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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.