I Have to Bleed to Say This

I am not one to think about spoons. Though I do have anxiety and have had moments of depression, I am usually not debilitated by these things to the point of “suffering from” them. Not only do I not think about how many spoons I have, I also don’t think much about my happiness in general. I observe the world and try to make sense of it and try to make it better. I do not think about how to make myself happy or content, and actually just typing that makes me uncomfortable. No one cares about my internal *feelings* and my *feelings* aren’t going to make the world a better place. Feelings are only useful for guiding me in understanding what is out there. I am self-aware enough to know my outlook is sad and other people should not adopt it. But, here I am, being this way nonetheless.

I can discuss anything. I do not shy away from topics of religion or politics. I do not shy away from hard conversations with people about their own harmful behavior, nor do I shy away from (perhaps overly) sharing my own experiences to help connect with others so the conversation might be fruitful for us both. I will talk about *anything* in great depth for hours. I am almost always left exhilarated and looking forward to the next conversation I will have. In other words, conversations usually give me more spoons.

But there is one area of discussion that is my Achilles heel. I won’t scare you, or myself, by describing the just how badly the end result can be. Most who understand the metaphorical meaning of having and losing spoons already know. So, yes, there is this Achilles heel of a discussion that comes up now and again and yet I continue to participate in it. That may seem like I’m asking for trouble, but it’s not so simple. No one else is saying what needs to be said, so I have to say it, even if I have to bleed to do it.

The topic is statutory rape and the responsibility that society heaps onto young girls (though boys are also victimized, usually by other boys). There are certain circles where I can discuss this and not lose spoons. But I usually only discuss it on social media when there is a frenzy of accusation and condemnation for victims of statutory rape. One post about how a 13 year old girl “spread her legs” will always bring others to form a mob with axes and pitch forks to take the “slut” down. The vitriol will continue and escalate until someone accuses the child of preying on older men to intentionally and joyfully ruin men’s lives.

Despite the fact that I do not think I can convince the mob otherwise, I speak up. I point out that the girl, at age 13, is a child. I point out that adult men should, at bare minimum, know whether or not the girl they are having sex with is a child. I point out that one of the signs of childhood sexual abuse is promiscuity and early sexual activity and that young girls may seek out sex because they are suffering. Just because a child is trying to do something they shouldn’t does not mean adults can encourage and participate in it or to take advantage of the situation without consequences.

But it seems my attempts at reason, compassion, and human decency only fuel the hatred for the young girl. The attacks on her become more vulgar and outlandish, accusing her of dressing wrong, “putting it in front of him”, asking for it, lying to get it… all of this to the point you’d think this child was a sex monster devouring innocent men with her vagina. And again… no evidence pertaining to this girl was ever presented other than the mother of the boy claiming in a comment that the girl lied about her age. From that we get magical vagina monster.

People say, “Well, the guy did bad but she should have her butt whooped for what she did.” (Bad grammar used for authenticity.) Even when a 40 year old, previously convicted sexual predator used an app to convince a fourteen year old girl to run away from home, the facebook brigade were livid with the young girl. They were foaming at the mouth screaming for her punishment while the man was a side note barely mentioned. “She knew what she was doing. She chose to steal that car. She spread her legs willingly.”

What is it about girls spreading their legs? Seriously, this is an important clue to the heart of the problem. Because where it is absolutely expected that if a boy is presented with the possibility of sex, he will act; women are forbidden from even “making” men think about sex. The assumption is that boys and men *can not* help but act on their arousal. They are powerless to the leg spreading of women everywhere. This is such a commonly held belief that it gets spewed all across social media without a second thought. Even when I point out how incredibly insulting to *good* men this ideology is, no one wants to think of it that way. Our society gives a free pass to men to fuck whatever makes their penis hard. “Go ahead guys, we know you can’t help it”. But women and even very young girls better never, ever do anything that might have an effect on a penis because we’ll all know she was asking for it. And if she’s ever had sex before, it doesn’t matter if it was abuse or rape, she’s no angel and knows what she was getting into.

This disgusting, nauseating, spoon-stealing dialog is one of the biggest reasons why victims of abuse, assault, and rape do not come forward. This vilification of girls gets in the head of girls and women (as seen from the fact that most commenters vilifying girls are female) and makes them question their own responsibility in abusive situations. It also makes them question their self-worth once they are no longer “pure”. It is toxic to women, poisoning many in such a way that they perpetuate the sickness, pass it down like a moth-eaten heirloom that smells so bad of mildew that it won’t wash off once it touches you.

There is almost a fear of critical thinking on this issue, as if the most terrifying thing imaginable is that if people don’t condemn women’s sexual independence then sluts will rise up from the cradle and eat their husbands alive.

I am angry, as I cannot help but be after having such futile discussions. But I am also bleeding from wounds I can’t seem to heal. Being furious requires an immense amount of energy, but I’m like a speedboat going toward my target with the hull ripped open. I need to speak up for all girls everywhere. I need to add my voice to offset the damage. I need to speak up to support the girls and women silently reading and feeling shame that should not be theirs to feel. I need to keep speaking. I need to. I need to. But, I am nearly drowning now.

I have written a series of books about childhood sexual abuse and recovery. I have said in those books what I can not say in a facebook post, what I can not even say in a blog post. I have told a number of stories about how abuse can happen in different ways with different effects. I have written about a character who became promiscuous after her abuse. I wrote those books to help bring insight into what it is like psychologically to have to deal with the physical aspect of abuse while also the hurtful assumptions of our society holds for women. The pain and circumstances portrayed in Winter Seedlings were based on real life experiences of young girls (myself included), though the plot was not precisely the same. I have never said publicly that Winter Seedlings contained my own story, but it is true. And that was my final spoon. I can say no more about it.

I’m a fool who believes that the truth matters. Honesty and compassion will change the world. But now I am out of spoons and have to step out of the ring until I get more. I need someone to call me and talk about anything but this. Tell me you agree if you want, but then let’s talk about kittens and the universe. Help me get back to shore.

I hope this helps someone else. I hope that it is enough that *I* do not think you are a whore. *I* do not think you made him rape you. *I* know our system is more broken than you will ever be. Whatever power is in a single person’s understanding, take it from me and try to be good to yourself. ❤

Winter Seedlings: Jute Confronts Her Mother

I’m sharing an excerpt from Winter Seedlings. This is a small part of Chapter 3 when Jute confronts her mother for abandoning her for four days. Winter Seedlings focuses on the effects of childhood sexual abuse and the difficulty of overcoming them. It’s a journey fumbling toward self-love with a broad range of diverse characters.

In this scene, Jute has been up in the woods behind her house collecting kindling. It is the first week of January and bitter cold. On the way back to the house, she sees her mother getting out of a GMC Jimmy driven by a man Jute doesn’t recognize.

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          As long as it takes me to walk to her, she never stops smiling. She is like that when people are around. Even when she shouldn’t be. She makes it hard to stay mad at her.

“Jute, this is Jerry.”

She turns to him and smiles, then looks back at me grinning. She lowers her voice seductively, “We’ve been sleeping around.”

“Momma!” I glare at her. She is trying to be funny but it makes me mad.

“What?” She says, batting her lashes at me and still grinning. “I’m finally free of that asshole. I can do whatever I want.”

She shrugs and walks past me like she’s Marilyn Monroe walking into someone else’s run down shack.

“Momma, I don’t care what you do or who you do it with. Just keep the details to yourself. Okay?”

I follow her up the porch steps and drop the kindling in the cardboard box by the door. Instead of going inside, I head back to the wood pile and pick up two small logs, leaving the largest for tonight. When I enter the house, Momma is in her bedroom talking to me through the door as if I have been there the whole time.
Ignoring her, I open the wood stove door. The heat is heavenly warmth on my face. I grab the poker and jab at the ashes and burned pieces of wood before throwing on the logs. I hear the snapping and cracking and try to focus on that instead of how angry I am at Momma for being gone so long. I can’t keep the door open any longer or the room will fill with smoke. I reluctantly shut it and hear Momma saying, “Jute, are you out there?”

I stand up and take my hat off. Jerry is standing by the couch, rocking on his heels and toes with his back to me. His hands are in his pockets and he’s looking at a picture of Jesus. It’s the only picture in the room, left here by the previous residents. This must be an awkward moment for Jerry. I don’t plan to make it any easier.
Before he has time to gawk at my shaved head, I walk through the kitchen to Momma’s room. She is sitting on her bed in her underwear. Her back is to me, bent slightly forward as she puts one leg into her black pants. Her olive skin stretches over her bony spine. Everything about her is not enough. Even the blanket on her bed looks threadbare. It wouldn’t even keep a dog warm.

A sigh escapes me. “Momma? Momma, what are you doing? We’ve been here a couple of weeks. You can’t run off with the first guy asking if you have change for a dollar.”

She doesn’t turn around. She looks drained. Her voice lacks all the entertainment qualities it had when Jerry could hear her, “If you had been listening to me a minute ago, you would know he isn’t just any guy. I don’t know what I would do without him. I have been a prisoner for too long, married to that crazy man. So, don’t tell me now that I should still think about that psycho before I make my decisions. I’ve snagged a nice man this time. He bought us those groceries, you know.”

My words come out quiet and empty, “That was nice of Jerry.”

Memories of the last week flash through my mind: The day I scraped the mold off the bread and ate it with mustard. I missed the bus Thursday. Missing school meant missing a free lunch. The next day Allie had to pick me up after school so I could make up the Chemistry test. Allie has always made up for Momma’s negligence, but Allie graduated early and is moving to Ohio tomorrow. I don’t say any of this aloud. Momma doesn’t care. If she knew how I felt, she would just use it to hurt me. She didn’t even want me here.

I pick up the hair brush and start to brush through the tangles in Momma’s hair. I gather it in my hand, turn it in a twist, and pin it. She stares at herself in the mirror. I’ve always loved to play with Momma’s hair. It is bittersweet to do it now. She picks up a small mirror and moves it so she can see the back of her head. She kisses the air and snort laughs.

“Oh, my heavens, who is that wretched old woman?” She giggles before pushing up her nose with her thumb and crossing her eyes.

“Momma, you are beautiful. Shut up.” I smile at her reflection, failing again to stay mad at her.

She winks at me.

I tell her, “Now, put on a shirt. And not that red and gold shirt with the clocks all over it. I hate that damn thing.”

I leave the room and find Jerry standing at the fridge with the door open. He’s pulling a container of cottage cheese out of a grocery bag and putting it in with the other items. There’s sliced cheese, bologna, a bag of apples, and a can of peaches. I see bread on the kitchen counter. I pick up the bread box from the kitchen table and carry it to the counter. We can’t leave bread out or mice will get in it.

“Got a mouse trap?” I don’t look to see if he smiles. It was a bad attempt at humor. I sigh.

Finally, after closing the bread box, I look over at him. He’s staring at me, mostly my stubbly hair.

“Is Jute your real name?”

“It wasn’t. But, it is now.” I don’t offer details. I don’t tell him that Momma named me Judy after herself. I don’t understand why she did that. The name Judy is bad enough without it implying that I am also my mother’s replica. I’m nothing like her. When I started kindergarten, I insisted everyone call me Jute. It stuck. We changed it legally when Momma married Earl and he officially adopted us.

“What do you think Judy is doing in there?” I see his eyes land on my tiny scar, then shift around my face trying to find a soft place to land. He gives up and looks away. My face might be full and round, but it isn’t a place to find comfort.

“She has trouble making up her mind,” I say as though I’m not being mean. “I’ll check on her.”

Opening the bedroom door, I see her shoving her folded up blanket into the top of her closet. She’s wearing the clock shirt. There is a suitcase open on the bed, full of her clothes. Her dresser is cleared except for a bottle of baby lotion.

She turns to me and forces a weak smile. She walks toward me as if she is on a t.v. screen. She is just walking toward the camera.

*****

Books by Julie Roberts Towe

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Winter Seedlings Book Series

The final novel in the Winter Seedlings book series has been released. Winter Suns debuted as #60 on Amazon in the category of Women’s Fiction: Christian. It is not a Christian book, but has a lot of Christian keywords in the text and description because the Main Character was abused by a man who used the Bible to justify his actions. His beliefs would have placed him in a Christian cult more than anything similar to how Christianity is normally practiced. But thanks to Amazon, and those who purchased the book on pre-order, I am technically a bestseller. I do not, however, feel accomplished. That will not happen until I start to get some feedback and hear what people think of it.

Winter Suns is a story of the next generation after Winter Seedlings, with the common theme of childhood sexual abuse. There are certainly many characters dealing with it in many different ways. Book one ends on a sort of bittersweet note. So, I wanted to make sure Winter Suns came through with a little more hope at the end. I think if it’s ever made into a movie, The Beatle’s “Here Comes the Sun” should play as the credits roll.

Writing about Childhood Sexual Abuse

1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of childhood sexual abuse.
[Click here for more child sexual abuse statistics.]

There are many ways to process this information. Just the idea of childhood sexual abuse brings images to mind which are unsettling. We probably think of stories we have heard on the news, or a friend who confidentially divulged their darkest secret to us, or perhaps our own painful memories. What comes to mind is the act of abuse and we find it hard to divert our eyes, like seeing an accident on the road. We look at it in awe of its terribleness. We may even feel compelled to act to prevent the abuse, report it, or beat the shit out of the perpetrator. Almost all the feels we feel about childhood sexual abuse are centered around the horrific images we hold in our mind of the act itself.

News stories about child abuse are often written with the voyeur in mind. A voyeur being an enthusiastic observer of sordid and sensational subjects. The big questions in the minds of many are, “How bad was it?”, “How low can a human being get?”, “What was it like to be in that situation as the perpetrator and/or the victim?” Some of us like to push the limits of our empathetic responses as if being able to process that much pain will somehow make us stronger. Some of us want to peer into the ugliness to figure out where it is rooted so we can avoid it in our own lives. Some of us just get a rush from it like going straight down toward the ground on a roller coaster.

No, I’m not policing society’s motivations to consume information about sexual abuse. I am simply stating that for many reasons, we eagerly consume it. And there is plenty of water in the well.

But for the children who have experienced sexual abuse, the train wreck is just not a good analogy. With a train wreck, people rush forward to save the passengers, clear the track, haul off the train, bury the bodies. News articles go away and lives go on. With childhood sexual abuse, the tracks take decades to clear. Sometimes the bodies are never buried.

What we believe about our world and expect from society is learned. The rules are created by us and are illusions. The truths you think of as absolute are often not. A child who suffers will often not view that suffering as abnormal. It is not unreasonable that, with no other points of reference, abused children will believe whatever they are told about the world and themselves. By the time they have enough world experience to inform them otherwise, they typically find themselves in a mess of trouble and are seen as the source of it. This is why the train wreck analogy doesn’t work for child abuse. It isn’t about a black eye or ripped skin. This is the loose tie rod causing the car in front of you to shake, the car that annoys you as you attempt to get around it, perhaps screaming at the driver to get that fixed. The long term effects are neither sordid nor sensational. They aren’t a tsunami of pain, but a repetitive crashing of unceasing waves.

Those children will grow to experience a higher rate of depression, substance abuse, low self-esteem, self-mutilation, sexual promiscuity, and suicide. They likely distrust their own ability to view the world and society correctly, to predict social outcomes, or judge the character of others. They often distrust others’ perceptions as well and have little faith in authority.

When the people you trust most hurt you in such a traumatic way, every single thing you ever thought was true becomes a potential lie. Your strings are cut loose from the order of the universe and you just float around in chaos trying to figure out if it’s safe to land and how to reconnect, if at all.

Breaking free from the grasp of a hand on your wrist is a piece of cake compared to trying to find a place that feels like home ought to feel once you’re free.

I don’t want to write about the easy part.

I write about trying to find that home. My first set of novels, a two book series titled Winter Seedlings, is about these journeys. They explore life beyond the actual events which caused the trauma. My characters want to heal, they want to love, they want a place that feels like home should feel. My stories aren’t perpetrator-centered, or sexual-abuse-centered. They are centered on the heart’s persistent desire for love despite all obstacles. I hope the stories shed a light on the part of childhood sexual abuse which never makes it to the headlines.

Books

Winter Suns Cover Reveal

The release of Winter Suns, the sequel to Winter Seedlings, will happen very soon, I promise. (I have been making this promise for a month, I know.)

While you wait, let me throw out a few sneak peeks and hints:

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Allie

December 25, 1990

I know I’m running because I feel my legs moving. A dim light before me grows larger as I near it. I don’t know what I am running away from, but I hear my heart pounding loudly. The sound of my heart seems to be coming from the tunnel itself. I can hear nothing else. How long have I been running?

The light from the tunnel grows brighter and other sounds emerge. Cries of a screaming baby. The echo bounces off the walls, multiplies. I can’t hear my heart anymore. I can only hear the sound of crying. As I move into brighter light, all sound begins to fade. The light becomes so bright that I can’t see. Then I hear nothing at all.

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The Girl

December 25, 2006

It was with thoughts of eventually sleeping under a large dense pine that I felt my foot step too low. It landed down an embankment, pulling all of me with it. I slid, clinging to my hat, trying to dig in my heels where there was nothing in which to dig. I then fell briefly through the air before landing face down on hard flat rock. I hadn’t fallen far, but I was disoriented. I slowly started to push myself up from the rock when bright light filled the space around me. Blinded for a moment, I thought that it was God. But I registered the sound of a motor just before the sound of squealing tires. I realized I was in the middle of a road.

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John

December 23, 2006

I would have liked to have a normal life, just for a while if not forever. Many times I wished for my parents to actually live together, not just on the same farm but actually in the same house like when I was six. But when they bought this place, everyone decided that I needed to stay mostly with Mom because my Dad Tracy was out of town a lot on tour with his band and Dawson worked at night. So, I didn’t get to stay in the all-guy house with the swimming pool, mini theater, and ten bedrooms. I stayed mostly with mom in the all-girl Victorian house with the endless supply of crying. Secretly, there were times I thought the house was kind of awesome because it was a hundred years old with lots of hidden nooks. It would have been much better if it had been a home for just our family and not the 24/7 abuse shelter Mom had turned it into.

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Jute

“…… life can take many twists and turns and still come out okay in the end. I guess what I’m telling you is that life isn’t planned out ahead of time. Tomorrow isn’t set in stone. There is no fate waiting on you to be ready for things. Life just dances about, whirling, twisting, jutting, and throwing its arms around. Sometimes it even falls on its face. But none of it is planned or synchronized between us all like a movie on a screen. That means you’ll have to step up and try to take a little control over what moves your life makes. You can’t just sit back and watch it dance. I believe in the power of our choices. I don’t believe in fate.”

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Winter Suns

Cover designed by the talented and magical Anna Wand.wintersunsfinal

Winter Seedlings / Winter Suns

Without giving away too much of what happens in Winter Seedlings (though a few spoilers are unavoidable), here is the description of the sequel and final book in the series:

Winter Suns

A nameless teenage girl in Eastern Kentucky has been isolated since birth. She experiences her abuse as unquestionably the will of God. She follows the house rules in hopes of banishing her demons and finding redemption. But when she breaks a rule to search for the Bible in order to teach herself to read it, she discovers something more powerful than her faith. A letter written sixteen years ago by a woman named Allie reveals both disturbing and electrifying secrets. The girl feels called to action. She perceives it is the will of God that she find a way to get the letter to Jute, even if none of the maps in the Bible show the way to Nashville, Tennessee.

Meanwhile, in Nashville, Jute has finally decided to clear out the attic to make room for Dawson’s daughter. It has been over a decade since Jute even looked at Allie’s things. She asks her son, John, to take everything to the barn. To him, it’s just a lot of junk. Jute never told him about Allie because it was too painful to tell. But, when John discovers an old photograph tucked inside one of the notebooks, he is instantly drawn into solving the mystery of what happened to the girl. What he discovers is even more devastating than the secrets his mother is hiding. He wants to forget he ever found the photograph, but he can’t.

Winter Suns contains a wide array of characters usually under-represented in fiction. Every letter in LGBTQ is represented here as well as one (or more….?) characters on the autism spectrum. Don’t think this is a sensationalizing story written to be shockingly different. It’s very ordinary and yet unforgettable. I hope to have it published by the first week of January 2015, if all the stars align.

Happy Halloween Book Sale

In celebration of Halloween, our 14th wedding anniversary, and the November 4th elections, I’m having a book sale.

Get Winter Seedlings for 99 cents, now through midnight November 4th.

Winter Seedlings Cover by Anna Wand

Winter Seedlings is a story of survival, as the fragile new hearts of two girls must make it through the cold and isolating storm that is the effect of child sexual abuse. Jute’s mother has finally moved them out of hell, a.k.a Earl’s trailer. But they are still in Maryville, Tennessee, only six miles from that creep.

If she could, Jute would have made herself invisible. But instead, she has made herself repulsive, even frightening. It kept his hands off her, so it doesn’t matter if people mistake her for a boy or call her a freak. Jute is certain she doesn’t need love anyway, doesn’t want it. She doesn’t even know how to love. But if she did, she would love Allie.

Allie is beautiful, wears vintage dresses, and craves approval. She has suffered her own abuse, but she blames herself. She knows if she was a better person, a person worth loving, a person willing to give up everything, a man would love her. If only Allie could see herself through Jute’s eyes…

When Allie inadvertently puts Jute in danger, they are forced to face their demons. If they drop their guard, will love be able to penetrate their scars and repair their hearts? Or will their self-loathing destroy them before it can?