American Home Wrecker doesn't shy away from themes of sexual and physical abuse - some characters overcome their trauma while others perpetuate the violence. In Alaska, thousands of women are victims of sexual, physical and emotional abuse each year. Sadly, our beautiful state has the highest rates of this ugliness.
The author is a survivor of rape and now she is sharing her experience as a means to empower other women. This is her story.
IT HAPPENED TO ME
When I was 14 the husband of a family friend raped me.
He asked me to help him with some household chores while his wife was in the hospital.
I don’t remember the actual event.
After he pushed me down, my mind apparently went somewhere else, because the next thing I remember is sitting on a bench in the local park, wondering what had happened and how I would make up a story to cover up the distress that I couldn’t hide. I thought for a while that maybe I was wrong, maybe it hadn’t really happened. Tried to deny it to myself. Didn’t want to believe.
But when I saw him again, he mocked me. Saying yeah, of course it happened. I had to clean up your mess.
My mess? That mess was yours.
I couldn’t tell my family because I was ashamed of myself. Was sure it was my fault for being there. I adored his wife and hated myself for this terrible thing that had happened and that would hurt her if she found out.
So I made sure she didn’t find out. Not her, not my sister or brother, not my gentle dad or my wonderful mom who would have had his head on a stake and who I know would have supported and believed me.
But I didn’t give her a chance because I didn’t tell.
Instead I stuffed it deep and drew away from my family and started making bad decisions. Instead of dreaming about going to law school and the ranch I wanted when I grew up, I started to engage in risky, promiscuous behavior, drinking, experimenting with speed and pot.
At 15 I met a man who was 8 years older, divorced with two kids. I confided in him and he didn’t denounce me, still liked me. I figured I should hold on to that. I was sure no one else would be so gracious, would find me only a wretch and a slut. So I ran away with him when I was 16. We married. He beat me up and ran around with other women but I loved him. We had two beautiful sons that were my salvation and kept me from leaping off the cliff of despair and suicide.
And now, decades later I know that he was not so much a bad man as a man that only knew bad behavior. He was also a product of abuse. When he was upset or felt vulnerable, he lashed out in the only way he knew, with his fists; just as his father had done to him, his sisters and his mother when he was a child. I’m not making excuses for his behavior; I’m working to understand the why.
Because we can’t prevent trauma if we don’t understand why it starts.
Abuse only stops when we work collectively to stop it.
That starts with believing the people who tell us they have been abused and not blaming them for it.
I count myself lucky that I wasn’t attacked, beaten and terrorized by a stranger. Until a few days ago, none of my family knew what happened, my parents went to their graves not knowing. But through those years of silence, I always had so much love and support from them, from my grandparents, aunties and uncles, sister and brother that I survived. Didn’t go completely off the road, only occasionally and temporarily. My family supported me simply by being there and loving me.
Now, I want to do something to help others.
I don’t want this to get distracted by the politics of the day. I want the focus on women, girls, boys, men who have been sexually abused.
Especially those who have taken the terrifying step of coming forward and who were not believed.
I’ve picked four organizations in Alaska that help women and children and I will donate half the proceeds from any book sales.
WHY I WROTE AMERICAN HOME WRECKER
I often write about the things that make me afraid. This book started out as a response to my fear about the racist tones in our nation after a black man became our President. I didn’t realize how much racism still existed in the country. In my protected white bubble, I didn’t think people would still call a child of color the n-word, until my stepsons came home crying from grade school because of it. Their father told them that words and names did not define who they were and as long as no one put angry hands on them, they had to learn to walk away from the taunts.
As I read about the explosion in anti-government separatist groups after Barack Obama became president, I started writing a novel about an intrepid reporter who uncovers racist militias and reports on their activity. I also wrote about women who had been sexually abused. Some escaping the damage and taking control of their lives, some not able to avoid the assaults but eventually finding their own path to strength and personal redemption and some who stepped through the door of hell and went from being abused to being abusive.
I want to add to the momentum of millions of women coming forward to reveal their assaults. I want to add to the truth of how pervasive it is because unfortunately, I know very few women who haven’t at some point in their lives, had to deal with sexual jeering, intimidation, ridicule and assaults.
So I’m putting my book out and committing to sharing any sales of it with sexual assault prevention organizations in Alaska.
My state has the highest numbers in the nation for brutal treatment of women. In 2013, the FBI statistics for rape show Alaska far in front with 125 per 100,000 people. The next closest state is New Mexico at 70. Most states are in the 30s and 40s. Violent crime in Alaska tops 640 per 100,000 residents. Again, well ahead of any other state. The Last Frontier has the dubious distinction of being first in these terrible numbers.
If I can help in a small way, I will.
Zilla Gillette, my intrepid reporter is my super hero alter ego. She believes in truth, justice, respect and equality for all people. She’s committed to the idea that if people have correct, unbiased information, the majority of them will make good decisions.
I want journalism to be respected again. I want people to realize that an accurate, properly sourced news media is the life-blood of a healthy democracy.
In my book American Home Wrecker, Zilla escapes sexual assault but the Carter sisters did not and what they manifest because of their self-loathing is what we see when women abuse or neglect themselves, each other and their children. It is pain and fear that stems from a lack of support.
A lack of justice.
It’s why it keeps happening, over and over again. To help stop it, we have to believe and support each other.
American Home Wrecker is not a pretty storY
It delves into hatred, violence, murder, a lot of rough language, racism and sexual assault. My soft-heart, Midwest sister was upset by it, saying some of the language was like a punch in the gut. She implored me to change it.
But I won’t because it’s meant to be a punch in the collective gut of all of us.
A wake-up to the reality that people of color deal with every day. The reality of children who are afraid in their beds at night rather than snuggled in safe and secure. The reality of women who are forced to serve a dominant partner and are subjected to beatings and rape if they don’t serve fast enough or just because.
It takes a harsh view on separatists. But when you blame others for your plight in life because of their skin color, their country of origin or their sexual orientation, then you’ve lost your way and you won’t find happiness until you stop blaming and start doing the work to make your way in the world without hurting or taking from others.
ZILLA’S FUTURE - THE NEXT BOOKS IN THE SERIES
The next Zilla Gillette book deals with another fear of mine.
Human slavery: The trafficking of women and girls, boys and men.
In book two Zilla is on assignment in the arctic where vessels with hidden cargo are increasingly transiting the vastly unmonitored waters.
Book two should be out in the spring or summer. I’m half way through the first draft and will post preview chapters soon. Proceeds will be split with groups helping victims of trafficking.
Book three will find our intrepid reporter on a story about Alaska nukes and earthquakes.
KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING ABOUT ENDING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
I welcome comments, criticism and feedback. I only ask that we have an exchange that starts from a place of respect.
There is strength in numbers and we can come together in a positive way for the future, if we listen and try to understand each other’s hopes, fears and challenges.
You can contact me if you want to get in touch.