Splitting Hairs?

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 10.43.27 PM

This morning I opened my daily email from “The Week” to catch up on the “10 things I need to know today.”

I was gobsmacked when I read the following.

5. California bill sparked by Stanford rape case passes
California lawmakers on Monday passed legislation to close a legal loophole that let a former Stanford University swimmer, Brock Turner, receive a sentence of just six months in jail after his conviction of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Prosecutors had asked for him to serve six years, because there was no penile penetration. The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who had not indicated whether he plans to sign it. Turner, 21, is scheduled to be released from Santa Clara County Jail on Sept. 2. [Reuters, New York Daily News]

Yep. You read it right.

“Prosecutors had asked for him to serve six years, because there was no penile penetration.”

This is maddening. Anyone who buys into it is misinformed, ingenuous and naive.

Is sexual assault less evil if there is “no penile penetration?” NO.  Rape is rape.  Rape is penetration by ANY object.  Furthermore, one does not need to have any penetration whatsoever for sexual assault to be immensely scarring, the aftermath wreaking havoc for the victim.

This topic warrants serious consideration, Everyone.

Occasionally, when people hear about my abuse, their first question is, “Well, did he actually (fill in the blanks)”  This is a headscratcher. It is also intensely irritating.

Whether he did or did not, did that qualify the degree of sexual assault? Does it make it less horrific?  Does it lighten the magnitude of trauma? NO.  And furthermore, who is judging?

The details in no way quantify the impact and aftermath.

Laura and I often hear survivors in our workshops (and everywhere, for that matter) preface a statement by saying, “Well, my abuse was not as bad as yours…”

No, No, No Everybody.

Laura and I consistently interrupt saying, “This is not the hardship Olympics.” There is no competition.

Trauma is trauma. Abuse is abuse; There is no yardstick, no measure, no quantification.

That clip this morning unfettered my passion around this issue.  Penetration vs. no penetration does not define the crime nor the punishment.

Judge Aaron Persky clearly, is unfit to preside.  His ignorant, grossly lenient and frankly,  absurd decision to sentence Brock Turner to six months in jail, makes a mockery of the capability of our justice system to protect victims of assault and rape.

Say It, Survivor (sayitsurvivor.com) continues our charge in educating about abuse and what we can do to try to prevent it.  The outcome of the Stanford Rape Case is an example of what not to do- it is a worthwhile and heartbreakingly infuriating lesson.

That’s All

 

 

Peanut Butter is Disgusting?

march 005

Taken at the time of my grandparents visit which I share below. I am seven.

 

This morning I sliced a banana and put a dollop of peanut butter on my plate. All of a sudden my stomach lurched. I remembered something that has not crossed my mind in years.

I was triggered.

Anyone who has suffered trauma is triggered from time to time. Trauma happens as a result of anything that challenges or strays from what feels right to us as human beings. Whether the trauma is the result of an accident, the horror of serving during a war, sexual abuse or any other event, trauma happens.

I was seven years old and in the second grade. I got off the bus at the end of the driveway, walked up and entered my house to greet my mom, Nana, and Grandpa, who were visiting for a few days.

THE Grandpa. My abuser.

Mom asked if I wanted my usual snack, peanut butter in a small orange ramekin. Of course, I accepted.

As I sat there enjoying, propped up on the kitchen chair by The Yellow Pages, and swinging my little legs. Grandpa looked at me, curled his lip and said, “That’s disgusting.”

That moment turns my stomach. Not the peanut butter, mind you, but the way he was turned off by my snack choice.

All the while, he was sexually abusing me.

So peanut butter is disgusting.  What?

I have been thinking all morning about how insanely twisted and skewed that scene was.

My grandparents came to visit often. I remember their visits as a young girl before my abuse had started – before I was seven-ish.

I loved their visits.

I have fond memories of sitting at our octagonal kitchen table with the yellow 70-ish chairs playing Rummy 500. Dad and Grandpa would drink a Knickerbocker Beer and Smoke Raleigh Filter tips, the ashes of which they flicked into the amber, plate sized ashtray.

We had fun.

I remember that Nana was dear to me. She was kind and sweet and spoiled me. When I had an occasional temper tantrum kicking and screaming on the floor, she would gently put her foot on my back and say, “OH! What a nice rug!”

I would soon come out of it and return to my cheerful self. She would give me a chocolate out of the box with the red bow on it. I always chose the candy with the pink rosebud on top.

Grandpa was standoffish. He left me alone for the most part. Then things changed. He took an interest in me.

We would walk to the playground. I would run my little fingers along the chain link fence that abutted the sidewalk. I would pick up the remnant of a deciduous a tree – that little bit that looked like a coat hanger and hold it up to my face as if they were my mustache.

One thing lead to another.

Things changed. He was not longer aloof. He paid attention to me. I was little. I did not know what he was doing.

Grooming.

He was grooming me.

You see, sexual abuse does not always just start with a “BOOM!” Most of the time it happens at the hands of a family member or a close family friend who takes the time and interest to foster the victim.

It happens over time. I may start with things like tickling, or an inappropriate touch or the perpetrator telling secrets as a way to build a bond. The abuser wants to build trust.

Over time, it changes. There is a sick takeover, an overpowering, so to speak.

Dominance.

Children are usually dumbfounded, scared out of their wits and lose their sense of selves. They don’t know what to do.

I knew what he was doing to me was wrong. It felt yucky. But I did not know what it was or meant. Was it the baseline? Did it happen to every little person?

I was ashamed and embarrassed. I did not know how to communicate what had happened to me to my mom and dad. Even if I did have the words, I was too mortified to speak them.

Much like most children, I looked up to my folks. I was a pleaser. I was teacher’s pet and was the only seven-year-old at the YWCA that was brave enough to jump off the deep-end diving board.

I did not want to “upset the applecart,” anger my parents or make a fuss. It was only me after all.

Yup. That is when that feeling started. It was only measly little me.

Way. Back. Then.

In my case, I kept my mouth shut. For years. I did not have the words. I did not know how to tell anyone that that “innocent kiss” did not feel right. I sat on his lap, but I was told to do so. I had to. Most of the time I quickly struggled and squirmed away. Again, it felt yucky.

I would give anything to go back in time and change it all. I wish that I had shouted “no!” I wish that I knew how to say the words. I wish that I had the confidence in myself to tell. I wish that he was locked away.

If I had, my cousin would have been spared. And others would have been spared, too.

I do not feel responsible for the abuse that happened to My Laura and other children. I did not know any better. No one taught me.

I did know enough to warn Laura about what Grandpa might do to her.  But she laughed. She had NO idea what the details of my warning really meant. She laughed. She was little.

To a child,  my words, my warning, the details sounded preposterous.

How can a child effectively warn another child when she, herself, doesn’t have the words?

As adults, it may be uncomfortable to do so, but necessary. Imperative, even.

I am not sure that people think to educate themselves as to how to protect their children. I protected my child out of absolute fear; I was overprotective, and a helicopter but that was because I was keenly aware of the peril.

But I never studied or researched HOW to protect my babe. I made it up as I went along.

Now I know. Now I know that there are tools and sources, and there is valuable information to educate us.

Parents. Everybody.  You can learn the warning signs. You can teach your children the proper language to express inappropriate behavior or violation by another. You can convince them that it is safe to tell. You can cut it off before it begins.

There are no guarantees that you can prevent sexual abuse, but you can arm yourself. Be smart. Be proactive.

And if it has already started, that is not the worst thing. The worst thing is if your child never tells you about it.

I eventually told my parents. My abuse was swept under the carpet; it was not acknowledged by the other family members who were also told.
And neither was Laura’s, except by her mom.

Here is the takeaway.

Smarten up. Don’t be uncomfortable or embarrassed that you will insult someone or hurt their feelings if you are suspicious. Call the person out. Interject if you suspect someone has inappropriate behavior. Listen, speak up.

Join the bandwagon because when it comes to peanut butter and incest, you know which is is disgusting.

That’s all.

 

For more information or to register for a workshop or a lecture, please visit sayitsurvivor.org

 

Sharing “Personal” Information

I spent some time with a good friend yesterday.

I was mentioning how the past year has been one full of changes in my life. Great changes, hard changes, exciting changes.

I shared that the most impactful changes in my life have been around friendships. I have made some incredible friends over the past year, and I am so grateful for all the new people with whom I have connected.

But then I shared the sadness I am experiencing over the loss of some friends over this past year.

These are friends I have known for years. These are friends who I thought would be in my life forever. They seemed to have disappeared. They have stopped being there. They have stopped engaging.

Crickets.

I told her that there seemed to be a direct correlation between me losing my friends and me telling my story.

This year I stood firmly in my truth, in my story, and spoke of my sexual abuse, shamelessly. I made a conscious decision to speak out, to reach out to all who would listen.

And the good that has come of doing so has been humbling. It has been life-altering. Speaking out has helped people.

She said, “Well, you took some very personal information and shared it all over the internet. People might feel that it is just too personal to share. It may make people uncomfortable.”

Ah HA!

You see, therein lies the problem, folks.

I do not see it as sharing PERSONAL information. In my opinion, my abuse was anything BUT personal.

It had nothing to do with me, personally.

I was not a “person” to my abuser. I was his prey. He selected me for no other reason than he COULD. I was available. I would not tell. I was safe, and I was an easy target.

Then I played out a scenario. I played devil’s advocate.

What would happen if an entire family became homeless overnight as victims of an arsonist? What if someone violently set their house on fire? What if they lost everything tangible and were out in the cold. What would happen?

Right.

The media would be all over it like white on rice. Social media would be the gasoline and their story, too, would run ablaze.

People would flock to help them out. People would pull together and pitch in. Money and blankets and clothes and casseroles would abound.

People would feel so badly for these victims. They did nothing to deserve this horrible crime.

My tragedy, my victimization, and that of all my brothers and sisters in survival was no more personal than theirs.

My perpetrator victimized and desecrated my body. Their perpetrator victimized and desecrated the physical structure where they resided.

Victims.

Does it matter how one is victimized?

Think about it. There is no shame in being the victim of arson, right? Those unfortunate people didn’t do anything to deserve it.

So, then, why is there so much shame attached to being the victim of rape? Of sexual abuse?

Because “Sex” is private.

Actually, sex is selectively private.

Turn on primetime. Is sex private?

Nope. Not on primetime.

Now, walk around the mall. Flip a magazine.  Not there, either.

When sex is nonconsensual, that is private. When the topic makes people uncomfortable. Then it is private.

But if a crime becomes shameful to the general public merely because of the nature of the crime, sexual, that is criminal in itself.

Everyone has the right to respond the way they respond. People have very different reactions. I have no right to judge others on how they feel about it if they want to stay silent or ignore it.

I respect that everyone has their story. I believe that everyone is living with the best of intentions.

But for the love of the Good Lord, can we stop saying that sharing this is too PERSONAL? There is nothing personal about it.

Carry on.

That’s all.

 

“Senior Salute?”

I watched the news this morning before my daily walk with my Black Lab, Dexter.  When the clip came on I spit my coffee out.

A senior conquest. Interesting.  Shocking.

Today begins the rape trial for the St. Paul School graduate of the class of 2014.  This Harvard bound student has been accused of luring and repeatedly raping a Freshman girl, a fifteen-year-old child. Owen Labrie of Tunbridge, Vermont allegedly sexually assaulted this young girl only days before he graduated.

And do you want to know why?

He was participating and vying to win a school tradition called the “Senior Salute.”  It’s a sexual conquest in which graduating young men set out to have sex with as many girls as possible prior to their graduation.  They refer to this as “scoring.”

These young men use school walls as their canvas, and their medium is a marker.  They must keep the girl’s names documented.  That is how the boys keep “score,” of course.  The more marker, the better chance of winning!

This tally seems like a good idea.  Credit them for each and every child that they “conquer!”  It is important to keep track of each notch on their belts.  Right?

And the school just keeps painting over those walls.

If you read my post “MEAN-ing”, you will see a remarkable correlation between permanent marker, school walls, and fresh paint.

Bullying. Sexual Abuse. Interesting?

Not so much.

Tuition, room and board at St. John’s School costs over $50,000.00. It is one of our country’s most prestigious schools. Our Secretary of State, John Kerry attended as did some other congressmen, Pulitzer Prize winners, and other illustrious figures.

But who cares?

Sexual abuse does not differentiate.  It doesn’t matter whether it occurs in the most prestigious institutions or under a bridge in Chelsea.  It happens.  All the time.  There is too much silence around it.

And there is always a tin of paint to solve the problem.

paint%20can

God bless this girl who has had the courage to come forward and out these young men for their conquests.  Imagine her incredible strength and conviction.

The heartbreaking part is that she may need to take the stand.  They will question her. They may cross-examine her. They may doubt her.  They may challenge her truth. And she may not be believed.

And that my friends is criminal in itself.

He has not been found guilty.  I am making assumptions that he is guilty.  Maybe he is not.

Fat chance.

But that is just one woman’s opinion.

These conquests such as the “Senior Salute” are abhorrent.  And they are in keeping with the theme of sexual abuse.  It’s ego based. These perpetrators are on a quest for power and dominance.

And nobody is going to stop them.

Except brave girls. And all of us listening.  ALL THE TIME.

No matter what.

That’s all.

“MEAN”-ing

march 005

I think back to my life between the ages of 7 and 14. It is remarkable that I survived.

They did not believe me when, as a preteen, I told my parents and my uncle that I was being abused by my grandfather. The abuse had gone on for years. After that, I had to continue to stay at Grandpa’s house numerous times for years. And the abuse continued.

I had to accept it. When you are a child, you don’t have a vote on plans or where you will visit. I accepted that I was in a battle that I had to fight alone.

I felt abandoned and alone, not to mention scared out of my wits. But I carried on, and I survived.

When you muster the courage to cry for help, and your petition falls on deaf ears, it is unlikely, especially as a child, that you will speak up again. The rejection and feeling of desperation and abandonment are too painful the first time. Why try again?

So, I learned to button my lip and deal with it.

I learned how to avoid him. I learned never to be alone at his home if I could avoid it, and I did so at all costs. I learned to stay away from the bottom of the stairs and the pool cabana.

Simultaneously, between the ages of 11-12, I was brutally bullied by a group of girls.

Double whammy.

I became close friends with five girls when we started middle school. We were at the age where we discovered boys and wore Levi cords with combs in our back pockets. Our hair was feathered; we listened to Andy Gibb, and our biggest concern was when our sibling would hang up the “Trimline” phone so that we could make a call.

We rode bikes and went to the library on Thursdays after school. We didn’t go for the books. We went for the boys.

Grade 6 was a different beast altogether.

Things took a turn. It was awful.

One moment, the five popular girls were my besties, giggling during class and sitting together at lunch. We discussed what boys were the cutest and that our Social Studies teacher used to be a nun. Then, the next day there was no seat for me at the lunch table. Later I would open my locker to see one of the dreaded notes, a piece of looseleaf paper carefully folded into a square with the end tucked in just so.

It looked like a compact, hard little square rock and felt like one too. My gut lurched as I unfolded it.

I would read that they had decided, on that given day, that they were all going to be mad at me. There was never a particular reason for their cruelty. They just felt like it.

They would be mad if I got a new pair of chinos, earned a better grade on my science test or God forbid, a cute boy liked me. The duration of the girls ostracizing me could be anywhere from a day to 2 weeks.

My stomach hurt all the time.

One morning I walked into the girls room during the third period and saw my name in black sharpie all over the stall. It still makes me ill to think of the text. It is unnecessary to bring up. You would not want me to.

I don’t know if I will every fully recover from what was violently plastered all over those yellow stall doors. It still haunts me.

By the end of the fourth period, the girls rooms smelled of fresh paint. I never told my parents or anyone other than my teacher, who called the custodian immediately.

Nothing more happened. That was that. The dreary yellow paint masked that blasphemy.

Don’t you think that the school should have taken this one step further? Don’t get me wrong. I did very much appreciate the paint. But as horrific as that writing on the wall was the fact that they ignored the actual writing on the wall was excruciating.

That excruciating pain was reminiscent. It felt all too familiar. Not long before I felt the same way when my parents did not acknowledge my abuse. Now, my school did not acknowledge it either.

Can you imagine how that felt?

I put the thermometer on the radiator the next day and for four days following. You can’t go to school with a fever.

I arrived at school every day wondering what was going to happen to me. My parents advocated for me constantly, but it fell on deaf ears because “Well, that is middle school girls for you!” or “She just needs to toughen up.” The worst was, “Just tell her to ignore them.”

Really? Really.

The situation escalated to the point where my parents pulled me out of public school and sent me to a private school for girls. There were subsequent rumors around that, too.

Sadly, bullying occurs all the time, especially with tweens.

Boys and girls bully differently. Boys tend to bully physically whereas girls bully by exclusion.

Girls are clandestine. Girls bully in packs and frequently, it is over power and popularity. Often it is because they feel threatened.

The term used to define this type of bullying is Relationship Aggression, and my middle school life was a perfect example of it. The hate notes, whispering, unprecedented abandonment and fabricate rumors are all examples of this. The aftermath is devastating. It can cause irrevocable damage.

Victims of bullying are afraid. They feel horribly vulnerable. They feel exposed and powerless. There is an overwhelming sense of sadness and isolation.

I did.

And, these feelings were reminiscent of those of my sexual abuse.

There is an uncanny parallel between sexual abuse and bullying. The root of both is dominance and power. It is the control over one who is vulnerable and weaker. In both crimes, and they are both crimes, is an active and common thread.

Shame.

A lot of my blog posts address surviving sexual abuse. But can you see how similar these two epidemics are? Bullying is very much alive and well just as is sexual abuse.

It keeps happening because no one stops it. It continues to thrive because it CAN.

Let’s cut it out.

Talk. Listen. Explore. Get involved. Read the signs. Your child’s health and happiness depend on it.

Click the link below for an excellent source on bullying. It was a source of information in this post. Check it out!

That’s all.

tweenparenting.com

 

eye lock

I was 15 years old and in my freshman year at Ursuline Academy. My home room teacher was Sr. Ursula. She also happened to be my Latin teacher. I loved her.

But I did not love Latin.

Sr. Ursula took attendance on one cold and dreary December morning. When I uncharacteristically mumbled a quietly “here,” she looked up at me, paused and walked to my desk. She took me in her arms and after a few moments she asked,

“Mistress Mary, what troubles you so?”

I fell apart.

Nana had suffered a stroke the evening before.

Nana was on life support. My mother and her siblings and spouses gathered around her hospital bed. My brother and I were the oldest of her seven grandchildren and the only grandchildren present.

My mother spoke to Nana as if she were conscious. Mom encouraged my brother and me to do the same.

I did as told. I prattled to Nana about my cheerleading practice that I’d had earlier that day. I told her I did well on my math test. I couldn’t think of anything else to say as she laid peacefully with the ventilator doing its job.

I shifted from one foot to the other. My brother and I continued to catch eyes. We knew it did not look good.

Nana passed away the next day.

My Nana was a kind and special lady. She touched many lives. It was not surprising to see such an outpouring of people gather to offer their condolences at her wake.

But.

It was disarmingly surprising to look up and see my three cousins standing in that funeral parlor clutching their mother, my Aunt Betty.

“Surprising” is the understatement of the century.

I am referring to The Aunt Betty. The Aunt Betty who called my grandfather out on sexually abusing my cousins. The one who ensured that her children would never, ever have to see that monster again.

That one.

There in the parlor stood an incredibly brave woman embracing her three beautiful daughters as if she were their coat of armor.

The moment the family noticed her, the energy in that room filled with disdain. In their eyes, she was repugnant. The divorce of my uncle and her was atrocious. But that wasn’t the real reason they loathed her.

She was the one who exposed our grandfather for sexually abusing two of her daughters.

The girls looked horrified, frightened and as if they were trying to melt into their mother. Aunt Betty held them tightly. Very tightly. So much so that the four of them looked like one.

My eldest cousin, with eyes, averted to the floor, buried herself into my aunt’s left arm. My youngest cousin, only waist-high to her, buried her face into her mother’s hip.

Then, there was Laura. Laura leaned into her mother’s embrace with her left leg planted on the floor, and her right crossed behind it.

At that moment, Laura and I locked eyes.

She smirked. Not a mischievous smirk, Not a disingenuous smirk or glib smirk.

It was the same smirk that both of us wore in our school photos that were taken around the time we were being abused by Grandpa.

IMG_293120141231_174510

It was a knowing smirk.

Those moments were profoundly impactful. She and I connected on a very intense level. I will never, ever forget it.

There stood a very brave woman. She dauntlessly brought her girls to say goodbye to their Nana, whom they loved. That took such strength in a room filled with such disdain.

But she did it.

Just as she had the courage to stand up for her daughters.

She had guts. She had gumption. She had MOXIE.

That was the last time I saw Laura. We never spoke the words of our abuse to one another.

But that look, that eye lock, said it all.

And 35 years later we have made up for time. We face it. We talk about it. We compare notes and share similar stories of how our lives have played out.

We continue to heal together.

That was the connection that my cousin Laura and I always had growing up together. We understood each other. We knew each other. And sadly, tragically, even, we lost many years.

Reuniting with her has been a blessing. It has been easy. And you know what? Our reunion feels like slipping into my favorite and most loved slippers.

That’s all.

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 10.43.27 PM

Chicken “Marysala”

IMG_2994

Here is my Culinary -“ARTS STUDIO.”

My bestie, Clare, has always said that I could make a few pieces of lettuce look delicious on a plate.  She is also the friend who lets me wear neon bike shorts in high school and let me marry my first husband.  But those are stories for another day.

I started placing said lettuce on that plate back when she and I were around 15 years old. I have come a long way, Baby.

I caught up with Clare tonight.  We live insanely crazy lives. But no matter how busy we are, she and I always carve out time for each other.

Because that is what best friends do.

©JudyWestPhotography-130

She has always stood up for me- both at the dress rehearsal wedding and this one, the main performance.

Clare keeps me grounded. She talks me off the ledge, encourages me and always has my back. She and I have been friends since 1982. We have had some serious run time.  The way I see it is that if she hasn’t dumped me by now, she probably won’t.

And I have forgiven her for the neon bike shorts.

She is exhilarated and exhausted by her new job.  She is trying to find the balance. She wants to crawl into bed at night and relax.  I SO get it.  I feel the same way. And I told her I could relate.

Clare said, “Mar, of course, you’re spent.  It’s not like you are writing about how to grow tomatoes.”

She was so right.

I am writing about my life. I am in a place of vulnerability. That is hard to turn off.

But, when my tank is empty, cooking fills me up.

One of my great passions is cooking. With or without tomatoes, it is as therapeutic as writing or going for a long run or organizing the sock drawer.

I read cookbooks the way some read novels. I devour them. They inspire me. The pages of my favorite cookbooks prove that they are loved by the smudges and smears of past creations. That may sound gross, but it is usually just the remains of some innocuous ingredient like olive oil. Don’t worry.

There is a process.

First, I hunt.

I get jazzed about reading a few recipes by my favorites, Julia, Ina, and Tyler.  Then,  I transform their ideas into my creation.  I encounter success and, on occasion, the big FAIL.

Then, I gather.

I am a grocery store aficionado. Maybe it is the agility with which I push my cart through the aisles.  Maybe it is the comfortable conversation I have with my favorite butcher, Douglas.  Who knows?

Trust me when I say that people randomly approach me in the aisle and ask me where to find the fish sauce or the golden raisins. It is as if I have a neon halo above my head flashing “pro-shopper” in two-second intervals. Yesterday, a dear elderly lady asked me where to find the bread crumbs.  We were standing right next to them.

Then, I create.

Creating can be messy, but it is rewarding. The transgression from “mise en place” to “TA AAA DAH!” evokes success. It brings joy and a feeling of accomplishment.  Best of all, cooking makes the people I love happy.

When my marriage was falling apart my past husband and I were disconnected and miserable, cooking became a coping mechanism for both of us. I did the cooking. He did the eating.  What a perfect arrangement.

At the time, our son was just a toddler who consumed so much time and energy, as wee ones do.  My ex and I both worked. We were always tired. At night, there were stories and prayers and tuck-ins (usually more than one.) Then, we were alone.

“Alone” and “us”:  not a good combo.

My former husband took to watching TV.  I took to the kitchen.  I would start cooking at 8:00 P.M. and usually somewhere around 10:00 P.M.  I would serve dinner in front of that TV.

It was our only semblance of togetherness. And at that time it worked. The TV held power over the dinner conversation. That made it easier for both of us.

In cooking, I found comfort.  It was my escape. It was the way he and I avoided one another, and it worked. I was so comfortable in the kitchen. I was having a fling with my cutlery and my copper core pans.

It sort of saved me.

My marriage ended, but my cooking was just the beginning of a whole new world.

My love of cooking started in my childhood home. My mom taught me well. I loved standing on a chair watching and helping as she cooked dinner on many nights.

Mom is an amazing chef who taught me, amongst other things, that cooking is chemistry. I thought I was screwed. Oh, how I struggled in Sister Robert’s chemistry class!

But as long as I was not required to balance any chemical equations, I was ok.

Mom’s Chicken Marsala was the bomb and became my “go to.” If I wanted to impress, I pulled out her recipe.  You know that “man’s heart and stomach” thing?  Chicken Marsala became my secret dating weapon.

Her recipe was decadent and delicious.  It was time-consuming as well but still worth the effort especially when love was at stake.  I cut, chopped, dredged, buttered and sautéed my way to the masterpiece (or heart-attack) on a plate.

It is funny, but I never cooked Chicken Marsala for My Michael until after we were married.  There has to be something subliminally psychological with that one, don’t you think?

My Michael sits with me as I cook, keeps me company and is my official taste-tester.  What a difference from my past days as a solo chef with no taste-tester.

Now, cooking brings our family together. It is not a means by which I isolate myself. Our routine is to come together at the table, break bread and break the news of the day. It is fun. Also, The Three Musketeers (A.K.A. our boys) provide our nightly dinner entertainment.

About a year ago one of my personal chef customers requested Chicken Marsala. Although my mom’s recipe had always been the gold star,  I decided to shake things up.  I studied a few recipes, and this is what I turned out.

It takes half the time as my mom’s delicious recipe as well as half the butter. They loved it!

So today, I wish to share a recipe with you.  I have cooked Chicken Marsala many times. Over time, however, it has evolved and become a newer version.  It has become a symbol of how I have created myself and how I have evolved, too.

So, enough of the cushy stuff.   Let’s get cooking, friends!

IMG_3171

Chicken “Marysala”

  •  4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. Bacon fat (I keep a mason jar with pan drippings on hand in my fridge. It is worth the calories.Trust me)
  • 8 ounces crimini or porcini mushrooms stemmed and halved 
  • 1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoon  butter
  • 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Put the chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board and slice diagonally so that you have thin slices.

Lay a piece of parchment paper over them (or use paper towels if you prefer); pound with a flat meat mallet, until they are about 1/4-inch thick.

Put about 11/2 cups of flour on another piece of parchment paper and season with about 1 Tsp. of  Kosher salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper. Mix well to evenly distribute the seasonings

Set aside.

Heat the oil over medium-high in a large skillet (I use my grandmother’s cast iron skillet that quickly conducts heat evenly.)

While the oil heats, dredge both sides of the chicken cutlets in the seasoned flour and then shake the excess.

Place the cutlets in the skillet and fry for 4-6 minutes on each side until golden, turning once.

Do not crowd the pan; you need to be sure that there is space between the cutlets for them to cook properly.

Remove the chicken to half-sheet pan (a cookie sheet or oven-proof platter will do) which has been covered with foil of parchment paper. This makes the clean up much easier.

When all the cutlets are cooked, place in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium, and add the bacon fat to the drippings in the pan. Saute for 1 minute to render out some of the fat.

Add the mushrooms and saute until they are browned, and most of the moisture has evaporated 6 minutes or so, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the Marsala in the pan and increase the heat to high. Boil about a minute to cook down the alcohol.

Add the chicken stock and simmer for 2 minutes or so to reduce the sauce slightly.

Stir in the butter until melted.

Place the cutlets back into the skillet.  Simmer gently for several minutes on medium low.

Season with salt and pepper.

Plate the chicken and garnish with the fresh parsley.

Serve with rice pilaf or risotto.

That’s all.

What about the girls?

Before I begin, kindly allow me to clear the bile from the back of my throat.

Ah-hem.

I am intensely pained by what has been exposed concerning the “19 and Counting” Duggar family.

Let me open by stating that I am not assuming,  I only imagine what it must be like in the lives the girls who were the victims of Josh Duggar’s abuse.

I have been raised in a family that takes modesty to the extreme.  Girls are not allowed to wear skirts above the knee, and must be chaperoned during courtship. My family does not go swimming because other men might look lustfully at women wearing swimsuits.

There is an element of great shame around sexuality.

I am a young girl, part of an enormous family, whose show has been aired on television for years. My family is the epitome of Christian values and faith and God’s love. I am pure. I will be chaste when I marry the one man I will be with forever. Sharing myself with more than one man is a sin. Doing so would make me impure and undesirable.

But.

My brother destroyed that path. He took that from me. In the eyes of my family and God, I am forever marred. That is what I have been taught. According to my family beliefs, I am tainted and impure. I reached out to tell my parents about my abuse but either they did not believe me, or they choose to ignore it. I live with it. I have lived a lie on that television program for years, wearing a mask and going along with it.

It is a crime.  It is a tragedy. It is heartbreaking.

These girls, along with others outside the family, have lived with this for years, alone, ashamed and hurting. I have had a visceral reaction to the news about Josh Duggar, and rightfully so.

In hearing this story, I have re-lived what happened to me as a girl.

Sexual abuse is happening everywhere. It is happening in both the most affluent and the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods and every one in between. It is happening within a family whose Christian lives have been televised for over a decade.

Here is a family devoted to God and Faith and Goodness. Their eldest child has admitted to sexually abusing girls, including his sisters. Now, he is sorry. He and his family believe that God has forgiven him. God is merciful.

I am a Christian. I believe in God’s love. I believe that, most importantly, there is God in each and every one of us and that we all come into this world good. I believe in forgiveness.

BUT
 this hypocrisy is staggering.

There was more than one occasion over several years when the victims came forward and exposed the crimes to Josh’s father, Jim Bob. Their pleas were ignored. Finally, Jim Bob took this “family matter’ into his own hands and dealt with it in his own way. He enlisted the help of the church elders, a construction company and a Arkansas state trooper who he knew personally.

And that trooper is now serving a 56-year prison sentence for child pornography, by the way.

Now, years later, this comes out.

Josh committed a crime. This was not a “family matter.”

Let’s get beyond the statements we have seen by Josh, his parents, and his wife, Anna. I have read their press releases detailing how sorry they are and that God is Merciful and has forgiven them. They are so thankful.

I believe that God is Merciful.

But what about the girls?

There is a great focus on God’s forgiveness. It is easy for God to forgive. That is who God is. Again, what about the girls? What does the apology look like to them? Have Josh and his parents  approached the victims for their mercy and forgiveness?

We have read that the girls forgive them. I respect and honor the victims’ privacy and understand that may have, in fact, forgiven them.

But what does forgiveness mean, anyway?

I have struggled so to forgive those who discarded my plea for help. No one believed me when I came forward about my abuse. It has been brutally difficult. I struggle so.

It takes enormous courage to step up and tell your story. It took everything I could muster to tell my elders that I had been abused. I don’t think I could have brought it up without the springboard of my cousins saying the same thing.

Only one out of six adults believed my cousins and me. My cousins never had to see our grandfather again. I did. I had to return to that hell over and over again. I continued to suffer, but I learned how to cope.  I learned how to hide from him.

Being disregarded was almost more traumatic than the abuse itself.

Josh’s victims were also disregarded.  They had to repeatedly to ask for help. What was it like for them when they told Jim Bob? In a family that believed that sex is not to be discussed, that must have been excruciating.

I hope that they are getting the help that they deserve. I hope that they feel comfort in knowing that the world knows now and that there are millions who are on their side.

I need to clear my throat again and take a few Tums.

So.

The best I can do from my removed place is to share a message with these young women.

Dear Beautiful Girls,

I am so, so sorry that this happened to you.

You are not victims. You are survivors. You are strong. You are beautiful. You are loved.

Although I do not know you, I know your pain, and I share in your hurt.

You did not deserve what happened to you. You had nothing to do with it. It was a horrible, horrible injustice.

It’s NOT your fault.

Josh committed a crime. He should have suffered the consequences. He did not.

My cousin Laura and I reported our abuser, our grandfather, 35 years after he abused us. At that time, he had been dead for 17 years. The police took us seriously. They launched a full investigation. They believed us.

Hundreds of thousands have read our story online, and countless survivors have said, “ME, TOO.”

You are not alone.

You will get through this.

I believe you.

Love,

Your Sister in Surviving,

Mary

That’s all.

Terrible Beauty

I had been accepted to Boston College’s Abbey Theater summer program! Just imagine, a summer in the Emerald Isle. What a wonderful adventure to precede my senior year of college. I was dancing a jig. I was ready for a Guinness.  I  was ready to meet my first leprechaun.

I had never been so far away from home.  And I had certainly not been away from home for such a long time. I geared up to be homesick.  I was doing the, you know, “managing my expectations” thing. There were dramatic goodbyes and gnashing of teeth and tears and farewells.

My family, my bestie, Clare, and my boyfriend of a few years (let’s call him “Guy”) waved their handkerchiefs in Logan’s Terminal E.  I was off.

As much as I looked forward to my adventure, I was semi-stuck in a state of despair.  What would I do without Guy for the summer? Oh sure, it would be “good for us to be apart for a bit,” as well-meaning folks said.

That was the world’s greatest understatement.

Twenty-five fabulous Boston College students joined in Sandymount, Dublin to unpack for a summer of storytelling, theater and history.  Off we went on the #3 bus to Dublin each morning to the Abbey. Off we went to the pub each afternoon. Life was good.  Friendships were made.

It was heavenly.

IMG_3409

The Syllabus!

If you have ever participated in the theater, you will understand what I am about to say.

Theater people are dramatic, not just on stage. Everywhere. And they tend to love big and loud. Theater people accept everyone.

My oldest is a chip off the old block.  He is an actor.

He has attended enriching summer theater programs; he has had all sorts roles in many productions. He has recited everything from one single line to entire monologs. His school has earned medals and awards. I am SO proud of him.

I have been the taxi driver to said performances and rehearsals.

Pulling up to Summer School for the Performing Arts each morning over the past several summers was a treat.  Each day there was IMPROV at car drop-off in the parking lot.  There was singing and laughter and hugs and high-fives.  Everyone was smiling.  It was seriously fun. It was welcoming and warm. I wanted to jump out of the car and join in.

The awesome thing about acting is that we can step out of ourselves and morph into whatever part we are playing. The stage is a welcome mat for whomever we chose to be. Actors know that. Actors accept that. On the stage, everyone can be a star.

In Ireland, I learned a vast education outside the classroom, too. Specifically on a bench by the sea with my new friend, Bob.

Bob was the first person I met when I arrived at our summer accommodation in Sandymount.

Bob has marked charisma. He commands a crowd with his quick wit and humor. He certainly gave the natives a run for their money. He is smart and hilarious and jovial.

He is deep.

Bob is also soulful and resilient. He is fervent. He is compassionate. He had been dealt a tough hand, but he rose above it. At  22 years old he had lived, and gracefully survived, a life that some have not lived by the age of 90.

What I learned was far beyond the syllabus.  I learned about strength and resilience.I learned about hope. I learned that I got to decide how I allowed others to treat me. The unfortunate thing?

It took almost 25 years to sink in.

What was mesmerizing about Bob is that he spoke in a way that lacked SHAME. He had been through the ringer. He had struggled. And he was shameless.

Holy. Holy.

For two months, we developed a friendship. We shared our stories.  My poor choices in life became apparent.   It was inspirational to see how he came out beautifully healed, gentle and in tact.

I had so far to go.

IMG_3260

Just another day exploring the countryside (in my green mohair sweater)

He offered such support and kindness. Tragically, it just whizzed past me.

I shared a few stories about how great Guy was. Then I shared stories about how NOT great Guy was.

Bob looked as if I had hit him in the gut.

He could not believe that beautiful (?) me could live with that.  He was filled with compassion.

He stood up and positioned himself as a boxer. He talked about being knocked down but that we have to get up, take our stance and fight back. We feel hurt and beaten. At the time, we can’t see it but eventually, we get it. And we mend.

And our beautiful scars show growth.

It was inspirational. It was moving. He was rattled by my pain. But I was not rattled by own pain.

Or so I thought.

I thought I was in love with Guy. I stayed with Guy in that horrible place because it felt familiar.  It was my comfort zone. It is what I had come to expect.

Here was the thing.

I loved Bob way you love your best friend. The friend who accepts you warts and all.

He loved me differently.

He could not understand why I would continue to stay with the abusive, cheating boyfriend. I could not accept his concerns or heed his advice.  I was young, naive and busted.

My benchmark for love was tragically shallow.  Guy was the “greatest.” The greatest to me was the one who made me feel like I was the worst, like I was in that familiar place. I attracted abusive men.

They were like moths to a lightbulb.

In hindsight, I understand. If I had gone to that loving place with him, I would have hurt him deeply.  On some subconscious level I believe I knew that I could not reciprocate.

Yeats refers to Ireland in his poem Easter 1916 as a “terrible beauty.” His metaphor is about Ireland’s emerging independence, what it took to get there and what would be the result from the Easter Rising.

Yeats said Irish Patriots suffered and died during the Easter Rising, which was both terrible and beautiful. There was beauty in their courage and fervor for independence. It was terrible that they suffered punishment and brutal defeat by the English.

But this it speaks on other levels, too. Ireland has lush green landscapes, pots of gold, but it also has the Dole. There has been illness and strife and poverty and plague. The sun shines simultaneously during a soft rain.

Ireland survived. And it is beautiful.

I was in a beautiful place full of hope and promise with grace all around me.  Grace was inviting me to step out of that dark place. Grace urged me to look at my choices and make different ones. I could not do it. Dark was better. Standing in the rain was better even though the sky held rainbows. I did not have what the Patriots had.

It was a terrible beauty.

On one of our final weekends in Ireland my dear friends, Jane, Bob and I took a road trip.  We stopped at a shop in Galway where I fell in love with two beautiful mohair sweaters. One was green and one black. I could afford only one. Bob wanted to buy the other for me, but I wouldn’t let him.

I didn’t deserve that!

IMG_3259

 Here we are discussing green? Or black?

(There has never been a greater negotiation as this one since my son hit his teens.)

Later that night we drove along Dingle Peninsula.  At the pinnacle, we pulled over next to a celtic cross. There were crashing waves, a full moon and a random lone sheep that jumped over the stone ledge that defined the narrow road from the sea below.

It was a beautiful night and a holy moment. I felt happy and full.  My summer had been magical. The three of us were quiet and took it all in.

I took a photo of Bob standing on the stone ledge.

IMG_3258

Look at his sweatshirt (Holy Cross). Look at his halo.

In December of our senior year, he showed up at my apartment with a gift. It was the black mohair sweater we saw in Galway.

I  never saw him after that. I never communicated with him after that.  I tried and tried, but he did not respond.  Ask my bestie, Clare.  Looking for him over the years became a “thing.” I was sad.

It was all my fault. I blew it.

Sometimes people love you no matter whether you allow them to or not.

At age 22, I was broken and hurting. I was in denial. I believed that Guy loved me.  He treated me beautifully on the surface, on stage, but he desecrated me.  He was an unfaithful playboy. He was disrespectful and cocky.

He treated me in a way that felt comfortable.

I am not sure that women realize something immensely important.  Just because he is your “boyfriend” you are still an individual who gets to pick how you are treated.  He is not the boss of you in any way, spiritually, physically, soulfully. You are IN CHARGE.

My Michael has a key chain that says “I’m Third.”

God is first; others are second, and he is third.

It is beautiful.  He lives it.  He is loving and kind and gracious. He is thankful and appreciative. He looks out for others. He does not kill ants. That is our only problem.

Bob was right. Grace gave me a hint, a promise. And 25 years later here I am.

My Michael is my forever Grace, loving me with kindness and an open heart and respect. I am treasured.  I never knew that would happen. Even though Bob told me that it could.

God loans people to us.

We never know for how long or for what reason.

We eventually realize it, and it is simply divine.

Thank you, Bob.

Thank you, God, for My Michael.

You kept good on your promise!

That’s all.

re- “Do”- nion

1393_logo

Last year I decided to do what I love and love what I do. So, I started a business called “table24.” I offered personal chef and small-scale catering.

129table24-logo jpg

Clams Casino and the logo

Out I ventured with grand plans, a beautiful website and chef’s jackets. Oh, the chef’s jackets! I was off to the races. I immediately had clients! I was busy in the kitchen! I was trying all sorts of new recipes! I am yelling right now!

Just what I wanted. Or so I thought. It was a huge disappointment. It was also a huge lesson.

You see, for me, cooking is a creative and cathartic outlet. Best of all, cooking is the means by which I express my love and affection for others.  In my family, food is glue for our togetherness. We all participate in it, find joy in it and, well, love to eat.  And I get to put it all on the table. YAY!

IMG_2875

Shrimp Etouffee- On My Michaels “A” list

My Michael and My Three Musketeers (a.k.a. my boys) get jazzed about giving me cooking challenges. We have had some doozies. One of their all time favorites is Fried Chicken and Waffles. It was love at first bite.  I am so happy when they are happy. And when mention of our evening meal gets airtime at bedtime prayers. Alleluia! Score!

As the head chef (and only chef) at table24, I spent the majority of my time in the kitchen.

Alone.

Alone and I are not a super combination. I am far too social. I started to talk to myself. I began a love affair with Dierks Bently and Keith Urban over Pandora. I developed a tick. It was worrisome.

Then, it dawned on me.  All of a sudden cooking carried a new meaning, a new stigmata- money.  It was my business so I charged people. I was expressing my affection for those about whom I cared and my new clients. And  I expected to be PAID for it?  Oh, how very wrong.

Talk about conditional love.

I packed up that carnival and left town.

Much like cooking, writing is cathartic. When I started MARYMORPHOSIS last month, my goal was to help others, to serve others, in sharing my story.

I recently attended my 30-year high school reunion. I had not been back to Ursuline in 15 years and was so looking forward to seeing everyone. Going back to Ursuline feels like going home.

IMG_3164

The motto of Ursuline Academy is Serviam, Latin for “I will serve.”

I was pleasantly surprised and a bit overwhelmed by the number of women, classmates and otherwise, who actually pulled me aside privately to express how impactful the content on MARYMORPHOSIS has been.

That to me is success.

When I first attended Ursuline I was thirteen years old and entering the 8th grade.  It had been a year since that day in the kitchen when I “outed” my abuser.  I was still reeling from the response, or lack thereof.  I was also still being abused.

My parents sent me to Ursuline primarily because it was an outstanding school.  But also, they pulled me out of public school because I was so horribly bullied that it was unbearable.

That is a story for another post, however.

This was on the tail end of the time span that my grandfather abused me but it was still happening. Simultaneously, I was traumatized by a handful of horribly cruel girls who victimized me because I had a new pair of Nike sneakers or a cute boy had a crush on me and not them.  How Cinderella-esque, hmm?

The Ursuline girls were beautiful in every way.  I was made to feel welcome. They included me. They were so kind to me.  Thank you eighth-grade friends, Gaby, Lisa, Anna, Sarah, Christine, Kim, Sheila and on and on.

IMG_3406

I was shocked.  How was it possible that all of a sudden I was liked?  I had a warped perception of myself. I loathed me. How on God’s green earth could anyone like me?

As the years passed my network of friends grew and changed.  I always felt liked and accepted on some level. But that deep-rooted hurt dominated.  Having been the victim of sexual abuse killed my spirit, robbed me of my purity and stripped me of my childhood.

Then vicious, vulture-ish girls took what was left.

Chin up!

I should have won an Academy Award. I played the part well. I was wearing a costume and by that in no way am I referring to my green plaid skirt and sensible brown shoes.  It was four years of “Showtime!”

IMG_3392

I still have my beloved green plaid skirt.  My Dexter is its best accessory!

I put my head into my books, and I pulled my grades from a consistent B/B+ average to a straight A average. Ursuline was HARD. And my classmates were brilliant. I did homework until 1:00 AM most nights. But I did it.

I was in clubs and committees, the class VP and the captain of the cheerleading squad at our brother school. I had great roles in school productions. I was cheerful with a cute and popular boyfriend who was the lead in the school musical. (Incidentally, while I was on stage he was backstage with one of the dancers. Yawn- you know that deal.)

march 034

“S-U-C-C-E-S-S!! That’s the way we spell success!”

And, of course, I accomplished all of this on about 300 calories a day. I starved  myself so that I would be the skinny “-est.”  Eshh

Prior to the 30 year mark, former Mary would have fasted, had a fabulous hairdo and the perfect slimming outfit prior to attending said re-union. This year I didn’t iron my pants and I had roots. Oh, and I had dirt under my nails from gardening earlier that day. I did shower, however.

But in 2015, for the first time, I felt as if I could show my high school classmates the real Mary. The real, raw, honest Mary.

It felt so good just to be myself.

And my classmates were STILL nice to me.

When I post I often feel as if I have taken off all of my clothes and am doing high, deliberate kicks with “jazz hands” across stage of  the nationally televised Presidential debate.  I feel like I am the half-time show at the Superbowl.

It sounds mortifying, doesn’t it? Strangely, there is great comfort in vulnerability.

Every day I remind myself to “love myself with the heart with which I love my child.” And Honey, let me tell you, it is a hell of a lighter load.

I left my high school that evening feeling lighter and happier. I felt as if I were re-writing part of that sad high-school past. I felt as if I got a do-over.  I was able to accept the kindness of others. It was joyful.

Writing has become a part of my daily life. I know that some of my friends won’t read what I write. Some are probably shaking their heads and snickering with others on the ball field but want in on something?

I.COULD. NOT. CARE. LESS.

HA ! Imagine that!? It feels LIBERATING!  People can relate! Through one’s honesty, others find their humanity and feel a sense of community.

But, the best feeling is that I genuinely believe that I am helping people.  And folks have told me just that. And I believe them. So there.

“I will serve.”

It is such a juxtaposition that there is power in vulnerability, don’t you think? One would think that being vulnerable simply makes you weak. That is wrong. Bet on it.

“I am she. She is me.”

When my cousin wrote “He Wrote It Down” and I subsequently wrote “BEFORE He Wrote It Down, “ THOUSANDS no… HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS read our story. HUNDREDS WROTE TO US.

Over and over we read the response, “ME TOO.”Maybe you said it, too.

Do you see what I mean? In telling our stories, in our bare, honest truth and without shame, there is power. Good power. Power in your freedom, your happiness and your self-talk.

lavender-1603

There is an abundance of love that we all have deep inside ourselves that is meant for US. WE MUST LOVE OURSELVES.

And that, my pretties, is it for today.

That’s all.