I have this little trick I use to help myself fall back asleep in the middle of the night.
It's called "a shot of gin."
I go through the alphabet, doing a different US City for each letter. Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas... It works so well that I've never even gotten to X. I'm usually out like a light by the time I hit Nashville.
Not tonight. It's 3:30. Evidently, I am awake now.
I blame Sufjan Stevens, whose new album "Carrie and Lowell" has me in low-to-moderate heartbreak, and Jon Krakauer, whose new book "Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town," has me in moderate-to-high speechless rage.
"Carrie and Lowell" is a haunting, bare exploration of Stevens' relationship with his mother. Carrie was, by all accounts, a captivating character - magnetic and erratic, creative and schizophrenic, beautiful and absent. She left her family when Stevens was only 1, more out than in her children's lives and crippled by her own battles with substance abuse and mental illness until she passed away of stomach cancer in 2012.
Carrie's son grew up to be an uncommonly intimate songwriter, and the songs on this album bleed. With such lines as "what did I do to deserve this," "tell me you want me in your life," and "I just wanted to be near you," the album is nothing less than devastating. I can't stop listening to it and finding myself in tears as I pick up Legos and fold Chicken's palm-sized Hanes briefs into a sloppy square.
I can't help but look at Chicken and Buster and think never, babies. You'll never get rid of me.
But of course that isn't a promise I can make, really. Of course I could go insane. Of course I could get sick.
So I'm up at 3:50 am, thinking Albuquerque, Brownsville, Cincinnatti, Denver, Elizabeth, Fayetteville...
But I'm really thinking let my life not hurt my children.
And then there's "Missoula," a book about how the US justice system handles rape prosecutions. Like everything else I've read of Krakauer's the book is quick, deft, and jaw-dropping.
I don't want to spoil it for you if you're interested in reading it, and make no mistake I recommend this book 100%, so I won't go into detail about the insane, insane, INSANE horseshit that the rape victims profiled in this book have to endure at the hands of police officers who are, in the BEST-CASE scenario, untrained if well-intentioned. You don't even want to know about the worst-case scenario. Or maybe you do. If you do, you should read this book.
I'm a mother of two boys, so as I read "Missoula" I want an appendix - How To Make Sure My Children Respect Others And Understand Consent From The Earliest Possible Age Because God Knows There Is Nothing They Can Do To Make Their Mama Stop Loving Them But I'd Be Heartbroken If My Sons Grew Up To Be Sex Offenders.
I'm also a former female college student, so as I read "Missoula" I can't help but recall the hundreds and hundreds of times that I was in the same situation as these other female college students - at a party, drinking, invited by trusted friends to sleep on the couch so I wouldn't have to walk home alone at night, aware but coolly mistrustful of the stats that said I was far more likely to be assaulted on that couch by a familiar friend than by some faceless predator lurking in the shadows. Not me. Not with these guys.
Blowing off steam after finals with people I didn't know that well but trusted for no other reason than we both got into the same school and shared a few common friends, I once found myself alone in a room with a pony keg and six men whose names I didn't know. It never occurred to me that I was outnumbered. Silly rabbit, I wasn't even scared until the conversation stilled and in the silence I did the math and found a good reason to go to the bathroom.
I was embarrassed by my own paranoia and rolled my eyes at warnings about the danger of just that kind of situation. They're good guys, Mom. As if I knew.
Nothing ever happened to me. Nobody ever assaulted me.
But reading this book makes me aware of how cavalier I was with my personal safety, how badly wrong it all could have gone, and how quickly.
I could tell, seriously, dozens of stories from college, summaries of nights that differ from those found in a police report by only one (critical) plot point.
- Hanging out with some casual friends, mostly men
- Drinking moderately
- DD decides to drink, leaving me with the option to schlep home on foot or call a cab
- Invited to spend the night on the couch
- Agree. These are good guys.
- Fall asleep fully dressed, under a light blanket that smells a little sour - this is, after all, the house of college-aged men. I am now the only woman in the house.
And only here does my story deviate from a rape survivor's. I woke up the next morning with fuzzy teeth and a headache. My friends wandered out of their bedrooms and we all went for egg sandwiches.
It's 4:15 am. Ashville, Boulder, Charlotte, Durango, Eugene, F... F...
I'm taking a shot of gin and turning on The West Wing.