Hell Week

It’s been a difficult week. Hell, it’s been not even a week. Four days. My sleep has been interrupted by night terrors. I look at others as I fight my way through a crowded grocery store, wondering who is an ally and who an enemy – who would like to rip my guts out if they knew what I believe, how I think, what I feel. I am blocking total strangers and unfriending former friends on Facebook because they side with Brett Kavanaugh and the powerful, the privileged, the pugilistic against the oppressed, the truth-tellers, the light-bearers.

I know I’m not the only one, not by more than three thousand miles. I don’t know whether that makes it better or worse.

I believe that 95 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual violence and almost as many occurrences of sexual violence are never uttered.

During the hearings this past Thursday, Senator Dianne Feinstein read the tally sheet of the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. I don’t believe that statistic: 66 percent of sexual violence goes unreported. I believe that 95 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual violence and almost as many occurrences of sexual violence are never uttered.

I’m someone who, like many American women, has been “out there” my entire adult life. For more than thirty years, I’ve worked full-time since graduating college; I’ve dated and been in many relationships, some long-term, some short; I’ve had many friends and joined many groups: writers, readers, political activists, business networkers, blues-lovers, arts-lovers, to name a few. I’ve been an independent, social, gregarious, life-loving woman. I’ve also been a woman who has experienced more acts of sexual violence than I can remember in any one sitting unless I really put my mind to it.

I rarely do that. I really don’t want to do that. But I will tell you that the violence has ranged from “simple” acts of workplace harassment to rape to stalking to abuse from the age of 15 (and maybe younger – my slippery, protective mind turns vague memories into fog like a dry ice machine). The worst part of any of these was not any specific act but the multitude of times I wasn’t believed, of times I was blamed, of times that the so-called justice and mental health systems turned against me, further isolating and terrorizing me – and the many more times I said nothing because I knew the consequences.

Abuse at 15

I remember being groomed and frightened and confused and sexually abused by an older teenager when I was 15 on a school trip to Europe. After I stumbled out of his hotel room, not at all inebriated but dazed by whatever happened there – cue the mind fog machine – I ran to the stairs that led to my floor, my room, safety and solitude. When I entered the stairwell, a group of his friends sat and stood on the first landing. They might have been waiting for me there. They blocked my exit. They derided me with disgusting taunts and cacophonous laughter. Enraged and frightened like a trapped animal, I screamed at them, telling them from a depth I didn’t know existed what animals they were. This Thursday, when Christine Blasey Ford testified that one of the strongest memories she had of the attack by Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge was their laughter, I physically recoiled and felt the room swim around me. I knew exactly what she was experiencing. Like she, I was 15 years old again, feeling trapped by young men who treated me like dirt after their friend had taken what he wanted from this object – not a girl, not a person, just a thing.

Harassment of an Intern

I remember earning the first news internship at an NPR station through the hard work I had done as a print stringer and first-year graduate student in journalism. I was older than most interns because I discovered public radio reporting as my calling in my later 30s. The news director was only a couple of years older than I but obviously had much more journalism experience than I just starting out in public radio. Attracted to each other, we saw each other sexually a couple of months at most, agreeing to keep it hidden for appearance’s sake and agreeing we could separate it from the news room. I was so naïve.

A rabid drug addict, he soon projected his lack of integrity onto me, accusing me of wanting to “out” us, accusing me of speaking badly of him around town – even though this is the first time I am doing so publicly and still not naming him specifically and almost twenty years later. From his absolute power position, he played horrible psychological tricks on me, confusing me until the ground I stood on passed from shaky to earthquaked to finally gone. He “fired” me (even though I was working 10-20 hours a week for free), banning me from the station. Because I knew that whistleblowers – especially women who accuse sexual harassment – are almost always the ones punished and because then I wanted so much to build a career in public radio, I kept silent. Over the years I told only a few close friends and my therapist. (Since then, I abandoned my amazing public radio career because I couldn’t continue subjecting myself to the many toxic people in charge. As many wonderful people who hold power in public radio – and I personally know a few and hold one as a dear, dear friend – there are many who use and abuse underlings. See stories about Michael Oreskes and Juan Williams, for example.) This is the first time I speak publicly about this horrible news director.

Stalking, Like Imprisoning Someone in Slavery

Perhaps one of the worst sexual and violent crimes committed against me happened when I had the audacity to break up a four-year relationship that had grown increasingly more toxic as the boyfriend had continued to trap me in a cycle of emotional and psychological abuse. The day after I called it off, he showed up at my apartment to reclaim some of his items left there and loaned to me over the years – two or three shirts, a couple of dining room chairs. He shoved past me into my apartment that summer Saturday morning and wouldn’t leave despite my yelling at him constantly to do so and screaming for help into the quaint neighborhood with many open windows. No one came. No one helped.

Somehow I struggled free, only then to cower on all fours in the corner of the farthest end of my apartment. I was an animal protecting my physical body. I am still ashamed and frightened as I remember that moment.

When he started physically menacing me, for the first time in my life I realized I needed to call 9-1-1. He ripped the phone out of my hands – but the land line phone had connected long enough to trigger the cops’ drive to my apartment. He held me tight by my shoulders. I think he threw me onto the bed. He may have wrestled me to the ground. He may have just stood there, gripping my shoulders with all his male strength. I was sure he was going to rape me. My mind and body went numb. Yet somehow I struggled free, only then to cower on all fours in the corner of the farthest end of my apartment. I was an animal protecting my physical body. I am still ashamed and frightened as I remember that moment.

When the cops arrived in what seemed an eternity later, they didn’t believe me. The male cops took him outside and joked and laughed with him on the sidewalk. The female cop was harsh and judgmental with me as she forced me to find his shirts jumbled in with my pile of clothes on the floor. They finally left, along with him.

After that, I remembered feeling like a slave as he continued to stalk me for months. I wasn’t free to decide for myself. He continued to threaten me unless I agreed to our getting back together. One day he sabotaged my car by wrenching a garden spade into the engine. That cost thousands of dollars. Another time he broke into my storage to steal audio of my therapy sessions. (I had recorded them so I could listen again between sessions to let my therapist’s wisdom sink in.) Another time he broke into my home to steal my airline tickets to fly home to what I thought would be the safety of my family, me on the west coast, they on the east. Later, until I deplaned from that four-hour flight, I was terrorized that he might have sneaked onto the plane. (I didn’t have the money to buy an entirely new trip.)

Worse than all this, though, were the people who didn’t believe me and the system that turned against me. Our “friends” told me outright that there must be two sides to the story, that after four years of our being together, he couldn’t be that bad, that I must have done something bad, too. A cop told me that he would rather be dead than not fight back and suggested I get a temporary protective order against him. So I did. My psychiatrist yelled at me that I shouldn’t fight him through the legal system, that I was only baiting him by doing so. Even though a trained witness (a security officer who ran his business from across the street) saw the ex breaking into my home through a window and filed a police report, this counted for nothing, no proof against him, as I faced the ex in court alone without any legal representation because I didn’t have enough time and money to get help. When I asked for a continuance, his attorney said I would have to pay his extra legal fees – which I had no idea how I could afford.

It was the loneliest moment of my life. As I write this experience, I am crying again. I can’t describe how extremely alone, terrorized, frightened, and small I felt. This was a Rubicon I must cross, however.

It was the loneliest moment of my life. As I write this experience, I am crying again. I can’t describe how extremely alone, terrorized, frightened, and small I felt. This was a Rubicon I must cross, however, and so I did. I held fast to my demand for a continuance.

I think his attorney must have understood the horrible nature of what had happened, because he never sent me a bill. As for myself, I ended up letting the matter drop because the months of violence had exhausted me and because the ex had found a new target, a new girlfriend, so he left me alone. Not the best ending for anyone involved, but such often is life.

The Characters and Their Character, The Same Now as Then

I saw in Christine Blasey Ford the same fear, the same strength, the same shaking and PTSD of reliving such a horrible memory as I have had anytime I remember any of the many sexual violence situations I have faced. I saw in Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Ted Cruz, et al., – the legal, police, and medical system that betrayed me, turned on me in anger, and did the opposite of protect me. I saw in Brett Kavanaugh as he derided and disrespected female senators – the males who raped, abused, harassed, and stalked me. I see in the people who won’t take a stand against an obviously misogynistic and frighteningly and abusively privileged Kavanaugh – the friends who wouldn’t stand with me when I was physically attacked, stalked, and terrorized for months. And I see in those multitudes of people – women and men – who understand by direct experience or by well-conscienced empathy – the friends who have believed me, the allies who have supported me, and the hope I still retain for a system to protect the unpowerful. May God bless and protect us all.

‘Twas Two Days before Christmas

Today started in pain. The alarm wakened me from nightmares that visited like Ebenezer’s ghosts, and just as frightening, these Worries of Christmases Past, Present, and Future. Then came the tears caused by loved ones returning neither calls nor texts. Normally I deal with this pain by shoving it into a dark and dusty corner of my mind, a room seldom visited and when it is, by the Intellect bustling right in, opening wide the windows to let in the sunlight, and saying in a brisk voice, “Enough of that, now! You know it’s not personal, so why pay it any heed? Up and at ‘em, my lady! You have dragons to slay and rainbows to chase!” But lack of sleep and holiday stress broke open the doors that normally hold back the tears and the fears.

Then came time to awaken my best friend. Mornings are always hard for this night owl, and his lack of sleep rivaled mine after our abundant Christmas party for more than a dozen loved ones three days earlier. We had prepared with two days of steady work and then cleaned up and moved out of the house for another too many hours where we hosted the dinner. Then it was right back to work with long days and longs hours. And yet, he awakened as always with eyes full of love. The wonder of this miracle mostly banishes my demons, that this someone who is not yet fully alert will shine love and speak the words of this automatic response. His soul is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in this world.

While I rushed around the apartment packing my lunch, curling my hair, and watering the Christmas tree, he stepped outside into the cold that stings his skinny frame. I thought it was to smoke his morning cigarette. Unknown to me then, it was to trudge down to the car to start it up and warm it ahead of time for me. He never does this. When I was ready finally to leave for work, he walked me down the front staircase to the car. He never does this. Then he showed me what his ungloved fingers had sketched into the frost of the side window: “I LOVE YOU.” He never does this. And yet on this special day, these love gifts warmed me more than the heated car on my drive into work.

Work was hard and long, despite the shorter than normal hours and despite the cheer shared by us co-workers in our Secret Santa reveal and gift exchange and despite the paucity of tasks to perform today, two days before Christmas. I couldn’t wait to get home and take my long winter’s nap after missing so much sleep during the past week of Christmas cheer.

After driving home, I walked up the outside staircase in the dark, the timer not yet having turned on the porch lights. It was cold and such a drudge after the joyful accompaniment by my best friend in the brisk morning sunlight hours on my way to work just ten hours earlier. I opened the front door, knowing that our black Christmas kitty would cheer me by straining his little head to me to greet his mom, so happy to know that she had returned to give him love and dinner.

I wearily plopped down my bags from work and walked over to our Christmas tree, a tree lit by the lights strung by my best friend just days before. I squealed in delight to the cat, “Look, Tico! Dad decorated the tree with our ornaments!” I rushed over to our kitty, scooped him up in my arms, and tilted him down towards the tree from my height so he could sniff and inspect the ornaments in front of us both. He approved. My heart was filled with joy.

My Christmas present is love given me by a warm heart shining with the true spirit of the season.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all the gift of love.

Carol and Don's Christmas tree. 23 December 2014. Reno, Nevada.

Carol and Don’s Christmas tree. 23 December 2014. Reno, Nevada.

A Visit from St. Nicholas

Our family grew up living all over the world because of Mom and Dad’s service as U.S.diplomats. My oldest brother was born in Surabaya, Indonesia; my next brother in Milan,Italy; our middle brother in Arlington, Virginia; and my little brother and I were born in Bonn, Germany. Mom used to joke that instead of her and Dad collecting souvenirs from each country, they collected children.

Our parents infused our growing-up years many traditions from these various countries where we lived and traveled. One of my favorite customs came from the land of my birth: the big celebration of Christmas for children in those countries is December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas visits on the eve of his feast day to drop off goodies and small gifts in children’s wooden shoes placed outside their bedroom doors. Mom and Dad Americanized for us the story of St. Nicholas: it seemed that this sweet old man worked in cahoots with our Santa Claus. He came to visit during the night of December 5th, pick up our letters to Santa that we placed in our wooden shoes from Holland that we lovingly and hopefully placed outside our bedroom doors, and replace the letters with imported German chocolates, gummi bears, candy canes, and German Christmas cookies of lebküchen (spice cookies) and gingerbread cookies. Sweet St. Nicholas would then make sure to deliver our wish list letters to Santa, his dear old friend up north.

I continue this tradition still on my favorite day of the year, updated to a more adult version. St. Nicholas visits my husband’s and my home the night before, dropping off a bottle of fine cognac for Don and my beloved Frankovic eggnog for me, along with a candy cane and imported chocolates and pistachios and a small gift or two.

St. Nicholas is one of my most beloved saints and spirits of the season. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for the warmth of your love.

St. Nicholas visits a newly married couple, Carol Cizauskas & Don Prather. Saturday, 6 December 2014. Reno, Nevada.

St. Nicholas visits a newly married couple, Carol Cizauskas & Don Prather. Saturday, 6 December 2014. Reno, Nevada.

ReBlog: A Canadian’s View On Our Disrespect Of President Obama’s Presidency

The Fifth Column

EgbertoWillies.com

America – He’s Your President for Goodness Sake!

By William Thomas

There was a time not so long ago when Americans, regardless of their political stripes, rallied round their president. Once elected, the man who won the White House was no longer viewed as a republican or democrat, but the President of the United States. The oath of office was taken, the wagons were circled around the country’s borders and it was America versus the rest of the world with the president of all the people at the helm.

Suddenly President Barack Obama, with the potential to become an exceptional president has become the glaring exception to that unwritten, patriotic rule.

Four days before President Obama’s inauguration, before he officially took charge of the American government, Rush Limbaugh boasted publicly that he hoped the president would fail. Of course, when the president fails the country flounders. Wishing harm upon…

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Your Daughter’s Farewell

When I was a little girl, it was Mom’s plumpness that comforted me. I could hug her until I moved cross-country in my late twenties and never reach around all that love. The smell of her cooking marvelous comfort food in the kitchen would entice me to come to her and hug and hug and hug her.

Varskeciai

Varskeciai

Sometimes she was cooking varskečiai, Lithuanian ravioli swimming in a warm sea of sour cream cooked with butter; sometimes magical Indonesian food with all the toppings of bananas and coconut and raisins and chutney placed ‘round the Lazy Susan; sometimes meatloaf or my favorite, chicken divan, or the hot dog and beans casserole laced with bacon. Always a salad or cole slaw, both dressed with my father’s favorite vinegar and oil and a dash of sugar. Always a vegetable. Always a starch. Always milk. The little girl Carol could never understand her big brother Al’s preference for water.

And she taught me to bake. Love infused into vanilla and butter and sugar and flour. Mixing the dough. Rolling the dough. Sneaking pieces of the batter under Mom’s watchful eyes. Checking the cookies to make sure they didn’t burn – or did, to please my next brother. The little girl Carol could never understand her big brother Bob’s preference for brown-edged sugar cookies.

And weekend mornings delighted my childhood. She taught me the specialties of pancakes and of eggs and of French toast and of thin Lithuanian pancakes rolled up with jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar. I never stopped cooking breakfast from when I first left home. I could never understand my men’s not loving breakfast as much as I. How could one not love a mother’s comfort first thing in the morning?

As she taught me to cook basics like breakfast and to bake cakes and cookies, she shared with me the simplicity of preparing food for the cooking. On hot and muggy Virginia evenings, we would sit on the front stoop of our Walnut Street house and crack string beans together. Mother and daughter would pull them out of the one bowl, split off the viney ends, crack the remainders in halves or thirds, and toss them into the other bowl until the one was empty  and the other full. As we would relish the coolness beginning to creep into the early evening of sunset, Mom would tell me stories of how she did the same with Nana on the front stoop of their Flatbush home on Lenox Street. I imagine Nana’s mother did the same with her before the 16-year-old daughter emigrated to the New World. Generations of love passed along in those simple green beans.

Ausukis made with love by my cousin Barbara for my wedding on 12 September 2013 in Reno, Nevada. She shipped them from her home in Massachusetts.

Ausukis made with love by my cousin Barbara for my wedding on 12 September 2013 in Reno, Nevada. She shipped them from her home in Massachusetts.

And then there was the holiday special of Lithuanian ausukis. The fine-tuned recipe passed from grandmother to mother to daughter of pastry with only-just-so-much flour added to the plump ball of dough in the center of our red pull-out kitchen counter shelf. So many egg yolks – Mom teaching me the careful art of separating the yellow from the white inside fragile shells – and then the rich cream, and “pinch” salt (Mom always laughing through the story the story of her Indonesian maid who burst into tears after a day of shopping for and never finding this “specialty seasoning”). Then adding the flour bit by bit by bit, always rolling out the dough until it was just as right as Mom. Just as soft, just as huggable.

And Thanksgiving! What a treat! So many tantalizing dishes, such a magical gourmet mother cooking all day in the kitchen. The orange mashed sweet potatoes placed with care back into the hollowed-out fruit with a top like a slightly askew, jaunty cap. The gravy for the bird, always from scratch. The creamed pearl onions, which always looked far lovelier than they tasted. And the ground stuffing. My two brothers closest in age to me, Tommy and Richard, and I loved placing the giblets, bit by bit, into the grinder which Mom had carefully screwed just so onto the counter edge to hold it tight. Its gray metal always confused me. How could something so simply functional be so beautiful? How could a simple spiral metal churn all the meat into tiny pieces on the other end? It was Mom’s magic.

And most amazing of all was Kuče. Our Lithuanian Christmas Eve was a production that would make a world-class chef flush with nerves. The varskečiai; the heavy kugel, which we kids always joked could mop up oil stains on a driveway; the delectable oyster stew; the fresh fish main dish; and of course all the sides of salad and crudities and bread and specialty vegetables and plates of ausukis. I never knew how the table could hold so much. For more than a day straight, Mom cooked and cooked and cooked. I emulate her hospitality. At my Kuce each year and at my wedding rehearsal dinner, I still have served my parents’ B&B as an American cousin to Lithuanian vitutus, the nectar of the pagan gods from our deep ancestry only so recently converted to Christianity, the mead-like liqueur which our parents shared with us on this very special, spiritual family night.

My mom, Genovaite Ambraziejus Cizauskas, hugging me right after my wedding ceremony on 12 September 2013 in Reno, Nevada.

My mom, Genovaite Ambraziejus Cizauskas, hugging me right after my wedding ceremony on 12 September 2013 in Reno, Nevada.

Now that I’m grown, it’s been Mom’s hands with their paper-thin wrinkles that have comforted me. Her plumpness faded, her hands had grown thin and graceful. Her hands upon my back as she hugged me with all the love in her now tiny frame in her great joy at my marriage. Her hands lying softly upon her blanket in the nursing home as she dozed out of consciousness, Mom then awaking with joy at seeing me there and begin her mantra of “I love you. You’re so beautiful. I love you. I love you. You’re wonderful.” The skin of her last days almost translucent, like rice paper – something she never cooked with, something she now was surrounded with on her final, most amazing journey.

Travel safely, dear Mom. Let the angels be your guide. I love you. I miss you.

Mom and me during my parents' trip to visit me after I had moved cross country to Reno, Nevada. 30 May 1993. Of course, this hug happened in the kitchen where they were staying during their visit.

Mom and me during my parents’ trip to visit me after I had moved cross country to Reno, Nevada. 30 May 1993. Of course, this hug happened in the kitchen where they were staying during their visit.

A Season of Loss

As she walked through the palace, she came upon the tower. Only by craning her neck could she see its height. From that angle, she could see heaven surrounded by baroque outcroppings of carved white marble. They were edged in gold and framed the robin’s egg sky.

Needing to photograph it, she took out her phone. As she backed up to the tower with her neck straining backward, now the ladies were there. Lace choking their throats. White hair pulled in chignons with no tendrils. Bifocals pinching ends of noses. White-gloved thumbs and forefingers holding impossibly small rings of bone china. The rings attached to pearl-colored teacups dotted with peach and pink rosettes. “Can’t you see we’re sitting here?” their eyes said, looking over pince nez rims. “Leave us now!”

But she would only take a moment leaning back into their space to get a click or two. So she continued. She looked up again.

That’s when she saw the blue filling with bombs. Bombs with fins rushing toward them all, her and the grim ladies. She noticed their color: Golden Gate Bridge orange. She needed to find somewhere safe fast and remembered that she had never paid attention to the safest places in buildings to find in case of bomb attacks and earthquakes. Was it in the open or under doorways or under large tables?

No matter, she followed the quiet woman, alone, the one she had failed to notice earlier. Her quiet she had mistaken for dullness. Now she understood this woman’s depth of knowledge and understanding.

As she followed her, they raced under doorways and over marble floors and past gilt-edged Marie Antoinette furniture to the front of the palace. The woman stayed under the distended arch of the final internal doorway while her follower continued running forward, impelled by inertia.

She stopped suddenly when she saw the group of Middle Easterners standing there. Somehow she knew each of their homelands, one from each. Syria. Israel. Egypt. Jordan. Qatar. Yemen. Palestine. United Arab Emirates. Bahrain. Lebanon. Saudi Arabia. Turkey. Oman. Iraq. Iran. Kuwait. And someone from India, too. And one from Pakistan.

They welcomed her, urging her, rushing her to safety with them. They knew the best place.

“But I’m not the one you’re looking for!” she cried with fatal honesty. She knew that not accepting their protection would kill her in the few moments they had left before the bombs destroyed the palace, the world they all inhabited at this moment of worst danger. She was dismayed to find that her honesty ran so deep that even to save her life, she could not lie. “It’s some other blonde, white woman you’re looking for! It’s not me!”

They didn’t care. They gathered around her and rushed her along with them to safety, moments before the bombs hit.

 

I awoke, sweating in air thick with the summer’s unusual humidity. My cell phone’s light showed 4:03. I worried to the darkness that he still wasn’t home.

His working late gives me more nightmares than normal. I wake after each apocalypse, each story of humanity torturing ourselves, each destruction of souls. But this night, this morning was even worse because it stretched into far too many turns of the clock.

Just then I heard his footsteps up the eight-plex’s wooden stairs, saw his body passing by the window’s box fan. My words “Hi, honey” were covered by his staccato cough. His smoker’s cough.

He came in and sat on the edge of the bed where I lay. We talked of his fourteen-hour shift, the record-breaking number of customers at the casino buffet, his exhaustion. I knew the things he didn’t tell me: his working without breaks except five minutes every few hours so he could smoke or use the john, his carrying the team of the young boy who needed all cooking tasks explained in excruciating detail and the other who took all opportunity to relax, his weariness not only from this night’s double shift but from the seven days yet to come in this 12-day schedule.

I wanted to rescue him, to find a way for him not to have to carry our load that I feared heavy for a sixty-year body. When I told him the millionth time that he is my hero, he couldn’t know the depth to which I meant it, even though he knows its truth. More than I ever wanted for myself or the world, I wanted to create a fairness for him where workers would be paid their worth, where management would not demand increasing impossibilities of workers. I wanted justice we will never see.

And I told him my bombing-of-Dresden-with-life-saving-Middle-Easteners dream. As I wept, he held me, telling me how he loves me, how dear to him is my vulnerability.

After some time, he left for the fridge to find a five a.m. beer. That would carry him to a few hours’ sleep that would have to tide him through a bigger next night at work than this.

After he left, I stretched my arm out of the light blanket to let the fan’s breeze caress my wrist. I heard his beer can quietly touch the coffee table, and again. The muffled sound lulled me back to sleep.