CW: child abuse // Every link here is a song. Enjoy.
My parents ran against one another for President in 2016. I could see as soon as my mother became the Democratic nominee that the whole country was bound to lose, no matter who won.
As a child I was told, “If anyone ever touches you in your private places, you do everything you can to stop them and then tell a trusted grown-up right away.” As a follow-up, my mother added, “I’ll make sure they go to jail. I’ll always believe you.”
When I was 12 years old, a freshly-graduated student from the Leflar School of Law at the University of Arkansas offered me my first-ever margarita, just before slipping his hand into my swimsuit at the Law Quad, an apartment complex then owned by Professor Rafael Guzman, where law students lived. My mother was a year behind him in law school, approaching her third year as I approached the 7th grade. The week her 28 year old classmate and I spent together in that swimming pool, with him holding my hand, telling me how pretty, how smart, how mature for my age I was, happened in June — or was it July? — of 2000. He was in town visiting his girlfriend before returning to Alabama to begin his career as a JAG attorney.
One afternoon in August, I came home from school on the bus at the usual time to find the apartment door locked. Thinking my mother wasn’t home, I let myself in through the screen window. I discovered not only that she was in fact home, but that I’d been locked out so as not to interrupt her private time with a married man. Annoyed that she had so little regard for my right to access my own home on time after school, I walked outside, fully clothed, and jumped into the swimming pool. Ray Schlegel was sitting there and asked if I was okay. I said no.
Maybe half an hour later, I saw a man I’d never met (at whose home I would be orally raped 6 months later) leave our apartment, #27. He turned out to be another of her classmates. Then my mother came outside to ask why I was wearing clothes in the swimming pool. Ray excused himself and left.
As a child whose father had just thrown all my belongings into trash bags and literally put me out on the curb with a portable phone to “Call someone. Anyone. Just leave here and don’t ever come back,” four months earlier in April, I was infuriated that my mother had locked me out of my own home. I was infuriated that I never felt like I had a home; not since Grandma Doris had died, anyway. My mother sat there offering platitudes and empty assurances of understanding. She Hillary Clinton’d her way through that conversation until I blew my lid and said something that I just knew would really get her to listen to me: I told her about her friend sliding his hand inside my swimsuit earlier that summer. I told her that if she’d been paying more attention to me instead of to the sleezy men she wanted to build her career around, she’d have already known about it. I told her the truth, and I expected her to make good on believing me like she’d said she would, damnit.
Oh, she believed me. Then she chided me for being a slut and for letting him do it.
“At least he noticed I exist!” I stood up and yelled. “He cared about me more than you do!”
In 2015, the Democratic Party attempted to force-feed us my mother for President. She knew about the ways Donald Trump had slipped his hand into America’s swimsuit and left us sitting like trash to be picked up along the curb of his house, but she was more concerned with playing by a rule book that would advance her career than in demanding accountability for the well-being of the American people whose safety she wanted, but didn’t deserve, to be entrusted with. She wore smugness onto the debate stage when her wardrobe manager should have dressed her in deeply rooted, mama-bear fabrics of protective outrage. Her eyes were shaded with cunning self-assuredness where her makeup artist should have presented her to us in hues of compassion, lined with poignant commitment, and integrity-based mascara. The satisfied smirk painted on her face was the worst possible lipstick a leader could ever choose. There was clearly no satisfaction in that sad situation for her to be smirking about.
Soon enough, and as I predicted, Clinton was on the defensive against email scandal allegations and all manner of distracting criticisms — ultimately for committing just one locking-her-child-out-of-their-own-home level sin: She put her desire for career and power over her desire for our genuine well-being as vulnerable, exploited communities spanning from sea to shining sea.
If she’d had a half-decent communications director, that “Black children must be brought to heel” comment Clinton couldn’t erase would have turned into “Black children must be brought to heal,” as she unveiled plans for improved mental health infrastructure, with student debt forgiveness and dedicated scholarship funding for BIPOC mental health students to get their graduate degrees and licensing credentials. But that would have required Clinton to genuinely believe their lives matter more than my mother believed my life mattered when she locked me out of my home. When the rubber met the road, Clinton showed us she’d rather carry around a bottle of hot sauce in her bag and threaten us with the only alternative — “Do you want to go live with your father? Hmm?” — than do the work of ensuring a country — a home — children can grow up in fearlessly.
When that moment came to a head with Ms. Rodham-Clinton, like it did by the poolside with my mother, half the country stood up, their clothing drenched with chlorinated water, and yelled, “At least he notices I exist! He cares about me more than you do!”
We were traumatized 12 year olds in adult bodies, clinging to the idea that at least the rapist was honest about not loving us. Somehow that honesty felt better than being lied to, and still not really being loved.
I saw the results of the 2016 election coming. Anyone in Seattle, where I was living at the time, can tell you I saw it coming. They said I was out of touch, angrily dismissed my perspective, and even called me anti-feminist for refusing to vote. They didn’t believe, but they did fear, Donald Trump could get elected. They didn’t believe Clinton was as awful as I said she was, I guess because they’d never been raised by her kind in Arkansas. I knew what being under the thumb of someone with her particular power complex felt like, and I didn’t want that outcome any more than I wanted to be under her opponent’s thumb with his power complex. I saw no “lesser of the evils” between the two. No, I didn’t want to live with Trump in power. I knew how bad that would be. But I also knew how bad life was with her, too. I grew up in Arkansas, after all.
What I wanted was the 2008 Obama who’d made us believe we could somehow suddenly live in a safe home where children wouldn’t be pawns between two power-hungry presidential parents anymore. I think we all wanted that. Maybe especially the folks who swung for Trump. We’d voted for Change, Hope, and Yes We Can. The Democratic Party wanted me to move back in with my abusive mother after 8 years of living at Uncle Barack’s house? Hell. No.
“This time when he swung a bat and I found myself laying flat I wondered”…
- Who is the trusted adult I’m supposed to tell about inappropriate behavior when the President was a rapist? When Sarah Huckabee Sanders, running for Governor of Arkansas, is allied with Proud Boys and insurrectionists? When Patrick Deakins is running for County Judge and won’t even say hello to his transgender colleague because he prides himself on being difficult to work with and apparently dislikes people like me? When I’ve been sexually assaulted by more police in Washington County than by any other group of people in my life? Who is the trusted adult responsible for ensuring I’m safe in Washington County, AR?
- Where do I go for safety when the Democrats’ house is unorganized, dirty, unstable, and unwelcoming; while the Republicans’ house offers a pretty solid guarantee that Uncle Duggar will come in my bedroom in the middle of the night, in every sense of the verb?
- Why do I feel like I just transitioned at 18 into being the ward of a government which has transferred unto itself my parents’ childhood right to abuse me, instead of liberating me from abuse? Is this a childhood nightmare I’m going to wake up from? When? How?
- Should I refrain from publishing these truths publicly, to protect my mother’s feelings? I always felt sad for Eminem’s mother when he said he was ‘sorry but cleaning out his closet.’ But cleaning out that closet is also how he moved from 8 Mile to being able to provide for his child and give her a better future than he’d been handed. Is it wrong to be honest about a personal history that I see still repeating itself on a national, state, and local stage every day of my life?
- Would I be seeing my childhood trauma patterns in every aspect of our government today if I hadn’t been raised by cops?
- Will any of this matter if I’m murdered at the grocery store tomorrow by an angry white man with a gun?
- When I recently told my mother I was afraid of being killed by white supremacist terrorists threatening the Pride parade, why wouldn’t she engage me in conversation about how I felt? Why did she shut down instead, and pretend my daily fears founded in reality don’t exist? Why let my feelings boil over and curdle until I end up writing about them?
- Why didn’t my mother hug me before I left the house for the Pride parade? I left my notarized Will and Healthcare Directive sitting on her table because I expected someone might hate me enough to kill me, and she didn’t even care to give me a hug?
- Does she care enough to vote? Or is that too much like hugging me?
- Does she vote Republican, delusionally thinking the people she’s voting for aren’t actively trying to make me dead?
- Or does she vote Democrat, thinking she’s doing her part to create a world I can live in, and that should be enough so she doesn’t have to do anything more?
- Why do so many people think voting Democrat is all they have to do to make the world a better place, instead of understanding that communities require active effort and ongoing investment? How do we persuade them to do better moving forward?
- What would happen if the 1 million voters in Arkansas who didn’t vote in the last election turned out this year? Would they vote to give me a hug, or let me die?
I’ve written a fair amount lately about my concerns regarding the Democratic Party, but this is all it boils down to. These are the questions weighing on my mind every day. These are the questions I need our leaders to relieve me from, unflinchingly and unapologetically, with real policies and quantifiable outcomes. No bullshit.
No dancing around the truth to keep my raging, former-President father from flying off the handle again because he got caught being an insufferable, racist windbag. Just swing a frying pan upside his head already, and lock him up for the crimes he’s committed.
No sweeping the truth aside because my mother, who never listened when her child screamed to be heard, doesn’t like the uncomfortable facts.
No pretending I’ve had a home in the United States of America at any point in the past seven years.
There is no lukewarm middle here. You’re hot, or you’re cold. You’re on fire with passion for our communities, for our state, for our nation, and for our planet; or you’re content to destroy everything God has created and entrusted us with, and to leave future generations with nothing at all. You believe my life matters, and you want me to feel loved beyond a shadow of doubt; or you don’t care enough to give me a hug knowing you may never see me alive again. Hot; or cold. Choose.
I look forward to seeing the Democrats step up into being the blazing, guiding star of moral and social integrity that we need against the cold, soul-crushing gravity of the Republican Party, because being lukewarm doesn’t cut it. The Democrats have a long way to go to reach that point, but I see hope on the horizon in candidates like Chris Jones, Monique Jones, Natalie James, Kelly Krout, and Josh Moody. They’re stepping up to blaze brightly, but they cannot outshine the darkness all alone.
I look forward to the day I can turn toward the people of Arkansas and not see my childhood trauma reflected back to me in their apathy. Until then, I’ll be over here dreaming I’m not living in a nightmare anymore.