Friday, October 20, 2017

Here's why I never told anyone when I got raped #metoo

Me, age 24

Rape: Unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will of the usually female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness or deception.

Under threat of injury…?

Incapable of valid consent…?

Can’t it just be because I didn’t say YES?

I mean, true his hands were forceful, but there was no threat of injury. Yes, there was trickery going on, but I didn’t know at the time that deception was one of the things that might have qualified what happened to me as rape.  And other than the fact that I was really hung-over, I was fully capable of giving valid consent.

 But the thing is, I didn’t give it.  

I might never have written about this if it weren’t for the flurry of rape and sexual assault conversations that started when Harvey Weinstein’s first accuser came forward.  But it was really when Donna Karan was interviewed on the red carpet 13-days ago and posed the question, “Are we asking for it?" that I felt compelled to head for my computer keyboard.  I knew it was time for me to pull this story out of wherever it’s been hiding inside of me and release it into the universe.

*  *  *

I would like to blame the fact that I never told anyone about my rape on my stepfather.  While growing up, it was he who angrily challenged my resistance to his religion, my fierce desire for privacy and all of my grand longings to shed our hippie lifestyle and become rich enough to pay someone else to clean our toilet (which he used to make me scrub with my bare hands).  Growing up in his home, I didn’t learn that it was possible to disagree with a man and have him still like or respect me.  So eventually, I became someone who agreed with men easily.  Whenever a man caused me to feel slighted, afraid, angry, hurt or embarrassed, I would wordlessly exit said situation and thusly escape one of the things that I had grown to fear the most: male disapproval. 

But I can’t (and don’t) blame my "not telling anyone" entirely on him.  There is also the fact that I never really felt like I appealed to men sexually — not the ones that I wanted, anyway.  And when I did occasionally catch the eye of someone who made my stomach flutter, I was so scared of messing it up that I would often contort my personality to fit with his.  I knew that by doing this I was selling myself out, but I didn’t think that I could find love otherwise.  So once I was old enough to date, instead of disappearing when I was hurt, embarrassed or angry like I did with my stepfather, I learned to smile brightly whenever I felt compromised and pretend like everything was all right.

*  *  *

“Why are you driving all the way over to West Hollywood to see this tender?! You said you was sleepy!”

My roommate, Kelly is sitting on the sofa eating Top Ramen from our only ceramic bowl.   My head pounds and my stomach turns as I pick up my empty Pepsi liter and our capless bottle of Tylenol from the coffee table and walk toward the kitchen.

“He says working out will cure my hangover,” I yell back at her.

“That’s why you’re going over there in those booty shorts? Does he even have his own place?"

“I think so.  Anyway, I’m about to find out”.

“You know he’s going to try and Fu@#.  You ready for that?"

“I really just want to work out, snuggle and watch TV.”

“Hmmm.  And you think that young, ni@@a is going to go for that?  Call me if he acts up.  Somethin’ about him I don’t like…”

“I’ll be fine!” I laugh, kissing her furrowed brow.

“I’ll wait up for you,” she says stubbornly.  “Remember, call me if you need me.”

*  *  *

I show up at Brandon’s apartment around 4:00pm in my new, pink, aerobics outfit. 

“Yo! You look good in that get up,” he says smiling and licking his lips.

He likes it…

Brandon is tall and light skinned with close-cropped brown hair.  His eyes are big and round and so are his lips.  His long, muscular frame is hidden beneath a navy blue, over-sized, Polo shirt and baggy Levis. All at once, I hear male voices coming from inside.

“The fellas came by to watch the game for a minute, hope that’s okay.”

You have company?

“Of course!” I say (quickly) with a smile.  “That’s no problem, maybe I’ll just go down and work out by myself while you guys watch the game?”

“Aright,” he runs his finger up and down my flat, bare stomach.  “But come say hello first, okay?  I want to show you off.”

His living room is brightly lit and smells like weed, beer and ranch dressing.  There are several opened Coronas and a bottle of Hennessy on a coffee table in front of a big-screen TV.  Seven or eight men, all around our age (early twenties), are lying around on a large, brown sectional sofa.  My stomach lurches at the smell of booze.  Kelly and I had been drinking tequila until almost 5:00 that morning.

“You smoke?” One of the men asks me.  He has the front of his white t-shirt pulled up around the back of his neck like a shrug, exposing velvety, six-pack abs.  His gaze is fire and threatens to ignite me, so I decide to focus on the object in his hands instead.

Is that a cigar?

“No thanks,” I say waving my hand at him.  “I don’t smoke.  Thank you though.”

“Hey, hey…” says one of them. They are all looking at me now.  My insides flutter as I looked from one pair of sleepy, red eyes to another.  My fingers are trembling slightly.  I dig my nails into the palms of my hands to keep them from shaking.

Stop freaking out.  Nothing’s wrong.

“Fellas, this is Laura. Laura, the fellas.”

“Hi,” I smile, backing up against Brandon to show that I am with him.  “I’m going down to work out, I’ll see you guys in a minute.”

*  *  *

My memory picks up later on in the evening.  By now its dark outside and they've started watching a second game. I‘m sitting next to Brandon, leaning on his shoulder, but find that I’m so sleepy (and bored) that I can’t keep my eyes open.  I am also hurt by Brandon’s lack of attention, so I excuse myself and go into his bedroom to lie down. 

You really need to kick all of those boys out and follow me in here.

A cozy looking comforter covers his neatly made bed.  I take off my shoes and socks and snuggle under it quickly,  instantly sinking into a lovely dream as soon as my head touches his pillow.

His pillow smells like him…

Sometime later (moments, minutes, hours?) I feel lips on the back of my neck. 

 He’s here!

I try to wake up and make an “mmmmm” sound to show that I am pleased, but I feel myself getting sucked back into my deep, sleepy abyss.

Time slides by and later (moments, minutes?) I feel nuzzling again.  As I'm trying to make myself wake up, I can hear the drone of the game in the living room and the occasional cheer and grunt of outrage from the boys.

They’re still here? 

Without notice, I feel a smooth, bare chest sliding under the covers behind me and pressing flush against my back.  The harsh smell of cognac fills the air around my face as his mouth hovers next to my lips.  I struggle to open my eyes, but they feel like they are filled with grit and plus the room is thickly, pitch black. 

Eyes open, eyes closed it doesn’t matter.  I am so sleepy.

Suddenly, a burglar alarm sounds in my head as I feel rough, calloused hands expertly moving my workout shorts to one side.


The act is over in moments.  As it starts, I try to turn over and look at him, but I am pinned back down and forced to face my pillow.


I think I say Brandon’s name a couple of times and get no response.  Seconds later, he leaps off of the bed, throwing the sheet up over my head as he does so.  I sit up and frantically tear the covers away with a loud cry.


I catch a glimpse of a man’s silhouette exiting quickly.  The cheering from living room TV blasts into the bedroom when the door opens, causing me to flinch.

“Hey! I say again softly as the door closes.  Suddenly the bedroom is unbearably hot.  A film of sweat has formed along my hairline.

Was that Brandon?!

I’m scared to turn on the lights as I don’t want to draw any attention to myself.  I tremble as I slip down off of the bed and begin to pat the gnarled carpet by the baseboard feeling for my socks. My heart is a bass drum rattling my rib cage.

Maybe he’ll come back in and apologize for not letting me turn around.  For doing it without asking me if it was okay…

By the time I find my socks, my hands are shaking too bad to slip them on.  I sit on the floor in the dark and wait until the waves of panic that are starting to engulf me subside a bit.  Then I slip on my socks, grab my sneakers and press my ear against the bedroom door to listen.

“Yo, Magic ain’t SH#$ tonight, yo!”

“Aw, he’s still making more baskets then any of these fools. He’s a fuc##n’ workhorse!”

"Pass that, Ni@@a!"

“Naw, Rodman the workhorse, Man!  21 boards tonight?! Whaaaatttt…?!”

Don’t they even know what’s just happened!?

I stand there motionless for what seems like forever.  I can still smell him — the cognac, the mustiness of his sweat, the faint cologne.  I cover my mouth with my hand and dry heave silently for (moments, minutes?) before I can muster up enough courage to turn the door knob.

I freeze for a second when I open the door, as I can’t make out anything against the sudden brightness of the living room lights.  And even though I can’t see them well, I can feel all of their eyes on me. 

“Hey Babe,” Brandon gives me a toothy smile as he gets up from the sofa.  “You’re awake!”

He walks over to me and puts his mouth next to my earlobe and whispers, “Man, you were out.  I tried to wake you up.”  He winks at me and puts his arm around me, pulling me closer.

Don't. You. Touch. Me.

“Oh,” I say, stiffening my crossed arms so that he can’t get too close.  I feel another wave of panic rising. I look down at my feet.

“Um, sorry, yeah.  I think I’m going to go home now.  I don’t feel that great.”

“Are you sure?  The game is almost over.”

“I just need to go to sleep in my own bed.”

“Okay, that’s too bad tho,'" he says moving his face closer to mine.  "I was hoping to get some time witchu.  Sorry about the second game going so long.  But this double overtime is crazy."

"Its fine," I say stepping backwards.

Fine? Really, Laura?

"I’ll call you tomorrow for sure, okay, beautiful?”

I see his mouth moving, but his words are trailing by my ears.

Was that you in there?

“Yeah,” I say finally.  “Sure.”

*  *  *

I shouldn’t have worn these booty shorts…

I'm heading down La Brea toward the 10 Freeway. The line at Pink's Hot Dogs is blocks-long as usual.  A local news crew is setting up to interview the people toward the back near the corner.

I should have left as soon as I saw those boys…

I look down at my bare thighs while sitting at a stoplight. 

They'll say I was asking for it.

I reach over and grab my sweatshirt from the passenger seat and place it over my legs. Disgust and shame take turns pounding on my chest with invisible fists.

I don't even know if it was Brandon...

I bite my lower lip to stop the tears from coming.  There's an accident on the 10 freeway onramp. Two cars are pulled over to the side.  A man and a woman are outside, inspecting their cars.   I slow down and swerve slightly to left to avoid them.  

What if they were all in on it?

I watch my speedometer needle waver around 90MPH.  I ease my foot off of the accelerator and turn on my right turn signal as I move out of the fast lane.

Kelly told me not to go.  She'll say it was my fault.  It was my fault.  What was I thinking going over there like that?  Dressed like that?  I got into his bed!!  

I find a rare parking spot right in front of The Castaneda, our apartment building on Rose Avenue in Venice.   I crack the window slightly and a lazy stream of marine air snakes its way into the car.  I can't see the water from where I'm sitting but I can smell the brine of the ocean.  I lean back against the headrest and turn off the motor.

What could I even say?  

Oh yes, officer.  This imbroglio began when I went over to see this one guy and he may or may not have had sex with me while I was sleeping, but it also might have been one of his friends?   Yes, sir, I was wearing a slutty outfit.  Yes, sir, I did willingly get into his bed.  And YES all those drunk and high ni@@ah's were right there in the other room.  But no, your honor, I did not consent to sex.

Who would believe me?  Who would even care?

I close my eyes and try and imagine what Kelly will say.   I feel the crushing weight of defeat descending upon me.

I can't tell her...

The fist closing on my heart suddenly relaxes as an idea pops into my head.

Then don't tell her.  

In fact, don't tell anybody.  

No one can blame you if they don't know.

I'm starting to pull my sweatshirt over my head when a breeze coasts by me and gives me goosebumps on my arms and legs.  I tilt my face up toward the hazy sky.  The cool air is so fresh and it feels like maybe it's cleansing all his stinky, sweaty smell off of my body.  I stay looking up at the sky for a while (moments, minutes?) before going up the front stairs.

Only the kitchen light is on inside our apartment.  I tiptoe in and quietly reach forward to close the door to the bedroom where Kelly is sleeping.

Thank God. I don't have to deal with her tonight.

"Is that you, Laurda?" she calls out sleepily.

I fuc@#in hate her bionic hearing!

I clear my throat, "Yeah."

"How was it?"

I open my mouth and am surprised to find that the tears I've been suppressing have broken free of my emotional dam and are now streaming down my face.

"It was okay," I croak, grateful for the door between us.  "He had people over to watch the game, then there was another game."

"Ewwwww," she hisses from the darkness.  "See?  You wasted your good, booty shorts for nothing.  Does he have his own place or not?  Did he at least take you out to get some food?"

"Yes," I manage.  "He has his own place.  But no, we didn't go eat or anything.  I mean, he had some snacks for the..."

"Snacks!?"  Kelly's voice rings with outrage. " You drove your hungover ass all the way over to Hollywood for some snacks and the game!?!  UNH-UHH! I'm telling you, there's something about him I don't like..."

I sit down on our sofa and wipe my face with my sweatshirt.  I can still smell him on me.

"Yeah, Kell. You were right.  I'm going to take a shower."

Friday, October 6, 2017

Why I wished that I'd never brought up that fuc%#@' banana bread #justshowup

Nicole and I at my 35th birthday party in Malibu 

"I like banana bread now, mommy!"

Justin's face is pressed close to mine.  He is peering into the back of my open mouth, busily counting each of my molars with his tiny, sugary fingertips. I can feel his small, rapid heartbeat through my tank top.  We are laying down on my bed.  The SpongeBob Squarepants theme song plays happily on my TV in the background.

"Thurteen, fooorteeen, thurteeeen..."

His breath smells of the animal cookies we'd bought earlier at the zoo.  It is so sweet and pure that it makes me close my eyes for moment.  I sigh, interlacing my fingers with his and pull him even closer to me.

How I missed this....

"So you like banana bread now?" I smile.  "When did you have banana bread?"

"Auntie Nicole brings it everyday that you wasn't here, Miles (he says it like, MY-OHS) likes it too."

My fingers freeze and I pull them gently them away from his.  My heart feels as though it has stopped beating and suddenly I can't catch my breath.

Every day when I'm not here?

Waves of shame are crashing over me now.  I shift up to my elbow while still cradling him in the crook of my right arm.  I smooth his curls absentmindedly with my free hand.  Justin sits up and staring at me curiously.

"What's wrong, Mommy?"

Jesus, Laura!  Get it together!  He's just gotten you back after 30 LONG days.  Don't scare him. He needs to know that you are OKAY!!

I try my best smile.  I can tell that I have too many teeth showing.  I adjust my lips, hoping to look more natural.

"No, baby, I'm good. I was just thinking that I've got to thank Auntie Nicole for her turning you into a banana bread lover!  In fact, I'm going to call her and ask her to bring us some tomorrow!  What do you think?"

"Hooray!" Says Justin, raising his hands above his head.  The sleeves of his faded, army-green, Power Ranger's t-shirt shoot up past his elbows.

A stab of tenderness pierces my heart as a flash of guilt runs through me.

They're both growing so fast!  How could I have missed a whole month of their lives?

*  *  *

"So why do you think you have such strong feelings about this?"

My therapist, Marguerita is sitting stiffly in her high-backed, wooden rocking chair.  Other than a stern mouth, her face is an expressionless mask.  Her short, gray hair tells me that she's in her sixties or early seventies, but her face is as smooth as mine (she tells me it's her "good, Mediterranean skin").  She normally likes to make a lot of jokes, but today I can tell that she's in pain from her recent back surgery.  Last time we met she stood most of the time, with the help of a cane.

"Standing is better," she had told me in her thick, Greek accent.  "But during sessions, this chair is supposed to offer some support."

"I don't know," I say.

My mouth is so dry.

I take a sip of my Venti iced Americano (with 7 Sugar in the Raws and a generous pour of half and half).  The sweetness sends a jet stream of warmth up to my head, before coursing into my veins.  I close my eyes briefly and enjoy the sugar/caffeine rush before I bring myself back into the therapy session.

"I guess I'm just so embarrassed."

"What are you embarrassed about, exactly?"

"Well, for starters," I say, my voice dripping with sarcasm. "I got hooked on pills, my marriage fell apart and then I couldn't take care of my kids, so I had to go to treatment."

"And you're EMBARRASSED because you feel as though you could have somehow done something different?  Better?"

I ignore her raised eyebrow and continue.

"Who leaves their families for a month?  My kids needed me and where was I?"

"Your kids have you now.  You did the brave thing, going away to get well.  You were very sick.  You could not have gotten well at home.  I think you know this."

I set my coffee-drink down and return her solemn gaze, nodding my head slowly.  Two dime-sized tears make their way down the sides of my face toward my chin.   I lick at one that makes a detour into the corner of my mouth.  The salt is mildly comforting after all of that syrupy sugar. I lick at another one and involuntarily make an embarrassing suction sound with my tongue.   Marguerita pushes a box of Kleenex toward me with a beige, wooden stick that looks like a large Tinker Toy piece.

"I must use this not to bend my back so much," she apologizes.

I smile wanly as I pluck out the tissue sticking up from the freshly opened box.

"Thank you."

"So I don't think it's just that you are embarrassed, as you say.  I think you are envious of your friend's — uh, freedom.  She - what's her name?"

"Nicole," I whisper.

"Nicole doesn't have this disease, right?  Nicole didn't have to go to treatment.  Nicole could make banana bread in her own kitchen.  Nicole,"  Margarita tips forward again grabbing my eyes with hers.   She doesn't speak again until I am looking at her.  "Nicole could see YOUR children, eh, when you could not.  Perhaps you have some shame about this."

"Shame, envy, I don't know,"  I am sobbing quietly now.  I ball up the soaking wet Kleenex in my hand and grab for another.  I sneak a glance at my watch as I do so and note that there's almost 25 minutes left in our session.

I don't know if I can stand any more of this "self examination" today.  I wish that I'd never even brought up the fuck@# banana bread...

Her rocker squeaks like a mouse when she moves forward to pick up her glass of water.  I dry my face and blow my nose before looking back up at her.  My eyes feel raw.  My hands are trembling slightly.  I decide to sit on them to keep them from shaking.

"But your friend," she continues after a moment.  "Your friend, she did what people do when someone they love is in trouble."

"When someone's in trouble you bring banana bread?"  I'm smiling a little now.  I sit forward on her soft couch.  The edge of her large coffee table feels smooth against my bare knees.

"You show up!" Marguerite's face contorts as her voice scales up.  Her finger points at me with a ferocity that I've not seen before. I flinch involuntarily as though she's just thrown something towards my face.

"Your friend showed up for you.  Because she has shown you this love, you can show up too.  You can now also be a friend who shows up."

"Maybe I'm not built that way," I pout.  "I'm not great at any of that stuff; baking, cooking, cleaning, shopping..."

"True, maybe you are not built THIS WAY," her eyes are smiling at me now, even though her mouth still looks stern. "Perhaps you will not show up just like this friend does, bringing banana bread that you make yourself.  But that does not matter.  It does not matter whether you show up with bread or you show up with nothing.  All that matters is that you show up."

*  *  *
EsmeƩ Rose King and I on her born day

"What's the room number?"

It is October 14, 2016.  Scottie and I are heading over to St. Josephs hospital.  Earlier that morning, our friend Lilah gave birth to a beautiful, red-haired, blue-eyed, healthy, baby girl.  We have decided to pick up breakfast for everyone at a nearby IHOP, before heading to the hospital.  This Tuesday morning is clear and cool.  Traffic is lighter than usual on the 134 east.  Scottie eases up on the accelerator as we make our exit onto Buena Vista.  30-minutes later we show up in the small hospital suite with 10 or 12 styrofoam containers stuffed into several, long, plastic bags.  Lilah's husband, PJ is beaming.  He holds newborn baby EsmeĆ© out for us to inspect as though she's a piece of finely spun glass.  Lilah looks like she's just stepped off a General Hospital set.  She's glowing in her hospital gown, her long chestnut hair is pulled away from her flawless, (annoyingly) beautiful, face.

"Thanks for coming, Girl," she purrs into my ear while we squeeze each other.  "I know I can always count on you to show up."

It's true.

Okay, so it's IHOP blueberry pancakes and not homemade banana bread.  And true, my friend Lilah isn't in trouble.  As a matter of fact, this may be one of the happiest of occasions for which I've ever shown up. But whether someone is celebrating or struggling,  I try to remember and heed Marguerita's words and I do my best to show up -- or at least I do now.

There.  Now I've just revealed to you one of my greatest character flaws.

You see, instinctually, I'm really not a great friend.  

That is to say that it does not come naturally to me to think of others first.  I'm not one of those virtuous people who spends her time wondering about how other people are faring.  It rarely occurs to me to check on friends that I haven't talked to in a while.   And what's worse, when people I love (or like) are in trouble; when someone dies, or goes to rehab, or loses a baby, or gets sick or hurt or when someone gets divorced -- my first instinct is to get as far away from said tragedy as possible so that I can figure out a way to do the "right thing"( from a safe distance, of course).  Most of the time, I feel utterly ill equipped for these types of obligations.  Maybe I am.

But something came out of my stint in rehab and my divorce nine year's ago that I hadn't expected -- people showed up for me.

Through, stung, embarrassed, bitter, envious eyeballs, I watched loaves of banana bread arrive (thank you, Nicole), accepted invitations to confidential lunches where deeply inappropriate (and enormously appreciated) trash-talking-sessions took place (thank you all; Shelly, Nicole, Desiree, Teri Lynn and Tracey).  I burst into grateful tears when these women showed up at school events and basketball games (thank you, Shelly) and family events (thank you all) during and after my divorce.  I had no idea how to show up for myself during those difficult early years, but they did.   And it was from them that I finally learned the secret to being a really good friend, a good person -- all I had to do was show up.

It has been told to me that I have a disease of perception.  And this disease wants me alone (or dead). It tells me that I am incapable of showing up for myself, let alone for anyone else.

So in recovery, I've adopted a tenet that has changed my life so dramatically for the better, that there is almost no way of comparing this 53-year old woman to that 45-year-old woman (who sobbed through a whole box of Kleenex) in Marguerita's office all those year's ago.  This tenet, this creed, this motto, this design for living, which has been so lovingly given to me by all of these loving, generous women, is deceptively simple:

DON'T let my feelings dictate my actions.

This means that it doesn't matter how tired, hungry, irritable, cozy or how busy I am -- I must do what's in front of me.  When I KNOW what the next, right, indicated action is, I try to just take it. Otherwise I may overthink it and talk myself in to doing less or doing it "later" or maybe not doing it at all.

So I am forever grateful that I brought up Nicole's banana bread that day in Marguerita's office.  Otherwise I might have missed the best parts of these last (amazing!) nine years of my life.  My life is so beautiful, just because I've learned to show up.  There is so much relief in just doing what I know to be right instead of letting all of my unfounded fears keep my world small.

At Miles's Bar Mitzvah. From left to right: Shelly, me, Miles, Nicole, Teri Lynn, Desiree

Do you have stories of how people have shown up for you?  Or do you ever struggle with showing up for your friends?   Please leave them in the comments for me.  Thank you!