Misadventure

Late October surrounded by people I trusted in a bar I feel safe I was drugged.

On April 7 in the middle of the day at a “friend’s” house I was assaulted.

On April 25 in the middle of the night in a stranger’s house I was raped.

On August 5 in the evening outside of a bar with friends just inside I was assaulted.

I could go back years. I won’t because I know my mom reads this, and I’ve already said enough to break her heart. Enough to break my own.

I say none of this because I want any sort of pity. I don’t need it. I’m stronger than pity. I’m braver than pity.

Right now though, my mind feels like an itchy scab. Life scratches at the itch because it’s unbearable, but all of that healing gets ripped off in the process. The would starts to bleed again. Never as much as the initial cut, but still beads of dark red build. Huge gashes in my mind, all of them at different stages of healing. All itchy.

I started seeing a therapist again. She’s new in my life as my therapist, but not new in my life. She explained to me that my trauma is living in my limbic system right now. That part of my brain thinks it all just happened, thinks it happened moments ago all of the time. This makes my brain live in a constant state of fear, ever-ready for the next attack.

She suggested I not go anywhere that doesn’t feel safe. Nonetheless, on August 5 I ended up in one of the places that doesn’t feel safe. While waiting outside it proved to be just that. The part of me that will always blame myself initially for something that isn’t my fault keeps telling me that it’s like when a dog senses you’re afraid of her. She knows. She bites. People are not dogs. Some of them are, however, monsters.

I’m trying to build safe spaces for my brain to heal. I’m trying to learn where I can go. If I have any hesitation, I can’t go. If there are people I don’t know, right now, I can’t go. It’s not always respected. It’s not always heard. I can’t care about that anymore. I know what’s right for me now, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

It is some times I heard and respected. On August 5 a friend found me immediately after, and while not always quick to read people, saw my pain and never left my side, let me cry on him. A friend let me cry on her the moment I saw her. Two friends arrived shortly after and ran interference. I’m lucky. Some people aren’t supported like I am. I know that. Still, every time it happens it feels completely isolating. It’s meant to.

On August 5 I never wanted it to be able to happen again. I did some things I’m not proud of. It’s hard to believe it won’t ever happen again when it won’t stop happening. That doesn’t mean I should give up. I want to. Right now, I’d like to give up. I’m still here.

You are not alone. Even if you are on your own, you are not alone. It is not your fault.

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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 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 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 Fear of God, Afraid of Church

This is going to be long, and it’s going to be messy, but it’s going to be something I need to say. So stay with me. Or don’t. It’s your choice.

In the highly likely event that you missed me rambling on a podcast a couple of months ago, here is the link again. In this conversation I admit something hesitantly to Adam’s listenership that I’ve told few people in my own life, and now find myself having to be more open about. Which, I suppose, was my intent. In case you hate listening to things or you find my voice grating, which I’d understand, I’ll tell you. With just about the same amount of hesitation. I’ve been sexually assaulted on four separate occasions. It never gets easier to say, because the truth of it doesn’t ever get easier. But I’ve been trying to tell people for a while now, not just for my own sake, but because I think it’s time that we all start being honest about it.

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There’s so much sense of shame around it all. And on the wrong people. Victims should feel no sense of shame. The people who should be ashamed of things like this never really seem to be able to admit they’ve done something grossly wrong. The truth is I’d been doing a pretty good job of repressing everything. A magnificent job. Sure, I’d get really sad or upset for what even felt to me like no reason at all. But the time came where people were beginning to tell me I was happy. I was healthy. I was beginning to believe it myself. Then something happened again, and that’s when it all went south. You never know when PTSD is going to be triggered, and if you don’t know you have PTSD you definitely aren’t expecting your brain to suddenly fall to pieces and start dripping out of your ears and nose and eyes.

Here’s the thing though. A while ago, the second time, the worst of the times, I had been going to a church that I wasn’t fully connecting with. That happens to me a lot. People in congregations do not approach me. People who have been attending service places for a long time do not approach me. I’d been going to service this place for a few years before I finally felt like I had people I was pleased to see on Sunday morning or looked forward to seeing and who looked forward to seeing me. People who seemed genuinely interested in my life, but I still didn’t feel connected.

But I was finally doing all of those things people tell you to do when you aren’t meeting new people at church. I was going to all of the events. Sure, I always went with one or both of my roommates, but I went. And one night someone who seemed to have been trying to talk to me for a while approached me at St. Patrick’s Day party at the church building. My roommate and I had been upstairs in the balcony listening to the band and he approached me to tell me he liked my silly St. Patrick’s Day ensemble. It wasn’t anything exciting. Mid-calf length brown trousers, green and white striped socks, combat boots, and who knows what top I was wearing. Who can ever know? I just remember the bottom half because it was absurd.

Two Sundays later he approached me again and asked if I wanted to get coffee with him. Why not? I admit it. I was excited. I hadn’t been on a date, mmm, much of ever. So that afternoon, while short notice, I met up with him. We, mostly he, talked for four hours. And if I’m honest we didn’t actually drink coffee. And he didn’t want to actually meet in the coffee shop. He wanted to go into the church basement for privacy. It was suspicious, but fine. Mostly he raved in that manipulative boastful insecurity. A sort of insecurity that attempts to manipulate the listener into countering everything the speaker is saying into building him up, buuuut the listener doesn’t need to. Because the speaker some how finds a way to do it at the same time. Not a humblebrag. That’s important. It’s not a humblebrag. It’s boastful insecurity. Confident low self-esteem.

Later that night we went for a walk, but even though we lived down the street from each other, he wanted to make sure we weren’t seen by the other people he lived with. Again, weird, but whatever. Nothing quite like feeling like someone is ashamed of you, but still wants to spend time with you. Honestly, it’s probably a definition of abuse somewhere. Definitely of manipulation and control. Make her feel wanted, but make sure she feels reliant on that feeling enough that she shrugs off that nagging reminder that he’s hiding her.

Part of me kept saying that it was all just for fun anyway. I didn’t want anything, it was just nice to have someone to hang out with for a while.

We hung out a couple of more times, but things kept getting weirder. He kept asking to skype with me, but as you’ll remember, he lived down the street. MAYBE four blocks. I never did. It was too weird.

One night we went for a car ride and things took a terrible turn. Back roads. I won’t get into the squeamy details for you, but it was terrible, which is an understatement.

And I never once felt like I could approach someone in the church about it. He lived with so many guys from the church, and I didn’t feel safe with anyone. And I got the impression, I was not the first person this had happened to. He kept bothering me. He was quite sure he didn’t do anything wrong. I was being dramatic. He was well connected, not just in the church. So, while I was offered a job I would soon fall in love with, I moved to Indianapolis. As soon after things happened as I could. And he called me one night while I was out with friends. I had told him earlier that day to leave me alone and never speak to me again. I had gotten a new job, and I was moving. And he told me he was proud of me. Someone I’d seen a few times and was a total monster, who had not invested in my life in anyway other than total devastation was proud of me. To this day, I find it very uncomfortable when people tell me they’re proud of me.

I moved and he still tried to engage in conversation. Was going to come to Indy and visit. I ignored him, but was unsettled. I tried a few churches in Indianapolis, and the only person who spoke to me at any of them was a 7-year-old girl. And that was just to thank me for letting her have a drink from my water bottle because she was coughing uncontrollably.

In less than a year I moved home. Still struggling to connect with a church community When things were triggered last year I slowly stopped going to church. I had been going with my boyfriend, which felt safe, but he started going somewhere else, and I tried to go with him. But I had a pretty big wiggins every time I went. Then I slowly stopped going at all. Then we broke up. Then I stopped altogether.

Church wasn’t safe. It wasn’t safe without knowing I had people right next to me who would fight for me. That church where I met that terrible man was not safe. Those people weren’t safe. The church that I had been attending for five years fairly consistently wasn’t safe. There weren’t enough people who knew me. It was only my parents and a few people I knew threw high school. The people from high school were so well connected in the church though that I felt disconnected. I would run into people from church, still do, that I had to introduce myself to a dozen Sundays. People who had met my friends once and threw their arms around them in public and looked at me like I was a total stranger. Who never, while treating me like a stranger, asked again who I was in public. That’s not a safe feeling. Being a single woman with no attachments in a church filled with families is uncomfortable. And when people in your church make you feel unsafe and you don’t have enough connections to say something you stop going.

So other than Easter, I haven’t been to church since February. Maybe January. Because it’s not safe. It doesn’t feel safe. A place that is supposed to be safe isn’t safe. I want to start going again, but how do I start all over. I don’t particularly want to search with other people. It has to be something I can do for myself. Brave enough. Strong enough.

Here’s the thing though. Just because I haven’t been to church in a while, doesn’t for a moment mean I’ve given up on God. Quite the contrary. He’s my constant reason for…anything. To stay. To live. To try. He’s important. He’s everything. Attending a service somewhere on a Sunday morning is not salvation. If it is one’s salvation, one has missed the message. I’m not saying that fellowship, that constant interaction and teaching of God’s Word isn’t important. Goodness, it is. I am saying some of us don’t feel safe there. Some of us have been hurt so deeply by the Church that church terrifies us. Don’t assume sleeping late on Sunday mornings means a lack of faith or turning one’s back on Christ. The people who claim his name and then do terrible things and go back to the safety of his community. They are the reason I’m going to have to fight pretty hard to get myself to go back to church. Anywhere.

As a point of interest, that man is married now.

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Carol Rossetti is incredible, and here is some of her work. Here is a link to more of her work. She was in Fort Wayne not that long ago. And here is her website.

Adventure in Speaking Up

A little over a week ago a friend came over to interview me for his podcast. I can’t deny this was an odd experience. I do not find myself interesting enough to be interviewed by anyone for any reason. In the process he asked me some pretty good and hard questions. Questions about things I haven’t told many people. Things that will be available for anyone to hear starting tomorrow. Because maybe it’s time for me to start talking about it, or at least stop hiding it or feeling like everything about me is a lie because I can’t be honest about this one thing. So tomorrow you can hear it. Tomorrow I have to be okay with knowing that people I love are going to know, and people I barely know are going to know. People who have hurt me are going to know.

If tomorrow you find yourself wanting to hear it, know that you can. Know that it scares the shit out of me, but you can hear it. You can hear it here.

And if you are someone who has to respond to it, to shut me down or give false pity or who has genuine questions, that’s okay too. And I’m going to work on being okay with that. Please, be patient with me. Please, be gracious. And might I just recommend doing that with everyone you meet. It’s a hard world.

For a preview.
https://soundcloud.com/guerrilla-bio/episode-035-hayley-johnson-preview

Unrelated, I went to Chicago this weekend.

I went to the Art Institute when it opened and alone, which meant I got to spend about 20 minutes in a room filled with Van Gogh paintings all by myself. No one was there. Which also means I cried openly in a room alone. I was transfixed. I could not look away from his eyes. The man could have painted himself anyway he wanted to, but he chose to convey every single ounce of pain he had in him. I looked into his eyes, and he looked into mine. And centuries apart we had a moment.hayley 5 hayley 6

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But then I couldn’t stop staring at people’s eyes. Seeking out similar pains. No one carried quite the same sincere hurt.hayley 8hayley 7hayley 15

I kept expecting her to move. She was so flawlessly realistic. I couldn’t handle it.hayley 13hayley 14hayley 16

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Oh, and it was my birthday.
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And my friends are perfect. Far better than I deserve.

Adventure in Rape Culture

There was a bit of an uproar when this commercial happened during the Super Bowl. Not among any men, of course, but groups of feminists and groups of brooding mothers were at odds. Even the feminists saw it as something relatively offensive. But if you ask me it actually teaches us a pretty valuable thing about our culture. A sad thing about our culture. (it’s about to get feminismy) That men are free to wear whatever they want, unjudged, unharmed. If a woman dresses as if she wearing nothing, or more often next to nothing, if anything happens to her it’s her own fault. Which isn’t true. Rape happens regardless of what one wears. And I believe in modesty.. More than a lot of people, but a fair amount of that comes from insecurity. That doesn’t mean that if a woman feels comfortable with her body she shouldn’t feel safe wearing whatever she wants.But she can’t. She’ll be judged by some other women and labeled a slut. And men, not all but many, will look at her as an object and not as a person. And if she speaks out against it, she’ll have this conversation. Over. And over. And over.

(I take no credit for this. It was, however, brought to my attention by my friend Kristen Lynne Blossom)

But this is what happens. Women can’t dress how they want because of rape culture. They feel unsafe in a short dress or a low-cut shirt, but you know when else we feel uncomfortable, unsafe? In jeans and a t-shirt. In sweats. Running after 6 outside of suburbia. After 8 in suburbia. It’s scary out there, and staying silent isn’t helping.