Denial is a River in Egypt

Pam Tillis co-wrote the song that goes, “Just call me Cleopatra, everybody, ’cause I’m the Queen of Denial.”  If you want to see her video, which is just wall-to-wall packed with cultural stereotypes  (somewhat embarrassing) but pretty funny, look here.   It would give Edward Said, author of Orientalism, an epileptic fit.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, I took a graduate-level seminar in Cultural Anthropology.  There, they liked to throw around words like “hermeneutics.”  When I asked what that meant, the professor grew red in the face and told me that if I didn’t know, then I shouldn’t be asking.  Hmm.  Kind of like my mother’s favorite retort when I’d ask her what I’d done to deserve punishment:  “If you don’t know, then I’M certainly not going to tell you!

I don’t believe they knew what the word “hermeneutics” meant (it’s the theory of text interpretation, especially Biblical or scholarly).  I found out, though, quite by accident.  We were supposed to read Orientalism and write a paper on it to discuss in seminar.  So I read the book.  I thought it was a pompous, reverse-racist take on the “Western” ideas in art, music, film, and literature supposedly misrepresenting the Arab world.  But I have a nasty habit of reading footnotes and actually reading the original sources.  It takes a bit longer, but you can discover amazing things: like, for example, that the primary sources cited in the footnotes say something quite different than the author, in this case Said, made them out to be.

I brought a stack of these primary sources (we had libraries full of real books back then) to show my “hermeneutics” professor what I had found.  But oh dear, it seems I had shot a sacred cow!  For the sin of debunking Said’s theory by means of his own references (not to mention proving that he had committed a crime by misrepresenting the references as supporting his theory, when in fact they often said exactly the opposite of what he said they did), I was hauled before a tribunal (hauled before a tribunal!  I am not kidding you).  I was only a nobody undergraduate, but they didn’t want this accidental discovery of mine to get out.  I had to withdraw my paper and promise never to mention it again, if I wanted to get my degree from that venerable wellspring of hermeneutics.

Last week I wrote about the deplorable scene that erupted when I came out to my parents that I had been forced to resort to prostitution when I ran away from them at the age of 16.  So far, neither of them has asked me why I ran away.   I take that back: my father did once, when he thought he was dying, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell him.  I have wondered ever since if I did the right thing or not.  I tell myself that I didn’t want to distress him when he was so ill, but I really think it’s fear.  In fact, I know it’s fear.

The result of my revelation was a major catastrophic scene, blaming me for depriving them of their only child, and therefore I deserved whatever I got.  Not surprisingly, I had a major meltdown as a result of all that, and a flareup of physical symptoms as well as some serious PTSD flashbacks, nightmares, what have you.

I got an ugly email from my mother the next day, accusing me of accusing her of putting me out on the street to work as a prostitute (huh?), and of committing the crime of saying such things in the presence of my father, a “sick old man.”

Rather than engage with her and start a war, I rolled over like my dog does when she thinks she has done something bad, in appeasement, so I won’t scold her for peeing on the carpet.  I wrote her back and said I was sorry that she had perceived such things, that I never intended that she should perceive such things, and that I certainly never intended that she should perceive that I had accused her of such things.

Indeed, I did not roll over so far as to say that I was sorry if I hurt her or sorry to deprive her of her only child, etc., because those are delusions.  I am in no way sorry for crimes I did not commit.  I am in no way sorry that I read Said’s primary sources and exposed him as a liar, and I am in no way sorry that I came out and told my parents that I was forced to prostitute myself when I ran away from them.

Here’s what I am sorry for: I’m sorry that I don’t have the courage to tell them why I left.  I’m sorry that I don’t have the courage to face my mother and tell her that her screaming and her name-calling and her gaslighting and her growling “I can’t stand you” time and time again, drove me to the brink of suicide and I had to get out of there.  I’m sorry that I can’t tell her that for those reasons and more, I preferred to live on the street and get raped again and again.  At least that was an honest danger.

But everyone loves her.  Just today someone came to visit and was gushing about how sweet she is.  I had to get out of there.  Yes, I know that’s the way people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder operate.  They are just so sweet, such pillars of the community, such advocates for the underdog–on the outside.  But on the inside of the book, there’s a rat stinking.  A living lie that never gets past the door, and nobody is reading the footnotes.

And so, the day after the messy tribunal,  and after the non-apologetic apology, I was expecting the cold shoulder, the “silent treatment” as she likes to call it.  That’s what I can usually expect after an outburst of honesty. But wonder of wonders, she was just as cheerful and chipper as can be!  We can’t afford to actually deal with this, because I’m needed to help care for my dad, who is indeed a “sick old man.”  And it seems that we can’t afford the possible consequences of driving me away again with insults and gaslighting.  So I was spared the usual aftermath of a moment of honesty.  I can’t say it’s not a relief.  But I’m still spooky, waiting for the other shoe to fall.

So for now there is a lull in the action.  I’m debating whether to dive back into anonymity with this blog.  I’m terrified that sooner or later, she or one of her friends will find it and out me.  I mean, I’ve already outed myself, but I’m starting to regret it, because of the possible consequences.  I’m trying real hard to stay in the footnotes and not be afraid of the tribunal.  But I don’t know if I can hold out with this fear and tension much longer, because she hasn’t read the references, and wouldn’t believe them if she did.

On the other hand, what’s the price of living in fear?

Leave a comment


  1. Haha! Good read!

  2. Great post, and great ending question. What is the price, indeed?

  3. don’t change a thing. no need to be anonymous again, no need to fear her or her friends finding your site—because you only tell the truth here, and if she gets upset or angry or whatever, that is on her, that is her choice. it would be no different than getting into with her in person.

    so dont change a thing. you are who you are, and the things that you talk about happened. and the way you feel is the way you fell. all honesty. she is who she is, and won’t be any different no matter where she gets upset with you. and she probably wont find this blog anyway.

    • Thanks so much, Kat. You are the voice of reason. It’s when that scared little girl comes out that she reacts in terror, jumps into bed and hides under the covers trembling in fear. Fear is such a destructive force. Thanks so much for your support. —Laura

  4. Stay strong. ❤

  5. Midwestern Plant Girl

     /  December 20, 2013

    There is a huge price to live in fear. Some would say it is, at least living, but is it? I live in fear of failing. To the outside world, I have many accomplishments. .. To me I don’t. I do have to realize that not trying is failing. I’ve made that security blanket in my head, but need to change that. Fear just leads to regret in the end.
    I don’t care a whole lot about what most people say about me. Truly. Be yourself. You will be loved by someone. Maybe not who you want to be loved by, but someone will love you for who you truly are. Today that person is me! 💗 Stay great Laura!
    PS. I think Said might be over my head. … ha!

    • Thank you so much, sweet lady. Fear of failure is a hard slave-driver. I lived in fear of her until I finally “fell off my horse and couldn’t get back on.” Failing was the only thing I had never done. Now I’m trying to make something out of it. For a long time I was worried that I was fearing failure in others’ eyes–now I realize it was just my eyes, with some overlays of worries of what others would think. The hardest thing for me was loss of identity, in my own eyes. That’s why I started using my full name and title on this blog–to remind myself that I am still that person, and only the circumstances have changed. Be well and keep healthy and warm, and thanks for loving me today!

  6. I’m with Kat on this one, Laura. You have grown so tremendously, and while I understand the fear and honor your feeling it, please do whatever you deem best for you! I believe you have earned the right to be honest, to be yourself and tell your story wherever you want to. You are not directing this story at your parents, in fact, have wanted this to be safe place to share what you want and need to. Remember how loved you are by your friends here! Peace to your heart

    • Thanks so much, Sara! I’m really feeling loved. It helps so much! All of this is very scary to me. But all of you are rallying around me and I feel surrounded by loving supporters. I’m realizing that I don’t have much to lose by staying the course and being myself. There could be repercussions, yes, but that wouldn’t be anything new. May the New Year bring peace and solace….

  7. I tell everyone I have a blog. I don’t care. I write what I want and I am not ashamed of it. It is therapy. If someone is unhappy they can talk to me about it. I am proud of my blog and of my accomplishments on it. And you should feel the same about this, it is a powerful honest representation of you and you are unique and wonderful. A real writer who people respond to. Blogging is about people and community. Blogging is for you and don’t let fear take that away.

    • Thanks, Lori. It’s hard not to shake in my shoes at the thought of my mother reading the absolutely honest things I have written about her. Her modus aperandi is to intimidate, and it’s engraved in my bones.

  8. Peace to you.


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