It’s time to tell our stories.

When I was nineteen, I was raped, just a few days after returning to school for my sophomore year. It was something that took me almost seven years to fully process. And by fully process, I mean that I dealt with horrible anxiety/depression, an interruption in my education, weight gain, an inability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time, and this uncomfortable startle reflex whenever anyone approaches or touches me without warning. These last two issues, while less severe, still linger. It took me a long time to stop feeling like I did something to warrant what happened to me, the ever-expanding list of “I shouldn’t have” statements growing in my mind.

I never reported what happened to me, to the school or police. I told my friends, who supported me in the best way they could. The boy approached me a few days later, as I was pouring cereal into a bowl at the dining hall, to offer a half-hearted apology for “getting out of control”. I didn’t know his name. My body felt hot as I stammered back, “It’s ok”. It wasn’t. I couldn’t meet his eyes. I wonder if he felt absolved. I went to Planned Parenthood, where they tested me for every lingering consequence. Everything was fine, thank God. I still consider those women who treated me to be some of the most important people I’ve encountered in my life. They saved me in a lot of ways, when I had no one else, and changed the way I viewed the world. I couldn’t bear to tell my parents at the time, or the person I was dating. I felt like it would destroy them, that they would find fault with me. I kept this from them, and started therapy, thinking it would help lift the feeling of being suffocated. It didn’t.

I told my boyfriend. He promptly dumped me. I told my mother, and in response, I got “Oh, we’ve all made dumb decisions when we’ve been drinking. Stop beating yourself up about it.” I’d like to believe she was just misunderstanding what I was telling her, but I don’t know how much clearer it could’ve been. I didn’t dare tell my father, as I honestly had no idea how he’d react. I’m not sure if my mother did. These responses from the people I needed the most, sent a very clear message: you did this to yourself. It took me a long time to realize that was incorrect. I never believed that women could feel they were at fault, after a sexual assault. Until it happened to me.

I’ve told a small number of people this story over the years, and the response has always been the same: Why didn’t you report it? And while the 33 year old me has the wisdom to know that I should’ve, the 19 year old me didn’t. I had no voice. I felt like I would be blamed, my actions picked apart, my reputation destroyed. I was smart enough to know how these things panned out, but not smart or strong enough to know how to fight back against it. To say that nothing I did gave anyone permission to violate me in the most heinous of ways. The panic and trauma coursing through me sent one clear message: get away from this. Put it away. Otherwise, I feared at the time, it would follow me. I needed to just move past it.

But it did follow me, an apparition reminding me that life would always be divided into “before the thing that happened at school” and “after the thing that happened at school”. Until just a few years ago, I couldn’t even say the word “rape”, in regards to my situation. It was always “the thing that happened”. The more I thought I was distancing myself from it, the more I realize now that it was tethering me back even tighter.

I’m sharing this not for you to feel sorry or angry for me, I’ve done enough of that for all of us over the years, and I have finally made peace with it. But, I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience the past few days, after reading this article from the NY Times, about the alleged mishandling of a sexual misconduct case of a young woman named Anna at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, here in Geneva. After reading the article, as well as the HWS official response on their website, I can’t help but feel like there’s a fair amount of accuracy in the NYT article, and a fair amount of backpedaling and “Let’s quote our policy and practices to cover our asses” in their response. In my opinion, HWS grossly mishandled this situation, and failed not only this student, but any student who has ever kept quiet about a similar experience, for fear of reprisal or dismissal of its severity. Regardless of all that, more than the pain I feel for the young woman, I feel incredibly proud of her bravery. She is so young and so vulnerable after such a trauma, to have found her voice, and gone to such great lengths to tell her story, her truth. I lay in bed last night, trying to imagine the firestorm that is surrounding her now, how dizzying that must be. I wondered if she second guesses her decision now, and the feedback she’s getting from people. I love that despite the fear and apprehension she’s likely feeling, that she plans to return to HWS in the fall, to continue her education. “Someone needs to help survivors there,” she said.

And she’s right. Interactive videos or other vague educational tools are not going to stop sexual violence. It’s going to take a cultural shift to change people’s attitudes about power, assault, and sex in general. That shift will only come from people speaking up about their experience, and taking individuals and institutions to task their slut-shaming, scrutinizing of a victim’s actions prior to an assault, and dismissing of claims. Boys need to be taught from a young age that girls are not merely there for the touching or invading of space, and girls need to be taught to be strong and comfortable in the claiming of their bodies as their own. Women (and men, in those cases) need to come forward, share their stories, and remind others that without exception, no always means no. Because as I’ve said before-if it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.

If you’ve read the article and HWS response, and are compelled to voice your support for the improvement of the colleges’ handling of sexual assaults, you can do so by signing the following petition:

What’s the real cost of food?

My friend Marc and I were discussing this NY Times article earlier this week, that purports that despite what many people believe, junk food is not necessarily cheaper than its healthy alternative, particularly for those living with lower-income. While I think that there were some unfair assumptions made about those living in low-income homes (which for brevity, I will not get into here), I do think that author Mark Bittman illustrates wonderfully the two-sided responsibility that is being shirked – by consumers, for making choices not to cook, not to slow down and choose better options (because cooking now equals work), and not demanding more of their food sources and suppliers; and by the corporate food industry, for playing into every opportunity to literally shove their product down people’s throats, making them crave more, and think less, with no regard for consequences.

Many arguments for food reform are one-sided, but if we’re to ever to make any progress, we need to hold everyone responsible for their role in doing what is right. People have a right to healthy, accessible, safe food choices, but as long as we’ve got food being chemically engineered to spur addictive tendencies, marketing strategies designed to manipulate people into repeated consumption, and representatives of food corporations lobbying on the hill, with politicians in their back pockets, the only interests protected are those of big business food. Like Bittman said, we DO have a choice. We not only have a choice to decide to plan and cook our meals, but we also have a choice to demand better from our food, its origins, and our government. We’re ultimately what makes that system thrive, not the other way around.

At the end of the day, it’s not about financial cost. It’s about what it’s costing our bodies and health, our lives, our future generations, and our planet. Sustenance is a right, not a privilege, and it certainly shouldn’t be about putting money in the pockets of those who aren’t concerned with any of the aforementioned consequences. We all have a right and responsibility to understand what’s truly at stake, and to send the message that it’s no longer tolerable.

Fear of Flying.

Ever heard of pitot probes? Yeah, I hadn’t either, until yesterday’s NY Times article about the disappearance of Air France Flight 447 a few years back. Technically, they are little cylinders on the exterior of an airplane that calculate airspeed. Apparently, it’s a very fine line between going too fast and too slow that keeps an airplane in the air, and these little guys are what help the plane and its crew do so. Not so technically, pitot probes are the newest in an ever-expanding list of potential causes of air disasters that I believe will occur when I’m flying.

Ok, I’m going to preface this with the fact that I’m crazy. I know this, but I’m going to roll out the red carpet for anxiety here. For as regularly as I fly, I hate it. As in, I get that tingly feeling in my stomach (like when you’re playing hide and seek as a kid) when I book a flight, and begin seriously worrying about my airtime 48-72 hours before departure. If my brain had a face, it would look something like this:

Once on board, I immediately convince myself that it’s too hot, and there’s not sufficient air, and OHMYGOD, I am going to suffocate. Due to this, I am the only passenger who pays attention to the oxygen mask safety demonstration. They’ll all be sorry when this can drops of out of the sky, I think. Once we’re accelerating down the runway to take off, the next round of potential horrors enters my mind. Faulty wheels, bird strike, glitch in the mechanical system, water on the end of the runway that we’ll barrel into, unexpected item/vehicle/person entering the active runway we’re on, forcing us to veer off into the highway running parallel to the runway. You get the idea.

Ok, and we have liftoff. My stomach does the flip-floppy, gravity-shifting thing, and now I am listening for any unusual (or what I perceive as unusual) sounds with the plane’s engine. Did something just shut off? Are we losing altitude? Are we going in the right direction? (Yes, I have control issues). “Ladies and gentleman, the aircraft has reached 10,000 feet, and the captain has cleared use of approved electronic devices.” Sweet. Great. Maybe a little James Taylor on the iPod will distract me. Guess what invariably ends up coming across my playlist? “Plane Crash” by moe. OK, maybe I should read. Only I cant, because I am too busy anticipating turbulance, and when we experience any slight shift in movement, I immediately dart my eyes around, feeling as though I should gauge my worry based on the passengers around me, who are either reading the Wall Street Journal, or sleeping. And if the flight attendants are walking around, then I assume we’re still golden. All the while, I’m searching back through my mind all the worst airplane disasters in history that I’ve read about, and trying to recount the cause of the demise for each. This also sends me into a panic. What if this plane wasn’t accurately de-iced?, I ask myself. At what altitude are we safe from bird strikes? Interestingly enough, the idea of terrorism has never, EVER crossed my mind. With all these gulls on the tarmac, fundamentalist Jihad is the least of my worries.

And now we’re landing. A glimmer of excitement rises in my throat, until I remember what someone I used to date said to me once. “All a landing is,really, is controlled chaos. A controlled crash.” Yiggity. Ok. As we’re approaching the runway, I brace myself-against the armrests, and my feet against the bars of the seat ahead of me. No worries, I convey silently to my seatmates, I fly all the time. I’m very worldly, as you can see. Ground. Skidding, screeching to a halt, swaying slightly, as I pray to God, Ted Kennedy, whoever can hear me, that we bring this to a safe close. At that moment, I never feel so alive. I’ve survived yet another flight. I’m home free. Or at least I thought I was, until I saw the video of the Air France jet swiping the Delta regional jet a few months back, tossing it about like a toy. So THAT’S why they tell you to leave your seatbelt on until the plane stops fully at the gate.

So, anyway, yeah. Pitot probes are now on my radar. Should they become clogged with ice or dirt, the article read, the plane is forced into manual mode, where the pilots must now navigate on their own the conditions that cause the probes to stop functioning in the first place. If there was any sliver of my sanity remaining on a flight, these little monsters have now set up occupancy there, ruining my ability to enjoy any shred of relaxation. Not to mention, the relaxation of anyone who dares fly with me. A word to the wise-if we’re ever to fly together-bring a few things: 1)benadryl, to knock me out and 2)noise-cancelling headphones, to drown out my incessant nervous talking when the benadryl doesn’t work. Hey, don’t say you haven’t been warned.