Three Ways I Was Beaten

Three Ways I Was Beaten

by Ariella Yendler

I.

It’s a really weird story. I was beaten. Not like—well yes, like beaten. With a tire iron. I KNOW, RIGHT. I knew him, the guy who beat me. It wasn’t just some random person who ran in and smacked me around at 4 am. I live on the eighth floor. No, I was just noodling on my essay, and this guy comes in—I know him, kind of, not biblically, he’s this small boy who comes up to my shoulder—and we talk. He doesn’t run in and start hitting me, we’re chatting and it’s a nice little conversation, and I go back to work. Some time passes and we’re both quiet and then–he starts hitting me. With a tire iron.

It was like the college edition of Clue: in the lounge, with a pipe.  I found out it was a tire iron later, which kind of ruined the joke. I had some staples in my head and my finger was broken, but I didn’t even get a concussion. You could say I’m very hard-headed.

I started making jokes like two minutes later, as I ran upstairs. I told the girls who came to the door that I wanted to be Carrie for Halloween and was trying out my costume a little early. I can’t decide if the worst part is the fact that he interrupted me while I was working on my essay (which was due in six hours) or if it’s because he ruined my favorite shirt. I was bitching incessantly about the essay in the ER. The doctor was stapling my head and I was busy inquiring if he thought I’d be in a mental state decent enough to finish it.

Oh! No, the best part is definitely why he did it: He didn’t like me. That’s what he told the cops. God knows I don’t like some people.

***

II.

It’s 4 am. It’s dark outside. I’m alone on the top floor of my dorm, in my lounge. The long hall outside is empty; behind the doors, everyone is asleep. The lights are always on in my dorm and it makes 4 am look watery and if I weren’t staring so hard at my computer screen, my eyes would be swimming.

It’s 4 am. It’s dark, and quiet. I am the only one there. I am working on an essay that’s due in six hours.

A boy comes in. I know him; he lives on the floor below me, and he’s dating the girl who lives across the hall from me. The girl and I are friends. She’s a sweet mouse of a girl. The boy I don’t really know that well. He’s very quiet and I only ever see him with his girlfriend.

I glance over my shoulder, my back to him, and offer a hello. It’s the week before spring quarter finals at 4 am, and obviously everyone is your best friend at this hour.  We chat for a bit, talking about housing for next year. It’s really pleasant, actually, but I apologize and turn back to my work.

Twenty minutes pass, in silence. The only thing you can hear is my keyboard and the irregular turn of pages behind me; there isn’t even a ticking clock.

It’s quiet.

And then he gets up and starts beating me. He slams me in the head with a pipe and I stand up—he keeps hitting me. I scream, I think.

When I run, slamming into my room across the hall, I can hear him outside my door, talking softly.

He says, like he’s keyed my car, like he’s broken a glass, like I’m his girlfriend and he’s upset me: “Ariella, I’m really sorry. You should call the police.” I can feel blood dripping under my shirt, over my stomach.

A girl tells me later when the EMTs are taking me away, she sees him standing a few feet away, shaking.

Here’s what happened.

I was sitting in my dorm lounge, working on my essay.  It was dark—4 am. I lived on the top floor of an eight-story building with alternate male and female floors, in a room smaller than my parents’ walk-in closet. I filled it with tea and books and pillows but I ended up with a stuffed gasp box, not a nest. I left my home, my family, my friends left me—and this was all normal, this was what college was but I was still twelve inside and eighteen slammed me down onto the campus green. I curled up on the grass, breathing hard, and my mother crouched next to me, rubbing slow circles on my back. When I say that my first year of college was awful, my friends don’t understand that’s what I think of, not what was about to happen. That was just a cherry on top.

It was quiet. I was the only one there and the only one awake. My essay was due in six hours.

A guy came into the lounge; my back was to the door, so I twisted to face him, say hello. He was someone I knew vaguely—he dated the girl who lives across the hall from me, one of my friends. The boy lived on the floor below but spent a lot of time up here. He was quiet, and no one really paid much attention to him. I’d been in a room with him alone maybe once.

“Hi!” I said brightly. It was 4 am, it was the week before finals. At this point I was willing to feel camaraderie with a fish.

“Hey.”

We chatted for five minutes or so, pleasantly, more pleasantly than I remember him being before, but it was 4 am and it was the week before finals. He told me he drank an entire pot of coffee and I clucked sympathetically. We talked about living situations for next year, and after a bit I smiled apologetically and turned back to my computer. The room was silent, and I sank into a brown study. My back was to him.

Roughly twenty minutes pass.

He gets up, and starts beating me.

***

III.

I remember I was very confused, and he was aiming for my head. My vision was blurry, I only remember seeing him holding some kind of pipe that he was using to hit me. I shot up, my hands shielding my face, and he continued to hit me, though I had something like half a foot on him standing, and he had to probably raise his arm to keep going. I remember thinking that standing would stop him because then he couldn’t reach me.

I took off to my dorm room, right across from the lounge—I leapt over a chair and I think I tried to push it in his way. I slammed the door shut, locked it, flipped on the lights. I started screaming for my floormates to wake up. My finger was crumpled like paper. Without thinking, I pulled and straightened it, and grabbed tissues for the blood dripping into my eyes.

I paused and heard the boy standing outside my door saying softly, “Ariella, I’m really sorry. You should call the police.”

“HOW?” I roared. “MY PHONE IS IN THE LOUNGE, YOU MOTHERFUCKER.” I continued screaming for my floormates. I resented how long it took until I heard doors slamming and feet and girls clustered outside my door.

“Get him away from the door,” I told them over and over until someone interrupted me and said, “Okay, he’s gone.” I sounded hysterical.

When I saw the girls staring, their eyes like marbles, I knew I had to be the calm one because there would be no one capable of saving me except me. “Hey.”

I was covered in blood and I knew I looked terrifying so I smiled a little and say, “I know, I must look like Carrie right now.” In the next few minutes I trotted out orders, asking for my phone, telling them ten times to call an ambulance and the police, please get our RA, is the boy off the floor, can I have an ice pack. There was absolutely nothing on my mind but the fierce need to make sure I stay alive in the next few hours. Head wounds bleed a lot and I know this, but I was terrified my skull was split, my brain was damaged—that the one part of me I treasure had been irreparably ruined and I was consumed with the need to keep it safe.

Someone brought me my purse. I grabbed my phone, I asked someone to get my insurance card for the ambulance when they came. I dialed my mother, who lives five hours away and I was very apologetic as I explained that I was attacked and I’m okay (I feel my blood soaking into my pants) but my parents should probably come down here.

“Hey, Mama,” I told her. “Just, go back to sleep, okay? Come later when you wake up. There’s nothing you can do right now.” My mother, to her credit, was as calm as I on the phone. She did not tell me I was ridiculous to tell her not to come right away but only to keep her updated. I was so relieved I had no need to reassure her.

Over the next eternity as I waited for the ambulance, I poured jokes out like vomit. Girls started laughing. The jokes were awful and about as black as you can get, since I had to keep switching out my tissues for a dry clump until someone thought to get me a towel. “Hey,” I quipped. “This is like college edition, Clue. In the lounge, with a pipe. Hey, don’t you bleed like this when you get paper cuts? Oh my god, I hope there’s no brain damage.” I look mock-horrified. “That is the only part of me I even like.” When I later changed, my shirt which has a cartoon ribcage doodled on it, was soaked with my blood. I still think it’s funny.

When the EMTs arrived, after I’d been snippy to a bunch of cops (“No, I do not want to give a statement, do I look like I can do that right now”), they strapped me into the board with a neck brace. The board was too tall for the elevator, so they had to tip me, and I dangled from it a little. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. The shakes started. They put me on the gurney proper and wheeled me out to the ambulance.

In the ambulance, my bravado finally started to leave, and I asked the EMTs inane questions, about their wives, about their lives. I begged for an icepack. I thought maybe I could stop thinking about myself now and rely on them to save me. They couldn’t find the fucking ice pack because they were firemen, not EMTs. It wasn’t their ambulance. I tensed up again, aware that I was not in safe hands yet. One of them informed me as I was being wheeled in there would be a cop to take my statement. I told the EMT that I refused and he started to berate me, telling me that he’d be the one in charge of the situation, not me. Had I been less drained I would have verbally clawed his face off and told precisely how little I trusted him to take care of a houseplant, much less a beaten teenager.

Probably the morphine and then Vicodin relaxed me, made me feel at ease, like someone else could keep an eye on me now. The nurses clucked over me, the interns grinned sympathetically, the doctor nicely explained every single thing he was doing. My quipping came back in full force. I wanted to reward them with a pleasant patient, with some kind of nice experience in the ER they might not normally get. When I asked about brain damage the doctor said it was unlikely, since I was “mentating” fine.

“Mentating? What’s that? Is it a vocab word? Can I use it in—OH MY GOD MY ESSAY.”

Everyone smiled. I was content.

Eventually a police officer came by and spent a long hour taking my statement. He coaxed it from me; he was handsome, and his name was Rory, who is one of my favorite characters on Doctor Who, so I didn’t mind at all.

He tapped his pen against the pad and asked, “Do you know why the guy might do this?”

I shrugged. “I barely know him.”

The doctor put eleven staples in my head and stitched up my finger, which sustained an open fracture. I’d later get it set very badly by a local doctor and have to keep a splint on for the entire summer.

The whole incident seemed like a fact of a random and unfeeling universe. “These things do happen,” I’d say, over and over. Everyone gets hurt eventually—everyone on this earth gets to experience horror. My rabbi said in a sermon that tragedy was as much a part of life as joy, and not an interruption. Horror is much of the same, I think. There are things you cannot explain and you just have to take it. Being beaten was my dosage.

I slept in my parent’s hotel room while my dorm room was processed as a crime scene. I became rabid and snarling about everything involving the university—the university attempted to transfer me to a different room, attempted to let me off of finals which started next week, attempted to be kind and understanding. I politely ripped apart all of their efforts to treat me like a victim and moved back into my dorm room the moment they got the blood stains out of the carpet. He did not even manage to put a proper dent in my skull; I wouldn’t cede an inch of myself further.

The boy was placed under custody, under a half-million dollar bail. I idly concocted revenge fantasies, filled with passive rage that someone attempted (managed) to hurt me. I daydreamed about beating him until his nose pointed backward. I thought about where to twist knives in him that it would hurt the most, about kissing his ex-girlfriend in the court room in front of him. Every time I got into the shower this summer, I had to unwrap my hand and see my mistake of a finger.

It was like a yo-yo—in between coming up with satisfying tortures, I felt such pity for him and his parents. He’d sacrificed his education at a third-tier school to beat some girl for ten minutes. He didn’t even manage to kill me.

Everyone from my psychiatrist to my mother pointed out that he had been punished quite a bit—he spent the summer in the county jail. I spent the summer in the Bahamas. I didn’t care. I wanted revenge on the universe, and an institutional punishment was merely proof of a working legal system. It was not me getting a little of my own back. Someone else had made the decision for me how my damage could be recompensed. His being in jail was less of a symbol that he had hurt a person and more a reminder to those who violated societal agreement. This is what happens to you if you hurt a member of our society: we take you away. I did not like that a benevolent government felt the right to take care of my problems.

And yet—sitting in the assistant DA’s office, being told that I could have a hand in his punishment, I could help decide his future, I recoiled. I did not want that. I wanted him to disappear out of my consciousness. It was four months later, my finger was out of its splint, and I had a midterm in two weeks. This is the kind of story that can have a clean ending, with the villain in jail and the victim climbing some metaphoric path to recovery.

Instead, I read his psychological report. I talked to my psychiatrist. I did nothing. I don’t care what the ending is anymore. I have become some kind of statistic and that’s fine—this is not the narrative I am interested in. I care more about the grade on that essay.

***

This essay was originally published by The Toast and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

Ariella Yendler currently attends college. She would like to apologize to her mother for writing under her real name. She knows her father is probably giving her high-fives though, so that’s fine.

Okay but Seriously, Stop Blaming the Victim

Okay but Seriously, Stop Blaming the Victim

by

Kirsten Clodfelter

As a feminist, I admire Hanna Rosin. I enjoy the important work she’s done in co-founding DoubleX, and I regularly teach excerpts of her essay, “The End of Men,” to my undergraduate composition students. As a new, breastfeeding mom, I’m appreciative of her refreshing, my-body-my-choice approach to the Breast is Best agenda. This made Rosin’s response to The Feminist and the Cowboy author Alisa Valdes’ recent blog post (since deleted but cached here), in which Valdes revealed the terrifying abuse she suffered at the hands of the book’s “hero,” all the more surprising and disappointing.

Valdes’ memoir details her dissatisfaction with feminism and its “dreary shroud of lies,” all while lauding a man who forces her into submission, helping her to see the way things are, according to Valdes, biologically supposed to be. As Rosin points out in her initial review of the book, some of the scenes with the controlling cowboy are definitely “creepy”; the red flags have been raised.

But after Valdes comes clean about the cowboy’s aggressive, intimidating behavior, the headline of Rosin’s next Valdes piece is disaffected and bored: “The Cowboy Abused the Feminist. What a Surprise.” In this article, Rosin writes, “Many of us skeptical, desiccated feminist types suspected that submission would mostly just lead to being submissive and that the long-term result would be something less than happiness.” This criticism of the submission Valdes touts isn’t wrong. However true it may be, though, it’s not an adequate reason for glossing over the issue of domestic violence.

In her book, Valdes rejects second-wave feminism and instead aligns herself with the theory of “difference feminism,” celebrating her newfound femininity under the guidance of her macho boyfriend. Any person, a so-called “reformed” feminist or otherwise, who has been victimized, manipulated, or brainwashed by an abuser (and in Valdes’ case, it seems, over a long enough period of time for that behavior to become normalized) does not deserve a cavalier, yawning, here’s-my-shocked-face brush off from anyone, but especially not from someone who is herself a feminist.

Rosin appropriately takes Valdes to task forpublicizing a book that is encouraging women to submit themselves to a romantic formula whose end sum is ‘painful, controlling, emotionally abusive, crazymaking,’” and this is truly an important part of the conversation that we should all continue to address. Had Rosin taken the time to speak with Valdes, though (and I can’t say for sure if she attempted to reach out to her), she would have learned that, according to her conversation with Max Read at Gawker, Valdes now readily acknowledges that she’s written “a handbook for women on how to fall in love with a manipulative, controlling, abusive narcissist.”

Rosin closes her article discussing the possibility of Valdes writing a follow-up, which she may use as a platform for processing some of the cowboy’s reprehensible actions. Rosin is quick to silence that voice, “But as the cowboy would say, Alisa: Stop. It’s over.” I agree wholeheartedly with Rosin that Valdes is doing a grave, dangerous disservice by continuing to promote this sham of a love story in any way, but I think what we’re seeing in Valdes’ string of recent, controversial blog posts following the memoir’s release is an attempt to reconcile the abuse she’s suffered. How, then, is it helpful or kind or ethical to tell Valdes to put a lid on it?

If we attached that “What a Surprise” headline to the provocatively-dressed eleven year old in Texas who was gang-raped in November of 2010 or to the blackout-drunk high school student in Steubenville who last year was sexually assaulted and peed on as she was carried unconscious from party to party by members of the football team, there would be, and rightfully so, a loud and raging outcry.

So why the cold shoulder to Valdes? Is it that she marketed herself as a disgruntled product of the worst parts of feminism and used her memoir to push an anti-feminist agenda? In his article for The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky writes that even after revealing the abuse, “In comments on her [blog] post, Valdes insists that she still rejects the feminist ideology that prevented her from trusting men. She insists she still stands by her claim that ‘feminism stole my womanhood.’” Are Rosin, and other writers and article commenters discussing this issue, feeling some flicker of validation in light of this development? If Valdes claims that feminism directed her to believe that men were un-trustworthy, and then it turned out that she couldn’t trust that powerful, manly, dominant cowboy after all, is this supercilious attitude a consequence of haughtily thinking that, well, those feminists were right?

But as feminists, as people who champion for women—for their equality, for their freedom, for acknowledgement of their value—do we really want to shame someone who rejected that ideology (and, arguably, just a small but vocal minority within the feminist umbrella) with a big dose of, hey, that’ll teach her? The feminist community should be a safe space for the many women who don’t have one, not an exclusive, snobby club only for people who subscribe to a very particular and rigid set of ideals about the movement. My experience with feminism and, in speaking with my friends and colleagues, many other men and women’s experience as well, is thankfully nothing like what Valdes has described. Regardless, to turn up our noses at her now only helps prove her point.

Some of the worst comments I’ve seen from readers of Rosin’s article and others around the Internet suggest that Valdes is making up the whole thing as some type of twisted publicity stunt (because certainly I can think of nothing that might sell a love story more than traumatizing abuse). Others, rather missing the point, demand that in light of submitting to her abuser, Valdes’ “feminist card” be revoked. The most offensive demand that Valdes “shut the fuck up” and call her an idiot, an attention-seeker, and “an embarrassment to humanity,” and then there’s just the ridiculously obnoxious, such as, “Giddy-up, bee atch.” Are we not better than this? When we find out a woman has suffered through a violent relationship, do we really believe that the appropriate response is to tell her we guess that means she really isn’t a feminist? Or worse, that she brought it on herself? That she deserved it?

In September, Mary Elizabeth Williams smartly shut down the idea that Rihanna should be castigated for her reconciliation with abuser Chris Brown; yet when Valdes writes a book in which she professes her love for a man who she later begins to realize is abusive, or even after that, when she reflects on her complicated feelings for her former abuser and denies some of the worst conclusions being drawn about him (a pretty common consequence of a long-term, abusive relationship), the common response seems to be annoyance that anyone, least of all Valdes, is surprised by this information.

Valdes is being shamed when what she needs is a supportive community that won’t stand for domestic violence to rally around her. Where is the calling out of the publishing community—her publisher, agent, and editor who read early drafts of this book, who surely must have seen the obvious, early warning signs of manipulative, controlling, and dangerous behavior that many reviewers have already mentioned—and still elected to market the book to women as a beautiful romance with a fairy-tale finish? (To be fair, Max Read at Gawker has at least mentioned this issue of mutual accountability.)

Tracy Clark-Flory recounts some of Valdes’ abuse in her article at Salon, detailing in Valdes’ words from her initial blog post that the “cowboy became emotionally and physically abusive, and during one fight ‘simply dragged me down the hall to the bedroom, bent me over, and took me, telling me as he did so that I must never forget who was in charge.’”

Yet both Berlatsky and Rosin, in their respective articles, describe this particular incident from Valdes’ now shattered love story as “something close to rape.” As Valdes has told it, however, dragging a woman down the hall during a fight and then physically entering her body while you remind her who’s in charge is rape. Are people choosing not to call it that because then they’d have to show more outrage?

Regardless of whether or not we agree with every decision Valdes has made up to this point or with the way she’s choosing to communicate parts of her story currently, she is brave for speaking out about her experience. The message of Valdes’ book is, frankly, reprehensible, but voicing the truth about Steve Lane’s twisted behavior—possibly at risk to her own physical safety—so that others who might still read her book have a more accurate understanding of what was really going on is commendable.

One thing that I imagine would be the helpful for Valdes at this point, as with any abuse victim, is a little empathy. What is certainly not helpful are other men and women, other feminists, rolling their eyes in light of this news. If this is the so-called “feminism” that Valdes felt she had to run away from, honestly, can we really blame her?

 ***

Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Her work has been previously published in The Iowa Review, Brevity, Word Riot, Narrative Magazine (as the runner-up in their 2011 30-Below contest), Rock & Sling, and Hunger Mountain, among others. She is a regular blog contributor at Fogged Clarity, and she writes and teaches in Southern Indiana. You can read some facts about her at KirstenClodfelter.com.

Help Them Free Their Words

Help Them Free Their Words: Tom Kerr discusses his work with Steve Champion and his death row memoir

an interview by Jason Tucker

An associate professor of writing at Ithaca College, Tom Kerr began working with Steve Champion while teaching an undergraduate writing course. The idea was to get college students to engage with people and worlds beyond their own. Naturally, this happened to Tom as well, forging an unlikely friendship and giving personal depth to otherwise abstract political philosophy. After much work and much negotiating of the complex ethics of such a project, the two have shaped Champion’s story into the memoir Dead to Deliverance. READ MORE