I See Your Misogyny, and I Raise You a Marathon

What draft is this? Five? Six, maybe? I have sat down to write this out, oh, so many times now. The first draft— a familial past I’m still too ashamed of to talk about. The second draft—too angry, too hostile. Was that gas-lighting I smelled in draft number three? Self-doubt consumed four. And then existed those in between. Nebulous amalgams of five and three, a dash of one with a pinch of four, and two with some sugar to tone it down, which merely rendered it tone deaf.

So, what is this story I need to divulge? Be out with it already, I not-so-gently coax myself. Come on, GRRL, four boys sexually harassed and bullied you at work, and you trained for and ran a marathon to cope…OK, you take it from here…

Within me, exists this Janus, this dichotomous, split personality of wanting to purge by hastily spilling experiences on to a page while battling the distrustful perfectionist who guards the narrative. They’ve battled over draft after draft, sentence after sentence, secret after secret, but on one point they agree: part of my healing necessarily entails writing my truth.

The high school I work at touts itself as a safe space for people who skirt the fringes of what society deems acceptable: the trans teen kicked out of her home for living her truth; the student of color who felt silenced by the suffocating privilege of neoliberals and their self-serving, selective allyship; the young person tired of being slut-shamed and the recipient of unsolicited dick pics because they wear a crop top. But when you cater to the subversive individuals, you also pull from their subversive counter cultures, some of which, ironically, have yet to progress beyond the poison of toxic masculinity and misogyny. Counter cultures in which the young cisgendered men celebrate fucking chicks behind a dumpster, adopt social media handles such as Dead Bitch in a Pool, degrade each other through intensely homophobic rhetoric, and reduce women to holes and crevasses in which to thrust their prepubescent penises. Older generations pass down this sickness to their successors like a right of passage, marking their transition to manhood with cheap beer and a blowjob from a toothless hooker. Their mothers applaud the presence of “positive older male role models” in the lives of their formidable sons. They brag about their children’s athleticism and potential to “go pro.” They flaunt their privilege and wealth to manipulate those who pose a threat to their sons’ supremacy. These boys and their families, completely devoid of any motivation to swallow the social justice pill we’re serving, were not ready for my school, and my school was not ready for these boys and their families.

This subjugation and sexual objectification of women, once quite normalized within their circle and willfully ignored by their mothers, manifests in truly sick ways. The fodder for a joke emerged when a much older male (you know, one of those “positive older role models” their mothers love so much) in their incestuous community gave them access to a naked picture of their teacher. Hahahahaha! Hilarious! So hilarious, in fact, that they just had to share it—at school—with other students. Because everyone needed to be in on the joke because women are comedy material because women are just fuck toys, right? Hahahahaha! Yes, these boys laughed and shared, laughed and shared. But not everyone was laughing. One of their female-identified peers—sacred. A skate shop owner—disgusted. Me, the teacher in the photo—um, name and emotion, I felt it. Sorry, Calvin Harris, some feels are not worth catching.  Once their parents swooped in with their “boys will be boys” rhetoric and one flexed her “I’m-a-big-bad-lawyer-so-there” muscles, my administration was rendered helpless and the school community a playground for unfettered bullying and sexual harassment. Now more emboldened and enabled than ever, the boys arrogantly ignored orders to stop sharing the image and talking about it with peers. Instead of engaging in restorative justice to repair the damage they inflicted, they hurled at me in the halls gendered insults. “Cunt!” “Shut the fuck up, slut!” “Because she’s a bitch.” They drew other peers into their sick plot to defile me for fun, unleashing a tirade of emotional and verbal abuse. Punch—“We’re gonna get you fired!” Uppercut—“Sign this petition to get Julia fired!” Roundhouse kick to the head—“She threatened to curb stop us!”  They defied pleas to leave me alone, knowing that anything they did would be shielded by Mommy. So, like a good, submissive little slut, I lowered my head and took the beating.

The irony, here, is that I am ok with being what society deems slutty. A woman who defines her own sexual identity and defies the patriarchal prison that we owe one man our virginity. A woman who threatens men’s fragile notion that their masculinity is somehow grounded in a sexual prowess not becoming of a lady. So, I embrace my “sluttiness” as a queer polyamorous woman. But my slutty story is one I get to control, not an insular group of mini misogynists. Attempts of others to dictate and narrate my story chips away at my soul and diminishes, with each incident, my desire to exist. I find myself in an abusive relationship with myself, questioning whether or not I am worthy of self-love, of life. During this past school year, I stopped fantasizing about destination races, lesson plans, strategies to support my daughter, and vintage wardrobe ensembles. Living in fear and utterly consumed by my anxiety disorder, I obsessively visualized placing a gun to my head. And while I never pulled the trigger, this scenario, this exit from life, consumed my being. I entered a sick cycle after each incident at school of days spent deteriorating then rebuilding only to return to be victimized again by those boys. Bed became one of my only safe spaces, where I would languish under the covers envisioning the cool metal of a gun pressed against my feverish temple, having to remind myself every so often to breathe before my chest exploded. I lay there, petrified but panicked, knowing I was failing my children, my students, and myself and yet for these same three, I had to live. I had to fight.

Get up, GRRL! You have a hill workout. Get up! Today you hit the track. Move, it’s just an easy five. Today is steady state or tempo, you’re favorite, let’s go. Long run with Eliza. You can’t stand her up for 18. And so on and so forth. I lived by Coach Michele’s plan for me. Even during those stretches when depression and my bed swallowed me whole, I ran. Even during those dark conversations with myself, when my fictitious gun pierced layers of my temple in a futile attempt to silence my thoughts, I acquiesced that dying today would prevent me from completing my run tomorrow, so live I must.

And, so, to the boys who relentlessly bullied me, I saw your misogyny, and I raised you a marathon.

To their mothers who enabled and excused, I saw your misogyny, and I raised you a marathon.

To the colleague who coddled the boys and minimized their toxic behavior, I saw your misogyny, and I raised you a marathon.

To the therapist who slut-shamed and victim-blamed me, I saw your misogyny, and I raised you a marathon.

To the “Union Cowboy” who did not believe me, I saw your misogyny, and I raised you a marathon.

To the patriarchal systems that historically silence women victimized by men, I saw your misogyny, and I raised you a marathon.

As with life, there came a point during the marathon when I wanted to give up. I am certain anyone who has ever run a marathon knows exactly at what point that was. Yes, mile 22. Ah, those last four miles: so close to death, yet so close to the finish. But unlike the 10k or half marathon distance, where I can talk myself through those last few laps around a track, I found myself losing a battle to fatigue and self-loathing. Tears gathered, panic set in, breathing became even more labored—and then my run angel spoke. “You cannot cry,” Paula ordered sternly. “If you cry, you will not be able to breath. You cannot cry.” I remember looking at her, this beautiful human who had joined me all fresh and perky at mile 20, like, bitch, who the fuck are you to tell me what to do?! Can’t you see I’m dying here? But, of course, Paula was right. No, I could not cry, and, god damn it, it was time to suck it up and finish! I looked at my watch, turned to Paula, and replied, “OK, let’s get this shit over with.”

I wish I could run through the trauma of this past year with the same perseverance. I want it to end in the same definitive fashion. I want to stop sobbing so I can again take a deep breath. Even as I write this, I am fighting a heavy bout of depression as I contemplate returning to work this fall. What am I walking into? After lawyers, lawyers, more lawyers, and an independent, comprehensive investigation that concluded the conduct of the boys constituted sexual harassment and bullying (duh), there’s talk of “making things right.”  But as August ticks way, I grow tired of talking and my confidence wains. Can I do this? To be honest, I don’t know. But I do know one thing for certain. I can train for and run a marathon, and so train for and run another marathon I will. Because even in those moments when I don’t want to live, I want to run, I need to run, and, consequently, I live.

Because Today I Recalled His Eyes

**Content Warning: A raw journal entry. It contains a description and mention of suicide.** 

 

I ran track all throughout 6th and 7th grade. The long jump was my favorite event. A parent of this wretched girl Annie would shout, “Run, Long Legs!” from the bleachers. Her daughter bullied me relentlessly. I hated that girl. I loved the track, though. I clung to the one quality that got me picked first for kickball on the playground. It was all I had, this knack for speed and sports. My father clung to it too, desperately almost, as if this ability remained my only attribute he could find to celebrate when my engagement in school dwindled along with my self-confidence. Annie helped to smash that; she was really good at it, too. She truly knew how to rain insults and solicit bullying via three-way calling. My dad didn’t want to hear about those phone calls. Instead, he drove me to track, basketball, soccer, volleyball practices and games. He coached my soccer team, despite also becoming the target of Annie’s relentless bullying. It’s as if he ceased to understand me when adolescence hit, so he scraped together faux meaning out of the only connection to me he felt remained: athletics.

But it wasn’t enough, of course. How could it be? A father-daughter relationship built on something so fragile, so superficial? I had been gone from home for almost a month, living in shelters, under bridges, down at Westlake Park, when he found me, high as a fucking kite having been up all night at a warehouse party. I remember the look in his eyes–one of despair, desperation, really–when he approached his spun-out, 14-year-old daughter to take her to soccer camp.  Yes, soccer camp. I hadn’t showered in a week, likely hadn’t eaten a real meal for a few days, and definitely hadn’t slept all weekend. But there was my dad, ready to take me to soccer camp.

Sure, I went for the week, but was quickly back under the same bridges, on the same dirty mattresses, trading my soul for chicken nuggets and a 40 oz days later. But then he found me again, and dragged me kicking and screaming (quite literally) home, where I collapsed on my foreign bed, exhausted. He woke me up the next morning at 8am to tell me he had found the cigarettes in my backpack, and that we’d be leaving for my volley ball game in an hour. My volley ball game. I threw on the clothes soiled from hysterically skidding across Westlake and ran. I remember the look on his face when he stopped chasing me, his ridiculously speedy daughter. It was again one of desperation, but also of concession. He knew he couldn’t keep me, couldn’t win me back through soccer camps and volley ball games. I was broken; we were just too damn broken.

Maybe he would be proud of me today, if he were here to experience my joy of running. I know he’d regret that I didn’t do more with it, meaning run in high school, then college, then…? He’d think, like I do, how much better I would be if I hadn’t spent the 90s wasted in the backs of grimy warehouses. But, nevertheless, he would find solace in my dedication, my perseverance, and my triumphs. He would love me, unconditionally, like he always did. Sometimes when I run local races, I see Annie and others from middle school.  My dad would, like me, get a kick out of my leaving them in the dust out there on the course. While he completely lacked the skills to help me through the bullying, he sure knew how to support me in my sport.

But he is missing all of this. He’s missed everything: graduating from the University of Washington with a bachelors then masters, giving birth to two beautiful children, paving my way in a profession which I am truly passionate about, and, yes, finding myself through running. When he slit his wrists 20 years ago, bleeding out on the dining room floor, surrounded by family photo albums, he ended his formation of all new memories that were to come. Of me crying on his shoulder when I had my heart broken for the first time. Of me crafting papers on David’s Hume philosophy of religion that would have had him questioning his Catholicism. Of me breaking the tape at a race one of theses days.

I don’t know what day he died. I am not sure where he is buried. I have no way to contact most of his family.  And, sssshhhhhhhh, please, don’t tell me; I don’t want to know. I don’t experience sadness or loneliness on Father’s Day, but he haunts me. And those looks, I do remember. Those looks that sliced through my hardened hard, those looks that followed me as a I ran and ran and ran and ran from Annie, from soccer camp, from the volley ball game, from depression, from multiple suicide attempts, from myself. “Run, Long Legs!” But, this time, Dad, you won’t be there at the finish.

Running Taught Me to Live

-An anonymous contribution to Running Our Truths

I have been told that I hide my emotions and my thoughts very well. Few can really see and know when something is bothering me and if I am as easy to read as a book then I am likely on the edge of a catastrophic breakdown.  Most people who “know” me really know very little about my life, I don’t share a lot about the deep and dark moments that haunt me day in and day out. Very few want to hear about the decades of physical and verbal abuse that I went through from my oldest brother. Many will downplay it and dismiss it as sibling rivalry. When people treat my circumstances as normal I stop talking. I have tried too many times to tell people of the horror of your brother holding his hands around your neck to the point where you are seeing black spots and are convinced that this is the end; or hearing every day for every day you can remember growing up that you were fat, selfish, worthless and unwanted. I have tried too hard to get people to understand the hell that I grew up in and how skewed my self image was just to have them just dismiss it as blowing sibling issues out of proportion. Even fewer people know about the sexual abuse that I went through also at the hands of the same brother. How do you tell people that your brother raped you and that he let a friend rape you and that countless times he crossed sexual boundaries that left you alone, confused, scared and devastated. People don’t like to hear about the reality of my life and so I stopped telling people. I put on a mask and smile and I got very good at looking like I was a healthy happy woman yet behind that frail smile my soul struggled desperately to survive.

 

Until recently I didn’t have people in my life who understood me or who could or wanted to hear the reality of my story and so I had to find ways to cope on my own. In high school I was a competitive swimmer. Swimming came naturally to me I didn’t have to work hard to be good and spending 3-4 hours a day in a pool at practice was 3-4 hours a day I was not home scared of what my brother would do next. My time in the pool was peaceful and quiet it was a moment in my day where my problems and my wounds slipped away and I was free. After high school I stopped swimming but I struggled to find something that felt as peaceful and free and though I had moved away from home my pain and my past was always nipping at my heels. My friendships suffered because I was convinced that no one wanted me around. Relationships suffered because men terrified me I am an extroverted person who was forced to live a lonely and isolated life because I could not handle being hurt again.

 

This is how I lived my life for a decade after high school. I got through college, I moved across the country to try and get away and make a new start, that didn’t help.  So I moved out of the country, which didn’t help either.  I ended up needing to move home for a short time (which turned into another decade and counting) and coming back to Seattle brought back the deep pain, anger, sadness and fear that I had tried to leave behind. Not to mention that in the first two years I was back I dealt with 8 friends dying one of whom I found him shortly before his death. It was like I came home and every day felt heavy and overwhelming and then I would get hit with more sadness and heaviness, I almost didn’t survive those first couple of years back. In order to look for a healthy way to deal with all of this I began to run. I hated running but it was the only thing that was easy and accessible for me. So I put on my running shoes and I slowly and awkwardly began to put one foot in front of the other. Very slowly something I had always dreaded started to become something I looked forward to. I got married and after my son was born I began to train for my first half marathon. It was almost like a joke to me, the idea that I could run 13.1 miles was hilarious and impossible but I decided to try it. My goal was to just run the whole race and finish under two and a half hours as my mileage increased and my stamina increased I slowly began to believe in myself which had never happened before.  Race day came and I ran the whole race and I finished in 2:15 minutes and something amazing happened the moment I crossed the finish line it was a moment that I will never feel in the same way again, a moment of clarity and healing and accomplishment. As I crossed that finish line tears welled up in my eyes and I almost fell to the ground, not because I was tired but because I was overwhelmed by the emotions that came up. Crossing that finish line was the first thing I had done in my life that I really had to invest myself in and work towards because it didn’t come easily or naturally. Crossing that finish line took blood, sweat and tears and it had required me to take the opportunity to do something that I might fail at. After that first half marathon I was hooked.

 

As I continued to run I continued to find peace and hope in my time on the trail, it was my alone time and my me time. It helped me think and make sense of the problems and issues in my life. I had gone from using self harm as a coping skill to using running as a coping skill and it brought so much more healing and strength to my life. Then one morning as me and my two kids were on our way to an appointment life changed drastically for me, we got into a car accident that ended up taking me out of running and pretty much all physical activity for 9 months. With in the first eight weeks as the physical pain started to subside suddenly the emotional pain that I had never dealt with in my life became suffocating. It was obvious to me very quickly that if I could not run then I had to start dealing with my abuse because my options were to deal with it or to kill myself.

 

I started into therapy and into the most difficult process I have ever gone through in my life. But lessons I had learned running helped me to keep pushing forward. There were so many moments that felt impossible and yet I was reminded of the many moments during races or training that felt impossible and my focus had to narrow in to each step. I was able to use that same focus when the whole of the abuse felt overwhelming but I could forget everything else and just focus in on one small experience. As I started to get back into running I began running with a group of local runners and that became my lifeline. Not because any of them had any idea of what I was going through but because they understood me as a runner and how important it was in my life. They understood the need to just get out and run and the freedom that came with that. No one that I run with knows my story, no one knows that running has saved and is saving my life, no one knows that I show up to some runs feeling like I can hardly hold on and the run and the encouragement from my friends as I struggle through a workout gets me through those hard days, not just through that hard workout.  It is very hard to feel so unknown and to be so afraid to share my story but it is amazing to have found my people. I am alive and moving towards a place of health and healing because of running. Swimming was easy, it felt simple for me to win and to excel, running has taken a lot of work and a lot of risk and the races I run and the goals I reach and the things I accomplish running are strengthening me as a person and teaching me that to truly live is to risk. It is incredible also to have a community who will rally around you when you succeed and when you fail. I have found that community for running and running has helped me to believe that I can find that community in healing also. I have a lot of work to do and a lot of miles to run but each day I am finding myself stronger and each step and each tear is healing me. I will and am finding the strength to share my story and to allow others to know the hell that I grew up in and believe that they actually do care about me as a person. Each day I am leaving behind that girl who was broken and alone and finding a woman who is strong, healthy, happy and wanted.

I Found Her on a Run…

 

I went into hiding as a housewife once. Well, a housewife plus, because I also nannied, went to grad school, and then started my teaching career. But I was certainly in hiding, a sort of witness relocation program for society’s misfits. You see, that’s where we go, us free-spirited and sexually-fluid folk, once the world puts a kibosh on our plans to live our truths as queer, polyamorous, house music-loving, parents and professionals. We go in shame and concession, heads bowed, determined to be that one ho who can be turned into a housewife.

I bore the required two children, nurtured the pet, tended various green things in Seattle’s sandy soil, and even cut out recipes from cooking magazines. I didn’t go dancing, masqueraded as monogamous, and did all the mommy-and-me jazz listed in Parent Map. And, really embracing this relocation program, I even changed my last name. The green things perished, the recipes never manifested into anything edible, and monogamy became <crickets> . While I embraced every moment with my kids and relished the unpredictable nature of my job, I found myself navigating life on auto-pilot. Until I went for a run…

…and found myself alone with my thoughts, my feelings, my truths. I listened to UK Garage and deep house, fantasized about um, “kissing” girls, and contemplated students’ Behavior Intervention Plans—all at the same time and WITHOUT JUDGEMENT. The more I ran, the more these truths began to manifest in real life. The “me” who had always been there, lost in the ether of faux housewifery, began to make her triumphant return. I ran fast and fiercely, with unbridled determination to set goals and smash them, and approached life with a similar fervor. I felt confident; I felt free.

Emerging from hiding meant shedding the façade: the “happy” home, the garden, the recipes, the name. But I wasn’t reinventing myself. No, not at all, because, you see, with each mile I ran, I found her, and piece by piece, I put myself back together again.

I’m me, she thought, and not no skinny society blonde with her bones showing. She looked down with distaste at the black crepe dress. What in God’s name ever got into me? How come I’ve been trying to be somebody else all the time? Anybody that likes me from here on out will have to like me the way I am.”

                                                – Valerie Taylor (The Girls in 3-B)