MeToo

September 27, 2018

My heart is pounding as I write about this thing that happened more than thirty years ago. It has caused me so much stress, so much shame, embarrassment, sadness, and anger. I have shared this story with few people and I only told my own mother about it when women started sharing their own #metoo stories. I am writing this as Christine Blasey Ford bravely testifies about her sexual assault experience with Brett Kavanaugh in front of the whole world.

It was in the fall of 1987. I was a senior in high school. I had no reason not to trust him. He was my friend. In fact, he is my facebook friend, and he will surely read this post. I have never talked to him about what happened or told him how much he hurt me. We went to the same high school and still have friends in the same social circle. We had just come back from a six week trip through Israel with a large group of high school students. We were all friends. I had fallen in love with a boy on our trip who ended our relationship when we got home. I was heartbroken. I began spending time with this friend. He was always there to listen and I confided my heartbreak to him. We played tennis together. He took me to homecoming. He was running for student council and he convinced me to run, too. He helped me with my campaign (He won. I lost.) I appreciated his friendship and his support. When he invited me over to his house for dinner on a weekend night I didn’t think twice. When I got to his house his family wasn’t there and he had made a really nice meal for us, including a bottle of wine. He kept topping off my glass of wine while we were eating and I became very drunk really quickly. The next thing I knew I woke up to him trying to take off my pants. I was lying on a bed and had no awareness of leaving the table. I got myself up as quickly as I could, I got out of his house, and I went home and went to bed. Our houses were only a few blocks apart, but I don’t remember if I drove or if I walked over to his house and I also don’t remember how I got home.

I blamed myself for being stupid enough to go over to his house and for letting him get me so drunk. I was afraid that my parents would be upset with me. I blamed myself for trusting him. There was no upside to telling anyone and I intended to bury it, but it still was not over. On Monday while I was sitting in a class filled with my classmates and friends, another boy who had been my friend since elementary school “served me” with a handwritten bill from my assailant. The bill detailed all of the money he had spent on homecoming, on the dinner he had made me and the alcohol he had used to get me so drunk, and the value of his time he had spent with me. There was no question that he believed he was entitled to sex and he wanted to publicly shame me for refusing to consent. I have no idea why he would do that, but it was cruel and deeply affected me. It was a painful and daily reminder for the rest of my senior year and is something I still cannot completely escape. I assume that people from high school thought that serving me with that bill was a funny joke and I am still asked about it, especially when he and I are at the same event, which was most recently at our 30th high school reunion.

Third time’s a charm

Respect for our choices about how we want to live and acceptance for who we are or who we want to become are things I think about a lot these days. When I reflect back on some of the life choices I’ve made I realize that it is a recurring theme in my life. I just haven’t always been true to myself.

The other day I found myself engaged in a very personal conversation with an open minded and very kind hearted woman at work. As we were exchanging personal stories, we both verbalized how cultural norms have played into some very important decisions we have both made in our lives. Specifically, our decisions to marry. I have been very aware over the years how the pressure to conform to expectations, both spoken and unspoken, have played into my decisions to marry. I have learned some really hard lessons. I hope I’ve learned enough to model courage to live my life on my own terms so that my children will be better able to face similar challenges as they become who they want to be in this world.

From a fairly young age, I was resistant to the idea of marriage. Not the idea of spending the rest of my life committed to a partnership with another person, but to marriage. It has just never felt right for me. I certainly never dreamed of walking down the aisle in a beautiful white gown with bridesmaids and flowers and the whole nine yards. Never. Not once do I recall having that vision of myself. It’s still incredible to me that I have ever been married at all. But what I’ve realized is that my sensitivity, combined with my need for acceptance and belonging, led me to make important decisions about relationships that were just not right for me. It has also caused me and others in my life a lot of heartache. I’m sorry about that.

I married my first husband in 1994 when I only 24 because I could sense that my commitment to living with him and even buying a condo together was never going to sit well with people in my family. They just didn’t think it looked right. I remember overhearing people say that we were living in sin more than once. I was constantly asked when we were going to get married. Not if, but when. We might as well since we were living together, right? We loved each other and I quickly tired of the pressure, so we decided to get married. That was almost 25 years ago. I remember having very little enthusiasm while making wedding plans. It just wasn’t what I really wanted. Our marriage lasted less than two years. I left Colorado for law school in New York as if I was fleeing a crime scene. I swore I would never get married again. I was so sorry for hurting him and everyone else.

I got married again in 2002. My boyfriend and I had been dating for five years and had been living together for two. We moved in together after I graduated from law school. It made sense. He wanted me to stay in New York and could afford the apartment while I was a young lawyer in debt working in public service. I couldn’t afford to live alone any longer. Not in New York City. I knew I wanted to have kids at some point in my life, but I still didn’t feel right about marriage. Then I unexpectedly became pregnant a month after September 11. Because it was unplanned and we were were both in shock from the events of September 11, I did not even realize I was pregnant until I was already through my first trimester. My boyfriend was opposed to the idea of having children without being married. One of the first questions I heard from my family was whether we could go get married immediately. I sensed their shame. I didn’t want to cause anyone to feel shame and I wasn’t strong enough at that moment in time to pay attention to what I needed. We decided to get married. Again, I had no interest in the wedding. He planned the whole thing himself. Our relationship produced three beautiful human beings and for that I am grateful, but our marriage was a disaster. I didn’t mean to hurt him or anyone else.

In the last several years, I have found myself wrestling with the marriage choice again. My feelings about it have not changed. I see no need to marry in order to prove my commitment. But it has affected my life again. It has been brought to my attention recently that my husband (yes, my husband) and I need to make an announcement to let people know that we are committed to one another so that people will understand that we are a family. Why? We are clearly committed to one another. Around six years ago we decided that we could live without each other, but we didn’t really want to. Why would we want to live apart when we are so much happier and stronger together? We adore one another. We accept everything about each other. We committed fully. Come hell or high water. And people who know us know that our family has had our fair share of those things. My roller coaster has always been a wild ride.

We decided to live our lives together and to try to blend our families. I felt like we have always been pretty clear about this fact. We announced it the best way we knew how. We have presented ourselves as a family to the world. We said it outright. We sent out holiday cards from our family to everyone we knew. Yet, we have recently been told that people don’t understand that we are all a family. There has been no wedding ceremony, there are no adoption papers, no commonly recognizable formality to seal the deal in everyone else’s minds. It pains us that we are not accepted for the way we have chosen to live. It has thrown some rocks in our blender. It separates us. We do not feel respected. We do not feel we all belong.

We have also been told by people in our family who have now found out that we are married that they are hurt because we have not specifically told them this fact ourselves. I can accept that they are hurt, but I cannot say that I really understand it. Our marriage has nothing to do with anyone else. It’s our personal business. In fact, we would not be married if it were not out of a need for security for our family. Jason and my stepchildren needed health insurance that I could provide. I didn’t think twice about it when the state of Colorado would not recognize us as domestic partners and required us to be married. We are a family. Honestly, it is hurtful to us that we would even need to announce this to anyone and we never planned on doing so until our children found out because they saw the date written on my calendar. Luckily, I believe knowing this gave them some sense of security, as well. I’m glad for that, but it also saddens me that they needed that. How is it still this way in a world filled with different kinds of families?

It all comes back to the need for acceptance and belonging. Our truth is that for the last six years some people in our own family have not recognized us as one. So I am taking the advice we have been given. Please consider this a formal announcement. We are a family. All of us. Established in 2013. Dysfunctional as we may appear to be. Our marriage is a legal fact and we do refer to one another as husband and wife. It’s been easier for people to understand. Saying partner left people wondering if I was a lesbian. Lover cracked us both up, but made most people feel uncomfortable. I hope that no one is hurt by only now learning that we are married. It is a legal fact that we did not feel was necessary to share. We assumed that we would belong simply because we are, in fact, a family.

Forgiveness

On September 27, 2018, the day that Christine Blasey Ford testified on national television about her sexual assault, I was called to write about my own experience. The emotions I had bottled up came pouring out of me as I related to what she was doing so publicly and with such courage. My heart was aching for her while she was being interrogated about her memories of that event that happened to her so long ago. There was no question in my mind that what she remembered was true.

I so strongly identified with what was happening to her at that moment that I could not stop myself from writing. I had to for my own sake. It was not planned. It just happened. It was personal. It was about me. It was only my experience. My perspective. My truth. My focus was not on my friend, but about how the experience had affected me. It was cathartic. I had a physical response while I was writing.

I hope that my vulnerability somehow helped people who read it to think about the larger lesson about consent and what that means. It is something that I feel strongly about. I believe that it is a lesson that our society needs to learn immediately and completely. One of my high school friends beautifully put words to this in her comment on my facebook post that day. I don’t think I could write it any better.

Lisa, I want you to know I had no idea this happened, nor can I even imagine who you are talking about. (I don’t want to know!) Not everyone has this memory of you. I remember you as a brilliant tennis player and a soft-spoken, smart and beautiful person. I’m sure your friend who hurt you this way remembers you the same way, and he’s probably embarrassed too. I’m so very sorry this happened to you. Thank you for sharing. We will only make progress when everyone – including those who don’t see themselves as perpetrators – listens to these stories and talks to their sons and daughters about consent. Peace. 💙

What I hoped to express in my writing was that he was my friend and I felt betrayed by him. These things might not have affected another girl like they did me and they may not have lasted as long if I were a different person. We are all unique and I suppose that I am more sensitive than others in some ways. I wish that I had had the strength and sense of self at that time to confront my friend. I wish I would have been able to explain to him that what he had done to me was wrong and that he had hurt me. But I did not. I struggled with the shame of it and that is what continued to cause my pain, even though I now know that was not his intention.

We live in a society where girls are shamed for how they dress and how they behave. Our culture still subscribes to the belief that boys will be boys. We have to take responsibility for the space we hold here. This is the lesson I had hoped people would take away from my story. I like to think that some did and I know that others have not. Some of my friends who are men felt vulnerable and maybe they still do. Some were angry with me and some were angry with him. This was not a battle call, so I am sorry for that. It is never my intention to cause people to feel vulnerable or afraid. That’s not who I am.

Since writing about my experience, I have met with my friend and we have talked. He was shocked. He was upset about being portrayed as an assailant. He felt vulnerable. He was hurt. I listened as he shared with me his memories and his perspective of that night and of our relationship. He recalls things differently than I do. And I believe him. I believe that he did not mean to hurt me that night. I believe that he thought a sexual relationship between us was consensual because of how he felt about me and about our relationship. We both remembered that he stopped as soon as I asked him to.

I also believe that he did not mean to cause me shame that lasted for all these years. He explained that he had felt rejected and ashamed and that the bill he sent was sent for another reason altogether. It was a reaction to his pain after he found out that I had kissed another boy. We were two kids who had both been hurt and I very much believe that he was sorry for any pain he caused me. I know I am sorry I hurt him.

One of the greatest lessons that I have learned through this experience is about the power of forgiveness. My own teenagers have also been critical in learning about forgiveness. They have experienced so much hurt and yet they understand that the people who have hurt them have not done so intentionally and that many still do not even understand when they cause them harm. It’s a hard lesson that we have all learned. Forgiveness has been important for us to move forward. Forgiveness allows us to move through the anger, the resentment, and the blame. Forgiveness allows us to find peace in our pain.

My friend and I both hurt each other. Neither of us intended to, but it happened nonetheless. Forgiveness has allowed me to find peace and move past the pain. I hope that my friend can do the same.

Asephah

Dear Asephah,

Finding the words to start this letter has been difficult for me, much like my difficulty sharing myself with you while living through what has been a heavy and painful stretch of time.  Words are one of the many things that have become complicated in my world. One reason is that my heart is held by the three beautiful young human beings I live with who sometimes appear to be world class linguists.  They perceive words more literally and specifically than I. They are also perfectionists, something I now realize I have dealt with myself for my whole life. I’ve learned a lot from them about these things. Sometimes my difficulty with words and my perfectionism makes it difficult for me to express myself.   It is other people’s sensitivities that has caused me to choose my words more carefully and to remain mindful of my intentions when I express myself. It doesn’t always work for me, but I’m practicing. It is also the reason that I have not been as connected to people who are important to me. My words are sometimes misconstrued or perceived differently than I intend them and I am aware that some people have been hurt and may be uncomfortable or even angry.  I am truly sorry to anyone I may have hurt or made uncomfortable. That is never my intention.

Today I am choosing a word that I learned this morning from one of my kids. Asephah (אֲסֵפָה) is a word that means community in Hebrew and it works just fine for my intention today. For I want to express my appreciation to you, my asephah. You are my community of friends, family, colleagues, helpers, supporters, partners, mentors, teachers, leaders, and healers who have given me and my family your support and love in countless ways. I am grateful for you.

I also want to offer this as my prayer. I have been thinking a lot about prayer and what that means. This last week I wrote a piece that is to be included in a book about advocacy stories published by Hands and Voices, an organization I have been involved with since moving back to Colorado in 2008. Like me, Hands and Voices understands the power of storytelling. It is telling our stories that softens hearts and opens minds, which is what helps to connect people with one another. It is that connection that helps us to feel a sense of belonging. I am grateful that I was asked to write my advocacy story. One reason I am grateful is that writing it helped me to better understand what prayer means for me.

I have never considered myself to be a particularly religious person. I think this is mostly because of how other people perceive me. I am not always very observant of the traditions of the religion. I tend to say that I am Jewish, but not very observant. I am Jewish because I was born into a family that is Jewish and because I was raised with the traditions of the religion, as well. Some aspects are comforting to me, especially the community it offers. I recently heard Oprah Winfrey explain something on one of her podcasts about her perspective about religion that really resonated with me. She explained that she is a Christian and also that she is open-minded. I realized that I’ve never felt the need to explain that I am open-minded after telling someone that I am Jewish. I think that’s because my experience has always just been as an open-minded person. It never occurred to me there was any other way to be Jewish. It’s just interesting to me, I guess. But what I really want you to know is that I have realized that as I offer myself more and more to you, I am also opening myself more and more to receiving from you. I realize that this is what prayer means to me. This is what I have been learning throughout this difficult time.

I wrote my Hands and Voices piece in the form of a letter, which is often what I write when I need to express something.  I started my letter with “Dear Oprah” because I want people to know my experience so badly and, for me, sharing my story with Oprah Winfrey is very much a prayer.  You see, I am in a difficult place in many ways and sharing my story feels bold. It feels risky. But I’ve been doing it anyway because I feel it is my obligation to bring light to the problems I am facing as a mother and as a human being.  Anyway, it is actually what happened after I sent off my advocacy story to my friend that I realized the power of my prayer. No, Oprah Winfrey has not called me yet. But something has happened and I am hopeful that at least one of the challenges I have been facing will soon be resolved and that my family and I will soon move on from some of the pain that we have endured.  It is something that has surely affected us all and, by extension, all of you. That’s just how people work. That is something else that I’ve learned.

Regardless, please know that I am here. My family is here. We have a lot to be grateful for and we share much love. I am grateful for Jason. He keeps our family grounded. He is always there for me and for all of us. Doing anything and everything we need him to do. We still have much we are working through. One thing is that our kids have challenging and complicated health issues. We welcome your support and your friendship. If you want to spend time with us, please don’t hesitate to invite us. If you want to connect with us, please reach out in some way. I also want you to know that I am here for you and I have much to give. My home, my time, my friendship. Jason. I have learned through this difficult time just how deep my well of resources truly is and I am here to share it with you, my community. I realized today that I have never described myself this way, but in reality I am in public relations or community relations or whatever other word or label makes sense to you. The point is that if you need something, please reach out. I want to share.

I am writing this from my cabin in Fairplay (also known as South Park). This cabin has provided my kids and me with security and stability since 2010, especially as we have surfed our many waves of change. Four years ago we finally settled in our house in Denver and that is also a secure and stable place for us now, but this cabin is really special to me. It is sacred. It is my temple. It is where I keep things I treasure. It is my retreat. It is where I bring my loved ones when I want us to be together without the distractions of our everyday lives. It’s where we reconnect with one another. It’s where I find peace and quiet. It’s a place where I know I can find solitude and a place for reflection, even when there is chaos is my life. It’s a place we play and rest and recharge. It sustains us. It is also a place that I want to share with you. Jason and I have started welcoming others to the cabin through AirBnb and it has been an amazing experience. The people we have hosted care about this cabin as if it is their home, as well. I am grateful for these people. I am also grateful for Jason’s help. Without him, this is something I could not have accomplished. Please know that this cabin is also here for you. In my mind it is a community place. It can be your retreat. It can provide your family reconnection and respite from your everyday lives. It can be your place to think and create with your people. Buzzsaw Lane

I also want you to know about the things I am involved with because they are my offerings to you, as well. I am learning a lot about POTS syndrome, depression, anxiety, giftedness, neurodiversity, twice exceptionality, the LGBTQ community, sign interpreters, and how addiction affects families. I also work with several organizations because they serve my family and they are also here to serve you, because you are my community. These days I am most involved with Hands and Voices, CueSign, Inc., and the Rocky Mountain Cued Speech Association, which is an affiliate of the NCSA. You can learn more about me, my family, and these organizations by checking out their websites. As you will see, these organizations are certainly related to families and communities that include deaf or hard of hearing people. I hope you understand that this community includes you because you are part of my community and we all belong to one another.

If you are interested in learning Cued Speech or in meeting other people  who cue, sign, or do both, I definitely want you to and so does my family.  I can help you. There is an inexpensive self-paced online Cued Speech class now through Cue College.  Please check it out here LEARN CUED SPEECH HERE if you are curious or at all inclined to learn or brush up on your skills. It is important to me and to our family and it could be important to someone else you know and love. Please share these resources and direct people to me so I can help.

If you want to spend time with me and my family in a really meaningful way,  we will be spending time at a family camp, as we often have since 2005. Certainly some of you have come along with us on these adventures and they are memories that we all cherish. This summer we will be at a camp in Illinois with CueSign.  We would love to see you there and you will be able to get more information by checking out the CueSign, Inc. website.

I am grateful to have you all in my life and I am here to support you as you have supported me.  In the end, we all belong to one another.

With much peace and love,

Lisa

       

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