woman I vaguely remembered myself to be, and I liked her.
My husband became incessantly jealous about Will sharing my same social circle, although I encouraged friendship between them. One night, after they went out with another close friend of mine, my husband came home horribly intoxicated, and I was angry. I asked him to sleep on the couch, and he began to refuse with aggression, and kept asking to hold our now one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. I locked myself in the bathroom with her as he pounded the door while I sat bellowing in fear. My older son, now 10, attempted to intervene, and was shoved to the ground, expletives shouted in his direction. The kids were all screaming, and I kept debating if I should call the police because the fear that he might hurt me was palpable. It finally ended with him passing out in our bed, where I crawled into bed and slept on the edge, my daughter’s soft body entwined with my own as a protective shell around her.
That night almost ended our marriage. I consulted friends and debated what to do. In the end, though, the thought of parenting alone and giving up on someone in whom I had invested so much was too overwhelming without enough support, and I reluctantly, still with hope, stayed.
Over the next few years, we gradually slid into a deeper pit of miscommunication and avoidance. We moved into a larger space, and he would spend his evenings talking to friends on the telephone, while I sat in our room alone and lonely, hoping he might take interest. When we did engage sexually, it premature and brief, and I finally summoned the courage to ask him to see a physician. He balked, naming an endless array of excuses as to why he couldn’t maintain an erection. Eventually, I became so bored and averse to his touch that our intimacy seemed to stroke and die altogether. I began to fantasize about women, and other men, and the former sense of life I once relished when our sex was syncopated and exciting. I felt sexually dead inside. At the same time, I was struggling with my weight, having endured so much stress that my pregnancy pounds from my daughter wouldn’t budge. I felt shame about my body and who I had become, when I once knew clearly exactly who I wanted to be.
My work at the middle school program ended when the company decided to leave the state, and I returned to school, deciding to pursue a long-standing dream to become a lactation consultant, and immersed myself in science and math. WIC hired me as a peer counselor, and I began rounding on patients in the hospital. My confidence began to grow, and then I made a life changing decision to take a writing class, something I had loved but put to the wayside when my children emerged. At the same time, my husband lost another job, and we were back in the same situation of temporary work and solutions. A year later, he finally found stability again, but the stress felt like a constant cloud of grief. Everything felt like too much and not enough at once.
I grew up in a household where women made endless sacrifices to maintain relationships, because it’s what you would ‘do’. My grandmother suffered through adultery, alcoholism, and depression. My mother divorced my alcoholic, cheating father and remarried someone safe, whom she became platonic roommates with over time. And here I was, in my second marriage, headed down the same path, because I was engulfed with so many fears about what would happen if I were alone, that it overshadowed the possibilities of who I could, and wanted, to be.
The fighting and arguing between us became more heated and intense. But what crushed my heart was watching my husband systematically break down his relationship with my son as he grew into his teenage years, flexing his muscles of defiance. I would watch him lean in physically, yelling in his face, inches away from a situation that could be dangerous in the blink of an eye. I watched my son stare back at him, unafraid and uncompromising, because he was a child crying out for a role model who could show him a better way. At the end of day, my husband couldn’t bring himself to be that man.
We tried couples counseling, but during our first session, the counselor asked what relaxed me, and then played Beethoven’s Fifth, the three of us sitting in awkward silence as the music unleashed its fury upon our ears. Another attempt with a different therapist yielded what I had grown to expect in our family therapy sessions: he would dominate the conversation and it would be hard for me to get a word in edgewise. And I could feel the disconnect immediately when she asked us on a scale of 1 to 10 how committed we were to stay together. He was a solid 8. I was a low hanging 4.
When I began graduate school, the scale tipped. I was originally planning to go to an overseas semester in Italy, until my husband told me he didn’t want me to go because he didn’t think he could manage on his own. I had spent so many years cheerleading his hopes and dreams that I felt devastated. Still, I agreed to postpone, and during my first residency in Kentucky last fall, I was super excited to share something from my day when he called me, except after I spoke to the kids, he abruptly told me he didn’t want to talk and would call me the next day. I sat in my hotel room and wept so much I soaked my pillow. The next day, in his usual method, he called and left a message, apologizing that he wasn’t in a good space to talk. But something had permanently broken, and I knew with a sinking feeling we were heading to the end.
It was always his way to react and then try to pick up the shattered pieces of someone’s heart after. His way of saying sorry would be to come to me and ask for a hug. I couldn’t give them anymore. Everything climaxed on Christmas Eve, when we had not spoken for several days after a blowout argument about his treatment of my son. We stood in our bedroom screaming as our children sat outside the door, crying and frightened. He told me he was done, and that after the holidays we needed to separate. I was shell shocked but not surprised. We were always on the path to exactly this place.
We lived together for three more months, but apart. At first it seemed we could end things amicably, until he was spotted on a date with my daughter’s school therapist, whom she had seen professionally. When confronted, he blew up and so did any tacit trust between us. After we finally moved out into our individual spaces, I once again, as I did with Carlos, had a lightening sensation where I felt in my chest I could finally breathe without fear of suffocation. For the first time in a decade, I could sit in my home and didn’t have to worry about walking on eggshells, or if something I, or our children, said would trigger the yelling and aggression we had become accustomed to receiving.
Now two divorces down, I don’t feel any smarter about love, but I have learned an enormous amount about expectation. A close friend who watched our mutual destruction told me recently that I merely outgrew what he could offer to give. I have ambition, desires, passion and drive, and he was not the partner to meet me in those efforts.
But the most challenging part has been facing, with a good therapist, the acts of abuse that I never recognized as such. The tiny, invisible ways that I was treated like so much less than I deserved. All the moments where my heart was taken for granted, smashed and splintered over and over until it became so disfigured that I didn’t recognize myself anymore. The side comments, the gaslighting, all the instances where I was told that what I was feeling was an overreaction, or not an appropriate response. Or where another’s anger was unleashed on me and I was left to stand and brave the gales of his fury, and accept peace offerings that came without the changes to the repetitious behavior that prompted them in the first place. For me, it is a slow rebuild, tearing down all the worn and weathered sections of my soul, so that I can weave new, stronger, intrepid pieces that will protect me from taking anything less than what I deserve. It is a gradual awakening that I am worthy of so much more than just the optimism of my heart.
keeps setting my body ablaze
the fatter it grows
i just want more of everything
that’s yours to give
your mouth, your tongue, your lips
scraping and exploring
your hands skimming,
grazing the contour of
this butter-soft skin
your arms entwined
across my back as i
fold into the space of your
chest like a child who belongs there
every inch of you
permeating the emptiness
of my body i
can’t fill on my own
it may not
i want it all
even the parts you
didn’t know existed
the moon has that much power
you have that much pull
I’m not interested in finding the ‘one’.
I want to find the 3, 5, 10.
Let me explain.
For me, monogamy is dying. Slowly choking on its own promises of happily ever after and fulfillment from a single soul, which is an overbearing and unfair expectation to place on any person at any given time.
Let me clarify further.
There are different types of monogamy: social, emotional, physical.
From Wikipedia page on monogamy: "According to the Ethnographic Atlas, of 1,231 societies from around the world noted, 186 were monogamous; 453 had occasional polygyny; 588 had more frequent polygyny; and 4 had polyandry."
Out of 1,231 societies surveyed, 15% are monogamous. That leaves 85% of the world in a different space than our large, conservative society where it seems an imperative to only mate with one human for your adult life, despite the more than 50% divorce rate of the United States.
Let’s go deeper.
Physical monogamy is defined as: the practice or state of being married to one person at a time, OR the practice or state of having a sexual relationship with only one partner.
Essentially, promising that your physical body can and will only belong to one other human during the span of your commitment, usually via marriage, sometimes through a relationship. The promise that your body will only touch one other body during the duration of your decision to have a bond either through word or a state sanctioned ceremony.
Let's get to the center.
Emotional monogamy. The notion that one person can provide for you everything that you need to feel emotionally secure and heard. But can anyone person do this, and the better question, why rely on one person to do so?
So, here the heart: I no longer have a desire for emotional monogamy. Physical monogamy? Maybe. But are the two intertwined? Possibly, or not at all.
Let me rewind.
I had a conversation with a lovely friend recently that cemented my desire to detangle myself from the notion that one person could provide for me what I have been taught to seek from romantic relationships. In describing her current relationship, she commented that she no longer sought emotional validation from the constant person in her life, with whom she happened to have an open relationship, and where they were present in each other’s lives an average of one day a week. Instead, she has learned to seek her emotional affirmations from a variety of sources, sourcing out her needs to a multitude of friends who could support her in various ways, and her happiness shone. A light bulb went off. I recently find myself divorced after a ten-year relationship, one where I clearly had entwined all of needs into expectation that my ex-husband could meet ALL of them, because, you know, our culture of monogamy, and specifically, the familial culture I have been raised to follow.
My grandparents, who I admired, had a relationship that I would now categorize as ‘complicated’, with my grandmother being a teetotaler Catholic, and my grandfather an alcoholic, depressed, likely philandering, atheist. When I reflect, I recognize that there was ‘love’ between them, a very complex adoration weaved by the expectations of society and the times in which they lived. But superseding the love, in my current view, would be the trauma that resulted from some of the lifestyle of addiction and hurtful choices that were often made by my grandfather and placed squarely on the shoulders of my grandmother. Yet, she rarely complained, bottling up all her tension and disappointment, and teaching me, unconsciously, that it was better to keep the hurtful aspects of my life private and to myself. Now, looking back, I wonder if she had confidants, or people who helped her navigate such rocky terrain, but I suspect not. It was merely an expectation that relationships carry enough emotional generosity to fulfill whatever needs were required, although I surmise many fell short, with women bearing the emptiness of those disenchantments.
But this conversation helped me realize how ridiculous that ideal was, both for my ex-husband and myself. The notion that one person could possibly fulfill all the emotional aspects of who I am, deep and rich, yearning and content, was laughable, especially considering the gradual dissolution of my marriage. Why should I even want to seek such gratification in one source, when he was not prepared to meet those needs in their entirety, as it was an impossible task?
I am so many women from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. Should it not make greater sense then, that those women, each her own distinct person with her own distinct needs, would require emotional validation that would differ? Shouldn’t I need a collection of support that would change and transition according to my needs?
And if I need this for my emotional self, what about the corporeal? Is it truly advantageous to be engaged physically with a single person for a point of time? What is monogamy if nothing more than us slowly tightening the noose around our many selves, hoping that they will merge into what we hope will be one? But if that one cannot hold us all, then how can we hope to breathe, or survive such physical poverty?
It’s not easy to seek such emotional support outside of a traditional relationship. Jealousy typically rears its ugly, misshapen head. Those who are not providing the support being sought often feel that they are somehow inferior, being unable to fulfill all the aspects necessary for wholeness. It takes a person of specific maturity and security to feel comfortable allowing a person with whom they have a commitment, even if tacit, to seek a validation they might not be able to provide. But I posture that this is what we should all be striving for: the notion that we can all find what we need emotionally, even if it doesn’t fit in the nice paper bag of what we consider a typical partnership.
As for the physical, I think this is a question of preference, and security. Are you invulnerable enough that you would feel comfortable in a relationship where you knew someone else might have access to the same physical intimacy you share with someone? Or does that thought make your blood run cold? Do you seek variety, because monotony stifles you? Or are you content with reestablishing a constant, deeper reconnection with one person in the hopes it will sustain and delight?
My personal logic purports that physical monogamy might be better sustained if emotional polygamy is employed. If you can love a multitude of people in different ways, and they show you the same care and attention that meets your needs to be a self-sustained, happy individual, wouldn’t it make sense that if you have a greater connection with a sole individual, that it would allow for increased intimacy? How free would you be to give yourself in your entirety to one person if you have been given so much in numerous, alternative sentiments?
Or maybe not. Perhaps seeking emotional validation in many places leads to hunger for greater experience, greater possibilities. Maybe we are all insatiable, but some of us are just more advanced at controlling such desire without feeling the same deprivation and loss.
Regardless of whether the physical merges or diverts from the emotional, such heart support is an essential part of our human survival. Studies of attachment in babies show this clearly: we need to feel loved, to feel close to our species, in order to become well adjusted, human adults. But like infants, maybe it does not have to come from one source, but can be provided by many. I believe it is more important to receive what is suitable in the realm of love, rather than only receive it from one person who may not be capable of actualizing our myriad needs within its bounds. In that regard, we might be nothing more than babes, seeking what we require from wherever we can find it provided best, and we should honor the needs of such primal infancy, even if polygamy is the path to satisfy.
you run into your ex-husband at the grocery store as he shops for Thanksgiving, as you shop for Thanksgiving, and it hits you, the full emotional wall that this is the first ‘post-divorce’ family holiday, his cart full of what he will cook in your absence, your cart full of what you will cook in his. it is not that you miss him, rather the void of the collective unit, knowing you will spend it without your youngest children, that this fracture will be felt to the marrow of your bones. you check out in separate aisles, ignoring that you ever loved each other, and as you walk to the car with your ten year old son, you briefly feel water attempt to collect in your eyes, but you refuse to cry in front of him and have him bear that burden, so you blink the back the woe. you arrive home, put away the groceries, feed the kids, change into exercise gear, pop in headphones, and lay out a mat. your body begins to warm as you move, as you roll every joint, head to toe, preparing for the workout ahead. then the real challenge begins, and you are deadlifting steel, lunge, squat, press, plank, scissors…repeat. repeat. repeat. until sweat rolls over inch of your body, collecting in dips and valleys, your cheeks flush and rosy. you feel your muscles pull and shove, stretched and taut, squeezing out all the sorrow, liquefying your grief, leaking it out of every pore so you can wipe it away.
you begin to feel lighter, stronger, powerful. your mind collects a list of all the things you are grateful for in this moment: losing fifty pounds of gathered gloom that you used as physical protection from the emotionally stifling marriage of the past ten years, the muscle you have built in its disappearance, how beautiful you feel in your own skin for the first time in...?
the workout is over, and you are breathing deeply, inhaling rapidly, feeling your lungs expand, the pang of your well worked tissue emanating in waves, the reward for your endurance, the payoff for moving forward. you take a bandana and swipe at your forehead, swabbing the watery heartache that you have expelled, proud he no longer induces your tears, instead becoming the origin of your sweat, the source of the grit you never knew you had until he was gone.
It sets off alarms
gives off a chemical trail
from my groin
I get waved aside,
and she clinically explains
how she will violate my
the safety of all
those around me
She puts her hand in my waistband,
rolling past my belly button
then sweeps in lines
across the private triangle,
down the inner thigh,
first the front,
then rear, repeat
As the backs of her knuckles
rake across my jeans
I think of all the fingers
that have swiped my cunt
in a similar fashion
I channel all the women
who have felt the same,
whose bodies recoil
come without consent
They test my hands
she tests her hands
still it registers as unknown danger
She takes me to a table,
asks me if I prefer a
for when she explores me
I shake my head ‘no’
Do it in public,
in the light of day,
where everyone is forced
to watch your hands
sliding across the
hills of my breast,
the slope of my groin
the curve of my legs
I want nothing of
Finally, my pussy is cleared as a ‘danger’
Perhaps it was my body’s
a powerful reminder of
all the babies I will never touch,
or the scent of the first time someone
inserted themselves into
my body and heart,
or the times when men
carelessly scratched at my interior
or forced their way into
my most sacred space to
desecrate it from
the inside out
Perchance it’s just the weeping
of my vagina
for all the times
men sought oppress its nature,
beyond their grasp,
a magic they
It will never
belong to them,
its untamable energy refusing,
no matter how much
they will it,
to sit in the corner and
just, “be quiet”
Don’t they know by now
it’s where we stash our power
where our supremacy sits
how it galvanizes us
the goddesses we are
This organ refuses silence
I am not here to fulfill your needs, desires, pleasure, and fantasies
You cannot own what you do not understand
You cannot take what isn’t yours
You cannot take what isn’t yours
You will not take what isn’t yours
But possibly, my snatch secretly plots
while I sleep
building bombs out
of its juices, static electricity
and sheer nerve
because it’s smart, this pussy
it knows exactly
how ready we are
for this world
fashioned by men,
sculpted from female flesh
and our anguish,
how ready we are
to have it blown
Fog fascinates me. Thick, rolling, my overactive imagination conjuring witches and werewolves running through its white tapestry. I love its descent, how it magically climbs from forest and sky, and just lays itself upon the landscape like a lover, comfortable touching every curve and opening. Something about its supernatural quality speaks to my heart about trust, and longing, and understanding that the world can’t always be our interpretation of what we want it to be.
There is something to be said about trusting in mystery, and having faith when you can’t see around every corner. I once heard a shaman speak about what it felt like for him to awaken from the ‘dark night of the soul’, and he described it as running through a field with his eyes closed, arms splayed to his side, trusting that the way before him was open. I both love and fear walking in the fog, particularly at night, hearing noises echo and bounce, their origin hidden from my view. The allure to wander into its ivory cloak is powerful. It makes my pulse quicken, my senses become heightened, and I feel this otherworldly connection to a part of me that often lies in shelter, because as a survivor of childhood sexual trauma, the notion of unpredictably is so hard to swallow.
As I reflect on my journey as a woman, I realize that (and if you know me well, you hear this frequently) ambiguity is something that I have come to despise. In a world where culture still leans to whisper in our ears subservient, conflicting messages of how we should be, look, act, fuck, and live, I feel that it becomes of even greater importance that I understand decisiveness, can look it in the eye, and choose with dignity and ferocity. It has taken me 41 years to arrive in a space where I can feel, with a whole heart, that I am who I am, and if you don’t like my look, what I represent, how I live, or who I love, you can pretty much fuck off and go your own way, and we will both likely be happier for it.
Imagine that constant conflict, wanting to know and feel the stability of having a path that lies clear before me, and feeling the yearning of wanting to be enveloped in the unknown. It is so hard for my heart to let secrecy be a part of my life’s magic, because I was taught that secrets are for holding onto to moments that thrashed and scarred me from the inside out. It is so excruciating to trust in things that are obscure, when it such things that have damaged your soul the most. You’re left feeling like the internal compass of your instinct is forever broken, and that you are incapable of reading people for who they are: can you really sense good? Can you see the bad coming, when it was so obvious yet allusive before? Can you read another soul and see them for who they are, and trust your gut without constantly questioning that voice along the way?
It hits my relationships the hardest, both platonic and romantic. I don’t do well with friends who are fair weather, because I am staunchly loyal and lucid. And I struggle with indecisive lovers, because I am perspicuous, and the notion of balancing more than one person in an amorous association is out of the question for me. I don’t compartmentalize and parcel my emotions, spreading myself across multiple hearts. If I offer myself to you, it is everything I have to proffer, and I will share it without hesitation. I give my all, body and soul, and just don’t know how to offer less.
I don’t know how to be when things are equivocal, and the road ahead is covered in a thick, white gauze. I am captivated by its mystique, and terrified by what could happen along the way. Sometimes I question why I feel such devotion: what wouldn’t I give to descend into the fog, allowing my twisted intuition to guide me, allowing my heart to blindly lead the way? What wouldn’t I surrender to be a woman whose soul could be that free, who could afford the luxury of ambivalence? Yet, I recognize that my capacity for feeling is directly proportionate to what I devote. The more that I relinquish of myself to one person, the deeper I dive into the catacombs of my own passion. There is no superficiality. Each joy arrives wrapped in bliss, each ache is a knife that brings its own remembrance. I do not stretch myself in bit and pieces, parceled out slowly and carefully depending on the recipient. I could not bear to tear my soul apart to spare my heart. Anything except the totality of all I am feels counterfeit. The fog is merely water disguised as mist, and how it smolders in the light of my sun.
I hear my daughter before I see her, can hear the breathlessness before she appears, the attempts to take huge gulps of air that will not move into her body. I hear her sister ask if she’s okay, and I rush around the corner, meeting her as she stumbles the last step, her body begging for oxygen. It is the sound of someone trying to breath underwater, when the lungs cannot be filled but the body still wants more. It is as deafening as a scream and as quiet as a whisper.
I remember Sacajawea, the weight of her tiny body in my hand, how she folded up like she was back in the womb. Her fur was velvet, the hair tickling my palm as I carried her. She was grey and ivory, with light colored eyes that shone with curiosity and joy. She was beautiful, kind, and loving. She would leap up behind you and curl her torso around your neck, her paws digging gently into the shoulders, giving a light massage as she purred. She would settle in this way, like a muffler, warming the spirit, spreading love.
I slap her back, turning her head to the floor, folding her body in half, trying desperately to dislodge whatever it is that has cut off her air supply. The gurgling continues, and I can feel her energy without having to look at her, knowing that there is only so long that the brain can sustain without oxygen, only so many seconds that it can sit in depravity before its cells begin apoptosis, bursting and dying from their own longing.
I remember the rasp that emanated from the kitten’s throat, like someone grating basalt on steel, her breath sucking in and out in gasps, hearing the air whistle, her neck dangling where once it sat strong, tiny patches of blood seeping from undetectable wounds. How we pulled her from underneath the rocking chair, the one she always wanted to lie beneath, this time acting like an inefficient guillotine to her vertebrae, merely fracturing but not severing.
Her lips start turning blue, there are strings of saliva beginning to drip from her pouty lips as her small chest heaves and fights for what it needs to survive. I wrap my arms around her waist, placing my fists below her rib cage, pulling in with as much force as I think she can take without breaking her. I yell to call 911. Over and over I force my palms into her diaphragm, and every time I am unsuccessful, I get a moment of dread where I smell death, and I beg and plead in my mind, “Please don’t take her like this, not in my arms.”
We take Sacajawea to the bathroom, her blood leaving tiny circles on the wood stained floor, gently setting her body on the counter top. Everyone is high, and no one knows what to do. It’s a Sunday, midnight, in a tiny New Hampshire town, and the nearest animal hospital is about an hour away. The kitten’s breath takes on a new heaviness, and tiny, red bubbles froth from one of her wounds. Her neck is broken, she is beyond repair.
I continue to pump into her body with my fists, and with every thrust, I am forcing every ounce of love and memory into her belly. A collage of memories float through my mind in succession, unstoppable: her birth, the feeling of her tiny, infant body as it warmed my chest, the heat of her body when she crawls into bed with me still, seeking comfort and heat, wrapping her lanky arms around my back, hugging me close. I begin to calculate the time: how long until 911 can respond? How long until she might lose consciousness? How long until…
The kitten is going to die. It is inevitable. Her breath tells us this in shallow gasps, but she seems determined to fight until she can draw no more. Watching her is excruciating. A decision is made that her suffering needs to end. Her owner collapses on the floor in grief and tears. Her sister, the one who was sitting in the rocker, eyes her from the doorway, water collecting in splashes on her shirt. That leaves me, and my friend Adrian. He volunteers to take the kitten to the river. I offer to go along for support.
Again, over and over, my palms plunge into her midsection. Over and over, I am met with silence when I want to hear the sharp intake of air. She is drooling more, strands falling to meet the floor, encapsulating soft, pink candy specks that stain the tile in darkness. I look to my left and see my older son, standing helpless, not knowing what to do or how to be. I move my head forward and my older daughter and younger son have both called 911 and are speaking to dispatch. I hear bits and pieces float by my ears, “my sister…choking…she’s 6…come…”
We crawl down the slope to the river bank, Sacajawea wrapped in a plaid scarf, slipping over the rocks. The air around us hangs in a humid shroud, and we can hear crickets as we slowly place our steps. Softly murmuring, the Contoocook River flows at a clip, meandering and pausing upon the shore. We reach the water’s edge, and the kitten is still managing to breath, still wanting to live. Adrian unwraps her from the scarf and holds her body above the water, preparing to plunge her underneath. His eyes fill with tears, and he blubbers like a baby. He repeats, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” The kitten, sensing his hesitation, begins to gurgle, the suck of the air more and more labored, and attempts to issue a horrendous, sharp meow. She is suffering.
My arms are feeling tired and ineffective, and I worry I might break her ribs. I muster another heave, and this time, I am rewarded with the sound I am longing for: sputtering. I hear her breath move into her throat in a hoarse whoosh. I am still not convinced she is breathing, so I pump again with my fists, and she coughs, spit falling from her mouth onto the floor, air permeating the lungs. I ask her, “Can you breathe?” and she nods ‘yes’. I tell the older kids that she’s okay, and to call off the emergency dispatch. I envelope my daughter in my arms and she bursts into tears, big droplets pouring down her cheeks, allowing the fear of death’s specter to weep from her body. My muscles begin to shake as I hold her, the adrenaline racing through my veins, sweeping every inch of my body. I lift her and take her into the kitchen, inspecting where fists pounded into her flesh, taking a paper towel from the counter to dry her face and the spittle from the corners of her mouth. Her eyes look straight into mine, and I see how intertwined my own mortality is with her being. I feel the invisible strings between my heart and hers, the ones, that if severed, would leave me as fatally wounded; the ones, that if snapped, would bust me, too.
Adrian sits on the rocks with the kitten in his lap, his face buried in his thick hands. I gently lift her body, so fragile and light, because I cannot bear the wailing another moment. I walk carefully and steadily to the water, bringing the kitten close to the river’s surface, reflecting the dark night and an opal sheen from the moon. I hear her inhale one more time, then I sink her body, breaking the skin of the water, her body thrashing out of instinct, but barely moving. I feel tiny jerks, bubbles rising to the surface where her mouth sits below, the twitches lessening and slowing, until her body issues silence, and the water’s surface is again smooth and untouched. In that moment, I feel her energy rise, like a jolt that makes my hairs stand on end, and then it’s gone. She’s gone. I wonder what Sacajawea sees in her last moments. My face? Her mother’s? The moon? Hot tears crease my cheeks as my hands sit submerged in the icy water. I hate that she died cold. I carefully float her to the surface, wrapping her soaked body in the scarf, as if it matters now. I hold her tiny body, hugging it next to mine. Then I place her back in the river, letting go, watching her become one with the current, watching the river continue to move despite death at its doorstep.
I contemplate dimensions, slits in the fabric of time and space, all the tiny choices we make every second of every day that draw us closer together or further apart. In my dreams, I see Sacajawea’s eyes turn to stone, the luster dulling as her spirit exited her form. I wonder if there is another outcome in the universe, or several, all running alongside each other like television channels playing different programs at the same time. In this one, she is dead. In another, does she pass from old age, a grown cat, in the arms of her owner? In yet another, has she never left her mother, curled up next to her abdomen? Perhaps she herself is a mother, has a litter of kittens, and she is introduced to the same pain I taste in watching my children grow.
I see the eyes of my daughter, panicked and frantic, desperate to breathe. I think of the same parallel moments, that maybe in another path she has exited the world, and I am left to hold her still body in my arms, watching my heart shatter into slivers so tiny it will never be repaired. I feel my heart clench around itself, creating a barrier from the thoughts that persist as I toss and turn, because to face them feels like a burden I can’t bear to hold.
Why do we love anyone with depth if the pain of loss can reach into so deeply that we feel scooped out from the inside, as if we are empty? How is it our hearts can bear to reach out and intertwine with others, if the potential cost of watching them leave in a thousand different scenarios, is our own wholeness? Are our elastic hearts capable of stretching enough to hold and carry pain to the point they explode? How do you keep your heart at arm’s length, distancing joy and love, and still feel human? How do you forsake love, continuing to move through the world, without choking on your own loneliness? How do you say no to love and manage to breathe?
I can’t bear the thought of losing her, and I can’t stand the notion of not loving her. If I tasted her mortality, I might shatter into microscopic shards, never fully picking up all the pieces to have a full heart. But if I guard myself from emotion and love, I turn to impassive, cold stone, and my heart suffocates a tiny bit each second.
Here is what I know:
I would rather be broken.
My heart yearns to breathe.
His finger, long and sculpted, curved down her pubic bone, inching closer to the apex of her sex. It finally landed with a flutter, gradually sliding over and around its button, aided by the slippery moisture seeping from her body. His other hand continued to circle her nipples, the friction hardening their flesh as he moved back and forth to stimulate them. Quiet, panting moans seeped from her throat, the volume and intensity slowly increasing as his fingers deftly moved across chest and between her legs.
She leaned back slightly, opening the space between her thighs, taking her right hand into her panties to find his, moving his fingers further down to the wet slit of her vulva, tiptoeing them inside the hot ocean raging inside. She gasped as his fingers filled her, sliding along her inner walls, his flesh sparking waves of pleasure that rippled up through her legs, settling in her abdomen. As his fingers gained speed, her body whipped into a frenzy, a hurricane slowly increasing in power and force.
Her left hand nestled itself into his hair, slowly winding his tresses around her fingers, as her other hand removed itself from between her thighs and reached out to take his chin in her palm, stroking his cheek with tender motions, drawing his face close, finding his lips with her own. He breathed her in, and could taste each her emotions: longing, lust, affection and vulnerability. Her lips quivered slightly, her mouth opening and closing with a rhythm syncopated to his hand, tongues caressing as his fingers pressed forward and back.
She removed her hand from his hair, sliding along his chest, grazing his shirt, resting her fingertips on his tiny nipple bud, massaging, then running them down his belly, feeling slight soft, flesh at the line of his belt. Her lips disentangled from his for a moment, her mouth leaning to his ear, her warm breath falling upon his neck like quiet snow. “Can I stroke you?” she asked breathlessly, and he moved his hand from her nipple to her shoulder, half embracing to bring her close, whispering, “Please.”
Her mouth sought his out again, wanting to inhale every inch of him in every rise and fall of her chest. Her hand began to fumble with his belt buckle, freeing it from its lock, the straps falling open. She carefully took his button between her fingers and released it, continuing downward to his zipper, its teeth making a quiet grating sound as it unfolded.
She walked her fingers into the newly unfastened space, feeling his flesh rise and harden beneath her fingertips, her nails skimming across the fabric housing his member, gradually upping the pressure as his body responded. For a moment, as the fervor of his hand inside her burst into a short dash, she paused, her hand trembling. In response, she gripped him gently, finally sliding his shorts down to extricate him, feeling his muscle reach upward under her tender touch. She wrapped her fingers around him, fondling his flesh with delicate joy. She loved the weight of him in her hand, how her fingers molded around his shape, as if he melted into the crevices of her palm. It felt so natural to touch him, like his skin always belonged inside her own, as if the heat rising from the back and forth of her hand was like the sun creeping across the landscape, igniting it with golden fire.
As his hand moved inside her, her hand caressed him, developing a syncopated rhythm. Her body weeped onto his fingers, and she felt him become rigid beneath her touch, but with fleshy give, as if she were carving him from soapstone with her hand. His belly lit on fire from her contact, feeling erratic notes escape his throat and mouth as he gasped with pleasure. He sought her eyes with his own, and she returned the glance, almost trance-like, swept away by the pleasure rippling through her body. He thought he could melt into her eyes in that moment, disappearing entirely into mist, every inch of his body fusing into her own, wanting nothing more than to feel every wave of what she was experiencing, every pulse of pleasure radiating from his hand. He settled for drawing her close, foreheads touching, their breath mingling between them in hot, invisible clouds, finally drawing his eyes closed as his lips pressed her own, feeling his own existence fall away as she returned the advance, feeling his body dissolve into her mouth cell by cell by cell.