Friday, September 21, 2018

#MeToo: A Letter to my Children

This is how old I was, the first time I was assaulted. 

To my children,

I am sharing something with you that is painful and personal for me, and the reason why is that I want to break the cycle of abuse, so that you, and your children, never ever have experiences like this. Holding these experiences in silence has only empowered sexual predators, and they are everywhere, in every industry and in the White House. And women aren’t the only ones who fall victim to sexual abuse. Young boys do, too. And it’s more common than people would think. The problem is that those of us who have been victims of this feel shame and keep it inside. Not only is that toxic to us, but it protects the perpetrators, and allows them to keep abusing. The reason I’m telling you everything is because I want you to see how rampant it was in my generation, and I want it to end with me. Maybe by me finally releasing it, the monster loses its power.

These are my experiences:

Three years old: I was abducted by two older boys and locked in their apartment. I can’t tell you what they did to me because all my mind can see is darkness. My young mind tricked me into thinking I had passed out. Maybe I did. When my mom and stepfather found me, my stepfather lifted me in the air by one arm and wailed on my behind, shouting at me that I was bad for disappearing like that. I did not have the language to explain what had happened to me or to defend myself. I learned then that it was my fault if something horrible happened to me. 

Eight years old: A boy in my class trapped me behind the handball court and held me there for 20 minutes, holding a metal nail file to my throat and threatening to stab me if I tried to get away. 

Eight years old: Standing on a corner with my friends, a man pulled his car up to the curb in front of us. He was naked and masturbating. I told my mother but there was nothing we could do. The man drove away to terrorize other little girls.

Ten years old: I was out rollerskating and stopped in the local deli to get a drink. The man behind the counter tried to get me to come in the back room with him. I said no. He grabbed my wrist and started dragging me on my roller-skates. I kicked him in the shin with my skates and got away. 

Eleven years old: We were at a friend’s house in Redondo beach. I was walking down the street with three of my friends to see the beach, which was only two blocks away. A man started following us, making kissing noises and saying things like “Hey pretty babies. Where you going?” We started walking faster but he did too. He ran up behind me and grabbed me but I got away and started running. We ran all the way home, and never got to see the beach.  I learned then that girls can’t walk anywhere, even in groups, even in broad daylight, without being subject to predators. And they will get away, and do it to other girls. 

Twelve years old: Walking home from school, my friends and I were on the railroad bridge when a man stepped in front of us, dropped his pants and started masturbating. We were trapped and terrified. We ran back across the bridge, away from our homes, and couldn’t get home for hours because we were afraid to cross the bridge. When we finally got home, I found my mother at our neighbor Susan’s house. We told them what had happened and they called the police, who were not able to find the man. Susan shrugged it off like this happens every day, and told me “Next time a guy drops his pants in front of you, just laugh at him. That’s what my sister does.” Then she gave me half a valium and told me it would be fine. I learned then that men would drop their pants in front of you and it was up to you to learn how to handle it. We were never able to walk to school again. 

Thirteen years old: I was at a sleepover at my friend Laura’s house. I woke in the middle of the night to her 6’ 2” sixteen-year-old brother taking my pants off. He picked me up and carried me into his room and laid me down on his desk. I jumped up and ran. He chased after me and threatened me but I got out. I ran all the way home in the middle of the night. My mother woke to me pounding on the front door. She called Laura’s mother and told her, and that was the end of it. The brother never suffered any consequence for attempting to rape a child. I learned then that you can tell but nothing will happen to the perpetrator, so you better learn how to protect yourself. 
That was also the end of my friendship with Laura. She was too ashamed to face me after that. I learned then that if you speak up you will lose friends. 

Thirteen years old: I was at a sleepover at my friend Sherri’s house. In the middle of the night her drunk father burst into the room buck naked and stood over us. I sat up and looked him in the eye. I think he was surprised to see me there. He turned and left. I never told Sherri, or anyone. I didn’t want to lose another friend. 

Thirteen years old: My mom’s boyfriend’s brother Bobby Abbondante, who babysat me only the year before, said he’d take me to a movie I really wanted to see.  At the drive-in movie, he attacked me, ripping my shirt open, biting me, aggressively grabbing my breasts, hurting me, leaving bruises and hickeys all over me as I fought and screamed. After, he cried and begged me not to tell. This was the year The Wilderness Family had come out. He had made a bet with his friends that he could “nail” a movie star. I learned then that as a female, I had no value - I was just a bet, something to be “nailed.”

Thirteen years old: Standing outside the library at night, waiting for my mom to pick me up. Some teenage boys rode up on bikes and started saying sexual things to me. One of them grabbed my breast and squeezed it hard, hurting me. I screamed and they laughed and rode away. 

Fourteen years old: The man at the deli who had tried to drag me away on my skates became a peeping tom at my house. I was home alone nights because my mom worked. His face would appear in the bathroom window when I or one of my friends was using the bathroom. My friend Greg went to his house with a butcher knife, tried to kick down the front door, threatened to kill him if he ever saw him around my house again. 

Fifteen years old: Late one night I caught my good friend and neighbor Keith watching me undress through a crack in the curtains of my bedroom window. That was the end of our friendship.

Eighteen years old: On vacation in Bimini, an island where there is no law enforcement or government, my cousin Tammey and I walked past my uncle Dan’s entourage one evening on our way to dinner.  A creepy guy in the “entourage” who had been leering at us during the week loudly suggested to the rest of the guys that they ought to grab Tammey and I and have a gang bang. Tammey told the guy to fuck off but I was terrified. We told uncle Dan and he assigned two bodyguards to trail Tammey and I everywhere we went, and somehow had the guy kicked off the island that night. Imagine having to spend your vacation with two bodyguards because there are so many men on the island who might rape you. 

Nineteen years old: My boss, John Makhani, asked me to come out with him after work to discuss my possible promotion. He trapped me at his house, refused to let me go home, and tried to coerce me into taking my clothes off in front of him. For about an hour he bullied me and tried to get me to undress but I wouldn’t. He wouldn’t let me go home until the morning. After that, he punished me by criticizing and humiliating me in front of staff, making my job a living hell until I had no choice but to quit. I learned then that if you stand your ground, you will lose your job. 

Nineteen years old: My friend Diane and I were invited by a friend to a celebrity party at Larry Wilcox’s house. He was a star on the show CHIPS that was popular back then. We arrived at his house to find it was only the two of us, and three guys. Larry started making out with my friend Diane, and he tried to get me to make out with him too. He wanted us to have a three-way with him. I was disgusted. I refused and went outside in the backyard. His 50-year-old creepy friend followed me. He started hitting on me and when I turned him down, he became aggressive. I ran away from him. He literally chased me around the backyard swimming pool for an hour until I threatened to call the police. Finally a friend showed up and chased the guy off. I learned then that if you accept an invitation to a party, you are vulnerable to assault. 

And then there are the many times as an adult I’ve been “grabbed” Donald Trump style- once when I was a waitress in a crowded bar, holding a very heavy tray over my head. The guy grabbed my crotch and I couldn’t defend myself. Another time at a concert. Another time at a restaurant. Another time at a gig. Another time at a Christmas party. 

Donald Trump is the face of every vile man that has attacked me, of every man that has disregarded my humanity. I want this to be the generation that STAMPS OUT men like Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein and Woody Allen. I want to see good men and good women seated equally at the table of life, and in positions of power. I want to see good men and good women as the stewards of humanity. 

How any man can grow up to treat a woman like she is nothing is a mystery to me. Those very same men grew inside our bodies. Their blood was created from our blood. We cared for them and raised them. I want my husband and sons to be aware of what it’s like for women- or what it has been like.  I want you to be aware, stand up and speak out when you see this kind of behavior in men. Speak up when you hear men talking about women like they are pieces of meat who have no value. Speak up when you hear misogyny, woman-bashing and feminist-bashing. 

Right now, with a vile predator like Trump in the White House, I have no hope for this country. But I put my hope in you, in your generation, to make this country and to make humanity decent again. I’m counting on my daughter to be strong and loud, and my sons to love and respect the women who gave you your life. 

May our future generations only know about the #MeToo movement from the stories they read in history books. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

You Listened

How many times had you crept into their rooms at night and pressed your face against them to hear the soft hiss of baby breathing, to feel that warm, sweet milky breath in your ear, always needing that reassurance that yes, mama, those babies in your care are strong and sure and thriving. It only had to happen once, that pivotal moment when you had to choose: either tell yourself you're being ridiculous or trust your intuition.
You sensed the monster, the fire that slipped into his room, and before that, the carbon monoxide, with its vile tentacles spreading out from his lungs to veins to blood, and yours too. You listened. That voice. Check the baby. Check the baby. You pressed your cheek against his, heard that baby breathing, the steady rhythm. You listened. You laid down beside him. And because you chose to trust yourself, he still breathes today.


The Sound

The sound of motorcycles revving in the driveway meant that Uncle Dan was home, and with him came the entourage. One by one they pulled in, taking their place in Dan's court. He'd sit in his King Louie throne in the living room, and maybe his pet owl would be perched above him, sleeping in the day, unperturbed by Uncle Dan's loud and boisterous storytelling, his laugh that sounded like a pack of wild hyenas yipping all at once. Or was that just the pack of wolves he kept in the backyard? 

He'd tell stories from the movie set, and the motorcycle boys would hang on his every word, endure his sharp criticisms and sarcasm, and the nicknames he'd pegged them with: Bullet, Tall Boy, Rags. To stay in his orbit was to defer to him, and no matter how tough and intimidating they may have appeared, they did defer. Not because he threatened. He never had to prove his brute strength. He only had to cast a "look" your way.
It wasn't that they, or I, were afraid of him. We only feared not being in his orbit. To try to understand this is to try to understand the universe. He was the sun around which the rest of us orbited. And he was the black hole, sucking us all in, until we'd disappeared to ourselves.
He was the sun.
He was the king.
He was our savior and he was our destruction.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Why I Still Have Hope for America

These days, I wake in the morning weary with sadness. The world, politics, fear for my country has worn me down. But then, this morning as my kid is eating breakfast, I see Ellen Degeneres on the back of his cereal box, and I feel hope. Ten years ago, we couldn't even pass marriage equality in California - the most liberal state. Today it's the law of the land, and Ellen Degeneres, an openly gay woman, is the ambassador for goodness on the back of my kid's Honey Nut Cheerios.
I think about the fact that Barack Obama, already noted by historians as one of the best Presidents in American history, is of mixed race, and that inter-racial marriage was still illegal in many states when he was born. 

I think about the fact that Oprah Winfrey, a black woman, is one of the richest, most influential people in the world, when all her grandmother had advised for her was to "find some nice white people to work for" -- and that it's an American colloquialism to describe an extremely wealthy person as having "Oprah money." I think of her ancestors, women who were enslaved, raped, beaten, forced to work in the fields and do the work of ten men, and hope to god there is an afterlife because if there is they are surely smiling down with pride.

This American dream, to bring people from all over the world, from every culture, race, religion to live together as one democratic nation, is an experiment. It theorizes that every man and woman can achieve greatness, and that we are each only limited by the scope of our own dreams. It's a messy experiment, and we have failed terribly on so many levels. But we've also made great progress, because today I'm looking at Ellen on a cereal box and smiling, and maybe even feeling a twinge of hope in spite of the news cycle. 

I'm going to do my best today to feed the hope, and not the fear. I'm going to believe in us, in progress, in the best of America. I hope you will, too.

Monday, September 25, 2017

My Tracey.

Tracey sitting like the beautiful queen that she was. 
My beautiful Tracey passed last night. Our family surrounded her yesterday. We gathered around her bed and showed videos of her trip to Ireland. My niece cooked her favorite beef stroganoff, which she could not eat, but she could smell it cooking in the house. We each had our private conversations with her. We told her how much we loved her and promised her we would take care of her mama and each other - and her beloved rescue dogs. After we all left last night, we had asked a nun to come to stay with my aunt, and to be at Tracey's bedside overnight. The nun was praying over Tracey, singing hymns to her, when Tracey stopped breathing at 10pm. I rushed back to the house to be with my aunt and niece. We kissed Tracey, told her how much we loved her. I put her favorite facial cream on her, and her lip balm. My aunt put her in her coziest pajamas, and put her favorite perfume on her - Angel. We held hands with the nun around her bed and prayed for her soul's peaceful journey. 
At Kamran's roaring thirties party
Yesterday morning, my aunt woke Tracey, told her to open her eyes as the sun was rising. Tracey had watched the sun rise on her last day on earth, a Sunday. She was surrounded by love and family and laughter and stories and the fragrance of cooking in her house. Her rescue pups were curled on the floor beside the bed. It was what she wanted. 
But what she really wanted more than anything was to not have cancer, and to live, and she gave it hell and lived almost a year from her diagnosis, when they only gave her three months. 
Tracey was my big sister. Sometimes I lived at their house, and sometimes she and Tammey lived at our house. She protected me when I was little. As we grew, she drove me and my cousin Tammey around, took us to movies, like Billy Jack, Halloween, the Rocky Horror Picture Show. And then when I was old enough, she taught me how to drive, what to do when I got my period, what it was like to be with boys. 
She never had children of her own, but she adored and took such good care of all of our children. Evan loved her so much. Friday night, she could barely open her eyes, and the cancer in her spine had completely paralyzed her, but when Evan came into the room, she perked up, forced her eyes open and said, "Evan, are you excited about your birthday Party? Tell me what you've got planned." When my aunt was stepping out to get some lunch, she said, "Mom, don't forget to buy lunch for the person behind you."
That's who she was. That's who our Tracey was. 
God, I loved her.

I told her yesterday that her soul is pure and made from love, that her soul doesn't have cancer. That when she leaves, she gets to take all of the love, and all of the wisdom from what she has lived through, but none of the pain. She gets to leave the pain behind. And I told her that she lives on in all of us. Every person who loved her, every person whose life was touched by her. How lucky are we?
Tracey and Tammey were my bridesmaids at my wedding

Tracey, Tammey and my Uncle Dan. We have lost all three in the past three years. 

So many of you prayed for her, some of you donated to help pay for her nursing care, some of you sat bedside with me, or offered me guidance and advice on what to do in hospice. She knew this, and she was so grateful. Thank you for being part of Tracey's journey. Someone told me once that for every kind deed you do, you lift the entirety of the universe just that much, and it can never be erased. So thank you - with everything in me, thank you.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Saying Goodbye to My Friend Frank

(This popped up as a heartbreaking memory from one year ago today. Below is the Facebook post I wrote on the day Frank died) 
August 18, 2016
I can't even believe I am writing this. Today, the world lost a truly great soul. My friend Frank passed away of cancer this morning. He was a generous, supportive, kind, stand-up guy. He was fiercely defensive of the people he loved -- the kind of guy who would gladly take a punch for you. 

He was a music aficionado, an art collector, a proud supporter of all things Latino. He believed in fighting the good fight and showed up for almost every one of my gun violence prevention rallies. He was incredibly generous. Every time we were doing a fundraiser for Women Against Gun Violence, he'd stop by with a trunk full of donations- Hollywood and sports memorabilia he'd collected over his lifetime. When we co-sponsored a gun buyback in L.A., he turned in his gun. He said "I don't need it anymore." He was given a gift card for the gun, and he donated it. 

He showed up for my readings when my book came out and told everyone to buy my book or else! But the memories that will stay with me forever are the heart to hearts we had, about family, and faith. He reached out to me when his mother's health was failing, when his brother was sick, and when he was having trouble communicating with his son. He often asked me to pray for him. He thought that maybe I had God's ear since I was a preacher's daughter. 
One of the things I most admired about Frank is that, although he didn't have biological kids of his own, he stood by his stepson Brando even after the relationship with Brando's mother didn't work out. He helped Brando get to college. Brando is now an award-winning author and a college professor.
Frank was the kind of person who touched a lot of lives, though he was a private guy and often liked to fly under the radar with that kind of stuff. 
Frank had come home from Mexico this summer feeling a little under the weather. He thought it was something he'd eaten. A couple weeks later he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. They said he had six months, but it turned out he only had weeks. We had a good long talk on the phone a couple weeks ago, and I am so grateful for that because he told me he'd thought I was upset with him over something he'd said recently, which I absolutely wasn't. It would have torn me up if he'd died thinking things weren't good between us. I was supposed to visit him this weekend. I texted him to see when would be a good time, but the last text I got back only had one word; "suffer." I'm writing this post through tears. I'm glad Frank doesn't have to suffer any longer. I'm going to keep praying for him, and hope that he was right in thinking I had God's ear. 
I'm grateful for the six years of friendship I had with Frank, and for the beautiful legacy he left behind in Brando, in his wife Stephanie, and in all of the artists and musician's lives he touched. I'm going to miss him terribly. He was truly one of a kind.

Rest in Peace, my brother, my friend. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Follow up to Rite Aid, Racism post

My post Rite Aid, Racism and Where We Go From Here kicked up a lot of dust with people, both on my Facebook page, and on other people's pages.
I was glad to hear each person's point of view, even though we might not completely agree. We each perceive our lives through a unique lens, based on our own past experiences. For me, I'll admit right now that for a long time I didn't see how deep racism was. I thought we, as humans, were evolving beyond the lizard brain that makes us fear "the other." Drump's America has shown me just how naive that was. Growing up, my stepdad was the only white guy in Little Richard's band. Richard used to introduce me to the audience as his daughter and when everyone laughed, I didn't get the joke. I grew up in a Lala-land world where race was a non-issue and to tell you the truth, I’m still shocked that my perceptions of the world aren’t shared. That’s my sin, I guess. Not white privilege, but the privilege of growing up in a multi-racial, harmonious world. 
To differentiate between people based on the color of their skin is ludicrous. To call yourself a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jew, and to believe that you are better than anyone else, when you also believe that God created all people, is insane. 
Some people were angry that I didn't automatically side with the women in the story. I am a feminist. I have been sexually assaulted, sexually harassed at the workplace, attacked by a friend's older brother at a sleepover when I was thirteen, having to run home in my nightgown in the middle of the night. Believe me, I am highly sensitive to the issue, and have fought for and marched for women's rights. What I saw at Rite Aid was not an issue of a woman being harassed. I saw two young people, highly emotional, both in the wrong, but ultimately, I saw the young black man being put into a threatening situation, and in today's climate, that is dangerous. 
I'm glad we had a real conversation about this on Facebook. I absorbed what each of you had to say, even when your views were different than mine. I don't think there was one right answer. Sexism is real. Racism is real. And denying that is hurting us. Until we come to terms with truth in this country, we can't make anything better. 
Thanks for reading.