“How much are we talking about, Jeannie? Are you thinking a trim or something drastic?”
“I don’t know. I just know I need a haircut. Will you take me?” I asked.
“Depends. I love your hair. I want to know how much you are getting cut off. Has something happened? You aren’t opening letters from your boyfriend, and now you want your hair cut. This feels like the time my sister cut her hair off when she went through a painful breakup. I don’t want to take you to get all your hair chopped off,” Joe said.
“I’m not cutting it all off. I just need to cut it. I’ll decide when I get there. Will you take me or not?”
My friend Joe begrudgingly said he’d take me to the salon. He pleaded with me not to go too short.
I really didn’t have a length in mind when I asked him to take me to the hair salon. I woke up that morning and decided that I needed a change. A big one for me. I’d never cut my hair beyond a trim, and my current length was well past my waist. At the time, I’d never heard of the concept that women cut their hair when they experience great change or a traumatic event. No one in my family had ever cut their hair for that reason, and I wasn’t aware of it as a normal act. It was just a strong feeling that compelled me to ask Joe if he would kindly take me. I didn’t have a car, so I either had to take public transportation to the mall or walk to my destinations.
The afternoon of the appointment, Joe arrived with additional warnings of how short he felt I should cut my hair. The entire car ride he bemoaned my decision and tried to convince me that this was a bad idea. I told him all would be fine.
The hair stylist patted the seat and began combing through my hair with her fingers. She complimented the health of my hair and admired the color. She smiled at me in the mirror, asking me what I wanted to do with it.
Joe, who who was sitting a few feet away, announced that I wanted to cut it off.
She laughed and said I surely wasn’t doing that. She asked me again if I’d just like a trim.
“No. I think I want something else. Can you cut it to here?” I held my hand up to my shoulder.
Her eyes widened as she looked at me with shock. “You don’t mean to cut it off at the shoulders, right? Honey, that’s a lot of hair. It is so pretty. I don’t think you are prepared for how that will look. Have you ever had short hair?”
“No, I haven’t. It’s just hair,” I replied.
She kept combing through my hair with her fingers, her touch becoming more nervous. “Honey, I don’t think your boyfriend wants you to cut that much off,” she said with a laugh and knowing glance.
“He isn’t my boyfriend. He is a friend and my ride. It is my hair and my decision.”
Joe was silent now. His worst fears were coming to fruition.
“Honey, let’s talk about it and see if we can’t come up with something else,” she said.
“No, I want to cut it off at the shoulders. Can you do it? I can go somewhere else if you won’t.”
She sighed and put my hair in a ponytail. “You understand that once I cut it off I can’t glue it back together.”
“Yes. I understand that.”
She inhaled deeply and asked once more if this is what I wanted.
“Yes. It is what I want.”
“Honey, are you okay? Has something happened?” she asked.
Seeing that I wasn’t budging, she sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. If I didn’t know better, I think she said a prayer. She opened her eyes, met mine in the mirror, and offered a sad smile. “Okay,” she said.
She picked up the scissors and cut off at least 18″ of my hair. Joe gasped. She held it for me to see.
“It’s just hair,” I said.
I had no reaction to my hair being cut. As I said, it wasn’t something I had planned. I woke up and felt that I needed a different look.
Thirty years later, I can see that my desire to cut my hair was a trauma response that gave me back some of the power that had been stripped from me. I needed to look as differently on the outside as I felt on the inside. Cutting my hair afforded me some control over the change I was forced to endure when I was raped. This hair cut, after all, was just a few weeks after my rape.
The hair that was removed from me was a physical representation of the change I had undergone. I was different now, and this new Jeannie needed to be physically different. It was a physical change I could easily alter. I didn’t know any of this at the time. I just craved to have a haircut. I needed to shed something, in the hopes that better would grow in place of it.
Joe rode back to school with me in silence. He was devastated at my choice. He was the only person who knew I was making such a change. My roommate couldn’t wrap her mind around my new look and started peppering me with questions as to why I had done it. Strangers stopped me as I walked across campus, asking why I had cut my hair. It was antithetical to my intention with the cut. I wanted to disappear, and yet, more people than ever were approaching me about my hair.
Only one person had something positive to say about my new cut. A campus construction worker who had seen me a few days prior and after stopped to tell me he liked my new cut. Everyone else either proclaimed, “Oh, you cut your hair!” or went with the sage advice I hadn’t asked for and said, “It will grow quickly” and marked me with their sad eyes. My mother saw me at Thanksgiving and wanted to know what I’d done to myself. She said it was ugly and there was no reason I needed to do that. She didn’t know what I needed to prove.
Well, I guess I needed to prove that my hair and my body were indeed my own. Maybe I was attempting to be less attractive. Maybe I needed to take the one thing that had always garnered me attention and destroy as much of it as I could stomach. I didn’t want admiration. I didn’t want attention. I didn’t want to be wanted.
I didn’t think my hair cut was ugly. I still don’t. It was different and definitely out of character for me, but it didn’t make me ugly.
For those who are contemplating cutting their hair after a challenging time or traumatic event, I say, “Go for it!” It will grow back. If it is a step that you need, even if you don’t know why or can’t explain it to anyone, just do it. I have zero regrets that I cut my hair back then. It was my own little rebellion that hurt no one. It did grow back, although much slower than I could have anticipated. It taught me I’m not fan of short hair on myself, and I learned that cutting off my hair doesn’t carve out the pain. It doesn’t remove it or make it lighter to carry. But, that was my lesson to learn. Mine. I’m still proud of myself for stepping out of my box and doing something I hadn’t expected myself to do. A small freedom, in the prison of my internal torment, felt like a grand thing.
I remember waking up in an angry panic. I was worried I would be late for history class. I respected the professor and didn’t want to show up late to his lecture. I sat in the front row, and it would be more than obvious if I entered mid-lecture.
I was angry that I was there. Disgusted that I was in a filthy motel room usually rented by the hour. The anger was like a hot poker stabbing me in the face. I wanted to scream. At him. At me. At time. At God. At anything that would let me scream. I wanted to scream until I wasn’t angry anymore.
I couldn’t put everything together. The night was a compilation of images and moments. Nothing flowed like it should. I was struggling to understand the haphazard playback in my mind. I pushed the thoughts aside and focused on the one thing I understood: getting away from him.
I panicked because I wasn’t sure I would get back to school safely. I didn’t know what his plan was, and I was completely in the middle of the ocean without a ship in sight. I didn’t have a driver’s license, much less an available car, and I knew I could walk back to campus if I had to, but I’d definitely be late for class, and I couldn’t get off of this wheel of thought. If anything other than him driving me back to campus occurred, my entire day would shift and I couldn’t take that instability. I needed to go to school and go to history class. That was my mantra. That was my plan. That was all I could focus on.
Shower. I needed a shower. I went straight to the bathroom and was grateful for the hot water that hit my body. I scrubbed with the tiny bar of soap, as my silent tears fell, landing next to the mix of sweat, sperm, and layers of cells I violently washed off of me with the aid of a scratchy washcloth. He entered the bathroom. We couldn’t see one another, as the years of soap scum and hard water spots created an opaque glass that offered me protection from his gaze.
His shadow approached the toilet. He laughed and said he really needed to pee. He said we didn’t need to be in a hurry. He said I could skip my classes for the day.
No. No. No. No. No. I told him that I needed to get back to campus. I said I couldn’t afford to miss class and work, and it would raise all kinds of flags as to why I wasn’t there. Realistically, my absences would raise eyebrows, and I’d have to answer for it, but I needed to make him feel like I would be missed and people would worry enough to seek me out. He didn’t know any better and accepted my answer.
He continued to pee and said that he could join me in the shower.
I said I was nearly done and needed to dry and fix my hair. He left the bathroom and I exited the shower, quickly wrapping up in the only available towel. He was back before I could turn around, the smell of him alerting me of his return.
My heart was beating as though I’d just finished a sprint. I maintained his eye contact as he walked around me, manically smiling as though he were giving me a view I craved. He entered the shower, and as he started to whistle, I ran to quickly dress in the other room. I stood in front of the mirror, lost in my face. I felt like a separate being, trapped inside a shape I recognized but couldn’t connect with as being me. I was shaking. The reflection pursued her lips and stared ahead, her hair flying around her as though it were trying to escape the room and the hot dryer she waved about it.
The anger rose up and bubbled over, streaming into every pore of my body. I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of that room. Flee. Run. Escape. I knew I was in danger.
I grabbed my backpack and took inventory of the room. If necessary, there were chairs I could use to fight him off with and get out of the door. I just needed to get out of that room. Sunshine and oxygen were on the other side.
He took his time getting out of the shower. He never stopped whistling. His pride was loud and echoing in my ears. I steeled myself for a fight when he came out of the bathroom. He vocalized a disappointing sigh when he spotted me gripping my bag with an eagerness to go.
“Why so anxious? Why don’t you skip today? We could have more fun.”
I shrugged and repeated that I would definitely be missed if I didn’t return soon. I kept looking for things that I could use should he attempt to prevent me from leaving. The plastic forks and knives from the Taco Bell meal we ate the night before were not much help. That moment, as I focused on the empty food and soda containers, would later be the puzzle piece that unlocked the “how” for me. He’d given me a soda and the lid was attached with the straw, but it wasn’t snapped closed. I’d commented that it was strange. He’d brushed it off like it wasn’t odd. I’d come to realize that was how he drugged me. I’d interrupted him, and he couldn’t quickly get the lid back on the cup
He finally started to dress, complaining the entire time, and telling me that I just needed to loosen up. Finally, he opened the door, and I practically ran to his car. He laughed, joking that I really took my studies seriously and commented on how cute it was that I couldn’t wait to get back.
Thankfully, school wasn’t far, and he drove straight there. He pulled up to the front of the student center, near where a trio of men were performing landscape work. I opened the car door, hesitating as the men all stopped doing what they working on to turn and stare. Classes were in session, and the campus was quiet sans their trimmers. I made eye contact with each of the men, but it wasn’t comforting to me. I couldn’t read their expressions. They weren’t smiling, and I certainly wasn’t offering a friendly greeting. His loud laughter interrupted my thoughts.
As I stepped out of the door, he laughed and said, “That is how it will be from now on. They are staring at you because you are different. They know what you did last night. It is all over your face. They know by how you walk. They can smell it. They know that you have had sex.”
I slammed the car door on his dreadful laughter and didn’t look at him. I faced the men and met their gazes with defiance. “Don’t look at me!” I wanted to shout. Instead, I quickly ran to class, anxious to be outside his reach in a classroom that offered safety.
I remember apologizing to my professor at my tardiness. I sank into my seat, allowing myself to exhale for the first time all morning. The classmate next to me asked if I was okay. I nodded. “I’m fine.”
I don’t know what was discussed that day in class. I don’t know how I got from my classes to work and to the dorms that day. Everything was different. Every piece of me was different. I was not the same. I wondered if what he said were true. Was I marked in some way?
All I wanted was to call my boyfriend. All I needed to hear was that he loved me and it would be okay.
Later, as I sat in my room, wishing I could piece together everything, straining to understand, the grief washed over me. I was gone. I didn’t know who this new person was, but she wasn’t me. My brain flooded with statements of blame and shame. I knew that I was tarnished. I was less than I was a day ago. I didn’t deserve my boyfriend, and why would he want me anyway. I wasn’t the girl he loved. I wasn’t worthy of his love. I couldn’t keep him tethered to the worthless person I’d become. I vowed to deal with this on my own and release him to find someone worthy of him.
I believed I was fine. It wasn’t the first time something bad had happened to me. In my regular style and family training, I simply needed to push on and forge past this moment. It was something that could be absorbed and never thought about again. I was wrong. I was so wrong.
It feels like a heartbeat ago. Recognizing that 30 years has passed since I last felt like the girl in this photo reminds me of the grieving that has been required of me since that day in 1993.
I look upon her face in awe. She was so young and hopeful. There wasn’t anything she didn’t believe she could do, and she was determined to work hard and earn everything that awaited her. She’d survived so much, waiting and believing that the best was just around the corner. I want to scoop her up and protect her. I want to get in a time machine and prevent the moments that are about to claim her life. There wasn’t an obituary when he took her life. Nobody but the two of them knew that he’d murdered her when he drugged her and repeatedly raped her throughout the night. Each time he took a little more of her light, a little more of her soul, until she was a shell that only resembled her. He stole everything from her.
I have grieved for you every day. I will grieve for you for the rest of my life.
I spoke about my rape for the first time on FB in a post on September 14, 2019. Here is that post:
Twenty-six years ago today, I was a freshman in college enjoying a night of music and dancing in the student center. I didn’t know that the person I was in that moment would never be seen again. I didn’t know that the person I was in that moment would be stolen by a man who was selfish and desired to claim one more virgin for his collection of rape victims. I didn’t know that the person I was in that moment would soon be drugged and raped repeatedly throughout the night. I didn’t know that the person I was in that moment, the eighteen-year-old young woman in purple sweatpants and a worn t-shirt, would wake up the next morning fearful for her life, trying desperately to piece together all that had happened to her overnight so that she might begin life anew as someone who carried the burden of her assault. Oh, sweet girl, if I could go back and change just a few moments of your night. I pause tonight to think of you and remember the girl who didn’t survive that night.
I speak out now because I could not do it then. I speak out now in the hope that I may offer some support to a woman who needs to hear a voice that understands. I needed it then. I speak out to normalize the act of listening to those who have a sexual assault story to tell. I speak out to help foster a world where there is no shame in speaking out about rape.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: a service of RAINN
A revenge comedy about two friends who reunite at a funeral to seek justice for a sexual assault that happened while they were in college. As a survivor of rape, I recommend this film and applaud the sensitivity and honesty with which the subject is handled. It is a movie with a great deal of humor, but above that, it has a heart.
Many movies I’ve seen miss the mark when attempting to express the feelings of those who have been sexually assaulted. This movie has some poignant moments that are beautifully expressed in the words of the script and the character portrayal by Jane Fonda.
Moving On can currently be seen on Hulu at the time of this posting.
There are some very memorable scenes in this film. Here are few of my favorite pieces of dialogue.
When Jane Fonda is expressing to Lily Tomlin how she wants revenge on her attacker, the following is said:
Lily Tomlin: “Oh, Claire, it’s been decades, and not like a couple of decades. It’s been four and a half decades!”
Jane Fonda: “It was yesterday.”
This hit me directly in the heart. It doesn’t matter how many years or decades it has been, for it always feels as though it was just a moment ago. Like a damaged nerve, where the ends are always attempting to reattach and reach out to the other, the person we become after a rape is continually seeking the person we were before. To remember her, to validate and soothe her.
It is one of the most insensitive comments a person can make to another, to inform them that a certain amount of time has passed and therefore the experience should be less painful. This has happened to me a few times. One was by a friend who was a widow and very comfortable grieving her for her loss many years later. I wouldn’t ever be able to tell her to “get over it…he died six years ago.” Unfortunately, she felt comfortable telling me that my rape “was in the past,” and I needed to move on.
Jane Fonda is speaking to her ex-husband, Ralph, and he wants to know what happened to her that made them a viable couple. She says something bad happened. He wants to know why she couldn’t tell him, and she says, “It made me mute. It made me deaf. It made me blind to you and to everything good in my life. I just couldn’t.”
This is exactly my experience. The shame I took on moved into every cell in my body and made me unable to speak my pain. It made me unable to accept that anyone could understand or love me. I was damaged. I was trash. I just had to get through it and keep my pain from overwhelming anyone else. It was my problem, and I wouldn’t make anyone else experience it.
There is another scene where Lily Tomlin is reminding Jane Fonda of all that she has now. She has children, grandchildren, and a nice home.
Jane Fonda replies, “You know what you have? You did what you want in life. That’s what you have.”
After her attack, we understand that she gave up becoming a photographer.
Yes! I understand this so well. Once I was raped, all that I ever was, including my dreams and hopes, were replaced by doubts and fears. I no longer had the self confidence needed to climb the last of the stairs necessary to reach the level I had been chasing. I turned down every opportunity that came my way. Those choices were stolen from me. I no longer believed in me. I was stolen.
Whether you are a survivor of rape or care for someone who is, I hope you’ll consider watching this film. It is very humorous, and while I’ve touched on the moments that made me appreciate the film as it relates to my sexual assault, it isn’t a heavy topic in the film.
Thirty years ago, on this very day in June, I left Virginia for Texas. I didn’t go willingly, and I did not possess a happy heart. Three days prior, I watched my love board a plane and return to Spain. I was finally at the time of my life I’d waited and worked for since I had known what it meant for one to have goals. I was headed to college in August. As far as I could see, my life was finally beginning.
This should have been one of the happiest times of my life. A dream brought to fruition by my hard work and determination. This win was mine, and yet, I felt alone and inconsolable at the loss of my home, friends, and boyfriend. Additionally, my parents chose the college that I would attend. They wanted to return to Texas and had forced me to apply to Texas Woman’s University (TWU) in Denton, Texas. While they weren’t paying for a dime of my education, I didn’t have a driver’s license, much less a car, and I was only in a position to do as I was told.
I calmed myself by believing that it didn’t matter if I started college at TWU. I could always transfer. At least I’d made it. I’d survived to eighteen years old (just barely 3.5 weeks prior), and I could begin living my life, even if my controlling parents were dictating how it would begin. I just needed to look at the positive and move forward. This was a rocky beginning, but it didn’t need to compose the complete narrative of my life. I just needed to embrace the journey and jump into the opportunities that waited for me. My boyfriend planned to return in a year, and we’d be on our way to our happily ever after.
My mindset had always been one that leaned toward the light. Like a plant seeking the sun, I would bend as needed to find a sliver of sustenance and bloom despite a less-than-ideal environment.
This challenge was nothing new and held the potential of a greater reward than I had ever known.
I packed, said my goodbyes to childhood friends, and I was once again dragged across state lines to a strange locale where I was the new girl without a friend in sight. Nothing new to see here.
This day, as we set out for an 18+ hour journey, I kept my face on the window, absorbing the sun’s warmth and encouragement. It was my only source of comfort.
Hold on. Just hold on.
Hold on. Just hold on.
Hold on. Just hold on.
I repeated this phrase to myself until the rhythm muted my mother’s mocking laughter, as she poked fun at my heartbreak.
Hold on. You are almost free.
You are almost who you’ve always wanted to become.
In a month, he will be gone from this Earth for a year. For me, you died today, the moment I saw your obituary. Until we know someone has died, they live in this forever alive bubble that gives us false belief that we could see them again one day. Until we can’t.
I started writing this a month ago. It has taken me that long to navigate my feelings and discover how I wanted to express the sense of loss I feel. Writing is the way in which I do that, and this is the platform I have to express it upon. This is my goodbye to my first puppy love. I don’t use that term as a negative. Quite the opposite, as I use it with reverence. We had a fantastic love that consisted of loving one another for who they were. I use puppy as a term of youth, not to say we didn’t have true feelings.
I had slept so soundly, in a way that I hadn’t slept in twenty years. I woke up remembering I had dreamed of Jason. It was a vivid dream that felt so real, as though he had been right in front of me. In my dream, we were on a park bench, surrounded by fall foliage of incredible colors. I asked him why we were meeting here, and he said because he knew I liked it. He then looked at me, smiled from his eyes, and told me to look him up. I asked what he meant, and he told me to look him up. I woke up, feeling incredibly rested and happy. I’d certainly not gone to bed expecting to dream of him, but what a nice visit we had in my dream.
Later that day, I felt a pull on my mind, hearing his voice instructing me to look him up. I quickly felt all the joy I’d experienced earlier leave me. The first return on the internet search was his obituary, dated 2020.
I could never stay mad at him. He made jokes about his mistakes and made sure you quickly replaced anger with laughter. He was pure sunlight to me. Bright blonde hair and blue eyes that never made me want to stop gazing into them. I was a serious student who thrived on teacher approval, and he was the class clown who didn’t care for school and was often punished with spankings or whoopings, as we called it, with a wooden paddle, for failing to complete his homework or talking in class. Corporal punishment was alive and well in Tennessee in the ’80s.
We were boyfriend and girlfriend from the sixth to the eighth grade. My father thought Jason could do no wrong. Truth be told, Jason was very similar to my father in personality, but his spirit was more sensitive and gentle. Jason worked hard in the fields in the summer, and my father liked that. He also liked the way Jason made me smile. “If he makes my daughter smile like that, he can’t be too bad.”
He was everything I didn’t have in my life. He was steady and dependable. He loved me openly and without judgement. He had lived in the same town his whole life and knew he would die there, too. I was a wandering leaf, blowing in the wind, never staying in one place long enough to call it home. I had learned to be independent and quiet. He lived life out loud, dancing when the spirit struck him, and always finding a moment to be tender with affection. I’d never experienced anything like him.
Our differences made us great friends and the points where we touched and overlapped made us always seek one another out. I have so many fun stories of my time with him, but ultimately, the greatest moment we shared was the time we had to say goodbye.
My life was tumultuous at best, and in my thirteen years on the planet, I had learned that the rug was always waiting to be pulled out from under me. It had happened many times before, but this time, I was completely caught off guard. It was early November, and everyone was preparing plans for Thanksgiving and school break. When I got home that day, my mother opened the door to tell me that I needed to start packing, as my father had left us, we were evicted, and we were going to Arkansas to see my half-sister who I hadn’t seen since I was three.
We had been evicted before. My father had left us before. I’d moved around a lot. The difference was, this time I was connected to someone that made me want to never move again. I wasn’t crazy about the small town in Tennessee, but I was crazy about that boy, and the thought of leaving him made this time hurt way worse than all the times before.
My mother moved about in a frenzied state, calling U-Haul to get a truck, smoking cigarette after cigarette as though it gave her body fuel. She paused long enough to tell me how embarrassed she was because the cop who served the eviction notice was Jason’s Uncle. He knew of me and had been very kind to her. I wanted to disappear. I knew this small town would soon be craving more information and making up stories to fill in the gaps. The story was simple–my father was poor at money management and frequently found himself in need of financial support from his mother. He’d run off to her open arms while my mother and I cleaned up the mess he left behind. I’ve never publicly said any of this, as it was always drilled into me that my life should be a secret, and no one should know what happened in our home. It isn’t easy to write.
Jason called me later that night, and I listened to him tell me about school and what he was looking forward to over break. I just wanted to listen to him. He noticed how quiet I was and asked what was wrong. I honestly cannot remember if I told him then or the next morning before school that I was leaving. I have an extraordinarily good memory, but this moment is blank for me. I can only remember hurting and feeling like I needed to protect him from the pain I was about to inflict.
The next day at school, I had to alert my teachers about my move. I wanted to leave the school as quietly as possible. I didn’t like to attract attention when I exited a school. I didn’t like to attract attention at all, but being the perpetual “new girl” as frequently as I was, it was unavoidable. I didn’t plan on telling anyone about my move until a nice boy in my class commented that I seemed so sad that day. I was always the happy girl, and people notice when you aren’t smiling. We were in the hallway, between classes, and I told him. I figured I didn’t have anything to lose. He was a friend, but not someone I was very close with or knew well. His face fell and he started to cry. I hadn’t experienced this before, as I usually wasn’t around when people discovered I was no longer at the school. He hugged me, and I started to cry. We drew a lot of attention and word quickly reached Jason that I was hugging a boy and crying. He came to me immediately, and soon there were a number of students hugging the three of us. It was a profound moment for me. I truly felt that I would be missed, and I hadn’t experienced that before.
Jason was in a very quiet mood. He wasn’t speaking to anyone, and friends reported to me throughout the day that he was crying off and on in classes. I had wanted to avoid this. I felt so badly for his pain, and I didn’t know how to ease it. This was my last day at school, and I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be with Jason, but I didn’t want to talk about what happened or why I was moving. It was not a topic I was allowed to speak about. It didn’t really matter; I was a kid and my parents told me what to do and when to do it. I was leaving, and that was it.
That night, as we were preparing to leave Tennessee, Jason’s mother invited me and my mother over so that we could have dinner and and say goodbye. I don’t know what magic Mrs. B. said to my mother, but it worked, and soon my mother and I were at their home. We all visited for a bit, but Jason was more than ready to get outside and speak to me in private.
Jason lived atop a mountain and it was very cold on this November evening. The sun was already down, and the clear night meant it was a perfect night for stargazing. We talked about what happens next, and he spoke to me in the softest, gentlest way that my confused and broken heart needed. I had no idea what was in store for me in the coming weeks, and he knew that I was putting on the strongest front that I could muster. He held my hand so tightly and told me that he loved me and would never let me go. He wanted a plan for communication and he gave directives on the need for phone calls. His mother would periodically poke her head out to check on us, making sure we hadn’t frozen to death.
We held hands, looking at the stars, astounded by their beauty, knowing that no matter where we were, the stars were going to always shine on us, creating a connection between us. He turned on a nearby radio and “Groovy Kind of Love,” by Phil Collins started playing. It was our song. I’d never had a song with a boy before. We held each other as we swayed to the music. A barn kitten crawled up the exterior of my pants and tried to nestle between us. He removed her, placing her on the ground with instruction that he needed nothing between us. The swirl of sadness and gratefulness for the moment were overwhelming to me. I never wanted the night to end. I was scared as to what would happen to me next, unprepared for the future that had no plan.
Jason pushed my hair out of my face and kissed me. It was my first adult kiss. My breath was taken away, and I felt like I was in a movie. We paused long enough for him to look me in the eye and smile in that charming and silly way that made my heart accelerate. “No matter what happens, baby. I’ll always be here for you,” he said.
Jason and I would write and call one another over the next year. He always wanted to know when I was coming back. “When are you coming home?” he would ask. I’d say that it wasn’t home for me anymore, and he’d say that wasn’t true. When we talked, it was as if I had never moved. He kept me updated on his work, school, and friends. He wanted to know what was going on with me, and it was difficult for me to talk about my home life, so I didn’t. I knew that if he really knew what was happening, he would be angry at his inability to make things better for me. He truly was someone who wanted to make things the best they could be for those he loved. I knew I wasn’t moving back to Tennessee while I lived at home, and I had no desire to move back when I went to college. I knew that the best thing to do was to let him move on. I stopped calling as often, and he followed suit. I hadn’t heard from him in few months, and out of the blue, there he was. “Hey, baby.”
He’d just gotten in from a baseball game and wanted to know what was new. I was angry with him for calling. I told him that I was trying to get over him. “Well, good thing I called. You aren’t supposed to get over me,” he replied. I could hear the smile in his voice. Knowing I’d probably never see that smile again hit me harder than I was prepared to acknowledge. We quarreled. He didn’t understand why I wasn’t over the moon to talk to him. I told him I just needed to close that door. I stressed how important it was for us to be realistic. He grew angry at my distance and he asked if I wanted to talk to him again. I said no. We both hung up the phone saturated in anger and sadness. I really missed him, but I knew I’d never return to his world, so it was easier to let go. I didn’t really have a choice.
Fast forward to my first year in college, and I called him. His father answered the phone, and we talked for a bit, as he was happy to hear from me. He passed the phone to his wife, and we spent time catching up and laughing about old times. She was remorseful that I’d never moved back and expressed that Jason would be so happy to talk to me. She kept stressing that if I had stayed things would have been different for everyone, but she didn’t elaborate. Jason would need to call me back, as he was at work.
I’d busied myself after that call and wasn’t sure if I’d hear from him, but true to his mom’s word, he rang. I didn’t have Caller ID, so when I picked up the phone, I did so blindly. I said hello and heard him smile before he said, “Hey! Hey, it’s Jason! Mom said you called! I can’t believe you called…” and he took off talking a mile a minute. Years melted away, and we were two kids laughing and catching up. He grew serious when I asked him what his Mom meant about things being different. He explained he was about to become a father.
I smiled. Jason had wanted kids since we were in the sixth grade. I know that sounds odd, but he always looked forward to being a dad. The details of his saga didn’t matter, for I knew he would do the right thing by the mom and the child. We talked about my being at college and how, by all measures, our paths were going as planned.
We both expressed how we’d missed the other over the years, and he asked if I’d ever “found another blonde haired, blue-eyed boy” to replace him. Nope. Never had. He was pleased at that. We spoke about the letters from each other we had kept (letters I still have). We ended the conversation with laughter, and I could feel his love and friendship as though no time had ever come between us. It was the last time I ever spoke to him. I would go on to see his brother and have communication with him for a bit, but I never spoke to Jason again.
When I discovered that Jason had died, the ice cold reality that I’d never have the opportunity to have the chance to see him, either by plan or circumstance, hit me on a level I couldn’t have expected. People we’ve not seen in a period of time live in a realm of possibility. We might get together one day. We might run into one another one day. When they die, that moment will never happen. Never. The finality of that is a harsh lesson to hold in your heart. I suddenly realized that I had hoped to see him one day and discover how it all turned out. Death destroys hope.
I’ve always been in love with the stars, but I find myself looking up and smiling at the energy I believe was added to the universe on the moment of his death. He is infinitely beautiful and a guiding light. His energy exists in the stars now.
Jason, I’m grateful for having known you. I’m honored to have been loved by you and to have had the opportunity to love you. I hope you had more days of joy and laughter than you ever had of sorrow. Thank you for being the boy who taught me that I didn’t have to fear the love or touch of another. Thank you for always making me feel beautiful and giving me the gift of your smile and supportive ear. Thank you for running to my defense when you felt I’d been harmed, and thank you for never hurting me. My sweet, groovy kind of love, thank you for seeing me. May you rest in peace and love.
I recently had the pleasure of attending an online painting class, and this is the result. It really couldn’t have been more perfect.
Happy New Year! 2017! Wow. I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to see those last two digits change, and with the progression, I look forward to a blank slate–a year filled with possibility and opportunity. I’m also reminded of years past, and I grow nostalgic of certain milestones in my life.
This New Year’s Eve, I celebrated 17 years as a non-meat eater. The stark revelation of how many years it has been since that cold Illinois night when I looked down at my skillet and decided that I could no longer be a hypocrite nearly overwhelms me. That night, I put a change into motion that forever altered the course of my life. No, it wasn’t the only life-altering moment I’ve ever experienced, but it was a major one.
My family believed that if you didn’t ingest meat, you weren’t healthy. There were meals where meat was absent, but my parents tried to make sure that a meat was served at least once a day. Meat equaled nutrition to my parents. They did not see it as a bad thing, and they certainly did not have a clue as to what was happening to animals on the slaughter room floor. I never discussed the plight of farm animals with my parents. My father had hunted animals and my mother cleaned and cooked the animals he killed, but as a child, that was as close to a discussion or experience I had with them regarding humane methods of killing animals.
I never cared for meat. Yes, I ate it. I was taught to eat what was placed before me. However, when given the choice, I gravitated toward vegetables and fruits.
Educating Myself and Others…
From the age of 18, I was involved in animal welfare causes and rescue organizations. With each passing year, I became more involved, and I would later begin working with a local humane society and eventually become the vice president of the Board of Directors.
As an animal advocate, I rescued animals from horrific conditions and treatment. I saw behind the curtain of slaughterhouses when I learned how animals raised for human consumption are treated and killed. Once you know these facts, you can never “unknow” them. You can never mute the cries of pain.
I spent a majority of my time educating the public about humane animal treatment. I opposed dog fighting and worked to enact legislation that would increase the penalties for participating in the activity. I worked diligently to help provide a voice for the animals who had none.
Suddenly, on New Year’s Eve in 1999, as I stood above my skillet filled with popping fried chicken, THE truth hit me, and I could not unring that bell. How could I, in an attempt to raise funds and awareness for abused animals, participate in a fundraiser where I served a meal that included animals who were treated similarly or far worse? I was a hypocrite, and I did not want to be one. The only difference was a label–one is pet and the other is a commodity. Pain and suffering spans all species and labels. I turned off the skillet, and over the next few days, my three dogs would consume the chicken that pushed me into a new year and awareness about my life’s journey.
I lived in a rural part of Illinois. The small store twelve miles from my house sold pantry staples, but if you wanted something else, you had to travel to one town 45 minutes away, or drive over an hour in the other direction. It was 1999, and meat substitutions weren’t on every store shelf and readily available. I didn’t have a friend who was vegetarian or vegan, so I didn’t have a model from which to learn or emulate. As a lover of food, especially southern foods, I really didn’t know what to do, but I knew that my days of eating meat were over. I became a vegetarian.
I embraced the challenge, and on New Year’s Eve in 2009, I became a vegan.
Seventeen years later…
“I couldn’t live without meat” is a comment I’ve heard many times. Well, look at me, eating a plant-based diet for 17 years and living just fine! Deciding to leave animal products and by-products out of my diet is the best decision I have ever made. Unlike other decisions, I’ve never regretted it.
Happy New Year! May 2017 be a year of growth and success for you.
Banned Books Week – September 27, 2015 – October 3, 2015
I love reading banned books. It encourages the tiny rebel that lives in a dark corner of my psyche. Who are YOU to tell ME what to read?
I don’t know about you, but when I look at the titles on the banned book list, I see books that have made a profound impact on my life. The books are deep, thought-provoking literary guideposts that reflect our culture and experience on this planet. What one person labels “dirty” or “inappropriate” shouldn’t be the deciding factor on whether or not another person has the opportunity to read a book. Parents who protest a book’s inclusion into the school library because it speaks about slavery or homosexuality should be allowed to have their child excluded from reading the book, but they shouldn’t be allowed to speak for every parent and child.
There are those who defend the censorship, but when you show them the banned books list, they are dumbfounded when they realize one of their favorite books is included on the list. Well, some people will have this reaction and others will continue to blindly defend the censorship.
While things appear to be quiet around the site, my life has been anything but silent and boring.
I really don’t know where 2015 has gone. The stores are filled with all things fall, Halloween, and Christmas. I understand why this is necessary from the retail perspective, but it is also a good illustration of how crowded the end of the year becomes for most of us. I love this time of year, and as a result, I am more creative during this period. This increase in creativity and productivity can sometimes push me to the limits of my energy supply, but as the saying goes, “I can sleep when I’m dead.”
Here are a few updates about my site and my work.
The “Shop” tab isn’t new, but the items in it are new and shiny. Now you can purchase paperbacks of my book (signed, of course), and you can pick up some other awesome items like embroidered wall art, cup cozies, altered notebooks, embroidered key fobs, and more. I have many products in development and hope that you will turn remember to shop with me when you are looking for a little treat for yourself or that perfect gift for someone else. As an illustrator and artist, I’m excited to offer you additional products that reflect other sides of me.
I’ve also added a tab for “Stuff Jeannie Loves at Amazon” below the “About Me” tab. There are links to products I’ve reviewed and products that one could find within the pages of Manual Exposure. I’ve also added categories for the reader or writer in your life. Stay tuned, as this store will continue to grow and expand.
There is a third “shop” option that exists through my Zazzle store. You can purchase items that I’ve personally designed with my illustrations, photographs, and sayings. There are items related directly to Manual Exposure and there are general items that target readers and writers in general.
Events in my personal life, including issues with health and family, have pushed my writing to the back burner. I haven’t stopped promoting and expanding the reach of Manual Exposure, but I haven’t been able to suspend all other activities in my life and focus on completing my second book. I’ve been working on it, and I can’t wait to give you more details, but I haven’t been able to devote the time to it that it deserves. I hope the remaining months of 2015 will be dedicated to bringing more life to the pages of my second book.
I’m focusing on getting Manual Exposure on the shelves of more independent bookstores and creating opportunities to meet you at book signings and readings. My “Events” page is the place to watch for all the latest dates and occasions that may be near you.
There will be new essays coming to the blog, as well as a new segment that follows my travels. I like to take weekend or day trips to little spots near me, and I hope to bring these adventures to your inbox.
I can simply state that more podcasts are on the way. I love offering you the podcasts, but they do take a good chunk of time to edit. There are more book reviews and author interviews planned, so keep your ears open for a podcast update!
If you haven’t already, you’ll want to sign up to receive my newsletter. There are giveaways, updates, teasers, and special deals that are either offered exclusively or early to my newsletter subscribers. Don’t worry, I won’t drown your inbox with junk, and you can unsubscribe at any time if you find it is not to your liking.
Thank you to all who continue to support me by spreading the word about Manual Exposure and those who loyally return to the digital pages of this blog. I appreciate each of you, and I hope that you will continue to send me your notes and comments. I love reading them and responding to you. Thank you for taking the time to reach out to me.
I’ve sold eBook and paperback copies of Manual Exposure, but until the Bookmarks Festival of Authors and Books, my book has never been available for purchase at a local venue where any member of the public could pick up the book, flip through the pages, and feel the weight of my words in their hands. As a child and teenager, I attended book festivals and dreamed of the day I would see my book offered to interested readers. Thanks to the local Charlotte chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, I was able to reach that important milestone.
Fellow members of the local WNBA traveled to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to promote both the organization and member authors at the festival. The volunteers set up a lovely booth that featured published works from the members of the organization. Can you spot Manual Exposure on the table?
Between you and me, I would have happily stayed and watched the people come and go from the booth all day. I enjoy watching them scan the books and pick up the titles that intrigue them. I closely watch their reactions as they read the cover of the book and make a momentary judgement as to whether or not that specific title is destined to go home with them. I am frequently that reader, but I’ve never seen anyone do that with my book, and frankly, I can’t imagine ever growing tired of watching that dance.
I’m a new WNBA member, and I’m so glad to see the local chapter working to expand the name recognition for both the organization and the members. It takes time, money, and a great deal of energy to make it to an event like Bookmarks, and I appreciate the efforts and challenges the volunteers faced during the day. The calendar may have rolled forward to September, but this festival day was hot and humid. The volunteers always had a sweet smile and greeting ready for all who stepped up to the booth, and I can’t thank them enough for the work they did.
I really didn’t anticipate that I would sell any books at the festival. Aside from the big names that drew the crowd to the event, there were hundreds of titles waiting to be gobbled up by excited readers. Just having my book available for purchase was a big deal to me. I am the type of person who celebrates the little moments that others tend to overlook or downplay. When Manual Exposure went live as an eBook, my eyes were filled with tears. I felt the same giddiness when I saw my book on that table at the festival as I did when I hit publish on Amazon. Every step of this journey is a dream come true, and I don’t intend on ever forgetting it or ignoring how it makes me feel.
“Shut up!” were the first words out of my mouth when I checked back at the booth during a mid-day break. The volunteers told me that I had sold a book, and I couldn’t have been more excited and shocked if they had told me I had won a lottery jackpot. This was my jackpot. They explained that the woman had liked my cover and thought the summary sounded interesting. She loved that I’d signed the book, too.
Just as they were telling me the news, the woman who purchased the book returned to the booth and I was introduced as the author of her new book purchase. Seriously, that alone was enough to make me want to squeal.
She said that the cover of my book was beautiful and the photograph just drew her in. As a photographer, the title and photograph on the cover were big pulls for her. I desperately tried to not burst into tears. I took the cover photograph in Asheville, North Carolina, during the peak of the fall season of 2011. My husband and I had driven our beloved dog, Grandbury, on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. Grandbury had such a wonderful day in the sun as he watched the landscape swirl around him. I’m so thankful that I captured that beautiful day and moment. Later that day, Grandbury would have the first of many seizures that indicated the likelihood of a brain tumor.
If it isn’t clear, my love for Asheville runs deep and in every pore of my being. To see someone connect with a photo that I took, a photo that is washed in memories and love, a photo that represents Asheville to me, means the world to me.
Her excitement about reading a book by some unknown author tickles me to no end. I’ve been that reader. I’ve been drawn to a book and purchased it for no other reason than liking the cover or book synopsis. Except now, the book that drew someone in and prompted them to take a gamble with their time and money–is mine. My book, my words, and ultimately me.
I’ll admit that I am not a cool author. I walked to the next discussion panel with tears in my eyes and the goofiest grin on my face. That reader will never know what her purchase meant to me, and I hope that she isn’t disappointed and loves my story and characters. Because of her, I ached to go home and get back to work on my second novel. Seeing a person connect with my book on a personal level is the most addictive part of being a writer. Knowing that I have had an impact on someone as so many authors have had on me is almost impossible to perceive.
You’ve been warned. I’m not a cool author. I may appear shy at your praise because I’m afraid if I open my mouth I may howl with tears of joy. I’ll try to get better; but never doubt that sweet words from a reader go straight to my heart and inspire me to return to the page. I never want to be so cool that I ever forget this feeling and what it means to connect with my readers. I always dreamed of it, but as a child who grew up in many trailer parks, I never knew if I’d ever get to see someone point to my book, choose it over the other selections, and take it home as a new treasure they had discovered.
I’ve now seen that happen in my lifetime. To other writers, young and old, I hope you dare to dream that for yourself. The time it takes to get to that moment doesn’t matter. I just want you to know that it can happen. No matter your circumstance, I encourage you to dream that your work and words will and do matter. The key is never to forget that this is what you wanted and to recognize the moment when it happens. Should a moment like this ever fail to impress you or mean something to you, for your sake and that of the readers, I hope you put the pen down.
As for me, I’m writing. I am uncool and greedy. I want to experience that moment again and again.