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.

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.

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.

ReBlog: Five Words That Will Change Your Life

Five-Words-by-DieselDemon

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Thomas G. Fiffer
28 May 2014
Originally blogged in The Good Men Project

“The risk of being continually reduced is nothing less than personal evaporation.”

“It’s harder to see devaluing behavior when you’re under-appreciated, undermined, unsupported, and taken for granted by someone who signs your paycheck or treats you like one. Being devalued is often less about what’s being done to you than about what’s left undone or withheld, the absent gratitude, the praise that’s never spoken, and we often get used to living on scraps, awaiting a feast that will never be served.”

“Our sense of self-worth does not depend on the estimation of others. We are all worthy. But our feelings of happiness and contentment center on knowing intellectually and feeling on a deep emotional level that we matter, that our life brings value to other people.”

Read more.

ReBlog: May God Have Mercy On Us All

“Wherever you come down on the issue of capital punishment, it’s impossible to deny that what happened last night in Oklahoma was horrific.

Last night also reminds us of a broader horrific truth that so many of us deny or simply ignore: Capital Punishment is murder at the hands of the State.”

What a barbaric, evil practice. “Thou shalt not kill!”

WhenEFTalks

Wherever you come down on the issue of capital punishment, it’s impossible to deny that what happened last night in Oklahoma was horrific.

Last night also reminds us of a broader horrific truth that so many of us deny or simply ignore: Capital Punishment is murder at the hands of the State.

California ExecutionsCapital punishment is typically done in sanitized, tightly controlled, environments. “We The People,” carry it out thusly so that we can feel better about what we’re doing.

Yes, we’re killing a human being, in the name of all of us, but we’re doing it kindly and gently. You know, like we might put down an old dog.(1)

Last night ripped the pretense off this view. Murder is intentionally taking the life of another human being. Capital punishment is murder at the hands of the State, however “nicely” it happens.

If this offends you, I will…

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