Boy, Interrupted

July 16, 2012

Oz (HBO series) wallpaper, July 15, 2012. (http://blabla-series.com).

As I continue on my blogger’s journey reliving parts of my summer of abuse from thirty years ago, I’m reminded of some simple truths. That in terms of time, while I certainly remember everything that happened to me in July ’82, I don’t remember being outside the confines of 616 at any point during that month, even during those times when I actually was. Mount Vernon had become my prison. I don’t recall a single moment of laughter or goofiness, a single song or thought beyond surviving my ordeal. It was as if someone had kidnapped and then tortured me for five weeks. It was the longest interruption of my higher ordered thinking that I can remember.

Not only did my stepfather Maurice/Judah forbid me from the outdoors or from reading because I refused to acknowledge him as my father, but he forced me to do every conceivable household chore (see my “Whipped And Beaten” post from earlier this month). He invented them on a whim to keep me busy every day. His justification, of course, was the Torah. “Honour thy father and thy mother…” was what I’d allegedly violated as a sinful Hebrew-Israelite. I scrubbed behind our two refrigerators on a Saturday afternoon in mid-July — our so-called Sabbath day — while they were turned on, burning myself on coils and cleaning walls with plain water. I whitewashed the bedroom, living room, foyer, and hallway walls on Saturdays and other days, again without any soap or other cleansers.

Maurice inspected my work for any mistake, and if there were any, I’d get beat with a belt or punched in the chest or gut and would have to start the whole thing all over again. All while he laid on his unemployed ass farting and watching the ’30s Tarzan movie series starring Johnny Weissmuller on WNEW-Channel 5. On a Sanyo TV set my father Jimme had bought us the year before, just before his Louisville Slugger incident! I scrubbed those kitchen walls as if I were scrubbing Maurice with a steel rake tipped with Brillo pads. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have anything but water to clean them with.

A modern jail cell (numbering modified by author), Brecksville, Ohio PD, January 3, 2006. (Andrew Bardwell via Wikipedia/Flickr.com). In public domain.

Both Jimme and my Uncle Sam tried to see me during this torture. My stepfather threatened to kill Jimme, practically running him off. I got in trouble for chasing after my father down East Lincoln Avenue after Maurice threatened him. Maurice yelled at me, “If you go after him, you betta keep goin’!” Mom stopped my Uncle Sam from confronting my stepfather about his abuse of her and me when he came over for a visit at the end of July. He was obviously frustrated beyond belief. Uncle Sam said, “Don’t expect me to keep comin’ over here while that son-of-a-bitch’s still here!”

I was completely exhausted by then. I dreamed every day of slaughter. I thought about cutting up my stepfather in his sleep with a steak knife and feeding him to wild dogs. I’d start with his balls, then his whale-blubber belly, and then his throat. Then I would stuff his balls down his throat. These wonderful thoughts probably kept me from committing suicide.

Despite it all, the idiot had failed to break me. Off and on throughout my month of torture, I did think of Crush #1. She’d sometimes show up in my dreams. Or I’d think of her as I walked the streets of North Side Mount Vernon, as I passed her  block near East Prospect, on the way to pick up a new stroller for Yiscoc or to go to Waldbaum’s or some other grocery store. Then I started thinking that this was a pitiful waste of time. After all that had happened, there was no way someone as great as Crush #1 would ever be interested in me, I thought one day at the end of July, just a couple of days before my five weeks of continual abuse had ended.

I assumed that I was damaged goods, a person no self-respecting individual would see as having any value. Kids, even poor kids, made fun of me all the time, my religion was a sham since my stepfather had become a worse person, Mom was making dumb decisions, and my grades despite my end-of-the-year rally didn’t meet my usual standards. It was July ’82 and I didn’t know if I’d make it to my thirteenth birthday.

I was so stressed out that I hadn’t noticed that I was in the midst of growing four inches in two short months. I missed my foot growing a full size in a span of a month, my first pubic hair growth. I even masturbated without knowing what it was I was doing, having made it my way to release all of my fear and stress. If a psychiatrist had evaluated me on July 16 of ’82, they would’ve put me on antidepressants. That’s how out of sorts I was.


Sexism – It’s Complicated

March 3, 2011

Sexism Hurt Everyone, March 2, 2011. Source: http://dribbleglass.com

I started writing this in response to the contradictions anyone can find in looking at Women’s History Month. Particularly the distance between feminist/womanist rhetoric about girls and women loving themselves for who they are and not how they look. Versus the everyday barrage of images about beauty and achieving it for others’ pleasure, if not for one’s own. Then I realized that this is an issue for women and men, boys and girls, regardless and because of race and socioeconomics. Then I thought that beauty isn’t the only insecurity folks who are blessed or gifted become neurotic about over time.

 

It just proves that most of us, even the most well-rounded, well-meaning and well-adjusted of us, can’t help but be somewhat sexist. And that there are many of us who represent walking contradictions of feminism and sexism who call others on their -ism “isht” but refuse to recognize it in ourselves.

Sexism is complicated by the fact that it often is more than just the mere objectification of women. After all, men can be eye-candy as well, and using the term women in the universal, at least in the Western world, equates almost exclusively to White women. I haven’t even begun to describe the exclusion of the transgender community from this conversation, as well as how embedded middle class and affluent values are in our understanding feminism (but not womanism) in our Women’s History discourse.

Such was the case for me nine years ago at my job as assistant director of the New Voices Fellowship Program at the Academy for Educational Development (AED). (It’s the organization that finds itself under suspension from government grants because of serious financial malfeasance since the beginning of last December — see my blog post from December 2010). We were prepping binders and other materials for a New Voices selection panel meeting when a staff member engaged me in a conversation about how I moved from dating to marriage. It was a question that required me to discuss my progression to serious relationships.

Though I didn’t want to go into major details about my personal life, I did want to give the young man an answer that made sense. So I started with how I saw women when I was about twenty-two or twenty-three (the younger man’s age at the time, by the way), and worked my way forward. I noted how I often interchanged the terms “woman,” “girl” and “chick” when I was younger, but had pretty much grown out of objectifying women in that manner by the time I’d started dating my future wife a few years later.

A female co-worker walked into the conference room while I was in mid-sentence, and the only thing she heard was “chick.” She demanded a retraction on the spot, which I summarily refused. “I’m not going to change a story by using a different term when I know I used that term ten years ago,” I said. I added that the conversation wasn’t really her business, especially since she walked into the middle of it without

Sexism, March 2, 2011. Source: http://swpeng.com

knowing the context of it.

 

She reported my allegedly sexist misdeed to my immediate supervisor, who didn’t know how to respond, so he did nothing. That, at least to me, was actually more sexist than anything I may have said and regardless how anyone could’ve interpreted it. That my co-worker never followed up to discuss why I happened to be using the term “chick” seemed to me a sign that even she knew she overreacted to something that was never an issue to begin with.

A few months later, the young woman had resigned, leaving to work on her master’s at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. She told me, in the way of sage advice, that I “needed to open up more and be honest” with younger staff. I just looked at her and wished her well. How can anyone be honest about anything if the first thing we say to each other is to change our stories about our experiences because the words we use can be interpreted as sexist (or racist, or fatist or any other -ist or -ism)?  It seemed to me that if anyone had any serious problems negotiating feminism and sexism, it was my former staff member, not me.

Not that I didn’t realize I had some issues regarding my feminism/womanism versus my own sexism. Most of them have come from what I haven’t said, what I have and haven’t done regarding White women and women of color over the years. As I’ll discuss in my next blog, I’ve had three decades’ worth of damsel-in-distress neurosis (I have no idea what the DSM-IV code is for that).


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