How Stigma Compromises My Medical Care

I don’t know what to do.

I can bet that most of you will say, “Just be yourself, Laura.  Fuck ’em if they can’t relate to you as the awesome human being you are.”

Well, yeah.  I appreciate that.

However.

I have this service dog, see, and she’s neither little nor cute.  Well, she’s cute to me, but a 75 pound Belgian Malinois is automatically not cute to most people, especially the uptight assholes that tend to go into “the medical field” these days.  Even my therapist does not think she’s cute.  Even when Atina climbed into her lap and gave her kisses, because she could see that the dear lady was clearly in distress, it did not help.  My poor therapist could do nothing except beg me to get the monster off of her, which I did, and Atina reluctantly obeyed but was still of the opinion that the lady needed her attention.

On the flip side, if Atina perceives that someone is potentially a threat to me, she stations herself sideways in front of me, giving the unsafe party the hard-eye, which is dog language for “come over here and make my day.”

This is why I have a Service Dog:

I have a perfect storm of Asperger Syndrome, PTSD, and Bipolar illness.  My judgement about people is shot to hell.  I lost it on April 22, 1970, the very first Earth Day, when I was drugged, dragged into a dark basement, and brutally robbed of my virginity.  That, and the prolonged months and years of running from one frying pan into another fire, robbed me of my ability to read people’s intentions.  I think it’s because I simply dissociate every time I have to interact with other people.  So now that I’m on the far side of sixty and no longer give a shit, I’ve stopped making myself do painful things, and aside from the inconveniences of not having friends, family, or a partner when I have a medical emergency, I feel much better.

Have you noticed that sometimes your fridge, washing machine, microwave, computer, and automobile all crash at the same time?  So now you have to get a ride to the Big Box store, to the bank to get quarters for the laundromat, and a ride back and forth to the laundromat, to the convenience store for ice until the new fridge comes, and while you’re on the phone with Tech Support your phone is giving your ear a second degree burn and probably giving you brain cancer as well….

This is what I call a Wear Cycle.  When everything wears out at once.  It generally falls out when you’re between jobs, or just before those gift-giving occasions, or your wedding.

So as some of you are aware, I am in the throes of a Wear Cycle of the most annoying sort.  My body is falling apart.  I thought it just needed a tune-up and maybe a brake job, but it turns out to be the transmission, the universal joints, the head gasket; and every time they fix one thing, another one turns up bad.

The result is a seemingly endless procession of doctors, PAs, Nurse Practitioners, lab techs, snotty Front Office People, sadistic MRI techs who put me in Positions Of Stress for upwards of twenty minutes while further damaging my hearing with the various hammerings and clangings of that infernal magnetic tube, being told that I need surgery for this, surgery for that, and they all worry about my blood pressure.  Surely not!

You must understand that my relationship with The Medical Field is a mine field.  The minute I leave my van in the parking lot of the doctors’ building, the hospital, the lab, I dissociate.  I am terrified.

But you’re a doctor, you say.  How could you not be comfortable in this oh-so-familiar milieu?

That’s just it.  I’m all too familiar with it.  I know exactly what goes on behind the scenes, and it disgusted me while I was in it, and it terrifies me now.

Because I am…one of those patients.

You know, the aging female with so many complaints it throws your schedule off, and she’s slight dotty, and might be amusing if you weren’t running so far behind, and of course–of course, she has to be a doctor, at least she says she is, and she does know the lingo…and she has Medicare and doesn’t seem to have a job, so she must be disabled, but for what?  She’s not saying, and if you ask, she’ll say something vague.

I know this, because I’ve been on their side of the white coat.

So imagine what the reaction would be if they walked into the exam room and there I was with my Service Wolf Dog.

The entire visit would revolve around whether the person who Works In The Medical Field was comfortable with the Doggess, and whether she thought they were Safe.

And of course she would pick up on my instant dissociation because I dissociate whenever I run into One Of Those People, because of the abuse I suffered when I was working In The Medical Field, and the abuse I have suffered as a patient dependent upon these people’s power.

And the shame of being disabled, which is, according to the ancient tenets of The Medical Field, weak; and even worse, crazy.

I just rediscovered a former mentor who was hugely influential to me when I was a medical student.  She was my supervisor in the Public Health Clinic.  We became good friends, and she helped me crystallize my medical practice world view, which is based on compassion and empowerment of the patient to take charge of her own health and well-being.

It turns out that this amazing woman had a terrible crisis, which lead to a suicide attempt.

Rather than supporting her and helping her to rebuild her life, the medical establishment brought criminal charges against her for lowering the esteem of the medical profession in the eyes of the public.

They drove her out of the profession.  It didn’t matter to them that this heinous act might push her over that very precipice she had dragged herself back from.

It didn’t matter that they were persecuting one of the finest physicians on the face of the earth, for the crime of being human.

All that mattered was that she had “failed” to complete her suicide.  If she had died, she would have been another tragic physician suicide; but since she managed to survive, she was pronounced a disgrace to the profession.

Fortunately she is a strong and resourceful woman.  She cleaned houses in order to feed her children.  She struggled her way back onto her feet, and reinvented herself.  Blessed be.

So I know very well what the result would be, even if the Doggess didn’t bite the Assistant (you hardly ever get to see The Doctor anymore):  “Did you get a load of that lady with the dog?  What a crock!”

Yes, fuck ’em.  They’ve no right, legally or otherwise, to prevent me from having my dog with me.  She’s Durable Medical Equipment, just like a wheelchair.

The only thing is…being mentally ill automatically discredits anything I say.  I’ve tried it both ways.  And unfortunately, whenever I’m honest and disclose that I have DSM diagnoses, I get my case dismissed.  No contest.  No service.  Goodbye, and put some ice on that.  It will feel better in seven to ten days.  No need for follow-up.

In awful contrast, when I have withheld my diagnoses, it’s all sympathy and MRIs.

Hell, I even got a few tramadol tablets for my torn shoulder, when I begged the doctor because my left wrist is in a brace awaiting surgery and my right shoulder is so painful that I can’t even get out of bed without fainting if I forget and try to push myself up with my right arm.  (How do I get out of bed?  By wriggling on my tummy until my feet touch the floor.)

You think she would have given me that prescription for thirty, no refills, if she knew that I’m bipolar?

Nope.  Bipolar people are categorically drug seekers.  Even though I asked for tramadol and not Percocet.  Drug seeker, no way.

I’m stuck.

I’m terrified of those places, and I need my dog.  But the presence of my dog would set off such alarms in the mind of The Medical Field Person that my actual medical issues would be eclipsed by Prejudice.  Stigma.

If I showed up in an electric wheelchair, they would be all ears.

But a crazy person with a dog?

This is Scary

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2016/03/28/german-rail-service-to-roll-out-women-only-train-cars-amid-fears-over-migrant-assaults.html

It’s very sad to see that people who have found a safe haven from the violence of war in Syria, are biting the very hand that opened the doors of safety to let them in.

I have seen enough first-hand to know that men from religious communities where women are expected to cover themselves, consider any woman who does not cover to be a “whore,” fair game for sexual harassment and assault.

These “migrant” (in quotes because they are refugees, not true migrants) men are confused.  They think that German women should play by their rules.  They forget that they are actually guests in their host country, and should be on their best behavior.  Instead they have brought a new brand of terror into the home of their hosts.

But is Germany making noises about packing these criminals off, back to where they came from?  If so, please let me know, because I would like to wish them bon voyage.

No, instead, Germany’s response is to provide special segregated train cars for women and their young children.  Boys up to 10 years of age can ride with their moms.  Otherwise the boys must ride in the cars with “everybody else.”

Ohhhhh-kaaaay.

How many things can you find wrong with this picture?

First…uh, first….

There are just so many, I don’t even know where to start.

First, Germany needs a massive kick in the ass for tolerating what amounts to an epidemic of lawlessness, to which it responds not by deporting the perpetrators, but by punishing women for the crime of going on about their lives as German citizens and not putting on burkas so as not to get raped. 

The concession of designated rail cars for women who don’t want to get raped is outrageous.  How about designating male-only cars instead, for males traveling without a female escort?

And what about male children over the age of ten, who, in the female-only scheme, cannot travel with their mothers?  I would never, ever trust a young male to the same criminal element that is causing Germany to scramble for a solution to sexual assaults on its women.  Have they not heard of “bacha bazi”?  “Boy play/games,” that means.  Rape of boys, very common in the Arab world, culturally acceptable in many areas.  Not so much in Germany, though.

I am not interested in politics.  At.  All.  I am interested in the humane treatment of all creatures.  And I have a particular interest in protecting people who do good in the world.

German women and children should not have to pay the price for its misguided government having opened its doors indiscriminately to gangs of ruffians who repay kindness with raping and pillaging. 

I’m sure there are many good-heated and deserving refugees among the evil ones.  Let them police themselves!   Or are there really so many bad apples that the whole barrel is rotten?   So many, that women must take refuge in separate rail cars, in their own native land?

Those who bite the hand that opens the door to safety must go.  The good and kind people who opened their borders to those who appeared to be in distress must not live in fear for their safety.  They must not sacrifice their quality of life for a public relations campaign on the part of their government.

Or is Ms. Merkel in bed with Mr. Trump????

Snoop Lion Opens Up About His Pimp Past | Rolling Stone

Yesterday I lolled about the lobby of a local medical marijuana dispensary for four or five hours, waiting my turn to see the Marijuana Doctors so I could apply for my card.

There was plenty of time to browse the paraphernalia in the glass cases all around.  I closely inspected everything, since there was nothing else to do.

I couldn’t help but notice the “Snoop Dogg” brand bongs and papers and stuff that I had no idea what it is because I’m, you know, old, and I come from a whole different pot culture.

So I got this really bad feeling when I saw all this S.D. branded stuff, because several years ago, when I was writing under a pseudonym about my years as a street kid, it came to my attention that there was this rapper, famous and rich, who was very out front about his background with the Crips (very violent bad street gang), and fulfilling his life’s dream to be a pimp.

Even if I hadn’t been obliged to use my body as currency for the purpose of having food and shelter, I would still find it nauseating that this “nigga,” as he calls himself, who has made himself a role model for young people of every race and background, actually went and built his little dream fantasy, which you can read all about in the Rolling Stone article in the link.

Have your barf bag ready.

This dude is SUCH BAD NEWS.  In so many ways.  What’s his appeal?  That he shoves everything that’s morally horrible in our faces like bags of shit?

He ought to know a bag of shit when he sees one….every time he looks in the mirror.

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/snoop-lion-opens-up-about-his-pimp-past-20130508

The Carrot and the Stick

My life hangs by a frayed thread.

I am a donkey who lives by the carrot and the stick.

The carrot hangs in front of me, just out of reach.  This gives me a reason to keep reaching.  It is valuable, because it means that someone else’s life depends on mine.

I had two carrots; now I only have one.  That one is my dog, Atina.  She cannot live without me, for she is sick and depends on my care to stay alive.

Actually some other benefactor could care for her, but I love her, and she gives me the only joy I have now.  So she is my carrot.

Then there is the stick that follows me, threatening to whack me if I don’t keep trudging along under my load.

The stick is the fear that there might actually be an afterlife, reincarnation, some consequence for taking my death into my own hands.

My life has always hung by this thread, and I have clung to the thread as a mountain climber clings to the fixed ropes, the lifelines that prevent the fall into the unknown, or rather, the certainty of death.

Before the doctor rescued me by cutting me out of my mother’s hostile womb, my tiny organism was flooded by the amphetamines she took to keep from gaining weight while pregnant.

My organism did not tolerate her labor.  My heart began to fail from lack of oxygen.  No doubt my attachment to her womb, my lifeline, was marginal because of the drug that caused constriction of the blood vessels.

I was “small for dates,” four pounds, and struggling to breath, so they took me away and stuck me in an incubator with plenty of oxygen.

My lungs were bad, I suffered withdrawal from the amphetamines, I was unstable, and in those days no one was allowed to touch a fragile newborn except for feeding and changing, so I sucked my thumb and watched the white forms padding on silent feet through the dim space that surrounded my plastic bubble.  This I remember clearly.

Childhood was searing pain, alien to everything, clothes tearing at my skin, terror of my mother, clinging to my father who always had somewhere to go or something to do, only my animals for companionship and love.

Teenage hopelessness, violent rape, runaway, street life, rape, rape, rape, pregnancy, abortion, alone, alone, alone.

Finally mentors, self esteem, push push push degree degree degree, marriage, baby, fell off the balance beam, paralyzing depression, no support, head of my class, medical honor society, residency, depression, mania, no support, ruptured discs, surgery, body jacket, divorce.

Son’s father refused to see him “because it was too emotionally hard” on father.  Really?  Your son cries for you every night and day.  How can you sleep at night?  How can you look at yourself in the mirror and say, “My emotional pain is more important than my five year old son’s”?

We went on, my son and I.  Life was rough, life was rocky.  He was angry, I was numb, except for the pain always there.  Work, the drug.  Work hard, work long, work better.  A nanny in place of a father.  Angry boy, angry boy.  Can you blame him?

Angrier angrier angrier.  Treatment treatment treatment.  Drugs, legal and not.  Go and live with father finally, maybe that will help.  Bribe father to take the boy.  Father likes money, I have plenty.  Used to.

Disaster.  Thrown away, street life, homeless shelter.

Mother now disabled by mental illness, bankrupt.

Son needs help, NOW!

Therapeutic boarding school, but how to pay?  Father and his family refuse to help.  I borrow money from my parents.  They get it by mortgaging their home, to save their grandson.

I leave my career behind, to help my son, no turning back after too much time away.  I am disabled, that’s who I am, new identity.  But I helped my son to save himself, so that’s who I am now, what, a sacrifice?  No, just a disabled person.  It would have happened anyway, in my downward spiral.

Now he is a big shot, finishing his Ph.D., and his father and his father’s family have taken him back, so proud.

His first scientific paper published in the world’s premiere scientific journal.  I am so proud.

But.

We “do” Thanksgiving together, he and I, and every year has been a blast.

This year, something different.

He invites me to his apartment.  Just the two of us.  Why?

Don’t you want to invite some friends who don’t have somewhere to go?  You remember, when you were a kid, we always had students over who couldn’t go home, or were Chinese, or for some reason would be alone.

No, he said.  Everyone already has a place.

I wondered.

The night before Thanksgiving I was invited, with great pomp and circumstance, to go out with he and his friends to a bar.  I was thrilled to be included.

But when I arrived, a five hour drive from where I stay, I had a migraine and felt sick, and just wanted to smoke some flower and curl up in my van with Atina, my dog.  I would feel better tomorrow.

So I said, you guys go ahead, I’m going to sleep off this migraine.

OK, he says, eager and relieved.  And ran out the door.  I’ll leave it unlocked he says, in case you need anything.

Morning late, I feel better, he’s hung over.  Coffee, cartoons on the big screen, I’m content.  He starts cooking.  Always happy when he’s cooking!

Dinner: a roast duck, fried rice, greens, cranberry sauce.

Not much to say, and it’s getting weird.  I feel a void, ghosts at the table, who are they and why don’t they come out and play?

So the pipe goes back and forth, and he is drinking more beer and more beer.  I go to bed early, he goes out with friends.  I wonder ?

Friday morning, coffee, and I am served a spoonful of leftover rice.  He gives himself a plate, not a lot, but a plate. ?

He goes to lab to feed his cells, I shower and try to get this migraine to go away.  I’m hungry.  I take a bit more duck, rice, a bit of everything.  Thanksgiving leftovers are the best.  I wish son was here to share, but I’m hungry and my head is pounding, so I eat.

He returns from lab.  I tell him I’m sorry I couldn’t wait for him, I had to eat.  He looks angry.  I feel the old ominous storm clouds.  Why?

I guess I’d better go now.

But I feel like crap, I don’t want to drive.

He’s already holding the door open for me to go out.

Um, listen, I don’t feel so well, do you think I could hang out for a while longer?

Um, sorry Mom, I need my space, he says, with irony face.

Oh, OK, I understand.

Beggar at the door, no place for you here.

What did I do?  Did I eat too much?  Am I too burned out?

I’m not successful like his father, the famous scientist, or his father’s father, the famous whatever.

I’m just a mentally ill disabled person, a failure at life, an embarrassment.

I’m skinny, I look ill, my hair is grey and frizzy, my clothes hang loose, my dog is nervous…

Can I at least use your internet to find a place to camp?

Oh sure, Mom.  Come in.  But please leave Atina in the van.

I thought he liked dogs.  Maybe now that he’s got new clothes and new furniture, he’s afraid she will…

I find a place, guess this is it, he’s holding the door….

Love you, honey….

Love you too, Mom…mechanical doll voice.  Grim.

I drive off, numb.  Can’t feel yet, I have to get there, too much traffic.

Get there, hook up, walk dog, collapse, convulsed with grief.

There goes my carrot.

Now I know that my leaving won’t make much of a dent in his life.

I stay here for him, thinking my exit would destroy him, but not so.

He has his father now, and his father’s father, and he is their prestigious prodigal son.

In some way, relief, that cord is cut, that fixed line down.

The plan has been in place for some time, yet I have held my hand because of Carrot #1.  Now Carrot #1 has shown me the door, out of his life and into ?

Carrot #2 snuggles against me as I write.  Precious baby.  But she is sick.

She may last months, or a year or a few.

When she goes, I go too.

Will I be punished?  Will I have to come back and do it over till I get suffering “right”?  Or, to quote Lewis Carroll, do we just go “poof” like a candle, when we go?

Already I am losing the use of my body.  My shoulders are too full of arthritis to throw a ball.  My left hand no longer works well enough to play my music, which has carried me through so much suffering all my life.

Something has happened to my blood vessels.  They break and bleed under my skin so that I go around with blue lumps simply from the trauma of living.

My skin comes off in sheets if I brush up against anything harder than a pillow.  The wounds take months to heal and leave hideous scars.

The cancer that I had in the 90’s once again inhabits my innards.  I hope it grows faster this time.  No, I’m not going to treat it.  That would hasten my death, and I don’t want to leave my dog.

But some days I can’t move, my bloated belly pushes down like a rock.  Other days, not so bad.  Some days only liquids, others, soup and rice.

I had this one carrot that kept the juice of life running through my broken veins.  Now that carrot is gone, eaten up by some other entity, and the sick carrot and the stick remain.

The stick doesn’t frighten me.  I can’t do anything about the stick.

My sweet Atina will drag me along until her own candle gutters and goes out, and I will follow after, poof, and at least this life will be done with.

I can only hope that the cancer takes me before I have to take myself.

That way I don’t have to worry about the stick.

 

 

Compassion, Not Judgement, For Girls Like Me

I have been unwillingly sucked into a Facebook conversation with the wife of an old and dear friend.  She loudly condemns abortion, and calls everyone who has had one a “murderer.”

In that case, I guess I am a murderer in her eyes.

At age 16 I was drugged, dragged into a dark, damp basement, and brutally raped.  Then the same rapist started “sharing” me with his friends.  I finally escaped, onto the streets, where I traded my body for food, shelter, and sometimes a five dollar bill.  I was in a state of dissociation that has followed me down the years–45 years, to be exact–as of this coming April 22.

This righteous lady crows that she was also raped, and managed to have her baby, with the help of my friend.

Lucky lady.  I had no friends at the time, nor anywhere to turn.  I was homeless, and knew that my baby would be taken from me by the state if I had her.  I’m sure it was a “her.”

So I took the only path that I could see, and I had an abortion.

It was horrible.  It turned out to be on the the last day of the third month.  It traumatized everyone, including the doctor who did it.  On my follow-up visit to the hospital, he accused me of “having sex irresponsibly and then getting rid of it.”

I could not reply to him.  His judgmental attitude triggered feelings of my mother’s constant judgment and criticism, and it rendered me speechless.  I took his verbal thrashing and went away feeling like a kicked dog, along with the terrible sadness of pregnancy loss.  I had already felt the little flutter of life, I knew I had killed my baby, and I was being castigated for taking the only path open to me.

A few days postoperatively my breasts swelled up and started leaking fluid.  I made a panicked call to the medical resident who had performed the abortion.

“You’re lactating,” he said coldly.  “Buy a tight bra.”

“Lactating.”  I had to look that one up.  “Producing milk.”  Oh no.  More grief, fueled by the physical evidence of no baby.  And I bled profusely, because of the lateness of the abortion.  Money for pads there was none, so I relied on rags ripped from cloth things I found in the dumpsters, that I washed by hand without soap, because there was usually no soap in the public restrooms where I washed my hair in cold water, and rinsed out my underwear when they got too stiff to be comfortable.

“Tight bra?”  I didn’t have money for a 25 cent hamburger, let alone any kind of bra.  So I leaked and ached for a couple of weeks till it went away.

Oh God, those were horrible times.  And yet, they were nothing compared to the abuse that drove me from the parental “home.”

Sure, I could have gone to one of the “homes for unwed mothers.”  One or two of my classmates had suddenly disappeared, only to return several months later, depressed and bereft, stigmatized and avoided.  Our mothers strictly forbade us to socialize with them.  One of them whom I knew well suicided.  I could not bring myself to go that route.

Yes, I had an abortion.  I don’t regret it.  I’m sad about it, always will be, and wonder what would have happened if I had had my baby.  She would have been almost 45 now–what would she be doing?  She would not have had much of an upbringing, if I had kept her the way this lady did.  I had no resources myself.

Nowadays there are many options for girls who get pregnant: open adoptions, where the girl can participate in her child’s life, and in the adoptive parents’ lives, almost like another child in their family.  There is foster care, which can help a girl grow up while her baby is in a safe place (usually!).  There are many programs that support pregnant teens with educational and job skills while they complete their pregnancy, so that they can support themselves and their baby and not be dependent on their own families or the state for sustenance.  And of course there are the many grandparents–more grandparents than birth parents are willing to help their grandchildren through an accidental pregnancy and with helping to raise the child, for multiple reasons.

So I ask, don’t judge me for the decision I made as a child.  What I need is compassion.  Even if you are vehemently against abortion for your own reasons, and would never have an abortion in your own life–please be kind to those who are in desperate straits, and choose abortion because that is the only avenue they can see at the time.

Don’t Make Any Noise And You Won’t Get Hurt

My policy on this blog is not to post trigger warnings; in this case, I make an exception.

If you are a survivor of sexual violence, think carefully about reading this post.  It contains graphic images of sexual predation, and could be triggering to anyone who has suffered sexual violence.  Please be careful.

Some of the following is included in my upcoming memoir, A Runaway Life, and in my novel-in-progress, The Beanbag Chair.  I’m sharing it with you here because I know that for every survivor of sexual violence who seeks treatment, there are untold numbers who don’t, and who live with the horror, shame, and destruction of the integrity of the self and the soul that sexual violence begets.

My first personal encounter with a Male-factor–as we used to call them during my tenure as expert examiner on child sexual abuse cases for a State District Attorney’s Office in a Northeastern state in America–was at age sixteen.

Earth Day, April 22, 1970.

I knew nothing about sex beyond veiled inferences gleaned from “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” swiped from my parents’ library and read over and over, to try to figure out what all that language was referring to.  I had seen the heifers in heat mounting each other in the pasture next door, but had no idea what they were trying to accomplish.  I had no frame of reference.

I was sixteen.  My interests were Latin, natural science, poetry, music, and art.  At sixteen I was permitted to date, but the boys in the country backwater school I attended were either brutish dolts or eggheads like myself who tended to stay at home trying to teach themselves Greek.

My mother continued her perennial assault on my self-image via an uninterrupted stream of verbal, psychological, and sometimes physical abuse.  My depressions grew blacker, my desire for relief by any means more intense, until finally I despaired of ever finding truth in living, and debated within myself whether this life was actual reality, or perhaps was a construct by some demonic mind for whom I was a toy.

An older man I met in the burger joint where I worked on the weekends admired my legs and asked me for a date.  I was flattered.  Someone thought I was attractive.  I got my mother’s permission–she was thrilled–and I went with him.

The details of that date have been published elsewhere.

“Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”

I woke up to those words, still muzzy from the drug he had slipped me.  In the dark basement, his hand clamped over my mouth, my back squashed painfully into the cold concrete floor covered with moldy carpeting…..and the searing pain jolting through my body until at last he tore through, not through my hymen, but to the side of it, so that for many years I had not one but two openings there.  (At last in my 40’s I had the courage to take at least some of my body back, and had that part surgically removed.  Later I had a second surgery to try to repair the damage to the muscle between my vagina and my rectum, but that has mostly failed.)

After he finished with me, he bundled me back into his car and let me out in the dirt circle that stood in for my parents’ driveway, my blood soaking through my new spring coat.

That was my initiation into the cold, dark terrorism that is rape.  My virgin sex, shredded beyond repair.

I ran away from “home,” hoping to find relief, but ended up homeless, being raped when I asked for bread, for shelter, for medical care.

I look at the few pictures of myself from that time.  I was so young.  I looked thirteen at the most.  I had no figure, even though my mother’s pet name for me was “fat-ass.”  The eyes looking out of the delicate triangular face were hollow and haunted.

Fast forward two years, and I was living with a kind and honest couple who had taken an interest in helping me pull myself out of the life on the street.

The Viet Nam war was still raging, and I was a dedicated anti-war activist, a still-passionate Peacenik who believed that Good could triumph over Evil if only The People would shout it out loud enough.

Young Mr. Doctor-To-Be frequently managed to take time out from his medical studies at Boston University to help organize rallies.  We were Peace Rally Comrades, nothing more.

That time, I had incapacitating menstrual cramps in the midst of a rally on Boston Common.  The rally had such a huge turn-out that the riot cops were exercising their batons.  I was fainting and nauseous.  Mr. Not Yet Doctor fanned my sweaty face with his poster and proposed that we go to his apartment, where he had some medicine that would relieve my cramps.  Even though I had recently come off the streets, I did not doubt his intentions.  Have I told you that I’m Autistic?  I’m Autistic.  I can’t read intentions.

He half-carried me to his apartment.  I remember a dark stairwell, and being “helped” up the stairs.  I remember the small white bedroom with its unremarkable furnishings.  I remember being told to take off my panties and lie down.  I remember wondering why that was necessary, but he must certainly know because he was the Almost-Doctor.

I remember his voice as he hissed in my ear:

“Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”

He took something out of his shirt pocket: a penlight, such as all doctors have in their pockets.  I thought he was going to look at me with it, and froze.

He raped me with it, and as he did, he masturbated, and when he was finished he told me to go.

I climbed down from his bed, numb and bleeding, fumbled my way down the dark stairway and into the bright-white sunlight, dazed, blood running into my sandals, squish, squish.

I was in a part of Boston I had never seen before.  I managed to get home somehow, my long skirts hiding the blood.

Fast forward three years and many events less dramatic than those.

Irish flute master classes with a famous and now dead Irish flute master.  (NOT James Galway, thanks to G-d.  And NOT Cathal McConnell.)

One day he refused my payment for my lesson.  I thought that was odd, but did not understand the implications.  I Am Autistic.

He got his tween coat, and off we went to the Custom House Tap, where we played duets for Black-And-Tans until we were both solidly drunk.  He invited himself to my place for tea.  We had not even got off the sidewalk when it started.  This part I cannot write, for it is too triggering for me even to remember.  But I didn’t run away.  I was like a rabbit transfixed by the hard gaze of the wolf.  I went along.  I let him into my apartment.  It got worse.  Then it got horrible.  Then he left me, gagging and bleeding, and I never heard anything more from him.  Several years ago I went about trying to find his whereabouts.  No purpose in mind; I just wanted to know.

The obituary said he had drowned while taking a swim off his private dock in Martha’s Vineyard.  The pit of my stomach was cold: just as cold as that night that he rammed himself down my throat until I lost consciousness, waking choking on my own blood and his disgusting fluids.

Why do I wonder that it’s so hard to trust?  Why do I feel as if around every corner there is something huge waiting for me, a muddy black smudge beckoning, threatening to take me over and obliterate me again and again and again?

Why do I feel a terror of closed spaces, a dread of not being able to escape?  Why must I always have my back to a wall, facing the door, and know every escape route?

Why, when I think of being imprisoned, does the panic rise in my throat, and thoughts of suicide race through my head?

“Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”

 

 

The King and Queen of Denial

Today started out like any Wednesday, taking care of my 89-year-old father so my 87-year-old mother could get out of the house for the afternoon.

Dad was a little “off” today: he wasn’t happy with his omelette for lunch.  He would rather have had one more piece of toast but preferred to grumble about it rather than ask for it.  I didn’t mind.  After all, he’s 89 and very disabled, in pain all the time, and it amazes me that he manages to get through most of his days in mild-to-moderately good spirits.

Mom came in from shopping, bringing the mail that she picked up at the post office.  There was a package from LL Bean for me.  She wanted to see what was in it; I demurred, because the gift for her upcoming birthday was in it.  She got demanding and insistent.  There was a bit of a tussle until I finally remembered that there was something in that package for me, too, and I cagily extracted it.  That satisfied her.

I looked at my mail; nothing but “begging letters.”  I have specific charities I give to regularly, so I threw them all in the recycle bin.

The conversation turned to politics, and somehow got onto someone whose past as a prostitute had recently been revealed.

Mom reacted acidly.  How could anyone sink so low?  What in the world would cause anyone to do THAT?  She’d rather die.

“I did that,” I said quietly.

“YOU DID NOT!” She shouted, staring at me blinking out of her little birdy eyes as if I was the world’s biggest liar.

“Come OFF IT” shouted my father, several decibels softer than he would have in his prime, but doing the best he could muster.

“You were never a prostitute,” stated my mother matter-of-factly.

“Unfortunately, I was, when I ran away.”

“Then you deserved what you got!  You’re lucky you didn’t pick up some disease!  Maybe you DID pick up some disease,” she said thoughtfully.  “Why in the world did you do that?”

“I did it because I was cold and hungry, I needed food and shelter and safety from the streets.”

“You never told us that.  You never told us anything.  You just left us all of a sudden.  You robbed us of raising you!  You robbed us of our only child!”

I robbed them of their only child.  That was all they could think of.  They didn’t ask me why I ran away to California, or why, when they flew me back East for a family event, I ran back to California as soon as it was over.  Even if they had asked me then, I wouldn’t have told them.

I was scheduled for an abortion. I needed to get back to California.

It’s been forty-four years since I bought that one-way ticket to San Francisco.  Forty-four years since the bullying at school, my mother’s frequent unpredictable rages, and the vicious rape that took my virginity rolled up into critical mass.  I knew I had to either kill myself or get out of there.  I chose the latter.

I hit the streets in California broke, disoriented, and from my perspective now, unbelievably vulnerable.  Nowhere to stay, nothing to eat.  The weather was cold that spring, and I was dressed for California sunshine, not cold fog.

The first night I stayed with a friend I had met at a summer camp.  Her parents had a party that very night, and I went to bed early, exhausted from the trip.  The bedroom door opened and closed, and suddenly a man’s body was on top of mine.  A voice hissed in my ear, “Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”

It was the same thing my first rapist had hissed.  That first time.

Many more rapes, and finally it dawned on me that I could get food and places to stay and maybe a little money to buy a new toothbrush.  Nothing big-time: I didn’t even know what I was doing.  Just surviving, that’s all.

Why didn’t I give up and go home?

Because the streets and the rapes and the johns were better than the screaming and the “silent treatment” and the rapist there who watched me like a hawk, trying to get me to “be nice” to his friends in exchange for some Panama Red….and the school principal who regularly lectured me on the fact that I was a weirdo and would never amount to anything.  At least this bad scene was MY bad scene.  I chose it over being a one-girl shooting range at “home.”

“Home is where the heart is.”  There was only one heart, and it was beating in my chest.  Now, as then.

“You deprived us of raising you!  You robbed us of our only child!”

And yet…and yet what?  You only thought of yourselves?  You still, forty-four years later, think only of yourselves and not why I ran away, let alone what happened to me out there?

“You deserved whatever you got.  You chose it.  You deprived us of our only child!”

God help us.

Hypervigilance: Emergency Mode

Imagine that your ears are tuned and listening constantly for the drop of a pin in silence that signals impending explosion.

Imagine your eyes scanning the room, straining to see behind your head as you walk, even half-open in rare moments of sleep, unable to close for fear of missing the approach of the evil that comes with the dark.

Imagine your skin so thin and so sensitive that even the still air rubs like a rasp.  Clothes are agony.  Underwear is torture.  No, no, don’t touch me!

Alert, always alert, and jump at the least sound.  Don’t close that door.  No, don’t open it.  Move my chair, I want to be able to see that door.  No, I don’t want that window at my back.  Close those drapes.

Who cooked this food?  I don’t want it, then.

My bags are packed.  I can leave at any moment.  My taxi money is set aside.  The driver’s number is in my phone.  No, not any driver.  Only this one.  I know him.

The bags inside my brain are always packed.  I can leave at any moment.  Any time and anytime, if my eyes see me something, if my ears hear me something, if my skin crawls at the feel of the air.  Or if the air in my lungs chokes danger, I can be gone in the blink of an eye.

I am always on the move, never in one place for more than a moment or two, maybe less if you think about it.  There is no place to rest: I must stay alert, on guard, watch out: someone may approach, may get too close, may brush my skin and leave raw places and burns that turn into scars, scars that hold pain, scars that pile on top of scars.  Don’t touch me.

Tough?  You said I must be tough, then.  No.  The opposite.  The longer I travel, the more I am lost.  My bags are packed.  I can go at a moment’s notice.

Rage Can Kill You

First it was Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which I got through mostly by dissociating.  I thought I wasn’t, but I was.  My past homelessness and survival prostitution still haunts me, and although I have forgiven myself, I can’t forgive my parents for not rescuing me, nor can I forgive the shameless bastards who raped me when I was a naive little girl trying to survive on the streets.

Then it was Child Abuse Awareness Month.  I really thought I might get through that in one piece, but after the pieces on emotional and psychological and verbal abuse started coming hard and fast, I have to say I took a pounding.  I grew up with a relentlessly abusive mother and an absent, codependent father who played the sympathetic one and passed me his handkerchief while explaining that Mom wasn’t feeling well, had her period (he described her as a “wildcat in a hatbox” when she was menstruating), or any of a million excuses for her evil behavior.

Since my chief drive as a recovering Adult Child of Abusive Parents is still to try to mollify my mother and protect my now-disabled father from her wrath, I moved to the US from my beloved Jerusalem to try to help them in their old age.  He is 88 and she is 86, although she claims to be 85.

They live in what my dear friend R_ in Jerusalem affectionately calls “East Bumfuck.”  Their house is in a remote hollow, and the road leading to it is so steep that the UPS man refuses to drive down there–he parks at the top and walks down, except in the winter when their access road is a bobsled run and utterly impassible.  Then he leaves the package at the post office, which makes the postmistress frantic because they’re not supposed to do that and what if she gets inspected etc., but there’s nothing to be done about it.

Because of the nature of the road and the ice in the winter, they are often housebound for weeks.  Several years ago when Dad was still healthy he slipped coming down it and broke three ribs.  My mom broke her ankle on it.  My dad broke his wrist on it.

The power goes out frequently.  Since Dad has been losing his balance and falling a lot, I pitched a fit about the kerosene lamps they used to put around everywhere when they were younger, and they finally caved in and got a generator, which has made life easier in that area.

I moved here in a panic, in the winter of 2010-11, when there was storm after storm and they were completely snowed in.  My mother was putting on ice cleats and crawling up the hill to gather firewood.  My dad tried to help her and slipped on the ice and got another of the three concussions he racked up that winter.

I had been calling all the neighbors to please go and check on them, since if anyone asks my mother if she needs help she will say no, whether she does  or not.  Please, please, walk down there and make sure they’re all right and have what they need.  Since they only have one neighbor, I didn’t have many to call, and he never did go down there.  So I packed up my house in Jerusalem and three weeks later was on a plane to East Bumfuck.

I had a hard time getting there because it had just snowed three feet, so I rented the biggest SUV I could find and put the fucker in four wheel drive with the towing gear on and managed to get down into “the hole,” as the UPS drivers call it.  They were in pretty sad shape, and mighty glad to see me.  I had brought groceries and eight gallons of spring water, since the electricity was out and they didn’t have the generator yet.

Well, that was two and a half years ago, and the winters since then have been mild, and my dad’s dementia seems to have stabilized.  And now is the time to start talking about the fact that East Bumfuck is no longer an appropriate place for them to live.  My mother has a million reasons why they can’t move, which I will not enumerate here.  None of them is insurmountable.

Then comes the question, where will they move to?  Their first thought is to move to the nearest small city, which is a lovely artsy place with all the amenities and museums and theatres and lovely architecture.  I remind my mother that Dad is not going to get better, and she is not going to be able to handle him herself for much longer, since she is no spring chicken.

“Well if we move to Hip City, what will you do?”

“I will go home to Jerusalem.  I miss my home.

“But this is your home!”

“No, mother, this is YOUR home.  My home is Jerusalem, and my soul cries for her every day, all the time.”

Her mouth twists with disgust.  I get triggered.

Anger starts to brew.  What does she expect me to do, spend the rest of my life taking care of her?  Dad won’t be around much longer, although his own father lingered in a pitiable state till the age of 91.

I get hold of myself.  “I’ve sent for a packet from Lovely Hillside Retirement Community, where you can live independently until you need more help.”  She is a geriatric social worker and knows exactly what I mean, and knows the place.

“We can’t afford it.”

“I believe you can.”  I outline the plan.

“But what will you do?”

“I am going back to Jerusalem, and will visit frequently.”

Silence.

It’s obvious that HER plan for me is to be the caregiver, so that she can live the way she wants, with no regard to my life, my needs, my health…

Anger starts to brew.  I will not go into the childhood abuse issues that started coming up, because I don’t want to go there again.

Anger brewed into rage.  I live in a separate building, so there was no chance of confrontation, thank G-d.  Rage filled me, overcame me, and every time the sonovabitchin’ trains across the river blew their infernal horns, I was screaming with them.

I started feeling exhausted.  My exercise tolerance was for shit.  I started having these vague, vapory headaches, and I am not a “headache person.”

My blood pressure has been creeping up in recent months, to 130’s over 80’s, which is not good for a person who usually hangs out in the 120/60 range.  I felt so weird that I bought one of those home BP monitors:  150/100!  Fuck, I’m gonna die, and it’s all because I feel trapped by my guilt at not being able to fulfill my idea of filial piety without ruining my not-so-good health and sabotaging my future, which I hope will contain a home and a partner.  I went to my internist, and now have yet another pill to take twice daily.

At this point, my plan is to get them into someplace appropriate for their now and future needs, which is going to be a shrek in itself, since their house is a fine art museum which will have to be turned into money in order for them to afford the new place.  The property will be sold, so that means no inheritance at all for me because they failed to plan for retirement.

And they planned to use me as an unpaid caregiver, room and board included of course, with my social security for pin money.  But now I’ve come and thrown a monkey-wrench into the works, by coming to the realization that I deserve to have a life.  They also deserve to have a life, a pleasant and comfortable life.  But I’m a person too, and I sure don’t plan to live out the best years I’ve got left caring for people who made my whole life hell, and would continue to do so, if I let them.

49 Shades of Mommie Dearest

My mother is not quite as fearsome as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, but she can give her a good run for her money.

She’s a classic Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Me, Me, Me, Me.  In fact, my private name for her is MeMe.  She’s always a step ahead.  If I lose one pound, she loses two.  If my disabled father is not moving fast enough to suit her, she’ll take off at her swinging clip and leave him to fall face down on the sidewalk.  Things like that.

My childhood was one big nightmare on toe shoes, tiptoeing around on eggshells, never knowing what I would inadvertently do to set her off into a screaming rage.  I spent a lot of time outside.

I never knew which of my possessions was up for disappearance next.  Or my pets, for instance: which would be given away, which would “just die,” which would “run away.”  The only ones that stayed were the ones she and my father considered their own.

As most of my bloggie friends know, I ran away at age 16.  My mother went to a psychiatrist (the only time in her life) who told her it wasn’t her fault: I was just a rebellious teenager who should be left to learn my own lessons.  I did: homelessness, hunger, rape, prostitution.  Good lessons.

For some reason I was not killed, and eventually pulled my way up and out, and even more eventually became a doctor.  That made Mom happy, because it reflected well on her.  See, I turned out well after all.  It wasn’t her fault.  But I never returned to the parental “home,” which was not my home.

Then things got pretty bad when I had a breakdown and lost my practice and everything I had, and ended up totally disabled and bankrupt.  No help from Mom there; in fact, she persisted in telling her friends that my practice was going great!

I moved to the other side of the country, and that felt better, to be on a different coast and less in the weltering chill of her force field.  And then I moved to the other side of the world, which was even better.

On a mission trip, I fell in love with Israel: in particular, Jerusalem.  As soon as I set my foot on the broiling hot stone paved streets, I knew I had found home.  A year after the trip, I went back to study in a Jewish women’s seminary for a month, which turned into three months.  I shed buckets of tears praying at the Western Wall for God to please bring me home.  It came to pass, in March of 2007, that I moved to Israel to stay.  I was Home.

It wasn’t easy.  I moved eight times in the first fifteen months, for every reason you can think of, and some you would never imagine (bracket fungus growing out of the kitchen walls after a flood soaked the plaster).  I felt like the Wandering Jew, and in my own country at that!  How ironic.  But never, even through those hardships and others, did the feeling of joy at being home ever leave me.  For one who has never had a home, the delirious joy of having found Home is hard to describe.

My parents are old, and I am the only child.  I had planned on making trips to see them every four months or so, to keep a finger on the pulse.  And I did.  After two years, my father started a downhill slide, and I increased the frequency to every three months.  As you can imagine, at an average of $1200 per trip plus car rental (they live in the boonies, and I would never be without a car: an escape route from my mother), it was a serious drain on my savings.

My father had a small stroke, and some other things started to go wrong with him, so the visits increased to every other month.  Finally, he started falling, and after two emergency trips back precipitated by head injuries, I decided that the time had come to move back across the world and be on site for what I thought were going to be my father’s last days.

His last days turned into weeks, months, and years: two and a half of them.  He’s certainly not the man he used to be, and considerably disabled, but he seems to have stabilized, thank G-d.

I am living in what is basically a barn: his former pottery studio, which I have restored from a rotting shell to a tight shelter.  That is a story in and of itself.  It’s close enough so that if I’m needed I can be there in two minutes, yet far enough away that I have privacy to do whatever I want to do.  It’s tolerable.

But I long for Jerusalem.  When I first came here I would find myself uncontrollably sobbing for hours.  I long for Jerusalem herself.  I miss my many friends, dear friends like I have never had before; and I miss my family of choice, my holy brothers and sisters, with whom I have bonds unlike any I have ever experienced in my previous life.

I miss just wandering the streets, watching the swirling admixture of Jews of all varieties with their distinctive ways of dress, and the plethora of priests, nuns, monks, striding out of their monasteries and convents in the Old City, countless varieties with their own dramatic habits: nuns so covered up in black that they would give any Muslim woman a run for her money, unless she was wearing a niqab; Muslims, the women in every degree of covering–the one I get a kick out of is the college girls with tight colorful hijabs that make their heads look like periscopes,  and skin-tight jeans and high heels; or the head-to-toe chador lady walking arm-in-arm with her mulletted husband in a muscle shirt and cut-off jean shorts.  All swirling around in the streets together, gabbing in the countless cafes, shopping, going to school–doing what everyone does.  And me, me! there among them, one of them.  Home, home at last!

Mom’s been on Zoloft for a month now.  She found herself crying all the time, so when both of them got bronchitis and I took them to the doctor she took the opportunity to tell the doctor about that, and got some Zoloft.  She really is feeling better, you can tell, although she insists on only taking half the prescribed amount.  That’s her.  She eats half an English muffin, half a sandwich, half a tab of Zoloft.  Oh well; what matters is that she actually copped to feeling bad and did something about it, and realizes she is feeling better.  Let’s pray she doesn’t quit just because she feels better.

So today, seeing that she is in a good mood, I decided to break some news: I am establishing a schedule for visiting my home, because I am miserable without it.  I will return every fall for the High Holidays and the month that precedes them, which is a month for study and preparation;  and I will return in the spring for Purim, which is thought of in the States as the Jewish Halloween because everybody gets dressed up, but in fact it is a holiday steeped in deep mysticism.

She shrugged.  “You do whatever you need to do.  I’ll get along somehow.”  What did I expect?  But the little child in me wanted approval.

“I miss my home,” I said, by way of what I hoped would be explanation.

This is your home!  Your home is right here!”  Her little eyes snapped.

“No, Mom, this is not my home.  This is your home.  You fell in love with this place, and you chose to live here.  I have never lived here.  I moved out of your house when I was sixteen…”

“I know,” she interrupted coldly.

“And just like you fell in love with this place, I fell in love with Jerusalem, and I am very sad when I am away.  And you know that I have a mental illness, and I have to take care of myself.  And all of my support system is in Jerusalem, all of my friends, my religious life, everything.  You don’t want me to end up in the hospital again, do you?  Because of isolation and no support?”

“What, being away from Jerusalem will put you in the hospital?”  Snort.

“What I would like you to do is to start looking into home care options that will give you respite and help while I’m away, so that you don’t get sick yourself.” Long conversation about that, leading to dead ends but it was a start, anyway.

I gave up.  Changed the subject.  Will not speak of it again.  Will just buy the tickets, get on the plane, and be there.  And eventually I will be able to pack up and go back, G-d willing, back to the crazy peaceful whirl of war zone in the Middle East, the only place in the world where I feel safe.