Ted Bunch is the co-founder of A Call To Men, which
Works to create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe.
Here’s their newest PSA so you can catch a feel for their work. It’s called “The Next Generation of Manhood.”
I was lucky to catch a one-hour presentation this week. He gears them towards men, but welcomes women because they are at the forefront of fighting these abuses, and he says it’s time for men to respectfully listen to the voices of women on these issues.
10 Things about Men and Violence
1. Men grow up in a man box. The cultural socialization of the American male includes these gems:
-don’t ask for help
-better to be strong than kind
-safest emotion to express is anger (which is the secondary emotion, the real emotion is usually hurt, sad, disappointed)
-don’t show fear
-show aggression, be the protector
-be the provider
-don’t be like a woman
-don’t be too committed (whipped)
-don’t be too loving
-don’t be too caring
2. The quickest way to motivate a boy or man is to compare him to a woman or a gay man. Bunch called out to us: “You throw like a ____” and we all answered “girl” without having to think. This is a bad way to socialize our children, because it says girls have no value.
3. The current generation of adult men are the first to deal with this cultural shift. It has previously been the norm to be the king of the castle and own everything in it, including your wife. Remember, women weren’t allowed to have their own credit cards until the 1970s.
4. You, a man, see a man at the mall hit his wife. You go and tell him not to do that. Response? “Mind your own business.” Socialization. If you press further, “this is between me and my wife.” As in, she is my property. His violence is selective and exclusive. He is not violent to his boss when the paycheck is late or to the police at his door. He saves it for his wife. It’s our belief system that men are supposed to have the final say, and for some men it is physical. Domestic violence is seen as a private, not public issue, at least for the man.
5. Only 20% of men are violent. The other 80% are silent. The 20% rely on that silence to get away with their crimes. One of my college boyfriends intervened in a potential rape when he was in high school. He stopped the boy before it could go too far. The girl was highly intoxicated and could only remember my future boyfriend was there, not what his purpose was. The story was sorted out and only the perpetrator got in trouble, but there was a cloud over my future boyfriend’s head, and it was several years before girls trusted him enough to date him. That’s no incentive for a boy/man to step in and help.
6. Bunch interacted with a 16-year-old male in the audience. He set up a scenario where they had argued the night before. Bunch said now it was the next day and he wanted to talk to him. He said, “I am hurt and disappointed about what happened yesterday.” The boy was like a deer in headlights. He said, “I don’t know how to…what to do with that.” Bunch said, “What if I tell you I am pissed at you?” Sixteen-year-old said, “That I can work with.” Anger is the only acceptable emotion in the man box. All feelings are filtered into aggression.
7. Even if you are the best parents and you are teaching your sons to be kind and gentle people, they are not immune to the cultural socialization at school and from the media. What they see: pictures of sports, muscles, action movie stills, dads yelling at boys to “man up.” Even the movie “Wreck-It Ralph,” with its many fine qualities, features the second female lead calling the male soldiers underneath her “ladies.”
8. The male-dominated culture occupations are law enforcement and military. Women catch hell in these jobs. Anyone there is squarely in the man box because you’re not allowed to show fear in these occupations.
9. The media also connects masculinity with sexual conquest and demonstrates women are sexual objects. Pictures of famous men surrounded by scantily clad trophy women (Stern, Hefner, Eminem, Snoop Dog). Boys and men are shown it’s normal, even admirable, to use a girl or woman to gratify their physical needs, and that women are to serve men, bring pleasure to men, meet the needs of men.
A woman connected to (partnered with) a man has value because of his value, so no catcalls. If not partnered? Free game.
When I was a young adult, this is what guys would say about a hot girl: “I’d hit that, I’d tear that up.” Now it’s “I’d smash that.” Hit, tear, smash = violence. That = object. If a boy/man refuses to catcall a woman when his friends do? He’s out of line, out of the man box, called gay.
10. Ten men, of all ages and from all backgrounds, when asked if they would get involved in a physical altercation between husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend, say they would mind their own business. Some say she may have deserved it or had it coming. If it is a man assaulting a woman with whom he has no relationship, they say they would get involved, because that’s illegal. IF THERE IS A RELATIONSHIP, MEN FEEL IT IMPLIES OWNERSHIP OF THE WOMAN, THE RIGHT TO ABUSE HER.
We technically know a woman does not belong to a man, but it is entrenched in our socialization.
10 Ideas, Solutions, Stories to Promote the Massive Cultural Shift Needed
1. Immediately (and this was my favorite thing) change the wording when we discuss these issues. We use passive voice:
1 in 5 women will be raped.
We need to change to active voice:
Men will rape 1 in 5 women.
This is not only a more powerful way to speak, it clearly states what happens: a man perpetrates a sexual crime against a woman.
Also, consider the power of these clauses: “Joyce was battered” v. “Mark battered Joyce” and “Joyce was beaten” v. “Mark beat Joyce.”
2. A Call To Men seeks to invite, not indict. In talking about these issues, Bunch found that if he went in, metaphorical guns blazing, calling men violent and saying they had to stop this, every male in the room was on the defensive and felt picked on or indicted, even though only 20% of men are violent. So they invite men to better themselves, with the side effect being violence against women will decrease.
3. How are they to better themselves? Learn and teach that it is okay to share feelings, to ask for help, to be vulnerable; that fear is normal and healthy; that men can and should be loving, gentle, and kind. That the measure of a man not about how hard you hit, or how much money you make. Learn to turn aggression off and turn compassion on; to seek kindness over control.
4. Women have been at the forefront of this fight, right in the trenches. Men need to listen respectfully to them, because they know what they are talking about. Women need only keep on doing all the good they already do. It’s time for the men to take control of themselves.
5. Speak up for women. Break out of that man box and let your friends know their jokes, their catcalls, their putdowns, their misogynistic language are not all right, not funny, not manly. Interrupt and prevent this current culture of manhood.
6. Rape discussion is women-centered, so again, we need to change the language. 80% of women who are raped know the rapist, which means at least 80% of rapists know the women they raped, usually more, because they often stalk their victims first. When women know their perpetrators, some blame is assigned to her: “Why did she open the door? Didn’t she realize something was off about him?” Batterers and rapists don’t come with horns and a tail, nor do they tell the parents “I may beat her from time to time, stalk her if she doesn’t answer my texts, etc…”
7. Own your emotions, figure out and vocalize what you are really feeling, don’t immediately channel it into the emotions of aggression and thus act out. There are many nuances to your feelings: frustration, disappointment, annoyance, sadness, and yes, sometimes anger.
8. It is part of our cultural socialization to say or imply to sons, when dad heads out of town, gets deployed, etc.,: “You’re the man of the house now.” This undermines the authority of the mother and puts the boy in charge. Like many phrases, it is totally well-meaning, but sending the wrong message. Part of the Man Prayer, written by Eve Ensler and filmed by Tony Stroebel in connection with One Billion Rising, is “May I cherish, respect, and love my mother.” Watch it here, it’s incredible.
9. Social change is a community effort. (Examples: Recycling, no smoking in buildings.) Things that are a priority (deaths from 2nd hand smoke, DWI deaths) create fast social change. Women are not valued like the suburban, middle-class white kids who were dying in DWIs, which resulted in the formation of MADD.
10. Bunch ended with this story: “Daddy Will You Dye My Socks Pink?” Bunch’s son Joshua is a man box kid in spite of his rearing, because again, it is not only parents socializing children. Bunch was happy-dance excited when his son asked for his socks to be dyed pink. It was to emulate the NBA, NFL players who wore pink socks for breast cancer. Suddenly, the whole high school football and basketball teams were wearing pink. Pink is an accepted color for men now because influential men (NFL, NBA players) are wearing it. If that tiny cultural change happened SO EASILY, who can say we can’t change how women are treated in our culture? Raise awareness. Don’t go in storming about ending violence for women, that makes men feel indicted. Invite them to promote healthy, respectful manhood. Then they come along. Then the violence will end.
My impressions? I enjoyed the presentation. I was able to participate. I think Bunch’s presentation style could use some work, but his bona fides feel legitimate and I sense he will accomplish a lot. He works with many NFL players, which hopefully will expand the sphere of influence, because he is teaching them to keep the aggression on the field. If that translates to their own sons and all their fans, all the better.
I feel I have good ideas to keep teaching my sons, because so far their inclination is to be kind and protective of everyone, but I can see that past a certain age (six or so), they start translating their emotions to anger. My oldest had cause to look up the word rape after reading it in a book, and his nearly 13-year-old heart BROKE that such a thing existed.
Warning: sexual assault triggers.
In December 2012, my new employer sat behind his desk and read off sexual harassment guidelines to me. He is LDS and was very matter-of-fact but uncomfortable, which is how I would like every employer to be when discussing distasteful realities. Perhaps seeing me as the average mother-and-housewife, he was apologetic when he had to give not-at-all shocking descriptions of inappropriate behavior directed to female employees. “Don’t worry,” I said drily. “Most of these things happened to me when I worked in Manhattan.”
I was not a dynamic dresser back then. (I am not a dynamic dresser at all; I will be 39 in two weeks and I prefer ironic/geek-themed tee shirts, jeans, and shoes that are usually sneakers, thongs or a slip-on style. I do like sweaters and boots in cooler weather.) I had serviceable pant suits, or skirts and blouses. When I tried to imitate more stylish coworkers, I usually failed in some detail or another.
Also, I worked 80 hours a week and was always exhausted, so I stuck to the basics of hygiene, neat appearance and minimal makeup.
The company Christmas party rolled around. I dressed in a sweater and matching skirt, not my normal office-wear, as it had a bit of shimmer to it. The sweater had a boat neck but fit loosely and the skirt went to my shins at least. I probably wore heels in honor of the occasion.
Once work was done for the day, I headed over to the St. Regis hotel. I think we had the top floor for the party; investment banking firms have a reputation to uphold so they need a swank look, trays of sumptuous little bites, and endless, endless alcohol.
I am an introvert and I hate big parties, so I was very nervous. My preferred cocktail was a “martini, two olives, lightest touch with the vermouth, please,” so I went to the bar and ordered one. I am sure I ate some of the savories and desserts. I watched the bosses dance with the administrative assistants out on the floor and was a little unsettled by it: old white men in expensive suits dancing with middle-aged women of various ethnicities in their slightly-too-tight, brightly colored work clothes. The men danced a little too close and grabbed at the women, and both grabber and grabb-ee laughed like it was nothing. It was like a game I couldn’t grasp the rules of, made louder and coarser by the beers, wine and cocktails people were enjoying on the company’s party budget.
I make it sound nightmarish, but it is pretty normal for most people. It was nightmarish for me, all the discordant noise of music, conversation, and braying laughter, the dim lighting, the crush of people. Oh, how I hate being in a closed space with so many people!
I was a member of the very small publishing department. This granted me some autonomy the administrative assistants didn’t have: I didn’t actually work for the analysts. I had no desire to dance, no clients to woo, and no need to watch the insanity on the floor. I headed back to the bar, where the junior analysts were stationed. They were all my age or a few years older, many of them single since they worked about 100 hours a week, paying their dues so they could one day be on the dance floor, grabbing at administrative assistants. I know I thought one was quite cute, and I know he thought of me not at all in that way. He was with another junior and they were chatting and drinking beer. I’d shaken, for the time being, this little sorority girl of a coworker who would be, in a few more months, the downfall of my department, and I stood by them at the bar, letting the second (third?) martini work on my nerves.
Casually, the cute junior’s friend reached over and groped my bottom, all the time not looking at me or even pausing in his conversation. I was absolutely frozen (I don’t fight or flee, I freeze) in shock, and he carried on his exploration of my behind for a good two minutes, which felt like an hour.
It is surreal to be groped at a company party. At a fraternity party or a cast party one comes to expect it; it’s just college, we’re only practicing at being grownups. Everyone is drinking, no one is thinking. But I’d been to bars with coworkers before and everyone managed to be civilized and respectful. I guess the added strain of the holidays made average guys go insane that night, because I was groped at a Wall Street party while wearing the most conservative outfit in the room.
Later I shared a cab with the cute junior, who was a complete gentleman besides the fact that he knew his friend was molesting me at the party and he never said a word nor, indeed, paused in his conversation. We hovered in opposite corners till I got out at Grand Central, tired and deflated.
What bothers me the most now, in light of the rape culture that is spinning out of control, and as a mother of three boys, and as a human and a woman, is that while I was disgusted to be groped at frat parties and cast parties and company parties, I thought it was normal, and that I couldn’t do anything about it.
And all these years of all these men and women, now approaching middle age and beyond, staying silent while it happens, thinking it was normal, that we couldn’t do anything about it, has led to the escalation of this culture. Girls are no longer just groped at parties. Now we have Steubenville, and this morning I just read of a 13 year-old girl and two 18-year-old athlete rapists in Connecticut. And there have been many more in the intervening years.
Part 2 tomorrow.
S has long asked to be a Girl Scout. I, in the trenches of getting my first son through the LDS Cub Scout years (less time to achieve ranks, a standard of excellence in achievement), could not imagine taking on the additional duties of managing a Girl Scout. Scouting of either flavor is a lot of work for families, especially mothers. I have limits; I am only so amazing.
Enter summer, 2012. Specifically, the decision upheld by the Boy Scouts of America, that gay leaders AND gay scouts were unwelcome in their organization.
I announced to S that we would be joining the newly formed homeschoolers Girl Scout troop. The Girl Scouts have long been an inclusive group, and their program is not vetted by the church.
I defy the BSA’s policy. Many people do, so the BSA has reopened the issue, and will make a decision in May. I sent a letter affirming my position.
I finally told J about the issues, too. I stuck with scouting because the activities, if not the organization, are good for my son. I support my son. (It is also hard to feel fully accepted by your peer group in the church at his age if you do not participate in scouting. That’s a whole other post I will never write.) I told him the issue was tabled until May and we could wait and see what happens. I know he is pleased to have some breathing room, because he is very troubled and torn.
In my heart I know this is right for me to do, to stand by my beliefs. I am bolstered by one of little E’s most excellent namesakes in the quote that opened this post.
S is flourishing in the troop. She earned seven badges at the ceremony Monday night, which was well attended as any Boy Scout badge ceremony. Our leader is excellent that way. What an excellent Family Home Evening, all of us supporting S in her endeavors!
Here’s her favorite activity from the flower badge:
Theatrical makeup for a media arts (tech arts?) badge:
She’s had to present to her troop several times for various badges. Painfully shy, these have been her hardest moments. But when she was behind the table, our of sight, for the puppet show they presented about their community service badge, she spoke loud and clear about her participation at the local food bank. Evidently, if she can’t see you, she has no fear of public speaking.
The best part of any scouting is watching my kids grow in confidence and ability.
[All of this comes from MY experiences, MY study, MY prayers, MY opinions. Your mileage may vary; and I respect your choices. After all: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."]
I’m “just a small-town girl,” though my town was the biggest thing going within 20 miles or so. I would marvel at the kids who would come into my small city from their towns and villages, saying we had more to do. Well, I guess so; we did have a two-screen theater and a great local pizza joint, as well as our own AM radio station.
I had the small-town life, with a dad who was always working and mom who stayed home with us for the most part, though I could tell she didn’t like it much. And from an early age I understood that all three of us daughters would be attending college and having careers. Since it was understood from my earliest memories, I never thought it would not happen, nor did I understand that in the larger world, not every kid went to college. If I’d known that in many parts of the globe, girls had no chance at secondary, much less tertiary, education, I would not have believed it.
Privilege granted me arrogance. My first job was at McDonald’s and I was more than competent at all that sort of work. The manager offered to send me to Hamburger University, and I gave him my most disdainful look and informed him that I was going to a REAL college, thanks. (I bet if I’d gone and owned one or more franchises today, it wouldn’t be so awful every time one of the vehicles lost its mind.)
Anyway, matter-of-fact feminist upbringing = me. Small-town privilege and mentality = me.
Enter college. Now mind you, I went, on very partial scholarship, to a small, pricey liberal arts college downstate. I put in my time to get there, make grades, and stay there, but there were hundreds of kids whose parents wrote one check every August that covered tuition and housing. A monthly check straight to the student covered the rest. Essentially, I was attending a bastion of privilege.
Or so I thought.
I was heading with a friend to her room in the largest dorm on campus after a meal in the dining hall. A breezeway/lobby connected the student center, where we took said meals, to that dormitory. That night, the breezeway was hosting a sit-in. The entire black student union was assembled to protest an injustice. For the life of me I don’t remember what. I turned to my friend, a dark-skinned Italian girl, and said “What’s going on?”
That night, I learned that just because I had not experienced something personally, didn’t mean no one had. And racism, which I somehow thought had been dealt with neatly during the 60s and 70s (because I never saw it in my 99.99999999% white town), was thriving. It thrived enough that my Italian friend, who came from a real city 30 minutes from mine, had herself been perceived as black and endured discrimination because of it. Another friend was biracial and racism was matter-of-fact in her life. I had poor friends who faced another kind of public disapproval.
Did I become an all-loving, all-embracing crusader for the right in my freshman year because of these friends? Well, no. I had a very average secular college life. But the seeds were planted, and when my life was different, when I was stripped of pride and arrogance and left to make myself in a better mold, the seeds started to blossom very slowly.
I have always considered myself a feminist. But it’s just in the last three years or so that I feel I understand what it really means. It was very easy to be a woman before. I was never denied anything I wanted because of my gender. In some cases, I was given it precisely because I was a woman: there were far more scholarships granted to women by my college because even in the early 90s the writing was on the wall. Overall, women get better grades (though the valedictorian and salutatorian will usually be males from the hard sciences). Overall, women cause less trouble of the campus security/police involvement kind on campus. And overall, we clean our rooms better.
Some women in my chosen church feel that they stand on uneven ground because they were born female. There is a fantastic list of some ways we feel unequal here. Some women have never, but never, felt unequal or trod-upon one day in their lives. To them I say, I am so happy for you. I rejoice with you. Can you find it in your heart to mourn with those who DO feel so? Surely if you are happy and content, your compassion for those less fortunate will overflow. Yet others say the church itself does not make women unequal, but that there are “a few” misguided members here and there who treat others unkindly, and it is a chance for growth for everyone. To them I say: not good enough. I have read dozens of stories where the abused member was disfellowshipped, excommunicated, or relegated to the position of social pariah, and the abuser, protected by his brotherly priesthood bond, was slapped on the wrist and then adulated.
Long ago, when we lived in Utah, a married-student ward lesson in Relief Society focused on pornography and how to deal with it. The president talked about having all the passwords to the cable box, computer, and email accounts for her husband’s protection. Vague hints about a satisfactory life in the bedroom (you know, that “give it up when he wants it and he will not stray” mentality) were put out there. As I watched women being instructed to treat their husbands like children, to take responsibility for grown men’s choices as they did for their toddlers’, I felt the spirit stir within me so strongly that I could not have stayed silent if I tried. I stood up and told them that if their husbands wanted to look at pornography, they would find a way. If they looked at it, it was their choice and on their heads, not the heads of their wives. If we did everything in the world to protect them from using it and they did it anyway, all we would do was bring guilt upon ourselves. “If only I had imposed more passwords!” “If only we’d had sex more often!” I stood and spoke in a voice that was not my own with words that did not come from my own head.
Actual feminist by choice = me.
Later, the bishop’s wife called me to thank me emphatically for speaking up. She had seen the direction the lesson was going, felt the heavy air of guilt falling on the heads of good women, and hoped somehow the tide would turn.
I am always going to stand up for women. I am going to rejoice with them when they succeed. I am going to mourn with them when they are cast down. I am going to speak up, again and again, for the sake of women and young women in our church. And I know I will often be ignored. I was ignored when I served as the Stake Young Women’s Secretary and I proposed going a different direction on Standards Night, a direction that might help young women and their parents understand why they might find it hard to stay chaste until marriage. Honestly, I just wanted someone to acknowledge that girls have sexual feelings, too, and to stop saying we needed to dress/act a certain way for the sake of the young men. We have our own problems to deal with first so we can help others.
I am going to do this work because I am called to it. And wow, is it ever proof that the Lord calls the unqualified.
So yes, I will wear pants to church tomorrow. Not as an act of defiance or a political statement. Simply as a statement of solidarity, and a way to say “hey, some of these social norms, which I have never been very good at following anyway because I didn’t grow up Mormon nor in Utah, are prideful and weird and stand in the way of true discipleship.”
It remains to be seen whether I am associated with men like the bishop and stake president in CO who are on the lookout for pants and will call any women wearing them in for a worthiness interview, or the one in WA who offered his support and wants to know when anyone says or does anything that is degrading to a woman in his flock.
Well, I am not going to sit around, wringing my hands while the cost of groceries go up and up and we get slammed with another couple thousand in car repair bills. I think even five years ago I would have, but I am a far different person than I was back then; I am awake again.
So through a series of small coincidences, some years in the making, I have a part-time job. And though I have a BA and am one smart cookie, I am underemployed, deliberately.
I read. A lot. (Hazard a guess, then double it and you might be close.) Some of what I’ve read deals with women and underemployment, and good, valid points are made. But I have become a small portion of that statistic, and I now serve as useless anecdotal evidence. I am underemployed because I choose to be; because while I want and need to contribute to the family coffers, I also want and need to be all I still am, particularly a homeschooling parent.
I am lucky because I love where I work and what I do; because not getting a paycheck for the first month until payroll cycles around is not a catastrophe for us; because Mr. does not impose restrictions on me working or refuse to parent his children while I do so (and I know that sounds just preposterous to thinking human beings, but WOW, there are so many husbands like this out there); and because all of my problems are of the first-world variety. No one is starving here or going without medical care.
Sidebar: I also sincerely enjoy buying nearly every needful thing at thrift stores; I love recycling and using my imagination to put together outfits. When I go to department stores now I think everything is ridiculously overpriced. I was out yesterday and picked up nine Star Wars novels (J consumes them) for $.50 apiece, plus a ridiculously cute coat for S for $5. Thrifting where I can makes the times when I have to shell out $45 for silk/merino wool blend long underwear for J’s winter camping with the scouts bearable. The coat, snow pants and wool LL Bean sweater for said camping? $11.50.
Anyway, back to my original point: it is not gobs of money, what I gather in by working and by teaching piano to a few homeschoolers, but it brings much hope. Cheerfully doing what I can changes the the feeling in our family from a light panic to a calm determination. Showing my children that healthy married couples work together when the going is rough shapes their worldview correctly. What luck!
So, at the end of the month (plus a few days) of all things thankful, I give mine for everything I discussed above, and this one thing more, of utmost importance to me: my egalitarian marriage.
Oh, and that the flying Jeep Liberty stopped 10 feet short of crashing through the front of the house. More on that later!
If it’s a person beating you down, whether physically or emotionally, do forgive him or her and offer an opportunity for him to change how he treats you. Offer this several times; I would say just under ten. Once she/he proves she is not going to be able to change how she treats you, forgive again and step back from the relationship. Protect yourself. This protection is a gift. If you are the boxer, it is weakness to remain.
Life is full of twists, though, and it’s not always a person who is doing the metaphorical beating. Sometimes it’s the entity called life. And right now, life is beating us senseless. Medical bills on top of car repair bills underwritten by a massive change in our insurance and a salary freeze of the last several years. Costs go up and salaries are supposed to go up to compensate. I look back at just five months ago when we were fine. We were comfortable enough that I went along on a trip to Europe. Would that I could freeze time there, before my tremors and migraines started, before S. was mauled by the cat, before Mr.’s back started another downward spiral, before the vehicles started consuming money.
Eventually it will get better; we’ll tighten our belts and look into ways to make more money and pray and hope and believe. But it’s an exhausting process, and I’d sure like to step back from THIS relationship. Heh. And I wanted to make sure I didn’t just portray an unrealistic, sunshine-and-rainbows-life, even though I love our life and family. But:
when you’re lost [check], and alone [check], and you’re sinking like a stone [check], carry on.
the March sisters all can at the end of Little Women,
Thank God, I’m a happy woman.
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving. Mine was wonderful. I simply adore these six people who are my actual family, and also, as
friends are the family you make,
I feel undeservedly rich — my “family” is huge and loving!
Oh my gosh, this kid of mine.
He has huge ideas about everything. No matter what he plans I have to scale it back
with much scowling gently. He loves to be with people and wants to host a jillion things, from one-on-one jaunts to the Target cafe to large parties at our house. He gets that from his dad, whose grinchy wife allows two parties per year (and they are always great, even though cabinets fall on our heads, tempered glass patio tables shatter and oh, yeah, that one time the back yard caught on fire).
From me he gets that persnickety perfectionism, that “holy-crap-they-are-all-coming-in-an-hour-and-the-bathrooms-are-abhorrent” mode of panic. For me it dissipates about five minutes after people first arrive (because, you know, something is going to happen, regardless of planning), and our friends and guests must enjoy themselves, because I have even had a perfect stranger stretch out all comfy on my back room couch and take a nap through half of an LSU game.
So J. plans and replans and frets and flies around the house in a torrent of excitedness, and when he pulls something off and everyone has a great time, which is what happened today, he is so happy.
And he makes me happy all the time (sometimes very deep down), because he is the very creature that made me this mother thing, but when he is so happy, I feel this glowing contentment.
I can’t believe it is only six more years of him being constantly around.
My high school graduating class had a retro streak. Our Jr. Prom song was “Wonderful Tonight,” a feat that was partly accomplished by my mother, who stomped into the Vice Principal’s office to state that SHE certainly didn’t object to the lyrics in the third verse, nor did they explicitly state drunkenness or sex, so why couldn’t we use it?
[Indeed, why not? In their 14-year-old wisdom, the organizers of our eighth grade dinner dance chose the eternally icky "Father Figure." I had suggested Phil Collins' "Groovy Kind of Love" and in a spring miracle, a committee member later said it would have been a better choice.]
So the Class of ’92 danced away in the spring of ’91 to a song from ’77. The nest year, as seniors, we went further back in time, and our Senior Dinner Dance song was “You’ve Got A Friend” from ’71.
A few weeks later we bid each other adieu at graduation, and our class song? 1981. James Taylor again. “That Lonesome Road.”
Walk down that lonesome road all by yourself
Don’t turn your head back over your shoulder
And only stop to rest yourself when the silver moon
Is shining high above the trees.
If I had stopped to listen once or twice
If I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes
If I had cooled my head and warmed my heart
I’d not be on this road tonight.
Carry on; never mind feeling sorry for yourself
It doesn’t save you from your troubled mind.
Walk down that lonesome road all by yourself
Don’t turn your head back over your shoulder
And only stop to rest yourself when the silver moon
Is shining high above the trees.
I can honestly say we were all sick of high school, sick of each other, sick of remembering how we had treated each other, and ready to move on with our lives. And we were a fairly normal class; there were no big skeletons in the collective closet. I had amazing friends and I still couldn’t wait to go to college and get away from them.
And I mean away. Lots of kids would be attending SUNY (State University of New York) campuses all over the region. I applied to some of them myself, and even though I refused to write an essay, my grades, extracurriculars and ACT scores granted me admission. But I refused to attend any of them. At each one there would be students from my high school. Not just my grade, but the years before I graduated and the years to come. I needed to go somewhere by myself, so when a private school downstate offered me a scholarship and work study and a grant, I accepted. No one from my high school had attended it in recent memory, and it was 90 minutes by train to NYC. Done.
I was unpopular in high school, and bullied in small ways. Some of it I earned, as I was carrying a tremendous chip on my shoulder, a burden of a family secret that I would not share. I had music, drama, and sports for my outlets and I was able to burn enough angst to survive.
I could write several posts about who I was at college, who I was working in Manhattan, who I was after I flamed out in NYC. Maybe someday I will.
I wasn’t in touch with anyone from high school to a significant degree. Email was in its infancy when I was a college freshman. Even after the online world exploded, I didn’t seek anyone out until 9/11. That very day I joined classmates.com. I didn’t attend the ten-year reunion the next year; I was pregnant and had a toddler. And I opted to go to Europe instead of attending the 20-year reunion (no regrets!).
I also shunned Facebook for many years. I’d read about their guidelines regarding breast feeding pictures and was annoyed. I did finally join in 2009 and did the usual: I looked up people from my high school. A lot of us friended each other temporarily, just to find out who we’d become. Some of them fell off my feed because Facebook likes to pick and choose what you see. And some of them stuck. The girl who called me Wheezer from “Steel Magnolias” in high school? She’s on my feed. We’re different people now than we were then. All of us are, and not just because we are fatter.
I walked a path that started in October 1991, when Fred Heins died of AIDS, and has never ended. I’ve walked to healing and back to hurt again. I’ve built walls and closed doors. I’ve emptied and aired closets and spent time in a desert with endless, open sky. I have cried for the child and teen I was, and I have dried those tears and become the adult. My path now is through the anger, and it is longer but I will keep plodding.
I appreciate high school now. I can, since even with all that happened it was a safe school in a safe town. And I was very excited to meet with one of my old friends last Thursday in California. We and our significant others met for Mediterranean, actually excellent Mediterranean, and in the dim and over the din we talked and talked and talked. And ate shawarma and hummus and oh-my-heavenly-olives.
I loved it. I loved this friend in high school, even when I hated him. I still love him. My only regret is that we didn’t take a picture.
Thanks, Werd. My town or yours, any time.
I had the cutting board into the hot, soapy dishwater as the oven timer counted down the last two minutes to F’s chosen birthday dinner: pearl couscous cooked in my own chicken stock, divided into two serving bowls. In one bowl goes a sausage with fontina cheese and spinach, plus fresh spinach folded in to just barely wilt. In the other is a basil pesto sausage and crunchy celery. The kids are divided: J, H, and N eat the fontina/spinach and F and S the basil. Mr. Bailey prefers the basil. I like both.
The table was set for a fancy dinner night, which we try to have monthly, and includes tablecloth, our best dishes, candles, flowers, and plastic goblets. Ours are green instead of clear because clear ones are $9.99 a package and the green are just $5.00.
These details are so mundane, but I think I will never forget them. F’s cake was frosted, plus 16 cupcakes. We expected family friends at 7:00 for cake and ice cream. I was serving mango orange juice with dinner instead of milk and water. It is the same kind of juice the kids turned into a soda last week when they studied dry ice in their homeschool science class. Even the little kids stuck around for those experiments.
Hands in the dishwater, a scream at the end of the hall. There are six kids in the house, and H and F like to bother S and her friend when they play. Still, there’s something different about this scream, and it is followed immediately by sobs, horrible sobs. S has the most horrible sobs. She is so even-keeled and happy most of the time; when she is suffering, her keening could bring down the world.
I yell for Mr. because I know she is hurt and I have my hands in the soapy water. I often forget that his back is a monster that robs him of speed and agility most days, and this day was a turn-for-the-worse day with his back. I am drying my hands and peering out the kitchen door to the end of the hallway, where my daughter is rising from a crouch. I see blood on her hand. I yell over her sobs, come here, come here. As she comes, I see so much more blood, but I can’t figure out why.
As she steps into the full light of the kitchen, the top of her white shirt is almost completely soaked. There is blood matting her hair, running into her ears, down her shoulders and arms. She is shaking and in shock and screaming about the cat. She hates the cat in that moment. We all hate the cat in that moment, honestly. He has slashed her scalp, her face, her neck, her stomach, her bottom, and her thigh. The gashes in her thigh are deep.
We are all screaming and trying to figure out what happened. J, not good in an emergency (a legacy from me through my own father), is beside himself. He identifies the cat. I usher children with my full-on opera singer lungs voice away from the kitchen and hallway. I call D, tell her S is badly hurt, come right away. We know now she needs emergency care. Mr. grabs the phone, contacts D’s husband M, and tells him to bring his pistol. We only have buckshot, and we can’t find the key to the ammunition safe. It’s safe, all right. We still haven’t found the key.
D is perfectly calm. I must help J deal, so she takes over in the kitchen. There is so much blood on the floor. I know, rationally, that the scalp bleeds horribly, but it is one thing to know and another to see all that blood. And my nine-year-old daughter did not know. She was not calm. She thought she was going to die.
I am switching tenses all over the place as I write this.
The cat is not himself. He is hissing and snarling. It took two shots to dispatch him. I can see him in my mind, still. Every minute of the just over three years he lived with us he was so friendly and calm. Even when he had a compound fracture, he never hissed. He would make a low, throaty growl when his leg was examined, but that was all. F and H and E often wrestled him or just lay on top of him, and he was so patient with them. Every minute until he lost his mind and attacked S, completely unprovoked, he was a lovely cat.
I keep the children in the back of the house until the deed is done. D and I take S to the ER. Her friend is picked up. The rest of the children are taken to M and D’s house to eat corn dogs and ice cream. Mr. waits for animal control to arrive.
S has seen enough of her own blood spilt to think she is going to die on the way to the hospital. I teach her that her body constantly makes new blood. She begins to calm down.
The rest is normal. Animal control says it was the right thing to do, and they take the body away for testing. Mr. cleans up the blood, packs away the dinner and comes to the hospital. S, recovering, her cuts clotting, becomes her more usual self. The nurses are delighted with how articulate and brave and patient she is. One tells me she must be quite bright. (Well, yes, of course I think so.) A tech takes her to a shower to clean off her hair so they can assess the scalp. I am with them, passing him towels and keeping her amused. He is worried the water will hurt, but it tickles (another trait handed down from me). She giggles and giggles as they clear her hair. I try not to look at the shower floor. So much blood.
Cat scratches are not stitched unless there is no other option; they always get infected and stitches will make it worse. S’s go unstitched. She gets gooped up, bandaged up, and discharged. It all takes forever, and now that I know she will be fine, the bile starts to fill my stomach. Hers, too. She has been mildly nauseated for 24 hours now.
Home, prescription, no sleep for me and little for her. Our cat is dead and she feels responsible. All evening I have told her it is not her fault, that he didn’t know what he was doing, but she cried for her cat.
At home in the quiet, she has a long talk with his spirit. It soothes her. She knows he didn’t mean to, she says. She knows something went wrong and he didn’t know what he was doing. She knows he is in the best place now, and that all his pain is over. She forgives him; she forgives her father, she forgives herself.
She wants a new kitten.
When I can sleep again, I hope the what-ifs stop. I am so glad it wasn’t the baby, or the little boys. I am beyond glad it wasn’t the guest. I am guiltily glad it wasn’t our mouser; I prefer function over form and thus prefer this cat to the lovely Maine coon we had just yesterday.
I think my daughter is practically perfect. She does delight in being a girl and loves many traditionally girly things. She is a loyal friend and not cliquish. She is bright and easy to school. And my word, she is so brave and tough, too. She is just what the world is going to need; I really believe that.
This is so scattered, I know, and I am sorry.
She is all right. She has antibiotics. She has a fever, and she was out on the trampoline today without my knowledge or permission, which didn’t help her in the long run. Another of her friends is here and they are being quiet together, watching a movie. People have brought her flowers, food, candy, baked goods. All is love for her.
And F got his birthday, just a day late. J called me at the hospital to ask after his sister. D was a rock. We are all recovering. In a family like ours, when it happens to one, it truly does happen to all.