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.

What’s in a name?

Last month I received a comment from someone named Tara Kroes, the writer of The Traveling Waitress, letting me know that I was unintentionally stepping on her toes with the name of my blog, Adventures of a World-Traveling Waitress.

In truth, I was defensive. How could I change the name of the blog in which I had poured myself so openly and explicitly? But as much as I tried to ignore it, something Tara pointed out nagged at me: Adventures of a World-Traveling Waitress doesn’t really describe the content of this blog anymore. It has been over year since I have traveled; it has been at least two since I have written about it.  It was a bitter pill to swallow, but I am no longer a world-traveling waitress. I am a cafe manager who writes brutally honest pieces as a form of unapologetic feminist activism. I am a 20-something woman trying to reconcile an unstable upbringing by smashing stigmas about mental illness.  The light-heartedness of “World-Traveling Waitress” doesn’t suit me any longer.

So, then. What does?

 

Help me decide!

Strong Women

My introduction was young; at just four years old I stretched toward the phone to call the police while my mother screamed from across the room. I struggled to get to it, hung on the wall just out of a toddler’s reach. My mother’s boyfriend, Eric, took one long stride across the living room, leaving my mother crumpled in a heap, and ripped the entire receiver from the wall.

Days later I would sit in the bathroom with my mother as she examined the gash that ran the length of her calf. No one ever taught me about 911.

Sometimes now I wonder: How many times have I had to call the police to report an instance of domestic violence since then? How many more times will I have to?

Tomorrow marks six months since the morning my roommate’s ex-boyfriend burst into our house at 8 am, yelling obscenities and slamming doors. Eventually he left, only to crawl through our kitchen window that afternoon. Later, as I walked up my front steps, I would marvel at the amount of his blood that still clung to the sidewalk, even after a week; even after the rain. There are still drops of his blood on the dirtied siding of our house: the result of his drunken punch through the window of our front door.

Years ago, back in Amherst, I lived with my friend and her boyfriend for two years. Ernesto was an angry drunk and a serial cheater. My friend was a no-bullshit powerhouse; fierce and loyal and unwavering.

One night, months before I lived with them, Ernesto trapped her in their bedroom in a drunken rage. When she finally escaped he chased her through the woods behind their house. After they broke up he smashed the windows of her car.

They got back together. She defended him in court. I moved in.

They fought frequently; “You fucking junkie piece of shit,” echoed through the walls at night. We lived with the idea that he wasn’t dangerous as long as he did not drink. But at his most sober he texted continuously, questioning her company and her whereabouts. He demanded she dress modestly; he grew angry at her growing disinterest in sex.

One day, in the midst of a bout of food poisoning, I woke up to five missed calls from her. Ernesto had tried to trap her in their bedroom again. She escaped and ran to her car barefoot.

“What a piece of shit,” we agreed the next day, “he’s got a fucking problem.”  And that was how we left it.

Weeks later I spoke casually of my roommates to a friend; “Why the fuck is she with someone like that?” he demanded, “And why the fuck are you living with someone like that?” I had never considered the severity of what was taking place in my house.

I left, eventually. One night she called me panicked, “Are you home? You need to leave. Ernesto and his brother are on their way there and they are really angry at you.”  I had nowhere to go.

An hour later I heard the familiar slam of the front door and footsteps on the stairs. Outside my door I heard their gruff voices speaking not in their native Spanish, but in English. For my benefit: “I’m going to punch that fucking cunt in her fucking face.”  My door opened. They stood in my room and watched me pretend to sleep for a few minutes before leaving. I couldn’t move.

As I packed my things into discarded produce boxes she glared at me, her pupils pinpoints of rage, and said, “You were never in any danger and you know that. Fuck you.”

Last summer my best friend made a long distance phone call to me while I was in Tel Aviv to announce me that she had finally left her boyfriend. She had moved in with him a few months before and things had been tense ever since. Then, one night, he got home to find her sleeping and woke her up to throw her against the wall and choke her.

Three months later, “I slept with Josh. Don’t judge me.”

Some months ago I said to my roommate, “You know, I was really, really worried about you and Mitchell getting back together after everything that happened.” I was referring to the time after they broke up but were still sleeping together nonexclusively and he took the liberty of going through her phone while she was asleep. He woke her up with a fast slew of obscenities and death threats, complete with a fist through the wall and hand on her throat. “But it seems like things are going really well and I’m really glad.”

Two weeks later he broke up with her. And then he stormed into our house to find her in bed with someone else. He refused to leave and instead shut himself in her bedroom with her and demanded over and over, “Do you like sucking his dick?!” I called the police.

It was strangely reminiscent of the times I had to call the police as I frantically drove to my friend’s apartment when I was just 18 years old. The father of her unborn baby would frequently become enraged and lock her in their bedroom and sit on the other side of the door. He often spent his days sitting outside of the restaurant where we worked to keep an eye on her.

Yesterday I found out that old roommate never did get the restraining order she swore she would all those months ago.

What are we teaching girls that creates such a consistent pattern of accepting abuse? There is an idea of a Strong Woman in our society who takes no bullshit, but most of my friends have fit that archetype.  How many more women do I know who are keeping these secrets? How many women aren’t asking for help because they’re not supposed to be the kind of women who are abused? And why, why, why are there so many men doing this and being taught that they can get away with it?

When Eric came back into my mother’s life a few years ago I spent days feeling nauseous. I hadn’t spoken to my mother in almost 6 months but when things came to a head one night I got in her face and told her that she had better keep that man away from my sister. She denied the abuse that I had witnessed with my own eyes. She told me I was young and stupid. Those words were among some of the most frightening I’ve ever heard in my life.

My sister, now 17, has been going out with a boy for about a year now. They have had some rough patches; he has sent nude photos to other girls and been caught by my sister. When they patched up that particular incident my sister told me that there was now an understanding that she would be able to access his phone and online accounts at her will. I plead with her to realize the unhealthiness of a relationship like that, but she wasn’t interested. A few weeks back she messaged me with screenshots between her boyfriend and another girl in which he said he didn’t want to be with my sister any longer and wanted to webcam with this girl. They broke up and I breathed a sigh of relief. But now he has declared it was all a joke that he meant for her to see. And so the roller coaster continues, along with a heightened defensiveness to anyone who tries to reason with her about the negative ways he treats her.

And it is when my sister tells me things like this, when I am already mulling over the unhealthiness of so many relationships around me that I wonder: is this presentation of a poor sense of self-worth the first step? What kind of behavior will she defend next? Who will call the police for her?

And my heart breaks.

He Loves You in his Own Way. (Part 1)

Scene:

Baystate Medical Center, July 2014

I am having trouble meeting the gaze of the doctors as they tell me what I already know: my father is as good as dead. I study my hands, hoping that I am adequately playing the part of Distraught Daughter.

The truth is that I had made my decision before I even found myself in that too-bright conference room. Still, I politely listen as these strangers in lab coats detail my father’s drunken fall, the neighbors finding him the next morning, and his helicopter flight to the hospital. Doctors detail his head injury and spew trivia and percentages to which I am numb. As they subtly urge me to end what’s left of my father’s now-robotic life, I feel certain that they can’t imagine the complexities this situation presents to an estranged daughter who has crossed an ocean solely to do so.

“He is gone,” they reassure me.

But he has always been gone.

The doctors take their leave and I find myself looking into my uncle’s fatigued face. He is worn from pacing the hospital corridors, waiting for a niece whom he does not know, and listening to the mechanical beat of his brother’s heart monitor.

“You know what my choice is, right?” I ask carefully.

“I should hope so!” he says a bit too quickly, before trying to console me, “This is just a tragic accident. I don’t believe that he was drunk. It doesn’t make sense. We all know your father had a drinking problem, but even if he was drinking the night before, he was fine! The coffee pot was on so he was probably running across the street to the store and he fell!”

When I don’t respond he again emphasizes, “This is just a really tragic accident.”

I let out a long sigh and turn away from my uncle’s ashen face. His voice, identical to my father’s in its cadence and tone, seeps through my skin and sits like a stone in my stomach.

More urgently now, “Your father was a good man. If he had nothing but a piece of bread for himself, he would have broken it in half and given it to a stranger.”

I turn to him and try to keep the bile from my words: “Oh yeah? And what did he give to his daughter?”

As I leave the hospital I glance into his room once more.
I do not know this man.

Jack and Amber

Hey everyone.

Maybe you’ve read my post from yesterday Jack about my friend’s 7 year old son who was admitted to the hospital after his father abused him to the point of falling into a coma. If you haven’t, please do. It is a very serious case and has made the local news.

I have set up a donation site to assist Amber with any costs relating to legal and medical expenses, as well as transportation and childcare for her daughter associated with driving nearly 2 1/2 hours to visit Jack on a daily basis. If you cannot give, please share.

Thank you.

Jack

I have been dying for something to write lately. I’ve had posts slowly forming in my head, being forgotten and then rewritten before they ever make it to paper. Although I have ideas, nothing has yet compelled me to the point of settling in and writing it out. That is, until this week, when something has happened that is so devastating to me that I need to write so that I can attempt purge the sickness from my heart.

I knew a girl once. Her name was Amber. Her hair was short and she wore children’s barrettes to keep her ponytail in place. Her hair was dyed red and it clashed with the long sleeve button-down shirt that was the uniform of the restaurant where we worked.  She was visibly pregnant and entering her second trimester. She would become, for a time, one of my dearest friends.

We bonded quickly; I gave her a ride home one night and we stopped for snacks along the way. The same week we stayed up late together and visited my boyfriend on his overnight shift at the Whately Diner. We became regulars here; routinely monopolizing the jukeboxes, our laughter echoing off the steel walls.

But there was another routine too; this one less joyful and carefree than our gleeful late night rides. Randy, Amber’s boyfriend, took issue with our outings. Once, while we were driving to my apartment, he called and demanded to know where we were. Unsurprisingly, he did not believe that we were simply en route to Sunderland. Citing my radio in the background, he insisted that we must be in a nightclub and demanded to know where. When he and Amber got off the phone, he called her back. He continued to call her for the next ten minutes until she shut off her phone. Then he moved on to calling my phone until I was also forced to power it down. This happened multiple times.

I remember one morning, as I was waking up at my boyfriend’s house in Turners Falls, Amber called me, frantically crying and begging me to come get her from her apartment in Greenfield. I rushed over to find that she was trapped in her bedroom, Randy cursing at her on the other side of the door. I called the police, who told us that they had no power to make him leave the house, as they were both subletting and neither was on the lease. This happened at least twice more.

Although Amber officially ended her relationship with Randy, she had no choice but to let him continue living with her. When I went to her apartment I found poorly-written letters from him, promising her that he wanted to work it out and this wouldn’t happen again. When she was at work he would sit on the bench outside the restaurant, staring into the windows, waiting for her to get out.

In December, a month before her son was born, Amber left Greenfield and moved back in with her mother in Central Massachusetts. A few months later Randy contacted her, threatening to gain custody of his son, whom he called by the incorrect name.

My relationship with Amber has been spotty since she moved. We have reunited, we have fought, and we have lost touch. It had been nearly a year since we last spoke. But out of the blue, she messaged me: “I wish you were here.”

It has been a week since then, and in that time my heart has sunk deeper every day. On Wednesday she told me that her son was in the hospital. She told me that he has been in Randy’s custody, by her mother’s doing, and that she had been refused her visit the previous weekend. On Thursday she sent me a picture of him in the hospital, full of tubes, unconscious and unresponsive. On Friday I learned that his kidneys were failing when he was initially admitted to the hospital and we touched, though could not bear to address, that he may not make it.

I have not seen this boy since he was three years old, and I have not touched him since he was an infant, but my heart is broken. Today Amber’s story made the news, and the details have repeatedly made me tearful and nauseous.

According to court documents, doctors found the child was suffering from “starvation and dehydration” and had become unresponsive as a result. A state police report indicates the boy’s injuries are “life threatening.”

A police report states that the little boy also had suffered bruises to his forehead and jaw, which Mr. Lints allegedly said were caused by a fall from the child’s bed, something doctors determined wouldn’t have caused such injuries. The boy also had what are believed to be bleach burns on his hands and knees.

The police report indicates that the child was rarely out of his father’s sight and that there is a history of Randall Lints limiting “consumption of food and liquids,” which is an issue that had been addressed by a therapist in May.

Worcester Telegram

I don’t know what to say. How do these things happen? DCF placed him in Randall Lints’s care; why doesn’t the system work?

I don’t have a point. I don’t have an empowering ending. I have only sadness right now. Send Amber your love and support. My god, she needs it.

Update 7/24: Jack Loiselle remains in a coma, but is subtly responding to stimuli. The media has picked up his story as well, demanding answers for DCF’s gross negligence. I have set up a donation site to assist Amber and her family with any accrued medical and legal costs:Please help if you can.

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