Thinking About the Brownsville Rape

These are the facts, so far:

I can’t stop thinking about this, and following the details as they come out. He was drunk. She was drunk. Still, something is missing. Something in our culture is broken and I’m struggling to make sense of it.

I’m childless, but I still wonder what I would do if it were me and my child. Or me and my father. When I was raped I kept it a secret from my parents; I was afraid my father try to go after the man who had done it. That man would have killed my father and not lost any sleep over it. I did what I did to protect my father, maybe this father did what he did to protect his daughter.

Maybe he thought he’d be no help at all if he was dead. That they’d have to kill her too then, so there’d be no witnesses to the murder. Maybe he didn’t think at all and just acted on instinct–a gun in your face, running seems like a natural reaction.

She will have to come to terms with the rape. Rapes. With that feeling of safety having been ripped away. A trust in the world, shattered. At least one in every five women have had to do the same thing–figure out who they are after they’ve been raped. Figure out if they are the same person, or if they’ve changed and how. But, I wonder how this girl will process the knowledge and memory of her father–a father who only recently came back into her life–running away and leaving her with them, no matter what his reasoning was. I wonder how he will come to terms with the knowledge and memory that while he was running away from her, she was being brutalized. I’m trying to find the missing pieces of the puzzle that might help make sense of this whole thing.

Being raped at gunpoint by five men when you’re alone.
Being raped at gunpoint by five men while your father runs for help.
Is one worse than the other?

He didn’t seem upset, said one store owner, when he asked to use the store phone. Maybe that’s how he handles stress,  I say, maybe he shuts down, closes off his emotions. He wouldn’t be alone in that. Or maybe he was in shock. After I was raped, and my rapist had left the house, I called my job to let them know I would be late to work. And then I started to get ready to go to work. Shut down. Survival mode. It’s one way to deal with extreme stress.

Another store owner said the man was frantic and didn’t make any sense. Maybe that’s how he handles stress, he falls apart. He’s not alone in that either. When my rapist was still in the house, I crawled on the floor like an animal, the sounds I made not even close to words. I was frantic, and I didn’t make sense.

Did her father put up a fight, or did he run away as fast as he could?

What if it wasn’t random at all but some awful payback for something he’d done but his daughter had to pay for. Some drug deal gone bad. Or money owed. Maybe she was payment. I feel awful for thinking that, but it happens. People sell their children to stay alive, to feed the rest of their family. People do awful things all the time, to survive or for the pleasure they get from their cruelty.

The youngest boy is 14. He is four years younger than the woman he raped. He is someone’s son.  Someone raised this child in a way that he thinks this is acceptable behavior. This is a child who gets pleasure from his cruelty, from someone else’s pain, from dominance.

Someone pointed out that we do things in groups we would never do alone. That’s true. Maybe that’s the get-out-of-jail-free card that explains the 14-year-old. And gang rape is certainly nothing new. But I cannot get beyond that idea that someone, people, parents, or the state raised these boys to think rape is okay, that it is manly, powerful, and some kind of birthright they’re entitled to.

Except two of those boys were turned in by their parents when the discovered what had happened. Those two were raised by parents who knew right from wrong well enough to know their children had done wrong.

Where did things go wrong that those moral lessons did not penetrate these children deep enough so that this couldn’t have happened?

 

A Lesson in Loss: On the Death of a Friend

A friend of mine died this week. The older I get, the more often I’m going to find myself saying that. It’s sad to lose someone you cared about. To realize a child will grow up without a parent. To watch a parent lose their child, a friend lose a friend. But there’s more than that, more than loss and grieving. There’s the lesson.

In everything you experience, every single thing–good, bad, or somewhere in-between (where most of life falls) is a lesson. The trick is to get the lesson the first time it comes around, to find the opportunity in the chaos. Broken hearts. Death of a friend. Lost job. Major illness. There are lessons in there, and we each have to figure it out for ourselves.

When Adam died, there was something vaguely familiar about it. Not because it was the same “rare” cancer that killed the love of my life three years ago. That just reminded me how fast it would happen, that will-to-live meant nothing to this cancer and there is no way around this one. No, it was the turn-out of support, the mass of people who contributed on the GoFundMe page to raise money for a last-ditch I’ll-try-anything-cure. Collecting almost three times what they’d asked in less than a month. The flood of posts and well-wishes that filled the Facebook feeds, the Twittersphere.

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Everyone always says “Oh, she was so special,” or “There will never be anyone like him,” but the truth is in the pudding. It’s in who shows up, who speaks up, what’s said and why.

And that was what was familiar.

A few years ago another friend died. No one saw it coming, no one was prepared. Is one easier than the other? Losing someone suddenly or having time to prepare? Can you really prepare? I think all you can really do is use that time to say a proper goodbye. Big Daddy Addy was lucky that way. His friends and family were too, even though it didn’t feel like luck at all.

Chloe Dzubilo died suddenly at 50. Violently. She died alone.
Adam Roth died slowly, peacefully, and surrounded by friends. He was 57.

10608786_10152817636030625_8912646138906773135_oThey were both performers, musicians, and stylistas. He went through dozens of hair styles, colors (oh, that frosted stage…). So did she, leaning more towards the peacock colors.  East Village icons and stalwarts. First generation Punks. He was dapper, a mod, a rocker, always dressed with intention. She, identified warmly by a friend as the “trans Courtney Love,” wore vintage lingerie and silks mixed with rock t-shirts and tight pants.  Both had struggled with addiction and gotten past it. One battled anxiety, the other, depression. And both were met with an ear-splitting roar into the abyss when they passed. A roar from the huge crowd that loved them. Huge. Crowd.

A sign-up sheet had to be created for visitors when Adam went into hospice at his parent’s home. Without it, the room was swamped, his family overwhelmed, himself, drained.

Judson Church overflowed with Chloe’s memorial and it felt like we were hundreds who marched in her honor down to the Hudson River.

Adam brought his sober-and-wicked-cool musician-funny-as-fuckness with him to work with at-risk kids via Road Recovery.
Chloe took her HIV+ transgender fierceness to help with the first HIV prevention programs for transgender sex workers.

And that’s the thing. The thing that made them each so special. That attracted crowds. The lives they lived. The love in their heart and their ability to open that heart, not just in the doing, but in their daily lives.The impact of their lives spreading like a pebble dropped in still water, they radiated outwards.

Adam was a high-energy, rapid-fire, snappy-dressing dynamo who could get a party started or be that guest you wanted there that kept it going. And he was your biggest fan.
Chloe tended more toward the soft-spoken, sometimes raunchy, often Southern-belle-ish delicate flower,  and earth mother. She was your tender and constant support.

They  made you feel seen. Heard.

She  spoke in a  Monroe-like whisper and you leaned forward to hear, and suddenly the two of you were in a silver bubble, an intimate conversation in the center of a chaotic city. And you felt beautiful, important, trusted. She shared her heart with you.
He drew you in, dragged you along wherever the party was, was sincerely happy to see you. Sincerely. He made you feel special–like you were the funniest, prettiest, smartest, somethingest. He shared his light with you.

They knew there was enough for everyone. Enough love, enough light. Like a moon reflecting the light of the stars and suns, sometimes you were the moon, sometimes you were the star.

So, the lesson? They were so loved because of who they were. Because of how they saw you, opened themselves to you, stood aside to make room for you. They were loved because in all their frenetic activity, talent, insecurities, battles, human-ness they made you feel as if you were the most important person in the room. Big open hearts. Hearts that were honest. That wanted love, wanted to love and be loved.

I was out with my “brother” (family of choice, related by hair) the other night, and we talked about how we are, he and I. How we are not that kind of people. We are the kind of people who don’t allow you to get close to us. We are afraid we will be crushed by all that love, that it will break us.

The lesson?  My lesson in the death of my friend? Love doesn’t break you. Love makes you larger than life.

Photo of Adam Roth courtesy: Jeff Smith~ReflectionsNYC

Trigger Warning

My grandmother made the best pork chops, but that recipe died with her. She also made the worst hamburgers I’ve ever tasted, and that’s a recipe I know. When I miss her, I make them. It triggers all those warm, fuzzy, grandma’s kitchen memories and feelings. But the madeleine moment of those lousy burgers are not what I’d call a trigger in a trigger warning sense. The burgers evoke, awaken, arouse.

Triggers, on the other hand, are always about the bad things, unpleasant memories, feelings you were never able to process.

More than thirty years ago I was kidnapped; both my stupidity and a pair of rust-colored corduroy jeans played a big part. I escaped and didn’t think much about it until the same man murdered two friends of mine and the police let him slide. I’m told I got out of my mind angry over that, but I don’t remember the angry. I don’t remember having any feelings about it all, other than the unfairness of the imbalance in whose lives mattered and whose didn’t back then. Not that much has changed and that continues to fuel my righteous indignation in defense and support of women in general, and sex workers in particular. Perhaps I forgot to mention that I, and my two friends, were exotic dancers / go-go girls / strippers / sex workers / women.

With the exception of when I’m writing about that time or telling the story of the kidnapping (perfect when dinner conversation gets dull), I rarely think about that man or those women. Only one friend I still know today remembers any of them.  When we talk, I’m prepared to remember any number of things that would give a normal person nightmares and it’s as if we were talking about an episode of Transparent or OITNB. Good stories, but we don’t have a lot of feelings around them.

This no feeling thing, it’s part of a thing called dissociation, and I’ve talked about that before here and here and here and even all the way back here. Apparently, I have lots of feelings about my having no feelings. What I also don’t have, is control over these feelings I don’t have. Because they’re actually there. You know that. My under-brain know that. It’s just my front brain, my awake-brain that doesn’t know it. Until something accidentally flips the switch and feelings I didn’t know I had come rushing out, wrap a plastic dry-cleaning bag around my head, and try to suffocate me.

It’s why people often put a trigger warning before an article or story they think might do that to someone else. Stories about hard things like rape, kidnapping, or suicide. But, if I know I’m reading a story about some teenager who gets raped by his kidnapper and then commits suicide, if I know that going in—and you can usually tell by the headline or pull quotes—then everything inside me is hyper-aware, fully armed and ready, and all the feelings stay on lock down.

It’s the stuff you don’t see coming.

Like when I’m with someone who knew my friend Lyle before he passed away twelve years ago, I’m ready to hear Lyle’s name and it won’t upset me. But when someone random mentions him or repeats something he used to say, it’s a punch to the gut and all the wind gets pounded out of me. My feelings barrier wasn’t up and those missing him feelings weren’t prepared to be called on. They’re like an ADHD, over-sugared, over-caffeinated kid when that happens. Sometimes I have to leave the room in a self-imposed time-out.

I have to be on the lookout for the thing that doesn’t look like an emotional shoe-bomb.

IMG_6844Such as the rust-colored corduroy jeans at Old Navy that tried to kill me today. The original pair were a gift from the man who would later that night turn out to be my kidnapper. I don’t know how much he paid for them, they were from a rack of clothes that had “fallen off the back of a truck” and they fit me like a second skin at a time in my life when that was a flattering look. The pants that stopped me dead in my tracks today, in the middle of Old Navy, some thirty years later, were $34.99. I didn’t see the price tag right away. I couldn’t see anything right away. It felt like I’d been transported back in time, and I was standing in a Times Square pimp bar called “The Pork Pie” watching younger me eyeballing the pair of jeans she’d just been gifted, but with the knowledge of what was to come and no way to warn younger me. At the same time it seemed like those jeans had been transported forward in time—meaning there was a tear in time, and anyone or anything could come through and no one was safe—fuck no one—I wasn’t safe from anything or anyone from my past. If thought I was tough enough back then and turned out to be wrong, I am in no condition now to know how to handle the people and things that could come back looking for me if that tear was real.

I walked away from the counter where the jeans were stacked, and dodged into the dressing room for safety from the ghosts, and to try on a couple of pair of regular blue denim jeans. The sales-girl in the dressing room was folding some leftover clothes. Specifically, she was folding a pair of the rust-colored corduroy jeans. I couldn’t speak. Or take my eyes off them. I couldn’t move. When I finally did, I was grateful for the lock on the door to my little dressing cubicle. I guess I did have feelings about that night. About that man. About who I was then and what happened.

I’m a big believer in don’t worry about finding your feelings, they’ll find you when you’re ready to handle them. These feelings were only there for a few minutes, maybe seven minutes all told. I’ve lived perfectly well without them for over thirty years and while I may be ready to handle them it doesn’t necessarily mean I want to or even need to.

For a moment, I considered buying the rust-colored corduroy jeans. But I wasn’t sure what else I’d come back with once I stuck my arm through the rip in time.

 

That Girl

mirror-1Sometimes I  don’t recognize myself. I know it’s me in the mirror or the reflection in the store window—I recognize my clothes and my hair (it’s always all about the hair, I never don’t recognize my hair). But like some kind of Freaky Friday body swap, I have a face that’s not mine. Sometimes, it’s some other regular person’s face. Sometimes, it’s monstrous and lumpy and it looks like kittens and snakes fighting under my skin. Sometimes, I see it’s mine, but it doesn’t seem right. There’s a nose, two eyes, a mouth, but it just doesn’t add up to human the way other people’s faces do.

There was a time—especially during the heavy drinking and drugging days (and all drinking and drugging was heavy) when I’d be putting on makeup and I’d look at my eyes or my mouth, but not my whole face. I knew it wouldn’t look like me and it would freak me out. Luckily, those are all some-times, not most-of-the-time. Now, it’s just part of who I am.

Used to be I wouldn’t look at my whole face in the mirror because I knew it wouldn’t look like me.

It’s called depersonalization and it’s an aspect of dissociative disorder. It can last for only moments or return over and over for years. Some people say it feels like you’re watching yourself from outside your body, a third person POV. There’s a sense of emotional detachment or numbing. In my case, my memories play out as if I’m watching myself in a movie. I don’t remember things from my own perspective, but as viewed from the invisible camera set just outside the scene, or an audience member in the theater seat, watching my life play out on a the big screen. In other words, in my memories, I am not me. I see me.

I love taking tests, so I took this one: Steinberg Depersonalization Test. I got a 33, which put me “in the range of Severe Depersonalization (25-75).We recommend that you be evaluated by a professional…you have a treatable illness with a very good prognosis for recovery. Your illness is widely shared by others who coped with trauma by using the self-protective defense of dissociation.”  Often it’s the result of severe abuse in childhood, but I’m not saying that’s what happened in my case. “Emotional abuse, in particular, is a strong predictor of depersonalization disorder in adult life.” Yeah. That sounds closer to the truth.

There was a time when leaving my body was what I needed to do to survive, and it worked.

And although I no longer have that kind of life, those kind of learned behaviors are slow to change. But, they’re not hard-wired and it happens less and less often.  I know the what and why—I know it is me, even if I don’t recognize the face. Years ago my life required that kind of quick-escape survival mechanism. It worked for years. Kept me alive. Kept me sane. It was the closet I could hide in when I’d grown too old to hide in closets. And for that, I will always be grateful.

 

Some people cut themselves when the numbing gets to be too much. For me it was tattoos and piercings, and it took me years to make the connection between what I was doing (piercing my skin with color or metal) with what I wasn’t feeling (anything).

Disclaimer: My experience by no means covers the breadth and depth of depersonalization, nor it is meant to attribute this sort of disorder to anyone else’s tattoos or piercings. Not even all of my own.

For a more light-hearted view watch OnlyTheJodi on YouTube: Middle Aged Lazy – Episode 7: Whose That Girl?

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Knees (and my vagina)

My knees are shot. Partly because they’re supporting 200+ pounds of not very graceful, but mostly because I fall down a lot. There’s nothing wrong with my equilibrium––I just don’t pay attention. I’m looking here and there, look a bird! Trying to stay present, in the moment, look at my surroundings, what would make a good photograph, what can I see that no one else sees. Lots of things. I see lots of things that no one else sees, I also miss a lot of the things most people see. Like potholes:

That time I stepped into one so deep on Bleecker Street that my entire foot got stuck and the rest of my body kept going. I lay there, while people stepped over me.One woman leaned down, “You know, there’s a bench right over there you can sleep on.” I hobbled home.

That time I tripped on a tiny crack on the sidewalk went down on my knees and came up with what was obviously a broken wrist.

That time I was speeding through Central Park on rollerblades and remembered that I really hadn’t learned how to slow down or stop so I just threw myself down on the ground.

That time there was a giant flying waterbug in the house––the only living thing I’m really afraid of––and I lunged at it, landing on my knees.

I keep two bags of frozen peas in my freezer for my knees. They are scarred and bumpy and there is a little blue spot on one where a small pebble is still embedded. They are always skinned, or scabbed, or under a bag of frozen peas.

I have not been able to squat down to get something or say hi to a child or more likely to happen, to a dog, in years. Actually, I can squat, I just can’t get back up. That sent me to physical therapy years ago, the not being able to squat and talk to dogs. I talk to a lot of dogs. A lot of dogs. The physical therapy didn’t do much, so I learned to just plop my not inconsequential ass on the ground to talk to dogs, which is a pretty vulnerable position if the dog in question is: unfriendly, rambunctious, a slobberer.

A few months ago one (knee, not dog) swelled up like a cantaloupe, even though I hadn’t fallen in at least two weeks. Convinced I had kneecap cancer, I went to my osteo man to check it out. That’s how often I fall. I have an osteo man. His assistant moved my legs and knees this way and that, twisting, knocking, bending until he finally stood up and said, “Wow, you have a really shitty knees.” My big-sports-medicine radio-show osteo-man-to-the-stars came in, did the same bending, knocking, and twisting, albeit in slightly different order, sat back and said, “Well, you have really shitty knees.” The X-rays tech refrained from the descriptor “shitty” and simply commented under her breath, “Oh, wow. Those are bad.” The MRI technician insisted on taking more images than originally ordered, because, “It’s bad, and it keeps going up your thigh.”

“It” turned out to be osteonecrosis, something that occurs when the blood can’t get to the bone, and so the bone (osteo) starts to die (necrosis), and apparently it’s kinda uncommon. It can be caused by: excessive alcohol consumption – check; high doses and extended use of steroids – check; and repeated trauma to the area – double triple check.

The choices are surgery––no thank you, or the non-surgical answers are building up the muscles in my thighs so that my knees aren’t doing all the work, and reduction in weight bearing, by which we mean, why the hell am I asking my knees to lug around 200+ pounds? Wouldn’t they be happier dragging around 150 pounds? Wouldn’t the dogs be happier?