Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Oscars, #OscarsSoWhite and the Academy’s Real Problem

oscarstoowhiteGrowing up, the world seemed to stop for the Oscars. My mother avidly watched, eyeing the dresses and glamour yet complaining when the speeches ran long. The Academy Awards can be just as big of a business as the movie industry itself, with on average $10 million spent on each best picture campaign coming from a major studio. It creates jobs and fuels our local economy. For Los Angeles, the Oscars are important.

I’m going to offer my full disclosure before I go forward: My life has crossed paths so many times with the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences that I might as well have my own little gold statue. My father helped build technical systems in the Kodak (now Dolby) Theater, home of the Oscars, and worked extensively with the Academy over the years. I have gone to special Academy events with him in the past. A friend of mine worked on the Oscars telecast several years back for ABC. And this year, I worked on campaigns for quite a few films, both independent and studio-based, many of which are currently nominated for Oscars and SAG awards (due to respect, even though I did not sign an nondisclosure agreement, I will not reveal those movies here).

Even before this year, though, my Oscars’ love was extensive. I used to be able to predict the winners so well that I would win almost every Oscar pool I was active in. It was a personal fixation every year, desperately reading the trades and newspapers from December to March before the ceremony switched to February. It was all about looking at the odds, seeing the critics awards and figuring out which films would come out on top. And then there were the movies afterwards — I loved going to see them all. It made me excited to see different pieces of art, whether or not I agreed that they should have won in their respective categories that year.

So it’s with this that I come to the Oscars debate: It is a tale of childhood love and following with dreams and desires of affiliating with the big dance. It’s with love and respect for the Academy and the pure pleasure that comes with watching amazing films. I have loved working the campaigns this year. It was thrilling running around like a madwoman under tight deadlines, working long hours and keeping track of every little detail. It gave me the most amazing sense of career satisfaction that I have ever had.

And yet, even when I was working on the campaigns, I saw the problems. And not just with racism. The problem is much bigger than that.

It started when I worked on a campaign for a best actress contender. Going through the different campaigns from various studios and productions houses, my odds-calculating mind saw a pattern, because I was working on campaigns that also included best actor contenders. I will illustrate the problem with the current best actor nominees:

  • Matt Damon, The Martian: An astronaut trapped in space trying to make his way home.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant: An explorer who gets mauled by a bear, left for dead, and travels to seek revenge.
  • Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs: The name basically says it all. No elaboration required.

Compare these with the women nominated for best actress:

  • Cate Blanchett, Carol: A ’50s housewife hiding a lesbian affair.
  • Brie Larson, Room: A rape victim/mom trying to escape her captor with her son.
  • Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years: A wife questioning her long marriage.

Apparently, we as women don’t get to be recognized for being in space, pioneers, or for doing anything other than being wives and/or mothers. That is, unless we’re big stars (see: Sandra Bullock in Gravity, Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady or even Jennifer Lawrence in this year’s Joy).

And from there, my questioning stemmed out to include other issues. Yes, last year was #OscarsSoWhite, but as I was monitoring the critics’ awards this year, it had to be different. Creed not only made over $100 million but was also a warmly received film that just so happened to have black actors. Will Smith in Concussion should have pulled in a nomination, particularly because he wasn’t actually playing himself in a role for a change. Straight Outta Compton was receiving plenty of end-of-year recognition. And Beasts of No Nation was difficult to watch yet spectacularly filmed, not to mention had a truly extraordinary performance by Idris Elba.

Yet Oscar morning came, and all of them were shut out except for an award here and there, including for Sylvester Stallone, a white actor for Creed. And then I thought back to all the different black actors who were recognized with Oscars by the Academy in recent years: Monique’s poor, drug-addicted mother. Lupita Nyong’o and her plantation slave. Octavia Spencer’s servant. Victims. Helpless. Subservient. Stereotypes. That’s not the limit to African-American stories, or to even to women’s stories. There are millions of them out there, waiting be told.

And you know what? The most interesting part is that, if you really look at the situation, this isn’t the Academy’s fault. In fact, I really do believe they’re doing their best to try to diversify and keep up with the times. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who leads the Academy, and her response to #OscarsSoWhite proves that she’s not exactly happy with it.

Instead, I blame the voters: The 94 percent white, 76 percent male voters that make up the Academy voters block, the majority of which are actors, according to a 2013 study from the Los Angeles Times. Not to mention their average age of around 63. So basically, old white men are trying to judge new, diverse, globally based art. And I’m terribly sorry, but one Latino director isn’t going to solve your problems here.

A recent article from Entertainment Weekly about Straight Outta Compton demonstrates this discrepancy best. It should have been a lock for best picture given its blockbuster status (made over $161 million at the box office, a miracle for an August release) and its critical acclaim (88 percent on Rotten Tomatoes). Yet the reason that it didn’t make it to the big dance was exceedingly simple: The voters didn’t watch it. It was “too young” for them. And given its heavy subject matter, I wouldn’t be surprised if they also didn’t watch Beasts of No Nation. Others can complain that they can’t nominate someone just because they’re black; however, if you opt out of watching those films entirely, you have no excuse.

The problem is the voters of the Academy are out of touch with who Hollywood is now and who their watchers are. Beyond Creed and Straight Out of Compton‘s success, some of the top blockbusters of last year were female focused, from the diversely-cast new Star Wars and the last Hunger Games film to even Oscar nominated Mad Max: Fury Road (my Oscar-oriented mind is still trying to figure out that one, despite the love I have for the film). Yet except for the latter, Oscar recognition is almost nowhere to be found except in technical and less-ballyhooed categories.

For some odd reason, the Academy is holding on to some fantasy of the past in its nominations and glory. This long-lost Hollywood dream even includes Steven Spielberg and his latest film in the nominations. Spielberg, who was once too popcorn-based of a filmmaker to garner wins for his genius work in the 1970s and ‘80s while the Academy was too busy recognizing “legendary” films such as Out of Africa, Terms of Endearment and Driving Miss Daisy. There is a reason that I used to joke that the Oscars might as well be the, “Oops, we f&*ked up” awards. How else do you explain Leonardo DiCaprio not winning an Oscar up until this point?

Yet there’s a bigger problem beyond the Academy’s voters, and it’s a general Hollywood issue. We need to see more diversity both in front and behind the camera. More female directors, black screenwriters, Asian cinematographers and Latino P.A.s, not to mention actors of all shapes, sizes and colors. The Academy rules state that anyone who is nominated for an Oscar immediately qualifies for membership, so therefore it would make sense to put forward diversity in the beginning stages of filming by putting it in your cast and crew. Allow them to break in early, and they will be creating the films of the future and defining Hollywood for years to come. Then the Academy will catch up.

The Oscars, and in turn Hollywood and us as filmgoers, deserve better than this. Idris Elba recently addressed the BBC regarding its issues with television diversity. He stated that that the problem is partially in the beginnings of projects, where casting has been reduced to stereotypes where it’s not a white male and where the imagination has been limited. It’s a statement echoed by Viola Davis, and I agree. It’s the stories we tell that make all the difference, and I’m hopeful to see a change where we see a diverse audience at the Oscars instead of what we have for this year.

If we start addressing the problems when they start as seeds, the trees that grow out of them will be more beautiful than anything we can imagine. And we won’t need hashtags to address all these issues in the years to come.

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Pray

how-to-praySitting in Hebrew school as a gangly pre-teen, I thought I knew exactly how to pray. Swaying my body left and right with its awkward limbs, mouthing the words that I was taught from the pages, reading each and every Hebrew letter with its vowel to guide me to say the words. This is how I was taught to talk to G-d.

I would praise the Lord of the patriarchs in the words I couldn’t always understand, raise my heels off the ground when I would hear the word “kadosh” (holy), bow in every appropriate place I was told to as a child standing in our temple. My eyes would see the words, hearing the tunes in the back of my head that would keep me focused, switch to the English when my Hebrew skills had run out, focused on the worlds that were laid out for me to say.

I knew prayer, or so I thought. When were told to offer our personal prayers between the Hebrew ones by some random rabbi, I would beg for changes in my life. Yet every time when I held a strong desire in my heart and asked it of the Holy One, surrounded by other people swaying in prayer, it would not come to me. From asking for romantic love as a lonely dreaming child to seeking a job as an adult trapped in the cycle of poverty looking to break out, my prayers kept coming forward in different ways with various words. Yet they never getting answered. In turn, prayer made me feel like my life was stuck in quicksand.

What was I doing wrong? Wasn’t I a good Jew, a person of value, who deserved nice things? Why should I pray if it doesn’t do anything?

The surly teenager in me began to reject G-d as G-d seemed to reject me. In my desperate tears, I cried into the wind hoping to find the deity that I was supposed to place my hopes and dreams in, that was supposed to help me in my darkest hours, yet not seeing that ever-powerful force. I questioned every Sunday in front of my religious school teachers, scoffed at my faith-blinded classmates standing in prayer circles on the grass around the flagpole before class, fought my choir teacher as he made us sing Jesus songs while reducing my culture to a token song and mispronunciations. If G-d was really on my side, if G-d wanted me happy, it wouldn’t be like this. I wouldn’t be so angry.

Yet through the clouds of angst, I also saw miracles. Falling into a rapidly rushing river and hearing voices that calmed me and led me to safety, which to this day I can’t explain by practical means. My arrival in Jerusalem for the first time after a harrowing day where I thought I would never see it. Having my breath stolen from me, almost dying, yet somehow living on for years despite it. Studying science in college and great Talmudic scholars and feeling like, with such intricacies existing in every creature and being throughout the world, that I felt like I believed in an almighty being, yet at the same time could respect those who didn’t.

Despite my religious intellectualism, prayer still mystified me. I swayed and bowed in all the places I was told to, and yet didn’t feel its power or understand it at all. I became a more observant Jew, feeling I was following G-d’s will by keeping kosher, being a good wife, try to pray at my in-laws’ Orthodox synagogue through the gossiping women and screaming children behind the barrier that separated men from women. But those dreams that I mouthed as my personal prayers were uttered in my mind didn’t seem to come to pass, and left me stuck in that quagmire once more.

Then came the prayer I would never forget. Under fluorescent orange lights on a freeway at 1 a.m., stalled in construction traffic desperate from the night, I opened up a prayer book and read the traveler’s prayer. Speaking slowly and carefully, my lips said the words of my ancestors who might as well have been heading down to the docks of Spain in 1492 as they sailed to Istanbul, never to return to the place they once called home. I had only one hope in mind as I abandoned mine: G-d, please, keep me safe. Keep me safe, because I don’t know where I’m going right now.

Perhaps that moment should have made prayer clear, but in turning away from my observant past, my hands felt too slick to grasp onto it. Standing and receiving my Jewish divorce in front of Orthodox rabbis who could care less about my pain because of my gender, because it was obviously me who caused the destruction of my marriage as a woman, my soul wanted to desperately deny my faith. Obviously G-d didn’t care about me enough about me to let me have a good marriage, and neither did the children of those who are said to follow the teachings that were laid out in the Torah.

For years I wandered. There were moments where I would pray because it was instinctual, but it wasn’t getting any real results. My mind became more rational, and so my heart turned away from the idea that prayer was going to do anything for me. As the circumstances of my life became direr, it became more in habit rather than an act of love and devotion.

There were baby steps here and there. Finding beauty in celebrating the matriarchs in my words to indulge my feminism. Returning to Israel, lighting candles for healing. Running my fingers along the smooth brick of the Western Wall in Jerusalem and crawling into blue-painted tombs of tzaddiks (holy men/women) in Tzfat. Chasing after subway trains and looking longingly out the windows of buses while Bob Dylan played in my ears. Then there were the people: The friends who sat and listened and who I listened to. Where we confided our secrets in one another. The laughter we made, the songs we sang — it was all a part of just being, and felt purer than prayer somehow.

I would sing often, but would not go to synagogue. I would eat well, but not eat kosher. I would meditate and find beauty and love in each of my interactions, with both my friends and by myself, and in every moment I breathed. But those Hebrew words didn’t do much for me anymore.

Rarely would I attach to anything in faith, but I’ll never forget listening to my spiritual leader as he would speak the words of the sages between his songs. Danny’s eyes would close and his hands rested on his guitar, welcoming everyone into the prayer he created no matter their beliefs. When I told him the truth about my past, as other clergy ran from me, he held me tightly. I wanted to sob in his arms, because even though he was my spiritual guide in prayer, this was more healing.

Meanwhile, my spirituality was tied up on some unusual universal plane that I valued deeply, but my years of rationality got in the way of observance. We could pray, but in my mind there needed to be more action. Prayers didn’t actually fix things, nor did they heal. They didn’t get us what we needed; only working hard and getting out there to hit the ground running would do that. So that’s what I did, and what I’ve done. Prayer became a backburner idea, the thing that blind believers do when they don’t know any better and don’t want to fix the problems themselves.

Then came my mother lying in a hospital bed, weak and unable to open her eyes, sitting in the dark because the light was making her sick. Staring at her helplessly, I was left wondering if this was the moment that the world was finally going to take her away from me. In cases like these, she’s usually very insistent that we don’t tell anyone about what was going on, but my fear left me shaking. Sitting there, I felt like that girl under those orange fluorescent lights all those years ago, desperate and alone. I couldn’t do this by myself anymore. So I did something that isn’t like me at all: I Facebooked and asked for prayers. Now, of all times, prayers were needed.

And before I knew it, there they were. The phone calls, the messages, the people who tried their best to reassure me that I wasn’t alone. It gave me strength, and in turn, it somehow passed on to her. She got better. I got better. And for the first time in my life, I truly understood prayer. It was the world around us that made prayer, the community that loves us. In fact, in Judaism, you can’t say certain prayers unless you’re in a group of 10 people, or a minyan. I never understood it until I was sitting at my mother’s bedside.

To pray doesn’t necessarily mean the words that were given to us and the motions we were told to do. It wasn’t what the world told me all those years ago sitting in religious school Prayer means to shift, to fall into the wind and hope that someone will catch you. It’s not even about G-d; rather, prayer is about us as humans on this earth. We expect some random act of the universe, when in truth it is the people around us who will catch us. Prayer is the reminder that. It’s not miracles and desperation that define prayers; it’s the hope that does. It’s the people who love us that do.

I may not know exactly how to pray. But I do know a thing or two about love, and that’s where it begins to grow.

Four Years Later: The Golden Girl

1935438_10100526411484091_1163281782139100211_nWhen it’s sunny, winter afternoons in Los Angeles seem to take on a luscious golden hue when the skies are clear. I can’t explain how the light turns that molten shade which dances across the gorgeous palm trees and the ocean in anticipation of the oncoming twilight.

During the week, looking out from my office window over Ventura Boulevard while staring out at the hills, I fall in love with this light over and over again. I smile with an ear-to-ear grin, satisfied as if after a delicious meal, full of hope and life.

Four years ago I didn’t smile as much as I do now. There wasn’t as much laughter or contentment in my soul, or time to really notice the subtle differences in the atmosphere. There were just swooping feelings in the stomach about my life, and how it was changing dramatically.

The light didn’t shimmer this way four years ago where I used to live — or maybe it did, but I don’t remember. I just remember black, the darkness of the night. Hiding in my old car making fearful phone calls to my parents and the police. Sitting on the bathroom floor with the lights turned off while his ear was pressed against the door, listening in to my private thoughts to different friends. Sitting awake and watching him sleeping, fearful of drifting off because he had been so out of control I didn’t know what he would do while I was unconscious.

The only light I remember was being perched in my friend’s sitting room on a cushioned leather chair next to the illumination of a Christmas tree, Adele playing softly in the background. There was the smooth baritone on the other end of my phone, who was home from law school for Christmas break. His voice comforted me, slowing my wildly beating heart and rapid voice that told one of my closest friends the truth that I wanted to hide from him: That I was thinking about leaving my husband and the married life I had crafted for four years behind.

The voice, the tree, the music… those were only golden things I remember from that time. But they faded. Everything faded into blackness that was only illuminated by stark orange fluorescent street lamps as I made my choices. Not all of them were good, but many were the right ones. That fact didn’t make enacting them any easier, though.

Four years ago there was a restlessness stirring in my soul. There was a girl inside of me dying to get out, who needed to be free from the golden shackles she had put on herself because the world told her this was the way life had to be. My resignation in accepting this existence was stopped by a moment, a blink in time where there was the realization that I didn’t have to live in constant heartbreak and stress. I didn’t have to spend most of my time hiding his tantrums from friends’ watchful eyes and listen to him constantly demean me and tell me regularly how I couldn’t live life without him. That there was more to life than suburban existence and cookie-cutter dreams.

As a friend said to me later, I had the chance to hit the reset button, and when that shiny red button was pressed I let that other person out of me. Now, after years of struggle and difficulties, that person is finally here.

She’s skinnier, feistier and a lot more fun. She doesn’t wear her thick-framed glasses as often, accenting her light colored eyes, and her fashion has gone slightly trendy versus the ‘50s style housewife styles she used to wear. Her hair is long with beach waves, like the California girl that she is. She’s downright sexy, and suddenly the world knows it — whether it’s the random guy at a bar suddenly pulling her up during karaoke to serenade her with the song, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” or her female co-worker who laughs when you joke that you’re the single old maid of the group and says, “Shut up, you’re 33 and hot.”

She eats healthier and takes care of herself. If there’s a problem, she tries to fix it. If she’s hungry, she eats; if she isn’t, she doesn’t force it, because she remembers what true hunger looks like. She doesn’t cook as often as she used to, but loves to go out and try new flavors. She reads books more often and writes regularly, experimenting with her creativity. There’s outspokenness in her veins now, both politically and life-wise, and she’s proud to have an opinion, although she still doesn’t always express it at the highest level.

There are ambitions on her terms, not feeling guilty or forced in it. There’s always a business card in her hand, waiting to connect. The hustle in her is strong, and she runs with it to get her own without worrying if a guy would be scared of it. She does life on her own terms, not wasting time on those who don’t matter.

The circumstances of her life, from cancer to death, have shaped her into being more thoughtful, more compassionate, and occasionally a bit more reserved. Her friends have changed over time as well. But she’s still warm. She wants to see you, talk to you, get to know you, catch up with you if you haven’t seen her in a while.

She may not have a dwelling of her own, but she wants to welcome you into her home: The City of Angels, the place where she was born and she came back to all those years ago. It first gave her the anonymity to grieve the past, then it gave her the ability to become who she always wanted to be: Slightly eccentric, always creative, full of pure hunger and zest for life that she had to hide before. But there is no hiding now. And she likes it that way.

Does her heart get broken? Sure. Does she have difficulties with romantic relationships? Without question — she hasn’t had once in the four years since she left. Are there tears? No doubts. But there are also friends who kiss your forehead, stroke your hair, adjust your smeared makeup and sling you a drink. When you ask what’s in it, they say, “Don’t ask. Drink it.” Then they hug you tight and pop in a movie and make snarky comments along with it.

This is her life; she created it. It’s not perfect and it’s not always right. But it has become mine, and I take complete ownership of it.

It’s not permanent. Gold doesn’t stay and never has. But it’s here in this present tense. Golden, single girl days overlooking the San Fernando Valley may fade for other opportunities and other places in the world. If my past and the choices I have made say anything, it’s that when we think we have it all together, the universe has other plans.

But for now, this is my life. I fought for it, starved for it, dragged myself through the shit for it. I kissed and fucked the frogs and cried plenty of tears while wondering why I couldn’t find new love. I even went momentarily insane on occasions, letting the terror of my past rush over me in any way it came — drinking heavily and crying on bathroom floors, pulling off the road and screaming at the stars if necessarily, or dragging my hands along the bathroom rug when I was curled up on it because I was too paralyzed by my past to get up. Then I was left watching as time made the attacks shorter, less scary, or perhaps made me strong enough to fight them head on.

And, despite everything, I’d do it all over again. Without question.

The earth-shattering choices we make affect us and change us indefinitely. Some people, who have taken more conventional paths and just accepted the horrible things as “the way it is” rather than make a shift, wonder about those of us who chose to chase other ideals. Instead of settling, we chase overwhelming ambition, golden sunsets and oceans, and the hope that there is something better out there.

So those of us who made the difficult decisions laugh, lift our drinks into the air and smile high, because we prefer to run into uncertainty with those who share our drives rather than just settle. These choices come with sacrifices, but when those golden days wash over our bodies, we know the truth: That we made the right choices together, to live every day rather than just be, and to live our own versions of happily ever after. And four years later, I can’t ask for much more than that.

Double Doors

door-pvc-coated-sheet-steel-lPeople always tell you that you need to be courageous and walk through doors. Take a deep breath and push them open, face whatever battles lay behind them. Doors can be untrustworthy, though. You don’t know what’s lurking back there. You might not be ready for the fight. For example, it could be a fire-breathing dragon wanting to make you into human barbecue. That would end your little adventure very quickly.

The greatest enemy of my past was a set of doors. Two double doors. White. The handles shone a steely gray. They couldn’t be opened from the outside, though. Someone inside had to let you in.

That January night was the coldest I remember. I wore a long black coat and carried a bright white shiny purse. It was Friday night, Shabbat, the night where we welcome the Sabbath bride to come into our midst and celebrate with us. We call out to her in the prayer Lecha Dodi, or “Come, my beloved” in Hebrew.

“Boi kallah!” we cry out. Come, my bride. Boi — it was the song, the word that had taken me down the aisle four years before. Come to him, and as the Orthodox rabbi who introduced us would say, I would follow him wherever he went, fighting all the demons he threw at me along the way.

When I got the call to come, it was to a hospital in Laguna Beach. I shouldn’t have gone, didn’t want to go, but the choice was made for me. We had given each other seven years of our lives over the course of our relationship. There was no one else to delegate this task to, and I owed him this much. This was my payment to go across the river Styx.

I agreed to drop off a duffel bag of items to the woman on the phone and then hung up. Going through the apartment, the green bag was filled with his standards: A big round jar of teal hair gel. Several red polo shirts, sized medium, and a pair of jeans. Three pairs of boxers. A toothbrush and toothpaste. No razors. She specifically said no razors.

Turning the car key and flipping on the radio, I realized something important: I didn’t even know that there was a hospital in Laguna Beach, and I had lived in Orange County for nine years. I drove out into a confused night, picking up a friend who knew where this place was so I wasn’t wandering aimlessly.

The building was stark white, across from the water off of Pacific Coast Highway. We went into the lobby to drop off the green duffel bag, but we had to wait to find out details, whether it was safe for me to return to the apartment. So we sat in the waiting room as another friend joined us, and I stared at them. Those double doors that only opened from the inside.

People would go in and out from those doors; nurses in white uniforms, clutching clipboards and grabbing people from the waiting room shaking in corners. A man looked in my direction with his tanned leather skin and unshaved stubble, wearing a ragged black hoodie.

“What are you looking at, you bitch?” he yelled at me, his eyes wide and wild. It was the tip of the iceberg of obscenities that would be thrown. My friends and I giggled nervously, but it didn’t help. He began screaming, loping towards us aggressively as a nurse grabbed him and eventually led him behind the double doors.

Somewhere inside of me, another voice echoed of a different Friday night, as he tackled me viciously to our marital bed. “You fucking bitch!” he yelled at me angrily as he stood over my body, right before I began to shake and cry.

What lived back there, where the man in the ragged black hoodie went? I imagined a hundred versions of that guy behind those doors, with medusa heads and banshee voices. That’s where he was.

I imagined him sleeping, doped up on medications, not knowing what was happening outside. He couldn’t see my pacing the whitewashed fluorescent hallways as my phone kept ringing with my mother, my aunt, my cousin.

His parents were not coming. They had told me over the phone how “inconvenient” this was for them. After all, my father-in-law was reading Torah at shul the next day, and they were hosting the Kiddush luncheon. I should have apologized profusely, then asked them if I should pencil in a more convenient time for them for their son to go to the hospital.

Wandering down the halls, the double doors taunted me. It had led to this; in a way, this was inevitable. How many times had he threatened over the weeks, months, years when he didn’t get his way? How could he have not known that this would happen if he had said that in front of a stranger? How did we get here?

As I returned to where my friend was sitting in the waiting room, I fingered the small gray canister of pepper spray on my keychain that my mom insisted on me buying. My mind was thinking about the other day when, after years of fighting and pain, I said I wanted to be free. That I didn’t love him anymore. His response was, “I don’t care if you love me or not. I’m never letting you go.” It left me wondering how many times he had threatened to hurt me before they sedated him.

The nurse came out from behind the double doors to explain to me what had happened over the past few hours, and what would transpire for the rest of the hours to come. They ranged from the policies of the hospital to how treatment would go over the next few days.

Then the words. “He wants to see you,” she said sweetly.

My friends shook their heads, held my arms back as my instincts moved my body towards the doors. He was sick. He needed me. I was supposed to follow him. My mind would throw caution into the wind, facing anything in order to see him, support him. That’s the kind of person I am.

A nurse rushed by my eyes with a patient, and a memory flooded my mind. Less than six months ago, I was in a hospital bed in the emergency room in Newport Beach, alone with a skin infection. He yelled at me on the phone about how much it would cost us. He had not bothered to come to be with me. He was “too tired.” There I was, ready to follow him, but who would follow me?

My overactive imagination had been building it up, but in truth there was only one monster behind those doors — the one who I brought the bag for, the one who shared my marital bed for four years. This was not an accident. He chewed off his foot to spite his mate, and was beginning to learn how to breathe fire. If I went through the doors, I would feed into the cycle that had been rotating around me for years. How it was my fault, how I was the crazy one.

Not anymore. Never again.

My primal instincts of fight and flight were topsy-turvy. If my heart were stronger, I would arm myself and go through those doors and yell in his face the things that I would say now that the years have passed and my thoughts have collected. But my strength was compromised, my voice weakened by years of systematic emotional abuse and constant self-blame.

But I was strong enough to turn my back and move my feet in the opposite direction of him. Silence spoke louder than any words in my arsenal. After all, there are some doors you just can’t walk through, places you can’t go anymore, choices you might not be ready to make but have to anyway. There are monsters that can’t be defeated, but against our most primal instincts have to be fled from, no matter how much you want to fight.

Leaving the hospital through a pair of transparent glass doors, the cold air slapped me hard. Yet the night embraced me the way that, as I would find in later days, so many people wouldn’t.

Driving into the darkness, unknowing of the days, months and years of pain to come, the words of the traveler’s prayer left the lips of a once-innocent girl walking down an aisle as I crossed over into the newest point in my life. And under the orange lights of the freeway, I could swear the wind was whispering, “Boi kallah.” Come, my beloved, my bride, and let’s marry the night instead.

I’m the Girl You…

I slip on my leggings on as I check out my outfit in the mirror. I love the long sweater I’ve chosen for the cold day, making me feel luscious and womanly. It’s a different body than what I’m used to. I don’t understand it completely due to my weight loss as I pick out the new sizes from my closet, but it’s one that makes me feel good. Yet it all seems to go away when I step out into the world.

Walking down Ventura Boulevard, my eyes notice the men who look my body up and down, making me scratch behind my ears and feel self-conscious. Even on the days where I’m not wearing makeup or dressed to impress, I see them try to flag me down, wave at me, cat-call me. It’s been my life for as long as I can remember. Because I’m the girl you fuck.

These men don’t really see me as they call out to me. Sure, they seem my ample cleavage, my height, my long wavy brown hair. They see my swagger as I walk down the street as the music plays through my headphones and my feet hit the pavement, syncing with that beat drumming in my ears. It’s used in part so I don’t see them, but I do. You can’t help it, really.

They don’t see the person inside this body — her zest for life, her brilliance, her writing and art. They don’t really care to. Rather, they’re glancing at me and somewhere inside their heads they’re taking me to bed in their minds, imagining me in different positions. Because I’m the girl you fuck.

It’s been happening since I was 12 years old and walking home from junior high, my Jansport slung across my back. By then, I was already 5’7 and already looked older. The guys driving by on my childhood streets as I walked home from school were yelling for me to jump on their laps, when in truth I wanted them to ask me out, hold my hand and kiss me like they did in the movies. Talking to me, not acting like buffoons who felt like I was a piece of meat to be fought over and claimed. Even at a young age, the training was that I wasn’t worth the effort of gentlemanly behavior.

My height made people think I was invincible, but I wasn’t; my soul was raw, my heart ripe for rejection. I remember the guys jumping at camp trying to kiss me when I didn’t want them to, the boy in the hallway who felt like he had the right to touch my breasts, and how I got punished for his behavior. Then how I would stare at the shy boys from across the room and how they would never come to me. If I wanted it, they never came.

When my sexual awakening picked up, I was conflicted: I wanted sex, but wanted to be in a relationship and in love with my partner and hear him whisper to me how beautiful I was while he made love to me. My teenage weight gain made it difficult, but I wanted to have it all. Someone who loved me and desired me too.

Circumstances seemed to tell me that I couldn’t have both — when guys publicly dated me, I was treated like a delicate China doll, never touched sexually. Otherwise, I would just be told that he wanted no commitment, just sex, and would never be seen out in public with them. I craved touch, so the hormones won. And I became the girl you fuck.

My therapist asked me at one point how many men I had been with over the course of my life. I laughed, looking up at the ceiling, and said I didn’t know, losing track years ago. Dating, probably hundreds. Sleeping with, in the 40s or 50s. It probably would have been in the hundreds as well had it not been for my seven-year foray into marriage and monogamy.

“Was the sex unsatisfying then?” she asked me about my marriage.

“When it happened, no,” I replied. “When it happened. I usually had to make a five-point rational argument as to why we should have sex, and there were so many regulations he put up as to when we could and couldn’t do it I’m shocked it happened at all.”

During that time of my life, the aspiration was to be the “good wife” — working, cooking, hosting, hungry for sex, doing everything to please my man and make him happy and looking good for the world. Yet it wasn’t enough. He made me feel strange for wanting sex so bad, like there was something wrong with me. That was his M.O., making sure that there was something wrong with me. In his mind, he was fine. I wasn’t.

After I left, I immediately started having sex again. In my mind, I knew if I didn’t I would build it up and become scared of it, and I refused to be scared of my sexuality. It was the thing I craved the most, apparently the only thing I knew how to do, because I was no longer the good wife, and I never knew anything else. I was the girl you fucked, so that’s what I did.

To this day, I have never been in love with a man who I had sex with. It just didn’t register; if he wanted to sleep with me, clearly he wasn’t interested in anything else to do with me. When some guys would fall for me, I’d end up confused — we were just having sex. What was the big deal? Meanwhile, every guy that won my romantic sentiments over the course of my life had been a chaste experiment with flirtation but no fulfillment and no actual relationship at the end of it.

“That’s messed up,” my therapist said when I told her the above statement. I didn’t deny it; I knew it for a fact without her having to say the words. I leaned back across the couch, my hands grabbing a pillow and hugging it towards my chest tightly, my fingers finding the fringes along the edge nervously.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “You’re attractive, kind, have a great personality, smart, extremely generous, a good person. How can you settle for just sex?”

It seemed strange to me, old fashioned. I didn’t settle for sex; I liked it. It felt good, and I never fell into the yapping of people saying to hold out because you needed to make the guy want you. I never felt shame from sex and didn’t want to feel bad about having desire ever again.

Yet there was this overwhelming sense of loneliness that came from the fact that I was never asked out on dates and treated like a lady. I missed cuddling and innocent touch. The creepy guys leering at me on the street, at the bars, at all these different places were haunting me, and it seemed like my “no” didn’t carry much weight with them. There were moments where I felt like my single life, no matter how fun it could be, was a waking nightmare. Because I’m the girl you fuck.

It was this mentality that was making me swipe left and right on a dating app over the past several weeks. I passed by a guy that was cute and had a picture of himself dressed as Waldo from the old “Where’s Waldo” books I used to read as a kid. I was naturally compelled to swipe right, and we got to talking almost immediately.

The hours and messages passed back and forth until we were talking on the phone. He was sweet and charming, sending me pictures of his bookshelf and him and his best friend in Halloween costumes instead of his junk. I eventually asked him why he wasn’t propositioning me.

“Well, I figure we have plenty of time for that later,” he said with a laugh. And so I kept talking to this very nice guy, and met him for a date. He wore a woolen sweater and had a sweet smile and broad shoulders. He paid the tab for our classic cocktails and fried chicken wings as we played video games and continued our conversation.

At one point, I teased him for not doing the yawn with the arm around me, mainly because I was left confused. He wasn’t trying to sexually tempt me or do anything that most guys on dates would do, but would just casually brush his arm or hand against mine. He was just talking to me, laughing at all my jokes. It was fun, and the second date was set before the first ended (although it never actually happened, it was reassuring at the time).

He walked me to my car, and I stood by the front tire, bundled in my black coat and knit woolen hat on that cold night, standing on Ventura Boulevard wondering if anything was going to happen on a physical level, and resigning myself that maybe it was all in my head. The moment came for goodbye, and I thought he was going in for a hug. However, it took me about two second to realize he had gone in for the kiss.

And… wow. It was kissing, not even needing tongues to make it incredibly passionate and sexy. And that moment came where suddenly I left all caution in the wind and flung my arms around his neck as he pulled me in by the waist, his hands not moving up or down, but with just the right amount of assured pressure so I felt present in this moment.

Suddenly I wasn’t the girl you fuck. I was a woman and he was a slow burn, a flame switched on in my head. Somewhere in that kiss, there was something telling me that I didn’t have to be others told me I needed to be, but rather my own woman.

Sure, it didn’t stop the leering men on the streets or at the bars, nor did it give me guarantees about my dating future. But it opened my mind that maybe there was more to me than I thought. I couldn’t change what others thought of me, but I could change how I viewed myself.