Fail Forward

This is about failure.

This is about the inevitability of failure, the understanding and acceptance that sometimes your work may just not fit into the criteria of what an agent is looking forward. Does it mean your work isn’t good? No. Does it mean you have more work to do? Always. Failure is not infinite and improvement should never be finite. This rejection email – my nth one – doesn’t make me cry in the dark, wondering why I’m not good enough to have my book published. It doesn’t make me want to give up writing; it makes me want to write more. Failure and rejection makes me realize just how much this means to me, and how much being an author and a writer means to me.

In a technological world, my phone has become the hub of games, social media, various apps, texting, email – whatever I could imagine. There is no escaping social media if you want to be a known writer in 2019 and I am noticing more and more how I have to mold my image on the internet to become acquainted with other writers and readers of the world in order to share my stories. I’m not a huge fan of social media, but what I have noticed is, the more serious I’ve become about writing, the less serious I’ve become about maintaining a social media image. My output has gone from posting a photo (or more) a day on Instagram to writing something everyday – whether it is a poem, an essay, a thought, or a handwritten entry in my journal. My energy has shifted from image through immediate visual stimulation to providing a story that allows someone to create an image for themselves. And honestly? I love it. I feel like the “me” I write about rather than the “me” I post about is the more genuine form of who I truly am. I feel like I am living a better and more sincere life by letting my words define me than my carefully taken photos of moments in my life I’d rather hold onto than moments I need to express in order to be a healthier version of myself. So yeah, in a sense, in this email, I failed to meet whatever this agency was looking for. And that’s OK, because whoever comes across me and selects me will select the genuine me, the real me, and the business aspect will be a much more enjoyable one. I’m grateful to each agency who read my words and whether or not they want to take on my projects is relative to whatever impact my words may have. I can take the failure because it isn’t really failure. And any failure is a forward failure as I stumble towards the future I want to create for myself.

Rule of Threes

Another one of the superstitions that floats around my family to this day is the saying, “Everything happens in threes.” Death, engagements, babies, luck of the good or bad kind, doesn’t matter. I’ve had times of my life where I was set to go on vacation, won a vacation, and took a side vacation within a vacation. Conversely, I’ve had rules of three that make me want to die and forget the number ever existed.

The significance of threes comes from the Creator, Redeemer, and the Sustainer. It’s supposed to represent some sort of omniscience, some kind of karmic circle where a situation will come around to provide a lesson that wasn’t learned with the first action. Mix the rule of threes with Murphy’s Law – what can go bad, will – and you have a spicy concoction of misery.

After convincing my parents that I was, in fact, straight, I began to reflect on my track record of zero boyfriends, zero romantic encounters, infinite times of unrequited love. Sure, I liked plenty of guys in school, but they never liked me. When I was in ROTC, I asked a boy to the military ball and when he told me he wasn’t going, I thought nothing of it. He later said hello to me at the military ball with his date. And that’s pretty much how my entire high school career went, pining for boys who never wanted me, but still trying. I received my first kiss at 17 on a beach at a pre-college part with kids from my graduating class. Then, two weeks into my freshman year of college I got drunk at a dorm party and made out with an Irish exchange student who – at the time – I thought was very cute. When I was sober that following afternoon I discovered I was wrong, and that he was nine years older than me.

Aside from the boy I loved for ten years who later came out as gay, I had an unrelenting crush on my brother’s best friend. A typical teenage movie scenario, he spent an awful lot of time at our childhood home, and I grew more and more fond of him as the years went on. I knew I could never – would never – have him, though. He was tall, athletic, very handsome, uproariously funny, and I was frumpy, fat, and his best friend’s sister.

He went on to join the military and I forgot about him until the December of my freshman year of college when my brother’s girlfriend threw a welcome home party for him. He had just finished a tour and was visiting for two weeks before getting deployed again. As a group, my brother’s friends and I were bad news. We smoked a lot of weed, drank a lot of liquor, and did a lot of dumb things. This night in particular I was drunker than usual, and high, mostly because I was nervous of seeing my brother’s friend. I eventually became too bored and drunk to stand around and found solace in a bed in my brother’s girlfriend’s house. I crawled under the covers and prepared to fall into a rum-induced sleep.

My brother’s friend seemed to have the same idea and came into the bedroom shortly after me, first not noticing my presence and then acknowledging me and getting in bed but on top of the covers. We sat there laughing at the fact that we both had the same idea of finding a bed. Suddenly, the lights turned on and it was another friend, who exclaimed in shock that we were both in a room, alone together and he heckled us until leaving and shutting the lights off again.

Years of bottling my feelings were loosened by alcohol and I rolled over to face my brother’s friend and tell him that I had a crush on him for years. He said, “Really?” and laughed. I was embarrassed. He was laughing at me.

Then he kissed me.

We were both drunk and kissed horribly and touched awkwardly and eventually sexed haphazardly; sometime in the middle of the night, I drunkenly lost my virginity to my brother’s best friend in my brother’s girlfriend’s parents’ bed, only to find out he too was a virgin who had never been kissed. I was shocked by that.

Was this supposed to be love? We had a not special, special moment together in a forbidden situation that could have been improved from literally every angle, figuratively and literally speaking. We didn’t use protection, so I had to buy Plan B the next morning which he reimbursed, and suddenly I felt like a sex worker. This wasn’t how I wanted to have my first sexual experience with someone I knew for almost half my life. After he paid me for the Plan B, we never spoke about that night again. It wasn’t until 2014 that he reached out and apologized for how it all went down, but at that point, what was the point?

I went back to school and sunk into a deep depression. I didn’t feel fulfilled in the slightest in regards to how I thought sex was supposed to feel. I was mad at him for being able to forget me as easily as he did – but it was easier for him anyway, considering he left for Bahrain shortly after I returned to Massachusetts. Even though the Plan B worked, some deranged paranoia within me was convinced I was pregnant, because I had this looming sense of dread that – of course – something else bad was bound to happen. Murphy’s Law, I thought.

A girl from my English 102 class invited me to a party at her house in the middle of February, and I decided to go because a couple of my rugby teammates would be there and I figured it would be healthy to socialize. She said it was a pajama theme, and my naive self assumed actual pajamas. I showed up to her house in flannel pants, a tank top, sweatshirt, and slippers only to be greeted by girls in brightly colored, sexy negligees and onesies and matching top and bottom sets. I immediately went to the fridge for a beer and realized, once again, I was out of my element.

The night grew more awkward for me when I reached for my second beer and was questioned for taking them.

“Caity told me I could help myself to the Natty in the fridge, because I don’t have a connect.” They shot that down quickly and I was resolved to stay sober for the night. Within an hour or so of being there, though, I felt incredibly light-headed and weird and decided to not finish my second beer. Instead, I went out back where the smokers were and lit up a black and mild that I had in my pocket; I was in my experimental phase with inhalants, and liked black and milds because they tasted like vanilla.

The group smoking cigarettes left, leaving me with an unassuming guy. He asked me for a light and I just gave him my black and mild, re-lit it for him, and as I put the lighter back in my pocket he stopped me and asked my name.

“Kaitlin.”

“I’m Jake,” he exhaled up and away from me and leaned in to kiss me.

I was surprised at first, but willing. This was my first real house party and a guy was kissing me even though I was dressed like a sack of potatoes – maybe he was repaying me for giving him my black and mild? I didn’t know. I didn’t care. I pulled back from kissing him to get a good look at his face and, while still a little woozy, I could tell he was attractive. Without saying a word, he pulled me back in – hard – and began to aggressively grope me. I pushed away and told him to slow down, to take it easy – but I was so inexperienced with sexual encounters that I didn’t really know what was supposed to feel right and what wasn’t – and I was still a little woozy.

Instead of slowing down, he pushed me up against a green, metal dumpster which in February felt twice as hard and twice as cold. He forced his hands down my pants and with equal force of the dumpster push, fingered me.

Instantly I felt danger, but I didn’t know how to approach it. I didn’t know what he was capable of, but I knew I didn’t want to be in the dark with him.

I pulled his hand away from me and he resisted me doing so, and I told him I didn’t want to do whatever he was trying to do. He apologized, at first, and as I made my way towards the driveway, towards the flood light, he followed me and shoved his tongue down my throat again, this time up against the house.

“Let’s go in that car,” he had a hand on my arm and was pulling it towards the end of the driveway. I resisted, “No that isn’t a good idea.” I pulled back up towards the light and hoped someone would come outside; to this day I don’t know why I didn’t yell.

He grabbed me hard again and I felt immobilized and utterly powerless. Everything was going hazy and I had tunnel vision and I could feel my heart racing but it was so cold outside I couldn’t feel my fingertips. Again, he grabbed me, but this time it was the back of my head and at some point in these moments he pulled his dick out of his pants and forced my mouth onto it. I choked and pushed myself off him and tried to go towards the front of the house. At that moment, someone walked up the driveway to which he pulled me into him to conceal himself and said, “What’s up man?” The guy nodded and looked me in the eyes and I was so upset that he couldn’t see me screaming inside my head. Once the guy went into the house, I turned to follow towards him and was again pulled back, “Let me fuck you in this car.”

“No,” I felt the adrenaline rushing to my head. I had tunnel vision even worse.
“Well let me fuck you on top of it then.” He shoved me backwards onto the hood of the car under the floodlight, the back of my head touching the cold metal. I thought to the people inside laughing and drinking, and why I could barely function off two beers, and who was this guy? Suddenly he ripped my shirt and sweatshirt up at once to try and put it over my head. For some reason – the cold on my stomach, adrenaline, repressed rage, I wasn’t sure – I snapped. Whatever made me feel woozy wasn’t enough anymore, and I absolutely snapped.

I screamed, “No!” and threw my arms forward, catching him in both his shoulders. Backwards, backwards, I kept pushing – open hand, fists, just back until he fell into a bush. I saw him, then, for who he was. I saw a weak, scared boy. He put both of his hands up as if I was holding a gun to his chest.

“Woah! Woah! Woah! Okay, sorry, sorry.” He kept walking backwards, the bush now the only thing separating whatever was coming out of me from ripping him apart. I fixed my sweatshirt, eyes fixed on him, and ran into the house. When I found my friend, I asked her to drive me home. She asked me what happened as soon as she saw my face and I burst out sobbing. I told her everything and she rubbed my back while I sat with my head between my knees, wondering what the fuck just happened.

She took me to my friends. I went into the bathroom and noticed I was bleeding from how hard he fingered me; I still felt him in the back of my throat. Nothing came of it – when confronted, his friends defended him. He belonged to a fraternity, and apparently I was dressed like a whore.

I felt absolutely wretched. My GPA was at the point of just above academic probation. I could barely eat, I slept all day, and I hated myself. When I looked in my mirror I was completely disgusted with what I saw. I told my roommate what happened; I wouldn’t dare tell my parents. They already wanted me to go to Stony Brook and if I brought up being sexually assaulted there was no doubt in my mind they’d pull me from the roster. I didn’t believe what happened actually happened after a week, either. With no one who was at the party believing me, I felt once again like I was just providing some service. A man used me and got away with it, so what did I matter?

My roommate tried so hard to lift my spirits for a few days. She and I were very opposite in terms of lifestyle – me, a rugby player and she, a natural party girl. Eventually in the end of February, she convinced me to go out with her and a couple of her girlfriends.

“Come on, it’ll just be the girls. No boys, and we’ll all be together. It’ll be fun, please?” I said yes, let them make me over, and followed them to a party in one of the varsity sports houses directly off campus.

Immediately I was put off. The living room was packed out with undergrad girls grinding on each other for a camera. I found the bar and we stashed our drinks, but I held onto my lemonade and vodka to avoid what happened two weeks prior. The point guard for the basketball team offered me a hit of his weed and I accepted it, because he smoked it first and he had a reputation to uphold on campus. I let myself sink into drunkenness and wandered the house, looking for faces I might have recognized. I found one of my teammates who wasn’t at the party earlier that month and when she asked me to walk back to our dorm together, I jumped on the opportunity. I wasn’t having fun and I was with a friend.

We were both drunkenly stumbling back to campus, only stopping once to pee behind trees next to the science building. The thin, cold, Massachusetts air made me feel worse off than I was, and I wandered into the freshman dorm carrying my lemonade and vodka, obviously diluted and donning a black Kahlua cap. The security officer stopped us and asked me what was in the bottle. I told her the truth, because I knew if I lied she’d make me open the bottle anyway and I was clearly drunk as it was.

“You girls bringing alcohol into these dorms?”

“No, all me. Not her.”

She let my friend go back up to her room and I asked her to meet me at the police station, because I was about to get arrested.

I was read my rights, cuffed, taken out back and placed in a cruiser. The seats were hard plastic and incredibly uncomfortable, as if I deserved some sort of treatment for being a fucking idiot. We came to the station at the edge of campus, and I was put into holding, handcuffed to a bench, all my personal belongings taken from me.

That was when it sunk in.

I started to cry. “I’m an English major – I never even went to the principal’s office in high school. What the fuck is happening to my life?” My proclamations were to no one in particular, but my arresting officer looked over at me with sympathy. “Do you want to call your parents?” My eyes lowered, “You haven’t met my dad.” She cocked her head, “Hey, aren’t you on the rugby team? I love you girls, always helping with the rape defense classes.”

Possessed – Essay Inspired by Poem

          I remember thinking she was possessed. I remember looking at her, arms flailing wildly around the kitchen, spitting as she spoke, eyes unblinking and intentional. Thinking to myself, this isn’t her. It did something to me that night in 2010, while she screamed at my father in the kitchen, and I witnessed through the glass pane door, all the transparency and spite that flowed from her being. My brother was restricted to the couch, having come home from the hospital after knee surgery, and just yelled and cursed over his head while my mother, unflinching, continued on her rampage into the summer night.
          It was other-worldly. I grew up knowing that alcohol was a normal part of my life, my upbringing, and my mom without a glass of something in her hand usually indicated she was feeling ill. There was never an attempt to limit or eliminate her intake; she became more skilled in hiding her demons. This night, however, something came out. She emanated a nuclear reactor, doubled over in rage and hurt that poured from her lips like a poison and I witnessed it fill the kitchen and seep under the living room door. I anxiously chased my own thoughts and uncertainty up and down the stairs between my bedroom and the living room door, glancing in at the beaten down silhouette of my father and the unrelenting storm my mother became. My heart crept up into my throat as her yells persisted and, at this point, it didn’t matter why she was shouting, only how was I to get her to stop? A beast had taken over her body; her unkempt, graying hair climbed from her roots, lifted from her like static electricity and no one could escape. She raged and threw her arms as if to conjure bolts of lightning to stop my father dead and exact whatever blind revenge she was expelling from her body.
          This wasn’t my mother. This wasn’t my mother. I kept telling myself over and over while my breathing continued in erratic rhythm, maintaining silence and restless feet as my brother continued to yell through the door and react in a way that only stoked her fire further. He began to holler and curse at me to do something as crippling panic grounded me to the living room floor and he painfully forced his body upright to climb the stairs to his own room, justified in his absence of the situation with pain medication and a fresh incision. There was so much pain in that house and I felt it tear through my body and catch my hair while my eyes watered from confusion. My internalization was cut short by her threatening in a coherent tone that she was to call the police, for whatever reason she thought acceptable.
          I had to react. Move, Kaitlin. The anguish it took me to free myself from where my feet stay cemented was quickly forgotten as I pulled open the door between the kitchen and living room to a flood of hot, angry air that intoxicated me on contact and filled my head with a mix of cigarette smoke and anguish. I witness her thumb through the phone book while my father remained glued to the kitchen chair, duffel bag beside him and pleading eyes glued to his devastated face.

“Mom, you can’t call the police. What is this even about? What’s wrong? Just talk to me, please.” My voice cracked as I tried to pierce the thickened air to reach her. I knew she wasn’t there. She was looking for the number to the police for Christ sake. I found myself incapable of holding an air of authority over a the creature that stood before me, eyes unblinking and enraged, in a bathrobe, forehead moistened with sweat. She grabbed for the phone and I reached out and pulled the phone from her shaking hand.

“What the fuck do you want from me?!” She screamed like a threatened wild animal as I begged for her to just calm down – to just listen.
          Again, she reached for the telephone and this time I reacted. I grabbed her shoulders while my father remained seated, immobilized, scared. My eyes met hers and it was at that point I realized I was not staring into the eyes of my mother. I was staring into the eyes of someone possessed, wild, erratic, and unstable. She caught my gaze and I felt it shock through my body like a punch. My jaw went slack once I confirmed this unfamiliar face.

“Get the fuck off of me!” She roared in my face and grabbed my wrists to thrust me backwards. While I flung back into the refrigerator I questioned if it was her screams or her raw adrenaline strength that forced me away. In that moment, like the silence following a nuclear explosion, her arms released to her sides and her eyes lowered. What is going to happen.

“This isn’t about you. Go.” In one short moment, I gained sight of the human I never wanted to confront in such a way. I never wanted to hurt her, but she hurt me. “Go.” She turned back to my father, my eyes followed suit. He gave me a nod to leave. I grabbed my keys from the kitchen table and removed myself to the driveway, where I turned my car radio onto old rock to drown out the screams coming from the house. I sobbed on the steering wheel and looked over my hands, where my wrists ached like burns from where she grabbed me – where she threw her hurt into me, where she momentarily regained humanity in the face of her daughter.

\That evening, in and of itself, was the beginning of the end for my mother.