Gentlemen Wear Burberry

“God, I don’t even know what I’m doing right now.” I looked over at my friend who was driving me home, he said nothing. Waiting hopelessly for a little support I continued, “Like, I don’t even know this guy. It’s almost 3:00am and all I want to do is sleep. Why did I invite him over?” “Yeah…” He replied half heartedly as he focused on the road. Realizing that he didn’t care I fell silent and stared out the window, watching the falling rain. When we finally arrived at my apartment we said goodbye and parted ways. I climbed up the stairs to my bedroom and threw on an oversized sweatshirt that smelled like stale smoke and secretly hoped that my suitor would get lost and go back the way he came. But he didn’t and when I heard him knocking I put on a smile and walked cooly to the door.

I knew him in middle school. By “knew him” I mean we had exchanged glances in the partially finished basement of my best friend’s apartment when we were thirteen. My only real memory of this person had been overshadowed by the scraggily haired boy he was with who was busying himself by undressing old barbies and making sexually disturbing comments. I sat on the arm of an old couch and watched it in disgust. He hadn’t crossed my mind in almost ten years when I noticed a message from him lingering in my inbox. I skimmed it on my lunch break and saw “blog” a couple of times and honestly assumed he was writing to accuse me of being a man hater (I get that a lot). But as I read on I realized that he was actually complimenting me for it. Being that I’m a sucker for my fans I responded politely. Of course for me, being polite often ends in a one night stand. Oh you love my writing? That’s so sweet! Please, come in and help yourself to my vagina. I know what you’re thinking and yes, I’m working on it.

So there I was wanting to kick myself for being such a lush when I opened the door. There before me stood a gorgeous, impeccably dressed man that I hardly recognized. Fuck. Why didn’t I shave my legs for this? He glided into my kitchen with ease already talking about the night he had, had bar hopping with his friends. We sat down and I poured him a glass from the bottle of Cabernet I purchased earlier in the evening. He swirled it around smoothly before he sniffed it. “Uh, no it was $3.99 it’s nothing fancy.” I said shyly and probably stupidly. “Oh, yeah I was just being polite.” He removed his Burberry scarf and placed it on the table. He’s polite, easy to talk to, and he’s wearing Burberry. He must be gay. After all, how else was I supposed to make sense of his flawless manners? Men in their early twenties behaving like gentlemen was a phenomenon that I knew nothing about. “These girls at the bar were trying to take my scarf from me. I was getting real salty about it.” And there it was, the evidence I was searching for. “It was a gift from my mother, I’ve had it forever.” I was ready to call myself a fool when he directed his gaze at me, “I love your blog, by the way.” Naturally, I perked up for a moment and in a seductive tone he said, “When I was reading your last post I just kept thinking, damn you’re really blowing your chance with an awesome girl.” He’s not gay and I’m wearing sweats, damn it. Before too long the talking turned into playful flirting and when he leaned in to kiss me I felt my knees weaken. He eventually pulled off his shirt to reveal a perfectly chiseled six-pack. I imagined what was under my sweatshirt and thought, Oh yeah, we’re definitely having sex with the lights OFF. But we didn’t have sex. We kissed sweetly and spoke in low whispers until well into the morning.

At the moment he kissed me I made the practical decision not to get my hopes up. Mostly because I figured he was a figment of my imagination brought on by a hallucination induced by desperation and loneliness. But also because he was a professional soccer player who lived out of state. When my girlfriend called around eleven that morning I came back to reality and decided that it was time to kick Romeo out of my bed. I left him to finish gathering his things as I headed into the shower hoping to wash off whatever was left of him from my body and mind. I expected that he would show himself out and that he would be gone by the time I returned. I opened my bedroom door and to my surprise he was still there, standing poshly with his hands in his pockets. I glanced over at my bed and found that it was perfectly made and stopped breathing for a moment. It was a small gesture, but it was big in it’s own rite. I was sincerely touched because I wasn’t used to that kind of consideration. He kissed my lips, still wet from the shower, and made his way down the stairs and through the door.

“Girl you better get it.” My friend stared at me with a sort of stern seriousness. She held a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other as she spoke, “Are you hanging out with him tonight?” Her question hung heavy in the air along with the smoke from her cigarette. “I think so, I mean he wants to.” I raised a soggy french fry to my mouth and she batted my hand away. “Bitch, you’re getting naked tonight. You better get your mind right!” I threw it down and picked up a cigarette from my pack in accordance with my modern woman’s diet. “No but really though, what are you going to wear?” I brushed her questions off nonchalantly but inside I was stirring. I was madly in “like” and feeling crushed by my own “crush”.

As day faded into evening I began rushing around my house, frantically vacuuming and cleaning in preparation for his arrival. I lit candles, fluffed pillows, and thought seriously about baking something. I wore lipstick and slipped on high heeled boots knowing full well that we were staying in. I was a woman possessed.

When he came, he brought with him cheesecake and raspberries. Oh dear God if you let this go well I promise to never again wake up with my bra in my purse or make fun of the senile receptionist behind her back at work. I was absolutely smitten and it was probably entirely too obvious. We laughed and talked as if we were old friends and I was surprised by how comfortable I felt in his company. He explained that his only prerogative was to treat me like a lady and make me feel like a woman. He expressed his embarrassment for other “boys” his age and the way that they objectify women. “I feel like I should apologize for my gender. It’s unbelievable how much these dudes are messing up.” It was by some divine intervention that my clothing didn’t melt off of my body and evaporate into nothingness. He continued on to talk about his soccer career and the goals he aspired to meet. He spoke with such drive and determination that I considered chugging my wine out of sheer intimidation. It was official, I was hooked.

Again I invited him into my bed and for the first time in a long time I allowed myself to experience true intimacy. I didn’t want to crawl out of my skin and run away while he was on top of me. In fact, the thought had never even crossed my mind. I felt good and I felt safe. When morning came I didn’t feel the urge to bang my head against the wall or sneak out of my own bed as if I didn’t live there. I just stayed and enjoyed the feeling of having his arm around me and drifted back to sleep with my head perfectly nuzzled into his chest. He left later that morning, but he’s not gone. He’s not forever fossilized in my memory, he’s present. As I begin to acclimate to a good man I can feel my sense of trust finally rebuilding itself. It’s terrifying, but I’ve decided to stay put. If he can remain present in my life then I can resist my urge to run for the door.

The truth is, I was a romantic before I was a cynic. I only became bitter after believing that prince charming didn’t really exist. I was so accustomed to being treated poorly that a true gentlemen was almost unrecognizable to me. Is that right? I think not. If we, as women, stop settling for less and start expecting more then we will undoubtedly find what we’re looking for. A man can’t properly take care of your body unless he can take care of your heart first and we should accept nothing less. If chivalry isn’t dead and gentlemen actually exist outside of Nicholas Sparks’ books then perhaps it’s time I admit defeat and finally put an end to my cynicism…for now anyway.

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Voices To Vote For

She gasped for breath and sat up in bed. Startled by her own unconscious screaming she awoke with shaking legs and stared at the clock which hung crookedly on her bedroom wall. The paint around it was peeling and the state of her dilapidated apartment reminded her of a post-apolocolyptic movie she had seen some years earlier. You get what you pay for, she’d always think, even in the south Bronx your money won’t get you very far. Beads of sweat sat still on her forehead. She wiped them with her hands and laid back down. Biting her blanket and pressing her eyes tightly together until hot little tears appeared on her face and dripped off of her nose, she tried to fall back to sleep. Cassie was haunted by a memory that didn’t exist. Her dreams were plagued with the body of a person that had never come into being. The formation of her newborn baby wasn’t real, but the guilt she carried was. For weeks after her abortion every night was the same. She would dream of holding her baby in her arms, rocking it gently back and forth. Her dreams were so vivid that she could feel its soft, warm body pressing into her chest. She felt save and loved in a way that she never had before. Hearing its cry sent her stirring restlessly into waking. Then the dream was distant, fleeting too fast to catch it, she was stuck with the harsh reality that none of it was real, and she was alone.

The meetings helped. Every other Wednesday she sought refuge from her sadness by attending a support group for girls and women who had become pregnant and “taken care of it.” The group was put together by a social worker as part of some community outreach program. The women’s health clinic had recommended she go as a way to “alleviate the pain of having an abortion”. The nurse had handed her a box Kotex along with their card. “Every little bit helps sweetie.” She said gently, looking over the desk through tiny reading glasses, probably purchased from the Dwayne Reade around the corner. Still in shock and nauseas from the anesthesia, Cassie brushed it off. She hadn’t once considered actually going to group until the nightmares began.

“So how is everyone feeling today?” Janice, the social worker on hand that day said, as she smiled and looked around the small, lifeless room. The meetings were held in the basement of a women’s healthcare building in Spanish Harlem. The room was dark and the smell was a combination of feet and Lemon Pledge. The walls were pretty much bare aside  from a diagram of a cervix plastered on the wall. Besides a few groans and mumbled “Fine”‘s no one really responded, but no one ever did.

“Lola, I’d like to hear from you today, how is everything going? Are you still in recovery?”

Lola was a dancer for The New York Ballet and she was beautiful. She even sat like a dancer, with her back straight and her tiny feet splayed out to each side. Lola had planned to keep her baby. She was engaged to a young surgeon named Luke, and when she found out about her pregnancy the two were overjoyed. That is, until Lola started getting sick. Nausea hit her like a gust of wind pushing her into the bathroom until it threw her over the toilet. It came at all hours of the day and night. Her OB/GYN had told her it was normal, and it probably was, but what Lola was feeling wasn’t. She liked throwing up. She liked it ever since she was eight years old, when she would lean over the toilet, emptying her stomach of meals. Then in a poised manner she would gracefully stretch her long, lean leg into the air, rest her foot upon the toilet handle and flush it gently. She would dance around her Upper East Side apartment loving her thin body, catching glances of rib cage in the hallway mirror. Lola stopped when she met Luke. She was devoted to staying healthy and dreamed of enjoying cake on her wedding day like other “normal” brides. Morning sickness had caused her monster to resurface. Knowing she wasn’t ready, she made the appointment.

“I’m fine. Just worried, I guess.” Lola looked at the floor as she spoke.

“Why is that, dear? What are you worried about?”

“Sometimes I wonder if I’m gonna get a second chance, you know? Maybe that was my one shot and I blew it. Everyone thinks that I can help it, wanting to be skinny. But I can’t. If I’m not fit to be a mother yet, what if I never will be?”

“Recovery is a process Lola. It takes time and everyone’s different. There is no expiration date on grief or recovery. When you’re ready, really ready, you’ll have what you’re looking for.”

Lola bit her lip and nodded her head as she began to cry.

“I’ve got something to say.” Tanya called out from the group.

Tanya was finishing her junior year at Columbia when he took it. He didn’t take it in an alley, behind a bar, or in a parking garage. He took it in her home with the doors locked. He worked with her at the diner down the street from her building. They spent most nights talking and laughing with one another, flirting with each other and teasing the patrons behind their backs. Tanya was ecstatic when he finally made the first move and asked her out for drinks. He told her that he was working on his law degree, which wasn’t true, he also told her that his name was Allen, which wasn’t true either. His real name was Tom and he was facing three counts of sexual assault and battery in his home state of New Mexico, another fact that he forgot to mention. He had lead Tanya to believe he was from Rhode Island. Tanya was drugged, carried back to her apartment and raped in her own bed. Several people passed them on the street that night but none of them stepped in to investigate. One eye witness told police that, “Girls go out and get drunk. How was I supposed to know she didn’t have too much to drink? I thought it was her boyfriend.” The next morning Tanya awoke huddled at the edge of her bed. Her body was sore and she had no recollection of what had happened. When she looked down to see where the throbbing was coming from her heart felt like stopping. Dried semen covered the inside of her legs. She screamed into her hands. As tears flooded her face she realized that her lips were burning. Tanya stumbled wearily to her dresser and didn’t recognize the girl looking back at her. Her bottom lip was split open in a way that made it look like another set of lips. Her nose was broken and just above her brow laid a gash in the shape of a crescent moon, crusted with dried blood the color of merlot. Five weeks later Tanya found out she was pregnant.

“Yes, okay go ahead.”

“Yeah, well I was passing a church yesterday on my way to class and I saw all these little crosses in the front yard so I stopped to read what the sign next to them said.” She paused, turning red with anger.

“Go on dear, this is a safe place.”

“It said they were graves for aborted babies. Like, what the fuck? Are you kidding me with that bull shit? Where’s the grave for my fucking dignity? It wasn’t even a real person. It made me so angry!” Tanya began to cry, so much so that she couldn’t catch her breath. Every part of her seemed alive in that moment and she was pulsating with rage.

“Just breathe Tanya. I know it hurts but you’re doing okay. If those people who put up the signs and the markers knew how it felt to be you, if they even had a glimpse into your life then maybe they would’ve gone about things a little differently. Let’s hear from someone else in the group now.”

“But they don’t know what it’s like to be me…to be us. How could they? How could a man know what it feels like in woman’s body? How could a woman know if they’ve never had to go through it?” Laura looked up and around at the faces that stared back at her as she spoke.

Cassie hated the sound of Laura’s voice. She hated her story, hated that she was left behind by a man that didn’t want her. She felt sick when she thought about how weak Laura must have been to throw herself at a married man and toss out the product of their affair like garbage. The only lasting memory of their love and what they had made together. Cassie hated it, because it sounded all too familiar. They shared a similar experience and it was too close to her own. Laura represented something bigger to Cassie than a woman scorned. She was living presentation of Cassie’s unwavering guilt.

In an effort to distract herself from the lump that was forming in her throat Cassie directed her attention to Nikki who was kicking her feet back and forth and chewing on the zipper of her oversized coat. Like Cassie, Nikki usually didn’t say much. Mostly, Cassie guessed, because her English wasn’t very good. She lived close to Cassie and sometimes they would exchange glances on the subway but would never say anything even though they both knew they were going to the same place. One of Cassie’s friends once lived in the same building as Nikki and used to catch her and her boyfriend kissing passionately under the stairwell, which Cassie figured was probably how she found herself in group. Nikki was seventeen and her family had immigrated from Honduras some years earlier.

“She probably doesn’t even care.” Bella whispered to Cassie once, “I heard that in Honduras they’re so poor and Catholic that they have babies and just lay them down in rooms to die because they have no food to feed them and they’re going to die anyway.”

“No way!” Cassie shot back.

“Yes way! it’s the reason why the pope got rid of purgatory…”

Nikki could understand what the girls were talking about. Contrary to popular believe, her English was just fine. She chose not to speak because she was nervous and embarrassed. Her parents didn’t know about the meetings. She would tell them that she was going to the library to study and would instead take the long subway ride into Manhattan. She felt different and alone there but not as alone as she felt at home when her father ignored her at dinner and her three brothers and sisters would call her a slut and a murderer behind her back.

Taylor was fifteen when she got pregnant. She didn’t have any family members to sign the consent forms for her. Her family believed in Jesus Christ and the power of the holy ghost, who they praised rigorously and feared with the same sort of intensity. They believed that every life was a blessing, but Taylor didn’t see it that way. To Taylor, any baby born to a dirt poor, teenage mother in an already crowded Brooklyn apartment was more of a burden than anything else. Taylor had big dreams. She was smart, and wanted to be the first person in her family to go to college. Her math teacher, Mrs. Wilson accompanied her to her appointment, signed the papers, and let her spend the rest of the day watching soap operas in her bed. Taylor loved Mrs. Wilson and envied her soft blood locks. Sometimes she would look in the mirror and tug at her dry hair half heartedly. Taylor was bigger than most girls her age and had been fully developed since she was eleven. The boys at school always noticed her, which made her feel strange and embarrassed. Eddie was different than them. At nineteen was a man and his love made Taylor feel beautiful. He would hang around outside in the school yard and wait for her to get out of class then he would take her behind the laundromat and kiss her. He would start with her lips then slowly move to her neck, all the while caressing her smooth brown skin, whispering to her that it was “sweeter than chocolate.”

“I thought we were in love.” Taylor’s voice was small and shaking. “He was the only boy I ever had sex with but when I told him I was pregnant he called me a hoe and accused me of running around with all the guys in my neighborhood. I can’t tell my parents. They’d throw me out…does God hate me now?”

“No, honey, God doesn’t hate you.” Janice softened her gaze as she attempted to comfort Taylor with her words. “Nobody knows more about God, or religion than anybody else. God doesn’t hate or hurt, only people can do that. It only forgives and loves. Cassie, what about you, would you like to share something?”

“Like what?” Cassie turned red.

“Anything dear, anything you have to say is important.”

“I just wasn’t ready to be a mother…so I took care of it. That’s all.”

“I don’t understand what you mean about ‘taking care of it’. Could you explain further?”

“I was in love with a man…well, no. Let me start over, a boy. I was in love with a boy who didn’t love me back. He didn’t like condoms, so I didn’t make him wear one. I found out I was pregnant and that’s it. Accidents happen.”

Cassie looked around the room and could see that no one was really satisfied with her answer. Everyone seemed to be waiting for her to confess that her boyfriend beat her or her uncle raped her or something truly tragic but Cassie didn’t have any of those stories.

“Cassie, I think it would be beneficial for you to really reach down and make contact with your suffering. Can you do that for me?”

She paused for a moment and thought about yesterday. She had come home to an empty apartment filled with roaches and sour smells from the surrounding units. She sat down, unsatisfied with her new life. The life that was supposed to be truly amazing, the one she left her family and friends for, and began to cry. She cried harder than she did when the doctor laid her down on the plastic, wax paper covered table, and told her to stay still. She was more terrified than when he inserted the plastic probe covered in blue gel into her body. She was more furious than when she locked herself in the bathroom stall and saw red and blue striped throughout her white underwear. Cassie had been running for months and for the first time realized that she was alone in a city that didn’t know her.

“I can’t touch it. I don’t want to. There are entire populations and groups of people who hate me for what I’ve done, for a choice that made and they don’t even know me! You know, I want to be a mother? I do…but I wasn’t going to have somebody’s baby who didn’t want me.” Cassie’s body was buzzing with energy as her voice grew strength.  “Why? So his whole family could look down on me and my child? I wasn’t going to have his shamed baby! Every man who has ever come into my life has left me and that’s fine but I will be damned if they leave my child!” She took a deep breath and thought for a moment. “My body is a warzone. It’s hurt and it’s angry. It’s no place for somebody to grow. I let the little soul go because I wasn’t ready for it. I loved it so much that I just let it go.” Cassie’s voice was calm as she gazed at her knees. They had stopped shaking and she felt a great sense of relief come over her.

Cassie took a seat on the train and pulled her red curly hair up over her head and exhaled. Her eyes were closed for a slow moment when she felt someone sit down next to her. She quickly snapped back into the present, letting her hair fall down around her shoulders, when she looked over to her right. It was Nikki. She smiled up at her and placed her head on Cassie’s shoulder, saying nothing. Cassie responded with a weak smile and allowed herself to gently wrap her arm around Nikki’s shoulders, bringing her in close. The two walked in silence to Nikki’s building. Sometimes silence says it all and words lose their meaning at time when things felt become more powerful than things said. Cassie drifted off to sleep that night knowing in her heart she would wake up twisted with pain and guilt, but she didn’t. The guilt had faded along with her isolating silence. The next morning brought with it new hope as she smiled, admiring the newly fallen snow.

This is a fictional story meant to remind those who choose to vote what they may or may not be supporting. For millions of women throughout The United States our right to choose is being ripped from our hands while our bodies are being put on display. No matter what political party you primarily support or religion you choose to affiliate yourself with, remember that their are two sides to every story and to judge someone is to lack understanding and empathy. Your choice in this election will directly effect the health and wellbeing of women and girls. Please stand with women and reproductive rights by voting for Barrack Obama in the 2012 election. This may be a work of fiction but it was inspired by various articles, first hand accounts, and testimonies of women and girls.

Bromances: A Challenge to Hyper Masculinity

It was mid May, a Saturday and the kind of day that most college students designate for drinking before 2:00pm. My male companions were no exception. My friend and I stood on the steps of their front porch and watched two of them wrestle drunkenly under the warm spring sun. “Look!” I snickered and nudged my girl friend’s arm. “Oh my God, this is priceless!” she responded and sipped her beer, pretending to enjoy it’s dull flavor. “Awe, now isn’t that just the most precious thing?” I tried my best southern drawl. “They look like kittens playing. My heart is melting.” I agreed, “Yes, like two gigantic drunk kittens.” We laughed in unison and finished what was left of our stale beer.

Now, if one were to see two grown men wrestling on the ground all the while gazing longingly into each other’s eyes he or she might be able to assume which team they’re pitching for. On the other hand, contrary to most straight male fantasies, two women pillow fighting in their underwear is less likely to be seen as lesbian behavior, no matter how close they get. So why is it that women can touch, play, and occasionally blur the borders between hetero and homosexuality but men cannot? As our society becomes increasingly open minded we’re beginning to feel more comfortable disregarding the categorization of female sexuality. It is a cultural expectation for many women that we able to openly show affection for one another. Learned affection can be seen as important form of social conditioning that has been historically enforced in order to teach women how to become proper caregivers. Real affection, hugging, holding, and physical contact of this nature often enough has nothing to do with sexuality. Rather, it has more to do with love.

My friend has a theory about male sexuality, she thinks that all men harbor secret homoerotic fantasies. “All men are truly gay deep down.” She spoke so confidently that I choked on my wine. “What? What does that even mean?” I giggled and swallowed hard. “No, You know what I mean. Like, I would bet money that when we’re not around men dance around naked and have drunken sword fights.” I thought of my friends, the ones posing in the picture above, and decided that for them that was probably the case but that it doesn’t necessarily mean they want to have sex with each other. I asked her to remember back to middle school when we would all take turns flashing one another at sleepovers. None of us became lesbians later on in life, we were just curious. Can’t men share the same kind of curiosity without having to be branded as “gay”? Shouldn’t men be allowed to freely express affection and curiosity the way that most women do? I would think yes.

We live in a society with a hyper masculine idea of what men should and shouldn’t be. Our culture has decided that any form of same sex affection is automatically entangled in sexual desires. Most of the time this is simply not the case. We as women cannot expect to break our sexuality and love free from the cages and categories that bind us if we continue to perpetuate the stereotypes for men. There is a deep longing within every human regardless of gender or sexual orientation to feel physically comfortable with their peers, so let them. I’ve learned a lot from observing bros interact with one another but I believe that the most important less thus far is that real men hug it out.

The Man Who Was a Monster

It took him three minutes to ruin my life and completely destroy my sense of self. The ownership I had over my body had vanished. I didn’t control it anymore, he controlled it. He had me, and he was in charge. I know it only lasted three minutes because I was counting, holding on to every second and pleading with time to stop. I didn’t ask him to stop until the end. The words didn’t come. I went into survival mode. I moved into a world where words didn’t exist and all I could do was react. I screamed the entire time. I screamed so loudly and powerfully that my it made my throat hurt. When it was over, he apologized, put on his pants, and told me it was an accident. He didn’t mean it and he was sorry. He did mean it, and he knew what he was doing, but I let myself believe his twisted little lies. I took what he did and pushed it down so far that it would take me two years to uncover the truth and be able to tell my story.

I was drunk. We started early and I had, had margaritas and beers upon beers with my friends all before ten thirty. The other girls I was with were tired so I went on with out them to meet up with some guys from work. I stumbled through the door, giddy and giggling and dizzy from drunkeness. I quickly found my friends and proceeded to move towards the bar. There was a man standing at the bar and he was staring at me. My stomach flipped and my hands began to shake even before I realized who he was. I looked deeply into his eyes and studied his face. I skimmed his cool, weak smirk and thats when it hit me. I knew this man. I had loved him once and for far too long. I used to tickle and touch and laugh with this man. I used to sleep in his bed and wake up with him in the morning. This was the man who raped me.

Once again the words didn’t come. He was smiling and waving at me and all I could do was turn away. None of the people I was with knew my secret. They didn’t know who he was or why I couldn’t catch my breath. I found my friend and grabbed his arm, “That’s my rapist…that’s him at the bar…” I managed, my voice still weak and wavering. I pushed through the crowd and into the bathroom. I locked the door and bent over the toilet. I held my hair back and emptied the contents of my stomach. I flushed the toilet with my foot and stood in front of the mirror. Still breathing heavily, I stared back at my reflection and hated what I saw.  I’m weak, I’m worthless, I’m dirty, I’m a whore. I pushed my makeup around my face and smoothed my hair. No, I won’t let him do this to me again. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I am none of those things, I’m strong and I can do this. 


I’m a runner. Not in the sense that I go for runs or run for exercise. Rather, when I feel threatened or scared I leave. I take off and I don’t deal with it. This urge of flight is a direct result of being raped and just another component of my PTSD. I want to run when I’m sitting in class, when we’re discussing trauma and affects of sexual abuse. I cringe and shake and sweat and the only thought in my head is I’ve got to get out, I have to leave, I need to leave, I’m not safe here, and it pounds within my skull like a bass drum. I’ve never wanted to run more than in those moments. I had no one to comfort me, no kind of support, I was frozen in space and completely alone. My friend kept telling me that it would be okay, that he wouldn’t do anything to me because they were all right there and they had my back. They didn’t understand, how could they? His presence was violent in and of itself. I was terrified and silenced all from one look.

In therapy, I’m asked what I would do if I ever saw him again. I think about it a lot. I think of saying all of these powerful things that would hurt him the way he hurt me. I think about smashing a beer bottle on the bar and thrashing it at his jugular. I even imagine punching him in the face until I remember that he towers over me. (That was the way of us, though. I was always too little to get away, or to stand up to him.) Instead I just stood there and said nothing. God, if I could have only said something.

At last call he came up to me and as I saw him walk towards me I thought my heart was going to explode within my chest. “Hey, I’m sorry.” He ripped the breath from my lungs and my mouth fell open. “You’re sorry?” As I looked at him in disgust, I thought about everything I had been through in the past year. I thought about all the times I cried myself to sleep, believing that it was all my fault. I thought about how many relationships I had ruined because I’m incapable of real intimacy. Laying in the dark and letting the tears fall from eyes after sex wasn’t rare for me. I remembered the cool fall night when I stood on my ex’s porch, facing him and crying, listening to his pleas for me to calm down, “I’m not him Liz, I’m not Joe, I would never do that to you.” I thought about the progress that I had made with the help of somatic therapy. There were times when the exercises we’d do in class stirred up too many emotions and I would cry, or try to run away but instead I remained grounded and strong. The other women in my class would put their hands on my back and tell me that I was enough and that I was safe.

My mind was flooded with memories of my entire healing process. The ups, the downs, all of the struggles and the progress I had made trying to return to my body and understand that I have a voice. So when, I heard him say “I’m sorry” I was incomplete disbelief. “You destroyed everything for me, and you want to tell me that you’re sorry?” I pushed the words out of my mouth, “Do you even know what you’re apologizing for?” “Listen, I’m just trying to apologize.” With that, he left and I felt completely trampled. My friend came towards me and I held back my tears. I told him I was okay, everything was okay, but it wasn’t. It was the least ‘okay’ I had felt in months, but nothing could be done and it was what it was.

I didn’t consent to what he did to me. It broke my heart and ripped apart what little trust I had left. My problems with men and intimacy have all stemmed from my relationship with this person. At first when I woke up this morning I was disappointed in myself for not saying more to him than I had. Now, I understand that I could never relay the fact that he had ruined my life in a matter of sentences. Sometimes I try to see the positive side of my situation. I’m more empathetic, I have a stronger voice, I am a better person because of my suffering, but most days this outlook doesn’t work. I would rather have my innocence back. It took three minutes for him to derail my young life and years to put the pieces back together.

Get Me the Hell Out of Athens: A Dating Nightmare

My hands were shaking as I tightly gripped the steering wheel of my 2001 Saturn. I couldn’t tell if it was because I was nervous or because I had downed two cups of black coffee before I hit the road. Either way, I was excitedly anticipating the night that was to come. I was on my way to visit a friend at another university about an hour or so outside of my hometown. It was mom’s weekend, which for those of you who aren’t familiar, is an annual tradition that celebrates moms and binge drinking. Could there be anything more charming? I wanted to visit my friend but there was another reason why I was feverishly speeding down Route 33, and like always this reason had a penis. I had been talking to her and her boyfriend’s mutual friend for about a month but we had never actually met in person. I decided that small talk texting and blog comments weren’t enough and I wanted to meet the man I had been talking to. So there I was, driving on a two lane highway on my way to meet some random that I had never seen outside of facebook. I know what you’re thinking and yes, I should’ve turned and gone back the way I came rather than acting on my girlish fantasies.

I was hot and the air was thick with moisture when I finally reached Athens. All I could think when I stepped out of my car was that the humidity would ruin my hair and that my makeup would soon melt off of my face. I was annoyed and I needed a drink. I met him, we exchanged hellos and I was mildly impressed. He had a beard that seemed to have a life of it’s own. (Now, I know certain men will sit there and congratulate each other on their beards and being manly men but no matter how hard I try to convince myself that it’s cool, I just can’t do it. You all look like you have a vagina stuck to your face. Shave it.) Besides his wickedly thick facial hair, he was tall and thin. To tell you the truth he closely resembled Abraham Lincoln. That is to say if old Abe wore cargo shorts and flip flops. I’ve done better, but I’m sure I’ve also done worse so I shook it off and for the most part dismissed his appearance completely. Anyway, it was that golden personality of his which everyone assured me of that I was most concerned about.

I’ve been dating a lot lately. I’ve gone on dinner dates, I’ve met various men for drinks, I’ve even accompanied them to parties and social affairs. I’ve acquired a taste for dating and I have certain standards that these potentials need to meet. The most important one being, do not try to stick your penis in any of my holes. Don’t put it in my hand, don’t rub it on me, for God’s sakes don’t even take it out. I have a personal space bubble and I don’t want anyones dick trying to penetrate it. Another is of course an issue of cost. Be a damn gentlemen and at least offer to pay. You don’t even have to pay for all of it, just a drink or so. Show me that you’re willing and able to treat me, if I’m interested I’ll even do the same. This leads me into another important guideline, which is politeness. Be polite, this can be accomplished by keeping the subject of conversation light and tame. Don’t attempt to hold a heated debate with someone you’re meeting for the first time because, frankly, it’s strange and off-putting. Ask me about myself in an attempt to see me as more than a walking vagina with nice hair. The last is, acknowledge my existence. Yes, at the very least, don’t leave me in a strange bar or choose to stare at me awkwardly from across the dance floor rather than actually engaging me in conversation.

He shat on my guidelines and broke every fucking rule. by morning my self esteem was as beaten and bloodied as Rodney King was in ’91. He was a renegade dater and a total psychopath. When I first noticed that for every beer he grabbed he ordered a shot of Jameson I should have ran.  The fact that he was mindlessly slurping down shot after shot should have been a clear warning of what was to come. He’s a drinker, but he’s also a writer. People love saying that, men especially love it. I remember when my brother threw back bottles of cheap whiskey, hiding the fact that he was a complete lush behind a mask of creative expression. “I drink because I’m a writer, I’m a writer because I drink.” No, you drink because you’re a child. You’re just a giant drunken baby with a beard, and you’re not Hemingway so stop it.

He was drunk, that was clear. For the most part he ignored me, aside from the occasional attempt at saying something witty and charming he stayed away. Later when I mentioned this he lurched forward and said, “I told you I would be talking to a lot of other girls and I would be surrounded by beautiful women.” The beautiful women he was referring to were all drunken mothers and it wasn’t the fact that he talking to them that bothered me, it was the fact that we wasn’t talking to me at all. For as excited as he was to meet me, he had very little to say. Instead he watched me from afar, something that should have also been a clear warning sign.

Outside of the bar he began to yell at me and argue about feminism. “Every girl in Athens is a whore, all of them walking the streets, they’re all sluts.” He stuck is arms in the air as if he was speaking of something truly profound or worth my time. My favorite was when he told me to go shave my vagina. I’m still confused about the point he was trying to make with that charming little line. Of course, he was a charmer. I mean after all that’s what everyone had told me. I’m not sure how long we argued for but I know that at one point it had to be broken up by the friend who had introduced us. I really thought he was joking, now that I’m looking back I’m not sure that he was.

Afterward, and for whatever reason, I went home with him. And there it was, my self loathing had reared it’s ugly head and my debilitatingly low self esteem had taken over along with the mass amount of alcohol I had consumed. What’s the fastest way to get into my pants? Call me ugly or stupid and add beer, it works every time! Kissing him was like making out with a brillo pad. It was all hair and no tongue. When I told him that I didn’t want to have sex with him he wined, and hurumphed, and groaned and finally told me to, “Grow up!” I got up and started to gather my things but then the tears came. Embarrassed I tried to hide them from him, I just wanted to leave but I was in a strange town and I had no where to go. Upon seeing me wipe my eyes he apologized, talked me down, and invited me back into bed. “I won’t even touch you, I’ll lay over here, and you can lay over there.” Oh right, because that’s exactly how it works. Before too long he asked if he could kiss me and I told him that was fine, but it quickly progressed. He simply kept asking for more and more and of course I accepted every time. I had previously been protested against and I felt defeated. I was not in the mood to hear him throw another temper tantrum, so rather than watching him get all huffy I just let it happen. The funny thing is, this story is astoundingly similar to how I lost my virginity. Both instances made me seriously question my heterosexuality.

This just another glaring example of how women’s choice can be easily violated. How was he supposed to understand that I haven’t embodied choice, if he doesn’t know what the inability to say NO feels like? I say YES, I say it too frequently. I say it when I really mean NO, I say it when I mean MAYBE but I know that I won’t be granted enough time to make my decision. I say YES but I don’t even know what it means. I don’t know what it feels like to say NO during sex and have it mean something. My voice is too small and my plea is overruled. This is just one of many reasons why I fear intimacy and have failed at having a healthy relationship with a man. It’s because I don’t know what healthy looks like. I do understand, however, that sleeping with someone before even knowing them isn’t healthy. I know that I’m a twenty two year old hopeless romantic and that’s okay. I can be that way, just as long as it’s not in the bed of a plastered and aggressively sexual male. I know what I want and I know that, that wasn’t it.

When I stood up to leave he poked his up and said, “Argue with you again sometime soon then?” The look on my face had to have said it all. Really?? Making me cry wasn’t a clear indication that this didn’t go well? Upon telling him that this was the last time we’d meet he raised his arms in protest and said, “You used me! I was just a one night stand to you, then!” Never have I ever had the urge to spit on someone the way I did in that moment.  I walked out of his room with out saying much of anything. I got lost, and couldn’t find the front door to his architecturally demented apartment. Once I found it I began my long walk back to my friends house. I passed mothers passed out in their own vomit and sleeping on front porches. On arrival, I opened her door in one solid motion, looked her dead in the eye and with all the seriousness I could muster I mouthed, “Get me the hell out of Athens.”

now let us love: Womanism and Spirituality

I can remember sitting on the stiff pews of Our Lady of Peace church on Tuesday mornings. I couldn’t have been much older than six or perhaps seven. No matter the time of day the church was always dark and the twelve red candles which were placed under Christ’s bloodied image glowed against the dusty wood paneling. I hated being in church. It reminded me of the time my older cousins trapped me in my grandpa’s basement and turned out the light. Dark, old, and alone. This is how I saw religion. When father Grimes would take his place on the stage and pontificate about our vengeful lord I would imagine God sitting beside me and giggling along. I had decided quite early on that whatever strange things my teachers told me about life and God, they were not the truth. From the moment my bottom hit the pew, I would turn off and shut down.

Although I didn’t believe in God the way the old priests described him I still followed some of the bible stories. Until one December evening when I was on my way to my school’s Christmas pageant where I was starring as the Virgin Mary. My mother told me that Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th, my brother agreed with her, and I cried the whole way to the pageant. Even our beloved Christmas pageant seemed hypocritical and blasphemous. I was the mother of our lord and I only had one song and one line, while the cow, Betsy, stole the show with her four solos and twelve lines. Looking back it does seem twistedly accurate that a farm animal would be aloud more talk time then the blessed virgin.

I learned to resent religion early on. I hated it, I poked fun at it, I cut it out of my life completely and I never looked back. There was however, always a deep spiritual pull that resided within me. As a child I would climb to the top of my favorite tree and sit on it’s branches. I would spend hours wondering about reincarnation. I would develop stories of my past lives and become fixated on the details of them. I would wonder about heaven and hell and what the face of God looked like. On summer days I would run outside into the green of my backyard hungry and I would return hours later full. I was feeding on my spiritual connection with nature and deep thought.

I found spirituality again in my high school English class. There, we discussed dozens of books of which I had never dreamed of. These precious texts weren’t traditional or scholarly and most importantly they weren’t written by men. They were written by women, all kinds of women, and for the first time I was allowed to hear their voices. I had never before been able to connect with someones story the way I could then. It wasn’t just the stories that spoke to me. Everything down to the words these women chose were different. Even the sound became something other worldly and uniquely feminine. I explain feminism as something spiritual because for me it was. It opened a door which allowed me to connect with women on a deeper level than similar life events. I could connect through bodily and emotional experiences of the familiar feminine. Feminism was a snack for my soul, but still my hunger grew.

I was introduced to Universal Kabbalah in the spring of 2008 and I have been studying it ever since. I was young and living in New York City on an internship experience when I was taken in by the loving embrace of Naam yoga and all that it could offer me. I can still recall the way it felt sitting in the studio under the skylight, breathing deeply and letting my mind clear. In a moment of meditation I became genderless, and lifeless all at once. I had no sense of future or past that I could recall, I simply was. That single drop of time allowed to begin an important realization. We must stay connected with our bodies while remembering that we are not a product of them. We are simply spiritual beings having a human experience, and we all came from the same place, and we are all connected.

I believed that I was learning the truth. What I did not realize however, was the extent or power of it. What I was learning and had spent my entire life hungry for, was true love. This is not a romantic love, or a love for one other. Instead it describes a love and empathy for all. Recently I’ve been exploring texts by Layli Maparyan, Gloria Anzaldua, and Buddhist nun, Sister Chang Khong who have written extensively on spiritual activism and womanism. I have interpreted the idea of womanism as one that is fully inclusive of all people and lies in the belief that all beings are interconnected. To inflict harm on one, is to inflict harm on oneself because we cannot survive with out one another. This idea reaches far beyond viewing others as only human to include all living beings. In her memoir Learning True Love, Khong explains that we must help uplift one another in the present moment and we must work with love in order to find what we seek. In now let us shift, Anzaldua explains that spiritual activism takes place when the our inward transformation begins transform our outward actions.

By cultivating spirituality and allowing a space for it in our social movements and actions I believe that activists such as myself can find greater mobility for our causes. When we are outraged by a policy or an event that we see compromising our human rights or damaging our community, the most comfortable response would be to work from anger. Our horror is what pushes us into action. We want to fight against the enemy for our cause. When we stop and practice mindfulness, as Khong explains in her book, we can begin to move away from viewing the one who inflicts violence on us as our “enemy”. I personally like to use the example of “I am the rapist, I am the victim” By identifying with a rapist we are in no way condoning rape. We are simply acknowledging that we live in a society that allows for rape to occur, and that if we were to walk a mile in his shoes, perhaps we too would have made the same mistake or become the same kind of person. When we are able to see God in every living thing then we will be able to move from a place of love rather than hate. Hate and anger fizzle out very quickly. They are exhausting emotions and if you base a social movement in them, your cause will never succeed. True love is immensely powerful and it will provide the mobility needed to bring about social change.

If this concept is an uncomfortable one that’s okay, be patient with it. We must remember the real reason why we strive for social change. We recycle and vote for green policies because we love our earth. We push for a better educational system because we love our children and teachers. We speak up about violence against women because we love our sisters. This is where our outward actions should live. By becoming powerful we can create equality and change our society and we can do this by learning true love.

Words With Friends

I walked into the dusty cool house before letting my eyes adjust to the sunlight outside. I looked around, feeling terrible from the night before, I gave a wave and said nothing. “Sup Slut McGee!” My coworker held his hand out for me to shake. Ugh, so it begins. Apparently this has become my new name. I had to admit, it had a certain ring to it although it was a definite downgrade from the more familiar “Tits McGee”. It was Sunday, a day that should be honored by laying around in sweatpants rather than guzzling flat forties.

When the drinking games commenced suddenly anyone who couldn’t finish a cup of beer in twelve seconds became a “pussy”. Yes, because that’s exactly how we should be referring to female sex organs. In the midst of my fuzzy drunk fog I couldn’t help but picture everyone standing around the beer pong table as walking vaginas. I squinted my eyes and shook my head.

I’ve been surrounded by words like slut, pussy and the always heartwarming bitch, since before middle school. Sometimes these words were thrown at me in anger, spat by a serpent’s tongue. Other times they were nudged in my direction, “I don’t sleep around because I’m not a slut.” Then the eyes of the girl across the room moved gently in my direction. For as long as these words have been used to hurt me, or describe me, they’ve also been used in a way that’s playful and inviting. “I love you Bitch!” “I’m proud of you slut!” When we really sit and analyze the meaning behind these words it’s absurd to think that we use them in everyday diction. No respectable individual would throw around racist slurs, so why then are we allowed to get away gendered insults and slut shaming?

I stepped away from noise and grabbed a beer from the fridge. Upon returning to the table I was startled by my friend yelling “You slut! Why didn’t you grab me one?!” How did he know that the real reason why I forgot his beer was because I was blowing the rest of the party in the bathroom? Damn he’s good. I rolled my eyes in silent protest, turned the can towards the Ceiling and drank.

The truth is that I hate even hearing words like slut or whore because they hurt. They’ve been used to stab me in the heart so many times that the sound of them makes me cringe. Pussy doesn’t give me the chills, instead I find it absolutely infuriating. To refer to part of the female anatomy as weak is nonsensical at best. Men enter into this world through vaginas, they grow up fantasizing about them, they make love to them, and then they have the audacity to call them weak or worthless. My vagina and your drinking buddy are not one in the same.

Even worse than slut shaming or degrading the female form, are rape jokes. Last Tuesday I was sitting in my Spanish class and a particularly rowdy male in the back yelled “Dude, the culture section of the exam totally raped me, it was so stupid!” Oh really? Those three little multiple choice questions forced themselves inside of you? He later apologized for saying that they were “stupid” while completely disregarding the more insulting part of his comment. Rape isn’t something that should be played with. I don’t want to get comfortable with rape. It’s not funny to me or the countless other victims who have suffered through it. It’s more than a word, it’s a scar, a tear, a constant pain in my chest. Laughing about rape will only perpetuate it. In the same way that making words like slut, pussy, whore, and bitch appropriate for recreational use perpetuates gender discrimination.

I congratulate movements like Slutwalk for trying to reclaim language that has been used to divide and shame women but it is still very much a work in progress. There’s an idea floating around our society which insists that “words don’t hurt”, but I assure you that they do.  If you know how it feels to be hurt by a word, any word, than why would you use another to hurt someone else? We have to be conscious of our language and what we are actually saying before we say it. If you’re a gay man, stop using the word dyke because you know how it feels to be called a fag. If you’re a black man, stop using words to discriminate against gender, because you know it feels to be ostracized for your race, and for God’s sakes us women must stop using slut shaming to police the sexuality of our sisters. Using positive language and behavior is the first step to eliminating inequality.