Posted by: Phaidra | May 29, 2014

Dancing, Tights, and Empathy: How I Almost Got Raped

About a year ago, I went dancing with a couple of dancer friends and had a great time. We had eaten and walked around and, yes, drank some wine and cocktails. There was loud music at the bar in the W in downtown Austin. So, we danced. With each other. With other groups. I danced with men and women alike. One guy bought us drinks, most of which I spilled because we were so busy dancing…

and then I saw a guy sitting on a couch looking very sad. Tipsy & yet still me, I approached him and asked him what was wrong. Turns out he had just broken up with a girlfriend so I let him talk for a minute and I told him that shit happens and the trick is not to let it keep you down. We both giggled at the drunken cliche and I hugged him. There could not have been anything less romantically inclined than that conversation and hug. He was lonely on the couch and I just let him talk.

But in the next moment after the hug, I’m was pulled off the floor and down the hallway. I stumbled to keep upright as some person decided to grab my wrist and drag me away. I half thought it was one of my friends and we were heading to the bathroom to conference on something.  But when I gathered my bearings and heard the door lock, I looked up and saw Drink Boy. I also knew I was in trouble.

We’ve all been taught the “Fight or Flight” reactions, but few people talk about a third which is Freeze. It’s the reaction that is *very* common in sexual assault situations because it’s the brain recognizing that you can’t escape unscathed and thus better to reserve your energy for the time you *can* escape. It’s why survivors don’t fight back like they most people think they would. It’s why you see victims shut down and seemingly “let” things happen. It’s what happened to me, in that moment the lock clicked; my brain very precisely showed me two options:

* Let him do what he’s gonna do so you can get to the door with as little damage as possible, or

* Fight back, scream, and most likely get very hurt

I went numb. He was between me and the door and I knew, I just *knew*, that he was going to rape me on that bathroom floor, but I’d rather be raped than broken so he could just start doing what he wants to; I just had to get to the door. I was pushed up against the wall. I put my hands on his arms in an effort to maneuver him; he took it as encouragement. He grabbed my hair so he could use his other hand. I scooted closer to the door. For every action he took. I took one movement closer to the door. I could hear the loud thumping music and focused on the door. Nothing that was happening to my body, just the door.

I wasn’t raped. You see, I had worn tights under my skirt. They thwarted him long enough that I had managed to get closer to the door and frustrated him to the point that he ended up just rubbing himself up against me and then leaving the bathroom, point made:

I had accepted a drink thus he felt entitled to my body.

As I made my way down the hall, looking for my friends, the line waiting to use the bathroom was filled with people looking at me. Some annoyed. Some faces seemed to know. Others living in their own experiences. I found my friends and asked to leave. I had already been through another incident involving assault and knew that calling the cops most likely wouldn’t help me. Just like the security guard as he escorted us out of the bar, they would shake their head at the drunk girl and chuck it up to just another “unfortunate incident” that happens downtown on Saturday night.

It’s like I heard our collective society saying, “Don’t you know better, sweetie? Men are pigs and you shouldn’t drink so much. Remember, you are responsible for your own safety and thank goodness you were decent enough to wear tights. Imagine if you’d worn something more revealing.”

Here’s the thing about my story, though. It’s minor. It’s a blip on the screen of these types of incidences. I’m not belittling it. I’m trying to get through to you that ALL women. Every. Single. Woman you know has been harassed, or stalked, or inappropriately grabbed, or verbally harassed. The statistic of 1 in 4 being raped is bad enough. Add all the factors that feed our rape culture, our culture of male entitlement, and it the number is 100%. Have a mother? Have a sister? Have a girlfriend, a female friend, a coworker… Have a daughter? As it stands, she’s gonna be harassed at some point in her life, probably several times in her life… probably much more than that.

Ready to do something about it yet? I can’t be the only one.

#YesAllWomen

Posted by: Phaidra | May 19, 2014

Happy Birthday, Grandma

Today is my Grandma Betty’s birthday; she would have been 94 if a couple of her kids weren’t really shitty people, but that’s another story and a product of my still angry opinion…

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and I know that she was not a great mom (not even a good one really). Very much a product of her times. She ran away from a bad family situation in Chicago and joined “the circus,” becoming a carnie as a teenager. Then had kids really young, ran away from abusive situations and got herself into other abusive situations. She left behind children who found her as adults and, as family legend has it, married 12? times (not to all different men, sometimes she tried a second time). She was often rude and let her mouth run in the worst of situations. She was almost shot during an armed robbery because she felt the guy needed to know how stupid he was being and that he should just take the cash and run instead of loading himself down with the beer; he decided to shoot the light above her head instead.

She smoked too much, never left the house without makeup, and was completely desperate for good male opinion at the strangest times…

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and was a wonderfully colorful, outrageous grandmother.

She taught me to play blackjack, scratch off lottery tickets, and how to get free drinks out of vets at the VFW; I was like 6 so they were Shirley Temples & no flirting required, much to the chagrin my lack of adult skill set. She showed me what a flawed, but persistent human being does to survive, to both my benefit & detriment (as you may have guessed, she also had no filter). She left me with a day of sarcasm on our last visit that included making fun of “holy rollers” and ended with her telling me:

“Phaidra, I always win. Wanna know how? I don’t stop. That’s how. When other people stopped, I just kept going.”

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I often bemoan our family history of craziness, both colorful and horrible, and feel like I have to make up for that inherited karma with people in my life, trying to be “good” as much as possible. But today I’m going to go buy a scratch off ticket, not worry as much about other people’s self esteem, skip food for coffee then scotch, & remember that it’s often not the ideal people who add color to your life, but the ones who embarrass you at least a little.

Happy birthday, Grandma.

Posted by: Phaidra | September 25, 2013

Skin

He said it was his deodorant, but I knew better. His skin radiated and I wanted to strip naked to crawl up in his shirt and burrow; warm, skin-on-skin, touching as much as possible. My nose in the crook of this neck, lips just about the surface, tongue tip needy with taste. I wanted to feel the sheen of sweat slide along my body hair like dew on Redbud blossoms, my own skin mingling with the scent of rosemary and sea salt.

It reminded me of standing on the boat deck and the barely-contained urge to dive into dark waters, white spray flying around metal. The absolute knowledge that you might die standing on that deck, resisting the sirens’ lyrics, and the only thing holding you back are the ropes of your life on land. I was so sad in that moment, longing for something I could never have: peace. Instead, I had the harder path where luck finds you in batches, but only because you’ve fought through your family’s dependence and the affairs and the divorce and the insults and the assault. Where you set your feet firmly on the deck and shake your puny fist at the storm clouds.

It wasn’t the deoderant. It was my own need for rest, for support, for love. It was his smile and the flash of his blue eyes in the dark. It was my desire to be desired and dependence on touch to provide it. It was the eye of the storm when you both huddle in the corner and talk about the future.

Posted by: Phaidra | April 29, 2013

On Bellydance

I can think of very few things more exposing than a “fat girl” getting up on stage and showing her midriff to a group of strangers. Seriously. If you had asked me 3 years ago if I’d be able to get up on stage and do it, I’d have laughed in your face and called you looney. But that’s exactly what I do, at least once a month. I get up on stage and show my belly, flinging it around like a bag of oranges, twisting, turning, pooching out over my costume in sometimes the most heinous of unflattering positions. I have pictures if you need confirmation.

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And you know what? When I’m on that stage, in “dancer mode,” I couldn’t possibly care less. You could sling all kinds of insults about my flab for the entire dance and if the others dancers, drummers, and friends in the audience didn’t beat you to death with your own arms first, I would flip you off and ask for another set. I feel that good on stage. My self esteem bank account fills with every slap of the drum. I feel safe and supported and loved and beautiful and… just about every other good word you can think about yourself.

And that’s just on an average dance. On a good dance? One where I feel like I rocked it? I live on that adrenaline for days.

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And I know that part of that is just that the belly dance community is SOOOOO amazing in their acceptance, at least where I live. I really hope that it’s that way in every belly dance community, because I can’t imagine it being anything else. Those who dance with me and drum with me and support us all in the audience are phenomenal.

This is not to belittle the other support I get in life. The last couple of years have been hard, and at lot of the time, it’s felt really hard and you’ve watched me cry, visited me in the hospital, stroked my hair, bought me wine, and taken me out for dinner. You’ve listened to me bitch about politics, threatened to beat people up, kissed my face, and just said, “Got your back.” Talked, cajoled, complimented, driven… Once, at my home away from home, I told a friend that nothing bad would ever happen to me there because it would never be allowed. As I walked away to the bathroom, someone came up behind me and yanked my pants up. Surprised , I turned around and it was one of those friends, “Your underwear was showing.” Talk about having my back. :D

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And I wish I could give every single one of you something that was filled with the level of joy I feel when I dance. It’s why I’ve begged some of you to come see me dance. It’s why I nearly jump out of my skin in happiness when I see one of you in the audience. It’s why when I’m down, I go downstairs and dance or when I’ve so despondent that I can barely make it out of bed, I review choreography in my head until I can take my first steps in the morning. It’s why I can barely wait for Kick Butt weekend in order to fling my midriff around in complete joyous contentment when most mornings I obsess over the scale in my bathroom. It has saved me countless times now and I will get up there in one of those boots I always manage to get myself into if I have to in order to continue dancing.

It’s that much joy for me. It’s that important to me. And me asking you to join me at a show or patiently look through all the pictures on Facebook? It’s that how much I love you.

Posted by: Phaidra | April 4, 2013

Potential

A single kernel of black pepper is
wedged between his top two teeth.
To tell him, only polite, or jump
across the table and lick it away?

“This is good.”

Spice on my tongue. His
surprise on my breast.
Keys stabbing both our
thighs. The palatable envy
of caressless judgers.

“It’s packed in here.”

The smell of smoke curls
off the barbeque pit and
lands in my hair. Want
filling my stomach as I sit,
leaving no room for charred
brisket or cole slaw. We’ve
isolated ourselves too much, but
words skitter off the table,
blocked by my sudden
obsession.

“Are you not hungry?”

A heated attack of digits
pulling at his buttons. Hands
gripping the sides of my head.
Shared sauce on lips. The feel of a
wooden table on my back.
Shimmering everywhere as
sweet pepper burns.

He pauses, “Are you ok?”

I smile.

“You have pepper in your teeth.”

Posted by: Phaidra | April 3, 2013

Dose

It’s that morning when
you realize you’re not worth
the sunlight on your skin.
Cement shoes rip at the
ligaments in your legs.
Friends call to ask
what’s taking you so long.

It’s that afternoon when
air becomes liquid.
You swim for the surface,
afraid to think of the
dark shadows stirring around
you. The feel of your shirt
reminds you of slick skin.

It’s that evening when
toothpaste becomes sawdust
and your sheets are stale.
Ants crawl up your arms and you
feel the electric pulses
between your synapses.
Words burrow in between.

It’s that day you plead,
“Quiet. Just a little quiet.”

Posted by: Phaidra | April 2, 2013

Honesty

Don’t give me a bouquet of Baby’s Breath,
greenery, and scentless, long-stemmed roses
wrapped in tissue paper and a red ribbon.

Instead plant me a garden full of mint and lavender.
Let me have hibiscus flowers to drink, rosemary to eat and
honeysuckle to dissect for its nectar.
Place strawberries under Mountain Laurels
where birds can gorge on red flesh.
Leave the praying mantis to her cricket and
the snakes to the blackberry bushes.
Shun the nets that cover apple trees and
provide a path to the orange blossoms.
Let the gate stand open and
be damned the neighbor’s dog.

But if instead a posy you must give me,
fill it with oleander and
leave the thorns on the roses.
Fill the gaps with thistles and bramble and
I promise to grab it ungloved and
let each trickle of blood
wrap and curl around the stems
like a red ribbon.

Posted by: Phaidra | April 2, 2013

Heart

Her breath fogs the glass,
ignoring the chatter of classmates
in their padded, high-back seats,
and the shuddering of the bus doors.

Finger first to dipping mid point
then up around the curve,
down to bottom tip.
A reflection to complete.

In the middle, four initials with
curling tails and dripping sweat.
Head and quill piercing
down and up, arched.

The boy in front of her turns,
sees her frosted handiwork then
reaches over and wipes the glass clean,
blushing at such silly things.

She scowls while he turns back around.
Laughter and the sound of slapping hands
announcing his congratulations.
Another thought thwarted.

Then with raised eyebrow and small, knowing smile
her finger drifts down,
touches a new frozen pane and
starts again at dipping midpoint.

Posted by: Phaidra | April 2, 2013

Resurrection

I’m resurrecting this blog to participate in the NaPoWriMo during the month of April. In response to how life has been bothering me the last couple of years, a friend of mine told me, “You do better when you’re writing.”

We’ll see how many poems I actually get written and posted in light of that insight.

Posted by: Phaidra | November 24, 2008

Compassion

I’m trying *very* hard to be compassionate toward someone tonight. In my calmer moments, it settles on me easily. In the other moments, I remember how I sat there calmly and let a him yell at me because I knew he had too much to drink; how I took everything he said, no matter how hurtful, no matter how many times he called me in the night to yell some more, terminating our friendship and adding insult to injury; how even the next morning, when I thought he would realize the sanity of my decision and be embarrassed, he instead threw more angry words, reaffirming his desire to forsake me.

In those moments, I try to remind myself that I made a judgement call and stuck to my conviction, that it’s only been a day and that this was more-than-likely a trigger for a larger issue in his life; anger pouring out at me because he couldn’t pour it elsewhere. What to do with this info is the problem.

Do I let him apologize if he eventually wants to, knowing his tolerance for me is so low?

Do I just grieve the loss now and let the rest fall out as it would?

Where does compassion end and martyrdom begin?

When do I turn my cheek and then walk away?

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