Lost Imaginations

Read. Write. Rest.

Dear Susan: Mr. Moral

Hey Susan,
I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but these classes have been pretty draining. I drive by your office (at least where your office used to be) on Mondays and Tuesdays on my way to class. Each time I think about how I made the trek across the city once a week to sit in your office and try to feel better. To not hate myself. I still need some support and this seems like the best way to keep in contact with you, whether you’re here or not.
A lot has been going through my mind these last few months. Things I’ve wanted to talk about with you, but kept pushing it to the back burner. Hopefully, we get a chance to discuss all of them before the end of the year.
First, I’ve wanted to talk to you about Kendrick’s latest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. I know you’re probably wondering who Kendrick is (with yo old ass). Kendrick Lamar is a West Coast rapper. He’s probably not your style of music. You definitely seem to be more of a Fleetwood Mac sort of girl. Lol. Just messing with you.
Anyway, in this album, Kendrick talks about sexual abuse of males, breaking the cycle of abuse, and being viewed as a savior. He begins to address the sexual abuse of males and breaking the cycle of abuse in his song, “Mr. Morale.” He raps in the chorus:
 
Shit on my mind and it’s heavy
Tell you in pieces ‘cause it’s way too heavy
My diamonds, the choker it’s way too heavy
More life to give on demand, are you ready?
Who keep ‘em honest like us?
Who gotta heal ‘em all? Us (Us)
When there’s no one to call
 
I’ve often felt this sense of grandiosity that Kendrick is describing here. It seems he is saying, he’s begun the healing process and has gathered a lot of information about what is needed to break the cycle, but feels the pressure of feeling as though he has to save those around him; his loved ones, his culture, his race. It’s a heavy burden, but it’s one I can relate to. It’s the definition of man vs. society. It’s a heavy lift that can drive any person crazy, but he attempts to heal himself and give information to others the only way he knows how; through his music. I’m sure it still does not feel like enough for him, because as a teacher and other it doesn’t feel like enough for me. It’s like yelling at a mountain to move while the ocean continues to rise, drowning you one millimeter at a time. It can be maddening.
He goes on to state, “Tyler Perry, the face of a thousand rappers, using violence to cover what really happened, I know somebody’s listening.” Tyler Perry was sexually abuse and assaulted as a kid and he has often talked about it, but what’s interesting is that Kendrick is saying the music industry is filled with male survivors who don’t / can’t / won’t talk about their abuse. All of them covering up their trauma in culturally acceptable ways of what it means to be a “real” black man. This means hurt those who hurt you, have a lot of sex, and embody what it means to be a purely sexual object rather than an individual who has the ability to be an intellectual, father, and so much more than the box they have been forced into.
These stereotypes are what kept me from getting the help I needed for so long. I didn’t need therapy or medication because I was stronger than that. I didn’t need to talk about my depression because who would listen anyway? And why talk about the sexual abuse when I spent the majority of my time telling myself it didn’t happen. All the while I questioned when did I lose my virginity and whether or not I was going to hell for having my virginity taken. Other black male survivors have been made to believe that having their virginity taken by an older woman is what makes you man and good at it later on. All of it makes me see how impossible it is to change the idea of male sexual abuse, assault, and rape.
Anyway, there was more I wanted to say about another song, but we’ll have to save that for next time. I have to plan this lesson for my students. We’ll talk more later.
 
Kenny

Dear Susan (She-Hulk Episiode 4 Sexual Abuse)

Hey Susan,
            It’s been busy. Like, too busy, but not overwhelmingly busy. Actually, I take that back. Most definitely overwhelmingly busy, but that’s life, you know. If I don’t get it all done the world won’t end. I’ve seen when the world ends, multiple times, and the world still doesn’t end, you know. Even if the world ends the universe continues to expand. And if it all retracts into the Big Crunch, or it all comes to a screeching halt in the Big Freeze, then – well, who cares? Life will find a way.
            Anyway, have you been watching She-Hulk: Attorney at Law? I know you haven’t but it’s rude not to ask. I know you’re more of a Batman kind of girl. The reason I ask is because the fourth episode was really interesting. Well, Jennifer Walters, is trying to get a date. She creates an on-line dating profile and goes on one date with a guy who is completely narcistic. He looks at his phone she talks about her job as a lawyer, doesn’t acknowledge her when she states that she is She-Hulk, and makes her foot the bill. Finally, when she realizes she is not going to get any attention on her dating profile, she creates a profile as She-Hulk and suddenly is getting a lot of attention. The only problem is, all the guys she dates as She-Hulk are the same as the guy she went on a date with as Jennifer Walters. They are not as narcissistic, but they don’t care about having an honest conversation let alone an honest relationship. One wants to know how much she can bench press, another just wants to know about her powers. None of them want to get to know her, except one, Arthur.
            Arthur is a doctor who is attractive, attentive, kind, super buff, and honest. Everything she is looking for in a man. They hit it off so much they head back to Jen’s place to get more “comfortable.” While they are talking, Arthur accidentally spills some wine on his shirt, gets up to clean off the couch, and She-Hulk hides his shirt, making him continue the conversation in his tank-top. Unfortunately, she is called to go handle a demon problem with Wong (it’s better if you just watch the episode if you’re looking to understand the plot) and has to leave. When she returns, Arthur is reading a book about feminism on her couch. She drops down on top of him and without asking picks him up and carries him into the bedroom like a baby.
            The real kicker is when he wakes up the next morning, She-Hulk is gone. There is only Jen Walters, a person he has never met before that moment telling him that they had sex the previous night. She asks if he wants to stay and Arthur immediately leaves.
            What I found interesting about the episode is that Jenn treats Arthur the same way the narcissistic men treat her. She lies about who she is in order to get him into bed. She does not portray her true self, or let him know that she is also another person before having an intimate relationship with him. And when she reveals her true self after lying to get him into bed, he leaves and she is surprised and disappointed. I hesitate to say that this is an example of sexual abuse, but it’s damn near close. And it’s only Disney+! If this is the way sexual abuse is portrayed throughout society then we have a long way to go. And if we have this long of a way to go then what impact am I going to have on the conversation?
            Maybe this was intentional. Maybe the writers intentionally wanted to portray this scene in this way so that other would have this conversation. Maybe…right…. Maybe?

Dear Susan

Dear Susan,
Today did not go as planned. You remember those panic attacks I used to have early in the morning? Well, they’re back. I mean, not like they were early on, but I’m getting the shakes a bit in the morning from the anxiety of having to get up and do work that I don’t want to do, or don’t feel like doing right then. You know how I’m used to getting up early to either write, do school work, or workout. I’ve always been an early bird, but lately, I’ve just been so tired, you know? Before, I used to want to sleep just to push away the day, but now I come home and just want to take a nap. I guess that’s what it means to get old like you. Joking. But not really.
            I ended up not getting up at 4am like I used to. Sarah says I probably need to change my schedule and she’s probably right.
            It was raining and we got out the door late, but the difficult part day was when I got the email back about my classes. Nothing seems to be going right, you know. I thought I could take classes to become a psychologist and still teach, but now I’m having second thoughts. I mean, who am I trying to change what I am. The time of the classes doesn’t work out, I’ll fail if I’m late too many times, my schedule at school can’t change, and no one can cover my last period class every Monday. Yeah, they said they can switch me to a different class, but what about next semester? I know I’m fortune telling, but how is this going to work out. AND THEN eventually I’m going to have to miss an entire day of school for an internship, and then end up out of the classroom altogether for a semester? How is that going to work out? I know how you feel about education so I know what you’re going to say. Forget em.
            I don’t know, Susan. I feel pretty worthless and overwhelmed. Like I’m trying to do too much. New school, classes, writing, father, husband, and now probably helping with speech and debate. What am I doing?

Leaving My Paradise Island (Excerpt from How to Save Your Inner Wonder Woman)

Leaving My Paradise Island (Autobiographical) [Excerpt from How to Save Your Inner Wonder Woman]

“They say I have been so many things to them I never meant to be. But I am grateful all the same.”

Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman #750, “To Me” (2020)

Journaling has always been a part of my healing process. As a child, I consistently wrote about my thoughts on love, relationships, life, and trauma. Writing has always provided me an escape toward understanding myself and others. This first autobiographical chapter explains my exit from the Paradise Island of my childhood and the creation of my trauma mastery in an attempt to cope with the adverse childhood experience of my childhood sexual abuse. This chapter also includes the thoughts of my wife, Sarah, as she helped guide me toward the path of healing rather than coping with the trauma of my childhood trauma in adverse ways. This is done to help caregivers and survivors know that healing cannot be accomplished alone. Without Sarah’s guidance, this book (and all the others) would never have been written. She explains how, similar to Wonder Woman, she answered the call to help me battle my demons, leaving her Paradise Island to become my Wonder Woman.

Kenny

I am a male survivor of childhood sexual abuse. At eight years old, I was sexually assaulted by my thirteen-year-old sister. For two years, while my parents believed I was being babysat while they went to work, or spent time with one another, friends, and family, I was being groomed through the use of pornographic videos and raped in the basement of our home. In my memoir,
Raped Black Male, I explain how for two years the sexual assault continued, until one day, after church, she told me, “We can’t do that anymore. It never happened, and if you tell anyone, you’ll get in trouble.” Afterward, I was confused, angry, and lived in a constant state of fear. For over twenty years of my life, I kept this secret hidden away and worked at building an armor of protection in the form of perfectionism, hypervigilance, workaholism, and humor in an attempt to feel safe.

On the outside, I lived under the façade of perfection. On the inside, I felt like anything but a hero as I battled anxiety and depression while attending Peoria High School, college at Bowling Green State University, and into my career as a secondary educator in Baltimore, Maryland.

After marrying Sarah and moving to Baltimore, the trauma of being raped as a child began to take its toll on my mental health. I remember morning panic attacks that would leave me incapacitated on the floor of the bathroom of our two-bedroom apartment, crying and repeating, “I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.” Sarah would hold me in her arms, attempting to stop my body from violently shaking. Those mornings, I would force myself to put on dress pants, a button-up shirt, tie, dress shoes, and walk out the door to teach at-risk boys and girls who looked like me.

At the time, there were numerous reasons to not give up as a secondary educator. Although the job was difficult, I believed it was my responsibility as a husband for my newly formed family of choice to stick it out, no matter how difficult it was to work. Second, as a male teacher of color who suffered from the effects of an adverse childhood, I knew the high stakes of my job. I knew there was a necessity to be at school every day with an engaging lesson and a safe learning environment, because for most of my students, school was the only respite they had from a society that viewed them as an adult when they were only an eighth-grade student. School was their opportunity to eat a (usually) healthy breakfast and lunch. It also provided students with the opportunity to succeed, fail, and act with the carefree nature that should be the right of every child, rather than the responsibility of being the man of the house. These thoughts are what developed my attempt to master my own childhood trauma.

At the end of the workday, I would return home exhausted but also relaxed, knowing that for at least a few hours, the pressure of needing to perform the role of a man who had it all together could be locked away until the new day. At the time, I was in denial of my poor mental health and panic attacks from the previous morning. Sarah would attempt to coax me into discussing the severity of the previous morning, but I would refuse, claiming, “Everything’s fine. I’m fine.” Instead of discussing my emotions, I would visit the gym to relieve accumulated stress and anxiety. The lifting of weights and running on the treadmill would succeed in making me numb until the next morning when the cycle began again.
This was the cycle for the better part of the first years of our marriage. Over time, Sarah began insisting I visit a therapist. Rather than agree, I insisted we did not have enough time or money. To calm her down, I would say, “I’ll find one over the summer, I promise.” A promise that was never fulfilled, because with the heat of summer came the relaxation every teacher strives to reach throughout the haze of standardized tests, SLO’s, lesson plans, and parent-teacher conferences. For three months, the panic attacks would subside. The necessity of needing to relieve accumulated anxiety through the incessant running of miles on the treadmill would be no more, making the need for a therapist obsolete—that is, until the approach of September and the beginning of a new academic year.

For three years, I lived in a state of denial, perfection, hypervigilance, and workaholism that placed more strain than necessary on our marriage, causing my mental health to decline until it completely collapsed shortly after the purchase of our first home, the completion of my master’s degree in education from Johns Hopkins University, and the birth of my daughter, Mirus.

As a child, I was sexually assaulted by my sister from the age of eight until I was ten, the victim of the domestic abuse and alcoholism of my father, and homeless following the foreclosure of my childhood home, all before the age of eighteen. Since then, I lived in a state of fear, coping with my childhood trauma rather than healing from it. This is because healing cannot take place in an unsafe environment. The uncertainty of my future as a college student and young adult caused me to exhaust my energy while attempting to survive. However, in 2013, that all changed. The purchase of our first home and a career that provided a livable salary made it possible to address the adverse childhood experiences of my past, and Mirus ensured I no longer lived in a state of denial.

With Mirus’s birth, there was no longer time available to spend hours in the gym numbing my emotions, afternoons lying in bed battling depression, or mornings on the bathroom floor battling severe anxiety about the unpredictability of teaching a new unit to loving (but very difficult) class of teenagers. Mirus needed to be fed, changed, bathed, rocked to sleep, entertained, and loved. Sarah, who is also an educator, had her own lessons to teach on top of the responsibilities of being a mother. Placing more pressure on our marriage due to my trauma and mental illness was not an option, but rather than talk about my emotions and seek help from a therapist, I suffered a mental breakdown.

Severe depression and thoughts of suicide left me unable to get out of bed. Unable to be ignored any longer, Sarah’s support guided me towards finding a therapist, getting on medication, and beginning the process of healing from my childhood sexual abuse. Over the years, I have learned to communicate with Sarah about how I am feeling, and we both are better at communicating with the other about what we need. We learned to lean on one another following the loss of her younger brother, TJ; the passing of our son, Cassus; the infection of the pericardial sack around my heart resulting in a viral heart infection; and stress-filled work environments leading to anxiety, burnout, and compassion fatigue. This guide is meant to help people like my wife and Susan Todd, my therapist, who are the wonder women in the lives of so many others who are battling to recover from the traumas of their past. I hope they find the support needed to take care of themselves while also helping others to heal and grow.

Winning the Rat Race

How to Slow Your Inner Flash addresses the need for many survivors to become rat racers. Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D, explain in his book Happier how a rat racer lives life in hope of being happy in the future. This is a form of workaholism in which the survivor strives to achieve the next promotion, or big raise in hope of finally being successful. Ben-Shahar explains how as a society we are taught as children to delay gratification in hopes of achieving success in the future. The only problem is that success does not equate to happiness. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse sometimes become rat racers in hopes of ridding themselves of the shame felt following their childhood assault in hopes that their extrinsic success will create an intrinsic selflove. Unfortunately, beginning the process of healing from childhood trauma is the only method to create lasting change. These thoughts of overcoming workaholism, childhood trauma, and striving to win the rat race made me think of the short story “Race” written and published in my book of short stories, Thoughts in Italics in 2008. At the time I had not begun my journey of healing. Instead, I attempted to cope with my own childhood trauma through the use of creative writing inspired by episodes of The Twilight Zone and stories written by my favorite author, Ray Bradbury. It’s still one of my favorite pass times. Below is the story. I hope you enjoy.

Race

The race begins and all that is seen is a puff of smoke. In that half of an instant the silence that was once unheard throughout the field a few seconds ago was now echoing with cheers and yells of encouragement. A thunder of hundreds upon hundreds of feet hit the now shaking green grass. The field is limitless and extends into a very distant sunrise. Hills and curves can be seen along with a line of self proclaimed diehard fans who’s yells reach and shake the heavens causing and raising hell. The runners have no idea how long the race will last or why they are running it, but none the less they still race.

The runners begin the race.

In the beginning a few fall and stay down as others pass them by. Out of these few fallen runners at the starting line few get back up. Those that don’t are left on the field to watch and wonder what could have been. To wonder if the circumstances were different if they would have finished or even won the competition. In the end they are left with their thoughts and a conscience full of what ifs.

Many sprint off and try to take the lead. A few, a very few, out run the pack and get some distance on their competitors. As these few sprint towards the rising sun the crowd see their spotless running shoes, and never before run in uniform and know they cannot, will not, be stopped. At least so they think.

They forget this is a race and no one, except God, can predict the outcome.

The crowd loves these few exceptional human beings and yell louder with more passion, and in turn pushed the rest of the pack to try and catch up to these imaginary titans so they can gain the same glory, attention, and respect as the runners ahead of them.

Soon the masses of sweating flesh, beating hearts, exhausted legs and lungs get far enough away from the starting line to stay, and feel, they have begun the race.

The last few that lag behind receive little to no encouragement, but still they push on.

The race continues and runners continue to run.

In the beginning the course is clearly marked and the crowd is still thick along the side lines yelling and cheering. The competitors know where to go, and how to get there, but as days go by the crowds begin to thin out until there are only a few spectators still on course.

The race continues and runners continue to run.

Spirits become tired and many want to stop, and a few do. Some fall from exhausting themselves in the beginning of the race and not having anything left to keep their feet moving across the grass and soil beneath their feet. A few fall back and retain the positions they originally had, but the categorizing of people is no longer so easy to determine. The line of runners stretch back for miles with, in most cases, large and numerous gaps, and the leader of the pack often alternated with no definite winner in sight.

The runners felt the constant green carpet underneath their rubber soles with metal spikes and saw it extend in front of them for, as much as they could guess, for an eternity. Coming to the crest of every hill was the hope that the finish line could be seen somewhere, anywhere, in the distance.

With each hill came new hope and disappointment with the realization that the only thing to look forward to was more land and the fact of knowing they had to keep looking and moving forward. Legs became lead, arms became Jell-O, lungs became fire, and spirits began to fall. The brightness that glowed in all their eyes as dawn broke on that first morning began to fade, and in many were a heartbeat and a stumble away from going completely out.

But still the race continued and runners continued to run.

Some stopped to rest for a moment and never took another step. Some cried for help as they were passed by runner after runner in hopes of a savior that would never come.

People were pushed off the course, to the ground, or tripped by other runners. Many retaliated by committing the same crime, others stayed in the spot where they were done wrong to hate the injustice they were forced to endure, and very few did nothing at all. These few dusted themselves off, found their composure, and began to run again only to be dealt the same underhanded blow time and time again.

Everything imaginable that can be done to hurt another individual was done on that field. Acts of kindness did exist, but they were too exhausting and, in many cases, went unrecognized so were few in number. They just continued to move and push and grind forward without purpose or meaning, but still the race continued.

The cheers and applause of the exuberant crowd were not even a distant echo. Many had forgotten the race still existed, and others simply did not care.

The remaining few runners numbered less than a quarter of the original runners that occupied the starting line so long ago. The weather had changed many times and they had learned to pace themselves in all terrain and in all circumstances. They were tired to the point of death from exhaustion, but they still refused to stop. What drove them now was something more than fame or glory. They did not seek respect and they had stopped looking for the finish line so long ago they had forgotten it even was said to have existed. They sought something else. They did not know what it was, but they felt it and they knew the truth of what it was.

The course had stopped telling them where to go. They followed their own path.

In each one of these few remaining athletes was a look in the eyes that showed years of different landscapes, millions of minutes of thought, and countless seconds of coming to an understanding of a question they did not know the answer to. If you could take one look in their eyes you could understand that they weren’t running to win the race anymore.

They were running to finish it.

The finish line existed wherever it was they stopped and lost hope. This is what beat them. Not the people running around, and next to them. You would see they refused to be beat and to give up was not an option. They would continue to run until the last breath had escaped their lungs and they had strength left to move one more step. They would finish the race.

And the race continued and the runners continued to run.