When I was eleven years old, I became a witch.
“Wiccan” was the technical term, although “witch” was the word I’d had in my head since I was seven, when my friend Hannah and I had watched the movie “Escape From Witch Mountain.”
Seeing the two young girls in the movie press their hands together and produce a purple light that freed them from their kidnappers had a powerful effect on us, two second children who felt overlooked by our parents, dismissed by our older brothers, outshone by our more social first-grade classmates.
Gathering week after week in the upstairs linen closet at Hannah’s house where we discussed our most secret plans, we would press our own palms together under the sloping ceiling, willing it to happen, that flash of violet, that hot, brilliant spark of magic.
Of course none came. And as we grew older, as it became increasingly clear that there was no such thing as magic, that movies lied to you and made you want what was impossible, like all our other games, we gave it up.
But deep down, the very impossibility of it only made me want it more.
At eight and nine, living in the Philippines, I tricked my sister into believing I was telekinetic, telling her to stand at the bottom of the stairs to the roof deck, then throwing erasers and playing cards down at her, claiming I’d never touched them. I would sit in class and stare at the pencil in its little groove on the dark wood of the desktop in front of me, commanding it to move, to give even the slightest little twitch, the way the chalk had done for Matilda as she’d practiced with her teacher Miss Honey.
And as the years passed and nothing happened and the encroachment of reality grew ever stronger, so did my struggles, my clinging to the belief that these powers were possible, they had to be — because otherwise the world was simply the world, enormous and dull and cold and indifferent and bereft of possibility. Otherwise I was simply myself, a girl just like all the billions of other girls out there, hoping she was special but knowing deep down she was not.
Which was why, at age eleven, I became a witch.
It started with my sometime-friend Ris, who herself wasn’t well-liked due to her strong, almost masculine features and brusque demeanor, who would later come out as gay when she went to college (those two statements were not intended to be linked).
Ris, as you may recall, had snubbed me at snacktime when I’d first moved to town, inspiring fantasies of leaving her languishing in prison. She would later dance with Alex in seventh grade, breaking my heart.
But at the time we must have still been friends, because I remember her approaching me with the idea, like an embarrassing secret — not knowing that I would leap on it with even more ferocious a commitment than her own.
Every morning, the two of us huddled on the playground, having intense, hushed conferences about our initiation. Every afternoon, I’d go straight to the non-fiction section of the library, where I’d pore hungrily over books I’d never known existed — books with dry, matter-of-fact explanations of magic as a Real Thing that real people practiced.
One book began with a first-person account in which the author observed the color of a woman’s “aura” the same way she observed the color of someone’s hair or eyes. It was purple, she wrote, the same bright purple as her dress and her fingernails, tipping her off that the woman was not to be trusted.
I remember closing the book and turning it over and over in my hands for some clue that this was a joke, a trick, a lie, a work of fiction accidentally shelved in the wrong section. I remember flipping to the back of the book in trembling shock and joy to stare at the photo of the author, a real, live, ordinary, responsible grown-up who swore this was true.
In another book, a thick paperback manual with deep purple covers decorated with golden pentagrams and runes, I found calm, clear instructions resembling those that had struck me in the Young Wizard series, whose particular brand of magic was based on math and science — instructions about how to start your own Book of Shadows, how to begin to practice spells, how to make your first wand.
I followed these instructions to the letter. For my Book of Shadows, a journal in which you chronicled your development as a practitioner and your favorite spells and their results, I chose a dark blue spiral-bound notebook, delighting in its very ordinariness, which seemed to confer a legitimacy upon the endeavor that I’d never dreamed possible.
For my first spell, I chose a simple incantation to make my then-boyfriend, Paul, call me and invite me to hang out with him and his friend Sam. Start small, the purple manual had suggested, with something whose outcome is already likely.
Consulting one of the small, practical spells in the manual, I took a piece of blue-lined notebook paper and a colored pencil, and drew a rune of my own devising — a heart to represent affection, green in color because that was the color of the sour apple Tootsie pop Paul had given me when he asked me out, as well as the color of the sweatshirt he was wearing in the photo he had given me.
I folded up the paper. Heart beating fast, I clasped it to my heart and with all my might, imagined the phone ringing, my lifting the smooth, heavy, tan-colored receiver, Paul’s awkward, stuttering, adoring voice on the other end, my own uncontainable joy.
Then I went out to the kitchen, lifted the phone, and slid the folded piece of notebook paper underneath.
I was just walking away when the phone rang.
I remember this jolt of true shock. Despite my hope, despite all the work I had done, I think a part of me had held itself apart, not believing.
It felt like a dream, like a movie. Slowly I turned to face the phone, this object that until now had seemed the epitome of ordinary life, that was now responding as if I had spoken to it.
I picked it up.
I said, “Hello?”
It was Paul.
He invited me to come over and hang out with him and Sam.
At that moment, I knew it was real — everything I had dreamed of. I envisioned myself committing to my study of magic, filling up that dark blue notebook, moving objects with my mind, making my own wishes come true, levitating in the air. I imagined my powers slowly growing and growing, sitting in school, looking at my family across the dinner table, knowing I had this secret.
But as it turned out, Wicca wasn’t the only supernatural force in my life.
This whole time, as I’d been reading these books, a sense of unease had been quietly growing, every time I saw a mention of the Goddess that Wiccans worshipped. I had ignored it, dodged around it, convinced myself I could keep going with the other stuff and put off this question of whether to swear my immortal soul to this new endeavor.
But finally I came across a sentence where it stated in no uncertain terms that if I wanted to be a true Wiccan and to move forward in my practice, I had to worship the Goddess. Not acknowledge her, not pray to her — actually worship her.
The idea of doing this created a terrible knot in my stomach. Because worshipping another deity, as I knew from four years of Sunday school, was an unforgivable sin.
I searched for ways out, struggled and agonized. Was I was willing to give up my ticket to heaven, and incur the wrath of God — THE God, whose existence I took for granted, whose power to determine my fate I believed in utterly, to the point where I was afraid to tell lies, to use bad language, to say “God” or “Jesus” in vain, to disrespect my parents, and to skip church on Sunday?
I couldn’t come to answer. Reading my books, writing in my notebook, I felt less and less good, until one day it came to the point where I had to make my wand. The instructions called for hollowing out the pith of a branch, then inserting a cotton ball containing a drop of your own blood.
And this, ridiculously, was the line I could not cross. No matter how long I held the end of that safety pin, sterilized in the flame of a candle, to the pad of my index finger, I couldn’t bring myself to actually prick myself and draw blood. I felt like I would faint at the very thought.
And that was how it ended. I lost interest in the books, stopped renewing them; back they went, one by one, to the library. My Book of Shadows vanished under a pile of papers on my desk, slowly buried, and with it my belief in magic.
Until a day nine years later, when I stood in a blazing hot parking lot waiting for Ali to come out of the Price Chopper, looking at a guy and a girl who were looking at me.
The guy was wearing a backpack. I remember this because it was odd to see a guy that age wearing one, and because it wasn’t just a plain backpack — it had an eye-catching pattern, covered in big white Hawaiian flowers.
But the one detail I really remember is its color:
At that moment, as the girl hung back, the guy stepped forward and held out out his hand.
My mind on Ali, reluctant to engage with these strangers, still not grasping the enormity of this moment, I took it.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m M.”
“Nice to meet you, M,” said the boy.
And he clasped my hand in both of his.
I had to write a short blurb about a patient experience for an assignment for work. I picked the experience that impacted me the most out of my entire medical career thus far. I actually moderated it quite a bit because I have to read this out loud tomorrow in front of people, and I really don’t want to cry. It’s also supposed to take only one minute to read, so that’s why it’s so short and vague.
I figured I would share this with you all, since I owe you a long-overdue post about my work life.
The formation of words is interesting. 26 arbitrary letters of the alphabet, all individually insignificant, come together in random combinations to create a word, something that carries meaning and significance. Those words that you create could mean nothing—or, to someone, it could be everything. Place words in combinations together, and you can create a sentence. That sentence you utter could be anything—from a “congratulations”, to a death sentence.
That death sentence was the sentence that I gave to a happy, unsuspecting wife and doting daughter. I told them that their 86-year-old husband and father was going to die. I told them this less than 24 hours after telling them the day before, “Congratulations, he’s going to go home.”
I spent my whole life carefully crafting words into sentences on pages. In person, however, I speak freely and often without thinking. When it comes to patients and work, I’m more moderated in what I say to people, but this time, I had no reason to sugarcoat my words. It was good news; the patient, who had had a long, complicated ICU course followed by an extended stint on the general floors, was doing well. So well, in fact, that we were going to discharge him and send him to rehab. He was going to go home. All that was left was to wait for the rehab places to get back to us on the availability of beds. This was a patient who had been so sick that whenever his name was mentioned, attendings and residents would ask, “Oh, he’s still alive?” This was a patient who, against all the odds, had fought his way through the ICU and back, and was going to go home. This was the kind of moment that made residency and doctorhood worth it. So I met with the patient, his wife, and his daughter, and I told them all the great news. “He’s doing well. We’re going to send him to rehab. After that, he can go home.” His wife cried. His daughter nodded. And then, everything changed.
Less than 24 hours later, I was once again standing in the patient’s room, my stomach sinking with the realization that this was going to be the end. Surgery was scouring through his CT scans and pacing down the hallways arguing with their attendings on the phone about how best to approach this operation. The MAR was hurrying down the hall, his face grim. His wife was standing beside me, waiting for some kind of reassurance—reassurance that I could not give.
When the patient’s daughter arrived, we sat them down in a bland family waiting room to talk. And this time, words almost failed me. The MAR started talking. “He won’t make it through the surgery. His heart can’t take it.”
Both his wife and his daughter looked at me, waiting for my judgement. 26 letters. All I had to do was form them into the hardest words I’d ever had to say. I had to give them the death sentence. So I said the words that meant nothing—“I’m sorry”—and then the words that meant everything—“he’s going to die.”
His wife cried. His daughter nodded. And everything changed. The moment that had been chalked up as a win for doctorhood when he was gearing up for rehab suddenly turned into a devastating, shocking loss. 26 letters, turned into words, turned into promises that I could not keep.
I learned that day just how much impact our words can have. They can give a family hope… or take it all away. They can offer a new life… or pronounce a death. They can be nothing… or they can mean everything. We can never take our words back; once they’re said, they’ve been assigned meaning. All we can really do is say what we mean… and hope that we can mean what we say.
I wanted to post something, but not anything terribly deep or earth shattering. I also don’t really feel like delving into my past right now (though I’m toying of writing a Christmas Memories post sometime over the chaos of this weekend), so I’m going to switch directions.
I’m going to write about an obsession of mine, because I am so in the habit of forming them. My obsessions can last anywhere from a few weeks until basically forever (Let me tell you about my Narnia obsession)(Kidding. We’re not going to go there)(Yet). The subject of my obsession can be almost anything, from books to music to movies to television to…nail polish.
So world, here is my current obsession.
While watching The Crown with mummy dearest on Netflix about two weeks ago, I saw a new show sitting in the page header.
Medici: Masters of Florence.
Now anyone who knows history knows that the Medici family were really fucking badass. They produced a few popes, a few queens, and were huge patrons of the arts. They were bankers, they were wealthy, and they had power.
Also I feel like they are the original Italian Mafia family. Just my opinion.
That alone gave me enough reason to watch it.
The other reason? My unending, very one-sided love affair with Richard Madden, aka Robb Stark, aka Prince Charming, aka WHY THE HELL HAVEN’T I MET YOU?
My coworker once accused me of not really caring if a show is good or not. She claimed that the only reason I usually watch something is because one of the men in the cast is hot. Now while that does completely influence whether or not I will watch a thing, it does not guarantee I will watch more than one episode.
Like the dude who played Spartacus in Spartacus? Yeah. Smoking hot. But did I watch more than one episode? Nope. It was just that bad, that even the eye candy couldn’t keep me. If I remember correctly, I found it to be poorly acted and incredibly cheesy. Also the violence was waaaaaaayyyyyyy overdone. And this is coming from someone who adores Game of Thrones.
So hot guy is not enough to keep me interested.
The power struggles in Medici kept me riveted. They were not nobles, yet they had eclipsed them and managed to take hold of Florence. Crazy and inspiring.
I binged all 8 episodes. Which meant I ended up watching the opening credits a lot. At first I hated the song that they chose. I thought it was trying too hard. But then around episode three, I found myself rewinding to listen to the song again (obsessed already).
The song lodged in my head. The rest of the soundtrack for the show did as well. I knew I needed them. So I logged onto itunes.
Alas, there is no soundtrack available yet.
But the credits song was available! And guess who bought it?
And it’s been playing on repeat because it’s the kind of song that makes the gears in my head begin to spin and start chucking out plot lines. A novel I’ve been struggling to plot suddenly comes churning out to the tune of this song. So I can’t stop playing it, because I’m getting so much out of it.
It’s just so perfect.
It makes me think of a million things. When I listen to it, I can see scenes from the book I’m trying to plot. I can see character arcs and dramatic scenes. I see my characters fleeing. I see the conquering. This song pretty much sets the tone for the entire series (along with a couple others). It helped me figure out what I wanted to write.
I’m obsessed. Officially and utterly obsessed.
Have a listen (and also see bits of Medici):
This post contains a story I have shared with very few people. Even though I hate this word used this way, there may be some triggering here. I don’t know. It feels like a pretty big deal to me.
This is the story of Mark.
It’s not a happy one.
It was a week after my 21st birthday and only my second time out at a bar. I was excited, I was nervous, I wanted this to be a night I remembered forever. Young, passionate, and free. My friend who took me was 23, older, wiser. She promised to keep me out of trouble.
But she didn’t tell me to stop drinking Long Islands even though I had no idea how much alcohol was in them. She let me go, glass after glass, because as I drank more I became entertainment for them.
Was I entertaining when I met him? I have no idea. I was three Long Islands deep when she introduced us. Mark was her friend, I was her friend, and boy was I grateful.
Mark was an athlete, one of the stars in fact for our local Division 2 college. So kind of a big deal, but not quite the biggest. He was a year or two older than me and he had a killer smile. I was done for the moment we shook hands.
He bought me a belated birthday shot—some weird bubblegum tasting concoction. I downed it because, why not? I was 21 and that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. We continued to hang out for the rest of the night and I had my first and only experience with jag-bombs (disgusting, those things).
All I could talk about as my friend’s fiancé drove me home was Mark. I thanked my friend for introducing us and begged her to help me get him to go out with me. I’d always dreamed of dating an athlete. I wanted him so bad.
She said she’d try. But really she didn’t, because a few weeks later her roommate started dating him. The roommate that she’d pimped out to him.
I wish this story ended there. But it doesn’t.
She dropped me off at home that night. I stumbled up the stairs, drunk out of my mind, waking everyone up in the process. I still lived with my parents (trying to save money) and my mother was none too pleased when I woke her up. I’d been trying to go to the bathroom and wound up puking instead. Even though I was locked in, that didn’t stop her from pounding on the door and threatening to take my alcoholic ass to detox (note: I was and have never been an alcoholic, though there is plenty of history of it on my mom’s side; she was overreacting and honestly from anecdotal evidence I KNOW she partied way harder than I ever did).
When my older brother returned from his night out with friends (generational living is really great), I was still locked in the bathroom. In fact I was laying on the floor, my jeans around my ankles, trying not to throw up again. He was laughing even though my mother was furious. He talked her into stepping away and talked to me through the door. It was him that coerced me to unlock it, by bargaining between my drunken self and my enraged mother.
What happened next is a fond memory of mine. The pocket door slid open and my mother pounced. She yanked my jeans completely off and grabbed me by the arm to drag me down the hall to my room. Still wearing my shirt and underwear, she tossed me into my bed.
I tried to protest, saying I want my pajamas but she told me to stay where I was and sleep it off. She was too mad to say anything else, but when the door closed, I could hear her talking to my brother in the hall. Moments later, my door creaked open and then my brother flopped on my bed.
“I’m supposed to make sure you don’t die,” he told me as he simultaneously pulled out his smart phone and started recorded everything. He egged me on for probably an hour, getting me to say things I normally wouldn’t. The only part I remember in crystal clear clarity was when he asked if I’d be going to church with the family the next morning.
I yelled at the top of my lungs, “Hell no!”
I’m pretty sure that recording still exists somewhere. My mom was disappointed with me for several days, and she took away my credit card for a month (which I admit, she did foot the bill for at the time). After my mom realized I wasn’t going to become an alcoholic, she actually began to view the event as something funny a few years later.
I wish that was all that night ever was. Because while that part of the story is now viewed with a certain amount of fond humor, nothing about Mark is humorous. Nothing about what my friend ended up doing was humorous either.
Like I said earlier, my friend ended up setting Mark up with her roommate instead of me. After losing my credit card, I was also a little mad at her for telling me I could keep drinking Long Islands all night because they were good and I wouldn’t get “that drunk.” I still can’t drink Long Islands to this day.
I didn’t stay mad at her long though. I moved on.
And then in December, Mark finally re-emerged after the roommate decided she was a lesbian and dumped him for a girl before Thanksgiving. I knew that of course because I’d seen it on Facebook. By this time I was pretty sure Mark had forgotten about me. My friend remained mum on the matter.
But then one Friday night, before finals, I was studying and on Facebook at the same time when Mark began to message me. Thrilled, I shoved aside my nursing textbook and began talking to him right away. He had my full, undivided attention. I had all weekend to study anyway.
Our chat turned quickly to flirting and eventually we agreed to exchange numbers. We continued texting and finally he asked if I wanted to come over so that we could talk face to face. He came to my house and picked me up. The ride to his house I was a little nervous, but more excited because I really liked him and had spent 2.5 months mooning over him. I’d texted my friend and she told me to go for it.
“Mark is a great guy.”
Her words exactly.
That night at Mark’s we played Mario Cart on the Wii, which I admit I was horrible at. I couldn’t even finish some of the races. He thought it was endearing and wrapped an arm around me. The grin he gave me set my heart aflutter.
I thought finally things were going to work out in the romance department.
After playing Mario Cart, we settled in for a movie. It was weird as fuck about some kind of beer drinking Olympics. I watched it because he wanted to and I wanted him to like me. We talked over most of it. Our conversation covered a vast amount of topics from religion to politics to future plans to hobbies. Every new topic we explored we found we only had more and more in common.
We agreed and aligned on almost everything. It was the start of a beautiful new relationship. Or so I thought. Late that night as I was starting to fall asleep on him, he suggested he take me home. He kissed me on the cheek and helped me down the ice covered steps and driveway.
I told him I was a big girl, I could make it by myself. But he insisted on escorting me.
“I don’t want you to get hurt.”
We continued to text after we separated. A night or two later, I got another text from him asking if I wanted to go bowling. I jumped on it wanting to further whatever blossoming relationship we had. For some reason my mother wanted me back at a reasonable hour. I think it was because I’d just been royally sick and had a near anaphylactic reaction to penicillin and was still on a boatload of medications. My doctor had also advised me that with the combination of meds I was on to treat the reaction that I really shouldn’t drink until I was off them. Since I’d already had my quota of feeling like crap, I listened.
So I was sober when I arrived at Mark’s house.
Unfortunately Mark was not.
He wasn’t that bad though. He wasn’t slurring or stumbling around. He just couldn’t drive because he’d had a few. I ended up driving him and his friends to the bowling alley. He called shotgun because I was his girl, he said, and the others weren’t allowed close to me.
I had fun bowling. I was focused on winning (I’m way too competitive for my own good) that I didn’t notice how drunk Mark was getting. As the evening wore on, he got more bold, his hands sliding into the pockets of my jeans, his arms wrapped around me. None of this bothered me. I was fine with this because we were flirting and I wanted to kiss him.
On the drive home, he put his hand on my thigh. I’d stuck to my no drinking rule and was still completely sober. At first I’d tensed because no man had ever really touched me that way. My ex-boyfriend hadn’t even really gotten that far.
Mark laughed and told me to relax. His hand didn’t move any higher up on my thigh, but I was keenly aware of its presence the entire drive back to his place. It was already getting late as I parked in front of his house. I didn’t mean to go inside, but Mark told me he wanted to show me something. I remember not taking my shoes—purple moccasins—off right away because I was supposed to be getting home.
But then Mark smiled and suggested we watch part of a movie. I checked the time on my phone and said okay, but maintained that I had to leave within a half hour to an hour. He accepted that popped the movie in.
Dumb and Dumber.
It’s not anything I would have chosen. But like the clothes I was wearing—American eagle skinny jeans, a purple and navy plaid button up with a tie at the waist, a black bra, and long dangling earrings I’d bought in Spain—I remember it in vivid detail.
I sat next to him on the couch, Mark right next to me. He slung an arm around my shoulders and we started watching. His roommate was in the chair right next to us. I watched the first ten minutes before I felt Mark’s lips brush up against my skin. They’re on my neck, his stubble scratching me. A bolt of panic shoots through me as he began to suck my skin.
Do I want this? I thought we were watching a movie. I had no intention of this happening.
But it started and I hesitated. I didn’t want to say anything for the fear that he’d decide he didn’t like me and kick me out into the cold. I just wanted him to like me.
His lips traveled from my neck to my ear. I felt his tongue trace my lobe. Shivers went through my body. It had been a long time since I let anyone get this close to me. And I wanted him to like me, so when he turned my head, I gave in and kissed him.
His roommate was still there.
It was awkward, so I pushed Mark away and told him I wanted to watch the movie. He listened for two minutes before he tried a second time. Again, I pushed him away and tried to focus on what we were watching. His roommate was staring intently at the screen.
The third time, I was tired of saying no and pushing him away. I figured we might as well get it over with and make out if that’s what he really wanted. So again, I let him kiss me.
I’d never done anything but kiss a boy at this point in my life. No one had ever seen me naked. No one had ever really truly touched me. What I wanted to just be a kiss turned into his fingers fiddling with the buttons on my shirt. Embarrassed, I brushed his hands away.
Mark relaxed behind me on the couch. His lips still grazed my neck. Soon his tongue was in my ear again. Then he pulled my earlobe, including my earring from Spain into his mouth to suck. I wanted to ask him what the fuck he was doing, but he jammed his thumb in my mouth.
I didn’t know what was happening.
Why was his thumb in my mouth? I bit him—not hard—but he only laughed and stuck his thumb in deeper. He liked it. His other hand went for my shirt, flicking open the buttons before I had a chance to yank them away.
Things were rapidly getting out of hand, but I was too afraid to tell him to stop. He didn’t know I was a virgin and I didn’t want to tell him. But I also didn’t want him to go farther.
His hand slips beneath my bra to cup my breast. My body freezes. I try to bat his hand away, but he just takes it and get me to feel his rock hard abs. He’s officially into territory where no man has ever gone with me and I don’t like it.
This wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
I grab his wrist, I remember because they were hairless. He shaved his arms for his sport and I could just feel the prickles of new growth. I kept my hand on his arm because I thought if I held onto it he wouldn’t be able to do anything I didn’t want him to do.
I was wrong.
He still has his fingers in my mouth. Was he testing me to see if I’d give a good blow job? God, please no. I’d never done that either and I really didn’t want to see his penis at all. I barely even knew him for Christ’s sake.
I remember wanting to tell him to stop as his hands snaked down to my jeans. The only “no” I managed to say was when he reached for my zipper.
But that no wasn’t enough either.
He pulled his fingers from my mouth and rolled on top of me. I wanted to push him away, but my arms were pinned. Couldn’t he see that I didn’t want this? Where was the nice, chivalrous man who’d helped me down the steps the night before?
This was not how I wanted to lose my virginity.
He took my mouth again and tried to slide his hands down the front of my jeans. Every time I pulled them away, hoping that would be enough for him to get the picture. I wanted him to stop, but my heart was beating a frantic staccato in my chest and my breath was only coming out as raged gasps.
“Come upstairs with me,” he whispered as he kissed me. His hand darted to my jeans again. When I once more didn’t let his hands beneath them, he stuck his hand between my legs like a blade and began to rub me.
I tried to wiggle away. My thoughts were racing. How do I say no? How do I get him to stop? How does this end?
He kept me pinned beneath him, his mouth making work of mine, his hand sawing away at the fabric beneath my crotch.
I wanted none of it.
“Let’s go my room.” He whispered when he released my mouth for air. “Let’s go to my room.”
“No.” I tried to push him away, tried to turn my head away from his mouth. I wanted that to be it and I wanted it to be over. But his lips found my jaw again and even though I laid there without responding to him, he began trying again. No matter how many times I pulled his hand out from between my legs, he put it right back.
I couldn’t get out from beneath him. I couldn’t make it stop.
“Let’s go to my room.” He’d pull me, but I’d stay where I was. I would not go up there. I knew that would be it if I did. I couldn’t go up there.
I thought if I refused or didn’t respond enough times it would end.
But there was nothing I could do to make it stop.
Until my phone began to ring on the table, loud and annoying. It made Mark pause enough that I was able to reach out from beneath him and grab my phone. I ended up missing the call, but I saw the name flashing across the screen.
“It’s my mom. Oh my God, I have to go.”
The phone had jarred him enough that I was able to slide out from under him. My shirt was all askew. My bra was beneath my breasts and I felt my stuck churn as I pocketed my phone to fix myself.
At least his roommate was gone now. How much he witnessed, I don’t know.
I wanted to button my shirt all the way up to my throat, but they didn’t go that high. I tied my sash and jammed my feet into my moccasins.
“You don’t have to go.”
I couldn’t look at Mark as I grabbed my jacket and put it on. Everything was reeling and I couldn’t process anything except my mother’s missed call.
She was going to be pissed.
I focused on her anger.
“Yes,I do.” I didn’t wait for him to try anything else. I let myself out and ran for my car. All I could think about was how mad my mom was going to be. I was over two hours late. She’d expected me hours ago. I’d missed my med dose.
When I entered my house, my mother could tell something was wrong almost immediately and I hated it. She followed me into my room and quizzed me about the events of the night. I took my earrings from Spain out o my ears and was almost sick looking at them.
They’d been in his mouth.
It hit me in an awful whir. I felt so dirty and used.
And I hated myself for going back in that house when I should have gone home. For not telling him to stop. For being so damn afraid to say anything at all.
My mom got all the facts from me. She didn’t say much at the time. I thought I was stupid and an idiot. I thought I’d done something wrong.
I texted my friend about what happened the next morning.
Mark’s a great guy, she wrote back, don’t over think it. Give him a chance.
I was studying with 2 of my nursing school friends when that exchange occurred. I had given them a brief narrative of what happened because I didn’t know what to do. Did I tell Mark that things went o far the night before? Did I tell him I wasn’t like that?
It’s not a big deal. My older, wiser friend told me.
My nursing school friends’ jaws dropped.
“No. He doesn’t get to do that to you.”
I eventually ended up sending him something about how I believed the night had gotten out of hand and that I wasn’t just going to be a bootycall for him because that is not what I wanted at all.
Lol. He texted back.
I never saw him again and I tried to put it all behind me.
Except it’s not behind me. It’s made me afraid to trust. It’s made me scared to let other men touch me. There have been a few, but they’ve all given me a reason to trust them.
That trust isn’t easily earned anymore.
When it happened, when I was 21, I didn’t think any more of the experience than that it was awful and it happened. But this summer as consent became a trending topic on the internet I finally realized something:
Mark sexually assaulted me.
I broke down crying as I realized how many times I’d withdrawn my consent from the situation. How many times I’d said no with either my mouth or my body language. But that hadn’t been enough.
I couldn’t wear those fucking earrings for over a year. I wanted to burn the clothes I’d been wearing.
But my mind never went to sexual assault back then.
I wouldn’t have been able to deal with it.
Shortly after this realization, I called my mother. I’d just ended a two date thing with a guy because I didn’t feel anything towards him and I wanted to tell her about that. That eventually stemmed into what happened years ago.
“You know what happened to me was assault, right?”
My mother sighed into the phone. “I’ve known since the night you told me what happened.”
“Why didn’t you tell me then?”
“You couldn’t have processed it. You needed to realize for yourself in your own time.”
Some people might have screamed at her for doing this. For knowing this all along. But I knew she was right. I knew it was something that potentially could have destroyed my 21 year old self. I was not the girl that got assaulted. Nothing bad was really supposed to happen to me.
But this did and for many years I made myself forget—but not truly—about it. It was never completely gone. I’ve still felt the repercussions of what Mark did to this day. I think this summer I was finally at a point where I could reconcile it with myself.
He made me feel less than I was. He made me terrified. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if my phone hadn’t rang and I thank God that I hadn’t been drinking at all that night. That I was sober instead of drunk. He could have raped me that night.
Instead he touched places no man has ever touched, places that I didn’t want him to touch. It wasn’t rape, but it’s still a violation of my body.
Of my trust.
I always thought it was small compared to what has happened to other people. But the thing is, it wasn’t small to me, and no matter the perceived size, sexual assault is still sexual assault. I felt violated. I felt like I couldn’t be me anymore for more than a month after.
The passage of time healed most of me, but the memory of that night will always be with me.
I wish it wasn’t.
“I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Ironic now, isn’t it?
I write about horrible things that happened to me that I couldn’t help because it’s easier to write that than the horrible things that happened to me that I could.
There are two facts that have irrevocably shaped my life.
My mother died when I was 8 years old.
I have never been mothered.
One of the few memories I have of my mother is of the moment when she told me she had cancer. She told me that the doctors were wrong. It wasn’t MS like we thought. It was brain cancer. I remember hugging her – one of the only times I remember her hugging me back and crying that I didn’t want her to die. Even at six years old, I understood that cancer meant someone could die.
Memories from the time my mother was sick are patchwork. I remember sights and clips, like little movies, but no large swaths. My memories of before her illness are even more vague. I’m sure she loved me, but I don’t remember her showing it. I don’t remember hugs. The only time I remember her touching me was when she slapped me across the face for getting out of bed at the wrong time. It was the middle of the summer and I had been put to bed at my usual time. However, it was still light out. I woke up maybe an hour later, and thought it was morning. I went down stairs and my mother was talking on the phone. I tugged on her hand to get her attention, announcing that I wanted breakfast. She told me to go back to bed. I was confused, and asked if I could have some cereal for breakfast, tugging on her hand. I remember what her hands felt like. They were always cool to the touch, and smooth, and I could always feel the curve of her long nails.
My questions were interrupted by her hand pulling itself out of my grip and slapping me across the face. I remember being hurt and bewildered and hid under the covers in my bedroom. It didn’t take long for it to start getting dark and I realized it wasn’t morning. I don’t remember her checking on me after that.
My mother meticulously planned everything. According to relatives, she had my future mapped out. I was going to learn French, study physics at the Sorbonne in Paris and become some sort of academic. I have a strong suspicion it’s something she wanted to do herself. She planned our household down to the minute – her agenda and phone book were always full of neat timetables and to-do lists, all with tidy check marks. You could lick any surface in our home and not taste dust. She even meticulously planned her own burial and funeral. I remember walking into her room before her final decline (I know this, because my parent’s king size bed was still in the middle of the room – later, it would be pushed to the side to make way for her hospital bed) and finding her looking at mausoleums advertised in the nearby cemetery. The one she circled was the one she was buried in a year and a half later.
It made for a bitter realization several years later when it occurred to me that while she could be bothered to plan her own burial, she never bothered to leave anything for her daughters. No letters, nothing. No words of love, or advice. It’s hard to feel like someone loved you when you realize that.
It’s hard to explain what changes when you loose a parent, because most people don’t loose one until much later in life. I lost one so early that I haven’t know anything different. The biggest difference is the knowledge that the worst can happen. This paralyzed me for years. Friends thought me overbearing and clingy, because I would call them to ask if they had gotten home safely, or I gave them “safety” instructions while crossing a road.
“I know how to look both ways!” I remember my friend B snapping irritably, pausing in the middle of the crosswalk to put her hands on her hips and glare at me. My anxiety shot upwards as I looked frantically around for oncoming cars. There was a few that had stopped to let us cross, but it was otherwise a quiet street. I don’t remember what I said to her. I don’t know how I could explain that I could literally imagine a car hitting B’s body and the sound a skull makes when it hits the ground.
I couldn’t find the words to explain the terror I lived with of loosing all my friends to death.
I still live with this terror. I just hide it better.
The day my mother died was a quiet one. Looking back, I realize now that it was an inevitable decline. To me then, it was just another visit to mom in hospital.
I remember her bed being the locus of the dim room. The lights from the bar above her bed highlighted the pale fuzz of her patchy shaved head and there were deep shadows under the austere bones in her face. She didn’t move when I squished past the bed railing to give her a kiss on the cheek and no lashes remained on her closed eyes. Her skin felt papery and cool.
We were coloring in the waiting room when my father came to tell me she had died.
I remember looking at him and saying “You’re joking” in a disbelieving tone.
My brother began to wail, and not knowing what else to do, I did as well.
Two weeks ago, I was sorting through old pictures. My dad was so disorganized when we were younger that I had taken boxes of family pictures and heirlooms with me when I first moved out, because I was scared of them getting lost in his periodic manic declutterings or to the whims of any of his new girlfriends – we already had one ex-stepmother who had tried to wipe out our family history. I even took my sibling’s passports, birth certificates and SIN cards with me, and kept them with mine, because I didn’t trust my father not to loose them either. As my siblings got older, I handed back the passports and other documents, but kept the pictures, intending to eventually digitize them.
Initially, I started looking for a funny childhood picture of my brother – one that precisely echoed a photo that my sister in law had posted of my niece, smeared with spaghetti and grinning madly at the camera.
I quickly got side-tracked, sorting pictures of family from shots that my mother had taken of lions in Africa and strange Scottish landscapes. I figured I should focus on digitizing the photos that actually showed us – our family. Fuck all those out of focus rhinos and shots of crowds at Madurodam.
In the bottom of the box, I found a plain white envelope. From its weight and shape, I could tell in had maybe a dozen pictures in it. Puzzled, I opened it and slid the stack out into my hand.
Only to let out a sob that caught my throat harder than a fist to the jugular.
I don’t know who thought photographing my mom’s funeral was a good idea.
I remembered the cedar coloured casket clearly enough without photos.
I remember the day clearly enough. Blue skies, barely a cloud in the sky. I had argued with my aunts because I hated the black dress they had picked for me. I remember the cemetery workers sealing up the mausoleum with white glue. There was
In the picture, we stand in front of the casket, as its being prepped for burial. It’s a candid shot. My dad holds my sister’s shoulders, drawn, pale and much thinner than I remember. I am staring at my feet and my brother faces the camera, but with a distant, bewildered look. We look greyer than I remember.
I sob until I can’t sob anymore.
When you loose a parent so young, grief doesn’t operate the same way as it does when you loose someone as an adult.
Someone on Reddit had a beautiful way of describing grief as an adult.
As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.
Processing grief as a child is somewhat different.
At the moment of reckoning, you feel nothing. Someone has died, but you don’t really feel it. You don’t know enough to know what it means. You know, abstractly, that they’re gone. That you’ll never see them again.
But your brain doesn’t process it. It continues to do what it did before. You haven’t experienced enough to know what it’s like to loose someone. You’ve barely know what having a mother is like. My brain stayed concerned with the long-winded dramas of my barbies, the books I read and whether I got more cookies than my brother for a long time after that.
The first wave hits the moment you realized you need your mother and she’s no longer there. So you cope, even as you’re foundering, treading water desperately against the current, because there’s no alternatives. No one is going to magically mother you because you need a mother. No one cares enough about you do to that. (a harsh, bitter truth to swallow as a preteen) You have to gather the internal reserves. brush away the tears, square your shoulders and keep going as you always do.
I’m not even sure what those first moments were, for my mind has buried them thoroughly. I don’t think I’ve told anyone about them. I see them coming, the waves. They’re towering over every milestone in my life, like a malevolent shadow, ready to crash down the moment I confront a comment that someone makes about how their mothers helped them, or how I should consider asking my mother… blank. I stare at them. I don’t mince words anymore, because if I’m hurting, then I don’t really care about pussyfooting around other people’s feelings.
My mother died when I was eight, I say. Hard, unyielding fact.
Oh. I’m sorry. They respond. I didn’t realize.
No one ever considers the worst case scenario.
So now I always do.