It’s the type of thing you hope you can forget someday…then spend half your life thinking about it. It’s always in the back of your mind – like a song that stays with you after you turn off the radio; no matter what, the song repeats itself in a loop in the back of your mind.
Recently, I was asked a question, and while thinking about the answer, I was suddenly overtaken by the memory of that day. It came upon me like a hungry tiger tearing me to shreds and leaving me a disemboweled lump of myself where only moments before I was a thinking, feeling, functioning man.
The smell of it floating through the air, sweetening each breath. This, in no small part, is making the day better. What else could I ask for? Not only did I get to ride The Bullet this year (a big kid ride if there ever was one), but I also got to walk in the parade, too!
I am eight years old, and my father and a group of his “friends”(other men who lived their lives in the bottom of a bottle) are members of a Veterans group for people who saw combat in Viet Nam. They have been asked to bring their families to walk in this year’s parade during the regional Franco-American festival.
We have known about this for weeks so I hardly slept last night. We each have on a little t-shirt with the logo of the Veteran’s group on the front. I couldn’t be more proud. Some of us have little flags while others pass out bumper stickers, but we’re are all having fun. There is something about everyone looking at me, waving, and just generally having a good time that puts a smile on my soul.
Next, I’ll run for Senate and become an Astronaut. I am on top of the world.
Now, we are being addressed by the Governor of Maine. He is speaking of things I can’t and have no interest in understanding. I have better things to think about at my age: baseball cards, my next birthday, how to stop that stupid girl at school from pulling my hair everyday. I start to imagine pushing her down the next time she does. My imagination runs wild while the speech continues.
I wish Knight Rider would come out next.
That would make this day complete.
In the middle of my fanciful daydreaming, my father taps me on the shoulder and says, “Let’s go.” I don’t know where we are going and I have little time to ask before he starts walking.
Walking with him is always hard. He walks with fast, long strides that eat up the ground in front of him in big gulps. Today is especially hard because there are people everywhere, milling lazily around looking at the trinkets being sold by the vendors and watching the children on the Merry-Go-Round. I am small and not exactly built to push my way through a crowd.
We walk only a few short blocks when we come to this house. It looks like every other apartment house in Lewiston. Run down and begging for paint; sheets in more of the windows than the shades that are popular now. There are huge chunks of the asbestos siding gone to the years of harsh winters with bitter cold. There is a bicycle chained in front that is missing both tires, and the chain has discolored the concrete of the sidewalk from years of sitting there rusting. The body of the house is yellow with a dark brown on the windows and one door that once had glass in the top third of it. A condemned sign wouldn’t look out of place here.
My father knocks on the first door we come to after entering the building. We enter after a yell from inside. I know already what is in store for the rest of the day. I can smell the distinct odor of old beer that has been sitting in the can and getting hot and stale, a smell I loathe.
I see that the room holds the men from the Veterans’ group, and I can also tell within moments that few, if any, had stayed as long as we did after the parade. The slurring of their words, apparent in their voices, says that they have had a few drinks already. Five, maybe six, men and a woman who must be one of their wives. They are sitting around a glass-topped table with legs made of what looks like bent pipe – four separate pieces, connected, shaped like a large squarish C. The walls are dirty from years of cigarette smoke and not being cleaned, making what should be white look as though it were river mud; yellowish brown with hints of green.
In the adjoining room there are two other kids, so my brother and I know that these are our friends for the day, and we run off to see what games are currently afoot. This room is the same color, but much smaller, containing a couch which I am sure has come from the side of the road. The smell of cigarette smoke and body odor lingers everywhere, and I know it is safest not being seen or heard for the next few hours if we can help it.
The afternoon progresses like most of this nature; there are beer runs and arguments, the voices get louder as the hours pass by, and the thoughts get less coherent. I have been in this situation as often as I have been in a room with a window, so I am playing and not really paying attention when it happens.
Why? To what end? Have I looked too much like I am having fun? Was there an instant where I looked too much like my mother? I do not know. What I do know is there isn’t a warning – no loud crash or even an instant where I can feel the malevolence building. One second, I am playing happily, waiting for word to get ready for the few miles home with my father weaving on the sidewalk, and the next there is a hand on the back of my neck and it is squeezing. Hard.
I instinctively try to duck and run, but it’s too late. I have been caught unawares, and the fear grips me like a blanket wrapped around me in a restless sleep, getting tighter with each attempt at escape.
“Come ‘ere, I wan-na show you summten.”
His breath hits me in the face, and my stomach turns, making the terror that has settled in me even worse. It smells of cheap beer, Marlboro reds, and the not-unfamiliar stench of hate. It’s a seething anger that I know well; he had it rough, and I was ungrateful for all his sacrifices. I am just a spoiled little brat that doesn’t know how to be a good little boy – stupid and too much of a sissy-boy for his tastes, in need of a little mettle in my blood.
As I am being dragged across the floor, trying to wrestle myself from his grip, and getting nowhere, nobody seems to notice. There is no apparent lull in conversation. No people crying out for my father to release me; nothing out of the ordinary going on here at all.
“If you don’t quit squirming you little mother fucker…” the threat left open, allowing me poetic license to finish as I see fit. The things that my brain offer are no less frightening than anything he would have managed.
Where, I don’t know, but from somewhere there appears a set of handcuffs. The metal ones, not exactly police issue, but not the cheap ones with a lever that will unlock them if you can manage to get your finger on it. He reaches down, seizes me by the wrist, and clicks the first bracelet on me before I see what he has. The other people in the room have stopped talking. They have all noticed that something is happening and are transfixed by the spectacle of a man dragging his son across the room. They watch, fascinated as it unfolds; rubber-neckers to the car wreck that is in front of them.
Before he clicks the other bracelet in place, he runs it under the leg of the table so my wrists are together with the three inch chain under a leg of the table. Had he been compassionate and put the other bracelet around the leg, I would have had some movement. He is desperate to blame someone or something for the ruin that is his existence, and it is my turn.
My struggles to free myself prove fruitless very quickly, and I start to cry. Not a whining wail or a screech – just tears, silent and accusing, dripping from my chin, streaming down my face and washing streaks of red into the pale color of my face.
I am too young to tell if this is uncomfortable laughter or if the hate has spread to the others through osmosis.
I get tired fast, and my struggles start to come in spurts. I sit and try to find a comfortable way to position myself in order to rest between attempts to free myself. I try everything. Picking up the table. Pulling helplessly against the pipe. I am just too small and weak to get anything accomplished. My father insults me and pushes me down with his foot while the other men laugh at his words and even a chuckle or two at my tears.
It always makes these type of men feel better to see someone suffer and writhe in pain. It makes them forget that they are miserable human beings, each lost in their own tragedy.
After I have been sufficiently humiliated and defeated, I become boring, and they lose interest. They resume the conversation as though I am not even here. The woman that is here waits until it is obvious that she will suffer no ill will for doing so and gets up to find the keys. I have been under this glass table for almost an hour, and the men are no longer even glancing through the glass to get a look at the kid trapped down there. The woman comes back with a bobby pin, because there are no keys in evidence, and says something about how mean they are. This is greeted with some vulgarity and a warning to mind her business lest she finds herself locked there in my stead.
My wrists are hurting from all the pulling and moving about, red and scraped from the cheap metal of the handcuffs. My shoulders are burning from the struggle with my father as well as the exercise of trying to lift the table.
I run into the living room where I was playing so quietly only an hour before. There will be no more playing for me. Not today. Not for a few days. Once again, I have been reminded of my station in life and the reality of it all.
The woman comes in behind me and eventually does release me from the other bracelet of the cuffs. It takes her a few minutes, and the men start calling to her to forget it, get it later. Eventually, she tires of their remarks and risks their wrath by saying something back. I do not hear it against the thunder in my eardrums that is my heartbeat. I internally beg her to stop. Scared that her mouth will make this day worse for me.
I watch as she walks away after freeing me from the second bracelet. She sets the handcuffs on the table and grabs the beer she left there to help me. She sits down and tries to steer the conversation away from herself by saying something light and funny.
I sit on the couch, scared to move for fear of being noticed again. The tears are slowing, now but a trickle down my face as if they’re not sure I am finished needing them. Each one releases more of the emotions I have paralyzing me where I sit – washing away the pity and the anger that consumes me.
This time when it happens, I hear his chair. It drags across the floor ever so briefly. It sounds like nails on a chalkboard – not fingernails, but nails. I am afraid to hope he is going to the bathroom. Too frightened to turn my whole head and watch him, I try to use my peripherals to see, but the question is answered when I hear the clink of the handcuffs as he picks them up. I try to make myself smaller. Try to climb into the couch as if I were really the cockroach he makes me feel like.
The tears start afresh as his shadow comes near me. This time the sobs over take me. They are so powerful and deep, the world swims around the edges from oxygen deficiency. I do not fight him this time. Years of life with him taught me to know that I am better off not resisting him too often. It doesn’t matter, though; his grip is a vice around my wrist and the nape of my neck.
He is saying something that I can’t hear. The anxiety and fear have deafened me to anything other than my thoughts. I wonder why he hates me; why his love always hurts. What I do hear is the click of those handcuffs as he starts putting them on me again. Snatching me around like a doll to put me under the table once again. This time he puts them on so tight I think they are cutting into me.
I don’t hear the second one click. I hear my innocence being severed from my eight-year old soul. I hear my sanity as it grips the edge of the cliff and struggles not to fall into the darkness that awaits it. I hear the sobs of the little boy that I once was as I enter a maturity I won’t catch up with for almost twenty years. One I still struggle to keep in front of me.
When I think about it now, I can’t remember how long I was locked there the second time or how I got out. I can’t remember going home or if my father tried to be nice to me later. I can’t remember anything after the snap. If you ever ask me what I once wanted to be when I grew up, you will see me think about it, but I won’t remember. I can’t. I don’t remember ever wanting to grow up. I can’t remember anything about that child – who he was or what he dreamed about. He is a far away little boy that couldn’t be invisible.
Couldn’t not look like his mother. Couldn’t find love in a world he never asked for and never wanted.
That little boy is still handcuffed to that table. Still struggles to free himself. Still hasn’t hated himself. Still doesn’t think of death when he wakes up in the morning. He still hasn’t found the release of drugs and alcohol. He will never be mean to someone because he thinks that is how to deal with disappointment. He will never love anyone, ever again. That little boy still sobs in my heart late at night as I try to fall asleep and reminds me that I deserve what I got coming.
That little boy will never hurt anyone because that little boy is trapped in a room somewhere in Lewiston, Maine.
There is no spectacle—no empty, gaudy, tin-hammered mockery bedazzled with tanks and star-spangled jingoism—that can bring honor to the honorless. There is no parade that can instill leadership, or merit, or ethical, rational thought.
There is no amount of desperate, flop-sweat vamping that can erase the knowledge of crimes perpetrated against the American people, or the seemingly bottomless well of sexual harassment and bigotry, or the concentration camps that stand in brutal, ironic contrast to the very notion of Liberty and Justice for All.
There is no shimmering fireworks display that can outshine the glaring lack of empathy toward the rights of women and minorities in our sociopolitical landscape. What sparkler can hope to compete with the blazing trash fire of constricting rights, expanding violence, and vanishing erudition?
Two hundred and forty-three years after this country was founded in pursuit of lofty ideals supported on the backs of the oppressed and displaced and exploited, we find ourselves with much to consider and little to celebrate.
If we would seek Independence in the manner of our forefathers and foremothers, then I would invite you today to seek independence from greed. From capitalist exploitation. From broken, hateful policies and standards that minimize human dignity while seeking to maximize profits for the inhumane. I invite you to declare your independence from the vision of the United States as either the world’s policeman or its enterprising overlord.
I invite you to declare your independence from “fuck you, I’ve got mine” and embrace mutually beneficial collective endeavor as a virtue. Participate in your political process, by all means, but break away from the idea that these grasping, puling monsters are meant to be our masters. Say no to bigotry. Punch a Nazi in the face, because when you stand up with capital-E EVIL, a face punch is the least you deserve.
Say no to equivocation and good-little-cogism. When you see the jackboot descending onto the neck of someone who’s not your color or sex or gender, don’t sigh in relief that it’s not you and look away. Use your voice and your hands and your heart—your raw, wounded, beaten-but-not-dead-goddamnit heart—to lift them up and cast the boot into the sea.
Look away from the scampering puppet show, there in the dark and the muck, where tanks roll like pilfered dollars and anyone too queer, too brown, too female, too empathetic is simply fodder for the beastly machine that feeds and feeds and feeds.
Break away, and look to the light of a tomorrow worth living.
Fortunately, my daughter Sam, who has ben recently diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, has medical insurance through her employer.
As long as she can keep her job during all of her treatment, it covers a fair amount of some of her costs. At least after her catastrophic cap was met for the year (didn’t take too long to reach it).
We all consider the deductibles and copays, and prescription copays in our lives, but be sure to check your policy on investigative drugs. Medical trials. Travel and time off work. Did you know that many insurances do not cover care if the “Standard of Care” doesn’t work? Some don’t cover food unless it’s eating out instead of buying a loaf of bread and lunch meat. Some only will cover hotel rates available to AAA members in the 1950s. Some will pay a portion of their “idea” of what your gas should cost, but only on the DATE of your appointment, even if you’ve had to drive out of state the day before or after.
Pray you never need to know the intricacies of your health insurance. Even if you mange to jump though the right hoops and snag every receipt, it would take a team of dedicated government trained legal assistants to maneuver through the paperwork. Oh, and then you can wait for over a year for any reimbursement.
Moral of the story.
Including your 20-something year old child should have some type of additional policies, because my 20-something had never been sick in her life. She had to use her insurance for the first time and we learned a very hard lesson: chronic health issues and cancer do NOT care about your age, your gender, your race, your educational level, or your income bracket. Buy that add-on policy you pray you never have to use. I mean, yeah, it’s going to crimp on picking up that name brand mayonnaise, skip a few cups of designer coffee or don’t upgrade your phone to get it, because you don’t know how important it can be.
Pray you never need it, never have to walk this walk or fight this fight while being financially sucker punched at every turn.
Traveling 400 miles for treatment in Houston, TX, at MD Anderson alone adds up. Lodging is expensive. On her third trip out of state, she and I were in Houston away from home and family for several weeks straight. After that, we’ve got weekly visits for treatment and tests will go on for the foreseeable future.
Imagine you are just finishing college. You’ve invested all these years into student loans and grades and worked from the bottom up in a field helping others, so you’d be all set in your field after just one more test. You’re 20-something, but you’re invincible; you’ve never been sick.
You’ve got all your ducks in a row and have considered every possible decision.
You have spent your entire life on college student budget working your own way through school, accumulating debt, but going into a field where you are guaranteed to be a super star. Soon, you are going to kick open the doors and rock the world.
You dream of the vacations you didn’t take because you had to write papers and pay for copies and laundry, and you begin to plan them in your head. You go to sleep, dreaming of how great it’s all going to be now that you’re done. Once that last test is passed, you can consider your future. You have dreamy conversations with your parents about how one day not only will you buy a house, but this will have a little retirement cottage in the back for them, and they won’t have to worry about anything.
You tell your baby brother to keep up his grades, you bribe him and tell him to work his way to and through college, but you will be there for him if there are any hiccups along the way.
Your phone rings on a Friday afternoon as you’re in a store looking for a pink bow tie for your little brother’s prom coming up this weekend. It’s the doctor you saw, and out of nowhere, he says you have cancer and he will see you again next week. Just like that.
You’re alone. All alone.
You’re holding a bow tie for the baby brother you adore and have dressed his entire life. Your life just changed. The air is sucked out of the room, and nothing moves. You walk over to the dress shirts and begin looking for his size, but now you can’t remember for sure if he has that adorable little boy neck or of he has now grown into a lumberjack.
You call your mom to check, but instead, “I have cancer” falls out of your mouth.
Everyone’s life just changed and it all hits you.
Imagine dropping everything to live in a city far away for a month while still having to pay rent, utilities, and a car payment. Leaving your bed, pets, plants, and family behind. Being afraid of checking the mail or answering the phone: there will be bills in there with numbers that look like jackpots for the PowerBall.
Seeing things you never wanted to see. Learning a language you didn’t want to learn (Cancer Speak). Realizing you aren’t in invincible 20-something with the world at your feet, that you now must depend on the kindness of strangers when you don’t even recognize yourself in the mirror.
In the meantime, you travel every week to Texas, three states away, sleep, eat, get prescriptions, anything else you might need. Make sure you keep your job so you can keep your insurance and have a life when this is all over. Oh, also, you’re fighting cancer, so we are going to dump some of the most horrible chemical combinations known to mankind into your body and you are going to be sicker than you could ever possibly imagine.
Lucky that our family is tight. We pull together we pull through. All of my kids have sacrificed what they have and the course of their futures for family members and this is no exception. WE ARE LUCKY.
Samantha’s cancer is rare, which means she’s interesting to the scientific world, which opens us up to the option of seeing the Most Genius Medical people on the planet who study her type of Cancer. WE ARE LUCKY that we were able to get together the resources to get her to the people who could try to help her in the first 3 months.
WE ARE LUCKY that friends, family, and strangers have taken it upon themselves to raise money, cook dinner, open their homes, offer a ride, send a card, give a hug, and pray for us.
We are simply terrified, we know the first chemo regimen and treatment plan failed. We see the doctors and nurses faces when they hear her diagnosis. We realize what it means to be in trials, research programs, and testing studies. We know that we can only get the only hope kind of help out of state. We don’t feel very lucky because we know as a family that as the expenses, bills, costs pile up, the income has gone down on several fronts. Things like car repairs, broken air conditioners and power going out don’t stop because of cancer.
We don’t feel lucky because there’s interest on the credit cards and interest on the payments, and we are paddling like a herd of ducks in a hurricane just to get thru every day. We don’t feel lucky because it’s unnatural, it’s unnatural and soul-emptying to be a parent whose child has cancer. We don’t feel lucky that ”she’s grown up.”
We are her parents and she will always be our child. We don’t feel lucky that “at least she doesn’t have kids,” because she loves children and wanted to be a foster mom, because that’s who she is.
We don’t feel lucky because no one who has cancer is lucky.
I have wanted to post here for a long time. I have a story. It is a painful story. Maybe it’s painful only to me, I don’t know. I’ve been so humbled by the stories I have read here and felt unworthy, like my own problems can’t possibly be as bad. I have followed these writers – I will not call them bloggers because to me they are writers as impactful and as important as any that were found on my bullshit high school reading lists.
They do not know that they have been lifelines.
They do not know that they have given me validation. They do not know that they have made me feel like part of something bigger. And I have felt unworthy to speak in these forums because I have not suffered the same losses, the same blows, the same sickness…how could I be part of this tribe? But today, in this strange world of Twitter that I am still trying to understand, someone gave me the invitation and therefore the permission to post here.
Ed note: Please, you’re all invited to post here. We want you to share your stories, big and small. Your victories, your celebrations, your dragons, and your sadness too. Don’t be intimidated Pranksters. If I’m Your Aunt Becky, that means we’re family (sorry). You are all welcome to come in and stay.
Today, someone fucked with my kid.
Maybe this is the way, the opening of the floodgates, where I feel important enough. Maybe this is where my story gets validation. And I will tell my story, most of which has nothing to do with this incident.
And I want to tell you all so many of my stories because it has taken so long for me to realize that I HAVE a story, that my shit was fucked up, that I got a raw deal, that some of how I am is because of what happened. But right now none of that matters, my story is not important, my hurts are not important, nothing is important except the fact that someone. fucked. with. my. kid.
My kid is gay. I am gay. What these two things have to do with one another, I could care less about. The Bean (my kid) is a carbon copy of me in so many ways. We love hard, heavy and openly. She has been raised as a political kid in Washington, DC, where there is a rally or march every other week, and if it is something we believe in – from gay rights to women’s rights to immigration rights to arts funding to DC statehood – we march for it and we are loud and do not back down.
I taught her that.
I taught her about gay bashing and Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena and the Trevor Project and all the horrible things that happen to people because of how they love. I taught her to be the head of her Gay-Straight Alliance at school. We matched in our rainbow outfits for the Marriage Equality March. The youth-friendly Gay Pride after-party has always been at our house. She knew she could fight because her mama was always there by her side.
Mama was not with her today on The Metro with her girlfriend.
It was a beautiful day here today. Finally, the humidity had broken and I was down at The H Street Festival, one of the city’s biggest festivals. Bean was supposed to meet me at H street but she is slightly geographically challenged and by the time she figured out where to go, it was time to go home. I told her that I’d meet her at The Metro and ride home with the two of them.
As I got off the train, I noticed that Bean and …we’ll call her Banana…were in the car ahead of me. As I moved to catch up with them, Banana noticed me and said “That man messed with us.”
Oh, hell no.
I bypassed the checkout and went straight through the emergency exit and demanded, “Do you have a problem with my daughter?”
To which he responded, “Children don’t need to see that gay shit on the train.”
I discovered that when he said something to Bean, she said something back to him. So this truly classy gentleman, in his fifties made a fist at my seventeen-year old daughter and told her to “step to him.” This man was also still in his security guard uniform with his name tag. He was a douche-bag security guard at an amusement park.
The details are kinda cliché, but suffice to say I turned into every inch the stereotype of a pissed off black woman.
I grew an extra vertebrae so I could roll my head, my finger grew an inch or two to help me point at his face and I learned all kinds of different ways to conjugate “motherfucker.” Eventually, Bean saw me pulling an Arizona Iced tea bottle out of my bag and pulled me toward the car. That was after he informed me that if I was any kind of mother, I wouldn’t have a gay kid, and what my daughter and I both needed was some of his twelve inches, and I needed to bend over and take some of him because I needed to be put in my place.
I told this story to my friends on Facebook and Twitter, and the tears in my eyes right now are not because of the incident, but because of the amazing outpouring of support, piss, and vinegar that I’ve gotten. My friends are contacting Six Flags, where Mr. Antonio Washington works, demanding that Mr. Antonio Washington be removed from working around kids. My friends are re-posting my note so people know this kind of hatred and ignorance is real. They are sending love to a little girl that many of them haven’t ever met.
And what is that little girl doing ? She sat on her mommy’s lap for about 5 minutes. Mommy was busy yelling on the phone, Tweeting and trying to fix all of her favorite foods at once. And she was okay. I overheard her on the phone.
“He didn’t know who he was messing with. My mom is so mad and you don’t mess with my mom.”
I read her Facebook Status, “Some asshole was dumb enough to bash my mom’s kid. He’ll be sorry.”
I listened to Banana “Man, your mom doesn’t play around!” They just made Pizza Rolls and popcorn and are being WAY squeal-y watching horror movies.
Just got off the phone with Six Flags General Counsel. At 9:30 on a Saturday night.
So I guess, to be cliche and because I love NPR , This I Know Is True:
Just because you were an 18-year old teenage mother with a GED and a crack-addicted mother in the murder capitol of the world, you can still be a good mom.
I’m a good mom because I taught my kid to fight for her rights – her rights as a woman, as a black woman, as a black/Latina woman, as a black/Latina gay woman.
I’m a good mom because she knows her momma is never too far away and will KICK THE FUCKING TEETH OUT of anyone who messes with her.
I’m a good mom because, at the end of the day, she still wants to sit on my lap and play with my hair.
As Aunt Becky taught me, we are, none of us, ever alone. The outpouring of rage and support over this has been amazing. I have seen this story, in the matter of about two hours, be posted, tweeted and spread across states and continents. There are warm and fuzzies everywhere and most of you don’t even know the Bean.
I have a story. And there are people out there to listen.
She will be 9 years old in a few weeks. At her next doctor’s appointment she will be given the HPV vaccine, even though she will never be able to consent to sexual activity.
Look at her as you think about that.
Abby’s 7 times more likely than her non-disabled peers to be a victim of sexual assault. She would never be able to tell us what happened. She would never be able to tell us who did it.
And now, laws are being passed in many states—and it won’t be long until Utah tries it here—that would force her to carry the product of her rape to term. How would I ever explain to her what was happening to her body? How would I ever make her giving birth okay?
The truth is I absolutely would never do that to her. Never.
Look at her and tell me you would subject her to that. Tell me in what world would it be okay to do that to her?
If you think so, you’re wrong and I don’t want you in my life or hers. Period.
The Band Back Together Project is a group weblog and nonprofit organization that provides educational resources as well as a safe, moderated, supportive environment to share stories of survival.
Through the power of real stories written by real people, we can work together to de-stigmatize mental illness, abuse, rape, baby loss and other traumas so that we may learn, grow, and heal.
All are welcome.