Editor Kirsten Larson, Editor's Choice, July 27th, 2015
"I was beautifully composed for another, but I could barely hear my metronome."
In our monthly Response Column, NAILED asks readers to respond to a particular word or topic. We are seeking raw, honest personal responses that aim less to answer questions and more to raise them. Responses in the form of art, photography, essay, story, poem, and rant will all be considered for publication. August’s topic is WILD, please email your responses to Kirsten@NailedMagazine.com by August 17th, for publication at the end of the month. (Word count limit: 1,000 words.)
+ + +
Why I Stayed, by Kevin Meyer
One carload. That’s what I pared my life down to. From a four-bedroom house with a basement, full with thirteen years of a marriage, to whatever I could frantically stuff into the back of a Lexus RX 450H.
Trying to squeeze 4,800 square feet into the back of a mid-size SUV, it becomes crystal clear what’s important and what’s not.
Unimportant: Thousands of dollars of video and audio equipment. Two decades worth of CDs. Bookshelves, sofas, lamps, none of that came with me.
Important: My favorite clothing. My Macbook Air and my writing files. A set of quartz book-ends shaped like chess pieces, knights, that passed to me when my grandmother died. Black and white 5” x 3” photos my grandfather took in Europe during a military tour. I don’t know what year, because there’s no date, but on the backs of the photos, there’s his handwriting in faded, blurry blue, that says things like The top of that arch in Ansbach. The photo isn’t even of an arch; it’s the clock tower at Ansbach Centre.
Leaving my ex-wife with only a fraction of the things I decided were most important to me, it wasn’t so much a breakup as it was an escape.
It can be hard for a man to admit he was abused by a woman. Hell, it can be hard for a man to realize it’s possible for him to be abused by a woman.
I didn’t realize it when my ex-wife was drunk to the point of blackout, the two of us walking home from the Blue Monk, when she sucker-punched me in the stomach for asking her not to dig her nails into my arm while she was holding onto me for balance.
I didn’t realize it when she woke me up at four o’clock one morning, screaming, “I knew it! I knew you’ve been cheating on me!” My eyes adjusted to what she was waving in my face as proof: a book on breastfeeding from the 70’s, the kind with the orange edge to the pages, the paper dusty and yellow. She’d found the book in our basement. We lived with her paralyzed mother at the time, and her mother’s things were in the basement too. The book was clearly her mother’s, but somehow, my ex-wife had convinced herself that I’d not only cheated on her, but gotten my mistress pregnant, decided to keep the child, and I was reading up on breast-feeding not how any normal parent-to-be would (ie: Google that shit), but in an outdated book from the 70’s.
I didn’t realize it when she came home at three in the morning after a night out with a friend, drunk and coked up to her gills. She stripped down to the nude and ground her body on me at the same time she screamed at me and hit me and told me what an asshole I was. I wouldn’t touch her. I lay there in the dark, not moving, not speaking, except to tell her to stop. When she couldn’t get a reaction out of me that way, she started trying to violently stick her fingers up my ass through my underwear.
I didn’t realize it when I finally decided to leave her, and I’d packed every last square inch of that Lexus RX 450H with the small amount of the things I considered most important in my life, but when she couldn’t keep me from getting in the car and driving away, she got in the passenger side and first tried to break anything she could get her hands on. When that didn’t work, she tried to take the steering wheel from me and smash us into a parked car on the side of the road.
It was nearly a year after I’d left her that I finally realized I was a victim of abuse. Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, had been caught on tape in an elevator security camera, hitting his wife, then-fiancée Janay Palmer, and knocking her unconscious. He was later shown dragging her limp body out of the elevator.
Months later, when the video was released by TMZ and Ray Rice was cut from the Ravens, Janay, now his wife, came to her husband’s defense. The public reaction against her was swift, loaded with victim-shaming. Why did she marry that asshole? Why would she defend him? What the fuck is wrong with her?
I’d had some of those same thoughts.
Twitter came to Janay Rice’s defense with the #WhyIStayed hashtag. It was when I read a collection of tweets with that hashtag that it hit me: I’m a grown-ass man twice my ex-wife’s size, but all that crazy shit she had been doing to me for years, it was abuse, plain and simple.
The experiences those women described, many of them were almost verbatim what I went through every day of my life:
I tried to leave the house once after an abusive episode, and he blocked me. He slept in front of the door that entire night. #WhyIStayed
He said he would change. He promised it was the last time. I believed him. He lied. #WhyIStayed
I had to plan my escape for months before I even had a place to go and money for the bus to get there. #WhyIStayed
Let’s be fair: I didn’t leave on a bus. For all the other shit I’ve been though, I’m blessed with a good job at a tech company that pays well. I packed the last few things I could fit into a hybrid luxury SUV I’d later sell to pay off the debt I accrued from rebuilding my life one credit card purchase at a time, but the sentiment was the same. I’d been planning my escape for over six months by the time I finally got out.
Now, the divorce is over. In a final twist of the knife, I agreed to a settlement of indefinite spousal support. It’s a long story why, but the short version is, it would have cost me $10,000 or more to fight it out in court, and if I lost, which was basically a coin toss whether the judge would be more sympathetic to her tale of illness and childhood psychological trauma or my tale of her violence, substance abuse and borderline personality disorder, I’d end up paying her court fees too. $20,000 or more, and months, maybe years, of extended emotional trauma.
When you’re forced to make decisions like, “Will this fit in the back of my car?” or, “Can I replace this?”, or, “Is it worth nearly half my salary every month for the rest of my life to be free of this woman?”, it can be surprising how terrifyingly easy that choice can be.
Kevin Meyer is a writer and student teacher in Tom Spanbauer’s Dangerous Writers workshop, and Publisher at Noisehole. His work has been published in The Frozen Moment: Contemporary Writers on the Choices That Change Our Lives, SharePDX, NAILED Magazine, and Noisehole. His novel-in-progress, currently titled Two Shots, explores asthma, domestic violence, and why it’s not such a good idea to keep easy access to firearms on the worst day of your life. Learn more about him at his official site.
+ + +
Tickets, by Stacy Rollins
Night ripens with its blackberry gloss,
heavy with waiting, heaving its clove
breath in a giddy gin haze. The dim
staircase up to the Grand Ballroom,
narrow and steep with cracked
tiles, is a merry dungeon for the trample
of stilettos and stilted, slipping speech,
a tunnel of anticipation growing with the drone
of bass guitar, and then we are in it,
we are live like the band, ecstatically
untanned and reflecting computer blue
laser lights to be buried in the corners
with rats, plastic cups, and ephemera,
our rangy necks craning for a more preferred
obscured view of our hero, the Finnish vocalist,
gaunt in his Varvatos and trademark beanie,
who leans into the audience, his whole repertoire
Once, for many years, I was beautifully
composed for another, but I could
barely hear my metronome. I told him, Wait
here, wait here and guard my spot,
I think there might be more room
for us by the VIP rope. You know, I always
buy tickets the moment sales open. Consider
the meanings of the word “concert”
and whether we are in agreement
about performance, whether we
have wished for the same set lists,
and whether you want to see this show
as desperately as the singer on stage
wants to be heard. I stood on my tiptoes
for hours for ages and felt around in the dark
for rails to hold on the way down.
Was there even a spot for you to guard
for someone so small, accustomed
to finding her own way?
Stacy Rollins is a writer, visual artist, singer, Tarot reader, and fitness enthusiast who lives in Park Slope’s historic district in Brooklyn, NY. Her first complete sentence–spoken at nine months of age–was, “I’ll get you.” It has served as a guiding principle ever since. She earned her M.A. in Creative Writing at FSU and has authored two books, Truer Faults and Learning to Read. Her other crowning achievements include designing her own religion, “Stanism,” while in law school, and also dropping out of law school. Her recent work has appeared in Atticus Review, Everyday Genius, Diversion Press, Garbanzo, Crack the Spine, Black Heart Magazine, and Poetry Quarterly.
+ + +
Aftermath: Divorce Finalized, by Theresa Hamman
That night a neighbor’s truck ignited for no reason. Sparks jumped and lit the dead Eucalyptus in my front yard. I watched from the window. Firemen arrived; they doused both truck and tree. Fire is a rain dance and I sighed as the flames died. One fireman asked if I was the lady who called 911. “No, it wasn’t me.” The next day, I loaded up the Cutless with clothes, trinkets, cats and babies. I closed and locked the front door. I stood for a moment and stared at the tree’s charred remains. My neighbor ran over and apologized, his truck had never done anything like that before.
Theresa Hamman is a poet/writer and second year MFA student at Eastern Oregon University. She has had her poetry published in Oregon East, EOU’s literary and art journal, of which she is currently the editor. She lives in La Grande, OR and enjoys spending time with her family, especially her two grandchildren, when she is not writing.
+ + +
Ribs, by Anis Mojgani
In the quiet of my wife not waiting to leave
but simply taking the pears & fleeing
from the city we had built together
abandoning her heart
still in me & echoing for mine
I wish to silence the silence
to lay in the expanse of this hotel bed
on the edge of its white light
& watch the morning move across your shoulders
to sit still my fingers upon your waist
to whisper them below
& press my skin down on top of your spine
I wish to do to your neck
what a man in Texas does with a plate of ribs
& to not stop
until the bones are sucked clean
Anis Mojgani is a two time National Poetry Slam Champion and winner of the International World Cup Poetry Slam. A TEDx Speaker and former resident of the Oregon Literary Arts Writers-in-the-Schools program, Anis has performed at numerous universities, festivals, and venues around the globe, and his work has appeared on HBO, NPR, and in the pages of several journals. Anis is also the author of three poetry collections, all published by Write Bloody Publishing: Songs From Under the River (2013), The Feather Room (2011), and Over the Anvil We Stretch (2008). A graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design and originally from New Orleans, Anis currently lives in Austin, TX. Learn more about him: here.
+ + +
Letter to an Ex, by Fiona George
My phone vibrates. A key winds me up. Toy. I’m walking to the corner store between our rented rooms, to have a cigarette with you. Almost too poetic, the store where we both buy our smokes, three blocks from each of our beds.
The store is closed when I meet you.
I don’t remember what we said or how quickly it turned ugly.
But my friends remember me coming back crying.
How our conversations ended those days.
There was one night after the breakup, before the relationship really ended. When we still met at the corner store. After I’d finally told you I would stop sleeping with you. You almost forced yourself on me. When I told you one kiss goodbye, a peck, that’s it. You pushed it further, far as you could before I told you to stop. Me naked by the time it occurred to me I could tell you to stop.
And then you left, begging forgiveness. Instead of asking permission.
Empty apartment. I wait till I don’t hear your footsteps to the door.
Tears start silent. Large and stoic drops. I turn towards my bedroom door behind me. Hollow for a moment.
By the time I reach the door, my voice opens. When I fall on my bed it is a gut-moan of pain. Deep, cracking airless.
The next morning my phone vibrates. The key unwound. Broken toy. You’re telling me that you stood outside my window and listened to me cry.
I don’t leave my room all into the afternoon, don’t leave the apartment all day. I’m out of smokes. I don’t walk to the corner store.
You asked me for a valid reason for breaking up with you. Invalidating me even as you can’t understand why I would leave you.
And yet, I write a whole letter reaction. Validate your question. Because: the reason I gave you was bullshit. Or, it was the most surface of all the reasons. The kind of reason where you can say I still love you, but. And that’s the lie.
So I tell you the truth and I get ugly. In the pile of bigger reasons I’ve handed you, the way you treat me, about the pressure of forever, how you controlled my sexuality, and the one reason that you deem valid is the least of them. A differing of lifestyles, or some shit.
You just wanted me to take out the lie. I still love you.
I shouldn’t have let you do work on my computer, download anything. Not from the very beginning. You snooped my email. You say you didn’t put any spy shit on my computer, but I’m not an idiot. I can’t prove it, and you can always deny.
Even when I’m not speaking to you, I read your blog. I hate myself for it. The last route you have to fuck with me, and I could shut it off just shutting up my curiosity. Why would you even show it to me? Show me the way you blow off steam from me? A fucking hate blog.
And I know because of your blog, but I could never prove it. That piece of mine you plagiarized, the one I only had on my computer and in my email. About the night you almost forced yourself on me, told from your point of view. Made up of justifications; but you used the same images, the same fictions from mine.
I’m not a fucking idiot. I know when I see my work twisted.
The first time I start talking to you again, after I’ve looked at the emotional abuse checklists and held them up against you. After I’ve talked about it with people, on my phone, computer. You text me and wind the key, you tell me: that you think you may have been emotionally abusive. You tell me: you are looking for a counselor.
I’ve been telling you to get help for a while.
Talk to someone.
You only want to vent it to me, though. Like if I could understand your pain, if you could make me feel guilty enough. If you could just make me feel obligated to do more than sit and listen and be shamed, blamed. The way I felt obligated before.
You don’t find a counselor, never mention it again.
I fire back. I tell you about my sex life. Maybe just to justify my original reason: I want to sexually explore. What I had meant, I didn’t know at the time. I did not want my sexuality controlled or used against me.
Your Dominant to my submissive, never stayed in the bedroom and I was not the one who dragged it out.
I did not want to be told I was submissive, then shown what that meant.
I was out to define myself.
I was drinking too much, after the breakup. We both know it. We know it through the ways we used each other. Me, getting you to buy me beer. You, doing it because that was when I’d hang out with you. Even as you commented, worried, on my drinking.
Even though, when we were together, you told me the only reason you’d leave me, was my drinking.
Was I trying to drive you away?
Leaving you, was leaving the me and the life that I had when I was with you. These things that now made up a self, that was not me. Drinking seemed to be the simple answer to all the questions.
That I had somehow lost my authentic self. That I had to drink enough that I was a blank slate, cleared of you.
I won’t be shy about it. I hate you and I’ll admit it. And I write it. And I put it up on the internet. So, is that any better? Than your bitter blog? Can I say, that I am writing about me, more than I am writing about what you did to me. Whereas you, write about me and anger over me, and that’s where it ends.
Is that the truth?
I couldn’t get an outside opinion now, that you’ve take your blog down. Because I fired back. Because I let you know I’d been reading it, it meant nothing to me. And the next time I go to look, it’s gone.
It’s a relief. You can’t fuck with my head anymore.
I can say, that you took something from me and I am writing myself back to it. I am constantly reminded that I am becoming myself again. And that I have to go back, and go over the emotional abuse checklists, just to remember that it really did happen, because nobody who witnessed seemed to care.
Does that make us any different?
Or maybe, likely, it comes from a place of an artistic high horse. Something I am not proud of. I think what I am doing is any better because I think my writing is better. Because you’ve got that overused creative writing class sound, or that’s what I hear.
Or, because I have more to write about than just our failed relationship. Because I write everything, and I only see you write anger at me.
Or, because your work does not transcend. It does not reach the universal through the personal, it doesn’t even try. You ignore the bigger picture in order to illustrate what a dumb drunk slut I am.
But the truth is, you should be allowed to write your truth. About me, or the next woman.
There will always be a piece of hate, a whited over scar on my heart for you. My words, in my eyes, will always be more justified. In your work, I will always see a stunted little boy, who doesn’t know how to love someone without manipulating them, who is writing to manipulate, to keep fucking with me, to hold the power.
Write your truth. But I won’t believe that shit. There is no key for you to wind or break.
Fiona George was born and raised in Portland, OR. She is still there and her world feels very small. But she was lucky to be born into a city where she’s had the chance to work with authors like Tom Spanbauer and Lidia Yuknavitch. She writes monthly for Nailed Magazine and has also been published on the Manifest-Station. Most of her time is spent conjuring personal essays, embarking on side projects and writing exercises, and procrastinating on a novel that may never be finished. You can like her on Facebook, which is somewhat surreal to her.
+ + +
Vigilante, by Lauren Yates
If your roommate ever asks if your mom can afford
Family Weekend, don’t mention the surgery. Even if
your roommate is in nursing school, don’t expect her
to know how to take a pulse. (Her parents will keep mailing
checks, as long as her hangovers happen in a classroom).
This is how to get revenge. Swaddle her flat iron
in a towel, then thwap it against the floor. No more
limboing beneath the cord to get to the mini fridge filled
with her loose pizza. No more waking up to the smell
of burnt hair—there won’t be any more hair to burn.
My mom told me about a woman who stole her best friend’s
boyfriend. To settle this betrayal, the best friend borrowed
a flat iron, wrapped it in a towel, then beat it against the
ground. When the other woman needed it back for her date
with stolen goods, the iron couldn’t tell how hot was
too hot. Mom says the patch still hasn’t grown back.
Itching powder looks nothing like it does in cartoons.
It isn’t tidy like talcum powder. Just made of burrs
you could have found on the sidewalk. Your roommate
would probably notice them in her underwear drawer.
And with all the G-strings, there isn’t enough fabric
for them to stick. If you really want to get revenge,
say nothing when she calls you a sound sleeper.
When the man lifts her into bed and you are unsure
of his intentions, roll over. Get cozy under the covers
and refuse to get up, no matter what happens.
Lauren Yates is a Pushcart-nominated poet based in Philadelphia. Her writing has appeared in FRiGG, Umbrella Factory, Softblow, and Melusine. Lauren is also a poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly and is a Poet in Residence with the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery at Drexel University. For more information, visit her here. (website: http://laurentyates.com.)
+ + +
Header image courtesy of Angela Buron. To view a gallery of her photography, go here.