Me too.

When “me too” started buzzing around the internet as a way of saying that I too am a woman who has been sexually harassed and/or assaulted, I knew that I should chime in. It’s two words. All you have to do is type them and share them. People need to know that this sort of thing is far more common than anyone wants to believe.

But I was scared. I knew that I should tell my story, but it’s hard. It is hard to tell the truth about something when for far too long you’ve been told to be silent about that very thing.

See…here’s the thing. On Saturday, September 20, 2008, I was sexually assaulted. I was not raped, but I was taken advantage of. I was young. I was naive. And I was in a foreign country. I was in a place where everyone said that I had to experience the local culture. I had to explore. I had to try new things. I had to do things that I wouldn’t normally do.

So I bought a dress, a dress that was very pretty. I put on the dress. I let someone do my hair. I did my makeup. I went to a club. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to avoid Red Bull and Vodka.

By the end of the night, I had managed to avoid Red Bull and Vodka but not the smell of that pairing. And I had not had fun.

I’d gone into the evening with an idea that I’d dance with a few girl friends and maybe a cute guy. But I just wanted to have fun. I thought I was safe because I fit in with Spanish women. I was olive-skinned and dark-haired; surely, Spanish men would find me boring. They’d have no interest in me in my pink and brown halter dress with my brown sandals. Oh, I was wrong.

Instead, I’d had a random man I’d never even spoken to pull me away from my friends and stick his tongue into my mouth and his hands in places well…I wouldn’t want to tell my mother about. I was scared stiff. I went along with what he was doing because I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking. I don’t know if I was. I just know that I was scared. I don’t know what would have happened if not for Colorado Boy.

Colorado Boy was a boy in my study abroad group who was nearby when this happened. I don’t know if we’d ever even spoken before. (I don’t even know if he was actually from Colorado; that’s just what my brain named him for this post.) The first time that I was aware of CB that night was when his hand was on my shoulder and he was saying something about his girlfriend. He pulled me away from Spanish Dude #1 telling the guy to get off his girlfriend. Who knows what SD#1 thought of CB? I don’t care. What I care about is that CB pulled me into a circle of girls who asked me if I was alright. They was kind. They were gentle. They reassured me that they were there if I needed any help.

The night went on. Another Spanish Dude wanted to dance with me. I wasn’t yet smart enough to say no, and I didn’t realize how far he’d managed to get me away from my group of friends until he asked me if he could take me home to meet his mother. I’m not dumb; I knew what that meant. But I couldn’t see any of my friends. I didn’t want to pay my taxi fare back to the hotel alone, and I didn’t want to disappear on my friends.

And somehow, I figured out a way out. I told SD#2 that I’d go home with him to “meet his mother.” But first I needed to tell my friends where I was going so that they wouldn’t worry about me. I walked off where I claimed I saw my friend and hid in the bathroom for ten minutes. When i came out, SD#2 was gone. Who knows what he thought about me in that moment, and honestly, who cares? Then, I went off in search of my friends. I eventually found them, and one of my friends and I agreed that we were ready to go home (being a bit bored of the club thing). So we began (slowly, it took over an hour) collecting our friends and back to the hotel we went.

I woke up the next morning tired and a little wiser and much sadder. I threw away the dress and shoes. Over the next several months, I battled an odd sadness that I couldn’t understand. Why was I so sad about what had happened? I’d been willing to dance with those men at first. I’d gone along with what they wanted. Sure, I jumped every time I heard a song (that I don’t even know the name of) that had been playing in the club that night. Vomit rose in my mouth whenever I smelled Red Bull. But I couldn’t understand why; I’d let those guys touch me.

Odd as it might sound, it wasn’t until I began watching Downton Abbey that I began to realize why I was so sad. It was 2011, more than two and a half years after my Spanish escapade. As Lady Mary’s storyline with Kemal Pamuk began to unfold, I heard so many of my friends condemn Lady Mary as impure or unchaste for her behavior in that night. And through that, I finally came to understand the sadness that even a good and kind therapist hadn’t been able to help me through.

If Lady Mary’s behavior with Kemal had been all her fault, then so had mine with those men. I had gone along with their actions because I was afraid. I didn’t know what to do, and so I let them do what they were doing. I hadn’t fought back because I hadn’t known how to. And I’d never told my story because I was afraid of being judged as impure or unworthy. That I hadn’t ended up hurt more badly or in more trouble was purely an accident of grace-CB’s timely intervention and an open bathroom stall where I could hide.

It took me a long time to accept that I’d been assaulted. It took me a long time to accept that what had happened was not my fault. But here’s the thing. It wasn’t my fault. None of the stories that have come out recently about women who suffered sexual harassment, assault, or abuse were the woman’s fault. Too many women (myself included) haven’t told their stories out of fear of being judged or not being believed. Someone once told me “You were in Spain. You just didn’t understand the culture.”

I don’t know that the problem was my lack of understanding of Spanish culture. I think the problem was that far too many people forget that every other person with whom they meet is a person, is an individual. It is too damn easy to treat others like objects and forget that these are individuals with rights and dignity. We need to change that. We have to change the narrative-not just for women, not just for men, but for all humans. We need to treat every human with respect and dignity.

Far too many people-both male and female-have stories like mine. We need to change the narrative so that more people feel safe saying “Me too” and so that fewer people have a reason to say that.


The Pursuit of Excellence

It’s my favorite week of any year that doesn’t contain the Olympics. It’s Nobel Prize week. Nobel Prize week (and the Monday after aka Economics Monday) is my favorite week of the year. I’ve always liked the Nobel Prizes because they celebrate what’s great about humanity; it’s a week of celebrating great accomplishments of the human race.

But my love affair with Nobel Prize week really took off in 2014. It was a rough year for humanity and for me personally. I was quite honest when I told my students that week that I didn’t expect anyone to win the Nobel Peace Prize that year because I didn’t know that anyone really deserved it. And then Friday rolled around and the award was given to one of my personal heroes, Malala Yousafzai, and Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian children’s and education activist. That won my heart because in that moment the Nobel Institute had, in a really hard year, found something really and truly great about humanity.

The more that I thought about it, the more I came to love Nobel Prize Week. I love this week when we focus on what humanity has done well. In years when there are no Olympics, it’s probably my favorite week. I think that it’s really important to focus on our strengths, to look at what we do well and honor that. If we want to become better people and do better as a human race, we need to focus on what we do well.

Similarly, I love the Olympics. Yes, they’re imperfect. They can be surrounded by corruption, bribery, and steroids. But they can also be surrounded by beautiful reminders of the resilience of the human spirit. The heart-warming stories that come out of the Olympics serve as reminders of what we as humans are capable. We may not all be able to run like Usain Bolt, but we all have greatness inside of us.

That’s what I love about weeks like Nobel Prize Week and the Olympics. I love weeks that remind us that we are born with the ability to do great things and to be excellent in side of us. Greatness and excellent don’t look the same for everyone, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We have to find our strengths and our greatness inside of ourselves and use those things to the best of our abilities. Some people may be great writers, others are great runners while others are great doctors. We won’t all be in the Olympics. We won’t all win Nobel Prizes. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for greatness or celebrate the greatness in others when we have the opportunity.

The smallest one was Madeline…

Last night, I was drifting off to sleep when soft almost squeaky “ma-row” sounds started coming towards my room. “Maddie,” I called. “Maddie, come here.”

Sure enough, Maddie came into my room, climbed up on my bed, and allowed me to pet her for a few minutes. That’s life with Maddie these days. But life with Maddie wasn’t always like this.

Maddie is my cat. She’s a tortoiseshell who weighs about ten pounds. Her hobbies include playing with bottlecaps and snuggling with books. She was born in May 2016, and she came into my life on August 1, 2016.

I first saw Madeline on the Michigan Humane Society’s website on a Tuesday in late July of 2016. I sent the link for her adoption profile to my roommate with the comment “Doesn’t she look just like baby Scouty?” At the time we had two cats, Jem and Scout. They were about a year old and a handful. We didn’t need another cat. So, Corallini (as MHS was calling the cat) wasn’t for us.

Fast-forward to the following Saturday: Scouty had gotten sick suddenly, and before I really knew what was happening, I was sitting alone on the floor of a vet’s office with a dying cat in my lap. With only three friends on the other end of a Facebook Messenger convo to keep me company, I had to make the hardest decision of my life. Scouty went to the Rainbow Bridge .

When I came home without her, Jem was lonely. Jem is an extrovert if ever a cat was one. In fact, he might be a puppy. He followed me everywhere. He watched movies with me. Scouty was his sister, his littermate; he’d never been alone in his life. I knew that Jem needed a new best friend.

And that Corallini on the MHS website came into my mind. Within 24 hours of Scouty’s passing, I’d decided to go to MHS on Monday to get a new cat. Preferably Corallini.

When I got to MHS, they let me into the kitten room. They had a few little loves in there, but I knew that I needed this little baby more than she needed me. She was listed as high needs. I was told that they weren’t letting her go to a home that didn’t already have cats. I told them about Jem; they decided that Jem would be perfect for the kitten.

I wanted to rename the kitten, and she was tiny. I quickly settled on Madeline in reference to “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…the smallest one was Madeline.” My kitten was the runt of her litter. She was tiny; I was told she had “runt issues.” She was Madeline.

I took her home. She complained once I started driving, but she settled down a little when I turned on some Mumford and Sons. With time, I’ve learned that she just likes music generally.

I brought her into the apartment, and we introduced her to Jem. He wanted to play; she reared all two pounds of herself up and hissed at the fifteen pound cat trying to bat her around. By the end of the week, they were BFFs. They snuggle. They bathe each other. 

Maddie took longer to warm up to people. But she’s made it clear that while she’s never going to be the snuggliest cat in the world, she likes us. She hugs my arm sometimes. She purrs when I’m near her. She loves being scritched and petted. She will sit still while you read to her if she can snuggle with your book. She loves to carry socks around. She will put them in her favorite places. She loved the Christmas tree.

She’s a funny little darling. She’s well behaved. She likes her friends although she does not deign to have many of those. She will come running if she hears a bottle being opened or hears ice being moved. She always wants her socks to be near herself. And I’m exceedingly glad that she and I happened into each other’s lives at just the right moment.

But I am le tired…

There are things in my life that I care about-my family, my faith, my job, my friends, my cats, and my knitting. Books and Netflix are pretty important. Especially books; I love books. For those things, I can rouse up energy to do many, many things. But for me expending energy into all of those things can be exhausting. And at the end of the day, I am tired.

There are other things that I could do with my life, but I choose not to because I’m tired. I was recently talking to a few friends about online dating. I’ve tried it before with less than exciting results, and I don’t really want to do it again (EVER) but a few people have advised me to try it again. (Side note: Why do people give free unsolicited advice to single women so often?) So we were talking it through. Should I? But here’s the thing. I’m tired. I live consistently fluctuating between a little tired and completely exhausted. Some of this is my job. Some of it is the circumstances of my life. Some of it is the betablocker that I swallow every morning as a migraine preventative. Basically? I’m tired. I don’t have time to put my best side forward in yet another area of my life.

From 8am until 3pm every day, I play the role of Ms. Warm-Friendly-Loving-Sweet-Extrovert. I’m not an extrovert. I’m just not. I’m not always super friendly or warm in real life. But for several hours a day, I ooze warmth. I bubble and giggle and tease. And don’t get me wrong; I love kids. I love my job. But it’s hard not only intellectually but also emotionally. It is draining to pretend to be Ms. Happy-Go-Lucky all day when I’m really just a cucumber with anxiety. Let’s be real, kids; that’s exhausting.

And because I’m tired, I just don’t have the energy to try to impress other people. I recently had dinner with a friend and when she asked me how I was, I just told her the truth. I’m exhausted. I’m not subtle when I’m fully awake; I’m a sledgehammer when I’m exhausted. If I’m tired, I’ll tell you. If I’m crabby, I’ll tell you.

Does that sound like someone you want to go on a date with? I wouldn’t want to date me. I barely want to get me out the door. (Admittedly, that’s because I want to be sleeping.) I think that I’m a better teacher if I rest as much as possible. And I think that we’re all better off if I’m not dating right now. I think we’re all better off if I’m celebrating National Beer Drinking Day while reading or watching a good show on Netflix.

Making Sounds With Consonants and Vowels

Several weeks ago, I was talking with a friend when she said the word “hell” as a curse and then immediately apologized. I told her not to worry about it especially given that in the same conversation I’d said shit and at least a few variations of fuck.

I’ve come to realize that I have a fairly liberal view towards swearing. I was discussing this mentality with a friend who is, like me, fascinated by learning languages and understanding their structures. Language is just words, and words are just combinations of consonants and vowels. The word fuck is just four letters: three consonants and one vowel. It’s just a word.

In and of itself, a word has no power. About a year ago, my friend’s then three-year-old nephew was wandering around his parents’ house singing it because he’d heard someone say it. He didn’t know what it meant. He had heard it someplace, and it just sounds to him. It was just making sounds with consonants and vowels.

Those sounds constructed of consonants and vowels only develop power from the situation in which they are spoken. If I don’t know the meaning of the word, it’s just an assemblage of sounds. It’s meaningless to me as a speaker. But if I am filled with rage and I give voice to that rage, then the rage gives meaning to the word. If I speak from bland and casual frustration, then the word has substantially less power. For example, my mild “Well, fuck” when I learned that the movie theater (to which I had driven and where I was supposed to meet my friend) was closed due to a power issue is much different than the time I told the driver who had just cut me off in traffic what he could do to himself. (Not that he ever heard me, but that wasn’t the point.)

Words do not have power in and of themselves. “Hell” or “fuck” or any other word is merely a combination of consonants and vowels. It’s a string of sounds. It is the emotion of the speaker or writer that gives those sounds, those consonants and vowels their meaning and their power.

A Selfish Request

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that several wonderful single women whom I know appear to have lost hope of ever getting married. “It just won’t happen for me. I know.” I’ve heard that a few more times that I can count. Or “I’ll probably never get married. That’s just a fact.” I’ve said that one a few times myself. As time passes and you get older while watching your friends get married and have babies, it’s easy to believe that just won’t happen for you.

Now I also know single women who have hope that “it” will happen for them. And I don’t know if this is true across the board, but I know for me having hope requires making a daily choice for hope. I have to choose to believe that someday a man will come into my life and think that I’m “that one perfect person” for him. (There’s no such thing as a perfect person; there are just good matches and people who work really hard to make their marriages work.) Some days, that’s easy to believe. Others, it’s harder.

While I can sit and listen to my discouraged friends and try to encourage them, I often feel frustrated on their behalf. Yes, I pray for them. I pray for myself. I pray for their and my maybe-possibly-someday husbands. And I pray that if we don’t get married (which feels increasingly likely some days) we will still lead happy and fulfilling lives. (I think we already do most of the time.) I selfishly hope that others will see value and goodness in our lives.

All of this leads me to my selfish request for my married friends. I know that some of them pray for those of us who are single. Please continue to do that. We need it. We need prayers not only that we will meet our future spouses but also for hope, peace, and patience in this season of our lives. For me, the prayers for hope, peace, and patience might actually be more valuable at this point. I know that every Friday for the past nine years my married friends have been my daily prayer intention. Please choose to make us your intention at least once in a while. Please ask St. Anne to pray for us if asking Saints for their intercession is your jam.

Also, realize that we’re still there, and we want to be your friends. Engage us in your lives. There’s a good chance that on that Friday night when you think we’re off at the bar drinking margaritas (Yes, people have told me that they think I do that most Friday nights.) we’re actually sitting at home reading a book or watching a movie. We’d love to hang out with you. Invite us over if that’s best for you. Or we could help you get out of your house if you prefer. If at all possible, please do not make us do all of the work of arranging get-togethers in our friendships.

If you know someone you can set us up with, ask us if it’s okay and then do it. (Please ask, but I know that I’d say yes. I’m not the Lorax; I can’t speak for all of the single women.) Truth be told, a big part of the reason that I suspect that I just won’t get married is that the one time someone offered to set me up with a guy nothing ever came of it. See, if you’re spending your evenings reading or watching movies or hanging out with other frustrated singles, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if even your closest friends can’t find you someone they want to set you up with, well that you’re SOL on the marriage front.

Above all, please continue to love us, support us, and pray for us. We know that marriage is not always perfect. We know that our married friends don’t live perfect lives. We don’t either. But I suspect that marriage doesn’t leave you with that overwhelming feeling that you’re either going to end up dependent on the charity of your nieces and nephews or stuck lonely in a nursing home in your old age. That fear is really terrifying and can induce some really horrible thought patterns. So please pray for us. Like I said, I know that I pray for my married friends.

Lessons from Neville Longbottom

If you know me, you know that I love Harry Potter. I see a great deal of myself in Hermione. I have a mild to moderate crush on Bill Weasley. I’m inspired by Professor McGonagall. I think that I might be Tonks. I love both Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. I could keep going on this train. But the elder I wax, the character who strikes me time and again is Neville Longbottom.

On the surface, he seems pretty straightforward. He’s clumsy and forgetful. He isn’t too smart or too attractive. His best subject is Herbology, which is a commonly overlooked subject at Hogwarts. He doesn’t appear to be terribly brave. He didn’t demonstrate any indication of magical ability for much of his childhood. He lives with his grandmother. His parents are permanent patients of St. Mungo’s thanks to the “skills” of Bellatrix Lestrange. And yet, in the spite of all of this-or perhaps because of it, he is a true Gryffindor.

Despite his normal awkwardness, Neville shows strength in difficult situations. In the first book, Ron tells the eleven-year-old blunderbuss “Neville, you have got to start standing up to people.” The Neville to whom Ron is speaking not likely to stand up to anyone. He is shy and nervous. He doesn’t actively seek attention. He isn’t about to stand up to one of his own friends-let alone a powerful Dark wizard.

Now as the books go on, we (and his friends) start to learn some of Neville’s backstory. He lives with his grandmother because his parents were horrifically damaged mentally after vengeful Death Eaters attacked them with the Cruciatus Curse after Voldemort’s 1981 fall from power. (You know, that whole thing where the most powerful Dark Wizard of the age was defeated by a toddler who was born the day after Neville. That.) His parents don’t remember who they are, let alone who he is. This greatly impacts Neville. To be honest, there is almost no way that a child couldn’t be impacted by this experience. Both in word and action, his family constantly tells him that he cannot live up to his parents’ legacy. He has had no reason not to internalize this idea.

However even in his early years at Hogwarts, Neville shows hints of the bravery that will one day be acknowledged even by Lord Voldemort. Near the end of their first year, he is not afraid to stand up to Ron, Harry, and Hermione when he sees them doing something he believes to be wrong. Professor Dumbledore later commends him for this saying that it is harder to stand up to one’s friends than one’s enemies. He also stands up to an enemy (Draco Malfoy) at another point, but that is supposedly easier than standing up to the Golden Trio.

Neville is also capable of remarkable love and faithfulness. He is loyal to his friends, but more than that, he is loyal to his parents. As he tells Harry in the fifth book, he is proud of being the son of Frank and Alice Longbottom. His parents thrice defied Lord Voldemort; that is decidedly something to be proud of. They may not know him; the only gifts his mother gives him may be gum wrappers. But they were good people who fought valiantly for what they believed was right. Neville does his best to carry their spirit on. As he grows older, he works to fight for the cause that his parents supported and to become a person who they would have been proud to call their son.

In many ways, Neville seems to be determined to be someone of whom his parents would have been proud. He wants to live up to their legacy. He isn’t content to reside in their shadow. A large part of this is a desire to make them proud, but I believe that it also comes from a desire to continue their legacy. Just because his parents’ minds were destroyed and Lily and James Potter died, that didn’t destroy the movement. There will be others who will rise to take their place.

Neville Longbottom shows us the importance of standing up for what we believe in and for always striving to be better. Perhaps our world needs more people like Neville.