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Teri Carter's Library

The Bully on the Trail

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Monday. 8 a.m. Mostly sunny. I am walking my yellow lab on the town trail when I see a man raise a stick and yank his dog so violently off the paved path that I pick up my pace and break hard into the wet grass off the other side. My lab and me, we make the widest possible circle. We start to jog, then full-run. Music blares in my headphones. I do not look back. My dog does not look back. Running feels like escape, like maybe this is not really happening, until we are at the end of the trail and pass the man and his dog in the parking lot. I’ve turned off my headphones and I’m putting my dog in the car as the man’s playful dog pulls towards my playful dog and the man starts dragging hard on the leash and screaming, screaming to stop it, to sit down, to sit sit sit, to knock it the hell off goddammit. He raises his hand. I see the stick. The blows come down and down again and his dog yelps and I’m getting in my car, getting away, and saying, oh my god what are you doing, stop, you’re hurting your dog, please stop. But it’s like I’m making it worse. And the blows keep coming.

I back out, pull onto the interstate. In the rearview all I can see is my own dog in the backseat, still panting from the run, happy. I turn the radio off. I put my hand over my mouth. I sob the 10 miles home.

This man is the first person I think of days later when I hear Secretary Clinton say “basket of deplorables” in the news. This bully on the trail beating his dog. Deplorable. I look up the word to make sure I’m using it right: deserving strong condemnation. No question this man belongs in the basket. In fact, I want to throw him in the basket. Hard. I want to make him hurt.

For the next days I listen as everyone from friend to family to neighbor to pundit rails about the use of the phrase “basket of deplorables” as being deplorable and insists Secretary Clinton might just be deplorable herself. I listen as people argue about who does or does not belong in the basket, and all I can conjure is the image of the bully on the trail. It occurs to me there are those who would dispute my case. He is not deplorable, they might say, it’s his own business, his dog, and what do you know, maybe the dog is dangerous and his beating his dog with that stick saved you and your dog from being attacked, did you ever once think about that?

Here’s what I haven’t told you yet about the man beating his dog. The man looks to be in his 70s. His dog is long-haired and black and weighs about 50 pounds. The dog is skinny with enormous feet, like a big bounding puppy. Like me, the man walks on the trail every morning with his wife and her tiny little dog, and when we pass he pulls his dog to the side and makes him sit. He looks like he’s training, so I always give wide berth and say, “Good morning, good dog.” I have never, until this day, seen him carry a stick. The day he started screaming and beating his dog, the wife continued on. Face forward. She most certainly heard him, heard the dog yelping in pain, must have heard me, a familiar stranger, saying oh my god what are you doing, stop, you’re hurting your dog, please stop. Yet the last thing I saw before I pulled on to the interstate was the wife and her tiny little dog moseying on down the trail, alone, as if nothing unusual had happened.

There are those who say Secretary Clinton was wrong to use such a word, such a high and mighty judgmental phrase. Basket of deplorables? What an elitist. Who in the hell does she think she is?

And yet aren’t there people, situations, actions that are—strictly by definition—deplorable?

A 70+ year old man, beating his young dog with a stick?

A posted photo of Secretary Clinton on the side of a KFC bucket that reads, “2 small breasts, 2 large thighs, and a bunch of left wings”?

Any white person’s use of the word “nigger”?

David Duke, the former grand wizard of the KKK?

A new law that allows convicted domestic abusers to legally carry a gun, no permit and no training required?

The sharing a photo of a baby monkey with the words, “Barack HUSSEIN Obama, born in Africa.” And even more deplorable, the bully on the campaign trail who began and stoked this false rumor for 5 years, a rumor which he knew all along to be false, for his own benefit?

I list these specifically because they each hold their own particular, sickening power.

The 70+ year old man righteous enough to beat his dog. In daylight. In public. Because he knows he can. Yes, I can call the police. Yes, the police will come talk to him. But then what? I am a woman alone on the trail with my dog. This man has the power, and he knows it. I can almost hear him laugh.

What does it mean for a girl to see her father/ grandfather / uncle / brother post a cartoon of the Secretary of State, an accomplished woman, poking fun at her small breasts, her fat thighs, her other way of thinking?

Why does a white man use the word nigger if not to remind himself and everyone within earshot that he is still superior, still the man?

There remain large groups of people in these United States who, in this 21st century, applaud and appreciate the work of David Duke. This is not a joke. I know some of them. Do you?

As if it is not already dangerous enough to be a victim of domestic abuse, now your abuser has the right, by law, to carry a gun. How much will this new law prevent women, already terrified of reporting their abusers, from asking for help?

“Barack HUSSEIN Obama, born in Africa.” Why the need to delegitimize the first African American President of the United States? You can disagree with his policies, that’s what makes this country great, but the message here? You can get yourself all the way to Harvard and be a law-abiding, contributing citizen and raise a family, but never ever forget your blackness. Never forget you do not belong. Never forget you are not one of us.

I have finally gone back to the town trail, and I am ashamed to admit I feel completely and totally powerless there. Vulnerable. In my life I am outgoing and outspoken and independent and I am a goddamn grown up 51 year old woman for god’s sake. And yet. There has been so much advice as to what to do.

Take his photo and send it to the police.

If he beats the dog again, pull out your phone and record it.

Walk right up to him, yank the stick out of his hand, and beat the living hell out of him with it!

Tell him you saw him beating his dog, that you understand his frustration, and ask if you can help.

Offer him a hug!

Give him the stare-down when you walk by, and make sure he knows that you know.

I talk to my son and he says, emphatically, “Do nothing. You don’t know this man, and you are a woman alone on the trail with your dog. He is obviously angry, who knows about what, and you live in a state where conceal and carry is the law. What if he shoots your dog? What if he shoots you?”

The first day is the hardest. A Thursday. 9 a.m. Sunny. Back at the trail, I see the man’s truck in the parking lot and consider turning for home, maybe stopping for breakfast, driving some new roads and looking for a new trail. He is here, but I do not know where exactly, which direction he is walking, or even if we will pass ways.

I decide to stay, to park where I always park, and my dog and I are barely past the first crosswalk when I see the man and his wife, their two dogs, coming our way. He is holding the stick, I can see it from here, in the same hand with the leash.

I step off the trail with my dog and wait.

Just wait, I think. Let him pass. Look at him. Stare. Don’t let him win, dammit. Stand your ground. But before I can feel solid my feet are moving and I turn back in the direction I came. My dog follows. There is a bully on the trail. I am right to be afraid. All of us are.

In a voice only I can hear I say, “Yeah, big deplorable man with a stick, I see you.”

And I run.

It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World

Pablo Picasso Sleeping man and sitting woman
– drawing by Pablo Picasso

Friends, I’ve been un-friended.

It happened on a Friday night. I posted the video of Mr. and Mrs. Kahn—the Gold Star Muslim parents of a soldier killed in Iraq—with the caption, “America is already great.” These four words were apparently fighting words because, within minutes, a man I knew mostly back in school before we were of voting age commented he would be un-friending me until after the election. “Nothing personal,” he wrote. He was sure I understood why he had to do this, that he had to un-friend me in order to remain friends. He was just, to quote, “SO itching to launch truth missiles” my way.

I’m not sure what a truth missile is, but it sounds like war. War, over showing public support for a Gold Star family and stating that America is great? The low bar, it seems, can still sink lower.

It’s no secret I’m liberal in my politics, but at least half of my friends are conservatives and, while I admit I have no respect for the bullying rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh and don’t know where to find the Fox News channel on my TV, I read just about everything by prominent and respected conservatives like David Brooks and Peggy Noonan, and my latest Podcast Addiction Award goes to the brilliant and hilarious Mike Murphy, longtime Republican political operative and consultant to Jeb Bush. Murphy’s two-part interview with Mitt Romney was worth every minute. All this to say I do not need to receive truth missiles from a man enthusiastic about, I’m guessing here, the current Republican presidential nominee.

Which brings me to the most puzzling aspect of this year’s Republican candidate: he does not appear to be a Republican, or even a conservative. Mike Murphy and Mitt Romney claim they will vote, but write in some other name.

More than two dozen women friends, liberals and conservatives alike, have told me they can’t bring themselves to vote for either candidate. They will be sitting this one out.

Since women have had the right to vote for less than a century, this is both disturbing and disheartening. While it’s certainly not news that both candidates have high water marks for being unlikable, the reasons women give for not voting are notable.

Who can vote for a man who makes fun of the handicapped, who calls people Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted and Crooked Hillary and Pocahontas like a grade school bully? Who can vote for a man who insults and then refuses to apologize to a grieving Gold Star mother, who insists he knows “more than the generals” when it comes to ISIS, and who doubles-down on asinine assertions that the current President of the United States was not born here and founded ISIS?

Who can vote for a man who spends his opening remarks in a national presidential debate defending the size of his penis?

On the democratic side there’s Email Gate—the private server, the thousands of emails—and that the candidate comes across cold. But most always it comes down to this: disgust that she stayed married to a serial cheater, to a man whom she must have known was having sex with other women, who then embarrassed her publicly by trying to lie his way out of it.

I’m reminded of one of my dad’s Facebook posts, a photo of Monica Lewinsky with the caption, Nobody would know who I am if Hillary was the right woman for the job.

Her husband’s affairs had to be as much her fault as his. She asked for it, or was in on it. Who can vote for a woman who chooses to stay in a sham and call it marriage? How can you trust a woman like that to run the country?

As to my own Facebook un-friending, I did not comment nor reply. Eventually I deleted the post altogether. What else was there to say? I’m not normally much of a crier, so it’s humiliating to admit I spent that Friday night in tears. Not over the un-friending—we are all grownups here and can choose to be “friends” with whomever we like—but because I felt like I’d been slapped in public. Knocked down a peg. Taught a lesson. Surely I understood why he could not remain “friends.” Surely I understood not to take it personally. Surely I understood that I had, somehow, asked for it.

Would he, I can’t help but wonder, be this bent on launching truth missiles at a man?

This November, I will cast my vote. I will not vote for the woman because she is a woman. I will vote for her in spite of it.

I will vote for her because I don’t need to understand her marriage or like or love or be friends with her. I will vote for her because she represents the causes I believe in (a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, women’s rights, sensible gun legislation), but mostly I will vote for her because she is the most qualified candidate—raised working-class in Illinois, smart enough for Yale Law, First Lady of Arkansas, First Lady of the United States, Senator from New York, Secretary of State—who just so happens to be a woman.

I will vote for her because it’s a man’s world and men have been running this country for over 200 years. Isn’t it time to see if we can do a better job?

And admittedly, there is one very small bonus: I am fairly certain I will never have to watch her defend the size of her penis on a national stage.

The Choice

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My Mother, age 18, 1963

Until her early death at age 56, my mother carried a massive weight of regret and shame. Regret for mistakes made. Shame within her large, devout, Catholic family, with one aunt who answered her phone, “Hello, Praise the Lord.” Shame within her small Missouri town. And shame within her family’s Sprigg Street church where her father had paraded himself for years as a pillar of purity and faith and righteousness, even has he threw his wife—mother to his 8 children— into the backyard some midnights while sitting inside the door with a rifle, drunk and laughing and daring the whore that she was to try, just try, and come inside.

My grandmother was poor and uneducated and not allowed by her husband to drive a car or to work outside the home or to write a check without his signature, and with so many children to care for, she did not have the choice to leave. She had no rights.

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You can find me over at The Manifest-Station today.  An essay about our right to make choices about our bodies and about our lives, and what happens when we have no choice.

A Stepson’s Summer Visit

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My stepson is smart. He knows his mom and dad make the decisions. He knows his mom and I never (why would we?) speak.

He knows I have less authority than a teenaged babysitter. “What are you going to do?” he says sarcastically over a giant bowl of Cheerios. “Call my mom?”

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IH12Q1k7_400x400Mothers and stepmothers are supposed to hate each other — but who made up this rule?

I’m over at Motherwell Magazine with a story about what can happen when mothers and stepmothers work together. If you are a stepparent or stepchild, I would love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments section!

And as always, thanks for reading.

The Serena In Us

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Serena Williams is arguably—though I can’t conjure any reasonable argument—the greatest female tennis player of all time, both fiercely respected and roundly feared on the court. And yet with the start of each tournament, especially the majors, the unrelenting commentary on Serena begins.

At this summer’s Wimbledon, the comments are about her dress. More specifically, the comments are about her breasts. More specifically than that, the comments are about her nipples.

Serena is number 1 in the world, about to turn 35, and playing in the championship match at the most respected professional tournament in the world, going for her 22nd major title. But the mention of her name brings this before all else: you can see her nipples through the white dress and can’t she for god’s sake do something about that, find a way to hide them, cover them up, strap those things down?

I am a fan. Of tennis in general and of Serena in particular. I’ve almost passed out in the searing heat at the U.S. Open. I’ve snagged lucky on-line tickets to Wimbledon. I’ve spent the entire first week at the Australian Open from the opening of the gates until closing. And for the last 2 decades, I’ve watched Serena become a champion as the barrage of criticism, rarely if ever about her tennis, has only gotten louder.

Look at that ass, someone jokes. Those thighs. You’d think she’d try to cover that up, but there she is on the practice court, in leggings. In white leggings! In shorts!

Her face looks odd doesn’t it, her nose is smaller? Come on, she’s had surgery, you can tell. And what’s with the eyebrows, the long painted nails, who can play tennis with nails like that? The big dangling earrings, showing off the diamonds, a belly button ring for god’s sake. Is that permanent eyeliner?

And what the hell is she wearing, can’t she afford a dress that doesn’t fly up?

On the first changeover in every set she plays, Serena Williams does not stroll to her chair. She does not pause for a drink of water. She does not grab one last thing out of her bag or waste time refolding a towel. She does not make her opponent wait. Excepting sister Venus, Serena is the only player who, holding herself accountable to this most basic (though never enforced) rule of the game, walks around the far post and stands ready, always ready, to resume play.

Arms like a linebacker, a friend laughs, maybe she’s part man. Those biceps, those shoulders!

Sore loser. Never gives her opponents the benefit of saying they played well. Surly in post-match press conferences after a defeat, arrogant, nasty, angry, dismissive, egomaniac.

Oh man, has she gained weight? Again?

Compiling this list—the laser-like focus on Serena’s body, her clothes, her jewelry, her makeup, her temperament—I feel exhausted. A familiar pattern emerges. The unrelenting attention we pay to pounds gained. The clothes in our closet that may never again fit. The need to hide, or at least make some grand effort to disguise, the size of our breasts, our asses, our offensive, ungainly thighs. Too much makeup or not enough. The pressure to follow such a long list of fake rules while tamping down our anger, our competitiveness, our desires and aspirations, all to be more lady-like. To be more tolerable to everyone else.

Today, Serena Williams was crowned Wimbledon Champion for the 7th time, tying Steffi Graf’s record of 22 major titles in the Open Era. She held her trophy high overhead, and as she smiled and twirled for the cameras in her white Nike dress I wondered how much of Serena is somewhere, buried, in all of us.

What champions might we become if we stopped worrying so much about the extra pounds and the fake rules and what we need to hide, and simply walked around the post, ready to resume play.

How To Be Divorced: A Stepdaughter’s Wish List

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When asked, “How many brothers and sisters do you have?” I might give any of the following answers: only child, oldest of 3, or oldest of 5. All true. All lies.

This is what it means to be a stepdaughter.

1,300 new step-families are created every day. I am a statistic, a stepdaughter three times over, starting at ages 2, 9, and 15, with two half-brothers, a stepbrother and a stepsister. Everyone and I mean everyone offers advice. Over the years I’ve heard dozens of opinions from the well-intentioned about how divorced parents and new stepparents should and should not behave.

Most get it wrong.

If anyone, including my own parents, had asked, this is what I would have told them.

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Do we really want “what’s best for the kids?” after a divorce, or does saying it just make the adults feel better?

You can find me over at The Manifest-Station today with a child’s thoughts on that question.

The Case for Calling

1011741_10201433159127281_2010972233_nMy mother, gone 14 years today, died before text messaging became a thing, and I often wonder if texting would have worked for her. For us.  After I left home, we talked at least once a week.  When she was sick, we talked daily and more, even if it was just to say hello.  We both, for our own very different reasons, craved that constant connection.

But times, as they say, have changed.  I recently wrote an essay about texting vs. calling my kids.  The irony of it being published on the anniversary of my mother’s death is not lost.

You can find the link here.  http://grownandflown.com/wrong-to-be-texting-family/

And thanks, as always, for reading.

Excerpt:

“When I was growing up, my mother called her mother every day, and Grandma called our house almost daily. Unlike my grandmother, I feel like I rarely talk on the phone with anyone. Even my own children. Both of our kids left for college and, after graduation, found jobs in the Midwest and did not come back. There is a 2-hour time difference with our daughter, 3 with our son. We are a texting family. How did this happen?”

A Stepmother, Losing Her Marbles

Illustration by Allison Steen
Illustration by Allison Steen

The game was simple. Two clay jars rested heavy atop our bedroom dresser, one loaded with marbles, one empty. “Every time we have sex,” I said, “I’ll move a marble to the empty jar.”

At 31, I’d arrived childless into my marriage, but my new husband had sole custody of his children—a girl fifteen and a boy nine—and we had never spent an entire day, or even an evening, alone. “Once you’re married,” my friends warned, “you’ll stop having sex.” One friend confided she and her husband were sexless for seven years. This terrified me.

Click here to continue reading at The New York Times: Motherlode —
and join the conversation!

The Appointment

When you’re of baby-making age but not making a baby, trips to the OBGYN are hammer-blow reminders of who you are not.

OBGYN office

Waiting rooms full of pink chairs and women with round, expectant bellies.  A bulletin board plastered with photos of your smiling doctor holding newborns, though you’ve never actually met the doctor; your annual pap is only worthy of the nurse practitioner.  The questionnaire on a clipboard, “How many children do you have?  How many live births?”  Heels pressed into cold, stainless steel stirrups with accompanying lecture — while lying there, legs splayed, staring at the ceiling — about how women who do not give birth are more prone to breast, uterine and cervical cancers.

The blast of energy it takes to happy-talk your way through the appointment and get the hell out of there.

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Then there was my first appointment after I became a mom — with a big twist.  You can find the whole story at Brain, Child – The Magazine for Thinking Mothers. (click here)

Excerpt:

I’ve barely been at this stepmother thing six months, but I’ve already learned an important lesson: there is always someone to remind me who I am not.

Sometimes it’s the mom across the street or at the bus stop; sometimes it’s my son’s teacher at back-to-school night; and sometimes it’s just me staring into a mirror.

Today that someone appeared in the form of an OBGYN nurse behind the receptionist’s window.

 

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