#yesallwomen This one in particular

I don’t often talk about these incidents because they seem small and unworthy. Because I know too may women to whom worse has happened.

So I keep these stories close to my chest, too close possibly. I was married for 5 years and had known my husband for 10 when I finally told him about the boy I met on my first day of senior year.  He was new so I helped him find his way to his home room.  I remember feeling so jaunty that day.  I remember the outfit I picked out to wear and how pleased I was that this was my last ever first day at high school. And I remember feeling like I was doing this good deed, helping out this nervous kid.

He followed me around for the rest of the year.  He wrote me ridiculous notes about how he’d witnessed a drug deal and now gang members were going to kill him and he gave me his soccer medal because I was his only friend and he wanted me to have it.  He was intense and frightening.  I gave back the note and the soccer medal, I told him to leave me alone.  He was still aroud,  still on the periphery.  Always.  Later, my guidance counselor, a man I had previously respected, called me into his office to tell me not to be scared of this kid.  I don’t remember exactly how I responded but I remember that I saw a red haze that I didn’t know how to put into words as he spoke to me.  I think I might have said, ‘But I am scared.’ It feels like such a weak response.

The summer after my first year away at college he would show up at my house.  He gave my mother another note for me, another convoluted story.  Something about how he’d fallen off a cliff and had amnesia but someone had told him he’d treated me poorly and he wanted to apologise.

It sounds comical in the retelling, I know that, my friends even made a joke song about him to the tune of The Cat Came Back. But it never felt comical in the moment, certainly not the day he sat on the side of the road across the street of my house for hours.  I spent most of that day on the wide step at the curve of our staircase because it felt like the best place in the house to go unseen. It didn’t feel even a little comical at that moment, and it didn’t feel comical over a decade letter when he sent me a message on MySpace.  Without realising what I was doing I took myself to the wide step at the curve of my staircase in London, half a world away.  As if I still needed to hide from him.  None of it is comical, not really, but that’s how I tell the story, because comedy is easier, apparently.

I didn’t have a name for the other not-horrible-not-as-bad-as-what-happened-to-other-people incident until a few years ago.  I think I called it That Thing That Happened for a long time.  Then I read this about Not Rape and that’s the context I use to describe it now.  That time I didn’t get raped by my ‘friend’ from work at a party.  That near miss when he thought that because I was passed out it meant he had free reign.  The way I didn’t know what was going on at first, the feeling of dread as I slowly figured it out.  I still don’t know exactly how I managed to push myself into a wall and pull my jeans back up and I still hate the way I consider myself lucky that in the end he just tried to jack himself off between my thighs and then fell asleep next to me for the rest of the night.  There was nothing lucky about any of it.  I hate the way I tried to play it off as no big deal at first and I hate the memory of how the realisation hit me on the drive home, sitting in the passenger seat of a friend’s car as my brain slowly put the pieces of the whole thing together.

A few weeks later in the work break room, a girl would ask me if there was any way ‘you could make things cool between you and you-know-who?’ It was making other people uncomfortable, I guess.  She was shocked when I flat-out said no.  Just no.  A word that still, apparently, wasn’t enough.

Two days after I didn’t get raped I cornered him by the vending machines and told him never to come near me again.  I still look back with wonder at 20-year-old Carolyn, at how she found her voice where 18-year-old Carolyn only had a haze.  It still took 20-year-old Carolyn 3 more days before she slept again.  And 37-year-old Carolyn would still rather not talk about other things that were said in the immediate aftermath.  I just don’t want to, they still cut too close.

But I will talk about how just under a year later I found out he did rape another coworker.  The police didn’t take her seriously and many of our ‘friends’ didn’t take her seriously.  She once said he was hot, after all.  If I regret anything in my life it’s not the vodka I drank that night but that I didn’t tell more people about what he didn’t do to me.  That I didn’t just say fuck the consequences and warn more women, put his picture on telephone poles, write his name on all the bathroom walls.  Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference but I still wish I’d done it because I regret so deeply what I didn’t say and the role it played in what happened to her.

So I’m saying all this now, 17 years down the road, even though they both still feel too small to count.  Because I know they are not too small to count and I know I am not too small to count even though I am sometimes still scared and sometimes it all still hurts.

 

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Memory tricks

I’m pretty sure that I remember where I was when I found out.  It’s weird that I’m only pretty sure though, because I have a solid memory for events and big deal moments and even quite a lot of minutiae.  But for whatever reason this moment has blurred and melded into other moments and from there it stretches into a series of anecdotes until it barely relates to the original moment I was trying to remember.

This is what I am almost certain of.  On April 5, 1994 I was babysitting for a family that lived on Lake Huron.  They had a huge house, three children, a Dalmatian and a bird.  They had a private stretch of beach, a large boat and a jet ski.  To my 16 year old mind they were RICH.  I know now, at 36, that they weren’t truly rich.  I know now, at 36 and having seen more of the world, that there is probably no one in Port Huron who is truly rich.  True wealth doesn’t go to Port Huron, why would it?  But in relatively small world I lived in then, they were certainly well to do and it was definitely a plum babysitting assignment.  There were good snacks, full cable and the kids were old enough to keep themselves occupied most of the time.  So I was making use of that full cable, watching Mtv when the announcement came on that Kurt Cobain was dead.

Here’s where things get fuzzy.

I’m pretty sure I called friends.  We weren’t big fans but we knew this was a big deal.  I remember actively knowing it was a big deal, the kind of big deal where you knew that someday, say 20 years down the road, you’d be telling someone where you were when. And then for some reason, my brain insists that this was also the day I got asked out on a date for the first time.  It wasn’t.  I know it wasn’t.

I know that my first date was to Homecoming in October 93.  A boy the year behind me at school asked me.  We went in a group with a friend of his and a girl I’d known since 6th grade and another couple I can’t clearly picture.  The boy who asked me, we’ll call him X, he was a Republican, something I found weird even then, because I knew that young people were supposed to be liberal in their politics, their prized possessions were not supposed to include a photo of them shaking hands with Ross Perot (technically an independent, but seriously).  They were not supposed to think Engler was a good guy.  Anyhow I knew this kid beyond that he was a republican, sort of, we were both in the marching band, his dad was the pastor at the church that my family got kicked out of (not exactly kicked out, more told we could leave) though he took the job after we’d left, I knew he was taller than me and skinny and had a big smile.  I didn’t like him or not like him, but it was nice to be asked out.

I remember he was running with the cross country team in my neighbourhood the day he asked me out, which was not the day Kurt Cobain died, he ran backwards and asked for my number and I was trying to be cool by being  sarcastic and sort of cocky, which is how I thought cool people acted.  It isn’t how cool people act though, I know that now, I also know that it probably just made me seem more awkward and weird which goes a long way towards explaining why I was 16 and only just getting asked out. I gave him my number and the number of the house where I would be babysitting that night.  So I was sitting on the counter in the big shining kitchen of that house on the lake when he called later and asked me to homecoming.

Just like 6 months later when I was sitting on that same counter talking to my friends about the death of a rock star who I knew to be important even though I couldn’t say exactly why.  I think that’s where the mix up happens in my memories, but now that the mix up has occurred, it mixes more and I need to think about the actual date.  It was not a very good date.

I wore a long burgundy lace dress with matching burgundy choker and earrings and even burgundy platform maryjanes, I was a vision in burgundy.  We had a group dinner  at the Victorian Inn where X worked as a dishwasher.  I had filet mignon even though I could not pronounce it.  He introduced me to the kitchen staff.  It was sweet, I guess.  Later at the actual dance, we regarded each other stiffly, neither of us especially sure what to do with our hands while we danced around the gym.  We didn’t have much to talk about, though we did try.  I spent a lot of time in the bathroom.  I remember feeling like the gulf between our political views was insurmountable, like why were we even trying, what was the point?  Looking back I imagine that if it was awkward (and it was) that most of the blame can be placed squarely at my feet.  I’ll take that burden.  We didn’t hang out afterwards, we were still friendly but there was no chemistry and there was unlikely to ever be any.

Years later via Facebook I would find his profile and his diamante choker wearing profile picture. Yes, dear reader, X was gay and out and happy and living in California.  We sent a few messages back and forth ‘Are you still a republican?’ I asked.  His response was the word no with a smiley face.  We joked about how we both got as far away as we could.  And we lost touch again.  Amicably, both of  us, I hope feeling less awkward than we had that night back in 93 when we stood on my back deck after the dance and tried to figure out if we should kiss each other tonight (we didn’t).

But back to 1994.  April 5th is also my dad’s birthday.  He would have been 51 in 1994.  I don’t remember how we celebrated that year.  I do remember that 2 years later on April 5th I came home from college for the weekend and immediately got into a friend’s car and went to see Allen Ginsberg and Patti Smith do a show in Ann Arbor.  My mom was mad at me for coming all the way home only to ditch out on my dad’s birthday.  I remember explaining my reasoning to her in that still cocky and sarcastic way I was holding onto.

‘Listen, Mom,’ I said all sure of myself, ‘Ginsberg is old and he’s done a lot of drugs, he’s not going to be around long, Dad’s got awhile left to go, I need to do this.’ And I ignored her frustration (sorry, Mom) and went to the show.  I know that all sounds callous, but the thing is, I was right.  Ginsberg was old, and apparently pretty unwell, too.  He died exactly one year later on April 5th, 1997.  He had cancer.  I remember a girl in my creative writing class saying, ‘But I was supposed to have coffee with him!’ When she found out.  I never had coffee with him but at least I saw him read part of Kaddish in person.

13 years later, in November 2010, a few days after my dad died in a hospital in Detroit I sat on the floor of my kitchen in London and read Kaddish silently to myself, an attempt to mourn halfway across the world for a man who had left specific instruction about how he did not want to be mourned.  I probably cried.  I can’t remember for sure.  I cried a lot during those early days following his death, sometimes I’m surprised these 3+ years later to realise that I ever stopped.  And then in December of 2010 on Christmas day I got a message on Facebook.  Did you hear about X?  And saw status updates popping up as people tried to piece together what had happened.  He’d had a heart attack in his sleep, aged 32 and his sister found him on Christmas morning.  I think about her still, I don’t know her but whenever I think about him and how he died I want to hug his sister. I want to tell her how sorry I am and I want to tell her about that lousy date in the Autumn of 1993 and I hope it would make her laugh and give her something unexpected about her brother. Because I like it, now, when people tell me an unexpected story about my dad, I like it when I learn something new and funny about him.

I don’t have anything unexpected or special to say about the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death.  You probably don’t care that some kids at my school put up a banner in his honor, but that they misspelled his name Kirt, and that we made a sarcastic joke about it in the school paper.  That’s barely even a full anecdote, it’s just an eye roll.  I only have this muddle of memories that the mention of that day brings up and the general sadness you feel when you think about someone who died sooner than they should have

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Things I write in other places, part whatever

So I recently submitted this to be part of the narrative map at the Great Lakes Review website.  And it got accepted which is awesome, though full disclosure an old friend from Wayne State University is their Michigan editor.

Anyhow, connections from the 90’s aside, people seem to like it, which is really pretty awesome and kind of surprising.  Mostly awesome, though.

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Lucky

In 2007 Jeremy and I were in a car accident on Thanksgiving day. Actually we were in two accidents, but they were very close together, so let’s just call it an accident. Jeremy ended up with a concussion and I had pretty bad whiplash and we got to ride in expensive American ambulances to my hometown hospital where my old babysitter did our cat scans.

My dad came to get us at the hospital that day. He found Jeremy for me and made sure he was okay. He got the nurses to let me get up and use the bathroom before the doctor okayed it. Later he drove us to the pharmacy where I got my pain pills and on the drive home he told me it was fine to take vicoden with wine (My father was not a doctor. It is not actually okay to take vicoden with wine, do as I say not as I do and etc). And as he drove us home along I 69 he listened to me bitch about my unluckiness for a little bit before cutting me off and saying, ‘No, Carolyn, you aren’t unlucky. You’re very lucky. You’re alive and you weren’t even hurt that badly and your nieces weren’t in the car and you’re going to be okay.’
This is a paraphrase, it was 2007 when it all happened, okay, also vicoden and wine.
The point is, I’m remembering that conversation today as it’s the 3rd anniversary of his death and I’m trying to remember how lucky I am to have had my dad around for as long as I did. How lucky I am to have all these stories about him, to have known him and learned from him and laughed with him and to have been his daughter.
Today still sucks, no doubt about that, and it sucks that we didn’t have as much time as we wanted with him but I’m grateful for the time we did have. For the stories I’ll always have, even if one of them features him calling my very tasteful tattoo a tramp stamp (Whatever, Dad, GOD!).

He was a good dad. I am lucky he was mine.

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This might make me a royalist after all

So if you know me, you probably know that I’m kind of a killjoy about the whole royal wedding, royal baby, royal anything business.  When The Guardian gave the option to choose republican or royalist versions of their online paper after Kate went into labor I chose republican and was pleased with my choice.

But then I saw a bit of their little appearance in front of the hospital and I saw that she wasn’t hiding her stomach. She was in a simple comfortable dress and her post baby stomach was on full display. Maybe it’s happened before and I just wasn’t looking for it, but I have never seen a public figure in the days immediately following giving birth showing off her belly so unashamedly.

That post-baby belly is one of those things you know will happen to you, the lady who teaches your NCT class will tell you about it but you won’t really understand it until after that baby has fought his or her way out of your body and you still look 6 months pregnant.  You never see these bellies in the wild, at least you aren’t aware of them.  And when you see celebrities immediately following the birth of their children, they have usually been trained to within an inch of their pre-baby selves. Their stomachs don’t look jubbly and stretchmarked, they look like they were doing crunches in time with their lamaze breathing.  And as much as you know that this is not realistic, that normal women cannot be held to these ridiculous standards, it is still hard to see.  It is hard to reconcile your new body with the images you are bombarded with, with the rubbish magazines that tell you how so and so just melted off the weight (bee the dubs, OK magazine can bite me.  I’m not linking to them and their crap cover story about Kate’s baby weight whatever, I am just giving them the finger from my sofa), with all the crap about how you are supposed to be and look and act after giving birth to a child after spending 9 months with no control of your body and you haven’t had more than one lousy glass of wine per trimester either because YOU ARE A RESPONSIBLE PARENT, ALRIGHT?!?!

So, yeah, the point is, thank you Duchess of Cambridge.  You did the rest of us a solid on Tuesday.  You showed people a rarely seen example of what a woman looks like after giving birth (even if the rest of us (aka me) left the hospital in leggings, a tunic and flip-flops with our hair in a pony tail and no idea how to put the car seat in the taxi).  I don’t know if standing there in your body unashamed is courage exactly, but it was kind of brave and I know I appreciated it. I appreciated it quite a lot.

Also, dude, can I call you dude? You were walking like a pro, I bet they totally gave you more than ibu profen and paracetamol like what I got at King’s College Hospital.  Either that or your bionic.

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This might be mumbo jumbo but I’mma say it anyway

So here’s something I don’t like admitting.  And I don’t like admitting that I don’t like admitting it even.  This is one of those complicated personal issue type things.  I’m delaying getting to the admission because even though it’s pedestrian and as normal as crap weather during a British summer it’s something I struggle with on so many levels.

I’m actively trying to lose weight for the first time in my life.  I’ve exercised before and I’m a fan of yoga and for a few weeks in the winter of 2002 I tried running out but I never actively counted calories and made significant changes to my diet until this last month and a half.  And I still feel really conflicted about it.

Because I’m a feminist.  I embrace and celebrate women of all shapes and sizes.  I think it is okay to be fat or skinny or square or hourglass or whatever.  I really do. If you’re my friend on Facebook you’ve seen the posts I’ve made about this.  The awesome body positive stuff I’ve shared.  Like that meme about how to get a bikini body, you know, put a bikini on your body, job done.  And I still believe that. 100%.

But here’s the thing, I am also deeply uncomfortable in my own body. I struggled with this before having a baby, and I worked on it and worked on it.  There are a lot of reasons for my discontent and my discomfort at even taking about this stuff.  My arthritis that effects almost all the joints on the lower half of my body, my slowed down metabolism, my nose, the way I used to be skin and bones and the comments grown ups would make when I grabbed a 5th slice of pizza (That’ll catch up with you someday *smirk*), the way women I loved would beat themselves up over their weight, reading Nomi Lamm’s zine in the 11th grade, the way my friends have been leered at, the way I have been leered at, the way women’s bodies are treated like public property, how when I was 20 I made up a song called ‘I’m so fucking cute’ and I believed it,  the way that being pregnant and having a baby has changed my body so tremendously, how my boobs get in the way now, how they used to be too small, how nothing is ever, ever good enough no matter how I try to work through it in my head.

So yeah. I’m changing my diet and I’m trying to exercise more, I’m admitting that.  I’m also trying to be (and I hate this word, it’s a word that therapists use and it makes me roll my eyes) gentler with myself.  If I eat an ice cream cone and go over my caloric limit. That’s okay.  I’ll do better tomorrow.  And if I’m in pain it’s okay to take the bus from the closer stop rather than walking to the stop across the park, and it’s important to acknowledge the things I like about myself and am proud of and not to downplay the things I am doing well.

My weight doesn’t define me.  The crinkles and the stretch marks in my stomach don’t define me. The size of my thighs doesn’t define me.  No one thing defines me.  But there are millions of one things, some small and some huge, and they all affect me.  So what I’m doing is I’m trying to work on all of the ones that are hurting me because I want to like myself for more reasons than I don’t like myself.

So we’ll see how this goes.  Maybe it’ll work and help and maybe it won’t, but I feel like I need to try, just like I also need to read more books and write more stories and make my kid giggle more and go on more dates with my husband and talk to my friends more and generally be a happier person.  I’ll get there.  It’s not all about how I look but I need to accept that right now that’s part of it for me and I need to stop kicking myself over that.

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Nearly there

I’m all nostalgia lately.
Max will be a year old on the 23rd and it’s hard to believe a whole entire year has gone by. Right now, this very second, he’s settling in with his child minder, when I left he was screaming like he’d been poked with a needle. This time last year I was waddling around wondering when we would finally meet him.
image

This morning I’m pretty sure he said his official first word, Dada. He’s an art fan, obviously. This time last year I had no idea I was about to go through approximately 3 days of labor that would be terrible and hard but would also bring me a super excellent little guy.
This has been the best and hardest year of my life and I’m betting more of the same is ahead.

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