Why I Didn’t Report It

Right now, the nation is humming, yet again, about sexual assault. I don’t think we’re able to catch our breath between publicized stories. Most of alleged and admitted predators are men; very few women have been identified as attackers. While most would say that the fact that men have dominated women for so long is the primary reason for victims to suffer, sometimes for decades, in silence, I tend to think that the same, reverse reason is true for those who have suffered abuse from females. The fact is, a woman could be just as scary and cruel as any man. That there is less of a chance that a woman will offend may be down to physiology and psychological makeup. We have the babies; we are the caregivers. We possess empathy and maternal instincts. This isn’t to say that those traits can be missing, and often are.

The sad truth is, men overwhelmingly dominate the roster of sexual predators and offenders. It is a uniquely male malaise. Why don’t victims of sexual assault come forward? Because women have been conditioned, since the beginning of humankind, to submit to men. It is in our genetic makeup, and it will take many hundreds of years to be genetically wiped out. Think of subservience as the appendix of the human psyche. We don’t need it anymore, but, there it is.

I’ve shared my #metoo story here. It was a protracted period of time for me; a time when I was just becoming a young woman and not entirely aware of the fact that there were some really bad men out there. Like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, I did not report my attacker. Well, I tried to, to the one person who should have taken one look at me and held me in her arms, promising that it would be okay, but perhaps it was the fact that subservience to men had been genetically stamped into her that my mother dismissed my account, unwilling to believe that such a “good” man would have defiled her daughter. I don’t blame her; she realized her error years later, when the horrible truth about the pedophile “ring” in our school district was exposed. She never apologized for not believing me, but I know she felt terrible.

What I never told her was that he wasn’t the first sick fuck man to cross my path. Disturbing things had happened to me not once, but twice before. They were one-time events, but I know now that I was a target for males who had that kind of psychological bent; I had no male figure to protect me in my life, and I was terribly trusting and naive. I was also quite starved for any kind of affection by the time I entered my teen years, and that carries a whole lot of reasons for why I think I reacted in certain ways to things.

When I was 4, a 17 year-old young man – my mother’s best friend’s son, referred to as a “cousin” because they had been like sisters since the single digits of their childhood – exposed himself to me. We were out back, in their garage, and I was looking at my uncle’s Edsel, which was stored there. My memory is not great when it comes to the details. He said some things to me, and then he opened his fly and took out his penis. I remember that he told me that I could touch it, and I remember an instinctive feeling of danger. It looked hideous and foreign to me, and I was both disgusted and afraid. I also knew that I had to play it very cool if I wanted to get out of there. I don’t remember what I said or did to assure him that I wasn’t going to tell, but I do remember trying to casually leave and then breaking into a run when I had gotten safely past him.

I never told anyone until three weeks ago, when I related the memory to the husband, who was immediately horrified and angry. I was terrified of that “cousin” afterward, and he was dismissive of me. I have wondered, as the decades have passed, if he is still alive and if he ever succumbed to whatever urges he had to get a child to touch him. He became a criminal and a drug addict, and my aunt and uncle stopped having contact with him before she died in the late 90s. Now, I wish I had told someone. That’s the guilt I carry: knowing that he probably did hurt another girl, and that I might have been able to stop it had I told. But as I say, I was one of those kids who must stand out to predators, because he may have been the first, but he wasn’t the last. What I relate now has never been told to anyone. Maybe it was because I was ashamed at being a fucking target for men who prey upon the innocent or who think they have a right simply because they are men, but the fact is, I’ve never felt the need to tell a soul this story. That is, until now.

Shortly before the teacher who abused me came along, The Male Sibling Unit received the gift of a large, three-wheeled bicycle from a local Veterans group. It had been built specially for him and paid for by them. It was well-known that he loved riding a tricycle and our mother could not afford to buy him a larger one. The man who built it was a member of the group, and he made a lot of trips to our apartment to take measurements, and we would occasionally stop at his shop to witness the progress. He was always very funny, and he and I would spar with jokes and sarcastic comments. I was 13, a wise-ass, and thought I was being very grown-up, talking with adults like that. I had no idea that he was thinking something else.

After the bike had been delivered, he would come by to check on it. One day, he was driving a classic car he had restored. It was really beautiful, and we all remarked about it. He “jokingly” asked me if I wanted to “go on a date” – a trip around the block in it. My mother told me to go ahead, and I jumped right in. By the time we had turned the corner, his hand was fumbling at my chest until he managed to cup my breast, and he was trying to pull me closer, because “That’s what you do on dates, and you wanted a date, so you’re gonna get one”. I squirmed, pushing him away, while he cackled. By the time we arrived back in front of the apartment building, I was as far away from him as I could get, up against the door. He nervously cracked jokes and laughed, telling me he was only playing. I jumped out of the car and walked right into the apartment and straight to my room. My mother didn’t notice my flushed face, crimson with humiliation, and he made a joke about “making me mad”. I shook for an hour afterward, wondering what it was that I must have done to encourage that. I felt, instinctively, that I was the one at fault.

Well, BULL FUCKING SHIT.

I know better now; I have known better for a long time. This story has never been told, not to the husband, or to trusted friends, or to a therapist. Nope, I didn’t report it. I buried it, like I did a lot of memories. But it happened, and while I cannot provide specific details – what color the car was, what I was wearing, or even the weather that day – the important shit, the shit that counts, is engraved indelibly in my memory. I no longer believe that I had somehow brought it on, or asked for it. A middle-aged man copped a feel of my 13 year-old breast, and I am certain he would have done more, had I acquiesced. That was on him, not me. The fact that it has been 38 years since it happened may blur the details, but not the act. 38 years may dull the humiliation and the fear, but not the fact of the act.

Dr. Ford is not lying because of some axe to grind or political bent; I know this as instinctively as I know that I love my children. My gut, the gut of a girl who was preyed upon three times, tells me that she’s telling the truth not to ruin a man’s life because she doesn’t agree with his point-of-view on political matters, but because he committed a careless, drunken, terrible act against her and he has never once atoned for it. He refuses to be truthful, or to submit to an investigation, and he believes that he is entitled to blanket belief because he says so and because of who he is. The fact that he believes he is entitled to blind trust makes him a danger to this country if he is confirmed into a job with no term limits. Her memories of specificities may have blurred, but the the act has not. It never does. All those circling the wagons to defend Brett Kavanaugh need to take an honest look at themselves and what they are defending. Every day, bit by bit, we are losing our humanity even as we continue to try and evolve into a better species. The ways of the past, of turning a blind eye to the sins of the fathers, must cease.

Dr. Ford is a goddamn hero.

Sunflowers and Sunsets

I wasn’t sure if I was going to write this. I’ve been on the fence, sitting, like a lump of bird shit deposited by a careless pigeon, unable to budge. We’ve had a humid, hazy week with the remnants of Tropical Storm Florence soaking the ground at the beginning of the week and intermittent cloudbursts startling the haze and steaming the pavement in the days that have followed. The rains haven’t washed away my shitty mood; in truth, they only compound it. I love rain, but right now, the weather doesn’t matter. I will return to enjoying Indian Summer and all the things I love about Autumn after I get through the next few days. The sixth “anniversary” of my mother’s death is upon me, and it is the first time that the date actually falls on the day of the week that she died.

I was looking through some memories on Facebook last week and came across one, six years ago, when I was complaining about being sick with some kind of cold or sinus thing. It opened the door to remembering those days before she died and my dumb ass walked right through it. I spent a lot of time, back then, feeling guilty about having been sick and wondering if my germs had somehow made it down to her apartment and caused the sudden onset of pneumonia that hastened her passing. I had stayed away, but my daughter was down there every day and though she didn’t catch my cold, I still felt responsible. Mom had been really doing well; her health was better than it had been for a long time. I beat myself up about it afterward, and only came to realize that a lot of chronically ill people rally before they pass. That’s why, when they die, we are dumbfounded, and we say, “But he/she was doing so well.” I did this, in my grief, after she died.

When I saw that memory, I counted the days, and arrived at Monday, September 24. My heart sank. The same day. It has been there in my thoughts, like a persistent canker sore that you should leave alone but instead, you rub with your tongue, conjuring up the pain that stings. Every day this week, I have compulsively looked at my Facebook memories, reliving the past. It’s quite uncharacteristic for me, a person who has learned to eschew the past and who rarely, if ever, goes to that tab and clicks on it. The past proves too often painful, and I have worked very hard on myself to disconnect from painful memories. Thanks and fuck you very much, Zuckerberg, for providing so many ways for people to self-flagellate. It is not bad enough that our minds travel back in time, but now we have documented proof, right there for the perusal. I don’t have the self-discipline to stay away, because when I descend into the tar pit of sadness, I try to stay tethered to reality, and Facebook is such an omnipresent force of habit and reality check every day. It helps to bring forth a smile even in a world filled with anger and hurt and the ominous foreshadowing of humankind gone mad; in being all things to all people, it also goes too far. And so, I dwell on those days preceding Monday, September 24th, 2012, and again wish that I could somehow change them.

I miss her. I miss my mother. I miss all the good things, even though they were rare. I miss the comforting presence of a maternal figure, knowing she was there even if I didn’t think I needed her to be. There’s no sense wishing she had been more of what I wanted; I got what I got and it was what it was. Maybe we never completely lose that sense of urgency we had when we were little and something frightened us, and we sought out our mother’s presence and protection. Maybe just the idea of running to hide behind her legs, holding tightly to her when it got scary, is all we need when we grow up. It’s a comfort, a feeling that washes the fear away, even if we don’t actually seek it out. And when we lose that ability, it is devastating.

For a long time, I was like an astronaut in a sci-fi film who had floated out into space, away from the safety of an aircraft. My oxygen was going to run out and there I was, flailing about, resigned to certain death but screaming internally that it wasn’t time, that somehow, something had to save me. I suppose that, if something like this ever were to happen to an astronaut, thoughts would go to the comforting presence of a mother, and maybe it would help to calm the fear. It’s very hard to try and conjure up that feeling now; it is like a faint whiff of wood smoke carried along in the air on a misty, cool, Autumn morning. It is momentarily there, assauging the senses, and then Poof. It is gone.

I miss her, and I am still so angry at her for a lot of things. I am angry that she never told me stuff; how she met my dad, what made her love him; things like that. I am angry at her for making me choose to end her life by never wanting to discuss advance directives; even though she seemed to give me a sign, at the very end, that it was what she wanted, I will never get over the desolateness of having to say, “Please turn off the machines.”

I am angry at her for dying on September 24th because it is right at the beginning of Autumn and it was my most favorite time of year; usually the bearer of a sense of renewal and quiet contentment. It was a time not filled with depression, when I would be the equivalent of whatever serves as happiness for me and my fucked-up mental state. She died and she ruined it. Now, by the time I emerge from the sadness and renewed rawness of grief, it’s careening, out of control, into the dark chill of winter. I used to have those months to be topside. Now, they are interrupted and I get pushed back down below, into the dank belly of the ship, where the air is not perfumed with burning leaves and baking bread and the spiciness of cinnamon. It isn’t fair, and I hate her for it, until I remember that maybe she wouldn’t have gotten sick if I hadn’t gotten sick and then it’s just another pointless clusterfuck of guilt-ridden bullshit in my head.

Yeah, I said I hate her. It’s true; I do. It’s completely reasonable, given our relationship. I will never get over the fact that I was a bargaining chip in a game she was playing to win my dad. I think of my children and I am filled with sadness for her, that she never experienced the total immersion in love for one’s children, that sense of wonder and gratefulness at being chosen to love such remarkable creatures. I don’t think she ever experienced that, at least with me, and part of me still rails at the fact that I deserved to be cherished, goddammit. Yeah, I said it. I hate her.

And yet, the love I feel overshadows that hatred. I choose to dwell on the love now, because it sees me through. Maybe her love for me wasn’t the most, the best, or her best, but it was still real. It was still worth claiming. It taught me to lavish my love on my own kids, so they would never feel like I did; just outside the circle, never being asked within its boundaries. I never lose sight of how I was a much better mother because she was not all I should have had.

I’m going to try, very hard, not to go to those memories on Facebook this weekend, because they’re still very present in my consciousness, and reading them will not stop the flow of sadness. I’m going to try, very hard, to figure out a way to honor her, and to remember her at her best; not at the end, when her hand was slack and cold.

When I was about 3, we went to my great-aunt’s farm in the country for a day visit. The farmhouse was boring to a little girl, so I asked if I could go out in the yard. Imagine being 3 and being allowed to go outside without an adult, if you will. That was the beauty and freedom of being 3 in 1970. My mom and grandma were able to see me from their vantage point through a window, and so out I went. My Uncle Walt was outside somewhere, tending to the animals and the crops, and I drifted out toward the field of sunflowers he had growing. They were like giant, golden happy faces towering over me, and I began to sing to them. I sang, all shyness disappearing, to those beautiful flowers, and it wasn’t long before my mom, grandma, and Aunt Leatha came out to see where I had gotten to. I remember turning to look at them, still singing at the top of my lungs, and my grandma ran to grab the camera she had brought and snapped my picture. I don’t know what happened to that photo, but in it, I was smiling, singing “You Are My Sunshine” right into the lense, as the sunflowers danced behind me. I have been returning to the smile on my mother’s face that day; in those moments, she loved me as much as it was possible for her and the warmth of her smile washed over me like the golden glow of those glorious sunflowers. I will return to that memory a lot over the next few days.

If there is a sunset visible on Monday, the 24th, I will gaze upon it like I did in 2012, when my daughter looked out the window of the hospital room and said, “Look at the sunset, Mama. It’s so beautiful. Grammy is at peace.” We stood, quietly, marveling at the vivid pinks and reds and golds that glowed and reflected in the waters of Lake Erie. A sailboat drifted by in the distance. It was a fitting departure, a brilliant burst of sun as it descended below the horizon. It was my mother, saying goodbye, the glow of love shining out from her face, in her smile.

Sunsets and sunflowers are my mother’s love.

Sofa-king excited, or ode to couches I have known

Tomorrow, our new couch is being gt delivered. On a scale of 1 to 10 gauging my excitement, this is an 11. It’s a gorgeous, roomy, heavily-upholstered cream color with badass rivets decorating the edges. I am not usually a fan of lighter-colored furniture; I have always admired the effect but then I’d shake my head, thinking, “Kids.” Kids have factored into most decisions I have made about everything since I was 20 years old.

Not the exact couch, but similar, and oooooh I can’t wait to Netflix and chill.

“This carpet is pretty, but will it clean easily?”

“These plates are awesome; too bad they’re glass.”

“I really love this white, cable-knit sweater, but it’ll just get stained. Does it come in brown?”

“I know these tampons SAY super-absorbent, but are they, really? I don’t have time to run into the bathroom once an hour.”

“Nice car, but we’d need two just to transport everyone.”

For decades, our furniture has always been dark, or darkly patterned, and always Scotch Guarded to an almost toxic level. When my children were small, we were given sets of furniture that older family members gifted us because they were A) old and B) they didn’t have kids so they could afford new furniture every 3 years or so. It was the perfect trade-off for them: Uncle Joe wanted a new truck, so the deal was that Aunt Edna got new furniture. Then, they would gift barely-used furniture sets to their poor relatives, who didn’t care that there were scenes of country water mills or patterns of cabbage roses on them; they were in almost-new condition and they were free. Also, there were no puke stains that you couldn’t see but knew were there or chocolate stains or koolaid stains that had sunk into the foam, rendering it a sickly pink.

Let’s not forget the sets of furniture that were so popular in the late 80s and early 90s: heavy, wooden frames with removable cushions. Those bastards were heavy and dangerous if you had kids, because someone was always smacking their head against one of those arm rests that no one could possibly rest against, because they were shellacked instruments of torture. NO ONE was comfortable on these sadistic pieces of furniture, but every young couple had at least one set because they had older relatives who gave them away when Aunt Edna decided she needed to redecorate with a softer, less lethal, pastel theme.

Everyone of a certain age owned this set. Admit it.

One exception I made was the time I caved to impulse and bought red furniture. It was so pretty, so modern, and our living room looked like something out of a magazine.

For about a day.

With a 4 year-old in the house, I should have looked longingly at this set in the store and then moved on to the brown, tweed, stain-proofed set that I am positive everyone’s grandparents probably still own to this day. That red furniture was a massive error that ended up being replaced within two years. By brown, leather furniture. When THAT set needed to be replaced, we settled on brown tweed, because there was now a 7 year-old and a toddler.

It’s been about 5 years since I bought any new furniture. We have an old, brown, microsuede couch bought at the height of spill ages when our grandsons still resided with us, and a monstrous, dark red, leather couch that was purchased secondhand and which needed to be carried in by three grown men because it weighs more than a full-grown hippopotamus. It is a stainproof behemoth, impermeable to almost anything except for a black lab teenager’s paws. Our gregarious, 9 month-old Isla has a habit of doing her zoomies and including this couch in her mad dashes, and she has scored one cushion. I turned it over so no harm, no foul, but I know it’s there and my OCD cannot handle that. This couch is also extremely uncomfortable and slippery.

We’re going to “give” the red couch to the animals, moving it out into the large, empty dining area we have that is empty because we don’t need a dining room table. I am designing a kitchen nook area that will do for our needs just fine, and our meals are so jacked-up and random due to the husband’s work schedule that I’m not going to lie: who needs a table when you’ve got couches? Dinner tastes better with Netflix. Netflix and chill? How about Netflix and eat?

The brown couch will stay a little longer while I decide exactly what model of accent chair I want to go with my new, cream-colored couch. Decisions, decisions! Maybe I’ll get a set of two, or maybe it will be a recliner, or maybe I will get a papasan chair. I bought a new area rug that is still in the shipping box six months ago in anticipation of new furniture, but I just never seemed to find time to get inspired. Plus, Summer was too hot to think about moving furniture around. I much preferred laying on my old couch, prone, like an exhausted, overwrought dishrag.

The point is, there will still be Scotch Guard

and plush throws, and I will still have to vacuum the crap out of the new furniture and brush the cat hair off, and those corner guards for the backs will be attached in case someone gets the idea that they need to sharpen claws and I will be yelling and shooing them until they get a clue, but it will be, at last, something I could choose without a care in the world because the nest is empty. Now, my kids are making their furniture purchases based on color, durability, and “will this hide the koolaid stain?”

The nest is empty.

I can finally say that without tears in my eyes.

It’s Labor Day, or “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies”

I thought I’d take advantage of the Labor Day holiday to write a blog.

Wait.

I’m currently unemployed. Does it count for me? Am I permitted to take advantage of all of the “perks” of a federal holiday? The sales (that I can’t afford because I’m unemployed), the barbecues, the bingeing of Netflix (or “every day”, as I refer to it), the carefree imbibing of beer for three days instead of two? Or do I need to lock myself away, hidden from sight in my shame, from the employed who got the day off? Am I allowed to say, “Happy Labor Day!” to those I meet even though I, myself, do not get the day off from having, well, every day off?

See, there I go. I’ve done it now. I feel like such a fraud!

Except that I don’t, really. I do work full-time, at a great number of things. Anxiety is a full-time job, as is depression. Second-guessing every, fucking choice I’ve made throughout my life takes up at least the equivilent of a part-time job cleaning a bar after hours. It’s a good analogy to make, because both involve being awake after 2am, when everyone else has fallen into bed and they’re snoring away. Both involve regarding messes others have made that I must clean up, a few of my own due to clumsiness, and wide-awake moments of dismay: “Why am I where I am?”

Running a home in which The Male Sibling Unit lives is also a full-time job. Actually, anything involving The Male Sibling Unit is, indeed, a full-time job, whether it be as his caregiver, friend, or family. You know him? You’re working. This is a job you commit to 100% or else. It’s never effortless, but it is also not without great reward even when he’s doing his best to piss you off. Your take home pay is laughter and more than a few “WTF” moments, and the great thing about this job is that you get paid on demand, every day. It doesn’t pay the bills, but it does enrich your heart (when it’s not raising your blood pressure). It’s a gig well worth taking.

Anyway, it’s Labor Day, and I hope you’re enjoying it. This is one of the holidays that we share with Canada, even though Canadians seem to be much happier than us and as such, don’t necessarily need the first Monday of September off to become happier somehow. I’m sure they have annoying coworkers and I am positive that they have a rich history involving how Labor (or Labour) Day came to be, and I’ll bet it has nothing to do with having babies. Yeah, I used to think Labor Day was a day in which all babies were born. Granted, I was like, 4, but it seemed to make sense before I grasped that we all had unique birth dates. I can still remember sitting on the couch with a box of Cracker Jacks, watching the TV as some old dude shouted “Timpani!” and thinking the big total on the screen signified how many babies had been born so far.

Of course, the old dude was Ed McMahon and the total on the screen was actually money, because we were watching the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It was a yearly custom in our house to watch it and, indeed, in many. My mom would switch it on at the start on Sunday night and, I shit you not, that TV would stay on throughout the night. It was as if, by turning it off, people would quit pledging and Jerry might fall asleep and wouldn’t raise more money than the year before. Mind you, we slept, but the TV (and I assumed Jerry) did not.

It was exciting to see celebrities on there, performing their hearts out, and then it would get boring and I would drift off to find something else to do. I especially hated when they would switch to the local station affiliates and their own versions of the telethon because who the fuck wanted to see news anchors we saw every day? Every year we’d do the nail bite and wonder, “Is Jerry gonna raise more money than last year?” and every year, my mom and grandma would shed tears of joy “for the kids” and I would jump up and down, clapping, exclaiming “HE DID IT!!!” because Jerry always surpassed the previous year’s totals. Always. You could bet on it and win.

After that, it was “make the final decision about what you’re wearing tomorrow and lay it out” because the first day of the school year was ALWAYS the next day. You can’t bet on that anymore because the school year now begins at least a week or two before. I don’t agree with that, really, because there are some traditions that just ought to be left alone. I know the Labor Day Telethon is no longer held, because Mr. Lewis, that saint of saints, is dead, and Ed McMahon has not been around to announce, “Timpani!” for ages. That rite of passage, though – knowing that, every year, summer was officially over after Labor Day and you’d better put your white shoes away – was a comforting regularity in an otherwise chaotic world. We could probably use that mainstay again.

Now, everyone wears their white shoes year-round and summer isn’t over until Climate Change decides it is. There are grandmas rolling over in their graves because of the white shoe thing, but as for the whole “seasons changing” thing, you’ve got to get your enjoyment out of each as quickly and however you can.

Like everything in life now, weather is extreme, and you can’t count on the leaves to begin to fall midway through October (they’ve actually been gathering on the ground for weeks now, despite the heat) and the snow to fly just before Thanksgiving. Regions that always got White Christmases can’t count on it. Spring doesn’t always “spring” when it should; I am pretty sure we went straight from winter to summer this year. One thing that is certain, though, is that it’s hotter longer, and that change doesn’t appear to be changing. The climate is changing in our region and in others; Montreal (sorry, you happy Canadians, for this decidedly unhappy discovery of the vile little tenticles of stench) now has stinkbugs. The heat is rising in politics, in human rights, and in general, every aspect of life; it is also rising on our maps, too.

So, on this Labor Day, crack a cold one and hold it against your forehead. You’ve earned it. Cook on the grill and enjoy your pools, your Netflix binges, and each other. Tomorrow, you can put on some white shoes and head off to work, where the heat is on and life will continue pretty much as it has been.

If you’re paying attention, though, you will be able to see that the light is a little different outside, and the air, while still pungently heavy with humidity, is different, too. Sightings of Basic Bitches will increase, with their pumpkin spice lattes and Autumnal colors and insistence upon wearing scarves and Uggs even though it’s still 90 fucking degrees out. I’ll be over in the corner, doing my full-time, unpaid gigs and my part-time, wish-I-could-quit gig. I’ll be the one in flip flops, cutoffs, and an old T-shirt, shucking corn because, when I asked The Male Sibling Unit if he’d like to shuck the corn for dinner, he shrugged and said, Idon’tthinkso” all in one word like he does when he is simply not having it. He’s retired, you know, but Labor Day is still a holiday and he has no intention of fighting with an ear of corn. I’ll raise my cup of black coffee to you in acknowledgement, because while I like pumpkin spice and Autumn is my jam, I am not basic. I am extra, and then some.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there be corn to shuck.