09.27.18 Lets talk vaginas & breasts...

normalize nudity…

normalize nudity…

Lets talk vaginas & breasts. Yet, lets dive deep into vaginas & breasts without shame, embarrassment or insecurity. Shame seems to surround the female body like a nasty cold you cannot seem to get rid of. Women are told from a young age what to wear, what is considered “risqué” & what warrants our bodies being violated. We are forced to cover our nipples yet have our breasts on constant display- open to harassment, gawking & analyzation. We are teased if our breasts are too big, too small, different sizes, non-existent, early developed or late developed. Men seem to think our breasts hang off our chest like handles for them to grasp & fondle as they fall further from grace, without consent or any bit of pleasure. 

Young girls are sexualized because of their bodies while also being humiliated, controlled and/or reprimanded. We hold so much power through our sexuality but if we begin to harness that prowess we are labeled as sluts or loose. Our vaginas literally bring life into this world while also being the brunt of jokes by men who want our vaginas to use and abuse. The constant anecdotes and references about our vaginas smelling like fish, being too dry, looking like meat, being too wet, too puffy, too hairy or too small. While men’s sexual organs are often hidden behind clothing, away from scrutiny & stigma until they take a picture of it and send you a truly unwanted dick pic. 

Women are often so detached from their own vaginas because they have been indoctrinated at such a young age to hide them, not use them, to be a “good girl”, to close their legs & the degradation that comes from all that nonsense lasts a lifetime. We are so scared for our first gyno appointment, we have no idea what that discharge is, whether its typical or not & what the hell does an orgasm feel like anyway. We are ashamed when we get yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis or our periods, whether our smell is normal & ok or doomed to be made fun of in locker rooms & frat houses. We don’t want to go into stores to buy Monistat, tampons or condoms fearing the looks & assumptions from strangers. Condoms; she’s a slut. Monistat; she’s dirty. Tampons; she’s gross. 

Some women are so disconnected with their bodies, that their own flesh feels foreign to them, owned by someone else, unworthy of love, affection or exploration. Mostly, we are not taught about masturbation or self discovery, while many men don’t take the time to transverse a woman’s body either, only worried about their own penis getting into something wet & then quickly out to dry. We are taught that our physical appearance is above all else yet are instructed to “be smart” & not get raped because certainly it is in our control. Our beautiful forms are used as an excuse for rape & assault & we are deemed at fault if we show too much of our bodies. Certainly our bare skin was just asking for that invasion & next time we will for sure wear pants, not make eye contact or close those blinds. 

We are called a tease if we don’t put out, we are forced if we change our mind or branded a whore if we want it just as badly as a man does. We are labeled as liars whether we accuse with freshly made bruises or after decades of emotional trauma & denial. Women are automatically guilty while people simultaneously scream “innocent until proven guilty”- yet only for male perpetrators of course. Dress codes are almost always for women, banned & removed pictures on the internet too; nipples are okay but only if on a males bare chest. 

 Our bodies are constantly demeaned & dissected, starving diets, purging food, cutting skin, sucking out fat, injecting this, inflating that, wanting the perfection that society expects yet isn’t even real to begin with. We are inundated with unrealistic images of body proportions & told to “suck it in”, “cover up” or “get it fixed”. Our brains are just as sexy & potent as our physical forms & just as disrespected & disregarded. 

The female orgasm is like a magical unicorn, something you have read a lot about, so you want it to exist, you think it might exist but you aren’t too sure if its actually real. Women are told to please their man otherwise they will find someone who does or take it from you no matter how hard you fight & say no. Many times consensual sex consists of lying there & taking it without much pleasure for us. Oral sex means putting a penis in your mouth while there are numerous videos on YouTube about how disgusting it is for a man to put a vagina in their mouth. Yet many women cannot climax without that mouth on their vagina, but so many are so insecure about their wonderful fragrant flower, they would rather, just, not. Neglecting their own pleasure while providing for someone else’s. Constantly. 

When will we be able to own our bodies, know their worth, their power & the necessity of its pleasure while holding onto righteousness. When are we allowed to show our skin without fear of being violated, raped, leered at, harassed, scolded or banned? We are disadvantaged because we are women, spoken down to, hushed, pushed aside while also expected to run households, put out, take that, suck this, clean that but above all, shut the hell up. 

Our vaginas are so powerful, so beautiful & so unique. Take that power, own it & use it to your advantage rather than your disadvantage. Reclaim your body, your mind, your worth, your sexuality & desires- demand better, demand something, demand respect, attention & justice. Cast aside the shame that is forced upon us & buy that anti-fungal cream with your head held high. Fight back like hell, against the normalcy of misogyny preserved & so deep rooted in our systems that even our fellow sisters scream LIAR in our faces. 

Women who are so wrapped up in male dominance that they turn their backs & cast shame onto women who are already overflowing with it. Mothers of sons so unable to grasp the inherent sexism in our society & unwilling to even begin to fathom that they in fact, are raising someone who will probably assault a woman in their lifetime. If there was ever a time to support women, it is now, right here, this moment, our time. Believe women. Support women. Elevate women. Because ladies, we deserve nothing less & we demand so much more.

02.09.18 Sam Strange Granted Parole...

Sam Strange 1996

Sam Strange 1996

Sam Strange was granted parole today, after almost 25 years in prison. In my heart, I knew he would get parole but I also was ready for a decision denying it. This was his third parole hearing. Today was not difficult for me. I didn’t have an anxiety-ridden stomach, as I sometimes get; I just wanted to get it done & to get through my statement without crying. I certainly failed at the not crying aspect of my statement. But I got through it & am at peace with what my sister & I said as well as the outcome.

Hearing the gruesome details of how Crissy was murdered is not difficult for me; in fact, I want to know every single detail. I want to know her last moments of life, I think I deserve to know & that I am ready to know. So much was hidden from me because I was a child when it happened, but slowly I am learning more & more about her final moments on this planet. As I listened to Sam describe his role in this crime, things I had known for some time, yet hearing him say it gave it much more weight. I knew he had watched my sister get beaten to death, that he picked up her dead body, cleaned up her blood & dumped her body like trash. But hearing him describe it made me realize just how brutal & graphic it must have been. I have never thought he was completely innocent, since again, I already knew all these things. Just hearing it & fully visualizing what that must have been like, gave me pause. I still forgive him & I stand by my statement.

He talked about some of Crissy’s conversations with him in the last two days of her life; her making fun of white people (she was Mexican), her telling him how rock music sucked & rap music was the best. That the reason they ended up in his room together was because of an Ice T rock/rap album he wanted to play for her. These details, even the graphic ones are healing to me. I stared at Sam throughout the hearing & I saw someone I feel like I know personally, because I kinda do. Through our letters, I have gotten to know his personality, his daily activities & his goals for the future. When I began reading my statement, the correctional officer assigned to our room, couldn’t believe what he was hearing. His jaw literally dropped. The woman assigned to us, as our escort, also had no idea that we were going to speak on Sam’s behalf.

I am super proud of my sister Wendy, who didn’t have to have anything written down & just spoke from the heart. The parole board said that our statements were a weighing factor on granting him parole. As they read their decision, I focused on Sam. He cried as they told him that he would finally get his freedom back. I tried to imagine how he must have felt & what he is feeling now. I am excited for him but also scared. He has so many obstacles in front of him & its not going to be easy but I think he is ready. He has accomplished so much with his time & will be a certified drug & alcohol counselor when he gets out. One organization that will be helping Sam is HealthRIGHT 360, which is one of the organizations we raised money for when my brother Bobby passed away. Very serendipitous indeed.

I think a lot of people will judge my family for our forgiveness & for speaking on Sam’s behalf. For them, I say this; this isn’t your tragedy. People tend to just see the end result & not the last 20+ years of pain & suffering. They have no idea how far we have come & the anger, frustration, rage & revenge we all felt for so many years. I feel like a piece of this devastation has been put to rest. That finally spreading Crissy’s ashes will be another aspect of closure.

I feel for Dawn’s family, who knew Sam well before all this happened & who believe Sam was the sole murderer. I am sure they are devastated & I can only hope, that they find peace & forgiveness as well. But if they don’t, that’s ok too. It’s their journey with the loss of their family member & I send them my love. I am ashamed to admit that I still have residual feelings for Dawn’s mother that I have not fully worked out. I desperately want to reach out to her, so if anyone knows an email or mailing address please let me know. I truly hope Dawn’s family is well.

Sam has a concrete plan for his return to society, as well as a support system in place. He got married last year & his wife has formed a close relationship with my dad. Sam getting paroled was inevitable & it adds to the magnitude of what 2018 will be for me personally. I hope that someday, we both get to a place where we can meet in person & I can look him in the eyes for real. There is a reason why our paths have crossed & I feel fortunate to have been given an opportunity, though a devastating one, to grow as a person. I hope I can someday see Sam fully recovered from the trauma he has experienced & that he lives the rest of his life as fully as he can.

02.08.18 Sam Strange's Third Parole Hearing...

Before you read my parole hearing statement I want you to know where I used to be, how I used to feel & how far I have come. A letter I wrote to the local paper, which was published in 1999.

Before you read my parole hearing statement I want you to know where I used to be, how I used to feel & how far I have come. A letter I wrote to the local paper, which was published in 1999.

Parole Hearing Statement:

My name is Shani Campbell & Crissy was my sister. Sam was accused, tried & sentenced for the murder of Crissy & Dawn almost 25 years ago. I feel the pain & devastation this has caused everyone involved has been explained at great length. And I don’t want to minimize that suffering just because so much time has passed. Because that misery was very real then & is still very real now, for all of us. Suffering such a tragedy, specifically for me, at such a young & compromising age, altered my entire life. And I do feel like expressing that raw reality is still very valid. That my mother’s heart will forever be broken. That my father has spent months investigating his own daughters murder. And that my sister Wendy struggles with a deep feeling of injustice. So I can only speak for myself.

I am grateful for my life. Even the traumatic parts I experienced, for it has made me the woman I am today. I forgive Sam for his involvement in my sisters murder. The last two times we were here, the parole board stated that Sam needed to show remorse for what he has done. And I believe, for the Parole Board, that involves Sam confessing to the actual killing of Crissy & Dawn, which he has never admitted to. I wanted to express to you all today, how I feel Sam has shown me remorse, personally, without outwardly admitting his guilt. Which, by the way, I do not need. I don’t seek his confession to anything in regards to my sisters death, as my forgiveness & compassion for the man who sits before you right now, is not contingent on any of those things. He could admit that he brutally beat my sister to death & I would still forgive him. I would still have compassion for him. And I would still believe in second chances.

Sam has expressed his remorse to me through allowing me into his life. Which he didn’t have to do. Through written letters for the past several years I have gotten to know Sam as a person. Which was extremely important for my own recovery. To see him no longer as a monster but as a human being. Through our correspondence I have learned more about what Sam has done to better himself while incarcerated. He has expressed his hopes & plans for the future. He has never asked anything from me nor have we ever discussed these parole hearings. I have simply shared my life, interests & thoughts with him as he did with me.

I think Sam has come very far from where he started & through some intense & less than ideal circumstances, he has improved his life vastly. I feel he has accepted his role in this crime & accepted the punishment. He has used his time in prison to the best of his ability & I believe, will come out a better man. I know Sam has a family & now a wife, who surely love & miss him. I think about Sam’s younger brother & how he also lost his sibling. How he has a chance to get his sibling back. Something I don’t have. I know how painful losing a sibling is & knowing that they could have a second chance with their relationship, makes me happy.

I respect the board & the medical professionals who can better analyze & judge someone’s ability to be successful in the real world after spending so much time in prison. But I ask, that if Sam admitting he did this crime is the one thing holding him back from his freedom, for you all to rethink that request. Because nothing will bring Crissy & Dawn back. I do believe in consequences, not necessarily the current prison system, but Sam has certainly suffered some pretty immense consequences for his actions. Years he can never recover. And believe me, I realize the irony in all of this, as my 16 year old sister Crissy & Dawn as well, lost their life so brutally & tragically- losing out on so many precious experiences. But again, nothing can change that. Their suffering is over & it’s up to us as individuals to determine how we allow this tragedy to further effect us. No matter how you play this out, it’s just not fair.

So I try to determine, how can we somehow make this terrible situation a more positive one. And for me, locking someone away for the rest of their life, isn’t a positive outcome for anyone. Perhaps it is completely foreign for anyone to understand why I would be asking the parole board to give Sam a second chance. Turning something so inherently negative, into something positive, is what I have always strived for. My suffering was lessened because I chose to make my life better, not because Sam was spending his days behind bars. I leave this decision up to the parole board but please, do not use my suffering as a reason to keep Sam here. So I ask, if you believe Sam is ready, give him a chance to make something positive of his life & perhaps be able to help others that are on the wrong path. He in turn, could quite possibly, save the lives of many people.

Thank you.

Ladies, its okay you're insecure, just stop calling it feminism...

my very own "yoga porn"...

my very own "yoga porn"...

If you read articles about women issues you have probably seen this growing phenomenon: women who shame other women because they are uncomfortable with their own bodies under the guise of feminism. 

In an article written by Melinda Lane for the Elephant Journal, she proclaims her disgust over something she calls "yoga porn". So people are probably imagining some insane acro-yoga where insertion must be happening, right? No- her definition of "yoga porn" is any woman who posts pictures or videos where they are not covered from head to toe in clothing. So all you yogis out there, (men, seemingly excluded as usual) don't you dare do yoga in shorts, sports bras, bikinis or *gasp* nude! Otherwise you are simply a pornography pusher who only seeks to gratify your own ego and that is "so not yoga!" She first claims that what bothers her is that "yoga porn" is not what yoga should be about- the typical “anti ego” rant. Yet she soon admits that these images make her feel badly about her own body. Which I believe is the true reason behind her disgust of women feeling uninhibited. It seems to me that her own insecurity fuels her public shaming of women who are actually secure. So is that not her ego coming into play, rather than others? I don't know the exact reason why women post certain images of themselves, their reasons are their own but to automatically label a woman's nude body as pornography is so completely offensive. If you want to look at what men in India wore while doing yoga you'll see a whole lot of skin. Yet somehow, nudity in yoga is now an issue because women are doing it?

So I'll just admit now, I am a "yoga porn” star, lover & promoter! I post pictures & videos of my naked to half naked body while doing yoga for the world to see. And the reasons I do so are my own but mainly I seek to normalize the naked body while Ms. Lane seems hell bent on continuing to make it taboo and shameful. Yet also, I just don’t give a damn what people think about me, whether my nude body is shameful or not, I am secure in my decisions and in my skin. I refuse to change my clothing or put clothing on before I take videos or pictures because some person wants to use these images to justify their public shaming of women. Women are so indoctrinated to not only hate their own body but to hate other women's bodies. I used to look at women who were confident enough to show skin in envy while also trying to find every little thing wrong with them; “look at that dimple, look at that roll, I’m thinner, oh she’s slutty,” to somehow make myself feel better. And it wasn't from a place of a "moral high ground" or a fear of women being objectified. It was because I was insecure about my own body and their ability to be comfortable in their own skin made me angry and sad because I myself was not comfortable in my own skin. That’s ego. Grade A ego. Yet I don’t believe her article is really about yoga at all since its not yoga that is the issue for her, its women’s bodies that seem to be her main gripe.

There is this notion that in order for women to be taken seriously we must extinguish our sexuality. That it is somehow our responsibility to make the world or in reality, men, see us as thinking, feeling, intelligent beings instead of just sexual objects. The objectification of women is not a problem that women should have to solve- we live it and fight it every single day. It reeks of the constant barrage of self-defense videos and “how to stay safe as a woman” articles, pinning the responsibility for us to know “how to not get raped”. Where are the articles and videos teaching men to not rape and objectify women? Where are the people raising these young boys, when these ideas first become normalized to the point where men act out in violence against women? So is it my responsibly to teach every single man to not objectify me or see my nude body as simply a thing to fuck rather than look into my soul and to see who I really am? Is my nudity somehow blocking the depths of my character or is it the person who has been taught from a young age to objectify me and refuse to see my complex nature? Its not my responsibility to answer these questions and further, to solve these moral and social issues.

Women have been pitted against each other for decades. Perhaps its biological or evolutionary that women see each other women as competition for mates or maybe society plays a role. We may not be able to control how young boys are raised or how men perceive our bodies but we certainly have the power to unify with other women and not create divides. After all, Yoga literally means to unite. Perhaps instead of shaming other women for their bodies and sexual freedoms, choose to be secure in your own body with however many pieces of clothing you desire and applaud any woman’s effort to love herself in a society that is constantly telling her she is just an object and not good enough. 

I would love to support any woman who feels insecure or ashamed of their body. I want to be an ally to all women and open up these dialogues. To make our position in this world stronger and more unified. So ladies, its okay you're insecure, just stop calling it feminism- and when you’re ready to transcend your ego, or ready to at least try- actual feminism and the unification of women will always be here, whether you do yoga or not. 

 

05.03.17 I left animals to suffer and die…

The first time I saw a farm that raised animals for food, I sat in my car trying to picture the images inside. I had snippets of undercover videos I had seen prior flashing through my mind, wondering if the horrors were as horrendous as those painful videos. Outside, this vast land surrounding me, these large white windowless buildings, the calm stillness, the quietness and beauty of the green grass was such a stark contrast to what was pictured in my head. I felt like I was in there with them, hearing their screams, seeing them struggle to survive and knowing I would do whatever it took to save them all, even risk my own life and freedom. I was so naïve and so wrong. Not one single video can ever prepare you for witnessing the suffering and death of another being and no one, even Captain America, could save every single tortured soul in those sheds. There are just too many.

As I sat, crouched down in pitch blackness, miles away from street lights or even porch lights, I again felt the stillness and calmness as I looked towards the white sheds, that now looked yellow because of the flood light that illuminated them in the night. We went through these beautiful orchards, perhaps almond trees that would soon maybe end up in my almond milk latte and other lattes, while no one has any idea of the torture that exists just a few feet away from their precious nuts. We were still thousands of feet from the sheds but the smell of feces, death and decay was overwhelming. You could see the cesspool in the distance, only because of the glassy reflections from the one or two lights that were on outside. A huge priority was to not fall into that cesspool and die. But my first mission was navigating the many barbwire fences that separated us from the door of that shed. I was the tallest in our group and easily, relatively, climbed over them, only getting scratched and stuck a couple times. With every fence we went over my heart pumped with greater fervency and everything in my body, everything I was taught, every instinct I was not taught, told me to run away. I did not, we did not, and we kept going further.

I have this uncanny ability to shut down emotionally when I am behind a camera and there is “a job” to do, even when “the job” is documenting the immense suffering of others. I can look through the lens of a camera and remove myself from that particular moment- I do not hesitate, I do not flinch and I do not cry. I film with such intensity, knowing that this shot, this scene, this particular animal, this particular injustice is the most important moment in my life and theirs. That this very second I have the opportunity to capture what this one animal or perhaps this group of animals is enduring behind closed doors. That I may be their only chance at having their sad story told while so many are tortured and killed, almost to a point of being nonexistent. If an animal suffers and no one is there to see him or her, do they even exist? No one sees them, hears their cries, smells their blood or watches their heart stop beating. They die, utterly alone, by the billions, while most people just go about their every day life. As I do as well except when I am hiding behind my camera, enveloped in their misery for those fleeting moments.

When there are just so many of them and you cannot possibly have a lens wide enough to even fit one tenth of them in one shot, you go from group to group, trying to find the most abused, the most suffering, the one closest to death. After awhile I found him. I focused my attention on this one animal, out of hundreds and stood there filming his misery. All the others were terrified of me, desperate to get as far away from any human as possible because all humans had brought them was pain and suffering but not him. He couldn’t get away from me because he could no longer stand on his own, though he certainly tried to move, using any body part to try and pry his failing body off and away. He was panting heavily and could not hold his head up, for even the weight of that was just too much. This animal had been through an unimaginable hell since the day he was born until this very moment, where he was literally dying in front of me. I wanted so much to save him, take away his pain and get him out of this hellhole but instead I walked away and began filming the next injustice. He certainly suffered longer. We all would like to believe that we would do whatever it took to save a life and that even our own lives would be risked to save another. It does not always work out that way and though we were able to save a few, we left behind hundreds to suffer and die in such unthinkable ways.

We all want to be that hero and sometimes activism is fueled so heavily by ego rather than the importance of the actual injustice happening, while also concentrating on being the most effective. I wanted to be that hero. I wanted people to know that I had broke into a farm and saved animals’ lives. Sure, my intentions were genuine in that I deeply cared about those animals yet our ego is almost always a factor. More so than ever in our movement I see activists clambering to be on video or in pictures, to be the hero and to be recognized. I certainly did. And it took me years to grapple with my own ego and how it related to my activism. I think if most people were a little more honest with themselves they would see the correlation. It ended up being that I felt very uncomfortable high up on that pedestal people put me on and I did not really tell anyone about what I had done. I knew so many different activists but I felt such a disconnect because they felt I was on a different level. Yet I was no different than anyone else trying to fight for the rights of animals. I never thought I would experience burnout as an activist and honestly, I saw it as a weakness. We cannot afford to experience burnout while so many are suffering. Yet here I am, years later and still burnt to a crisp. I don’t feel very connected to the animal rights movement anymore and it makes me extremely sad. I am still active here and there but nowhere near what I used to do- I feel as if I have lost my identity and am struggling to find it again. All the years of physical and emotional abuse I put myself through, the many times I would just push through it, not think or dwell on what I had witnessed yet instead forcing it further down into my soul. It needs to be released.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I think of all the animals I left behind because I don’t think of them. I don’t think about the ones with blood on their faces, the ones who were dead and rotting with the others being forced to step around their bodies, the one who managed to get out of the enclosure and was free for a couple hours, feeling more freedom than they probably had ever felt in their entire life, not the ones stacked and stacked on top of each other in the “dead pile” or the one I tried to grab and save but who fought me and got away, only to be killed days later. How close he was to a better life and how quickly I gave up on him and simply grabbed another. If I stopped to think about every single individual I locked eyes with throughout my many trips inside, I would not be on my own two feet. Its not that I don’t remember every single one of them because I do- I remember the sound of the loud fans in the sheds, I remember the exact pathway to get inside, I remember the look in their eyes, I remember that they never really made any noise except the noises their bodies made against the wood as they tried to get away. I remember the stench, I remember feeling the weight of their bodies in my hands as I picked them up. I remember the stress of wondering if they would make it to a sanctuary and mainly, I remember my anguish as I turned my back on all of them, closed the door behind me and left them to suffer and die. I don’t want recognition for my actions and inactions- I am not a hero, not even close.

 

04.13.17 The last day I saw my sister alive...

When cross colors were cool...

When cross colors were cool...

When I heard Crissy’s loud rap music muffled through her closed door, I knew she was venturing out that day. Like most summer days, I had been up already for hours, laying in the sun, playing volleyball, watching TV and eating cereal that was entirely made of sugar. I was almost 14 years old and about to enter high school while Crissy had just finished her sophomore year. My mom was at work for the day and my dad was working in San Jose during the week, which was a seven hour drive round trip. I remember this day like it was two years ago. I cant say, “I can remember it like it was yesterday” because I cant even remember what I did yesterday, or the day before or even last week for that matter. Its curious how days pass so quickly and without meaning, until something catastrophic happens that makes that particular day, special. Special is probably a terrible way to describe the last day you saw your sister alive, but I do look back on that day fondly. It was the last day I would ever see my sister Crissy and the last few days of my innocence. I cherish that moment of not knowing what murder really meant to a family. I cherish that moment of seeing my sister as a whole human being rather than a person I once knew over 20 years ago. I cherish the stillness of the thick summer air, the quietness of my mind which would soon tumble into a dark downward spiral and I cherish the carefree feel that which summers were made of. Where I was once just Shannon Campbell, a silly privileged white girl with little concern for anything beyond my simple life and that, which surrounded it. To Shannon Campbell, sister of murdered teen Cristina Campbell, victim of violence and terror.

 

I looked out from my entirely too hot bedroom, which was made even more unpleasant because of the vaulted ceilings, huge bay window and broken air conditioner. Grass Valley summers were very hot and dry, with prickly weeds blanketing the desolate landscape of the boonies where we lived. I hardly went anywhere, especially during the summer months, with most of my friends living too far away. Where we lived, an unplanned trip to the grocery store, which took 30 minutes one way, was as exciting as it got, even for most summer days. I was half jealous and half happy that Crissy was going to “town”; that’s what you call civilization when you live in the middle of nowhere, “town”. Even though I was stuck at home with no future plans of adventures, I knew Crissy had been held up in her room the past week or so after her boyfriend broke up with her, so jealously turned to gratefulness that she was getting out. We fought relentlessly, like most siblings who were just two years apart would, but she was also my best friend, my anchor and the person who would go to the bathroom with me in public places because I was, for some reason, too scared to go alone. She would yell at me for using her make up or stepping foot into her room, unless I was performing some ridiculous dance or doing my Jim Carry “Fire Marshall Bill” impression. Her room had stayed pretty silent for that week of hibernation and I remember bringing her dinner a few times because she didn’t want to come down.

 

The last few weeks of her life and even the few weeks after her body was found are a blur, but that day, the day I last saw her alive is very clear. I was familiar with Dawn, one of her on again off again friends, as she had stayed at our house a few times. Yet I had never heard of Sam before and didn’t know anything about him except that he was going to pick Crissy up that day with Dawn. At this point in my life I would have been labeled a goodie two shoes, someone who didn’t break rules, thought sex was gross and certainly wouldn’t be drinking or smoking. Every time Crissy talked about sex I would gag and squeal yet also be amazed at how grown up she was compared to me, even though only two years separated us. She had started smoking cigarettes a few months prior and I just thought it was the worst thing she could do. Even though I was a brat and annoying as hell, I never once told on her and she would freely smoke around me and tell me when she was going to do something she wasn’t supposed to do. As we stood in my bedroom she proudly gloated how a boy was picking her up and how she was going to smoke weed for the first time. She grabbed a tiny bottle of alcohol my aunt had given me, purely for decoration as drinking in my opinion was just wrong, and started sipping it like the badass older sister she always lived up to be. We only stood there for several minutes before a little truck pulled up beside our property. I look back at those moments now and want to scream at her to not go, to not get into that truck. I can picture myself galloping down the staircase and out the front door, tripping on our long gravel driveway and grabbing her tightly, never letting go. It never crossed my mind that she would be dead and gone within 48 hours of that moment and that our lives would be forever altered. If only I had known. Instead of the movie worthy scene of me saving her life, she quietly yet excitingly turned away from me, grabbed her backpack and stepped out the door. I watched from my window as her tiny 4 foot 9 inch frame, dressed as always in her big long baggy “gangster” white pants and black t-shirt, walked towards a little yellow beat up truck. That same truck would eventually hold her and Dawns badly beaten dead bodies to be dumped like trash and the man driving, Sam Strange, would forever be a part of our narrative. The last thing I remember seeing was Crissy’s long brown hair, flowing in the mild summer wind, walking away from our safe home and into the presence of the man who would soon witness her violent murder and not save her life. I cannot tell you what I did the rest of that day or even what I was doing the night she was murdered. My next vivid memory was being on my knees in our dark living room 12 days later, praying as my mom spoke to police on the phone, regarding two girls’ decomposed bodies that had been found on a mountain side. 

03.26.17 I was sexually assaulted…I think…

teenage me...

teenage me...

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even recognized that what I had experienced when I was a teenager was a sexual assault. The fact that I did not even consider it an assault against my body is more offensive to me than the actual assault itself. That what happened to me was so normalized and that for so many years I took on the responsibility of what those two men did to me. That I believed all men just behaved in that way. I blamed myself so heavily that I was convinced that I was in fact the guilty one, not them, and even further, that I caused it because of my reckless behavior.

Because I was suffering so immensely, physically and emotionally after my sister’s murder, my main goal for many years was to just not feel like I wanted to die every single second of every single day. I was emo long before it was cool except I didn’t have black hair and wishing for death wasn’t something I just wrote in my sad journal, it was something I genuinely thought I wanted. The only way I escaped my misery was to not be sober, therefore to escape my own reality. It started with drinking here and there, smoking weed, the occasional joint laced with who knows what and some persistent self harm.

I remember being so excited for this New Years Eve party because it was going to be at Noah’s house and his parties were the best! Or so I had heard, since this was really, probably, most likely, one of my first parties ever. So as most 15 year old newbies do, I drank way too much too soon and was hell bent on doing more and taking risks. Even through my many drunken stupors I still had that death wish buried deep inside, drowning in that alcohol, wanting to put myself in dangerous situations to test the universe and its ironies. I somehow ended up in the company of two older boys who wanted to go buy more drugs. Mixing drunk driving and “magic” mushrooms, for some particular reason, felt like a good idea at the time. Death wish, remember?

I tried to climb into the back- they either had a truck with a camper shell or one of those hideous car/truck vehicles, where it was a car with a truck bed attached to it. Perhaps a ford ranchero, which I just had to google image search using “ugly car truck combo” in order to refresh my memory. …It was a station wagon- bad memory refreshed like a rotten.com web page. My friend Liz and another guy were in the back and I at least had a little sense to want to be with her. The two guys in front shoved me in, making me “sit bitch” which was an appropriate title in regards to their intentions.

Before we left they told me to eat these mushrooms they had and though I had never done mushrooms before, they didn’t have to ask me twice. Honestly, I cannot remember if they pressured me to eat them or not, all I know is that I did. I had no idea where we were going or who I was even with, except I sort of knew Shane, who ended up dating one of my close friends years later but that’s a whole other story. As we drove down those winding and deathly dark Grass Valley roads, I was so out of it and swirling with every turn. My body was numb until I felt both of their hands on my legs. It seemed as if they both were in perfect pervert unison as they worked their way higher and higher up my leg. It did not take long for them to begin rubbing my vagina- one would do it while the other patiently waited for his chance. If one took too long, the other would slap his hand to assert that it was his turn to assault me. They were fighting over violating me. I remember sitting there, not wanting it to happen, yet also not being able to get my body to function well enough to say no or to physically stop them. Their hands were all over me and I just sat there and let them do it. I was scared, drunk, dizzy, mortified and stunned. The only reason they stopped was because we arrived at our destination.

As soon as they turned the engine off and began getting out I felt whatever was brewing in my stomach wanting to desperately be free. I vomited all over their dashboard and floor. I couldn’t quite discern if I had thrown up because of the alcohol, the mushrooms or what I had just experienced or perhaps a combination of all three. On the way back to the party they allowed me to get into the back with my friend and as usual, I began sobbing. Most Bear River high school parties didn’t really start to kick off until Shani got drunk and started sobbing, in case you were wondering. They drove down those dangerous dark scary roads so incredibly fast that I thought for sure my death wish was going to come true. All of a sudden I wanted nothing more than to live- funny how that works. While they drove insanely recklessly and as I sobbed, I could hear them laughing and asking me over and over again, “why don’t you come back up here.” No thanks guys.

I legitimately didn’t realize until this very moment that these two men were the first to ever touch my vagina. I had gotten to first base, or maybe second base without my consent. I’m not really sure since I’m not a baseball fan and honestly, I have always fucking hated baseball, never want to “play” again and would much rather opt for women’s volleyball or something.

Its sort of disturbing that what I was dealing with at the time, my sisters murder, was so overwhelming that two men violating me wasn’t that big of a deal in the long run. I feel this guilt inside me, though I no longer blame myself for what happened, I now blame myself for not being more traumatized because of it. I certainly was bombarded with extreme emotions at the time, as I reread what I wrote about that night in my journal:

“… I deserved everything they gave me. Their faces wont get out of my head…I just want to crawl in a corner and die. Am I stupid? YES! YES! YES! Ill never forget this, never.”

The normalization of sexual abuse and assault against women is rampant and I would hope that it’s gotten better for young women. I not only wrote about my experience with these two boys in my journal but I was shocked to read and remember all the other onslaughts I experienced in just one night, as a teenage girl, at a high school party. There were three different boys trying to force me to kiss them, one trying on two separate occasions to get me alone with him, and one grabbing my vagina after I pushed him away when he tried to force me to kiss him. Yet the sad reality is that what I experienced is nowhere near what other women have survived. That the sexual abuse of women has gotten so egregious that many diminish their own trauma, as I am doing now and while outsiders do the same. We have come to a point where “grabbing women by the pussy” is simply “locker room talk” yet what I experienced was not in a locker room and was not just talk. It actually happened and it actually was pretty traumatizing.

I never realized how much that experience shaped my sexuality, my sometimes shitty sexual and platonic relationships with men and even more disturbing, my sexual fantasies. This experience and the many others I have lived throughout my life have altered how I view my body and its worth in this universe. It took many years and many obstacles, but I reclaimed my body and my sexuality in many different ways, throughout many varied and complex years of personal struggle and growth. I reclaimed my existence through self-abuse, self-love, realizations, actualizations, modifications and alterations. Just to begin to love my own skin, beyond the intricate soul inside of me. No, not just my soulful spirit but to genuinely adore the meat and bones of me. And honestly, I am still learning to love and accept both through this universe that constantly forces you to question your own worth as a woman and sexual being. My body is not a temple…

”… temples can be destroyed and desecrated. My body is a forest—thick canopies of maple trees and sweet scented wildflowers sprouting in the underwood. I will grow back, over and over, no matter how badly I am devastated.” Quote by Beau Taplin

03.03.17 gravesites

sinister cat - adventure on

The first time death affected me personally was when my sister was killed. I was 13 going on 14 and had never really experienced death beyond losing a family dog that I wasn’t very close to. Even then, my sister Crissy was cremated and we still have her ashes. I had never experienced visiting a gravesite, where you stand there knowing your loved one’s body was under the earth you were mourning over. I had visited the site where Crissy and her friend’s bodies were dumped, which now had two huge crosses constructed and felt that sick feeling of imagining her decomposed body lying on the earth I now sobbed over. I never thought about how I would feel standing over her actual body dead and deep in the ground.

As I hiked up that steep hill my heart was pounding and stinging, which I could not determine was because I was out of shape or I was about to visit where we buried Sinister’s body. I felt anxious about going but also felt this need to visit and see it again. It has been almost three weeks since we put his body into that hole and I wondered what I would find. Had an animal dug him up and used his body for food? Would the flowers we left be alive and blooming? Would I feel him near me? As I walked around the path I could see the hilltop in the distance and it was so beautiful yet I cried and felt so sad. I was listening to the Howard Stern show the whole way up, avoiding the feelings and trying to trudge along. As I got to the bottom of the hill Sinister was buried on top of I turned off what I was listening to and made my way up. The closer I got the more anxious I felt and I stopped several times to just cry and clench my aching heart. I finally got to a point where I could see the fresh dirt and did not see much of a disturbance and kept walking.

The earth had settled on top of him as his body is decomposing and the flowers we left were dead and dried. All I could muster was “oh sinders…” I had this plan to sit and write or meditate next to his “area” but there were swarms of little bugs attaching themselves to my arms and back. I walked around and around and shooed them feeling defeated- “well I can’t stay here, there are just too many bugs”. And I knew right away that I was doing what I always do- avoiding the pain. I just keep moving. I keep moving through life because if I stop the pain will overcome me. And as I was pacing around Sinister’s gravesite I became eerily aware of how much these little bugs were showing me. They symbolized all the pain I have experienced and every time I stopped they attached themselves to me, clinging on for dear life and would only let go and disperse once I started moving again. So I stopped moving. I sat down on some rocks, very aware that I kept a certain amount of distance from where Sinister’s body was.

I sat and I cried. I wrote, I cried, I thought of things, I laughed, I blew my nose and I just felt it. The sadness. The pain. With every part of my body; I felt the hard rock under my butt, I felt the pen in my hands, I felt the hat on my head, I felt the sun and warmth on my skin and I felt the pain in my heart. And I no longer felt any bugs landing on my skin. They eventually went away and I sat with that peace for a bit. I stood up, brushed myself off and walked over one last time to that spot of land. I felt grateful that we could offer Sinister’s body to nourish the earth below as he nourished our lives for so many years. I put my hands on my heart and then onto the ground, touching the fresh flowers I had laid there. As I walked down the steep hill carefully, I no longer felt anxious or worried but the sadness remained deep in my heart.

And that’s okay.