There are some stories you want to tell.
They are testament that good things do happen, even if they happen on the other side of a messy, uncomfortable ride. They will - probably - make at least one person feel less alone. They are hope and wisdom and hopefully some funny anecdotes, and people falling over thrown in for good measure.
Then there are stories you wish you never had to tell again.
This one is both. And I’ll tell you right now, it’s not going to come out all that pretty. Maybe it’s too close to the bone, or maybe it’s just the kind of story I wouldn’t believe, if it hadn’t happened to me. It starts, more or less, in June, 2014. It’s strange, the details you remember: it starts at a bathroom sink.
Specifically a bathroom sink in Uganda, at the guesthouse where I’d been staying for just over a month. I was going to church that day, because going to church is something lots of people in Uganda do. I had my nice dress on and was brushing my teeth, and out of nowhere, I was hit with the desire to cause brutal and violent harm to one particular person, so much so that I had to stop and go sit down on the bedroom floor.
I knew this fantasy. I’d had it before. In it, I, an unequivocal pacifist, pull the kind of stunts that would rival Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. There is lots of pain and bone-crunching on the part of the recipient. I’m okay with this. I believe we have to honour our darkest thoughts, and that there’s a difference between imagining something and acting on it, which probably has a lot to do with what fuels Quentin Tarantino’s films in the first place, and… where was I?
Oh yeah. Going to church.
As anyone with a smartphone would, I decided to distract myself from my imagined martial arts maneuvers. I opened my inbox, and saw an email from someone whose name I didn’t recognize. Then I saw the subject line.
“I believe we were drugged in Greece by the same man”.
The same man who, seconds earlier, had been the subject of my make-believe black belt skills.
I stayed on the bedroom floor.
This is the part of the story I never want to tell again. Not because it shouldn’t be told, but because – well, I guess it’s obvious. So, briefly, here we go: in 2005, I was backpacking in Greece and met a man in the street. He told me he was a pilot, and offered to take me on a walking tour of the area around the Acropolis. It was broad daylight, not that that makes a difference. But I agreed. He bought me a spinach pie which was laced with sleeping pills. I woke up in my hostel room with enough of a memory of what happened to know what happened. I still think about harming this man, at random and unrandom moments, like standing at a bathroom sink in Uganda.
The woman who wrote the email is Erin. Hours before, she had been googling a string of key words, hoping she’d find clues towards unanswered questions about her own story, which happened in 2004. It is, to the letter, almost exactly the same as mine, except that Erin woke up in a hotel room, alone, a few hours before her flight to America. She didn’t have support in Athens that I had, or the time to file the paperwork and go on record, like I did. But she never forgot. Of course. Oh, and just in case that’s not enough: I realized later that the day I receive her email was exactly one year since the day the rapist was imprisoned.
We began emailing daily – me from my bunk bed in rural Uganda, her from her home in Little Rock, while her toddler slept. Aside from our shared story, other similarities pop up. She is divorced. She’s struggled with infertility. And, she’s a writer.
The friendship formed without a second thought. We’ve still never met, aside from over Skype, but Erin has become someone I trust implicitly, admire outrageously, and confide in unquestioningly. Having someone who shares my story, even though I wish it never existed, is one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever been given. But having such a wonderful person as a friend is the true treasure in all this.
Wait… there’s more.
Erin is one half of an independent publishing company, and when we met, was in the midst of compiling an anthology. Did I want to contribute a piece, she asked?
The anthology, fittingly, is about scars. Physical ones, not because those are more worthy than emotional ones, but inspired by Erin’s own, incredible story about the loss of one her twins, and the near loss of his sister, who was born 4 months premature at just 23 weeks gestation.
My contribution to the anthology is not this story. Actually, it may sound strange, but it took more guts to tell than this story. Probably because it’s about my own mother, and our very difficult relationship. I wrote it for to make people who have been through abuse feel less alone. If I could tell only one story in my life, it would be that one. If I could tell two, I’d probably throw in this one, about Erin and me.
Imagine if scars, physical and emotional both, weren’t something we tried to hide with makeup or plastic surgery or stiff upper lips and vodka. Imagine if we wore them proudly. My scars, visible and invisible, are memories of what I have lost, but also of what I have learned, and who I have loved. They hurt like hell when they happened, and now are badges of honour, as I’m sure are yours.
I’m really proud to be part of this book. And I’m not ashamed to use this story as part of an unabashed sales pitch. I earned it. We both did!
Finally: none of the writers who contributed to Scars were compensated financially, so if you buy the book through me, I get to keep, like, a whole bunch of the profits. Which is pretty amazing. They will go towards writing new things, including a book, which includes the detailed story about how Erin and I met, and also tales from Uganda/Indonesia/Australia/New Zealand, some of which are almost as wacky as that one. So if you want to support a brand new, independent publishing company, one writer in particular (me,) and even start your holiday shopping early (Told you! Unabashed! Ho ho ho!,) get in touch and I’ll sort you out.
You can read more about Scars and Et Alia Press here.
Without cover-up, but with love and gratitude,