I’m excited to share that I have a humor piece up on The Belladonna today! It’s about losing weight and getting fit, and also summoning a chaos demon into your body to eat your bones while you sleep. It is basically exactly what it sounds like. I love The Belladonna and I am super-excited that they ran this piece, so please go check it out (and check out the other great writing there too!)
A few days before that, I was sitting on the couch in my therapist’s office with my head in my hands, fighting for the words I needed to explain why the depression I’m currently experiencing has laid me so low.
“I don’t even…I don’t know how to explain this. Do you know tarot cards? Do you know the Tower?” I squeak through the cracks in my fingers, unwilling to look her in the eye.
She nods. “A little. Tell me about it.”
I drop my hands into my lap, toying with the hem of my sweater. “The Tower is like…the most disastrous card of the Major Arcana. When it falls down, it literally destroys your foundations, just shakes everything you know to dust. The fundamental shit in your life you spent so much time building and planning- it’s just fucking gone.”
She leans forward, elbows on her knees. “So you think you’re in The Tower now.”
Of COURSE I think I’m in the Tower now. It’s not just because I’m depressed. For most of my life, depression has been a more-or-less loyal companion. I first tried therapy to understand why that was, but I’ve come to realize that the origin story of my sadness is moot. It doesn’t matter if I am reacting rationally to a collection of truly bullshit circumstances or I lost the neurological chemistry lottery or I was bitten by a depressed radioactive spider. It’s now just a fact of my life, no more interesting that any other. I have brown hair, I’m right-handed, I have major depressive disorder, I have wide feet. Whatever. I still gotta deal with it, and by proxy, so does my therapist.
This bout feels different, though. More uncontrollable. Hungrier. Life circumstances are certainly a factor: this past year was a complete dumpster fire for me, same as everyone else I know. I spent the better part of 2017 immobilized by migraines, a problem resolved by surgery that I’ve only now fully recovered from. Relationships and work I have poured my blood and sweat into for years have turned sour, gone twisted, or simply vanished without warning. My career has stagnated to the extent that I have no idea how I’ll be paying my bills come springtime. People I liked and people I loved have straight-up died. Accepting all of this and trying to determine a new path forward has driven me to learn things about myself that have fundamentally changed my understanding of who I am and what I want from life. Even with most of the carnage in the past, there are only more rumbles on my horizon.
Most days I feel betrayed, by the world at large and by my own body and mind. I worked hard to make a comfortable life for myself. I did everything ethically and I did everything right. It didn’t mean anything in the end. Being a good person isn’t enough to keep the Tower upright. Nothing is.
“FUCK the Tower!” I growl. “What’s the point of all this? When are things going to get easy again?”
My therapist shakes her head at me. “You know that I don’t know the answer to that. It’s possible that it never will.”
“Yeah, I know. I keep telling myself to resist despair, whatever that even means.”
She pauses. “Resist despair. You said that in our last session. Where did that come from?”
“I dunno. It’s been kind of stuck in my head lately.” I don’t provide her with the origin of the phrase- an Op Ivy song and a pair of tights that my favorite wrestler wears sometimes -because that’s too embarrassing, even for therapy. It doesn’t matter where it came from. What I need to figure out is why it has been running through my head on loop as an imperative command despite the fact I’m not fully sure what I’m asking myself to do.
I know what I want to do. I want to bail on therapy. I want to bail on everything. I want to pack up my car and drive somewhere warm and never look back. I want to-
“I wonder if there’s a reason for that.”
I narrow my eyes at her. My therapist ‘wonders’ a lot of things. I asked her once why she didn’t just tell me what I needed to know, and she responded that me figuring it out is more meaningful than her explaining it to me. Which, OK, but then what am I paying you for?
I draw a deep breath in through my nostrils, thinking out loud. “Right. The Tower is a part of a cycle that people travel over and over again throughout the course of their life. Collapse and despair are inevitable. I have to accept that there will be no magical end date to things being terrible. Is that what you’re getting at?”
“That’s a piece of it.”
An awkward silence falls. I feel my fingernails rip through stitches, my sweater creaking at their violent attention. I grit my teeth.
“So, everything inevitably sucks forever. Cool. Good therapy.”
She doesn’t dignify my comment with a reply. I have to take this seriously, so-
I shuffle my feet into the carpet, struggling to focus. “Ugh. So, I accept that the tower is going to fall. I accept despair, and accept that it’s a condition of being alive, and, I…keep living anyway?”
My voice is weak, but she nods eagerly. I’m on the right track.
I keep talking, my words colliding with each other like weary bodies, sliding on a hill of question marks towards the finish line. “I mean, resisting something isn’t destroying it, or getting rid of it forever, right? It’s carrying on in spite of it. So, um, I should be finding the joy in resistance, even if it’s futile? There’s value in resisting despair, even if it feels hopeless at the time? Right?”
She smiles at me, satisfied. “You got it.”
I lean back on the couch with a huff. “But I WANT to give up! I’m so goddamn tired!”
“Mmm. What would giving up look like, to you?”
“I don’t know!” My shuffling feet become so frantic that I kick the coffee table. “I guess…I don’t know. I guess I could kill myself, but I don’t really want to do that. I guess I could run away from everything, but that wouldn’t actually fix it. I…fuck. I have no idea what giving up looks like. I just know that I won’t let myself do it.”
She looks me in the eye and speaks slowly. Her voice is firm. “You don’t know how to give up because you don’t want to. Despite all of the things that have gone wrong, you’re still finding value in surviving. I need you to trust that part of yourself that wants to resist despair, and let it take the lead until you’re done with the Tower. OK?”
My feet go still.
“I- how do I do that?”
“Think about the things that have brought you happiness over the last year. What were they?”
I close my eyes. I think of the hours I’ve spent writing. I see the time I have spent preparing for storytelling events, practicing my tall tales in front of a mirror until they are perfectly unrehearsed. I think of the pieces of myself I have been brutally, unflinchingly honest about in front of literal hundreds of strangers, and the way the rejection I feared never materialized. Instead, it’s brought old friends and new hugging me and thanking me for making them laugh, making them cry, being willing to be a voice in common for their sadness or their grief or their general awkward humanity. I think of the people who stuck around instead of the people who left. I think of the gifts that came into my life while the tower was falling, the good things that stayed solid despite everything else falling to dust. I feel humbled and small.
I also feel…better.
I clear my throat. My voice is thick with an unshed something. “I did a lot of writing and storytelling this year. I made some friends. I was…fuck, it feels stupid to say out loud, but that was brave, for me. And then people were so cool and encouraging about it, and I felt like maybe it was worth being vulnerable like that if it meant something to somebody. Every time I’ve reached out to people and they’ve reached back. That…that was important to me. That made things feel worthwhile.”
She smiles at me, making my throat clench tighter. “So do more of that. Make things. Reach out to people. Be present. Be open. Resist despair. The Tower can’t last forever. What comes next?”
I swallow hard. “The Star. Um, our hour is up.”
“I’m supposed to say that, not you. We’ve talked about that.”
“I know. See you next week?”
So, next comes the Star. The Star is not a magical fix-it card. It does not promise happiness, or deliverance from the wreckage the Tower created in your life. When the Star enters your life, you are obligated to walk in faith, your path lit by the eerie glow of your hopes crystallized and hung just out of your reach. The Star asks you to look upwards, away from the rubble that used to be your life, and focus your energy on the future. It’s a candle in a window on a snowy night- there’s an end to your journey in sight, but still miles to go before you sleep.
The Star asks you to keep your heart open and have faith in your power to fight, especially in that last lonesome mile. So that’s why I put an ask out to the internet for people’s favorite cheer-up songs. I wanted to make something out of my sadness, and see how other people do that too. I expected maybe 3 or 4 suggestions. I got 89! I’ve listened to the playlist my friends created for me more or less continuously ever since. Movie themes, epic fight songs, karaoke jams, holiday music, songs about friendship and love and anger and happy-sad songs and sad-happy songs and everything in between. I’ve heard new music I’ve really enjoyed. I’ve sung along with a lot of pop music I’d forgotten about. I have accepted the power of ABBA in my life, and I have realized that It’s Raining Men is honestly kind of a banger. It’s an astonishing collage of joyful noises derived from a thousand sources for a thousand reasons. Over five hours of pure sonic joy, just because I reached out and asked for it. A hundred acts of kindness shared.
So that’s how we escape the Tower: shaking, but still standing. The collapse is a tragedy, but if it’s falling for all of us, at least we’re in it together. If we accept that, and we decide to carry on anyway, we have to help each other remember the Star is coming. We have to carry its potential light in our own hearts to show us the way home and help us shine brighter for our friends who are still lost in the dark. If our hearts are open and filled with light, we can peer through the plaster raining around our heads and see glimmers refracted back to us through splinters and dust. We can be the Stars for each other, or at least remind each other to look up. A thousand open hearts create a thousand moments of kindness, shining in a dark hour. A constellation, if you squint. How lucky we all are to be able to resist despair together.
I wrote this essay shortly after Carrie Fisher passed away in 2016 and have been trying to find a home for it ever since. In honor of what will be her final appearance as General Leia in The Last Jedi, I’ve decided to just post it here. This is part 3 of 3. Part 1 is is linked here and part 2 is linked here and below. Thanks for reading.
Your therapist, thank God, does not call 911. Your therapist, bless her heart, does not make a referral to an inpatient facility where you will have to sit at a formica table and talk about your childhood while making snowflakes out of popsicle sticks. Instead, your therapist asks you to think back to the last thing you did that made you really happy. What was it? How did you do it? Why did you stop?
Your mind immediately darts back to that spiral-bound notebook of galactic fairy tales, the first thing you ever wrote for yourself. The drafts of satirical articles for The Onion, your teenaged hot takes on boybands and President Bush languishing on a forgotten home PC somewhere in your basement. Your early efforts at humorous internet writing, always well-received even when your relationships with editors and colleagues deteriorated due to your chronic brain fog-induced lateness and asshole tendencies. Those things made you happy.
So what stopped you? Humor always came easy to you, as did fantasy. It seemed like you could write about anything you wanted except yourself. All the stories you want to tell burn in your heart like a hot splinter, making your eyes water, begging to be drawn out. But in all of the writing you’d ever done, you’ve always created a protective layer of irony between yourself and the things you really wanted to say. You’d write under a pseudonym, or use some kind of a cutesy gimmick like referring to yourself in the second person, literally begging the reader to discard you as a matter of understanding your work. The gaps between what you write and what you are feel insurmountable, and leave enough space for the toxic fingers of your anxiety to sneak through and strangle your ambitions in the cradle. Your real thoughts feel simultaneously too raw, too personal, and too pedestrian to share.
You left your therapist’s office that day with permission to avoid hospitalization on the condition that therapy would be a long-term consistent part of your life plan, and that you would endeavor to learn how to be the kind of writer you wanted to be. To help you begin, the therapist recommended a handful of books where authors mined their difficult pasts for material. One of those books, of course, was Wishful Drinking.
You read it all in one day, and then you immediately read it again. You’re overwhelmed by the style, the wit, the ferocious honesty on display. Before Carrie you had only read narratives where depression rendered women into victims, not victors. Stories where women literally and metaphorically wasted away, imprisoned in the high tower of their sadness by a gothic villain made of misfired neurons and circumstance. Depression was meant to be a woman’s Mr. Rochester: moody, dreamy, dreary, and somehow Victorian. You weren’t supposed to be angry at the depression depicted in these stories, as unreasonable and violent and crushing as it was. Instead, you were to join the long-suffering heroine at a rain-streaked window, wringing a handkerchief in your hands, watching the dreary grey landscape and waiting for that sexy son of a bitch to show up and ruin your life again.
Carrie’s writing had no patience for self-pity and melancholy. Her work did the delicate tightrope walk of explaining her sorrows and making them understandable, while also not giving them the power to control the narrative. Her honesty and that humor gave her the tools she needed to reap a harvest from her pain. When she battled the mania of her dark Urkel, she did not allow him to tyrannize her life with his mindless spasms. When she fought the dark blue depression of her Mr. Rochester, she did not allow him to make her swoon into the attic at his convenience. She broke free from them both and used her writing to wreak a deserved bloody vengeance upon those needy life-ruining bastards. She stabbed her problems in the neck with her pen and ate their hearts to gain their powers. She took her misery, devoured it, and made its terrible wrath her own- to process, yes, but also to profit.
And to do it- to really make it work -it had to be her story. Nobody else’s. No second person distance or omniscient third person tricks for Carrie Fisher. Every experience, every joy and heartbreak, every gleeful epigram and tortured pun, were in her voice. She made cheerful claim to the pain of death and addiction, the bizarre side effects of diagnoses and electroshock therapy, the twisted ugly roots of a Hollywood family tree, and even the double-edged lightsaber of her time as the world’s most famous space princess. Because she claimed it as her own, she could make it what she wanted to be. She could make us cry or laugh in our faces. That was the power of her storytelling.
That’s the power I want. So I’m taking the voice of this story back. You may step away from the narrative now. Thanks for playing along.
After I finished Wishful Drinking for the third time, my mind wandered back to my mother and her command for me to extract whatever of value I could from the awful crap life seemed to never stop piling at our door. A lifetime gardener, my mother knew what kind of flowers one could grow from good manure. But it’s not in a gardener’s best interest to thank the manure, or glamorize it, or let its stink overpower everything in her life. After all, one mustn’t give too much power to bullshit.
But my mother died before I was old enough to understand what she was trying to explain. And so Carrie appeared once more in my life, in the form of a book, to give me a first-person voice and show me the way to use it. I know that I am not the only female essayist who points to Wishful Drinking as a turning point, and a blueprint for wringing comedy from the dull ache of tragedy. Carrie’s legacy is an army of princesses, yes, but it is also a quiet sisterhood of scribes: funny, damaged women who didn’t know you could talk about it like that until Carrie showed them the way. I am still learning how to tell my stories, and every word in the first-person is progress. I have no delusions that my writing will be ”important”, but I can’t help but hope it will mean something to someone someday, like Carrie’s work has to me. Leia showed me how to be a hero, but Carrie showed me how to be a writer. It turns out I need to be both. I’m grateful to have learned how from the best.
The last time I saw Carrie Fisher wasn’t a private moment, of course- when did she ever have private moments? As soon as General Leia Organa showed up in The Force Awakens, I cheered myself hoarse, along with every other woman in the audience. Our princess had grown not into a queen, but a warrior, with a new young woman looking to her for hope. I can’t prove that Lucasfilm lifted Rey directly from my fanfiction, but I would not hold it against them. I would only thank them for finally letting me see my childhood hero inspire another woman to survive. And then I would write an essay about how much I loved it, and how much I loved her, and how grateful I was to however briefly share a planet with her and benefit from the gifts that she left us.
Which I have now done. Rest in power, Carrie Fisher: drowned in moonlight, and strangled in your own bra.
I wrote this essay shortly after Carrie Fisher passed away in 2016 and have been trying to find a home for it ever since. In honor of what will be her final appearance as General Leia in The Last Jedi, I’ve decided to just post it here. This is part 2 of 3. Part 1 is is linked here and below. Come on back Friday for the thrilling conclusion.
(Trigger warning: depression, prolonged illness, suicide)
But that is not the only time Carrie Fisher saved my life. The second time requires some context to be understood, and it wouldn’t make sense to a child. So we move into part 2 of the story, in which you are now an adolescent. How’s being fifteen going for you, Harmony?
Spoiler alert: it isn’t going great. The good news is that you’ve started using your real name. The bad news is that you’re still aggressively nerdy, pudgy and bespectacled, and wounded by the world around you at every turn. Your mother no longer has the time and patience to seek out role models for you, as she is occupied by a mysterious and chronic health condition. This condition is resulting in her dying or killing herself or making a big deal out of nothing (depending on whom you ask). But she knows that her daughter still needs guidance. She knows that you love to write, and that you are naturally funny, and she feels that you deserve an audience. Your favorite thing to read, other than Lois Duncan novels, is The Onion. So your mother writes to the editorial board of The Onion, explaining her ongoing illness and her gratitude for the laughter their work gave to your family in a difficult time. She also mentions that her talented daughter wants nothing more than to write for them someday- a wish you had never shared with your mother before, though it seems obvious in hindsight. In response The Onion editors send an absolutely lovely letter of encouragement, a box full of print-editions and Onion books, and your most prized t-shirt for the next two years.
You come home from school one day and your mother presents their gifts to you. She is so proud of herself, and moreso she is hopeful that this might be The Thing That Finally Cheers You Up. You are cautiously pleased- you’d been waiting for Our Dumb Century to turn up at Half-Price Books for months now! -but you are also mortified. How could your mother tell these unknown people about her illness and your sadness? Where the hell did she get off allowing them to send her books and merchandise? You weren’t charity cases! Didn’t she know there were children in sub-Saharan Africa who had never even heard of satirical newspapers?
In response, your mother sighs and rolls her eyes. You will always remember exactly how she looked at that moment. She sneered at you in a somehow loving way, cocooned in one of her omnipresent shapeless t-shirt nightgowns, the outline of a morphine pump snuggled up to her breast like a sugar glider. Her ever-beautiful french tipped nails (a home job, thank you Sally Hansen) tapped on the side of her drug store cane. She fixed you with a shut-up look, then she said:
“Listen. This all sucks. It’s not going to stop sucking. You’re going to have to keep dealing with it. Why not get what you can out of it?”
You remain embarrassed, but you also read and reread the gifts from the Onion until they fall apart in your hands. You begin to write your own satirical articles on your home computer, hidden in a folder marked “Homework”, your ambitions guarded from others in the same way that most people your age hide their porn. You dream of the mythical Midwestern metropolises- Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh -and of a life that could be sustained there by your gifts. You dream of laptops and coffee shops, of a byline in italics. You let yourself hope.
Then she dies, and everything changes.
What does any of this have to do with Carrie Fisher? Good question. Let’s jump ahead one more time.
We are in the third and final part of this story. You are now Harmony at the age of thirty. You will not be surprised to learn that you are still fat and bespectacled, but you have at least begun to dress for it, and you are now comfortable telling your bullies where to shove it. Your twenties were long and weird and difficult, but they spat you out on the other side in the skin of an adult. You are now a woman with a dog and a master’s degree and a husband and a real job and maybe the beginnings of a drinking problem- but that’s a worry for another time. You have done all of the things that were supposed to make your life complete, and yet.
You are still depressed. You are used to being depressed. You have stopped fighting it. Depression is the annoying sit-com neighbor in your life, a schmuck in a Hawaiian shirt who crowds your every move and turns everything you touch to shit. He pops up at the worst times, ruining everything with predictable hijinks like some kind of bizarro Steve Urkel. Sometimes he stays out of the plot for minutes at a time, and you almost think he’s gone. Then he’s back, swinging through an open window and dropping his popular catchphrase: “Hey, why don’t you just kill yourself?!” Cue laughter. Cue applause.
Thirty-year old Harmony is exhausted by her depression. You are so tired of driving people away, of doing everything wrong, of not being strong enough. You sleep all of the time, but you never feel awake. You begin to notice things: the heights of bridges, the airproof plumbers tape that could seal the windows of a garage, the skulls and crossbones on the chemicals beneath your sink. These small details are now lit in neon everywhere you look, and on your weariest days you are powerless to close your eyes against them. In desperation you return to the therapist that kept you alive after your mother died. You ask this therapist how people ever learn to be happy, because you never did and you’re not sure you can continue to live if happiness isn’t at least a possibility somewhere down the road. You can’t handle a lifetime of endless visits from your brain’s warped, darkest-timeline companion.
You know you don’t actually want to be dead, not really, but you need something to live for or that’s where things are going to end up. So what’s it going to be?
I wrote this essay shortly after Carrie Fisher passed away in 2016 and have been trying to find a home for it ever since. In honor of what will be her final appearance as General Leia in The Last Jedi, I’ve decided to just post it here. Please come back tomorrow for part 2 and on Friday for the thrilling conclusion.
“If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”- Carrie Fisher
This is a story in three parts. It is about Princess Leia, and Carrie Fisher, and me.
To participate, you must put yourself in the shoes of the protagonist. So now imagine yourself as a nine-year old girl named Amy. Your real name is Harmony, of course. Amy is a nickname given to you in an effort to curtail playground mockery. This effort is unsuccessful. Whatever your name is, you’re still a pudgy little scab of a girl with coke-bottle glasses and fleece Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pants from Odd Lots that you will not remove from your legs on pain of death. You cannot find the right games to play with other kids, because the “things for girls” are clearly not the things for you.
Later you will realize that your childhood was mottled by the Smurfette Principle. Once a girl has outgrown Pippi Longstocking and Harriet the Spy, secondary sex characteristics are the only things about female heroes that anybody notices. If it was only you who noticed these things, you could ignore it, but the boys and girls you play pretend with enforce gendered norms like they are the unspoken bedrock rules of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. If you want to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you are always April, and April is always kidnapped and has to wait in the covered slide to be rescued. If you want to play Smurfs, you are always Smurfette, and you have to feign interest in the broken plastic play mirror some misguided/hopeful relative gave you for Christmas while everyone else hunts for treasure. If you’re playing with dolls, you’re playing house, and your job is to stay home and endlessly mix an empty plastic bowl until your husband comes home for imaginary dinner. It is terrible and boring and you do not make friends easily, if you make them at all.
Your mother knows how miserable you are, and makes a point of seeking out role models for you that are not governed by gendered expectations. One weekend, she takes you to the video store by the house, and it is your turn to pick the video. She picks STAR WARS off the shelf and presses it into your hands, assures you that it’s an adult movie but you will like it. The Muppets are in it! Kind of, anyway.
You watch the movie and it’s like someone took your dreams of adventure and cast them far and wide on a movie screen. Fantastical creatures! Robots! Space swords and blasters! The movie is a technicolor kaleidoscope of imagination and fun, and right in the middle of it is your first-ever real adult female hero: Princess Leia Organa, rebel leader and total badass. Leia doesn’t take a knee while the clueless dudes around her do all the cool stuff. She’s in the middle of it, kicking butt and taking names alongside the male heroes you’d normally be compelled to cheer for. You watch the first movie and you’re struck by her total heroism in the face of all adversity. The princess orphan, cool and cunning, leading a rebel alliance in defiance of the scariest villain you have ever seen in your young life. You watch the next movie and thrill to her adventurer’s spirit, her stoicism, her bravery in the face of losing her friends and her true love to an unbelievable betrayal. You watch the final movie and your heart sinks to see her kidnapped and imprisoned, just like every other Smurfette who’s ever disappointed you, until she busts her own ass free and STRANGLES THAT BLOBBY MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE CHAINS THAT BOUND HER! HELL YES SHE DID.
You watch the movies over and over. You don’t tell people how much you like them, because even at that age you kinda know that it’s lame to love Star Wars and double lame for girls to love Star Wars. But that does not stop you from filling an entire sixty-page spiral bound notebook with what you later will understand is fanfiction. The Adventures of Layla Skywalker probably will not be considered for the Star Wars expanded universe anytime soon, but it is still your proudest achievement. Layla lives with Yoda on Dagobah, and she’s the hired gun that jedi call when shit gets too real with Darth Vader. Her mother Leia always has good advice on dealing with dorks and nerds in the galactic senate. (Also, for some reason, Darth Vader is alive and Leia and Luke are married? The author may not have been paying a ton of attention to continuity.)
In the end, Lando Calrissian pledges his eternal love and devotion to Layla, and begs her to settle on Cloud City for an eternity of playing house together. But Layla knows the galaxy needs her more than Lando does, and she departs for adventures unknown.
Literally unknown, actually- I ran out of paper, so I don’t know what happened next.
That was the first time Carrie Fisher saved my life. Leia gave me permission to dream of fantastic stories where women get to be heroes for once. My love of her opened me to other female heroes- Batgirl, Storm, and even later Sailor Moon. It also gave me a valuable early warning as to how toxic dude nerds can be, as none of them were ever willing to acknowledge that the metal bikini they loved to jerk off to was being worn by an intergalactically-trafficked sex slave. It was educational, is what I am saying, and affirming at a time when I really needed it.
But that is not the only time Carrie Fisher saved my life.
(Part 2 tomorrow.)
1. Re-Animator (1985)
This cult classic is sure to give you nightmares. You’ll love Jeffery Combs’s tightly-wound portrayal of Dr. Herbert West, and the comedically gory hijinks that result from his quest to bring the dead back to life. You’ll be lulled into a false sense of security by the movie’s bright, cartoony tone and its inventive special effects, ignoring your growing discomfort as the female lead of the film is stalked by an obsessive pervert. You’ll feel a temporary sense of relief when he’s killed…and then you’ll remember it’s a movie about resurrecting people from the dead. Get ready to scream, shiver and fight back a tide of nausea as he sexually assaults a naked and restrained victim, culminating in a scene where his bloody severed head forces itself between her legs as she loudly weeps. Woah, they didn’t mention this on Rotten Tomatoes! Weird how nobody mentions this scene when they recommend this movie. It’s almost like they don’t want their fun slapstick horror flick to be ruined by a graphic and unnecessarily disturbing rape scene. But forcing oral sex on someone is rape, right? That character definitely just got raped? So why is your boyfriend laughing? Only a four-hour-long shouting match about the legal definition of sexual assault can tell you for sure!
2. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
If guts and gore aren’t your thing, never fear- psychological horror movies can still be a creepy good time! Get immersed in the chilling tale of a woman who is raped and impregnated by a controlling partner, and is then forced to have a child by religious zealots who completely disregard her personhood and only view her as a vessel for her womb. What an outlandish fantasy! Don’t worry, you’ll give up on the movie long before you connect the lingering horror in your gut to the latest news coming out of the Supreme Court. You won’t even manage to click play before you ask your partner why he’s comfortable watching a movie written and directed by world-famous child rapist Roman Polanski. You’ll know you’re in for a long night of Halloween fun when he throws the remote across the room, and says; “God, I can’t watch ANYTHING with you anymore. I’m going to Greg’s.”
3. I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
Get ready for a rollercoaster of Grindhouse-certified thrills and chills! This movie is considered a classic in the “rape revenge” subgenre of exploitation films, which is exactly what it sound like. The entire second act is devoted to an agonizingly long scene where a woman is repeatedly raped and brutalized by a gang of menacing creeps. Then she kills them all, and that makes it OK! Rape revenge movies are called examples of gritty feminist cinema by people who love horror movies and don’t love thinking critically about the media they consume. Cuddle up to your sweetie and ask him why a feminist movie would need to fill a third of it’s running time with a series of graphic sexual assaults on its female star. Why do horror movies rely on sexual violence to motivate female protagonists, and why is your boyfriend numb to watching that violence unfold? Who knows, but get ready to get scared- both by the movie itself and by a previously unexplored side of the man you share a CostCo membership with.
4. The Evil Dead (1976)
Nobody is safe in this blood-soaked slasher movie, where five co-eds are trapped in a haunted cabin for a night of terror. One woman in particular is especially not safe, as her attempts to flee the cabin are curtailed by what horror movie junkies lovingly refer to as the “tree rape” scene. Your house will be filled with bloodcurdling howls as you angrily explain to your boyfriend that legally speaking any forcible penetration of a vagina is considered to be rape, and that includes tree roots, and Jesus Christ do you have to have this conversation again, you just wanted to relax and watch a movie without having to be the fucking rape culture whisperer for one goddamn night, and if he feels that way maybe he can just stop bringing these movies over to your apartment and leave you the hell alone.
5. It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! (1982)
This movie isn’t really scary, but it is a comforting artifact from your childhood, and boy could you use that right now. Put it on in the background as you stoically choke down a six-pack of pumpkin craft beer and reactivate your OKCupid profile. All you wanted was what was coming to you! All you wanted was your fair share! Oh well. Happy Halloween!
Hey! How are you? Sorry for not personalizing this letter more, but it’s not like you ever introduced yourself to me, or even said a single goddamned word to me before you violated me. Funny how that worked out, right?
Maybe you’ve forgotten who I am. From the speed and dexterity with which you jammed your hands down my baggy jeans and into my vagina, I got the idea that maybe you had done what you did before, many times, to many vaginas. It’s definitely a thought that has filled me with terror as I have quietly held myself responsible for anyone else you may have assaulted over the last decade or so.
Or, a more frightening thought: maybe you don’t even realize that you are my rapist! Maybe you don’t know that what you did to me is rape. Because, funny thing: I didn’t know it, myself, until just a few months ago. You see, our current president is a big fan of your power move, and that resulted in a lot of internet conversation about sexual assault. Thanks to a quote from the Department of Justice, I found out that they expanded the definition of rape to include what you did to me over a decade ago. I learned that I was raped on Buzzfeed, of all places. Can you imagine? The same website told me I was a Gryffindor, a Samantha, and a rape victim in one emotional rollercoaster of an afternoon.
So because of that article and my subsequent Googling, I learned that what you did to me is called “digital rape”. That is the official term for what happens when you shove your fingers up inside someone without their permission. Since you’re a rapist who victimizes vulnerable people at skeezy music venues, you might be too busy to keep up with the latest legal definitions of violation and consent. It’s cool we’re both learning stuff. Also, you’re a fucking monster!
I’m not going to go into the graphic play-by-play of what you did, because we both know it already. I’m sure you’ve discarded any details about me except the most broad, the most vulgar, the easiest tidbits to be turned into a sleazy joke between you and your dirtbag friends. But ah, there’s the beauty of sexual assault from your perspective: the assailant gets to forget. Maybe you didn’t know this, but the victim does not.
I will confirm the following identifying details for you, just for fact-checking purposes: I was wearing a Fiend Club t-shirt and jeans, I was dancing on the edge of a mosh pit, and you were taller and bigger and older than I by an order of magnitudes in every direction. I can confirm that you did what I said you did. I can confirm that I fought you, but my voice and flailing was covered by the general noise and flailing all around us, and I was only concerned with escaping you. I can confirm that I punched you right in your fucking face. And I can confirm that I am not, and will never be sorry about that. I hope I deviated your fucking septum, you disgusting piece of shit, and I hope sleep apnea kills you someday. Or I hope you try that on someone a little stronger than a 19 year old girl and they straight-up murder you next time.
I haven’t told many people what you did to me that night. On the way home, I did tell my friend. I tried to sound cool and tough, even as my voice shook, and I strongly emphasized the part where I broke the bridge of your nose with my little knuckles. She snorted and said something that still breaks my heart whenever I think about it:
“It was a punk show. What did you expect?”
What did I expect? Also, what did you expect? This is a fair question. You apparently expected to be able to rape somebody. My friend, perhaps from previous experiences with people like you, expected to be assaulted and punished for the crime of being visibly female and wanting to see a band she liked in person. Perhaps I missed some very obscure small print on a notice by the door, but my expectations for the evening were quite different. I had the same expectations I have every time I do literally everything else in my life: not to get raped! It may surprise you to know that everywhere I go, regardless of what I am doing, I expect to not be raped by a stranger or acquaintance. I realize that’s a high bar to set, but hey, you have to shoot for the stars. I’m worth it!
One more thing I want to make sure you know, you fucking pile of garbage: I was a virgin when you did that to me. I was a late bloomer, thanks to a traumatic childhood and a complete lack of self-esteem. Going to punk shows was my awkward attempt to grow up a little bit and maybe meet somebody cool. I was hoping I’d meet a cute boy to bring home and ruin Thanksgiving in a sit-commy way. Instead, you happened to me, and all the baggage and terrible shit that came with you too. My first sexual experience didn’t happen with my permission, or for my pleasure. It happened for yours and it fucking traumatized me for years. Just because I didn’t have a word for what you did for a long time doesn’t mean it didn’t mess me up. Are you proud of yourself?
Just kidding. I know you’re proud of yourself.
So why am I only reckoning with this now? The reasons that it took me so long to come to terms with what you did are myriad and predictable: I didn’t want to be a victim. What happened to me wasn’t a “real” rape, so it didn’t matter. I got away from you. You weren’t a friend or acquaintance, so I was free to move on. I was one of the lucky ones. I had no right to complain.
Here’s the thing though: I wasn’t lucky. I was raped. It happened to me, and it was real, and just because it didn’t look like an SVU crime scene afterwards doesn’t mean I wasn’t violated in a terrible way. Like it or not, we’re both statistics now: I am one of those one-in-six women who get raped, and you are one of the many, many men who rape them and go unpunished. And I am the only one who has borne the consequences for that, and it might just be me but that kind of feels unfair.
For example: it took me a long time for me to lose my actual, consensual virginity after that. For some crazy reason, I was terrified of anyone who showed sexual interest in me, so I threw myself at dudes who were super-obviously not interested in me because it made me feel safer. You took something so deep and profound from me that I can never get it back, and for what? A couple of seconds of fun? Something to jerk off to in the parking lot? I will never know, because I broke free and you ran for it and we never really got the chance to catch up after that. Are you on Facebook? I know you love poking people.
Ouch, that was a rough joke! I know, I know, but I am so sick of taking you seriously. I feel like I have the right to laugh at you, if it makes me feel a little better. I’m tired of the anger and sadness attached to your presence in my life. I resent the hours and days that I’ve lost to nightmares and crowd anxiety and panic attacks and the years it took me to feel safe in sexual situations after what you did to me. It’s like you gave me the world’s shittiest part time-job, and I’m ready to tell you where to shove it.
I thought I had managed to forget all about you, until our president was on the news bragging about his victims and his graphic descriptions of what he’d put them through forced me to connect those dots. And then all of a sudden things like the thing you did to me became the zeitgeist. Brave women, far braver than I have been up to this point, have come forward about powerful abusers from all walks of life. This has ignited a public discourse that is both empowering and upsetting and, if you’re a victim, impossible to escape. I feel like I haven’t been able to take a normal breath since last November.
But hey, good news: you’re trending right now. Congratulations! You have something in common with Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Louis CK, and every other powerful man who assaulted a woman and was protected by her shame. And I guess I have something in common with all those models, actresses and other victims that those men bullied, shamed, and threatened into silence.
Celebrities! They’re just like us!
No, but seriously: You are a rapist. I am not willing to debate this with anyone. And yet, I have gotten into terrible, hours-long fights with men who I care about very deeply who do not agree I was raped, or that women have the right to call their nonconsensual sexual experiences rape in the first place. They hem and haw with me, and linger on details like mutual intoxication or implied consent, always looking for a way to prove that some woman, somewhere, somehow, lied or was confused about being raped and therefore no woman can be trusted to define their violation.
Some men get furious when you disagree with their definitions of rape, by the way. These dudes act like rape is a theoretical construct instead of something statistically likely to have occurred to me, their unwilling debate partner. I often wonder what they hope to accomplish with their shouting and pointing, and why they are so angry at me when I disagree with them. I don’t see how these conversations could possibly be for my benefit. Does renaming my trauma heal it somehow? Would it give me back all that I’ve lost if they could convince me that the fingers pushed inside me weren’t the fingers of a rapist? Also, for fuck’s sake: why am I expected to humor anybody so desperate to play devil’s advocate for the men who have violated me!?
And yet! Rape apologists feel entitled to my headspace. So hey, shout out to the folks who have picked arguments with me about rape over the past couple of years! Thanks for making me relive a terrifying experience over and over so you could use me as a human prop to resolve your guilt around drunken hookups and roofie jokes. You people are the real feminists. Just like Hugh Hefner.
That’s the other reason I’m going public with this, though. These arguments have led me to believe that I might be friends with a couple of rapists in denial, and that’s pretty fucking awful. I want to think that they just don’t know better, because consent is not a well-understood thing among men my age. But ignorance does not erase culpability for a crime, and women do not rape themselves.
So, Rapist, I decided to write you a letter after all this time because I need you and everyone else to understand the thing I’ve been repeating over and over throughout this letter in hopes it will finally be accepted as truth: you raped me. It doesn’t matter one bit whether you meant to actually rape me or not. It happened, and you made it happen, so the responsibility for my assault and the resultant trauma is yours. You’re a rapist, and you should have to live with that forever. I have to live with what you did to me forever, so it’s only fair.
Some people might say I’m being unkind or overly dramatic, but that’s bullshit. It isn’t a punishment to be labeled a rapist if you raped somebody. It’s just a statement of fact. It doesn’t matter if you’re a friend or a stranger or a “nice guy” or a celebrity or the president of the United States- you’re still a rapist.
If you don’t like being called a rapist, too bad! I didn’t like getting raped, dipshit. You are owed no understanding, absolution or forgiveness by me or anyone else. It is your responsibility to understand and accept the reality of what you did. Deal with it. Atone. Seek help. Redeem yourself. Or go fuck yourself. I don’t really care. Just get out of my head.
If you think that’s harsh, maybe you could consider what it’s like to be the person who got raped. Don’t worry, I have a great therapist. I’ll be OK eventually. At least, that’s what she tells me when I talk about people like you.
Eat shit and die,