Monday, October 29, 2012

Falling *Updated 8/19/2015*

** This post has been updated on 8/19/2015, and has been edited from it's 10/29/2012 post  to reflect the version published in the 3rd issue of SANDY THE ZINE, "SLUT" back in September 2014. Reprinted with permission**

As a female child, I was already being slut-shamed before I was conceived. We've all heard about how Eve made poor life choices, dragging the highest form of creation (Adam/man) into her fruit-eating sinful lifestyle. Upping the shame-game, members of the Unification Church believe the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was metaphorical. That the actual fall of man was when Eve was seduced by Lucifer the archangel (in studly-man form, not snake), thus leading her to seduce Adam and destroy the platonic innocence between them.

Reverend Moon wasn't very fond of women and he especially didn't like American women. They were the opposite of the dutiful and pious Korean women, who were now apart of the new chosen people. In a 1996 speech, he declared that American women had inherited the lineage of prostitutes, because they enjoyed having sex for pleasure - instead of regarding it as a wifely and duty to God. Many of the first generation of men to join Reverend Moon's church in the 1970's, my dad included, hoped to be matched to an Asian woman. To be matched to an American woman was to link arms with someone of a lower spiritual cast.

Being a 2nd generation girl raised in this belief meant that we had to limit our contact with male peers (or "brothers".) We were expected to avoid any type of physical, romantic, or sexual relationship with a male until we were matched and married. Losing one's virginity before marriage was the worst sin imaginable, probably ranked above murder and drug use in the eyes of the Unification Church. Adam and Eve were banished to the darkest pits of hell for committing such a sin. Inspired by the "Purity Knife" tradition of Korean noblewomen, girls in our church community were encouraged to kill themselves if they encountered a compromising situation which could result in being sexually assaulted. Death would have been considered a blessing. As a female, my only value was my sexual purity. Women in the church held so little power that their husbands made all of their decisions for them, from getting your ears pierced to access to a college education.

I lost my virginity right before I turned seventeen. I had been enduring a crisis of faith since I was fourteen. As I began to question everything about the way I was raised, I also began dating a boy from my middle school. I continued dating and exploring my developing sexuality into high school. 
Even if one were to remove the threat of irrevocable spiritual damnation, losing my virginity was still a miserable experience. My boyfriend at the time was a complete creep who pressured me into having sex when I was still of a kissing/hand-holding mindset. Afterwards, I sat on his bed and sobbed. He dropped me at home. My big sister was very confused when I entered our room practically in hysterics, and I eventually confessed to my parents via email. They reacted with silence. They could not believe something this horrible could have happened to one of the perfect children Reverend Moon had promised them.

My sister was traveling across New York State to Buffalo and nanny for a church family that lived there. I accompanied her, hoping to simultaneously escape my parent's disappointment and my own shame. I fluctuated between crying on the bed we shared, and trying to distract myself by helping with the babysitting. I spent the solitary moments venting to my sister. I thought if I could just keep talking at her, some lifeline would remain to save me from impending insanity and being ripped away to hell by forces from the spirit world. I returned home on a Holy Day called "God's Day". AS I stood next to my mother, bowing to a photograph of Reverend Moon and his wife, I sobbed, feeling like the world's biggest failure. My mother told me that in hell, Hitler is tied to a post and all the people he killed during the war tear him apart again and again, in an endless torture. I imagined something similar awaited me upon my death for giving away my "most precious" gift.

Everything began to fall apart. An opinionated church member who ran a "boarding school" in Texas (which I once had the misfortune of visiting friends there,) had informed all my peers of my sinful mistake. Now everyone in the church community was gossiping and knew I was tainted. Not only was I my parent's shame, but I was now the shame of all the friends I had made in the Unification Church. I emailed one of my closest friends to explain the story from my perspective, but after weeks of no response I finally received a curt email stating that I was dead to her and that she was no longer allowed to contact me. In the few church events that I attended I received sidelong glances from my peers and their parents. I was the girl who had "done it". I was the girl who had "fallen" from grace.

A few years ago, I retold this story to my therapist, sharing the emotional anguish that I had endured when I thought that I had done irreparable damage to both my soul and God's heart by sleeping with a boy. I explained the nightmares and panic attacks that felt like Satan had me by the throat. When I finished, my therapist leaned back in his chair with his hand over his mouth. Processing, we sat in silence for a while. Finally, when he spoke; "I want you to understand that what you're coping with is trauma."

I can't help but be angry when I slowly open the door and peek at those damaging memories lurking in the dark. Even as a now-atheist, I struggle to remind myself I do have value and purpose in the world outside of my parent's religion. I have worked so hard to normalize myself. I put myself through college, I got my ears pierced, I learned how to swing dance, I taught myself to cook, to paint, to meditate. I toughed my way through two very competitive internships at The Juilliard School and The Santa Fe Opera. Now, I'm a career makeup artist in NYC who works in film, TV, and Broadway. I have an attentive boyfriend who supports me through all my weird hang-ups and baggage with love, patience, and understanding.

Up until recently, my mom would periodically email me with information about upcoming "forgiveness ceremonies", which the Unification Church held for those who have 'fallen' (i.e. had sex with someone who they weren't married to.) For a hefty sum, I could be elevated from my lowly status in the church to somewhere near the 1st generation status of my parents. I would not be allowed to marry someone from my former second generation peers. Clearly, I was still tainted goods to my mother.

But I am not ashamed of who I've become and how I have gotten here. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

TED Talk: Diane Benscoter on the Unification Church

Taking a moment to step out of the story to say: I really love TED talks. I saw the one given by Diane Benscoter on the Unification Church back in 2009, but I only just read the follow up Q&A with her on the TED Blog thanks to a post on How Well Do You Know Your Moon. I really recommend the talk and the Q&A, but I have to make some qualifying statements first.

After leaving the church, Benscoter became a deprogrammer. Deprogramming is a highly controversial practice; growing up we heard about deprogrammers like they were the boogiemen. One of my teachers at New Eden Academy told us that he had been kidnapped by a deprogrammer and tied to a bed in a hotel room. The story may or may not be embellished, and included a heroic escape out of a window, but it was something that stuck with me.

If you want to try comparing apples and oranges, deprogramming is sort of the reverse side of indoctrination - it seeks to break the mind of its self-inflicted illogic loop. I use the word break because I think can be very dangerous to a person's psychology. It takes a long time, a lot of mental and emotional work at self-actualization, and then a strong self belief and personal resolve to end that constriction. No one can and should do it for you (and on the obverse side,  no one should inflict the initiation of an illogic-loop, but that's a Whole Other Post.)

While Benscoter is no longer involved in deprogramming, she gives an interesting perspective on the "why" of it. I also think that it's fascinating that she refers to deprogramming as an "underground railroad, of sorts." I struggle with that term because, yes deprogramming was a conduit out, and hot damn do I wish that there was a modern-day Harriet Tubman that I could have called on back in the day. But what if someone had grabbed the 17-year old me off of the streets and tried to open up my brain and untangle it before I was ready to do that for myself? I cannot imagine.

In her talk she shows a slideshow; one picture is of Unification Church members and the other one is of Hitler Youth. Frankly it hurts to have your background compared to that of Hitler Youth, suicide bombers, and the participants of the Jonestown Massacre. There is something that doesn't sit well in the pit of your stomach when you hear your parents and childhood friends categorized like that. But the point that Benscoter is making is about how these types of groups inflict circular logic and how it fundamentally rewires the brain.

The question it brings up to me then is, what if Rev. Moon had told his followers to become armed insurrectionists. What if he had told people that on "Foundation Day" the "Cheon Il Gook" could only be achieved by ascending to another plane, so please drink the kool-aid Holy Wine. These are questions that any Unificationist would become incensed by, and I understand that. BUT the fundamental driving point that Benscoter is trying to make is that the brain is hardwired to begin to accept strong suggestion in that direction.

And then there's the Upstart Buisness Journal's article on Kook Jin Moon's firearm company, Kahr Arms, and Koon Jin's quote: "Religion’s whole thing is ‘Don’t hurt others; we want peace.’ But most religions understand that there are people who don’t want peace.” Yes, it's taken out of context, but it's still a little unnerving.

Anyway overall, the TED talk is good (although I wish it went into more depth). I recommend it, as well as the Q&A Blog, for an interesting perspective:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Learning to hide between the mirror and the wall

Flying over the Atlantic to Europe for the second half of the tour felt like physically disconnecting from my life and my problems. There was an entire ocean between my parents’ choices and me – the physical space also gave me the mental breathing room to think about who I was outside of the context of my mother’s accusations of my father.  Maybe I wasn’t doomed to be a social pariah, deemed untouchable by my community. Maybe…
 For the first time that summer on tour I was able to enjoy the company of others and keep my depression at bay. The sights and sounds of London elated me; waking up in Paris was a dream. I never wanted to go home. Then I reminded myself: I didn’t really have a home.

The two weeks passed by in a rush and as my departure date grew closer I began to asphyxiate on anxiety. My breathing would come in shallow gasps and my vision would sometimes blur as I thought about the great unknown of my future waiting back in the States. All too soon I touched down at JFK.
I have no memory of arriving at New Eden. It was likely late at night and I was sleep-deprived and jetlagged. Upon arriving in my mom’s apartment I passed out on a mattress on the floor. My sister watched over me as a slept, almost as a sentinel to guard me against the nature of the reality I had just entered. I must have slept fitfully, dreaming of nighttime beasts and glowing eyes. “Did you see The Midnight Carnival?” I asked her, sitting up but half dreaming. She giggled and helped me back to sleep.
After the hangover of grogginess passed, I awoke to a world of seemingly-endless cinderblock hallways. Walls were painted with marine-grade paint, as though each year the sins had to be pressure washed away. My sister told me about the urine smells, the fly infestation and the nighttime cleaning vigils.  I fed her European chocolate that I had brought home, hoping to help ease the pain.

Our first weeks at New Eden were solitary ones. There were only a few live-in staff members on the premises. While exploring my new horizons I met a former staff member who was moving out. He warned me of evil lurking in the halls. I raised an eyebrow at his superstitions. Long ago I had learned to suspect many First Gen and their grip on reality.
He saw my dubious expression and narrowed his eyes. “There is a dark spirit that hovers around here, like a cloud. When it descends like a storm, you’ll know.” He glanced up at the dorm buildings and gave a near-imperceptible shudder, as though he feared invoking the evil of which he spoke.
And the darkness did descend.
Students arrived and school began. The first few weeks were relatively peaceful and I used them as an opportunity to try to recover from the trauma of the previous summer. We had morning service each day, and I would arrive early to spend a few solitary moments in reflections. Service took place in the same basement where most of our classes were held. Though the place smelled as though a rot had firmly taken hold I would sit, cross-legged and barefoot, waiting for everyone else to arrive and trying to concentrate on my breathing.
Many times I could only get small gasps. My lungs ached for more air but could never seem to pull in enough before my throat would constrict. During the morning services I would search for words to hang onto – words that could be the calm in my storm or that could offer me a sense of peace. Despite my search, despite my internal pleas to God, I didn’t find those words.
After The Most Horrible Day, where I learned that there were no true allies to be found and no safe harbor of friendship, I stopped attending morning services. Instead I hid in my room. There was a small crawl space in my dorm closet, behind a built-in vanity mirror, that I learned I could fit myself into. Many mornings I would curl into that space and trycommune with the silence.

After the headmaster counted who was missing from morning service, the dorm mom would search our rooms. I would hear the knock on the door, and an inquiring voice from the other side. She would try the door and find it locked. Then there was the jingle of keys and the distinctive click as the master key allowed her entry into my sanctuary. She would look under my bed, in the closet and anywhere else she thought that a teenager could hide.
She never knew about that tiny space between the mirror and the wall. Nestled next to the cinderblock, it never occurred to me to consider the physical contortions that I put myself into in order to hide from these people. But hide I did. And there, with my nose nestled between my knees, I continued working on my breathing.

In and Out.

Each day became a survival game and every student found a way to rebel against the bondage of obedience that was prized over learning. I slept in the back of my American History class every morning, learning how to move my hand in a mimic of note-taking while dozing. I learned that my Oceanography teacher hated anything against dress code, so I wore Birkenstocks to class every day and flaunted my blue toenails, only to be dismissed from class regularly for my defiance.
Even with the bravado of defiance, many of us didn’t know how to protect ourselves from the insulated lifestyle of the school. Our schedules were regimented as though we were serving a sentence as opposed to seeking an education. Faculty members were suspicious of our every move, our every conversation and any kind of opposite-gender interaction. In true trickle-down form, that suspicion and pathos seeped down into the student body.
Instead of the school being a New Eden, it was a hotbed for our own dysfunctions to grow. Though the school was advertised as a haven for parents to send their children into, where the ideals of purity and heavenly-mindedness were upheld, most students struggled with one form of self-abuse or another. Sex, drugs, alcohol and food were all indulged in excessively. Everyone knew not to use the dorm restrooms in the morning, as they would usually reek of the night’s aftermath.
My depression often prevented me from being able to eat. I was never popular enough to be included in the drinking and the using, nor did anyone ever express sexual interest in me. If they had, I was too mentally wound up in a melodramatic emotional affair with “S” to notice. Instead, my excess was turned inward. Through that inward turn the darkness truly descended.

It was shortly after our 9pm curfew. There was screaming down the hall; someone’s fists were pounded in rhythmic slams against a door. The slams weren’t requests for entry; they were just another desperate prisoner’s pleas for release. Somehow the noise complimented the bass line of the Reggaeton that reverberated against the cinderblock walls.

I sat in the dark of my room, with only candles for light. My back was against the locked door and I had given up on breathing that night. I drew my air in ragged gasps through gritted teeth as I gazed down at the knife in in my hand.

Little rivulets of blood sprang up under the blade as I dragged it across my wrist. It was too dull to do any real damage. It was meant for sharpening my drawing pencils, but it did enough. Horrified and mesmerized, I continued digging as I found deeper relief with each slice.
That night an addiction was born and for years afterwards I turned to it for relief. I never dug deep enough to cause visible scars; breaking the skin and seeing blood was all I needed. Long sleeves and fingerless gloves covered the outward manifestation of my sickness, but I would still stare greedily at sharp objects when I felt the need to cut or keep stashes of safety pins and bottle caps around, just in case. Inside I admired other people’s cuts, accidental though they usually were – in my mind I would equate a form of relief with the physical injury.
My only takeaways from that year at New Eden were a barely-achieved degree, suspicion of every church member that I met, and an addiction to self-injury.

It took me years to stop cutting, and then many years after that of fighting the urge. But a moment finally came where I knew that I had to stop. I had been good during most of my first semester away at college, but returning home for winter break to the toxic environment of my parents sent me into a panicked downward spiral. I found a plastic bottle cap and dug incessantly into my wrist. By the time I was done, my arm looked mangled.
I returned to school with a bandage and a brace on my wrist, hoping I could pass it off as an accidental injury.

“What the hell happened?” My college roommate asked when she saw.
“I fell. On some ice,” I lied.
We looked at each other for a long time. She searched my eyes and seemed hurt by what she saw. Her shoulders fell in resignation and without another word she turned and left the room.
 She had been my first friend when I had come to college. She had helped me get a job at the college paper; she’d given me a copy of The Vagina Monologues to help me reframe my ideology of womanhood. She had shared with me that she was struggling with an eating disorder. I finally realized that my addiction was keeping me from being truthful, on so many levels, and that I would never be able to connect with another person until I stopped hurting myself.

I wish that I had been brave enough back then to seek help, but in the church we were discouraged from seeking “outside help.” Oftentimes denial of a problem was deemed a reasonable enough solution. If that didn’t work, then shaming a sufferer into silence often did.Today, I hope that the young people in the church who are suffering from self-inflicted scars can find it in themselves to seek help. I hope that, with everything going on in the church right now and the institution crumbling from within, people can find it in their hearts to accept each other and not continue to shun and shame. And to any fellow sufferer: please, please, please do not feel ashamed for seeking help. It is the bravest thing that you can do.

Even in the darkest moments of our lives, there is love and acceptance in the Universe. You are beautiful, you are loved and you deserve to be healthy. Tell yourself that every day and eventually the pain will not be able to sustain its grip. One day you will wake up, and you will remember how to breathe.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Life without Rev. Moon

I'm really really honored that Jane and Edith over at The Hairpin agreed to publish an essay of mine. A thousand times "Thank you!"

The story in that essay is sort of a bookend to what we are beginning over here. Thanks to everyone that's joining us for the ride. <3


Thirty-thousand feet seems like a good altitude at which to question one's life. “I am already in motion,” I tell myself. It's a kind of progress. Shortly after my twentieth birthday I was in progress, between JFK and Heathrow, en route to Oslo. 
After takeoff the girl sitting next to me smiled kindly, asking where I was headed. I told her: 
“To Norway. To visit my husband.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a stack of glossy women's magazines, offering me several. They promised hot sex tips, orgasm-inducing positions, and advice on how to find a man to orgasm with. She pointed to a few with a wink. “Maybe you can find something nice in there for your husband.” 
Today, almost a decade later, to use the word husband feels wrong; I avoid it. But at the time it was what he said I should call him. “I am your husband!” he would say. The word sounded foreign in my ears; "husband" was supposed to be a word attached to “honoring” and “cherishing,” and whatever else heartfelt marriage vows should entail. 
But I had not been given the choice to say those vows.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Chicago Outro

To return to that dismal Chicago morning, I was completing my slow return back to the center, with the   newspaper that I had been achingly desperate to attain. Now, a normal 15 year old ought to have been able to execute the task with relatively little to no emotional harm. I, on the other hand, returned emotionally haggard. Something about that small, slow journey had unravelled the last thread of my composure.

When I found the simpering leader back at the center, he accepted the paper without a glance and with a haphazard "thank you." No further direction was issued and I was utterly without purpose. So I returned to my room until I was summoned to begin the work that I had been attained for.

That morning I was the sole occupant of a large room, crowded with half a dozen bunk beds. There were few signs of live-in occupants, but the house itself seemed to go on forever. Despite a crushing loneliness, I was grateful to be alone. The tears that had been leaking out of my eyes on my newspaper sojourn couldn't take the bottleneck anymore and I took full advantage of my solitude to indulge in weeping.

It was the kind of gut-wrenching, snot-dripping cry I'm rarely capable of. It terrifies me, because it overwhelms. The tears that had begun as small rivulets down my face came with more insistence and it became a struggle to breathe, as though my soul was trying to vomit out the memories and horrors that had unfolded in our lives during the past six months.

My sister and I, though we had turned the events over in in conversation a hundred times, had kept a brave face to each other. We knew that we were a team; we hid things from each other like our boyfriends and our doubts. But we had presented a united front of strength and solicitude to our brothers, and a defiant resistance to the persistent insanity of our parents. I missed her with an ache, like a missing limb; I felt selfish for being removed from the situation and not being there to help her protect the tiny corner of sanity we had been able to salvage.

My sobs became retching and underneath the sorrow I was surprised that I hadn't actually vomited up my breakfast. After two hours of carrying on this way, an older first generation found me huddled up in the corner. She crouched down next to me, put her hand carefully on my shoulder and said, "Jenny, here I will be your mother figure. I can see you are unhappy. Please tell me what's wrong."

The words tumbled out of my mouth. My parents were separating;  I was devastated and scared, was my hiccuping G-rated confession. The media relations director joined us shortly there after, and with slightly-less maternal care declared that it was probably better if I stayed with the group. "We'll pull you out for interviews," she lied.

To untangle me from my funk, they put me to work on the fax machine for the duration of the day. The newspaper-requiring leader gave me a perfunctory handshake and a platitude laced with "guess you weren't the candidate we were looking for" before I was driven back to the church where the rest of the group had been sleeping.

No one actually addressed the issues that I had brought up. I was expected to simply wipe my face and go back to the group and rally around the message we had been spoon-fed. I was asked to give one of the opening speeches for our first rally; it was to be written around a number of talking points that we were to memorize. In my diary I wrote about feeling oddly disconnected from everyone and from reality. "I know I'm not the girl who goes up and gives speeches and believes in abstinence to the deepest core of my soul. That's the fake me I try to make others see. I feel like who I really am is way too depressing for anyone to ever like. Even I don't like myself."

After two weeks we ended up in Barrytown, NY for a few nights before flying to Europe for another two weeks of rallies calling for Pure Love, Pure Life - One Man, One Wife. Before making the transatlantic flight, I called my grandparents back in Arizona to ask where my family was and to find out where I was coming home to. My grandfather, with a sigh of resignation, said that my mother had taken my siblings to a church school in Bridgeport, CT where she was going to be a dorm mom.

New Eden Academy was going to be my new home.

There was one girl on the tour that I had shared my story with. Incidentally, she attended New Eden and, after my conversation with my grandfather, I informed her that she was going to be my new schoolmate.

"My mom is going to be the new dorm mother for the boys," I said.

"Oh My God," she shouted. "Your mom's going to commit suicide!"

Monday, October 15, 2012

How do we measure?

Sometimes life feels like a game of catch-up; and I'm not talking about trying to jump on the hamster wheel of the dreaded rat race. But figuring out this whole 'life' thing, especially as a self-directed endeavor, sometimes feels overwhelming.

It's probably safe to say that the majority of us feel like we've got only an inkling of a clue as to what's going on. There are times where I take comfort in that. Other times, like today, I struggle to shake the free-floating anxiety I attach to the bigger questions of "Where am I going" and "What do I want." There were times where I thought that I knew; mostly I know that I don't know.

And you know what? A grand majority of the time I am just fine with that. I try to give myself a lot of leeway, like: "Hey, for a gal who grew up in a cult that controlled all of the aspects of your life, you're doing kind of well for yourself." Sometimes, though, that just doesn't feel like enough. While I realize that I'm fighting the programming of how I was raised, it's very difficult to shake the feeling of not being enough. This is only exacerbated by the success/fame obsession we have in our culture.

There was a time, about 10 years ago, that I ached to be fucking normal (whatever that means, right?).
There is this distinct memory of being 17 and life guarding on gloomy winter mornings, listening to the sploosh, sploosh, splursh of the elderly patrons' laps across the pool. I had learned all of their strokes patterns and knew that, despite appearances, the gentleman in lane three was not drowning. He just sort of swam that way. I would get mesmerized by their gliding across the pool, my head going back and forth like a mother hen counting her chicks.

I'd walk around the pool to stay awake, being the only guard on duty those cold mornings. During the hours of solitary watching, I'd wrestle with my internal self and the rhetoric that we had been indoctrinated with: we had to be someone for God and "True Father." We had to accomplish things for God and "True Parents." One older sister had once taken me out to lunch specifically to tell me that she thought I had a lot to offer God. But I had no idea what it was I was supposed to do, or be or accomplish and that anxiety of not knowing often drove me to distraction.

There was a point in those early mornings where I simply longed for normalcy, and to live my life for myself. I didn't really want to work for God, love for God, or accomplish  for God. Rebellious! The God of my childhood bore Rev. Moon's face. There was disapproval lining every expression. There was nothing that I wanted to give to that; to feed into that was to be faced with every offering of self as being insufficient.

I sought normal, safe and insignificant as my shelter from the world of upheaval and abuse. It was probably the foundation that I needed. Success was measured in teaspoons: being able to buy a car, pay rent on an apartment, hold down a job, have a cat....have a relationship. Later I worked myself through school and got a big girl job. Had we graduated to tablespoons of success?

It's still difficult for me to measure my success as a human being. A number of my fellow second generation who left the church are dealing with sex and drug addiction. There are others that are immensely successful in their professional lives - a success that I hope translates into their personal lives as well. It's taking me time to discover what makes me a worthwhile human being. Outside of the context of being dictated to, and told where my worth and value lies, it is difficult to get my bearings some days.

For a long time it has been difficult to deal with the knowledge that no matter what I accomplished in my life, I would never have true acknowledgement or approval from my parents. All they really wanted from me was to get married (for God) and make babies (for God). Everything else would have been icing on the proverbial cake (for God).

Maybe, just maybe, I am finally coming to terms with that. It's ok to go through life without the stamp of approval from authority figures. I'm also learning that, despite the way I was raised, I can pick and choose my mentors and, occasionally, my authority figures. There is no one else to answer to in my life but me. That can be fucking lonely...

Now that I'm finally crawling out of my hiding place of insignificance and anonymity, I ask myself how do I measure myself as a person. Am I a success? Just because I didn't become addicted to sex or drugs upon leaving the church, does that in any way reflect on my worth? I don't think so - but truthfully it was a point of measure for me for a long time- especially if I had to defend myself against my parents.

There is a birthday coming up. I'm nearing the end of my 20's and many days I still feel lost. Is that normal?

"I have come to accept the feeling of not knowing where I am going. And I have trained myself to love it. Because it is only when we are suspended in mid-air with no landing in sight, that we force our wings to unravel and alas begin our flight. And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you're going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you."

~C. JoyBell C.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ascending Moon

Across from my restaurant job was a Duane Reade, during break I walked across the street and spent the last $3 of my EBT funds to buy a microwavable Progresso soup that I ended up just drinking straight out of the container. Outside, I propped myself against a concrete planter, disregarding the fact that very spot probably had been christened with dog piss over the years. I settled down and stared at my phone again. I hadn't spoken to my mother in months, but she had texted me while I was at work to inform me Reverend Sun Myung Moon had passed away.

I kept staring at the phone screen waiting to feel something. As a child, I had imagined that the world would dramatically change when 'True Father' passed away. As if buildings would crumble and the Earth would shake, but it didn't. He was just a man, and he had no power over me anymore.

At least, that's what I kept telling myself. I wanted to not owe him anything, but the truth is that if he hadn't flicked his hand in the general direction of my mother and father during the matching process, my siblings and I would have never existed. It didn't matter how much thought he had put into the match (probably none at all,) but it was at his discretion that I came to be in this world. And for that, I hated him.

My mother used to exalt us with how we were amazing miracles, children born of a pure blood lineage and that we were each unique, extraordinary beings, destined for great things.

My teen years were a testament to how un-extraordinary I was, as outside the church-world I felt I had no value. Outsiders didn't praise and recognize how 'phenomenal' of a being I was, because I knew nothing about the world outside the church-bubble and expression of personal ambitions, talent, and perspective was all very much discouraged, especially for girls. The longer I questioned the validity of every truth and value I was raised with, the more I realized I had a disadvantage in comparison with everyone else in the world. I would have to break free from everything I knew and learn how the world really functioned, starting all over at sixteen. I would have to relearn how to socialize with people, how to drive, how to do my taxes, and ultimately how to value myself outside the defining variables of the Unification Church (it's become an ongoing process.)

For years I blamed Reverend Moon for everything I've ever been through. I blamed him for the verbal, mental, and physical abuse my father lashed out at us. I blamed him for having two financially ignorant parents who couldn't hold down a job or a place to live for more than two years. I blamed him for the unstable toxic environment which we were raised, waking up and going to sleep to the sounds of my parents screaming at each other, or the nights when it was my turn to rock one of my baby brothers back to sleep since my mother's depression kept her bed-bound. I hated him for the horrific summer we spent moving from Arizona to Bridgeport, Connecticut, and having to deal with the tension of my mother trying to accuse my father of sexually molesting us by slipping a note into his briefcase.
I hated Reverend Moon for the year I spent among his 'blessed children', dealing with alienation and ridicule from peers at New Eden Academy. I hated him for the summer we spent being homeless, living mostly out of the navy Mercury Villager mini-van our Grandfather bought us, crashing with my mother's friends in Yonkers, or motel hopping in the Hudson Valley. I hate him for how church members scorned us when we arrived in Barrytown, looking for help from the community, only to be treated like lepers for having a broken family. I hated him for the years I spent destroying myself inside for losing my virginity at sixteen (a.k.a. falling in Moonie-speak,) only to learn that attraction to boys and having sex as a teenager is a completely normal thing. I blamed him for turning out so fucked up that at 26 I'm taking baby steps to take control of my life, and to come to grips with clinical depression that has had me by the throat since fourteen.

I hated him for being born. It was by the point of his fingertips that I came into being, and had to deal with every hardship in my life. If he had just picked another husband or wife for my parents, I would still be matter and energy out in the universe, free of responsibility and life.

An acquaintance of mine from Moonie summer camp posted on her Facebook the day Reverend Moon died; "You were a beautiful soul. RIP."
I wanted to flip a table.
Later when she clarified what she meant, she expressed that while she was no longer a member of the Unification Church, she had to credit Reverend Moon for all the crazy good things that happened in her life and for that she was grateful. Clearly, everyone has a different experience.

Eventually my half hour break was over, and I picked myself up off the concrete and headed back to my job. He had 'ascended' but I remain, steering the wheel my life. I can't blame him for where I go from here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

"He shot me down"

Bang bang

This blog has been a part of a personal manifesto to be more truthful about ourselves. To express who we are, and where we have come from. On my part, this is a process of parsing things out in order to look at them analytically: "Ah, I see how this works."

Intrinsic to this manifesto is the breaking down of walls that held our compartmentalized selves for so long. It's about being vulnerable and saying, "this is who I am and where I have been. Now I can work on proceeding." For me, personally, the entire process in my life is like standing naked and trying to unlearn shame in front of an audience. And if I am going for being completely authentic, there are times where that has really sucked.

I hit the ground.

Reeling from a bit of rejection-by-association, as well as some of the personal blockades I've been met with, I'm wondering a bit about this idea of baggage and how it defines us (or how others choose to define us by it). Frankly, none of us has the tools to deal with this big thing called Life.

Life should be something to look at with wide-eyed wonder; we are children in the Universe. But that can be a bit starry-eyed. After all...there are such things as serial killers and genocide and world war. None of us were given a handbook when we arrived on this little planet (at least I wasn't. Were you????).  For the most part, I think a lot of us are doing the best that we can to Do No Harm.

Yet lately in this search for healing and authenticity, we've both been faced with reactions that boldly ask us "Why are you even dealing with that?" or "How come you are still carrying that around?"

That awful sound.

In a process of healing, that is debilitating. As is rejection based on perceived baggage and its weight.

A gentle reminder: we haven't asked you to carry it.

No one wants to be defined by a disability.  By the same token, no one wants to be defined by the things they are trying to heal from. There is so much more than meets the eye. Who might be pleasantly surprised if you take the time to look.

My baby shot me down.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Letters from Hell

Dear Lani,

I read your last post and couldn't sleep. I felt an incredible need to address the moment that you wrote about. Not to refute it in anyway, but it brought up the memory of that night very strongly and I couldn't let it go.
So I dug up my old diary from when I was 15. Frankly that moment in time is still too painful for me to address as an adult; therefore I will let my teenaged self do it for me (names have been...modified, but I think you'll know who is who):

Sat Oct 28th '00

I want to leave! I dont think I can bear to stay here anymore! Last night was the breaking point for me. And I feel like I've been broken into too many pieces to put back together right now.

Yesterday Mom drove NH, MJ, KLee, Lani and me to the mall. MJ wanted to shop for stuff for herself and Lani and NH went with her. KLee and I went off by ourselves. We all met back at the food court, ate dinner, then left the mall around 7. While on the bus, KLee was upset because she didn't find what she had come for. 
The bus stopped to pick up people, and she saw a Stop & Shop Pharmacy. I offered to go with her to look in there. So we got off while the other three went back to NEA. We walked about 2 miles and went to about four different places looking for her wax strips. Finally we found a CVS around 8:30. They had what she was looking for and she was really happy. We bought them and then we out to the bus stop and waited...and waited.
While we were waiting these two guys in a black suburban pulled up at the stop light and started shouting for us to get in the back of the car. Then the light turned green and they started turning. We were afraid they were coming back to get us, so we jumped behind the porch of a nearby house and hid till we were sure they weren't coming back. Around 8:45 we called NEA and told them we would be back late. We got home a little before 10.
The first thing I did was go take a shower. While I was in the shower I heard KLee trying to tell HJ and AG what had happened. They were just making fun of her and telling her she was 'full of shit.'
After I had come in and seen LRN's new haircut. I was trying to compliment her and HW and TF for cutting it, but everyone seemed to be ignoring me. I kept hearing a door slam and then someone pounding the door. I figured it was HJ because she's done that before - but only when she's angry. I wondered why she was angry now.
Later KLee was in my room waxing while I was sewing my costume. Then NH and YM came in and said that every single girl in the dorm was mad at us, especially me. I was like "Why the hell are they mad at me?" 
Someone called a girl's meeting. There in the hallway I saw HJ and asked her what the hell was going on. She said something like "You tell me. You MoFos have a lot of explaining to do!" Then she said we should go into the lounge because there would be more room for "ass kicking." Everyone sat own on the couches or floor around me and only HJ and I were standing. 
She stood, facing me, but behind a couch. She began screaming at me that I was a fake bitch who was  talking shit about everyone. Every other word was fuck. I found myself shaking, trying to defend myself, cussing just as much as her. Eventually everyone was trying to out scream each other.
Finally YM calmed things down and HJ stopped screaming. They were trying to get me to confess to saying things that I hadn't, and blaming me for every single rumor and thing the faculty had found out. They kept verbally attacking me and finally I thought that by apologizing, everything would stop. I apologized for everything I HAD said and for everything that they thought I had said. Then I asked them to help me change.
I thought that would have been enough. But no. They proceeded to attack me, Lani, and even NH for the next half an hour. During that time RF ran out crying, NH and TF almost got into a physical fight, and HJ told me that my mom had been telling her about the 'problems I had.' Finally Lani got fed up, started crying again and left.  I could see that the meeting was going nowhere, so I went to follow Lani. As I left, I heard NF say, "Where are they going? Why the hell do they think they can leave?"As if she wasn't satisfied yet and wanted to dish out more. 

I found Lani in the stairwell, crying. I sat down next to her, held her, and cried with her. We both wanted to die. We hated everyone and everything. We just sobbed for 20 minutes until YM came in to try to talk to us. She was trying to be nice and sympathetic, but I really didn't want to talk to her. I told her that I thought what they had just done was really unfair. Any girl could have been put up there and accused of the same things, if not more so. Worse, I said, they were blaming me for things I didn't say and do.
Then she told me that "rumors were flying" about me and RJ
[Note: Male. Class President. Easily the Most Attractive/Popular boy in school.] and that if I had stayed at the meeting, they would have confronted me about it. I got so mad because I know there is nothing between me and RJ coming from my part. Also I knew NH must have started the rumor out of jealousy. After that I knew I could never trust her, or anyone else at NEA, again. Finally I ended the conversation because I wanted to go upstairs to mom's apt. (The main reason was that I wanted to write an email to "S," but I also wanted to tell mom what had happened.)
At that point it was about 1am and we had to wake mom up by knocking on her locked door. We cried and told her what happened. She got really upset and said that the girls were being lying hypocrites. She ened up blaming the whole thing on herself. 

Tomorrow is our Halloween Party. I really don't want to go, but I may have to. I'm supposed to help out with face painting, but I would rather spend the day at the beach or something. I don't want to hang out with a bunch of people who hate me. By now I'm sure all of the guys know HJ's side of the story and hate me too. But you know what? I really don't care anymore. I could hate every single one of them back. But I don't. I just dont want to be around them for a while. I'm still really hurt and need time to heal. I don't want to stay here anymore, but I  have no place I can go. Now I have truly lost everything.
These people were the only people I felt like I had in the world. But now I know I never had them at all. That they all hated me and thought I was fake. I was totally clueless that they felt that way. I thought they actually liked me.
I was the scapegoat for all of their problems this time, but never again. I will never take responsibility for things that aren't true. I know I wasn't totally at fault in this situation, especially compared to some of the girls accusing me. But when you have 20 girls surrounding you, screaming, cussing and telling you how much they hate you, it makes you take a step back and analyze what you did to cause all of it. And that's what I did - and it made my mom really upset. But I had to look inside of myself and try to figure out what I did wrong. I know I've said some mean things before, but not enough to cause the whole girls' dorm to turn on me...

That's where the entry ends. The next one talks about how RJ came up to me asking to talk after the Halloween party (that I did end up going to, dressed in black with black lipstick natch.). He confronted me about the rumors of "us," saying that HJ had told him she heard the rumor straight from my mouth. The irony of it all, and what I would have never said to his face, was that I hardly gave him the time of day in my thoughts. In the words of my 15 year old self: "We've talked all of three times, and all of a sudden we have Something Going On?!?!" Today I can look back on that exchange and laugh, but at the time and for the culture it was a pretty serious accusation of my having a "Chapter Two" problem. At the time, a rumor like that was a powerful tool to break one's reputation; while it sounds like something out of an Austen novel, it was a very real reality.
I follow up with a statement that "People here are so petty and fake it makes me sick. But it also makes me want to become a better person, and more real."
Frankly I am a little flabbergasted at my little 15-year-old self determining to work harder, be better etc etc after such a traumatic event. But I suppose in a culture that stressed striving for perfection, it was really the only tool I had to cope. While, on one hand, we could exonerate ourselves say that the events stemmed from a very unhealthy culture created by the administration in the school, we instead chose to look at as another reason to try examine our pieces and parts, and to rebuild ourselves the image of the church ideal. To me at 15, to be "more real" meant to try to be more perfect - to strive for an unattainable goal.
The diary ends after the 29th. It doesn't cover my 16th birthday (that fateful day when the headmistress of the school described, in lurid detail OVER MY BIRTHDAY CAKE, the sacred sexual rite that she and her husband had to perform as a part of the Unification Church marriage) the following day.
The next diary, I am sad to say, was burned in one of those symbolic burning ceremonies we did in the church. It was my way of trying to let "S" go and let go of that inner self that was fighting the mind control. These days I really regret burning those words and those memories. I suppose the more that we dig, the more will be uncovered from the proverbial ashes.

<3 ingness to you and thank you for your sharing.


Hell is a dorm room in Bridgeport.

At twenty-six, I'm still grappling with social acceptance. I'm learning that the cliques that existed throughout school have persevered into the adult world. Whether at work, social dancing, or amongst a group of friends there is still a prevailing social hierarchy, and somehow I always would end up the odd man out. No matter how hard I'd try, how casual I'd act, or friendly I'd try to appear, it seemed to me that people could subconsciously read I was not fit for popularity.

During sixth and seventh grade, I had no friends. I sat and ate lunch everyday alone, and was embarrassingly invited to slumber parties at the homes of popular girls by their mothers. Finally, towards the end of 7th grade I made friends with a half-Chinese girl whose obsession with Sailor Moon matched my own. By ninth grade, I began to wonder if people could have a biological inclination towards being a loser.

When my mother left my dad, she took a job being the 'Dorm Mom' (dormitory supervisor) of the boys floor in a Unification Church run boarding school called New Eden Academy, located on the campus of University of Bridgeport. I thought this would be a whole new ballgame; a school full second-generation Moonie kids like me. I was sure to make friends, after all, weren't they just like me?

I anticipated the arrival of my fellow students with anxiety and excitement. Instead of a wave, they trickled in and began filling the dorm rooms like a persistent flood. The tsunami would come in the direction from the pacific islands, as the bad-ass manifestation of my freshman woes arrived on the girls floor. Along with a large posse of the 'cool kids', she and many of the upperclassman went out to the beach of the long island sound near the bandstand. Somewhere, meters above the supposed buried remains of Barnum and Bailey's elephants, they all popped prescription pills and drank until they were trashed. I remember one particular girl being escorted down the hallway by an adult, trudging like a zombie as she stared blankly ahead of her. Instead of taking her to the hospital for the potent mixture of booze and pills, the adults felt it best to put her to bed, and we were discouraged from touching her as she might pass on the evil spirits that inhabited her while being high. 

My sister and I were outsiders from the beginning; as our painted cinderblock bedroom was decorated with warm wood furniture and trinkets brought from our former home in Mesa, while everyone else made due with the brown metal bunk bed sets and school provided desks. Also having a mother working for the school put us on the outside, as we were easiest to suspect of ratting someone out. We were disregarded and disrespected from the start of the year. The boys on the third floor would often break into my mother's apartment with only a credit card to trip the lock, and steal anything of monetary value. The girls paired off into petty groups and arranged themselves into a social hierarchy that was meaningless outside the school.

I continually catapulted myself into the groups of girls who I vied to be friends with. I transformed myself into something I thought they'd like, I began to dress 'hip hop' (via Japan?) and pretend to like r&b music. To this day JaRule and Ashanti remind me of walking down the dingy carpeted hallways of the dorm floor listening to terrible top 100 hits of 2001 being blared on dorm room stereos. I began swearing like a sailor, dishing out attitude to instructors, my mother, and my sister. I'd invite myself into the dorm rooms at night where the girls would gather to gossip. No one escaped ridicule; teachers were slandered, students had their purity questioned, and everyone outside their circle was deemed pathetic. I tried everything to squeeze myself into the inner circle. I made everyone poster-board sized birthday cards with custom illustrations for everyone to sign, I bought mix cds from one of the boys upstairs even though I had Napster on my mother's computer. I'd tag along to basketball games played outside the dorm room in a driveway of 'The Wisteria House', and abandoned Victorian house used for storage across the street. I played musical rooms, moving out of my sister's room into a room with a friend, and into my own room when I thought it would affect my social status.

When I had my own room, I let girls who were having affairs with 'brothers' upstairs use my room for philandering while I waited in the hallway or lounge for them to finish. I even delved down the rabbit hole of becoming an excellent shit-talker, if only I knew how to cover up my tracks. I have a vivid memory of three boys from the school lifting me up out of the lounge couches and bringing me into a spare office room, plopping me infront of the school's pious and polished student president, who proceeded to lecture me on the source of a rumor involving him and my older sister (developed by my jealous half-Korean roommate, and propagated by me.)

I joined the gossip sessions with gusto, hoping to provide some kind of information that would make me seem invaluable. All it did was construct the social gallows in which my sister and I would hang from. The ringleader of all things chaotic on the girls floor nicknamed me 'weasel', because "I had a face like one". While also being a pipeline for school gossip and petty drama, she was also the 'executor' of social justice when it seemed fit.

One night, the air was particularly tense and the girls of our dorm floor called a meeting. My sister and I were summoned to the center of the lounge room where we were accused of a variety of crimes. Despite my sister's intelligence to stay out of the schools drama and to keep to herself, she was accused of using her mystery and feminine wiles to lure our brothers into sin. We were both accused of being the source of all the school's gossip, and that we were plaguing everyone in the school with lies. We were even accused of witchcraft, which later came to play a role in how we found a safe haven from the other girls. The tension escalated to shouting, most of it is a blur to me now because all I remember is the static, noise, and angry faces of the other girls as they outright claimed to hate us. I remember the ringleader throwing her husky limbs in our general direction with threats to get physical. What I don't remember is how it ended. I remember my sister and I hiding in her room, curled up into balls on the floor trying to process the shock. Occasionally, one of the girls would knock on the door to throw in a few last words of hate, disguised as coming to check in on us. Walking the halls and going to class the next day felt like being blacklisted. Everyone ignored us, I remember the only other freshman girl in the school wringing out a smirk on her ugly monkey face, while the French girl shouted at me to 'get over it'.

Outside of each other, my sister and I were only able to salvage two or three friends to keep us company. One day school student who had no real involvement with the drama within the walls, one girl from Alaska who was quiet and reserved, and my former melodramatic half-Korean roommate. As a joke referencing a group of villains from the Sailor Moon comic series (which I was still obsessed with) I nicknamed our group 'The Witches Five' as my sister and I had been accused of. We kept to each other's company when we weren't hidden away in our own rooms. One weekend we went away to my former roommate's home in Westchester, and all dressed up like 'goths'. I don't know if any of us really had any idea what goth culture was like, but I remember trying to wear all black and decorating our faces in blue and black lipstick and hitting up the local pizza joint, trying to look as badass as a bunch of high school cult raised kids can.

Even the funny memories of our year in Bridgeport aren't funny anymore. The slogans the boys upstairs came up with, all said imitating the headmaster's voice; "No Hope for No Eden!" or "Whaddr'you doing?" don't crack a genuine smile on my face, just a grimace.

I've blocked out most my memories of that year, none of the people there made enough of an impression on my life in a positive way except for perpetuating the feelings of loneliness and un-acceptance. When I'd accidentally run into old classmates from the boarding school, we would mutually blank each other or I'd have to endure  their fake warmth and smiles, as if they'd white washed the memory of their faces turning red, screaming slander into my face and decorating me with spittle.

It was there, a brick institution campus squeezed into the middle of the ghetto, that I learned I was like no one. That I didn't belong with the 'outside' kids I'd grown up with, because their culture and 'blood-lineage' was so different from my own. Amongst the Moonie kids I was just as alien, as we were apparently weird beyond their spectrum of acceptance. We were like dirty gypsy kids who would continue to be moved around, never allowing to put down roots or to develop acceptance of our own.

To this day I avoid contact with any of the people I knew from Bridgeport, it's a can of worms I'm not willing to open. After all, twelve years later I should be 'over it' by now, but instead I've chosen to white them all out in my mind. However, I can't deny it formulated me into a person that is wary of others and unable to cope with the staggering loneliness that plagues me when I know I'll never fully be accepted amongst others.

I still think Bridgeport is a shithole.