Author Archives: Debi Smith

Being Kind to Myself

light of knowledge 003Chronic illnesses are assholes. My most current diagnosis happened just over a year ago and was a huge relief after years of reacting to weird things and nothing really making sense to me or my team of amazing doctors. However, this is a tricksy disorder. One that I can take all the meds in the world to prevent reactions but I might still have them if I already have an abundance of histamines floating around in my body and I’m exposed to a trigger. It’s also caused a lot of pain, inflammation, and brain fog that has made writing difficult. At the height of symptoms before the diagnosis, I could sit at the computer for hours and not write a thing, and not for lack of trying. I tried, but brain fog will mess you up. Not being able to think of the words I know as well as not forming coherent sentences will make any writer frustrated. I think I was beyond frustrated though. I was angry that I was unable to do what I love.

Then there were days where I was able to write and it felt like things were flowing, but then after spending a week on one scene alone I’d decide it was unusable. All that time spent on something that would not make it into the final manuscript. Talk about frustrating.

What was I doing?

I gave in. I stopped writing because the stress of being unable to made my mast cell disorder worse. Yeah, stress is a trigger. Good times.

We’ve been doing med changes one at a time and I finally got to the point where I could start writing again earlier this year. But I would be productive for a day and then nothing for a week. Rinse. Repeat.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. After having a short period of productivity, I had a couple of weeks of not being able to at all again.

Have I mentioned the frustration and anger?

And then, by some sign from the universe, this Tumblr post kept popping up on my Facebook feed:

Terry Pratchett

Image description: Tumblr user mikeyshackwriting: I saw a post talking about how Terry Pratchett only wrote 400 words a day, how that goal helped him write literally dozens of books before he died. So I reduced my own daily word goal. I went down from 1,000 to 200. With that 800-word wall taken down, I’ve been writing more. “I won’t get on tumblr/watch TV/draw/read until I hit my word goal” used to be something I said as self-restraint. And when I inevitably couldn’t cough up four pages in one sitting, I felt like garbage, and the pleasurable hobbies I had planned on felt like I was cheating myself when I just gave up. Now it’s something I say because I just have to finish this scene, just have to round out this conversation, can’t stop now, because I’m enjoying myself, I’m having an amazing time writing. Something that hasn’t been true of my original works since middle school. And sometimes I think, “Well, two hundred is technically less than four hundred.” And I have to stop myself, because – I am writing half as much as Terry Pratchett. Terry fucking Pratchett, who not only published regularly up until his death, but published books that were consistently good. And this has also been an immense help as a writer with ADHD, because I don’t feel bad when I take a break from writing – two hundred words works up quick, after all. If I take a break at 150, I have a whole day to write 50 more words, and I’ve rarely written less than 200 words and not felt the need to keep writing because I need to tie up a loose end anyways. Yes, sometimes, I do not produce a single thing worth keeping in those two hundred words. But it’s much easier to edit two hundred words of bad writing than it is to edit no writing at all.

I finally realized that part of what was blocking me was myself. Yeah. I was getting in my own way.

I wasn’t being as kind to myself as I thought I was. Because the kindness I was extending myself was overshadowed by a negative feedback loop playing in the background so softly it wasn’t recognizable.

Have you ever been listening to music on your computer and you’re opening websites to read articles, find recipes, or whatever and something feels off about the music, but you can’t quite put your finger on it but you continue, thinking maybe you’re imagining things? That’s been me for the last few years and pretty much every time I attempted to write.

Finally, you close some tabs and you realize that a video had been running on autoplay in one of those tabs and you think, “I’m not going crazy. There really was something else playing.”

After a couple of weeks of not being able to write (chronic illnesses are assholes) the last couple of weeks have been productive. Not wildly productive, breaking 1k word counts. More in the sense that I was able to write with a clear sense of where the scene is headed, how it needs to change from the original, and what comes next. One day after the last time I saw the Tumblr meme above I left myself a kind note with a reminder of what to focus on the next day. Seems like a no-brainer, yeah?

The norm is I write myself snarky notes, and anyone I’ve beta read for knows I can be pretty snarky. Not mean snarky, all in fun snarkiness. The problem with that is when I go long stretches without being able to write because of brain fog or pain or both I have to work extra hard to beat down negative self-talk as soon as it starts. Because what am I if I’m not productive?

That’s the problem with chronic illness. We’re socialized to believe our worth lies in our productivity and what we can provide others rather than we have worth because we exist. Everyone with chronic illness, physical and/or mental, can relate to that feeling of having no worth when we are physically/mentally unable to do anything. We see the glazed look in people’s eyes when we try to share our struggles, and so many of us end up struggling in silence to avoid that glazed look or the inevitable unsolicited advice that is nowhere near helpful. We extend kindness to others and don’t get the same in return. We have to be kind to ourselves which is a struggle in itself as well because it’s counter to negative self-talk. The instinct is to internally put ourselves down because we are worthless because we aren’t producing anything. It’s hard for us to see that we have worth just for existing because that’s not what we’re taught as we’re growing up.

So here I am. Leaving myself kind notes in my manuscript before I turn off the computer for the day. I’m better armed against said negative self-talk the next day. And by kind, I don’t necessarily mean being positive about everything. Not at all. I give myself praise. “Hey, you did great today despite having a rough start and feeling like crap.” Acknowledging the stumbling blocks and the fact that I was able to get around them has been key. Do I hit 400 words every day? No. There have been days where my brain just wouldn’t cooperate. For the most part, though, I’m hitting it and sometimes continue. Reminding myself that the day before there were things out of my control hindering my progress is what shuts down the negative self-talk. I can’t tell myself I was lazy when I wasn’t. I genuinely couldn’t function.

kindness post

Image description: cropped photo of one typed line on a computer screen highlighted in bright green. Text reads: keep it up, you’re doing great.

I wasn’t sure how my little experiment on myself would turn out. The worst that could happen was things stayed the same. But they didn’t. They’ve improved and I have to thank everything that pointed in the direction of mikeyshackwriting’s Tumblr post for it.

To those of you who are in this same struggle, you are worthy no matter what. You do not have to live up to society’s expectations to prove or keep that worth. It is yours and no one can take it away from you. Just remember to extend the same kindness to yourself that you grant to others.

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Posted by on September 26, 2019 in Uncategorized


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Asians Are As American As You Are

SPOILERT ALERT: This post contains spoilers about the Netflix show, Wu Assassins. If you haven’t seen it and don’t want spoilers, bookmark this and come back to it later.

Last chance before spoilers…

This show took me back twenty-five years to Vanishing Son. Asian immigrants, family, Chinatown, and gangs. What Wu Assassins brings new to the table is a more comprehensive tale that includes Chinese fantasy elements and fully developed characters that don’t rely on stereotypes but rather their history. In the beginning, it may seem that the show relies on stereotypes, but as it develops, you see that it is this incredible ensemble (the best out there, imo) of multi-dimensional characters with agency driving the plot. To connect the past and the present is the inimitable Tzi Ma, who is in both shows. I remember first seeing him in The Equalizer (the TV Show, not the Denzel movie), followed a few years later in MacGuyver (the original). But where I truly began to appreciate his enormous talent was as Kinman Tau in Rapid Fire and, yes, I almost stopped watching Wu Assassins to watch Rapid Fire, because the fight scenes, particularly with Lewis Tan, reminded me of Brandon Lee. I think bringing Tzi Ma onboard, an actor with a large body of work, as an elder was one of the best things the show did. The next best thing was bringing on other actors who also have numerous credits like Mark Dacascos and Byron Mann. It’s an amazing blending of the seasoned stars with the newer stars. In short, it hits in all the ways no other show has for me before.

“Tourists. Want to experience China. Coming in here expecting something old-y world-y, but surprise they don’t get it because what they’re getting is not the usual. They’re getting something that people who actually live in San Francisco want.” ~Tommy Wah, episode 4 “A Twisting Snake”

The second time watching Wu Assassins this quote hit me hard. I had already read criticism of the show on Twitter after finishing it the first time around. Some of it was people jumping in on Asian Twitter’s celebration of this show and shitting all over it because they’re bitter about another show being canceled—comments that had nothing to do about Wu Assassins and everything to do about how their feelings were more important than ours. At any given time in the last few years, there have only been a handful of Asian-led TV shows on network and cable at a time. With the end of Dr. Ken, I Feel Bad, Into The Badlands, and Elementary we are left with Fresh Off The Boat as the lone returning show with Terror: Infamy focusing on the Japanese in American concentration camps in its second season. If I branch out into pay movie channels, Cinemax has Warrior. That’s what we’ve got, folks. But go ahead and tell me how the cancelation of one show dominated by white actors in a field of shows dominated by white actors is a travesty and more important that what Wu Assassins is giving us at a time when representation is shrinking on TV.

The shrinking representation isn’t affecting just Asians either, FOX canceled most of its shows with diverse leads. If you take a look at the fall lineup photos, it is, as we see year after year, mostly white. Try what I do and focus on minority led shows to add to your list of new shows to watch and see how difficult it is.

Then there were non-Asians shaking their fists how there weren’t enough Asians in front of and behind the camera. There are only two non-Asians in the primary ensemble. TWO. The rest of ensemble is populated by Asians. And not only that, it’s led by a Southeast Asian—an important distinction because it breaks down the stereotypes that we are a monolith. How many of you have seen my threads on Twitter ranting about how we are portrayed in the books I’m reading? Sometimes the only description given a character is that they are Asian, and I’m not talking a side character. I’m talking a main character with significant contributions to the plot. We don’t all look Japanese or Chinese or Korean. Some of us are Filipinx (that’s me), Indonesian (that’s Iko Uwais, the lead in Wu Assassins), Burmese, Thai, Laotian, Malay, Cambodian, etc. It also misses the fact that Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Nepalese, etc. (South Asia) are also Asians. Sometimes authors don’t do their homework and I’ll read a fight scene that gets disrupted with “he looked to be making a martial arts kick.” Well, that doesn’t give me much considering my martial arts training and knowledge. There are dozens of martial arts styles and not all of them are Asian.

While I love that we had Crazy Rich Asians, the first fully Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club, last year and I wouldn’t be sad to see more of the same, these non-Asians who are complaining are missing the forest for the trees. Would it be great to have full Asian representation? Yes. Is it required 100% of the time? No. Just like we aren’t monoliths, we also have more than one story to tell and that comes with both full Asian casts and with mixed casts. We can and should celebrate both. There were Asians in the Wu Assassins writers’ room. There were Asians behind the camera directing. There were a plethora in front of the camera. What the complaints should be focusing on is what I pointed out above, the dwindling representation in network and cable TV. Go after that. That’s where energy should be spent, not picking apart a show that, to paraphrase Tommy, what Asian-Americans who actually live here want.


This scene in episode 7, “Legacy,” resonates with Asians in the U.S. because it is COMMON; from the stares at the beginning of the scene (any minority being the only one or one of a few in the room will understand this), to the seemingly “polite” jackassery from the server, to the overt racism from the men. These microaggressions and aggressions add up. They hurt. They insinuate we don’t belong whether we were born here or immigrated. They insinuate that our palates will never assimilate. They assume that we couldn’t possibly be born here even though Asians started coming over centuries ago (Filipinos recorded first arrival was in 1587 and settling in Louisiana in 1763). They imply that we are monoliths. They imply that we are less than and will never belong.
The myth of the perpetual foreigner is an insidious racist belief that often cloaks itself in politeness. In the clip, the server admits that she means that Kai and Six look like they don’t belong in America. My experiences, too numerous to count, are that people dance around it, they don’t want to say it outright because by using euphemisms and inference they can still couch their excuse, when called out, as “I’m just trying to be polite/make conversation/be neighborly.” There is plausible deniability in it. “I didn’t call you a racial slur. I can’t be racist. I was being nice.” Polite racism is still racism. “No, I mean, where are you really from?” If you don’t ask white people that, don’t ask anyone that. Period.

The men coming to the server’s “rescue” after she did a version of I-want-to-talk-the-manager; because how dare you correct a white woman. It wasn’t as “polite” as the server was initially in assuming Asians couldn’t possibly be happy with eggs and sausage. Also, Asian chicken? Take into account all the different countries I named above that are part of Asia and tell me what the fuck Asian chicken is supposed to be. The men went right into emasculating jokes about small Asian penises and then saying “chop sake,” another racist thing, common with non-Asians saying whatever they think is “Asian” to bully us through making fun of our languages even though it’s nonsense. It may not seem like much but it’s significant. Hollywood has a long history of desexualizing Asian men, portraying them as unattractive nerds who have no romantic entanglements and always the butt of the joke; and until recently, keeping them out of significant lead roles in blockbuster movies as well as romantic leads. It has carried over into real world consequences for Asian men who end up with low self-esteem because they never see themselves reflected on screen as a fully developed person who deserves love and is seen as desirable. This is also why the kiss between Lu Xin and Christine at the end of the season is important. While we are now seeing a small lift in Asian men being cast as leads in RomComs, the Asian male/white female (AM/WF) pairing is extremely rare and it shouldn’t be. Asian men deserve better than they’ve gotten for decades. While it’s just a kiss, it’s still a step in the direction that we need to be going.

Predictably, complaints about this scene that amounted to “not all white people” popped up. This scene was to make US, Asians in America, feel seen and heard. It was for US. To acknowledge the long history of racism, systemic and interpersonal alike, that we’ve lived through. The humiliation and dehumanization that racists use to tear us down in front of other people. We know this. We’ve felt this. We lived it. If you had feelings about this scene because you believe “not all white people” or “not all Oregonians” are like that, we are at the center here, not you. The show isn’t about you. Don’t make our plight and celebration of how succinctly the writers represented it about your fragility.

As the end of the scene goes:
Server: I’ve never seen such rude people in my life.
Six: Us either.

I may be Asian, but “I’m as American as you are.”

Now, let’s get to the good stuff.

Wu Assassins has given us something special. A predominantly Asian cast that hits us from a human perspective and a cultural one. Everyone has layers of history, desires, and connections. Everyone has depth and dimensions. Everyone is HUMAN. And not only is the show populated with Asians, it’s led by a Southeast Asian, like me. The character is hapa (mixed), like me. The Asians are an array of immigrants, American-born, fully assimilated, as well as those embracing American and Asian cultures. That last part is important especially in the case of Mr. Young’s character when the older generations are typically portrayed as mired in their originating culture and eschewing the trappings of the New World. Mr. Young loves his Tony Robbins and Steve Jobs quotes but he’ll just as easily quote Confucius and offer you a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) remedy. Immigrants don’t have to assimilate by throwing off every bit of their culture in order to be accepted, at least that’s not how it should be. They shouldn’t have to throw anything off, but as we see time and again through the decades they are shunned for not doing so. It doesn’t have to be that way and shows like this can help move that needle of acceptance in showing people our humanity.

It’s given us women who have agency that has nothing to do with pursuing romantic relationships. The women lead, fight, and take an active role in the plot. They aren’t mere plot devices. They are not portrayed through the typical male gaze. There are no gratuitous T&A shots. Of particular importance is the fact that Zan, Jenny, and Ying Ying are portrayed without the stereotyped submissive hypersexuality that has led to Asian women being fetishized and objectified in real life and often leads to our deaths. This is no joke. I was told I was “exotic” by an adult white woman when I was 5-years-old. No child or person should ever be objectified in that manner. It has led to still having to push back at men, particularly Asian men who think being fetishized is preferable to being desexualized while also holding the belief that we (Asian women) owe them sex—it has happened more than I’ve been able to keep track of in the last few years alone. Wu Assassins demonstrates that it isn’t hard to portray women as strong, independent people who don’t need to be part of a couple to have an identity, and that we are human rather than sexual objects.

The following video is satire on fetishizing Asian women as it would look like if white people were fetishized from comedian Joy Regullano.

Family is an important theme for the season. From an immigrant adopted by a man who happened to be in a gang and wound up its leader and how the father’s line of work became a wedge in their relationship. To a father who would do anything for the adopted son he loves as he would’ve his own. A group of friends who were thick as thieves in their teen years but a trauma brought animosity that drove a small wedge between them. A brother seeking family in all the wrong places because his biological family he has known doesn’t feel like family to him anymore. A sister doing everything she can to save her brother while trying to be the perfect daughter that her parents will never praise no matter what. A subordinate who sees her boss as a father figure and is loyal beyond measure until she feels betrayed because he is entrenched in patriarchal thinking and his love is solely for his prodigal son, not the woman who would lay down her life for him. A man doing everything he can to be reunited with his family even if the world has to burn.

It explores traditional Asian family roles and the pushback when the kids attempt to the break out of those roles or “unConfuciusing” their brains, as Lu Xin would say. By all appearances, Jenny is the perfect daughter, taking over the family restaurant and always helping her big brother when he needs it. However, nothing she does is good enough for her parents. There is no praise for sales being up or improving the business or taking care of Tommy and this in turn gives her a feeling as if she has no control. I know that feeling of doing all the right things and it still not being good enough for praise leading to feeling like I had no control over anything around me. In Jenny’s case, the one thing she turned to for solace was underground fighting, a place to take out her frustrations and regain some sense of control because it was something she chose to do. Maybe I’m reading too much into it after watching it eight times, but that’s the sense that I always get from her.

It also explores the ideas people without family have about those with families and vice versa when in reality, neither is perfect or ideal. Some have too much responsibility thrust on them. While all some want is a family to belong to and feel loved and supported. The grass is always greener. This was distilled perfectly into a short conversation between Zan and Jenny. Zan is envious of Jenny having a family to rely on and receive support from while Jenny envies Zan’s lack of responsibility to a family and its hierarchy. But as with most things, what we see and envy is only the tip of the iceberg. Zan didn’t see Jenny’s family and personal struggles under the surface and Jenny didn’t see Zan’s struggle for Six to see her as his heir, to become Big Sister when his time as Big Brother came to an end, for him to treat her as family when he only saw her through a patriarchal lens despite her loyalty, strength, intelligence, and abilities.

Lastly, a point that is significant for me and every other hapa out there. Like Miles Morales and Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry, Kai Jin is mixed. He’s Indonesian and Chinese. I make the emphasis on “and” because this is a significant change in thinking from when I was growing up. Not only was I told that I wasn’t Filipino enough by other Filipinos, I was also told I wasn’t white enough by other whites—something most of us who are mixed go through no matter what our ethnic makeup is. There were no choices for being bi-/multiracial on forms when I became an adult. I could choose White, Asian/Pacific Islander, or the dreaded Other. Why other myself intentionally on records? I always checked Asian/Pacific Islander, even before I was comfortable in my own skin and had decided, unapologetically, how I saw myself and how I would identify. I always felt I was forced to choose one or the other, that I couldn’t be both. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I became aware of this new thinking, embracing all of it. And, and, and, and, and. Kai reminds people when they call him Chinese that’s he’s both Chinese and Indonesian. With his friends, he makes jokes about the half you can’t see—something I relate to from my childhood with my Filipino relatives. Why is this important? Because when we see ourselves, meaning those of us who are mixed, reflected on screen going through the same identity struggles as well as how we fit in with others it validates our own hardships and interpersonal relationships knowing that we aren’t alone. I had a few mixed friends growing up, one of them has been a best friend since our hana buttah days. Having a few friends is different from that on screen reflection. What goes on in friendships typically stays within that friendship, but what happens on screen is seen by many, making us more visible and tearing down those old though patterns that we have to choose one of our ethnic cultures to identify with rather than all of them. This world has more people of mixed ethnicities than we acknowledge and it’s important to see more and celebrate every hapa character being centered in a show or movie.

I hope that Wu Assassins gets a second season. If any new show deserves it, it’s this one. It surpassed all my expectations, which I admit to keeping low because I wasn’t sure what to expect from what little I’d seen on social media from Tommy Flanagan whom I’ve followed since Sons of Anarchy. I was honestly worried about whitewashing and reliance on stereotypes. The fact that neither happened is a testament to the commitment of the creators, writers, and directors to giving us something Asians who actually live in America want.

What follows are a couple of the videos that helps put the Asian in America perspective in context, plus a Spotify playlist of the music used this season.

Tyrus Wong, American Masters. Of particular importance, his separation from his father upon arriving in the U.S. and subsequent separation and detainment at Angel Island as a child.

History of Asians in Cinema by Vox

The music used throughout the season is amazing.

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Posted by on August 23, 2019 in Uncategorized


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This Is My Story


Me & a friend in a friend’s messy apartment on-campus freshman year.

I’m a writer. I tell stories. Real stories fictionalized. In telling these stories, I’ve neglected to tell my own. Really tell it. Details and all.

I’ve been clear and open about being a survivor of sexual assault twice, as well as stalking. Only recently have I opened up about my relationship with an emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend. Like many survivors, yesterday was difficult. Watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify was impossible. Just thinking about it had me in tears on and off. Then, last night I happened to catch a replay of Judge Kavanaugh’s anger-laden statement. I was only able to take about thirty seconds of it, wanting to throw the remote at the TV until I changed the channel. I thought he would trigger memories from one of the assaults, but what he triggered was all the times my ex yelled at me, berated me, called me stupid, and raged if he thought I was being too familiar with another man, even if that man happened to be a good friend of ours. I knew then that I couldn’t just say I had been assaulted or abused anymore.

I have a story to tell and I’m going to tell it.

Raw and unedited.

My first year of college I lived in an all-woman dorm. It wasn’t by choice. It was the only one available when it was my turn at the top of the waitlist. This meant no men were allowed in the dorm after the front desk closed and the doors locked. Did residents sneak men in after dark? Yes. Did men sneak in on their own? Absolutely.

One of the women in my unit that I befriended took me and some of our neighbors to a party one night. It with either right before school started or the first weekend after. It was there I met a lot of athletes. One of them would be the one I adopted as a big brother (along with his own brother) and leaned on for support later on. One of them would become my assailant.

The would-be assailant was friendly and on the football team. I would say we were acquaintances. He was always nice, asked how I was when I’d run into him around the dorms or cafeteria. I never ran into him elsewhere on campus. One time we were riding the same elevator and one of his teammates that I already knew happened to be on the elevator. He introduced us not knowing we already knew each other. His teammate and I had a good snicker because it wasn’t the first time someone had introduced us when no introductions were necessary.

One weekend in September, I think it was the third or fourth week of school (we had started in August), my roommate left for the weekend. It wasn’t the first time she had gone elsewhere for the weekend. The first time she did, I locked myself out of our room in the middle of the night when I went to use the bathroom. So, that weekend, I left my door unlocked before going to bed to avoid a repeat of having to go get my RA in the middle of the night in my pajamas.

Sometime after falling asleep, I was awoken by someone standing in my doorway backlit by the fluorescent lights coming from the unit lounge right outside my room.

It was him.

And I wasn’t really awake.

I was in that groggy state of being between asleep and awake. The state where you can’t make yourself move or to fully wake.

I asked him how he got in and I’m pretty sure my words were slurred.

He had found an unlocked door.

He came inside my room, closing the door and sitting in my desk chair that was next to my bed. He left the light off.

I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember there was some kind of small talk.

I just wanted to go back to sleep. I remember telling him I was sleepy but I don’t remember if I told him to leave so I could sleep.

I don’t even remember how the assault started, but I remember how slimy his saliva felt as his tongue traveled from breast to breast. And later, how it seemed to become slimier in the shower.

I remember thinking, what is happening?

But I couldn’t vocalized anything. I was paralyzed. Like a victim in a thriller who was injected with a paralytic and can’t move or speak. They can only watch the horror being done to them.

That was me.

There was no jolting fully awake as soon as he touched me.

There was no fighting him off.

There was no screaming for help, hoping one of my neighbors would hear.

I was mute and unable to move.

We are so conditioned to talking about fight or flight, we never talk about freezing like a deer in headlights. It happens. It happened to me.

After a few minutes, he pulled my nightshirt back down and left. He said something before leaving but I don’t remember what.

I laid there in shock, covered in slime that was drying. I understood what victims meant by feeling dirty. I wanted to wash him off of me.

Once I was fully awake, I grabbed my shower caddy, towel, and a change of clothes before heading to the bathroom.

I stayed in the shower until the water was cold. By the time I was dressed again, I still felt dirty. Upon leaving the bathroom, I ran into one of my neighbors. He was in her room watching TV with her.

I’m supposed to report it, yeah? I’m supposed to tell someone after it happens, yeah?

I told her what he did. Quietly, so he couldn’t hear while furtively glancing towards her open door to make sure he wasn’t exiting her room while I talked to her.

“He’s been with me and hasn’t tried anything. Why didn’t you scream for help?”

As if it was MY fault I didn’t scream. As if what happened to me didn’t really happen because he didn’t do it to her.

She crushed me in that moment, telling me that she didn’t believe me with that one statement and one question.

I was already not thinking straight, not only because of the assault, but because I had been asleep. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not fully functional after waking up. Let alone waking up in the middle of the night after little sleep.

I don’t know how I fell asleep after that, knowing both of them were in the next room. I did lock my door after that.

After that night, things with my neighbor weren’t the same. I didn’t want to be near her. I spent as much time out of my room and the dorm in general as I could. My room wasn’t safe. My dorm wasn’t safe. I felt safer walking the campus at night than I did in my own room.

Remember the guy I mentioned that I would adopt as my big brother later on? I spent a lot of time at his apartment with his roommates, his brother, and his neighbors.

I kept the assault to myself. I dated other guys but never for long. One of them decided in the middle of making out that he was going to take out his penis. I didn’t realize he did it until he guided my hand to it. I didn’t want to touch it. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I ran out of his apartment and never looked back.

I still went to parties. Sometimes I was sober and sometimes I was drunk. It was usually when I was sober that a guy would say something like they wanted to get me drunk so they could “do me”. I made sure to stay sober if that happened, maintaining an awareness of my surroundings. Thankfully, none of my friends ever pressured me to drink. Ever. They always respected my choice when I didn’t want to drink.

At one particular party that was winding down, one of the guys I knew was really drunk and close to passing out when friends were egging him on to go out and find a girl. He lifted a droopy hand and pointed to me, “I want her.”

“I don’t want you,” was my immediate rejection.

After the assault, I didn’t worry about hurting the feelings of random men when I rejected them. Especially when they were drunk and only looking for one thing.

I found myself in the middle of a depression. By the spring semester I had the worst case of insomnia I’ve experienced. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning and had to force myself to go to classes and work. I wasn’t eating much which took a physical toll on me. When I realized what was going on, I stopped drinking altogether to make sure I wasn’t self-medicating. There were times my big brothers had to drag me out to parties because I had withdrawn from socializing as much.

It wasn’t until I met someone that I really liked and was hesitant to ask out that I finally broke down and told my big brother in between tears while we sat on the concrete stairs of his apartment building.

He hugged me, held me, told me I was safe. He softly encouraged me to at least report it to the football coach, but my experience with telling my neighbor had me holding firm in not doing so. If she could be part of the reason my spirit was wrecked when I knew her, I knew telling a powerful man on campus would be worse. Even if the coach believed me, there would be men involved in an investigation. Complete strangers. It took me long enough to open up to the person I trusted most on campus. Laying myself bare to people with power that I know nothing about was unquestionably the wrong thing for me to do, especially since I was just pulling myself out of the depression. Why sink myself further into something that was sucking my soul dry?

He respected my decision and didn’t push me. Instead, he kept me close and encouraged me to ask the guy out. To live again.

And so I did. We went out. We held hands. We kissed. Because we were friends first and I wanted a relationship, I told him what happened to me. I set boundaries and he respected them. Then we broke up before finals.

Fast forward a couple of years and a guy that was in two of my psychology classes one semester. One of those classes was a seminar class where we met in a room no bigger than a conference room and sat around a big table. The other class was in the main lecture hall in Gartley Hall. It was in that class that he had acquired my phone number for a group project. He wasted no time in using it to hit on me instead. He would call multiple times a day, sometimes drunk. It didn’t matter how many times I told him I didn’t want to go out with him. He kept calling. He kept trying to sit next to me in our classes.

I started screening my calls. This was back when Caller ID cost extra on a landline and required a phone with a digital readout. I didn’t have the money for that. I let the answering machine pick it up and would wait to hear who it was. One of my uncles asked me direct if and why I was screening my calls after I had done this a few times with him. I told him what was going on and said he’d come and break the guy’s arms and legs. The immediate image I had was of the guy in a wheelchair in full casts on both legs and both arms. I told him no. For whatever reason, despite what he was doing to me, I didn’t want him harmed.

This guy had made me alter my behavior for a second time. Not only was I screening my calls, I was walking around campus in broad daylight with my keys between my fingers in one hand and an umbrella in the other, whether there were clouds crowning Tantalus or not. I made a point to go to class late so he couldn’t sit by me—this was difficult because I’m habitually on time and even many of my attempts to be late still had me arriving on time. I avoided Manoa Gardens because I knew he hung out there between and after classes.

The nightmares I once had after the assault returned. The new nightmares included my assailant and my stalker, stoking my fears that I’d run into them between classes and work on campus.

In the midst of it all, I really didn’t want to get involved in a relationship. There were a couple of almost relationships that happened and then fizzled out. While I had my own hang ups, they had their own shit they were dealing with as well.

The stalker eventually left me alone and after that semester I never had him in another psychology class but I did see him now and then in Gartley Hall.

During college, a friend I’ve known since we were kids, she lived across the street from some of my relatives, got me going to church regularly with her and her friends, some of whom I knew from going to the beach and traveling around the island with them before stepping foot in their church.

Church wasn’t a new thing for me. I grew up in churches, sang in choirs and worship teams, and taught Bible Study, Sunday School, and worked in the nursery.

It was after graduation when I started dating one of the guys in our circle. It threw everyone off but I thought they had adjusted to the relationship. Until friends took us aside separately telling us God told them we shouldn’t be together.

Unless you’re my boss and signing my paychecks, I don’t like people telling me what to do. It makes me dig my heels in. It pissed us both off and was the beginning of us pulling away from the church.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was already controlling me through gaslighting and emotional abuse. My brain was insulating me as I was making adjustments based on his behavior. My friends would all tell you that I’m a strong woman. Even my church friends at the time would’ve told you that I’m a warrior. What is difficult for many to understand is that the tactics of emotional abuse are so insidious that even in the middle of it when it was the worst and I was thinking about breaking up with him, I didn’t think of it as emotional abuse.

If I did something he didn’t like he’d call me “stupid”. The first time it happened we had a big fight and then I shut down. I was a college graduate, for fuck’s sake.

He hated that I had a talent for grasping a brand new melody, including lyrics, while listening to a song for the first time. He hated it so much that not only did he call me stupid one time while I was singing along to a song we were both hearing for the first time in his car, he told me to stop. He knew I loved singing. I used to sing all the time. He took that joy away from me. I never sang again with him in the car to anything. I still rarely sing in the car.

He was beyond jealous of other men who were friendly with me, even our own mutual friends or men I was friends with before I knew him. He walked in on me and some other male friends doing a massage train, lined up massaging the shoulders of the person in front of. He wasted no time in berating me as soon as were alone.

The worst fight happened after I woke up from a nap one afternoon. He was sitting at my desk in my apartment, his mouth drawn into a scowl—I’ll never forget that look. He had one of my poetry journals in front of him. I had never let him read them before. In fact, it was rare for me to allow anyone to read my poetry journals. I didn’t even have time to let it set in that he had gone through my things, invading my privacy. He went on a tirade about a particular poem about a guy from my past, one that took me a long time to get over. I can’t tell you which poem it was that he took umbrage to because I wrote many poems about this person.

According to my now ex, I wasn’t allowed to have the feelings I did for anyone, even if they were in my past. I don’t remember how the fight ended but I’m pretty sure it went along the lines of me doing something to show him how much I loved him and stroked his ego. This was something I learned to do the longer we were together, appease him to end the fight even if I knew deep down that I was right and he was wrong.

He was the only man to truly coerce me into sex. The only one who kept with the “c’mon” when I’d say no. The only one to keep pawing at me after I said no. The only one still trying to undress me after I said no. Eventually I gave in just to get it over with. I was tired of fending him off. I regretting giving in as soon as it was over. I hated myself for a long time after that. I didn’t trust myself for a long time after that.

Throughout our time together, he had a problem with following through on things he’d tell me he’d do for me, especially when it was giving me a ride home from work or to somewhere. I didn’t have a car. I couldn’t afford it. There were months I couldn’t even afford a bus pass. So, when I was expecting a ride from him and he would be late, if he showed at all, it was time I lost in which I could’ve ridden the bus and already been home by the time he’d show up. It got worse towards the end and it was something I couldn’t hide from my co-workers at the Y, they’d see me waiting for him and while they all left work, turning down their offers for a ride because he would’ve been pissed if I had accepted.

It was this behavior that I focused on at the end, mostly because I still hadn’t accepted all the other behaviors as abusive. I labeled this one as not respecting me or my time. It was true on the surface level. The lack of respect for me went deeper but I still didn’t see how deep it was. One day, after returning to the Y from spending the weekend with my co-workers and other YMCA leaders across the island to prepare for the summer program, I was waiting for him to pick me up. I paged him several times with no response. One of my co-workers I was good friends with brought up that if he was going to do this to me all the time, maybe I shouldn’t be with him. It wasn’t the first time he suggested it and it wasn’t the first time I had thought about breaking up with him. I waited two hours that day. I took The Bus (not a capitalization error, that’s what it’s called) home—sleeping bag and other gear in tow. By the time I got home I was irritable, which turned into pissed when his excuse turned out to be: I was biking with the guys and forgot. I told him I needed him to follow through on what he says he’s going to do and to respect my time. “I can’t change,” was his aggravated defensive response. That’s all I needed. I broke up with him on the spot, over the phone. He changed his tune as soon as the words were out of my mouth and the water works started.

It might seem heartless to break up with someone over the phone, but looking back and being able to acknowledge the abuse and the suffering I went through I think I knew deep down it was the only safe way to do it. But it took me decades to get from “he wasn’t respectful of me and my time” to “he was abusive”. Even in talking with our mutual friends after the breakup for two decades, I still protected him, not willing to damage how they saw him beyond saying, “I learned my own worth.”

My assailant contributed to an episode of depression, making me feel ashamed for not locking my door, not fighting back, not yelling for help. He stole my joy and spark. My stalker further altered how prepared for danger even in the daytime, how I protected myself. My ex changed my entire being. I didn’t recognize myself in the end. Outwardly, everyone saw the same Debi but inside I was hollow from not being allowed to be myself and express myself with my friends the way I always had. The shame of allowing someone to change me so fundamentally is was kept me from being open and honest about the relationship. We had mutual friends, still do. He knew my family and I knew his. I was protecting myself without knowing it by not admitting to the abuse. It wasn’t like I didn’t have the support system either. I had a lot of friends, aunties, and uncles who would’ve done anything for me.

Shame is a liar.

My second assault happened at work when I was doing direct care at a psychiatric residential treatment facility and one of the kids literally grabbed me by the pussy in the middle of a physical management. He had made many threats to sexually assault and rape the female staff. Before he actually grabbed me, he told me he was going to. It was one of the repeated threats he always made. There was a lot going on that night and it felt like an eternity before my co-worker returned who was getting the time out room cleared out so we could take him there. Two other co-workers eventually took over because there were problems with whoever was in the time out room. I stayed late that night documenting every detail I could in the incident report, returning after not much sleep for Treatment Team. My boss was on fire when I arrived. During the meeting she was adamant that we discharge him to a higher level of care. She had copied the incident report and gave them to the therapist, psychiatrist, nurse, and clinical director. I remember the hesitation and hedging from the therapist who seemed more concerned about the boy than myself and the safety of everyone else—she wasn’t a bad therapist at all and I get why she was hemming and hawing, but it was hurtful at the time. I also remember how fierce my boss was because I just didn’t have it in me to advocate like that in that moment. I was exhausted as well as embarrassed. This wasn’t like the assault in college when no one saw what happened. I had witnesses—co-workers and other kids who walked by. And then I had to talk about it with other co-workers who weren’t there. It’s not easy. It’s as hard as I imagined it would be back when I chose not to report the first one.

The team eventually agreed to discharge him to a psychiatric hospital and the news about what happened to me spread like wildfire. I lost count of how many other women came to me and said, “He did that to me too.” I went through his chart, reading past incident reports to see if they had documented it and they hadn’t. I admit to being angry that they didn’t. If they had, it wouldn’t have happened to me. But I never voiced that anger because it wouldn’t have done any of us any good. They aren’t the ones who assaulted me, he did.

I did have a choice whether or not to file charges against him and I chose the latter. My rationale was that he would get more help if he stayed in the care of mental health professionals than he would if he went into juvenile justice.

Later that year, with a new boss and new co-workers I was supervising, one of them, a man, wanted out of extra shifts he had signed up for. He discovered that picking up shifts on one of the least restrictive units we had was a piece of cake. He came to me asking me to cover those shifts and I told him if he wanted out, he needed to find coverage since he signed up for them on his own. He did the equivalent of “I’m telling Mommy and Daddy” and I told him to go ahead because our boss would tell him the same thing. Instead of asking other people if they wanted the shifts he signed up for, he came to me a couple of days later, this time with one of the kids in tow. I saw it for what it was, a way to manipulate me. I sent the kid away because there was no reason for him to be involved in the conversation, which went much the way the first one did. I reported this verbally and in writing to my boss because I knew where it was going. The next time he approached me, I was in the staff office getting ready to leave. There was only one door. He came in behind me and stood in front of the door, giving me a lecture on how I’m a “power and control” personality. I should’ve been scared. He had me blocked in and he was twice my size. If I he hadn’t pissed me off I would’ve been. I remember telling him that I’m not a power and control personality and pointed out who was blocking the exit. “If people are going to bully me, I will assert myself.” Because that’s what he was trying to do, bully me into giving him what he wanted. He had to let me out when I told him Chaz was waiting outside for me, we were going out of town. I don’t know if he would’ve had that not been the case. While Chaz was driving, I left my boss a detailed voice message about what had just happened and told him he’d have it in writing by the time I returned to work.

What I didn’t recognize back then that I do now is that the guy was a danger to myself. His attempts to coerce and bully me through verbal tactics and physical intimidation was clear. I might not have been scared in the moment but it doesn’t change the intent of his actions. He still didn’t get what he wanted nor did he find people to cover the shifts he didn’t want anymore. However, he transferred to a lesser restrictive unit. Looking back, he should’ve been fired. But nope. I wasn’t hurt so no harm done, yeah?

I’ve gone on with life. There have been many smaller incidents, too numerous to detail. Incidents many women experience on a daily basis. Strangers demanding a smile. Strangers catcalling as I walk by on the street. Strangers who are pleasant and smiling but then turn on a dime calling me a bitch when I don’t give them what they want.

What happened yesterday is what many have experienced—women and men. The reason we don’t report are many, we some of those reasons live and in HD yesterday. Victims don’t owe anyone a reason why and yet we give them when we come forward and say, “Me too.” Many abuse victims recoiled in horror as Kavanaugh launched into his angry, bitter tirade at being held to account for past behavior, painting himself a victim while demeaning the pain and trauma victims live with around the world. As soon as I saw him crying, it threw me right back to my ex trying to manipulate me over the phone and I had to change the channel.

We don’t experience trauma the same way and our brains will code memories differently. Some people might remember every single detail. Others won’t. Our brains will protect us from memories that are too difficult to bear.

We might move forward in our lives, dealing with and accepting what happened to us in the past. The trauma remains. It will always remain. We might go years without thinking about it and then a smell, a texture, a taste, a sound, a word, an object will flood us with trauma echo and we’re reliving it all over again.

This is my story.

The bird is out of her cage, singing and soaring.


Posted by on September 28, 2018 in Uncategorized


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