Angry and bald

I rode the subway to work this morning, 13 stops. It’s Saturday. A man got on my car, screaming about how big his dick was. He kept saying “fuck all of you. My balls are king kong’s balls. I’ll kill every one of you. I’m going to fucking kill you.” At the next stop, I switched cars. At the next stop, so did he. He kept screaming. He kept threatening me and the other passengers with physical and sexual violence. I changed cars again. So did he. I ran multiple cars away. The train tried to leave without me. I jammed my arm in the door and waited seconds for the conductor to open the doors. I rode a few more stops without the man. When I got off at my stop, I looked behind me every five steps, hoping he wasn’t following me.

Part of being a woman is being threatened. We are not surprised by threat. I am not surprised when someone threatens to rape me in public, the same way I’m not surprised when I walk by a man in the street and he looks me up and down and imagines me naked, prone, at his mercy.

I dated older men when I was young. Pedophiles. I thought they liked me for my personality. Maybe that’s true; maybe the innocence everywhere was compelling. One was 45 to my 19. He told quoted Keats to me, “beauty is truth.” That meant “I only date models.” I was thin because I subsisted on Coors Light, cigarettes, and buttered bagels. I was a nervous wreck, a full-blown alcoholic, a timid, natty animal, thirsty for anything. He tried to convince me to quit my retail job where I made $9.25 an hour and become a cocktail waitress at a club in the meatpacking district. He brought me to an expensive restaurant with another friend, a short Indian man who owned an airline, a millionaire. He looked at me skeptically when I inhaled the entire bread basket. I was hungry, and he wasn’t used to seeing women eat.

This is the year for women and feminism. It’s really easy to buy a T shirt now, announcing your activism. We elected a rapist to the presidency of the United States.

I’ve been hiding from news and social media for a year. The daily anxieties are crippling. A woman is raped every 4 or 5 seconds. The fact of Harvey Weinstein. The fact of Bill Cosby. Matt Damon opening his mouth.

Opening Instagram is a bitter pill. Women with 40,000 followers hocking diet shakes for flat bellies. People curating their lives with zeal and vigor. Impossibly happy, cooking things from scratch, going on vacation, loving their husbands or boyfriends without resentment. Women getting pregnant. Kardashians. Artists more successful than you. Everyone is doing so well. Otherwise it’s something about wine, which is called “mommy juice.” Another hilarious take on the daily urgency for global novocaine.

I heard a man tell a rape joke in an alcoholic recovery meeting once. I heard another white man talk about how, at his lowest moment, he was indistinguishable from a black man. There is no such thing as a safe space.

We are all implicit in the American Disaster. The idea that this country was built on the premise of freedom is a decrepit, insulting lie. It was built on the oppression, slaughter and rape of anyone who was not white or, to a lesser degree, male.

We congratulated ourselves when we elected Obama. Then we chose Donald Trump over a woman. My Apple news app shifts from Trump’s latest tweet, the threat of impending nuclear war, to a tantalizing teaser of a headline- do I want to know how Chrissy Teigen looks, newly pregnant AND in a bikini? This is our world. We all might burn to hell today, Dante’s blazing inferno, but Donald has a longer, fatter dick than Kim Jong-un, which could better satisfy a woman. And just in case today is not the day an atom bomb floats like a feather into the heart of Times Square, try to make more recipes your husband enjoys. Try not to get fat while you’re pregnant.

The guy on the train this morning won’t stop me from taking the train again tomorrow. I will get up and go to work. I’ll try not to think about the man who showed me his gun five years ago, or the one who, twenty years ago, showed me his Donald Trump.

I shaved my head when I got home tonight. My husband took a picture and said, “you look angry.”

I am angry. Angry and bald.



The honey heavy dew of slumber

For Cathy

I went to a meeting this morning, and because I was told to do this when I woke up at 29 years old suddenly sober, naked and terrified, I shared: I am in pain.

As it were, I’m not the only one. 

Living a sober life can be like sinking to the bottom of the ocean, a black, unknowable, blind pit, in a one-woman submarine, only there’s no release valve for the air pressure, so you go up and down in the water, you can’t see a thing besides what the dinky lamp attached to your craft shoots out, miserable and too small a light, and the pressure just builds. You want to open a window but it’d kill you. Gin is the window. 

So what you’re supposed to do is get on your knees and say, please god release this pressure so I can go help the next one-woman submarine who looks like she’s 5 minutes away from drinking the window. Or you meditate and learn to quietly tolerate the sensation of drowning. Lighten up, as they say.

And if you learn to stop obsessing over the fact that you’re alone in a tiny tin can in huge, unknowable, dark ocean, if you can shut up for long enough about how we’re all dying down here, maybe you notice a fish. Maybe it’s an ugly fish, and you curse at it’s weird lips like two stacked lumbar support pillows and it’s eyes which, due to bad placement (who invented these things?) can only see you with one eye at a time. Fuckface. It swims away and now there’s nothing but plankton, little flakes of white cascading in whirls and whooshes, directed by some kind of physics, I’m sure.

Another fish, less beautiful than the first.

And then you think, fuck, how can you guys stand it down here? This is terrible. It’s dark, it’s wet, it’s boring. The pressure is killing me. An ear pops.

More fish. A school! Numerous slimy silver bullets. Man, what I wouldn’t do for a Coors Light.

The way the light catches them, the little flares like stars on a space highway, it’s not bad. Groovy sci-fi stuff. A moment of grace punctures how sorry your feel for yourself, because suddenly: you’re there, you’re noticing what’s right in front of you, some mundane thing, numerous and circular and bigger than you. 

So you stare out your window and watch them move. After a minute they swim away again, and everything goes dark outside your one woman submarine. For this instant, you’re not so angry. The pain dissolves. Like everything else, it’s fleeting.

You glance down and notice a button. It says SURFACE.

It was always right there in front of you. 

You press it. Up you float.

You remember that you know how to swim. You move towards the light. 

There’s a prayer: It is in self-forgetting that one finds. You die all day to understand what it is to be alive. 

Lucky for us, nothing is solid. Not death, life, feeling, memory, truth, gin, fish, ocean, air. 

For my dear friend who is dying: thank you for showing me the SURFACE. Thank you for helping me find the light.

Ugh, Feelings

I’ve always loved that scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon walks into a therapy session with Robin Williams, claps his hands, and sarcastically exclaims, “Let the healing begin!”

That cinematic moment exemplifies my ongoing approach to therapy in general, except that I say it with sincerity. I always start going again for a reason (I can’t count how many times I’ve started and stopped therapy). Maybe I was lost in a haze of raging insomnia, focusing my anxiety on a tender, stinging molar, or haunted by the mental imagery of prior trauma. I always want to start fresh, because therapy never worked for me before. This time will be different; I can be perfect from now on.

Somewhere, outside of myself, there is an easy solution. There is someone out there waiting with the answers, ready and willing to save me.

The solution isn’t gin, or the army of tipsy, swoopy-haired men I counted on to be transformative. It’s not my husband, or daughter. Changing boroughs didn’t work, nor counties. I’m still looking for it: the 1-800 number on a late night informercial that offers salvation for 4 easy payments of $39.99 plus shipping, no CODs. I want the easy way out.

The routine I’ve repeated with more than a dozen therapists is always the same. At first, full tilt fervor. I walk in, say nice to meet you, take a seat on the brown pleather la-z-boy, and summarize my life story in 20 minutes, all gruesome details. I am thoughtful, unfazed. I interchangeably use SAT vocabulary and therapy-speak. I immediately want the therapist to know that I am amazing, and we are done here.

It doesn’t work.

Even if I could convince every therapist in the world to tell me I’m fine, I am not always fine. I can tell my story with vigor, all sweeping narrative and astute observation, but talking at someone who’s being paid by the hour doesn’t kill my ghosts. They’re waiting outside in the car, haunting the Honda, laughing at my refusal to be genuine.

I started therapy again when I was pregnant. My best friend, who’s spent the last decade delivering babies and nurturing new moms, told me it was important. Being pregnant and giving birth can be extra emotionally difficult for survivors of sexual trauma. (Something to do with abdicating control of your own body for a year, handing it over to a midget dictator who is not exactly sensitive to your whims and feelings).

I repeated my usual performance, nudging the therapist to say, “Why are you even here? You sound terrific.”

My next act, if I make it that far with a particular candidate, usually involves them asking me how I “feel” about certain events. This always stops me dead in my tracks. I hate this question.

The real answer is that I try not to, at all costs. What I do is think about my problems, not feel them. Thinking about them hurts less. I want to think my way into an easy solution, think myself into a place where the feelings fade into the atmosphere like hot breath in cold weather. I don’t want to pay someone to let me sit on their shit-colored couch for 45 minutes and then leave the office feeling like a gaping wound for the rest of the day, dysfunctional and dripping with blood.

That’s around the time I stop calling and booking appointments.

I stopped seeing the therapist I saw during my pregnancy because she, like all the others, didn’t understand me. Never mind that she didn’t understand me because I didn’t let her, a minor detail.

I’m seeing another new one now. A severe postpartum depression set me straight; I will take any measure possible to ensure that I am healthy enough to care for Lu. No amount of dignity is more important to me than being able to care for my daughter.

I’m trying to take it seriously, to let the healing begin, if you will. I want to learn how to feel stuff and not immediately try to arrest it, push it away, think over and through it.

Yesterday, while sitting on her brown couch (because what other color could it be), Lucy crawling around on the floor banging blocks together to make sound, I read her the narrative I wrote recently about my sexual assault (A+ student!). This is ripe stuff, the work of someone who is clearly dedicated to her emotional and spiritual journey, perhaps even someone who is really almost just fine. The paragraph that follows the description of events begins, “Being assaulted was not my fault.”

She looked at me for a minute. Finally, she said, “Ok, but that’s not really how you feel about it, is it?”

Shattered. That knocked the wind right out of me. She didn’t buy my textbook summary, my saying of the thing you’re supposed to say about this kind of thing.

She’s right. I don’t think it’s my fault, I feel it’s my fault. And thinking about it doesn’t change how it feels. It feels like shit. I spent the rest of the day mostly lying on Lucy’s floor, exhausted from feeling stuff, while my daughter amused herself with toys.

I made another appointment for next week, a scheduled sacrifice, 12:15pm Thursday my still-pumping ventricles will be ripped from my ribs and held up to the light.

What’s different this time? I’m more willing to do the work because there’s a new emotional frontier that I don’t want to be shielded from: the one that’s two feet tall and has the world’s most squeezable cheeks.


I want to go all in. I want to be the best possible version of myself, emotionally whole, so that there’s more of me to experience her. I don’t want to run away. I want to finally learn how to coexist with the messy stuff I’ve spent decades trying to outsmart and outrun.

Maybe she’s saving me after all.