New projects

Dear Entire World,

I’ve been afk for ages. There are reasons for this:

1. I have been writing some super-secret fun stuff (okay, two novels, and a small chunk of a third) that are not yet ready for you to peruse. Unless you’re an agent and you want to represent me. Then you should DM me on Twitter.

2. I have been studying cartomancy, herbology, astrology, and a bunch of other ancient and wonderful systems of esoteric practice and thought. So far I have little to share other than tons of author recommendations.

(Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune are my favorites at the moment. I highly recommend Crowley’s Book of Thoth and Fortune’s Secrets of Dr. Taverner. If you need more reading ideas, start with The Kybalion and vibrate some thought forms in my direction after you realize that the author known as “Three Initiates” is probably William Walker Atkinson.)

On this topic, if anyone wants to attend some seminars and workshops with me, please reach out! On Oct. 11 I’m studying palmistry with my friend and mentor Joan Carra, and on Oct. 24 my friend Dainichi is teaching a class on crystals at Namaste. I’m always looking for study buddies!

(My friend Jeanne and I are working on forming an occult study group here in BK. Please get in touch if you’d like to join us.)

I will also be launching a site very very very soon where you can see some of the occult work I’ve undertaken. Mostly it’s goofy stuff like this collage of daily tarot spreads:

tarot collage

3. I seem to have a problem with saying unkind things out loud, and so lately I’ve been doing my best to bite my tongue. I’m not taking anything back — it’s all true, and I stand by it — but I’m trying not to say any other rude things if I can help it. This mostly means not talking at all, at least not on the open internet where everyone can overhear me. For now, if you want to hear the mean things I have to say, you’ll have meet up with me in person.

4. In the vein of unkind things: America is basically over, so it’s no fun writing about politics at present. But did you all see Oliver Stone’s “Snowden”? It was soooo okay! (If you want to not be at all disappointed by a film about Edward Snowden, watch Laura Poitras’s “Citizenfour”. Watch it with me!!!)

5. Speaking of great documentaries, have you seen “Everything is Copy”? It’s about the life and work of Nora Ephron — who may or may not be the basis of a character in one of my books. The first time I saw the movie, I sat in the theatre and sobbed through the whole thing. I have now seen the film enough times that I can mostly watch it without crying. You should come over and watch it with me some time. I don’t promise not to cry, though.

6. There’s a bunch of other stuff happening, too, but it’s none of your business I guess. You’ll have to follow me on Instagram if you want to see the fine print.

Much love,
sabrina

Posted in Uncategorized.

Cost of Freedom — a book!

Dear Everyone,

I am in a book! I mean, one of my essays, originally published here on this website, is in a book. The book is called “The Cost of Freedom,” and it was published after a five-day book sprint last week in France. I personally was not in France, but my friend Sumana recommended the essay, and the people in France decided to include it! I would link to the original, but the revised (as in re-worked, by me) version that appears in the book is better, and so you should read it instead:

Download The Cost of Freedom for free in either epub or pdf format! Free! Free as in beer! Also free as in speech! You have no excuse for not downloading this tome! (My essay, “Why I Choose Privacy”, begins on page 105.)

This book sprint was organized in large part on behalf of Bassel Khartabil, a Palestinian-Syrian freedom fighter, open-source software developer, and political prisoner who has been detained since 2012, and who has been missing since early October of this year. Please do whatever you can to support Bassel and those working to locate and free him.

Much love,
me

Posted in Books, infosec, politics, projects.

The option of privacy

I publish my work here under my full name. I write about my life without holding back, except where innocent people might be harmed as a result of my writing about them.

You might wonder why I advocate so passionately for internet privacy when I tell the whole world all my secrets without restraint.

1. I have always had the option of keeping my secrets. For years I was forced to keep secrets, and then I continued to do so because I was afraid of people’s reactions.

I personally don’t care if you think I’m a weirdo any more, because I am a weirdo, and I’m fine with that. In fact, my weirdness is what I have to offer the world.

2. So my weirdness, and my truth, are things I talk about because it’s what I have to contribute, and because I’m tired of forced silence. I want to exercise my own free speech. I want to tell people about my experiences. I hope that maybe some of you will get ideas from all this for how to spark change in your own worlds, even if all you do is teach your kids that they have the right to establish firm boundaries.

3. But privacy is important. I have the right to be a private person if I choose to do so, and for about eighteen years I did choose to do so. I did that for my own safety. I have a right to preserve my own safety.

4. When it comes to the state spying on me, I admit I don’t have much “to hide.” There are things I would be a little embarrassed about if you learned them, but for me personally, state surveillance is not my biggest fear.

5. I personally am more afraid of all the trackers from Facebook and Amazon and other companies with which I do business. And that’s why I flush my cookies with the frequency of a true paranoiac and use all sorts of browser extensions to protect myself to whatever degree I can.

6. But there are people, a lot of people, who have genuine reason to fear state surveillance. I could easily be one of them. And I think it’s important that you all read, for instance, about a really gross spying bill that passed the Senate yesterday with only twenty-one votes against it.

7. Here’s what Edward Snowden has to say about that bill: “What it allows is for the companies you interact with every day – visibly, like Facebook, or invisibly, like AT&T – to indiscriminately share private records about your interactions and activities with the government.” Actually, the bill *requires* those companies to share your info with the NSA. Seriously.

8. Now you understand maybe why I am paranoid about my business-facing cookies.

9. If the government spies on citizens without our consent, without our knowledge, without valid reason, we all lose something precious. We lose the right to be flawed people. We all become criminals by default.

10. As an abuse survivor, I’ve lived under circumstances like that, where every move was monitored. And I have to tell you, living under a microscope like that is definitely not being free. As a former preacher’s daughter I can tell you that I’ve lived in a fishbowl, and fishbowls are not free places either.

11. As an army brat, I was raised to believe that the US government is some sort of heroic institution that exports freedom and democracy to the rest of the world. The first lessons I learned in my DoD school were about freedom and its importance.

12. As an abuse survivor, I value justice. It’s just super important to me that people be treated fairly and humanely and that their basic rights be respected.

13. I have always wanted our nation to be one that values freedom. I have always thought that the most important line ever written by our founding fathers was not in the Constitution but in the Declaration of Independence: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

14. With the spying, they’re taking our liberty and chilling our pursuit of happiness. By spying on us, they’ve put us in a position where we are constantly trying to cover our tracks. Even flushing your cookies is evidence you’re suffering from a chilling effect. You shouldn’t have to cover your tracks unless you’re hiding from something.

15. This is also why you should be very, very worried about treaties like TPP, TTIP, and TiSA. The spying bill, CISA, lays some of the groundwork for those treaties, helps foster an environment that would allow our government — and, with the treaties, the governments and corporations of many of the world’s nations — to encroach on our liberties even more.

16. I’m almost done here, I swear. As someone who has survived tyranny, the most important thing to me is never living under it again. As someone who is free with my opinions, it’s important to me that I have the right to be free with my opinions.

17. Internet freedom is a women’s issue. Have you read the 1972 Johnnie Tillmon piece, Welfare is a Women’s Issue? You should. It explains why access to food and shelter are vitally important to women.

18. If your abusive partner has installed a keystroke logger on your computer, you have no freedom. We can all see this quite clearly, that if you are being monitored constantly by someone you love who is supposed to love you, then you are being stripped of basic human rights.

19. The government and some of the bigger corporations have basically installed keystroke loggers on us, except they’ve done it in tricky ways we don’t discover until after our privacy has already been compromised.

20. Edward Snowden recently said on Twitter, “Surveillance is not about safety. It’s about power. It’s about control.”

You could replace the word “surveillance” with “abuse” and you’d have the same statement. This is why a free internet is so important to me. This is why the right to privacy is so fundamental in my opinion. Because we all deserve to be free from those who would hold us captive, whether those folks are our bizarrely cruel fathers or the people who’ve built a surveillance apparatus that makes the Stasi look like amateur hour.

We all deserve that freedom. Anyone who is a survivor should value that freedom, and anyone who is a woman or a member of a minority group should viscerally understand why, and anyone who is human should do whatever they can to protect that freedom.

Posted in infosec, memoir-y, politics.

I totally hate everyone

Listen, you can’t ever tell anyone I said this, but I’ve been feeling … grateful.

Shut up! I am a misanthrope. A hopeless misanthrope.

But I have spent thirty-six years on this earth, twenty of those as an abuse survivor, and I am grateful for a bunch of different little beautiful things I’ve got in my life.

My girlfriend of thirteen and a half years is the most amazing woman in the world, and I’m grateful not only for her continual presence in my life but also for the journey we’ve shared together. We’ve been through some Weird Shit, and yet we’re still here.

I’ve known my therapist for even longer than I’ve known my girlfriend, and I am grateful to have a therapeutic relationship that has lasted so long and been so beneficial to me.

My psychiatrist has been my doctor since the year Allison and I met, and I’m grateful for him, too. I’m just generally grateful for having consistent care in that realm. It’s the one thing that has kept me here on this earth, is having doctors who know me well enough to look out for me at certain times of year and to differentiate a good mood from a medication malfunction.

I have a mother who is kind and loving and generous and whom I adore even if I don’t say it often enough or like, ever. But you can’t go around telling your mom you love her and that she’s amazing and that you are proud of her without sounding like a sap. And I’m not a sap.

I am a person who hates everything and everyone. Except my cats, but that’s because cats are merciless killers who don’t differentiate between cuddles and murder.

My best friend — other than Allison — is a guy I first met when I was thirteen and he was eleven. We grew close in high school, around the time that my father died. We both have slightly insane personalities, so it is something of a miracle that we have never killed each other. (To be fair, we came quite close once, on a misguided road trip from New Orleans to New York. After which we didn’t speak for something like seven years.)

But the reason that we’re in each other’s lives now that we’re grown-ass adults is that we’re kindred spirits, even if he is a moderate Democrat who might well vote for Hillary Clinton in a primary election. We disagree on a lot of things, but our souls are alike.

Oh my God. Kill me now. Did I say that? Our souls are alike?

Look, the truth is there are folks out there who have been really kind to me over the last few years. Your kindness has sustained me. I am grateful for it.

I am grateful for the coping skills I’ve learned, too. October has been easier this year than it usually is, and that’s not just an accident — it’s something I’ve worked toward. Something everyone in my life has helped me work toward.

Excuse me. To make up for all this gratitude nonsense I’ve just spewed I’m going to have to go spend at least an hour trolling people in bad parts of the internet.

Posted in GYOB, memoir-y.

Short summaries of romantic comedies

Sabrina, 1954: Audrey Hepburn tries to commit suicide in a very large garage, which leads Humphrey Bogart to fall in love with her.

Pillow Talk, 1959: Doris Day trashes Rock Hudson’s apartment. Alcoholism is funny.

Working Girl, 1988: Sigourney Weaver has really nice stuff. Melanie Griffith is from Staten Island.

When Harry Met Sally, 1989: Two sad people get together so they won’t “die one of those New York deaths that nobody notices until two weeks later when the smell drifts into the hallway.” Princess Leia marries Bruno Kirby.

Pretty Woman, 1990: The prostitute-next-door gets a makeover and takes a bubble bath, but must also cope with Richard Gere’s existence.

The Cutting Edge, 1992: DB Sweeney — or is it Paul Rudd, and can you even tell the difference? — learns how to use a toe-pick even though he’s a fully grown man and should know that shit by now.

Groundhog Day, 1993: Andie MacDowell has excellent hair.

Sleepless in Seattle, 1993: A crazy woman dumps Bill Pullman for a stranger she’s never met. The stranger’s young son has a pretty cool chair in his bedroom.

Speechless, 1994: A smart, successful political speechwriter risks her whole career by hooking up with a Republican. The Republican is played by Michael Keaton just a few years post-Batman, so it’s normal for her to do that.

The American President, 1995: A crazy lady dates the president of the United States, who is also crazy and sends her a ham because the florist passed out when she saw him. Annette Bening has the most beautiful shoulders of anyone in history.

French Kiss, 1995: Meg Ryan gets stranded in France, then helps cover up a felony.

While You Were Sleeping, 1995: A crazy woman who doesn’t even have her own coat cons a whole family into thinking she is engaged to their rich, comatose son. Bill Pullman splits his pants on icy pavement.

Sabrina (1995): People have chauffeurs who they let live on their property and whose daughters they acknowledge are human. Harrison Ford.

Clueless (1995): Alicia Silverstone plays a girl named “Cher,” and we’re all relieved when she finally hooks up with her step-brother, Paul Rudd. (Or is it DB Sweeney? What if they’re actually the same person???)

One Fine Day, 1996: Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney are both single parents and busy people, so they go to Serendipity 3 for iced hot chocolate.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs, 1996: Janeane Garofalo is not Uma Thurman, and therefore only deserves to date actors you’ve never heard of, and even then only because she’s funny.

My Best Friend’s Wedding, 1997: Julia Roberts is insane, and mean, and insane, and tries to ruin a wedding, and this isn’t romance, and it’s not comedy, and I don’t know why it’s on this list.

Ever After, 1998: Drew Barrymore carries a prince and convinces him to establish a public university system. But, you know, this is literally a Cinderella story.

You’ve Got Mail, 1998: Bookstores exist, and people use AOL. This is the last tolerable Meg Ryan movie ever made.

10 Things I Hate About You, 1999: Julia Stiles is a grumpy high schooler, and so is Heath Ledger, so obviously they should date. Bonus Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Never Been Kissed, 1999: Drew Barrymore is a reporter who goes undercover as a high school student and falls in love with her English teacher. We’re fine with the fact that he’s a teacher and she’s his student and they’re in love, and also with her lying about her age and identity.

Notting Hill, 1999: We are supposed to believe Hugh Grant is only a mild asshole.

She’s All That, 1999: Reverse Carrie. High school proms include bizarre but enchanting choreographed dance routines.

What Women Want, 2000: We don’t know yet that Mel Gibson is a crazy misogynist.

Serendipity, 2001: John Cusack is still hot. That stupid ice cream restaurant has another moment in the spotlight, making the area even more unbearable for pedestrians who have places to be.

Kate and Leopold, 2001: Why are you still watching Meg Ryan movies, y’all? The writers are now trying to tell us that Meg can only have romantic love if it comes with time travel and probably typhoid. This is definitely because of the thing with Russell Crowe.

Bridget Jones’s Diary, 2001: The most insane woman in the history of the genre dates her boss, Hugh Grant, who is of course an asshole and doesn’t deserve her (or anyone), so instead she hooks up with Mr. Darcy.

The Wedding Planner, 2001: Early J. Lo in an ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’ role. She screws up an incredibly expensive wedding and probably loses her most of her clientele.

Maid in Manhattan, 2002: Nothing says hot sexy romance like J. Lo working as a hotel maid and a single mother. She’s living either in poverty or on the very edge of it, but it’s all good because then she finds a rich politician to adopt her.

How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, 2003: Two rich, egomaniacal assholes have shower sex on Staten Island. A Gin Blossoms song plays during the denouement.

500 Days of Summer, 2009: Nope. We’re done here.

Posted in movies, projects.

Five pages, redacted

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Methodology: Printed text, lined three times in Sharpie, scanned, re-printed, re-scanned, re-sized, converted to black and white.

Posted in memoir-y, projects.

What This Is All About, Anyway

You all have been reading these essays for some time without any idea where I’m going with them, why I’m putting them up for the world to see, what I want from them. And that seems unfair, so I’m going to lay it all out for you.

I’m a writer. A writer is what I am.

When I was a kid, a little kid, I wrote stories in crayon and gave them to my mom. My father said they didn’t count because they were all re-tellings of fairy tales, so I stopped considering myself a “real” writer.

People were always telling me I was a writer, but I kept not believing them. In ninth grade, my English teacher called up my dad and said, “Writing is Sabrina’s forte.” I have never forgotten those words (or my English teacher’s maiden name, which was Incorvia,) because at the time I didn’t think I had a forte, and I certainly didn’t think it was writing.

It wasn’t until later, when I was eighteen and working at a newspaper as an editorial assistant, that I realized I had to write. I’d been sending some goopy teen e-mails to a guy who said they were like “reading a novel,” and he seemed to like them, but I wasn’t sharing anything I wrote with anyone else at the time. Then one day a reporter called in sick, and another was on assignment, and my editor sent me out on my first assignment. She didn’t figure I would write the thing, and neither did I — we said I would take notes, and she gave me careful instructions on how to proceed and what sorts of questions to ask, and she gave me a camera, and off I went.

When I got back to the office, I spent about half an hour writing up my notes. I gave her the copy. She went back to her desk and read it.

My editor was a volatile woman who occasionally threw sheafs of paper and often cursed at her computer screen. She was forever breaking the fax machine and the scanner/copier and the printer and her own damn computer. She would sometimes, without having any idea what she’d done, delete entire articles off her screen, then turn around and blame me for it as if I had magical remote keyboard powers — which wasn’t even technologically possible in those days, I don’t think.

Anyway, she slammed the article down on her desk and her face was red like when she was about to yell and she said, “I’m very upset with you, Sabrina. You’ve been dishonest with me.”

And I was like, “What????”

Clarification: I got this job because I’d worked on political campaigns, and as some of you may know from previous essays I’ve written here, one of my candidates bought a chain of newspapers. I wasn’t interested — not then anyway — in being a journalist. I just needed a job, and Ira offered me decent wages just to answer phones and help my editor figure out how to use Microsoft Word. Also some data entry. Plus he didn’t mind if I sold CDs for my favorite band out of the newspaper office. (Not that I had any success at the latter — I ended up having to give away about $300 worth of CDs as extremely unpopular holiday presents, and pay for the folly out-of-pocket.)

Anyway, my grumpy editor was all mad at me and came stomping up to my desk, looking sort of like a human version of Garfield, except with very muscular forearms because she was an avid golfer.

“Did I get something wrong?” I asked.

“You got a lot of things wrong, but that’s not why I’m angry,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell me you could write?”

I was kind of … shocked. Like, I had done a few articles for the high school newspaper, but no one ever seemed to think they were all that good. Well, except for the one that I skipped a month of class to research, which got some sort of Gannett award. (Can you imagine if I had skipped a month of class to work on that article and it hadn’t even been nominated for an award?)

I was pretty sure I couldn’t write all that well. High school teachers and college professors were always criticizing my essays, covering them in red ink, and marking them B+. In eighth grade, I was admitted to honors English “in spite of” my writing sample. So it came as a surprise when Diane informed me — quite rudely, at that — of my supposed hidden talent.

BACK TO THE STORY, I am here because I am a writer. I realized this because of goopy teen e-mails, a surprisingly educational and supportive editor with rage issues, and because later when I had been working in newspapers for awhile, my editors discovered my “voice” — which was just the voice in which I’d been blogging and e-mailing all along — and they thought it was some sort of miracle which I’d been hiding from the world.

So, obviously, I’m here to share that, with hopes that I can entertain you and maybe sometimes inform you or make you feel feelings.

The other reason I’m here is because I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.

A lot of people who are survivors like me try not to talk about it at all ever, but I feel like I need to. I need to talk about it because I can’t be silent any longer, because I care about social justice, because I believe I can help shed light on a systemic problem that needs attention.

It needs attention because those of us who have survived — and there are a lot more of us than you might think — we have problems in adulthood as a result of our trauma histories. Prolonged abuse causes developmental and neurological damage. Survivors may have health problems, financial problems (generally resulting from health problems), serious mental health care needs, social difficulties on various levels — we are a group of people who suffer, who must suffer even after the abuse is over. And I don’t think enough people know that.

I don’t think enough people are aware how much likelier we are to die early, to live in poverty, to self-medicate, to kill ourselves or try to do so, to develop heart disease, to suffer depression and anxiety, to self-harm, to engage in impulsive behavior — basically to suffer for the rest of our lives.

And there just aren’t enough structures in place to ensure that those of us who are like me get … well, what we need. We need social engagement, communities to belong to, maybe help with our finances or with our medical bills. We need help with these things, and it’s not anywhere near as available as it should be.

(You are totally welcome to start with me, but that’s not why I’m here.)

I’m not here to ask you to pity me, although you can if you want to and I won’t mind too much. I’m not here to ask you to put me up on a pedestal. I’m not really even here because I think I have anything to say that you’ve never heard before — there are other voices singing this tune.

I’m here because this is my mission. This website, this story — this is the story I must tell, the story of my own survival, however messy that survival may be.

I hope I can make you laugh even when I make you cry. I hope you can get me a book deal. I hope I mostly say things I won’t regret in ten years, but I’ll keep publishing what I write even if I regret doing so after ten minutes.

To break up the monotony of reading about trauma survival, I’ll scatter a few TV and book and film reviews around. You can send me stuff to review, but I make no promises about whether I’ll get around to it. Sometimes I might also write about information security, web freedoms, strong cryptography, anarcho-communism, and my secret past as a teen Republican.

If you want to reach me, you can send an e-mail to “banana” at this URL and I might possibly receive it. Or you can tweet at me on Twitter, where I am @missbananabiker. Or you can come over to my house, but I generally don’t answer the doorbell, so you might find yourself waiting on my stoop for a very long time.

Posted in content warning, GYOB, memoir-y, projects.

Book reviews: Genovian princesses

1. From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, one of two new novels by Meg Cabot, is just. so. good. So very good I can’t even decide where to begin.

First, I don’t care how old you are, you need to read this book before you read the first Princess Mia novel for adults, Royal Wedding.

It’s a middle grade novel. “Middle grade” books are generally intended for a younger audience than straight up YA. I’d say the intended audience is anywhere from second to sixth grade.

So the book is short, easy to read, and obviously kid-friendly. It’s also heartbreaking.

Brief summary: Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison is in sixth grade at Cranbrook Middle School in Cranbrook, New Jersey. Her mother died when she was a baby, and she has never even met her dad, so she has been raised by her aunt Catherine and her uncle Rick, along with their children. Of course we all know based on the title of the book that Olivia is a princess, but she herself is completely unaware of her heritage — other than that she is half-black and half-white — until the school bully threatens to beat her up because she’s a royal.

And she’s way more okay with the idea of being a princess than her older sister Mia was when she found out.

This may be because Olivia doesn’t have quite the dreamy childhood Mia had. Her aunt and uncle work in design and construction, and they live in the suburbs, and they keep no gluten of any kind in the house, and they have white carpets, and they won’t let Olivia have any pets or a computer or a phone of her own. Her cousins have these gadgets, and her aunt and uncle each have a Ferrari, but poor Olivia has no access to such fripperies herself. When her aunt and uncle and cousins go to nearby New York City for fun, they tell Olivia she has to stay in Cranbrook because the city is dirty and dangerous.

Not only does she not know she is a princess, she is also being mistreated by her relatives and doesn’t even realize it. She makes a point of mentioning that she has her own bedroom and doesn’t have to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs like Harry Potter did. That part, making sure to mention she doesn’t sleep in a cupboard — that reminds me of me.

As a kid, I feel like this would have been the kind of book I’d have read and just felt overjoyed about. It’s chock full of the kinds of first-time experiences — Olivia’s first ever limo ride, her first time meeting her sister and father and grandmother, her first time meeting a celebrity, her first time being a celebrity, her first visit to the Plaza Hotel — that I enjoyed reading about when I was Olivia’s age.

But as an adult, I broke down crying. I broke down crying because Olivia has no idea her aunt and uncle are actually being abusive to her. They may not hit her or make her sleep in a closet, but they are unkind to her, and they restrict her movements in weird ways a kid shouldn’t have to deal with. (What kind of monsters make a kid who isn’t gluten-intolerant eat a gluten-free diet?!?) They won’t let her use the internet. They won’t let her go on trips to the city. Their kids have TVs in their rooms, but Olivia doesn’t.

Reading From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess as an adult is heartbreaking, because by the time you’re in your thirties you might know a lot more about warning signs of abuse than you do when you’re a kid.

In fact, I think this book is really, really extraordinary for kids for just that reason. It spells out the deprivations of Olivia’s childhood in simple terms that anyone can understand.

This novel is more than just a kids’ book. It’s a tool for informing children about different kinds of home situations and for making sure they know they can tell someone if they’re not being treated well.

This makes it amazing and beautiful and wondrous. If I’d been able to read it as a kid, I might have realized what kind of situation I myself was in well before I hit my teens. I’m pretty sure I would have been able to figure it out, if I’d read this book. My friends, if they’d read this book, might have said something to their parents, asked them if they thought I was okay. It would have been wonderful.

Which is one of the reasons I’d give this novel a million stars.

Speaking of which, it’s time for our next review.

2. Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot was released to the world yesterday.

I inhaled it, of course.

There are a bunch of things about this novel that make me happy. The first is that it’s the first non-YA book about Princess Mia. We deserve an adult contemporary romance about Mia, finally! Everyone who was a kid when Mia was coming up is an adult now, so it even feels a little overdue.

To be honest, when I heard about Royal Wedding I was a little disappointed. I read an interview at some point in which Ms. Cabot said she thought she was done with Mia’s world, and I was totally ready to accept that. I didn’t really see the Michael Moscovitz romance continuing into adulthood. I also didn’t like the idea of a novel about a wedding.

You heard me. I don’t like wedding chick lit very much.

This is because it’s boring. Usually the “wedding” novel in any series will be the third or fourth book. In the first book, the heroine will meet and date the wrong guy. She’ll also meet the right guy, but she won’t date him until the second book. In the third, they are set to be married. But books must have conflict, and so the people getting married usually fight about something stupid that they should have figured out before their engagement.

Not only are wedding novels boring, they’re generally ill-conceived. Because nobody wants to read about two people who are madly in love and about to get married and fighting. It’s like those Shopaholic books. Who wants to read about getting into debt? That’s not fun; it’s terrifying!

Right. Now that I’ve told you how much I hate wedding novels, I have to say I adore this one. Because (a) it’s not about a fighting couple, (b) it continues the story of Olivia Grace, and (c) it was just really nice to catch up with Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo and friends.

I really like what Meg did here. She wrote a middle grade novel about a new Genovian princess, then made it absolutely critical reading material for anyone who wants to dig into Royal Wedding, and THEN she made her “wedding” novel into a book that is much more about family as a concept than it is about dresses. (Which is not to say there are no dresses. This is a Princess Diaries novel for grownups. Of course there are dresses.)

The novel, as always, is a little bit of a platform from which Meg Cabot is able to write about a couple of topics that are obviously important to her, good things like feminism and bad things like GamerGate-esque stalkers. Good things like getting your sister out of an unstable environment, and bad things like your sister having been in an unstable environment in the first place.

I am so glad Meg has grown up with us as she has written these novels.

Example: One of my very favorite MC books is Boy Meets Girl, a chick lit novel about a young woman in NYC who works in human resources at a newspaper until her boss fires her for no good reason. In this novel, there is a very very brief passage that I won’t quote because it contains a word that I consider to be a fairly serious slur against transgender and genderqueer folks.

But that book was published in 2004, and Meg has grown since then. She’s learned a few social justice lessons since then, like we all have. But Meg — she’s incorporated those lessons into her writing, and I love her for it.

If From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess is a non-explicit kids’ primer on the topic of child mistreatment, Royal Wedding is a similar — but more detailed — primer for adults. The novel isn’t ALL about Olivia Grace (we also catch up with Lilly and Tina and Perrin and Ling Su and Helen and Rocky and Fat Louie), but the parts that are about Olivia are educational for grownups who don’t know much about abuse and cathartic for those of us who survived it. Mia has the tools and critical thinking skills to recognize a bad situation, and she yanks Olivia right out of that unhappy home. (Hijinks ensue, obviously.)

Man, if when I was growing up in an abusive home I’d gotten to meet a real live princess who told me I was also a princess and then rescued me? Well, I might not have PTSD now, for starters. But also, I would just have been over the moon. It’s exactly what I dreamed of as a kid. (In my fantasies, I turned out to have been accidentally switched at birth with the child of a non-royal, but whatever.)

Anyway, I have good news for you about this wedding novel: There is no will-they-won’t-they drama. It’s not one of those books. It’s about gratitude, about not whining when your diamond slippers pinch, about having good support systems composed of loving friends and family, about doing the Right Thing, about leaving the world a better place than you found it. Did I mention it’s about gratitude?

Meg Cabot’s writing has always been really special to me, not only because she writes a little like I write and she likes the same bad movies and TV shows I like, but also because she’s so skillful at keeping things fun and hopeful. Her writing is soothing, so much so that when I’m in the deepest depressions it’s sometimes all I can handle. That makes me even more grateful that she’s chosen to address abuse with this new (final?!?) novel about Princess Mia.

To sum up, Royal Wedding is awesome and you should read it, but only after you have already read all the original Princess Diaries books and the new middle-grade novel, From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go back to the first Princess Diaries novel and start reading again from the beginning.

Posted in Books.

How you feel is wrong, or what not to say to a suicidal person

Content warning: Suicide

Lately I have been having the following conversation:

Me: I am suicidal.
Other Person: Suicidal is a bad way to feel! Do not feel that way!
Me: But suicidal is how I feel inside.
Other Person: Then you feel wrong! How you feel inside is wrong!
Me: Oy vey. I should kill myself just so I don’t have to listen to this shit any more.

In order to stop having this conversation, I am now going to do as my friend recently asked me to do and give you suggestions for things you could say to a suicidal person other than, “You are wrong and incorrect and the way you feel is wrong and you are being selfish and a bad person by wanting to kill yourself.”

I should say that you should not ever tell anyone that how they feel is wrong. That is the first thing.

1. It is never wrong to feel a way. Even if the way you feel is suicidal.

It might be wrong to act on certain feelings. Like you can be an anarchist, but when you buy a toy pistol and shoot Henry Clay Frick, that right there might be wrong. It is the action, not the feeling, that is wrong. We should probably discourage people from acting on their suicidal (or Frick-icidal) impulses, but we must also be very careful not to invalidate a person’s feelings.

Like, if I say, “I have been feeling for the last four or five months that I do not want to live and in fact want to die because the pain is so bad I just can’t stand it any more,” that’s not a wrong way to feel. It’s an unfortunate way to feel. It’s a painful way to feel.

So what could we say instead of telling the suicidal person that their feelings are wrong? We could say, “I’m sorry you’re in so much pain. I’m sorry you are suffering so much. I’m sorry you feel that way.” We could say, “I wish I could ease your pain. I would like to ease your pain. I would like it if you didn’t have this pain, if you could move through the world without always feeling like you want to die, because that sounds like a very uncomfortable feeling indeed.”

Why it matters: Because when someone is feeling shitty, we don’t tell them they’re wrong to feel shitty. We just don’t. They’re not wrong, first of all. In fact, it’s perfectly rational to want your suffering to end, to want your pain to end. It’s the most normal thing in the world to not want to be in pain.

The message we might accidentally send when we tell a person that their feelings are wrong is that their emotions are invalid, that their pain is not real. This a bad message to send, because one of the causes of suicidality is feeling like your emotions don’t mesh with society’s expectations, like your brain is out of whack with the rest of the world, like you’re … you know. Wrong. If you tell a suicidal person that they’re wrong, what you’re doing is you’re just reinforcing the Bad Thoughts they’re already having, the ones that say they’re Wrong and don’t belong here on earth with everyone who is right. You’re feeding the monster. Please do not feed the monster.

2. It is not a suicidal person’s job to stay alive so the assholes don’t win.

Recently, a friend said to me, “By peacing out, are you letting the assholes win?”

He was very well-meaning, this friend. He is a very, very good friend, a beautiful and kind person whom I have known since I was thirteen and he was eleven. If I was Harper Lee, this friend would be my Truman Capote. He’s probably the best guy I know in the world. But he should not have told me that I might be letting the assholes win.

The thing is, any suicidal person is not thinking they’re going to win the war. They’re pretty sure they’re going to lose the battle AND the war, actually. So (a) the threat of losing the war doesn’t do much for the suicidal person, who has maybe already accepted defeat, and (b) it actually is harmful in that you’re putting more responsibility onto the shoulders of a person who is telling you they can’t even handle the responsibility of being alive.

Let’s say you have an administrative assistant who is having a very bad day: Maybe she got stiffed on her paycheck this week, maybe she has a run in her stocking, maybe she got yelled at by someone in Human Resources, maybe she got hit on by the copy guy again, maybe she has a flu and no sick days left. All these bad things have piled up and today she is at her wit’s end, and she comes into your office to tell you that if one more bad thing happens, she is going to hand in her notice.

“I have more work than I can do,” she says, “and if things don’t ease up I’m going to have to resign.”

Now, if you were to say to this assistant, “If you resign, who is going to bring me my non-fat chai tea lattes and pick up my dry cleaning???” you might as well be saying, “Please, for the love of God, get out of my office and never return!”

So back to your suicidal friend: If you tell her that her death might be a victory for the assholes, that’s not going to cheer her up or make her less suicidal. It will only remind her that assholes exist, and that you think it’s her personal responsibility to fight all the assholes everywhere forever. (Which might make you, at least for the moment, one of the assholes.)

This is a person who doesn’t even want to stay here on earth, but you’re telling her that not only does she have to stay, she also has to be a superhero. Your suicidal friend is tired of jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper, rescuing damsels in distress. She is fucking exhausted. She does not want to be a superhero. By reminding her of this responsibility she supposedly has to keep the assholes from winning, you are reminding her that as long as she sticks around, she is going to have to keep being a superhero.

When your secretary is fixing to quit, you do not ask her for a non-fat chai tea latte. You tell her she is really good at getting your lattes and that you wouldn’t know what to do without her, that the lattes just wouldn’t be the same if someone else brought them. You get the girl in reception to take on some of your admin’s extra work. You offer your admin the rest of the afternoon off. If you’re the best boss ever, you book your admin a massage and you tell her not to come back to the office until she’s gotten her fair share of relaxation.

When your friend is suicidal, you don’t get to tell her she has more battles to win. You may remind her of all the battles she has already won, and you may tell her she is a great warrior, but you may not tell her it is her responsibility to beat back all the goddamn assholes in the whole entire world. Your suicidal friend is already carrying the entire world on her very sore shoulders. You may not increase her burden. It is forbidden, and also not technically possible.

And that is the whole list, which makes this a very poor listicle.

All right. Fine. One more thing:

3. It’s okay to say the wrong thing. By being there, just being there for your friend, you are doing more than 95 percent of everyone. And it’s a thousand times better to say the wrong thing than to say no thing.

It can be really exhausting and terrifying to be a suicidal person’s main support. (I say this from experience!) So just the fact you’re there, even if you just asked me for a fucking chai tea latte? Amazing. Beautiful. If I survive all this, if I make it to a day when I want to be alive again, I swear I will find a way to thank you.

Now, I have not yet spent any time under the bed today, nor have I banged my head on anything at all since last night, so I’m going to go get to work on that stuff now. You have a nice weekend.

Posted in content warning, memoir-y.

It’s all your fault

You know that scene from Good Will Hunting where Will talks about his childhood abuse and Robin Williams is all, “It’s not your fault. Listen to me! It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” You know that scene?

That scene is supposed to be some sort of breakthrough, a breakthrough for cinema, a breakthrough for Will.

What a concept. It’s not your fault.

Problem: This is such an easy thing to say. It’s so, so very easy to say. It’s not easy to feel, though it seems it should be easy to feel once it has been said.

*

My girlfriend has recently transitioned and is presenting full-time as a woman and I’m so goddamn proud of her and happy for her and I want so badly to do whatever I can to be of aid to her.

She wants to go shopping. Needs to go shopping, because she needs lots and lots of clothes and some makeup and a hat and a scarf and gloves and necklaces and all sorts of other things.

I want to go with her, but I’ve been sick all morning.

She is also anxious and starts to have doubts about the shopping trip.

And her anxiety makes me feel, get this: guilty. Guilty because I am not whole, because I am not good enough, because I cannot do the thing I’m supposed to do, because I cannot be present for her.

My thoughts: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I promise I’ll be better soon. When was the last time I was better? When has it ever lasted? Maybe I’ll never be better. I’ve never done it, never beaten this thing before. Maybe I’ll always be a shitty girlfriend, shitty friend, shitty person. Why am I so defective?”

*

My mother has arrived to take me out to lunch. We haven’t seen one another in maybe six weeks. It’s been too long, and I want to see her, but I am crying my eyes out and apparently I am also dissociating and my girlfriend tells me she will send my mom home.

My mom will not be sent home. She is not the sort of person who will allow you to send her home.

She storms into my bedroom. She sees me crying, she sees the detritus of my depression all over my apartment. She sees this and she is distraught.

“Do you want to go to the hospital?” she says. I think this is hilarious, that every time a woman cries it means she needs to be hospitalized. I laugh maniacally.

When this happens it is like I’m not there. Like I’m somewhere up in the ceiling, looking down and watching, powerless. The maniacal laughing is never something I mean to do. Sometimes I can’t even remember exactly what happened until someone else tells me.

My mother tells me to cry out to God. I consider that I have spent many, many years doing this exact thing. For many years I have wondered why a just God would condemn me to a lifetime of suffering. I have spent many hours over many years searching for a dollop of evidence that a just God exists, that there is an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-loving eternal Creator out there looking after me. I consider this in a flash, and before my mother is done speaking I laugh maniacally.

I’m not there. I look — I’m sure and I’ve been told — I look demonic.

And when all this is happening, do you know how I feel? I feel guilty. Guilty that I should subject my mother to nineteen years of dissociative episodes and crying fits and assorted hospitalizations and depression-housekeeping.

I feel so guilty, like all of this is my fault, like if I could just move on like my mother wants me to, leave this behind me, like if I could just be a person like everyone wants me to, like if I could just wake up, like if I was more, like if I was better, like somehow what I am and how well I am or am not, like that is connected to how good of a person I am. Like I am a bad person because I am not healthy. Like I am a bad person because I make my mother sad. Like I am a bad person because I have not felt God’s love in a thousand years and therefore haven’t gone to any kind of house of worship for almost as long.

*

I feel guilty, all the time, and I wish someone would say, sarcastically, maybe in a movie:

“Obviously, it is your fault. It’s your fault that your father put more responsibility on your shoulders than any child should have to bear. It’s your fault you were made to be an adult before your time. It’s your fault you were abused. It’s your fault your mother was abused. It’s your fault your father died. It’s your fault you have PTSD, which is a medical condition that you obviously gave to yourself by causing yourself to be abused in the first place. It’s your fault you are depressed, seeing as you are depressed because you have a medical condition which as has already been made clear is your fault. It’s your fault you can’t move on. It’s your fault, obviously, because the first thing that comes to mind when one hears about these travesties is that it’s your fault, Sabrina.” I want this person to continue in hyperbolic fashion:

“Of course it was your fault, just like of course the Sauroids are spreading ebola in order to bring the population in line with the guidelines set forth by the Georgia Guidestones. Of course it’s your fault, just like of course Denver International Airport is full of hidden messages about the intentions of the Illuminati. Of course it’s your fault, just like original sin is Eve’s fault because she’s the one who was getting cozy with that snake. Sexual abuse is your fault just like Snow White was at fault for having an evil stepmother and not being honest with the Seven Dwarves about the peril she’d put them in, just like Cinderella was at fault for being so uppity as to want to go to a ball, just like how if Rapunzel could let down her hair, she had a way of climbing down from her tower and wasn’t really trapped there. Of course it was your fault you were abused, and your fault all these bad things happened to you afterwards, because today it is Opposite Day.”

I really want someone to say that to me in a movie, as if the idea that my abuse or my trauma or my PTSD are my fault is as absurd as the idea of Reptilians enacting mass sterilization of the populace by putting fluoride in the water.

Posted in content warning, memoir-y.

Survive because we say so

Content warning: I’m talking about abuse again today. As usual, beware of suicide, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and occasional gore. Also, rage.

The memories never fade. They are bright, blindingly so, and terrifying, and they intrude on everything.

Example: Lane Kim is being shipped off to Korea in a giant suitcase that could hold her, Rory Gilmore and everything the both of them own.

I think of my mother leaving for Korea, with a one-way ticket. I think of the kids at school who didn’t believe me when I said I’d just come from the airport, where my mom was dropped off.

I think of how my father said she would never come home unless I did unspeakable things. Unspeakable not because I can’t name them, but because I’d lose your attention if I did. You’d be too freaked out to read on.

I reserve the right to tell you exactly what he wanted from me, my father. I reserve the right to tell you in explicit detail about the BB gun and the letter pendant and the rubber mallet and all the other absurd instruments that are filed under “abuse” in my brain. I reserve the right to do it here.

But we’ll get to that. The point is, Lane Kim is fictionally being shipped off to Korea, and suddenly I am a little girl and unsure if I will ever see my mother again, or if she’s left me alone forever.

*

The first thing I learned to cook was steak. When you’re ten and suddenly in charge of the household for an unknown number of months, you have to be able to fry up a venison steak from the freezer. I thought about this last night as I ate a steak I’d cooked. I thought about that night at Smith and Wollensky. I thought about steak and the role it’s played in my life — something I like and am good at and that feels like a treat any time I have it and that as a kid I was required to cook on a low slow heat until it was grey through and through, and then I was to turn up the heat and press the meat into the pan until it was practically black on each side. Since my father died, I have always taken my meat rare. It’s one of the little privileges of being free in the world. I can eat rare steak if I want to.

*

I’m listening to a song: a new song that you, my friends, have almost certainly not heard. And while it’s rude to gloat, I will tell you that it’s a beautiful song, almost too beautiful for this world. And that’s because it’s about suicide. Which, look, I mean it isn’t explicit. It doesn’t say, “You go ahead and listen to this song, but Imma kill myself now.” It actually sounds like a beautiful sensation, the feeling this song describes. Floating away to heaven.

Thing is, and this is just a little thing I would like the world to know about me: No matter how fantastically amazing your song is, please do not send it to me in October if it is about suicide.

My father committed suicide seven days after I blew the whistle on him, which by the way I did on his 49th birthday, which by the way was Halloween. Loaded, the whole month. You can’t send me anything even remotely about suicide. Hard limit there, okay?

The reason is not that I’m afraid to think about it. It’s that sometimes it sounds so good to me. My dad committed suicide. My aunt on my mom’s side did it, too. My half-brother did it. My mother’s tried it. Why shouldn’t I? Where would I go? Would God seriously be cruel enough to condemn someone who has suffered so much in life to outer darkness?

*

I’m at Super Foodtown, which is the real name of a real grocery store that is near the subway station in my neighborhood. I’m shopping for junk food, and I clock the first Jack-o-lantern sighting of the season. It is September, because that is how early people get excited for Halloween.

Trick-or-treating was tricky as a kid. I got to do it when I was four and maybe five, but by the time I turned six Halloween was a pagan holiday and my dad actually pulled me out of school early that day. First grade. We were in Maryland, stopping off between Oklahoma and Germany. We went to see Peewee’s Big Adventure. Something about the movie and Peewee’s presentation set off my dad’s gaydar, and he went ballistic. Hauled me out of the theater and announced we were never, ever going to waste money on a modern kid’s movie ever again.

On the army base, I got to do about half the trick-or-treating and bobbing for apples. It varied from year to year based on how religious my dad was feeling, or maybe just on how much misery he felt like inflicting.

One year I started making my costume in August. In another life, one where my father didn’t die a week after his Halloween birthday, I think I would be super fabulous and in parades every year. In the Red Universe, Halloween is my doppelganger’s very favorite holiday.

Well, that year, I made a costume. I sewed the thing out of old clothes. My friend Keisha didn’t understand what it was I was trying to do. “It looks like rags,” she said. “That’s because I’m Rag Cinderella,” I said. I took the costume outside and rolled it around in dirt to add an air of authenticity.

Good lord. News flash to the educators out there: If a girl comes to school dressed as “Rag Cinderella,” you should probably keep an eye on her.

STOP.

*

My brain goes to these places without asking me if I’m interested in visiting them. It goes to them every day, multiple times a day, at least in October. The best way of dealing with it, truly, is to write it. Write the memory. Write the intrusive thought. Publish it. Read it out loud. Scream it from the rooftops. You can’t banish these thoughts. You just have to express them.

They said when it all happened that I was suffering from traumatic stress syndrome. I saw a therapist in Scarsdale for a year. She never told me what might happen, what I might become. She never told me I’d be fighting this depression forever. She never told me I’d be fighting this trauma forever.

Or maybe she did. Honestly? I can’t remember. I can’t remember a lot of things about that time without Boolean operators. To remember who I was dating I have to plug it all in, “November AND 1995 AND Boys.” And then I come away with our school’s version of a battle of the bands known as Cafe Saturnalia and realize that’s when I got a phone call from a very nice drummer — a different drummer from the one I’ve mentioned previously on this blog. This one was also a clarinetist, and in high school. I asked him how he’d gotten my phone number, because we’d just had to change our number. We’d gotten a new, unlisted one, to prevent one of my aunts from contacting us.

This is another thing that they don’t tell you: that an aunt could seem to support you to your face, but also tell your whole family you’re making it up, just like she says your cousin did. Your cousin who you were too young to know about, who you never learned what happened to her until you were both adults and you called her and you talked on the phone and you learned how very similar and sad your childhoods were.

*

You’re sitting having drinks one night and for some reason, for the first time in years, you remember the rubber mallet. Maybe it’s because earlier you were watching Rory Gilmore take her golden, glittery, feathered and spangled hammer to a Habitat for Humanity work site. This gorgeous hammer which her mother very kindly and artfully converted for her into a pink puffball.

Dude, when my dad gave me a hammer, that meant bad things were going to happen. Like I was going to have to hit body parts with it. The feeling that I might irreparably harm another human being and not even have any choice about it was the absolute worst feeling on earth. I remember this, I remember it like it is happening right now, my father standing there proffering a giant ridiculous rubber mallet that I can hardly lift.

They didn’t tell me these memories would come back to me when I watched Gilmore Girls on Netflix.

*

They said I was recovering, that they could no longer force me to continue therapy. I discontinued.

I went crazy shortly thereafter.

*

None of the Lifetime movies ever seem to go over what happens after it’s over. The end of the Lifetime movie is this, “Hooray! We got away from the abuser! Even before this black eye heals, I will get a great job and a great apartment and maybe a great boyfriend who won’t give me black eyes!”

That is not what happens.

You don’t know which way is up. You need new everything, a whole new life, but you don’t know what to prioritize. You only know that you need to feel good, instead of bad. You want chairs that you like, not chairs you fought over. You want a couch that doesn’t remind you of your father in his underpants. You want a bed that nobody raped you on, and that’s not free.

You spend a lot of money, more than you know you’re spending, because you suddenly are allowed to do things that normal people do. You go out to dinner, and you find you like it. You find you enjoy restaurants that aren’t Red Lobster. You like going to the movies with your friends.

You make your mom buy you a $700 prom dress when she probably can’t afford a $70 prom dress. You will feel guilty about these expenditures for the rest of your life.

“See? They gave you money, and you squandered it. You wasted it on a pink dress.”

*

Luke Danes has gone fishing, leaving the Lorelais without coffee and Kirk without his wallet. I remember the time when I was four or five or six — some time in Oklahoma — when my parents either went fishing or were called over by their friends who had gone fishing.

They brought home a bunch of fish in a garbage bag. They tried to empty the bag into the sink, and the fish flopped and struggled and I thought how horrible it was that if we must end their lives, they should be subjected to the flopping around first. I also thought it was very scary, that these fish were flopping around, that one might attack me and turn out to have teeth and be a piranha and eat me up.

The other thing I remember is that while the fish flopped in the sink, my parents screamed at each other at the top of their lungs. Eventually one of them went over to the kitchen cabinet and started taking down plates and throwing them on the floor. Crash. Crash. Crash.

This wasn’t the only time plates were thrown in my home. There were a lot of times. But fishing makes me think of fish and fresh-caught fish, and fresh-caught fish make me think of the first time I ever saw them, and that makes me think about the plates and the shouting. It makes me remember me, crouched on the floor in the hallway even though I was supposed to be in my room, listening to make sure it was only plates crashing on the floor and not into the walls. To make sure it was only shouting and not hitting. To make sure I didn’t have to go in there and separate them somehow.

*

They tell you, when you get to the therapy place, and maybe even when you’re at the courthouse applying for the Order of Protection, and maybe even as early as the moment you get to Grand Central and start calling your friends to warn them your psychopathic father is on the loose, they tell you this: You are a survivor. You are not a victim. A victim is a person who stays. You have left. You are a survivor; you have survived.

Later, they say that they hope you will “thrive.” They say you are thriving, even when you’re not. They say you’re “strong,” even if that just means you are dissociative and focused on ridiculous things like how much you can get away with charging for brownies at Latin Club bake sales so you can go on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art again this year. They say you are “brave,” even if brave just means that you thought you were going to die, maybe at your own hand, if you stayed for even one more day, and so you had to find a way out. You had to leave, not because you were brave, but because you were living in hell.

What it means when they tell you that you are strong and brave and resilient is this: You are not my responsibility. I am not culpable. Society has done what it is supposed to do, which is we have said the minimum decent number of nice things to you.

Nobody brings a casserole over when your father kills himself after abusing you for sixteen years, and your mother for eighteen.

That’s not true: A few people do show up, but hardly the whole town. The ones you can depend on are, as is generally the case with human nature, the ones you could depend on before catastrophe struck.

But even they get sick of your shit eventually. Everyone does.

Your aunt, the one you do speak to, tells you that you need to forgive. You think there is a lot she doesn’t know about rubber mallets and broomsticks and pulley systems that if she did know she probably wouldn’t talk about forgiveness. But you understand what she means. She wants you to “move on.” This is most likely because she wants you to stop asking uncomfortable questions. Years later, after she tells you that having children might make you less selfish (because of how crazy=selfish), you realize you are never going to stop asking uncomfortable questions and she is never going to answer them honestly, and so you probably can’t ever have a real relationship.

Your best friend, one of them, that is, because you’re not a total loser, tells you when you ask her about high school that at some point, “You just gave up.” Maybe if she knew about heating golden letter pendants over the gas flame on the stove, maybe if she knew about the sizzling popping sound of hot metal on flesh, maybe she wouldn’t have said you gave up, just that you needed some rest.

She also might have said once that all the bad things that have happened to you could have happened because of something you did in a past life. You wish you could explain that nothing in the world makes it okay-in-this-life that you had to store jars of your own urine under the sink in your bathroom. But you would never say these things to her, because she is your best friend and you don’t want to traumatize her by sharing your traumatic memories.

They tell you that you are a survivor. If you don’t thrive, that’s because you didn’t work hard enough, or maybe you were defective from the beginning. Maybe it was all your fault after all. Maybe you deserved it.

You are a survivor, they say. Now survive.

They don’t tell you how to do all the basic things you don’t know how to do, like get an education or an apartment or a job, like how to keep a budget, how to develop appropriate personal boundaries. Nobody even bothers to encourage you to sue the pants off anyone. Not in 1995, they don’t.

Survive, they say. Survive because we say so.

*

Richard Gilmore sees Rory’s shrine to Harvard. I think about the first time I went to Harvard, for a Junior State conference in 1996. At the Kennedy School of Government! Which, of course, I was planning to attend one day.

I remember that I wanted Georgetown. I wanted Harvard. I wanted Yale. I wanted to go Ivy.

But my grades weren’t at the top of my class. These weren’t just “reach” schools — they were fantasy schools, or so I was told by more than one person. They weren’t for me, you see. They were for students who had straight As and who were on the tennis team. They were for students better than me. People better than me.

When you’re abused and then you have no money, you’re in this amazingly lucky position where you can apply to like any school and each application costs only ten dollars. It is amazing.

Nobody said, though, “Hey Sabrina. You know, you’re probably going to need more resources than other students. Chances are, you will lose your marbles soon. Not because there is anything wrong with you, but because what happens to people to whom bad things have been done repeatedly over a course of many years is that eventually the weight of it all settles on their shoulders and they begin to feel the pain they bottled up for so long, and there is a very great chance that pain will eventually hit you. So you probably want to apply to the richest schools with the best resources, the most exclusive ones, the ones where you’ll have incredible guidance and really good free therapy. There’s this lady at Harvard named Judith Herman — she is like the world’s foremost expert on all this stuff. You should write her a letter.”

Nobody said that, maybe because I had a very bad habit of cutting class which led to my being rejected from the National Honor Society in spite of the fact that my grades, community service and extracurriculars all qualified me.

If I could go back in the time machine, one thing I would definitely tell sixteen-year-old me is this: “Don’t settle for some spoiled brat Southern-fried fratkid cokehead school where most of your classmates will be like your high school nemeses on steroids.

“You can NOT afford to attend such a school,” I would say. “They don’t have the resources or the attention to fucking detail that you’re going to need in an institution of higher learning. Think semi-local — somewhere where you can visit home once a month or so, or where your mom can show up at your deathbed if you ever come down with meningitis.”

The other thing I would say is, “To hell with other kids applying to schools like Harvard and what it would say if you got in and some rich bitch with a thousand tutors didn’t. Screw that oligarchic class tomfoolery. You don’t need to listen to it, and in fact if you do listen to it you will be doing yourself a massive disservice. Like, the worst choice you could ever make, you would be making.

“You deserve the best. You deserve the best of everything. You want to go to Harvard, kid? APPLY. There, and to Georgetown, and to every school you ever heard of but thought you weren’t good enough for. APPLY.”

“News flash: If you’re a sixteen-year-old Republican with multiple years of experience working on political campaigns, AND you are a half-Asian Army brat preacher’s kid, AND you were abused AND you are still walking and talking? You deserve Harvard. You deserve a parade. You won’t ever get that parade, but you deserve it so very much. Man, if I could go back in time I would throw you a parade, Little Me, I would throw you the best parade in the history of the world.

“If they want you to survive so badly, they MUST give you the tools you are going to need to survive. You will need an education, you will need medical attention, you will need connections up the wazoo. Other kids might want these things, but you are going to need them.”

And then I would tell myself to take what I needed, by any legal means necessary. Take it, because ain’t nobody gonna give it to you.

And finally, I would have said, “Speak up. If anyone has ever had something important about which to address the student population, it’s you. Speak up. Don’t listen to others who caution you to keep your mouth shut so as to not attract the wrong kind of attention. Speak as loudly and clearly as you can. Speak until your tongue falls out of your mouth. Speak.”

*

An old high school friend has commented that my dad was an asshole. It’s true. He was. I mean, look, there were nice things about him. It took me a very long time, but eventually I was able to come up with some of them. He liked to read, and no reading material was ever off-limits in our house. I was even allowed to read those trashy romance novels with Fabio on the cover, as long as I put them away before anyone from church came over.

Anyway, this comment was meant in earnest and was taken kindly, in the way it was meant. But it reminds me of another person who said my dad was an asshole, said it in a dismissive way.

My first mentor, a political candidate who never seemed to win and eventually bought a chain of newspapers in order to position himself better in the community, was driving me somewhere one day in his Eddie Bauer Edition Ford Explorer. I’d been sick a lot recently, which was unusual for me. My mentor wanted to know how sick I was, and why I was sick, and I told him that basically it was because of my dad. I didn’t use the word PTSD because I didn’t know it yet. I knew I was sick, sick enough that I was seeing a therapist and psychiatrist of my own volition. It was my own idea, even.

I told him it went back to my dad, and my mentor, he said, “Your father was an asshole, but he’s dead.”

Yes, he is dead. That means that the things he did for us, the necessary bits like providing income and shelter and navigating bureaucracies which neither my mother nor I understood — by being dead he could no longer provide any of that stuff. Nor could he provide explanations, nor could he be prosecuted in a court of law, nor could … yes, my father died. Everyone thought that was a good thing. In most ways, I thought it was a good thing.

But he left us with nothing. Nothing but thousands of dollars in credit card debt on joint cards he’d opened without ever even informing my mother. Nothing but a house full of junk we couldn’t stand to look at. Nothing but a bedroom I could never sleep in again.

Oh, and just to be extra creepy, also a recurring delivery of contact lenses for me, with a piece of printed tape across the box that said “DAD” repeatedly. I still wonder how he got the contact lens company to do that “DAD” tape.

He left me with nothing but nightmares and flashbacks and eventually hallucinations of him on the street and on the train and in the middle of tender moments with my very nice boyfriend: him returned to kill me, him returned to force me back into a cage.

So my mentor dismissed this dad nonsense as useless dwelling on the past, but the truth was, all those things that were happening to me afterwards were every bit as real as all the terrible things that happened during.

Abuse hurts. It doesn’t stop hurting just because the abuse stops. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generations, you know.

After that thing in the Eddie Bauer SUV, I kind of ditched said mentor. He might have also ditched me as well, because I wouldn’t tell him just how bad things were and apparently he thought maybe the degree of sickness I was suffering was like a mild headache — he actually asked me that.

It is nothing like a mild headache, old friend. It is more like a non-stop wish that the earth would open and swallow you up so that you could finally get some rest. It is rage and sadness and terror, and it doesn’t go away, because if you are threatened for sixteen years by this kind of stuff you come to expect the threats.

I wish I would have told you then, but I thought it was inappropriate to talk about the broomsticks and the letter pendant and the pulley system and the rubber mallet and the BB gun and the hallucinations and the fact that any little noise at night would terrify me and the inability to sleep and the need to sleep forever and … I was a mess. A much bigger mess than you ever knew, than I could ever tell you.

I wanted your respect, not your pity.

Now I demand both.

*

You survive because we say so.

No therapist or psychiatrist or friend or lover or relative or parent has ever even considered that I might be better off were this suffering to end permanently. They want me here, for some reason. Everyone does, even that one professor from college who chided me for being covered in cat hair last time we had lunch. (My elder cat is white. My clothes are black. I live with it; so can you.)

You survive because we say so, but we aren’t going to give you the tools to help you survive. We’ll give you shitty health insurance that doesn’t cover, like, healthcare of any sort. We’ll insult you all through the process of applying for said coverage. We’ll force you into bankruptcy with medical debt that you never asked for. We’ll act like you’re misbehaving when you have to leave the office at 5 p.m. to go see your therapist. When your depression continues longer than we want it to, we’ll treat you like you’re a misfit, a no-good-nik.

But above all, young grasshopper: survive. Survive though we won’t help you. Survive though we’ll blame you for everything bad that happens to you. Survive though it hurts, survive though you feel as if you’re dying, survive when you are alone watching The Price is Right on a cushion on the floor. Survive when your world has been blown to smithereens and you have nothing left to hope for. Survive, not because we care, not because we’re there for you. Survive because it will make us feel better about ourselves. Survive because we say so.

***

Posted in content warning, memoir-y. Tagged with , .

The silent years

I want you all to know that I never stopped writing. There have been times when I didn’t write every day, but there has never been a time when I didn’t write every week. There has never been a time when I stopped speaking.

I just stopped doing it aloud.

At first I logic-magicked myself into thinking that it was because I wanted everything I wrote on the internet to be perfect, pristine, the very best representation of what I had to offer. I had always been told I talked too much. I thought I saw myself becoming that ignorant commenter on the internet, the one who says something stupid and accidentally racist or sexist or ableist or some other -ist.

But the truth is, I didn’t want anyone to know what had happened to me, and there was no way to write about my life without writing about the horrors I was facing. And I didn’t want anyone to judge me, or pity me, or notice me for the wrong reasons.

My friend J told me to rise like a phoenix from the ashes, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have any spark left.

An editor and mentor told me when I was laid off from his publication that he fully expected me to be as famous as JK Rowling one day. And back then, so did I. So did my other editor-mentor, and my colleagues. What came most naturally to me — making jokes about my life and the world around me — was apparently a highly valued skill.

The thing is, then I went to a place in my life that I could only make fun of in the most macabre ways. My depression was so deep and so dark that all my jokes were sex abuse zingers. And while there is a place for those dark, angry, sorrowful sorts of jokes … I didn’t think, at least not then, that it was the internet.

I also didn’t think the internet was the right place to talk about being disabled, being depressed, being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, being someone who peaked at twenty-six, being someone who doesn’t leave the house very often, being someone who spent her days playing online canasta with the elderly or having hours-long phone hangouts with hospital friends. I didn’t think the internet was the place to talk about the hospital, or the fact that I was in there three separate times, or how awful and traumatic each of those hospitalizations was. I didn’t think the internet was the place to say I felt suicidal pretty much all the time. I didn’t think the internet was the place to say I was having a hard time showering and feeding myself. I didn’t think the internet was the place to say I was trapped in a fog, that I was living a ghost life, that I was beginning to cease to exist.

I didn’t want people on Facebook or Twitter to know that my life hadn’t gone as planned. Bad enough that I had to drop out of Tulane because my student loans got borked. Bad enough that I went full-on crazy then, and for more than a year was in therapy four days a week. Bad enough that when I began to work again, it wasn’t on a political campaign like it was from ages 13 to 18, or in media like my jobs from ages 17 to 21, but as a temp receptionist. Bad enough how long it took me to claw my way back into journalism. Incomprehensible that I should have ruined my chances at success by losing my mind yet again.

Some things are private, we say. Some things are hard to talk about. I avoid parties because I don’t have a good comeback to the very basic question, “So what’s new with you?” Because what’s new is that I’m re-watching Gilmore Girls or that I realized there is tuna listed as an ingredient in a cat food I was pretty excited about. Or what’s new is that now that it’s October, I’m having nightmares again pretty much every night. Only you don’t want to hear about that, do you?

The thing is, this crazy brain is the brain that I’ve got. And this terrible story of my life is the story of my goddamn life. And I can’t go around pretending to be some alluring mysterious manic pixie dream girl for the rest of my life, because I have never been any of those things. Except for manic. Well, hypo-manic, on the wrong medication.

I’m tired of not wanting to talk about things because I’m afraid of how people will respond. Or fail to respond. Because I don’t want to make someone’s party banter more awkward than usual.

Problem: Usually when I do decide it’s time to speak up, mostly everyone else stays silent. When I reach out, there’s often no response. It’s worse than silence. It feels more like rejection. It feels like, “Yeah, we all knew you were a freak all along. Now that you’ve told us for sure that you’re a freak, we’re just not going to talk to you any more.”

So I went silent. I stayed silent for about seven years, almost. I perfected a way of sitting perfectly still, all day long, not even fidgeting. I found a way of not talking to people at all, since I can’t talk about the hard stuff. The way I found was the way that countless women before me have found to be most successful. Silence works. If you don’t tell anyone about your abusive father, no one accuses you of being crazy or making it up. No one has a chance to just … not respond. Because you didn’t say anything.

I decided when I was sixteen that I was done with silence, but somehow it seeped back in, and one day I found myself watching The Price is Right on a cushion on the floor. No friends to call even if I wanted to.

Even back then I knew that what kills us is silence. What makes our world shrink down to the size of a computer screen is silence.

But it was too hard to speak up, to stand up for myself again. I’ve been through the song and dance routine enough times that I thought I knew how it ended.

The other day, I read my previous entry out loud to my therapist, the way we used to do things when I was twenty-one. And she was delighted. She told me I was a talented writer, that I ought to submit the piece somewhere or maybe show it to an agent.

She asked me what would happen if I opened myself up to the possibility that people would write to me, reach out to me, that they would be moved by what I had said, that they might care.

And I said I couldn’t really do that. I said people have proven time and again that they are way too busy with their own lives, way too deep in battle with their own demons to pay attention to mine. People are just people, I said. They don’t want to care about the hard stuff, they don’t want to hear about it, and they definitely don’t want to talk about it.

My therapist said I should try it. Opening up, I mean. She said I should let people be nice to me. She said I should let them restore some of my faith in humanity.

I decided, as I left her office, to try.

And then no one said anything. No one reached out. At least not that night.

It’s hard not to be angry when you start to speak again and everyone pretends you didn’t say anything. It’s hard to keep thinking humans might be decent after all, that we might care for one another, that there might be mercy and kindness and love and patience all waiting out there for me.

No matter how angry all of this makes me, no matter how hard folks ignore me, this time I’m not going to shut up. Not this time.

I’m just getting started.

Update: People do care. They just need time, and they need space, and they need to know that the internet IS an appropriate place to talk about these things. Some of you do care, and every time one of you says so, it means everything. If you’re here, thank you. I promise I’ll keep talking.

Posted in content warning, memoir-y.

Open Letters to Random People: Lindsay and the Drummer

Warning: This entry contains explicit content. You have been warned.

Dear Lindsay,

I’m sorry that I told you over instant messenger the summer after senior year that I was dating a drummer. I wasn’t. I thought I was being clever.

What I was doing is, I was sending up a floater balloon. I needed to know if you would really keep a secret, or I thought I did, because I hadn’t told folks at school about my childhood and I knew you and I couldn’t be close friends unless I shared my story with you. I wanted to be friends with you. I figured I’d tell you the thing about the drummer, and if that stayed quiet for a day or so, I’d be able to trust you about the other stuff and come clean about the little joke I’d played on you.

Only you didn’t stay quiet, did you, Lindsay? No, you went out and repeated that I was like, totally dating some drummer. Which I was not. I had a crush on him, but he’d had a girlfriend for like four years by the time I met him. I had no chance in hell of ever dating that drummer.

Thing is, I wanted to come clean right away, but I got a phone call the very next day, “OMG ARE YOU DATING THAT DRUMMER?” and then I had to keep lying, because how do you even come clean about something like that once the entire world knows??? You can’t. It’s impossible.

That lie I told has haunted me until this very day. Today I’m coming clean. Lindsay, you were popular and pretty and seemed nice and smart and funny, and I liked you, and I wanted to hang out with you, but I didn’t trust you to keep a secret.

If I could go in the time machine, I’d probably re-do high school from the moment my father died. I’d be much more vocal. I’d tell people what had happened. I’d tell people it wasn’t just some random suicide. I’d tell people that basically, I killed my father.

See, he put his life in my hands for the first time when I was six, when he said he was going to drive his car off a bridge or something. My grandmother was holding the phone cradle, and my cousin was sitting on the floor on the other side of her, and my mom had gone off somewhere … and I begged, pleaded. Don’t kill yourself, I said. Mommy will come home.

The second time, I was eight or nine. My parents were getting divorced, because on New Year’s Day I had run for the MPs (military police) when my father was beating my mom worse than he’d ever done before. So anyway, I was very happy thinking I was going to live with my mom, probably in Korea, and excited that I would get to know my other grandmother and aunts and uncles and cousins. But then my dad came and took me away, and he showed me his insulin, which he had recently been prescribed for diabetes, and explained to me that he would kill himself if I did not convince my mother to get back together with him. I didn’t want her to get back together with him, you understand. But I couldn’t take a life.

So anyway, I pretended to be Not Speaking to my mother in the crosswalk outside school, and then in school I cried all day long. And then my father picked me up, and next thing I knew we were a family again.

We headed off to Mississippi, where my father began studying for the ministry. He’d already been “lay-preaching” for years, in little Baptist congregations on army bases. So this was no big surprise, especially as he wasn’t going to be promoted and had decided instead to retire from the military after his twenty years were up.

Right. So I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, Lindsay, other than I don’t expect you to keep it a secret any more and I really feel bad about lying to you. But by the time my dad killed himself when we were sixteen, he had a whole new reason. Which was that he would do it if I told anyone about the sexual abuse he’d been inflicting upon me since I was ten.

I had protected the secret extremely well until exactly one week before he died. Seriously, our neighbors were always calling the cops on my dad, because of how my mom would scream, “You’re killing me” whenever my dad was killing her. So I had a lot of experience in telling the cops that everything was fine and to please go away now. This is the kind of thing you do when your childhood is like mine was. Why do you think I was so good at being officious and bossy in Model Congress?

Anyway, my dad was abusive. On Halloween in 1995, I told my guidance counselor. I didn’t even do that on purpose, but I did ask to be emancipated. The next day my mom and I left. Remember how I was absent from school the whole week before my dad died, and then the day I returned that’s when he died? Yeah, well in that week my mom and I left, and we went to family, and we went to the police, and we met with our congregation, and we went to get an Order of Protection from family court.

I met with the ADA. He said that because of the nature of the abuse, even though newspapers were forbidden from printing the victim’s name without her consent, it would be impossible to hide from the media. I said bring it on. I wanted that trial more than anything in the world. And I was lucky, because I had something most girls did not: physical evidence.

Well, the day that I came back to school, November 7, I lasted until just after band. I’d had to meet the head of security and show him the court order, and it was all very frightening to me. I was convinced my dad would show up at the school and probably kill me or maybe other people.

The cops had gone with my mom to the house that day. They went both to look for the physical evidence, which they found exactly where I said it would be, and because my mom wanted them there in case my dad was at home. But they couldn’t get upstairs, because the door was dead-bolted.

We never used that lock because we didn’t have a key for it. The police called the landlord — an elder in our church— who did have the key. They went in, and there was my father’s dead body lying on my bedroom floor.

It’s not like I didn’t try to stop it. One night, a church deacon and family friend had taken my mom and me out to Smith and Wollensky for filet mignon, to try and cheer us up some, I guess. I spent the evening going back and forth to the pay phone, calling the police department. I first asked them to perform a welfare check, and then I called and talked to them after said check had been performed. The lady I spoke to told me the police had visited and that the person who was in the house said he was just fine.

I hadn’t told the police by this point that he was also an abusive sociopath, by the way. This was a thing I wanted to do from the start, but which my mom needed some time to come around to. The point is, I felt like by sending the cops to do the welfare check, maybe I reminded my dad of his little promise to me. Like maybe he thought, “Oh, shit! That’s right! I’m supposed to commit suicide now!”

I know that’s not how it went down. How could it be? I was a kid. My father’s life should never have been in my hands. And I should never have had to make the choice of who survived. And at the end of the day, he was the one who killed himself. On my bedroom floor. In my one safe space in the world.

Back to where I left off on November 7: I called home after band. I had really bad cramps, I was terrified, and I just could not handle any more school that day.

The band room was emptying out because our teacher had a departmental meeting. He only allowed me to use the phone in his office after insisting I must close the door behind me and not let anyone into the room.

I called home and said, “Mom, I don’t feel well. I need to come home.” And she said, “You can’t come home, your father is here.” And I said, “Well, there’s an Order of Protection; he can’t be there. Tell the police to arrest him. I am coming home.” And she said, “Your father is dead.”

And then I missed a bunch more school after that.

I didn’t ever get my day in court.

So anyway, that’s the story I wanted to tell you all those years ago, the summer after high school. It’s not a nice story, it’s not fun, but it’s the one that I felt like I needed to share with you in order for our friendship to be authentic and deeper than, “What are you wearing to Clarke Model Congress? Is it black pants? I’m wearing black pants.”

I’m really sorry again about the lying. You can see why I wanted to make sure I could trust you, though, right? Obviously lying to you was the wrong way to figure out if I could trust you.

So anyway, Linds, I’m really sorry. I’m sorry also that I disappeared and never talked to you after that. I was online, but I blocked you from seeing me because I didn’t know how to tell you I’d lied about the drummer. Especially after it spread all around the way it did. And since I couldn’t tell you the other thing … well. That’s why I disappeared, because I’d told the biggest most ridiculous whopper on earth. It was stupid, and wrong, and I hope you weren’t hurt by my actions.

I hope the years have treated you well. Maybe one day we can reconnect, and I promise I won’t lie about who I’m dating.

Best,

Sabrina

——

Dear Drummer,

The summer after high school I told a girl from my class that I was dating you. I only told her that because I was trying to figure out if I could trust her to keep a really big secret, and because I knew she didn’t know you. And because I was planning on taking it back the next day.

Only she told the secret! She told it before I could take it back!

And then I couldn’t really do anything. High school was over, I wasn’t seeing those kids around anywhere, and I certainly wasn’t going to tell Lindsay my real secret after she’d spread the fake one around.

I imagine this got back to you eventually, and I’m really sorry I involved you in my lie. I did it because I figured no one would ever find out, and I thought it was sort of funny, and you were really cute, and if I was going to make up a boyfriend I wanted to at least make up one who was going to make me look good. Hey, drummers with college degrees don’t grow on trees, you know.

Anyway, as you know you are one of my favorite drummers of all time. And your band is one of my favorite bands of all time. I promise that I will never again tell anyone I am dating you, particularly considering they wouldn’t believe me now on account of you being married with oodles of adorable children.

Much love forever always,
Superfan

Posted in content warning, memoir-y, OLtRP.