I’m sitting in a bar down the street from some of the people that scare me most in the world. I came her on purpose, in order to be scared, in order to face my fear, in order to face the notion I still seem to have that other people’s opinions of a me can dictate my behavior and perception of self-worth.
In the interest of avoiding lawsuits, I won’t go into why these people scare me. I will only say that a few years ago, ugly, small souls got really petty and told some pretty horrific lies about me, including, but not limited to, saying that I was a child killer. Really. Like, I understand being jealous of another woman and calling her a whore, or fat, or ugly. But child killer seems excessive. Is there anything in this world worse than that? It’s so exaggerated, it’s ridiculous.
Still, these lies were disseminated widely in the community that used to be an important part of my existence, perhaps the core of it. When the rumors started, I was more eviscerated than I have been by anything, except my father’s death. It was all ugly enough that I spoke to a lawyer about a defamation lawsuit. I was told I had a case and encouraged to pursue the matter. But I couldn’t go after the people spreading the lies without also hurting the people in the community that I loved, so I just walked away, feeling like a gigantic piece of shit, embarrassed that anyone could ever believe those horrible things about me, thinking there was something revoltingly wrong with me.
No matter how much success I achieved, no matter how much love with which I was showered by beautiful, brilliant human beings, I couldn’t shake the feeling of worthlessness that came with the way the people in that community had treated me. I lived in fear of being seen by any of them. If they were in a given state, I would fly to the other side of the country in order to avoid any chance of encountering them. True story. It embarrasses me, but I’m committed to telling the truth about who I am—the good, the bad, and the ugly. All of this is definitely part of the ugly, but here it is.
And then, I had to come to Los Angeles for business (cross your fingers for me) at the same time as the people from this community would be in town. And I was here all week, a few miles from them, hiding out in my room, terrified when I left that one of them would see me, think I was there to kill hypothetical children, call me a stalker. My self-esteem had been so shattered, I felt like I had no right to be in the same city with these people who had designated themselves the arbiters of my reputation and self-image.
The truth is, that community was always fucked up. It talked a good game about peace and love, but like most human power systems, the whole point of it was to make sure the powerful people stayed in power, and the weak people kissed their asses so they too could be powerful, and the people who wouldn’t play along with the arbitrary rules of that particular world got ousted. If you got abused or humiliated or treated horribly, it was your job to keep your mouth shut. So I did. No matter how bad it got, I let myself be abused.
I have a long history of playing the victim. I’m not proud of this. I’ve been in more abusive relationships, romantic and platonic, than I care to admit. Over the past five years, I’ve made a point of burrowing into self and facing my inner victim, and also the people who have used and abused me. It’s been ugly and hard, but the rewards have been amazing. I’m publishing books with mainstream publishers. I’m traveling the world. I’m speaking at major conferences and teaching at major universities. I never get abused anymore. I never get used anymore. And I am constantly surrounded by people who love me. Most importantly, I love me. Or I’m learning to. I love myself way more than I did when I decided it was my duty to stay with a man who was threatening to cut my head off, which is a whole other story. That man and his abuse were my rock bottom. They were they reason I decided to pull my proverbial shit together before I ended up dead.
The week before I came here, I filed a restraining order against that man, who had recently tried to come back into my life. I’ve spent some time here talking to some people who have the potential to do very good things for my career. But this morning, I woke up decimated, unwilling to get out of bed. I felt humiliated and, yes, suicidal, because I was in the same zip code with these people who had lied about me, and how could they think those things about me, and what was wrong with me? I did something I used to do when I was young and perpetually suicidal, which was hold up my wrist and look at it, imagining carving the word “whore” into my arm.
But about ten years ago, I got a tattoo in the spot where I wanted to carve “whore.” It says, “Beloved.” And if ever I had those impulses again, I was supposed to look at it and remember how precious I was. It was like an indelible note from the sanest version of me to the craziest version of me. It worked. As I looked at that tattoo, a song came on the radio. “Sweet Child of Mine.” Which sounds like it means nothing, but every time I’ve felt completely alone in this world, that song has come on, be it in a bar, or a bathroom, or an airport, and I’ve felt my deceased father walking beside me, reminding me what he saw in me when he looked at me. The combination of those two things—the “Beloved” tattoo and the song—made something snap in me.
I recognized an old pattern. I grew up believing anger was bad, so if people hurt me, and I got angry, rather than acknowledge and face my anger at them, I turned it in on myself. Self-loathing was acceptable. Other-loathing was not. As I sat there, listening to my dead daddy sing to me in the voice of Axle Rose, staring at a tattoo a saner, stronger version of me had put on her wrist, I realized I wasn’t angry at myself. I was angry at the people who had lied about me. I didn’t deserve to be punished, and fuck if I was going to punish myself for something I didn’t do. They deserved to have to face what they had done. They deserved to have to look at me and have to see the human being they used to call “friend” instead of the monster they had made of me. And fuck what they deserved. This wasn’t about what they deserved. It was mostly about what I deserved. What I was willing to accept. Was I still a victim who let bullies tell her she was worthless? Or was I a human being, a daughter of God born with certain unalienable rights? I decided I was a beloved daughter of God with rights. One of them was to be in the same zip code with people who had decided I was worthless.
So I showered, and when I got out, I found an email from the editor of The Rathalla Review, which is featuring me and my work in their current issue. The editor wrote to say the issue was out. An interview with me, boasting a picture of me being held by my precious daddy, had come out that day, along with five of my poems. There it was. The real me, the precious little girl that was and is very loved by a very, very good man. A woman who is sharing her heart and writing with the world, living in print and in cyberspace for the whole world to see. Fuck the people who had tried to make me small so they could make themselves bigger. I knew who I was.
I didn’t know where I was going when I got in my car. I just knew I wasn’t hiding anymore. And it turns out, I came to a bar two doors down from where the people who scare me are meeting. And now, here I am, sipping cheap beer, sitting in a place where people who scare the shit out of me, people who think I’m a piece of shit, are almost guaranteed to walk through the door.
I don’t know what I’ll do if they do. I don’t know if I’ll talk to them. All I know is that I have to assert my right to exist in the same space as them, let them know they didn’t humiliate me so badly that I believed their lies. They can believe the lies they told about me. That’s between them and God. I don’t have to.
I won’t. That tattoo on my wrist is the truth. I am a beloved daughter of God, and I will behave accordingly.
P.S. Here are screenshots from the interview from Rathalla Review. You can view it online here: http://rathallareview.org/issues/