I have been wrapped in melancholy today. It’s not the weather because I enjoy cool, rainy, drizzly days. In fact, they warm my soul, as contradictory as that sounds.
It’s partly political. I have been avoiding the story about the woman who worked for Halliburton/KBR and was gang-raped by her coworkers while they were in the Middle East. I mean, I know the basics. They locked her in a container for twenty-four hours afterwards, and the military lost her rape kit somehow. There is a clause that only allows these kinds of ‘disputes’ to be settled by arbitration. My kick-ass senator, Al Franken, introduced an amendment that would allow cases like this to go to court (which seems like a no-brainer). It easily passed in the Senate, with thirty No votes. Care to guess to which party all those No votes belonged? No points for guessing Republican. In addition, all the female Republican senators broke rank and voted Yes for the amendment. Here is a look at the roll call for the vote.
It passed. Good. But, today, I read this post over at Balloon Juice. Apparently, several sources say that Senator Daniel Inouye, (HI-D) is preparing to water down the amendment or remove it completely after being vigorously lobbied by defense contractors who are adamant it be removed.
I shouldn’t have read the post at all. I shouldn’t have read the comments. I have difficulty dealing with news about rape in general, and this was a particularly horrifying and egregious story that, I fear, was all-too-emblematic of the attitude towards sexual assault by the mercenaries–er, contractors–we hired to work for us in the Middle East. We got one of the usual trolls bleating about the injustice of going around arbitration. We got another well-meaning soul saying that arbitration isn’t necessarily biased.
Doesn’t fucking matter. Because of some stupid law, the woman cannot press criminal charges. Or rather, the feds won’t touch the case. The woman was gang-raped and locked in a container for twenty-four hours afterwards, and she has no legal recourse?
I felt like puking. I still do when I think of it. This is not sexual harassment. This is not a pinch on the ass or a suggestive comment. This isn’t even, “Sleep with me or lose your job.” This is a felony, and it can’t be prosecuted. And yet, congress can go after ACORN?
I despair. I really do. No matter how far we come on gender issues, we still have so much further to go.
Thinking about this reinforced how worthless I felt as I was growing up. No, I didn’t remember the abuse, but I remember very clearly how poorly my father treated my mother. He would stay out until all hours, never bothering to call home to tell her when he’d be home. She would cater to his every whim when he was home, and he just accepted it as his due. He never told her he appreciated her for–well, anything.
In addition, she worked full-time and raised my brother and me while he worked full-time and got his Ph.D. in economics at the U. Once he got his degree, he considered himself above her, even though she had her MA in psychology and put her own career on hold to raise the kids and allow him to get his Ph.D.
It was well-known my father had affairs. It was never talked about in my family, but we all knew. He beat my brother until my mom made him stop, and then he (my dad) ceded all discipline to my mother. Yes, if he couldn’t hit my brother, then he wouldn’t do anything. As I have said before, he was the only one allowed to show anger in the house. He was the only one who could yell.
When I was a teenager, I was an outsider. No boys were interested in me except as a friend. This was before Asian women became exotic and sexy. Back then, if you didn’t fit in the cultural norm, then you were invisible. So, my dad gave me this helpful bit of advice, “If you want a boyfriend, you have to raise your voice in pitch, never beat a guy at any sports, and let him help you with something.” I looked at him and told him that if that’s what it took to have a boyfriend, I didn’t want one.
He taught me to play ping-pong when I was six. When I hit my late twenties, I started beating him on a constant basis. Once I beat him two out of three games, he quit playing with me. He offered to buy my brother a sports car if he (my bro) married a Taiwanese woman. At a cousin’s wedding, my dad turned to me and said, “I don’t think I could give you away.” I replied, “You won’t.” One, because I wasn’t getting married, and two, because I wouldn’t have that in my wedding if I ever did get married (which I wasn’t), anyway.
He travels all over the world for his job, and one of his stops was in Banff, Canada. He visited a hotel there that was actually a castle converted into a hotel. He showed me a brochure. “They do weddings there,” he said proudly. “I’ll pay for the whole thing if you want to have your wedding there.” I looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. Besides the fact that I had no interest in getting married, I was most certainly not the castle type. I was no fucking fairy princess, and I certainly wasn’t looking for my Prince Charming.
Now, my parents live in Taiwan. They live in the same house, but they still live completely separate lives. My mom can’t call my dad at work or he’ll get mad. If she buys him some short-sleeved shirts that are really nice after he says he doesn’t wear short-sleeved shirts, he yells at her. When they both came to visit, he was in the bathroom taking an epic bath (all his baths are epic), and both my mom and I needed to use that bathroom. She tapped on the door to ask when he’d be out. He came out and started shouting about how inconsiderate it was to interrupt him when he was taking a bath. He went on in that vein for at least fifteen minutes before lapsing into a sullen silence.
I got told I was fat by both my parents. Still do. Probably will when I’m in Taiwan.
I became my mom’s confidant when I was a teenager. She would tell me her woes with my father (excluding the marital affairs), and she was deeply depressed. I didn’t want to hear about it because I lived with the man, but I didn’t know how to tell her that what she was doing was inappropriate. She still tells me things about him I would rather not know. I still don’t know how to tell her I’m uncomfortable with her revelations.
My point is that when I was a kid, I observed how shitty it was to be female. So, even though I grew up to be a feminist, I still bought into some of those ideas, subconsciously. I began to make a mental list of things not to do. No giggling. No cooking or cleaning (ok, the last one is more a matter of laziness, but still). No makeup, no high heels, no push up bras, nothing.
To be fair, some of that was truly because I didn’t believe in doing it–such as makeup and shaving my legs/armpits, but for the most part, I equated being a woman with being weak–and I was so fucking done with being weak. I didn’t want to be a man because they came with their own set of problems, but I most definitely did not want to be a woman.
It was another way I desperately tried to make myself safe. If I eradicated my femininity, then I wouldn’t be vulnerable. I learned to stride instead of mincing. I developed a hard stare and a rigid body posture that said, “Don’t fuck with me.” For the most part, it worked. People were properly intimidated, and I was able to fool them into thinking I would kick their ass if I need be.
Inside, though, it was a different story altogether. I still didn’t have a core. I still didn’t believe I had worth. I still couldn’t say no. The hardness was to stop people in their tracks so they couldn’t see how empty I was on the inside.
People have said they admire me because I’m assertive and speak my mind. I don’t give a shit about what people think–or so it seems. Quite to the contrary, I would worry about everything I said or wrote. If someone expressed the mildest rebuke for something I’d said or done, I would castigate myself harshly, scolding myself for ever saying anything in the first place. One of the reasons I stated my opinions so firmly was because deep down, I didn’t think I had the right to say anything at all.
It was exhausting, monitoring everything I said or did. It also felt like such a sham. I looked so confident, when inside, I hated myself.
So, now I’m struggling with letting all of that go. The old belief system; the old thoughts and ideas; the old way of being. What’s more, I’m struggling with not hating myself for being so weak all these past years, for wasting nearly my whole life up until now.
I endured. I didn’t live or thrive or even survive. I endured. I hunkered down in my shell, tucked my head under my arms, and I froze.
Now, my heart is aching inside my chest. It is filled, almost to the point of bursting, with tears of regret. There is a sliver of anger under the pain–anger at how thoroughly I gave up and gave in, but mostly, there is sadness and pain. I am crying once again as I type. The sorrow is overwhelming. This time, though, the sorrow is for the current me. The one who is caught betwixt and between and is scared out of her mind as to how to proceed. The one who feels parts of her crumbling at her touch and turning into dust. The one who is lost and doesn’t know if she’ll ever find. The one who still doesn’t have a core.
I am almost howling as I weep. I grab my hair near the scalp with my hands, and I squeeze. Hard. Guttural moans escape my lips as I listen to Say Goodbye by Girlyman (see above video) and feel as if they are tearing out my soul. The pain inhabits my body, taking over every inch from my head to my little toes. It floods through me, nearly bringing me to my knees. Please, make it stop. I will do anything to make it stop. The agony is more than I can bear. I am not that fucking strong. I know I have to say goodbye to the old me. I know I have to let her go. I know I have to grieve and move on. It fucking hurts too much.