It’s All Her Fault

When faced with humiliation, real or imagined, blame the woman.

Warning: This post, with its descriptions of misogyny and abuse, may be triggering for some and inappropriate for others. Proceed with caution.

I’m in a foul, foul mood, dear readers. I have had it up to here. And by here, I mean someplace about 100 feet above your head. Yeah. That high.

A few things happened today to put me in this mood. First, I went swimming with Dear Husband, and while he was doing his laps, the guy on the other side of me, whom I had never seen at the pool before and hope to never see again, decided to take a break from his exercise routine to take an inappropriately long look at my breasts while I was doing my workout. He had a naughty little smile on his face while he did it, like the two of us were playing this bawdy game together. Suddenly I felt like I was putting on a show for this pig, when all I wanted to do was exercise. It made me feel like going home and taking a bath in bleach.  

I didn’t report him to management, because technically, looking at someone is not a crime. And as is so often the case in moments like these, it would be his word against mine. Who cares that I felt like I had been assaulted? Who cares that it was an act of aggression?

I also said nothing to DH, because he struggles to think badly of anyone, so he questions my judgment when I have those thoughts myself. And even if he knew, what could he have done? Gotten into a fist fight at the YMCA? Please.

But I know what I saw. I had just been victimized by a random male who knew he could get away with it, and who felt he had the right to do so. The last thing I needed on top of that was to have to justify my victimization to someone else. It’s sickeningly common for people to assume that if a woman is upset about something, she must be exaggerating. Nope. We’re just fed up with a lifetime of this type of bs.

Later, when I got to work and started scrolling through the news feed, I stumbled upon an article about Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry VIII, King of England. Fortunately for her, she was only married to him for about 6 months, and actually managed to get away without being beheaded like her successor, Catherine Howard would be.

It seems that their marriage was never consummated, and good ol’ Henry, who was 49 at a time when the life expectancy was 50, claimed that this had nothing to do with him. Forget about the fact that he never had any more children even though he had two more wives. Forget about the fact that he was already morbidly obese and suffered from gout and an ulcerated leg that refused to heal long before he married Anne of Cleves. He almost certainly had a traumatic brain injury and type II diabetes as well, which, just sayin’, does not exactly scream virility to me.

No. The lack of consummation, Hank claimed, was because Anne of Cleves was so unattractive that he wasn’t aroused by her. His proof of potency was his assertion that he had had two wet dreams during that time. All hail the holy ejaculate!

Yup. When faced with humiliation, real or imagined, it’s always preferable to blame the woman. And to add insult to injury, say that she’s ugly in the sure and certain knowledge that everyone will believe that rather than consider your unmistakable health issues. Yeah. Of course that will work. Because it actually does, doesn’t it? Heaven forefend a woman might be equal to or even superior to the men around her in health or in any other way.

I almost got sucked in to defending Anne of Cleves’ looks, based on all the paintings of her that are extant. But really, what does that have to do with anything? That unwarranted critique was merely a way to divert our attention from even uglier behavior.

Just ask Mary Magdalene what it’s like to have your reputation trashed in order to downplay your value to society. She figures highly in the gnostic gospels as vital to Jesus’ ministry, and is even called an apostle. The amount of money she provided to that ministry also indicates that she was a woman of wealth. And yet, two centuries later, she’s called a prostitute and it’s claimed that she was possessed by seven demons. There’s no evidence of this in the bible, by the way. But she’s being bad-mouthed to this very day. We can’t have it seem as though Jesus gave his seal of approval to women having power, now can we?


That got me thinking about how so many men of power abuse women emotionally, reputationally, and physically, in a variety of sick and twisted ways, and yet these men still get away with it. Still!

Case in point (and yet another thing I got to read about on this very same day): The trial of E. Jean Carroll v. Donald Trump has finally begun. For those who haven’t heard, he is once again being accused of sexually assaulting a woman. Her evidence is pretty compelling. She has testimony from two people whom she talked to immediately afterward. She has testimony from the venue as to how the act could have gone unnoticed. She has testimony from a family member who explains why she didn’t come forward for so long.

Oh, and then there are the 19 other women who have accused Trump of similar behavior. I’m thinking in particular of two others, Jessica Leeds and Natasha Stoynoff, whose stories of being assaulted by Trump show an almost identical modus operandi to the one that he spelled out so graphically to Billy Bush. The man openly bragged about grabbing women by the p****. We have all heard the tape or at least read the transcript. And yet he still got elected! Still!

Trump’s defense is as follows: she’s not his type. Even though he himself mistook a picture of Carroll from that time to be that of Marla Maples, who was most definitely his type. The woman’s looks are the thing that should be put on trial, per Trump. And they have been. Oh yeah. Let’s worry about what the victim looks like, then as well as now. That’s important when you get raped, isn’t it?

Well, now, if the court finds her unattractive, then clearly Trump must be innocent!

( ͠° ͟ʖ ͡° ) ╭∩╮

The man is a pig. Is anyone surprised? He has centuries of porcine examples from which to model his behavior. The fact that these men have been given a pass only demonstrates how fragile our cloaks of civility actually are. Boys will be boys. It’s so common it’s been normalized. So much so that many women in this country are proud to step up and defend such outrageous acts.

I would say that women who defend pigs are the ultimate betrayal, but really, that’s twisted logic. It oozes out from the same fetid cesspool that the belief that women are “asking for it” comes from. Because, let’s face it: Women have as much right to be ignorant, prejudiced, backward and outrageous as men do.

As much as I love the Me Too movement and think that it was long overdue, I wish it had instead been called the You Too movement. Because the focus needs to be placed on the scumbags who are perpetuating the crimes, rather than the women who are being re-victimized by society if they have the courage to speak out. The onus should be on those who are committing the crimes. The women on the receiving end of this outrageous behavior should not then have to be forced to fight for their reputations and good names.

Yes, like the vast majority of women, I have been groped, raped, assaulted, violated, humiliated, emotionally abused, stared at, and otherwise treated like a plaything that doesn’t have any rights at all. What are you looking at? Me? Get a clue. Look at the men. Look at all the freakin’ men. Focus on them and what society allows them to do.

In proximity to most women are whole herds of parasitic pigs who are mucking about, waiting for their opportunity to take what they want and then defecate on the victim’s reputation. These women don’t want them. They find them repugnant and debilitating. And yet the pigs persist. They don’t even allow women to control their own bodies.

And as a side note, a group of pigs is called a team. Isn’t that interesting? Isn’t that scary?

These pigs will not only survive, but thrive, because we allow them to lurk in the underbrush. We remain silent. We provide them with excuses. We do not hold them accountable. We continue to support them and allow them to hold power.

I’m not saying that all men are victimizers or that all women are victims. Far from it. But let’s address the biggest piggy in the room of all: The good guys are doing nothing to stop this. But don’t get all smug. Most of us women aren’t doing anything, either. With our sheer inertia, with our silence, and our tendency to avert our eyes, we all prop up this sickening system of abuse. Shame on us.


How I Got a Grip on My Gaslighter

You have a right to your emotions!

For the first four decades of my life, give or take, someone who was a big part of my world worked quite hard to make me doubt myself. She succeeded. I am still dealing with the aftereffects of that gaslighting to this day.

In my 40’s, I accidentally stumbled upon a way to make the abuse stop, and rather abruptly, too. And I didn’t even have to resort to violence. I’m not a mental health professional, nor can I make you a promise that this particular gambit will work if you have a gaslighter in your life, but hey, it’s worth a try.

Based on the sources I’ll list below, I will discuss gaslighting in detail, but I’ll also draw upon my own personal experience to show you how I coped. (Again, your results may vary.)

Step One: Identify it.

First of all, just because you get into arguments with someone does not mean that that person is gaslighting you. Not all disagreements are gaslighting. Sometimes you’re wrong. Sometimes you’re right. Sometimes you learn something very beneficial from the disagreement and how you handle it.

Second, not all gaslighters are doing it consciously. They may have been taught by someone else that these toxic tactics are how one should behave. If that’s the case, feel sorry for them. They have led a miserable life. But do not use “intention” as your only yardstick to measure this form of emotional abuse. “He didn’t mean anything by it” is not a valid excuse. Especially since the very best gaslighters will convince you that that is the case. Gaslighting is never okay.

So, what makes a gaslighter? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Is this person invalidating your feelings? Do they say things like, “You are too sensitive.” “You are too insensitive.” “You are overreacting.” “You’re just saying that to get your way.” “You shouldn’t take it personally.” If this person is chipping away at your self-worth, identity, or perceptions, then she/he is very likely a gaslighter.

(Don’t even get me started on the “shouldn’t take it personally” thing. If it’s a criticism of you, it’s personal. If it’s a way to get you to do or think something you don’t want to do or think, it’s personal. If someone is trying to convince you that you don’t have a right to feel the way you feel, it’s personal. YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO YOUR EMOTIONS!!!!)

Does this person act as if she or he knows you better than you do yourself? (For starters, ask yourself how that could even be possible. Then, remind yourself that this person cannot read your mind.)

Does this person try to define “normal” for you? Do they try to tell you how you should feel, react, think, or behave? Do they say things like, “You’re being overly dramatic” in an attempt to make you change your behavior?

Does this person deny the truth? If you are sure that something happened, or that something was said, trust your gut. Gaslighters will try to make you think your memory is unreliable by saying that the thing never happened, or that they never said what you are positive you heard. Occasionally that might be true. We all forget things from time to time, or have different memories of events. But when it seems to come up in every single argument, that’s a pattern with a goal: to cause you to second guess yourself and therefore be more apt to adopt their opinions.

Are you being made to believe that every single problem in your relationship is your fault? What are the odds of that? Do you find yourself apologizing even when you feel you’ve done nothing wrong?

Have you noticed that your self-esteem has lowered and/or your depression has increased since this person entered your life?

If any of the above resonates with you, there’s a good chance that you have got yourself a gaslighter. But just to be sure, perhaps read all the articles listed below.

I could go on for weeks or months, describing what my gaslighter did to me, but really, there’s no point. I’ll just pick one example. Any time I opened my mouth, her favorite response was, “You have really strong opinions.” She also had the condescending tone down pat.

Step Two: Question it.

Once you suspect someone is gaslighting you, the next step is to question what they’re trying to convince you of. Ask a trusted outside source for their perspective. Tell it to them straight. Don’t leave anything out. You’re not trying to “win”. You’re trying to gain insight. This person should be a friend or loved one who won’t just take your side because of your relationship, or perhaps a therapist, or an authority on the subject in question.

An objective person should be able to tell you if they would react or think or behave the way you did, or if they feel that your reaction is plausible. If the thing in question can be verified as a fact, research the subject on line, using well-established, reliable sources. (If you’re not sure if a site is reliable, run it through

Basically, you should determine if you are, in fact, wrong. All of us are wrong sometimes. It’s a rare person, though, who is wrong all the time (and most of them get into politics).

In my case, it took me decades to even realize I had the right to question what my gaslighter was saying. At some point it occurred to me that it was strange that she took so much joy in saying something that caused me so much confusion and self-doubt. Finally, I realized what was going on. She wanted me to question my opinions. She wanted me to wonder if I was wrong. She wanted me to shut up and let her make all the decisions. She even talked other people in my life into using that phrase with me. After a while, I had three people telling me that I had strong opinions. If three people say it, it must be right, surely? Hmph.

Step Three: Own Your Conclusions.

Once you’ve reached a point where you know the kind of person you’re dealing with, and believe that you have a right to think/act/feel the way you do about something, make sure you feel it right down to the very marrow of your bones, because the next step can be hard, especially if it’s not something you’re well practiced in.

Step Four: Set Firm Boundaries

First of all, don’t waste your time arguing with a gaslighter. They are way too good at it. And there is no point in trying to change their beliefs, because odds are they never believed them in the first place. The only thing that you need to convince them of is that you are standing firm in your convictions.

In my situation, I had been thinking about what I believed for some time, and she just happened to hit me with the “You have very strong opinions” on a day when I had the presence of mind to be unusually quick on the uptake. So I said, “You know what? I’ve given this a lot of thought. I’ve decided that everyone has strong opinions. That’s the very definition of an opinion, isn’t it? You believe it or you don’t. It isn’t as if I expect everyone to share my opinions, but yes, I have them. You don’t have to like my opinions, but I have no intention of checking my brain at the door just because you feel my opinions are too intense for you.”

And just like that, that particular tool was removed from her abusive toolbox. She never said “You have very strong opinions” to me again, ever. I was actually quite startled by how successful that impromptu speech was.

Don’t get me wrong. She didn’t apologize. She didn’t see the errors of her ways and change. She simply realized that that sentence had no control over me anymore, so there was no point in uttering it. I consider this a success because she wasn’t going to change, but I could, and did. I took back control.

You know how bullies seem to deflate when you confront them? My gaslighter ran out of gas when I turned off the supply. It felt as though, in that one particular case, I had thrown water on the Wicked Witch and she melted before my very eyes.

Oh, she went on to abuse me emotionally in many other gassy ways until she passed away, but she found it a lot harder to do. I had my work cut out for me with that one. But learning the coping skills I describe above gave me what felt like superpowers.

The only way a gaslighter holds sway over you is if you buy what they’re selling. So learn to shop elsewhere. You can do it.

Good luck!

Update: I wrote this post just before getting the autism diagnosis that I blogged about on January 2nd. This adds a little more nuance to my situation, because strong opinions is yet another potential symptom of autism. So perhaps my gaslighter was right about that. What she was wrong about was trying to bully me to change, because if these opinions are part of my autism, then that’s most likely not going to change. But I still stand by the (strong) opinion that I don’t expect everyone to agree with my opinions. If that’s the case, what’s the harm? But, yeah, I have a lot of thinking to do.


Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book!

The Silent Treatment is Child Abuse

The damage may not be physical, but it’s there.

As an adult, when another adult gives me the silent treatment, I have to laugh inside. Clearly, the two of us have issues, so does that person really think their silence is a punishment to me? A recent coworker used to do that to me, coupled with a glare that was dripping with contempt. Actually, I viewed her silence as a nice respite, because, let’s face it: please shut up. Please.

I know that eventually these misguided adults will figure out that this lack of communication isn’t going to further their agenda very much, and they’ll either speak to me or they won’t. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to speak to them when the need arises, but small talk will cease. Works for me. It gives me an opportunity to catch up on my reading.

But it’s very different when the silent treatment is directed at a child. I had one relative who would do that to me for months on end unless my mother stepped in and forced her to stop. Until the next time. It was worse than toxic. According to a psychotherapist interviewed for this article, the silent treatment is an abusive method of control, punishment, avoidance, and disempowerment.

You don’t have to physically or verbally abuse a child to damage them. The silent treatment is emotional abuse at its most insidious. According to the article, it is “manipulation, a twisted way of regaining authority over someone, making the victim feel powerless, intimidated, guilty and insignificant.”

The messages I received when this relative hit me with her stone-cold silences were, “I care more about hurting you than communicating with you.” “You are unwanted.” “You do not matter.” “You are insignificant.” “If you don’t want to be ignored and rejected, you have to give in to all my demands, beliefs, and opinions, and squash any of your own.” “If you want to avoid conflict, just shut up and do as I say, no matter how irrational it may seem.” “You have no right to question anything.” “I don’t take you seriously.” “To get along in this world, you should allow yourself to be manipulated by others.” “Anticipate my needs to the point of having anxiety attacks if you want to be loved.” “Doubt yourself.” “Nobody has your back.” “Nobody will stand by you.” “You are completely and utterly alone in this world.” “The best way to communicate is by not communicating at all.”

These are horrible messages to send to a child. Children who are stripped of their self-esteem in this manner are definitely not being set up for success. In fact, quite the opposite. To this day, my gut reaction when someone gets angry at me is that they’re going to stop loving me. I have to remind myself constantly that that’s not true. I should know it. I deserve to be confident about love in times of strife. That was taken from me.

I never thought about this behavior as actual abuse until the subject came up recently with a friend. Then I started reading more about it. Then I got really angry. Then I gained some insight about the person I have become.

My mother was not the best communicator either. When she’d get mad at me, she’d write on her day planner, “You are mad at Barb.” That way she could emotionally color all our interactions with that fact. So I’d sneak in her room when she wasn’t there and erase that note. (Thank goodness she always wrote in pencil.) But even at her very worst, she didn’t hold a candle to this other relative.

For several years during my childhood, I truly believed that if I wasn’t right in someone’s line of sight, I no longer existed for them. That’s why, to this day, when someone does something that shows they’ve thought of me when I wasn’t present, it means so much to me that it often brings tears to my eyes. In a way, I’m glad I have this heightened level of appreciation for thoughtful gestures. It’s the silver lining to this messed up cloud. But the cloud remains.

A healthier lesson to teach a child is that there is a rational way to get through conflict. Talk problems out. Listen to both sides. Compromise. Come to an understanding. Kids should learn that everyone deserves respect. Everyone has a right to be heard. Everyone’s opinion has value, whether you agree with it or not.

Healthy communication is the very bedrock of love, and it provides children with the tools to function well in society. So if you’re supposed to be the adult in a relationship, please act like it. Your ability to do damage is greater than you think.

Read any good books lately? Try mine!

Do You Like Everyone?

I don’t.

I know several people who seem to like everyone that they come across. I’m not one of those people. Far from it.

My emotional system reacts to toxicity. I tend not to tolerate hostile people, users, those filled with hate, and substance abusers. Stupidity combined with arrogance, in particular, makes me chafe. To quote the Desiderata, I tend to “avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.”

And you know what? I’m tired of feeling guilty about it. I have a right not to like everyone. Heaven knows that not everyone likes me. That’s just a fact. My dislike of you doesn’t really matter in the overall scheme of things. I’m sure there are oodles of people out there who think you’re just peachy.

It’s also okay to stop liking someone that you used to like. People change. You change. Your friends change. You outgrow some people. You get new insights. Maybe that person is no longer healthy for you to be around. Some people are just more adept at recognizing end points than others.

Many religions say that you should love everyone, but the followers of those religions rarely do. I honestly think it would be a rather creepy world if everyone did. It would be a Stepford world. I prefer a little more nuance.

I’m not talking about going around and actively hating people. That is its own form of toxicity. But there’s nothing wrong with curating your friendships. Some people are only meant to be in your life for a season. Sometimes you need to move on. And it’s also perfectly okay if you never form a friendship with someone in the first place. Sure, give them the benefit of the doubt, but if you don’t mesh, you don’t mesh. It’s not the end of the world.

When I do warm up to someone, I’m a good friend to have. I have a lot of love that I freely give. But I reserve it for those whom I invite into my circle.

I believe that people who allow toxicity into their lives tend to get so used to it that they don’t even realize it’s there anymore. If you are abused, after a certain point you begin to think you deserve it. If you grew up next to the Love Canal, you probably wouldn’t realize that there’s clean water elsewhere. If you smoke long enough, hacking your lungs out in the morning seems like a normal part of your routine.

I kind of feel sorry for those who like everyone. They are not living in reality, for a start. They often get taken advantage of. Not everyone is going to have your best interests at heart.

I don’t have to like someone to hear what they have to say. It’s just that my time is getting more precious with each passing year, so I prefer to spend it with people I enjoy. Time is a commodity that you should dole out wisely.

People who claim to love everyone often say they don’t want to live in a bubble. They want all sorts of people in their lives. That sounds great, but every human being is different. If you have more than one person in your life, you have all sorts of people already. Mission accomplished.

I have all sorts of people in my life. Some don’t get along with others, so I share different parts of my life with each of them. Each person brings a different flavor to my feast of life. I’m not intolerant of differences. What I’m intolerant of is the lunatic fringe. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

People who say they love everyone do not seem genuine to me. So you do you. I’ll do me. Don’t try to force me to be you. It won’t work. Think of me as one of the many sorts of people you want in your life and leave it at that. Go off and kumbaya all you like. I’ll be over here when you’re done. In the real world.

The ultimate form of recycling: Buy my book, read it, and then donate it to your local public library or your neighborhood little free library!

On Losing Friends

You have a right to put your foot down.

There are very few things on earth that make you feel more lonely than having to say goodbye to a beloved friend. I’ve had to do that twice in the midst of this already isolating pandemic, and not a day goes by when I don’t have tears in my eyes at some point because of it.

What? Oh, no, they didn’t die. That would be infinitely more tragic. But they both broke my heart, making me feel like I was dying. Either way, it’s a mourning process, and one I barely have the strength for.

There just comes a point when you have to stop tolerating bad behavior from the people you love. You have a right to set boundaries. You have a right to put your foot down. You have a right to say, “No, you don’t get to do this.”

You should always be your own best friend. You need to put a stop to things that hurt your heart, even when they come from people with whom you have had decades of happy memories as well as a mountain of emotional investment. If you’ve tried to communicate and/or work things out and gotten no results, you have to say, “This far and no further.”

So for future reference, here are a few boundaries that I have set:

  • You don’t get to insult people you don’t even know on my Facebook page. Respect me, respect my friends. You don’t have to agree with them, but you don’t get to attack them.
  • If you espouse hate speech or try to encourage violent behavior, I don’t want you in my universe.
  • If you’re going to stand me up, blow me off, or take advantage of me, you better have a stellar excuse. And if you never return my calls and then accuse me of not being a good enough friend, you’ve made my choice for me.
  • If you make promises and then don’t keep them, I will lose trust in you. It’s hard to maintain a friendship under those circumstances.
  • You don’t get to exaggerate other dear friend’s behavior to the point of damaging their reputation, simply so you can win an argument. If you tell me that a friend I have known for decades, who has a reputation of never saying an unkind word to anyone, has suddenly verbally attacked you without any discernible motivation and with no proof whatsoever provided by you, I have to call foul. Not only are you insulting my friend, but you’re insulting my judgment.
  • You don’t have to like all the things I like, but if something is extremely important to me, the least you can do is be supportive of that thing. My blog, for example, is me on a page. When you continually reject my invites to my Facebook group, that’s painful enough. But when I offer to send you a link to one of my blog posts and you say, essentially, “Please don’t,” that’s like a rejection of me. How hard would it be to just say thanks and fake it?
  • If you know you’ve been hurtful, set aside your pride and apologize. If you choose your pride over our friendship, then the friendship must never have had much value to you in the first place.

For what it’s worth, I tried to salvage the wreckage of one of these friendships. I tried really hard. He just bent the truth more and more to prop up his stance, until finally I was the one who felt broken.

And in the other situation, it suddenly occurred to me that this person has made me feel bad more than once, and never has apologized, not once, in all the decades I’ve known him. I’m tired of begging to be treated decently. I shouldn’t have to ask for an apology. It should be a natural process once you know you’ve hurt someone. I realized that if I just swallowed my pain yet again and accepted my second class status in his world one more time, it would rot away my soul. This person could still apologize, and we could move on, but I’m pretty sure he never will. I suspect he is sorry, but I don’t think I’ve ever meant enough to him to merit an apology. And that crushes me.

That all of this is happening during a pandemic is bad enough, but then add on top of it the fact that I moved to the Pacific Northwest 6 years ago, and, with one or two wonderful exceptions, I’m struggling to make friends out here like I made the other 5 decades of my life.

It’s hard to make new friends after a certain age. Older adults have well established lives and obligations, so the opportunity to bond is just not there as much. That, and people are a lot more standoffish out here than I’m used to. I’m pretty sure I’ll never quite fit in. I can’t remember the last time someone took the initiative to do anything with me. Out here, I do all the asking, with very mixed sucess.

Oh, and I just remembered that one woman out here accused me of killing my cat and making a joke out of it, and called me a sick, sick person. When I pointed out that I haven’t owned a cat in nearly 40 years, and that I didn’t know what the heck she was talking about, she stopped talking to me. Who could even think that I could do something like that? So yeah, another boundary I’ve set is that I can only take so much crazy.

What I’m finding is that as my self-confidence and self-awareness grows, I’m less willing to put up with bad behavior. But the humiliating truth is that, my whole adult life, no one has ever called me their best friend. What does that say? I don’t know. But it hurts like hell, and it makes it hard for me to remember that quality is more important than quantity.

So, if you see me enforcing boundaries, or speaking my truth (not yours) don’t assume I’m being insecure. Instead, congratulate me for my own agency. Cheer me on for standing my ground. Think of me as strong, not defensive or paranoid. View me as healing, not broken. Is that too much to ask?

It’s just… I’m just really sad and lonely today. I’m struggling. (For what it’s worth, I wrote this more than a week ago, so I’m probably doing much better now.)

I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Thank GOD I have a wonderful husband and awesome dogs. It’s amazing how couch snuggles can make you feel that everything is right with the world.

Bleh. Thanks for listening. I need a hug.

Now is the perfect time to stay at home and read a good book. Try mine! I promise it isn’t as depressing as this post was!

Random Memories from Childhood and What They Taught Me

Children are very impressionable.

Children are very impressionable. A flip, sarcastic remark may become a life lesson for them, rightly or wrongly. Here are some lessons that I learned growing up. Some I have worked very hard to unlearn.

I had taken a magic marker and doodled “bad” words on my white Keds. Given my age, around 5, they were probably shockers like, “poopy head” and the like. My mother wasn’t thrilled, though. But she hated confrontation. We went to the grocery store and I was wearing them. After we had loaded the groceries into the trunk, I was getting into the back seat and one of my shoes fell off in the parking lot. I said, “Hold on, Mom! My shoe fell out of the car!” She sped away, saying we were in too much of a hurry to go back, and that there were other cars in the parking lot wanting her to move. Lesson: Adults can lie when it suits their purposes.

We were trailer camping, and the camp manager came up and told us to stay inside, as a man had broken out of a nearby prison. We heard helicopters and saw flashlights in the distant woods. But I had brought no toys or books (I was about 7) and after about an hour I got really bored, and I begged my mother to let me at least go outside and sit at the picnic table. She let me, because she got tired of my whining (which from my adult perspective was a horrible solution), and I went out there and sat in the dark. Then I saw a man walking toward me out of the fog. So I got up, went to the trailer’s screen door, and it was LOCKED. I didn’t want to yell for my mother, because I was afraid I’d draw the man’s attention. So I stage whispered, “Mom, let me in!” and scratched at the door. She was sitting right there, lost in her book. I could see her. She had to have heard me. She was just annoyed that I had been such a pain earlier. “Mom!” I was convinced I was about to be killed or taken hostage. Then the guy walked up behind me and said, “Ma’am, you should keep your daughter inside.” She let me in. I have never been so scared in all my life. And I also learned that my mother was indifferent to my needs at the best of times. I pretty much had to raise myself. When I look back at some of the emotionally neglectful and/or downright irresponsible things she did to me as a child, I’m horrified and disgusted. And kind of proud that I survived.

A teenaged boy, at the swimming pool, once put his hand on my head and pushed my ten-year-old self under the water and locked his elbow while I underwater screamed and struggled. If he hadn’t let me up, I would have drowned. I ran home and told my mother, and she didn’t take it seriously. I learned two things from that one. If a guy wants to kill you, you’ll be dead. And when the sh** hits the fan in my life, I’d be on my own.

When, at age 13, I finally told my mother that my stepfather had been sexually abusing me, she said, “You’re making too much of it.” Lesson: My safety mattered to no one but myself, and grown ups live in convenient little fantasy worlds and can’t be counted on.

My mother had gotten herself a brand new aluminum cake cover. I noticed that if you held it by the handle on top and thumped it, it made an amazing “bong” sound. I was 8, and was also experimenting with my cassette recorder. She wasn’t home, so I decided to record a home cake cover concert. When she returned, I proudly played the recording for her. When she discovered my instrument of choice, she went into the pantry to find her cake cover covered in dents. I had been enjoying the sound so much I hadn’t even noticed the results. Lesson: Not everyone finds joy in the same ways that you do. (And also that when I’m in the zone, everything else tends to fade away. That’s still true to this day.)

My sister, twisting a half a grapefruit in my face and laughing as I screamed and cried. From that I got that my sister (who was 9 years older) genuinely did not like me at all, to the point of taking delight in my humiliation, so I must not be likeable. (She likes me now, and always loved me. But I struggle to feel liked by anyone to this day, and while this incident wasn’t the primary reason for that, I’m sure it didn’t help.)

My other sister, 10 years older than me, got chronic kidney infections. One day she looked at me and said she may have to take one of my kidneys someday. I was 8. It made me feel as though I had no autonomy, even over my own body. (And let’s face it. As a woman, I still feel that way quite often.)

A more lighthearted one. I was sitting in the kitchen with my stepfather. There were about 3 flies buzzing around. He told me he’d give me a nickel for every fly I swatted. So I propped open the door and let in more flies. From this I learned that it pays to think outside of the box.

Lessons can come at you from all directions. They may not always be the right ones, unfortunately. You, too, are teaching, even when you don’t realize it. So it’s important to be thoughtful with your words, kind with your deeds, and make sure everyone feels safe and heard. Anything less can cause a lifetime of destruction.

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What He Saw, What I Saw

Viewing life through the lens of abuse.

Warning: This post may be very triggering for childhood abuse survivors, and is not suitable for children. It was very uncomfortable to write, and I’m sure it will be equally uncomfortable to read.

A friend and I went to the YMCA to do aqua aerobics. It’s great exercise. The Y limits attendance by appointment only and there are very few people in the building, all of whom wear masks until they enter the pool. We are definitely socially distanced, and they are constantly cleaning all surfaces.

We weren’t attending a class. We have worked out our own routine based on classes we attended pre-pandemic. It’s usually a wonderful experience, and I leave there feeling refreshed, relaxed, and very glad that I had made the effort. But not on this day. Oh, no.

My friend and I were sharing a pool lane, and in the next lane was a boy, about 12 years old, with a man that one assumes was his father, although they looked nothing alike. That is all my friend and I can agree on about the situation. We both were looking at it through our very own lenses, based on past experience and a general trust (or lack thereof) of humanity. My friend never experienced sexual abuse. I did, at right about the same age as this boy. I had a visceral reaction, and to be fair, I’ve seen several father/son swimmers in this pool, and I didn’t have that reaction with any of them.

What my friend saw: A father and son, rough-housing in the pool. Both seemed to be laughing and having a wonderful time. The father was most likely trying to get the kid comfortable with swimming.

What I saw: A pedophile grooming a child. He kept chasing the kid around the shallow end of the pool, growling, with a little plastic shark in his hand. The child was nervously screaming and laughing the whole time. It lasted 45 exhausting minutes. Occasionally, the father would playfully use the shark to bite the son’s thighs. Then he would come up behind the boy, wrap his arms around his torso, and pull him back against his chest, as he rested his chin on the boy’s shoulder. He’d tickle him, and the kid would scream and laugh nervously, and struggle. Once, while pressing the kid against his chest, he lifted up the boy’s legs so that he was almost in the fetal position, with the boy’s feet against the edge of the pool, all while the man growled in his ear. That was the only time the boy was quiet. Sometimes he would throw the kid in the air, and then pull him back toward him.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to punch the guy in the throat. I wanted to call child protective services. I was losing my mind. But did I do anything? No. Because I couldn’t be sure how much of what I was seeing was through the very biased lens of my past.

I kept thinking, “Yeah, great idea, man. Train the kid to think that if he screams, no one will come to help. Train him to get used to this nervous, uncomfortable feeling. Teach him that this is all a game and he’s supposed to think it’s fun. Do this in front of strangers so that he can believe that if other adults are seeing it and doing nothing about it, it must be okay. Make us all complicit. It takes a village to abuse a child. Get him all used to being in the fetal position with you behind him, your head on his shoulder. That’s how it’s done. That’s how it’s always done.”

Maybe, like my mother once told me (to my horror), I was “making too much of it.” Maybe I was imagining things. Maybe it’s my fault for thinking that a lot of people in this world are creepy and don’t have people’s best interests at heart. Maybe I was crazy. After all, sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar.

I didn’t know what to do. I could intervene and humiliate the child with no concrete proof. I could beat the hell out of the man, further traumatizing the kid and winding up with an arrest record. I could tell the staff, but what could they do about it? I could try really hard to see things the way my friend did, but I was having no luck there.

I cried a little. I swam to the other end of the pool and stayed there as much as possible. But the child’s screams (of delight? of fear?) were echoing off the ceiling. I wanted to rescue that kid. But I didn’t know how. I thought of all the adults (and there were many) who didn’t rescue me. Did they feel similarly conflicted, or were they just incompetent and indifferent? It had never occurred to me before this that they might have been conflicted.

I felt guilty. I felt angry that I was being made to feel guilty. I felt envious of the people around me who didn’t seem to think this was a big deal. I felt victimized all over again. I felt an insane desire to protect my genital area at all costs. No. You have no right to touch me. NO!

Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. I probably should have kept this to myself. But I can’t be the only one who goes through this. Thank God it doesn’t happen often. I felt alone at that moment, but I doubt I am. Maybe this will make someone else feel less alone. The bottom line is I hope that I’m wrong and that that child has a loving, decent, protective father who makes him feel safe and that they create a lifetime of happy memories together.

This was definitely not my best swimming experience. Ugh. Excuse me while I go boil myself in bleach.

If you are an adult survivor of sexual abuse, please know that it was not your fault, and visit the RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) website for support and information, or call them 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE.

Children as Commodities

It’s horrifying how often people are willing to rob children of their childhood.

I’m always perversely drawn to stories about exploited children, in the same way I tend to slow down to look at traffic accidents. I have this need to learn how something that terrible could have happened. I want to figure out how to prevent it from happening in the future, even as I know I’ll be all but powerless to do so.

I just finished reading an article entitled “The Dionne quintuplets: The exploitation of five girls raised in a ‘baby zoo’”.

It’s a heartbreaking story. It started in depression-era rural Canada, before most people knew that these types of mega-multiple births were even possible. And in no time flat these girls were taken away from their parents and raised in a facility where the general public could observe their play times. For a while there, they drew more tourists than Niagara Falls. Souvenir shops and food stands were built. They were also used to endorse products.

They were not the first children used as commodities, and they won’t be the last. It’s horrifying how often people are willing to rob children of their childhood. The lifelong damage by adults, especially professionals who ought to know better, boggles the mind.

This abuse comes in many forms. Wild children who are then raised by scientists. Child brides. Indigenous children ripped from their families and sent off to schools that are designed to rob them of their culture. Sex trafficking and child pornography. Abductions. Girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Child soldiers in Africa. Those kids who are subject to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of any kind. Children who don’t know any better who participate in family reality shows in America. Baby beauty pageants. Child actors and singers who never see their own money. Children ripped from the arms of their parents at the US border to prove a political point. Young athletes who are raised by their coaches. Children born of slavery. Children kept by the worst kind of foster parents who are only in it for the money. Children forced to beg, steal, or sell things in the streets instead of going to school. Children used as pawns in nasty divorces.

The fact that so many of us survive to adulthood with even a modicum of sanity is a miracle. We’d like to think we are above the animals in this world, but good luck finding any other animals that would treat their offspring the way many humans do. It’s sickening.

If you are one of the parents who are doing your best to provide a safe, loving, and functional childhood for your child, or one of the people, like me, who chose to be child free, then thank you.

exploited children

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Does it feel good when you break the arm of someone who is 8 times smaller than you are?

I just heard the most disgusting recording ever. It was Tyreek Hill and his fiancée Crystal Espinal discussing how his three-year-old son’s arm was broken. It’s hard for me not to get emotional about this.

From an emotional standpoint, it seems clear to me that this huge NFL player broke this small child’s arm. Big man. Class act.

In fairness, at the time of this writing, neither adult has admitted any wrongdoing. But here are the facts from the recording:

Espinal says the child is terrified of Hill.

Hill tells Espinal she should be terrified, too, and insults her.

Hill admits he told the child to shut up and stop crying.

Espinal says the child said, “Daddy did it,” and “Daddy punches me.”

Espinal admits she stuck up for Hill with investigators. In other words, she knew what he had done to her child, and yet she prevented investigators from finding out.

Hill admits that when the child cries, he makes him open up his arms and he punches the kid in the chest. He says the child respects him.

They both accuse each other of using a belt on the child.

We will never be 100 percent sure of what happened, but it’s quite obvious that both of these adults have some extremely questionable parenting skills, and that child is in danger.

To be quite clear, there is no excuse for injuring someone who is 8 times smaller than you are. There is absolutely no justification for it. And respect? That is earned through love, not through threats and violence. I have no respect for someone who feels the need to punch me in the chest or break my arm.

When you prey on someone who is clearly more vulnerable than you, does it feel good? Do you feel like you’ve accomplished something? Is it some sort of triumph?

It’s easy to abuse small children, little old ladies, women half your size, smaller kids in the school yard when you’re backed up with a group of jeering friends. It’s a lot less work to harvest the low hanging fruit. Sure, you can do these things, but you shouldn’t. Every civilized human being knows that. The fact that there are certain people out there who know that and yet do it anyway, and others who enable them, says a lot about what they are.

They are predators. They are twisted, evil, cruel, ignorant animals that should be locked up in cages for the rest of their lives.


The Other Shoe

I can’t have nice things.

My whole life, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. That feeling intensifies when things are going well. Because I can’t have the nice things. I’ve never had the nice things. At least, not for long.

Sooner or later, everything seems to turn to sh**. If I’m braced for it, I can usually handle it, and come out the other side. I’m nothing if not a survivor. But if that darned shoe takes me by surprise, then that would be bad. Really, really bad.

I remind myself of Nelly, a wonderful dog, who flinches every time you reach out to pet her sweet head. She knows all about what having it bad used to be like. She learned early that flinching can soften the blow. How do I explain to her that I love her, and I’ll always love her, and I’ll never hurt her? She deserves to be petted and cuddled and adored. I want her to be able to own it.

I deserve the good stuff, too. I know it. And here lately I have been experiencing it. And I enjoy it. Mostly. But I can’t seem to get out from under that mental shoe of mine. It’s always there, stinking up the place.

I think there are a lot of people out there, walking around with a shoe in their heads. Please be patient with us. We may not show it well, but your goodness really is appreciated. Probably even more than it would be if we were one of those lucky shoeless people.

one shoe

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