Why Didn’t You?

You guys, I am exhausted.

It has been three years since I wrote Tales from the Diner.

Hardly a day goes by now that I don’t see someone new accused of harassment, assault, or rape. Sometimes it’s a celebrity. Sometimes it’s your friend. And with each new allegation comes a flurry of defenses and demands: why are we only hearing about this now?

It took me two years to come forward with my story. My silence didn’t make my experience any less real.

So let me tell you– again— why I didn’t speak sooner:

When I began working at the Route 9 Diner I was eighteen. I came from a poor, broken family and had learned to be fiercely independent. I was willing to work long overnight shifts and endure the difficulties of my job because I considered my ability to do so a virtue.  My grit was what kept a roof over my head and compromising that could have had devastating consequences.

Because I was new to this industry, I took my cues from the veterans. Harassment and assault were commonplace and as such, long-term restaurant employees softened their responses. I learned to do the same. The daily whistles and sexualized comments became white noise. After I left, I found myself telling and retelling my stories to people outside the industry to gauge their reactions.  This became my litmus test and it was through these interactions that I began to regain my horror and realize the severity of the conditions of my former workplace.

Still, for a long time I also felt like I owed the diner’s owners and even managers my loyalty. They had drilled into all of our heads that we were nothing more than expendable labor. For those of us who stayed, it felt like a point of pride: We had proven ourselves good enough. We were the new veterans. We were valuable. We lived off the crumbs they threw us: a seemingly affectionate mori from one of the owners, a drink bought by one of the managers, a smile while others got a scowl. In the end, I felt like I owed them.

Additionally, I had no idea what could happen if I went public with my experiences. I couldn’t stomach the idea of being responsible for someone losing their job or being caught and punished as an undocumented worker.  I wasn’t willing to risk the livelihoods of people I loved.

There are still plenty of people who think I should’ve chosen differently. They say I should’ve gone to the police while I was there and that it doesn’t make sense for me to have stayed. But when you exist in a culture where this mistreatment and injustice is deemed acceptable, challenging that status quo and speaking out can be downright terrifying.

And you know what? It was.

I’ve hesitated to write the next part for a long time. I am afraid of deterring the next person who could call out an abuser and inspire others to do the same. I am afraid of accidentally throwing a wrench in the gears of a movement -even on a microscopic scale- that is contributing to an enormous conversation, if not yet a cultural shift. I am afraid of changing the mind of someone who is on the brink of shouting their story and kicking open the floodgates of their own community.

So those of you who have a story to tell: scream it. We need you.

And to those of you who still wonder why we don’t speak sooner or louder or at all: listen.

Here is what happened after I, and many others, spoke:

The first few days after posting our blogs were exhilarating. They spread like wildfire and supporters popped up everywhere. We received media attention and dozens of people reached out to share their own experiences with us. People lauded our bravery and thanked us for the attention we called to a rampant issue in our industry.

Employees who still worked at the diner were quick to try to discredit and insult us. Once we received the attention of the local media, our workload increased sharply. Our social media accounts suddenly required nearly 24/7 moderation and we spent over a week fielding comments and emails from reporters, supporters, and apparent adversaries of “the bloggers.”

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I don’t think I slept more than 12 hours in the week that followed.

 

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To be honest, the backlash we received is unfortunately par for the course in these instances. Still, knowing that there would be recoil to absorb, we cocked our pens and tried to brace ourselves for the kickback.

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People I had never met relished in their attempts to vilify me and the other women who had stepped forward. Whether or not our accounts were accurate became irrelevant and they sought to damn us simply for venturing into the court of public opinion.

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Eventually the publicity died down and business at the diner continued as usual. A new group of students flooded the area and knowledge of the misconduct was diluted and forgotten. Still, behind the scenes, litigation pursued by both the ACLU and the Massachusetts Attorney General pushed forward. I must have told my story 50 more times, paring it down into short, jargon-filled paragraphs, neat and numbered. Meanwhile, the diner’s owners and lawyers avoided cooperating, even deleting the years of footage taken by the 15+ cameras around the restaurant.

Five months after I first posted Tales from the Diner the AGO announced that they had filed a complaint against the Route 9 Diner’s owners and two managers. The next day, the doors were abruptly shuttered with less than a day’s warning to the staff. For those of us on the other side, it was clear that this was a way to quickly stem their cash flow. It was a smart and sinister way to avoid a larger figure demanded of them in what was becoming an inevitable monetary settlement. Their sole objective was to avoid honoring our deserved reparations. As such, they turned their backs on their current staff, allegedly refusing to do so much as offer them a letter of recommendation.

Across the state, I felt the results of this collateral damage in the pit of my stomach. I had wanted to set justice in motion, if only to add to a greater societal conversation. In doing so, I had negatively changed the lives of people I loved.

They were quick to echo and solidify my fears.

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It would be untruthful to say that on some level, I didn’t understand their desire to lash out at us. Despite the dissimilarities presented by no longer working at the diner, a lot of their anguish mirrored my own. I had my own wounds to tend regarding the diner’s closing and the endless strain that is civil litigation. I was nursing the crumbling of once-robust friendships with women whose abuses and pain I had understood and shared. As the weeks and months went on and the time commitment and load of required emotional labor in moving forward with a formal case never eased or subsided, we became resentful of each other and the time we kept for ourselves away from lawyers and press.

As our fortitude waned, the diner’s former staff amplified their cruelty.

 

 

 

 

I don’t believe these situations are ever easy or free from any complexity. That is simply what is offered to us through human experience and our relationships. To think that one could speak of a community staple and its people in a way that so challenges the public’s perceived truth without being prepared to engage in serious labor thereafter was naive. Still, we had no idea just how much work would be required of us, nor just how far the results would reach.

I would like to say that our allies in the legal field were endlessly trustworthy and supportive. Initially, that was true. But after our case changed hands within the Attorney General’s office, so too did our sense of security. We were introduced to a new woman who made us feel as though we were tedious tasks for her to complete; a stark contrast to the previous attorney who had expressed horror at our circumstances and had worked passionately in the name of justice. Our phone calls and emails went unanswered. Despite our persistence, many of us were left in the dark regarding the status of our own case.

Less than six months after agreeing upon a settlement to be paid out to the women involved in the case, one of the  diner’s former owners filed for bankruptcy, relieving him of any further financial requirement to the women he had allowed to be assaulted. The Attorney General’s office appeared disinterested and waited over six months to notify us. They seemed surprised at our upset, and perhaps more so to learn that bankruptcy had been threatened multiple times throughout the initial mediation between the diner and the state attorneys.

In the following months, the Attorney General’s Office continued to ignore our attenot a to contact them. Even calls from even the ACLU were ignored. When we did finally get in touch, the AGO expressed only surprise at the level of public torment we had underwent. Months earlier, we had sent emails full of screenshots, depicting such behavior.

Last spring the recipients of the Route 9 Diner settlement received an email from the Attorney General’s Office. In a final show of poor judgement and unprofessionalism, the contact list was cc’d rather than bcc’d. I now know everyone who is receiving a check in the wake of this litigation. Some of the names surprised me. Some of the names were people who had publicly mocked, discredited, and insulted me and the other women who dared to speak candidly of our time at the diner.

 

 

 

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I don’t doubt for a single moment that the women who slid under the radar to seek their restitution also shared our experiences at the hands of the diner’s management. I unwaveringly support their right to justice in whatever form by which they feel satisfied and vindicated. Nevertheless, I am left feeling conflicted. The work I, and the other bloggers, put into this case was very real. We suffered publicly, endured sleepless nights, missed work, and lost friendships. It is difficult for me to stomach the idea that someone could willfully add to our distress and workload while quietly profiting in the background. We were forced to relive the pain of our time at the diner and we were left bruised. Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s office enjoyed their victory march without so much as a thought to our continued suffering.

These days, I am uncertain exactly how I think justice should look. It would be dishonest to say that I am disheartened at the prospect of the diner’s owner’s bankruptcy, knowing that I will never receive my share of the settlement. Although it was never about the money, I learned to be satisfied with the shallow prize of an abuser’s dollar.

When I originally wrote Tales from the Diner, I ended it with a nod to my sister, saying, “I am shouting now that I have the strength to shout… for god’s sake, the lesson I teach her is not going to be one of silence.” I am afraid that through her witnessing the backlash of my actions, I unwittingly taught her exactly that.

The truth is that despite my once-powerful call to action, I have grown weary of what often feels like minimal results. I have ripped my scabs open time and again and sometimes the only shouts I can muster are closer to defeated, hopeless cries. There is no triumph in my scars.

So now, in a sea of #metoo, I again see the rise of #whydidntyou? Coming forward is bleak and without sanctuary or reprieve. Please try to understand.

 

 

Note: The inclusion of these screenshots is incredibly important to me as a means to illustrate what I and others faced as a result of bringing our experiences to light. I have tried my hardest to protect anyone from unintentional revictimization by editing these pictures as necessary. Jane Dover is a fake name and as such I left those images unedited. 

 

 

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A Letter to Mohawk

Below is an email that I wrote to Mohawk Trail Regional High’s superintendent and co-principals. I am posting it publicly because I think that it is critical to remind the community that the latest accounts of abuse by Colin Garland are actually not unusual. Unfortunately, he is the third in a string of predators affiliated with Mohawk to have such testimonies brought against them in recent years.

Together, we must reevaluate the policies in place and hold our community accountable for the safety of our children.

Note: One former teacher’s name has been redacted, though not in an effort to protect him. Unfortunately, addressing my experience with him more explicitly than this requires more emotional labor than I able to invest right now. If you are from my small town, you can probably guess to whom I’m referring. You’re probably right.

 

Superintendent Buoniconti and Co-Principals Dole and Mendonsa,

I am writing to you in regards to the recent publicization of the abuse perpetrated by Colin Garland, owner of Raven Adventures and Global Classroom. I, like many other students at Mohawk, was introduced to Colin via Will Kiendzior, who allowed him to come into the classroom and tout his trips to remote parts of Africa and Central America. If you have not heard the accounts that recently came to light, I highly encourage you to do so, if only to understand the type of person that has been allowed not only into your school, but permitted to take your students to secluded areas of the world. I truly hope that this man is no longer affiliated with Mohawk, or if he is, that you will immediately cease allowing him contact with your students. Although I did not personally experience assault at the hands of Colin Garland, I can attest to his other manipulative and abusive behaviors. I detailed them in my personal blog here: https://lustyglutton.com/2016/09/11/shaman/   Included in that post are links to two other testimonies of young women who were groomed, manipulated, and raped by Colin Garland.
There is no question that these accounts are disturbing. However, it is not as alarming when one realizes that allowing this is not the first time Mohawk has allowed these type of predators close daily interaction with their students. As I said to [former teacher]after he confided in me that he had slept with his third former student: this is now a pattern.
I have grown increasingly concerned when considering Mohawk’s relationship with Colin Garland, especially as I took into account the past actions of [former teacher] and of the recent news regarding Ivan Grail, the former social studies teacher who is under investigation for his inappropriate conduct with his students. I am puzzled as to why the amount of predatory men allowed such close contact with your students has seemed to remain consistently high under your watch.
I was personally groomed by both [former teacher] and Colin Garland as a student at Mohawk and it has taken me years to realize the severity of these situations. Although it was common knowledge that these two men would meet with students outside of school hours or property, their actions were never questioned and certainly never put to a stop. It is disturbing to me that it was only my guardian, a lawyer and former social worker, who seemed suspicious of [former teacher]‘s actions. She believed that he was ultimately interested in developing a sexual relationship with me and the other young girls to whom he paid such special attention. Unfortunately, she was right. How can an institution charged with the welfare of so many children overlook so many warning signs?
I ask you to seriously consider the manner in which you are vetting your prospective teachers, faculty, and chaperons. It appears that whatever systems you have in place at the moment are simply not working to the extent that is necessary for the safety of your students. Furthermore, I ask that you make public a written policy regarding appropriate conduct for your staff and chaperons in terms of their interactions with students, including any revisions that may be needed. I also ask that you write and make public a list of what  constitutes these inappropriate behaviors to be distributed to students so that they may understand what is unacceptable and unethical coming from staff. Additionally, students should know their rights and resources should they ever encounter such issues.
I am hoping that you take these suggestions to heart so that we may see a change in the environment at Mohawk and change its reputation. It has been truly heartbreaking to realize that although I was initially dismayed that my little sister did not attend the same highschool I did, I believe she was ultimately safer for not doing so. Please: attend seriously to this issue.
Sincerely yours,
Marie Billiel
Class of 2007
Superintendent Buoniconti has invited me to call him with my proposals for policy revisions. I urge you to address this grievous issue as well and to make your suggestions and concerns heard. Matters like this reach much further than just a few; their effects bleed into the entire community. Let the reflection of who we are come from the steps we take to mend.

The Shaman

I recently came across an open letter to a man I once thought I knew. His name is Colin Garland, the owner of Raven Adventures/The Global Classroom.

The letter, written by a woman only two years my senior, details the multiple encounters she had with Colin, all of which were manipulative and abusive, and many of which involved rape.

It was a challenging read. However, the difficulty did not lay in struggling to believe the author’s account of her experience with Colin. Instead, I was forced to sit with the pain that came with remembering my time with this man and how all of his actions fit so neatly into the pattern of abuse described by the author. There was no relief in the realization that my gut instinct over our last few interactions had been correct.

I met Colin through my highschool ecology teacher Will Kiendzior. We dedicated a class to showcase the myriad adventures Colin had been on in Costa Rica and Mexico. We were invited to embark on his annual trip with students from my highschool to Central America to explore and learn about his conservation efforts.

Yesterday, before his website was taken down, I scrolled through all the pictures of former students, all about 16 years old. Some I knew personally. I wondered how many have had similarly alarming and abusive experiences with him. I felt sick to my stomach.

Admittedly, it was not my time spent with Colin in Mexico that makes me uneasy. Though tainted now, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Still, I have a distinct memory of affection and praise with which he showered my best friend. He marveled at the symbols she drew in the sand, saying they were rich with meaning and that she was clearly in tune to something greater. After we got home, she spent weeks corresponding with Colin through email. I was envious of the attention she received. I was frustrated that he didn’t see that I too felt I had something deep, primal, and attuned to something beyond myself.

Six years later I was in Israel when I received a message from Colin, telling me that I had been on his radar. He told me that he had been thinking of me for a long time but had hesitated to reach out. We made plans to see each other the next time he was back in Massachusetts.

In the time before he made his return I began to confide in him about my history of depression and the difficult childhood that had led me there. In fact, I later posted a short series on this blog entitled “Letters to Colin” that I copied from those letters that unreservedly and unapologetically detailed my disjointed upbringing and early introduction to mental illness. It was clear that I sought to heal in some way and Colin appointed himself the one who could do it.

It wasn’t long after that that he told me I was a woman coming into my power. He told me tales of my psychic ability. He urged me to travel with him, to allow him to teach me the ways of a healer. He spoke of Native American customs, of the medicine wheel, of shapeshifting. He told me that I simply hadn’t made love until both me and my partner had shifted into the form of a dolphin. He of course, was the one to teach me.

I remember that he was hesitant that I wanted to bring my boyfriend the night I agreed to come to his house for a healing session. I remember that up to that point, and for some time after our messages on Facebook somehow made me uncomfortable. In nearly every message he told me how much he loved me and how beautiful I was. I pushed my misgivings aside. After all, Colin was a Healer and wanted to help me. I was certain that the issue lay within myself; I wasn’t used to being loved so purely. I wasn’t being open. I needed him to heal me. I thought of the time I had heard that Colin had slept with a former classmate of mine, nearly 30 years his junior. I pushed the thought out of my head, convincing myself I did not understand the experience or the depth of Colin’s love and shamanic powers.

Now, when I reread our messages and see how I exposed my vulnerability to him I am uneasy. I realize now that this was not a safe place; his intentions were more sinister than I initially knew. While I thought I was seeking solace in a wizened old friend, I was playing squarely into the grooming tactics of a well-rehearsed predator.

I believe that as humans, we all have a deep-seated desire to be seen. We feel that there is something more we can offer the world, if only we had the means to let that part of us out. And I imagine this is particularly true of women, as we frequently have to prove ourselves as worthy and capable in ways that men do not. Colin Garland, pseudo spiritual leader, has found the perfect way to prey on young women and girls via this innate human condition. He fancies himself a shaman and uses his influence to create a harem of women to exercise his manipulation, abuse, and assault.

There are countless women who have had similar experiences with this wannabe cult leader. I am fortunate that my own did not escalate past this degree. Please consider the ties you have to this man and others who exhibit this behavior within your community.

 

A page has been set up as a platform for other victims and their supporters. Please share widely.

UPDATE: Another woman has written of her abuse at the hands of Colin Garland. TW – sexual assault

 

An Open Letter to Johnny’s Roadside Diner

To the Yee family:

My name is Marie Billiel. You have perhaps seen my name sprinkled in the local media throughout the last couple of years in correlation with the criticism and closing of the Route 9 Diner. I posted the original blog post Tales from the Diner that led to many other women sharing their own grisly experiences with the former staff and management during their employment. As I’m sure you know, the details we shared were so appalling that the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office took notice. Because of the negative publicity,  the owners made the decision to close, thus allowing your family the opportunity to broaden your horizon within the Pioneer Valley’s restaurant scene.

I know well that the Route 9 Diner’s closing was a loss to the community. During my tenure there I grew to know and love many familiar faces: the many late-night fraternities and sororities who would stumble in at 4am and never seemed to know the size of their parties; the early morning regulars who listened with rapt attention to the goings on of my personal life; the elderly people who enjoyed the ease and comfort in the routine of eating lunch at the Route 9 Diner and taking their leftovers home for dinner.

Because of this, I have routinely championed the opening of Johnny’s Roadside Diner. I was grateful that the building would no longer stand vacant in the Stop n Shop Plaza as a reminder of its quick and sour ending. I was confident that your family would breathe new life into the tired old space.

It is because of this that I am concerned with a piece of information I was given recently. About a week ago the Attorney General’s case against the former owners and management of the Route 9 Diner once again made headlines. As with every bout of media attention, I received hateful messages from former coworkers. At this point  they have become less painful and I recognize that although they are sent my way from a place of anger and hurt I do not have to engage with them. However, one of these messages revealed something to me that makes me feel as though I would be neglecting my due diligence were I to ignore it: I learned that you have chosen to hire some of the former cooks of the Route 9 Diner.

As I’m sure you know, there are many public recitals of the atrocities we were subjected to by the Route 9’s cooks. Some of us were forced to show our tongue before being given our tables’ orders; were regularly accosted in the walk-in coolerand were pressured for dates and sexual favors. Of course, that’s hardly the tip of the iceberg.  It is because of this that I am admittedly uneasy about your decision to hire anyone in their former Back of House.

Allow me to make clear that I in no way attend this to be an attack on your business or your integrity. I do not claim to know who it is you opted to hire nor what your terms were. I was downright ecstatic when I learned that you hired some of the diner’s former waitresses. They were undeserving of the fallout caused in the aftermath of the Route 9 Diner’s closing and I was grateful they were able to once again find a place in that chrome community staple.

It is in this same vein that I must acknowledge that the cooks and dishwashers also experienced their own hardships with the sudden loss of their jobs. I am putting my faith, albeit hesitantly, in the idea that these men, though previously consistently inappropriate and sometimes predatory, have learned that this behavior is unacceptable. I trust that the change in management and corresponding shift in culture sees that the work environment is no longer a toxic and hostile one, but one of growth, opportunity, and safety.

I am leaving behind my dismay and anxiety in favor of hope.

Respectfully yours,

Marie Billiel.

Hold the Dam.

A few weeks ago, I posted Anne Theriault’s Being a Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence on my facebook page. This type of post is not uncommon; anyone on my friends list can expect a consistent stream of feminist articles. I do not shy away from these topics, especially in my own writing.

Typically, these posts are met with comments of solidarity and a resounding, “yes all women!” Still, I am not naive enough to think that in posting this type of content I will not receive backlash from time to time. And I do: I frequently encounter justifications of violence against women, the differing standards to which women are held, etc. I am reminded of how deeply embedded the acceptance of victim-blaming is in our culture and–yes,– the existence of rape culture. This is standard fodder with which I am faced. But for me, what is somehow a bit more upsetting, is not so much this everyday misogynistic defense of a patriarchal system. Instead, what upsets me is the very denial of these experiences: “Barf. Not all women.”

Often, it feels like I, and others like me, have our backs to a dam. Together we can brace against the onslaught of sexual assaults, dehumanization, and harassment. We patch up the tiny holes where these occurrences seep out, but we always know that behind that dam, my god, there is a fearsome flood.

Sometimes I do feel secure; together we will hold back the water and still the flow. But I am also terrified, even more so than I am angry; so many whom I feel should be standing in solidarity against the dam are instead looking on at a distance, shrugging and saying, “What’s the big deal? Water’s good for you.” Or worse: “There is no flood.”

And it is when I see and hear this response that I think of my friends and my sister and myself and I imagine us being swept up in this tide of misogyny. In these moments, I am certain we will drown.

Since reading Anne Theriault’s piece, I couldn’t help but compile my own list of encounters with the violence she describes:

  1. When I am in 3rd grade one of my classmates takes a liking to me. In class he announces that he wishes that all the girls were desperate for him. As he gets on the bus he beckons to me and says, “just have a little sex with me.”
  2. When I am 14 I find a pair of knee high boots in a charity bin at a local church. The first time I wear them I am out with my friend at dusk – about 6pm. Two boys in their late teens scream from their car, “Are you girls hoes?” before taking off into the night, tires squealing.
  3. When I am 17 my ex boyfriend calls me a cunt and stabs the veins on his wrists with a sharpened pencil. He tells my new boyfriend that he fantasizes about choking and punching me.
  4. When I am 18 I am at a party and a boy continuously sits next to me and caresses my thigh through my jeans, despite my pleas and refusals. He follows me into the cab of a truck and continues his assault as I pass out.
  5. When I am 19 I am sitting at the counter of the diner where my boyfriend is working. A 50+ year old man pays at the register and admires my ass. He turns to my boyfriend as he pays, sighing longingly and saying, “you never get sick of looking at a fine piece of art, you know? That is some fine art.”
  6. When I am 20 a regular customer eyes me and talks about the corsets he buys his wife. He tells me he thinks I would look good in a corset. When I don’t respond the way he’s hoping he tells me, “I like more meat on my women anyway.”
  7. When I am 24 I am cleaning out my car when I turn to find a man taking pictures of me up my dress. He defends his actions and drives away angrily when I tell him to get away from me.
  8. When I am 25 I come out about the assault and harassment I experienced at an old job. I am called a slut. I am told to die slow.
  9. When I am 26 I realize that I was not an exception, but one in a pattern of former students seduced by a highschool teacher. I am sick when I think of the vehemence with which I defended him.
  10. When I am 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, I am called to on the street with pet names and unwelcome reviews on my appearance. When I do not respond I am called a bitch, asshole, cunt.
  11. When I am a woman I receive unsolicited sexually explicit messages on dating websites. When I respond with displeasure, a polite “no thank you,” or do not respond, I am told I am fat, disgusting, that I am a cunt and unfuckable.

When I am a woman, it takes me less than 20 minutes to think of these examples.

There are more. There are always more.

Yes, all women.

It Never Stops

Two things happened this month.

Two things happened  that reminded me that as much as I speak out, as much as I push back, as much as I try to stand my ground, my body does not belong to me. Indeed, my desires are often irrelevant and my pleasure decided for me. It seems I was created for consumption.

Unsurprisingly, one of these things happened at my job. The restaurant industry continues to be very successful in reminding women that we are mere objects to lust after and harass while breeding men to perpetuate this construct. The restaurant at which I work currently is one of the safest places I’ve been employed. Still, it has its flaws, and it is no exception to the standard Kitchen Culture, despite the owners’ best efforts.

I was confronted by one of the cooks in April. He glared at me out of the corner of his eye as he hunched his gaunt frame over itself to tie his shoe.

“So you’d really never go out with me?” he spat impatiently, as though this was a discussion we’d been having for hours.

What?” I asked, taken aback.

Chris continued his rant bitterly, explaining that he had asked around regarding the state of my romantic life and found displeasure in the results. I stood by and mumbled an apology to his rhetoric.

This interaction marred our relationship, which had previously been friendly, if a bit superficial. As his vitriol refused to wane, so did my discomfort. I was frustrated, not only by being the recipient of such unwarranted venom simply for having a life and relationships outside of my workplace, but by Chris’s manner of ascertaining the details of my life. Never did he speak to me about my feelings or ideas or aspirations or experiences. To him, I was not a sentient being, but a plaything that belonged to someone else.

Over the course of the next few weeks his anger did not subside; it reared its head when I checked my phone for texts or mentioned Matthew near him. But as Chris’s resentment refused to wane, so too did his unwelcome advances. For every scowl there was a plea: “I’ll be good to you. Come on. I’ll treat you right.” The irony was lost on him.

Soon his words and glances no longer satisfied him. One day he came up behind me and begged in earnest for me to allow him to grab my hips. His hands pinched the air as I quickly moved away and gave him a sharp, impatient, “No!” Not long after this incident I found myself trapped by the ice machine as he rubbed his ass on my waitressing apron to the beat of the song playing in the cafe. My threats were immediate and fierce. Still, as he ran to the other side of the kitchen, I was left alone by that ice machine, overtaken by my sense of powerlessness to these situations.

 

*

 

Last week I woke up next to my boyfriend. In the dim morning light our still-sleepy hands found each other’s bodies as we kissed the night from our lips. Slowly, but not without certainty, Matthew worked his way from my mouth, to my neck, to my breasts, and continued downward.

“No, babe. Not now,” I whispered.

“Why?”

Annoyed: “I don’t need to give you a reason.”

He looked hurt. Still, it was too early to have an in depth discussion about consent. I relented:

“Because I haven’t showered, I need to shave, and I don’t feel sexy right now.”

“That’s the reason?” He was skeptical. But after a pause, “I just wanted you to communicate with me, Marie.”

“I don’t need to communicate that to you! I don’t have to fucking explain why I’m saying no!”

Matthew rolled over, taken aback by my sudden fury. I sat for a moment, aware that his questioning stemmed from a place of naivete and not one of dominance or ill will.  I knew his eagerness and commitment to my pleasure and that this situation, poorly handled as it may have been, was a result of that. I sighed, softening a bit, as my hand traced the the curve of his back.

“Babe, listen. Here is my typical day:

I go to work, where I get harassed. I am leered at all day by my some of my coworkers. Then, I walk down the street and get catcalled and harassed in Central Square in Cambridge. Isn’t this supposed to be some sort of fucking liberal bastion?

Next, I go home, and my own boyfriend doesn’t want to take no for an answer. Tell me: when do I get to have autonomy over my own body? When?!

He turned to me, his brown eyes wide and intense, “You do!”

“Do I? Then why should your desires override my consent to my body?”

Pause.

Regret filled his eyes and his apologies were the heartfelt words of someone who has gained new understanding. He laced his fingers through mine as he voiced his last concern, “But babe, that stuff about work? I thought that had stopped.”

It wasn’t often that I spoke to him of the harassment I encountered at work and on the street. The days I came to him, sputtering stories of encounters I had, were the days that I had reached the end of my patience and could no longer ignore it.

“No, Matthew, it never stops.”

 

 

Apparently I’m writing a series on sexual harassment. Bummer.

Related:

Fea

Tales from the Diner

Kitchen Culture: Why I won’t Stop Talking about the Route 9 Diner

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Lindsey Stirling

Hey Lindsey-

I have a bone to pick with you.

Last week you came to Boston and I was fortunate enough to see you at the Blue Hills Pavilion. I have been listening to your music for the last few years and I have been hooked ever since the first song I heard. Your show was beautiful. Sharing your music with some of my closest friends and my very musically-inclined boyfriend satisfied me in a way that not much else can. But the truth is that you said some things that truly marred the evening for me and I haven’t yet let it go.

Towards the end of your set you put down your violin for a heart to heart with the audience. You spoke of how you are often complimented on staying so true to yourself and not being afraid to do so. You confided that you have not always been this way and that you suffered a bout of depression. I wish you had stopped there.

You see, when you continued on to say you were self-absorbed as a depressed person and that you simply had to change your mind, you stopped being helpful. I could no longer identify with you because I was instead disappointed and somewhat insulted. I believe you when you say that you practiced changing your frame of mind the same way you practiced your arpeggios worked for you, and I am truly glad for you. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that it is that simple for everyone.

I have now been aware of my depression for over a decade, though I suspect it was present even in my childhood. I am as well-versed as anybody could be in the routines of self-care. I try to sleep well, eat well, hydrate, do things that make me feel good, enjoy the sunshine, etc. But the fact of the matter is that sometimes none of these things work and sometimes I am simply not capable of doing any of them. I promise you that if I could think my way out of depression I would have done so many years ago. Instead, I am left hoping to be functional at best and proud of myself when I go a full two weeks without randomly considering suicide. This is an illness; it cannot always be walked off.

Please know that I do not intend to one up any experiences you have had; depression doesn’t behave the same for everybody. But this is the point that I am trying to make: your experience is not universal. As you must be aware, there is a certain stigma that people who are mentally ill must battle. It is a kind of illness that is not widely understood and often gets brushed off in ways that are harmful – frequently by people who are close to us. We are often misunderstood as lazy or flaky or self-absorbed when we are simply not as able as an average person. It is not about choice; it is about capability. 

Your music has become my go-to writing music and I have written countless blog posts and letters while listening to it. II believe I understand very clearly the emotional messages conveyed in your music that you described to us last Saturday. I understand the deep somber beginnings and the crescendos of hope. You have helped me and inspired me with the beauty of the pieces you have composed more than you could fathom. You have, in your own way, already saved me.

This is why I am asking you, Lindsey, not to insinuate that your experience is the same as mine or anybody else’s. Please do not speak as though you are the authority on depression and the way out. You have such a large audience to hear you; please do not reaffirm the stereotype that people with mental illness need only to think their way out of it and to try harder. Please do not blanket all of us with your statements while neglecting that we do not all feel the same things, we are not capable of the same things, and we do not all have the same resources.

I believe fully that your intentions are only good. When you are next on stage and sharing your struggle with your fans, tell them this:

“Depression is terrible.”

“It gets better.”

“You are worth it.”

Yours,

Marie Billiel

Here are some of my very, very favorite resources for helping people understand depression and its stigmas:

Adventures in Depression By Allie Brosh

What if People Treated Physical Illness Like Mental Illness? via HuffPost

Depression Quest By Zoe Quinn – This is about as real as it gets, folks