Arrested for Alleged Sexual Abuse

This startling headline appeared in my local newspaper last week:

Arrested for Alleged Sexual Abuse

Now, most emotional triggers hit me like a ton of angsty bricks, so before I even got to the lede, my heart was pounding, but shockingly, in a good way.

The article was about a 41-year-old volunteer male paramedic for our local Fire Department who was charged with second-degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.

According to the story, the police investigation resulted in the paramedic’s arrest for inappropriately touching a 13-year-old boy.

I felt pity for the child, but I was relieved that his abuser was exposed for the pedophile that he is. I imagined the young boy had a family who loved and believed in him and that they would do everything in their power to make him whole again.

I closed my eyes and asked God to help that poor kid to forget.

And then I wrote a note next to the article, asking my husband to save it for me.

When he warily handed me the paper, I immediately cut out the five-paragraph article and displayed it on my desk.

A short while later, my husband wanted to know why I cut it out. I just shrugged.

After a day had passed, he wanted to know why I would torture myself by placing the article front row and center on my desk.

Later that evening, my husband was still asking me why.

Why. Why. Why.

Please, don’t think me insane, but the article was a salve.  Honestly, I would frame it, but I don’t want to alarm or upset my family.

Why?

Because the article is validation, that’s why.

Because the predator inappropriately touched a thirteen-year-old child, and he got arrested, that’s why.

Because this deviant will serve time in jail, that’s why.

Because Mr. Molester was publicly humiliated and exposed, that’s why.

Because the innocent little boy will never have to be sexually assaulted by that sicko again, that’s why.

At the end of the article, the detectives requested that if anyone thinks they might have been a victim of a similar incident to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-244-7477 or 911. All calls are confidential.

Too late for me, but not too late for others, that’s why.

Life for My Friend in Afghanistan

Much of this blog post about my Afghan friend will be intentionally vague. I will refer to her as Fatima, although that is not her real name.

I’ve changed her name and the circumstances under which we met to protect her identity and safety and ensure the organization’s anonymity that helped facilitate our friendship.

Soon after 9/11, in the capacity of the publisher and chief operating officer of World Press Review Magazine, I was invited to a two-day conference with students and educators from war-torn areas of the world—primarily the Middle East, South Asia, and the Balkans.

I was looking forward to the conference because there would be a delegation from Afghanistan, and I wanted to meet them first hand, hoping for an exclusive interview with one or more of them.

I brought along a spiral notebook hoping to fill it with enough material about my interaction with the Afghan contingent to write a compelling, knock-your-socks-off article for Worldpress.org.

The notebook had the following words on the cover: NOT ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST.

As I entered the reception room, I saw a handful of young women in pale blue full-body cloaks, otherwise known as burkas. Their faces were completely covered except for a small area around the eyes, camouflaged by heavy netting. As they huddled closely together, I walked over and introduced myself.

When I stuck my hand out in greeting, I realized that their cloaks had no armholes. I awkwardly apologized while they all silently bowed their heads up and down.

The conference organizer informed me that I would be sitting with Fatima, an Afghan teacher, and her students.

As we went around the table offering our names, Fatima quietly prompted her students to introduce themselves. To be honest, if she hadn’t spoken to her students, I wouldn’t have known the difference between student and teacher. With all that material covering Fatima’s face and body, I wouldn’t have known if she was sixteen or sixty.

I made a few quick observations: At first glance, I was unnerved by this hooded creature. The woman looked like a blue ghost, and the semi-transparent mesh fabric covering her eyes made it impossible to garner any sort of emotion from them.

Fatima was eyeless and faceless, and I wasn’t sure where to focus my own eyes. I can usually tell a lot about someone through their eyes. Do they make eye contact? Do their eyes reveal sadness or gladness? Are they happy to see me?

Because the semi-transparent mesh obscured her eyes, the fabric made it impossible for me to size her up. I felt self-conscious as I tried to focus on where her eyes should be, but I forced myself to do so anyway.

Her burka was nylon—you know, the kind of fabric that doesn’t breathe. And as I tried to make small talk, I couldn’t help but imagine how uncomfortably warm she must have felt.

Surprisingly to me, we hit it off right away. I suppose my knowledge of Afghanistan and the cruelty of the Taliban helped to promote easy conversation. Her English was excellent, and we were equally interested in each other’s stories.

The burka served as a roadblock between us, though.  Here I was in my designer dress—hair and makeup accentuating my persona while she sat there visibly invisible. I unfairly imagined what she looked like: Dark eyes, swarthy skin, with teeth in need of an orthodontist.

She asked me about my family background, and I told her about recently finding my paternal family.

I explained to Fatima that until June of 2001, I knew nothing about my father or that side of my family. She listened in fascination as I told her about discovering that my father was a Syrian Christian. And that his mother, my paternal grandmother, was in all likelihood a Syrian Jew and that I had five half brothers and sisters I never knew existed.

I divulged something to her that I had never uttered out loud before: That I had finally found peace and relief, and although I never knew I needed it, I felt almost whole and more complete than ever before. I shared a photo of my daughter and half-sister, and she enthusiastically agreed that they looked eerily alike, although not surprising.

She delighted in the story and the discovery of my heritage and newly found siblings. The woman without a face listened in amazement and peppered me with question after question. I will remember forever what she said to me after I finished telling her my story: “You can’t see it, but I’m smiling.”

And then it was Fatima’s turn to tell me about herself. She was in her early 30’s, and coming to America was a life-long dream.

She, too, had found peace in 2001, when in October, the United States invaded Afghanistan. “Until then, the Taliban treated girls and women worse than animals,” Fatima whispered in her thick accent while furtively looking to the right and left, as though there were spies among us.

Her head hung low as Fatima explained that when the Taliban came to prominence in the fall of 1994, life as she knew it changed for her. “The Taliban imposed strict and oppressive rules and orders based on their misinterpretation of Islamic law. Women had effectively committed the crime of being born a girl.”

Fatima pointed out a student of hers that was old enough to be in the seventh grade, but she had just finished second grade because, under the Taliban, she had not attended school for almost seven years.

In 1994, the Taliban’s assault on women began immediately. They barred women from attending classes or working at Kabul University. The Taliban forced nearly all women to quit their jobs, which had a devastating impact on household incomes, especially widow-headed households, which, according to Fatima, was common in Afghanistan.

They drastically restricted women’s access to medical care, brutally enforced a burka dress code, and made the ability of women to move about Kabul impossible. The Taliban forced them to quit their jobs as teachers, doctors, nurses, journalists, government officials, and clerical workers.

She further explained that domestic violence had become rampant in Afghanistan—the physical evidence conveniently hidden under the burka.

“Under the Taliban regime, there was a complete ban on women working outside of the home, which made it impossible for me to teach,” Fatima explained. “And there were no schools for girls anyway, so my profession was useless,” she continued, barely audible between her whispering and all that material covering her mouth. When I told her it was hard to hear her, she apologized, saying that as a veiled woman, it was also hard for her to hear and that the burka was claustrophobic and unbearably warm.

Her depiction of the Taliban was haunting.

The Taliban banned movies, music, dancing, clapping during sports events, beard trimming, shaving, card and board games, cameras, children’s toys including stuffed animals and dolls, television, and paper bags. They outlawed hanging pictures in homes, pet parakeets, satellite dishes, chess, cigarettes, alcohol, magazines, newspapers, most books, anything made from human hair, nail polish, statues, pictures, paintings, or photos of any living thing.  Children were forbidden to fly kites or sing songs.

“They even forbid applause, although the ban was a moot point since, as a woman, there was absolutely nothing left to applaud. We used to describe ourselves as the living dead.”

The only public transportation permitted for women were special buses, which were rarely available, and all of their windows, except the driver’s, was covered with thick, filthy blankets.

The Taliban indiscriminately beat Afghans with heavy clubs and long sticks daily. They publicly stoned adulterers to death and amputated the hands of thieves. They banned films with women, and images of females in newspapers, books, shops, or the home. Every visual depiction of a woman was forbidden.

When paying any merchant, a woman’s hand could never be exposed when handing over money or receiving their purchase. Makeup and nail polish were illegal, as well as white socks and white shoes. The Taliban frequently cut off fingers with nail polish.

While the burka existed before the Taliban, its wearing was not a requirement. It was only when the Taliban came into power that the burka became mandatory. Even girls as young as eight or nine years old had to wear a burka. They enforced the wearing of the burka with threats, fines, and severe punishments. And even the accidental showing of a foot or ankle resulted in brutal on-the-spot beatings or, in some unfortunate situations, amputation.

Fatima explained that a burka is expensive and can cost the equivalent of five month’s Afghan salary. And any woman unable to afford a burka faced house arrest. In some neighborhoods, women would share a single garment, many of them waiting days and weeks for their turn to go out, despite their lack of food and medical needs. Fatima described women and girls as wingless birds.

She quoted me an often-used Taliban phrase: “There are only two places for Afghan women. In her husband’s house and the graveyard.”

When I asked her why she was still wearing a burka, she answered that even after the fall of the Taliban regime, many women felt that there was still no safe alternative. “The majority of women who don’t wear a burka face the possibility of being single for the rest of their lives,” said Fatima. She emphasized that it was still a struggle for a woman to gain employment, so they had no choice but to continue relying on men for money. “Men don’t want to marry women who do not abide by hijab.”

She looked around to see if anyone was listening before she continued. “We had to paint our windows black so that no one could see inside, and I could not see outside. So, you see, for seven years, my world was dark.” She paused then, and I imagined that perhaps she was holding back tears. I tried especially hard to see her eyes but to no avail. And yet, I didn’t need to see her face to feel her pain as she continued.

“Yes, my world was dark for seven years because there was a complete ban on women’s activities outside the home. Unless a close male relative could accompany me, the Taliban forced me to spend most of my life in my house. So, when the Americans arrived, I was silently hoping that the worst was over for us. And that my seven years of misery were over.”

We spent hours talking about the horrific life of an Afghan woman. From eight years old, girls were not allowed direct contact with males other than a close blood relative, husband, or in-law. Women and girls were not allowed to be treated by male doctors unless accompanied by a male chaperone, which caused many illnesses to go untreated. Women faced public flogging and execution if they violated Taliban laws.

The Taliban perpetrated egregious and unending violence against women, including rape, abduction, and forced marriages.

Women were not allowed to speak, laugh, or make any sound in public because it was deemed improper for a stranger to hear their voices. Women were also barred from being involved in politics or speaking publicly and could not appear in the streets without wearing a burka. And they could not wear high-heeled shoes because if a man would hear a woman’s footsteps, it might excite him.

Fatima further explained that the light blue burka was commonly worn in Kabul and was native to Afghanistan. The cutwork by her eyes pricked her skin, leaving bloody marks and very little room to breathe and rendered her unable to eat. The small mesh panel allowed such limited vision that even safely crossing the street was difficult. And wearing the burka regularly often led to headaches, poor eyesight, hearing loss, asthma, and other severe disorders.

But worse than all of it was that Fatima longed to feel the sun on her skin.

I shocked her when I suggested that she take off the burka. I tried to assure her that no one in Afghanistan would ever know. After all, we were safe and sound in New York. She silently shook her head no.

We said goodnight, and I gently hugged her. She couldn’t hug me back because the burka constricted her arms. As I awkwardly patted her back, she leaned her head on my shoulder, and we stayed that way for a good while.

I awoke very early the next day, having had a fitful and sleepless night. I walked to the dining room, where I sat in quiet solitude at one of the many long tables. I ordered a coffee and mentally played back all I had learned and heard from my Afghan friend.

As I feverishly wrote in my notebook, a beautiful light-haired brunette woman sat across from me.

Let’s just say she had me at “good morning” because it was my burka-less friend!

Through my tears, I gazed into her piercing hazel eyes and attempted to speak, but I had to pause for fear of crying. She had the whitest of skin, probably because it had barely seen the light of day. I was finding it difficult to breathe. But she was calm.

Her smile was radiant. She had an endearing space between her two front teeth. It was a tiny gap but adorable and unforgettable.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her burka-less students.  They were visibly unsure of themselves and wary as their eyes darted around the room. The girls clustered together and hunched over each other.  Fatima looked over at the girls and gave them a head bow which they all respectfully returned.

When Fatima looked back at me, she said, “The girls are quiet because they’re used to being voiceless. Most of them have been kept inside and unable to go to school. Some of us women ran underground schools in our homes for girls and women under the guise of sewing and knitting classes. Many of my student’s parents were arrested and lost their jobs. They have seen teachers shot and executed for secretly schooling girls like them. My students have witnessed atrocities that children should never know or see. And I fear that even with the American presence in my country, their voices will never be heard.”

During one of our conference breaks, we walked outside, and Fatima tilted her pale face up toward the sky and basked in the sun, her hazel eyes closed.

As she turned away, with her back to me, the sun revealed the shiny red highlights in her hair. Her head no longer hung low; she was walking tall and strong. Her mighty shadow towered larger than life alongside her.

Why September 18 for the far-Right Rally?

When I heard about the far-right extremist pro-Trump rally, my first thought was if September 18, 2021 was chosen for a particular reason.

I have my theory about the date, although maybe it’s a coincidence that on September 18, 1850, the U.S. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which required that people who had escaped from slavery be captured and returned.

Former Donald Trump campaign official Matt Braynard who is spearheading the far-right extremist rally, recently told HuffPost that “protestors would be discouraged from holding election or candidate-related signs or wearing MAGA gear.”

His request sounds unconstitutional to me. And anyway, why not put it all out there? Is Braynard afraid of something?

I suggest you read the entire Fugitive Slave Act because A) I hope it will disgust you, and B) It eerily mirrors the recent Texas abortion law.

Is it possible that Texas lawmakers used the Fugitive Slave Act as a boilerplate for their draconian abortion restrictions? I say yes.

The Fugitive Slave Act essentially gave every American citizen the authority to hunt and roundup fugitive slaves.

Section 6 in the Fugitive Slave Act made it shockingly clear that captured slaves could not testify on their behalf or defense: “In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence. . .”

Section 7 warned that anyone assisting or harboring slaves would be subject to a fine up to $1,000 (equivalent to $35,000 today) and imprisonment of up to six months.

Ironically, the harsh, brutal, and oppressive measures in the Fugitive Slave Act caused such outrage among abolitionists that its existence served as a vehicle to fight even harder against slavery.

The law also incentivized and spurred the continued operation of the Underground Railroad, a network of over 3,000 secret routes and safe houses used by slaves to escape from the slave-holding southern states to the free northern states and Canada. In 1850 alone, an estimated 100,000 slaves escaped via the network.

Many historians believe that the reversal of the Fugitive Slave Act in June of 1864 (14 years after its enactment), contributed to the country’s growing polarization over slavery and is considered one of the causes of the Civil War, which began in 1865.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) has vehemently condemned preparations for the September 18 far-right rally. “We just have to make sure that if they are ready to get violent, that we’re ready again in a better way than on January 6 to defend the Capitol,” Swalwell said.”

With Trump out of office, defending the Capitol should be a breeze.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also condemned the far-right extremist rally. “And now these people are coming back to praise the people who were out to kill, out to kill members of Congress, successfully causing the deaths — ‘successfully’ is not the word, but that’s the word, because it’s what they set out to do — of our law enforcement, Pelosi said.”

According to a January 29 letter Braynard sent to the Department of Justice and FBI, the mob who stormed the Capitol on January 6 looking to hang Mike Pence, and resulted in the deaths of five people,  were nonviolent and “reasonably believed they had permission” to enter the Capitol.

Permission by Dear Leader Trump?

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said Monday evening that “it looks like, from all indications, our law enforcement partners are well prepared for this one. They seem to be taking the intelligence very seriously, which raises a question as to whether or not they did on January 6, but that’s another issue.”

Another issue, indeed.

My Stolen Diaries – Chapter 7: A New School With a Side of Baptism

CHAPTER 7

A NEW SCHOOL WITH A SIDE OF BAPTISM

January 1961

Mem, Mom, and Mere Germaine huddled around the kitchen table, whispering to each other. I was supposed to be asleep, but I snuck out of bed to try to hear what they were saying. Mom was doing all the talking, and it was mainly in French. I tried my best to figure out what was going on, but I was confused.

Mom was telling Mem and Mere that for me to go to St. Augustine Elementary School after Easter break, I needed to get baptized.

Wait. Was I going to a new school? Nobody told me that. And I had no idea what a baptized was.

Mom went on to tell Mem that she would have to pretend to be my mother because the Catholic school wouldn’t accept anyone from an excommunicated family. Mere said that she didn’t want Mem to lie, but she had to agree with Mom that the only way I would get into St. Augustine’s, was if they pretended that I was Mem’s daughter and Mom was my sister!

Then Mem piped in that it was about time they baptized me Catholic anyway and that there was no reason I should be Greek Orthodox and risk going to Limbo. She blamed my dad for that.

Wherever Limbo was, it didn’t sound like a place I wanted to go. And no way did I want to go there with my father.

Then Mom said that if anyone at St. Augustine asked, she would tell them that she was married to an oil rig worker stationed out of state and that Mem and Mere were widows. Mem and Mere bobbed their heads up and down like Mom was the boss of both of them.

They had always taught me that lying was a sin, so why was it okay for them?

The next day Mom sat me down and told me that because of Barbara Titone, I was going to a new school.

I was thinking about all the ways I could punch Tit out for causing me so much trouble. Mom scolded me for not paying attention.

Then Mom said that if anyone at St. Augustine asked, I had to tell them I was Mem’s daughter. When I reminded Mom that lying was a sin, she told me to “shut it.”

It was Mem who told me that right before Easter, I was getting baptized. I wasn’t crazy about getting a pile of water dumped on my head, but what could I do? Mem promised me that she would take me to Howard Johnson’s for a banana split afterward, so I was excited.

Every time I saw Tit at school, I gave her the rat face, so she stayed far away from me, but so did everyone else because they thought I wasn’t right in my head.

While I waited to get baptized, I focused my attention on the top outside corner of our back porch, where two small birds were busily making a nest using dried leaves and twigs.

Soon, the birds had a baby! Mem called them Oiseaux, which means birds in French. The mommy bird peeked her head out of the nest while the daddy bird watched their wobbly baby hop around on our rotting rail. I knew which one was the mom because she was smaller than the dad. I asked Mem if she thought their tummies growled like mine when they were hungry. She said she didn’t know. My belly was always growling from hunger, and I was afraid that they were hungry too.

But mostly, I was afraid the hungry rats would eat my new friends. I asked Mem if rats ate birds, but she didn’t know that either.

There was a window in our kitchen, close enough to the nest for me to watch them. I put a small pot of water on the rail and laughed with delight when the birds took turns dunking their tiny heads in it. But Mem took the water away, explaining that it would bring other things, and I knew exactly what she meant by that. Every time I pressed my face against the windowpane, I prayed to God to make sure the rats didn’t eat my birds.

On the day of my baptism, Mem dressed me in all white. Mom couldn’t come because she had to work, so she sent one of her friends who came as my godparent, and Mere was a witness. Mem lied to the priest and told him she was my mother. Mere kept quiet and didn’t say one word. The priest was rough, and the water he poured all over my head and face was ice cold. Some of the water went up through my nose, and I started to choke. The priest forced me to keep my head back even though I was having trouble breathing. He told me to be strong for Jesus and that the Holy water would save me.

On the bus to Howard Johnson’s, Mem told me that Catholics were against divorced people. She explained that both she and Mom were divorced because they both married bad men. She made me promise not to tell anyone about their divorces, or I would have to go back to school with Barbara Titone. I told Mem I never wanted to see Tit again, but I also didn’t want to lie. She responded that I shouldn’t give her any trouble and just do what I was told.

On the first day of school at St. Augustine’s, the kids were friendly, but the nuns were strict and grumpy. I made it my business to lie, lie, lie, and told everyone I met that my dad was a famous oil rig worker who worked far away and that I lived with my mom and older sister, even though nobody asked.

When I got home that day, daddy bird was lying limp on the porch. I poked him, but he didn’t move. Then I noticed the empty bowl of rat poison in the corner. I dragged a kitchen chair outside and climbed up to the nest, where I found the baby and mommy dead.

I took them out and laid them next to the dad. Then I poured water on their heads to baptize and save them, but it didn’t work. I carefully placed my birds into the bowl of poison, hid them underneath the bottom level of the porch, and prayed to God to force the rats to eat them and croak.

Stay tuned for Chapter 8: Mother’s Day 1961

Say His Name

This past Sunday, Kat O’Brien, a former journalist and baseball writer for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Newsday, broke her silence about a major league baseball player who raped her eighteen years ago, when she was 22 years old.

Kat’s words cut through me, and it was a tough essay to read.

I wanted to reach out to her, but I wasn’t sure how, so this blog post is the best I can do. I hope Kat reads it one day.

What I found most heartbreaking about her trauma was that she didn’t name the player because she felt it “would only open me up to the possibility of having dirt thrown on my reputation.”

Eighteen years later, she’s still afraid to say his name. For good reason.

And so, eighteen years later, this unnamed despicable rapist still has her under his powerful thumb.

I get it.

I’ve been afraid to say his name for 54 years.

After this MLB player raped Kat, she went back to her apartment and drank a bottle of red wine in a desperate attempt to numb her sadness and rage.

I can’t even begin to count the number of bottles of wine I drank to numb myself. I’m still numbing myself.

As I read Kat’s heartbreaking essay, I wondered if she had ever said his name to anyone close to her. I hope she did because it does help somewhat.

I only know that because I’ve said my abuser’s name to a select group of people over the past 54 years. “Select,” being the operative word.  And what I discovered is “select” doesn’t mean I always chose the right people to tell.

When Kat was finally able to talk about “it,” she was asked, “But you really couldn’t get away?”

More than twenty years ago, when I finally mustered up the courage to elaborate on the unspeakable gory details to someone I thought was the closest to me, she  asked: “Are you still talking about that?”

My heart throbbed out of my chest as I read Kat’s words. It was beating so hard that my shirt was moving. I warily looked around at my family gathered together by the pool for fear that one of them would notice.

The rape followed Kat for the rest of her life. She didn’t trust intimacy. She felt unsafe. And she quietly and courageously dealt with the small daily assaults that came and went.

Since Mid-January, Kat’s been having nightmares. She’s been crying on and off every day. She hyperventilates, and her chest pounds in fight or flight.

I feel like I know Kat.

I get her, and I feel her pain.

Because she’s me. She’s a lot of us. Too damn many of us.

She also wrote that her fear of losing her job in sports journalism is long gone and that she’s found her voice.

But in my opinion, Kat’s voice is infinitesimal compared to what it could be—because she still can’t say his name.

And I disagree with Kat that being a rape survivor is only a tiny part of her story. I don’t see how that can be true, given everything she has had to endure.

At the end of her essay, Kat writes that she has finally found the sunlight. I sure hope that she has. She deserves some light, some respite.

Since reading Kat’s essay on Sunday, I can’t stop thinking about her.

And I’m thinking about her rapist too, because maybe—just maybe, he’s afraid.

Because maybe—just maybe, Kat’s the one with all the power.

And if she ever reads this blog post, I only have one thing to say to Kat:

SAY HIS NAME.

A Novel on a Blog

I had all but given up on my unfinished novel titled My Stolen Diaries, which I began writing in 1992.

In early 2015, my book had 168 pages and 117,653 words, and I wasn’t even close to finishing it, so I decided to put my novel on hold and instead concentrated on creating a blog.

In March 2015, I launched my blog, The Teri Tome.

In April 2015, I only had 328 visits to the blog, but by March of 2019, The Teri Tome had over 27,000 monthly visits.

With that kind of monthly traffic, it seemed like a no-brainer to revisit My Stolen Diaries and analyze whether or not it made sense to add chapters from my book onto my blog.

In July 2019, I wrote an article about the pros and cons, and shockingly, the post has to date been viewed over 10,000 times. [You can read To Blog or Not to Blog My Novel here.]

Writing the blog post was incredibly useful in that it helped me figure out a format for excerpting from my decades-old unfinished book. And the many thousands of page views I received from my post solidified my decision to add chapters of my novel to my blog.

After much thought, I decided my novel-on-a-blog should be called a Novelog. In January 2020, I posted a Disclaimer and the first six chapters of my novel.

I was reasonably sure the chapters would bomb, so the thousands of hits the posts garnered made my heart happy.

My blog traffic immediately increased by almost 50%, primarily due to the My Stolen Diaries chapters.

Of my 32 total posts in 2020, seven of them were chapters pulled from the novel.

And shocking to me was that when I calculated the traffic numbers for my top five blog posts in 2020, four of them were from my ancient rough draft novel!

It turned out my most popular blog posts were less of a post-mortem on what Teri was writing in 2020 and more about what Teri was writing in the 90s.

The Teri Tome generated over 300,000 page views in 2020, a whopping 47% increase from 2019, primarily due to the page views for my novel My Stolen Diaries.

The thousands of people who have been reading chapter after chapter has given me new resolve to pull out my book and take a fresh look at it.

Maybe, just maybe, my languishing novel has legs.

And 2021 might even be the year I finish it. In the meantime, keep a lookout for more chapters coming to The Teri Tome soon!

Blue Mind


Three unfortunate incidents forever changed my view of expansive bodies of water.

In 1959, my life jacket got caught on a rope dangling from a swim raft on a Caribou, Maine Lake.

Were it not for the actions of an observant young man watching from the shore; I might not be here to tell you this tale. I’ve spent a lifetime silently thanking him for saving me that day.

In 1967, while hanging out with friends on Nash’s Pond in Westport, Connecticut, we witnessed a ginormous snapping turtle crawling out of the water.

The combination of its scary, dinosaur-like appearance and aggressive behavior towards us resulted in its untimely death at the hands of the youngest guy in our group. I’ve also spent a lifetime horrified by the senseless murder of the upside-down turtle by impalement.

It was only yesterday that I read online that female snapping turtles travel on land to lay their eggs and are at their most aggressive. So in all probability, we tortured and killed a soon-to-be mommy.

In 1981 I was on a 27-foot sailboat that nearly capsized in a storm that came out of freaking nowhere.

So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I have water issues.

I never venture into any large body of water, and yet I have this weird obsession with it.

So much so that it’s on my bucket list to one day live on the water’s front.

But most definitely in a high rise.

I fear all vast bodies of water, and yet they calm me. The spilling, plunging, surging, and pounding of the waves as they crash onto the shore causes my heart to race, and not in a good way.

I can’t count the number of times I have covered my eyes while watching a rough and turbulent ocean in movies, including in the film Frozen, when Anna and Elsa’s parents perish in a stormy sea. Fast forward!

And yet the sheer beauty, power, and sound of water go a long way to healing my heart. My go-to Alexa request when I can’t sleep is the crashing of waves.

For me, spending time near water is as effective and way more immediate than any sedative. Even though it scares the bejesus out of me.

And nothing cures my writers’ block more than sitting at the water’s edge. Words, sentences, and entire paragraphs churn over and over in my head, mirroring the waves rolling and frothing close to me.

But not too close.

There is a theory called “blue mind,” which concludes that being near, in, on, or under the water can make us happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what we do.

I’ll agree that I feel a profound water-associated peace whenever I’m near an ocean, sea, river, or lake.

But to be clear, there is no way I would ever go in, on, or under any body of water.

Years ago, I self-diagnosed myself as having thalassophobia vs. aquaphobia because I’m not afraid of the water per se. It’s what’s lurking beneath its surface that freaks me out.

I’m obsessively drawn to the feel and sound of it. Just don’t put me in it.

The light reflecting off the water surface, the sound of the rising tide, and the spray of the sea on my face remind me that I’m in the right place.

I suppose it’s my brain on blue.

Oh, if it were only possible to stay in a Blue-Mind forever.

Yesterday while anxiously waiting in a parking lot for a special someone who was having craniofacial surgery, the song Blue World by The Moody Blues came on the radio.

It’s A Blue World
by The Moody Blues

Heart and soul took control
Took control of me
Paid my dues, spread the news
Hands across the sea

Put me down, turned me round
Turned me ’round to see
Marble halls, open doors
Someone found the key

And it’s only what you do
That keeps coming back on you
And it’s only what you say
That can give yourself away

Underground sight and sound
Human symphony
Heard the voice, had no choice
Needed to be free

Fly me high, touch the sky
Left the earth below
Heard the line, saw the sign
Knew which way to go

’cause it’s easier to try
Than to prove it can’t be done
And it’s easier to stay
Than to turn around and run

It’s a blue world
It takes somebody to help somebody
Oh, it’s a blue world
It’s a new world

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SSGT James Champion: You Are Not Forgotten

In 1968, when I was just fifteen years old, I can still recall with chills that at the end of the news every night, an unending list of names of those lost in Vietnam that day would silently scroll on the television screen.

The scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. It’s still seared in my memory.

On Veteran’s Day, November 11, 1970, a student group based in California called Voices in Vital America (VIVA) launched a POW/MIA bracelet campaign. The intention was to sell the bracelets and use the money to increase public awareness of the thousands of missing U.S. soldiers in Vietnam and never forget them.

Each bracelet was engraved with a soldier’s name and the date of his capture. Between 1970 and 1976, VIVA sold over five million bracelets.

Back in the early 1970s—at least in my circle of friends—we felt it was our civic duty to honor the missing by wearing their bracelets.

In 1971, a friend gave me a bracelet for Christmas in honor of U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant James A. Champion from Houston, Texas, who went missing on April 24, 1971. I vowed to wear my treasured bracelet until James or his remains came home.

According to reports, on April 23, 1971, Private First Class (PFC) James Albert Champion was a rifleman assigned to a six-man radio relay team on a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) inserted into the infamous A Shau Valley. After receiving intense enemy ground fire at their primary landing zone (LZ), the team was moved and inserted near the village of A Luoi.

The LZ was two miles northwest of a river and six miles away from the South Vietnamese/Lao border. This border road was no more than a path cut through the jungle-covered mountains and used by the Communists to transport troops, weapons, and supplies, from North Vietnam into South Vietnam. U.S. forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

After disembarking from his helicopter at 1500 hours, Champion’s radio relay team leader was severely wounded by enemy fire. The alternate team leader took command of the patrol, but he was hit by enemy fire and killed. A helicopter trying to rescue the wounded and dead soldiers was shot down, and the 4-man aircrew found themselves on the ground with the LRRP team fighting for their lives. Shortly after that, a second helicopter attempted to rescue the embattled Americans but was also shot down by enemy ground fire.

On April 24, the Americans on the ground were still engaged in vicious combat with the North Vietnamese Army forces.

On April 25, at approximately 1500 hours, PFC Champion, armed with an M-16 rifle and in good shape, left the team’s defensive perimeter next to one of the downed helicopters to look for water, but the Ranger never returned.

One of the helicopter pilots reported he heard shots coming from the direction PFC Champion headed but could not provide any additional information about his fate. A helicopter successfully rescued the survivors and the dead later that day.

Ground and aerial searches were conducted for Champion from April 25 through April 30 without success. On April 30, the formal search was terminated, and James Champion was listed Missing in Action. After the incident, the Army promoted PFC Champion to the rank of Staff Sergeant.

On June 16, 1973, I went with some friends to Shea Stadium, where 152 released war prisoners were honored in a pre-game ceremony before the New York Mets played the San Diego Padres. Staff Sergeant James Champion was sadly not one of them.

I wept as the former POWs marched onto the field as the band played “This Land Is Your Land.” The over 25,000 fans gave them a standing ovation, their fists pumping in the air, roaring and screaming non-stop, “U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A.,” for well over five minutes.

Many of the fans, the POWs, the Mets, and the Padres were all crying.

In 1976, VIVA closed its doors because Americans wanted to forget about Vietnam.

But I will never forget our soldiers left behind, especially Sergeant James Albert Champion.

As of February 26, 2020, there are still 1,585 Americans missing and unaccounted for in Vietnam—many of them airmen.

Since the Vietnam War ended, our government has received over 21,000 reports about POW/MIA. There is mounting evidence that hundreds of soldiers may still be alive and captive, waiting for their country to save them.

James Champion may be one of them.

Happy Covid Valentine’s Day

It’s my first Valentine’s Day during a pandemic and 49 weeks since I’ve left my house.

My husband left an adorable card on my desk this morning. He’s an awful artist, but his depiction of us as two stick figures hanging out watching TV on our L-shaped couch was sweet. The front of the card said: HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY COVID 2021! Next to his stick-figure self, he wrote “Pete (happy).”

My first thought was: We’ve been stuck in this house 24/7 for 49 weeks, and Pete’s happy?

Which made me happy.

My second thought was: Damn, girl; it took you a long time to figure this love thing out.

The writings by Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato recognized the complicated manifestations that love presented. The word “Platonic,” for example, came from Plato’s belief that physical attraction was not a necessary component for love. The philosophy of love, expressed by some of the greatest Greek thinkers, has profoundly influenced how we love, and how relationships are defined.

I recently found one of my journals from 1975. On the inside front cover, I had written nine Greek words under the word “LOVE.”

I don’t remember writing the words, but I was impressed that at 22, I was interested in what the ancient Greeks thought about anything.

And they were numbered from 1-9, which I deduce was my way of ranking them based on their relationship to me or to my life at the time. But I can only surmise.

The words didn’t include definitions, so I looked them up today and tried to connect them to what might have been happening in my 1975 life.

1) Philia

Philia means affection that grows from friendship. Since I can’t get into the mindset of my then 22-year-old self, I’m assuming that because I listed Philia as number one, that maybe I was in love with a friend?

2) Eros

Eros needs no defining. The fact that it was number two on my list made me hopeful that whatever Philia I was feeling was way more than just friendly. Was that why I had placed it so high up on my list of love words?

3) Storge

The Greek definition of Storge is familial love, or the affection one has for a child, parent, or sibling. My life was complicated back then, but regardless of circumstances, my family was everything to me. It was a small nucleus, but the love I had for them was supersized. And yet, I have this hunch that Storge had nothing at all to do with my family.

4) Mania

Mania is defined as obsessive love.  I have no clue as to why this word was on my list. All I can hope is that whatever mania was going on, it was euphoric and not dysphoric. Or maybe I threw it in the mix as a reminder that love is not always healthy.

5) Ludus

Ludus has several meanings, like sport, training, and public games. But the definition that jumped out at me was “affection as a game, and nothing serious.” Perhaps this friend was nothing more than that. Was my friend playing games? Or maybe I was the game player.

6) Agape

Agape is unconditional, transcendent, selfless love, love through action, and the highest form of love. I think I know what I meant by this one, and it saddens me.

7) Pragma

Pragma is longstanding, enduring love. I don’t remember much from 46 years ago, but I can guarantee that back then, I did not yet know how to stand in love. So maybe I was confusing it with pragmatic, i.e., practical, sensible, realistic.

8) Xenia

This Greek word means hospitality or guest friendship between guest and host. It also relates to generosity, courtesy, and trust to those who are far from home. I was far from home, and there’s that friendship word again.

9) Philautia

The Greek philosophers divided “love of self” into positive and negative. Self-obsessed love vs. self-compassion.  Back then, I still hadn’t figured out that I would never truly be loved until I loved myself, so I’m not surprised this was at the bottom of the word pile.

Fast forward from 1975 to Covid 2021.

I’m old and in a pandemic, but I’m happy in love.

Can Trauma Alter DNA?

Before Covid-19 interrupted my life, I learned from a friend in my writing group that trauma could leave a chemical mark on a person’s genes and subsequently affect their offspring.

She further explained that trauma could be passed down to the next generation and possibly beyond, and change their DNA through what’s known as epigenetics.

When I l did my research, I was stunned to learn that genetic trauma can indeed affect and alter DNA—sort of like second-hand smoke.

The alteration or mark isn’t genetic; it’s epigenetic. Although, the mark doesn’t directly damage the gene, and there is no actual mutation.

Who knew DNA could be tweaked or that trauma was catchy?

The bad news is that, yes, trauma can be passed down to offspring due to epigenetic changes in DNA.

But the good news is that positive experiences can also alter those changes. So ever the optimist, I have hope.

Years of therapy taught me that trauma stays with us forever. It leaves an invisible wound that never fully heals.

My trauma caused me to make some God-awful life choices—for decades. But I worked a lifetime to undo and move past those mistakes, and I still struggle every day to push the traumatic memories away.

Trauma has taught me to accept the unhealable but never to forget. It has also served as a solemn reminder that while having family is precious, not all of them are safe to be around.

Studies have shown that childhood trauma increases the risk of drug and alcohol dependency, depression, and poor academic achievement.  Trauma can also cause the brain to get stuck in perpetual survival mode—a short circuit in the brain.

The all-powerful brain.

It can forever connect certain feelings, sights, sounds, smells, taste, and touch with past trauma. And at any time or place, whether happy or sad, every one of those seemingly innocuous sensations can trigger a memory or flashback of the traumatization.

If our experiences can reverberate to our children or our children’s children, the implications and consequences of the effects of trauma are maddingly profound.

In essence, an abuser can cause lifelong trauma not just to his or her target but to countless generations of their descendants.