It Hurts When They Don’t Believe You

Image: Clasky Common Park, New Bedford, MA (Kenneth C. Zirkel / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Where It All Began

There are moments in your life that change you, for better or worse. You have three choices. Either you remember them with vivid detail, you block them out entirely, or you remember them in bits in pieces. This was one of those highlight, lowlight sort of days.

I wonder if Carla remembers it the way I do.

I wouldn’t know. She moved away after that summer, and I never saw her again.

We were best friends, as best as friends can be in fifth grade or so. We lived on either side of The Dipper Cafe, a dive bar on Purchase Street in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Common Park, as we called it then, more formally known as Clasky Park today, was the next block over.

Image: Sailors and Soliders Monument, Clasky Common Park, New Bedford, MA (Kenneth C. Zirkel / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The park consisted of two main sections, the lower section bordered by Purchase and Pleasant Streets held the playground, basketball courts, and a public pool with a sprinkler that was turned on only two summers I can remember growing up. The upper section, well, that is where it happened. Between Pleasant and County Streets, at the Sailors and Soldiers Monument. Back then the statue did not have the fence it does now, and I cannot help but wonder if wrought iron would have made a difference that day.

It all started on the island, a little grove of “raspberry trees” in the middle of Pleasant Street. I know now that raspberries, real raspberries anyway, only grow on vines, but the fruits from these trees were just as sweet and just as delicious. Kids of all ages would climb the trees to gobble up the berries as they ripened during those peak summer weeks. Carla and I were off to grab a mouthful where we ran into them.

Unwanted Visitors

It was especially hot. That much I remember well. Billy, not William, not Bill, but Billy, was older. A junior high school student or maybe even a freshman in high school. Despite the summer heat, he wore a leather jacket. Bullies have an image to maintain after all. That included having a nameless sidekick at his side.

We, on the other hand, were melting under the blistering sun. I can feel the blanket of humidity over me, the perspiration over my upper lip, the tank top and shorts sticking to my body. I don’t wear shorts anymore.

“What are you girls doing?”

“None of your business, Billy.” Carla climbed higher up the tree.

“Sure, it’s my business.” That was when he pulled out the switchblade.

We tried to ignore him, to pretend we weren’t scared, but not before our eyes called out to each other. She nodded, and I stepped back, readying myself to run for help. I was not quick enough, because Billy grabbed my arm, twisting so hard that tears filled my eyes. Carla climbed down from the tree.

“What is it you want, Billy?”

“You’ll have to come with us to find out.”

Billy’s sidekick grabbed at Carla’s arm, and they led us like prisoners of war toward the monument, pushing us along to trip over our own feet. Carla tried to pull away, but the blade was quickly raised to her neck as a warning. I kept my eyes down, wondering what to do next. If either of us did anything rash, the other would get hurt.

Climbing Out

“Climb up.”

At first glance, the monument appears to be a simple obelisk but along the sides are abutments that form open-roofed “rooms” invisible to onlookers from the street. Each space is big enough for two young girls to sit side by side with their knees bent but not fully stretched out. Forcing us into those crevices, Billy and his friend stood along the sides so we could not get out. Cigarette butts and even a condom littered the ground.

“Now, kiss me.”

Billy took the blade and grazed it up and down my leg, lifting the cuff of my shorts and moving the blade underneath. I squeezed my legs together, trying to pull away, but the movement caused the blade to cut my skin. I held my breath as I watched a small circle of red bleed through the cloth.

“No,” I said through clenched teeth.

He grew angry then, grabbing my face and squeezing my cheeks together.

“Pucker up.”

Carla spit at him before he could force either of us to kiss him. There was some slapping then too.

“Billy,” the sidekick said but then withered under Billy’s glare.

Most everything is a blur after that. Flashes of anger and echoes of screaming. All of it hateful. What I do remember is Carla and I running down to the lower section of the park about an hour later. No one followed.

The Land of Disbelief

It didn’t matter that we were in tears. That I had a handprint bruise on my arm where he grabbed me or that I had a linear cut on my leg and blood-stained clothes as proof of a switchblade. No one believed us.

“Billy is a good boy. He would never do that.”

Heard in the whispers, “Those girls are just trying to get attention.”

With the shame put upon me, I never told my parents. Sorry, mom. This at least explains why I stopped going to the park after spending nearly every day there for years. To my sister, this is why I told you to stay away from Billy. To the rest of you, I ask why was my word not enough? I had been threatened, bullied, and injured, but this boy’s reputation, as off-color as it was, was accepted over my own.

Thank goodness things did not go further that day, that we were not raped, but in what world is it okay to tell young girls that what happens to them does not count? That it is not true? That boys are to be believed over girls, and even though you never get in trouble, that you are a “good kid”, that you are not to be trusted?

Whew! That’s the formation of one hell of a crippling limiting belief.

For people who don’t believe that there is a rape culture out there, you are naive. There are double standards all around us. If an 11-year-old girl cannot wear shorts on a hot summer day without being harassed, what does that say? What does it say when women are blamed at any age for what they wear, as if they are inviting a man to lay hands on her? Enough of the “boys will be boys” mantra.

We need to teach our girls to be proud of their bodies, not afraid of them. We need to show them that they, as women, are valued, that they are important, that they matter, and that their bodies are their own. Strong women — know them, be them, raise them. When we change the culture, maybe I can start wearing shorts again.

The Smooth Path to a Writing Career

Image: © gearstd (Fotolia.com)

The Quick and Easy Path to a Writing Career

It’s time to reveal the secret that successful writers have known for years. From the first word on the page to six-figure publishing deals with the Big Five (Penguin, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and MacMillan), this is the quick and easy path to becoming a successful writer.

Are you ready? You know you’re ready.

If you want to succeed, if you really want to make it in this business, you need to get off your ass and write. It is as easy and as hard as that.

All the talent in the world is going to do nothing for you if you do not put it into action. You can take all the creative writing classes you want, you can read every how-to book by authors like Ernest Hemingway and Ray Bradbury, but unless you put pen to paper (or fingers to keys), you will never grow. Luck, though helpful, is not necessary. Without a completed manuscript, that so-called luck is a moot point anyway.

Simply put, there is no magic formula. You have to put the work in to get what you want.

The Round About Path to a Writing Career

In the perfect world, all writers would find their names on the New York Times Best Sellers List. In reality, few of us will make it to the big show. It takes hard work and perseverance, not to mention a thick skin, to make a career out of writing. That shouldn’t stop any one of us from the pursuit.

If you want to replace your day job with a writing career, it’s better to start now than later. To do that, you have to make room for writing in your everyday life. Not every writer started out successfully, and not every writer starts out in a job that involves writing.

Few people get it right the first time around.

Perhaps the most famous example is Stephen King. He was a janitor before he was discovered, and now he’s one of the most world-renowned authors of our time. J.D. Salinger was an entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. Kurt Vonnegut worked at a car dealership. Perhaps the most curious and interesting is Jack London. He was an oyster pirate, and yes that’s an actual thing. He would steal pearls from oyster farms on San Francisco Bay and sell them for profit.

A long line of physician authors gives me, a family doctor, hope too. Where would the world be without Michael Crichton’s iconic Jurassic Park? Robin Cook’s Invasion or Outbreak? I had the good fortune to meet both Michael Palmer and Tess Gerritsen at a writer’s conference in 2009, and they were as amazing in person as they are on the page.

These authors may not have started out where they wanted in the writing world, but they kept their storytelling alive.

Your Path to a Writing Career

Take the lead of the successful authors before you. Break through the maze that you built for yourself, the maze of self-doubt or so-called “writer’s block”, and start on your path to writing.

What you need to do is as simple as it is hard.

  1. Write when you are inspired. Never let a good idea slip away. Keep a pen and paper at the ready, even at the bedside. Some of the best ideas strike when you are falling asleep or even in your dreams.
  2. Write when you are not inspired. Waiting is a writer’s worst enemy. Do not use the excuse of writer’s block to keep you from the page. You can always edit a page of bad writing but never a blank one.
  3. Write when you have something to say. Sharing what you know can be empowering. Sharing your ideas more so. Don’t hesitate to leave your mark.
  4. Write when you don’t know what to say. Sometimes you learn more about your story as it evolves on the page. Let your ideas work themselves out. Writing helps you to grow as a person.
  5. Write because you love it. Why else would you write? If you write for fame and fortune, you could find it hard to outlast the rigors of the trade. When you write for the joy of it, it will shine through in your work.

No matter what you do, get started today. You will find that elusive “smooth path” to a writing career — it’s called writing.

Yoga or Twerking in the Park, You Decide

Image: Bench at Bryant Park, New York City, 2017 (Photo by Tanya Feke)

Welcome to Live-It-Uary, a place to celebrate life while we live it. Live-It-Uary honors people who show kindness, people who create and inspire, people who do good deeds. Thank you for making the world a better place.

Exercising in the Park

A walk in the park is expected but a twerk in the park? Now that’s something to talk about!

yoga in the park
Image: Yoga in the Bryant Park, New York City, August 18, 2017 (Photo by Tanya Feke)

Before you start thinking inappropriate thoughts, let me assure you things are not what they seem. What I am about to tell you is quite innocent — I swear — and hopefully, you find it inspirational.

It took only seconds for me to fall in love with New York City’s Bryant Park. After walking what felt like cities of blocks, I came to find hundreds of people of different colors and creeds lying on the ground in the center green. A voice on an overhead speaker invited everyone to breathe as one, to let go, to simply be in the moment.

After taking a snapshot — who wouldn’t? — I paused to breathe too, marveling at the show of humanity. All these people, strangers, felt comfortable enough to rest side by side. In a show of trust and vulnerability, they closed their eyes, they lay prostrate, and they bared themselves to the world.

Breathe in, breathe out, Daniel-san.

I quietly found a spot on the grass and sat criss-cross apple sauce. I know that’s not an official yoga name, but that’s what my kids would call it. Unfortunately, my late arrival precluded any downward dogs or mountain poses. The yoga class had come to an end, but not before I was able to appreciate the beauty of the unity around me.

yoga in the park
Image: The Josephine Shaw Lowell Fountain in Bryant Park, New York City (Photo by Tanya Feke)

Watching from the Side Lines

Bryant Park is only one of many parks in the country where you can find not only fitness classes but art exhibits, ballroom dancing, Shakespearean plays, you name it. Still, many people prefer to go it alone. Like a choose your own adventure, they pursue what makes a park special to them. Maybe that’s walking the dog or shooting free throws on the basketball court. Better yet, it could be twerking in front of a parking lot of school-aged children.

Wait, what?

My children had the good fortune to go to summer camp this year. For eight glorious weeks, they spent their days on a lake doing everything from archery to boating to swimming to zip lining. For eight glorious weeks, they took the bus from our local park to get there and back, and for eight glorious weeks, they watched a man arrive at the park, precisely at 7:30 in the morning, and work out with fervor near the baseball field. My kids called it twerking, but it wasn’t really. It was more jumping jacks, push ups, and football drills. You get the idea.

Thank goodness they have no real idea what twerking looks like!

Without knowing it, this twenty-something-year-old man became part of our summer routine. What started as a silly joke to the kids — “is Twerking Man here?” — became concern when he would show up 5 minutes late — “Oh no, I hope he is okay!” His willingness to do what he wanted to do regardless of who was watching, not caring if he would be ridiculed or mocked, meeting his goal day after day, inspired us. We offered him his privacy, didn’t approach him, but that didn’t stop us from looking forward to his visits every day.

Inspiration in the Most Unlikely Places

So much happens around us, but few people pay attention. It becomes too easy to focus on those things that affect us directly, or rather what we think affects us directly. If only we realized that everything affects us on some level. We can “not my circus, not my monkey” as much as we want, but in reality, we are all in this together. We can support each other more and be kind to each other more and send a ripple effect of positivity into the world.

Yoga in the park or twerking in the park may not seem newsworthy to you, but to me, they signify what it means to be brave. Be brave by being vulnerable with your fellow man. Be brave by not letting public opinion hold you back. Be brave by doing what you want to do.

This Live-It-Uary honors those of you who are not afraid to lay it on the line in public. You may be inspiring people without knowing it. Keep doing what you’re doing.

What It Means to Be Family

Image: Castello di Montebello, Bellinzona, Switzerland, © Boris Stroujko (Fotolia.com)

Putting Family First

One Christmas in high school I bought my boyfriend at the time two small gifts. The problem? I had purchased only one gift for each of my family members. When my father found out, he was livid. Usually the “good” kid, i.e. the one who didn’t get into trouble because she was too afraid to make people angry, I was not used to getting lambasted the way I was that night.

How dare I do more for others than for my own family?

That is only one example of my dad instilling the “family first” motto into my life. Loyalty to those who raised you. Allegiance, fealty, even obedience. It meant a lot to him.

It may be one of the reasons Ed Sheeran’s song “Castle on the Hill” resonates with me so much.

I was younger then, take me back to when

Sheeran sings about growing up and how the people he grew up with, the people who “raised him”, made him who he is today. By singing about his “family”, the song reminds me of home. It also makes me question what it really means to be family.

The Blame Game

Birthday money, as any school-aged kid knows, is better than Christmas. You save it up for a special occasion, and you dream of spending it on something that an adult would likely see as absolutely frivolous. Too bad I never got the chance to spend mine, not really. I would be ready to head to the mall to FINALLY buy the latest Wham! album or ruffled denim skirt (yes, I am a child of the 80s) but my money would be mysteriously gone.

My dad took it from me, but let’s not be semantic. The truth is he stole it because he took it without asking and never intended to return it, not if he could get away with it. What’s worse is how he made me feel when he did it. The truth is I didn’t care about cassette tapes or skirts. I cared about how my father judged me as a person. I wanted him to love me.

Found my heart and broke it here

In his attempt to shift the blame, he would make me feel guilty for not giving it freely (“Why don’t you want to help your father?”) although he never asked me for it. He would also gaslight me into thinking I had lost it somewhere (“You’re always losing things, Tanya”) when oddly enough the only thing that ever went missing were my savings.

What’s Mine Is Yours

As I got older and started to earn my own money — babysitting, working as a camp counselor, or playing cashier at Wendy’s — I tried to hide my money in my room. I had creative spots, boxes within boxes buried inside drawers inside socks, but he always managed to root it out. It came to the point that I had to keep my money at a friend’s house.

It seemed I was a terrible daughter, at least that was how I felt. I was made to feel selfish, mindless, and hollow because I did not put “family first”. To a young mind, family first twisted into money first because that was the emphasis he put on it. I was my father’s child and what was mine was his. Money was the name of the game, not love, not trust, and as I got older, I intentionally withheld it from him.

Why?

Because I loved him despite his faults.

Because I didn’t want that money to feed his addiction.

A Foundation of Limited Beliefs

My father denied taking from me until he knew he was caught. In those times, the first words out of his mouth would always be “don’t tell your mother”. He would ply me with false promises, “I’ll pay you back”, “I’ll get something special for your mother”, or “It’ll be like nothing ever happened”. Whatever he would say to keep my silence is what he would say.

Tell me, was my loyalty supposed to be to my father or to my mother? Was I supposed to hide his secrets or to tell my mother the truth? Was I supposed to be disloyal to him in the hopes that he would get healthy or was I to be disloyal to my mother by withholding information? Family first? The lines get blurred.

When we did not know the answers

As a young girl, his actions made me feel I did not deserve anything that I earned. That I should expect to sacrifice everything for the sake of what other people want and need. That I should put my needs and wants last. Sadly, it is what I have come to know and it is how I lived most of my life.

What It Means to Be Family

For me, family extends beyond blood relatives. My family are the people who were there for me growing up — relatives, friends, teachers, priests, and more. The people who made me laugh even as I struggled. The people who supported me not only when times were good but when times were hard. The people who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.

Not everyone knew what I was going through back then. We all have our crosses to bear. The truth is I have been too ashamed to speak of mine until now, but these people were not there to hear a sad story. They were there to help me build a story all my own, one of perseverance and hope. Thanks to them I am the strong woman I am today.

But these people raised me and I can’t wait to go home

In my eyes, friends are family, and I am grateful for each and every one of them. I do not hesitate to put them first.

Working It Out

Now I can see that the trouble with my dad’s philosophy for family first is that he did not live by it himself. His addiction made him put himself first. He did not realize the limited beliefs he was burdening me with as a child, how they would shake my confidence, how long it would take for me to peel them away as I grew into a young woman.

He could not know because he was hurting himself too.

My father was not a bad man; he was a lost man. We had painful moments but we had just as many beautiful, funny, and meaningful ones. When he dressed up like Santa Claus. When he sang the wrong song lyrics. When he took me for my first driving lesson. When he pretended he didn’t know I put a dent in his work van. When he dropped me off at college. When he danced with me at my wedding. When he first laid eyes on my son.

I have to remember to not let the pain overshadow everything else, even as I work through it.

And I miss the way you make me feel, it’s real
We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill

If only there were time left to make amends so that we could recover together.