Sunday, September 29, 2013


That particular Tuesday night didn't seem to be any different than any other.  A young woman, a fairly regular customer who typically comes in with her boyfriend, came in instead with a girlfriend and ordered drinks at the bar.  Noting my bowl of food  and a notepad set up in front of the two nearest barstools, the girls elected instead to occupy a booth just behind me.  They were joined shortly by two guys, who crammed into the booth with them.  Nothing illicit appeared to be happening.  They were just a group of friends, out for a middle-of-the-week cocktail.  My only qualm was regarding one of the guys, who didn't have money for drinks and kept going back to his friend for cash for drinks and for the jukebox.

I was standing at the other end of the room chatting with a group of friends when I heard yelling coming from the booth.  I looked up to see a woman standing before the "U" shaped booth, her back to me while the two girls in the booth stared in shock and the two guys looked simply dumbstruck.  The subject of her rage was clearly the penniless patron.  Before I could act I saw her fling her arm across the table, knocking the collection of glasses the group had been building for an hour or so into their laps, then she lifted the table and whatever was left fell on them as well.  I started to dash across the bar when I heard her say, "Leave me alone!  I'm six months pregnant!"  Sure enough as I approached I could see her rounded belly resting above the waistband of her sweatpants and protruding from her tight black tank top.

The memory came flooding swiftly back to me:

I was probably about seven months pregnant, waiting at my parents' house for Ben to let me know he was coming home.  There was no response to my messages.  He couldn't be working that late.  The kitchen was closed, and besides, he'd been there since early in the morning.  I excused myself and walked back to my house, where I promptly climbed into my car and drove down the street to Amestoy's.  Ben's truck was parked out back.  

I walked into the bar, and the voices ceased immediately.  A collective breath was held by everyone in the bar as they burned me with their stare.  It was like a scene from a Kenny Rogers song.  Ben was sitting next to the daytime bartender, Jessica, and they appeared to be sharing a pizza.  

By then, the news of Gabriel's condition was well-known.  We were carrying a terminally ill child.  And my husband had lied to me about where he was, leaving me at home to mourn my child's impending fate.  I walked over to him, shaking.  I could feel the sympathetic eyes of Jaron, the night shift bartender, on me.  No one tried to stop me as I quietly but firmly spoke the cruelest words I have ever said to anyone:  "You're a terrible father, and I wish you were dying instead of my son."  I turned, and left. 

I gave the pregnant girl a minute to speak so I could assess the scene.

"You lied to me!  We had a fight, and I find you at the bar with two girls I've never seen?"  I approached and put my hand on her wrist and her boyfriend said to her, "You have glass in your neck."  I looked at the glistening pieces and began to pick them off of her.  She glanced at me and her face began to crumple.  She held strong.  "Who are you?"  she demanded of the girls.

The regular was quick to speak.  "We're friends.  I've known him since high school.  He was just showing me your ultrasound picture."  I grasped her wrist and said softly, "You need to take this outside."

I turned to her boyfriend with blazing eyes.  "Take her outside and fix this." Blood was leaking from his hand, but I didn't care.  I hated him in that moment.  Besides, three other innocent bystanders were sitting under shards of glass that wouldn't have been smashed to bits, but for his lies.

We began putting the shattered pieces of the night back together.  Shane helped me clean up the glass.  The girls picked the pieces off of themselves, and Shane pulled the table back so they could stand and shake off whatever remained.

"She was crazy," one of them said.

"Yes.  But he shouldn't have lied.  Not right now."  The expectant mother had my unwavering sympathy that night.

"No.  He shouldn't have.  But we weren't doing anything wrong."

"I know.  I know.  But she doesn't know.  She's pregnant, and she feels unattractive, and she feels alone, and he lied to her, and you can imagine how that looks, right?"  The girls nodded.

I reflect often on that night at Amestoy's.  I regret my cruelty.  I regret allowing myself to momentarily jump to conclusions about Jessica and Ben.  I regret indulging in "If I could change things. . ." kinds of games, because I couldn't do a damn thing to change any of it.  The path had been set many months before and we were on course and there could be no going back, no do-overs. Whether I was alone at home, in a crowd at the bar, in the aisles of the grocery store, behind the bar or in a courtroom at work, everywhere I went with my son tucked safely in my pregnant belly, Gabriel's condition and the result of that condition were inevitable.

The pregnancy was so public.  Gabriel's condition was so well-known and my blog entries were being closely followed.  I think people must think that they knew exactly what I was feeling.  The thing is, I can say it, or write it as much as I want, but none of us can really begin to imagine what goes on in others' lives and minds when we're not watching.  The grief that weighed on me throughout that pregnancy was greater than I ever let on.  What went on behind the closed doors of my home and my heart was unimaginable, and I'm still trying every day to put the pieces of my shattered life back together.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Profile of a Victim

The atmosphere is tense among women in East Bakersfield.  A serial rapist, who has left a trail of three known victims and perhaps additional unknown victims, is on the loose.  He's broken into his, victims' homes.  In once instance, he restrained her and her child and proceeded to rape her, threatening her with a gun.  He raped another victim in the middle of the day. We've been told, as if we need to be told, that he is armed and dangerous.  We haven't been told if he has a "type," whether he prefers women of a certain build or race or hair color - The only criteria seems to be "woman."

The heightened sense of panic has affected more than just the unfortunate victims.  There are women all of Bakersfield looking over their shoulder, purchasing handguns and pepper spray and large breed dogs and generally living in fear, because women my have come a long way in the last 100 years, but we are still the overwhelming majority of adult sexual assault victims.

I'm situated a little differently.  Having managed in the last twelve years to really tuck the memory of my own rape securely into the back of my mind, I still carry with me remnants of the experience.  I'm always sort of hyper-aware of what's going on around me.  If this armed and dangerous perpetrator and I should encounter one another I would expect a face-off between his violent inclinations and my sheer determination to never be a sexual assault victim again.

As the women of East Bakersfield wait with trepidation for the rapist to be caught, the rest of America continues to discuss Miley Cyrus' performance with Robin Thicke at last week's Video Music Awards.  The footage of Miley flopping her tounge around Gene Simmons-style, motor-boating the butt cheeks of some back up dancer dressed like a teddy bear, stripping down to a nude-colored bikini, thrusting and shaking her butt at Robin Thicke, and grinding against a big foam hand is now famous.

Maybe I'm a hypocrite.  I grew up as a devoted Madonna fan, and seriously believe that she helped form the person I am today. Madonna's own VMA performance of "Like a Virgin" nearly 30 years ago was controversial in its own time.  Maybe I am an even bigger hypocrite because I love the unrated version of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" video, featuring three women in flesh-colored thongs and nothing else.  I guess the difference between Madonna, the topless girls in the Robin Thicke video, and Miley Cyrus is the confidence with which the former two performed.  Madonna of course famously told us all that she wanted to rule the world, and she practically has. She has never, in my recollection, showed us that she is anything but completely sure of herself.  The same holds true on a smaller scale for the women in Robin Thicke's video.  Their expressions of indifference while the male singers in the video vie for their attention always make me wonder if those girls even know they don't have any clothes on.  They are in charge of themselves, and of what happens to them.

There was nothing bold or confident about Miley Cyrus' performance last week.  She appeared needy and desperate.  And I get it.  I get that she was in a sense used and manipulated and never allowed to develop a proper sense of independence, and now she's clutching at what she thinks is control where she's never had control before.  I get it because I remember a time in my life when I felt similarly, and I remember the needy and desperate ways that I acted out.  I'm scared for girls that I see acting out in the same way because I remember what a long battle I fought with myself to get to a healthy place again.  I remember the hurtful things I did to myself and other people along the way.

I'm not proud of the things I did or the person I used to be.  I'm not proud of the way I handled myself after I was raped, like I was nothing more than a victim.  I was probably more vulnerable in the first few years following the rape than I ever had been in my life.

I'm proud that I'm not that person anymore.  I'm very proud of who I am now, that I am a good mother, daughter, big sister, friend, employee, and attorney.  I wonder frequently if I could have endured the experience with Gabriel so well if I hadn't already been through some adversity and I value the experience of recovery from that horrible violation.

I wish I could tell myself from 12 years ago, and Miley Cyrus today, that there's a big difference between not being forced to do something you don't want to do, and behaving in a way that is completely out of control under the guise of taking control.  That's not brave behavior.  That's not confident behavior.  Bravery and confidence shine through when you act with self-respect, in a way that commands the respect of people around you.  That's when you've become a grown-up.