In This Life, You Sometimes Get What You Don't Deserve.

Chapter 5.

If monsters and molesters were easy to pick out in a crowd…it’s not a sentence even worth finishing. Life experience helps cultivate some kind of awareness when encountering a person with less than noble intent. I admire that some people are just born with the ability to sense a slant. It’s like a superpower, and I wish I had it. I believe it would have saved me from writing this shit.

When I stopped sleeping I started thinking what my life would have been if I understood what was behind the flattery I got as a twelve year old from a twenty year old guy. I was immature, I had zero experience, and no clue why this older guy paid so much attention to me. I mean, seriously, no twelve year-old should need a superpower to avoid a predator, but that didn’t stop me from trying to figure out how I could go back in time to fix that.

And there was another superpower I really wanted: time travel. When the flashbacks began, the insomnia got worse, so night after night I tried to figure out a way to make my mind stop looping into those bad scenarios. I began to believe that bringing back the years I blocked out, things I hated to think about because those memories-even the good ones-were tied up in terrible things. I began trying to remember events to the specific day because I wanted to change what happened so I could make counterfactuals, and I half believed if I remembered the exact date to the moment, I could relive my life-and I gladly would have. A total do-ver without all the shit. Night after night I stayed with creating an alternate reality until it hit me: going back in time would completely erase the existence of my oldest son.

That realization destroyed the weird peace of mind I generated to live with this internal panic I felt all the time. When I understood what I was doing, it felt like a concrete block dropped through the ceiling onto my chest. I could not breathe, didn’t deserve to breathe for thinking that. It brought me to the conclusion there was no way out of what happened.

All I had really succeeded in doing during all those sleepless nights was scrape up years and years of painful memories. I managed to bring up things I buried deep because they were so wrong, so disturbing, and those memories put me in an incredibly lonely cave of depression that, for a long time, felt like I would never be able to leave because I really wasn’t strong. I didn’t get out. Whatever new life I thought I had was a joke because I was back in a garbage pile of flashbacks; terrible memories, unwanted thoughts. After smothering those things until I thought I forgot, they came back. And it felt worse than I remembered. It was rock bottom.

In This Life, You Sometimes Get What You Don’t Deserve.

Chapter 3.

Small town culture is good and bad. Everyone knows everyone else. If you’re new, you don’t know the history, you don’t know the stories. A big family moves in, the entire town knows about it. There is a long period of being a new kid. It can make a new kid more interesting than they really are. It took me a while to understand that.

Our family moved at the start of summer. None of us kids wanted to go. We had to leave all we knew, we believed it meant we had to start over, we would be nobodies for a long summer. It was nothing like that. People were really friendly, there was a lot going on. The town had a huge town pool, a great summer rec program, and every kid went. Turned out we didn’t spend that first summer in lonely isolation with each other until the start of the new school year, we fit right in.

I was never a standout. I am the middle child of five kids, I’d have to be exceptional, and I wasn’t. I liked being in the middle. I could hang with my two older sisters, or play with my younger sister and brother, or be on my own. I liked to blend in, to disappear. I read a lot. My favorite books were by Roald Dahl, Laura Ingalls Wilder, E.B. White, Fred Gipson. I imagined I was in those books, I lived in the wild, on prairies, on farms, with talking animals and insects. I knew I was too old to think like that, so I spent a lot of time in my head.

I wasn’t looking for anything the night I went to the basketball courts in the summer of 1976. I was 12. My two older sisters played in the night league, all five of us went because we always travelled in a pack. I wasn’t looking to be special for anyone, not a twenty year old guy who was a referee for the early basketball games, then played in the loud, ferocious games that went on until the lights shut off at ten.

He was instantly overfamiliar, and gave me a nickname. It was strange, the feeling that he knew of me although I had no idea who he was, almost confounding to be called out by this older guy who was like a king on the court, and around the town, and somehow he knew about me. It turned out our families overlapped-he had younger sisters who were my older sisters’ ages.

After that, it felt like he was everywhere I was. Everyone knew him, he was a sports hero, a legend in basketball and baseball. He worked for summer rec, so he was at the pool, he refereed the basketball games, and it was a small town, so I’d see him drive by when I was on my bike. After that first basketball game, he offered to teach me how to shoot a basket, and offered rides when I was walking. Sometimes I’d be with friends, sometimes I’d be on my own.

In This Life, You Sometimes Get What You Don’t Deserve.

Chapter 2.

I have kept some kind of journal since I was eight. My first one was a birthday present: pink, with a tiny lock and key, “Dear Diary” written in gold script on the cover. I loved it, so fancy! I lost the key, and that was the end of the Ur “Dear Diary”. However, it instilled my habit of writing and drawing in notebooks. I don’t remember feeling a need to hide anything I wrote until I turned fifteen when I started writing about things that shouldn’t be discovered. I kept those journals with me, or hid them where I hoped they wouldn’t be found.

There are boxes of my notebooks in our basement, journals from 1989 on, filled with my excessive self-scrutiny. I don’t look at them, or re-read much. For the most part, I’m not as interesting as I think I am. There are occasional time gaps of weeks to months in those entries because I don’t write when I am really depressed, and I don’t want to be reminded of bad times. Months can go by, then I’m Back! with little mention of what kept me away. “Rough patch…” was the start of an entry after a long interval in 2013-2014. The collection is not complete, though. Those from when I was fifteen to twenty two are long gone. I was told they were thrown away.

January 9, 2019. I started a new journal before the old one was filled–a symbolic move hoping a new one would give me a new perspective. It did not work. My retreat from writing had whittled down to random guilt-ridden rants about wasting my time, shame that I wasn’t living the dream as a novelist. A perfect example was my 1/9/19 Subject: Back to Journaling–one long, run-on sentence of self rebuke. Happy fucking new year.

January and February, 2019. Six entries in the new journal, three references to what I called white shocks that feel like flashbacks which caused physical pain, mostly in my chest, and really upsetting. Feb. 21, 2019. …I don’t want to write about this shit. I’m so done with it, it’s over. It’s been over for almost 30 years, no almost 40 years, Holy fucking shit. On Feb. 24, 2019 I made a list of things I was thinking on a Sunday morning. The list ended up with 14 things, starting with with to-do, then should-do, then, completely out of the blue: 13. I was sexually, physically & emotionally abused from age 12 or 13. It’s hard to get my mind around that. It does affect me, especially with intimacy… 14. Ultimately I believe I am stronger than #13.

Feb. 26, 2019 Intrusive thoughts. I have that incredible crushing feeling-more and more lately…it goes so far back. I haven’t thought of this stuff for years…I wish I could have known-and gotten away-if I could go back to one particular day to change things…to what started everything. I was 13…. There is part of me that is dead inside when I think of it. No. I feel sick-I feel scared, alone. I can’t talk. It was wrong. But I’m strong. I can hide things, so that is that…. except when the news hits with stories about teachers. I’m so sure he must be shitting his pants every time a creepy molester story hits, but I know that’s wrong. I am the one that is lost and crap my proverbial pants over this. HE has never seen it as anything but what he could do. So I either move on or do something about it. And seeing the shit that happens to people who try to do something about this kind of abuse, I need to move on.

That would be the last entry in the journal for months.

In This Life, You Sometimes Get What You Don’t Deserve.

Chapter 1.

One year ago I launched into an entirely different career. One with no financial guarantees or security. I was going to write. I left my secure but stressful job as a nurse, twenty five years at the bedside seriously burned me out. I wanted to write. I had made something a name by getting published in a few independent anthologies.My goal was to finish and publish a novel that I was working on without the stress, anxiety and distraction of working at the hospital.

I had the full support of my husband who has always believed in me. Nearly thirty years together, he has been my greatest champion. He has always seen far more in me than I believe in myself from the day we met. I was a single mother, he was just a year out of college and beginning his career in engineering. We have made a good life together, I knew it was risking financial security by cutting my income for writing. He did not see it that way, we could manage. I was free to write.

I made a solid plan. I had a rough draft, and outlines for two more novels. I would start on New Year’s Day 2019 with revision. My goal was to finish by March 2019, then start querying. I had a list of publishers, and my written query letter. I was going to write for a few hours early in the morning, break to do real life things like walk dogs, clean, laundry, exercise, cook; revise in the afternoon. And it all went to shit.

I did not write a single word. I got nothing-I mean NOTHING done. My wide open day was a summons to go on the internet at dawn, and not come up for air until it got dark. I had to take small breaks to walk dogs, but otherwise, I was all in on social media, infotainment/news, political platforms, and celebrity scandal. Time just melted away. January became February. Hours and hours gone. Gone. No writing, just me and the internet. I followed whatever my feeds on Facebook and Twitter fed me. Buzzfeed, Slate, Huffpost, Atlantic Monthly, and my personal black hole of brain squandering, The Daily Mail.

It wasn’t good. I knew it. As soon as I got up, I’d log on and jump in. My brain was mush, and before January was out, my body was mush too. I gained ten pounds because I added a couple of beers as a way of finishing off my busy day of internet surfing; alcohol eased the guilt of not actually doing anything day after day. I destroyed my thought process in places that wrecked intentions, ideas and my ability to write.

February. I was spending more time on bad politics, mass shootings, and stories about power and abuse. I tried to rationalize this on 1. how could I focus on my writing in this world of imbalances? and 2. I had all the time in the world to write my novel. The January plan became a loose and open-ended guideline. Replaced by my new routine, which was crap. I began with topics that outraged me; stories that framed my personal wrath against everything I found wrong in the world, then off to shout about it on Twitter. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. I was a lunatic. Thank God I have a small following that put up with (or more likely) ignored me. I have no idea what I was trying to accomplish but believed I was doing something. In reality, was I was losing days, falling down dark rabbit holes, and drinking way too much.

At the end of February, 2019, we began the huge project of remodeling our kitchen. This had been years in planning and saving, and we were finally doing it. It was all very exciting until the actual demolition. It turned out the literal gut of the most essential room in our house brought on a physical and mental gut in me. I fell apart.

In This Life, You Sometimes Get What You Don’t Deserve.

Prologue.

#MeToo woke me up. The movement that made the world aware of rampant prevalence of sexual assault and abuse. It felt empowering, like there could be justice. People, mostly women, were speaking out without the fear, shame, humiliation, or being called a liar. It broke the silence. It broke the degradation. It broke something in me.

I remember my amazement because, for the first time in my life, some things shifted. Men who raped, assaulted, subjugated, committed physical, emotional and sexual violence because they had power to do so might to have to answer for their actions. #MeToo was a strong voice, and a platform for mostly women-especially young and vulnerable women.

I remember watching it explode on Twitter on October 15, 2017. The stories about Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nassar, Kevin Spacey, Ray Moore, Charlie Rose, James Levine, Roger Ailes, and of course, Donald Trump. Those stories had been paraded out as lies, slander, or ancient irrelevant history (if they made the news at all). Often reported with the underlying conviction that accusers are liars, gold diggers, attention seekers, unbalanced or spurned lovers bent on revenge. But what happened that day was completely different. Story after story, the sheer numbers were staggering, and the villains were not the victims. Unleashing #MeToo fractured an impenetrable barricade that protected abusers.

I remember scrolling through my Twitter, astonished. Actors, powerful women, successful women were, with one shattering tweet after another, telling the worst moment in their lives followed by #MeToo. I wasn’t alone. It wasn’t about shame and hiding. Their revelations gave me space and permission to look back, to remember, to dig deep and finally face what was done to me. 

It has been awful. It has been wretched. It has been so sad. It almost broke me. I do not know now how I went through it back then. I used to think it happened because I was weak, but I think I understand now how strong I was, how strong I had to be. 

#MeToo

I Got You Good, Bad Billy

 It was a book lauch party at a new brewery in Salem, Massachusetts, the celebration of an anthology of ghost stories on Halloween, and my story was in it. I wrote a tale about the revenge of eighteenth century drowned witches. 

Because we were in the heart and soul of Halloween–Salem in October, it was also a costume party. I really got into it. I wore a long black dress with a black satin belt, black lace gloves, and a long gray wig. I covered my face with Manic Panic Ghoul face powder, circled my eyes with black eyeshadow, and plastered jet black lipstick all over my mouth. The result was very much like a drowned witch. I made my husband dress as an eighteenth century reverend, because there was one of those in my story as well. We were very eighteenth century Salem. 

It all went south at the door because I didn’t bring my ID. It was stupid not to carry my license, but I didn’t want to ruin my look with a pocketbook. I didn’t think I needed to worry when I saw the doorman admit a group of Minions without stopping them, but as we came to the door, something felt wrong. 

The doorman watched me approach with a look of revulsion under his neon green goatee. I wasn’t sure why. Maybe I looked too weird. Maybe I was acting too happy. He stopped us from going in with, 

“Lemme see your IDs.”

While my husband dug his out, I smiled, flattered. I thought he was joking. I was over fifty, and it had been years since I had to show proof of my age. The doorman didn’t smile back, instead he gave me an I’m serious look. 

“I’m sorry but I don’t have mine. We’re not here to drink, we’re going to the book party,” 

He didn’t answer right away. He looked me over as if he found me ridiculous, and smirked. Then he narrowed his eyes, and my stomach dropped. I knew that look, I’d seen that look many times in my life. It filled me with dread because it told me that he was running the show.

“Why the hell would you come here expecting to get in without your ID?” he sneered.

“What makes you think you can just walk in my brewery without a license? You know where you are, right? You’re in Salem. In October,” 

He paused to let that sink in while a line grew behind us. Then lectured me in a louder voice for others to hear.

“Did you even think that the police can walk through any time, and if they found you without ID, they would shut me down,” his voice got louder.  “For a book party? I lose my business after sinking five hundred thousand dollars into it for a book party I don’t even know about!” He kept saying book party the same way you might say child kidnapping ring

There were a couple of things I could have done: I could have asked him to stamp my hand with NO BEER, as he was doing for the young kids of parents who came to the brewery. I could have said “You’re absolutely right,” in a very sorry tone. Either of those things might have ended the situation because I would have acknowledged that he was in power. Instead I said the one thing to really set him off.

 “But I have a story in the book.”

It was the equivalent of Do You Know Who I Am? 

“No kidding, really? Well in that case, attention please! Everyone! Make way for the author! We’ve got a VIP!” My husband started to get angry, so I told him to find the editor and host so she could vouch for me.

As soon as my husband went inside, the doorman laughed. Then he let the people behind me go in without looking at their IDs. Instead, he watched me to see if I dared to say anything. I wouldn’t. I wanted to get into that party, meet my editor, the other authors, sign books, be part of the Best Costume contest, so I said nothing. As I stood in humilation,  people filed past me. Someone whispered, “Well he’s not much fun for a guy with a green beard.” but nobody said anything.

My editor/hostess showed up with my husband, and the doorman turned on her as if she and I orchestrated a grand and evil plan to cause trouble at the brewery. Instead of clearing things up to get me in, she ended up apologizing profusely for the confusion. That was my introduction to the first person to publish one of my stories…by getting chewed out at her book launch on my behalf. 

By that time I knew this guy wasn’t letting me in without my ID.

“You go inside,” I told my husband. I tried to sound calm and perfectly fine with the situation, “I’ll be right back.” I got the Are you sure? look. He would have driven back and forth for me, but we had invited friends and family to this party, they were inside wondering what was going on. My husband could go, but I would still be stuck outside. I tried to smile, which was lame, and came off as a little horrifying, but I wanted to put on a good show. As I turned to leave, a young couple wearing red plastic Devo hats came to the door and got waved right in. 

I cried most of the drive home because I was so angry. I missed the signals, and I used to be very good at picking up on those signals. 

I knew exactly the kind of person I was dealing with. In what felt like another life because I was so young at the time, I had spent years with someone who always made sure I knew my place. Someone who made sure I knew he was in control. I had years of trying to avoid dangerous moods, of trying to change moods so bad things wouldn’t happen to me. It never worked. I always paid. I managed to get out of that life, to get away from that person, but I never forgot it. 

It was quiet when I finally made it back. There was no line to buffer me as I walked down the alley. The doorman sat on a tall chair near the entrance and watched me approach. I thought, Stay calm, say as little as possible,be polite and I handed him my license. He took it like I gave him a bag dog shit, looked it over for a really long time. then he said, 

“Too bad you had to make two trips.”

I nodded. Say as little as possible.

“I guess you really wanted to go to your party.”

I nodded again. Stay calm

Then he said,“You know what’s funny? This picture looks nothing like you.” Be polite… but Jesus Christ, what the hell had I done to this guy! 

He wasn’t going to let me in. He just enjoyed watching me run around, and suffer, and want to get in. He was a total shit. Then he flicked it back at me. 

“Too bad you missed it. Everyone is gone,” 

He stayed on his stool that blocked the door, so I had to squeeze by to get in. And he was right, the party was over. My editor was still there, but she looked tired and ready to go home. I introduced myself and apologized for the trouble I caused.

“No problem! Glad you finally made it, but it’s just about over. I’m sorry he gave you such a hard time. I think you’re the only one he hassled,” she said.

“I get it, he has to protect his business. No big deal.” I tried to keep the mood light, but was a very big deal to me. 

She gave me a funny look, “What do you mean?”

“He told me he’d be closed down if the police came in and found me without my ID.”

She kept looking at me as if she had no idea what I was talking about.

 “Him?” she said, “he’s not the owner!”

She burst out laughing at the astonishment on my face through my make up.

“Did he tell you that? That’s Bad Billy! He worked for the city until he got fired for peeing in the park. Now he’s a doorman, or a bouncer, or whatever anyone will hire him for.”

I stopped feeling angry, I was gutted. 

“Why would he do that?” I asked.

“Who knows? Because he’s a jerk?”

I knew why he did it. Because it was fun for him. 

I found my husband at the bar with a book signed by the other authors. Everyone was long gone. The drive home was quick and quiet. As soon as we got home, I threw my costume into the trash, took a shower, scrubbed my face raw, and went to bed. I was sure I’d lie awake in fury all night, but I fell right to sleep. I had a wild dream, the kind feels like it lasts all night, and where you just end up places without knowing how you got there.

 I dreamed was a witch. Not just any witch, I was The Witch. With a lot of power, and a very strong sense of justice. I was in my costume, my wig and make up. I walked down the middle of the streets of Salem looking for Bad Billy and found him in his grimy basement apartment. Watching porn in a naugahyde recliner, in his dirty underwear, with a beer balanced on his fat gut. Instead of looking shocked to see me, he gave me that sneer, and  said, “You really must love humiliation.”

I stood in front of him, blocking the television. He reached down to the lever with his right hand to drop the footrest. I pointed, and his hand froze into a claw. He looked shocked, then tried to reached over with his left hand. I pointed again, and his left hand froze into a claw. His beer tipped over and spilled down his belly into his crotch.

He tried to get up, bouncing his legs on the recliner. I pointed a third time and both legs shot straight out in front of him, feet pointed, toes curled in tight.

Bad Billy screamed, partly from rage, partly from the pain of his hands and feet which were cramping hard.

“What the fuck!” he yelled.

“Apologize for what you did to me,” I ordered like the boss witch that I was. I knew the pain was bad, but his humiliation in apologizing to me would be worse.

“What! Aaaaargh! What the actual-aaaaaaaaaah-FUCK!”

All he could do was half jack-knifes which caused him to slip forward on the wet cushion. The recliner tipped, and Bad Billy fell onto the floor swearing that he was going to kill me. I clenched my hand which made his fingers and toes cramp harder.

He screamed as I held my hand in a fist for a few seconds then released. I waited until he wound down to whimpers. 

“Apologize,” I said again, “or I promise you will regret it.”

“Fuck you!” he yelled and started laughing. I pointed at him, and watched as he unfolded and yanked as if pulled up by an invisible rope. He was standing on his cramped toes which, by the look and the noise he was making, was agony. I slashed the air in front of his face, and he instantly went quiet. His eyes bugged out as he stopped breathing. I grabbed him by his green beard, disgusted at the idea that he probably would not to wash it out for the entire month of October.

“This is your last chance,” I told him as I waved my hand by his face to unlock his breath.

His look of fear turned to hate. Despite the terror of suffocation, pain of being forced to stand on his curled toes, despite his clawed hands, he threw his head back and laughed. So I drove my hand down his throat, and pulled out his heart. I held it up before his shocked face, then watched as Bad Billy fell forward and hit the floor. Hard. I stood over him for several moments, then dropped his dead heart in front of his unseeing eyes. 

~

My husband woke me up the next morning with,“Hey, you’re never going to believe it! That asshole with the beard died! They found him in his apartment in his pissed underwear… Why didn’t you wash your face?”

“What?” I tried to get my mind around what I just heard. “Wait, what happened?”

“That dude Billy,” he said. “He died! They think he had a heart attack or something. It’s all over Facebook. Weird, huh?” Then he took the dogs out for a walk.

I was afraid to move. For a few minutes I tried to convince myself it was coincidence, I had nothing to do with it. It had to be a dream! I was angry no, furious at how he made me feel.  After all those years, Bad Billy brought me right back to where I swore I’d never be again. My dream was something I thought I wanted to do, but there was no way I could do actually do…that.

 I jumped out of bed and ran to the mirror. My face was a mess of smeared make up, like I never washed it off. I went to my closet, and there was the dress and the wig, both neatly hung up, when they should have been balled up in the trash. As I reached out to grab them, I saw my left arm was completely covered in thick, dried blood from my hand to my elbow.

And there it is. I did it. I know I did it, I know why I did it, I just don’t know how. And I can’t promise I’ll never do it again. 


The End