SOMETHING OUT OF CLASSIC TV…

We were obsessed. We didn’t realize we were doing it, but we started to fetishize all men that weren’t white. They didn’t need to be on TV, it was ALL with a capital A-L-L men that weren’t white. The idea of dating someone who wasn’t white was exciting.
___________________________________________________

The town I grew up in was small. One of the biggest crimes of my childhood was a burglary committed by the local bad boy. (He dyed his bangs with hydrogen peroxide.) Too young to have a driver’s license, he used a lawn tractor as his getaway vehicle. Everyone knew he did it because like any small town, there was gossip. After the break-in most people still didn’t lock their homes. Despite the gossip, the town was a lot like Pleasantville (prior to receiving color). Part of me enjoyed the closeness. I could count on things like knowing that the family of my elementary school librarian would have my back if I ever needed them. But, being a small town, people would always see you as who you were in elementary school.

i-am-me-i-am-okayKnowing nearly all your classmates from an early age, reinvention at any age was prohibitive. Unlike many, who can reinvent themselves in high school, a third of the class you knew since you were six and the other two thirds you knew since 6th grade. These other two thirds were experiencing the same problem because we were all attending the same regional middle school high/high school.  Regional schools are common for Middle-of-Nowhere, Connecticut, where towns are so small there aren’t enough students to fill one school. Two or more towns join together to send their students to one location. My school had three towns, grades 6-12. This meant that middle school and high school shared common areas like cafeteria, computer lab and library. We’d see each other in passing, but didn’t r mix.

When I graduated eighth grade, life inside the regional middle school/high school didn’t change much. Classes moved to the other side of the building and I went from being the quintessential nerd in middle school to the awkward nerd-hippy in high school. Those qualities rendered me updateable… that and I had paralyzing shyness.

I was like those girls in the makeover movies (pre-makeover). I paraded through the halls with my over-stuffed L.L. Bean backpack and flute. I yearned for the romance the Christian Slater films (sans Heathers) promised. Hell, while learning how to write a children’s play my senior project (a requirement to independently study something you know nothing about, write a paper and give a presentation), I wrote a draft-outline and act one for a romantic film. The lead male was named Chris (as in Christian Slater) and the protagonist was a shy mousy girl from a small town. This kind of voyeuristic dating, dating on paper, was easier for me to wrap my dopey brain around than “hey, I like you” dating. Dating in the real world was as improbable as me being able to hit a three point shot from mid-court. Still, my mom thought she should tell me who and what I should date.

Don’t date a jerk.

Date someone who respects you.

Date someone like you.

When she said, “date someone like you,” she meant, “date someone with your same

fullsizerender

Suzanne

values.” Dating someone who was middle class and white was not part of the equation. Race never came up. My family didn’t discussed race in a let’s have a dialogue kind of way. We only discussed people. Race only came up when they told my sister and me how they we
nt to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak and listen to “good music.” One of my takeaways from this repeated story was their incredulity of how they were one of the only white couples there. Another favorite repeated story was when they visited St. Kits with my grandparents the waiter offered to take me outside (when I was having a baby melt-down) and comfort me so they could eat their lunch in peace. Every time I visited my grandma, I saw the portrait of Suzanne that my mom painted when she was a college sophomore. Every now and then they would reminisce at the art professor’s comments, “You’re the first white girl I’ve met that can paint a Black person.” Beyond these glossed-over differences, we didn’t talk about racial differences.

christian-slater-autograph

It was my friends and TV that had a larger influence on my understanding of people who
were desirous. Sure, there was Christian Slater, but he was always a little too damaged. Baboon heart, way too in to roses, suicidal introvert… While I tried to figure out dating, I tried to find friends with whom I fit. I had two distinct groups: in junior high, I hung with the mall group of “we don’t have a group city-type.” (By small, I mean 3.) In high school, I migrated to the “studious hodgepodge” of athletes, band geeks, and all-around smarty pants-wise-asses. One of the city-types left, leaving our group at two, the city-type and me. Even though her family lived in town for years and was active in the founding of it, she had the worldly influence that cable and four older siblings brought her.

Since she worked in the cafeteria during lunch, I tried to navigate hanging out with my more-studious-hodgepodge group. The hodgepodge always ate lunch together and I sometimes joined them. Remember that paralyzing shyness? Even though they were friends, I had a deep fear of being rejected if I asked to sit with them and they said no. Most days I’d take lunch and sit outside the band room and do homework… or just sit outside the band room and be sad. On days where I felt slightly braver, I would force myself to sit in the cafeteria. I’d find an empty table where I didn’t have to worry about rejection and sit alone. On some days, other lonely people joined me. Lacking strong social skills, I didn’t always feel welcome to join my friends because I wasn’t expressly invited to join. From 9th to 12th grade, I slowly got over this.

Very slowly.

While my understanding of navigating these seemingly complex social interactions grew, the student body grew too. When I entered the ninth grade there were 300 students in the whole high school. By the time I graduated, we had 500. And with this growth, we went from counting the number of non-white students on one hand to needing two. (There were seven.)

I was a natural introvert, shy and a little (very) naïve. It’s a no wonder my teens were tough. Band was a default comfort zone. Not having enough instruments in middle school or high school to play a full score, it was the only class where middle school and high school interacted. It offered forced social interaction with my classmates, half of whom were upperclassmen. It was a little intimidating being surrounded by people with facial hair and boobs, but it was exhilarating to have a tangential friendship with them. Band also provided a uniqueness of heightened racial diversity. The principle drummer (the only drummer for five years) was an Indian-American upperclassman. Intersecting through the years we had a brother and sister of Middle East descent (trumpet and clarinet respectively); a Black guy on bass and one Asian boy, on percussion. By the time I was a senior, there were enough students to support having junior high and high school bands. For the Memorial Day parades, we joined forces and invited the sixth graders to join. That influx brought an Asian girl. She played Second Flute and was next to me. In most places, six non-white students won’t qualify as diverse. But, those 6 non-white students out of a 30-member band gave us 20% diversity.

Outside the band walls, the school’s diversity plummeted to .014%. Consequently, I only saw my school as “just white.”

There wasn’t racial tension in Band. We were just trying to stay on beat. With the lack of diversity in the school and consequent lack of interactions with people who weren’t white, I didn’t have a framework to view race. My family’s “Martin Luther King Jr. is awesome” philosophy didn’t provide a framework. The school’s curriculum didn’t provide one. Race and racial differences weren’t discussed and since race wasn’t discussed openly, understanding the different experiences, philosophies and even religions that race could bring wasn’t discussed either. Scanning the student body, the only races that were apparent were Black and Indian-American. With my naiveté, people that were different, (like the brother and sister of Middle-East descent) were categorized as, “not white” or “they have a good tan.”

I can’t say if this naïveté is good or bad. It’s how I grew up and it’s what made me. Despite the shyness, I always liked people. I knew there was an Arian Signing Society 30 minutes from my home, but I didn’t see racism as a “this is happening now” way of life. The singing society was so far out of my love everyone world, it was as unbelievable as the Tooth Fairy. I continued to compartmentalize racism to history books, movies and the Deep South.

Because of my lack of understanding of racial differences, the differences were glamorized with more city-edge friends. Music videos felt like a roadmap of how to date and become datable. The videos became escapism in those formative years when you want to fit in, but are a little too square peg/round hole. Blessed Union of Souls “I Believe” spoke to my love everyone view. I thought I could be like Lucy and just wrap my phantom boyfriend in a hug and protect him from that mean white world. And while I loved this ballad, a die-hard favorite was Salt n Peppa’s “Shoop.” Despite a lot of the innuendo going over my head, the vaguely pro-feminist lyrics appealed to me. The men featured in the lyrics and in the video were hot, particularly the one categorized as, “A body like Arnold with a Denzel face…” These were the years before YouTube, DVR and any kind of V.O.D. that allowed you to watch your favorite video ad nauseam. Since technology to pause real-time TV didn’t exist, when “Shoop” came on, we would stop everything we were doing and watch the video. If someone had gotten up to get a snack, we’d holler to the next room to make sure no one missed the video. Denzel

We were obsessed. We didn’t realize we were doing it, but we started to fetishize all men that weren’t white. They didn’t need to be on TV, it was ALL with a capital A-L-L men that weren’t white. The idea of dating someone who wasn’t white was exciting. These men became trophies. If I dated one, I wouldn’t be merely dating a non-jerk, like my mom had asked for, I would be dating a man like those music vides. I would have made it to the dating zenith.

This more confident future self, would tell people, “Not only did I have a man on my arm, I’m dating outside my race. Take that you racist jerk; I’m open-minded.”

Wow.

I was an ass.

For years theories among friends and family of why I preferred men who weren’t white to white persisted. They ranged in everything from the visit to St. Kits when I was an inconsolable infant and a waiter had to hold and comfort me to my theory of my own insecurities around my genetic condition that causes brown spots and purple tumors to grow on and in my skin. By dating someone who isn’t white, theoretically, they would look past these imperfections and judge me by the content of my character. Whatever experience made me have my dating preferences and choices, I didn’t see my actions as racist. But truly, judging someone’s different and often darker skin as meritorious and a reason to date is just as wrong as condemning them because their skin is different. Age and life experience bring clarity. I was young and naïve. I thought I was being idealistic. It took me awhile to see what I was doing and that what I was doing was wrong.

Recipe: Black and White Cookies.
black and white cookie

Step by step directions:

  1. Go to the local bakery and and purchase.
  2. If your bakery doesn’t bake these scrumptious sugar cookies with two types of frosting, Call Zaro’s Bagels in New York City and have them shipped. Nobody does Black and White cookies like Zaro’s.

 

 

SPIRIT GUIDE, A NEW FRIEND, A NEW ADVENTURE

The clicks and dings of the free AOL Dialup Fax crawled through the air as my resume traveled from my PC to Paramount Pictures. It felt like this fax was taking longer than normal. I couldn’t be late for my LNT job, but I was convinced if I didn’t get my resume in right then, I’d lose the opportunity to interview. I couldn’t stand the idea of someone else taking my potential job.

________________________________________________________________

I was on my way to becoming an adult. After finishing my semester “abroad” I had secured an apartment on my own. From the suggestion of TV Trenches, I was working at Linen N Things (LNT) and was able to make rent and pay bills. I was happy to be working, but when you move across the country to work in entertainment, there’s a difference between working and working in Hollywood.Looking for a Job - Cardboard Box

Before bed, I sent an email to an alumni group, explaining I wanted to get my foot in the door at an entertainment company. When I woke up I had an email from Spirit Guide. She was a Paramount Page; they were hiring. Not knowing who I was, she told me to fax my resume in and she’d vouch for me. I would never put my name on the line for a complete stranger, but here Spirt Guide was doing just that.

I thought I was going to cry.

The clicks and dings of the free AOL Dialup Fax crawled through the air as my resume traveled from my PC to Paramount Pictures. It felt like this fax was taking longer than normal. I couldn’t be late for my LNT job, but I was convinced if I didn’t get my resume in right then, I’d lose the opportunity to interview. I couldn’t stand the idea of someone else taking my potential job.

Shortly after that morning, LNT had a fourth round of  layoffs, which I was part of. I continued to look for work. Weeks dragged on. I was stretching my severance, but I hadn’t heard from Paramount and the severance money was virtually dried up. That’s when I got an interview at a European Canadian Co-Production Company. After the interview they handed me a script and asked me to submit coverage (essentially a book report). I turned it in the following Monday and was offered a job assisting the Development Department. A couple days passed and I was informed I’d be assisting the president because the current assistant was leaving.

Swimming with SharksI was excited for the new work and the full time employment, but that position turned into one of my worst jobs.

Ever!

I gained immeasurable weight, my skin broke out and I was always on the verge of tears. One day the president would berate me if I asked a question. The next day I wouldn’t ask a clarifying question and when I screwed up, he’d berate me for not asking a question. The following day I needed to protect myself, so I asked clarifying questions. He would eviscerate me for asking questions.

On one of the particularly terrible days, the Paramount Page program called. They were setting up interviews.

Thank you Spirit Guide!

The interview would be in June. My heart sank. I couldn’t go; I’d be in CT for my sister’s wedding. I apologized and tried to reschedule. They told me not to worry; there would be another round in August.
In my August Interview, I wore the Talbot’s power suit my parents and grandparents gave me several Christmas prior. I was ready.
Power Suit
Except, I was not. This was not some one on one interview. Fifty of us were in one of the original RKO screening rooms and we had to get up in front of the people we were competing with and explain why we’d be good at the job. I was more nervous explaining my assets in front of my peers than speaking publicly. I talked about college, my love of the entertainment industry and gave examples of leadership skills from church camp (such as leading night hikes and camp fire songs), and was careful to leave off the church part.
My work to be a less shy version of my high school self paid off— I got one of the coveted jobs.

I needed to do something nice for Spirit Guide. I couldn’t afford lunch, but thought coffee would work. She told me that she didn’t drink coffee.

Who doesn’t drink coffee?

Paramount Water TowerApparently, Spirit Guide. She countered with ice cream from the on-lot convenience store. Since there were no toppings, I even threw in a Coke. We ate our ice cream underneath the Paramount Water Tower. Over our snack we talk about goals. We both were aspiring TV writers. She told me I needed a writing group and invited me to join her’s. She explained it was mainly a collection of college friends who were writing majors. She named names and despite all of us having the same writing degree from the same small college, I didn’t know any of them. Again, I was blown away by her generosity. Apparently, this is who Spirit Guide was, a genuine person who likes helping people. Despite all the new people I met at church, she was the first person I really connected with that I didn’t know before my move to Los Angeles. I was so excited to know her and grateful for her help.

 

It was a simple bowl of ice cream for a simpler (more broke) time. But, one can still make an epic sundae from a convenience store with no official sundae toppings.

At a convenience store (like the Water Tower Cafe), you have plenty of crumbled cookie options, various candies and even fresh bananas. If you prefer to drink your snack, there is always a root beer float! If I wanted a sundae, the me of today would not be stymied by no official sundae bar. I’d insist that Spirit Guide and I throw caution to the wind and create a calorie-laden treat.

*8 FOODS TO GIVE YOURSELF OR YOUR NEW ENGLAND LOVER

You might have noticed a few ads or point of purchase marketing reminding you Valentine’s Day is near. Skimming over early history of St. Valentine, how Valentine’s Day is celebrated has changed. Let’s face it February 14 is filled with so much anxiety, you need need Tums to get through it, regardless if you’re in a relationship or not.

Valentine’s Day does not need to be like that. One friend asked me to write a post “for the rest of us.” Traditionally February 14 celebrates romantic love; let’s modernize it and take time to celebrate our friendships and self love.

I have two groups of friends and family: Those that live in Los Angeles and Those that don’t. While I have friends that come from such places as Oklahoma or Michigan, most of my Los Angeles friends are from the Northeast. We’re like magnets and simply attract one another.

This past Christmas, one New England transplant friend gave me a gift bag of all foods New England. While I’d like to stare at the New Englandness of it, I know eating and sharing the thoughtfully selected food will bring back great memories, both for me and others.

Since we live in a world of countdown lists, here are some of my top New England food picks for celebrating love on February 14.

8. Dunkin’ Donuts

Up until the recent opening of Dunkin’ Donuts in Santa Monica, coffee-loving-donut-craving transplants living in Los Angeles had methods to bring back their DnD contraband.  We insisted the DnD coffee sold in local L.A stores didn’t taste the same as what was sold in New England shops, so we encouraged loving family members to ship coffee. But now, we can go to DnD on Wilshire Blvd, to get our fix.  (It may be necessary to gather loved-ones and make a trip next weekend to get a Boston Kreme Donut.)
dunkin-donuts

7Bell’s Seasoning

It’s available year-round in New England, but during the holidays it’s as common as Salvation Army Santas. I celebrated my first Los Angeles Thanksgiving with other displaced New Englanders. During menu planning we quickly learned Los Angeles doesn’t believe in Bell’s Seasoning. One friend called home, had his mother ship a box and provide the family stuffing recipe. (This happened to be the same family recipe as my family and others’ seated at the table. It seemed everyone’s grandma went to Boston Cooking School and riped-off  the stuffing recipe.)

Bells Seasoning
6. Mrs. Fanning’s Pickles

For many, mayonnaise is a natural complement to the sandwich, but for me it’s the pickle. And, when we’re talking pickles, I prefer Mrs. Fanning’s bread ‘n’ butter pickles. They are made from the larger pickling cucumber and have a thickness that holds up to the heartiest of sandwiches. Sandwich and pickles is a great summer weekend lunch, but if we’re going to go a step further in being purely New England, I like enjoying them while taking in a little Red Sox baseball. (Spring training is around the corner, and if I can’t wait I can always rewind my VHS of the 2004 MLB playoffs and World Series.)

mrs-fannings-bread-n-34941

5. Friendly’s Hot Fudge

To give you some context, Friendly’s is a restaurant. It is really an ice cream parlor meets diner. Ice cream creations are the focus. The meals themselves are good, but you really remember the different ways of presenting and consuming sundaes. The best part about the sundae is the hot fudge. Even though Friendly’s themselves are dying across New England, it seems you can still find hot fudge in many local grocery stores… Thick and gooey. Just the right amount of sweet and bitter to contrast the sweet of ice cream. The hot fudge has a consistency more akin to fudge than to the syrup you can squeeze out of a Hershey’s bottle. (Nothing against Hershey’s, it’s just not the same.)

friendlys-sign-240em100511

4. Drake’s Cakes

The rhyme scheme of the company name is just one thing that makes me happy about this company.  They have an impressive roster of cakes with various fillings and frostings. Among New Englanders, there is debate about which is the best confection. Since this is MY countdown list, rounding out My top favorites are The Yoddle with a ganache type exterior and creme filling, the traditional chocolate Drake Cake with the whipped center. When I get these, they are a “open in case of emergency” item that I keep on the top shelf in my kitchen. Emergency can qualify as- I need dessert, I’m too tired to make dinner, I need to stay up late and write a blog post…

Drakes Cakes

3. Fluff

Let’s get this straight. Liquid marshmallow is not the same as Marshmallow Fluff. When I visit Connecticut I buy a vat to bring back to Los Angeles. I am parsimonious with my Fluff, so the vat usually is enough for my baking and hot cocoa needs until I can go back to CT (or my family ships more).

Like Duct Tape, Fluff is good for everything and can fix almost anything, including a broken heart. It’s also great when you’re happy. I share my Fluff with New England friends (since they’re the only ones that truly understand) and if I deem a new person worthy enough, they may get a spoonful too.

Fluff

There are a number of recipes that you can make with Fluff: classic Rice Krispy treat, variations of fudge or a new favorite, from Shaken Together Life, a Fluffernutter with peanut butter cookies. Thanks Keri!

http://www.shakentogetherlife.com/2011/07/taste-this-tuesday-fluffernutter.html

fluffernutter sandwich cookie

2. Prince Pasta

If you grew up in New England, you grew up watching commercials of Anthony scampering through the North End after his mom yelled for him to come home for dinner. (It was Wednesday, and Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti night.)

Apropos of no occasion the same sweet friend that gave me New England food for Christmas dug into her ration and gave me a box of Prince Pasta that her family brought during a visit. (Not only is this purely New England, you and I both know that pasta does not travel well so the generosity felt extra special.)

And the best New England food/brand for Valentine’s Day–

1. Necco Candies

NECCO stands for New England Confectionary Company. It’s the oldest candy company in the U.S and it is responsible for the Sweet Hearts embossed with those cutesy sayings for Valentine’s Day. Some say the candies are filling breakers, but I actually like them, as long as you’re not making me eat the purple.

Sweethearts

These sweets are also gluten-free AND Kosher. No IBS for your Celiac or wheat-sensitive loved one. Mazel tov!

*I am not getting a kickback from this, but I want to point out if you’re living away from the brands you grew up cherishing or want to lavish someone with home foods, FAMOUS FOODS is a great resource to purchase regional brands.

*A VALENTINE’S DAY POLL

The big day, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day is around the corner. This day puts unrealistic expectations on many of us, in particular restaurants. Somehow, they are still expected to serve the same scrumptious food that brought us there while letting us linger over dinner and stare into our loved one’s eye. Oh- and they have about one hundred other couples that would like to do the same thing, so if you could hurry it up…

Going out for a special dinner on Valentine’s Day is my least favorite activity. On my first Valentine’s Day I expected a calm, elegant dinner but experienced massive crowds, a waitress that was trying to turn the table quickly and unmemorable food. Since that day, I’ve opted to stay in, regardless if I’m dating someone or not. Even though it is a commercial holiday and I say I don’t buy into it, admittedly, my Valentine’s Day dinners are usually a little more special than normal dinners.

This is where I am at a crossroads…

I’ve recently started seeing someone. We are getting to that stage where I’d like to cook for him. Trouble is Valentine’s Day is around the corner and he’s admitted to me he’s never been seeing someone during Valentine’s Day.  I’m conflicted. The practical, StuffedDates side of me wants to keep the first meal simple but the I LOVE COOKING AND I WANT TO SHOW YOU WHAT A FANCY DINNER LOOKS LIKE side wants to do it up.

Seeking a little guidance… Follow the link for a survey…

 

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/V7DP9QF

 

*A STOLEN FIRST KISS

In spite of the “unconventional” beginnings, I continued to date Cosby Sweater. I hoped that by pouring out love and affection, he would mirror my actions and love me the same way in return. I was hoping that this would not only make him into the man he could be, it would make him into the man I needed. —————————————————————————————————————- I had a crush on a friend freshman year of college, but he had a crush on Michelle Kwan. Despite all our study sessions and meals together, we did not date. Darn! Michelle Kwan I left that school, transferring to a college in Boston. Prior to beginning my new college, there was camp. I always felt at home in my skin there, and the summer of 1999 was no different. Even with my weight-loss and now shared senior-staff status with PK, my camp boyfriend from the previous year, he was not interested. Despite his aloofness, camp as it always did bolstered my confidence. That summer, The Kid from Long Island was on first year staff. His affection was obvious, as he followed me around like a puppy and babbled cute little things to me. Not only was he still in high school, at barely sixteen, he was the youngest member on staff. He was such a child. But, yay! Someone has a crush on me! Camp buoyed me and allowed me to step into more of myself in the outside world. I was still inherently shy and I still had difficulty walking into a room of strangers, but this confidence shot in the arm made transferring colleges easier. It allowed me to walk into those rooms with strangers and feel less awkward. During the first week of my new school I made friends and immediately found a home with the TV production people. I was and forced to be more outgoing than I ever was. We gorged on war stories of the entertainment industry and spent long days working on set or late evenings in pre-production meetings. To recharge, before or after these meetings, in solitude, I wrote. We further satiated our appetites by reading things like The Mail Room, The Hollywood Reporter’s annual “Women in Entertainment Power 100” (I would constantly re-read mine until the following year came out), Is That a Gun in Your Pocket or Hello He Lied. I wanted to be like Nora Ephron, Sherry Lansing, Nancy Meyers, Lynda Obst… Naturally, when the opportunity came to go to Manhattan with my school and meet working entertainment alumni, I was there. The weekend was an intensive networking/career building event. On a tour of the Late Show with David Letterman, I met a guy in a Bill Cosby Sweater. I shared self-conscious flirty smiles with him. He sat next to me during one of the lectures, we shared an elevator ride and dinner that evening. I learned he was a senior getting ready to graduate. His best friend was attending New York University. He invited me to have drinks with them and some of her friends at a dive bar in Greenwich Village. (How grown up.) Even though I was only 20, I accepted. This was the closest thing to a date I’d ever been on. I sat next to Cosby Sweater. The friends talked about their first presidential election they voted in. I realized I was only in junior high while they were having this milestone. They taught me how to order drinks when you’re underage. I felt incredibly out of place. Cosby Sweater squeezed my knee, and I knew I was going to be okay. I had one drink because I didn’t like breaking the law and I didn’t want to be out of control. I drank slowly and enjoyed this very adult moment. Times Square Cosby Sweater and I went back to our hotel in Times Square. He even walked me back to the mini suite I was staying in with my weekend roommate. I was expecting maybe a kiss goodnight, at the most. He came in and we hung out with her in the modest living room until she went to bed. I was attracted to Cosby Sweater and had those great nervous butterflies, but I wasn’t accustomed to the attention he was giving me… flirting, touching… He gave me a back rub and I politely fended off his advances. We kissed some more and I told him I was tired. He asked to join me. My emotions were sitting between dizzying panic of sleeping next to a boy and an extreme worry of not wanting to be rude and make him sleep in his own room. I agreed. The bedroom was a standard hotel room two full-size beds, and a nightstand assigned to each. No sex until marriage. It was a solid plan. My “no sex decree” wasn’t inspired by my time working at church camp. It certainly wasn’t inspired by mainstream media. It was an idea set forth by my public high school Humanities teacher: “Wait until marriage. Your virginity is the only gift you can give once.” It was incredibly romantic. I loved giving gifts. THIS was the ultimate “I like you” gift. While my weekend roommate slept soundly in the bed next to me, Cosby Sweater took my “I like you gift.” I felt detached, like I was watching myself in the third person. I was scared and frustrated I didn’t have my gift to give. I scrambled to make the misstep out of marriage ok. The crazy thing is, is: This wasn’t making love; it was date rape. But, I didn’t know that at the time. When Cosby Sweater and I woke up the next morning, the roommate was already gone. Cosby Sweater walked to the window and peeled back the shade; it was a window to nothing. It was as if the building had folder over on itself. House keeping came by. The sheets were ruined. Shit! It was an awkward morning. I’ve never had sex before and wasn’t entirely clear how we should act. Do we hold hands? Do we not hold hands? Do we pretend like it’s not a big deal? I don’t know how people act after they have sex for the first time. All I could think of was Tom Hanks in Big and how he gave everyone high 5’s and started drinking coffee and went as far as to take it black. I did not feel that way. But Cosby Sweater and I sat next to each other in the remaining weekend lectures and even on the bus ride home. I was embarrassed and frightened. My brain went into overdrive to rectify everything. I wanted to erase what Cosby Sweater did and worked to reconcile the events of New York. By making a relationship work, everything would be okay. I’d visit Cosby Sweater in his dorm room. If things got too heated (and they often did), my nerves sent me fleeing back to my room. I was on a seesaw. I wasn’t ready for an intimate relationship, but here I was hymen-less. I had to make this relationship work. That’s what people do, right? Marry the first person they sleep with? Part of my inability to see that it was date rape was my naïveté and part of it was the vitriol that women were fed, and it was always some permutation of NO: “no” and “no means no.” Other phrases like “stop” or “get off me” were not part of the “say no to rape” catchphrases we learned at a time before the rule of “Yes Means Yes.” I cordoned off my first sexual experience and locked it and the miserable memories associated with it in a room to wither and die. In spite of the “unconventional” beginnings, I continued to date Cosby Sweater. I hoped that by pouring out love and affection, he would mirror my actions and love me the same way in return. I was hoping that this would not only make him into the man he could be, it would make him into the man I needed. We dated all through my junior year and broke up in the summer going into my senior year. Boston Public Garden Senior year was transformative. It was also the year where other media students and I were involved with a group that was collaborating with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) and the Boston PD to produce a rape awareness video. The video would be shown to incoming college students in the greater-Boston area. The message was twofold: educate them about available resources and teach them they’re not alone. Doing this work, I learned that one in four college women are raped or sexually assaulted. Holy shit! Those are some crazy statistics. Holy shit! That’s me! I submitted a script pulling from my experience. The three members of BARCC, who were liaising between the center and the college told me the script was too dramatic. Really? My script was essentially a cry for help. Now, the very people whose duty it was to assist rape victims through their work at the Rape Crisis Center were telling me my script was not accurate. Their inability to see the cry and listen to my explanation of camera movements showing how the victim would feel detached from everything after a rape made me feel like my experience was invalid. I knew if I confronted Cosby Sweater to tell him he raped me, he’d cry. I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. It’s okay you raped me. You didn’t know any better. After he’d be done crying, he’d say it wasn’t rape and then blame me for not wanting to have sex. He is one of those Accidental Rapists, one of those people who admits to having sex with a person against their will, but doesn’t view their actions as rape. The article points out if the R word isn’t mentioned, more people are willing to admit to doing it. Cosby Sweater’s misconception of rape doesn’t make him any less culpable and it doesn’t make him any less rapey. I do not want to even consider confronting him. For a time after the incident and moments since then, I felt I could no longer connect to things that were enjoyable. Food on occasion became more of a necessity— Fuck what am I going to eat? I have to eat something. In the weeks and months after the rape, life started becoming filled with more moments of yawning indifference. I even became fed up with long-distance dedications on the radio and witnessing the smallest romantic gesture in other couples made my stomach turn. Sex for may years was an enigma, often times scary, un-enjoyable and even one of those duties one must subject themselves to (like doing dishes). To my soul, the rape was like taking a crystal vase, dropping it on the floor and trying to put it back together. There really isn’t an amount of glue that will repair it. Talking about rape is one of those things that people push off. It’s taboo. It makes people uncomfortable. It’s one of those things that shouldn’t happen. A dialogue needs to happen. But, people’s inability to have an open discussion or burring a discussion within a blog shows how uncomfortable the discussion of rape is. While not admitting it was rape right away, I knew there wasn’t something right about my first sexual experience. I couldn’t deal with it. Admitting I was raped seemed inaccurate. A dream. How can I be the victim of rape? Over the years I’ve tried to rewrite history, to talk myself out of it. Then, I reread things like Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Cage Bird Sings or Patricia Lockwood’s “The Rape Joke,” and I’m thrust back into the reality. No, I’m one of the four. Somewhere in my dating life, I was able to get back to enjoying romance, making other people happy and even cooking for them (out of affection). But, while traveling I still can’t and won’t stay in the same brand of hotel where the rape occurred _____________________________________________________________ SIDEBAR The issue with rape and sexual assault among college students is that the crisis is large. Many victims remain silent. Their silence and the lack of help from their college or university goes beyond resources, college-sanctioned alcohol consumption, state laws and sexual mores. In trying to find contemporary material while making peace with my past, I found many articles on the subject. One that really spoke to me and helps shine a light on the many angles of the problem is  an editorial by Jed Rubenfeld. In his editorial, “Mishandling Rape,” (published in The New York Times, November 15, 2014), Rubenfeld takes time to carefully unpack the elements of rape among college students. In it, he looks at historical social mores and current trends while calling for a transformation of colleges. As an outsider who is over 10 years out of college, I can see that colleges have come a long way. It’s not enough. Cultural change won’t happen over night, but we need to keep advocating change.

*A SECOND YEAR, A SECOND THANKSGIVING (Part 1)

“Sonodoro’s letters had the same perfect grammar & spelling.  But, instead of being filled with kindness and blatant romantic plagiarism, they were now filled with disappointment and to-do lists…”

——————————–

Sonodoro changed. He was not the same sensitive poet he was when met. Oprah told us to write daily letters to each other because we weren’t communicating well. We took her suggestion to heart, hoping it would help.

It did not.

3-21-14 Starbucks

The Starbucks where we met and everything was wonderful.

Sonodoro’s letters still had the same perfect grammar (and spelling) they had two years ago. But, instead of being filled with kindness and blatant romantic plagiarism, they were now filled with disappointment and to-do lists.

The butterflies I once got when I saw his name on the caller ID were replaced with palpations of anxiety or feelings of crushing despondence. He was angry a lot. His grand ideas of getting published lost their magic when I slowly realized they were merely dreams.

I thought I could love him into the man he could be.

I introduced him to my church, figuring he’d love the Sunday night service as much as me. After all, the service was geared towards young professionals and it even had praise rock band. That church and  my friends there were important to me. But, I turned down joining a single women’s small group so I could spend more time with Sonodoro. Rather than accepting my faith and encouraging me to grow it, he gave me a pouch of gemstones and started carrying one of his own. Each had different healing and metaphysical property. There was malachite to protect from evil, hematite to help balance body/mind/spirit, tiger eye for good fortune, rose quartz for peace and calm, the list goes on. . .

I didn’t believe in the power of the gemstones, but I started skipping church every now and then. Eventually, the gaps in my attendance grew larger and larger until I stopped going all together. Now, instead of having time apart, we had cranky Sunday nights together.

Sonodoro slipped into an angry and depressive state, which he often pushed on me. The natural consequence of his actions made me angry, depressed and self-loathing. I wrote some, but was stifled by the toxic living environment.  If it weren’t for weekly meetings with my writing group, I probably wouldn’t have written at all (or left the apartment).

After Sonodoro lost his translating job, getting and holding work was difficult. Miraculously, he found  jobs in food service and was working semi-regularly.  I worked Monday-Saturday. If we both had Sunday off, he often wanted to spend it with best friend, Shaggy. (Perhaps the allegiance came from when Shaggy bonded him out of jail, but I think their friendship is why Shaggy found it necessary to help post bond.) Since our hours together were mainly regulated to sleeping, I wanted Sonodoro to spend Sunday with me. He could always see Shaggy while I was at one of my jobs. Sometimes he did.

Often, he did.

And, often, I’d come home to an apartment filled with smoke from cigarettes and pot. The rationale was that Shaggy’s fiancé didn’t want them smoking in their apartment. Apparently, the very same feelings I had weren’t nearly as important as her’s.

10-10-14 Shaggy w Sandwiches

Sonodoro was growing increasingly harder to love. His managers thought so too. He usually lasted just over a month in his food service jobs before they found reasons to decrease his hours and eventually fire him. The job he held down the longest was working at a pet crematorium. In twisted irony, sometimes, he would pick up jobs as a dog walker.

10-10-14 Pet Cremation

By the end our two and a half years, I was working one full time job and one part time job. He was occasionally working. When I’d come home from work and ask how his day was, he’d respond, “It’s just a day.”

I stopped asking.

Sonodro and I broke up multiple times in that last year. In one of our breakups he told me  it hurt his feelings I stopped asking how his day was. In the most measured tone I could muster, I explained, “why would I ask? All I get is, ‘it’s just a day.’ It’s like touching an electric fence.”

In spite of our difficulty to live harmoniously,  Sonodoro pushed for me to spend more time at home. I watched Super Bowl XXXIX with my writing group. He called 10 minutes after the last touchdown. He kept calling until I picked up.  We had a short conversation. I went home. When I got there, in a less measured tone, I yelled at him.

This relationship was unraveling fast.

10-10-14 Unravel

We had another breakup fight a couple weeks later during an El Nino storm. Sonodoro was going to walk and spend the night at his mother’s, which was over 10 miles away. Compassion outweighing anger, with tears in my eyes, I suggested he stay the night and wait ‘til morning (when it wasn’t raining).

Morning came and it was like the breakup didn’t happen.

Shit.

We continued in our toxic relationship. I called my now divorced sister, who reminded me, “if things are bad when you’re dating it only gets worse when you’re married.” Sonodoro and I had gone well-past the expiration date, but the idea of leaving was difficult.

He didn’t hit me or anything. . .

Is dissatisfaction a good enough reason to leave?

*MY LIFE TURNED INTO A COUNTRY SONG

Being in love is great, and when you’re in love you’ll do anything for that person.

I gave Sonodoro the second set of keys to my SUV. He cried. “No one has done something like this for me before. Thank you.”

The running commentary in my head was: I’m not giving you the car. I’m simply giving you the privilege to drive the car, when I’m not driving it.

After Dad drove his other car into the ground, he used the slightly used SUV for his weekly commute of 350 miles. Then, my parents gave it (Connecticut plates and all) to me. My parents sill had the registration and technically, it wasn’t mine when I gave Sonodoro the privilege to drive the car.

8-9-14 Red Chevy

Now, after after driving it cross-country, the burgundy red SUV as my commuting vehicle. Hours working as a Paramount Page were dictated by tours, tape schedule and temping, Tours ran throughout the day and you needed to be there before 10AM. Tape days for Dr. Phil work began at 7AM, sit-com, 3PM and if we were temping 9AM. Then, there were days there was no work. These were the days Sonodoro used his SUV driving privilege. And, it was on a day like this I got a call from him, crying.

He was in jail.

My precious Guatemalan boyfriend got arrested. Got my car impounded. And, somehow (with all my sheltered-life-experience), I needed to fix if.

Sonodoro instructed me to go to his closet and take $300 form the $1k he had stashed there. (Believe me, more than finding out my boyfriend was arrested, I LOVED finding out he was hiding things from me.) I thought about taking all of it, getting my car and moving out. Instead, I handleded-up and did what I thought I should do in that moment— I stood by my man.

I called his best friend, Shaggy. (Seriously, his friends named him after the cartoon character.) He though I was joking until I kept crying. He came over, took me to the impound lot and then we had to go to visit someone everyone wants to see— a bail bondsman.

8-9-14 Bail Bonds

Yippie. (Sarcasm)

I do not know what is worse:
1. Receiving a call from your boyfriend saying he’s in jail.
2. Receiving a call from your fiancé asking you to put your up car as collateral so he can help his best friend post bond.

Remember, technically I didn’t own my SUV so I couldn’t use it as collateral. Shaggy made that dreaded call to his fiancé. She was less than thrilled and particularly mad at me.

When we bonded Sonodoro out of jail, he went through the events of that morning:

He was carrying his prescription narcotics for the kidney stone attack he had a month earlier. He alleged he was at Citibank (at 5:00am) withdrawing money on his way to his early-morning shift. (He did have a shift that began when it was dark out.) Whatever he did or whatever the cops saw, they tore apart my car when they arrested him. Sonodoro claimed it was racial profiling. Permission slip or not (I had one in the glove box for him), he was a Latino guy driving a car with CT plates in the early morning, down Brand Blvd (in suburban Glendale, CA) and past a bank where the alarm went off. It really didn’t matter what got him in jail. And, I really didn’t care. I needed to fix the problem and hopefully fix my boyfriend.

Between making bond and his trial, Sonodoro had to start taking classes with Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which lead me to believe that he had something more on him than the prescription for his kidney stones. (I’m guessing he was self-medicating with pot since he would later rationalize that it was cheaper than seeing a doctor and asking for a prescription.)

Even though we bonded him out of jail, there was still an upcoming trial where he could face possible incarceration. He didn’t want me going with him to the trial, so we had to make our possible last “good” moments together special. I know we went to see a Bruce Lee movie. I know I made him a nice dinner in case he lost his trial and was hauled off. This was a pivotal time for me. I knew I would never forget the details.

I was wrong. 



The details are murky. I do not know if it is time and frustration that wiped away the details or if he simply hid them from me.

I think it’s a combination of both.

8-9-14 Garbage Picker

 

I do know, he ended doing community service (picking up roadside garbage) while continuing his drug abuse classes. I’m pretty sure I sent him with food, but I could also see myself forcing him to make his own food. I was pretty mad and my perfect little relationship wasn’t so perfect anymore.