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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dogs versus Cats

It seems to happen at least once a week. A dog saves the life of a baby, or an entire family, by selflessly putting itself between danger and a human. Dog Saves Infant From Fire, Dog Saves Family From Fire, Dog Rescues Toddler. Dogs are, from all appearances, better people than most people. Which explains why dogs are so popular as pets.

Cats, on the other hand, will most likely not risk their lives to save a person. Oh, there are some stories about a cat protecting a child, or Meatball, the French cat who saved eleven people in a fire. For the most part, though, cats are jerks.

We have a cat. Her name is Princess, and she has appropriated all the furniture in our living room. Princess is almost eighteen years old. She is a rescue kitty, fat and happy, shedding all over the damn place, chewing on carpet, puking on carpet, floors, and yes, her furniture, and I love her desperately. I do not, however, think Princess would save my life during a fire.

I would save hers, no question. If we had a fire in our townhouse, I would grab her first. Then maybe a scrapbook, my wallet, my phone, and some underwear. Odds are, I would probably try to get some of my mother's art out of the house before my husband dragged me onto the lawn. But I would get the cat first.

And I guarantee that while I was grabbing Princess, she would yell at me, struggle, maybe try to bite or scratch me, because she hates to be held. So as I was saving her life, she would be pissed. Cats are jerks.

When Princess goes to the rainbow bridge, it will break my heart. Despite her quirks, and the cat hair all over the place, and all the times we have stepped in warm, squishy cat vomit, and the fringe missing from a Persian rug I inherited from my mother because Princess ate it, and the cat food she sprays under the dining room table, and how she shoots litter five feet onto the floor, I really love her. I will mourn, I will cry, I will miss her terribly, and then I will get a dog.

A small dog, but not one of those dogs you see being walked from a distance, and think to yourself "Why is that person walking a rat?" Our association has a weight limit on pets, which, sadly, means I cannot have a Newfoundland. Or a pony, but that's a different issue altogether. What I really want is a pug. I love the snarfling noise they make when they're happy, and how their whole butt wags.

Having a dog comes with one major drawback: walks. When it's pouring rain, or twelve below, or snowing so hard you can't see across the parking lot, the dog needs to be walked. When it's ninety degrees, with eighty percent humidity, the dog needs to be walked. If you have the flu, or a migraine, the dog needs to be walked. And it has been made very clear to me that if "we" get a dog, "I" will be responsible for the majority of the dog's care, because my husband doesn't really want a dog.

My husband had a black Lab named Joey many years ago. Joey was a great dog, according to my husband. Joey loved my husband so much, he once brought half a deer carcass home as a present. That image-an adorable black Lab, dragging half a deer carcass across the road, tail wagging as he anticipated how happy my husband would be to receive this wondrous gift. Shockingly, my husband was not as pleased as Joey hoped to have half a rotting corpse deposited in front of his house. But he still remembers Joey with love.

I've never had a dog; we've always been cat people. And maybe, someday, when the opportunity presents itself, I'll get another cat. I just really want a dog. I will run across the street, or walk half a block out my way, to pet and chat with a dog. Dogs like me, because I have a special "talking to animals" voice. It's soft, and low, and gentle. It probably wouldn't work on a wildebeest, or a tiger, or a venomous snake ("Hi! Oh, who's a pretty snake? Now, let's not do that, sweetie, no, we don't have to HOLY SHIT YOU LITTLE BASTARD I NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL OH JUST FUCK YOU SNAKE!").

We will have to wait and see if a dog becomes part of our family at some point. Until then, I will care for Princess, and adore her, all the while knowing that she would never, ever save me from a fire. It is more likely that she will, one day, be successful in tripping me as I walk next to her, I will fall and die from a head injury, and she will snack on my corpse.

And then she'll puke on the rug.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

An Evening Surrounded by Heroes

Wednesday night, a group of survivors gathered in Minneapolis. Some were there to lend their support, some were there to speak, while some were there for the very first time. Survivors of rape, incest, sexual assault, sexual violence, and abuse, sat shoulder to shoulder to Break the Silence.

One by one, men and women walked to the front, sat down, took a microphone, and shared their trauma with a room of strangers. But we weren't really strangers; one thing I have learned over the past year is survivors are bound together by a thread. Sitting in the back, my hand gripping my husband's knee, I listened to shaking voices, failed attempts to choke back tears, and the woman behind us shared her box of tissue, as the young African American women next to me silently wept.

Heroes walked into a room in Minneapolis last night. Whether they spoke or not, just walking into that room was enough. Lending a shoulder, or giving a Kleenex, or writing down a message of hope to place anonymously in a brown paper bag, were all acts of heroism.

I spoke. I was number 103. I don't remember much of what I said; I probably laughed awkwardly at the wrong time, because I do that when I'm nervous. I do know I spoke about Children's Theatre, and when I did, my husband said the woman in front of me began to shake. When she took her turn sharing her story, she mentioned CTC, and I sat straight up in my chair. Another thread.

After each survivor spoke, they were given a lit candle to add to the circle of candles on the floor. The candles represented light, and hope, and honored every hero who had broken their silence.

We cried, a lot, last night. But after the event, laughter began to ring out. Men and women were hugging, and talking, and yes, laughing. Because even in the darkest moments, we found joy. We made friends, exchanged email addresses and phone numbers. And we laughed.

I spent an evening surrounded by heroes. It was an honor, and a blessing, to watch amazingly brave men and women, take back their power. It was also incredibly sad to see young people, some my son's age or a bit older, speak about what they have survived. Last night was a reminder of how many people survive sexual assault, sexual violence, rape, and abuse.

To everyone who spoke, to everyone who came to support us, and to everyone who did not speak, but felt the love, and felt believed and validated, thank you. Thank you for your bravery, your empathy, your honesty, and your light. The world is better for having you in it.

I'm Erin, and I am breaking the silence.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Daniel Fitzpatrick: Another child lost to bullycide

This past Thursday, 13-year-old Daniel Fitzpatrick hanged himself. Daniel, a student at Holy Angels Catholic Academy in Staten Island, was a victim of bullycide. From The New York Daily News:
Before he took his own life, Daniel Fitzpatrick, taunted and bullied, wrote a final, heartbreaking letter lamenting that nearly no one tried to help him.
The 13-year-old Staten Island boy, mercilessly badgered over his weight, grades and his innocent heart, pleaded to his school for help.
But teacher after teacher at Holy Angels Catholic Academy — the principal, too — turned a deaf ear, refusing to intervene, he said in the letter that was never sent.
Finally, overwhelmed by the torment, Daniel hanged himself, his family said.
His innocent heart. According to Daniel's mom, Daniel didn't want to grow up quite yet. Maureen Fitzpatrick told The New York Daily News:
He just wanted to be a kid. He didn’t want to be involved in things that were too mature for him.
A gentle soul, still a child, who just wanted a safe place to go to school.

We lose far too many children to bullycide. And frankly, listening to pundits and politicians, and reading social media, it's no wonder that parents are raising bullies. A presidential candidate who encourages his own supporters to use violence against people with whom they disagree. Cable news hosts and guests, demeaning those less fortunate. Social media posts, body shaming anyone who isn't aesthetically perfect, insulting people with average, or lower-than-average IQs, blaming victims of violence for their own pain and trauma. Society has created the perfect environment for bullycide.

A 13-year-old child wants to be safe, loved, supported, and encouraged. Daniel Fitzpatrick should have been able to reach out to teachers at Holy Angels Catholic Academy with the expectation those teachers would do something to stop the bullying. No one, especially a 13-year-old child, should ever be allowed to reach a point where suicide is an option.

Children learn what they live. Adults who are keyboard warriors online most likely carry their rage and intolerance into their day-to-day lives. If those adults are parents, their children hear them. They hear the racism, the hate, the anger, the cruelty. They carry that with them to school, where they might find a kid who is brown-skinned, or smarter than they are, or not athletic, or just different. They might remember their parent, yelling about Muslims, or immigrants, or the LGBT community, or women, or intellectuals. And those kids who have been immersed in hate might drive a peer to a place of terror and desperation.

As adults, it is our responsibility to raise children who are not bullies. We do that by not being bullies ourselves. As adults, it is our responsibility to listen to children who are being targeted in school, and help them. And as difficult as this may be, it is also our responsibility to help the bullies. We simply cannot throw those kids away; we must provide them with a safe place, too.

Ending bullycide will take a village. It will involve social media like Twitter and Facebook, neither of which take online bullying seriously enough. It will involve schools implementing programs and training for administrators and educators. It will involve parents willing to stop teaching their own children to hate. It will involve an end to stigmatizing mental illness, or anyone, of any age, who needs help.

We can be that village. We must be that village.

If you are being bullied, or are a parent who needs resources, please visit, and