Category Archives: Essay by W.R.R.


He would write on my back. I used to dream about it, unaware for years that it was a memory. In the dream, it was a stylus, the words were Latin, and written in dripping red ink. It bothers me that I don’t know if that was real, though he did know Latin; my father could speak it like a professor.

One day, I mentioned the dream to my boyfriend, and he just stared at me, looking nervous. He took me to a mirror, gave me a hand mirror, and asked me to look at my back. At first I was confused, didn’t see a thing. Then as his gentle fingers moved, brushing over my skin, I began to see the faint and thin white marks. They were everywhere, and in a few places, they almost formed strange words.

Now and then, time is eclipsed and as it folds in on itself, it can bring your present crashing  down to its knees at the feet of your past. I was sick that day, until there was nothing  left inside but the ghosts.

Everything I endured has made me hyper-aware of the suffering of others. It has taught me to be kind when I can be strong enough to help somebody else. It also taught me not to belittle another human’s (or creature’s) pain. Yet sometimes, foolish or joking words are spoken by others that make me feel uncomfortable; at times angry, or even afraid. These words are like sharp sticks that poke and pierce the truly invisible scars; scars of the mind, heart, and soul. Whoever first wrote “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was somebody who had never been hurt by cruel, cold, razor words. It is vital to remember in those moments that most people don’t intend harm; they are merely venting  their feelings, unaware of how their words sound in another’s ears.

For those others who know the dark terrors, who experienced and lived through the pain, the fear: we survived. For those who know how crippling are the words and hands that bludgeon and cut their messages into our flesh, our minds and hearts; for those souls I say: take a deep breath. We endured. We’re still here.

Find a way to purge the fear, the memories. I have chosen to reclaim some parts of myself my abuser maligned. I adorn with piercings, decorate with tattoos that have meaning  for me, writing my own messages to erase the archaic mad scribbles that were cut into me so long ago. It makes me – mine again. Other marks I leave where and as they are; like signposts to my soul, or the lyrics to the song my heart still tries to sing in moments when it’s brave enough to be heard. Your way may be different, but find one and you can begin to see that your marks don’t have to be allowed to define you. We have the right to define ourselves.

I look in the mirror and see the shattered mask my father tried to place on me; the desperate ruin he tried to create for reasons I may never know. Yet behind the solitary blue eye are thoughts that are not his; behind the ridged and scarred lips is warm breath that fogs the mirror and blurs the lines, the lies, that he tried to place on me.

I am not weak.
I am not ugly.
I am not powerless.
I am not his.
I belong… to me.

I have strong days, I have weak days. On the weak days, these lessons can get lost in the cacophony of waking nightmares. Time flows on, the worm turns, and I slowly grow stronger again.

No matter how weak you think you might be, we are stronger than anybody can measure, even ourselves. When the world closes in, breathe. Just breathe. When you stand in front of that mirror and it’s hard to see anything  but your scars, step closer. Don’t be afraid; step closer again. Breathe. Let the glass fog with the truth. You’re still alive, you’re strong; and when you step back again, it won’t be so easy to see the marks others tried to use to break you.

When you feel a little stronger, open your eyes and look around; you’re not alone. Somebody else is there, somebody who cares about you, maybe more than you know. Maybe they are wounded too, maybe not; but if you reach out and take their hand, let them help when you need it, try to trust, it gets better.

I keep a little hand mirror; but not for looking at my face. I pull it out, take a deep breath, and watch the glass fog gray. Sometimes I take a finger and write in it: “Breathe.”

~ ~ ~

© W.R.R. 9/14/2011

For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.

Messages in a Bottle

On Wednesday, August 31st, I listened to Xena and Juneau’s radio show with guest Thea Washington (blog post here: Adam Lambert – “The Man Behind the Music” Radio Series ) and was inspired to ask a rather esoteric question, which I posted as a comment on their Salon. Rephrasing it here for further pondering….


I’m captivated by the idea of creativity being like a force of nature in all of us, connecting us in a way. Our individual talents manifest it in different ways of course, but they are connected by it all the same. Adam sings. I write poetry and essays. Someone else cooks, another person paints, draws, or takes beautiful photos. It’s all a creative drive we share to express ourselves.

Sometimes when I write a poem or essay, someone I’ve never met tells me how it touched them, how it was like I read their heart, mind, or soul to write their thoughts, their pain, and feelings. It’s both humbling and very healing to me to hear that, too. Music, songs, of people like Adam Lambert, Cassidy Haley, Immogen Heap, and so many others touch me the same way. Cassidy’s songs “Burn” and “Fly” are like he reached in, pulled my heart out, read it, shoved it back, and wrote those lyrics. Yet they aren’t my story, my pain – they are his. Weird, right?

Juneau, Xena and I talked when I was on their show before about how Adam’s song “Broken Open” affected me; it literally saved my life. I’m bipolar as some of you know, and sometimes I get audio hallucinations (hearing voices). When I heard that song in that moment, it didn’t register as “Oh, I’m hearing a song.” He was just suddenly speaking to me, telling me the message of the lyrics in the form of a song. Some folks are going to think I’m crazy, and yeah, I probably am, what with a legitimate mental illness and all; but that was my experience at the time. Adam’s words, his voice, his message – made me decide to keep fighting and not give up. He said it was safe to be so broken and it didn’t mean I had to die because I was broken; I was safe to “break into him”.

Now obviously, I know I’m not cosmically plugged into another person’s brain, aura, whatever you call it. I know Adam wasn’t talking literally to me; it was a song played on my boyfriend’s computer. Adam doesn’t know I exist, most likely, and had no clue I needed that message in that moment; but the message itself was still delivered.

I think maybe these songs, poems, photos, paintings, etc. are like “messages in a bottle”. They are created at another time, “stored” in whatever way (on a blog, a CD, in a portfolio) and then discovered or stumbled across later in an odd moment of need. This happens at miles of distance, between people who don’t know the receiver of the message even exists, but their message still reaches that person, it still helps them.

So my question, which may be partially rhetorical, but still open for discussion, is this: What is this phenomenon that creates this “spiritual creative connection”? I find it a fascinating concept, but I admit I’m kind of stumped.

Opinions? Observations? Theories?

Thanks for listening to my Tolstoy explanation of a question, too. Maybe I should of warned you to pack a lunch before you started reading this?


© W.R.R. 9/3/2011

For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.

When We Had To Hide

An Open Letter to Adam Lambert
By W.R.R.

If I could do such a simple thing as sit somewhere and have a beer with you, and if we were going to talk about school days and hiding, this is what I’d want to say to you:

I never thought to hide my sexuality in school; I never even consciously thought about it in concrete terms. I came from an abusive home that didn’t prepare me at all for how the rest of the world saw things, and I was too busy hiding  the abuse and trying  to survive to think about much else. I didn’t even know I was technically sexually active until watching  contraband television made me realize that’s what sex was. All I knew was that some stuff hurt and some stuff didn’t; none of it had names or any context to hang understanding on. Later on, between thirteen and fourteen, I started to figure out a lot because I had finally made my first friend in junior high and he told me some stuff, and introduced me to more, both legal and not. Discovering that this thing, this act, could give pleasure, and that I could seek it out instead of waiting to be told to do it – that was a whole new world that opened up. I acquired quite a few addictions in my teen years, most of which I’m pleased to say I’ve since quit. At the time, though, with my home life the way it was, I didn’t much care if I shouldn’t be doing that stuff.

What you said on your Behind the Music, about being scared and hiding, being confused and trying to pretend, I lived that too; but I didn’t have the sense to hide the fact that I liked to kiss boys as well as girls, and it added a whole new dimension to the bullying in school. The closest thing to a gay/straight alliance we had in my high school was me finding out which of the bullies was secretly gay. One in particular, a football jock no less, I met at a wild basement party. Running into him at school, I thought we’d do stuff together, and we did – if nobody saw. If his buddies were around, he’d lend a fist on the regularly scheduled beat down. I guess it seems insane to some, my real friend wanted to get him back for hurting me; but I was getting the same treatment at home so it wasn’t that strange to switch between being his hook up and his punching bag. He hated himself so much because he was gay and just deciding to be gay, accepting it, seemed out of the question for him. He couldn’t resist what he wanted, but when faced with it around others, all he wanted to do was destroy it.

Halfway through high school I got a second friend, my current boyfriend, and he was hiding too. I can’t imagine how our lives might of changed if there had been anybody saying it was okay to be a gay or bisexual kid, or even if society had had some examples like you mentioned on the show: television, movies, or all the way up to a legitimate gay/straight alliance after school. Given a safe place to discuss being bisexual, maybe I could of had the guts to tell somebody I was being abused, too.

Anyhow, not trying to upset you with my past, just wanted to share a perspective that many don’t have; unfortunately, some others know exactly what I went through because they did too. Those of us who are survivors aren’t necessarily the tougher or braver ones, though it’s certainly a given that any survivor of abuse is tough and brave – mostly we’re the ones that got some sort of help along the way, whether at the time or later, from some source. I believe those who were either killed or took their own lives were also tough and brave; they just never got that help before it all started to feel too bleak on the way to feeling pointless. Fact is, as a child or teen, you don’t often think about life beyond school, beyond abuse or bullying; it takes a while for that restricted viewpoint to fade. Hand in hand with that, are too many folks who don’t take the time to see, to ask, to get involved.

So while we’re hoisting imaginary beer, why am I telling you all of this? Because you’re my stepping stone, helping me by your example alone to be what I want to be, to be something I once thought I could never be: a whole and happy bisexual man, free to be himself without apologies. I am so grateful that you had a good home, with a loving family, and later found similar artistic friends to add to that family. I grew up, started to learn that there’s a whole big chunk of the world that isn’t like my birth family, and I was able to make my own family. They help me every day to face the challenges that remain.

There are so many kids and teens out there though, who are just like we were, either hiding abuse or hiding who they really are, both out of fear. I wish I could do more to help them. I’m bipolar, and I suffer from agoraphobia and a grab-bag of other phobias that make it so hard for me to relate to others at all. What I do have is my experience, perspective, and a desire to share it in the hope of reaching somebody. If my poetry, my essays, or even my goofy tweets help somebody like me, then I’m more than willing to toss them out there, like bread crumbs to follow out of the dark.

Just wanted to tell you along the way that you’re loved and appreciated for what you do, and you don’t need to carry the flag of any cause to do it. You’re out there, being yourself, showing the rest of us what’s possible with hard work and conviction; and that’s all you need to be. We both know there’s a lot of crazy haters in the world; I just like to remind you that there are sane and decent folks, too. You already know that, of course, but sometimes the hateful voices seem to be awful loud. I hope the folks that love and appreciate you will raise their voices louder and more often. In the meantime, I love seeing you so happy in both career and love, and I am patiently looking forward to new music, too. Sorry for the epic length here, this was going to be shorter; but I can’t ever get through when you do twitter parties. I wanted to be sure you had a chance to know what you mean to me and to others – to a whole lot of us out here, in fact. As for that imaginary beer, it’s on me. See you next round.


© W.R.R. 7/21/2011, edited on 8/10/2011

For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.

Stepping Stones – An Open Letter to Anyone in Pain

There are times when I wish I could trade identities, my entire life, with any random passerby on the street. The feeling comes when the past intrudes on the present, making a mockery of any kindness or wisdom offered by others. The past… breathes… in those moments. If you’re lucky, it’s only moments; not hours, days, months… a lifetime. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I know there are others who have it worse, who are so lost in the ugliness they can see no light, no joy. Some are so damaged they don’t know themselves, can’t express, or even grasp, their own pain, even their own names. Yet at times, I don’t know why I am not among them, unsure of how I escaped. If I knew, I would try to tell them, to whisper in their ears in the hope of helping them out of such a black hell.

Wisdom warns of course, admonishes. Those passersby I wish to trade with? A gamble with your sanity, health, and soul stacked like the lowest chips, the ones not worth winning solely because you were willing to sell them so cheap. The wisdom is this: That man waiting for the bus? He may have cancer, with a month left to live. That woman, checking her grocery list? Perhaps she hates her children. That child trying to grasp the hem of her coat, dried tears on cheeks no hand has ever wiped away? If you were ever that child in your own life, you know that’s a fate you don’t want; it might be worse than your own.

The true horror of wishing is, if it were possible, the person I chose would have my life, my past, my pain. The mirror reminds me what I would be wishing on them, and if I think about it too much, it makes me feel sick. That gamble goes both ways: what if that man, that woman, that child are happy, unmarked by the depths of adversity and terror that made you want to wish your life on another? How could you consider it, and remain worthy of any kindness, any love, at all?

In the light, I am grateful I cannot wish this trade of lives. In the dark, if you can see at all, it’s hard to care how escape from it might harm another.

What is the answer to the wish, then, how do we who writhe and cry in the pit of the past unravel this Gordian Knot and find a measure of peace? Of solace? The answer is clear to those with a few steps along the path. We must try to live, to turn our backs on the pain, not listen when the past whispers that we are ugly, we are unworthy of love, of light, of peace.

If somebody afraid to begin their own walk down the path of survival asks, “How?” I can only say that the way is different for all of us, but for me, I work at becoming the man I wish I was, and if that sometimes means pretending I am that man when I’m not quite there yet, then that’s what I do. Find somebody you admire, somebody you trust, and discover why they make you feel that way. I call them stepping stones on the path. When you can’t move, they can offer a hand, help you up; and step by step, it gets better.

Who are your stepping stones? Are they your family? Or your new family, the one you make for yourself if your birth family created the darkness? Are they people you never met, or met only once and that person was kind? I’ve had many stepping stones over the years as I’ve struggled along my path out of the darkness. At this moment in my life, it is a man I’ve never met. Sometimes this man makes me afraid because of my past, but he doesn’t know that, and he is innocent of my pain, my fear. He doesn’t know I exist, of course, but that doesn’t matter. In my mind, I see him reaching down from the next step up, offering his hand. With a smile, a bell toll of laughter, a beauty that pierces my soul, and a voice that makes my heart bleed even as it begins to dance, to cry, to heal – this man’s name is Adam Lambert. For others, it might not be, it can be anybody. Understand, the person you choose isn’t required to do anything except be who they are; they don’t owe you anything at all. It’s just their example, the qualities they possess that your trying to create in yourself. Choose wisely.

For those not yet on the path, those so lost in the dark they only want to stop; stop trying, stop breathing, because it’s the only way you can see to stop your pain? Please take my hand. I’ll try to guide you in moments when I’m strong, and someday you will become strong enough to turn around and perhaps offer your hand to me when I’m weak, or to somebody else who needs your help, who admires how you helped yourself survive.

This is how you start. Take my hand; be careful, there’s a step here, just a small one. Let’s walk together for a while. Even in the dark, we can feel each other’s touch, hear a friendly voice, listen to another soul breathing, trying, one who understands how you feel.

Before I go, let me ask this question: Has anybody ever said to you, “I love you”, “you’re beautiful”, “you’re worthy of love”? If not, let me say it now. You are beautiful. You are worthy of love, and somebody loves you.

© W.R.R. 6/8/2011

For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.

For Those Without a Voice

An Open Letter to Adam Lambert
By W.R.R.

A million voices are offered up to you anytime you speak and I know you won’t see my words whispered back to you amidst the flood. It makes me timid, makes me think my words aren’t worth notice, and then the thought creeps in, “I’m not worth it.” This is a learned response, taught by an abusive father. What I want to say to you, some of it’s ugly, but it’s my ugliness, my perception. So let me say at the outset that there is no blame here, nothing you need to do; it’s more for me. Sometimes the words, the emotions, have got to come out or they’ll tear your spirit. I know you know what I mean. You once told your vocal coach you needed to sing your pain for her, so will you let me?

Metaphor mocks me. I can’t sing, some days I can barely speak due to serious injury at four years old, at the hand of a man society tells me was a monster. I can’t think that way; as a child he was all I knew, so I’ll just say, please forgive me that I can’t use music to soften this, or speech to make it less stark.

My family loves you, but at first you frightened me for several reasons. There are similarities you see, between my father and my muse. You don’t really look like him, it’s a black hair, blue eyes, cheekbones thing – height, power of presence, confidence, spiked humor. The first time I was shown a video of you prowling around a stage like a predator, I felt an irrational dread. A choking, sinking fear filled my mouth, throat… my mind. My friend asked later why I didn’t just ask someone to turn it off, but she can’t understand – no one can if they haven’t been there, endured abuse like that. You’re not allowed to look away unless you’re told. It was like a trance that made the past rise up and take me over, part of me waiting for you to bark an order, to demand that I submit and accept whatever you wanted from me. You never spoke, of course, and the strange feeling faded, left me trembling in its wake.

Bravado, pure lying foolishness, helped me hide my pain and fear. I told my family of friends that I didn’t care for you. “Nice voice, sure, but not attracted,” and other lies. The man I’ve struggled to become out of the shell-shocked ruins of the child I was can’t afford to admit the truth about some things. Fear waits there if you do, and harm follows fear.

Your voice tormented me. It was too like that other voice, lilted and beautiful, assured and magnificent. Your face shamed me, ethereal beauty like his, unmarked, perfect; your body like a living statue. Did you know men that look like that were carved in stone in the ancient world and set on real pedestals to give their people something they could dare to look at and live?

I’m a man of ragged spirit, scars, missing pieces and tatters of flesh left to heal at last when the game of my childhood was over. Monocular vision is barely enough to take in your beauty, enduring the twist in my gut at the sight of the light glowing in your perfect eyes, as blue as his.

This is not to cry out horrors like a wounded Greek chorus, or to imply any resentment for the good fortune you have in both family and life. I just want to help you understand how it feels now, to look at you, and feel like I’m not worthy to tell you how I feel.

What changed? Hearing your voice sing of it being okay to shatter, that you would be a safe place to break open and be afraid, that no harm would come. I was about to give up after violence done to me brought my past back up to choke me like bile of the mind, scars on the soul. Your voice stopped me, soothed, made me feel safe in the midst of feeling broken. Your voice told me I could break, and mend, and it didn’t have to be the end of me. I know I have a long road ahead of learning how to heal from my past; it’ll probably take my whole lifetime. Yet I have an amazing example now, showing me how to keep fighting, as well as how to be vulnerable when I need to, without risking everything.

I guess I could have boiled all this down to one word: thanks. You hear that so much, though, you must. Not to diminish the word, but I wanted to melt the blockage of fear that chokes me whenever I think of speaking to you; I wanted to try to explain. It’s all moot, though, in the end; the fear is so strong – and I know I’m not the only one whose tongue turns to clay sometimes. So I’ll just tell you this – you saved a lot of us. Either by the beauty of your voice, your spirit, or both – you saved us by giving us hope, a positive example, and a foreign but vital taste of joy.

Odd thing is, I have no idea how to end this except by using that one word. Maybe now it has a little more weight? No less heartfelt, with or without that. Thanks, Adam; even though I pale at the thought of ever facing you, I can admire you from a distance and try to support what you’re doing as best I can. Why? Because what you’re doing reaches people, gives them hope and joy, just by being the man you are today… and the man you’re going to become tomorrow.


© W.R.R. 5/4/2011

For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.

Little Things

As a child, I used to not understand love. It was something that didn’t enter my world unless it was attached to something else. There was a neighbor; he loved his fancy riding lawn mower. I never knew him, and he didn’t know I existed; but my mother would point out the window and say, “He loves that lawn mower.” As verbs go, it meant little to me, but I slowly gathered that it was a positive emotion for the person who felt it.

There was a figurine on the bookshelf. It was from my maternal grandmother (the same woman who couldn’t be bothered with my mother or me). My mother said often that she “loved” it. It was porcelain, a lady in a big dress and bonnet, like Scarlet from Gone with the Wind. I often wanted to look at it up close. I had the odd idea that a real girl might be trapped in it (not so weird for a little boy). I wanted to see if her expression was happy or sad. Did she know my mother loved her? So several times, she caught me trying to climb up to look at it.

One day, it was broken and she assumed I did it. I knew I hadn’t, but there was no way to prove it, and I didn’t think that way, anyhow. There was no defiant standing up for myself. When my father came home, I admitted to breaking it when he asked, because he was angry. He was usually angry. The look of anger and disappointment on my mother’s face was terrible. I had to clean up the mess, but I found out one thing: the lady had been smiling, sort of one of those serene smiles. I palmed her face, a tiny happy expression painted in black on crazed porcelain. I hid it in my room.

That night, my mother didn’t come in to read with me. She used to get in the bed and read out loud. My father said she was sick when I crept downstairs to ask, and then threatened me for asking. I fled back upstairs and went to their room. Her bottle of medicine was on the nightstand; I later learned it was called wine.

My father called me downstairs and told me to do stuff, lots of little stuff. It was odd. He never wanted me around. The whole time he watched me, and I was nervous; I thought he’d tell me I was doing things wrong. Finally, he told me to go up to bed. I woke in the night and saw him standing in my doorway. I got up and waited, expecting him to tell me to do something. Then he said, “I broke it.” Somehow I knew he meant the figurine. He told me he broke it because she loved it, and I should be careful, because he could break me too. He smiled and said, “It’s the little things.” I didn’t say a word, just nodded that I understood him, as I’d been taught.

He told me to go to sleep, but I only pretended, because he stood there watching me for a long time and it scared me. When he finally left, I fished the little porcelain face out of its hiding place. I set it on the cover of one of my big books and stared at it. The smile was the same – serenity, peace. I picked up another book and crushed it into white power. The smile was gone, but I didn’t feel the same way about it anymore.

Something had changed in the house, but I didn’t understand what it was or what it meant. It was vague, a menace like an aftertaste. I started having nightmares about being pushed off of a shelf. I’d shatter into so many pieces, but the circle of my white face with its black paint expression was always whole, its serene smile an artistic lie. I felt these dreams intensely; I’d even wake up in pain.

That next week, my mother waited for my father to go to work and then she gathered me up and we drove to a shop. She put me down inside, and I found myself surrounded by porcelain figurines, and even dolls – some as big as me. They stared with blank eyes, and smiled serenely. I don’t remember deciding or making a choice, I just remember my mother screeching at me to stop and the angry shouts of the shopkeeper. When I did stop, I was holding a wooden cane a gentleman doll had been holding. I was surrounded by porcelain shards, bits of cloth, and white powder.

My mother made me drop the cane, and then she grabbed my shoulders and shook me. She asked me why I did it. They didn’t understand that I was telling a truth too big for me to understand yet. All I said was, “Little things.”


© W.R.R. 7/25/2011

For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.