No Man Is An Island

How do we reconcile shortcomings in others with our boundaries? What’s the line between forgiveness and finally expecting our worth to be reflected in the way we’re treated? Unless I accept my people as they are, I’m not going to have any friends left! My circle is getting very small indeed.

I told my friend I was hurt when she and her husband rode Zafod’s art car after what happened to me at Burning Man. I hadn’t planned to. “She’s my friend,” I decided. “I can’t hold her as close as I once did, and I love her. Not every wound requires discussion.”

I gave it real thought. I knew that either way, I would continue to spend time and be her friend. I’d been hurt, and it was done. I harbored nothing. Not the end of the world; certainly not intentional. I knew that.

I know, too, that it’s unfair to demand the same expression of camaraderie that I offer. I see something in my friend now that’s hard to know. It’s still friendship.

But… We were hanging out yesterday. She wondered why I had stormed off one night at the burn. I hadn’t, but I understood why it seemed like I had. In truth, some plastic women boarded an art car we were on and threw shade at me. (I have no objection to cosmetic work, incidentally, until they look freakish. Even then, knock yourself out. But silicone, starved, filled, frozen, Botoxed, and bitchy? ‘Bye.)

I hadn’t worn makeup all week, until burn night. That’s normal for the day. (Sunglasses hide many sins.) You might think the face of a middle-aged redhead with faded eyebrows would be especially bleached-out and colorless in the bright sun. In fact, I look more washed out at night. Featureless, pallid, even sickly.

I didn’t care. I wore my cute outfits, but I was all about comfort this burn. I couldn’t be bothered with makeup. I will again. I love turning it out. This year, when evening rolled around, I just didn’t want to. Makeup felt like a chore.

It was similar to my first burn, when I hadn’t known to bring all my fabulous gear and wore gym shorts and tennis shoes the whole time! (Why I didn’t Google it when my boyfriend told me playa would ruin all my nice things is beyond me, haha!) In 2007, I was intimidated and uncomfortable. Slacks at a black-tie affair.

What I gained was the experience, for the first time in my life, of disappearing. No one noticed me! It was discombobulating at first. Then, it felt like a secret superpower. If I had a meaningful conversation, it was a meeting of people, not finery. Yeah, I was snubbed, but those I spoke with mattered in a new way. No angle.

Showing up with only myself was a humbling, powerful lesson that I cherish. (The next year, I’d already learned it. I brought the glamour.)

This year was like the first. The difference was I chose it, and this time I needed nothing from those who overlooked me. Twelve years ago, I was shaken. It took work to bring myself up when someone looked down on me. Now I’m bored of people who tear others down, so when those derisive bitches sized me up, I was out. (One sneered, audibly.) I wasn’t mad, not rattled, not interested.

“Do I look like I’m dying of cancer?” I asked my friend at the time.

She said yes! I needed eyebrows.

I knew. If I cared, I’d have drawn them on.

I sat it out for a minute or two, but I don’t like mean girls. Those chicks changed the vibe for me, so I left. Simple. (We were just sitting anyway, and I wanted to move! Ecstatic dance is something I only find at Burning Man. Wordless conversation is magical, especially for one so blessed and cursed with words. I had an awesome night.

Oh, what was the name of that camp? Multi-level dance floors and mini-trampolines! Anyway, the beats were going off at some unicorny location and I danced deeep for hours, woke up sore. “Ooh, I’m getting my legs on now!”)

Back at home, my friend told me that she and her husband determined then that I must have been offended. Reasonable. Wrong.

“That being said,” I teased her, “when your friend asks if she looks like she’s dying of cancer, the answer is always no!”

“No,” she disagreed. “I don’t want anyone lying to me. Be straight!”

“No, man! There are certain things the answer is always no! ‘Does this dress make me look fat?’ NO! ‘Do I look like I’m dying of cancer?” Always no!”

We drank for a couple of hours. I don’t know if that opened the door to the truth. I wasn’t so drunk, but maybe it emboldened me to confess what I was wrestling with.

What difference does it make? I asked myself, again and again.

Be straight with me, I heard her say, again and again.

If this sat on my heart unsaid, it was between us. I needed to share my feelings with someone I’ve considered a close friend for five years.

Did I, though? Do we have to get everything off our chests? If I don’t need her to answer for it, do I need to offload something that won’t stop me being a friend?

But isn’t that making allowances for people who don’t value me? I hoped she’d care, and we could close the first gap our friendship has known. I had to say it, or the new distance between us might grow.

I want authentic connections, not acquaintances and drinking buddies. I spoke my truth. I didn’t accuse or attack. I owned my feelings.

“I was hurt when you rode the art car after what Zafod did to me.”

“When?” she asked.

“Anytime after he kicked me out.” What did that matter? 

It devolved from there. She was defensive, deflecting. It didn’t happen to them. (It’s inconsequential, then, that he endangered me in the middle of the desert after harassing, deceiving, fondling, violating, and expelling me?)

Wow. Compassion matters to me, and that’s the definition of its absence. No amount of explanation could communicate why that hurts.

In the end, all I could say was, “If the tables were turned…” Over and over.

She came back every time with confusion, and no feeling. It didn’t involve them. Why should they stand by me and not hang out with my attacker?

Now I’m screwed. Now I know. The obstacle is real, and growing. Empathy’s important to me. Recognition of unintended injury. Basic concern for friend. “I can see how you feel. I’m sorry.” They’re not. They don’t.

I want a little loyalty. All I got was discomfort, her own. She was in trouble.

“I’m not mad,” I told her. “I just wanted you to know how I felt. I haven’t blamed you or yelled. I shared my feelings.”

“But you’re the one who got fooled,” she shot back.

Oh. My. God.

I gasped and walked away. “Oh! I’m getting mad now.

“That is victim blaming!” I turned back. “I didn’t do this. He did this. It was traumatic and scary, and it hurts that my friends don’t care.”

It didn’t happen to her, and I’m the idiot.

You think I don’t already feel stupid enough? Every victim of sexual assault hates themselves for it! Not an ounce of concern. Not a moment’s consideration. Not even his mugshot was enough to convince her. He’s a serial predator, but I’m an idiot.

I paused in the kitchen, grabbed a drink, and went back. We were going in circles. “I know this has been hard to hear,” I sympathized, “but I wanted you to know how I felt and you said you wanted it straight. Maybe it’s the beer,” I shrugged.

I get that others haven’t spent 30 years in therapy. I get that others haven’t had to focus their whole lives on restructuring healthy relationships, and learning effective, loving communication. But void of empathy? For a friend?

Today, I’m anxious. “Are we good?” I want to text. “Thank you for hearing me.”

But she didn’t, really, and I think, why am I worried about a friend I rarely see anymore, who’s married and doesn’t need relationships outside of her husband and her twin, and openly rejects the concept of caring about others?

Is that a friend?

She did say in the end, “I feel guilty,” and she actually said the words, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” I rushed to her. “That’s all I wanted, for you to understand and care how I felt. I know you didn’t mean it. I feel closer to you if we can be honest about the hard stuff.”

Apologies matter to me. Not everyone will give that, so I respect it. Still, I’m sad and worried. No matter how fairly I handled a challenging conflict, now I’m “drama.” They think feelings and drama are the same thing. I don’t.

I don’t think it’s drama to ask a friend to care. They don’t want to be bothered. I can work with differences. Indifference to the pain of a friend, not so much.

My heart hurts. I can’t help that my regard changes, knowing this. They’ve stated their boundary. “What I do has nothing to do with you, and keep your shit to yourself.”

They can’t undo unintended consequences. Our choices affect others, and I can’t feel closer than I do to people who don’t care. I’ll enjoy their company  – can’t help that either; I like them – but I no longer feel close. I don’t feel valued.

Soon I’ll be happy that I expressed difficult emotions well. I was afraid of the possibility that she’d reject me, and she did. It’s the first time I’ve failed to get eye-to-eye with someone, but didn’t keep pushing. I accepted it and closed the conversation. It was relatively brief. I remained calm, respectful, and earnest. I’m getting better at this. I’m pleased with that, but today my heart hurts.

The Temple

I had some friends to take with me to the temple. I took pics of Jazzy, Ray, The Brothers Jones, and my little Cricket.
temple BRC 2019

I love the temple. It’s reverent. There’s an energy that’s so overwhelming. It really is sacred, blows my mind every time. It’s beautiful and loving, and unique to itself.

I put Cricket’s pics up first. Then I slowly walked the grounds, reading dozens of memorials, touching what touched me, adding my friends. After the week I’d had – I didn’t make it out ’til Saturday; the burn was almost over – it was sanctuary. I sat down and listened to the quiet hush, chimes, sniffles, singing bowls, the hum of voices.

Outside, I burned sage around the perimeter from my friends’ ranch, that I introduced who got married out there. (I put it out on the chain guard of my bike. I love the burn scar.) I was ready to leave then, but I wanted to see my Cricket once more.

Silly, I dismissed it. I have all of those pictures at home.

I started to leave. I turned back. I wanted to see my Cricket again, here.

I couldn’t find her. I was immediately panicked. I kept looking. I really couldn’t find her. I put her near another cat memorial fairly low, right inside the first entrance I walked in. I could not find her. I saw strangers’ pics that I remembered, but not her.

I was frantic. It was instant. I tried to tell myself that it belonged to my difficult week, some reverb stress bubbling up, but no amount of reasoning could calm me down. It didn’t matter that I’d see the pictures elsewhere. I had to see her, now. I was almost in tears, and not the appropriate, mourning kind. The unhinged kind.

Settle, Christie. She’s here.

I looked again and could not find her. I was flipping out inside and just about to lose it. I was standing in the middle of the temple with people all around me, barely holding it together. I closed my eyes and took slow breaths that felt like drowning.

You don’t have to see her, Christie. She’s here.

I did have to see her. I felt sick. I couldn’t leave without seeing her, and the fear I wouldn’t find her brought the panic up again, because I also wanted to get out of there!

I knew if I opened my eyes, I’d cry. Loudly. I didn’t want consolation. I wanted to disappear, to freak out without notice and search wildly. I didn’t want to pretend my tears were holy so my panic attack wouldn’t ruin the vibe. I just wanted my cat!

And there she was. I don’t remember opening my eyes. I just found myself looking up at an image so bright, I couldn’t imagine how I’d missed her my first time through. Someone had painted a portrait of their beloved kitten, and it was Cricket.

“I’m just here.”

It was as though she was showing me what she looks like now. I’ve asked!

She still has her cricky ear.

cricket in the temple resize

I stood motionless and sobbed, dripping, noiseless tears. I could breathe.

She found me. I didn’t look for my pictures after that, just stood smiling, and crying a river of relief and awe. I closed my eyes again, and held her for the longest time.

I looked down. A man sitting beneath me was holding his hand up to me. I don’t know how long he’d been offering, but I took his hand and went back to my Cricket for a little longer.

When I was ready, I thanked the man, took one last look at my girl, and left.

cricket at the ER

The “crick” is a little different, but the fact that it was the same ear sold me. It’s my Cricket. “I’m here, mom,” vibrant, still gentle, and all heart. She’s so beautiful in heaven. I love her for breaking through my meltdown and calling me to her. I miss my kitty.

Leaving the temple, I knew the panic I fell into had nothing to do with the rough burn I’d had, and everything to do with losing my kitty. I was panicked then, too. I was with her.

I love Burning Man. It’s a crucible. It shoves all of you onto you, out of the blue and all at once, then holds you up while you heal.

I needed to have a panic attack in a safe place, in front of my biggest fear: witnesses. The temple wouldn’t let me go until I progressed through a barrier.

And my cat was there to help me grieve her death. I mean, come on! Fucking magic.

Meow >^..^<

Counter-Dependency

Whoa! Just found a new word. THIS:
counter dependency

Finding this was so timely and germane, it’s a little freaky. That happens, too.

Yay! Okay. Awareness is the first step in mastery.

I have the recent success of relying on others – albeit against my will – and being embraced and befriended by them. It took about a day, but then I braved asking for continued help, for supplies, for companionship. We had fun! I’m so grateful to them.

That puts me in great stead facing this fear when it creeps up again. And it will. I’d long-since identified it, just didn’t know it had a name. I don’t know why a word should make such a difference, except, well, I love words.

It seems more concrete, universal, and surmountable with a name. Somehow, it’s comforting to know that it comes from someplace. It’s just part of the process of healing from cPTSD. I can do that. I’m a boss.

Just ask. If the answer is no, you still win. Asking for and accepting help is success.

Summer’s Winding Down

It got away from me. I’m glad I recorded my feelings on Cricket’s first anniversary. That was too big to miss.

I went back to the burn life, with mixed results. E11 – Utah’s regional burn – was amazing. I finally walked through the barrier of social anxiety that kept me from volunteering my time on a build crew. (It’s hard to show up with a desire to help and no skills. I feel like I’m taking time away from people on a deadline… to learn how to not break their equipment.)

I’m so glad I did it! It was like going to rehearsal for Jazzy’s hoop memorial in January. I felt inferior. I was met with love, and welcomed.

I learned a new word today: Atelophobia is the fear of imperfection, of never being good enough. Yep.

I’m enough. I’m worthy.

The title of this blog hints that I’ve felt quite the opposite in my life. It’s still my knee-jerk reaction to project flawlessness, but this year I’ve made big strides showing up, flawed.

temple

Temple To The Moon / Element 11 2019

I went to Burning Man on the crew of the Frog Prince. The sculptor is an acquaintance through long-time friends. I camped with him at E11. I used heavy machinery and logged countless hours to earn my place on his crew at Burning Man. It felt good to gain confidence at a new skill and work toward a common goal.

4th

Park City Fourth of July 2019

I was also aggressively harassed. For two months.

I used my words. I was direct. “NO.”

“I’m not interested in an affair with you,” I told him, right away. “Is this discount a gift,” I asked later, “or am I paying in other ways? I feel like I’m being asked to pay with my body. I won’t,” I went on. “Ever. I’m paying with work on our camp and the art car.”

“I’m not now, nor will I ever be available for a sexual relationship with you.”

“No means no, not keep asking,” I said finally. “This is sexual harassment.” A week before Burning Man, I offered to sell my ticket back to him. “I don’t want to go like this.”

He still wanted me to go. He persuaded me that he understood at last, that he would respect and observe my boundaries.

I’m equal parts ashamed and frightened that he fooled me. Actions speak louder than words and each time he promised to back off, he violated me again in new ways.

I should have taken him at his behavior, not his word, but he’s simply the most cunning person I’ve ever met. I was convinced, every time, that he would stop. To know that someone can so effectively trick me is alarming. It scares me, still.

I got to Burning Man a few days after the guys, and the full-press intrusion began, unlike anything before. It was so calculated and malicious. Pouting, tantrums, puppy eyes, outbursts, begging, insults. He’s a toddler! Arrested in infancy, plus hormones.

He knew exactly what he was doing: Say anything it takes to get her there, then force her into so uncomfortable a situation, she just gives in. I’m certain he’s done it before.

The night I arrived, Zafod, my attacker, and Larry, our campmate, were getting stoned and wasted. I busied myself setting up camp. I wanted to arrange my storage tent, so that when the sun came up I wouldn’t have to spend more time than necessary in an oven trying to find things. My main-use items would go with me in the camper.

Zafod smothered me, groping, offering drinks, coaxing drinks, demanding I drink.

“I need to set up before I can party. Let me get myself together.”

“Can I help?”

“I got it. If I need help, I’ll ask. Thank you.” This made him angry, and I began immediately to pay for rejecting him somehow.

He grew more and more irate as the night wore on. I tuned him out. Until…

They got onto the subject of criminal justice. He became more vocal, and menacing.

When Larry asked some clarifying questions, Zafod furiously shushed him. Til then, I was doing my best to ignore them, but his desperation to hide whatever it was Larry asked about alerted me to now pay attention.

I listened to the end of the conversation in horror. In my mind I asked Zafod, as if I were speaking, “Holy shit, are you registered sex offender?!”

I started to shake and felt faint. Not only had I been duped, this guy was dangerous.

I had no recourse. This was my camp. All of my resources were here. Radical Self Reliance. You provide for yourself and once in Black Rock City, you survive. No one could save me. I had to get through it.

I slept on the couch. That had been my plan, communicated before we left. He offered to share his bed, but I declined. This angered him more.

Two nights later, I had a dream that Zafod spit in my face and kicked me in the gut. It was real-time and followed logic; We were at Burning Man. I woke up sick with the relevance and feeling of it. I sat quietly reminding myself that it was just a dream. Though it accurately reflected what I was going through, it hadn’t actually happened. “Let it go,” I coached myself. “Don’t allow this energy to start your day.”

A voice, as though separate from myself, stopped me. “What is he actually capable of?”

“Am I really in danger here?” I asked out loud. For a split second, I thought of rape.

He heard my voice and came into the camper. Apparently, he’d been waiting for me to wake up… to evict me.

I looked him in the eye. “I’ve been truthful since we met,” I said calmly, repeating everything I’ve said to him. I don’t want an affair; Sex is not my commerce or my worth, and I’m not paying you with it; THIS IS SEXUAL HARASSMENT.

“I was direct,” I continued. “I was straightforward. I was honest with you, and you deceived me. I want to know that I know, you lied to me.”

For the first time in months, he was silent. At every previous objection, he was armed with more “reasons” than anyone I’ve dealt with. Now, he simply nodded.

“I’m gonna handle this,” I went on, “because I’m capable, and that’s what I do. But I see you,” I said pointedly. “It is unacceptable that you jeopardize my safety in the middle of the desert because you can’t bully me into bed.”

He just nodded.

In the end, I was grateful he kicked me out. I would have put my nose down and endured an abusive, miserable situation. I was. It’s the Taurus in me, and the do-it-yourself ethos of the burn. We bring our own supplies, not extras to make up for other’s inadequate planning. Space is at a premium and we value self-sufficiency.

I was ashamed to be in this situation. I was so embarrassed. I don’t like needing help. I was a problem. I was a burden. I was panicked. Duped. Defeated. Hurt. Scared. Angry. Traumatized. Robbed. He took my money and weeks of labor, and did this to me.

Instead, miraculously, I was able to carve out two good days on the playa. Two of eleven is hardly enough to feel worth it, but it’s better than nothing, which is what I was on track for. If I were to do it again, I wouldn’t. Except…

What I felt and saw in myself was so powerful and … badass!

It was a strange situation of feeling totally empowered and totally alone. I RULED that situation. I kept my cool. I spoke the truth with conviction, without apology. I called him out, then I cleaned up the mess he left me with.

He failed. He met the woman who would not be coerced. He calculated that the harsh environment and my investment in shared provisions would leave me without any option but to stay with him, where he could finally force himself on me. I think, being a coward, he counted on a similar lack of courage to make me dependent on him. He couldn’t imagine the fearlessness he met in me.

I knew I was tough, but never had I applied my strength in such a mighty way!

And the words came! The perfect words, at the right time. Precise, concise, incisive. I cut like a knife! No venom, just righteous truth, motherfucker. He could not argue. So often that ability fails and we’re haunted by what we should have said. I’m good with words, I am. I’m quick. I have the experience often of enjoying that keen response. But in cases of terror, we lose everything but the ability to survive. I kept my words! The right ones. The best ones. It’s so satisfying after the crime to feel totally satisfied that I could do no more and no better. I’m so grateful for… age and practice, hard work in therapy and real effort in life.. and some inquantifiable guidance. I do now feel that I was protected.

Then, I felt alone, and terrified. I feel alienated still, but I also experienced generosity, and myself accepting it! It was humbling, in the best way. I’m proud. I feel strong.

day before

The day before Zafod kicked me out of the camp I help build and pay for, because I wouldn’t consent to a sexual relationship with him. I hate the change he made to The Frog Prince’s paint job, but I’m still really proud of all my work on that regal amphibian! (*matchy, matchy* NOT PLANNED – unless the creeper saw my outfit and chose his accordingly, haha!)

cooler water

Draining cooler water for a “whore’s bath,” we laughingly call it. I built our camp shower out there, an entire day laboring in the hot sun under real risk of heatstroke and sunburn. Zafod took it all away, because I wouldn’t obey the demands of my gender and give him my body.

****

I said nothing at the burn about my suspicions of his history with the law. Perhaps another day, I’ll write of my disappointment in an old friend, the founder of our village, who made it clear that I was to remain hush hush about what happened to me. (I haven’t. When you keep quiet, you’re complicit. I wrote to burningman.org and another member of village management. I know now. I have a duty to keep others safe.)

However, I was not about to disseminate potentially false information based on the tail end of a conversation I overheard. Upon arriving home, the first thing I did – before even bringing my gear in from the front porch at 3am – was look Zafod up online. Well, I looked up sex crimes in his rural Park City suburb. He has an alias, after all.

He’s it. In a town of 150, there’s one registered sex offender.

Zafod's mugshot

Richard Wayne Schmidt, aka Zafod Beatlebrox, was convicted in 2011 of sex abuse of a minor.

Utah Sex Offender Registry

I feel betrayed by friends who didn’t warn me. Hearing what happened, nobody seemed surprised or upset for me. “Oh, yeah,” they shrugged it off. “I wondered what you were doing with him,” another said. “Everyone knows he’s a horndog.”

I didn’t!

First, there’s a marked difference between a womanizer and a predator, but why didn’t they care enough to tell me even that much? How could they leave it unsaid?

I’m sick to death of people who turn a blind eye and disregard problems that don’t affect them directly. It’s the definition of privilege, and it makes me question my friendships altogether. We can’t solve every crisis, but we can look out for each other. I would never leave someone I love vulnerable to a risk I was aware of. I’m disappointed. I feel different. I feel distant now from people I trusted and held dear.

A close friendship has migrated from inner sanctum to arm’s length. She’s still in there, but one rung out at least. She and her new husband, an friend of ten years that I introduced her to, rode The Frog Prince later in the week. If the tables were turned, I would never! Anyone who treated my friend like he did me would get nothing from me but total disregard or contempt, and they hung out with him. This goes beyond hurt and betrayal. It’s that, too, but I’m disgusted. I lost a lot of respect for my friends that day.

(They got married at Burning Man. I was Best Bitch. I continue to cherish the memory of their sunrise wedding. It was beautiful, thankfully before my burn went sour.)

My friend  mentioned their ride, to gossip about Zafod’s behavior. He gets others to drive, so he can get wasted and molest women who climb onboard. It’s a mobile perp wagon. He relies on intoxicated, scantily-clad women to laugh it off when he grabs and sucks on their bodies, which he did. When my friends witnessed him violating women, they left – or so she reported – but why hadn’t it mattered when he violated me? I’m pissed.

Sadly, if it came down to any kind of query from Burning Man LLC, that’s her story, not mine, and she’s one of those who thinks silence is the high road. Whistle-blowers are “drama.” (To them, feelings are drama. In other words, shut up. We don’t care.) She wouldn’t report what she witnessed, and my retelling of it is hearsay.

*sigh*

It’s done. I’m left with a wound that’s far less debilitating than it would have been historically. It’s encouraging to know that I’ll recover quickly. This is his crime, not mine. I forgive myself for being tricked. Going forward, I’ll take behavior as truth, and never question it again. Three strikes, you’re out. Maybe just two, I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m creating my future as we speak. I have every reason to believe that this pattern is in my past. I’m making progress in real time. I’m learning.

I’m comfortable with betrayal bonds. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t noticed until it was an emergency. In the past, I attracted and blindly recreated relationships that resemble the dynamic I grew up with. More recently, I’ve made allowances for it, over and over.

I’m ready for better. I’m better. I’m ready for my life to reflect that.

I feel gratitude, satisfaction, and hope.

I so thankful for acquaintances who stepped up me for me. Above all, I feel proud of how I handled a punishing situation. I’m getting stronger every day.