Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Lie

I have told a lie for 35 years.
I have told it numerous times, so many in fact that I had almost forgotten the truth.

Here is the truth.

When was 15 we moved to a new neighborhood. Again.
I was in 9th grade and I was at my 3rd school that year having left the friends had managed to make the past 5 months. There was only 3 months of junior high left and I missed my friends.

Since we had no phone at home I spent a lot of my time at the convenience store half a block away using the pay phone to call my friends. This continued through the summer until we moved that fall.

Because of my spending so much time at the store I got to know not only the employees but the regulars as well. There was one guy that used to came in often, for cigarettes mostly. I have forgotten his name now but he was in his mid twenties, 5’9”-ish, thin. He had a beautiful face and an intense presence. I was interested right away. Over time we came to smile say Hi and learned each others names.

One summer day he asked me if I wanted to get high. Without delay I agreed, I loved getting high. I love the distance it created between me and the world, I was happy for the invite.

We walked the three and a half blocks up 6th Ave to his apartment. He lived on the third floor of a building that was built in the 60’s, the kind than looks like a motel. His apartment was at the top of the stairs. During the walk he I learned that he had been in Vietnam and that he chain smoked.

His apartment was a one bedroom with a galley kitchen, and as I expected, had cheap not matching furniture. What did surprise me was how clean his place was. Everything had its place and was in it. His decorations were mostly mementos he had brought back from Nam.

Without sitting down he reached under the couch and pulled out a shoebox lid with loose weed and a couple of already rolled joints. He plucked one out lit it, took a couple of hits and handed it to me where I sat on the couch. Without sitting down, he began showing me all his Vietnam memorabilia. He was moving around non-stop, chain smoking, unable to be still. I realized that he was already high, wired on something else. He was agitated and manic and I was immediately uncomfortable and knew I needed to get out of there.

I waited a few minutes then said I had to go. He quickly said no, that he wanted to show me something and went off to the bedroom muttering to himself. I stood up and stared to the door. My intent was to have the door open so I could leave as soon as he was back. As I started to toward the door I heard a sound from the bedroom that I recognized from the movies, it sent adrenaline through my body, my new plan was to just leave. No goodbye.

I didn’t make it to the door, he was back in a second and had a sword. A long curved Vietnamese sword. The sound I heard was it coming out of its sheath. I stood there admiring it as he told me about its easy capabilities to do physical damage to the human form.

Once more I said I had to leave, again he said no and that he wanted to show me something in the bedroom. He grabbed my wrist and still holding the sword, took me to the bedroom. Again everything was cheap, clean and in its place. Again everything was decorated with items from about Vietnam.

I was standing by the door, at the foot of the bed, he had let go of my hand and pointed out a flag on the wall and told me a story about it, a story I didn’t really hear since I was desperately trying to think of a way to get out of his apartment.

He suddenly turned and with his free hand grabbed me around the waist and kissed me. Now mind you this was something I wanted to do for some time, kiss him, but not his way. Not with me feeling trapped in his apartment, not with him holding a sword, not with me feeling scared. There was nothing nice about this kiss, it was hard and demanding. I could feel his erection pressing against me, I couldn’t think of a way out. As long as he had the sword he had an additional 3 foot reach that prevented me from getting away. I knew there was no way to outrun the reach of that sword.

Still holding the sword he pushed me to the bed. The edge of the mattress hit the back of my knees, and feet remaining on the floor, I fell backward onto the bed. He was next to me in an instant. The sword was still in his hand, on the bed just above my head. My objective changed, I knew there was no way out of the sex, I just wanted out without getting seriously hurt or even killed, which had became my immediate fear.

He then pushed his running shorts down to expose himself and rolled on top of me. He slid the crouch of my shorts to one side and raped me. It was over quickly and he rolled off of me onto his back to catch his breath. At some point he had finally let go of the sword.

I immediately stood up and said I needed to go to the bathroom. As I headed out of he room I heard him tell me to wait. I didn’t. I ran to the front door, unlocked the bolt and threw the door wide open and started running down the stairs. My fear was exploding in me and and adrenaline was now pumping through my body, all I could hear was my own pulse thudding in my ears. I ran all the way home.

Although I have told parts of the story before, I had never told about the rape. Never. Not to anyone. “MY” story is a cautionary tale of what could happen. In “MY” story I escape. In “MY” story I am my own heroine. “MY” story has always been the cover-up for the guilt I felt for having been somewhere I shouldn’t have been. For going into a stranger’s house to get high with him. For not being as grown as I thought I was. Mostly, for not protecting myself.

Recently I was watching a movie in which a 14 year old girl was rapped in a situation similar to mine. “MY” story fell apart in my mind and for the first time I cried about what had happened to the the 15 year old girl I once was.

Although I had intellectually known I didn’t “deserve” it, I had still believed that some of the blame was mine for being where I was at the time. I had never said no to him since I as afraid that it would escalate the situation dangerously. Seeing that rape acted out of film, for some reason, freed me. Seeing her innocence and trust, understanding my innocence and trust, I was finally able to forgive myself for not saving myself from being raped. My relief is immeasurable.

Looking back with adult eyes, I am now confident that even though I did nothing to stop it, it was rape. He silenced my voice through intimidation as completely as if he had his hand over my mouth. I was my own heroine in that I played the best cards dealt at the time and I got out from what had all the potential of becoming a much worse situation. Finally, 35 years later, my guilt, shame and embarrassment are gone.

Thirtyfive years later, my truth is back, my lie is gone.

Author’s note:

I know some of you were uncomfortable hearing my story.

According to a poll taken by the Colorado Dept of Health, 24% of women and 7% of men admitted being victims of sexual violence. That is in line with the rest of the United States.

What do those numbers really mean?
Colorado’s population is about 5 million. So over 1 million people in Colorado have admitted to being victims of sexual violence.

One million people. That is the is populations of Denver, Aurora and Centennial combined. 
And we know that only 40% of sexual assaults are reported. Yet the subject of Rape is still a taboo topic not meant for “polite” company. Much like Breast Cancer once was.

My goal in sharing my story is to begin making change. I want to start opening communication and bring this topic that affects so many people out so we can begin to help those who's voices are silenced by the shame that secrecy brings.

It is my dream that one day “shame” is longer listed as an effect of rape and that no one else ever have to lie about their truth again.

If you or someone you know is in need of someone to talk to about a sexual violence incident, please contact National Sexual Assault Hotline - 1.800.656.HOPE (4673)

Thank you

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Miss Substitute

One of the best things about school was substitute teachers.

Especially in elementary school where you had them all day. But you never really expected to learn much when a substitute was there. The days with substitutes were like free days, especially if your teacher was out unexpectedly. No lesson plans prepared, no instructions to follow, that substitute was on her own.

Her own. Not HIS own. Aside from gym teachers or principles, I never had a male teacher in elementary school. Not once. I remember having male teachers for the first time in junior high at Smiley. It was so strange and kind of fun, something new to the old mix. Until I realized that they were just the same as the female teachers. Some were nice, some were strict, some enjoyed teaching, some were unfair, some were funny and some hated their jobs. And like all teachers, some days they were "absent" and those days were usually a bit more fun.

When I was in 5th grade at Wyatt Elementary we always knew when our teacher Ms Silberberg was going to be out because she told us ahead of time. She always let us know that she expected our best behavior while she was gone and wanted the hear good reports back from the substitute teacher. And for the most part we did our best to make her proud. But there is always an exception.

One morning when we arrived to class Ms. Silberberg unexpectedly wasn't there. No teacher was. After the tardy bell rang someone from the office came and told us that Ms Silberberg wouldn't be in and that a substitute teacher was on the way. We were told to sit quietly, to start studying our spelling words. Also the classroom door would be left open and there was not to be any noise coming out of the classroom. The office assistant then left.

"Study your spelling words."
This was probably the worst thing we could have been asked to do.
We didn't all study the same spelling list but had individual lists according to our ability that were kept in folders in a bin behind Ms Silberberg's desk.

These simple instructions, that must have sounded great to the office assistant as she said them to us, created a flurry of activity and caused 30 students to try to cram themselves into a 3 foot by 2 foot area all trying to simultaneously go through a stack of folders looking for the one with their name. It would have been more accurate if the office worker had yelled "LET THE GAMES BEGIN!" We were smart enough however to be quiet during all the pushing, shoving, blocking and teasing that went on and eventually we all made to desks around the room. Literally.

When we did well as a class, we were allowed to put our desks anywhere we wanted in the room and sit by whoever we wanted. As a class our preferred placement was around the perimeter of the room, against the walls. This allowed for the rug that Ms Silberberg had brought to be placed in the middle of the room. Some students faced their desks into the center of the room, some faced the walls. If we misbehaved our punishment was being placed into rows alphabetically "old school" style.

On this day are desks were around the room and we were sitting everywhere, but where we belonged, "studying" when the substitute came in. She was white, older (30's), short, had a small frame and a towering red beehive, my first thought was she just came off the show Hee Haw. She was clearly uncomfortable in this Black and Hispanic school. Her nervousness was palatable to the class and looks shot around the room immediately. This would be fun.

Miss Substitute came in and went directly to Ms Silberberg's desk in the back of the room and started looking for a lesson plan as we watched. No luck, there was no lesson plan. Her eyes briefly went around the room and she asked what we were supposed to be working on. Everyone answered at once. Some said what we normally worked on at that time, some answered spelling like the office assistant told us, some lied different things just for the fun of it. One enterprising classmate said recess.

Miss Substitute looked nervously back to the desk, most likely hoping that magically the lesson plan had appeared when Maria pointed out roll hadn't been taken yet. Grateful to have something concrete to do Miss Substitute got the Attendance Book and started down the list of names. This became another fun game for us as she mispronounced most of the names. Trujillo became True-jill-o; Belia became Beel-i-a, by the time she came to Maura, I yelled out the correct pronunciation before she said something that would become a nickname that I wouldn't be able to shake. We were laughing and teasing and enjoying roll like never before.

With attendance finally over and she asked again what we should be working on, Armando pointed out we didn't know her name. Miss Substitute walked up to the blackboard at the front of the room and as she went past him, Armondo shot a spit wad at that big red beehive, and it stuck. Everyone burst out laughing, Miss Substitute wrote her rather unmemorable Anglo name on the board, then turned and asked again what we should be studying. Marylin then said that Arthur wasn't in his seat.

That information brought forth even more commotion as Miss Substitute started trying to get everyone to his or her correct seat. After more time than it should have taken, everyone was in their own seat and Miss Substitute had amassed a sizable collection of rolled up pieces of paper and pencil erasers in her big red beehive. As she had gone around the room getting students to move, the boys had picked up on Armondo's idea and it became open season on big red beehives. No licence needed. Finally everyone was at their desks but there was just one problem, Randy was sitting on his desk, back against the wall feet on the seat, not in it. Miss Substitute walked over to Randy's desk and told him to sit down. "I am." he replied while looking at her straight in the eye.

Randy was tall in 5th grade, about 5' 5" a good two inches taller than Miss Substitute, and even while sitting on the desk still taller than her. Miss Substitute told him to sit in the seat. Randy didn't say a word, he continued his eye-lock with her, folded his arms across his chest, and tilted his head to the left. His body language screamed "Make me". For the first time since Miss Substitute came in the room it was quiet. Really quiet. No one moving a muscle quiet.

Miss Substitute gathered all her authority and asked in her most threatening voice "What is your name?"
The room erupted in a chorus of "Randy!", "His name is Randy!", "That's Randy!"
But Randy didn't answer, he just continued to stare at Miss Substitute and when it quieted down he slowly started spelling, "R-A-N-D-Y."
Miss Substitute started trembling, just a bit, and as Randy continued spelling she was either unable or unwilling to take her eyes off him, she stood there staring at him as he finished.

I was sitting next to Randy, my desk facing into the room, so I could see Miss Substitute's face, and just as Randy finished spelling his name, I saw Miss Substitute's complete fear and watched as her eyes fill with tears. This was no longer funny, I knew it and from the shift I saw on Randy's face, he knew it too. The class was now officially out of control.

Without losing face in front of the class Randy broke the stare down by laughing and plopped into his seat. The class, not having seen the fear or potential tears, or realizing Randy's conceding, started laughing too. Miss Substitute regained her composure as she walked back to Ms Silberberg's desk. Randy and I were the only two not laughing at that point. We looked at each other silently acknowledging that things had gone dangerously too far.

As Miss Substitute got to the desk I called out the subject we were suppose to be working on, by then our fourth subject of the day, and just as Miss Substitute was finally going to teach us something, the classroom door opened and Ms Silberberg came in. There was a spontaneous cheer from all the students and some of the girls rushed up to hug her. It seemed Randy and I weren't the only ones feeling things were out of control.

Ms Silberberg looked around the room a little shocked at the reception. "Well hello everyone." she said.
She then looked down at the girls and while smiling asked, "May I come in the room?"
During this time Miss Substitute had gathered her things and with no delay, goodbye or even a glance at us, she headed out the door.

I never really expected to learn much on a day with a substitute.
But there is always an exception.
On that day, though I already knew the word, I learned compassion.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The non-musical sounds that I love

Train whistle at night
Clock tower striking
Breathing of a sleeping baby
Sheets gently blowing on the clothesline
Wind chimes
Heavy diner plate being set on a Formica table
Puppy grunts
Wind blowing through the trees
Rain on the roof
The lack of sound on a snow covered night
Ocean waves

Sunday, July 10, 2011


While I played tough in school, I really got into only a couple of fights and those were over quickly and without much to-do. There was one time however when I seriously wanted to killed someone.

My favorite class in school was Gym. I loved it. I was tomboy and a natural athlete. Tall for my age, skinny but strong and fast. My eye-hand coordination was good and I would try anything, and give it my all. I could beat all the girls and most of the boys in sports.

In 5th grade I was at Wyatt and there was only one person who could run faster than me in the whole school. Randy Randolph. We were in the same class and none of the other students could outrun us, including the 6th graders. I had an on again/off again crush on him my entire time at Wyatt. Randy was tall for his age, taller than all of the students and most of the teachers. At 10 years old he was 5’5’’ and had the longest legs you ever saw. I was sure his long legs were the reason I wasn’t the fastest runner in school.

Our class was lucky, we had Gym in the afternoon which made the last half of the day go faster. One sunny afternoon when softball was the curriculum, I was standing on first base waiting to run. I really wasn’t paying that close of attention to the batter since it was one of the kids that didn't hit that well and I was expecting him to strike out. I was looking around knowing that if I heard the crack of the bat I would have plenty of time to run. A car slowly drove by the school, music blasting and I looked up to see if it was my brother or one of his friends so I could wave but it wasn't. As I was turning to look at the batter I felt a huge explosion of pain in my chest and an instant later heard a thump at my feet. I looked down confused by both the pain and the sound and saw a softball at my feet. In an instant I knew two things.
One: That the pitcher, Orlando Hall, had just hit me in the chest with the softball. Orlando Hall who I also had an on again/off again crush on had HIT ME WITH A SOFTBALL!
Two: I was going to kill him.

I looked up from the ball to the pitcher's mound just as all the the students started a choir of "Oooooo..".
Orlando and I looked at each other. What I saw was his shocked face, mouth hanging open. What he saw was my anger. We looked at each other for half a second before he turned and started running and I gave chase. He ran toward the corner of the field, where the exit from the school grounds was. I figured he was running for home but I knew I could catch him before he got there, I could always catch Orlando, he was fast, but no Randy. He didn't go out the gate but made a sharp right turn. Bad move, that would allow me to cut to the right and close the distance more quickly and he would be trapped on one side by the fence.

There was a symphony of sounds. My blood pounding in my ears, sneakers in the gravel, Orlando yelling he was sorry, all the boys yelling for Orlando to run faster, all the girls yelling for me to run faster. Then through all of that, just as I was closing in on him, I heard the gym teacher's voice clearly and forcefully telling me to stop or I would would be sent to the Principle. I realized that she was giving chase too, as was the rest of the class. Orlando also heard the teacher's voice and started making his way around toward her. I was about to catch him but it would be just as he reached her. Orland ran behind the teacher grabbing her arms intending to use her as a human shield if needed.

There was much confusion during the next few minutes. All the kids yelling and laughing, Orlando yelling at me he was sorry he didn't mean to hit me, me yelling at Orlando of course he meant it since he hit me in the chest, the teacher yelling for Orlando to let go of her and yelling at the the rest of us to stop yelling and calm down.

The end result? I let Orlando live.

Apparently he though I was going to steal second base, something I had never done (something we didn't do in 5th grade softball) and turned and threw the ball to the boy covering first base who was not only behind me but paying even less attention to the game than I was.

No one was sent to the Principle.

After the swelling and redness went away I ended up with a small bruise under my collarbone and I have always been grateful that the ball didn't hit my face.

I think that in those few moments running for his life, Orlando was the fastest runner in the school.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Things I learned from my Mother

Don't discriminate
A love of reading
Even if you don't agree, be polite
A sense of humor
Words have power
Women are equal to men
Stand up for what you believe in
It's never too late to learn to cook
Push back against the powers that be if needed
Women use the F word
Swear words are just words
Protect people who can't protect themselves
If you don't pay your bills, bad things happen
"Famous" people are just people
Be respectful to others, unless they are complete idiots and then just be nice, they can't help being an idiot.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Neighborhood Games

Kick the Can
Green Ghost
Freeze Tag
TV Tag
Red Light Green Light
Two Square

Friday, February 18, 2011

It's a God Thing

There are so many memories, but so few of my Dad. And one vivid one of my Father. My dad left when I was 4 and by then his diseases had taken him over. The bipolar disorder, alcoholism and his childhood had formed this man into someone who was almost never pleasant to be around. But there were those times when a father’s instinct came through.

In 1964 I was 3 years old and as Mad Men has shown us, most of the adults in America smoked. My mom and dad included. We were living in a rented house on York Street in Capital Hill. It was an old red brick two story home, bedrooms and bath upstairs; it had a brick front porch and a small wooden back one. If you go to look for it now you won’t find it. It was torn down years ago and like a lot of older homes in Capital Hill, was replaced by an apartment building. But for part of 1964 it was home to my mom, dad, brother, 2 of my sisters and me.

Dad smoked Pall Malls, no filter. A man’s cigarette if there ever was one. I don’t really remember what mom smoked then but later it was Kools, then Benson and Hedges menthol. That was the brand she stayed with until she was diagnosed with emphysema. In 1964 there must have been an ashtray in every room of every house in America because smoking was a continual thing then, and for someone like my dad, already an addictive type, he always had one. Sitting, standing, walking, driving, reading, watching TV. Always.

One winter night in 1964, at the house on York Street, my dad was in the upstairs hallway, leaning against the doorjamb of my brother’s bedroom. He was casually propped there, one hand in his pocket, the other holding a cigarette down by his side. I was upstairs too and for some reason, probably for no reason other than I was 3, running. I turned the corner of the hallway; in what I am sure to this day was the fastest any three year old took a corner, right into dad’s lit cigarette. Not only did I run into his lit cigarette, I collided into it with my open eye.

I don’t really remember much of what immediately followed, but my dad’s parental nature kicked in and he rushed to get “the baby” help. I do I remember being outside looking down as if floating above the back porch. I hear the screen door slam open and from above I see dad starting down the wooden steps heading to the car, carrying me wrapped in a blanket. I hear my mother’s voice calling out that I wasn’t wearing shoes. As he reached the car my dad calls back that it doesn’t matter he will be carrying me, my mother rushes out hurrying to catch up with us.

There is a vague memory of sitting in the Doctors office and of getting an eye patch. And a very clear memory of getting a candy cane. Not a little cane shaped one that hangs on a tree. No this was one of those big ones that is like a little club in my tiny hand. I forget about my eye patch and two thoughts go through my mind as the doctor gives it to me. One, it was already late, how would I finish it before having to go to bed? Two, my siblings would be jealous. My parents take me home, I never need my shoes.

Years later I learn that I have an unrelated eye condition which causes my eyes to fatigue and the weaker one to no longer focus correctly, when this happens I see double. I have been wearing prescription glasses as treatment for 20 years now. When visiting a neurologist three years ago, he asked how long I had this eye condition. I told him since childhood. He looked shocked and told me I was lucky I wasn’t blind. Apparently when you have this condition as a child your brain is not developed enough to understand the double vision and will try to correct it, but it can’t. Eventually the brain will stop allowing information from either eye and you are blind. He told me the treatment in childhood is to wear an eye patch over the weak eye to stop it from getting tired, and then confusing the brain.

I ran into that cigarette with my weaker eye.
And my father carried me.
I am not blind in that eye because the scar is over my iris.
And my Father carried me.
I wore an eye patch over my weaker eye.
And my father carried me.
I am not completely blind today because I ran into a lit cigarette when I was three.....and my Father carried me.

I believe that everything happens for a reason.
Sometimes you get to know why, and sometimes you don’t.
But why or not, here is the one thing I do know, a God Thing when I see it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Toys I had while growing up...

Silly Putty
Lincoln Logs
Hot Wheels
Paper Dolls
Mr Potato Head
Troll Dolls
Etch a Sketch
Squirt Gun
Matchbox Cars
Jump Rope

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It's what I don't remember

Post-traumatic stress disorder: An anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma.

Dissociation: Partial or complete disruption of the normal integration of a person’s conscious or psychological functioning. Dissociation can be a response to trauma …[it] allows the mind to distance itself from experiences that are too much for the psyche to process at that time.

These are the words that define my childhood.
These are two of the obstacles that challenge me because of my childhood.
These are two definitions that explain so much and so little at the same time.

Memories. So subjective.
Multiple witnesses to the same event can remember entirely different things.

What I remember, what I know, is looking down a long hallway. It is night, I am in my nightgown, and I am alone in the dark hallway. On one side of the hall, a little behind me is my sisters’ bedroom, the door is open and the lights are out. On the other side of the hall a little ahead of me is my brother’s room, the door closed. I don’t see either room though; I am looking down the hall into the living room.

The light is on. I can see the side of the console TV, an end table with a lamp on it, part of the couch, and my father beating my mother. I don’t hear a thing. No sound at all. I am shaking; I don’t know what to do. Of course at 4 years old there is really nothing I can do. I realize I am crying, I don’t hear that either but that is because I am not making a sound, just quietly crying. He stops hitting her; and starts choking her. Her arm flails and knocks the lamp off the table. I hear the glass break.

The next thing I remember is being in bed with my sister 13 year old sister CAS, pressed up against her back, shaking from all the adrenaline pumping through my little body. That is all I remember of that night. I don’t remember the police coming; I don’t remember my father being arrested.

Years later I am talking to CAS about that night. Her memory is different than mine. I am surprised she has a memory at all; I thought she slept through it.

She is standing in the same dark hallway; she sees the same room I do, the same furniture, the same violence. The noise brought her from her bed, but she doesn’t remember me standing there though clearly she is behind me. She sees dad choking mom. She sees mom’s hand knock the lamp over. Then she screams. She realizes immediately that this was a mistake and runs and gets back in bed. Alone. Our mom comes in and tells her “Your father wants to see you.” CAS goes into the living room and my father tells her “You wanted to see this, now watch.” He then starts hitting mom again. CAS remembers the police coming, she remembers dad being arrested.

So what I remembered, what I had know, is not entirely complete, or correct. I was not against CAS’s back like I remember, but by 9 year old sister TJS’. This is a shock to me. For some reason more shocking than not remembering CAS being in the hall or screaming. It shocks me because I do remember being in her bed, underneath the covers, face against her back, trembling. But now I remember the wall behind my back as well. And I am on my right side. And this is not possible in CAS’ bed. If I am on my right side with a wall behind me than I am on the other side of the room; in the other bed, against TJS’s back. I remember it so clearly now. CAS' memory has triggered mine.

However to this day, I do not remember CAS being in the hallway or her scream. It must have been that scream that got me out of the hall. I do not remember mom coming in the bedroom even though I was there. No, I still don’t remember any of it, even after hearing about it. No triggering for them. Those memories must have never made it to my psyche.

Memory is funny, it can protect you; ironically by making you forget.