CLASH OF THE TITANS
In the 1980’s, the movie Clash of the Titans made its way to Sunday afternoon TV, and as kids, my older brother John and I would sprawl out on our living room’s royal blue shag carpet and watch. The Titans were primeval gods, even before the Olympians. They were the first set of children to be born to the earth, Gaea, and the sky, Uranus. Theirs is the typical Greek loving family: Dad hates the kids because they’re ugly and forces them to live in a cave; Mom plots with one of the sons, Kronus, who kills Dad and becomes king. Kronus then fears that his own children will kill him, so he swallows each one immediately after it’s born. It’s safe to assume he ate them according to the classic Greek recipe: salt, pepper, oregano, lemon juice, and olive oil from a 3 liter tin he keeps under his kitchen sink.
This was what I considered a “boy movie,” but I tolerated it in the hope that John would leave the room during a commercial, at which point I would change the channel and try to convince him that the movie had ended. But I do remember Perseus’ battle with Medusa. It was dark inside the temple, and Perseus carefully dodged between the many columns to avoid looking directly into Medusa’s eyes. Just one glance would turn him into stone.
Like mine, Medusa’s hair was curly and had a mind of its own. Unlike mine, hers was a knot of snakes growing out of her head. Instead of legs, she had a long, scaled snake tail with a rattle at the end. Her face was beautiful, but always in anguish. I remember her very clearly because she was the only woman in the film that did any fighting, and I thought she was a badass. Medusa first tried to strike Perseus with her arrow, but missed. She then mistook his reflection on his shield for Perseus himself, and missed again. Throughout the fight scene, the only sound we hear from Medusa is the hissing of her snakes. It ends with Perseus beheading her, and her decapitated head screams. Finally, she had a voice.
One of my favorite toys as a child was my bright red View-Master. I owned a stack of discs, each with 14 colorful photos of a particular theme. The photos on the disc were illuminated through the window, and because the same image was duplicated at each eye, it gave the effect of looking through binoculars. In a time of lackluster TVs, these 3-D images appeared perfectly crisp. I advance the photos by pressing a little orange lever with my right index finger. Releasing the lever revealed the image: Sleeping Beauty in her brown flowing skirt and green collared top, her gorgeous blonde locks around her shoulders. She dances barefoot around the trees with an owl in a red cape as her dancing partner. Bunnies nestle into her boots and watch with delight. The View-Master has no sound, but I remember the words from the movie. She is singing, “I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream. I know you, that gleam in your eyes is so familiar a gleam…” Then I press the lever with my right index finger, and there is the darkness of the paper between the photos blocking the light. I release the lever again, revealing a new image:
Prince Charming, dancing with Sleeping Beauty. Trees and hills form the backdrop and their silhouettes are reflected on the lake. Again I can’t hear, but I remember from the movie that she worries that she’s not supposed to speak to strangers, and he convinces her to trust him, despite what her intuition tells her, because he isn’t really a stranger. After all, hasn’t she just sung that they’d already met in a dream? Sleeping Beauty quickly lets down her guard and dances with Prince Charming.
One day when I was 12 years old, I took a shower, wrapped my hair in a towel, wrapped my body in another towel, and walked to my bedroom. A family friend followed me.
The memory of what happened next will always be fragmented, like shattered glass. I release the lever. Here, an image painfully crisp and clear. I press the lever. Now it’s the darkness between images. I release the lever. Another image, unforgettable, illuminated by a memory that I cannot erase. I press the lever again. Darkness again. And although the View-Master has no sound, I remember the words: “Shut up.”
A few months after that day when I was 12, I was tasked with reading To Kill A Mockingbird and giving an oral presentation to my English class. Boo Radley, I reported, was a kind, misunderstood soul, and the hero of the novel. I described what I knew of his past, where he lived, how he lived, and all the gifts that he left in the trees for Scout and Jem. I lauded him for saving the children’s lives.
Afterwards, my teacher called me to her desk and asked why I hadn’t mentioned the trial. I looked at her blankly and told her that I didn’t find the trial important to the story. She asked if I’d read the whole book. I said yes. She gave me my first C.
It wasn’t until I reread the book in my 20s that I understood what I’d done. Although the book never came out and said it, Mayella Ewell was being raped by her father. Her mother died years earlier, yet there always seemed to be new little ones about. The whole town knew, but no one was helping Mayella. That was the story I wanted to talk about. But I didn’t know how. I refused to be part of the charade that focused on the trial while allowing Mayella to continue to be abused. So instead, I gave a report about how wrong everyone was about Boo Radley.
Three years ago, I moved into my fourth floor apartment. I realized as I brought the first box up the stairs that the man parked in the SUV in the alley was masturbating. But, I really didn’t care, and I had to get the UHAUL truck back by 5 p.m., so I just carried on and minded my own business. That is, until he got out of his SUV, got naked, and continued to masturbate while watching me. Once I realized I was unwittingly playing a role in his extracurricular activities, I called 911. When they took more than 20 minutes to arrive, and he was still at it, I called again. Finally, police officers arrived. By the time they called me to join them in the alley and give them my statement, the masturbator was already in the back seat of the patrol car.
“Ma’am, we’re sorry you were the victim of a sexual assault,” said the first officer.
“Oh!” I smiled and giggled nervously, “It’s OK! I don’t mind! I mean – I mean…thank you.” I hadn’t considered that I was a victim of sexual assault. I just wanted to get the UHAUL truck back in time to avoid extra fees.
Then the second officer asked me questions for his report. I still don’t know why he wanted to collect my information, and in the moment, I was too agitated to ask. He looked at me intently.
“Eye color, hazel?”
“Yep,” I replied.
“Oh, it’s, it is, but no, it’s not really black. I dye it. It’s actually kind of chestnut, with a lot of bronze, but I don’t like the red. Not for my skin tone…” Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I wanted to cover my face in embarrassment.
I asked if they had caught him in the act. They said that by the time they arrived, he had put his pants back on, but that he did confess to public masturbation, and his hands were covered in lotion. I was dying to know how they managed to handcuff those greased-up hands. I imagined them dangling handcuffs from the end of a billy club, extending it towards him, and saying, “You have the right to remain silent. Here, put these on real quick…”
After he finished his questions, he said the DA’s office would contact me about a court date. A longtime fan of profanity and its specious friend, the euphemism, I spent the next few weeks searching for the perfect words to use in the courtroom during my testimony. I consulted friends, the internet, and Roger’s Profanisaurus, a delightful obscene reference book I’d picked up in a comic shop in London. I decided that the first one I would use would be “walking his dog,” because its vagueness would require me to use several other euphemisms by way of clarification.
“Your honor,” I would explain. “No, not an actual dog. You know, choking his chicken. But, your honor, not a real chicken…” and so on.
Then, my dreams were dashed when the masturbator settled on possession charges and the hearing was called off. I would eventually research this and find that many cases of public masturbation involve meth, which was found in copious quantities in his SUV.
As I unpacked the day after the “dog walking incident” in the alley, I broke a Pyrex dish in a kitchen so small that it seemed impossible not to have swept up all of the pieces on the first try. Yet, since then, every few months a shard of glass appears from some crevice and finds its way into my foot. Each time, I limp incredulously to a chair, pull the glass out, and wonder: Where was it hiding? Why can’t I clean it all up? How much more of this is there? How long will this go on? No matter how much time goes by, or how many times I sweep, another shard occasionally comes out of its hiding place and cuts me. I’ve had to go to the podiatrist to have glass removed from my foot more than once.
My sister, Tina, didn’t follow.
“I don’t get it,” she said. “Why do you even have a podiatrist? Why don’t you just clean up all the glass?”
“I did,” I replied. “I thought I did. I always think I did. But then more of it pops up and surprises me.”
One day Bill Cosby walked into my kitchen wearing an appalling sweater under his doctor’s lab coat.
“Don’t tell anyone this, not that they’d believe you,” he started. “I like to drug women and rape them.” A broad smile spread across his face. It was Dr. Huxtable’s smile. The one he wears when he’s left alone in the kitchen with a chocolate cake. He’s going to eat a piece of cake, replace it with some crumpled up paper towels, frost the paper towels, and walk away. It never happened, he’ll think to himself.
“And,” Cosby continued, “the best part? They all think they can come forward, but who cares what they say! No one will believe them! Everyone will say, if it were true, they would have come forward a long time ago.” He looked at me, tilted his head down condescendingly, and pointed a finger my way. “You grew up watching my show, you were about Rudy’s age. I know you can’t ever imagine hating me. But don’t worry, you’ll never have to hate me. No one will ever believe them.” He brushed past me and checked my refrigerator for his favorite heart-clogging cold cuts. Finding none, he moved on to the cabinets where I keep my glasses. He picked out a wine glass, inspected it, looked me right in the eyes, and smashed it onto my kitchen floor. Shards of glass skidded across the tiles and into new hiding spaces.
I press the lever. Now there is darkness again.
Sometime later, Donald Trump walked into my kitchen, wilting my houseplants a little bit more with each exhale. He had come to clarify something for me.
“You think you know what happened, but you don’t,” he started. I felt a familiar pit form in my stomach. “It’s locker room talk,” he said. “You don’t understand. You’re a woman. You just don’t know about this stuff. This is just how men are. This is just how men talk, we can’t help it – we’re men!”
Before he left, he noticed on the counter a mostly empty wine bottle that I had consulted after Bill Cosby left. He raised the $8 bottle to his nose and inhaled deeply. His face curled up into a sourpuss. He turned the bottle upside down, held it by the neck, and smashed it against the edge of my kitchen counter. Millions of pieces of glass took up hiding places.
“In my new hotel next to the White House,” he explained, “I have wine so expensive that I sell it by the spoonful. $140 an ounce. You should come by. But put on something cute.” He smiled and winked as he said, “Don’t come dressed like that.”
I looked down at myself. Suddenly my hair was wrapped in a towel. My body was wrapped in a towel.
I press the lever. Now there is darkness again. I try to release the lever. The lever is stuck.
I’ve had a recurring nightmare since I was 12. I try to call the police. It fails every time, for different reasons: the number “9” is missing from my phone; the line is busy; the line will not ring. I never get through.
After Donald Trump was in my kitchen, my nightmare had a new twist. Before, I was always alone as I tried to make the phone call. No one else was ever there. Now the family friend is also in my dream. I confront him. I tell him I will call the police.
“Go ahead,” he says. “They’ll never believe you. I’m going to sit right here and watch you. They’ll laugh at you.”
He stays in the background, laughing as I dial over and over again. I get a busy signal each time.
When I wake, I wonder why I needed the return time for the rental truck as an excuse to call the police to report the man masturbating in the alley. Why didn’t I think that the fact that I was upset was enough reason to call? Why did I play it down to the cops? Why was I nervous when I spoke with them?
Soon after that day when I was 12, I told the wrong adult about what happened. I thought this person would protect me, but instead they believed his version of the events, and tapped the first in a line of dominos that framed my insecurities about my body and relationships for years to come. I was mistaken, he said. I’d misunderstood. I thought I knew what happened, but I really didn’t, he said. It wasn’t what I thought it was. I was just a confused kid. I couldn’t bear to tell my story again, and even if I could, I couldn’t face another person telling me I was lying. So for years, I shut up.
I want to get rid of the glass for good.
I decided that in order to put the dreams to an end, I needed to do the things now that I wish someone had done for me then. I vacillated for an entire morning before finally summoning up the courage to call the domestic violence hotline in my hometown 3,000 miles away. In law school we were taught to always consider the best and worst case scenario and then ask our clients if the former was something they could handle, and if the latter was worth the trouble. The worst case scenario, I thought, was that they would not believe me. That surely would not happen. I dialed the number. I got a busy tone. I panicked. My recurring nightmare had come true. I wanted to press the lever. I did not press the lever. I would not, I told myself, retreat into darkness. I walked into my kitchen, the most well-lit room in my house. I splashed water on my face. I looked down at myself. Suddenly my body was wrapped in a towel. My hair was wrapped in a towel. I press the lever. Now there is darkness again.
I keep my finger pressed firmly on the lever. But then I remember that in my recurring dream, I never give up. I call over and over again; in fact, I’ve been trying to make that phone call now for 27 years. Yet, outside of my dream, I’ve now given up after just one try. I release the lever.
I walked back into my home office, sat at the table, and tried the number again. The line was still busy.
I learned through a friend that is a police officer in San Diego that police departments do not allow people to file reports that they cannot act on. If the statute of limitations has passed, they simply will not accept the report. It was too late. At least, I thought, it was not the worst-case scenario. At least he believed me.
I eventually called a friend, a private detective, who found out for me where he lived, worked, all of his contact information, and whether he has a criminal record. She told me things like, “This isn’t something we can do over the phone,” and, “yes, it’s OK if we reschedule.” I know that she has the file. I know I want to see the file. What I don’t know is whether or not I will blame myself for any sexual assaults he may have committed after the one I never reported. Not knowing the answer paralyzes me each time I reach out for the file.
There’s a back story to Medusa that’s not mentioned in the movie. She was born a beautiful demigod. As a young maiden, she was raped by the powerful god Poseidon in the temple of the goddess Athena. In a rage of jealous anger, Athena punished Medusa by cursing her with snakes where her beautiful hair once grew. In the end, Perseus killed Medusa, a requirement with which he was tasked in order to save the life of the virgin Andromeda.
Like Medusa’s, my own curls sometimes turn into snakes. They hiss and lunge at creeps, real and imagined. They assume the worst and turn down dates and refuse to give out my number. Their hissing wakes me in the early hours of the morning, my apartment a sweltering oven because they won’t let me call the guy to fix the air conditioner. I haven’t learned to keep them from rattling. I don’t know if I ever will.