As I discussed over on my personal Facebook account, I want to start a discussion and series of posts over here about some difficult issues: sexual assault, Lena Dunham, victims, the age of culpability, and other topics in that vein. I have seen this or similar articles shared so many times by many of my friends over on Facebook and/or Twitter, and I can’t keep quiet about it anymore. I had a piece published in 2014 in Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence, and yes, I am a survivor of child molestation (specifically child on child molestation, not by anyone in my immediate family, but by a cousin). It was something I never talked about for years and years and years. I thought I would take it to the grave with me, but some of my views on it have changed. As I mentioned over on Facebook, I also think one of the major problems in this country is how this is such a deep dark shameful topic and that no one talks about it because it happens to so many, and in so many families. I was at the Vagina Monologues in St. Louis once, and the narrator said, “If you or someone you know has every been a victim of sexual assault, please stand up.” In a massive auditorium, nearly every person was standing so why aren’t we discussing it more? I will get to Lena Dunham in a series of follow up posts, but first I’ll share my piece that was published in the book before I break down my thoughts and processing it over the years, and my thoughts on Lena Dunham’s admission in her book which I loved. Click read more to see the post that was published in the book, and then stay tuned for more posts regarding this topic very soon. Continue reading Survivors
In a cacophony of children chattering and howling monkeys of Primate Canyon, we are frozen in my memory. On that Saturday afternoon trip to the zoo, T. and I were believed to be at our best by his young nephew who trusted that we would navigate through the African Veldt and Cat Country to find the renowned “Rainbow Ice Cream.” T. and I obliged because the sun was shining, we felt complacent in the face of our own youth, and T. had a stubborn aspiration of being the “best uncle ever.” Our unfortunate discovery, upon passing ice cream after ice cream stand, was that only one that served this particular species of dairy confection was located at the opposite corner of the zoo. We passed for the second time the hippos, one gray giant still napping. We stood in front of giant maps which announced “You are here” with a red X, though T. and I remained incredulous as to the truth about that declaration, a dogged refutation of our subconscious suspicions that we may have merely been poor navigators. We passed the photographers, a mutely color outfitted cluster of men and women, each squinting one eye, an army of cyclops staring into the distance waiting for that perfect shot. Finally, we chanced to come upon the mecca of ice cream stands, serving soft serve with ribbons of flavoring that colored children’s mouths and tongues for the rest of the afternoon. T. sat on the bench in the sun, chattering on his cell phone like a dashing important Jack Kennedy, while the little one and I braved the line. The soccer moms smiled at us when little bit passed up his soft well worn Indiana Jones hat for me, insisting, “You be Indiana now!” Perhaps they were remembering some bohemian moment in youth, as their eyes all lingered on the scene: T. talking on the phone, wiping little bit’s blue mouth, while I in a dusty brown hat and my escaping stray brown hairs blowing in the wind, the sun in my eyes, maneuvered under his arms to give him a lick off my cheesecake cone. We looked like happy.
They were beds suited for low aspirations.
no hope for any kind of height,
a possible success.
Just two beat up mattresses thrown on the floor.
But at the right time,
with the window open at my side,
and the raindrops hitting my bare back,
it was perfect.
The streetlights outside cutting across the room.
Hours of bedtalk.
and then lazily rejoining the conversation.
At the right time, it could feel like jazz.
I sit outside in the evenings with an orange blossom in hand, always heavy on the gin, and the little girls in the neighborhood appear on their brightly colored bikes. I hear their squeals coming down the block first, and then, there they are. “Hi, Miss Lady,” they sing song, and I look around for someone older than I, wondering when I became a “Miss Lady.”The blonde assembly before me are always flattering, and they come with a plethora of compliments. “I hope when I grow up, I’m as pretty as you,” one blue eyed girl says, popping her gum so the scent of watermelon punctuates her sentences. I feel like I’m being spied on when one notes, “You always have pretty dresses. I saw you changed twice yesterday! You changed into pants; why would you change into those pants?”
My favorite is the sole brunette of this girl gang who is quick witted, a perpetual liar, and to be frank, quite bizarre. When they are feeling vicious as young girls are prone, it is her. that they target and the familiar battle cry of my childhood sounds, “You’re not our friend anymore!” She is resilient and proud. Perhaps, it’s just that I identify with her, but I find her much more interesting than the other paper dolls. She often appears alone, without the blonde brigade in tow, at my door.
The first time she introduces herself as “Madison that moved in six months ago,” and asks about the stray cat that sits most evenings at my feet. The white feline Millie hisses at children and only likes me as long as she can sit in my lap without being disturbed. If I shift too much, I’ve been scratched and hissed at too. Millie is a survivalist and trusts no one, and it is Millie that she wants to befriend. This day that we are to have our introductions, Millie has fled when Madison appears with a bouquet of flowers that she’s picked in her tatty leftover Easter basket. She leaves a flower with me with firm instruction to give to the cat next time I see her. I give the flower to the cat later that evening, chuckling as the devil green eyed cat glares suspiciously. I am slightly drunk, and I present it with the proper ceremonial air just as Madison instructed. I wonder if the neighbors are watching. I consider if I’m, in fact, still as bizarre as Madison or myself as a child. Present circumstances of giving a wilted Queen Anne’s Lace to a petulant stray cat would point to an affirmative answer.
After a few days, she reappears, and I tell her I gave Millie her flower. “Did she like it?” she asks. I wonder how to respond. I think there are times when I don’t even know if my own two cats like me. “I think so,” I answer affirmatively. What’s a lie to the perpetual liar of the neighborhood? She nods as if this were expected, “I thought those might be her favorite,” she says. I hope that she doesn’t test out their newly formed friendship any time soon. “Do you know where she is today?” she asks. When I shake my head, she quips, “I imagine she’s off in a bush givin’ birth. That’s all any of the cats do around here anyway! Just go off in a bush and have kittens,” and I am amused and laugh. Although she doesn’t understand why I find this so funny, she giggles along, too.
I was waiting for the score to start, as yesterday, in the midst of the produce section the following scene took place:
The lady, ms. S.M. Cash, stumbling and seemingly drunk from an hour long ride in a car with no air conditioning and black interior, stood lethargic next to the matronly cabbage heads and gloating red tomatoes when in came a bird, flapping and cawing. The bird came to rest roughly 9 feet from Ms. S.M.Cash, and they both stared at each other, smiled, and took up an afternoon conversation. Quite shortly, the lazy butcher in his pristine white, that alleged a day of napping, came lurching out with an old net and set about upsetting all parties involved. The bird immediately shot to the ceiling. The butcher, with swooping gestures tried to apprehend the guilty party and rushed about telling daft jokes to the lady who could only stare at the ceiling and worry about the bird. Eventually the butcher grew bored chasing the bird and retired to his bloody cuts of meat and honest knives, and the lady tried to apologize for one of “her kind”. It was too late. The bird, betrayed and hurt, took on a dull song and refused to come down from his corner.
Drinking homeade slushes in the kitchen and swaying in skirts to the music; we make our own vacation. The tequila had flushed my cheeks, and I had long since passed being daringly flirtatious and frank. “The Boys” were making a run for beer, and I was invited. I made sure to gloat since I was the only girl invited. The truth is none of the other girls wanted to go, and the boys knew I’d beg them to turn up Clutch. I’d thrash around, screaming lyrics eagerly in the backseat just like them. At the store, I’d straighten my skirt and tell J. to sit still while I reapplied my lipstick. Late at night they’d roar laughter upon discovering, on my bookshelves, the collected works of Graham Greene that I stole from the library my senior year. “Hey Sarah, why are their bar code stickers on all of these?” Most people shoplifted clothing or makeup when they were young and making horrible choices, but it would be books for me. Laughter heard round, but you’d stare too long and nod your head at the door. We would slip secretively out into the night to chat on the porch. When everyone came looking for us, we’d blush guiltily.
*Don’t worry, guys. I’m no longer a thief. I’ve since donated way more books worth way more money than I ever stole when I was young and stupid.
I’d like to remember that I once sat on the ground next to his legs while he was working on the car, the upper half of his body hidden under an orange pickup. That we’d intermittently talk between listening to music on cd player. In the afternoons, I’d go to the library dragging my copy of a spy in the house of love to some aisle I was sure no one would venture. I’d lie down on the cool tile, my head resting on my bag, and read until the sun wasn’t as fierce and the humidity didn’t suffocate. You could practically smell the air conditioning. That summer we drove up to st. louis to see the chili peppers play on the edge of the river, and it was the hottest summer on record since some time before we were alive. Slick bodies dancing under the moon and clashing our hips and elbows like some drunken tragedy when we got too close. At night, sinking my legs into cool baths until they looked mint green. Continue reading Junebug
I can tell when b. arrives because of her knock, and the way her shoes speak with their dependable monotone–troop, swish, troop, reliably down the walk in front of my house. I can imagine just what she looks like, having peered at her from the edge of the windows so many times. Her mouth, cherubically drooping and her eyes downcast, contemplating only where she is in any given moment, never looking to the past nor the future. She has a durable disposition about her that is always steadfast and reliable. She never knocks on the door, choosing instead to open it and come right in, leaving an eternal feeling that she’s just stepped out of room for a minute to pour a drink. Conversations are always picked up as if they were only on hold and the ideas are still ruminating. When she comes in today, my head is resting on the seat of the couch, and my legs are pouring over its’ lumpy arms. Today I have taken the mood of an overindulged child, and I don’t answer when asked questions that bore me. I don’t care what happened at work. I don’t care what your family did on Saturday night, but oh, tell me about the moon at 2 a.m. or the way you cut your finger peeling potatoes and had to hold a rag around it and it bled all night; how you supposed you needed stitches. I answer those tales with inquiries and observances. Although, when forced, by “are you just thinking, or what?” I will probably answer your tedious questions, too.
Our legs dangled, yearning, off the dock. Our feet, impatient inches above the murky green of the lake. It was only noon, and we had already begun that infamous game of the apathetic south, waiting for the hateful sun to set. Sweat gathering behind my kneecaps, slowly creeping down the back of my calves. The splintery weather-worn beams holding the warmth of the day. Our minds, stagnated, and we seemed to have lost our voices. We only gestured at things to communicate. When I wanted a drink of your iced tea, I primordially pointed at the cup until you passed it to me. You nodded your head at me, and I didn’t speak but pointed to the radio. Another nod–yes, yes, turn it up. Squinting into the water below me, searching for silvery darting fish. My mother had warned me about boys like you who moved to fast. It seemed to me, during those days, we didn’t do anything fast. Later on we gave in to the stubborn sun, clambering noisily into the lake. We dove deeper and deeper–eyes squinted closed, feeling our way along until we reached the black icy spots at the bottom. We rested our bellies somewhere beneath on the sandy bottom in this underwater galaxy far below the sun. There was nothing down there but black and cold pressing against your eyelids. At last!
at my grandmother’s ranch there is an old swing that my grandfather put up when my dad was a boy. a pole stretches between two oak trees and the swing hangs, rusted and squeaking, but still the best spot to view the 300 acre spread. two flat old rocks lay quietly beneath your feet, bowed in the center where people have “pushed off” to set the perfect gentle sway for many years. at my grandmother’s ranch there are memories as wide and open as the fields. my mind at night, nostalgic and bare, can remember just how it felt to lay on the warm handmade rugs in the piano room with the tinkling and tonks of my cousin’s clumsy fingers picking notes out of dusty hymnals. the winter nights we sat outside, bundled in blankets watching a satellite crawling like a spider between stars, drinking mulled wine and smoking cigars. my grandmother’s old farm dog, challenger, growling low into the night at coyotes coming to close to the chickens. my grandmother’s sunken bathtub full of icy water when i was delirious with fever. the cattle bawling in the field at dawn, and my uncle walking across fields in his black rubber boots. the screen door’s creak as he came back in to stoke the fire. my fingers: stained green from picking walnuts, wet with milk from feeding bottle calves, sticky from picking grapes off the vine, or torn from pulling fescue seeds from the shaft. i remember sorting my grandmother’s button collection in the sunny kitchen while she fixed batches of potatoes and okra from the garden. later my cousins and i caught tadpoles in the creek, until a wisecracking snapping turtle chased us to the barn to hunt for my uncle’s old collection of arrowheads and geodes. my grandfather is buried in a little cemetary on the edge of the field, as quiet as the sunsets.