My Dark and Snowy #MeToo Night

Ferndale, CA

Ferndale, CA

Unless you’ve been on an expedition in the Antarctic, you’ve undoubtedly seen your social media feeds swollen to the breaking point with #MeToo posts. While Harvey Weinstein’s egregious, sociopathic, and illegal behavior was the fuel that cracked the meme wide open, the stories shared by you and just about every woman on the planet reveal one thing:

How powerful we women really are.
 
While men have been demonstrating their “power over” since time immemorial, we women having been walking about the earth possessing the “power to” -- as feminist-activist Gloria Feldt writes in her book, No Excuses. This “power to” is the creative, generative force we wield that has fueled many of the personal, economic, cultural and political shifts that have occurred throughout time—and will now be occurring in our future.
 
Yeah, we’re all that.

With no disrespect to the Dalai Lama, we don’t need dudes to tell us this is The Century of the Woman. We’re living it. Forward. Backwards. Upside down. Inside out. The lived experiences of women in every corner of the planet are a mouse click away, and even where there is no mouse click available, our stories are being told and formed into positive action and change.  
 
A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to submit a personal story for possible inclusion in a Moth-Style storytelling event in Santa Barbara. This invitation came after Storm Harvey Houston and before Storm Harvey Weinstein. I don’t know if I’ll be chosen to participate in that event, but I wanted to share my story submission in the hopes that you will be inspired to write and tell your own and use it for what Joanna Macy calls Active Hope. (Thanks to my friend and colleague Sheila Kappeler-Finn for calling my attention to Macy’s work.)


Here is my story...

It was a dark and snowy night in Boulder, Colorado. I was 21.

Before it was that dark and snowy night, it was a warm summer day in Ferndale, California, a little town of 1,362 people where I went to middle school and high school.

I’m 13, walking up Main Street to get a half gallon of milk at the Valley Grocery two blocks away when these guys, greasers we called them, driving a souped up red GTO slow down, pull alongside me and ask me if I want a ride. I say no thanks.

I know all three of the greasers. One is in my class.

He says, “Come on, Lisa, get in, we’re not going to bite.” And I’m thinking, he has dimples and his dad is some mucky muck and I don’t like anyone thinking I think they’re going to bite. So I get in. The back seat. They smell like sour milk and cow shit, but that’s the way everyone in Ferndale smells. They have their barn boots on, jean jackets with flannel shirts underneath. And beer on the floor behind the driver’s seat.

A minute later we pass the grocery store and I say, “Hey, you passed it.” They all snicker, and their tongues roll out of their mouths like lizards, and the driver flips a U and I think, good, they’re going to let me out. And they don’t. They keep driving up and down Main Street, blacked out windows, with me in the back seat, kicking, punching, scratching, and screaming as they try to put their hands and body parts where they had no business being.

When they finally pull over, one of them pushes me out of the car onto the curb right in front of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, with its long steeple piercing the blue sky. I come to my feet, check my body parts and look around to see what 1,362 people must have seen. Nothing, apparently. Not even God. I walk home, fuming. And wondering, other than anger, what is this feeling I’m feeling?

That incident was followed by so many others.

Like the time I go to a barn dance in high school with my almost boyfriend. We dance for a while and he says he wants to show me something, so we go outside and jump over a split rail fence. I’m thinking he might have smuggled in a beer or some weed, but he has other plans with my body parts. And there I am again, kicking, punching, and scratching. Another boy astonished that he was bruised. A pattern repeated so many times I thought there might be something wrong with me. Not them, but me.

And then there was the time I was 15 and get a summer job picking zucchini and the farmer boss dude fires me for picking them too small. He gathers all of the girls together and says, “If you don’t want to be fired too, like I said, the perfect pick is the size of the average American male. I’m sure you all know what I mean.” Yeah, more body parts.

When I tell my mom what happened, she marches me back to the field and asks the farmer boss dude to repeat the directions for picking a perfect zucchini. He obliges. And my mother obliges him back by clocking him across the face with the back of her hand.

Like daughter, like mother.

Fast forward. I’m in Boulder taking a gap year from college that turned into two years. I am eight units shy of a degree in journalism, and one of my final assignments before this gap year is to interview a “colorful character” and write a profile. So I decide to interview an old black homeless man on the Berkeley campus square selling acre plots on the moon for a dollar. Only in Berkeley.

The only problem was, this moon man doesn’t exist. I make up the whole story. I get an A. I am singled out in class. The instructor asks me to read my story aloud. At that moment, I have a little shame-induced epiphany that maybe lying is better suited for a profession like say, acting. And waitressing. Because acting and waitressing are linked like popcorn and butter.

Back to Boulder. There I am at 11 o’clock, finishing up rehearsal for my first theatre role ever, and my car won’t start. By then the cast has all gone home and I resign myself to walking home.

I button up my puffy 80s down jacket – you know the kind that make you look like a cross between a human comforter and the Michelin Tire man -- and I start walking.

After about a half mile, I see this hulking figure as it passes under a street lamp. He’s about a half a block away and I’m already thinking about my options. Should I cross the street? Pretty soon we’re both crunching through the snow at about the same pace and we get a little closer and I can make out that he’s got long dreadlocks and now my amygdala is on fire and I’m having a battle of thoughts: cross the street stupid … no don’t, he’s going to think you’re a racist … just puff yourself up and make him think you’re a man.

Split seconds of the most lizard brain logic, and for some reason I just keep walking straight ahead.

Now we’re about 10 feet from each other and we’re crunching snow in unison. He can see my snow breath, I can see his snow breath, and we can both see that we’re breathing like we’ve either just ran a marathon or we’re scared shitless.

A couple more feet and we’re right next to each other and we both do this boxer-like pivot to the left. It’s as if we can both see the storytelling bubbles above our heads, the tension breaks, and we erupt into laughter. The kind of laughter that’s part relief, part apology, part gratitude.

We sputter and apologize and say things like, “I know, I’m sorry…it’s just so weird and sad. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

A couple of days later, I’m waiting tables, naturally, and a guy with chocolate-colored dimples sits down at my table. He digs into his satchel and pulls out a stack of books and puts on his very studious looking horn-rimmed glasses when we lock eyes and have this moment of recognition. And then smiles. And then big fat huge-hearted grins. I bring him a glass of water and find out the hulking figure’s name was Sean.

As he walks me to my car after work, I tell Sean about my college pivot. About deciding to get a BFA in theatre.  About how I learned to be afraid of walking in the dark. And Sean tells me about his legal studies and his ambition to work on the left side of justice, and how he learned to be afraid of walking in daylight. And that night, I make a conscious and purposeful and free choice to share my body parts with him.

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