Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"[Y]ou must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive."

I don't really know shit about policy or statistics. I know stories, and my own experience, and the experience of every woman I have ever spoken to in my life. I do know that a lot of people are really eager to say Elliot was mentally ill and/or a twisted, bad misogynist, which makes me mad for two reasons. Mental illness, while a huge problem in this country, does not let misogyny and poor gun control off the hook; and you don't have to kill a woman to hurt a woman. 

Obviously, murder is the end fall, full stop. But I remember Evan; the senior my freshman year of college I had a crush on who I made out with, the guy who once pulled me onto his bed and wouldn't let me go till I went down on him. Even though I said "I'm going," he held on, and it was easier at the time for me to give in. I overrode my own shrieking insides because I didn't want to make him feel bad, or think that he wasn't a good man, because he looked like a good man. And he looked like a good man because he was smiling. 

A month later in the hallway of the psychology department, we were talking about why we could never date, when Evan looked at me and smiled again, nervously, and said "and I'm sorry if I ever pressured you to do anything you didn't want to do. But that never happened, right?"

Evan wasn't a mentally ill man, and he wasn't a murdering man. He was a regular man. And if, shortly thereafter, I became bulimic, is that his fault? No. I am a neurotic nervy nutball, and I am working on being able to say those things with pride, who was an eating disorder waiting to happen. Good. Great. Grand. That doesn't change the fact that the first time I made myself throw up, I thought about that night, because the forced feeling of two fingers or one dick down your throat are surprisingly similar.

Was Evan a Bad Guy? Well, that's complicated, isn't it? It's an uncomfortable question with uncomfortable answers. Certainly the answer feels clearer to us in the case of Elliot. He shot, he murdered, he took actions that are as clearly wrong as blood on a wall. But both these men were raised on, and exercised, this mentality of possession, of earned right, of Manifest Destiny, of being owed the female body. In Elliot's case, alive or dead. In Evan's case, mine.

This, in the end, is more important to me than the timeline of events, or the quotes of the manifesto, and maybe that is a detriment, and maybe that makes me criminally self-centered: processing a tragedy only as I understand it to be connected to my own. But this is the language of tragedy, isn't it? And of empathy, and from empathy, reflection, and from reflection, change? After these events--and there have been so many of them now, haven't there--it is the spinning seeds of stories, revelations, reflections that people share with each other. We read these articles through our own lenses, we talk to each other about what has happened by describing and/or comparing other events that have happened, especially to us, in hopes that we will understand something, that we will learn something from this ugly, awful thing. 

I've been reading various articles and listening to various liberal-leaning conservatives or independents who, while keeping gun-rights laws clutched in their tight hands, are generously considering that mayyyybe we need to fund mental health healthcare in this country more, or blaming his shrinks for not stopping him, the second argument of which I think is beyond horseshit. OF COURSE WE NEED TO FUND MENTAL HEALTH MORE. As someone whose first spell of depression hit when she was nine, who sometimes has to battle a lemming-like urge to walk off the nearest ledge, who pays $20 a week for a (dope-ass) therapist and $20 a month in medication, as someone with immediate family members who also struggle with various types of mental illness, boy oh boy do I wish more money and time and resources went into providing good mental health healthcare. But that still isn't the issue here. 

I too have felt the desire to physically assault those who've rejected me. I wanted to punch one ex right in the mouth, because he didn't love me back the way I needed, and it really hurt. I too have a history of depression and anxiety. I see a therapist and take Zoloft.  I struggle. But I wrote a highly emotional (and now, looking back, highly hilarious) poem about punching this ex in the face; I never actually did it. I don't think that it is because I am a great and controlled person; I've just been socialized to never consider physical violence as a choice to make someone give me what I want, when what I want them, and what I really want is for them to validate me. 

In sharing this with you, I am afraid of being called the hard C. Calling someone crazy automatically Others them. It allows us to put them in a box and to get some distance. "Crazy" spares us from the work of recognition and, even more frighteningly, of relation. Elliot is called crazy, is called mentally ill, and it makes us feel better, even safer. If I'm honest about my struggles, it undermines my own believably, but calling him "cracked" ups his. It makes him different, a reassuring anomaly. It means that if he could do it, your son won't.

Last week, men died too. Misogyny hurts everyone. To make this statement isn't to take horrific deaths and drag them under the umbrella of Political Agenda; it is truth. Elliot wanted to kill women. He wrote about it, and then did it. He killed men, and did, because they were along, and maybe in, his way.

We want the Elliots to be markedly different than our Evans, and that isn't the case. Please don't misunderstand me: I know that I was not shot, and I realize Evan had no desire to physically destroy me. But to have me? Yes. Elliot didn't kill because he was mentally ill. He killed because he believed he was entitled to do so. What are we left to do, then? What do I do, with what I have seen and know; and how to I make space to greet what I don't?

I've been housesitting this week for a fancy cat in a condo downtown. I've done a lot of lounging and reading and drinking, and I've been reading a collection of essays by James Baldwin. Again and again, over and over, I am struck by phrases, sentences, entire paragraphs that are as hotly relevant today as they were when he wrote them in 1961. In some ways, I find this similarity to be upsetting--have we not moved forward at all?--and in other ways, comforting, because maybe these great hurts of our country, they are not a racetrack stuck in a cesspool, with us just running around and around the same old horrific hell. Maybe it is like a spiral staircase. We are at the same spot, when we are in fact just one floor up. Each floor has the old demons in the same old corners wearing their new faces, and they leer, and they will continue to drag us down until we open our eyes and our mouths and call them out together.

"You survive this and in some terrible way, which I suppose no one can ever describe, you are compelled, you are corralled, you are bullwhipped into dealing with whatever it is that hurt you. And what is crucial here is that if it hurt you, that is not what's important. Everybody's hurt. What is important, what corrals you, what bullwhips you, what drives you, torments you, is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive. This is all you have to do with it. You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with another people's pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less."

This is why I tell my stories and why I try as honestly as possible to hear yours, and this paragraph, from Baldwin's "The Artist's Struggle for Integrity," is what I think of whenever I read Richard Martinez's words or see his wild, heartbroken face. I have no like for Elliot, but I strongly wish that his suffering had been used to connect, not to obliterate, because whatever else he was, he was a man who suffered. In this wake, I continue to share my stories and listen. I hope that you will do the same. 


  1. I love you so much. Your writing moves me to tears, yet again.

    My story, that I hint at some times but never really tell, for lots of reasons but no good ones:

    I went to the house of a boy whom I thought was my friend. We watched "The Office" together on his parents couch and ate subs. It got late and I didn't want to go home. I asked to sleep on his couch. He said I could sleep in his bed. I said no thank you. He said it would be more comfortable. I said no, really, thanks. I wan't to sleep on the couch. He went to bed and I fell asleep.

    When I woke up in the morning he was on the couch, behind me, spooning me. One of his hands was up my shirt and the other was down my pants. The feeling, which I still feel when I think about it 8 years later, was half like disbelief, and half like panic,not exactly, but those are the closest words in my vocabulary. I felt absolutely paralyzed. After maybe five very long seconds of lying there unable to breathe, I jumped up from the couch.

    In my mind, when I replay this (as I have too many times) I yell at him and maybe even sock him in the jaw. In real life, I stood there quietly for a moment and then said "I want to go home now". I let him drive me all the way home, my jaw felt wired shut. I could barely breathe let alone talk. He asked if I was okay. I think I just nodded.

    I would love to say that it was the last time I saw this person. That I told everyone he knew.

    But the saddest (and most telling) part of this story isn't what happened to me physically, it is what happened to me mentally. I convinced myself it must have been my fault. Of course it was! Of course I must have known he had a crush on me. Maybe that's why I hung out with him, because I knew he liked me and I liked the attention. So it was my fault. How did I not wake up when he squeezed behind me on the couch?

    I didn't tell anyone for a long time because I was afraid of what the repercussions would be FOR HIM. I didn't want him to lose any friends. It wasn't that big of a deal, right? I mean, I never said the word "no".

    All of the chorus of misogynistic voices that every woman, girl, hears her whole life. All of the victim blaming and slut shaming and rape apologists. It was all ringing in my head and worse yet, it sounded like my voice. I listened to it because that shit was sewn so deep in my psyche that the need to PROTECT THE FEELINGS of the man who stuck his hand down my pants while I was sleeping, over rode my own feelings of self worth and self preservation.

    Why were you even at his house, Angel?
    Why weren't you clearer about why you wanted to sleep on the couch?
    What were you wearing?
    Can you really blame him, now, if you never told him that what he did upset you?
    Why didn't you speak up at the time?
    Wouldn't it be super bitchy of you to tell your mutual friends?
    Would they even believe you?
    It can't be his fault. It HAS to be your fault.
    At least a little bit your fault.
    Figure out how you caused this.

    It would be nice to say that those voices go away. They don't. But at least now I know that it is not my voice, and those are not my thoughts. I can talk back.

    He goes on now, living his life. He is not in mine anymore, but he is somewhere, in someones life. Like your Evan, he is not a killer. By definition, hes not even a rapist. Just an average, every day guy who likes junk food and video games and boating and "The Office", and who feels entitled to a woman's body because, why wouldn't he be? Doesn't mean he's not a nice guy, right?

    Please keep writing.

  2. "It was all ringing in my head and worse yet, it sounded like my voice. I listened to it because that shit was sewn so deep in my psyche that the need to PROTECT THE FEELINGS of the man who stuck his hand down my pants while I was sleeping, over rode my own feelings of self worth and self preservation."

    THIS. My Angel, I am so sorry that happened, and am so glad you wrote about it. Please keep writing, yourself. Your voice is worth hearing.

  3. "But at least now I know that it is not my voice, and those are not my thoughts. I can talk back."

    Also this, this times infinity. I love you.


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