Your birthday.

Stacy, I don’t remember exactly when or why you and I became friends.

We weren’t, then we were.

There was no gradual easing into that hot tub, testing the waters, seeing if we recoiled as our knees touched, feeling out the awkwardness and tension until we were comfortable baring it all. We just dove in, our naked souls jockeying for the best seat, immediately basking in the essence that was us. Two teabags in a cup of instant friendship. Not steeped and cured until finally ready to sip. Lipton friends. Delicious friends, with sweetness and tartness and ready for the world.

We weren’t, then we were.

There was no series of meetings or conversations during which you and I slowly realized that there was this spark and we clicked. We didn’t meet by sharing a casual laugh over a funny situation or the mutual derision of a snack food. There was no oh-you-like-this-movie-too or i-love-this-song moment. In fact, we didn’t even have the same taste in movies or music or books or art. We appreciated each other’s appreciation for different things, but our interests didn’t bring us together. Your love for the hardcore, my passion for pop; your interest in absurdity, mine in romantic optimism – we were polar opposites in many ways. But despite those divergences, friendship rocketed forward, light speed, throttles to full.

We weren’t, then we were.

What we were was more than friends. Soulfriends. Soulmates. It’s a weird phrase, but it suited us. Our first conversation was as self-referential and fulfilling as each subsequent one. Our talks were deep yet easy, hovering on the precipice of being pretentious and overthought, fascinating and too big, spanning entire universes of ideas and concepts. We were always soulmates. The world just hadn’t lined us up yet so that we could meet. Before we knew, our souls did.

We weren’t, then we were.

Today would have been your 39th birthday. We had big plans for our inevitable he laughs cynically at the concept of inevitability now fortieth birthdays. Big, grandiose, ridiculous, if we were both single at forty we would get married and build a commune of thinkers and creators and writers and artists types of plans. And you know what? It would have fucking happened. When we got together, tremendous things occurred. Mountains shifted, gods bowed on bended knees, and the unlikely became SOP. Our friendship had always been like that. That intensity – that force of nature – that Wonder Twins form of water and form of animal – it had been there from that first nanosecond.

We weren’t, then we were.

Your voodoo dolls hang in my office. Our photo hangs prominently on my wall. That smile – your smile, dives into your eyes and takes over. It’s beautiful. Everywhere I look, I see memories of you and me. The weird. The random. The non-sequiturs that made us laugh. We were always in on The Joke. But then you had to know the punchline before the rest of us.

We weren’t, then we were. 

But now, when I’m foraging for humanity in the wilds of the world, and I see the odd, fucked-up absurdities that were our cornerstones, my heart hurts. No longer can I share those with you. My soul sister – the one who would appreciate them, no matter how dark, how inappropriate or how too-soon. You were the only one with whom I could share that. That was our friendship.

We weren’t, then we were. 

Anastacia Campbell

But that’s not true anymore. There are others now. When I lost you, your other soulmates  – these tendrils you connected to each of us – found me. And I found them. They’re in my life now, and we carry you in our hearts. In our thoughts. In the twisted laughs and fucked-up memes we share. Stephanie. Tom. Krystyna. Racheal. And so many more.

Stacy, it’s our commune! Of a sort. It’s the best kinds of people joined together. By you. And I will always remember exactly when and why all of us became friends.

You were, then you weren’t.

Happy birthday, Stacy. I love you.

Voices Carry: Nine Years Old

The following is another post from a friend who wanted her story to be told but wasn’t comfortable sharing it publicly. If you have a story that you want to tell anonymously, contact me to publish it here. 

*****

Nine years old.
That’s when it started.
Nine.
I still have nightmares.
I have difficulty getting to sleep.
I don’t like staying home alone anymore.

Many people don’t realize just how many of their friends or family members have actually been victims of rape or sexual abuse. My mother, grandmother, and aunt were all victims of sexual assault, abused by boyfriends or husbands. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop with them. My abuser – he never went to jail and I doubt he ever will. He wasn’t a boyfriend or a father. He wasn’t a family friend. He lived with us. He was my stepbrother – someone I trusted.

I was too young to realize anything was wrong at first. This was just what all brother/sister relationships must be like, right? It wasn’t until I started getting older that his behaviors began to feel “off”. How he wanted no one around to witness us “playing.” How he constantly stepped outside of the room to check for our parents. This began to feel wrong. All wrong. I began to get vocal with him. I was 10 or 11 when I first told him “No.” He didn’t take too well to that. His real mother let him do just about anything he wanted, so he wasn’t used to hearing no.

He would question me, “Why does it matter? Don’t you like it? Who cares if God wouldn’t approve?” I never wanted to come home after school anymore. Your home is supposed to be a place of comfort, especially for a middle schooler. Mine became a place of terror. I remember a few instances when I told him to leave me alone and he refused. Once, he chased me through the house until I was cornered and had nowhere to go. I laid down on the ground and I gave up. He was almost three years older than me, and bigger and stronger. I didn’t have a chance. There was another time when he was on top of me, and I screamed at him and threatened to call the cops if he didn’t get off of me. I was sure that he was going to rape me that day. I think I simply got lucky. Or whatever you call that choice between getting raped and “only” getting sexually abused against your will.

When I was 12, he left for a trip to visit his mother, and his mother didn’t want to send him back. I thought I was free. But when I heard my stepfather, who had legal custody, talking to my mother about getting a lawyer to bring him home, I finally grew the courage to tell them what he did. He couldn’t be allowed back. This was my chance to be safe again.

I went to my youth pastor and asked for help. He agreed and helped me tell my parents, but was also legally obligated to get the police involved. Guess how much good that did? (None.) I relived my pain over and over as I told investigator after investigator about my story. They wrote it all up in an official statement. Like that carried any weight. Then, they asked me to call him – my abuser! – to gather evidence. I did it. I didn’t want to, but what choice did I have? He wasn’t there, so putting me through that trauma was all for nothing. He was never arrested. I was depressed. Suicidal. Counseling helped, though. Really.

Not every story has a hero. I read about Brock Turner and his victim, and the two heroes who saved her from something possibly worse. Sometimes you have a hero. Sometimes you have to be your own hero. Sometimes there’s no hero and the villain goes free. My abuser will never see a prison cell for the crimes that he committed against me. I appreciate the growing awareness about the length of a prison sentence a rapist gets, but for me, it’s always about the victim. If you’re a victim, you’re not alone. You’re never alone. Talk to someone. Be your own hero, if you can.

I’m eighteen now.
I still have nightmares.
But they’re better.

*****

Any comments that aren’t supportive or that don’t contribute to the conversation will be removed. Anyone who has a story of their own that they would like to share anonymously, please contact me to have it published.

Voices Carry: One Woman’s Experience with Rape Culture

The following is a post from a friend who wanted her story to be told but wasn’t comfortable sharing it publicly. If you have a story that you want to tell anonymously, contact me to publish it here. 

*****

He was older. I met him at work, he told me he loved me after one week, and asked me to move in “part-time”. I was 21, had only slept with two people, and didn’t know how I felt about him. I had been seeing him for about a month, spent the night at his place a couple times, but it never went past making out – clothes on.

On that night – the night that matters, he invites me over for dinner; I accept but know I need to break things off with him soon. He seems to be way too emotionally attached and I don’t want to lead him on with hopes of this casual dating becoming something more serious. We have dinner and he makes margaritas – it’s nice. As I start my second drink, we move to the couch. He starts kissing me, and I feel pretty buzzed already. It’s weird – I know my tolerances and can usually throw back 5 or 6 before feeling anything. I don’t even finish the drink – I already feel pretty drunk and out of it. We move to the bedroom. It feels good to lie down. We’re making out at this point, my clothes are coming off. I don’t resist, it feels good, but I don’t want to go all the way. I’m trying to stick to my convictions and wait until marriage. Not an easy thing to do when you’re not a virgin. He goes down on me. I’m so uncomfortable but don’t know what to say or how to say it. I turn my head to the side . . . and the next thing I remember is waking up to him on top of me, inside me, thrusting.

Oh crap! How did this happen? How long was I out? Does he know? Is he wearing a condom?? “Are you wearing a condom?”

“No.” The thrusting continues.

Crap! Ok, I’m on birth control – won’t get pregnant. STDs? He said he didn’t have any… “You don’t have anything, right?”

“No, I do.” He keeps on thrusting. My world ends. I die inside and fear takes over. Adrenaline kicks in and I shove him off and out of me.

“What do you mean??” Please don’t say AIDS, please don’t say AIDS

“I have HPV.” Not AIDS, but doesn’t HPV stay with you forever?? I continue to die inside.

He goes into the details – he gave it to someone else once before. He acts like it’s not a big deal. I sit on the bed with the sheet wrapped around me, speechless. I pull my jeans back on and stagger downstairs to the bathroom. I want to cry, I want to vomit, I want to call my best friend. I want to go home. I can’t do any of those things. I’m numb. I know I can’t drive. He parked my car somewhere else and even if I knew where it was I am in no condition to drive. It’s the middle of the night so I can’t call anyone. What would I even say? I think I just got drugged and raped? If I was roofied wouldn’t I still be out? But I know I’m not drunk. I didn’t even finish the second drink. Can I press charges? Where’s the proof? His word against mine. His family has money, they’ll hire someone and rip me apart. Do I really want to explain this to the world and have everyone know? I just want it to go away. I just want to go home.

I go back upstairs. He apologizes. I lay down in the bed next to him until morning. He takes me to get food, offers to pay for the HPV shot (like that’ll do any good now). He continues to apologize. What can I say back? You stole my value? I’m garbage now. You possibly gave me an STD for life. I hate you. But that is not how we are called to act. We are called to forgive and turn the other cheek. Unforgiveness and hatred only hurts yourself, not the other person.

Over time, he continued to text and call me. Always to tell me he missed me, he’s sorry, he’s stopped smoking weed, he dreams about me, he knows he screwed up, he hopes I’ll forgive him. I do, but I really don’t want to talk to him or see him ever again. I only told one person what happened. She was there for me the best she could be, but what can you really say to comfort someone in that situation? I walked around, my mind in a haze, trying not to act any differently. I withdrew more and more into myself. My self-worth was so low. Damaged goods. How could any guy want to be with me?? Especially if I had HPV. How do you explain that to someone?

I attached myself to the next guy I dated. I needed validation – to know I was still desirable. I got too physical with him too quickly, although it was always in the back of my mind that I didn’t know if I had HPV or not. It went too far one night, I was forced to tell him what had happened – he may need to get tested. I’ll never forget the look on his face. I’ll never forget how he ran to the bathroom to wash off. He asked why I got involved with that guy – didn’t I know his reputation?? It was my fault this had happened. I should have known better. My self-worth shrank even more. But he came back. I spent the night, he dropped me off at my car in the morning, and then kissed me. I was in shock. He still wanted me even knowing I was damaged goods?? I threw myself into that relationship because he made me feel desirable again. Like I wasn’t disgusting. What a relief when the test results came back – no STDs!

I found out my rapist had a reputation for drugging girls. One girl did press charges and they destroyed her in court. My decision to stay silent was validated. He came back to work, months later, and I almost collapsed. I went back to our department as quickly and discreetly as I could, trying not to shake. Then he texts me, tells me how good I look. Please leave me alone! I didn’t reply. Thankfully, our interactions ended permanently.

Life returned to “normal” but the impact on my life had lasting ramifications. My confidence was nonexistent. What was my value? Am I only useful for that one thing? Those feelings were solidified when I started seeing a guy who refused to call our outings “dates”. I liked him, he liked me, but the world isn’t that simple anymore. There always has to be some manipulative game. I was seeing him for two months before I slept with him. That was only after he said there was no point in us talking anymore if I wasn’t going to have sex with him. My value was in my body and what I could do with it. Thus began a three year on again/off again relationship/non-relationship. During that time he taught me that his only interest in me was my body. He would routinely text me out of the blue asking for pictures, and then drop off the face of the planet again. When we finally became a real relationship he slut shamed me for being with other guys while we weren’t together. I know now it was none of his business. Vacations and gifts came with expectations of sexual favors/experimentation. He lied to me about things that we did sexually when I was drunk, things he did to me, and then he would get mad if I didn’t put out. Sex was a requirement. He was entitled to it. At least, according to him.

When I told him about what had happened to me that night his response was less than supportive. “What did you expect to happen? You were at his house.”

“We had been dating for a month. I thought I could trust him. I thought I was safe.”

“You put yourself in that position. Didn’t you know what kind of guy he was?”

“We worked in different departments. No one told me he had a reputation.”

“It’s your fault this happened.”
“It’s my fault he raped me??”

“Well…no…but you should have known better.”

“How?? How does one prepare for date rape from the person they’ve been seeing for awhile? Please tell me.”

“….” He didn’t say it out loud then, but it came out in later conversations. I was damaged. I wasn’t the girl he had thought I was. I was unclean. The person who had told me I was the love of their life now found me unworthy.

I finally got to the point where I was ready to return to God. I rededicated myself to Christ and began making church a regular part of my life again. Although we had different beliefs, my boyfriend was thrilled! Now I would stop being a party girl. I would be a “good girl” now. To him, “good” meant that I’d do what he told me. To me, “good” meant that I was trying to follow God’s commandments, including celibacy. When you’re a guy who thinks sex is the most important thing in life, this is a big deal. On a weekly basis, I was told:

  • If we’re going to be together you have to have sex with me.
  • Since we’ve already had sex you have to continue sleeping with me.
  • Since you’ve been with other guys you owe me sex.
  • I have needs.
  • This is just a phase. Once we break up you’re going to go back to having sex with a bunch of guys.
  • Come on! Just do something for me. Your mouth…your hand…?

I loved him. I thought. I wanted to be with him. I thought. I thought we could work it out. We couldn’t. He could never forgive me for sleeping with people other than him before we were together, and he refused to wait for marriage because I wasn’t a virgin and therefore owed him sex. We broke up and stopped talking, but then I let him back in my life. The comments have unfortunately continued. The difference is that now I know my value and my worth. I know who I am. I know my value is not found in the perceptions and needs of a guy. Any guy. It doesn’t matter what has happened in the past. That no longer defines me. The triggers, sinking me into deep depression, no longer phase me. I have received healing in Christ and been made whole.

The first thing he asked when we resumed communication: “Have you slept with anyone since me?”

“No, I’ve remained true to my convictions. I’m waiting.” He offered to fly me to Paris – a generous offer, of course, if it wasn’t for the strings attached. I told him I wasn’t going to sleep with him in Paris. He said he would get mad if nothing happened. I explained that he had absolutely zero right to my body, no matter how much money he spent. I AM NOT A PROSTITUTE. He called me crazy for saying that, but he thinks he is entitled to whatever he wants, because he wants it and paid for it. Needless to say, Paris didn’t happen.

I’ve tried getting back into dating. I’ve tried Tinder, after hearing a few success stories. On my profile, I make it clear that I’m a Christian and not interested in hooking up. It amazes me how many men don’t understand that that means no sex. I’ve gotten unsolicited pictures of genitalia, requests for sex, anger at my responses. Verbal abuse. It prompted me to change my profile to state even clearer: “I’m never going to sleep with you.”

Multiple friends have told me it won’t help. “Guys like a challenge. That’s only going to attract more douchebags”.

Here I am, being as honest and upfront as possible. I’m saying “NO” and yet our society doesn’t get it. “No” means “try harder”. My blunt statement means you should ridicule me and harass me by sending me misogynistic, hateful messages.

I’ve been told “there is no more rape culture” and I “need to relax”. For well over a decade, I suffered sexual harassment, emotional abuse, rape, and a constant lack of consideration for me, my body, and my independence. Things are not improving at the rate they should be. Men grow up thinking this is how they’re supposed to act, and women grow up thinking this is how they’re supposed to be treated. We see it in magazines and television shows, movies and music. Our judicial system and politicians let this be swept under the rug – easier to ignore what is happening than to stand up and say something. Don’t you dare tell me to relax. The last thing we need to do is relax. We need to know our self worth. We need to say no and make it stick. And we need the abusers and rapists in the world to understand that this culture – this abhorrent rape culture – is coming to an end.

*****

Any comments that aren’t supportive or that don’t contribute to the conversation will be removed. Anyone who has a story of their own that they would like to share anonymously, please contact me to have it published.

Rules of Yes and Rules of No: The Dangerous Game of Sex

I went on a date the other night, and she paid for everything – drinks, dinner, and the bar tab we ran up until two in the morning. A few days later, I was telling a friend about my weekend, and she jokingly asked if I put out that night. I replied, “Well, yeah, I had to, after she spent so much money, right?” We laughed. Yes, we laughed because it was ridiculous to think that I had any obligation to have sex with my date simply because she paid for the evening’s activities. It was laughable. Ludicrous. Inconceivable. And yet, how many men out there think that the money they spend on a date entitles them to something in return?

As a child, I learned about chastity and abstinence, and then I read books too adult for my young eyes for my real sex education. I would play on the playground with my friends, and we would separate into girls vs. boys. We would pull hair. We would snap bra straps. We would tease and mock and pick on the girls who inhabited our nightly dreams. And they would giggle or get mad and tell us to stop, and we learned that was called flirting. We would hear and see and learn that when she says no, it means you work harder so you can show her you’re worthy of a yes. We would go to the movies and watch it in action. Every movie hero wanted the girl who said no, because it meant he finally had to put some effort into the chase. Why are we so surprised, then, when our society continues to churn out men who don’t recognize the word “No”? They don’t see rejection as a chance to look inward and improve oneself; rather, it’s something to be challenged at best, and ignored at worst.

The rules are simple; yet, they’re not. Women are told they should play hard to get, and men are told those are the women worth having. Nobody learns to say yes when they mean yes and no when they mean no, but we’re supposed to navigate those dangerous waters or we’re told that we’ll die sad and alone. But until we reach the point that we’ve moved past these misogynistic mating rituals where acts of aggression and dominance are rewarded by society at large, here are some rules of yes and rules of no:

  • Am I entitled to sex if I paid for dinner? No.
  • What if I spent over $100? No.
  • Am I entitled to sex if we’ve been on three dates? No.
  • Four? No.
  • Six? No.
  • A hundred dates. C’mon, a hundred? No.
  • What if she’s agreed to be my girlfriend? No.
  • We made it Facebook official? No.
  • We’ve had sex already on previous nights? No.
  • We had sex already that day? No.
  • Am I entitled to sex once I’m engaged? No.
  • What about once I’m married? No.
  • But what if it’s been a while? No.
  • I pay all the bills and she stays at home and we haven’t had sex in a month? No.
  • What if we’re the last two people on Earth and I just saved her life from a cyborg dinosaur with laser eyes? No.
  • If she said we could have sex the next time we went out, and this is that time, even if she hasn’t said anything about it? No.
  • What if she gets really drunk so she forgot to say okay? No.
  • If I’m really drunk too? No.
  • We’re both equally drunk? No.
  • What if she’s been ignoring me and finally smiled at me? No.
  • If she fell asleep or passed out and left her door open? No.
  • If she told her friend that she wanted to have sex with me, and her friend told me? No.
  • What if she says no, but she smiles? No.
  • What if it’s Opposite Day? No.
  • If she invites me over? No.
  • But if she’s wearing something sexy?  No.
  • And then we make out? No.
  • And we get naked? No.
  • And we’re about to have sex, but she has second thoughts? No.
  • If she doesn’t explicitly say no? No.
  • What if I’m really horny? No.
  • Really, really horny? No.
  • What if she drinks so much she passes out? No.
  • If she told me yes before she passed out? No.
  • I deserve sex if she’s just a tease, right? No.
  • But what if she’s just been leading me on? No.
  • If she laughs about it? No.
  • Am I entitled to sex if everyone else has had sex with her? No.
  • But that must mean that clearly, she’s easy, and doesn’t care who she sleeps with? No.
  • If she tells me she’s interested in me? No.
  • What if she says she usually has sex on the first date? No.
  • If I beg her until she says okay? No.
  • If she initiates sex and then changes her mind? No.
  • So, when am I entitled to sex? Never.

And, finally:

If she initiates sex, or I initiate sex and she consents, and at no time does she change her mind, offer resistance, or in any way demonstrate that she’s unwilling to proceed, through body language, verbal cues, or a combination of both, or incapable of proceeding/providing consent due to intoxication, then can I have sex? Yes. But you’re still not entitled to it. Appreciate it. Enjoy it. Have fun with it. Love it. But don’t expect it. Don’t demand it. And don’t you dare ever, ever think you deserve it.

 

To the mothers

To the mothers and moms,
to mommies and mamas,
the maters, the mammies,
to the madres and mas.

To the sisters who stepped up,
the dads on their own,
the aunts and the nanas,
who gave us a home.

To the ad hoc physician,
the maid and the chef,
the folder and sorter,
the boss and the ref.

To the moms of adults,
who have some kids of their own,
to the new moms, waiting,
to meet the child they’ve grown.

To each of you who have
a bond stronger than blood,
to unconditional love
through the bad and the good.

You take charge, you take lead,
you’re queen of the mount,
and today, dog and cat moms,
pets don’t fucking count.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Where Avitable lives.