Adventure in Breaking/Mending

Eight weeks ago something happened. Six weeks ago something worse happened. One week ago more brush was shoved on the fire.

It’s not a new topic for me, especially in the last couple of years, but try as I might, try as others might, I won’t stop talking about it.

Eight weeks ago, between eating lunch and picking up a comic to take to his next city, I stopped at the home of a person I know. Someone I had spoken with regularly. Someone I considered a friend. In the course of less than half an hour, everything changed.

I was able to take myself out of the situation before it became desperate. But “no” wasn’t a viable answer. “This isn’t why I came over,” was also unaccepted. “I don’t want to redo my makeup” was a good reason. “I’m on my period” granted me enough space to get up and leave, but not enough space to have control to stop things.

I picked up the comic and went about my weekend.

Six weeks ago, I was feeling good. I met up with someone and lost complete control of the situation. I’ll continue to spare you details. I got home in the middle of the night, uncontrollably sobbing. I knew the right things to do. I knew to call the police. I knew not to shower. I knew those are the things you’re supposed to do. Another thing you should do, if you’re able, is take care of yourself, whatever that looks like. So I did. I showered. I took my clothes off. In that order.

I did something I haven’t done before though. I reached out to people immediately. Everyone was asleep, but in the morning so many people were affirming. So many people kept my mind safe. My dear friend, who is far away, encouraged me to go to the Sexual Assault Treatment Center. My dear friend, who is down the street, hugged me while I sobbed on him.

I called the Sexual Assault Treatment Center, because I didn’t know how it worked. She said to come in immediately. I asked, “Can I wait an hour? I have a job interview in 15 minutes.” She called me a toughie.

Throughout an hour-long job interview, I held it together. I needed this job. She asked how I handle stressful situations. I refrained from saying, “I haven’t cried once or given pause that something is wrong in this interview, have I?”

My dear friend, who hurried back from out of town, met me at the Sexual Assault Treatment Center. I met with a forensic nurse, a police detective, and a woman from victims assistance. I had a full exam done. I only cried once. She was kind. She was patient. She took my time, not hers. Some times when we interact with people who need kindness and patience, we offer them patience on our own time. She did not do this. She gave me time to breathe. She waited until I said okay. I know it’s her job to act this kindly with victims. We could all stand to work this kindly with everyone.

My dear friend waited in the lobby for two hours. Her phone died. She read every pamphlet. She waited on my time. She was kind. She is kind.

Another friend far away shared my assailants picture. He told the story. He checked with me and then told anyone who would listen. Profiles were removed. People were talking, in the best ways. He shared the truth, not the easy parts.

The next day I had a gynecological exam to get checked for my tumorous cysts. The nurse was kind. She talked to me about her own trial. The RN was not kind. She was cold and shaming. I scheduled another appointment for an ultrasound, because the RN didn’t believe me. It was five weeks later.

I stayed open. I kept talking. I asked for help, for company. I was granted this more times than I can explain. Food was brought to my home. Kindness after kindness.

Two weeks later I had a second interview for the same job. I hadn’t slept in four days. I was certain I wouldn’t get it. It was a terrible interview. I was exhausted. I was beaten. I was destroyed.

The next day I received a call from my doctor’s office. It wasn’t just my fears. Other unwanted news came. Nothing uncommon, just unpleasant.

Three weeks went by, and it became a problem for some people. This made me stronger. My survival and my means of survival were problematic for some people. I vowed to become immortal out of spite.

At four weeks, I wanted nothing, but hugs. I also wanted to never be touched. I was watching as people I knew were having pretty serious allegations brought up against them. I was watching and being pulled in. People were contacting me, as if I’m an authority on consequences. The only consequences I understand are my own, the ones I face every day. I watched possible (albeit likely) assailants keep friends, which is a type of affirmation of those actions. While I was losing people for being dramatic, for causing problems.

Do you know why someone talking about rape seems dramatic? I do. Because trauma is dramatic. Because tragedy is drama. Because truth is dramatic.

This only made me louder.
“I wish I could talk my way out of being raped the way rapists talk their way out of trouble.”
“So we’re clear. A rapist hears the word ‘no’ and expects that to mean ‘yes.’ But when accused the rapist is like ‘I didn’t rape her.’ Apparently only his ‘no’ means ‘no.'”

I started to feel more isolated. It was silly. Weeks prior I was surrounded, literally and figuratively. Friends from all over were reaching out to me. Nonetheless, I began to fear I had worn out my welcome on asking for favors. I’m not quick to ask for help, but this time as a means of survival I knew I needed to. Coming up the stairs at home and collapsing to my knees sobbing, I knew I needed help. I had reached out to someone I was told was a therapist. They proved to be a crazy person that would only escalate my issues.

I felt alone. I was not alone. I felt alone. I felt empty. I felt lost. I felt alone.

Loud noises began to affect me. My parents’ dogs barking made me terrified and panicked. Thunder made me panicked. A dear friend brought me earplugs and other kindnesses.

At a show, I wore my “please-don’t-rape-me” jeans that I bought eight weeks ago. I told my friends not to touch me and to make sure no one else did. I did not keep it together. I left in the middle of the show. Broken. I had stayed because I couldn’t be alone, but the music was loud, the voices were loud.

Week five I was fine again. The dogs and I were fine. I could cuddle my dog again.

Creative 30 for 30 started again, and I could force myself to put some of the things in my head to good use. I started baking again. I didn’t start passively baking. I have no one to give baked things to. I started baking to heal. I started baking more than just that one cupcake Kristen Wiig made for herself in Bridesmaids. I started making full pies. I made pies for healing. I recorded recipes. I made the same pie twice. I improved on pie. I improved on pie to improve myself. I taught myself new skills to show myself I can do more. I watched Moana eight times.

I went to my ultrasound. The tech was kind. The tech took my time. She made six marks on the image of my single ovary. She paused. She asked if I wanted children. I turned my face as tears grew in my eyes. I’ve been in pain again for a couple of months. When I finally saw my doctor she explained I had several cysts in my ovary. They ranged in size from 0.5 cm to 1.3 cm. She explained that they would likely dissipate. She explained that in my case they needed to be monitored closely because of my history. She said it was Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. It explained so much about my last year. It explained so much. It still scared me so much. It still does. Of course, it does.

I also made it one whole year writing affirmations. It’s not been a full year since I moved them to this platform, but I’d brought myself a full year on the strength of my own mind. I’ve continued. I will continue.

At five weeks I also found out I got that new job. I found out I’d be working in an incredibly life-giving, safe, and affirming space. I could walk to work again. I could pay my bills again. I could be motivated to fight PCOS simply by doing my daily work.

Six weeks/eight weeks later I started my new job. I love my new job. I’ve been doing research on diet options to make PCOS more manageable. I’ve continued to reach out to people. I’ve broken my own heart this week. I’ve had my heart broken. I’ve cried on the phone with someone I haven’t heard from since I told them what happened because I felt abandoned. This crying went unnoticed.

In eight weeks my nightmares have come back. In eight weeks several people have taken themselves out of my life because I’ve been too much. In eight weeks I’ve cycled through peace and pain. In eight weeks I’ve screamed and cried. I’ve gone silent. I’ve pushed myself. I’ve been pushed. I’m not healed. I’m not cured. I am still moving. I am healing. I am mending. Pieces of me are coming back together. (please, ignore that Ashley Simpson reference. I can’t take it out now, but I don’t want it there either).

Some times for no provoked reason, I still fill with all manner of sadness and pain. It doesn’t take new provocation. There’s a lasting provocation lodged inside of me. A provocation I can only hope to learn to cope with. It will live beside me. I will be bigger than it. Some days, I’ll get to a place where I will feed it too much. It must be fed. If it’s starved it will get loud and angry. It must be fed and acknowledged. It is my constant companion. It is my monster. It is not me.

Thank you to everyone who has helped carry me over the last two months and over the last 30 years.

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Adventure in Fractured Fort Wayne

It’s extremely difficult to find someone in Fort Wayne who is more than two degrees separated from anyone else. In a city of over 250,000 people that’s pretty remarkable. I’m sure it’s not entirely true, but like I said, “difficult,” not impossible. It makes the city feel more small town than it is. The lack of public transportation adds to that.

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Here’s the thing about Fort Wayne, it’s incredibly isolating. I’ve lived here most of my life. I moved away and came back, because I realized how passionate I am about Fort Wayne, about making it better.

Being in the midwest, Fort Wayne is very stuck in its ways. Being at one time governed largely by members of the KKK, Fort Wayne is very stuck in its ways. Having once passed on an arts campus that could have reshaped the entire city, Fort Wayne is very stuck in its ways. Having once opted to build its interstate around the city rather than through it, Fort Wayne is very stuck in its ways.

Let me preface this by saying, I love the people I have. I love the people who this does not apply to. I love the people I’ve never met who dig in and love this town the best they can. Know that I’m aware of my own fault in the problem and am trying to change.

Fort Wayne has a inclusion problem. I’m sure every city does. Fort Wayne’s feels more prominent, because, as I said, it feels smaller than it is. Fort Wayne is broken, and it does it to itself. People are digging their heels deep into their corners and punching down to people in other corners.

There are people trying. There are people offering art, entertainment, kindness, hope in an attempt to be as inclusive as possible. It’s beautiful. It’s hard.

There are people feigning interest. There are people who call themselves supportive of a movement, when all they do is patronize people they already know and enjoy. That’s not support of a movement. That’s drinking with your pals.

Watching people feign inclusion while they create exclusivity hurts the community at-large. There are people fighting to create spaces designed to be as inclusive as possible, those people continue to be excluded.

I’ve watched people move away because they’ve worked hard to break in, to feel welcome, only to be shut out. It’s gross. We’re doing it. Those of us in the heart of the city excluding people trying to be a part of new things.

Everyone has this idea in their head that there’s only so much attention and money to go around. That’s true. It’s limited. But that limit does not mean you punch others down to get what you want. Work together. We set things up on opposite sides of the street that are exactly alike. Find ways to put it in the middle of the street.

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I came back here to try to improve this city I love so much. I don’t have a lot to offer, but I’m trying to impact and better the culture. Many people I know are. The people in control, the taste makers are not concerned about improving the city. They are concerned about making sure it looks like they are concerned about improving the city, which is gross. I’m not asking for credit. I chose a thankless job. I know there are no accolades in that. It makes me sad for the people I see trying. Know that I’m aware of my own fault in the problem and am trying to change. It makes me sad for Fort Wayne.

I get it. Some things are comfortable. Some things are scary. Reaching beyond our current scope, groups is hard. Try. Reach out. Please. Meet someone new. Invite them to things.

I’m not ready to give up. I’m close, but not yet. It feels like a wash. I know it’s not. It feels like it.

If we can, we need to be working together.

I know we can, because I’ve seen it once before.

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Adventure in Reminders

Brock Turner is being released today. Brock Turner is being released today on “good behavior.”

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Brock Turner was caught in the act of raping a woman. He was caught by two other white men. This act of violence has been regarded by Brock Turner’s remorseless father as “20 minutes of action.” I hope you’ve never been raped. I hope you’ve never been assaulted. “Twenty minutes of action” is a long time for anything terrible. As someone who no longer runs, 20 minutes of action in the form of running causes my sides to hurt, my legs to hurt, my lungs to sharpen, my throat to tighten, my mouth to dry. “Twenty minutes of action” of me running is unpleasant, but a choice I made. “Twenty minutes of action” in the form of someone chasing me, pinning me to the ground, and raping me is 20 minutes I never want to suffer through again. Do something unpleasant today for 20 minutes, just unpleasant not even something so terrible you’ll want to be dead for the rest of your life. Just something you dislike. Sniff shit for 20 solid minutes. Run for 20 solid minutes. Hold your breath underwater for 20 solid minutes, because that’s what it feels like. But even when you start to drown and your lungs fill up with water, your body isn’t being violated. No one is rapidly, immediately shattering your psyche. Do you know how quickly a gun can fire into someone’s brain and kill them? Seconds. It can take seconds. Do you know how long trauma stays in a person’s brain? How long it stays in their muscle memory? It’s a hell of a lot longer than the three months Brock Turner spent in jail in police protection, because his precious blonde hairs needed protected.

I am not a violent person. I’ve gotten in one fight. I hit a kid a few times in middle school for being a real dick about my brother. The idea of violence can make my whole body tense up. The idea of hitting someone else makes me feel so sick.

In middle school and high school I was a weird kid, but I was a mean girl. I was. I won’t pretend I wasn’t. I had no right to think the things I thought, to say the things I said. My adult life is action after action of me trying to better myself from that. I say some aggressive things. I think some aggressive things that I am not proud of. I can’t call myself a pacifist because I know my heart. I may not ever be capable of violence, but I am capable of some pretty aggressive thoughts and words.

I say all of that because the idea that Brock Turner was protected in jail makes me sick. There are people who are in prison for marijuana possession. They are in there for their whole lives for something that is becoming legal across the nation. They are not protected in prison. There are people in prison who have been wrongfully convicted. They are not protected. They are in prison for their whole lives for something they didn’t do, and they are not protected. But Brock Turner was caught in the act of a raping a woman and was sentenced to six fucking months. SIX MONTHS for a class B felony. (which don’t even get me started on the class of that felony) He is being released today on good behavior. Well, sure. There weren’t any women for him to attack in that three months.

You know what isn’t good behavior? Sorry, this is a tough one. It’s raping a woman. Remorselessly. When Brock Turner testified he laughed. LAUGHED at how “ridiculous all this” was. It’s ridiculous to Brock Turner because he’s used to getting everything he wants. Well, good news for him. He still will. He’s a rich, white man. He’ll be fine. He could have spent years in prison, and his parents, who also saw nothing wrong with his actions, would continue to fund his life. He may never be able to get a job, that’s a possibility. It’s not likely though. Because a rich, white man won’t have a lot of background checks run on him. He can lie on any application and say “nah, no felonies.” No one will check.

Meanwhile, the woman he attacked, the woman he raped will walk down streets knowing he’s out there walking the same streets. It’s hard enough after being raped to walk down a street, even if you were inside when it happened. Everyone is a threat. Every sound is terrifying. Every slamming door could be your own trapping you in. Every footstep could be anyone coming up behind you. She will live knowing the courts believe raping a woman is something so irrelevant and common place that the punishment should not be severe. She will live knowing raping a woman is something that can be glanced at as good behavior. Because here’s the thing about serving three months in jail, not prison, jail, for raping a woman. Three months (even his full six month sentence) and early release for good behavior. Three months to someone that remorseless is just a bother. It’s an inconvenience. To let someone that remorseless walk away free on “good behavior” after violently raping a woman doesn’t say to any survivor that he had good behavior in jail. It tells all of us that raping that woman was good behavior. It’s a pat on the head, and a “good boy.” It tells all of us we have no value, and we will continue to have no value. Our bodies are an inconvenience. We’re here for men, and our causing a fuss about only wanting to have sex when we want to have sex is an inconvenience. So when we “cry rape,” it needs to be “punished” to show we were “heard,” but the courts are really saying “nah, man. We get it. She’s being a real bitch about it. It’s why she’s here. We have to lock you up for a few months to get her to shut up. But we’ll let you out real quick. Promise.” Never in the history of time has “Bros before Hoes” meant more. because that’s what the courts are saying we are.

Women, you are not here for men. You are not here for men. You are not here for men. You are not here to appease anyone. Your body does not belong to anyone else. Your value extends so far beyond your vagina. Your worth is in so much more than the strength of your vagina. You are so much more. You are so powerful. You are so strong. You are so brave. I’m so sorry this is what we’ve been handed. I’m so sorry that things have not changed one ounce since Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure. I’m so sorry. I’m just so sorry. You are not here for men.

 

Adventure in Changing Attire

I don’t like pants. They cut my body weird. They make it hard for me to pull my knees up by my chest. They make me feel uncomfortable with myself. They restrict my leg movement. Though I started wearing them as such anyway, I don’t consider leggings pants. That’s not what they were made for. Leggings make me feel lazy.

I wear skirts and dresses, every day with one exception. The two pairs of shorts I own. The rest of the time it’s skirts and dresses. I have too many skirts and dresses, but I wear them all. There aren’t secret articles no one has ever seen. I wear all 30+ skirts. I wear all 20+ dresses. (Like I said, too many).

Lately, I’ve been feeling better about my weirdly shaped body. Better enough to unabashedly wear crop tops. Better enough to wear a low-cut top. Better enough that I confidently wear skirts and dresses every day, instead of hiding myself behind my old uniform of baggy t-shirts and men’s jeans. There’s nothing wrong with that uniform. It just wasn’t the uniform for me. That uniform was me hiding. It was me so ashamed of all that’s happened to me. Things beyond my control. As my brain started to heal, I found myself in clothing that better suited my mind. I’m not saying mini-skirts and skater dresses should be every woman’s uniform. Please, don’t misunderstand me. It’s what has worked for me to make me feel comfortable with my own body.

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Unfortunately, I had a bit of a breaking point this weekend. Every day of my life I am on high alert. I have no idea which people are safe anymore, and any man that makes me even a little uncomfortable is a clear threat. Which means there’s a pretty short list of men I feel truly safe around. It means I spent Saturday alternating between sleeping and crying on my living room floor. It means I spent Sunday forcing myself to get out of bed and work at a coffee shop. But I can’t bring myself to don my regular uniform anymore. I don’t want to go back to men’s jeans and baggy t-shirts. Those are the clothes I use to hide scars and pain. They aren’t the clothes of the woman I know myself to be. They are the clothes of a woman who hates herself, not a woman who loves herself.

Yesterday, I couldn’t do it. I was so uncomfortable with the world that I didn’t feel safe in anything. I put on leggings. I put on a t-shirt that was incredibly too big for me. Anywhere I went I was curled up in a tiny ball. I tried to make myself as tiny as I could. I didn’t want to be spoken to. I certainly didn’t want the regular barrage of unwanted and unearned hugs I always receive places. So few people can hug me and make me feel safe. A couple did yesterday, but mostly I felt tense. I felt like at any moment things would turn.

I’m wearing leggings and a shirt that makes me feel like someone’s mom today. I don’t like it. I feel uncomfortable in my own skin. But I feel less like anyone could talk to me.

It’s not what we wear. Our clothes are not the problem. What is the problem is the way assclowns respond to what we wear. Let us feel safe. We put effort and care into the clothes we put on. Even if it’s just our uniform. Those clothes are intentional because they are what make us feel good. They are what make us feel safe. Your comments are not helping. They’re ruining the minor comforts we finally made for ourselves again.

That to say, for now, back to leggings and hiding.

 

Adventure in Daunting Resilience

The summer of 2000 my family went camping at a now-closed campground called Oak Hill in Fremont. It was a Christian campground that on occasion my youth group also stayed. This particular weekend jaunt I brought my pal Emily with me. Emily and I have been pals so long that I’m the one who taught her oldest daughter to dance. The day Ellie realizes it was my fault, she’ll never forgive me. I don’t recall it being a particularly warm weekend. I remember grey skies, but maybe I remember grey skies because the weekend is now a little sullied.

It was warm enough that we walked down to the grimy, grey beach. We built sandcastles. We built sand-witches. We were in seventh grade and admittedly little weirdos. One-piece bathing suits. No grace or class at all. Just strange creatures, who worked so hard to be different than everyone else that we ended up almost exactly alike (at the time).

When we left the beach, I remember it being because the clouds were starting to roll in, but maybe it was too cold. Or maybe we got bored with being weird there and wanted to take the show on the road.We walked back through the woods and winding paved roads to the campsite. As we approached we heard my parents talking to other people. The people from the site next to us had come over. Another married couple and their son. Maybe they had a daughter about my brother’s age. I don’t remember. That’s not the part that stuck with me.

My parents introduced us to the new-comers. The parents told us their respective names, and this was their son Stephan. Not Stephen, guys. Not Stefan Urquelle. Stephan. Steph-an. In fact, it was pronounced like how you’d read Stephen if you’d never heard it aloud before. We all chatted for a while. They were staying for the week; we were leaving the next day. Stephan and I exchanged emails. He seemed nice enough, and I was about to be in eighth grade. I didn’t know. I didn’t know then what I know now, but can’t seem to avoid.

A couple of weeks later I got an email from Stephan. Harmless email. “Hey how’s it going?” email. Emails like this went on for a while, until about a month or so later when he said, “I have to tell you something.” And I didn’t know any better. I should have walked away weeks ago.

“When you and your friend…” Emily. Her name is Emily. You know her name. I talk about her all of the time.
“went down to the beach by yourselves…” because we did. We were in a safe place. Camping was safe. Christian camping was safer. It wasn’t that far, and we weren’t small children. We could go to the beach alone.
“the day I met you…” Not we. I.
“I followed you.” YOU WHAT?!
“I just stayed back in the trees and watched you.”

My reply was simple. It felt simple. “What? Why would you do that? If you wanted to talk to us, you should have. That’s so scary. Why would you do that?”

“You were just so pretty.”

I repeated my first email. “If you want to talk to us, you should have. That’s so scary.”

Also, I was not. I was remarkably gawkish in middle school, as most are. I didn’t know how to do my hair, but I wanted it cut like Mary-Kate’s in Our Lips Are Sealed. It was supposed to be thinned and straight and flipped out. Even when I got it cut it didn’t do that. She didn’t do that to my hair. It just piled up in a bundle of poof that neither curled nor laid flat. My neck was longer than I could understand. My boobs were bigger than they should have been already. And I spent most of my freetime rollerblading, because I watched the movie Brink a lot. I wasn’t pretty. I was weird. I was intentionally weird, which made me even weirder.

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That’s me in the blue. (Emily not pictured)

I got a lot of emails from Stephan over the years that I mostly ignored. When my junior year rolled around, he was still emailing me. He wanted to know if he could come to prom with me. Not me go to prom with him at his school. He wanted to come to my prom. Blackhawk didn’t have prom. I’ve still never been to a dance. We had Jr./Sr. banquet, which was getting dressed up and inevitably spilling chicken on your expensive dress at an uncomfortable table. “You don’t have a date, do you?” I didn’t at the time, but I also didn’t want to take someone who followed me to a beach and assumed I wasn’t good enough to get a date from people I knew. “You don’t have a date, do you?” In the end I still went with a, at the time, near stranger. A new friend from church, but it seemed better than going alone or with Stephan. We went with Emily and her boyfriend (they’re married now and have four kids).

“You were just so pretty.”
“You don’t have a date, do you?”

The boy in college who raped one of my friends told me I was a “fucking slut” and a “piece of shit,” because I wouldn’t come to my window and stand there naked while he smoked in the parking lot.

Another boy in college tried to “jokingly” drag me to the woods. He pulled out a chunk of my hair to commit to that joke. The tag on that is “it’ll be funny to you later when you think about it.” I can’t wait for that slow burn to finally sink in for me. It’s gonna be so rich.

When I told my friends about the first time I was raped, I framed it terribly. I didn’t know what had happened to me, so I certainly didn’t know how to tell them. How to tell them I didn’t know what happened. That I was with our friends. That I thought I was safe. The situational irony was rich the way I framed it. It still is even when framed properly. It doesn’t make it any less terrible. “That’s perfect. He finally got what he always wanted,” one of them said.

Since that day, six years later, we all sat down. They asked for my story, and I gave it to them. The whole thing. We all realized a lot in that moment. I framed it incorrectly. We were all distracted by ourselves. I’ve never doubted they love me, but for a time I didn’t trust them.

When I was attacked in Huntington on a date, I was on a date, with someone from church. It should have been safe. It was supposed to be safe. Moreover, it was the first date I’d ever really been on. Certainly since anything had happened. Truth to tell though, he’d be Stephaning me for a while. Just watching me from the balcony on Sunday mornings. Lurking behind me at parties. Never speaking to me until St. Patrick’s Day. And then not for a few weeks later.

When I was attacked in Indy, I was wearing a skirt and wool tights. I was wearing flats. I was wearing a sweater. I didn’t wear heels then. I couldn’t walk in them. I barely wore skirts, if I did they usually came to my knee or lower, because part of me still felt like I was in seventh grade. Part of me was still trying to be a little weird. I was walking. From the car I’d just parked to a restaurant a few blocks away.

When I was attacked at the Brass Rail, my drink never left my hand. It was the only one I’d had all night. It was warm. I was wearing tattered jeans. I was wearing a tank top. I was wearing moccasins. I was standing. I was surrounded by people.

When I was cornered in my own home. Threatened about my own home. At work. I keep repeating in my own brain all of the time that I didn’t do anything. It’s not my fault, but it is constantly fighting a battle with the part of my brain that reminds me how many times terrible things have happened. How many times I’ve let terrible thoughts overcome me and given into them. How many times I’ve played along to manipulation because if I’m not polite worse things happen. That somewhere in the inner war that wages in my brain, I’m the one firing canons from both sides. That somehow it still feels like my fault.

It still feels like my fault when someone in a car catcalls me when I’m walking down the street. It feels like my fault when a comic grabs my ass. It feels like my fault when teenage boys harass me. It always feels like my fault. It always feels like my fault.

It always feels like my fault.

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Adventure in Spelunking

I’ve never been cave diving. But I love the idea of caves, and I’m pretty decent at regular diving. Or I used to be. I can’t actually remember the last time I was in a pool, which feels weird. Not the point.

The thing about speaking up about all of the things that have happened to me is it’s not always great for me. It’s not always empowering. It’s not always helpful. Many people in my life think things are worse than ever, because they’re finally hearing about things as they happen. As I deal with them, instead of never having to hear about them.

Another side to it is a lot of people think that that’s all that I am. I am just a victim. I am just PTSD. I’m not, if you’re wondering. I’m pretty grossly complicated. Pretty grossly broken, I admit. But there’s a lot more going on in my life than living with a disorder. There’s a lot more going on in my life than being a survivor. Not a victim. Maybe I’m more than that. Maybe I’ve read a book or two that isn’t about rape or rape culture. Maybe I have hobbies.

Another side to it is many people co-opt my pain for their own. To tell and retell my story like a folktale that makes them seem like they, in such a distorted way, know someone interesting.

Truth is, while I know there are people in my life that my speaking up does help, I do it for myself. I do it to maintain my sanity. It’s a beautiful side effect that encourages other people to soldier on like the warriors they are.

Right now though, what I’m watching is the gross sides of it, the things above. It’s my story to tell as publicly or privately as I wish, not anyone else’s. So for the time, for right now, it’s going to private again. I don’t know how private. I want to hold it tight to me and bury it again and never let anyone else in. I know that’s not the right choice, but know that it’s what I want. That I feel like shutting everyone out again. It will probably look more like letting a few people in until they feel too burdened, or more likely, until I think they feel too burdened.

It’s time to take a deep look at what protecting myself looks like again, because too many dark creatures have found their way into my mind and my life, and I do mean people. It’s time to shut up the house for a while and only let those who were invited in. Everyone is a vampire until I feel otherwise. I don’t feel safe, but I wear my armor. I wear those that are safe. I keep them with me. IMG_2751

Adventure in Here Comes the Sun

And so come the blues.

Something we don’t talk about a lot, because it makes all of us uncomfortable is death. It makes us think about each other dying. It makes us think about us dying. We don’t like it. More than that we sure as shit don’t like to talk about suicide. Sorry, dudes. I’m gonna. Buckle up.

It’s summer, and what that means is my brain gets tired quickly and often. I don’t like to feel left out of activities, and the summer is a flurry of activities. It’s night after night of me yes-and-ing everyone I know.
“We’re going to the park.” “Yes! And I’m bringing a kite!”
“We’re making brunch.” “Yes! And let’s go on a six-mile walk!”
“We’re going to dinner.” “Yes! And we’re all dressing as the food we’re ordering!”
“Hayley, stop it!”
But my brain needs breaks. I give off all of the appearances of an extrovert, because I’m adaptive. And by “adaptive” I mean “quick to accommodate and a people-pleaser.” Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy the occasional outing. The occasional diversion from my sweatpants. The variation from my porch and beer. But I feel gross if my breaks leave me out. And I feel gross if being out leaves me without a break. It feels childish. It’s a little paranoid. I don’t like being around people, but I don’t want to be left alone.

Let me tell you why.

In the summer I know that left to my own devices for too long my thoughts will wander, and they will wander dark. They’ve done it before, and they’ll do it again. Not because I want them to. Not because I let them. Not because I entertain them. But because I get tired, and I can’t fight them anymore. Because some times it’s two in the afternoon, and all I can think about is the quiet. It’s important to know I don’t want to kill myself. I just think it’d be nice to be dead some times. I think there’s a line in there somewhere. I think a lot of people dance it. I don’t think I’m alone. I just think we’re not talking about it. I’m not telling you this because I want to shock you or I want you to call me concerned in 20 minutes, mom. I’m fine. I really am. I just think it’s important to realize that these thoughts aren’t uncommon, and maybe hiding them is worse for us.

Usually, in the first session with any new therapist they’ll ask you if you’ve ever had any thoughts of suicide. My tendency here has always been to lie. Who the hell is that helping? Not me. Because while I think about, I always have no thoughts of action. No plans. Anymore. But every day is a decision to keep living. I think it is for most people in some way. Some days for me it’s as a simple as choosing to get out of bed and do my job. Maybe you can identify with that one. Some days it’s choosing to eat food to sustain life. Some weekends it is making myself leave the house and be around people to keep myself away from my own thoughts.

There are people in my life that I tell when I think things are getting too dark. There are places that I go to brighten up my life. There are physical places that I go. There are mental places that I go. There are emotional places that I go. O, the places that I go. There are people I text late at night. I let Kristen know that my brain is getting so sad, and I don’t know how to handle the crushing feeling. Kristen knows that I want to feel as strong as people say I am. Kristen understands what it is to have people put that added burden on you. It’s an extra weight we willingly carry, but it gets so heavy. I tell Hannah. She says something smart followed by a string of jokes to distract me. Alex will read the novella of texts I send off to her and reciprocate. Dustin will remind me how far we’ve come from where we were ten years ago. Brett and Erica will do the same. Jeff will call me if he thinks it’s getting too dark and remind me he can come over or I can come there. That there’s an extra bed at his house. That it’s safe there. Casey would be here sitting up with me if he could. Piper now holds my hand and puts her head on my shoulder during poetry readings. Minelli sends me links to adorable animals. Derek reminds me what my passions are and why I love them. Jason and DJ let me be a little baby brat about my stupid feelings and then tell me I’m not even when I know I am. That’s just the beginning of the list.

I am safe. I know I am. The truth is I’m safer than I’ve ever been. But that doesn’t stop these ideas, these thoughts from creeping in. But keeping them locked up in my head won’t help. So I’m letting you know, that I understand that you have them. I’m dealing with mine too. We all are. I’ve been writing daily affirmations for myself that I’ve taken to sharing on Facebook. It’s just one more way I can stop myself and pull myself out of dark spots. Every day I’m trying to remind myself that I’m here today and maybe that’s enough. We’ve got today, and all we can do is use it to the best of our ability. Loving other people. Supporting other people. You’re not alone. Together we’re a hell of a lot stronger and more powerful than we are apart. Please, speak up and speak out about all of your things. You are who you are. There’s no shame in that. We can do this.

***EDIT***

And this is important! If you are having suicidal thoughts and considering acting on them please contact either someone you know personally and that you trust or reach out to one of two key crisis helplines. Please, either call 1-800-273-TALK (2855) or text “GO” to 741-741. You are not alone!

***End edit***

This is me just doing my best. At life. At summer. Check in come winter when you’re gloomy. I’ll be on the up and probably more useful, though likely less tan.

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Adventure in Still Talking

In the last week several things happened.

First, last Monday I started my new job, and I love it. It’s going to make things so much lighter for my brain. Already I can feel so many burdens being lifted. I can feel myself opening up space for things I enjoy and need far more than stress and pain. Chiefly, this means my brain is open to leave work and go to rehearsals without the burden of loathing. I can go to rehearsals and have a brain ready to create. I can go to rehearsals ready to delve into a thing I love.

Second, I left rehearsal Friday night full of energy. I was considering going for a run, but decided to go to the bar to see if our show was still happening. I haven’t been able to do much with Let’s Comedy, and I’ve been feeling guilty about that. I wanted to be able to be as supportive as possible. Comedy has always been something that I care deeply about, but ultimately it does sort of fill this weird space. It’s a round object in my heart, which turns out is heart-shaped. It fills so much, but not all of it. And here comes theatre again, doing its job, but I don’t want to leave comedy behind because it has taken such good care of me and brought me such wonderful people. But after the show ended I had a bad interaction. I was saying “good-bye” to some friends and noticed someone a little twitchy behind me looking at me and pacing. I decided to cling to my pal a while longer until he moved along and I could duck to the back room again where I made a break for my car. I ran for my car. I drove home. I’ve never run to my car before. Not unless challenged to a foot race I knew I’d lose. When I reached my house I sent texts to several people. To my people. The people I knew could talk me out of the car, because I found myself in my ritualistic spot in front of my house immobilized. “Does he know where I live?” “Did he follow me?” “Why does this keep happening to me?” “Is this my fault again?” “Is it always my fault?” They convinced me out of my car. That I was safe. Inside was safe. Some of them were just down the road if I needed them. I grabbed Gilda Catner when I got inside. I locked the door. I locked it again. I carried her up the stairs. I didn’t change my clothes. I didn’t do anything. Holding Gilda, I crawled into the utmost corner of my bed and sobbed. I fell asleep some time some hours later, Gilda still in my arms.

I woke up with her in my arms. A pounding headache from dehydration. I made myself leave the house. I wanted to blog something completely different on Saturday. I was writing letters. Letters I keep starting, but can’t ever seem to finish.

Because Saturday, third, I learned that Jim Leugers died. Jim Leugers was an incredible comic and artist and human out of Indianapolis. I didn’t know him well enough. What I did know was the effects of him in the community around him. Jim was this big beating heart and like arteries he pulsed this beautiful thing through so many people. So many of them, whether they realize it or not, are intimate reflections of Jim. The ways they take the time to encourage or guide people after a show, kindly or otherwise. The ways they take the time for each other at all. Comedy is such a different beast than theatre to experience, but I think what I love about this particular community is the way Jim impacted it. Because he kept it from becoming so isolating. It’s something that I hope doesn’t get lost, and I don’t think will get lost, simply because Jim isn’t here anymore. He influenced so many people, it’s impossible for that to get lost. Those reflections of him, those kindnesses (surly though they could be), I see them in so many people who knew him well, and I’m not even sure if they know where they learned it. It’s an enormous loss to his family, to his friends, to his community. But he isn’t gone. He’s genuinely left behind so much of himself in so many people. Last night I was driving someone home from a get together that was held in his honor, and he just kept saying, “I can’t believe he’s gone.” And I said, “Nah. He’s not. Just think how stupid it is that you can see pieces of him in even the dumbest people who knew him. He’s everywhere, and that’s the most annoying thing he could have done.” But it’s also the most beautiful. He shaped a whole community in Indianapolis, and who knows how far that reaches? He traveled. His friends traveled. Pieces of Jim are everywhere.

The night I found out, fourth, someone told me to never stop talking about what has happened to me, which is why I’m writing this at all. Because so many of us have been silent for far too long. This is for Spencier.

So fifth. When I was living in Indianapolis, after my third assault, I was reaching my breaking point.I think I reached it. I think I was ready to give up completely. I was done. I was going to give up on everything. Suicide was hard on the table, and I was so silent that no one would have known. I wouldn’t have known who to tell or how to talk about it. Or even why to talk about it. One day a friend of mine friend college who lived in Fishers suggested I just try going to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. “Look, you like art. It’s free. And maybe you’re just not getting out enough anymore.” He didn’t know. He couldn’t know. I wouldn’t let him know. But it was a good suggestion. So that Saturday I put my bravest face on, and if memory serves my cutest “I’m going to look at art” outfit, and I went. I wandered, and I wandered. Most of the day. It was at the very least calming. He was onto something there. Then I wandered into a room. A room where the ceiling was covered in colored wires and tiny speakers. There were a lot of people in there talking so I didn’t get it. I walked the room and looked outside. I read the placards. It wasn’t until I read the placard that I realized what was happening. The room cleared of the noisy people. I curled up on the floor in a corner, and I sat silently. I listened. I listened for over an hour. I cried. I wasn’t alone anymore. I changed my mind. I went back to that room every week until I moved back to Fort Wayne which happened four years ago tomorrow. Every time I need to go to Indianapolis, if it is my power I make a trip to that room. It is now $18 to get into the museum, and it’s worth it for me to regroup. I spent almost three hours sitting in there today. When I walked in today, I came in as the whispers of “I love you” began to swell. I sat silently as school groups shouted and ran around.

At one point a woman came in and sat beside me on the bench. We were both just looking up at the speakers. I was crying. I could feel her crying too. As she got up to leave she put her hand gently on my hand and said, “Art can do that. Enjoy your time.”

Thank you, Julianne Swartz. You saved my life.

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Adventure in When It Rains, It Pours

This is one of the scariest things I’ve ever made myself do. I was going to wait until the day of, but I just couldn’t sit on it any longer. That being said, please, don’t try to analyze the situations. Don’t try to decide who the parties are. Don’t seek out your own justice. This is my life. This is my story. This is survival. It’s finally time I shared it, as best as I can.

Six years ago I was raped. There’s no sense mincing words. That’s where it started, not yet 23. Because of the nature of the situation, because of my own shame of the situation. I know now, more than ever, I should have told everyone. Instead I was met with laughter. Two friends met me with tacos. Over the next year I became a completely different person. Whether you knew my situation or not, and most people did not. Largely, no one did. I was different. I was quiet. I was isolated. Deliberately. I didn’t want to be around people anymore. I didn’t trust them. Someone I knew had betrayed me, and people I loved wouldn’t hear me. People I thought loved me.

About a year later, I moved and was living in another town. And my body was rejecting me all over again. Because when your body has a dermoid teratoma (the genetic equivalent of my unborn twin) some times it takes a traumatic hormonal event for it to start growing, even though she’s been living inside of you since you were an embryo. So even though the hospital had streeted me a month before for “lady problems. take some midol and go home.” That night I was vomiting again and in excruciating pain. Despite watching The Last Chance Detectives, a Christian children’s video series, in the basement of Christian college dorm with two of my closest friends. That Saturday night I learned that Little Caesar’s tastes the same coming up as it does going down. They said that it was about 9 centimeters inside my 3 centimeter ovary. They wanted to try to save it since I hadn’t had children yet, and I was so young, just 24. I was sent home early Sunday morning, around 1, and I was to call Monday to schedule an ultrasound and surgery.

I sent my roommate, who stalwart, stayed by my bed, to her own bed. My friend stayed up as late as he could with me as I writhed on the couch. My roommate got up at 8 for church to find me sweating in pain still. We went right back to the hospital. My parents came down. The surgeon was called. The anesthesiologist was called. She bitched in the lobby about how much she didn’t want to be there and hit my bone as she did the epidural. As they finally finished up the surgery to remove the now 10 centimeter mass the epidural was wearing off, and I could feel so much stretching and pulling. I just wanted it all to be over. All because of something that had happened a year before.

I healed on our couch mostly, sitting on the news from my doctor that while he did save my ovary that it would never fully function like it was supposed to. He was going to put me on birth control to regulate my periods to see if he could make things work right, but if I wasn’t trying to get pregnant that was probably just going to waste the eggs I did have. When I could I went back to work. Making my sales calls that I hated. I hated everything. Parts of me still do.

One day a boy asked me out. A boy from my church at the time. We went out twice in one day. And while six years ago, I was raped, this is by far the worst thing that’s happened. He didn’t want to spend time upstairs with everyone else, which I found suspicious. He scarcely let me get a word in, which I took as insecurity. I’m not quick to speak anymore anyway. I certainly wasn’t then, especially if I wasn’t being asked a question, which in retrospect makes me feel remarkably disgusting. Relinquishing so much control like that when I’d already lost all of it. But the second part of the day was worse. Less unsettling and still in a place where I can’t bring myself to say the words out loud. All in all, I’ve said them written out to maybe three very close friends, who I trust more than anyone and who I know understand beyond the telling. It was violent. It was terrifying. I spent many subsequent days lying to the people who had just months before taken such beautiful care of me and hiding. I started spending more time at the house of the guys’ who lived down the street or close to campus. I started pushing at my high school friend and his boss that it was time to hire me and bring me down to Indy.

A couple of weeks later that time did come. With only the explanation of needing out of the job I hated and trying to convince the people that I loved to come with me, I moved to a new city. A new city where I only knew my friend from high school/now coworker and my ex-boyfriend. I loved my job. I loved it. I loved my coworkers. The content was sad, but the work was good. The people were lovely. Some of my friends moved down. It was getting better. I was forcing myself to venture out. I found spaces in the Indianapolis Museum of Art that I knew if I sat quietly would make me feel safe. I found spaces downtown that I knew if I wondered alone it didn’t matter. I found spaces that if I went alone to write or work I could be okay. I saw Jimmy Fallon. I saw the Roots. I was running several miles a day. The birth control I was on was destroying me inside. I found a bar that had live comedy, played hockey games, and while I never found a church that really suited me I was developing my own sort of way. My painting was actually starting to get better. Even though everything in Indy felt transitional I believe I could have adjusted. I could talk to people who lived there 30 years who would say, “Well, we’re just here until the next thing comes along.” And I wanted to shake them and say, “Commit. You’ve been here most of your life. This is your thing.”  I could have lived with that. I could have committed. I can commit to a city. I’ve done it before, and I’d do it again.

But one evening, around 7, not terribly dark yet. I was by myself and on my way to meet some friends. I was pulled from the sidewalk and back toward an alley. It couldn’t have felt more typical. I didn’t scream. I didn’t shout. I didn’t even push that hard. I just started crying and curled up in a ball on the ground. He tried. Don’t think he didn’t. Honestly, I think that he was so confused he just gave up. After a while your will to live just sort of leaves. I sat there and cried a while longer. I wiped my eyes and smudged my mascara under my eyes, believably vampy eyeliner. Met my friends for dinner. More lies.

It all started to catch up with me. One day at work I found myself at my desk with images of me dead a dozen different ways at my own hand flashing through my mind. No plans to do it, just not wanting to be alive anymore. Tears streaming down my face I called every therapist in the area I could find with a picture who had a nice face. Tears still on my face I came around my cube wall and asked my boss if it was okay I went to a therapist. I just wasn’t doing well. He said, “of course.” To let him know what he could do. She was nice. She called me codependent. I had started driving home every few days to see people. Staying home on weekends to be surrounded by more people I knew. Sleeping on floors I knew. I still couldn’t tell her what had happened. Christian evangelicals have made sex so damn taboo to talk about, even if you didn’t play a part, hell, even if you’re married, that I didn’t feel safe talking about it with my therapist.

On the side, I was doing it again. Trying to relocate. Finding a new job. I was moving home. I was determined. I needed to be around more people I knew. Even if I didn’t like all of them, I at least knew what I was getting back home.

It was the right move. Mostly. Except for the time I went to a local music venue and was attacked again. Woke up on the sidewalk, not knowing what had happened. Bloody and scared. Doing everything you aren’t supposed to after something like this happens. I know at this point you’re all wondering why, I’ve never reported any of this. But when the people in your life, the people you loved the first time around didn’t believe you no matter how you told them, when it’s met with laughter, you don’t expect anyone to believe you again. When you have no details about your assailant. When you know the statistics about having any alcohol at all in the state of Indiana. When you know the statistics at all in the state of Indiana.

Yes, I’ve still found myself threatened and in threatening situations. Terrified at night. Unable to sleep. With a therapy-mandated cat. Hidden away on a dark day every year. Giving up on therapy because she cancelled without warning on my rapiversary. But moving home, I’ve been surrounded. I’ve been lucky. It’s been hard. Life’s been damn near impossible some days. Most days. But I’ve stopped lying. Hell, I’m honest with strangers now. Because it’s not my shame. I didn’t do anything wrong. This is not my lie to carry. It’s my trauma. It’s my hurt, but it’s not my lie. Not anymore.

Here’s the thing about being assaulted. When it rains, it pours. Many of the people I’ve spoken with who have been assaulted have been assaulted more than once, through no fault of their own. Because there is no fault of the survivor here. It’s not “wrong place, wrong time.” It’s not the way he or she was dressed. It’s not how drunk anyone was. The only person who can take any blame is the monster. You are strong. You are bold. You are powerful. You are worth being heard. Those that don’t believe you are not worthy of being in your life. You are valued. You are loved. You are not the atrocities of others. You are not the disgusting lies that other people present so they can go on living lies with other people. You are truth. You are your truth. A truth that deserves to be heard and is worthy to be believed. Something disgusting, a monstrosity acted on you does not define you nor is it your shame to carry. Do not let it plague your life.

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Adventure in Imagination Station

Lately I’ve felt sick with adventurous longing, which has been manifesting itself as crying. I never expect it. I can’t prepare myself for it. Some days I’m completely fine, and then it happens.

It happens when I see the sun reflect in just a certain way along a puddle in the grass. It sparks this part of my imagination, the part that it did when I was tiny. Recess brain. And I feel it. I physically feel it. I just think, “What is it I’ve been doing? How could I forget? How do I get it back?” Like nostalgia, but it’s not just memories. It’s like something I once knew, but now can’t remember. Like it’s just out of my reach. Like I should be 7, and that puddle is an unswimmable lake, and it’s up to me to cross it. Like I need to be in it. To save us all. Like I should be in the woods. Deep and lost. Adventuring. To save or be saved.
When it hits, I can’t even say words out loud. I think I should, but I can’t. I even some times try, but it’s like the Gentlemen have come and taken away my voice. Or Ursula, if you prefer, but it probably is closer to the Gentlemen, because I didn’t volunteer for this.
I wish I had friends who would be 8 with me. I remember when I was maybe 10, 10 seems right. All of the other girls, the “cool” girls stopped playing.

At recess they just stood in circles talking. Like the Ashleys.

If you played, particularly with your imagination, you were weird. It’d be one thing if you were playing kickball, ya know for the attention of a boy, or because you just didn’t know how to be a girl, which was more often what you were accused of. But to play Ghostwriter at 10 (not just because it cancelled when we’re 8, or because The New Ghostwriter Mysteries suuucked). To play Narnia at 10. To have to fight monsters at 10, as a girl, made you a weirdo. And I was a weirdo. I was a damn weirdo. I still am, but I also wanted to have friends. So I stopped. I stopped before I wanted to. I stopped before I should have.

Like so many other things it feels like a piece of my childhood was taken away from me. So many things get taken. Taken isn’t fair. In this case I sacrificed it. I burned it on the alter of cool, and still I wasn’t. The ash and smoke of my imagination in my eyes and hair. Wafting up to the gods of cool, but never accepted.

So weird still, in fact, that I was asked to distract someone else, who by all cool girl standards, was not weird. I always thought she was cool. I didn’t get that that was their way to keep us away from them. But I will always love that that joke backfired. Sure, they got what they wanted, but we each gained a best friend. She got weirder. I grew more normal. We wrote stupid songs that we sang constantly. Some that I still do. Maybe we didn’t play the way I wanted to, but we wander. We wandered our respective neighborhoods and woods. We spent whole weeks of spring break together, not going anywhere, but the other’s home.

I still pine for someone to take my hand at the sound of a strange noise and make an elaborate tale of what that might be. To wander the woods with me looking for clues, clues to the mystery we haven’t yet discovered. A fleck of paint on the tree is a clue. It’s not a trail marker like you think. It’s a warning. It’s a cry for help. It’s someone that needs saving.

Maybe that’s what it all falls back on. I can’t save people. I’ve tried. I can help. I wanted to “save” the other girls from [redacted]. I wanted to save myself from the shame of being odd. Because deep down, I still wanted to rescue people. From their captors. From the monsters. From themselves. My imagination needs saved. It’s trapped in a loop, and I can’t get it out to roam free. It’s spinning. I feel it spinning, but it’s stuck. I’m stuck.

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