Category Archives: The present

Dismantling a House

天地無用_(7736032314)This is what dismantling a house looks like.

It is eyes watering at the amount of dust that comes up in clouds around you, sneezing while you’re walking into a demented heaven where all that’s there is stuff. Boxes and boxes of earthly goods are surrounding you, and bags of donations lay out in front of you like tombstones.

The dead live amongst here, the people you used to know.

It’s also the frenzy of the living who are still holding the items, lifting beautiful bowls and crystal, trying on clothing that you remember your mother once wore when it got cold. Going through and trying to claim everything in the tiniest little crevices, from wall hangings to See’s candy gift certificates.

It is pulling an antique yellowed veil from your mother’s closet and not knowing who it belongs to, and knowing probably the only person who can explain it is dead. Then it’s having people insist that you keep it for your own wedding, even though you’re not getting married yet; hopes for the future that you just can’t see at this given moment. You want to get married again, but are not sure if it will actually happen for you. Yet you are being given a veil to wear “just in case.”

It’s swimming through the piles of stuff, and when you say you like something, everyone insists you take it with you. And then you remember you have a tiny guesthouse, and wonder where you’re going to put all of the items you like when there’s barely room for you.

It’s starting a bonfire with the love letters and photos of your ex, laughing and dancing around it with your cousin and sister, bonding over how far you’ve come. It’s also pulling your wedding album, solo in the dark, and finding a container of stickers in your mother’s desk and pasting them all over your ex and his family’s faces (all except for his cousin. You liked her).

It’s the combinations of memories, from both the people who are here and those that are gone. Flimsy paper letters indicating truths about our mortal existences — Turkish immigration papers from my great-grandmother, the death of my great uncle in war, my grandfather longing for my grandmother, a letter from my father after he felt my sister kick in my mother’s stomach for the first time.

Then there are the papers you pull with your name on them, writing in clinical detail what a problem child you were. How you could not communicate, could barely speak, was left screaming and angry until language therapy saved you. Seeing your mother write about how, as a four-year-old child, you went from nothing to her high hopes of you going to some great university one day.

Every school assignment, every attempt at writing and telling stories had been saved, and many of them were thrown in the trash because there is no room to take every little scribble with you. And as others try to hold on to every little piece, you wonder how callous you have become in casting off.

And you think you’ve made progress as you indicate all the crystal bowls and various entertaining platters that are going to be sold off, watching as the stakes are raised again and again. More boxes — of books, kitchen wares, of all the things you thought you’d use again but never did. Tossing off what time has made meaningless; high school yearbooks where you don’t talk to these people anymore and can barely remember them, kitschy things that seemed funny when you were younger, even mementos from friends who you will always love, but ended up breaking your heart in the end.

Hopes for the future, of having the life that your parents did, cast away like shadows in the darkness. Things you wish you could keep but know that there is no space anymore in your current existence. Feeling like you’re falling behind as the people around you, who love you, hold cups of coffee, razzing on your ex because he’s the easiest target at this moment.

Then you realize that you’re suffocating underneath all the items. The weight of the past is being collected in the tangible things, and you desperately want them all to go away. You want to disappear with them, because in that moment you feel like in the things you are one of them, worth very little under the mountain of time passed, left to linger in the graveyard of donations and sellable items worth merely pennies.

And you’re left asking: What kind of life have I lived?

The tears start to flow. My wailing starts softly. It gets louder, and I try to muffle into a pillow. I fail.

My phone text blares. It’s him, my sweet him. He’s so far away from me right now. I tell him I’m having a hard day and that I don’t want to burden him while he’s working; the truth is I’m so used to being independent that I’m terrified to let him in when I’m like this. I prefer to smile and laugh with him, as the happiness he makes me feel is indescribably infinite.

I go back to crying again, thinking of lying in bed with him as he holds me just right, his fingers across my face as he wipes away every tear individually when I would cry about missing my mother, as if counting each of them. And then telling me quietly that he’s not running away.

I still miss her. And I’m crying for her now — two days after Mother’s Day, because I put so much under the surface that I didn’t allow myself to feel at that very moment. As I have been doing during most of this process of dismantling a house.

That’s when everyone surrounds you. To hold you, to touch you and to tell you, “It’s time to stop.”

This is when we stop doing and start talking.

My oldest childhood friend is in my passenger’s seat, telling me that if she gets motion sickness she’s taking the wheel. We’re going to the beach because it makes me happy. I’m behind the wheel because, finally, I have control.

And he calls. He asks me what’s wrong, and I tell him. He tells me to pace myself; box it now, look at it later. He can’t stay on the phone as my friend and I bicker, but he says he’s looking forward to meeting her, and for going to brunch for my dad’s birthday.

I hang up the phone. My friend looks at me. “He called to check in on you,” she said softly. It was strange coming from her, because she is usually so cynical. It was full of wonder and potential.

His words, his voice, the phone call weren’t tangible items, but it was all the perfect gift. It wasn’t an empty glass vase where a dozen delivered roses once resided, a letter trying to convince me of something to win my affections, or a gift that came in tangent with a wedding dress. It wasn’t anything I could hold in my hands.

Rather, it was a metaphorical brick in the foundation; one house was dismantling, another potentially being built. And later, I laid down and whisper the words out loud that I was so afraid to say to him directly.

“This is my family,” I say. “But he is home.”

It’s the tearing down and building up, the yin and yang of my existence. I’m standing on the edge of a knife, so scared that I’m going to fall off, dismantling a house while possibly finding a new home at the edge of my universe.

This is exactly what it looks like.

The Ballad of Thousand Oaks

thousandoaksca_typical_streetThere’s a town just about an hour north of Los Angeles called Thousand Oaks, California. It is one of those sleeper, outside-Los Angeles towns where baby boomers settled with their children in the early 1990s when they didn’t want the stink of the San Fernando Valley on their skins. It was where schools had good reputations and houses were large and cheap, where suburban sprawl reigns supreme and tract houses caress the hillsides.

It’s one of those towns where, 25 years ago, there wasn’t much out there; mainly people with horse ranches, a library, schools and grocery stores. Bigger chain stores and city comforts were out of reach. If you wanted something specific, it meant loading into a car and a half an hour drive in almost any direction.

Thousand Oaks was a place where people ride around in giant pick-up trucks or white BMWs, either cowboys or desperately pretending to be, all while painting the town a bright shade of Republican red. The leading town entertainment was the winning high school football team on a Friday night under those fluorescent spotlights, followed by church with the entire town on Sunday under a huge light-up cross on the lawn.

The children of the people who made their homes out here were tiny little reflections of themselves. If you were any way different you were judged, and your only hope was to cast off your race. religion or sexual orientation to fit the status quo. If you were white and evangelical, like most of the town, you emphasized your whiteness, right down to parental-bought flashy cars, designer clothes and screaming for fancy coffees.

There was a desperate call to win, to succeed. College was the end all and be all of this world, and your extra-cirriculars were everything. Parents slapped football helmets on boys in hopes of getting scholarships and girls fled the cheerleading squad when the dance team won a national championship. You wore show choir sequins and Vaseline on your teeth and let the Napoleonic choir teacher scream and throw his tantrums; bad behavior was excused if you brought home trophies.

This was not the town I was born in; I was actually born in Los Angeles. But from the age of 10, we lived in the house off of La Granada Drive in Thousand Oaks.

It was the town where I was raised in. And I hated it.

Many of the kids grew up together, played at each others’ houses. I was the awkward transplant with liberal, socially conscientious parents — an entertainment techie father and a Holocaust historian mother. We were Jewish and very proudly so, from a family made up of more various people than a cheerleader’s sweet sixteen. My parents worked in the city, came from city families who still lived there, had city attitudes, were city people. There wasn’t room for us in Thousand Oaks.

The teachers never understood me. From a young age I was loud and outspoken. I refused to back down from my beliefs, standing up to my teachers and wondering why their opinion meant more simply because they were older. Passion, smarts, conviction and drive: These were the things that made me.

They didn’t make friends, though. I was that very strange, very tall, loud girl who brought a giant presence to every room. I was teased and made fun of regularly, to the point of crying right in the middle of class when the teacher didn’t do anything to protect me. Don’t get me wrong — there were people who I liked and I know liked me too. But it wasn’t like we were hanging out at each others’ houses. We just were there, acknowledging each other but never really reaching over.

Thousand Oaks was the place of lonely days, where I walked home as a latchkey kid and was left unattended. It was where I felt ugly for being so different and stole makeup from the local drugstore to try to feel beautiful. It was where I cried to Alanis Morissette, watched Sailor Moon in hopes I had a greater purpose in life, and put on red lipstick and my mom’s vintage dresses hoping I would become Gwen Stefani one day.

It was the place of cold evenings where my teenage self packed backpacks and desperately tried to run away, where I hoped I would die to relieve the pain of being lonely. It was where the doctors would cram pills down my throat to control me and make sure I was quiet. I would watch as I lost control over my own body, and when I tried to object they would shrug. It was the place of rejections and no’s, the place where I felt invisible, told to fit in a box when I knew I was better than that.

As a result, all my life there was one goal: Get the hell out of Thousand Oaks.

Most of my family disagreed, particularly my mother. She loved her little castle on top of the hill, all the knick-knacks and designs she made for her house. And one of her biggest frustrations with me was always why I wanted to leave.

In that small town, she had everything she had always wanted. She had her perfect large house with all her comforts, from sewing machines to a large backyard. She had the dogs and the fruit trees in the backyard. The family was far enough away so that they weren’t banging on our doors, but close enough so they could come every other weekend. It was the place she lived. It was the place she died.

But it was quiet. Eerily quiet. And it was in that silence where my anger grew.

By 21, I was gone, headed off to Orange County with a packed Toyota Camry. I fell in love with the beaches and the laid-back college vibe of my new university, and my anger turned to happiness. There were so many friends and fun nights that graduation seemed like a nightmare. After finding a place where I was finally allowed to be myself, thrive and not be alone, I was willing to do whatever it took to make sure I would never return to that place where my loneliness consumed me — even marry an abusive man.

One of the things that kept me married was Thousand Oaks; the idea of returning was unbearable. It felt like quicksand; I hated everything about that place. My focus was on the future. My focus was forward.

But even in Orange County, something was unsettling to me, like my feet were getting stuck. There was no rush of culture or whimsy for me, no joy in the pursuit of having a perfect life and family. It was my parents’ dream, my friends’ dream, everyone else’s dream. Not mine.

So I returned to Thousand Oaks.

It had changed in all those years. All the creature comforts of city life were now there, from Costco to Target. Although there were more housing developments, my parents’ house was still on wistful La Granada Drive, where they would complain about kids drinking near the cul-de-sac and street paving with the city council. It was still scrubbed clean, pristine and shiny. And I still hated it.

A year later, I moved into Los Angeles. It was my birthplace, and after a while I wondered if it was more of my hometown than Thousand Oaks. Walking along gum-encrusted sidewalks carrying grocery bags and sipping coffee along Abbott Kinney felt organic, more than than pick-up trucks and perfect lawns. Whenever I would see the downtown skyline, I would take a deep breath and feel my heart thud proudly through my chest, This was my heart. Thousand Oaks was my hometown, but Los Angeles was actually home.

The people who became my friends were also escapees to Los Angeles — from Dallas, Orlando, New Jersey, Arizona, Chicago or anywhere in between. We found home in each other. They were my friends and family, while the people I went to high school with were a mystery.

As the years went on, people added me on social media. Many were married with kids. Some were like me, single with drive. Some I like much, much better than others, and hope we will see each other and share a coffee or cocktail, and really get to know each other as adults.

I think about all of them — the jocks, the cheerleaders, the jazz hands and the stoners — as I drive back to Thousand Oaks. I think of reading my Facebook the other day, when I had to read about the death of a friend of mine from junior high.

His name was Tony. He sat next to me in junior high science class, and we were friendly with each other. He eventually became a football player, playing under those Friday night lights for the winning team. We were barely friends, but his kindness never stopped.

A friend of mine pulled a prank on him because his friends were so awful to me. She called him and asked him about me. He never said a bad word, although his friends would. I was on the other line, muted, listening intently. It made me feel less alone.

Even though I didn’t how how he died, I thought about articles I read about former football players and chronic brain injuries; how they commit suicide, kill people, lose their minds due to the knocks they took. Wondering if his life had been cut short in part because of our existence in this town.

I arrive at the house on La Granada Drive, with the yellow roses in full bloom. This town has changed in 25 years. The children who grew up on these streets had all moved away to create their own destinies elsewhere, and the housing prices grew so high that very few of them could return.

This house was where I grew to my 5’11 height and ate avocados and lemons from our trees. Where I learned to drive and wrote my short stories. Where I put on my first makeup looks and wore my high school cap and gown. Where the pool parties commenced and my father made his famous hickory smoked Thanksgiving turkey. Where my mother walked and our German shepherd Lucy followed.

And the place where, this summer, my father will leave. Thousand Oaks, the town that I grew up in, will transform from home base to simply a memory.

All my life I always wanted to leave, run away and never return. But sitting in the years of memories, dismantling a house, I don’t know how to feel about it. I had grown and changed. I didn’t live in the past, especially this past that I choose to forget. But the past wasn’t done with me yet.

As I drove into the city, knowing that one day soon I would drive away from Thousand Oaks forever, I really thought about this place: the trees growing wild on the hillsides and the lack of streetlights that allow you to see the stars every night. The coyotes howling at the sound of sirens and the roadrunners dashing alongside them. The rabbits run through the canyons and the hawks circle in the sky, and people still ride their horses up and down the street.

There will be a new child to call this place home. A new family trying to do the best they can. And I pray that this place won’t be as hard on them as it has been on me.

And as they put together their new home, I march forward in mine, scared yet determined, fearless despite the anxieties. Focus on the future, let go of the past, no matter how hard it tries to shake you.

This is the way my time in Thousand Oaks will end.

Perfect

perfect-926268_640We all want things to be perfect.

At least I do, anyway. It’s one of the hazards of having been an editor for so long. You will find faults in everything — wonder why people can’t use their grammar correctly, how that tree sap found its way on your perfectly cleaned car window, how there can be one minute of gray to spoil the row of beautiful, sunny California days.

This nitpicking may be weird coming from someone who has a hard time cleaning. But sometimes you yearn for things to be the way you want them. Otherwise, you just can’t help but to wonder.

Over the course of my life, I have angrily stared at my split ends, sprinkled various herbs into dishes for the best flavors until I was satisfied and spent hours trying to take the perfect selfie, then yelling at myself because my eyes are never the same size. I worry when people post their pictures of me on my Facebook — do I look fat? Why do my teeth stick out like a chipmunk? My hair looks limp. Other girls are prettier than me; I’ve seen their Instagrams.

And beyond that striving for the perfection of our physical appearances, there’s also the other things that hint that something isn’t right under the surface; the things you desperately don’t want other people to notice. There is a worry in me too about all of them:

Are you single? If you are, what’s wrong with you? If you’re in a relationship, why isn’t he marrying you? Or maybe he’s not good enough for you if he’s this or that? If you’re married, why don’t you have kids? If you do have kids, why aren’t they X, Y or Z?

Where do you work? Who do you work for? How long have you been there? If you haven’t been there for that long, there must be something wrong with you. If you’ve been there for too long, you have no ambition.

People like me want to be perfect. We strive for the best. We want to win, to have people admire and look up to us.

We are given ladders to climb that have no real top, that aren’t what they seem because we determine the top of them when in truth the outer ends of the universe is the limit. Or if and when we reach the “top,” we look down from the top of the clouds and don’t see what we missed in order to climb up here. And to go back down means you could potentially fall, and hit the ground harder than when you were first there.

Yet we keep reaching for perfection. Is it because we’re told to or because we’ll never be satisfied if we don’t? I can’t tell you.

I thought I knew perfect. If you asked me before, I could tell you what perfect looked like, or at least my version of it. There was a vision in my head, and I felt the desperate need to go there in all aspects of my life — job, dating, you name it.

Several weeks ago I walked into a dive bar off of Ventura Boulevard. I sat at the bar and waited. I even told my friend on the phone, “I don’t expect anything much from this. Might as well.”

About an hour and a half later I was sitting on a couch in the bar, right in the middle of a popcorn war, laughing all the way as I tossed popcorn playfully into his graying hair. A week later I was drinking wine with him in the middle of the Angeles National Forest, looking up at the stars for hours and listening to “Something” by the Beatles play on the car radio. And another week passes and we’re whispering, which makes his voice sound like husky honey, then giggling softly like sneaky teenagers as we’re trying to fix a closet door and his dog is licking my face.

The normal exchange of stories began. Every day there was a conversation. There would always be time for a text. There were innuendo messages as much as the encouragement and advice, as well as debates about movies and music. I would be my normal sassy self and he would lap it up. We shared our beliefs of the world. He found my social consciousness sexy and loved how close I am to my dad.

I would stand up for myself, and he would hear me out, but check me in my fears and anxieties. He not only calmed me, but it made me realize, “Oh crap, this guy has my number, and we haven’t even known each other that long.” It wasn’t a bad thing; rather, it reminded me distinctly of my friendship with my best friend of 14 years. It made me feel more like myself.

That night of the broken closet door, I laid on the bed and looked at him. I could feel my face turn into a goofy smile, feeling incredibly comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t feel anything weird about the way he was touching me, unlike some of the other guys I had been with. He played with my hands as our fingers weaved them this way and that. And yet somewhere in my mind, I thought to myself, “This is it? After all this time and the countless number of strangers, this is the guy?”

He didn’t know a lot about grammar — his texts were riddled with typos, which is usually my number one dating pet peeve. He’s a big dude, which was strange for me; I’ve always been taller, bigger, whatever. He’s an outdoorsy type, loves to go fishing, camping, hiking. He gardens, which I am completely clueless about. He reads, but not as much as I do. He grew up in a completely different culture than I did. His work schedule is erratic.

Yet I looked into his half closed brownish hazel eyes as his slight smile matched mine, and realized that I would be absolutely crazy to let him go.

Perfect is often what the world tells us, not ladders of ascension but boxed prisons of the mind. It’s up to us to shake the chains that bind us and let go. Perfect is the striving for the future when you need to count the present too. And sometimes it’s desperately hard to count.

Will it last? I definitely don’t know the future. But I look forward to it: Arms wrapped around me while gardening, more laughter as the dogs lick my face, maybe even another popcorn war and plenty more music. And that, for me, is perfect.

Dear Muslims

Dear Muslims,

Hello there, wherever you hail from. I am your resident weirdo and giant nerd Reina, and I want to be your friend.

There is no joke here, no punchline proclaiming various stereotypes that comedians might use to appear edgy. I am serious in my offer, from one person of G-d to another. Any laughter from this piece is accidental, although the goal here is to make you smile a bit.

Let me tell you a little bit about me first. I’m a freelance writer/editor and live in Los Angeles. I love all things nerdy, from Harry Potter to Star Wars and Star Trek, Buffy and Game of Thrones, as well as watching John Oliver and other funny political shows with my dad. We lost my mom in April and my sister lives far away, and so any time I can spend with him is great. And not only does he love nerdy things, but he’s very, very funny. I often post our conversations on Facebook, and it makes so many people laugh.

My cooking skills are on point, from vegan and gluten-free dishes to pure carnivore delights. That being said, I don’t cook with bacon or shellfish — I was kosher for seven years, and although I eat them when I go out now it still doesn’t feel right to cook with them. Yes, I am Jewish. No, this doesn’t stop me from wanting to be your friend.

I’m single, although ironically as a Jew in dating I have sometimes gotten along more with Muslim guys than even my own people. Yet despite a lack in relationship, I have a great group of friends who love watching movies, eating, Halloween, playing trivia, singing at the moon, going to spas and laughing together on a regular basis. We are like a little family, and I am sure they would love to include you.

The truth is that I was always a strange duck, even in my own Jewish community. I’m Jewish, but my mother’s family was from Turkey. For hundreds of years, since the Jews were accepted as refugees from the Spanish inquisition in 1492, the Muslims and the Jews lived together in harmony there while the Ottomans ruled over them. It wasn’t always good (in fact, my great-grandparents fled Istanbul to America because it was rumored that great-grandpa Solomon tried to overthrow the sultan as a part of the Young Turks), but we had each other.

In college, my disgust for how the people in my Hillel treated Muslims on my campus was strong. How could they proclaim discrimination against themselves and yet discriminate against others? Wasn’t our battle theirs?

Around this same time, I met Rudy. She was petite, but her warmth matched my height. Her brown eyes were just as kind as her demeanor, and we would often walk around campus together talking about anything and everything, from the bigotry faced by the 909-area code to the constant demands of our mothers. Our friendship was surrounded by jokes, because she was an Egyptian Muslim and I’m Jewish. The joke was always, “Don’t mind them, they’re going to go solve the Peace Process together.”

It was through Rudy that I met her friends, who were from all different regions of the Middle East. We never talked politics, but drank tea together and talked about our grandmothers, how they bugged us about getting married and all the delicious foods they cooked; they were similar because my family was also from the region.

This was seen as a betrayal from my Jewish community on campus. I wrote an article for the campus paper about the radicalization of both sides of the Israel-Palestinian conflict on campus, and how moderates would be the only ones to solve the problems. My roommates called a house meeting to say how disappointed they were in me. A friend confronted my now-ex and said, “I hear your girlfriend is a Jew hater.” I could barely show my face in my own community. My Muslim friends rallied and hugged me tightly instead.

There are a million stories I could tell like this. I could talk about living in D.C. and meeting a girl in a hijab from Tennessee, who embraced me and told me growing up all her friends were Jewish too. Or about one of those friends from college that Rudy introduced me to, and running into him years later at an interfaith event when he told me I had changed his mind about Jews. But those are stories. What matters is right now.

Hate is coming for both your people and mine; no matter how many excuses my community makes, it is clear there is an anti-Semitic thread that weaves itself through the new administration as much as Islamophobia. While we were busy fighting with each other over the years about various issues, the hatred was coming at us from the outside. And now that it’s banging on our door, with threats of registries, removed hijabs and internment camps, we have decisions to make.

We can try to fight this battle alone, but the hatred is too strong and our individual communities too small against the growing tides. Members of our respective groups may try to site a conflict 7,000 miles away to divide us, but the truth is that it doesn’t stop the cancer growing here. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., who my father met and eventually took up his call: Hate cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that. He understood that it was his duty as a man of G-d. And it is now mine.

As a Jew, this is as much my battle as it is yours. The portion of the Torah where Abraham dies, Isaac and Ishmael come together once again to bury him. This is despite Ishmael’s exile, and eventual future as the father of Islam. I have always believed that we would come together again; for the sake of our humanity, it is essential now.

So if they register you, I register too. If they send you to the camps, I will go alongside you. We share the same father to our faiths; it is my religious obligation to stand up for you. Together we build a barrier against the hatred that doesn’t divide people, but embraces. Jews have seen this before; one-third of Europe’s Jews were destroyed over 70 years ago in similar circumstances. We say, “Never again,” quite often. Now it’s time to put our words into action and let our marching feet stand in for our prayers.

This is why I want to be your friend; because I know the days are going to get darker. If I have learned anything since the election, I know that now is the time to take up our arms in love and build the bridges we need to fight the battles ahead. I’m not asking for undivided loyalty right when you meet me; just conversations over coffee and dinners are a great place to start.

So let’s go to the movies, sing songs together, play trivia or even just share a hug. We need to begin our bonds now, because as they get stronger we need to stand taller. And the only way to do that is to banish the darkness together as friends.

So as your resident weirdo and giant nerd girl, may I suggest starting this by dining on an impossible burger at Crossroads on Melrose together? Because if this world is so incredible that it can make a vegan burger taste like meat, then our friendships should be nothing compared to that.

Love,

Reina

On Tuesday We Wear White

white-dressThere is a dress that is sprawled out over the stool in the corner of my bedroom. It is a beautiful, gauzy white dress with an intricate sky blue detailing in the middle. It is one of my favorite dresses. And on Tuesday I will wear it.

I bought it from the Fox Hills Mall just before I left to go to Israel three years ago. I wanted to wear white on my Shabbat in Jerusalem, as the Kabbalists believe that Shabbat is a taste of the world to come, right down to the white of our garments. This was the closest to white that I could find, but it didn’t matter that it wasn’t all white; to me, there was perfection in the blue.

It reminded me on the little blue flowers on the Corelle dishware in my mother’s cabinet, or the Ottoman style fabrics that would make me think of my great grandmother’s life in Turkey. Yet it was long and dramatic, a statement of sorts. Just like the girl who would be wearing it.

I remembered how proud I felt wandering around the Old City in it wearing a white cardigan over my shoulders. I will never forget walking through the courtyards just above the Kotel and how it flowed around my body; the magic in the fabric was unmistakable. I would wear it many times after that, including on Tu B’Av, where Jewish women would go into the fields in white dresses and dance, and from there the men would pick a wife.

I am an American citizen, the third generation of proud Jewish women living here. When my family came here in the early 1900s, the world did not know of Auschwitz. It could barely conceive of the birth of a Jewish state. We were Jews seeking a better life, where the boys wouldn’t be sent to war and my family could be safe.

I remember sitting in my grandmother’s tiny kitchen with its warm wood paneling, cooking the delightful delicacies passed on to her from the centuries of life in the diaspora, and how thrilled she would be when she got an envelope that said jury duty.

“I love it,” she would say in that honey husky tone that was uniquely hers, yearning for another letter to call her for service. She hoped to learn and to understand the American justice system, to be a part of something bigger than herself, as my grandfather blared C-SPAN in the other room. How she told me in secret how she missed working and going to school. She was born in 1918; two years before the women got the vote.

Her daughter and I got into many battles together. My mom was born in 1945, almost 25 years after women got the vote. Being a woman in this country for her meant not necessarily pursuing her dreams the way her brother was able to, because women had certain expectations put on them. But she believed, even as the medical bills piled up in and the hair fell out of her head due to chemo, that this was the best place in the world to live as Jews.

“How can you not love this country?” she would yell at me when I would write one of my questioning American blog pieces. And there, watching her die and my opportunities fade as I tried to take care of her, I wondered how she could.

Neither of these women lived to cast their ballots in this presidential election. Six months ago, my mother was wrapped in a white shawl and buried in the ground in a pine box, per our custom. And on Tuesday, I will be wearing white too.

It’s because when I was 18 I discovered a copy of The Vagina Monologues in my mother’s bathroom. She didn’t understand those words of Eve Ensler’s, but I did. It was my voice as a woman who grew up in a town where girls were supposed to be quiet and accept their treatment at the hands of men. I was already 5’11 and had a voice that boomed, and a brain that was just as smart as anyone else’s. Why should I be silent?

My words spoke better on paper than they did in my vocal tones, scary as they may be. Yet they were meant to capture the distaste of what the world told me to be as a woman, let alone as a person. How I was told my aptitude for the written word was no match for the power of math and science. Yet even though I understood and respected logic and reason, I understood the heart is just as powerful. Why should I be silent?

Standing alongside me were the women who I came to know throughout my life, beautiful and strong, yet somehow felt silenced in telling their stories. They couldn’t speak their truths, ranging from sexual assault to health issues and discrimination in the workplace, for fear of retaliation. I understood the fears, yet I knew that their stories were also mine and should never be shamed or scrutinized. Why should I stay silent?

When the suffragettes of the early 1900s donned their colors, of purple, gold and white, they saw that we could be so much more. We didn’t need to stay silent. We were voices in this place just as much as others. We were battered and bruised, with women who pursued the presidency such as Victoria Woodhull (actually the first female candidate for president, even before the suffragettes were successful in their quest for voting) described as Satan incarnate. And we got that right, and for 96 years we have exercised it accordingly.

Now, after 96 years there is a woman running for president on a national-level ticket. She believes in what I believe in, as does the Democratic Party platform, so I am casting my vote for her. There is far too much to lose in this race as women if we don’t; I sometimes wish the men in our lives would see that.

For over 24 years, she has faced opposition to who she is as a woman: One who doesn’t stay silent. Who is ambitious and determined, and has every word thrown at her in the book. So have we all who have decided to take a different path than our mothers, who decide not to hide behind what we should be and instead strive for what we could be. We are loud and strong. She wears white. And we must too.

So Tuesday, I will wear white when I go to cast my ballot. The blue pattern in my dress, I realized, is to represent my matriarchs who gave my faith to me. Our Jewish faith instructs us to wear our prayer shawls with a thread of blue, and I believe truly that we pray with our hearts as much as our words. And my vote is a holy act.

My mother and grandmother believed in and loved this country, probably a lot more than my questioning mind does. They would have loved to vote for a woman for president. I am but one, but as one I am the culmination of generations and years of love and proud heritage, and will vote in their spirit. That is what I will be on Tuesday, standing with the rippling fabric that once flowed with divinity in my homeland, and will flow around me again.

My mother would always say to me, “Remember who you are.” I am an American Jewish woman, one of many. And on Tuesday we will wear white.

Consent: The Ultimate Dad Conversation

img_0683This is dad. Everyone loves dad. (It’s actually true, most of my friends adore him and ask me to say hi to him for them regularly.) Dad is warm and kind, goofy and fun. He has a lot of devotees, even if only because I post a lot of our hilarious conversations on Facebook for the world to see.

He is an accomplished entertainment professional, having helped develop the first non-linear editing platform and constructed studios as diverse as ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut and the Dolby Theater in Hollywood (once the Kodak Theater and home of the Academy Awards). He sold audio equipment to Aerosmith, hung out with Alice Cooper, cut film with Alan Alda in his living room, spoken at length with James Cameron and worked with George Lucas. He has had a stellar professional career and is a tremendously hard worker, having started at a young age working for his dad in a grocery store in Inglewood. He isn’t happy unless he’s working; this I know about dad.

But although dad loves his career, he has other passions. His first love is the theater, specifically Shakespeare. He is spiritual, often reading the Torah and various commentaries for new meanings. He is truly colorblind, having worked in the civil rights movement and aiding in black theater in the ‘60s. And he has been supportive and devoted to the women in his life, whether helping professional women see their potential or loving his wife and two daughters, doing anything he could to support them.

I was extremely lucky to grow up with my father’s influence. It’s very hard to see when your friends have horrible relationships with their fathers, and then see your dad and wish that he was theirs, too. In many ways I don’t have a lot of luck, but when it comes to my dad, it’s there in spades.

Dad and I talk about everything and anything. Well, almost anything and everything.

My dad is a well-established liberal, saying that one of the few celebrities that he ever met that flustered him was meeting soon-to-be President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s in downtown Los Angeles. When Obama was elected, he called me in tears, remembering how he left places where he and his buddies from the theater couldn’t eat together because they were mixed. Trump has always disgusted him. But when the tape came out, he was floored.

“Why now?” he asked. “Why is it this that is breaking everyone? He tore women down before. He tears everyone down. Why now?”

I was looking for the words, but I couldn’t say them. Yet in writing my previous blog post, waving my fingers across the keyboard, I realized that I had told my mom the story of being in the parking lot. It was one I had never told my dad. We never talked about sex and dating, let alone my interactions with men in general (given everything I’ve done, I think his head might explode). And that was just one story; I had plenty more, some even more graphic.

So one Sunday morning, Dad and I went to brunch in Thousand Oaks. We scrolled through the menu as I lamented about Los Angeles brunches, where all they served was oat pancakes and quinoa. And naturally, we started talking about politics. And Dad continued to lambast Trump.

“Why did that tape make a difference now?” he asked again. He really wanted to know.

“Because, dad, we all have those stories. I do.”

He paused and looked at me. I told him the two stories I had mentioned in the blog previous to this, of summer camp and temple parking lots. He listened, really listened to me. He was almost shocked that those things had happened, like it didn’t live in his house.

I let the quiet sink in. There was a sadness in his eyes that showed he didn’t want to believe, but knew I would be honest with him because that’s the relationship we had. Finally, he spoke.

“When I was young, I was always told that all these girls wanted to date me,” he said. “I didn’t really register it, didn’t really see it.”

“Oh great, it’s genetic,” I laughed, thinking about my past dating history.

“But at the same time, I didn’t know how to approach these girls. I wouldn’t want to hurt them or take advantage of them. That’s not right. I didn’t want to be those guys in those movies, that’s not me. I wish that there was a word for it.”

The waitress served our coffee and I started pouring in my creamers. There was a fear, a tension. My father was a newly minted widower with eyes only for my mother, never having to think about dating until recently. Talking to him at this moment, the idea scared him even years after he did it the first time around, because he didn’t want to hurt anyone. My dad wouldn’t hurt a fly, and even if the fly was really bothering him, he would negotiate with it so well the fly would leave impressed by him.

I paused for a moment, thinking about it as I sipped my coffee.

“Consent, dad?” I asked.

“Consent… yes. Yes! That’s the word,” he replied. “I don’t really know about it, don’t know how to approach it.”

Sometimes consent feels like a new topic. We came from a culture of women as tokens and objects, portrayed in the movies as sexy lamps and “take me nows.” We live in a new age, though, where women have a say in our futures and do more than just wait for a guy to arrive at our doorstep. We are worth so, so much more.

“No one really knows about consent that much, dad,” I replied. “They don’t really teach about it.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know, but they should. John Oliver has a short segment about it though.”

“Really?” Dad lit up; my father loves John Oliver. When I go back home to visit him, we’ll watch it together.

“Yes,” I replied. “He talks about how women have learned how to say it, but men need to be better at hearing it.”

“I want to watch it.”

With this conversation, as we continued to talk about the topic, I learned a lot about my father, and about men in general. Even though I had issues with groping and even attempted rape in my past, this is not what guys are going for; I don’t think most men actively seek to be misogynistic. I look at my dad and realize that one day, when he feels that the time is right after grieving my mother, he might want to date again.

In modern society, you can’t date in a productive, let alone reasonable manner unless you know what consent looks like. He hadn’t dated in over 50 years. But his eagerness to know what it is and looks like, even at an older age where he might be forgiven for not following these rules, gives me so much hope.

For probably the 10 to 15 percent of guys who might pull shenanigans or truly hate women due to some issue, there is 85 to 90 percent who want to not fall into that archetype. They want to know what consent is, what it looks like so that our experiences with them can be special, not disheartening. And they can’t know unless we tell them.

In the true definition of feminism, men are not to be treated as subservient, but as true equals. And if they are our equals, they deserve to understand through communication about all topics, including this one. In discussing what consent is and how it looks, it helps each other as human beings by understanding the stories behind those we love.

It’s as simple as talking about it, getting our voices heard by one another and standing up against those who dismiss it and those who continue to grope and shame women. And that includes your local Republican presidential candidate.

Every Woman’s Story

the_blackmailWe were in the underground parking lot below the synagogue several years back. A group of us had just gotten out of Torah study. I was wearing one of my favorite outfits, with my knee high boots and a long denim tunic. I wore my leather jacket over it; it made me feel strong and tough.

I always sensed he liked me. He was overly flirty, and I brushed off his advances. He was pushy, bragging about his family’s money, how much they donated to the temple. He was a board member for the young professionals chapter there, and now a group of us were standing in the parking lot, him being one of them.

He knew I was looking for work. He said to me that he could walk me to my car, telling me he might have a job for me. I couldn’t say no. I needed the work.

We walked up the ramp to where my silver Saturn was. “What are your skills?” he asked me.

“Well, I write and edit blog content, work with HTML and SEO…”

“Are you a good kisser?”

What? What was he talking about?

“Um, I don’t know how that applies to my job skills,” I replied awkwardly. “But I’d like to think I’m a good kisser.”

“Because I’d really like to kiss you right now.”

Alarmed, my feet moved faster. My mouth became dry, because I realized how he manipulated the situation. I eventually was stuck by the front door of my car, but he had cornered me next to it. I couldn’t run; where would I go?

I told him that I didn’t want to kiss him, tried to steer the conversation back to work, but it was to no avail.

“I know you want me,” he said.

“No, not really,” I replied.

“Look me in the eye and tell me you’re not attracted to me!”

Looking him square in the eye, I said loudly, enunciating every word, “I am not attracted to you.”

There was a pause as if to register what I just said. Then, as if he hadn’t heard it, “C’mon, just one kiss.”

I kept saying no, and he kept trying to negotiate. Eventually, he asked for a kiss on the cheek. I agreed tepidly, hoping it would satiate him. But then he tried to move into my denim tunic — the v-neck on it was a little low, and I am rather busty. I pulled away as best as I could, but he kept kissing my cheeks, trying to get me to change my mind. It didn’t work.

Eventually he walked away, and I sped from the parking lot. A part of me was so angry that I wanted to run him over, but instead I just sped back to my then-apartment in Culver City.

When I got home, I realized several things about that interaction, like how it wasn’t my first inappropriate encounter, not even at this temple (that came from a middle-aged drunken gentleman one Shabbat dinner asking me to sit on his lap). It wouldn’t be my last. Also this guy was so powerful at this temple that I immediately knew there was no way in hell the men in charge would believe me. I stopped going to this organization’s events for the most part, unless I had friends who would be there to protect me.

My story isn’t rare; in fact, it’s more common than you think. When you have a community structure full of organizations that are dependent on the money of wealthy individuals to function, those individuals are dealt a hand of power. There are many who use it lovingly, but then there are those who use that power to use others and then make their transgressions disappear.

When I read in the Jewish Journal about Danielle Barrin’s story, I was happy about her courage, but slightly angry. She was explaining a story that happened in Los Angeles, but her assailant wasn’t from here; he was from Israel. The guy from my story above lives in the greater Los Angeles area, probably not far from the guesthouse in Beverly Hills that I call my home now. That temple isn’t far away either.

In many ways, it’s easy to dismiss it. Jews are usually upper middle class, owning homes and nice cars, donating money to charities and temples. There are many issues that we see as “over there” problems, particularly with social issues such as domestic violence and sexual harassment and assault. They’re so heinous we think that they can’t happen here, or we’re too scared to report it when it’s in our backyards.

Yet the first place that I can argue I was groped was at a Jewish day camp. I had just turned 12. The boys wouldn’t leave me alone, grabbing at me in the swimming pool and jumping so they could try to kiss my cheeks due to my height. I told my counselors. The result? “Well, they’re just doing that because they like you.” It was normal for boys to treat girls like a jungle gym; they weren’t reprimanded and I had to learn it was a “thing” and live with my isolation.

I never talked about that summer until very recently. I blocked it out of my memory almost completely, until therapy brought it back to life again. It colored my life and relationships even from a young age — that I was a plaything, not worthy of my voice, opinions or objections.

Up until recently, I felt alone. But in the age of social media we have become more open, particularly about our experiences with abuse and sexual assault. Sure, the social media age has given us some not-so-great things, but when it came to sharing our truths, it was an amazing place to be. It let us know that this wasn’t just an isolated problem, but an epidemic.

When the Trump assaults came up, I saw the echoes of my womanhood past, where we were forced to pretend it didn’t exist or, “that’s what men do.” There were many people who stood up against it. I saw people who were confused, and that’s okay too. But then there were those who excused it away, as if it didn’t happen. Not here. Not right in front of our eyes where we could see it and then pretend it wasn’t real.

Now these stories have a national voice, and hopefully it trickles down and gives hope to others going through those situations. I feel more confident coming forward with my story because of the one in the Jewish Journal, and maybe another woman will become comfortable coming forward from mine. There’s a reason why when a public figure is accused of sexual assault they come forward in groups; because when one person comes forward, it gives strength to others. I want to share my voice.

As for my story above, it came with somewhat of a happy ending. A friend of mine was on that same young professionals board of that temple, and he asked me why I didn’t attend events. As a close friend I confided in him, and as a decent human being he was absolutely livid.

“You know, I always sensed something off about him,” he told me. “I couldn’t put my finger on it. But I think I know what it is now.”

I swore him to secrecy; I was afraid of the backlash. I loved my Jewish community and wanted to still be involved; there was no way to do it if I was saying I was sexually assaulted in any way, especially by someone who had more power than me.

The months passed, and at one point I was in the elevator with that male friend and a girl friend. Apparently the same guy did that to her, and several other girls. That male friend then reported him, to which my parking lot assailant was reprimanded immediately. I attended one of the organization’s events recently, and he was nowhere to be found.

That ending was only somewhat happy. I felt shamed into not reporting due to the power that person in their organization had, and that is a place no one should be. Then I wondered if the only reason why it might have been taken seriously was because a man with power reported it. And when I spoke to a friend of mine the other day, I realized he continued to be friends with him only until recently, knowing two of his female friends had been groped by this guy. The reason why the friendship ended? Ironically, it was because the guy supported Donald Trump.

It was in this moment that I realized the power of patriarchy: not only does it not trust women or dismiss their claims, but it also silences women from the men who care about us, who want to be our allies. I tell the stories above, stories I told to my mother and female friends. Then I look at my father, and realized he doesn’t know them.

My father is as decent of a man that ever was, lovable, sweet and fair. He is truly the definition of a feminist ally, but I never told him about what the boys did to us. We shared it with our mothers and sisters, but not our fathers and brothers.

So one day, I took my dad to brunch. And it’s wasn’t about what I told him; it was what he taught me.

The Privilege Question

hqdefaultI have to ask about privilege. I have to ask.

My mind has been restless, turning over and over. Images from the news circle through my head: Convicted rapist Brock Turner in a button-down shirt exiting prison; opinion columns about Nate Parker’s rape accusations and the idea of consent; having an accused rapist in the NFL say that the most horrible thing that could happen is one of their players not standing for the national anthem.

You see why I have to ask. I can’t leave this question unasked anymore. There is too much at stake.

It’s because the question lingers in the back of my mind as I am sitting with her — at a dinner table, on her couch, over the phone, in a Laundromat. My dear friends, amongst so many, who tells me a story that might only be her story, that I wish could say was unique. I have heard her story before. One in five women have it.

I think about the night where I stood in a synagogue parking lot, or the one where I was lying in his bed in Marina Del Rey. One tricked me into letting him walk me to my car because he said he had a job for me, and I was looking for work; the other told me that he loved me before I forced myself to gather all my strength to throw him off of me while he was forcing me. In both cases, how I desperately tried to escape, and felt scared.

Then I watched how it disappeared so fast. The money was too powerful in both those cases. A flash of cash, and it all goes away.

Yet is it that alone? Nate Parker was the recipient of the largest distribution deal to come out of Sundance — $17 million. Yet in the wake of his rape allegations members of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences swear they won’t see his movie. Yet they don’t blink for Woody Allen and his numerous cases. They gave an Oscar to Roman Polanski, who can’t even come back into the country. So maybe it’s not money after all.

The question lingers in the air. I have to ask about privilege. I have to because it’s been there my whole life.

Even as a young girl, as my body matured into womanhood and my libido starting racing faster than I could, we were told to BE for men. Wear this makeup to impress boys. Wear this perfume to entice. Lose that weight, no man will find you attractive if you don’t. Men were the ones who told us what beauty was, and we had to follow.

But not too much, though — you don’t want to rile them up. As Britney Spears proclaimed her virginity, we were expected to be chaste too. The purity culture was overwhelming. It tore us apart, and it made us question, but in secret.

We couldn’t wear midriff shirts in school because they would tempt men, yet they could change their shirts in the parking lot. I asked this as a freshman in my newspaper class in a corner. One of the editors decided to publish it into my high school paper; as a result I almost got beat up by the football team. You weren’t supposed to say anything; why couldn’t I be quiet like the other girls?

It was the same school where the wrestling team got suspended my sophomore year for raping several boys with a broomstick lovingly known as Pedro. It took months for the school officials to find out, but the girls all knew; we were threatened with Pedro by some of the boys with a twinkle in their eyes. We were the victims, and in many ways the perpetrators; our silence, unknowingly, betrayed others.

I think of those boys, of the ones who took advantage. They felt like they could, it was their right. The need to feel powerful in weak-kneed adolescence was overwhelming, so they took an option those in charge allowed them to take. In many ways, whether it was through words or the actions and inactions of others, they were told that it was okay. It wasn’t. It still isn’t.

It’s the privilege that creates the world we live in, with rape culture, racism and income inequality taking their tolls. However, the privilege also lives in the silence, because we don’t feel pressured enough to speak out. We talk in corners, but not openly with each other and not as often as we should. We live in a world where rape victims feel the need to hide because they are told that it’s all in their heads and not to accuse falsely while very few rapists get punished for their crimes. And in some parts of the world, there is rape that is legal.

So I have to ask about privilege. I have to ask because I refuse to stay silent anymore.

Privilege gives others the right to tell you what to wear on my body, whether it’s a bikini or a burkini, when in truth it doesn’t belong to you. It gives others the permission to say what you should do with your uterus when they don’t have one. And there is no room for questions or consent; it’s “my way.” Privilege means taking freedom that doesn’t belong to you. It means enforcing silence.

Yet I am standing here. I am asking because I have a voice that refuses to listen to regulations on my body that have no foundation in reason. Who sees the suffering of my friends, from warped body images, racism and rape, and told to “get over it.” Who are told that we have to be what the world tells us to. We don’t. And we won’t.

So as long as my voice is clear, I’m going to keep asking about privilege. And you won’t shut me up.

Grief: A Tisha B’Av HOWL

Tisha B’av is considered to be one of the saddest days in Judaism, commemorating the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem amongst other countless tragedies in our faith. For me, it commemorates several other tragedies that I think about today. So I decided to write a Tisha B’Av meditation/HOWL for it, in partnership with East LA Jews’ #24HourWail. Theme: Grief/Loved Ones.

Once upon a time, I told you I loved you. You were about to slip through my fingers down the river of time, lost to me forever. I watched you flow away without me, or maybe you were on the shore and I was the one sailing on. Either way, you are lost to me. Lost and never coming back.

I felt every drop flowing away from my eyes as I laid on my back, their salt feeding the earth underneath me as I stared at the ceiling. My zombie self was coming to life in the ruins of the temple we built together, categorizing the days of my existence into two piles: Days with you. Days without you. There is nothing else anymore.

Many people have come and gone. The past is littered with empty cups of coffee, clean plates where food once was and forced mealtime conversations; kisses of hope and comfort left me behind while the quiet crept in. Yet somewhere in between the seconds, hours, days, years we spent together, you carved yourself into my soul, a mirror reflection in myself. You are etched in permanence, merging into my drifting insanity and hopeless dreams, sneaking up on me in the dark corners of my world.

There in the night before sleep takes me, I wrestle with your legacy, because despite my missing you I refuse to idolize you. I cannot see you with the childlike wonder that once consumed me. Although we are in different places, we are both past the point where innocence can touch us. You are imperfection personified. Even in my love for you, inside me I hate you too.

Hate is love’s constant houseguest, and love is hate’s companion through everything the world has to offer. They live together on this great spectrum of the universe, and one cannot exist without the other. I used to say I could never hate anyone. But I also never knew how deep love could go.

Because hate is the anger residing in the holes where love doesn’t live, manifested into words, phrases, courses of action that, if left to its own devices, can destroy. Only love can fill those empty spaces, reverse it in its own manifestation of words and actions. Whether you want to call it happiness, empathy or even sacrifice is entirely up to you.

I miss your beaming joy, which I so rarely see in photographs. Your very skin could glow with warmth, your eyes bringing me in for the warmest hugs even without hands, but when you looked at me you told me you loved me without the actual phrase. When I walked away, I always sensed you wanted one more word. The last word. The words that I will ache to have every day, but you will never know it.

There are no more words left. You are now far away, in some other part of the universe where my reality doesn’t cross with yours. Left behind or leaving. Love or hate. They mesh together inside of me as I rend my garments over and over again, because the pain is still that deep.

We needed more time. That’s all I ever wanted. Time. The days are ticking away from us now, along with months and years. Echoes of you haunt my life, tiny little parts of the world where you come back to me in a split second, and then just as quickly go away. I stand in halls of walls full of clocks that would physically give me more, yet all while still clinging to the desperation, the hope that time will stand still. And love cannot stop it. Love is powerful, but often not enough.

In slumber I dream of parallel universes where we are together again, where our great monuments of faith still stand before the heathens crumble them to the ground and send us into exodus yet again. There we stand in the dark deserts of the world, separate from each other, crying to the heavens, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…”

If I forget thee… my soul awakens as I look out to the water once again. Here I refuse the darkness, because it’s a new day. I turn back and head inland, letting the wind take me as I watch the last flower fall from the jacaranda trees, the innocence gone as the seasons change once again.

There is no forgetting you, but there is also the refusal to be held back by ghosts. You are gone, you cannot come back. And yet we live on, not as whole as we once were, but adjusting to the new way. Thinking of a new life, and knowing we must never give in.

We do not forget. Instead we build again. There are new temples to construct, peace to be found in the universe. We cry in our beds, but we stand in the mourning, walking our feet forward into the uncharted world.

Today remember the patch of ground where we laid in grief; tomorrow, it will be consumed with new memories. Today we sit in the silence, tomorrow we will sing a new song and dance to the music, stomping our feet with joyful noise. Today we are sackcloth and ashes. Tomorrow we will rise.

We Were Girls: A Rape Culture Story

blonde-826027_960_720Once upon a time, we were girls.

We clomped in our mother’s high-heeled shoes around the house and tried on her makeup, wondering what it was like to get older. We watched television shows with adventurous, curious and confident female characters, whether we wanted to slay with Buffy, fight evil with Sailor Moon or even be smart like Penny from Inspector Gadget.

We drew hearts around boy’s initials with ours on our middle school binders and dreamed about our various superstar crushes. We dreamed of falling in love, not knowing of the consequences.

We developed our own styles. Some of us put on red lipstick and vintage prints, wanting to be Gwen Stefani. There were the girls who dreamed of being Courtney Love, wearing baby doll dresses and grunge flannel shirts. Others wore cute little plaid skirts and danced, hoping to transform into Britney Spears. But we loved being girls.

We then got older, and our bodies started growing. And that’s when the talking began.

“Girls don’t say that! Girls shouldn’t do that! Girls can’t wear that!” they growled.

“Why not?” we asked.

“Boys will get distracted!”

We wanted to argue it wasn’t true, and our education was just as valuable as boys. Yet there we were, being groped in the hallways and pressured into things we didn’t want to do. When we tried to tell, the administration told us it was our imaginations. That doesn’t happen here. Yet tell that to the boy at my high school who was assaulted with the end of a broom. It made girls scared; if boys could do that to each other, what could they do to us?

There were also the lecherous teachers who purposefully sat the girls in miniskirts in the first row or paid particular attention to certain girls in their classes. We knew who they were. They were adults and we were “children.” They would fight for their own, not for us. We were sexualized long before we were ready to have sex, and the code was silence. If you were smart, loud and stood up for what you believed in, like I did, you were punished.

We were girls. We deserved better.

And these were the girls who were sent off to colleges across the United States. A lot of them rebelled from the mentality of “sit still, look pretty,” or at least I hope they did. They probably learned more about themselves during these days than they did during puberty’s grip. But unfortunately, as these girls turned into women, some of them turned into victims of rape, which according to most statistics are one in five women (there are very few statistics on men, but there are estimates of one in 71).

A lot of these victims have no name. In the Stanford rape case against Brock Turner, she is only identified as “Emily Doe.” On my college campus, she was known as a Jane Doe assaulted in the hallway of the business building my senior year. In fact, in journalism one of the first lessons I was taught in reporting was that you name everyone in relation to any crime — except for rape and sexual assault victims.

To this day many of them still have no names. It’s sometimes because they are one of the over 80 percent of rapes that are never reported to police, or they are victims who refuse to tell anyone, even their own families. Perhaps it’s because of the idea that they might be told it was all in their heads and targeted as false accusers. Maybe it’s worse than that.

I wish I could say rape stopped in college and as soon as we left we were safe. But we weren’t. We still aren’t. I hear the story about my cousin finding out she had been drugged at a party, and telling her friends so they could get her out before it’s too late. The sobs from my friend when she woke up the at a friend’s house blacked out with her pants off still ring in my ears. Another woman is on her couch passionately talking about her own rape on a fourth date as I talk about the boy that told me he loved me, and about an hour later I threw off of me when he tried to force me to have sex with him. When I told my mother a year ago, she told me a similar story from when she was dating.

We became a part of a never-ending rape culture, so we began to follow a survival creed, whether we were single or with someone. Instead of adventurous and curious, we had to be cautious. Watch your drink. Be careful how you dress when you go out, don’t wear too much makeup. Don’t go out by yourself, particularly at night. Feel free to drink, but don’t drink too much. And for heaven’s sake, don’t be easy, because who would believe you if something happened?

We had to stop being girls, because being girls meant being naïve and possibly becoming prey. We had to become women to take responsibility for our own safety. But then we’d hear the calls throughout out lives: “Well, boys will be boys!” Boys never had to stop being boys. They can be boys for as long as they feel like, even into adulthood because it was “cute” or “fixable.”

On the playground, boys could hurt girls until they cried and then have the girls be told, “Well, that just means he likes you.” It meant boys trying to act more aggressive, screaming obscenities at those whom they thought to be less manly. And yes, that sometimes included showing their junk off, whether flashing or sending that sexually harassing text with an inappropriate picture in it.

There were fewer limitations. They were expected to be rowdy and act like wild ruffians. They were allowed to be dominant. There was no one judging what they wore to class or whether they spoke up too much. They were boys.

Even though they didn’t have to stop being boys, most of them wanted to be men, too. The pressure for obtaining masculinity was high. They had to be physically strong and fit a mold. Don’t cry, be tough, don’t show that you feel anything other than anger. The goal was to be so powerful that they dominated others, including other boys who were “different” — gay, brown, black, Asian or even differently abled. This was called patriarchy.

They were also told about being men was that, in order to be good enough, you needed to get two things: money and girls. In that mentality, we were not people. We were things to be possessed, purchased, conquered. And if you had enough money and privilege, you could.

A lot of boys hated it. They were the boys who never made the football team, never got the girls, couldn’t get the fancy jobs that were supposed to bring them everything they could ever want. Quite a few got smart, seeing that there was another way to be men, and they found that there was often a great power in respect for others.

But others began blaming, finding anyone to target, often hurting women because they felt slighted by them or there was no other way to obtain them. On both sides of the spectrum, whether rebelling against traditional masculinity or embracing it, it was all about dominating women and girls, being stronger than us. We were surrounded, harassed with open threats of rape online and subtle hints of it in real life. Women couldn’t stop looking over our shoulders, sometimes wondering if we could trust our male friends, as often the perpetrators of rape are people we know.

We were girls. So is every woman who is a victim of rape or has to thwart an attempt. We rally together to take back the night and help protect each other in bars. Yet there is something lacking in those conversations: The men aren’t there. They don’t hear the stories we tell one another about rapes and sexual assault. But if we talked as openly with the men in our lives about it as we do the women, they would.

It’s time to change the conversation. We are better than this, both men and women, and the power of sisterhood and brotherhood means we should act as one human family. We are partners in making this world not only better but also safer. And it’s time that we act like it.

We need to talk about what rape means, what male to female relationships boil down to. There have to be discussions about the over-sexualization of our society. We need for them to understand that our friendships with one another don’t mean the other owes us anything. We need to teach boys that it is not having girls, money or privilege that makes them powerful, but their own individual contributions to this world that do. That it’s okay to feel. That women count just as much as men, and in order to dismantle the roles that society has given us and let go of rape culture we have to do it together. It’s because rape culture began when we were children and grew into a weed wrapping us up with it, and we need to kill it now.

There is a new generation of boys and girls, watching new shows that tell them all the amazing things they can be, with fashion icons and crushes to draw hearts around. But what are we telling them about each other when we can’t figure out as adults how we relate to one another? They deserve to have a safe world, to know that the way of adulthood is not where men and women become enemies on a battlefield. It’s where we become partners in figuring it out, because somewhere inside of us we are still the children on the playground before the world told us what we should and shouldn’t be.

We are women and men. But we are also boys. We are also girls. And at the end of it all, we are people, so it’s time to start acting like it.