Friday, May 10, 2013

Run, Daddy, Run.

Sometimes we cry for help and the people we need the most don't hear us. Maybe the people we need don’t have the capacity to help us... not then... or maybe they don’t want to.  It takes a strong person to take on someone else's sorrow, or fear, or devils.  Some people, like my dad, never cry for help when he needs it... I’m not sure if I know which is worse: asking for help and having someone turn their back on you, or never asking at all... never thinking you could ask for help.

Daddy can you hear the devil drawing near
Like a bullet from a gun, run daddy run. 
All the songs you used to sing to me
Would rock birds to sleep
I need you now so please somehow
Put rockets on your feet
Saw that dark cloud coming...
No…  I think I do know.  I think the worst feeling is understanding someone needs help, and not knowing how to help them.  It is knowing they can’t cry for help, but also knowing you aren't strong enough to rescue them, despite their silence.  And the silent ones... they are the people who always –-always—answer every cry for help. They are the metaphorical rock for everyone else to hold onto when it feels like we are being swept away with the churning, sucking tide that life can be.  How do these strong people stand their ground?  How do they hold the waters back and not lose their footing, when so many are grasping desperately onto them?

Daddy can you hear the devil drawing near
Like a bullet from a gun, run daddy run.

M I don’t want to be the one who pushes my daddy’s head under the water.  We have been like the WWII soldiers my grandfather described from his years in the US Artillery, leaning against each other, back to back, so we could stay standing while trying to sleep for a few moments, instead of collapsing into the blood and mire.  Can’t lie down.  Have to keep one eye open.

Saw that dark cloud coming from a million miles away.

Oh how I’ve dreaded this god forsaken day.

Like soldiers he trusted me to have his back... literally. But instead I shifted my weight, in my own sadness and weakness, and I let him slip.  And there are not many people who can possibly understand the cataclysm of my father’s fall.  But no one can dare to say it's not my fault, or, “Take care of yourself, you can’t take care of everyone else.  Your father is an adult.  He’ll be fine.”

Daddy can you hear the devil drawing near
Like a bullet from a gun, run daddy run.

...From a million miles away...
But I’m in a situation that feels so overwhelming, I’m mentally ignoring it almost completely.  I can converse about it with people, but I am speaking of it as if it has nothing to do with me, and I have no feelings about it.  I’m numb. I’m replacing the horror of this single circumstance with a multitude of other calamities that mean nothing.  Piled on top of each other, these "problems" would still dangle high on one side of the scale, as if they weigh nothing at all; just a feather to be matched against Sisyphus’ boulder...  To acknowledge the other side of the scale fully would be too frightening...  And that’s not just because it might crush me, I’m terrified it will bury my father.

Mama’s been crying in the kitchen
Sister’s been afraid of the dark.
I’ve been gathering the pieces of all these shattered hearts.
And I don’t care where you go to
And I don’t care where you land
But just get out of there daddy as fast as you can.
Dear Daddy,
     Holy cow.  Trying to sort through all my files and email messages, knowing they will be deleted if/when I leave, is like cleaning out the house a family has lived in for 50 years.  There is so much stuff!  And I can't help but want to stop and hold onto some of them for a while, look them over...  memories.  The best ones are from my students!  Sigh...
    This might be one of the most difficult things I have ever done.  (Not the clearing the files and email part).  And I realized that this difficult thing for me, is probably 1/8 as difficult, as your most difficult things you have had to do.  Blah.  This is awful.
In the back of my mind I am hoping [he] writes to tell me that he insists I stay, because they would not ever want to lose such a dedicated and caring and capable teacher from their district.  I'm also not holding my breath.
Love,  Joanna
Dear Joanna,
I feel terrible about all this, believe me.  Anything I have had to deal with--the death of my mother or my father, or losing our family home, or the loss of Jimmy--was hard for me.  But this is your pain and tragedy and there is no way to measure that against the pain and loss in my life.  This must be a nightmare for you.  And I wish I could save you from this.  Let me know if, in fact, there is anything I can do.  I will try to visit tomorrow so we can talk more extensively about things--but I am thinking of you and this terrible moment in your life and I wish I could take the pain and sadness that burden you and simply load it onto the layers of darkness that I have grown accustomed to since I was a boy.
   Hang in there.  We all love you.
Love, Dad
He’s not fine at all.  I let him fall, when I was on watch. I crumpled, and he couldn't keep standing.But my daddy won’t ask for help.  Never.

Daddy can you hear the devil drawing near
Like a bullet from a gun, run daddy run.
Run Daddy run, run daddy run, run daddy run.
“Run Daddy Run” by Miranda Lambert (feat. Pistol Annies)™

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Fuck that noise.

I don't like talking about rape.  I don't think anyone does.  And I think that feeling--that uncomfortable shifting of our feet, which we are suddenly looking down at-- prevents many of us from talking about it at all.

Yet it's in my head, every year on this day and this month. I hate that I even remember the date. I don't like February very much.

This past fall, during a meeting with the principal of my high school, he lost his temper for various reasons, and at one point made blasphemous statements about me that he had heard from sources he could not reveal.  The biggest crime I purportedly committed?  He said I told students I was raped when I was in high school, and it "was never appropriate to talk to students about that."  He said, "It is never okay to talk about your personal life, and you will be disciplined if it happens again."  (He did, however, publicly commend a gay teacher for speaking to a class about her experiences as a homosexual, and slapped five with her, telling her how proud he was of her bravery).

Now, I wasn't allowed to defend myself during this meeting, as advised by my Union Rep. We watched my boss's face get redder and redder, and his shoulders tighten up and quake in anger, because I simply responded to everything with, "That's not an accurate statement.  Could you repeat that, I would like to write it down."  And it was a strange feeling to be demeaned by a man who was obviously exerting his power over me, and just sit there and take it...  A familiar feeling.

But, if I could have spoken up, and said what I wanted to say, (which I really felt passionate about doing), I would have said, "Fuck that noise. I'm not ashamed I was raped, I didn't do anything wrong."...  That's a lie.  I would never have said that... because I am ashamed.  And that's why I would never tell my students about it either.

At the time, what I wanted to tell him was this: "I did not tell students that I was raped.  Sexual assault did come up my Sophomore English class through discussion of JD Salinger's character, Stradlater, whom students identified as 'cooler' than Holden Caulfield, and would have been a better narrator.  As their teacher, I guided the 24 students to reread a description of Stradlater's behavior towards girls, which disgusted Holden, and the children slowly looked up and one said, "Oh, not cool," See, in that passage it is obvious that Stradlater has sexually assaulted girls in the back of Ed Banky's car.  Holden describes the girls saying, "No, please, no," and then things becoming quiet.

The class was very upset with Stradlater, and not one student came forward with another explanation or an excuse for what we had just read.  "Not cool," summed up their collective opinion. Always prepared for the unexpected, (certainly not expecting the students to really analyze Stradlater at all, because I really hadn't, and I have read the book over 8 times), I had this article printed and copied for the students to read.  As a class we read article: "No Jail Time for Flagstaff Cop in Bar Groping."

Students handled this with great sensitivity and maturity.  The boy reading it, kept stopping to look up and say, "Are you kidding me?!"  They were a bit horrified that they had thought Stradlater was cool, and disgusted by the article.  I told them I had missed it too, but if you read something closely, you see the motivation of the characters.  Holden was really angry, and picked a fight with Stradlater.  Holden seemed to have lost it.  Holden seemed like a jerk.  But Stradlater has just taken out Holden's old childhood friend, a girl he thought he loved, and his behavior started to make sense.  

One student brought up that she thought that stuff only happened 'now' not back in the 'old days.'  She said how it happened all the time in our school.  We  talked about the prevalence and acceptance of this type of behavior in society, in relation to the informational text and the literature from the 1950's to 2012...  I told the students that I experienced something similar to what happened in the book, so I knew it was something that happened often, and it was very damaging to young girls and to boys as well.  Students obviously wanted to ask questions, and should have been able to, but I changed the subject, because I know how our school works.  Our school brings in employees from "New Beginnings" to talk to our students about these controversial topics... Certainly a student can't know that their teacher was raped when she was 17.  Talking to their teacher couldn't possibly help them or teach them something very deep and meaningful!  Shame on me for even being raped.  Shame on me.

But Today I read this article, written by Tucker Reed, about her own rape experience:  

And I did want to say, "Fuck that noise," as I read all the responses to the article.

And here's my story:  I was date-raped (adding date before rape is still instinctual for me. It seems to make other people feel better about it... like it was less horrible), when I was 17. I was also a virgin. I had spent my high school years dating a few boys who were thoughtful and kind. I thought I would marry my high school sweetheart. Yet, as things go, we didn't stay together when he went off to college, and during my senior year I was a little lost. My sweetheart was my best friend for 2 years, and he was such a good person. We were so much alike; very innocent and naive to the ways of the real world.

So, I was lost and somehow ended up being pursued by a boy in my class who had genuinely and utterly disgusted me during my entire high school career up to that point. He was popular, and loud, and athletic, and misogynistic. For example, when I was a freshman he asked the math teacher if he could sit across the aisle from me so he could, "look at [my] legs," which she obliged (an entirely different issue). I was mortified.

Before high school, I was not used to male attention. I was kind of gawky and goofy looking in middle school, and when I grew into my body and face, I was suddenly seen as beautiful. We moved during my freshman year, so these high school boys only knew this beautiful Jo. I wasn't used to attention, but I knew that guys announcing they wanted to stare at my legs during math class was not appropriate attention. I think most girls hit difficult times throughout their teen years, and mine came senior year. I think we can be pounded with sexual harassment at that age, and we don't understand it, and learn we are supposed to be flattered by "compliments" and male attention. But looking back, I think being told, "You have a hot ass," as I walked down the school hallways started to eat away at me. Instead of boosting my confidence, it made me feel small and self-conscious. I never said anything. Part of me felt like it was a compliment. God, female thinking can become so warped by society and media over the years, and girls learn to want to, and need to, be seen as "sexy and attractive." But men showing us they think we're sexy in an overtly lewd and disrespectful manner, doesn't feel good.  Deep down it damages us.

And there I was, a senior in high school, and I was being pursued by one of the most obnoxious admirers of my "hot ass." And within weeks we were dating and my entire mind was manipulated into thinking he was right about everything. He would tell me to defy my parents, because they were just trying to control me, and I would do it. I lost myself, or gave it up, to his powerful influence. And I was just a piece of hot ass.  I didn't feel anything much deeper than that for a long time.

Yet, one part of me was still alive.  My conviction of "waiting until I was married," was still strong. I had dated other guys in school, and they always respected me for respecting myself. I wasn't a prude, but I would not do something that I did not believe was right, and particularly not right for me. I wasn't ready. I knew it.

This guy, well, we fooled around, but he didn't ever pressure me to have sex. I was crystal clear about my feelings about sex, actually. No matter what hold he had on my mind, I would not bend my morals in that regard.

One night he parked the car and wanted to get in the backseat. I did, and similar to Reed's experience we were mostly undressed, kissing and stuff. This wasn't new. But this time, he got on top of me and forced my legs open. I remember panic setting in, (knowing what was happening, but also knowing THAT COULD NEVER HAPPEN TO ME), and I asked him to get off of me. I realized later that somehow, over the course of the time in the backseat, he had taken out a condom and put it on quickly when he was on top of me. I remember him fondling me, and me trying to push it away from me, and his pushing himself into me. I said stop and you're hurting me, and I was crying. I still look back and wonder why I didn't fight harder. He was very strong, but I just froze up, and couldn't move. I just kept saying/crying, "Please stop. Please stop. You're hurting me. Please stop."

When he was done, which was in about three minutes, I curled up and cried. I was shaking and put on my clothes, and cried. He tried to hug me and said, "Now you're making me feel guilty. I was helping you. I knew if you got the first time over with you would love it." I wanted to go home. He kept saying, "You needed to get it over with, I was helping you." 

Like a robot I moved into the front seat and said, "Take me home. I'm okay."

When I got out of the car, and went into my house, I remember running into the bathroom and just standing there, numbly, watching a trail of blood running down my leg.

The worst part for me was that I didn't do anything. I ran it over and over in my mind, thinking, "Maybe I should have tried to push him off. Maybe I shouldn't have been fooling around in the back of the car with him. Maybe I was asking for it. Maybe he WAS trying to help me." Like Tucker Reed stated, "The nightmare was –– I had continued to see my rapist. He'd told me he was in love with me and wanted to marry me. And the part of me that wanted sex to be a meaningful experience had "repurposed" my rape into an act of love. It's amazing what a person can rationalize." I tried to rationalize what had happened and tie it up with a pretty ribbon. But I stopped eating and started cutting up my arms with scissors. I didn't tell my parents for a week. I just stayed in my room and told them to leave me alone, that I was sick.

In the end, I did tell my parents and they didn't do anything either. I was hysterical about them even considering doing anything. His father was the chief of police in our town, and I didn't want anyone to know. I think I knew that even if I tried to press charges nothing would happen. And I wanted to pretend it didn't happen. The more I had to talk about it at all, the more real it was. I wanted it to go away. I wanted to pretend it didn't happen. Things like that don't happen to someone like me.

When I went back to school I remember him cornering me in an empty stairwell at school one day and saying, "Why are you being such a bitch?" I tried to get around him, and he put his hands on the wall, trapping me.  I looked down and said, "I didn't want to have sex, I asked you to stop." His reply? "You only said it 9 times. If you had said it one more time I was going to stop." He had decided 10 "nos" was the magic number.  He let me go, because I promised him I understood he didn't mean anything by it.  He just wanted to help me.

I am 35 now, and I am still discovering new ways that I am broken because of that experience. Each time my life becomes difficult, and I can feel it seep back into my thoughts -- I can feel that it's coming from that place, that moment, that shame-- it's a fresh blow. It feels like it's happening to me all over again. And I'm still angry at myself for letting him do this to me.  I'm angry only at myself for letting it still bother me.  What's wrong with me, I think?  Why can't I just stop feeling this way?

I know my mind is twisted up and still not thinking right about the situation.  I'm not sure it ever will. I still don't want to call it rape. I have a hard time even typing that... still.  Ah, I feel weak.

And, as you know, I became a high school teacher.  Through literature, I try to encourage sensitivity, and empathy, and respect for other human beings. I don't tolerate sexually charged "compliments" from the boys in the hallway, and I talk to girls about why they shouldn't accept that treatment. They giggle and smile at the boys, but easily admit to me how uncomfortable they feel about boys commenting on their bodies like that. No one talks to these girls about these things. No one talked to me about it when I was 15.

It's a sick culture in high school, and that culture perpetuates on for many men and women who don't get past that teenage level of maturity or self-esteem.  Only teachers, and parents, and women who come forward and do something--who take a stand for all victims--can change it. I'm not that brave. I'm not that strong.

God, someone needs to help girls know they have a right to not be raped. Because I'm not sure I really believed that I did when I was 17...