52 chapters/stories for my book…that’s how many I have written but the rape chapter is the hardest.
I started out being kind of namby-pamby about it. That’s the feedback I got from my mentor/auntie, an author I deeply respect. She said “Kathie, you have to remove the sugar coating and tell us what actually happened.”
It took many years, but I finally did what she asked, leaving out no disturbing detail. To that version, she responded with “Well, maybe not THAT detailed!”
So I am trying a completely different approach this time.
I am house-sitting for dear friends as I write this. I am in a situation I rarely put myself in…alone for days (and worse, nights) in an unfamiliar house, in a very remote setting. I did all the things that for me are normal when I am in any new place… checked out all conceivable exits…found the quickest routes away from the house, noticing fast exit dangers, like locked gates, stuff to trip over, etc.….discovered any weaknesses in normal security (windows, door locks) and tested how they all sound. And I found the best hiding places inside the house in case escape is not an option.
It’s a pain in the butt to be me.
The point of telling you this is that even though I have done a shitload of therapy and healing work on having been raped, one result remains the same. I live my life differently than most people.
Here’s the opening I wrote when my mentor requested a more “detailed version”, but I edited it in this draft to honor her feedback to not be THAT detailed….
If I do ever get this chapter on paper the way I want it, I will keep my original title.
What I want to know is would you want to read a story that starts like this???
Being Raped has to be the title of this chapter. The odd tense of the word “being” implies a current circumstance that captures the experience, as if describing a state of being rather than an action.
That’s why it’s perfect.
In an instant, an event like this can become the definition of WHO you are. There is a part of the act, the trauma, the experience that continues in your body, your psyche, your mind, and your heart…as if it is in fact, still happening right now, always in the present tense.
If you have been raped, the incident just goes on and on and on, granted less loudly with time. But for you, intrusion, in any form will shock your body right back awake, no matter how far into the back of your Secret’s Closet you’ve shoved that rape, hoping to keep it fast asleep.
This will be true for the rest of your life…no matter how much therapeutic work you do. No matter how deeply you are able to heal.
You will never not know the terror of being awakened with a knife at your throat.
You will never not remember the feeling of being held down in your own bed by two men.
And you will never forget the popping sound of a gun being fired, RIGHT BY YOUR HEAD, in the middle of this surprisingly quiet chaos… rousing the thought that though you may survive this knife, you still might end up getting shot!
I take a lot of “perspective” photos but the word this week brought up a completely different image for me.
Most animal people have that one special relationship, that stays with them forever…a “heart pet”…sort of an animal “soulmate”.
For many years, mine was an animal I won at a Saturday afternoon matinee. It was close to Easter and there was a drawing for a baby bunny, a tiny chick and a duckling. My ticket stub was the winning number for my very own DUCK!! I raised that duck in my bedroom, even “house broke” her. I was nine years old and simply didn’t know that was impossible to do.
Many animal friends later, I had a huge, beautiful purebred German Shepherd named Joy. Another heart animal for me….She lived until she was sixteen years old!
I have never been so in sync, so bonded, so in love with an animal before. He is 16 years old now himself and has his own long story. I treasure every single day with him. I am very clingy with the Big Z right now, but Zorro is not the focus of this week’s post so back to the theme for the week.
“Edge” is the name of my daughter’s most beloved cat. Edge only very recently left, after too short an illness for my daughter to prepare herself at all. A quick trip to the Vet, lots of tests and boom, he was gone. This loss completely broke her heart.
I have often thought that sometimes the loss of a pet can hit us even harder than when a human loved one dies, in part because we can love our pets from such an innocent, child-like place in our hearts.
And really, what human in our adult lives can love us as unconditionally as our heart- animals do?
Edge’s sudden departure and my daughter’s devastation are why poor Zorro is getting smothered these days. I know when I lose Zorro, I will undoubtedly be a nine year old, inconsolable child for quite a long while.
Below is my daughter’s story about her sweet “Edge”. She took this picture.
I met Edge on Valentines Day in 2003 at the animal shelter. He’d been abandoned at 6 months old and all 4 paws were severely frostbitten as it was -20º outside here in Minnesota. It was love at first sight. I didn’t claim him as much as he claimed me. He had gigantic, long white whiskers and his face had odd splatters of white, making him look like he’d been in a paint fight. I named him The Edge on the way home in the car after the U2 guitarist. Some of my favorite things about him – when I’d come home from work and open the front door, he’d be on the stairs waiting but would act startled and then hop sideways with his hackles up back up the stairs. It made me laugh every time. He also would flop on my head whenever possible, whether I was sleeping, doing yoga, reading, he didn’t care. If my head was accessible, he was on it. From the time I got him, he made a loud, rattling noise when he breathed, like a 90 year old man, which had limited charm when he camped on my head. When Sarah would come over to visit, I’d let Edge out the door and he would run down the corridor meowing to greet her. He knew how to open the medicine chest in the bathroom and if he felt ignored, he’d open it and knock everything off the shelves and into the sink. He was such a good companion, loved to be picked up and hang out with me on the patio. This is one of my favorite photo’s from my patio a few years back. I love how crazy his whiskers are, how happy he looks and how much we enjoyed hanging out in the sunshine together.
I love trees. They have played such an important role in my life, starting at 5 years old when my new Dad bought a tree that was exactly same height as me so I could watch it grow all through my childhood.
I loved that tree…a Star Pine…and as it grew, I played in its shade, building miniature forts out of natural debris. When it quintupled its size, I climbed up in it to check out the view of the ocean over the top of our house or to just read a book where it was quiet. That tree was my secret hiding place during many childhood dramas (and traumas).
I seriously bond with trees. I was lucky enough to have made several trips to the Redwood Forest as a kid, where I met and still remember this one particular tree that I visited several more times in my life. It was not one of the tourist trees…this one was mine.
Not that you can actually own a tree……..
A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk (where I am writing this right now) on a perfectly calm, sunny day. No wind, no rain storm, no earthquakes. Nothing. Perfectly peaceful.
I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. Then, came the sound. Sickeningly familiar. I’ve heard it before, but thank god, only a few times in my life…like when the snow load on a tree is just too heavy. Craaack. From my desk I can see my two favorite trees, very mature Ornamental Flowering Plum trees, and I watched helplessly as a huge limb on one of them slowly cracked and slowly split apart. It slowly fell onto the “Baby Bird”. (That’s what we call the 57 T-Bird that lives at our house while her owner is abroad. We are trying to sell her.)
What I can see from the window by my desk (board put there in a desperate attempt to hold the branch off the car)
I jumped up, ran out the back door, down the deck steps, and stopped short in the driveway as it hit me. What the hell was I going to do? Try to stop the several hundred pound limb from falling further???
Can’t see it in this photo but there is another car buried under there, nose to nose with the T-Bird
As I stood there, visually assessing, that awful cracking sound continued…quieter, but in short staccato bursts. I didn’t know if the whole tree was about to collapse or what! I could see that heavy limb was miraculously being held very slightly up off the Thunderbird by all the smaller branches that already reached the ground surrounding the car…like a purple cage of twigs and leaves.
But the continued cracking was a warning. If that branch came the rest of the way down, the Baby Bird might well be crushed.
Now, I panicked.
I’m always complaining (mostly playfully) about having to live with six men, but today, I was wishing for even one of them to be available. This felt like a Guy Emergency! I broke two cardinal rules. I interrupted my son Michael at work and James, at band practice!!
I just texted them each the above photo. They both came. I don’t know what I thought they could do though. Super James is getting older (finally) and younger, muscle-man Michael was hampered by some newly broken ribs. They were not going to be able to lift that limb either.
I also sent out an SOS on our neighborhood group email asking for all available youth and muscle to come to my house ASAP. Several of them came immediately. I love my neighbors!! Still not enough to lift it and besides it was getting really unsafe by now.
The most urgent dilemma was getting the Baby Bird out from under that limb in case it finished giving way. The obvious thing to do was to back the car out from under the potentially crushing tree…impossible to open the driver’s door but the passenger door not impossible. Here’s the thing though. James stores the car with its battery disconnected. There was absolutely NO getting that hood up to reconnect the battery. Below you can see him buried in the tree trying to lift it.
And even if we got it out, how much more of the tree would fall onto the Taurus, the car hidden nose to nose with the T-Bird??
OK, so tow it out of there, right? And hope the huge limb doesn’t scratch the Baby Bird or crush the Taurus when the Baby stops holding up its weight.
Well, towing a 1957 Thunderbird is not easy. Those suckers are heavy!! But James got it out with his 4Runner and miraculously, the smaller branches continued to hold the heavy limb up off the Taurus, gently resting on the ground.
The crisis with the cars was mostly averted, only purple streaks across their hoods and roofs. No scratches deep enough really to even damage the paint jobs. Amazing.
Then a potentially more serious problem showed up…
Look closely at the above photo and you can see a wire pulled down by the limb….uh oh….
I have been after the power company, the cable company and the phone company for years about the placement of their connections to my home, and a few years back the power company did finally come out. Not to change the location of their power pole, but to trim my trees just a bit…to keep their wire safe.
But now, to the left of this whole T-Bird vs Tree argument, there is a wire laying on the ground…and it goes all the way across the street to the main power pole for the whole neighborhood. My street is a long dead-end lane and there is rarely traffic on it except, of course, at this exact time of evening. Everyone is arriving home from work.
We are all standing around, no one 100% confident they know which kind of wire this is.
So I call the power company. I call the cable company. I even call the phone company although our landline is now through the cable. No one comes. They all say they will be there within 45 minutes. NO ONE SHOWS UP!! (Not for 36 hours!!!)
Finally, one knowledgeable (or just brave) neighbor pulls on the wire hard enough to lift up the slack that had lain on the street. Second crisis temporarily averted.
Except for the day and a half of no TV (only hard on the grandsons) and no internet for those adults in our house who work online, we (cars and all) survived the event just fine.
Now, the real trauma….
If you happen to follow the wonderful Marilyn Armstrong at Serendipity ( https://teepee12.com/ ), you know that she and her family had a horrific ‘nature tragedy” earlier this year, that terrorized her and nearly destroyed their trees. If you are not suseptable to nightmares, you can read about it here.
What I am about to tell you in no way compares to what they went through but I bring up Marilyn because I think she might understand my recent loss better than most.
Though it is a long and complicated story about why, basically here’s what happened next.
My beautiful trees are killed…
I can’t write any more right now. All I can think of is the countless birds associated with those gorgeous trees. Hummer nests. Blue Jays. Flickers. Woodpeckers. Nuthatches. Chickadees. And whole flocks of beautiful House Finches whose colors matched the tree! It’s where the Crows waited each morning for me to feed them. Sometimes the crows would talk to the hummingbirds there. And even the cute but irritating squirrels would steal the crow food and leap off the corner of the deck into the safety of those plum trees.
Here’s a slideshow in Memoriam…………
I’m almost glad I don’t have any pictures of them blanketed in their full Spring Pink Glory….just that partial one at the very top…
This is my Therapy Room. If you had come to see me, you might have sat on this brown couch, positioned so you could look out that window…at my beautiful Flowering Plum Trees.
Yesterday, on the 10th, I went to my Mother’s grave…..for the first time. She died in 1969. It took me forty years and 11 days before I could finally go. She is buried in the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma, California in honor of her three years, eight months, and seventeen days of service in the Navy during WW II.
Each year on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, I try to remember and acknowledge all those in my family, in my tribe who have served, or who lost someone, but I didn’t really think about honoring my own Mom until last year.
Here is some of what I wrote after my first visit to her grave:
“I realized this morning that part of why this veteran’s Day is so emotional for me is that, much to my embarrassment, I just remembered that my own mother proudly served in the U.S. Navy. This year I have really felt inspired to include her in my gratitude. Maybe it was the recent suggestion by some long estranged relatives that her remains be transferred from the military cemetery in San Diego, to a Mormon family plot in Salt Lake City.
The irony of this was completely lost on my relatives. Throughout my mother’s adult life, these same relatives are the people who shunned my mother for not abiding by the teachings she did not believe in from their church….and now they want her back??
My Mom died before I ever got to find out what her experience in the Navy really meant to her. What a bold and brazen step it must have been for her to take…maybe not that much different than any woman of that time but, along with whatever patriotism fueled her, for her it carried the additional weight of knowing her decision would probably cut the last of her ragged ties to her family. Mormon women in the 1940’s simply did not leave their families and their church to join the military.
I will never forget something she said to me in the Sixties when I was idealistically fussing about some of the guys I loved, “brothers” really, for not fighting their draft notices. She said “You can’t possibly know what all goes into a person’s decision to join the Armed Services. So stop judging”. I’m sure her statement was laden with personal information too.
I am so sad that I will never truly know, but I am also grateful to her for her service, her parenting and for her planting the seeds for what has turned out to be my mission in life….to develop a theory about Dual Realities, to study Absolutism VS Pluralism, and to find compassion for all sides of any conflict.
It was her comment that helped me see that I could be a full blown Flower Child/Hippie/Peacenik at the very same time I was loving and supporting Vets returning from Vietnam, as well as mourning those who didn’t. I protested the War, but also protested the protesters who were so cruel to returning Vets.”
A few years back I sent out a Thank You letter to all the Vets in my life. It captures the attitude I have tried to embrace because of my mother’s teachings and her brave examples.
“Well, it is Veteran’s Day again, and we are still at war.
You all know I am not particularly political, but on this day I get pretty emotional.
On Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day I always try to visit the cemetery close to my house. I don’t know anyone there really, but somehow, the way they honor Vets and those killed while in the service really touches me. The entrance is lined with hundreds of huge American Flags and there are tiny flags and crosses all over the graves, placed intermittently so I assume they are in honor of those who have died for our country.
Though I consider myself a committed pacifist, even in the sixties when I marched and demonstrated for PEACE, I could not, would not tolerate any degrading of those who served by going to Vietnam. Granted, many went thinking they had no choice, in their call to duty or in the draft, but I always supported the military folks in our midst. (I knew too many of you over there!)
When the traveling Vietnam Wall came here, I visited it several times. When I went to see the original in D.C. I had 17 names to look up; all friends and “brothers” of mine from grade school through high school.
Anyway, the reason I am writing to all of you is to, again, THANK YOU for your service, your sacrifice and your contribution to our country. I deeply admire and respect you for it.
I still feel some kind of universal regret for the way we, in my generation, treated our Veterans coming home from Vietnam.
Earlier this year, during the Super Bowl, a public service spot was aired for the first time. It still haunts and inspires me to this day. It went something like this.
Picture an airport terminal, the waiting area, many people, probably holiday delays. They look really settled in. The camera pans over kids playing, people napping, stuff strewn about…..and then it zooms in on the face of an older woman who obviously has caught sight of something that stirs her. We see her, with some effort, stand up…and she begins to clap. The camera shows one person, then 2, then several following her line of vision….and they each in turn also stand up and begin to clap. Soon, there is a full-on standing ovation, and the camera turns to reveal the focus of their applause. It is a group of returning Armed Service folks, with their military gear, coming though the arrival gate door, looking pained and beleaguered…..until we see it slowly dawn on each of their very young, but well worn faces (Black, white, Hispanic, female) that they are being recognized, honored, and welcomed home. The way each of their expressions changes, some embarrassed, awkward, surprised, some grateful, some relieved, and a couple of hulking, macho-types even moved to tears….well, I ache with chagrin that we didn’t know to do this after Vietnam, for our returning Vets.
Sitting at the end of the long drive into the cemetery, listening to the rows of hundreds of huge flags making that unmistakable flapping sound in the wind, I felt deep gratitude for each of you and said a prayer for all those you must have lost, for the ones we all have lost, and for the ones the other side loses every time we fight a war.
Anyway, yesterday at my Mom’s grave, I had a mixture of emotions. It is a beautiful site really, surrounded by my favorite San Diego tree, the Star Pine, with the most stunning view of the ocean.
Mostly, I felt the seemingly life-long pain of missing my Mom, who I lost long before I became a chronological adult. I felt a deep sadness that wanted to come out of me in a wail that would shake the branches right off those Star Pines.
I will make my traditional visit to a local cemetery later today. There will be flags flying everywhere.
I will close my eyes and listen to that amazing American Flag flapping sound, so familiar in my cells, stirring in my bones. I will transport myself back in time to Point Loma. I will stand at my Mom’s grave and remember the sun on my face, the ocean down below and I will hear countless flags flapping all around me….the ones that are there today to honor my mother and all those thousands of her compatriots.
If I can, I will go back even further in my mind’s eye, back to 1968, and I will stand before my Mom, before she took her own life. I will look right into her beautiful, haunted blue eyes, and I will tell her how, by example, she taught me how to stand up for my deepest held beliefs, to fight for what I think is right and to dig deep into myself to understand the viewpoint from the other side of the fight, any fight. I will tell her how grateful I am to have known so many courageous and dedicated Veterans even though I do not believe or condone war in any form. I would thank her for encouraging me to be patriotic in my own way.
And I will say “Thank You, Mom, for your stunningly brave, and multi-leveled service to our country.”
Another Memorial Day without Tad Ford, a Colonel in the Air Force who served many years and in many wars. I miss him so much. He was my best friend’s Dad, and an adopted father for me also. He truly assumed that honorary title especially after my own Dad passed away.And boy, do I miss my Dad.
My father was such a quiet and unassuming man, I forget that he was also in the Armed Services, the National Guard Mounted Cavalry, in the early part of the 20th century. He never told me much about that experience except this one time when he described in vague but emotional terms, what it was like to be trained in how to kill a man with a bayonet.
There is one thing Tom Bessey’s children would never have known about during his lifetime because he was way too modest. But after he died, we found something in the small box of his most treasured possessions (pictures of us girls, letters from his father, and a picture of him with our mother).
There was also a letter from his commanding officer recommending him to West Point.
I used to send my yearly “Veteran’s Thank You letter” to him along with everyone else and he never said a word….knowing him, just too difficult to talk about.
This year, all I can say is Thank You once again to each of you for your service and thank you to your families who are “veterans” also.
I feel honored to know you, grateful for your contributions to my freedom and mostly, for your presence in my life.
PS My favorite quote from my Dad….I remember him using it about my protesting the Vietnam War………..
“Well, that’s one way to look at it.”
Now you see where my current day favorite quote comes from…. Ah…..the magic of a chosen perspective……
This is as close as I could get to the precious Dancing picture I lost. Tad, helping Lucy rise from her chair, the prolonged, swaying “hug” while she got her footing, and then always, when she was finally balanced, she would look into his eyes and smile, silently thanking him. A witness to this could easily feel their 60 plus years in love together, with goose bumps and a throat lump….
She (in red) comes from a Dancing Family. Her Dad (my adopted one), her brother (my best friend), and her brand new, after 17 years together, husband (lower right), all jumping at any chance to dance!
On her wedding day, her Mom, bed-ridden with a devastating illness she’d fought off for years, was too ill to attend, so they brought the dancing home for her mother to enjoy!
Her parents had “danced” for as long as they could. They were a stunning Air Force royalty couple in their youth, and deeply in love for more than 60 years. Before her Mom had to live in bed, her father would help her rise from chairs. Arms around her, he would scoop her up to a standing position, and then, for a few beautiful moments, there would be this dance, the two of them rocking back and forth in time to music only they would hear, arms tight around each other, until she was grounded and had her footing.