Me Too

How the fuck does one write a Me Too story? Or maybe more so, relive the memory in order to share it with others? I say relive because is there really any way to recount what’s possibly the worst thing that has ever happened to you without reliving it? I’ve been watching the Me Too Movement grow in momentum over the last few weeks and it’s truly astonishing to see how many women and men have shared their very personal stories of abuse and sexual assault in all it’s varied, horrifying forms. I’m well aware of the statistics; and of the large number of women who never report, and therefore never become a part of the statistical bigger picture. Facts are: the statistics are much lower than the actual number.

I’m one of those numbers, both the reported and the unreported. How do I tell that story? No one wants the gory details and I don’t have the stomach to put them all on the Internet. But it deserves to be said, doesn’t it? Everyone who’s truly close to me, and even some who aren’t, know my story. I just happen to be one of those people who endured more than their fair share of shit. I fall into a couple different “statistical categories”:

•Child abuse under the age of 12

•Child abuse over the age of 12

•Molestation

•Rape

•Intimate partner sexual assault/rape

•Sexual assault perpetrated by a stranger

•Child Victim of Physical Abuse

• Victim of Stalking

Grotesque, isn’t it? It seems crazy to me that one person, that I, have endured all of those things. I’m a walking statistic. And part of me, probably the damaged part, wonders how I attracted all of these sick individuals; but really, I didn’t attract most of them. My biological mother did…

I guess this “Me Too Story” starts with when I survived a year of sexual abuse at the hands of my mother’s boyfriend, who is also my little sister’s father. I successfully testified and was cross examined at the tender age of 8, and had that man rightfully convicted of Sexual Battery of a Child Under 12 and Lewd, Lascivious Acts on a Child Under 16. He received two life sentences, without the possibility of parole, and two 30 year sentences, to be served consecutively. That was the only one I reported; but only the first of many. I was 5-6 years old when the crimes were actually being committed, but by the time I testified against him I was already getting the shit kicked out of me by my mother’s new husband. That occurred periodically from the time I was 7-8 until I was 12. I have the scars to prove it. Then on to the next boyfriend, Chris. He was a father type figure on and off for a couple of years until one night, when I was 16, he decided to stick his hands down my pajama pants when he thought I was sleeping. I wasn’t. I blacked out for 30 minutes or so until I came back. I pretended to wake up, asked him for a cigarette to act normal while pretending I didn’t know what had just happened, then walked downstairs and puked my brains out. I remember staring in the bathroom mirror after throwing up and feeling like nothing was real. I had no way out. He had the only phone and it was after 3am. So I just shut down. I was stuck at his house until the next morning when my mom was supposed to be picking myself and my little sister up from “visiting him” after he got home from jail. It was just a bad set up from square one. But I didn’t see it coming. I had no choice but to go back upstairs and crawl back into the bed that myself, him, and my sister were sharing. I couldn’t sleep though, so he asked why. I fed him some bullshit about my “back hurting”. So of course, the sick fuck starts to rub it, but mostly my ass cheeks, while I shut down and completely disassociated from my own body…just like I learned to, at 5 years old. I don’t remember anything else between then and the next day once I was home again. I told my mom what had happened after getting really high and she called him and cussed him out. He proceeded to send me flowers, cards, money, and opiate painkillers “for my back” for the next year. Who sends a 16 year old girl money and flowers and drugs to say sorry? I wasn’t his girlfriend? And the drugs? Yeah, totally normal. A year and a half later my mother started fucking and dating him again. She hid it from me (like that made it any better) until I finally just told her I knew; at which point she said “Is it okay? If it’s not I’ll stop.” That ship sailed when she crawled into bed with him again knowing what he had done. So I plastered on a fake smile and said I didn’t care as long as I was never alone in a room with him again. He was the last one of her boyfriend’s I ever let near me.

But now we have to go a year or two back in time. I was walking to a friend’s house one night when I noticed a guy following me. I thought maybe I was being paranoid, he was just walking the same way as me, right? But I felt it. That gut feeling that tells you something horrible is about to happen. I tried every trick those worthless self defense coaches teach you: “Pretend to be on the phone. Hold your keys in your hand. Make multiple turns to shake them off.” None of it helped. At one point he disappeared. I almost took a breath but I could still feel that something was very wrong. Just then, he popped out of a small alleyway between stores and grabbed me. He was significantly bigger than me. We struggled until he got me on my knees with my hair wrapped up in one of his hands while I tried to wiggle away. As he was undoing his pants and saying some things I’d rather not repeat, I remembered the butterfly knife I always kept in my back pocket. Before I could think about it I grabbed it, opened in, jammed it into the inner thigh of his left leg, twisted, and pulled. He screamed and dropped. I ran. I showed up some unknown amount of time later on a since deceased friend’s doorstep covered in blood and shaking with the knife still in my hand. I don’t know what happened to that man. And I don’t fucking care. I never told a soul other than that dear friend of mine.

That one almost made what happened with Chris worse. With him, I reacted. I defended myself. “Fight or Flight” right? Wrong. There’s a third one: “Freeze”. With that man in the alleyway, I fought. But a bit later, with Chris, I froze. I separated from my body and I just survived. Just like when I was a kid. It took years to not hate myself for freezing. I couldn’t stop the thoughts that said “Why didn’t you fight back? Why didn’t you hit him? Why did you go back upstairs? Why didn’t you get yourself and your sister and run? Why? Why? Why?”

See, I knew it wasn’t my fault. People spent my entire life saying that one sentence: “It isn’t your fault.” But, as it turned out, I wasn’t blaming myself for any of these things happening. I blamed myself for not stopping them.

But this story doesn’t end there. At 18 I met a tattoo artist and we started to date. He told me he was 28. I later found out he was 32. I stupidly stayed anyway. He lied to me, manipulated me, isolated me from every single person I knew and loved, even the ones I lived with. He was a new kind of monster, one I wasn’t as familiar with; and so his games worked better because I didn’t recognize them until it was way too late. It all started innocently enough. He had trust problems. He was insecure about me being around men. He wanted to be involved in everything I did. But it ended in him stalking me relentlessly. I remember trying to break up with him over the phone one night. I did it, hung up, and got in the shower. When I got out and went back to my room every hair on my body was standing on end. I knew he was somewhere near. And then he called me. I answered the phone and he said “Boo”. But I heard it through the phone and… my closet? I crept to the door and opened it. He was standing in my bedroom closet. I don’t think I’ve ever screamed like that in my life. Not before then, and not since. There were two locked doors and a deadbolt between the street he came in off of and my bedroom door. He said how he got in was “his little secret”. He said he wouldn’t leave until I told him I loved him and took him back. I already hadn’t slept in weeks because he would show up and call me and make me talk to him constantly. He was embedded in and in control of every aspect of my life. Thus why I was trying to leave him. That night ended with him on top of me, having sex with me, while I cried. He didn’t care, and all I can remember him saying is “You’re going to tell them I’m your man, right? You’re going to tell them you love me, right? That I’m the only one?” The “them” he spoke of was a group of teenage girls whose belly buttons I was driving to the next town over to pierce the next day. He was absolutely convinced there was going to be guys there and that I was lying to him. So all of this, because I needed to make some money and agreed to pierce a couple of 18 year old girl’s belly buttons. That was one of 4-5 times that he had sex with me after I said no, while I cried the entire time, while I physically shook because my body was so against everything that was happening to it, yet couldn’t make it stop. It took me finally losing my sanity and packing two bags of clothes and a $439 paycheck into my Acura Integra at 4 in the morning, and driving 100mph to Wichita, KS., 1,365 miles from home at 19 years old to get away from him. I eventually came back for the holidays but got stuck when my car started having problems. I had gotten a 3 month break, but he started stalking me again. One morning I found him sleeping in his car out front of my then boyfriend’s house. I lost it. I grabbed a baseball bat, beat the shit out of his car while screaming that he was a rapist at the top of my lungs. Stupid son of a bitch got out of the car. That bat and his body became very close friends. He didn’t stalk me anymore after that.

After him I was pretty fucking damaged. It took me two years to stop having panic attacks every time I heard a car like his or saw someone parked outside of my house. It took even longer to stop sleeping with bats and knives and guns stashed under my pillow and throughout my house. It took me a long time to be able to feel like I could thank the male cashier for ringing me up, or to feel like I was allowed to have any friends, especially male ones. It took me months to speak when in a group of people because I was so used to spending hours fighting after an outing because I told someone I liked their shirt or stood with my hip cocked out to one side. And somehow, in that time after him, I still ended up dating two different people who treated me like property. Men who took “No” and “Not right now” to mean “Try harder” or “Guilt trip me until I give in”. Men who felt it was my duty and responsibility to stop everything I was doing to send them pictures of my body or to talk to them or sleep with them. Men who spoke to me like shit and treated me worse.

I always knew they were wrong.

Yet I kept finding them and making excuses for them because they “just need to see that I’m actually a good woman” or they “have trust issues” or “have potential”. Eventually I learned that it is not my job to pay for the misdeeds of other women and that you can not have a relationship with potential. There were some good people I met, ran away from, or fucked up because I was so fucked up at that time. But it didn’t matter. I was convinced that all men were like that once you really got to know them. That they all wanted something from me and it was up to me to decide whether or not the cost met the benefit. Saying I had trust issues is a gross understatement. I still do. But today I do trust people and some of them are men. One of them in particular is my man and he is a good man. I don’t have to make excuses for him or hide his behavior from the people who love me. There are good people out there.

So, as I read these Me Too stories, I think about all of my own stories, I think about trying to write them down, and I get overwhelmed. I started this piece with no idea of what it was going to turn into and as I type this sentence I wonder if I’m going to post it. There’s things in here that people who love me, people who read this blog, don’t know about. And there’s more than I’ve put in here and more than I will probably ever say out loud. Some things have scarred over, I can talk about them almost like they happened to someone else; but others….well, they still live in my nightmares and crawl up the back of my throat in the form of bile some days. Everything falls into the past eventually, but I’m not sure it all heals. I don’t think I can truly say I’ve “healed” from any of these wounds yet, but I’ve learned to live with them; and on most days they don’t control my thoughts and actions or reactions. I’ll take that. I talk to other people who’ve been there. They tell me how they cope and I tell them what I’ve learned. There’s something powerful about telling someone what is possibly the worst thing that has ever happened to you, and them looking at you and saying “Me too.”

by Ashley King

© All Rights Reserved 2017

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Why I Refuse to Pierce My Baby’s Ears

We’ve all seen it: a beautiful baby girl, in an equally adorable outfit, with miniature diamond studs in her ears. It’s cute, it’s a baby, what’s not to love? Most people will barely stop to notice the earrings; they’ve become so commonplace today. But if we stop to notice them, we can only come to one conclusion: her parent(s) got her ears pierced.

Let me be clear: I hold absolutely nothing against parents who choose to pierce their children’s ears. I write this today only to express why I, as a parent and a body piercer, won’t be making that same decision.

As a body piercer and tattoo artist, I’ve stuck more needles in people than I could ever count. The youngest person I will pierce (with parental permission and the correct releases) is a 13 year old; and even then, I will only do certain piercings. I also won’t tattoo anyone under 13; and frankly, at that age, if it’s something stupid or inflammatory that I’m 99% sure they’ll regret, I still won’t do it regardless of parental consent. That’s within my rights as the artist; and as an artist I feel that it’s my responsibility to properly guide my clients towards work they’ll love forever (as much as I can anyway) and to steer them away from bad choices. Other than this level of discretion, I love body modification in all it’s various, beautiful forms.

Because of this people close to me have asked me multiples times, “When are you going to pierce your baby’s ears?!” And my answer is always the same, “I’m not.”

My reasoning is simple: it’s her body. Why should I put holes in it without her permission? Because it’s cute? Because “She’s so young she won’t be able to pull them out“? That may very well be true, but who am I to say that she’ll want her ears pierced by the time she’s 13? And if she doesn’t then she’ll be left with scars after years of having her ears pierced when she didn’t choose them. The scars will be tiny, superficial at best; but they’re only one minute part of the problem I have with piercing an infant’s ears. Besides the scarring there’s also the initial pain and fear this practice causes an already emotionally fragile infant in a new world; followed shortly by the risk of infection, keloid formation, lobe tearing, and the choking hazard of the earring itself. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics says a child’s ears shouldn’t be pierced until they can care for them themselves and they don’t recommend ear piercings with a gun (the most common way of doing it) at all because ear piercing guns can’t be sterilized. That’s more than enough for me.

Her being my child doesn’t make her mine to do with as I choose, not in that way. If she needed a surgery to save her life that required me to choose something for her body that would leave a scar, then I would make that choice in a heartbeat. But something cosmetic, that’s done for the sake of being cute whilst having some serious physical risks? That I will not do. And that’s my choice as her parent. Should she want to get her ears pierced later in life then I’ll do it for her, or bring her somewhere to have it done. But it will be her choice for her body.

We live in this day and age where everything is about the outside appearance. And really, what other reason is there to pierce your child’s ears besides it being cute? There isn’t one unless you’re doing it for cultural reasons such as they do in India or Spain. Many parents choose to do it for various reasons; and again, I have no qualms with them. But just like they chose to pierce their baby’s ears, I refuse to pierce my baby’s ears. At least until the day when she asks me to do it herself.

by Ashley King

© All Rights Reserved 2017

Unpopular Opinions

I’m sure you’ve all seen the recent trend on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit: “Post Your Unpopular Opinion”. I’ll admit, I’ve participated. Firstly, because I enjoy seeing what people consider to be “unpopular” and secondly, I’m a fan of educated debate (where you can find it anyway). However, in reading many of these threads, I found a somewhat recurring theme. Many of the things that people consider “unpopular”, in my opinion, shouldn’t be. Shall I provide examples? You know I’m going to anyway so…

Unpopular opinions circa 2017:

1. We need feminism

2. Men shouldn’t regulate women’s bodies

3. I’m pro-choice

4. Children need mothers more than fathers

5. Let the refugees in

The list goes on…. I’d really like to avoid the politics and arguments behind those 5 points specifically and focus more on the common theme among them. They all come back to treating people fairly and equally and respecting their rights as individuals. Why is it that these subjects aren’t popular opinions? Why do we feel as if we should have a say in what other people are allowed to do when it doesn’t personally effect us? The word autonomy does exist for a reason. Why do we treat people who are a different gender, religion, or race as less than? The word equality also exists for a reason. The common theme among these opinions makes me wonder… Where did our humanity go? Where did our kindness go? When did we lose our compassion for others?

Most of the time, when we hear the details of a personal story firsthand of something we might usually fight, such as a family of refugees being allowed into our country, we have sympathy for it. Because we’re hearing it firsthand, it’s in our faces, it’s made real. It’s easy to say “Fuck the refugees! Don’t let them in!” when you’re not staring a starving child from a war torn country in the face. It’s easy to say that abortion is never okay when it’s not your 16 year old. It’s easy to say men and women shouldn’t be equal when you’re the one who’s had the upper hand your entire life. And it’s easy to say mothers are more important when you’ve never grown up without a father. It’s easy to have an opinion about something that doesn’t effect you or your life personally.

Our compassion and capacity for critical thought are two major things that separate us from animals. Without these we become subhuman. We become cruel. We cause damage. We become opinionated; and in this world, our opinions are screamed at the top of our lungs until they start to effect public perception and legal policies. We have the ability to have a drastic and irreversible impact on other people’s lives and we exercise this ability with no thought for those people it may effect. That right there, is what I believe should be unpopular. I am of the opinion that when laws are passed, the people effected should have a say; they should be allowed to offer an opposing viewpoint. What we do and say in that regard should be challenged, looked at, drafted, opposed, and done again. We need to pay attention and be careful. Because these opinions we hold, these laws we support, these people we condemn, it’s all real. It’s not just a Facebook argument this week, it’s not just what’s trending, it is life. It’s our wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us. These things do have an effect, they causes casualties, they change lives. We have a responsibility to be decent, compassionate, and good people. That is a key point in being a member of any community. So why does it seem that most of the community has forgotten that?

by Ashley King

© All Rights Reserved 2017

Struggle

Some days I struggle.

I carry this sense of impending doom around in my pocket like loose change or leftover lint. I feel a little left of center, a little off balance. Maybe I’m crooked. Maybe I’m damaged. Maybe there’s too many things that I’ve left unspoken, and the weight’s got me bent… but still unbroken.

So now some days I breathe anxiety for oxygen and use anger for strength.
Cause I can only fight as hard as I hate.
And sometimes that fire lightens the weight…
But sometimes it burns me instead.

I never fear the shoe dropping, I fucking expect it and although the years have caused that to lessen, I’ve still learned well how to hold my breath in. I’m a little cautious or completely reckless, balance has never been what I’m best at.

I’ve carried this guilt my entire life, accepting blame for shit that’s not mine.
I was raised to feel responsible, for everything; and it didn’t go away when I got old enough to see. See how broken that thinking is, and how wrong my mom was in the things she did. I was born pure and molded into an apology. Never taught to stand up or fight what people blamed on me. I spent my first 13 years mostly saying “Sorry”.

But evolution is inevitable and eventually the change came. I got a new mom, learned what I didn’t need to say. I stopped accepting blame and slowly dropped the weight. But some things in life, never truly go away.

So some days I wake up, with a belly full of lead, from all of the times that I bit another bullet. And on any given day my spine made of steel can curve into a question mark because not everything is healed. But most of the time, I stand up for myself, I don’t accept blame and take care of myself. I don’t make choices out of guilt, I don’t back down from what I’ve built. I’m accountable for my actions, and nothing fucking else.

by Ashley King
© All Rights Reserved 2017

Substandard Love

I’ll love you when it’s easy,
I’ll kiss you when you’re sweet,
I’m careless and convenient,
I’ll support you when it suits me.

I’ll kick you while you’re down,
I’ll never lift you up,
I’m fucking fantastic,
And you’re never enough.

I’m all the ways you settle,
And nothing that you wished for,
But now my hooks are in you,
And I’ve pinned you to the floor.

Are you feeling trapped?
Baby that’s my speciality.
I’ll knock you down, wear you out,
Suffocate you, breathlessly.

Don’t you know? I’m everything,
And you are just my hostage.
You used to have self respect?
Well baby, you just lost it.

Come taste my love,
It’s nothing but substandard.
You swam onto my island,
Now you’re fucking stranded.

You’re welcome.

by Ashley King
© All Rights Reserved 2017

Dedicated to all the egotistical, narcissistic, one foot out the door, “I’m better than you”, demeaning, condescending, douchebags of the world. We see you. And you suck 🙂

Catalyst 

If I stare at this page for a thousand weeks will I find the courage to write what I think? You were a surprise. Pleasant and sweet. But where I’m from, that’s a precursor to defeat. I’m damaged baby. 

I’m trying to tell you, I really dig you. But I’ve dug before and ended up 6 feet deep. People just don’t love like me. 

I’ve been a novelty, someone’s conquest, a fleeting love at the very best. People only want the “survivor” when she comes without the past. I used to mistake empty hands for love, falling for dogs who just wanted a home, but baby I’ve grown, and I know the difference, between being in love and being a bone. I’ve survived these lovers after feeding their hunger; but only fools don’t learn the danger, the danger that comes from falling under. 

I don’t need fixing, so please don’t try. I’ve spent a decade learning how to fly. I’m not a damsel in distress. I’m an inferno and I can have your back. But I’m not a fucking midnight snack. I don’t play games but I always win and looking at you is close to sin. The way you smile sets fire to my skin but baby, you fuckin’ scare me. 

I breathe easy when I’m with you, laugh loudly and speak so true. But the comfort I feel when I’m with you, makes me think of every thing that was ever too good to be true. I think you’re different, I really do. But you’ll have to forgive my fear of you. You’re a foreign concept, something new. 

Because you make me wonder if maybe it isn’t so bleak. Maybe love isn’t always a one way street. Maybe you can actually see me. And that baby, is what fuckin scares me. 

I’ve grown accustomed to damaged men. The kind that lie and bleed you dry and leave you questioning your own insides. I’ve known betrayal. And I’ve felt the sting of self doubt. Because I believed the words that poured from another man’s mouth. I guess you could say I’m normally guarded at best and somehow you’ve made me drop my defenses and the only experience I have to go on, says that this is fucking reckless. Yet you jar my senses. Like you packaged happy and left it at my doorstep. How the fuck did this fuckin’ happen?

I’ve broken every rule with you. 

So why doesn’t it feel like I’m drowning? Shouldn’t it? Why doesn’t this feel like a mistake? Should it? Why when I’m around you do I feel like I’m home? And why when I’m with you do I not feel alone? Maybe you’re different. Maybe I’m broken. Maybe we’re just two sides of the same damn token. Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be and years of damage blinded me. Maybe we can be good and healthy. Maybe comfort shouldn’t fucking alarm me. 

I know I’m going back and forth but for what it’s worth, this is a first. I told you I’ve always felt discomfort, and that’s not some line I just like to use. You’re something new that I’m not used to and I’m not quite sure what I should do. I want to touch you, really touch you. But if that happens, what will it do? Because I feel like you’re a catalyst; like the second you happen, everything will be different. 

by Ashley King

© All Rights Reserved 2017

An R.I.P Poem

I can’t find a reason why this should’ve happened. What can grow from of all this damage? What did you need that you didn’t quite have yet? How could you do this? Betray your family. The one thing you’re known for is your loyalty, an undying need to protect those you call family.
I think some days the anger was all you had left. Your soul so stained, tainted, depressed. But there was always a light regardless of your darkness, I just think you were blind to the beauty you harnessed. Your heart was gold, but the world is cruel kid. You found your vices and threw out the blueprints. You never were the type to follow a plan, you’d say “fuck it”, start buckin, and be your own man. But was the price of your life worth that lack of a plan? I know if love could cure an addict, you’d still be out here, goin’ at it and none of us would feel this pain that’s left in the wake of your absence.

I remember that day by the water, we were so young and free. Completely unaware of how it’d turn out to be. What would we have done if we knew this was next to come? I never knew you’d die, using a drug as a gun.

R.I.P. Joseph Shultz

June 2, 1992-June 23, 2016
by Ashley King

© All Rights Reserved 2017