Collateral Damage

The first man I ever loved I loved so passionately, so … I started to say unconditionally. But that’s not true.

He had rules for me. I was not to ask where he’d been (he might be gone for hours or days or even weeks), or who he’d been with (I knew he had other women. He was open about that.), or what he’d been doing, or where he got his money from, and of course I was not allowed to be with other men (That was fine with me, I was so in love with him I didn’t want anyone else.) … There were other rules.

I had two rules for him. Don’t mess with other women in front of me, and don’t ever lift a hand to hit me. So you see, my love was conditional. He eventually broke both rules and I left him when he broke the last one. But before that I went for the ride of my life.

I was barely 18 and he was 18 in the body of a 35-year-old man. He was beautiful. This is how I met him: I arrived home from a hard day at work when he came with my cousin’s friend to deliver some piece of furniture. I glanced up and our eyes connected. It felt like an electric charge passed between us. Everything disappeared but his eyes and the vague sense of his dark hair, goatee, and smooth good looks. Don’t ever let anyone tell you there’s no such thing as love at first sight. Despite my normal shyness, I knew immediately I had to have him.

“Aren’t you going to ask me out?,” I said. No coyness. No flirtation. Just a simple question. We went out later that night and every night after (except when he stayed with other women), until we moved in together. For a year he paid for everything: the furniture, the apartment, the utilities, the bar bill, the entertainment, the education. …

From him I learned that beautiful 6’5″ prostitutes that prowled the strip were not women–they were men–and that not all male prostitutes were gay. Some were straight guys trading on the only thing they had to pay for their food, or rent, or college tuition, or their next fix–same as the women, who also often needed to pay for their children’s upkeep. I learned some men love men, and some women love women. I learned about the prostitution industry, the porn industry, bondage and S&M. I also learned of the darker side of each of these. … (I said I was in love with him, I never said he was good for me.)

Being a fairly open and tolerant person to start with, as well as being endowed with an excessive curiosity about all things regarding humans and life in general, I was the perfect student and that was enough to keep him interested. He was the perfect mentor, because he kept me safe. I always trusted him, and he was always honest with me and kept his word, never pushing my boundaries, and never farming me out as one of his “stock.”

 

When I became pregnant he seemed to lose interest in me. Longer periods of time went by between his visits home. I was showing but still doing singing gigs, though dressing to minimize the obvious. One evening he and a mutual friend showed up at one of my gigs. During a break between sets, our friend asked if I was pregnant, and lover man bragged about getting me and some other woman pregnant at the same time. It was hurtful, but I understood how much his machismo needed that kind of stroking.( I told you, I was crazy crazy head-over-heels in love with the man.)

One of my gigs was at a nightclub where his brother bartended. During one of the song breaks my guitarist drew my attention to the bar where my lover man was sitting and feeling up the barmaid in a very public and familiar way. She was apparently enjoying his attentions. He glanced my way and realized I had caught him in the act. I could see it in his expression, guilt followed quickly by anger.

Later that week I was sleeping when he came home drunk and dragged me out of bed and started hitting me and accusing me of sleeping with other men and slamming me against the furniture and the walls. I guess the neighbor on the other side of the wall got tired of hearing me slammed against her wall, because the cops showed up. Before he answered the door he told me exactly what to say and threatened to kill me if I said anything else. One cop took him outside, another stayed with me in the living room and offered to take me to a shelter. He could see I was pregnant. He could see the beginning of bruises on my face and arms and chest, so it was pretty obvious what happened. But I stuck with the story. Lover man left for the night to “cool off,” on the advice of the police. The rest of that night I packed my belongings and when the sun came up I left for good.

Within a week I lost our daughter. Her name was Miriam Leah. I still mourn her. Not as intensely as I used to. Not all the time. But sometimes … Especially on the anniversary of losing her, or of what would have been her birth month. Or when something reminds me of what could have been.

I know it can’t be the same as losing a child you’ve raised and loved throughout their life. But there was life in me and I felt it. I had hopes and dreams for her. I couldn’t wait to hold her in my arms, to give her all the things I never had. Most of all to protect her and to love her absolutely unconditionally.

I hope there is such a thing as reincarnation. I hope she had another chance with better parents. I hope she knew how much I loved her and wanted her. I hope she felt that to the core of her being.

Memorial Day

For Memorial Day I had a cookout with some good friends. Family friends. Sister warriors and our families. I couldn’t ask for a better time than that: a safer and more relaxed time, a day where I was free to be just me, no social anxiety, total acceptance, and unspoken understanding. And …

In honor of Memorial Day, and all it stood for, we had a moment of silence and a table setting for the missing “soldier” to represent all our sister and brother warriors who never returned from wars (MIA-missing in action, KIA-killed in action). I included in that, those who died slowly of diseases caused by agent orange and other chemical exposures or issues caused by military service–including PTSD, MST/PTSD, and POW (Prisoner of War) victims who were consequently murdered, or who died by suicide (whole separate kinds of wars in and of themselves) . We honored all the fallen, which felt right and honorable.

Women

For a long time I felt disconnected from other women. Maybe it was because my mother was so emotionally distant because of her mental illness, the effects of the electro-shock therapy performed on her, the meds she was on, the divisive manipulations of my father upon our family, and the physical and psychological abuse she endured at the hands of my father.

It also didn’t help that I worked from a young age and had many more responsibilities than other girls my age. I found it difficult to relate to the silliness of most of them. This was probably exacerbated by the fact that I had been molested by my father from an early age, and was raped when older. As a consequence I felt different from other girls, and this difference was like an almost impermeable wall.

The aptly dubbed “women’s movement” or “feminist movement” gave voice to many of my own and other like-minded women’s thoughts and feelings. Then I entered military service and joined other women in a long line of sisterhood of warriors.

It was in these two places that I began to feel connected with the women I met, and with all women globally, and to feel a sense of kindred spirit with them … a sisterhood, and a kind of love that is not bounded by time and place, or religion, or race, or politics, or economics, or sexual orientation, or gender identity, or any of the artificial things people choose to divide themselves by.

It was the beginning of loving my own womanhood (or femininity), of seeing it as a strength and not a weakness, a gift and not a curse.

So when I recently heard a woman talk of some women treating other women they date in a crass way during sexual encounters and then discussing this treatment openly in public as though these sexual conquests were not living, breathing, feeling, human beings I felt disgusted to the core of my being. These braggarts are women who, by nature of their lifestyle, claim to love women (or so it seems to me). Yet this is how they treat them? I might expect this behavior from some men. When women behave this way toward other women it feels worse to me. Just as I find it more difficult to understand how women can traffic other women as slaves, particularly as sex slaves. To me it feels more heinous than when men do it. (Not that I’m condoning anyone doing it.)

Obviously people occasionally miscommunicate with each other, but why can’t all our intentions be to respect and honor each other? Why can’t we choose to mentor and cooperate with each other instead of compete with, and back-stab, and trash talk each other? We should be working together for the good of all. We should be voting together to ensure the rights of the least woman among us are protected, and her health is cared for, and her education is assured so she can fend for herself and provide her children with even better opportunities than she has. We should demand justice for rape and abuse victims, and hold men accountable for the children they father. We should demand an end to rape and abuse of women, children, and men.

And never, NEVER, should we leave another sister behind.

Wild Things

You ever have that one memory that sticks with you like a stuck record playing over and over in your head? It’s like a pivotal moment that changes your whole life.

When I was in Middle School we went on a field trip to the animal pound. A small group of us were led into a room where a woman put down a black cat. He was a healthy adult cat, but the facility was overcrowded and no one had claimed him.

That cat seemed to know what was in store for him. He looked frightened, and as he looked each of us in the eyes hopefully, he seemed to be begging us in turn to rescue him. All of us, I later learned, wanted desperately to do so. Even the boys. When we didn’t, the feral plea in his eyes turned to hurt, then anger, then resignation, and then we watched the spark of life go out in his eyes. (BTW, there was an uproar over this later.)

Years later, I was brutally raped while physically being held down in an excruciatingly painful and physically damaging manner. I very much believed my life was in danger that night. One of the men standing around told the guy holding me down to let me up. He did and I looked at the speaker with some hope that he might help me and find a way to get me out of there alive. He looked me in the eyes and laughed and said. “She’s not going anywhere.” Then he took a swig of beer and turned away.

To excuse all kinds of inhuman behavior, humans relegate other humans to the status of animals: to allow themselves to fight enemies in war, to allow themselves to profit from the suffering of others, to allow themselves to enslave others or to subjugate others, or to feed their egos by demeaning or hurting others …

Of all the things that happened to me that night, that moment is one that keeps playing over in my head and won’t leave me as I try to process that trauma.

In CPT this week one of my fearless leaders asked me if I thought it stuck with me because I felt the reason he didn’t rescue me was because I believe or feel I am not worthy of being rescued. We worked it through the “Challenging Beliefs Worksheet,” but the more I process it the more I realize it’s not about worthiness. If I didn’t feel worthy I would never have felt outraged at what they did to me.

If you have never been in a situation where you felt certain you would in all likelihood die, and then someone threw you a slim lifeline and you grabbed onto it desperately with both hands only to have it cruelly yanked away, then you cannot possibly understand what I went through in that moment. You cannot possibly know what it is to experience that desperate igniting of hope followed quickly by its extinguishing. 

In moments like that you find out who you are at your most primitive level. My captors were feral animals, but I became a wild thing also. There are times I wonder if that man saw in my eyes what I saw in that black cat’s eyes, or if he even bothered to see.