Monday, March 23, 2015

An open letter to the Rapist who claimed my virginity.

Dear Brian
I typed your name into the Facebook search box tonight on a whim. I had done it before one other time, years ago. I vaguely remember seeing your blurred smiling face in a baseball cap, and the feeling of disgust that suddenly welled up in the pit of my stomach, I had to click away. This time was different though, perhaps I have grown softer over the years since then and now… and I have surely grown softer in the years since you stole my innocence in the house that “Merch” built. This time instead of just your smiling face that made me want to punch the SCREEN until it shattered into a million pieces, there was two small, beautiful, golden haired, smiles in pink dresses on each side of your dimples... And your smile… was so happy… so radiant with joy sitting there between those two tiny angels, that instead of disgust… instead of rage… the only thing that welled up in me was an overwhelming feeling of joy in my throat for you… and in that instant... just like that, forgiveness happened.

Fifteen years ago you wanted to pretend that next morning that nothing had happened, and I went right along with you out of shame. I made believe while working and selling right along side of you for weeks afterward that nothing had happened. To the few I told, I made believe that we had made love. That I had finally been “made love” to. You pretended nothing had happened to everyone, after all, you were my team-leader and dating each other was inappropriate, as you had been telling me after every time we had kissed up until that point. Of course the same was true after we… well, after YOU had sex with me… but then you moved on very quickly from encouraging my puppy-love crush in the moments we stole off alone together, to dating another girl who was part of your sales “team”. I’m sure I could write pages on what that did to my self esteem, but I won’t… I want to focus on the rape itself. Because YES, Brian, what you did was rape, though it took me years to call it by name.
I adored you. You knew it, our friends/coworkers knew it, our manager knew it… everyone who had eyes to see knew it. I hung on your every word… Your stories about growing up without a strong family tore at my heartstrings. Your proclamations about your beautiful home state of Wyoming being the most breathtaking place on earth… “God’s country” you’d sigh… and I believed every word. I believed in you when you said you were going to succeed, you always were a terrific salesman, and I bought your dream. You were going to work hard enough to make your wishes come true, undoubtedly, and when you said that and looked into my eyes with those beautiful brown puppy-dog eyes and kissed me... I was pretty sure (in my naivety) that you wanted me to come along with you in that dream. You see Brian, I was a young nineteen. I had only dated three guys up until that point and none for longer than a few weeks… none had gotten even as far as third base, and when it came to the male psyche, I had no clue whatsoever. I had no idea that, while I was kissing you because I was picturing wedding bells, you as a man could have shared the same deep conversations, the same passionate kiss, and still be picturing only a soft wet hole. Or maybe that isn’t that at all, maybe it’s not the male psyche ( and it’s not, But It took me years of spiraling downward in my relations with men to realize “not all men”). Maybe it was you, not that into me, but immature and unable to tell me straight up, instead of making excuses that left me still believing that our feelings were mutual. Maybe it was you, unsure of your feelings for me, and drowning the pain of your shitty childhood in one too many beers that particular night that relieved you of your self control… I say this, not to make excuses for what you did, or the pain it caused, but to find a place in my mind and my heart where I can make peace with what happened that night.
I wonder Brian, if you even remember my name. I wonder if you remember what you did, or realize the lasting effects that sort of thing can have on a person? I looked at your smiling face on my computer screen last night and I wondered if you ever look at those two beauties on either side of you and hope that they never meet a man who treats them as you treated me. I think, if I was in your shoes instead of my own all these years, that I would probably have pushed away those memories. That I probably would have come up with reasons to justify it… after all I was in your bedroom. I was cuddled up alongside of you. I did receive your kisses willingly. I dry humped you right back happily. And in all honesty, I felt so much admiration and love for you, that I did want to make love to you.  I wanted to… IF we were an actual couple, if you put had put your arm around me in the company of our friends and not just in the dark on our walks around on those city streets, if you had called me your girlfriend instead of your (one person) sales team, if you didn’t smell of beer, and caress me just a little too rough that night… Even though I was afraid of losing my virginity. Even though I was anxious that it might hurt and that a man might think less of me if I slept with him too soon in our relationship… Brian, I adored you. I’m almost sure that I would have happily and willingly given you the prize you claimed, if not that night, surely on another. The regret, the sadness, the self loathing, fear, anger, frustration, self-destructing, mistrust and hatred that your penis inside of me caused wasn’t because it was YOU I gave myself to. I wanted to give myself to you. The problem was that I DIDN’T GIVE it to you. I said “no” Brian. When you started to remove my underwear, I said “no”. When you pressed yourself against me harder, I pushed back with my hands and said “no”. When you pushed painfully into me despite the tension in my unaccustomed and unwilling vagina, I said “NO!”... And then I gave up. It was already done, you were already inside me. So I tried my best to “relax”. I tried to tell myself that since I loved you, this was "making love". I even kissed you back as you jammed your mouth just as hard and rough against my face as your pelvis was grinding into my spasming, pain-wracked hips. After you finished like a porn star, and threw me a dirty towel off the floor for my belly, I think I may have even gently stroked your back as you passed out next to me. I lay there awake most of the night replaying and getting started on rewriting our sex into something other than rape.  In the morning before you woke up, I stole quietly out of the house to go get cigarettes with one of our friends. I was ashamed and I was bruised. Our friend Tiffany was wise-cracking, indestructible, and the life of the party, I idolized the hell out of her. I wanted to cry and tell her everything, but I was embarrassed. She had had lots of sex, and she knew the extent of my crush on you. I had finally gotten to have sex with you, wasn’t that what I wanted? No… No, it wasn’t.
Brian, I could write a novel about the past fifteen years since that night when my innocence died. About all the chain reaction of pain and trauma that came from losing my virginity to rape in the hands of someone I loved and trusted. Maybe I will someday.  Today though, I write with a different purpose…. I see your smiling daughters, Brian. I see the innocence on their faces… They are so young, so eager, so absolutely enamored with their dad. And they should be, they have a wonderful father who I’m sure dotes on his princesses and adores them beyond measure. Over here, I have my sweet, gentle-hearted eight year old son sleeping next to me as the sun rises while I write this letter to you. I see these wonderful children we have each brought into the world, and I know that I must forgive you… and more than that, I must tell you out loud that I forgive you, so that maybe, just maybe, you can forgive yourself.
Perhaps you haven’t spent fifteen years playing that night out in your head from time to time, or maybe you have. Perhaps you don’t remember me or if you do, perhaps you don’t have enough of a conscience to care. Perhaps if you do think of me, you like to pretend to yourself even now that what we did was have consensual sex, I know you pretended that back then the few times we spoke of it.  Perhaps my forgiveness is not needed, and your life was not effected in any way, shape, or form by the event that so strongly shifted my own. Or maybe it did, and is effecting you. Maybe in the back of your mind you still think of yourself as a rapist when you kiss your lovely wife and tuck your smiling daughters into bed. Maybe your life has been just as tough, maybe you have caused yourself just as much (or more?) suffering. I am not a religious woman, but I believe that life is about the exchange and interplay of energies. I believe that in one way or another, you get back what you put into the world. Call it karma, or whatever you’d like, but I can’t believe that the energy that you put out that night into my life hasn’t come back to you in some way… In which case, I want to tell you this Brian: 

I forgive you, and thank you. Truly… I have no frame of reference for what my life would have been if you hadn’t laid on top of me that night, maybe it would have been grand, with less struggles, and more beauty. But I love my life exactly as it is right now. For all it’s ups and downs, I wouldn’t be who I am, where I am, and probably wouldn’t have the beautiful child sleeping next to me if it weren’t for you. I was messed up for a long time, its true. But not now… Now, I am okay… in fact, way better than okay! So, as fucked up as it is: Thank you. Tonight I released you of your debt. I smiled at your Facebook pictures ( the one of you playing guitar for your oldest hit me right in the heart)… I sobbed big heaving sobs for the naive little girl who loved you… and for a simple, sweet, sad boy from God’s country who made a big mistake. May we both raise our daughters and sons to be stronger, wiser, kinder, and with more self control than either of us had. May your children have the steady as a rock, overflowing with love childhood that you were deprived of. May we someday live in a world where rape is seen by both men and women for the horror that it is, so that my son and your daughters will never question that "NO" means "NO. May our children never know the depths of the struggles and despair we have known. I release you from my heart, from my body, and from my debt Brian. Go in peace and may you be blessed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Death Becomes Her...

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately… more than usual, though death has been a pretty consistent visitor to my thoughts my whole life… just as I suspect it is for most of us. Perhaps some of us choose to indulge those thoughts and some of us choose to push them away, but the thought is there regardless. I’ve done both, dwelled on, and denied those thoughts at different times throughout the years. There have been times when life was so vivid, so amazing and fruitful that I couldn’t possibly entertain any thoughts of it all coming to an end some day. There have been times where, emotionally, my situation seemed so desperate that I spent most of my waking hours contemplating wether death might be a nicer alternative to life… And I have involuntarily stared death in the eye, went a few rounds, and came out still on top (for now).

… In 2008 I contracted E. Coli 0:157: H7 from a tainted
batch of Local, Grass-Fed, Organic Raw Milk. The E.coli infection turned into a serious complication called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. My kidneys completely shut down and were it not for a physician’s assistant in a walk-in clinic who was fortunately paying attention…. well, lets just say: I was less than 24 hours from certain death. I spent the next month in intensive care receiving plasmapheresis, a form of dialysis where all blood is removed from your body, the plasma separated out, and then donor plasma and my blood cells were put back in. Most of the month Doctors continually told my family that there was not a very good chance that I would survive. I suffered a heart attack and a Grand Mal Seizure. I required twice as many plasma treatments as those suffering from my illness typically would need to recover. When my kidneys finally regained most of their function, and I was released, I was a bloated, scarred shell of my former self… I could barely walk, and I was taking 15-20 different medications for everything from blood pressure and cholesterol drugs, to steroids and diuretics, to anti-psychotics (for PTSD), anti-depressants, and anti-anxiety pills…

Before my illness I wouldn't even take tylenol because I didn't want to expose my body to potentially toxic laboratory chemicals... I ate all organic and natural. I was in excellent physical shape and rode my bicycle miles every day with my toddler son strapped into his child seat. After my illness, I spent the next two+ years recovering as much as I could of my physical health… I spent a few more years after that recovering my mental and emotional well-being, and I’ve spent mostly every day since then remembering (and trying to forget) what it felt like to be standing on that shaking, quivering bridge between life and death. I remember the day I had the seizure and heart attack, and the panic and helplessness of knowing that my body was (possibly fatally) malfunctioning and that I could do nothing to change that… I remember the anger and frustration... the RAGE that overcame me at times because I did everything "right" for the sake of having a healthy body and it still could not save me from illness and near death. I remember the feeling of spinning and falling into blackness… I remember lights... the colorful halos and energetic impressions of love and compassion from the doctors and nurses doing everything in their power to pull me back from death’s grasp. I remember vividly, though I can’t recall when it happened in earthly terms, that there was a moment when it was my choice. MY CHOICE, wether to let go and find release from my suffering… or hold onto my body despite the pain and suffering that came along with holding on. I remember being saved by being a single mother. I know without a doubt that my 18 month old son, who was waiting at home for his one and only parent to come back, was the ONLYreason that was worth holding on for… That I chose to live rather than embrace death seven years ago, and I have been running from her ever since.

I have thought a lot about death… I’ve also spent a lot of time distracting myself from all of the unknown that death holds… I’ve spent years pushing away the fear that, for several years after my illness, consumed nearly every moment, waking or sleeping. That even now, years later, sometimes sneaks up on me in the dark or stillness and catches me off guard. It's the panic that wraps around your throat.. sits on your chest until you beg, eyes stinging, ears ringing… gasping for your breath... drowning on dry land…. The feeling that the whole room is spinning… the world is whirling so fast that the sky above is an empty hole that I could fall into, lost forever… The helpless realization that not my beloved parents, not my home, my dog, my martial arts training, shotguns, or even the solidity of the earth itself offer even the slightest protection from death. That I am being chased by my doom… and that there is no escape. Not for me, not for you, not for the kindest person I know, or for the richest famous jerk we all envy and despise, and not for the poorest folks I’ve seen sleeping on the streets… it is truly the great equalizer. I don’t know about the rest of you… but I know that this realization has scared the SHIT out of me for over three decades… I’ve alternated between being paralyzed by my fear and living in denial of my mortality since I was old enough to remember… and I am TIRED of this routine. I am tired of choosing safety over freedom out of desperation to prolong the inevitable for as long as possible. I am tired of existing in a state of semi consciousness and finding distraction after distraction to keep me from facing reality and all that goes along with it. 

This February was my Thirty-Fourth birthday… I was incredibly fortunate to be able to spend it in Italy with some of my loved ones. The trip there was supposed to be a relaxing, sightseeing vacation… but for me, it turned into a pilgrimage… Everywhere I looked I saw my mortality. I saw MY death.. our collective death… tombs, and great arenas where thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children had lost their lives violently. Entire cities lost in fire and ash. Churches filled with statues of humans that once walked the same earth as I now walk… beautiful paintings almost all with images of suffering… of the horrors of religious wars….  Buildings built by unknown, nameless masons, still standing thought their names are long since forgotten. Marble busts of important (or self important) wealthy rulers, intelligent thinkers, godly men, and gifted artists… none made anymore immortal by their gold or gifts or by the noseless, soulless stone ghosts they’ve left behind than the ones whose faces and flesh have long since decayed and returned to the earth. All just as dead…. no one was spared.

The climax of my journey came at the crypt of the Capuchin Friars. The crypt is build from thousands of human bones… the ceilings, walls, and doorways built from and decorated with the bones of believers. I stood looking… almost in a state of disbelief at the piles of skulls… of leg bones just like mine… vertebrae of spines that once help up a living conscious human being.

 “What you are, we once were. What we are, you will be” 

said the sign underneath the bone archway… and it finally hit me! Standing there breathing in the dust of lives long since ended… I will NOT live forever. It is so obvious, and yet so earth shattering in that moment that I finally really understood it. I will not live forever.......… and no amount of running… no amount of denial… or fear… or hope… or being good… or being bad. Or distracting myself with glowing screens full of useful information…. is going to change that. All the books I buy… all the yoga mats and Buddha statues… the alter with Jesus and Mary and all my other religious figures… my cabinets full of the healthiest foods money can buy…. my bottles of pills.... my love for my son.... NOTHING. NOTHING is going to stop my life from ending one day or another, just as so many other lives have ended before mine, are ending at this very moment, and will continue to begin and end for long after I have breathed my last. I cannot run. I cannot hide… I cannot make bargains to prolong it… and I have no idea when it will arrive. and despite the various scenarios I can hope and pray for in an “afterlife”, the fact is that I HAVE NO IDEA what happens after we die, and I don’t believe that any of us DO know without a doubt… So it seems that what I am left with, is the need for peace. And if I cannot find peace in any of the human answers about what comes after death, than I must make peace with DEATH itself, with my own soul, and with the life that leads me to that death. 

As I carried that crypt with me through the rest of Italy, I came to a few further realizations. In particular, I was thinking about terminal illnesses… and how I have heard stories about people who find out they have a year to live, and how they spend that year making peace with death… living fully every moment they have left, for in that year they realize the preciousness of every breath. I realized that when I hear those stories I feel a twinge of envy. Yes, ENVY. For those who are in the final days of their lives… I want to know what it is to live with such intent, intensity, gratitude, purpose, as is inspired by a death sentence…. But what folly! I HAVE a death sentence same as they do, same as you. Why can’t I choose to live as if I am dying without a cancer diagnosis?

I have returned from my unintentional pilgrimage a changed woman… I have decided to live this next year as if it is my last, and for all I know it could be! In fact, I am consciously choosing to believe, and behave as if this might indeed be my final year. Perhaps I truly will not live to see thirty five. I have begun the process of facing and letting go of my fears of dying. I have begun treating all those who I love as if these interactions may be among our final ones. I am finding myself quicker to smile. Quicker to admit when I am at fault… to say I am sorry, or “I love you”. I am already noticing I am less inhibited and cautious in socializing with friends, family, and acquaintances alike… If there is no “tomorrow” how can I go wrong in speaking the truth through my eyes? If my intention is to leave this world with slightly more love in it than when I came into it than why do I need to fear being real in expressing my love? 

… I have spent many moments already the past few weeks crying… letting myself feel my fear… my pain at the thought of leaving this beautiful world. Of saying goodbye to those I love the most. I have spent much time sitting by myself or snuggling with my son, and asking myself: If this is my last year on this earth, what do I want to do with it? Who am I when all the non-essential is stripped away, and what is it that is truly important to me? What is it that I want to leave behind when I am gone? I can’t say this has been an easy process… or that I haven’t slipped at times into old habits of momentary denial…or complacency. But I can say that I keep faithfully coming back to this process… breathing through this meditation that is steering my life now in ways I’ve never experienced before. Maybe it is morbid to consciously focus on my own demise… but I have never felt so alive, haven’t felt so conscious in going through my days since I was a child. I have no idea where it is leading me in life, but if nothing else I believe that in facing the end head on, I may go more peacefully to my grave some day, whether sooner or later time will tell. One way or another, I hope that when she arrives on my doorstep, Death will be like an old friend that I know well… And just maybe, instead of grasping and gasping in terror at my last breath, I will find that I am able to greet her lovingly, and graciously make my final exit.