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Getting Mike: Part Three

A.V. Walters

Mike sign

We are all, each of us, a bundle of talents and deficits. My sweet Rick would be the first to agree; he is continually amazed that a highly functional, over-educated adult, like me, cannot tell left from right, or measure anything with accuracy. The trick is, that for most of us, we focus on the talents we possess.

We completely fail at this when the object of our attention becomes a diagnosis, and not a person. A diagnosis can be an opportunity, or an excuse, depending upon how one wields it. In essence, a diagnosis regarding mental capacity gives us information about the nature (and maybe cause) of a deficit. It’s what we do with that information that matters.

A couple of decades ago, I worked as a coordinator for an Adult Literacy Program. We banged our heads against this very phenomenon, repeatedly. Students and tutors would blame their failures on learning disabilities diagnosed when the students were children, instead of looking for the work-around. Despite the educational failures of the past, we found that many of our students were highly motivated and, with individualized instructions, were able progress beyond everyone’s expectations. All too often, the diagnosis of a learning disability had quickly become the operative reality—an excuse for failure instead of a challenge for success.

I have mentioned in this series that my Uncle Mike was shortchanged by the educational system. He had speech impediments that, unrecognized and unaddressed, led teachers to believe that he was language impaired and uneducable. A second chance in his late teens gave him speech therapy—and language. Not that Mike doesn’t have deficits but, armed with language, he presented a whole new package. Mike moved away before I was an adult, so I didn’t have much opportunity to get to know the “new” Mike, the one who could talk, until many years later.

Mike is highly literate. (His keen vision and ability to quickly read signs from a distance were a godsend while traveling with him, across the country.) He reads newspapers and follows current events. He is just as opinionated and informed as the rest of the family—which is saying a lot. He is funny and, in particular, gets situational humor. He has a great memory. But, because his speech is not perfect, many expect him to exhibit lower levels of performance. Mike hides behind these low expectations and, even if it means that he’s misjudged, never puts himself in a position where he will disappoint. Surely, sometimes he fails to “connect the dots,” but I never know if it’s capacity, or training. Mike has spent a lifetime fulfilling his diagnoses.

Not that there aren’t deficits. He has great difficulty measuring the motivations of others. Perhaps an early life without language meant that he could hide behind my grandmother’s skirts, and let her do the coping for him. This is especially true when, all too often, in his human interactions he was the victim of bullying and abuse. He doesn’t get arithmetic at all—and is at a total loss with budgeting and money. Beyond that, I’ve decided to judge Mike’s skills by first-hand experience, rather than by maligned expectations.

A decade ago Mike and I worked together to set him up in his first apartment. He was thrilled with it, with its humble furnishings and independence. We bought him a modular desk, (IKEA style) that required assembly. I took the lead—never pausing to read the directions. Mike and I chatted as I worked. About half way through, Mike expressed his reservations, “Alta, I don’t think that will work.” I was tempted to press on, but Mike got up off the couch and showed me that part of my assembly was backwards! (Did I mention that spatial skills are not my strong suit?) We both laughed so hard, we cried, and then finished the project, together.

Similarly, as we approached the end of our travels, I took a back road shortcut, up a steep hill in Hancock. It’s a winding road—I know it well and I took it at a good clip. We were nearly to the top when Mike cautiously inquired, “Is this a one-way street?” It was, and he was right to question what would have been reckless in two-way traffic. Mike gets it. We have to do a better job of “getting” Mike.

The point is, Mike has a far greater understanding about what goes on around him than we give him credit for. His homecoming can be a new beginning, for all of us. We can plan for successes, instead of failures, while providing safe opportunities for success. There are many wonderful possibilities here. Mike is a little intimidated by his return to real winters—but once his health is recovered, I think he will enjoy snow and season. Already, he is recounting childhood memories of winter in a favorable light.

There are decided advantages to small town living. My hometown, Copper Harbor, has about one hundred, year-round residents. Already, I am impressed with the welcome. Family members and friends are pulling together to outfit Mike with clothing and necessities for winter living. All of us are making plans for fun and community engagement as soon as Mike is on his feet. This is a seasonal town, if he wants, there are opportunities for work in the summer. My sister told the owners of a local resort that Mike was coming, and when we rolled into town, he was welcomed home, on their marquis! It brought tears to my eyes, and a ready smile to Mike’s face. Finally, we know that he is safe and loved. Finally, Mike has come home.

 

 

 

 

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Asking For It? A.V. Walters–

Billy and I were assigned for the same two days off, a near miracle in our heavy summer schedule at the restaurant where we both worked. We planned it all, hiking and fishing, evenings with friends. Since I had pulled the late shift for our “Friday,” we agreed to meet at his place after I finished. He lived in a little studio in the upstairs of his sister’s summer cottage. I arrived just after our 9:30 meeting time but there was nobody there. I waited outside on the porch for a while, but the mosquitoes were biting. The short sleeves of my little German dirndl waitress outfit, didn’t offer much protection in the cooling summer evening, so I let myself in and went upstairs.

His room was sparsely furnished, a daybed that served both as a sofa and for sleeping, an end table with a alarm clock and a small table with a couple of chairs. I sat down at the table to wait. After about twenty minutes of clock watching, I got up and flipped through the books on his end table. I selected an anthology of sci-fi short stories and settled onto the daybed to read. After a couple of chapters, I dozed.

I heard him stumbling up the stairs, and could smell him, even before I opened my eyes. He was wildly drunk. Even from across the room I couldn’t avoid the rank stench of sweat and stale beer. I glanced at the alarm-clock, radium hands glowed just past midnight. Billy flipped on the light and I flinched in the glare.

“Hey babe, there you are,” he slurred. “Been looking for ya.”

I’m right where I said I’d be. I guess you’ve been at the bar.” I was peeved, and my voice didn’t hide it.

“Aw, don’t be mad. It’s our weekend. Time to party.” He came over and sat next to me on the daybed. He didn’t smell any better close up.

“Jesus, Billy, what the hell have you been drinking? You smell like a brewery.”

“Beer and shots—I kept winning rounds at the pool table…” He stooped to kiss me, but I pushed him back, mostly because his breath was so rank. “Don’t be a party-pooper, it’s our weekend.”

“Jeez. Go brush your teeth.”

He swung his leg over me, straddling me. He leaned towards me and blew in my face, laughing. I turned my face away, nearly gagging, and put my hand up to ward him off. He slapped my hand away and resumed blowing. In no mood for his antics, I put my hand up again to deflect his breath. Rougher this time, Billy grabbed my arm and pinned it under his knee. He leaned right up to my face and huffed his stale breath my way.

“Billy!” I pushed him with my free hand, “Stop it.”

He laughed again, “Ya gonna make me?” He pushed his face into mine for a long slobbering kiss. Even with my face turned I couldn’t avoid it. Billy outweighed me by forty pounds and was a lot stronger. He grabbed my free hand and held it against the bed frame above my head. With his other hand, he grabbed my chin and pulled my face straight, then kissed me again, this time with his tongue in my mouth. I jerked my face free, gasping and he laughed.

He let go of my face and started rubbing his hand on my breast, “I missed you tonight.”

“Billy, stop, just stop.”

“We got big plans for the weekend, remember?” He unbuttoned and then unzipped his jeans, reaching in and stroking himself. He leaned over for another kiss, but again, I turned my head.

“Billy, let me go. You’re drunk.”

“Not too drunk. You’ll see.” He leaned in for another kiss. I felt his weight shift and squirmed, trying to throw him off of me.

Light flashed across my closed eye, as my cheekbone and brow exploded in pain. I screamed and opened my eyes to see him pull his fist back for another blow. I tried to roll my head out of its path, but his fist found my jaw. Pinned in, there was nothing I could do. This was going to happen. The third punch convinced me. It split my lip over my incisor. I was no match and he was just going to batter me into submission. I went completely limp—but took one final blow before he had registered my surrender.

“That’s a girl, there we go.” He pulled the skirt of my uniform up over my face and wrenched my panties to my knees. He wrestled me into position and took what he wanted. I stayed limp and unresponsive.

When the grunting and heavy breathing were over, he started giggling. “Where are you?” as he pulled the skirt down off my face. “There’s my girl. Not so bad, after all.” He kissed me and stroked my hair. I retched. Billy leaned his head in the crook of my shoulder and rocked. “There, there.” Soon, he relaxed and his full weight settled on me as he started to snore.

After several attempts to push him off, I rolled him towards the wall and extracted myself from under him. He never woke up. Shaking, I straightened my clothing and stole down the steps and out into the night. It was only a couple of blocks home.

I stayed up all night, icing my face and pondering what to do over cups of hot tea. I never wanted to see Billy again. I was clear on what had happened, and who was wrong. The only question was whether I should go to the police. I weighed the evidence. We were boyfriend and girlfriend. We’d had sex before. It happened in his studio, where I’d gone willingly to meet him. He was drunk. Neither of us was “local” and with the summer season winding down, we were both about to leave town. The only evidence of a crime was my swollen and bruised face. I knew it was my word against his, and that they’d never pursue charges.

At dawn, I showered and dressed for hiking. I didn’t want to be around when Billy came for the rest of “our weekend together.” I stayed away that day, and most of the rest. If I wasn’t going to press charges, I wanted away. I wanted peace. I didn’t want anyone to know. I was afraid that if my father discovered what had happened, he might kill Billy.

At the end of that second day, I covered my bruises with make-up and went down to the restaurant to quit. I kept my eyes down, the swollen side turned away, “I’ve decided to head downstate early, to get ready for school.”

The owner shook her head. “You know, we were kind of counting on you to work through color.”

“I’m sorry. I’m a transfer student this year. I think I need to get my bearings.”

She eyed me and put her hand on my forearm, “You know, we could just fire him.”

My eyes filled with tears and I waved my hands, “No, no, I’ve just got to leave, got to get out of here.” She nodded and I left.

From the moment the first blow landed, I knew that Billy was a monster. Drinking may have clouded his judgment, but it didn’t change who he was and what he could do. I never questioned myself. It was so clear whose fault it was, that I was relieved of any guilt or self-doubt. It wasn’t about me. I was lucky to get away. Mostly I felt unscathed by it. I didn’t dwell on it; I didn’t talk about it. It didn’t interfere with my sense of personal safety, or factor into my relationships. For almost two decades, I never even said the word out loud—raped. I knew that by most measures I was lucky that I didn’t carry baggage over it. That was, until June, when George Will wrote that column.

In his infinite wisdom, George Will criticized government actions to make college campuses safer. He opined that rape-victimhood had become a coveted status that confers privileges. How dare he? He, who has the ear of the nation, but knows nothing of the facts, how dare he malign the victims of rape? I am not a violent person. I’m not one given to the solace of revenge, but on that day in June, I desperately wanted someone to do to George Will what Billy had done to me. Rape is not a club. It’s not a coveted status on campus, or anywhere else.

We have a rape culture in this country, one that favors the perpetrators of the crime. It’s evident in the pointed questions that arise after a rape is reported— Was she drinking? What was she wearing? What was she thinking? Did she lead him on? Well, what did she expect? Blame the victim—Boys will be boys, after all. I guess she just changed her mind about having sex with him. She’s only trying to ruin his reputation. She’s just looking for attention.

No, you assholes. Given how victims are treated, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that most rapes remain unreported. Victims do the math, like I did, and know that the game is rigged against them. All you have to do is watch the news to know it’s easier, and less painful, to let it go. (Why would anyone want to be violated, twice?) I left town.

If I have any guilt, it’s survivor guilt. He got away with it. Did Billy go on to assault other women? Would a conviction have made a difference? I’ll never know. He was so drunk, I don’t even know if Billy knows that he’d raped me. I do know that nothing will change until the culture changes. We need a culture of respect and affirmative consent. We need to teach young men responsibility for their actions. I don’t laugh at rape jokes—but I see them telling them on the news.

It’s been nearly four decades, why bring it up now? Because nothing has changed! Yes, George back-pedaled later, admitting that he thinks recovery services are appropriate in cases of “real” rape. And we’re regaled by politicians and pundits who make exceptions for “legitimate” rape—in terms of victims’ rights. How is that helpful? Of course, any rape allegation will be challenged and have to be proven in court. It’s clear that the victims of sexual assault will be subjected to the same pre-screening, prosecutorial gauntlet that has always existed, and that prevents so many from speaking up. What exactly was the lesson of Steubenville?

So, yes, when more than one victim speaks up, it empowers others—not because their claims aren’t legitimate, but because victims have no expectation that their lone voices will be heard. So I add my voice in hopes that when our numbers are realized, society will be forced to rethink the gauntlet.

Meanwhile, the media idiots on Fox, in particular, are lining up to reinforce the women-hating status quo. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand it from men, who have mothers, wives, sisters and daughters, and still feel it’s simply about sex, about titillation and about keeping score. It’s not. It’s a depraved, violent crime against women. It’s about power and control and entitlement.

And, I certainly don’t understand the women who spew the same victim-blaming blather—and I mean you, Ann Coulter, you and your ilk. Go ahead, line right up with the rape apologists and media whores. You must live in a magic bubble where you’ve never had to deal with the unwelcome advances of men. You help to create the atmosphere of denial that lets men believe they’re not responsible. I guess we’ll all take comfort in knowing that if you’re ever confronted by a rapist, you must have asked for it and, if you have the gall to report it, you’re just looking for attention.

Good Night and Good Luck—

A.V. Walters—

There was a time when I recognized the gentle, diplomatic art of compromise, back when pragmatism seemed like a viable solution to the tensions inherent in any reasonable system. No longer. I’m afraid that, despite the fact that I’ve been unable to rid myself of this vestigial appendage, I’ve come to see reasonable as ridiculous.

You’d have to be naïve or foolhardy to think it was a rational strategy in today’s political environment. Compromise requires a willingness on both sides to surrender some, in exchange for the common good. It requires a measure of good faith, both in the negotiations and in the articulation of each side’s stated starting point. Good luck with that.

Civility is dead. And, it took any chance of an honest broker with it. We have entered the era of the stubborn stalemate, the sneak attack and the tantrum divide. We have become ungovernable.

The symptoms are unmistakable: Rogue Police Departments demanding apologies from Sports Figures, when the latter have deigned to speak truthiness; Law Schools dropping the instruction of rape laws, because it’s too sensitive; Corporations equating any criticism for their policies with Naziism; torture apologists threatening us with what the world would be without the use of their questionable talents; and, of course, the end of The Colbert Report, only in part, because extremism is so ubiquitous as to not be noticeably funny anymore.

Liberals stand, scratching their heads, impotent in negotiations because they foolishly started out with (OMG) the facts. There is no middle anymore. The raging tantrum of extreme politics has, in the name of compromise, pulled us so far to the wacko-right that the balance is forever skewed. I am at a loss for how we find the road back to civility and balance. I’m afraid that the distraction factor is the point, and that nobody is actually interested in governance anymore.

It’s too bad. Serious issues need to be addressed—Climate change; contamination of our food and water supply, the failure to address the peacetime nuclear threats of waste and operations, our disappearing civil rights. All of this stems from the death of our democratic ideals under the erosive influence of corporate money and its undermining disenfranchisement. In the wake of the collapse of our attention spans, corporations do what they will. I don’t know what to do about it. Help me here—I’m looking for a place to start.