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Assault

Friday, August 24th, 2012

I have never been raped.  One in seven American women experiences this dehumanizing assault some time during her life, so I know, compared to my sisters, that I have been lucky. Neither virtuous nor unusually skilled. Just lucky.

When I was 22, I was assaulted in my home. The man was my boss’s husband; he was a UCC minister, 45 years older than I was, and I admitted him to my apartment because I trusted him. He did important work in the social justice world and I thought, when he said he was in the neighborhood and wanted to drop in for a cup of coffee, that he was doing me an honor.

As soon as he got inside my door, he attacked me. He was  a foot taller and a lot stronger than I was. I broke away from him, ran out of my building, jumped on the first bus I saw,not caring where it was headed,  and finally got to  a friend’s house, where I spent the night. This was in 1969. Not only were there no cell phones, there were no rape crisis centers.  It didn’t occur to me to report him to the police, and because his wife was my boss, I didn’t think I could tell her. (I didn’t know this at the time, but he was having affairs with several other women. A year later, he  left his wife of 40 years and their four children for one of these other women.)

He continued to be revered in my community. When he died, his second wife and all her friends eulogized him in the church I occasionally attend. I had to leave the service. The one person at the service I mentioned the episode to refused to believe me: this was much too saintly a man. Why would I want to make up something like this about him?

Writing about it now, all these years later, I find that my stomach is still knotting up, that it’s hard for me to type this and not cry.

For one in seven American females, as young in many cases as toddlers, the story moves from an attempt to complete sexual assault. I don’t know how many women came as close as I did but were able to flee or otherwise avoid their assailant (“My” attacker had left my door open when he came in. My youth made me a faster sprinter.)

If you have any doubt about the massive damage that rape does to women, and why it’s an outrage for a woman to be forced to carry a violently conceived pregnancy to term, read what Eve Ensler has to say on the subject.

Todd, Paul, Mitt, Benedict, Timothy and the rest of you trying to put yourselves in charge of women’s lives and women’s pain–one in ten American men experiences sexual assault, too. It’s not about sex, or babies. It’s about power and powerlessness and terrible pain. If you think you have a right to force people to be in pain, then you are part of the problem.

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Chapter One

Monday, August 20th, 2012

The first chapter of my work in progress will be included as a special addition to the paperback of Breakdown when that appears in December. However, as a thank you to everyone who stopped by the site after my last message, I’m letting you have a sneak preview of the first 2 pages here.

The sun scorched my back through my thin shirt. It was late September, but out on the prairie the sun still beat down with a mid-summer ferocity.

I tried the gate set in the front of the cyclone fence, but it was heavily padlocked; when I pushed hard to see if it would open enough for me to slide through, the metal burned my fingers. A camera and a microphone were mounted on top of the gate post, but both had been shot out.

I backed away and looked around the empty landscape. I’d been the only car on the gravel side road as I’d bumped my way down from the turn-off in Palfry. Except for the crows circling and diving into the brown cornstalks across the road, I was completely alone now.  The only other person I could see was a farmer some half mile distant, creating a dust cloud with his tractor. I felt tiny and vulnerable under the blue bowl of the sky. It closed over the earth in all directions, seeming to shut out air, to let in nothing but light and heat.

Nebraska Cornfield in the 2012 Drought

Nebraska Cornfield in the 2012 Drought

Despite dark glasses and a visored cap, my eyes throbbed from the glare. As I walked around the house, looking for a break in the fence, little purple smoke rings danced in front of me.

Abandoned House

Possible Meth Lab

The house was old and falling down. Glass had broken out, or been shot out, of most of the windows. Someone had nailed slabs of plywood over them, but hadn’t put much effort into the job: in several places the wood swung free, secured by only a couple of nails. Behind the plywood I could see pieces of cardboard or tatty cloth stuffed around the broken panes.

The steel fence had revolving spikes on top to discourage trespassers like me. Signs at several intervals warned of guard dogs, but I didn’t hear any barking or snuffling as I walked the perimeter.

In front, the house was close to the fence and to the road, but in the back the fence took in a large stretch of open land. An old shed had collapsed in one corner. A giant pit filled with refuse, and stinking of chemicals, had been dug near the shed.  Jugs, spray cans of solvent, and all the other fixings of a meth operation fought with coffee grounds and chicken bones for top stench.

It was behind the shed that I found the opening I needed. Someone had been before me with heavy steel cutters, taking out a piece of fence wide enough for a person to walk through upright. The cuts were recent, the steel along the pointed ends shiny, unlike the dull grey of the rest of the metal. As I passed between the cuts, the skin on my neck prickled with something more than heat. I wished I’d brought my gun with me, but I hadn’t known I was coming to a drug house when I left Chicago.

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