The Clinton Affair

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I watched this six-part series because I have always been fascinated by Monica Lewinsky.  Horrified by what she went through, what our “justice” system put her through, what our President put her through, what the media did to her. It seemed like a nightmare life. Maybe I like nightmares or flame engulfed car crashes. I also like(d) Bill Clinton.

So many people hate the Clintons, especially Hillary, and I wondered if this documentary would shed some light on why. I did learn a few things, but not why so much of America hates Hillary. I learned for example that Bill Clinton has been accused of rape and sexual harassment. Of course I know about Paula Jones, but she was the only woman who I knew of that claimed he’d forced unwanted sexual attention onto her.

Then I saw the interview with Juanita Broaddrick. And I believed her. She said when Bill Clinton was running for governor, he raped her. She gave details that rang true. About how every time she screamed he’d bite her upper lip and press down hard on her left shoulder. Very precise. And her emotion was unmistakable. She said she had to quit going to church after the rape because in her church there was always a prayer for the President and she couldn’t pray for him.

Juanita didn’t tell her story for a long time. Why? Because she didn’t think anybody would believe her. That also rings so true. Women know all about this. Just ask Christine Ford. And Monica. Monica was a revelation. She didn’t do a strip tease, feeding out juicy morsels to the public, one at a time. She didn’t save her blue dress for the big reveal. She was betrayed by a friend, entrapped by the FBI, used and dumped by Bill Clinton. She only testified after she got an immunity deal, which was smart, but she wasn’t trying to be smart, she was scared of going to jail. The FBI had also threatened her with putting her mother in jail, too.

Ken Starr is a horrible person. But he also did something surely unintended for women. He made Monica so infamous that everyone knows her name. Everyone knows a lot of things about her. And everyone, including me, judged her too harshly. She was 22 years old when Clinton beguiled her. This was, at the very least, an abuse of power. I didn’t use to think so. I thought their affair was consensual. She admitted she loved him, after all. She started the flirting. She inexplicably saved the blue dress.

I had no idea to the extent our government went to silence women who had been sexually abused by Clinton. Kathleen Willett. I remembered her. How did I brush that off? Where the hell does HE get off treating women like that? There’s a story I used to tell myself: all men, given power or money, will behave this way with women, so be careful. Don’t ever be alone with a guy like that, because sexual abuse of women by men is a DNA fact of life. My own life history supports that idea, but I don’t believe it anymore. I don’t think Obama ever raped or sexually abused a women in his life. Nor did Jimmy Carter.

I have always supported Bill and Hillary Clinton but that’s changed. I now support Monica Lewinsky and Juanita Broaddrick. And I no longer think, given half a chance, all men are sexual predators. My own experiences led me to that crazy theory. Maybe yours did, too. But we are in a new era. Eyes have been opened, including mine.


Pieces of Me: Creating Lily White

In a racially divided city a black cop and a white PI team up to solve a double homicide. What they uncover leads them closer to the truth, and to each other.

There were so many things I wanted to avoid when I started this book. I knew there would be violence and death. I knew I’d have to reckon with race, and I knew it would be difficult to get that part right, but I didn’t think I’d have an interracial couple on my hands. I was writing psychological mystery and deliberately decided from the first words on the first page that there would be no romance. Ha.

I knew there would be PTSD. What I didn’t know is that twice as many women suffer from PSTD than men. That shocked me. We think of PTSD as a war affliction, but cops get PTSD, rape victims, too. Anyone who suffers an overload of trauma is subject to PTSD.  One of the effects of PTSD is extreme anxiety that can play out in many ways: panic attacks and mentally crippling phobias are the two symptoms I have personally experienced.

It was both difficult and freeing to write about these mental conditions that have shaped much of my life. For a long time I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I knew I was different. Wired wrong. I did not know what the hell was wrong with me. Yes, sure, bad things had happened to me. As a teen, I’d been sexually assaulted by people I trusted, like my boss, like a close friend, like a relative. I was homeless a number of times from age 15-19. My parents, who had married in their teens, had their own complex issues and I was shoved aside, shoved out of the family home.

Many friends and relatives, including my dad, took me in for short periods of time. But I lived in an abandoned car for a few weeks, in my family’s garage for awhile. Slept on the beach in Key West. People wouldn’t treat their dog the way I was treated as a kid. Children who experience trauma at a young age are more likely to develop PTSD. I have never been diagnosed with this condition, but the anxiety and panic are nearly constant companions. Before I was diagnosed, I used to cool the stress with wine. Lots of wine. I was embarrassed by my inability to control my fear. I never wanted anyone else to know how it felt to be me.

Sometimes even wine didn’t help. I ruined parts of my beautiful honeymoon in Maui because I could not be a normal passenger driving up to see the sunrise over the volcano or winding up the road to Hana. My husband is the calmest person I know. I think that’s why I was attracted to him and married him. He was my opposite and I wanted to learn to be like him. I could tell how disappointed he was in Maui when I cowered on the floor of the back seat of the car with my eyes closed to the beauty surrounding us. Shortly after the honeymoon, I had a serious car accident. I’d had one just before the wedding, too. Now it wasn’t only high places, bridges, mountains, cliffs, winding roads, or closed-in spaces that made me panic, it was just driving down the road in a car. Any road. Any car.

My husband was eventually rattled by my actions. I would beg him to slow down, pull over, drive in the slow lane, take a back road, let me out of the car. One day he said “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you think we’re going to die?” And I thought about that. My heart was racing so hard I felt it would burst out of my chest. I said YES YES I DO! His reply was that I needed a shrink.

I’d had therapy before, in another marriage. But it was not about my phobias and anxiety. I hid those even from the therapist while I tried to figure out a way to save my marriage all by myself because my ex said I was the one who was unhappy so he didn’t need to go to therapy with me. I was ashamed to even tell the therapist about my anxiety.I’d been treated so horribly by so many people that I didn’t think there was anything wrong with his decision. I went to therapy alone for two years and at the end of it I learned that I should not be married to that person. Nothing was going to fix us because for him everything was fine.

But Al was different. He loved me enough to realize that everything was not fine and he wanted to make things better for me. He saw that I needed professional help for my acute anxiety and the sheer terror that is panic. One in ten women will at some point in their life will be mentally and emotionally damaged by trauma, especially if the trauma is sexual assault or rape. A traumatic childhood just makes it that much more likely the accumulation of damage will result in chronic anxiety, phobias, or even PTSD.

I got help with my problem and I’m fine. I use medication as needed, but meds are much better than a gallon jug of cheap wine or tiny bottles of emergency vodka for when only a shot will do. These damaged parts of me are also in Lily, although I’ve fictionalized everything except the way anxiety, panic, and PTSD feel.

Lily White in Detroit is available now.


Sexual Assault

614SObutttonWEBMaybe because of the Bill Cosby news lately, maybe because the fiction I’m writing deals, in part, with a rape and its aftermath, maybe because I’ve been sexually assaulted five times–whatever the reason, this is the post I never wanted to write. And yet, I have to tell this story. You wouldn’t know by the statistics, which are lower than I expected, but I think it’s almost every woman’s story.

Five times. Is that a lot? I can’t bring myself to dig that deep into the raw data, and anyway, most victims are probably like me and don’t report these crimes. Being assaulted sexually, short of rape, seems tame. Seems like whining to complain. Seems like I got off easy. Should be grateful. Should shut up about it and get on with my good life. Which, until today, I mostly have.

Nobody knows my number. Five. I didn’t know my number until last night when it hit me while watching the news and I wrote down names and then remembered another, and another. My list got bigger as I wrote. That surprised me. So I looked up some government stats and was dismayed by the low number. I mean, I’d be happy if I believed them, but I don’t.

I decided to write about the sexual assaults that happened to me because if one person who has just been violated this way reads it and finds some kind of weird solace, then it’s worth it. Because nothing makes you feel more alone than the only girl at the party who gets pranked in a sexual way. Yeah, that happened to me and it wasn’t pretty. I was 16, on a date I don’t remember. I don’t remember anything that happened that night. I only know about it because an old friend recently told me he was there, he witnessed what happened, and he wanted to apologize for not stepping in and stopping it.

He told me the name of the guy who did it to me, but I almost immediately forgot. It was someone I knew, but not well. I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty sure I knew a lot of people at that party. Maybe some of them are my Facebook friends. Maybe one or two of them are reading this. Maybe like me, they forgot all about it until someone reminded them. In my case, I’d say it was more like I’d repressed the memory for my own sanity. Teenage girls are fragile enough without carrying around that kind of knowledge.

What happened was I fell asleep. On the floor, passed out. I’m guessing everyone was high. Some asshole got it into his head that it would be funny to take my breast out of my shirt and put it into an empty wine goblet. Glass full of tit. Hahaha. Great party trick. Apparently many attempts were made, but the breast kept slipping out of the glass. I woke up and pushed the guy away, buttoned my shirt, and walked home. Alone. I don’t remember any of this, but knowing who I was then and who I am now I was probably pissed off and humiliated in equal measure.

But I forgot all about it and got on with my life until it happened again. I can’t talk about the next time. It was the worst and I never forgot it and that’s all I can say. The other three times happened in professional circumstances, with a teacher, an employer, and a dentist.

Yes, a dentist. The same dentist I’d been seeing since I got my big girl teeth. Guess when I got my big girl breasts it was just a little too exciting for him because as I lay helpless in his chair, he grazed my nipples, again and again, over the paper bib dentists use on patients. No dentist since has ever wiped his hands on my bib so often or EVER in such a location. And I’ve been to a lot of dentists. I love my dentist, but I still have to take a pill just to go to the office and not only because of the sound of the drill.

At first, I thought, no, I’m imagining it. But this guy, he was blatant. He kept doing it. And I finally got my nerve up to get out of that chair, rip that damn bib off my neck, and tell him to fuck off. I was angry. And humiliated. And somehow, now that this had happened to me three times between the ages of 16 and 17, I was beginning to wonder: was it somehow my fault? I talked things over with my mom, and she assured me that no, it was not. Men were pigs. And boys were just little men. Mom doesn’t hate men, she was lashing out on my behalf. I have a husband, a father, brothers, cousins, sons, students, friends, a grandson; I know all men are not pigs.

For a long time, I never told anyone except my mom. Of course people knew. Those people at the party. But I’d forgotten that, Pushed it firmly down after the second horrible incident. The one that never went away and haunts me still. I wonder how many girls that dentist did his little trick with. I remember raging in the outer office that he was a pervert. Maybe somebody heard, maybe he decided he’d better not try that again. Maybe he figured out some girls have bigger mouths than he thought. I sure hope so.

When I was 18, I got a job tending bar at a place I still remember the name of…it’s not called that anymore. I remember details, people I met there, the older woman I worked with, and my boss. I won’t say any of that because he has kids and he’s probably dead by now anyway. One day he asked me to help him bring up stock from the basement, so I followed him down the stairs and as I bent over a box of whiskey, he grabbed my breasts. He laughed and roughly fondled me until I could push him off and step away without falling over stock. He was still laughing when I said I quit and walked up those stairs and out the door.

Was kind of the same thing with the teacher. He laughed it off, but it wasn’t funny to me. By this time I was 25, with two little babies and taking some college writing courses. I was so insecure about my intelligence I wasn’t sure the community college would even let me in. But they did and he was waiting. A predator. I knew he had a rep, but not until I told a friend from class what he’d done to me. “Oh yeah, he tries it on with everyone. He brags about bagging a virgin every term.” This was in the early 80s. College has changed since then. Professors do not sexually assault their students; they don’t even have consensual affairs. It’s totally unacceptable.

But rape on college campuses happens all the time to girls at parties. Like I was drugged and taken advantage of, so are they, but in ways much worse. I’ve always thought of my assaults that way: I was lucky I’d never been raped. So many of my friends have been. Gang bangs where they were bound and gagged. Incest when they were too little to protest. Just a someone they thought was their friend but wasn’t after all.

So, sexually assaulted five times and I count myself lucky. Now if that isn’t a hell of a logic. Because I didn’t deserve any of that shit. And if it ever happens to you, if it already did happen to you, you don’t deserve it either. Complain to someone in authority. Sexual assault, even without rape, is a crime. And even worse, it ruins you in some ways. It robbed me of self-esteem, crippled my ability to have a healthy relationship, made me afraid. And that’s the real crime: the one against the psyche.