Tag Archives: abuse

A new year; the same me?

It’s January 2011, and it’s been over two months since I’ve updated my blog. Sometimes I’ve forgotten about it, sometimes I haven’t had anything to say, and sometimes I’ve wanted to say things and not known how to do it. But the only way to get back to it is to get back to it, so, well, I’m back.

A new year often inspires people to be reflective of where they’ve been and where they are going and I am no exception. As I write this, much is the same as the last time I wrote. I am still unemployed, I am still living with my parents, I am still getting a divorce – hell, just like previous years, I didn’t do NaNoWriMo.

I feel like these are facts that I should be upset or discouraged by, but somehow, even though they look bad written out, living them feels better than I’d expected.

I have had a long history of self-flagellation, of fighting myself, of wanting to be different, to be better, and my definition of better always managed to be something I never consciously chose; it just lurked in my head, waiting to chastise me for not living up to the ideal. Whether it was my body, my career, my relationships, even my hobbies – you name it, and I never thought I was good enough. And isn’t this the story of every striver, every Lisa Simpson-esque overachiever? My inclination has also been to beat myself up for not even having original angst, a self-defeating cycle if ever I’ve seen one.

This mindset has resulted in me being extremely risk-adverse. I don’t know if I ever articulated it as such, but I would think things like, oh, I would rather not get my hopes up and then be disappointed, better to just not try. I can’t even really think of any examples of things that I wanted and didn’t go after; more, I just didn’t aim for very much. The risk of rejection or failure absolutely paralyzed me.

And so here I am unemployed, the longest stretch of unemployment I’ve ever had, and as much as I am aching to get back to work, I have to say that it hasn’t been an entirely negative experience. For one thing, it has forced me to experience rejection, and realize that I can handle it. This seems so obvious, but previously, I have always gone on an interview and been immediately offered the job – I am almost 37 years old and this is the first time I’ve gone on job interviews where I wasn’t hired! I know that I’ve been fortunate in the past, but those easy experiences kept me sheltered. The thought of not being chosen always seemed like it would be such a crushing blow, such a referendum on my worthiness as a human. And yet, now that I’ve been on three interviews where I haven’t been hired, I’ve been disappointed, but it is much more manageable than I’d expected. I feel much more realistic now.

What has also been helpful has been contemplating exactly what kind of work I want to do. Again, the over-achiever syndrome – I have always had these vague feelings that I should be doing something amazing, something incredible, get a Ph.D., become a CEO, a bestselling author, something that will publicly affirm my worth. Yet this is not who I am! The more job descriptions I look at, the more I realize that I am not a leader, an innovator, a star – and finally, I feel okay with that. I am looking at jobs with titles like Program Associate or Project Administrator and realizing that that’s the kind of work I like. I like taking people’s ideas and executing them, thinking of the little details and figuring out the snags and coming up with other ways to get around them. I like working with people, and helping explain things, and providing good service. I like working 40 hours a week and not bringing my work home with me. Part of me thinks, I have a masters degree and a 4.0 GPA from an Ivy League university, shouldn’t I be aiming higher? But feeling like I should be aiming higher, according to some amorphous external standard, hasn’t made me happy, at all. And the more I accept that what I like is what I like, the more at peace I feel.

This is something I have been experiencing in my personal life as well. (And just a warning – I am going to talk about my sex life. Not very explicitly, but if that will weird you out because you know me, you might want to stop reading here. It gets really personal.)

When Carl and I decided to separate, we also agreed that we would be free to see other people. Initially, the idea seemed very academic and theoretical to me, but after about a month apart I got curious, and I started exploring aspects of my sexuality that I had fantasized about for decades, but had never dared to act upon except in the smallest of ways. (Again, no details, but let’s just say it’s kinky stuff.) I had often felt conflicted about my desires, felt like they were a representation of my low self-esteem, perhaps a way to feel bad about myself, and I often did feel guilty or ashamed or dirty for the things I wanted.

Yet I chanced upon meeting someone whose desires very closely matched mine, and took a huge risk in making my fantasies a reality. Not only was it better than I expected, but over the past few months he has been acting as a mentor of sorts, and under his guidance I have done things I never imagined I would, and it has been simply incredible. Not just physically; it has been mentally and emotionally liberating in a way I absolutely did not expect. The guilt and shame I’d felt for so long about what I wanted has melted, dissolved – I did these things, and the world did not end! I am still the same person I ever was! Again, I like what I like, and I can’t believe I fought against it for so long.

And in keeping with this blog’s theme, I have to say that even as positive as my body image has been in the past, being sexual in this way has been an entirely new way to experience my body, experience myself in my body. I have discarded self-consciousness I didn’t even realize I still had. I am not just comfortable in my skin; I revel in being looked at, at being seen. I move and touch and receive touch seamlessly; my body and my skin and my mind act in absolute concert. I didn’t even imagine this was possible!

It has been somewhat hard to know how to integrate this into my life; for one, it is so heady and overwhelming that I fear that for the people I do talk to about it, I’m pretty much shouting my bliss from the rooftops. And yet I have also felt unable to talk about it in other ways – some of the things I have done are so extreme and out of the ordinary that to say them out loud sounds almost like abuse, and in the beginning, I worried that perhaps I was fooling myself. I have a long history of being in bad situations that I could find any way possible to justify to myself, to convince myself that everything was fine when it really wasn’t. And I’m not cocky enough to say 100% that this isn’t the case now, but I have been making it a point to check in with myself after each time and see how I’m feeling, and goddamn if I don’t feel peaceful and blissful and just plain happy each time. And in a way, having experienced abuse in the past has been a very useful yardstick – I know what abuse feels like, and this doesn’t feel at all like that. If that changes, I’ll deal with it, but for now, it feels amazing to trust myself like this.

So. Wow. This is a lot of navel gazing, and a lot more disjointed and less cohesive than I generally aim for when I write, but so be it. My goal in writing for an audience instead of a private diary is not just to share my experiences in the hopes that they’ll resonate with someone reading, but to keep myself honest, bring things into the light of day. It feels so good to accept who I am and what I like and what I want – my initial inclination is to bemoan how long it took me to make such simple strides, but you know what? I’m just going to enjoy it.

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Violence without lifting a finger

This is another piece that I wrote a long time ago, but I wanted to re-post it as an illustration of what it’s like to live in an abusive relationship – I am not sure I could fully capture these feelings any more, not as urgently (thank god).  I tie my thoughts together more in my next post, but it feels important to describe what this was like in detail.

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I moved in with Larry in November of 2001. (I can’t believe it was that long ago already; I honestly think that being so shaken up by 9/11 had a little something to do with my decision to move in with him, I wanted the security. Ironic, isn’t it?) He didn’t start hitting me until March of 2002. It was a 2 month cycle; March, May, July, and then I left, although the very first morning I lived there we got into a fight and he threw me to the bed in a rage and tore my blouse off, buttons flying around the room, forever lost, and believe me, there was nothing sexy about it at all and I look back and I’m astonished that it only took 12 hours after I moved in for him to start getting physical with me. Can I tell you that that was the worst Christmas of my whole life, too? I spent it crying and alone on that ratty futon mattress in that filthy living room and thank god I had the cats for comfort as I tried not to cry and I tried to pretend everything was fine.

But it wasn’t Christmas I was thinking about this morning, it was my birthday. The weekend before my birthday, Larry threw me a surprise party (that I found out about beforehand) and it was probably the last good time I had with him. All my friends were there, and my cousin even drove up from North Carolina (and I was so shocked to see him that I started crying, and it was a relief because I didn’t have to pretend to be surprised!), and we were all drinking and laughing so hard that our sides hurt and our mouths hurt and Larry had said to me that for my birthday he wanted to get everyone who loved me in one room together and at the time I thought it was the sweetest thing I’d ever heard. (Although now I am cynical – with good reason – and I suspect that his motivation was to impress upon my friends his supposed good intentions toward me, and I give them credit that they weren’t fooled as I was.)

But my birthday itself was really the turning point, the entry to the abyss, if you’ll indulge a little melodrama. That night, it was a Wednesday, we sat down to watch Billy Elliot, which I’d gotten from Netflix, and I ordered Indian take-out, and we sat on the crappy futon and Larry turned the lights out and as we watched the movie, I would occasionally glance down at my plate as I was eating to make sure I didn’t spill any food on my blouse. Suddenly Larry started sniping at me that I was “watching the movie wrong” because I was taking my eyes off the screen – for a few seconds at a time – during the dance scenes. I got annoyed – I was shocked, honestly, what a ridiculous thing to care about! – but pissed off, too, and I said something along the lines of “who the hell are you to tell me how to watch a movie? I’m not bothering you!” And that alone set everything into motion.

I wish I could remember exactly what happened. I feel the need to depict this perfectly, but it’s all so blurry. I remember he turned the movie off and turned the lights on and berated me for hours. About the same old stuff. About how I never trusted him. About how I was sucking the life out of him, draining him, how I was so hard to live with, and how much easier his life was without me before I moved in, how things weren’t working out, how he wanted me to leave, he couldn’t stand to have me there. (I look back with hindsight 20/20 and am shocked at his gall; I was the only one who worked and I paid all the bills and did the grocery shopping and cooking and cleaned as much as I could and I supported every stupid idea he ever had.) Meanwhile, I just cried, out of exhaustion and confusion, my plate of food barely touched and cold, bewildered at how our intimate night at home for my birthday could change with no warning, how the man who planned such a wonderful party for me just days earlier could be so cold and cruel to me now.

He wouldn’t let me spend the night in the bed; I spent the night of my 28th birthday alone on that thin and dirty futon mattress (can you tell how much I hated that futon?) crying myself to sleep and trying to pretend it wasn’t so bad, and again, thank god for the cats to keep me company.

The next morning I woke up to get ready to work and I hoped as I always did that he would have melted in the night, come to me with apologies and affection; although he never ever did, my hope died hard. And this is where the story is so unclear in my head, just how it happened, and where it got so shameful.

We went for a walk through the woods before I left, out the back door and into the park and into the forest, and as we walked the trails in the park he started going on and on about how what he was going to say was so important, and I had to listen and understand, and my head was so fuzzy and thick and my eyes were swollen and I felt like lead and I just wanted him to shut up but I listened, even though he never made any sense, I realize that now, it was all hot air and bullshit and smoke and mirrors, but that day I listened.

He started asking me questions like “we can both agree that out of the both of us, I’m the one who has his act together the most, right?” Again, in retrospect, this is laughable. I was working, running the household, had a strong network of friends and family, and he was the one sitting at home unemployed and stagnant and unproductive and bitter and angry at the whole world. But I was so battered emotionally, and so confused and lost, that it actually seemed true, because he acted like he knew it all, and I felt like I didn’t know anything. (A friend called him The Guru – she told me after I left – because he lectured me incessantly about what I needed to do to improve my life.)

So as we sat on a rock in the deep woods, he said something like “I talked this over with my social worker, and he agreed that this was a good idea. I want you to agree to go along with what I tell you to do – when to eat, what to read, how to keep your schedule, get up in the morning and exercise – because these are the things that are working in my life, and I need you to do them to fix your life if I’m going to be able to live with you. I need you to do these things and not question me about them and trust me for three months, like a probationary period. If you can do this for three months, then you can stay; but if you get willful or rebellious or question me, then you’ll have to leave immediately. Remember, the social worker said that it was a good idea.”

Of course those aren’t his words. I can’t remember them specifically, and he was clever enough of course to sugarcoat them into something a lot less blatant than how I wrote them – how I wrote them is really what he meant, and I wish I had a tape recording of that conversation, so I could hear how he possibly could have phrased that so I could have possibly agreed to it.

But of course I agreed to it. I was demoralized, depressed, lonely, scared, I had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. He hadn’t even hit me yet. How could I have called and said to someone “Larry is making me do what he tells me to?” I was humiliated, and I still am. I am so ashamed that I said yes.

The five months from my birthday until I left him were the lowest moments of my entire life, lower than I could ever imagine possible. He gave me books to read and wouldn’t let me read anything else, and anyone who’s known me for more than a day knows how much of a violation that was. I would sneak to the library on my lunch break and get out books that I wanted to read and leave them at the office and sometimes even dare to keep them in my purse, all the time making sure never to say “I read something the other day” or otherwise give myself away.

He wouldn’t let me listen to the news in the morning, and I would turn the radio on to hear the weather and if I left it on after the weather he would get out of bed and glare at me with those stone eyes and berate me for trying to get away with hearing some news.

Mind you, this was all for my own good.

He would keep me up late at night and then insist that we get up early to exercise, except that his back always hurt and he stopped doing it himself, insisting that I do it alone, but do the exact routine he specified, and every morning I tried to just get some more sleep, oh please god I just need some sleep before I trying to make it through a whole day at work, and he would berate me for trying to get away with sleeping in.

Around my birthday I was taking singing classes and one Sunday perhaps two weeks later I came home from class exhausted – it was about six PM – and Larry started going on and on about how I needed to keep my schedule organized and I needed a planner. When I told him, hello, I’ve got an electronic planner that works fine, he insisted that I needed a written one, even though my handwriting is bad and I hate how my hand cramps up and I never had any problems with the electronic one, because he had a written planner, and I had to do it his way, right? (Never mind that he was constantly missing or late to appointments even with his oh-so-precious planner.)

Fine, fine, I said, I’ll get one in the neighborhood tomorrow at work. That wasn’t good enough – even though it was almost seven already at this point, he wanted us to go to Staples (a good 200 block trip one way) that evening, and when I protested that I was too tired, he said, “that’s it, you’re not keeping to our agreement, you don’t trust me, I want you out of here, out of my apartment, out of my life, start making arrangements to get out.” And as I sobbed and wept and protested how unfair it was, he looked at me with disgust and said “look at you, look at how upset you are, how you’re acting, what’s wrong with you?” which made me cry even more, and this cycle continued and continued until I literally thought I was going to die from the crying, or I wanted to anyway, and then something snapped in him and he started holding me and stroking my hair and comforting me as my breath came in great heaving sobs and he did that to me time and time again and I am so ashamed still that I lived like that, in such turmoil.

I lived like that for five months. Every day on the edge, sick, scared, furious but unable to acknowledge it even to myself, beaten down, subjugated, humiliated and silent. The physical assaults were nothing compared to this whittling away of me, the thousands of daily little cuts that shredded me.

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Asking for it

I feel like I end up writing some kind of definitive conclusion at the end of my posts: I used to think that, now I think this, and the lessons have been learned, thank you very much.  But I want to talk about something that I just have no idea how to sum up, or even what I think very clearly about it.  I am hoping to process.

I am going to write about sex, so if you know me, and don’t want to read about my thoughts about sex, you might want to stop reading.  (Also, be forewarned that there’s some graphic descriptions of fat hatred below.)

So the other day I was looking on a website described as a Facebook type site for kinky people (I am being circumspect intentionally.)  I am not exactly sure I would describe myself as kinky, although perhaps kink-friendly and kink-curious would fit the bill.  Primarily I was looking because having had this difficult relationship with my body all these years, I don’t feel like I am always in my body during sex.  Doing yoga, sure – I can really take up space and fill up with breath and be right there in the moment (at least for a moment), but sex is harder.  I have been sexually active for about 20 years and often still feel as if I am observing from afar or performing.  I am often not embodied during sex, because I still haven’t entirely convinced myself that I can ask for more from sex than using it to prove my worth as an attractive woman.  So I thought that this website might be a good place to look for a community of body-positive people and find some resources for getting into my body during sex.

One of the things I did was specifically search for the word “fat,” to see what came up.  I realize I do this a lot with any sort of new experience – try to suss out beforehand what kind of reception I might get as a fat woman.  Is it even worth trying out?  Is this a safe place for me?

I found fat acceptance groups, which was reassuring to see, and fat fetish groups, which I expected, and even found groups like “no fatties wanted, only hotties!” – the existence of which, having perused Craigslist for more than three minutes, didn’t surprise me at all.

But then I found some groups I had no idea existed, and which really knocked the wind out of me in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time.  These were groups like “fat pigs and the people who love to abuse them.”  Where women with bodies like mine post invitations like these:

“Feel free to leave humiliating comments and share my pics with anyone who needs a laugh! Please point out to me all of the flaws with my body in merciless and cruel detail!  If you send me a humiliating message, please really tell me in detail everything about my body that is unattractive…. If you are not into BBW’s at all, then please tell me that too. Make it perfectly clear that you have zero interest in me sexually. Tell me how I am WAY too fat for you to ever consider having sex with and how disgusting my body is to you. Feel free to use my pics as a joke to gross out your buddies.”  (This is just a tiny sample of what I found.)

I felt physically sick after reading this, because these are the words and opinions that I have tried to avoid my whole life, the kinds of things I have feared my whole life.  I remember dating Jeff, my first boyfriend, and how much he loved when I would perform for him sexually yet he would be embarrassed to introduce me to people in public.  How he would cry tears of self-pity because he wanted a girlfriend who was small enough to sit in his lap, and yet he wound up with me.  (And I remember how I stayed with him for years after that, even after he broke up with me and he slept with me on the side.)  I remember the men who would pick me up at bars and act as if they were attracted to me until they got me where they wanted me, until they got what they wanted.  I remember my sexual assault.

My husband and I have been together for seven years, and I think that it has only been since the last year that on some level I have stopped waiting for that dangling sword to fall, for him to tell me one day, by the way, I think you are so hideous and worthless and disgusting and I never loved you and you were a fool for thinking anyone could ever love you.

So when I look at these fetish posts, I have an immediate recoil – how can someone invite this kind of abuse?  How can someone respond sexually to this kind of abuse?  It is something I absolutely never want to have anywhere near me, ever again.

But I wonder about the woman who posted these words.  Maybe she is tired of waiting for the sword to fall, wondering when the cut is coming.  Maybe it gives her power to decide when and how this denigration of her body that she feels is inevitable will occur.  Do the words lose their sting when they’ve been requested?

(And what of the people who want to deliver this abuse?  I don’t even know what to do about that, not today.)

I still feel like I’m judging her, and I don’t want to.   I have some submissive tendencies in bed, and I can easily understand them as my own imperfect way of dealing with a lifetime of misogynistic messages.  Everyone copes in their own way (although I don’t want to position kink as a mere response to societal messages).  But I just really want a world where people don’t have to preemptively hate themselves because it’s better than waiting for the inevitable.

(So this is me thinking about it – I would love to hear from people who have thought these things through in deeper ways than I’ve been able to accomplish here. )

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Being Auntie Claudia

I don’t have any children, but I have two nieces who are the love of my life.

Bella is almost ten.  She has the loveliest warm eyes, a smattering of freckles across her nose that she doesn’t like but I think is the cutest thing ever, a wickedly sardonic sense of humor even at her age, and an enthusiasm for life that bubbles right through her emails.  (We have become pen pals since she got an email account.)

Maddie is almost seven.  She has blonde hair like my brother did at her age, and is breathtakingly fearless – she will jump into any activity without a second (or even first) thought.  She loves to make faces, scream, make noise, make herself heard.  She has a fashion sense that has nothing to do with prescription and is pure self-expression.

My family, as many families are wont to do, makes comparisons between the generations.  There is a picture of my brother Jeremy when he was young that Maddie used to think was a picture of her, they looked so much alike at the same ages.  The family lore also says that they have the same personality – Jeremy was the daredevil while I was the bookworm, and Bella and Maddie are seen in the same way.

Bella looks a great deal like me, to the point where she has been mistaken for my daughter in public.  She also has many of the characteristics that my family liked to note in me at her age: she’s clumsy in comparison to Maddie’s dexterity, she reads and writes beyond her age level, she can sometimes get caught up in her head and not notice what’s going on outside of it.  Her parents even call her Mini Auntie Claudia, particularly when she’s just tripped over something.

It is an interesting experience watching my nieces grow up, one that is often poignant.  At Bella’s age, she is already starting to show some signs of puberty – like me in childhood, she is not just above average in her intelligence and skills, but in height and weight for her age.

It is hard for me to remember when I was first scrutinized for eating, when I was first put on a diet, because I was so young that I can’t be sure.  I have strong family memories that help me put it in some context: one of my first is of eating some Doritos at a party my parents threw and my father scolding me for not needing them in front of all his friends.  I was about five, if I remember correctly.

When I was six, my grandmother bought me a shirt and told me I could have it only if I lost ten pounds.   My mind boggles now at the sheer cognitive overload such a request was at that age, but then I really just wanted that shirt.  It was navy blue with long sleeves, and had a Noah’s Arc scene embroidered on the chest and the arms, and I loved the animals.  I also hadn’t the faintest idea how to lose ten pounds.  She eventually got disgusted with my lack of willpower and gave me the shirt anyway.  The animals had lost their charm at that point.

When I was eight, my mother gave me a diet book and told me to start following it.  I don’t remember the name of it, but I can picture it vividly in my head.  It was bright yellow, and had before and after pictures of kids from fat camp.  I remember it had recipes requiring copious amounts of saccharine, exhortations to think of spaghetti as bloody worms so you wouldn’t want to eat it, and suggestions to tie bags of frozen peas to your ankles in lieu of weights for leg lifts (this particular technique was supposed to give me the shapely legs of an ice skater.)

(My mother still has that book on the bookshelf in her bedroom.  I want to take it from the shelves and set that fucker on fire.)

Meanwhile, my mother still cooked the way she always did.  I don’t blame her for that one bit; we had little money, my father is an incredibly fussy and inflexible eater, and feeding a family is hard.  (Hell, I find it hard enough in my family of two.)  But I was eight, and told to make that diet work for me, while nothing in my environment changed.  At the same time, I remember coming home from the third grade one day after one of those dreaded public weigh-ins, and my parents demanded that I tell them how much I weighed.  I laid face first on the kitchen floor with my head in my hands and wouldn’t say a word as my father shouted, “I bet you weigh as much as your mother!”

Writing about this, I notice an urge to downplay how much it hurt me.  Other people have had it worse, right?  My mother’s mother (of the shirt bribe) was an alcoholic, and I grew up hearing stories of how abusive and chaotic the household was.  (My mother often couldn’t hear me when I talked about what was hurting me, because hey, at least I didn’t have to raise my siblings and clean up vomit from my drunken mother.)  Even the body shaming could have been so much worse.  I remember reading an account of a woman whose father would give her a lashing for every pound she didn’t lose toward her “goal” weight.  So this makes me feel in some ways like a whiny little baby for even talking about it with any kind of gravity.

But then I look at Bella, living so happily in a body so much like mine at that age, and the idea of her undergoing any of that shame or self-hatred crushes me, in a way I couldn’t feel it for myself.

I look at Bella and Maddie, and I want a different life for them.  They are so vibrant, so carefree and alive and at home in their bodies and their personalities and their right to exist and take up space and be noticed.  I know this isn’t an easy world for girls, and that they will have darker things to deal with as they get older, pressures to hide their light lest they shine too brightly.  But I want them to have a fighting chance.

I have never talked to my brother about weight or food, not really.  He went through an anorexic phase in his teens so I know he didn’t get out unscathed either, but our family is good at avoiding talking seriously about, well, anything.  The idea of talking to him scares me, feels like making myself vulnerable in a way I’m not used to showing him.  But I think about saying to him, see what was done to me, and how long it has taken me to feel worthy or valuable, to eat and love and live without shame.  Use my experiences to help your daughters avoid that same pain.

As for me, I’m just going to keep being fat Auntie Claudia, loving my nieces with everything I’ve got.

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Thinking about abuse and my body

I’m still pretty new at getting back to writing, so I don’t know how polished this will be just yet, but I want to throw some thoughts out.

So, this post.   One of the things that stands out to me with more distance since it happened is that yeah, sure, I would certainly have done things differently.  I probably would have taken more safety precautions, not met him in my dorm room, etc.  But you know?  I’ve gone home with strangers plenty of times and NOT been assaulted.  The difference is that of the person who chose to assault me.  So I don’t beat myself up any more about my choices.

What really strikes me, though, is how much a lifetime of having my body be completely devalued for being fat totally contributed to me being the perfect target for abuse.  Since I was about five, my parents berated me for eating and being fat and not exercising and of course they “meant well”, but how does someone that young really understand that they were just disgusted by my fat and not me, as if again, my body were somehow a foreign grotesquity my brain was trapped in?

And of course it wasn’t just my parents.  My story is nothing unique to fat kids at all.  I was picked on on the playground, taunted, called a whale.  (I remember my mother telling me that I should just tell them that “whales are beautiful and proud creatures and so I’m happy to be called a whale,” which, while I appreciate the sentiment as an adult, was about the least useful advice for elementary school bullying I can imagine.)  The school nurse in 4th grade yelled at me because I came to her with a twisted ankle and she said that my ankles were so thick that she couldn’t tell if it was swollen.  My orthodontist, during the three years I wore braces, would wait until he had his hands in my mouth and then tell me that I really needed to lose weight.

These instances – only the tip of the iceberg  – were really painful to live through, although I have rarely admitted that out loud to people.  Even now some of the shame lingers (hence my decision to write about it, get rid of it).  But my overwhelming emotion now is anger.  Anger that my body was not my own, but something public, something to be remarked upon, criticized, forced to be modified to become more pleasing to the people who had to look at it.

Is it any wonder that the man who sexually assaulted me felt he had the right to my body as well?

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The story of my sexual assault

This is an account of one of the times I was sexually assaulted, about fifteen years ago.  I wrote this about seven years ago, when it was still a lot fresher, but even though time has made the pain dimmer, it hasn’t disappeared.  I plan to write more concretely about the relationship between fat stigma and abuse, but for now I want to put the story out in its entirety so I can refer to it in future posts.

(If it’s not obvious from the intro, serious trigger warnings for sexual violence.)

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He tied me to my bed with the purple chenille belt from my bathrobe. Funny – seven years later I no longer have the bathrobe, but the belt is still stuffed away in some spare dresser drawer and it surprises me every time I find it. I always mean to throw it away, but I haven’t yet. I am a packrat, from a long line of hoarders, and I hold on to everything.

He told me to raise my arms flat on the bed above my head, as I lay on my back on the college dorm issue extra long twin bed. He secured my hands together, twisting the belt between my wrists, and tied the remaining length of belt to the metal legs of the bed frame. We had only met in person 24 hours ago.

In my junior year of college, when we met, no one scanned pictures of themselves to send through email and there was no instant messenger, so we exchanged email and spoke on the phone and I sent a picture of myself through the mail, not really thinking about how I wouldn’t get it back. It was a picture of me during senior year of high school and I was posing with my godfather; when Steve called me to tell me he received it he said, “you’re beautiful, but who’s the ugly guy?” I agreed to have him come visit me at my dorm room anyway. No one was calling me beautiful anymore.

How long did we talk before he came to visit? A week? Maybe two? I don’t remember (this is such a litany for me: I don’t remember, I don’t remember, and I don’t, so little of it is accessible for me) but it was certainly no longer than two weeks. Jeff, whom I’d loved for years with that fierce stabbing first-boyfriend-love, Jeff who told me he wanted to marry me, had left me for a woman he met online just months earlier; did I unconsciously decide to do the same? All I remember is the grasping, sucking depth of my loneliness, and my desperate attempts to do anything I could to quell the pain for even an instant. Anything not to think about Jeff and how utterly alone he left me.

Today I can’t remember a thing about Steve, although one day the next year, a man in my math class wore the same cologne and I instantly felt sick to my stomach to smell it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the scent of that cologne. But I don’t remember why I wanted to meet him. I don’t recall witty conversations, that flush of excitement and warmth that grows in my belly and flushes my cheeks from flirtation, like drinking wine. I don’t remember a meeting of the minds, or even much laughter. I don’t know if I could pick him out of a lineup, or recognize his voice. He is anonymous to me; I am only left with the memory of what he did.

He wanted me. He told me in emails and phone calls that he loved me, he told me he wanted me, and I thought that was enough, so I agreed to have him come for a visit. I remember how nervous I was, plucking at my clothes, fixing my makeup with shaky hands, all as I awaited for him to come. Someone wants me again, I thought, someone else has seen the good in me and wants to be with me.

Not even 20 minutes after he arrived I found myself on my knees on the floor in front of him, my head between his spread legs, his pants unbuckled, between his knees. I remember paying attention to his pants and belt and underwear all bundled between his knees as he held my head in place and repeated not one drop, drink it all, don’t you dare spill one drop and the penalty if I spilled was left unsaid but he wanted me, don’t you understand? He wanted me, I didn’t know him, and we were alone.

Later, in my room, on my narrow bed, he laid next to me, fully dressed, while I was almost nude. I wore only a pair of panties – black cotton, patterned with red roses, my favorite pair – and he stared at me with rich brown eyes. Jeff had had blue eyes, and I enjoyed the difference of Steve’s, the warmth of his brown – it gave me hope that this was what my brown eyes looked like from a lover’s gaze. He stroked my hair and spoke to me hypnotically as he told me he loved me. He told me I was beautiful, but only from the chest up. He couldn’t bring himself to touch me below the breasts – he told me this – but he loved me nonetheless and my touching him would be enough, right? I reeled in pain at his aversion yet I looked at myself with the same revulsion I saw in his eyes, so why should I expect any better than this? I was starving and he was offering me the illusion of nourishment.

My hands were tied to the bed frame as he fixed the blindfold around my eyes, but not before he made sure I saw the tip of a sewing needle, as he burned it in a candle flame, and the anticipation cold in his eyes. The room was romantic, candles lit and lights low; how I had always imagined I would set it up for Jeff. I waited, rigid and terrified and paralyzed; I had given my trust away so freely. I waited and I listened to the Sarah McLachlan CD that he put on the stereo – I had never heard her before and her voice was lovely. I was enchanted as I listened to her sing and I will be the one, to hold you down… I’ll take your breath away and then I felt him push the needle into my nipple.

At that instant I finally knew what I wanted. I wanted him to stop. I didn’t care that I said I would try it, I wanted him to stop and I thrashed against my restraints and sobbed and pleaded and begged for him to stop, no more, just stop, yet he continued to push sharp silver into my resisting flesh with a lingering, taunting pace. Now I see that it was just what he wanted – my protests and pain – and of course he didn’t stop. Once the needle was firmly in place – I couldn’t see it, but I could imagine just what it looked like, this bar of thin metal perfectly centered, enveloped by my flesh – he flicked my swelling nipple so he could watch my tears flood from behind the blindfold, and he finally pulled it out with the same indifferent and casual leisure with which he pushed it in.

I don’t remember the rest of the weekend: what we talked about after, how I felt, when he left, what I did after. Did I feel empty and alone? Was I relieved? Was I numb? It is all an empty space for me except for my solitary burning shame.

I wish I could say that I never saw him again, or that I told him off, or that I stood up for myself. I wish I could say that I never again allowed myself to be hurt by cruel men in the guise of love and that it didn’t take me years to see what flimsy currency the words I love you can be and how cheaply I could be bought.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t thrown away that purple chenille belt yet. Maybe this is something I need to hold onto for a little longer.

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