Sunday, October 29, 2017

My Twitter Shadowban on the Fourth Anniversary of My Mother's Death

            Let’s talk about shadowbanning on Twitter for a moment. As a result of it, you might start seeing more posts from me on this blog, and maybe that’s a good thing to come of it. But this, as a whole, is not a good thing for Twitter. I’ve done my bit. I’ve contacted Twitter Support and still gotten no response, but I’m not surprised. I’ve been watching this happen to several other people on Twitter, and I knew it might find its way around to me eventually because I livetweet movies and television shows a lot. A lot. It’s almost the end of October as I write this, and the volume of my livetweeting has been perhaps higher than ever. I suppose that’s what brought down the hammer. And just what is the hammer, exactly? Apparently, the volume of my tweets triggers an automatic moderation program that labels my account as spam. In other words, I talk so much that Twitter itself muted me. People that follow me still see me IF they see my post on their timeline at the moment it was posted, but the entire back catalog of my tweets as well as any participation I have in a hashtag discussion… I might as well not be on Twitter. But the problem is that I don’t know for sure and can’t get an answer.

            This isn’t a new concept to me, but it seems to be a new one to the people running Twitter. I’ve been in chat rooms since the late 90s, and moderation protocols were put in place to control what they called “flooding” and eventually “spamming.” A person could enter a chatroom, hit one letter on the keyboard, hit enter, repeat endlessly, and thus destroy any ability to have a conversation in the room. For giggles. To settle a grudge. Because they didn’t like someone or didn’t like the topic of discussion. The reason never mattered, but these were the primitive flaws of online communication. You could “bababooey” someone endlessly, and they couldn’t cut you off. The only way to cut them off was to leave, and they won. At one point, a few chat programs suffered from hacking vulnerabilities. Someone could enter a chat room, enter a specific code of words, and cause the chat program to crash for everyone in it. Like a virus. We’re talking almost twenty years ago for this, and circumstances on Twitter are showing that things haven’t changed at all. It’s like Twitter has gone back to the drawing board completely and is trying to build a 90s chat room program from the ground up, but there’s one major difference: Twitter isn’t a tiny, grassroots, open-sourced chat program. Twitter is a large and successful business platform. Twitter doesn’t have the luxury to tinker with its users like this using automated moderation protocols, but they are doing it anyway. Automation means less real people answering questions, solving problems. Real user issues go ignored.

            But what are real users on Twitter, really? Myself, for example. I’m nobody. I’m not just nobody special. I’m nobody at all in any grand scheme of anything that I can see on Twitter or in the real world at large. I’m not newsworthy. I never got out of this town to make something of myself. I never followed my dreams to be the novelist, voice actor, or horror host I always wanted to be. I’m not a celebrity or a political analyst with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers. I interact with maybe a hundred people in Twitter per month. Almost two thousand people follow me, but I don’t know most of these people. A few of these people are celebrities or people who have inspired me, and, despite that little feeling of giddiness and fanboy that any of them would find me interesting enough to acknowledge, I haven’t exchanged words with most of them because I’m nobody special. I’m one random voice. I don’t know whether or not a lot of people notice anything I say on Twitter at all. I’m just one of many average people using Twitter for the reasons I thought Twitter initially was invented: just to talk and throw thoughts out there. A communication platform. When I joined Twitter several years ago, I didn’t think this was going to be a thing for me. As I said, I already had experience with chat rooms, and this concept felt like overkill. Twitter was not only a glorified chat room but also a global chat room. Everyone could use it, and everyone could see it. Depending upon how you felt about Twitter, you could use it to talk about absolutely nothing, or you could use it as a microphone. If that microphone reached enough ears, then it could become a megaphone. You could go “viral.” This could be a good thing for anyone in need of fifteen minutes of fame as well as anyone trying to get the word out about something to a lot of people. From the beginning, I always felt like this was going to be hit and miss. No matter how successful the platform became, there always would be flaws. I felt like my activity on Twitter would be a whole lot of nothing, and I never felt like I could use it effectively as a microphone. I still feel the same way.

In the beginning, I tried to hold on to a few beliefs and inspirations about what was and always would be wrong with Twitter. I believed that it was little more than an attention-seeking device and more inclined to encourage a lot of speaking and reactionary response without a lot of deep thought. We’ve all guilty of thinking before we speak, so it’s a natural progression to be as guilty of not thinking before we type. It takes a lot of time, patience, and practice to fix that within yourself, but Twitter came with the “Internet is forever” caveat that made it harder for some to find peace, forgiveness, and resolution for their poor choices of words. Also, I go back to the words of the great Lewis Black, who once said that taking the time out to talk about what you’re doing on Twitter means spending less time doing. He was less kind in his statement, but I don’t remember the quote exactly. I know there was a “fuck you” and an “asshole” in there somewhere, and those were directed at anyone and everyone using Twitter. And he’s right. Kathleen Madigan shamed him into opening a Twitter account eventually, but he’s still right.

            I may have mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook a time or two in the past, but there is something that I haven’t considered inside my own head for too long. It’s an internal argument I used to have a lot, and I’m glad it’s come back to me because I feel a little less lost in my thoughts than I did before this paragraph. It’s called the Hawthorne effect. I would hope you take the time to look it up, but I’ll spare you the history lesson web search and just tell you that it’s the theoretical fact that organisms will change their behavior as a result of the knowledge that they are being observed. You can see this on parade on Twitter every single day. It’s not always easy to identify, but articles abound about how social media changed us and not for the better. I’ve read a few of them, but none of the articles I have read make any mention of the Hawthorne effect. I’m not a poor reader, but surely someone else mentioned it and I just overlooked it. I’ve felt its effect on me a few times. I’ve felt like some of the things I have said just aren’t my normal behavior. I’ve had to go back and analyze my words and make sure I think before I type, to make sure I’m not doing something out of character to draw attention I don’t want or need. This isn’t limited to Twitter, either. I’ve had to take time away from communication of any kind to gather my thoughts and reflect. The fact is that doing something like this and not spending as much time on Twitter in general IS my normal behavior. Spending as much time as I have on Twitter isn’t. I’ve seen Twitter used for all sorts of speech, and some of that speech has driven Twitter into a panic that makes it seem like virtually every user is being ignored when a real problem with the platform arises. The ability to multiply artificial users and magnify the Hawthorne effect has become a huge issue on Twitter following the 2016 election in particular, and there’s nothing else to call it but cyber warfare. I mean cyber warfare on any level you want to think of it: the corner of one unhinged person’s basement as he bullies other people because he has nothing better to do, or the tactical efforts of a foreign power manipulating world events. The tools have existed long enough that there is no doubt they are being used in any and every way you can imagine. For at least every hundred people trying to use such a microphone platform to spread awareness about some form of cancer, there is at least one person using the same method to spread falsehoods. The positive is that this 1/100 statistic is still pretty much the reality. The real problem is a small fraction of people abusing a social platform just as a small fraction of any given community commits any given crime. Some of them might have found a trick to make it look like they have increased their numbers with bots, but the reality is that their numbers in living human beings are that tiny fraction. Creating a hundred fake voices in their favor is little more than a variation of chat flooding, and it can be combated. The problem is that it is not being combated properly. This isn’t the story of John Henry. The response to the machine winning one race shouldn’t be to get rid of the humans and use more machines. Fighting robots with algorithms doesn’t work, and it only seeks to pressure real people into modifying their behavior on the platform to try not to look like an artificial person. And the biggest problem is that it’s a silent alarm system with no warning, answers to no one, and has no appeal.

I’ve tried to carry my understanding of the Hawthorne effect with me in my life and on social media, and I think I’ve been somewhat successful. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever been a natural attention-seeker. I’m not a big fan of the spotlight. The irony of my unfulfilled dreams and lack of a real social life isn’t lost on me. As I sit here writing this, I can feel the difference in how I write based on the hope that someone reads it as opposed to the less formal and more personal way I would write if I were penning a secret journal I never wanted public. That’s the Hawthorne effect in a nutshell, and it can be a push in the wrong direction to be something you’re not in order to get what you need. The Hawthorne effect can be a way to rationalize away your own integrity either to seek attention or to avoid it. You have to seek attention to get a lot of things in life. You have to put yourself out there, or else you’re invisible. A ghost. And that brings us here.

As early as 2015 or even before that, a few people started slipping through the cracks. Of course, I didn’t notice this because many of them fit the same bill of Twitter nobody that I do. Most people didn’t notice. I didn’t even know this algorithm went back that far until I started discovering a handful of people writing blogs and articles elsewhere about it. People I never saw on Twitter. I didn’t know they existed. Twitter made it harder for me to find them and to know that we had something in common. I’m still going to post a link to this blog on Twitter regardless of the fact that my shadowban will deny it the attention it might deserve. Many people like myself have been suffering from this problem for a long time, and I have yet to meet anyone that has gotten a resolution from it. Some of them have written the aforementioned articles on how to fix it by contacting Twitter Ads while others file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission. Although some of these methods have worked for some users in the past, it doesn’t make the problem go away permanently. The algorithm remains in effect, and it can strike again at any time for the same mysterious reasons. We’re Twitter nobodies. We don’t matter. We are the statistic of people who fall through the cracks in society. Our paperwork gets lost. Our complaints are seen by an automated system and never rank highly enough on the priority list because bigots, politicians, celebrities, trolls, and vulgar bullies are louder than we are. All of the inboxes are flooded with complaints. We’re quiet people using Twitter for the reasons we thought Twitter was invented. We’re the people who just tell our stories, and most of them never go viral regardless of how meaningful they can be because we don’t have the follower count or just didn’t pick the right time to tell the story. We’re typically told to leave if we can’t handle how things work here, and algorithms seem to be pushing us to do it without saying a word. We, the nobodies, the average people, are the ultimate proof that Twitter isn’t for everyone even though we’re the only reason it still functions. Because we’re here. Because there’s another fraction in the statistics. About 1/100 Twitter users are high profile people. The rest are just people. Most of us take responsibility for what we say and do. Most of us are willing to accept some consequences of our actions, but an automated moderating system can’t necessarily tell what sort of consequence is in order. An automated monitoring system can’t tell if someone is talking a lot just for the sake of talking or if someone is an artificial person talking a lot because it was programmed to spew as much information out there for the highest chance that someone else will see it. I don’t use Twitter any differently now than I have in the beginning, but I’m being locked out to some extent because an automated system finds my behavior suspicious based upon other suspicious behavior. Or is it because of those few instances in which I had to take a step back and wonder if the Hawthorne effect was influencing me? The problem is that I have no clue. Am I supposed to alter my personality, use the platform less often, or stop using it altogether to correct this oversight? This is a problem, but there is a bigger one.

There’s another group of people I haven’t mentioned outside the Hawthorne effect and the attention-seekers. There are people who use Twitter because they have a genuine need to be heard. They are people suffering from trauma, depression, or just simple loneliness. In my time on Twitter, I have run across people telling stories of loss and even seen people on the verge of suicide. I’ve reached out to complete strangers on more than one occasion and let them know that they weren’t alone and that they mattered. If I weren’t shadowbanned right now, you could search through my Twitter history and find a few of those exchanges, but you can’t. I’ve taken time on solemn days of memory to share painful stories about myself in hopes that maybe someone else out there might relate to them and get something positive from it. I never asked for any responses to those stories or any pats on the back or shoulders to cry on. I just want to put the stories out there, just in case. I can’t do that today. As I write this, it’s ten minutes before 9PM. Four years ago today, on October 29, around 9PM, I spoke to my mother for the last time. It’s scary that I sat down to write this when I did, with numerous interruptions, and found myself here at this exact moment in time when I did. We’d just watched a PBS documentary on the Orson Welles radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. Earlier that day, we’d talked about Gaslight. I had just seen it for the first time, but she hadn’t. I’d hoped she would have the chance. I wanted to share it with her. Everything seemed like a normal and uneventful day, a day that would turn into another, better day. I never expected that she would be gone the next morning. After all the years of trying to help her fight her illness and working so hard toward making better lives for ourselves, I never expected it to vanish just like that. I knew that it would come eventually, but I thought that there were more years ahead. I never expected for my entire family to collapse overnight from losing her, but that was what happened. My mother didn’t just die four years ago; my entire family died with her. What passed for our family dynamic died with her, and nothing was ever the same afterward. There were things I just couldn’t do or enjoy anymore because the pain was too great, and, in a few cases, I had developed a silly superstition that a few things I used to enjoy hit too close to the event, so close that they made me afraid that something bad might happen again if I even attempted to get near them. I was watching Eddie Murphy on YouTube the night my mother died, laughing to myself and thinking about sharing those memories of laughter with her the next day, never knowing that she was already gone and that I wouldn’t have the chance. I haven’t been able to listen to an Eddie Murphy joke since. I feel like I’ve pushed him entirely out of my lexicon. The last thing I enjoyed with my mother was something we’d enjoyed most of our time together: The Carol Burnett Show. I was able to watch Carol Burnett for the first time a few months ago without crying. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do that again.

I didn’t use Twitter very much at the time. I didn’t use it exclusively. I had friends and support in a number of places, but several of those places had grown quiet or pushed me away with conflicts that I couldn’t handle. It felt harder for me to reach out to some people I had known for a long time. I’m still not sure why that is, but I guess it was just a symptom of the change in my life. It caused me to grow apart from a lot of the things that I used to do and enjoy before October 29, 2013. It made me feel less comfortable in a lot of places, but I made it look like I was doing okay because I still engaged in a lot of the same public behaviors and exercises I was known for in those small circles of friends I had. I continued to do those things because they were a way to keep my mind busy. They were a momentary escape from the pain. Still, I felt myself pulling away from places like Facebook and a chat room here and there, and I wasn’t checking my emails more than maybe once a month. When I did, I ignored a lot of emails from people I knew. I was cutting myself off from the world more and more and didn’t want to share the details of my life. I wanted to suffer in silence, and that’s never healthy. Being forced to suffer in Twitter silence from a shadowban changed perspective a little. My mother suffered greatly in silence. Addressing a few concerns might have prevented her death, but those concerns did not come to light until it was too late. Despite the coroner report that her death was accidental due to medication, I’ll never truly know whether or not she committed suicide, but I’ll always know that it was a possibility and something that she had attempted in the past. In the days following her death, I completely shut down. I spoke to a few people to let them know what had happened, but most of the details are a blur of crowd noise, tears, and pats on the shoulder. I didn’t want to be there, so I went somewhere else in my mind. As things got quieter and a tiny fraction of the pain began to heal, I began to feel a need to start reaching out again. Coming back to Twitter was an endurance test for me. I had almost no followers and never really sought them out, so it had remained one part live journal, one part self-help therapy, and one part just throwing out quotes from movies, radio and television. I still didn’t see any real use in it, and I was on the verge of leaving again. What drew me back to it in the first place, however, was the livetweet community, specifically #TCMParty, a group of Twitter uses who would watch Turner Classic Movies together and run commentary. This is exactly what I had been doing in my old circles of friends for almost twenty years, and it went back long before I discovered the Internet as I watched old horror movies in the back room of a comic book store with a few people after closing time on a Saturday night. I’d been watching TCM alone a lot shortly before and after my mother died, and it was one of the only cable channels I had worth watching, second only to MeTV at the time. Slipping into that world of the past helped to take the edge off. One Saturday afternoon, TCM let some of the fans pick the movies, and among those fans were the founders and supporters of #TCMParty. When I returned to Twitter, a place I’d used more often than not to quote riffs from Mystery Science Theater 3000, I discovered that this was what #TCMParty and other livetweeting hashtags were really doing. They were riffing. This was something I felt comfortable and practiced in doing. This was something in which I had at least a little confidence that I could participate, and it convinced me to stick around as I began to meet a new group of people who shared my wide variety of tastes. It became a confidence-builder, and I began to use it to live out a couple of my unfulfilled dreams on a small scale when I began to host livetweets of my own. I loved being able to pick out things I loved and to share them with others. This blog is largely the result of that, and most of the early posts on it are synopses and promotions of those livetweets. It was something I loved doing and something that started pulling some inspiration out of me that I thought had fizzled out.

I didn’t want to make this a long entry. I almost feel like I’ve lost track because it’s so easy for me to make too many sightseeing stops on Memory Lane on the road to a point, but I haven’t lost the point. I’m here talking about it instead of talking about it on Twitter right now. I made a few comments on Twitter today about the memory of my mother’s passing, but I had to remember that the number of people I expected to be able to see it, even though that number is very low in the grand scale of Twitter, is very limited due to my shadowban. I had to remember that any random stranger out there could have been looking for a keyword in a Twitter search and maybe suffering from some similar pain, but they won’t find me. In this past year, I have felt a little more confident to let a little more of myself out on Twitter and in the real world, but I’m still not using Twitter for anything more than I ever did. I’m not bullying people or taking part in anyone’s controversial politics or sending chain mail scams or pretending to be a Nigerian prince. I’m not using foul language on a regular basis or directing any foul language at all toward anyone else on Twitter. I’m not that sort of person. I have manners. I’m livetweeting movies like I always do, and the month of October is my heaviest for livetweeting because I love Halloween and, in part, because I am indulging in an October happiness overload in an attempt to pull my mind away from unhappy memories like the one I have to face today, the memory of losing my mother four years ago. I’m about to join another movie livetweet, but I have to do so with the knowledge that a lot of people probably won’t be able to have a conversation with me on the hashtag because they don’t use some third party program like Tweetdeck to bypass a shadowban. Even Tweetdeck has been iffy lately and caused some communication to have gaps in it. Under a large handful of circumstances, I don’t exist on Twitter right now.

I try to imagine what a shadowban like this might have done to me a year ago, two years ago, or three years ago when I was facing this difficult time of year and felt Twitter was one of the best outlets for it. “You’re being punished and should have thought about that ahead of time,” some of you might say in support of the algorithm, but what the hell am I being punished for? Twitter doesn’t have an answer. “You must have triggered something somehow.” That’s the only answer the nobodies get. The silent treatment. “You know what you did.” No, I don’t. “Yes, you do.” No. I don’t. “Well, you must have done SOMETHING.” Who is running the ship? My emotional state is sufficiently higher than it was a year ago. I remember the Hawthorne effect. I’m capable of suffering this trivial injustice myself, but it’s not really trivial because it’s not just happening to me. And I didn’t suddenly start caring that it was happening when it started happening to me, either. I’ve been seeing it for a long time. I see it happen unfairly to more and more people using Twitter and can see the sort of ramifications that can come of it. It’s a case of innocent voices going unheard and being punished because they have slipped through the cracks. It’s not outrageous to suggest that Twitter becomes indirectly or even directly responsible for lives being lost and relationships falling apart when this sort of failure in communication happens.

The thing about this shadowban algorithm is that a lot of people don’t know that it’s affected them right away. A few of them just might think that everyone else all of a sudden just stopped giving a shit. Perhaps we shouldn’t worry about whether or not anyone does, but that’s not the point. It’s not an outright suspension, but it can limit your account on such a subtle level that you’re unaware that you’re being punished at all. You start to feel it in increments, but it feels like something else entirely. You can’t call this moderation or punishment or discipline when users don’t know when it’s being implemented or why or how. It’s trying to have a decentralized chat program and a moderated one at the same time, and that doesn’t work. You can’t say that you’re responsible for what some Twitter users say and do while denying that same responsibility to other Twitter users, ignoring them and letting a robotic nanny handle it. Someone might be sharing a painful memory, trying to get the word out about something important that they know someone else will see, but it will go unseen and ignored because Twitter decided to hide it. I follow a few people that spent a lot of time retweeting information about a dog meat festival in China. This is horrible, and I didn’t want to know about it. But I needed to know about it and am glad I do. At a point past my awareness, however, it became too much for me to handle emotionally, so do you know what I did? I muted a few of those people. I turned off their retweets. I did what was necessary for me to avoid those things for my mental state. I didn’t need a robotic spam filter to turn it off and silence those people for me or anyone else, but that can happen now and has. Silencing them in this manner is not only unnecessary but also damaging. Someone could be posting a handful of links to articles on mental health or suicide. That could be part of their profession, but they can’t possibly know what sort of limit there is to how much of it they can put up before the spam alarm goes off. And it shouldn’t go off at all. Not for them or people like them. They shouldn’t have to do research on mysterious reasons for being silenced or even contact a certain office about paying to get their voice back. I think about what effect this might have had on me before today, and I can’t say how I would react. I might have left and stopped using Twitter completely. I still have the power to do that, and Twitter doesn’t seem to understand that this is the only real reason Twitter can keep running. Because we stay.

Then I think about the strangers I saw, some completely by accident. I think about when I reached out to those people, and I realize that, for seemingly no reason at all other than triggering a faulty automation system, there could be more people in similar situations that I can’t see at all, people right now that need an ear and picked Twitter as their voice. I can’t reach out to them because Twitter refuses to acknowledge they exist, by fault or by design. They, like me, had to stay and keep using Twitter to find a voice, and they, like me, are being punished for… something. We don’t really know what it is because Twitter won’t tell us. Twitter is too busy trying to be a business, and perhaps they have forgotten that we are the business model. We are the advertisers and promoters. We’re not bots. We’re not spewing political memes or hate speech. We’re not people who are routinely given a lot of attention or the target of other people’s vitriol. We’re just people, average Twitter users, and Twitter’s automated moderation can’t tell real people from fake people anymore, it seems. It’s acceptable to Twitter for real people to be lumped into those categories and to slip through the cracks whether or not some of us survive the experience. And some of us won’t. Some of us will leave, some of us will die, and some of us will lose relationships we should have or could have had if Twitter were more hands-on with its programming. That’s just how the statistics work, on Twitter just as much as outside in the middle of any average city street, and Twitter needs to take responsibility for it just as any social media or communication platform should. Will they? I’m not holding my breath right now. Especially when even their robot answering machines won’t return my calls.

So now I return to whatever there is outside of this writing, be it livetweeting about movies, even though I know a lot of people won’t see me, or whatever else it is I choose to do in the dead of night on this painful anniversary when everyone else in my personal life is asleep, enjoying their own new paths in life, and probably won’t even bring up the anniversary at all or ask anyone how they’re doing. For some of them, it’s just another day. For me, it’s not just another day yet. At least I’m not suicidal.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark Letterboxd Review

            I didn’t think I would be doing any more in-depth reviews on Letterboxd let alone feel the necessity to analyze this as strongly as I did during this October 2017 viewing. It hasn’t been a year yet since my last viewing, but previous viewings didn’t quite bring out in me what I’m feeling right now. There are parts of me that don’t feel qualified to be the one to write it because, typically, I am identified as a man in my daily life. I don’t think I’d go so far as to call myself non-binary, but the concept of gender has given me problems most of my life. I’m not a great fan of testosterone in general. That’s another story in itself and not why I’m here. So why am I here? I’m here to tell you, with full confidence, that Elvira is one of the most important feminist icons of our time, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is one of the most important feminist works of our time and a cinematic masterpiece, and I’m going to tell you why.

            First, I want to talk about horror hosts for a moment and how important they are to me. I was introduced, for the most part, to horror at the age of four with the release of It Came From Hollywood. My first horror hosts were Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, John Candy, and Cheech & Chong, and they opened up a world to me that I cherish. I didn’t grow up in an area with a local horror host and never got a chance to see Elvira outside a few of her assorted television appearances on MTV, The Tonight Show and ChiPs. I was an insomniac child, and television raised me while my parents were asleep. As Gilbert Gottfried often says on his Amazing Colossal Podcast in reference to the Universal Monsters franchise and classic film in general, “the greatest film school in the country was in your living room.” Gilbert’s childhood was twenty years before my own, that of my parents’ generation, but I was fortunate to have grown up in the early 80s before paid programming and DMCA license restrictions killed television’s ability to show these movies in the sheer volume they once did. The type of programming that fed Gilbert filled me with just as much nutrition and satisfaction. As a lonely and awkward child in a small, repressed, religious southern town in Texas, I had the ability to share the things I loved with a great many people, but there always was some little nagging feeling in the back of my mind that made me feel unsafe to share my love for horror movies. I have problems starting conversations with people in general, but the problem was greater with this subject in particular. I knew that there must have been like minds around me. I know now that there were, but I was afraid to reach out to find them. Deathly afraid. I enjoyed my classic movies and my horror movies mostly alone. I shared that love and received much of it from my mother, also a huge horror fan and perhaps even greater than myself, but that wasn’t the same as the feeling of freedom to walk out into the world and proclaim that I was a horror fan. Again, I know that I wasn’t alone, but I was afraid to seek out kindred spirits. I was a child who had seen Lucio Fulci’s The Gates of Hell from the front row at the tender age of five. I’d seen Poltergeist and Halloween and Halloween II a year or more before that, but I was a quiet child who still watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street daily and walked down the street to attend Sunday school. My gauge of how people would be receptive of me never was in tune, but I never tuned them out. I was in the horror section of the local video store on a daily basis, and I never saw anyone else there. The woman who worked there couldn’t stand me because I would loiter for an hour or more, hoping that maybe someone else would come in or that I would hear a conversation about something I loved and might feel comfortable to join. The few times I did, she looked disgusted at the very sound of my voice, but I kept coming back, sometimes because I knew how much it bugged her. I never left the store without renting a tape. She always smiled at me as I left, but not because I was giving her money and that she was happy that I was leaving. She smiled because she knew I had to ride a bicycle through traffic to get back home, and maybe, just maybe, today would be the day.

            In 1987, my family moved to Florida, and everything changed. We lived in the Tampa Bay area, and I didn’t think anything could be better than my first Saturday morning cartoon experience in a new state and a new home. I didn’t know how wrong I was until I saw a promotion for a horror movie at noon. It was Creature Feature with Dr. Paul Bearer on WTOG-44, and he was hosting Legend of the Dinosaurs, a movie I had seen just released on VHS before my family moved but didn’t get the chance to rent. Not only did I have the chance to see a horror movie I’d been anxious to see, but I also got to watch it with a new friend for the first time since It Came from Hollywood several years earlier. This was what I had been missing with Elvira, and that void was filled quickly with more options than I could pick for one viewing time slot. The USA Network had Commander USA, TBS had Grampa Munster, but I found myself coming back to Dr. Paul Bearer almost every Saturday because he had the best movies of my life. War of the Gargantuas. The Devil Rides Out. Lake of Dracula. Dr. Blood’s Coffin. The Illustrated Man. War of the Worlds. Frankenstein Conquers the World. 20 Million Miles to Earth. Valley of Gwangi. Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Tarantula. Attack of the Mushroom People. The Giant Claw. Die, Monster, Die! House on Haunted Hill. The Creeping Terror. It Conquered The World. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Forbidden Planet.  Dr. Paul Bearer showed all of these and so many more on his Creature Feature, and it was heavenly.

I would be remiss not to mention briefly the impact of Gilbert Gottfried and Rhonda Shear on USA Up All Night some years later, but even that started with Dr. Paul Bearer on a Saturday afternoon in Florida. He ended every show telling viewers to stay tuned for Lynne Austin and Hooters More Than a Movie in which the original Hooters girl would showcase yet another broadcast movie from the Hooters in Plant City. Every once in a while, especially when it was horror, I would tune in for movies like Student Bodies (coincidentally the only host segment you can find from her show on YouTube, available only because someone recording a Dr. Paul Bearer show left the recorder running for 20 extra minutes).

The downside of this TV movie broadcast cornucopia was that it was mostly limited to television. The adjustment period of moving made 1987 and 1988 dismal years for movie theater experiences. I watched these movies on television but got to see little to no horror in theaters during those years. I didn’t get to see Elvira, Mistress of the Dark in a movie theater, and I wasn’t properly introduced to her until some years later when I finally caught the movie on local television. Imagine my delight to find out that Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson and her co-star Edie McClurg were members of The Groundlings with Pee-Wee Herman and Cheech & Chong. I’d consumed most of their work at an early age as well, and this was a perfect blend of watching the movies I loved the most with some of the people who made me laugh the hardest. Additionally, I could catch Cassandra Peterson and several other Groundlings on one of my favorite shows of the fledgling original programming days of Nick at Nite, the Siskel and Ebert parody On The Television. More and more, I didn’t have to watch my horror movies alone. People were on television talking about them, making funny jokes about them, and showing them a level of respect that I understood. I could talk about my love of horror hosts and horror movies all day and night, but this trip down Memory Lane is taking up about half the length of this movie review. Enough preamble.

            Elvira, Mistress of the Dark looks, on its surface, like a parody/satire of horror movies and Elvira’s own television horror host show. It is, but as I watched it in October 2017, I saw it as something so much more. October 2017, in the raw-nerve meat of long, long overdue discussions about sexual harassment, gender inequality, consent, promiscuity, and the male power dynamic in Hollywood and even all the way up to the highest levels of American government. With a so-called president who “grabs them by the pussy” and hundreds upon hundreds of women and even men coming out of the woodwork to share experiences of sexual harassment, assault, and even rape at the hands of high-profile men in film and television. October 2017, the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death, herself a victim of sexual assault by her own father as well as multiple physical abuses from a boyfriend that likely contributed to her health deteriorating more rapidly. Victims are finding the strength to speak out while fashion designers, defense attorneys, and friends of those people in power continue to pull the “Look at the Way She Was Dressed” card, targeting people like Rose McGowan with the courage to speak up and threatening them with the details of their own sexual histories. As if any degree of self-confidence or skin exposure or even full nudity comes within a thousand miles of consent. As if Cate Blanchett should have to tell the world that wanting to look sexy and enjoying looking sexy don’t mean that a woman wants to fuck you. It’s that self-confidence, skin exposure, and implicit boundary of consent that brings me to Elvira, and she’s come up with better ways to shine a light on it through comedy than I could. Making any jokes about Elvira’s skin exposure similar to the ones she makes constantly about herself here, however, would be ungentlemanly and in bad taste (though it might make me eligible to write reviews for Ain’t It Cool News… oh, wait). Her personality is the crucial factor, and that’s what I love and respect about her and everything she represents. Elvira is a symbol of that courage to be yourself and to speak out for yourself, and this movie presents it in some of the most beautiful ways I’ve ever seen.

            Here, nearly twenty years earlier, we have this little piece of cinema offering the discussion in full on a silver platter and disguising it as a TV character movie spinoff. Elvira begins her movie with the final scene of the Roger Corman film It Conquered the World, showcasing the brilliant female empowerment of Beverly Garland as well as Peter Graves’ poetic speech about Man as “a feeling creature, and, because of it, the greatest in the universe.” I can’t think of another movie better suited to give insight into what Elvira does and who she is. Suddenly, we are thrust behind the scenes of the unseen final episode of Elvira’s Movie Macabre in a world where Elvira is Elvira, not Cassandra Peterson in a wig and make-up. Like the Munsters or the Addams Family, Elvira is connected to the supernatural and otherworldly while walking freely in the human world. This is the pinnacle of the parody view of the classic monster archetype. The Frankenstein monster, the vampire, the werewolf, the witch, and the other assorted “children of the night” are something other than human, walking the world of humans without being a real part of that world. They are ghosts, shells of our former lives, reminders of our past mistakes, and the embodiment of our personal fears that truly come from the visage in the mirror rather than the features of the creatures. I refer back to Gilbert Gottfried again and his interview with Bobcat Goldthwait, in which Gilbert explained the human connections that horror fans like myself share with the monsters as symbols of the stages of life from birth to adolescence to death. They are something removed from us, but they are of us. They are outcasts of humanity, yet there is something we see of ourselves in them that unlocks feelings of empathy and sometimes envy. The Frankenstein monster is the innocent and misunderstood child who didn’t ask to be born, yearning for love and acceptance. Dracula has confidence, agelessness, and lack of inhibition that many of us wish we shared. The werewolf is puberty and the struggle with emotional control over selfish and hormonal urges on the road to adulthood. The mummy, though Gilbert was hard-pressed to find a representation for it before laughing it off and moving on, is the inescapable hand of mortality and history and the reminder that your own mistakes and hubris always catch up to you.

            Elvira’s first interaction on screen might as well be a real life Hollywood producer in the news right now. In what must have been a nod to Ed Wood and the man who funded Bride of the Monster, Elvira discovers that the television station that airs her show has come under the new ownership of a rich Texas businessman. He takes one look at her and immediately puts his hands on her, playing the victim when he is rejected and humiliated on live television. “I thought you said she was a nympho!” he exclaims. We are introduced to Elvira drawing her line of consent, and a man crosses it because of how she looks and what he has heard about her possible sexual past. Now, where have I heard that one before? Oh, right, it was from Lisa Bloom just a day ago (as of this writing) threatening Rose McGowan with the “She’s No Angel Herself” card. Elvira has ambitions and integrity, and she isn’t going to let even a man this powerful stand in her way or grope her. She quits, and she does so without being entirely certain that she has the money to finance what she has planned for the next stage of her life. She sets off on that journey in an opening credits montage that collects many more of the daily struggles of women in society and then seeks to tear them down completely. She picks up an ax-wielding hitchhiker, the archetype of the slasher villain preying upon young women, and she sends him screaming into the night because she shows him aggression and does not fear him. She dispels the notion that any woman who looks like Elvira can get out of a speeding ticket, but she presents it as a failure to get a laugh rather than a failure to use her physical advantages. A gas station attendant refuses to serve her and ignores her advice, leading to his own downfall as the gas station explodes in a ball of fire. An Amish couple in a horse and buggy look at her and smile, both seemingly envious of her freedom for their own different reasons. Maybe they’re just being the unconditionally polite and religious people they are, but you have to wonder about that when you see where Elvira is headed next. Her car breaks down in the small, repressed town of Fallwell, Massachusetts, “A Decent Community.” The name is either a clever mockery of Jerry Falwell or a made-up parody of the city of Falmouth and mere coincidence. I’d like to believe the former. The kindly old mechanic, nice to her face, waits until she leaves to mutter, “Nice tits.” He’s a gentleman, but he’s not too old or too blind. The woman running the local motel doesn’t want to rent Elvira a room simply because of how Elvira looks, and the old woman’s husband can’t stop looking. It becomes clear in an instant that this is a town where abstinence-only education is the only sex education. Repression is the norm. Upholding a façade of a wholesome community has drained away the town’s ability to enjoy life, and these people have become slaves to their own archaic traditions. Elvira becomes the object of desire for a lot of pent-up men both young and old, she becomes the inspiration of young men and women trying to discover their own freedom and self-image, and, perhaps most importantly, she becomes the target of people in power and in charge of the local community. She triggers jealousy, inhibition, and insecurity in the ruling townspeople that is so strong that they are willing to deny reality and burn her at the stake as a witch. They are willing to destroy her because she makes them reflect upon their own lives in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. To the ruling class of Fallwell, Elvira is a witch, a monster. They don’t truly believe that this could be possible because they are caricatures of blatant hypocrites, and they are no less inclined to exploit corruption and evil influence to take the easy route to get rid of their problem. Meanwhile, we see the “sympathy for the monster” in the teenagers of Fallwell, the young and innocent people who are struggling with identity and see Elvira as something new and strange. They see, to some extent, what is on the inside and recognize that the outside is an extension of it not to be confused or separated.

            In her horror host persona, she is a supernatural being. The make-up implies that she is one of those fictional immortals, but what, here, is Elvira in relation to the concept of the classic monsters? In Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, she is descended from the supernatural, but she is subject to mortality just as any other human or monster would be. The truth, however, is something beyond the concept of the monster. Elvira is 100% free-thinking, free-acting woman, not to be pursued without consent. I’ve heard plenty of “macho” men in my lifetime describe this as a monster and do everything in their power to weaken or destroy it. Just look at any Republican meme about Hillary Clinton. It doesn't matter what you think of her politically or even as a person. The example is valid and prevalent. Elvira, in this movie, is reviled by the townspeople for her strengths. Society has done a bang-up job portraying the free-thinking woman as more fragile, less capable, and less deserving than a man in this world, or, even worse, a threat to the status quo that men rule the world. Equality remains a fledgling concept to be fought for. While character actors like Beverly Garland struggled to lift more women up, they still were (are) portrayed more often in popular culture as the victim of the monster, the destructive harlot (which is not, for the record, synonymous with the unrepentant whore despite efforts to the contrary), or the princess in need of rescue, and it was predecessors to Elvira such as Dracula’s Daughter and Vampira who began embracing their supernatural power over the opposite sex and leveling the playing field. They would suggest, in some instances, that men were not necessary at all. They would put men’s weaknesses on display and challenge them, and they proved they needed to be challenged. Elvira took this challenge to a new level with humor that falls just in between self-deprecation and self-denigration. It depends upon the situation, but she has an entirely human expectation of her audience. She enjoys the attention and embraces her assets, but this is where the comedy ends. More specifically, this is where Elvira’s sense of humor ends if she believes that harmless and forgivable disrespect has become overt and deliberate. To look upon Elvira with any thought whatsoever is okay, but that’s where consent comes in immediately. You look at Elvira on her terms. She is exposing no more and no less than she feels comfortable exposing, and she expects to be seen. There are boundaries and limits even when the punchlines keep coming. We are allowed to keep laughing. We are allowed to keep looking. We are not allowed to stop thinking. We are not allowed to assume consent based on Elvira’s behavior or words. If you spy on her without permission, she will give you a reprimand. If you judge her on looks alone, touch her without permission or try to force yourself on her, then she may “tie your weenie in a granny knot.” She doesn’t suffer fools or injustice unless her free will dictates it ultimately harmless to her. All the while, she encourages others to fight for their own free self-image while fighting the injustices that come at every turn of her own. She inspires me to do the same.

            And then there’s Edie McClurg. I have loved Edie McClurg with a passion since the first time I saw her in Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie. I had the rare pleasure to see her perform stand-up comedy on television one night many years ago, and she is hysterically funny. This, however, made me a little sad that she was typecast so often despite being capable of so much in comedy, but she absolutely shines as Chastity Pariah. Her role on Small Wonder, Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie, and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark are, for the most part, the same person. Edie McClurg’s Chastity Pariah is the Anti-Elvira, making this the most essential portrayal of her character, typecast or not. Elvira has many enemies, but Chastity Pariah is the woman who thinks she is on equal footing in her community. She thinks she calls the shots, but she has surrendered her womanhood to the façade of the wholesome community. She believes in her false power so strongly that she will do anything to defend it. She places the blame for the corruption of her community’s children upon Elvira rather than to look at the children themselves, see problems Elvira has uncovered, and think about what needs to be addressed and discussed. She refuses to look beneath the surface of Elvira, and she, like the local motel owner and many of the other women in town, judges on looks and reputation alone. She thinks and acts as though she knows what is best for everyone, but she negates that when she never takes a single moment to think about what might be good for herself. And when Elvira takes her “revenge” on Fallwell in the form of a witch’s recipe for Ecstasy casserole at a community potluck lunch, showing them all that they are free human beings and not draconian robots, Chastity Pariah gives in to herself more than anyone. She proves to be the most repressed and pent-up, the least capable of exercising any real personal freedom. When the orgy is over, Chastity Pariah and her ruling class see it as a violation rather than a possible self-awakening. They continue to deny the truth within themselves despite having it drawn out of them, insisting that they were forced to do something they didn’t want to do and even turning on each other for taking part in it. I’m sure someone could make a counter-argument that this was blurring the line of consent and the equivalent of taking advantage of someone drunk at a party, but I think the movie makes it fairly clear that Elvira was giving them a taste of freedom from themselves. And this result wasn’t Elvira’s intent in the first place; it was supposed to be a reptilian creature, but she fudged the recipe.

            I could have watched two or three more movies for my October horror film festivities tonight, but instead I spent the rest of the moonlight hours fleshing these mid-movie thoughts into something more coherent. I can put too much thought into the possible underlying messages of things, but I think that I finally see this movie exactly as it was meant to be seen. I like to think I always have seen Elvira the way she wants to be seen. Elvira herself says that she wants to be remembered by two simple words… “any two, as long as they’re simple.” Those two simple words are Cassandra Peterson, an amazing comedian, performer, kindred spirit and matron saint of movie lovers. And I’ll give you three more words for good measure: Icon. Hero. Legend.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Musings On Writing and the Failure of Twitter Management

            I haven’t nurtured my writing in a long time. From the age of eleven to the age of somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-five, I wrote every day. It was a hobby and an escape more than anything; I told my young and naïve self at the time that I would make a career of this, but I never took it that seriously in truth. I’d created an entire universe in my own head at the age of eleven, both inspired by and including characters and toys from my childhood. I still remember bragging, childishly, that I was going to write a book and get it published, but that book was a ridiculous little fictional account of my own toys coming to life. I continued to play with my toys until I was fourteen, locked in my bedroom for hours and giving each of them their own voices, adventures and relationships. I had real friends and spent a lot of time outdoors, but I valued my alone time to imagine. In my writing, my “living toys” starred alongside characters I had created and existing characters from other media.

By the time I got into high school, I shifted from playing with toys entirely to writing, creating a superhero universe and a broad outline of how this universe was going to take place in multiple selling titles for years to come. A huge pipe dream. I had at least five years completely outlined and another five years in the planning stages, but now I can’t decipher my own codes and abbreviations on those surviving sheets of notebook paper to remember how all of it was organized. Despite maybe a hundred original heroes and villains I put together, the problem was that the entire universe revolved around a fond family pet and his owner, me. This was the Me universe, only for me. Secretly, the family pet was the real star, but things spun out when I became the ultimate hero of that world. I was essentially a carbon copy of Superman, but I had the likeness of that family pet. My ultimate villain? An amalgam of Predator, Doctor Doom, and the same family pet. It was a lot of derivative drivel designed to recreate real-life situations of my experiences with abuse and to resolve them with science fiction and the supernatural. It was a way to stay in the places I loved and had to leave. I realized that. I loved that pet, I loved the Ninja Turtles, I loved comic books, and I loved the short time my family spent living in Florida. So I combined them into a parallel world of mash-up characters without much regard for taking the ideas to professional print, a static world without any upheavals that didn’t end with everything going back to what I wanted for normal.

When I got out of college, I did make an attempt or two at professional print with some fan fiction. I wanted to write comic books and sent letters and submissions to several publishers. Rejections all around, but Dark Horse Comics specifically sent me a letter back letting me know how much they cared about my desire to write. They sent me a thick comic book scripting template that became my bible for years, but I still didn’t use it as more than a hobby. When I started taking it seriously, I began to see all of the real flaws in my writing. I saw the derivative nature of many of the stories as I retold a few classics with my own characters as the stars, and there was no way to make them my own no matter what I changed. So they began to sit and stew for years. I finally finished a Godzilla fan fiction story that I intended to submit to a fan magazine for publishing, but the fan magazine was barred from publishing original Godzilla stories shortly before I could do so. Toho threatened to sue me just for writing to them to ask their protocols for getting it published in Dark Horse Comics prior to that. Not the understanding sort, those folks. Part of that story is still unfinished on this blog twenty years after I wrote it, and I came to see a lot of flaws in it as well as an entirely new angle that I wanted to pursue. It’s one of many unfinished stories, including the story of my life. In my own original writing, every once in a while, I felt like I had the right changes in mind, a different medium to approach, or something radically new that surprised me and made me proud of myself, but the sad truth was that writing no longer was working as an outlet for my depressions and anxieties. I couldn’t escape into that world because the real world around me was growing louder and louder all the time. Family members were suffering from debilitating and, in some cases, terminal illnesses, and the family dysfunction already was bad enough to start. The writer’s block refused to go away. I kept drawing a blank.

I guess I have to say that I lost some of my imagination when my family began to fall apart. Those doors weren’t open wide enough for me to step through anymore. I still pick up something now and then, a brief spurt of inspiration that feels like it’s going somewhere, but it always drops off. The writer’s block always comes back harder than before. Almost five years ago, I finally figured out how to turn my “Superman” into an original hero, altering into a completely different hero genre, but the narrative shifted entirely with the invention of a new character to adventure with him. She, too, was inspired by a few other characters I loved, but she felt real to me. She hasn’t had the opportunity to come to life outside a few summaries. Then, about two years ago, I came up with an idea for a young adult novel, something completely different and putting aside all of my superheroes and toys and cartoons. The first few chapters are finished, but that, too, dropped away from me. I even found a way to work my original superhero into the novel as a fictional mythos within the fictional mythos, creating a backdoor of potential just in case I ever finish the novel and publish it. Nevertheless, I’ve been unable to go back to any of it. I want to. I need to. But I feel so stuck and distracted and alone and frustrated for the rest of the world.

As a child, either I didn’t have the anxiety over the state of the world now or simply translated it all as being so much easier to solve through writing. Now, almost forty years old, I find it harder and harder to find something to say and how to say it with feeling. Timeless feeling, not just a reaction to a moment. Twitter (and chatting online in general) doesn’t help, either. I have done away with almost all of my usual chat programs online, growing apart from a few friends I have known more than fifteen years, but it feels like it’s been a good thing for me. I think they understand my feelings, but I don’t feel like I’ve explained myself to them adequately. I use Twitter almost exclusively now, which brings with it its own problems. This is what I meant by a timeless feeling and not just a reaction to a moment. Because that’s what Twitter is designed to do: collect reactions to the moment. I’ve known this from the beginning. In the beginning, that used to be one of the main points of my use of Twitter: to mock it to some degree and to offer a little comedy and philosophical opinion. I didn’t believe in sharing deeply personal stories there because they “fed the beast,” and I didn’t engage in highly volatile or emotional conversations back then for the same reasons. There seemed to be no point in it. It was a useless exercise in raw nerve emotion. I enjoyed listening to other people I admired with a better finger on that pulse, I shared a few meaningless and boring details during my free time about my “job” driving friends and family members to doctor visits and VA appointments, and I shared a few nature photos. And I quoted a lot of movies and Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Phil Hendrie Show.

I remember being full of reason when I first discovered the Internet almost twenty years ago. I don’t think I’ve lost it, but there is a frustration that reason has vanished from a number of places. Either that, or I held on to some of that simple translation longer than others. On the other hand, after almost twenty years, I have a growing feeling that I am running out of places where I feel comfortable communicating. I recently re-shared one of the most deeply personal stories of my life here, and it came in response to some of the material I have seen on Twitter and in the news with regard to sexual assault and abuse. As a sufferer myself with many more stories I have yet to tell, the PTSD I suffer from my own personal experiences pales in comparison to the helplessness, pain, and empathy I feel for others going through similar situations. In part, that’s one of the only reasons I’m sitting here writing for the blog again tonight because I have joined in a vow of Twitter silence for October 13, 2017, in response to an utter failure on the designers of Twitter to manage their platform with their users’ best interests in mind.

I have stated on Twitter already that I believe Twitter’s platform has lost the very concept of its inception. Twitter is a glorified global chat room, and all of its millions upon millions of users around the world are a literal crowd of people swarmed in the same public place. Places like Twitter and Facebook are attempts at the world stage. Everyone is performing. Everyone is the audience. Everyone is the critic. All at once, simultaneously, incessantly. To run such a platform as a business model comes with hurdles that Twitter’s managers fail on a daily basis to jump successfully. Rather than to address the true flaws in their programming, they instead continue to pass their responsibilities to algorithms. They’re using robots and artificial intelligence as hall monitors for real people like an ED-209 from Robocop patrolling a high school campus. Not only is one group of people going to find a way consistently to avoid encountering ED-209 in the hallway, but any number of innocent people are going to be gunned down for incorrectly assumed noncompliance. It’s already happened. This metaphor isn’t just a metaphor. People are trying to communicate some important things, even some not so important, and they are penalized while others spew threats, hatred, and bigotry, all the way up the chain to the so-called “president” of the United States with no consequence whatsoever for their negative behavior.

There is no description more accurate to describe it than negative behavior. It serves no purpose but to divide and incite anger among people, and I don’t think it truly counts as free speech, particularly when some take so much joy in causing others to suffer. It doesn’t matter what feelings you have about another person. You still need to remember that there is a real person on the other end, and that person could be you. You have to evaluate how deep your own rabbit hole goes that you would set up a fake account or multiple accounts to target someone else with negative behavior. It’s psychotic, and psychosis, I believe, doesn’t fall under free speech. It’s a vendetta or anger, misplaced or justified, and it goes beyond sharing a personal opinion.

Much of this negative behavior is, I strongly believe, a concerted effort to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater on a constant loop 24/7/365 until no one can tell any longer that their skin is burning until it’s too late. It is a deliberate attack on other people through harassment and unpunished abuse of the Terms of Service of basic human civility, Twitter or Facebook terms be damned, and it is the ultimate example that the Information Superhighway is covered in potholes. Vulnerabilities that can be exploited to turn the tide of any argument in favor of the side with the technical skill to pull it off. Truth doesn’t matter. Dignity and human decency don’t matter. Groups of foreign subversives, Nazis, basement-dwelling sexual predators, celebrity sycophants, and even blindly misguided “Christians” and “American patriots” are finding a voice for their prejudice, their sycophantic rhetoric, and their misinformation and disinformation, and those vulnerabilities are not being closed off. Those potholes are not being filled. When they are filled in, someone digs them back out in the dead of night with a shovel before the asphalt can harden. And the only ones truly being punished for it are almost anyone with the courage to speak out about those vulnerabilities and potholes, anyone with the strength to call this negative behavior what it is. Because those vulnerabilities are just that easy to continue to exploit when ED-209’s handlers are looking at his diagnostic screen and typically refusing to talk to anyone facing down ED-209’s gun barrel.

It is not a losing battle, but Twitter’s creators ultimately will be to blame for its downfall should the day come because they can’t be consistent with management. Picking and choosing what Terms of Service to enforce in seemingly random situations while leaving ED-209 to open fire amongst everyone else to sort it out. On one hand, they are trying to deny responsibility and claim that Twitter is a decentralized chat, washing their hands of it through an automated answering service that tells most of its users to mute or block each other when they can’t resolve an issue and sort it out themselves. On the other hand, they continue to centralize and tweak programming, giving speeches about how seriously they take the survival of the environment and the presence of their user base while their decentralized service keeps returning the calls of complaints to say, “We’ve reviewed your harassment claims of being told that you’re going to be murdered and found no violations based upon out terms of service.” You can’t have it both ways. I’ve been in chat rooms for well over ten years longer than Twitter and Facebook have been around. Even the ones that were decentralized often commanded a little more respect to human decency than I have seen on display today. Just from my own personal experience, things seemed to be better and had a greater air of dignity. Political and religious discussions got nasty, as they always do, but they worked toward some common ground. Trolls existed, of course, before they were called trolls (spammers, flooders, room-crashers, RTF bombers, and people starting their own chat rooms to badmouth other chat rooms), but I suppose the best explanation of what I witnessed is that they were not so emboldened as they are now. Emboldened to be dismissive and abusive toward a total stranger. Emboldened to be completely lacking in compassion for fellow man. Emboldened to bully and harass. As a result, here I am just writing whatever comes to mind instead of using Twitter or another communication platform like it. Because silence is the only thing that really hurts Twitter in the long run and gets them to listen. A complete lack of analytics and activity for them to cultivate. I could complain and have complained, but I have no real voice myself. It can be frustrating when something is very important to me, particularly in the realms of injustice and common sense, but I have to accept that I’m Joe Blow from Nowheresville. No one has any reason to listen to me. I could be ignorant of half of it and wrong about more. All I can do is offer to listen to the story of the problem and hope that my response shows that I have some understanding and compassion as a kindred spirit. Will a Twitter boycott of people in solidarity with Rose McGowan be the straw that fixes all of it? No, but that isn’t the point. The point is that the right things are beginning to change a little at a time, and voices are gaining strength. It’s still imperfect, but no one is giving up trying to move in the right direction, no matter how loud the screams of hatred are. That’s how it needs to be. Those voices need to keep finding themselves, no matter how long it takes. Eventually, it all converges into a powerful moment and, in a handful of cases, a powerful movement for change.

I wasn’t expecting to venture into this conversation. I just wanted to talk about my own writing and my need to come back to it, and then I wanted to finish watching a good horror movie to continue my month-long Halloween festivities. I guess this is a good start on the writing front because I’ve been at this entry for a solid two hours and feel somewhat soothed as my writing used to soothe me. I also have the added confidence of writing this with the intent to post it publicly and not having the anxiety about having an audience. At the very least, Twitter has been somewhat therapeutic for my social anxiety. I still don’t leave the house often enough to do it out there, but I, too, keep working to find my voice and my strength a little each day. This, unfortunately, is a “one step forward and two steps back” ordeal with depression, traumatic memory flashbacks, and the loss of many loved ones that meant the most in me to my life and helped keep me grounded. October is a rough month for me, and I can feel those memories pushing me to abandon most of human communication in exchange for drowning myself in manual labor as I have every year since my mother died in 2013. If it paid well enough to be a scarecrow during the autumn season, hanging from a wooden pole and sitting motionless as a decoration from one day to the next, then I’d probably apply for the job. October is the most difficult collection of good and bad memories for me rolled into one, and I have to try extra hard to enjoy the good while processing the bad and trying to allow time to heal.

Things feel a little better in places this year than they have in a long time. I was able to watch Carol Burnett for the first time without crying a few weeks ago. She reminded me too much of my mother, and I couldn’t handle it. That’s a good thing, but a few other places in my life remain stagnant and need to be churned up again. Maybe I’ll be able to get back to a place where I feel I can go through that door again, to reach that place in my mind where I can find the strength I used to have to do so much more. Maybe I can find the help I need to stop pretending that I’m happy more often than I am and grab hold of some real purpose again and pursue a few dreams I abandoned. Even though I’ll never stop listening to people’s stories and encouraging them to tell those stories, maybe I’ll regain more of the confidence that I can contribute more than just an ear or a shoulder. Maybe I’ll find some way to put my own stories together as a real writer so that someone else, anyone else in need, can read them and glean something from them that will help their situation or, at least, let them know they are not alone. We all still have such a long way to go. I don’t know how many, if any, live long enough to get there, but there seems every reason to keep at it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Story of Weak Men and Their Prey

Note: this entry originally was written and published on February 25, 2015, at a time when I was trying to strengthen myself a little while knowing I was shouting this into the void without any readers. I have battled my personal beliefs in sharing this story publicly for many years. I have suffered panic attacks, crippling flashbacks, and a paralyzing fear of any sort of vocal conflict. Even as I write this, every time I see that face or hear that name, my flesh feels like it's burning, and my heart races as if he's still in the room with me. When I google him, I feel like I'm walking to his front door expecting to be attacked. And when I google him and see that he remained broken and continues to break other people, I feel guilty for having survived it. I feel guilty for not having prevented it from happening to my family, for happening to other families. Most of all, I feel guilty for taking the mantra of my childhood superhero idols to heart and not removing this man from the face of the earth, even at the cost of my own life and future, just to spare the pain he caused my family and has gone on to cause for many others. I have made almost no edits to the following story, but I feel the need to add this link for some additional perspective.

This includes criminal reports below as well as his most recent criminal report that I could find from almost two years ago, and the details of it make me sick to my stomach.  "Great bodily harm/disability/disfigurement." They make me feel as though I failed a group of strangers out there in the world by not speaking out about it at the very least. The way my life has gone since then almost makes me feel like that was what I was meant to do, and I failed in it because I tried to put it behind me. My family was the first family he broke, and the ample police records show that he has only escalated his behavior and still walks the streets to do it again after serving no real sentence. The justice system has failed all of his victims, but there is more. If you look at the release dates, you'll notice that he was released a little over a month after each arrest. All three times. I know in my heart why that is, too. Even after "great bodily harm/disability/disfigurement," I know... KNOW... that the victim dropped the charges, probably the same woman every time. Because my mother did. Every time. I might have, too, when he almost killed me when I was seventeen, but I was a minor then. He served time for that. It wasn't enough.

Without getting repetitive, I'm just going to move into the actual story while I'm still able. I can't keep going over this without shaking, but I need to go over it at least one more time. It never gets easier to tell.


     This is a story of domestic violence. If such stories make you uneasy, then I suggest that you do not read it because it will be graphic. It is not my wish that any harm come to any living person as a result of my story, and it is not my wish to urge anyone to action on my behalf or the behalf of others. I tell this story only because it is a story that should be told and remembered. Perhaps it will seem at times that I am still emotional over this subject. I am, but I am still not of the mindset that anyone has the right to take vengeance upon anyone else. This story did not change my lifelong ideal of being a peaceful person, but it certainly tests it to its limit.

     Some time ago, shortly after my mother's death, I thought about a significant moment in my late childhood (and my brother's early childhood) that had lasting effects on my family. Overcome with grief, I still managed to convince myself that I was being the better person by keeping this to myself because the Internet is such a hotbed of raw emotion as it is. However, after discovering I had gotten over a tiny fraction of the grief of my mother's passing and the sorry state of my personal life, I came to realize that keeping this story to myself doesn't mean that I have gotten over it. At one point, I tried to convince myself that this story simply never happened. Repression is never a healthy way to deal with memories. My brother still thinks repression works, and he's a hot mess. I tried to convince myself that this story no longer had power over me, but I was lying to myself. I tried to convince myself that simple human nature was responsible for my entire body shaking and my skin burning whenever I even felt a hint of a verbal or physical conflict coming, but the "everyone is born with PTSD" argument fell flat because I never suffered emotionally or physically as I have before the story I am about to tell.

     In the many years I have had access to the Internet, I have used it to look for a number of people. Why I never looked for this man until five months ago, a month before the first anniversary of my mother's passing, is a mystery to me. He came up in conversation a few times (never as a positive segue), but there never was any curiosity as to his whereabouts that made me think to look for him. Had I done so, then my mother might have known some peace of mind in the last months of her life... or she might have suffered even more for knowing it. I can't know which effect it would have had on her to know, but I know for a fact what effect this man had on her in the latter half of her lifetime. In a personal journal entry for that date, I said that he was dead to me, but he never truly could be dead to me because of the impact he had on my life. I had spent the entire evening trying to kill him off in the story of my mind, playing emotional games with myself and peering into "What If..." Marvel universes, pretending to be Uatu The Watcher as I narrated a handful of scenarios, just like the comics, to peer into alternate worlds where my family's life had been better-- or worse-- for having done things differently. At the time, it helped me to cope. I was still fractured from losing my mother. I tried to frame every imaginary notion of changing the past to remind myself that it was the past and that there were no guarantees that I could have fixed things no matter what I did. And, in the back of my mind, it was a silent prayer that we were the only family that he had broken, a prayer that had gone unanswered whether or not the truth existed in public record... which it did.

     Before I go on, I need to put a face to the name. I turn your attention to the focus of this story, Roger Conrad Savoie. From personal experience and comparison to his public criminal record, I can say with every ounce of certainty that this man has served no purpose in his life other than to make people suffer. He is a user, a drunk, and a man of both short temper and short intellect. He is also a very strong man and skilled in martial arts, skills he uses against women and children, not men his own size and strength. He is also skilled at making those same women and children feel sorry for him, only to forgive him until he does it to them again... and again... and again. Don't just take my story as the gospel truth because his criminal record tells the same story of battered women and children.

     When I was twelve years old, my mother and stepfather separated for good. My biological father was an alcoholic, and my parents divorced less than two years after I was born. My mother married my stepfather shortly thereafter because, as she put it, every child needs a father. In hindsight, I found this to be only a half-truth because my mother showed herself over the years to be a woman that could not live without a man in her life. My stepfather was a sociopath and a hard drug user, and the only positive memory I have of the man is that he fathered my only sibling, a brother eight years my junior. They were married for twelve years, and nothing he did prompted her to leave him until she began to develop some confidence in herself. Despite their marriage, she had been a single mother most of her life because he was either at work, in rehab, or disappearing for several days to shoot up the paycheck that was supposed to be buying food for his children. Not only was Christmas a dicey time of year with the threat of him disappearing for a week with all of the money intended for buying Christmas presents, but he also wiped out my savings account (granted there was not much there) and cashed in a number of family gifts and even the tickets for a trip to Disney World one year... just to disappear for a drug binge. My mother attempted suicide toward the end of their relationship, and he barely showed any emotion. It taught her just how much she had been raising her two children alone up to this point, and the decision eventually came that we did not want him in our lives anymore.

     There is more to the story of my stepfather, but this story isn't about him. He still deserves a good deal of storytelling from me for the abuses he handed down in the time he was a part of my life, but he changed his ways. He atoned for his sins. He still atones for them and has been clean for years as far as I know. He has no contact with me; I wasn't his child. I never was, and maybe that had some bearing on things. But my stepfather still tries to reason with my brother that my stepfather was a piece of garbage and that my mother deserved none of the resentment my brother's limited memories put on her. I would blame my stepfather for putting us in the situation that brought about what happened next if not for believing that it was some sort of destiny. We moved from Texas to Florida in 1987 for a new job that my stepfather couldn't keep due to his drug use, so my mother had the added hardship of being separated from a close-knit family that had helped her through many of the difficulties in their relationship. My mother was a proud woman, and being a single mother with only the benefit of a single parent's income was not an easy adjustment to make. She despised welfare, but we had no choice but to live off some of its benefits in the few years we lived in Florida without my stepfather's added income. My mother did not want to move us back to Texas with her family if she did not have to do so, but the choices she made brought that inevitability to us even more quickly.

     My mother dated a few men after she separated from my stepfather, but she put a great deal of focus on raising her children. This was perhaps the most attention she paid to raising her children in her life, and it came after a suicide attempt and a brief feeling of self-worth and confidence, the confidence that pushed her to separate from my stepfather. She did the best she could with what she had. She was a lonely woman with a difficult family history, and she did her best to try to instill some values and a better outlook on life in the two children she had. On top of that, her career was in-home childcare. She didn't just have her two sons. At any given time, there were a dozen children coming in and out of our home. Other parents trusted her and her sons with their children, and, as far as they knew, we were stable. For a time, we were because the toxic situation with my stepfather was gone. We were happy. But this didn't last two years. The income wasn't enough, and my mother started getting bounced checks because she was the kind of person to treat her business customers as friends too often, even when she had two children of her own to feed, and her customer base was already small to begin with. She became involved briefly with a pizza deliveryman that reminded her of my birth father, but she developed a relationship with his best friend shortly thereafter. This is where my story truly begins.

    Roger Conrad Savoie was 20 years old. My mother was 34. Despite the age difference, whatever she saw in him was strong enough to impact her life in such a way that she lost sight of the past two years of her life. She slipped back into the feeling of needing a significant other in her life after succeeding at doing it alone. This was not the sort of man she expected. I must point out here that this story is a combination of my own personal experience as well as secondhand information my mother was too willing to share with me throughout my life about how she felt about all of it. None of the words I use to describe here are any words of my own opinion. They are the words she used to describe herself in her feelings of guilt after the fact. The relationship she developed with Roger was when she was at her most selfish and immature, and it was at this point in her life when she began to doubt which relationship was more important to her: her relationship with Roger or her relationship with her children. One might say that a good mother would not make that kind of decision, but I'm not making that argument. Yes, my mother claimed she had a weak will when it came to many things, but there are also people in this world that sense that and feed upon it. Roger is one of those people.

     I only know of the first couple of weeks of the relationship what I saw firsthand. My mother did in-home childcare, and it was a rare occasion that the house was not full of children. I spent much of my time in my bedroom behind a locked door or playing at friends' houses, and I wasn't paying much attention to what was going on. She only had a few other children staying with us at this point, and none of them stayed more than a few hours in the mornings and afternoons. At night, when all the children were gone and her own children were in bed, Roger was appearing more and more often until he had completely moved in. He made every effort to befriend my brother and me, and he shared enough of our interests to hit it off with us. It seemed like my brother and I had someone in our lives for the first time that we could think of as a father figure, but what did we know? We were just dumb kids that didn't know any better, but we would learn. One night, shortly after Roger had moved in, I got up after midnight to use the bathroom. My mother's bedroom door was open slightly, and I could hear whispering. I sat in the bathroom and listened, and my heart started to race. I'd never felt that kind of fear in my life. What sounded at first like a simple argument soon lost all sense whatsoever as it became clear to me that Roger was drunk and that my mother was pleading with him in a whisper not to wake the children. I heard him ask her what pain was. Then I heard the slap, followed by my mother trying to muffle her cries. Then I heard him ask her why she made him do it to her. Shortly after, everything was quiet again. Even my mother's crying eventually stopped. I went back to bed shaking, and I don't know how I got back to sleep, if I did. I carried this eavesdropping memory with me without mentioning to my mother that I had heard what happened, but it didn't matter because Roger didn't care to keep it a secret for long.

     The story becomes sadly typical of domestic abuse after that. He apologized for his behavior, broke down and cried, and swore he'd never do it again. My mother believed him until he did it again, and it started out as one of those "only when he drinks" excuses until it became clear that he didn't need alcohol to fuel his rage. My brother was four years old, and he and I spent a lot of time in my bedroom playing with toys and making funny radio interview shows with my handheld tape recorder while my mother spent time in the living room with Roger and his friends and family. As long as they were with other people, things were fine. When everyone else went home one night after an evening of partying and drinking, the cycle started all over again, and I remember feeling that fear again. I remember her coming to my door and telling us to stay in the room as we heard him shouting in the living room. Then I heard him slam her against the wall. No matter how scared I was, I couldn't stand in my bedroom and listen to this. I had to be brave and try to put a stop to this. I opened the door and stepped out into the hallway, shouting at him to stop, but I was trying to reason with an animal. I could see it in his eyes. I remember that look in his eyes just as if he were standing right in front of me right now, and I can feel the back of my neck burning. Even the mugshots don't look as realistic as that moment frozen in my mind. I might as well have been staring down a wild bull as I told him to stop and think about what he was doing. I was a child trying to reason with an animal. All the while, as my brother stood behind me crying and Roger looked ready to charge down the hallway at me, my mother stood between us, crying and concussed, begging him not to hurt her children and begging me not to try to stop him. I couldn't abide that, and I called the police. He was taken to jail, but my mother didn't press charges.

     Of course, that it not the end of it. Far from it. Roger came crawling back to my mother, begging for her forgiveness, and she eventually gave in. My brother and I forgave him as well, and things went smoothly for a few months. It wasn't our first substance abuse rodeo; we'd had three failed tours of rehab with my stepfather, and Roger made an effort to stop drinking altogether and to change his ways. The damage had been done, however, because my mother slowly fell behind in her bills and rent because she started paying for his mistakes. Although I was not privy to the full details of the situation, I can put two and two together and add up why the last couple of childcare customers she had didn't show up anymore. It became painfully clear to her that we could not remain in Florida for much longer. This inevitable upheaval and Roger's personal responsibility for my mother's financial strain did not help the relationship as time wore down. My mother tried to delay it as much as she could, but Roger couldn't hold down a job to contribute anything to the family. He cost more money than he made. A few days before the move, Roger disappeared the night before we were to leave. He didn't call, and no one knew where he was. We finished packing the truck ourselves, already dealing with the difficult choice of having to leave some of our belongings behind because the single truck we could afford was not large enough to hold all of it. Beds, a living room couch, and several other things were left behind, and I sadly left behind a few boxes of toys and collectibles by accident due to the stress and the urgency of the situation. When Roger finally showed up late that night, he acted as if he had done nothing wrong. He said that he had been spending a little time with some of his friends before we were to leave because he was leaving his life to be with us, and he didn't think my mother should have made a big deal out of it. He had been drinking and didn't bother to call my mother and let him know where he was, and he hadn't been there as he promised he would to help his new family pack. It was a big deal, and my mother finally told him that she was through with him. She didn't want him moving with us to Texas. Roger lost it.

     What led to what happened next is a little hazy in my mind, but a previous argument at a family gathering prompted me to call Roger's parents at home instead of calling the police. When I reached his father on the line, it took far too much convincing to get that asshole to take a moment out of his life to come over and help. I should have just called the police again because I would learn that his father was an abusive sack of shit, too. What a surprise. But I am starting to digress on the emotional side. I pleaded with Roger's father for help as Roger held my mother in a headlock in the backyard and threatened to break her back. When it was all over, my mother went back on what she said, believing that she couldn't make the trip back to Texas without Roger's help.

     Things only got worse when we reached Texas because my mother's family was quick to get involved. The hint of a raised voice would bring them running from next door, so any argument that could have led to Roger being abusive with my mother turned into a different argument about the rest of my mother's family not knowing how to mind their own business. Secretly, I was grateful for every interruption. Roger and my mother argued less with each other because they had her family's dysfunction in common. All it did was to stave off the inevitable a little longer. At one point, Roger moved out because my grandfather, a controlling and abusive man in his own right, didn't want Roger on his property anymore and had even fired a gun at him to make the point. Roger managed to hold down a job and got himself an apartment, sober for a time, and my mother visited him often or snuck him into our house. Things started to smooth over a little again, but, as always, it was short-lived.

     The summer before my junior year in high school was among the happiest times in my life. Family was getting along, and I was feeling a great deal of confidence in myself. I certainly felt like I was turning around for the better. My mother was about to start a new job, and marching band practice was about to start for me at the beginning of August. I felt more spirit to participate at that moment in my life than I ever had before, and I wanted to be a part of things. Despite my own doubts about my performance, the band teachers had decided to promote me to a more advanced band class, and I wanted to take their faith in me seriously. My mother's new job was to be an in-home care shift for a mentally and physically disabled boy who went to my high school. I'm not sure what he suffered from, but he was severely impaired and needed around-the-clock care. He had to be fed and clothed, he wore a diaper, and he was carted around in a custom-made wheelchair everywhere he went. The night before band practice, my mother was getting ready to spend her first night at the boy's house taking care of him. The best way to describe what happened next is to follow Roger's laughably moronic logic and say that my mother was "too excited" about her new job. He hadn't been drinking that night, but it didn't take him long to twist my mother's excitement over her new job into her claiming that she was better than him. It got worse when he took issue with my mother changing the diapers of a seventeen-year-old physically disabled boy, and he even accused her of getting off on seeing the boy naked. Everyone laughed at him even making such an absurd statement, and the laughter only made it worse.

     For these few years living together in Texas, we had lived in a cramped two-story loft. It was not large enough for four people, but it was what we had. This crowded space allowed for little room to maneuver, and it offered no place for anyone to seek shelter when fists began to fly. I was seventeen years old now, and this night was a night when I was preparing for a turning point in my own life. The entire family had a bright and positive prospect ahead of us, and Roger just had to go and fuck it up all over again. My mother didn't take Roger's unnecessary anger seriously, and why should she? Nothing he said made any sense, and it turned into the most ridiculous argument with him being jealous of my mother spending any amount of time with another person that she would have to see naked, even a disabled child. It didn't matter. All that mattered to Roger was that my mother was starting a new job where she would have to look at and touch another man's dick. Then he shoved my mother hard. This was the first incident in over a year. My entire body felt frozen, and I could see my brother on the top bunk on the other side of the room. My brother was crying, and this was going downhill fast. I shouted at him, and my mother immediately stood between us, blocking us from each other and telling me not to get involved. All the while, Roger shouted at me and at her, and then I saw it firsthand for the very first time. Barely two feet from my face, I saw Roger swing his fist around and hit my mother in the side of the head. Without even a split second to think, I balled up my right fist, swung it around my mother's shoulder and connected with the left side of his face. In even less of a split-second, Roger's left fist swung around my mother's left shoulder and hit me in my left eye. The left side of my face went numb, and I went blind in my left eye.           

     Barely a few seconds passed in this moment, but I felt like minutes passed as I tried to understand why I had lost sight completely in my left eye. As my mother struggled to keep us away from each other, Roger pushed both of us against the wall and wrapped one hand around my throat. It was like trying to pull an iron bar loose, and I couldn't breathe. He was so unimaginably stronger than I was, and there was nothing in his eyes but rage. He was going to kill me. In that moment, as I looked down at his hand, I could see finally why I was blind in my left eye as I saw blood rushing down my face and stomach and all over his hand as he choked me. I couldn't push or kick him away because my mother stood between us the entire time trying to pull him off me. Everything started to go dark. What vision I had in my right eye was blurring, and the only sound I could hear was my own tongue gurgling in the back of my throat. I don't know how long we struggled there, but it seemed like barely a minute before the police rushed into the house and dragged Roger outside, handcuffing him and taking him to jail. All I really remember after that was feeling embarrassed that I was sitting in my underwear as an EMT bandaged my left eyebrow. To this day, I have an itchy and irritable scar that my eyebrow barely conceals. The state pressed charges against him for assaulting a minor, but he didn't serve much time. This information supposedly is out there as well, but I have yet to find a site that doesn't want me to pay money to see the records. Roger wrote her letters from jail, and he was seeking anger management and counseling for what he had done. Still, the damage had been done, and the relationship seemed to end when Roger went back to Florida shortly after his release.

     Believe it or not, this was not the most difficult part of the story to tell. The difficult part comes later, when he was released from jail. I had lost my place in marching band because I missed practice for the first week after the incident, and my mother was forced to turn down her new job completely. To save family face, my brother and I agreed to a story that my eye had been hurt playing baseball. My self-esteem was at its lowest, and my mother was unhappy. She made it clear that she couldn't let go of Roger, but she couldn't let him hurt her children and get away with it either. Things, however, began to return to somewhat normal as I reached my high school graduation the following year. My mother got a new job, and I was about to graduate high school. The hardest part of the story to tell is the part where, even after all of this, that I convinced myself that it was okay to let Roger back into my life. I don't remember the exact date, but it couldn't have been more than a year later. My mother received a phone call from a motel room, and she had a panicked look on her face. As some grand gesture of change and devotion that all of us bought lock, stock and barrel, Roger had hitchhiked and walked 1700 miles from Florida to Texas to try to win my mother back, and the experience almost killed him. Despite everything that had happened, even I couldn't look at someone in such a horrible physical state without feeling some pity. Even I couldn't stand to see a vicious animal suffer, and Roger looked like he had been starving in the desert for a week. His body was emaciated, he had lost much of his muscle mass, and he could barely walk because his feet were swollen to almost twice their normal size and covered with bloody blisters. He should have been in a hospital. Any one of a dozen people who saw him before we did should have taken him to a hospital. 

     This weak shell of a man seemed sincere enough that he was a changed man, but there was no way he was simply coming home with us. My grandfather had threatened to shoot him if he ever laid eyes on him again (and almost did), so things took a different turn. My mother snuck him into the house, and he managed to remain there as she nursed him back to health. His presence there remained a secret for several months. There was no arguing, and he truly did seem a changed man. Slowly, as one family member after another discovered the secret, the only person that didn't know about Roger hiding there was my grandfather. My mother looked at her relationship with Roger differently after that and took some of her power back. At the very least, seeing her oldest son bleeding from the eye woke her up. There would be verbal arguing again after that, but she would not take the physical abuse from him anymore. Roger seemed more than willing to accept his place in the relationship as not being the man of the house in any shape or form. There needed to be peace between us, and there was... for a while.

     When my grandfather finally found out that Roger was there, the reveal came from a heated argument with my aunt. My grandfather did, indeed, try to shoot him, and Roger moved out of town where he got a new job and an apartment, neither of which he kept. My grandfather finally washed his hands of it and didn't care what happened anymore. My mother still tried to hold a relationship with Roger, but things quickly started going back to the way they were. My mother began working long hours, and she seemed to be trying to escape problems at home more than she was trying to earn money. I was going to college and still living at home, but I was seldom there except to sleep. As my brother grew older, I began to discover that the time I spent away at college and the time my mother spent at work meant that my brother was at home alone with Roger. They got along well enough, but that's just that feeling you get in an abusive relationship during those small moments when the abuse isn't there. With my mother out of the picture, the relationship between Roger, my brother and me took a different turn.

     As I said earlier, Roger was much younger than my mother. He was only 8 years older than I was, the same age difference between my brother and me. I was fed up with Roger once and for all, and I took advantage of the fact that he was enough of a changed man that he never laid a hand on my brother or me after the night he hit me. He did, however, make moves toward us that made me think he was going to hit us, and he started picking on my brother just to make me angry. He even attempted suicide one night as a way to get back at my mother for neglecting him and working such long hours, and my brother and I were the only ones home with him at the time. I'm not proud of the fact that I didn't reason with him very strongly not to down an entire bottle of aspirin, but I had given up trying to reason with him long ago. I called 911 immediately after he smirked at me and said, "Down the hatch, motherfucker," and I still remember how calm I was when it happened. At that moment, I really felt that I didn't care if he lived or died, but I still wasn't going to be the instrument. I just stood there and watched, telling him he shouldn't do it in a matter-of-fact tone, and then I picked up the phone. He spent a few days in the hospital after getting his stomach pumped. All it did was delay the inevitable end to their relationship a few extra weeks.

     On my part, I am more than willing to admit that I simply let my emotions run wild. I was done with it, and I was going to fight him. I wasn't putting up with his shit anymore. He wasn't welcome in my life or my brother's anymore, my mother's feelings be damned. I remember lunging at him more than once, but the only time I remember doing it in detail was the day that he was angry at me for some reason and my brother stood in between us yelling at him. Roger threatened to slap my brother, and I told Roger that he'd better not dare lay a finger on my brother because his argument was with me. Roger smirked at me and lashed out with his hand, lightly patting my brother on the cheek, obviously doing it to piss me off, and I lost my mind. I jumped on Roger, tackling him to the floor and rolling around with him for a few moments. I don't remember anything after that, let alone how it was broken up. There were no fists used, and after that night when I was seventeen, Roger never laid a finger on me again. I merely tackled him to the ground and tried to pin him to the floor to keep him away from my brother. When my mother came home, she didn't know whom to believe, but the sad truth was that there was no sense of maturity between the three of us at all. My mother had spent 14 years (yes, that is the math of the full length of the relationship) with an abusive man-child, and our behavior seemed to get more and more ridiculously immature as time went on. The age difference shined light on the stark reality of it all because Roger was almost the same age I am as of this writing when he left. Additionally, when he left, I was almost the same age as he was when he met my mother. As far as I remembered, Roger finally left of his own accord because it was clear that my brother and I wanted no part of him in our lives anymore, but my mother argued with me until her dying day that she was the one that told him to leave. I still don't know if I believe it because she never truly got over him, and she never missed an opportunity to bring up the good times we had with him as an excuse to overlook the bad.

     My mother suffered from debilitating bone deterioration until she passed away, and she suffered a number of mental lapses and disorders that I wouldn't rule out were long-term effects from Roger's physical abuse, potentially from several instances of head trauma. Of course, none of that can be proven now, so all any of us could do was to try to move on with our lives. I've been sitting here writing this story-- living it-- for too long to try to tell anyone to take it as a lesson. It was just a story I had to find the strength to tell instead of trying to convince myself that it didn't have any power over me anymore. It will always have power over me because it was a large chunk of my life and memory, and it took over the entirety of my late childhood and early adulthood. The way it finally ended was just one day fading into the next and everyone slowly moving on from one dysfunction to the next. It wasn't long after Roger was gone that my grandfather's health began to fail, and my mother's health began to fail shortly after that. My mother's health was the only thing I thought of after that, so nothing else mattered anymore. I had to push these memories aside because they weren't important anymore, but I had to start taking stock in my life when my mother passed away unexpectedly. I had to go back and look at these moments and to find out what sort of impact they might have had. I had to find out if Roger was still alive somewhere. I had to know if he had changed his life for the better or not. He hadn't. He just moved on to other families and started the cycle all over again. I read the police reports. It almost felt like I had written them myself. Please forgive my vulgarity, but I am too tired to find a polite way to put it. For this, I have to quote Eddie Murphy as my mother did to describe her situation.

      "Once you make a woman come real hard... no matter how bad you fuck up, no matter what you do wrong, no matter what you say, no matter what you do... as long as you say I'm sorry, she will listen to your story, and that's the truth."

     After knowing Roger, that was the one Eddie Murphy joke I couldn't laugh at anymore because Roger had proven Eddie right. My mother said it herself. Roger has made it this far in life because he has easy targets: struggling and impoverished mothers willing to put the livelihood of their children aside and accept terrible physical abuse in exchange for how hard he could make them come. My mother admitted it. I can't state often enough that these were her words and her references and not what I personally believe about her, but she still made excuses for Roger for the rest of her life. He is an alcoholic asshole, and he never was a man not to take care of his body or to take advantage of the things he could do with it. The only thing he ever really did with his power was to hold someone down and feed off them like the parasite he is.

     I don't have anything nice left to say, and I don't want this to devolve any further into a vulgar repetition of attacks on his manhood and maturity because all it would do is to undermine my own. I'm not here to create anger or to reinvigorate pain. I'm telling this story now because I see the story for what it is: a story that had an impact on my life and clearly has had the same impact on others. I have tossed and turned in bed on a sleepless night feeling responsible for another mother and child he could be hurting right now, arguing with myself over whether or not the world would have been a better place if I had made sure he stayed in jail longer or taken out his kneecaps with a baseball bat. My experiences with Roger have tested my stance against violence. I have tried to be the better person in my life, holding on to the hope that Roger truly would change his ways and wake up to the reality of his miserable life, and I have learned that violence, anger and hate only strengthen each other. Even though my mother is dead and buried while my brother and I have to live with the memory of the suffering we endured, it doesn't put me in a place where I believe that a man is beyond redemption. But I no longer believe Roger is a man. I believe he is an animal. When I first published this piece, this section originally was more sympathetic to his pain because he, too, was a victim of terrible abuse as a child at the hands of an abusive father and mother. It came to light that he was severely premature at birth, and I have no doubt that he suffers from psychotic mental illness on top of his drinking and drug use. Despite that, he has failed at creating any positive impact in anyone's lives. I make no excuses for his behavior, even though I saw firsthand that he was broken and had the capacity to suffer. He knows right from wrong, and he continues to do wrong. Consistently. I still argue with myself to forgive because it's in my nature, but forgiving what was done to me is much easier than seeing the pattern continue from person to person. I don't forgive Roger Conrad Savoie for what he did and continues to do. And I'll never forget, either.

     If you see this man on the street, avoid him. Don't give him the time of day. Don't let him into your home. Don't let him into your place of work. And whatever you do, ladies, don't let him into your bed or your mind, and to the children out there looking for a father figure, do not let this man into your heart. He's very good at it. If he is your friend, your employee, your father or your lover, then you should cast him out. I already know that some of you can't because you still have that little collection of what you think are "good times." As I said, those good times are just the brief feeling of relief when the abuse isn't there. The abuse is always going to come back. You're just getting a small break from it. He only brings suffering, and he deserves to walk through the world alone, receiving no aid, no love and no sympathy from anyone else.


The last paragraph of that entry used to be a long speech about how none of us has a right to judge. It came from a personal mantra that there is always another way. It came from a fear within me just how easy it is to become someone like Roger by losing sight of what is important, how easy telling this story could encourage someone else's rage. It came from a hope, several years ago, that maybe, just maybe, even the worthless sack of shit that Roger is could turn his life around, that he could find some way to be deserving of that chance, that he wasn't ever entirely in control of what he was. I wish the justice system would keep him caged forever like the animal he is, but I've also never wished death upon another living creature of any kind. It isn't who I am, and it's still not who I am almost four years after my mother's death, a passing that might not have happened at all or been delayed had she never met him, never suffered his severe physical abuse when she was already physically ill, never found herself in her ultimate position in life. Every possibility is just "What If...?"

Roger should be kissing my feet right now that I never was that person, that I never had the real desire to live out a Dexter-style fantasy with him. He should be kissing the feet of everyone he's ever known in his life for having the common human decency to think he still has a right to live. After "great bodily harm/disability/disfigurement," I don't believe, and never will believe, that he has the right to live among other human beings. He belongs in a zoo with the Harvey Weinsteins and the Bill Cosbys and the Donald Trumps and the Devin Faracis and the Harry Knowleses of the world, like an episode of The Twilight Zone, each one with a plaque of their criminal records and the names and photos of all of their victims, particularly photos of those victims just after they were abused. That's the only true purpose any of them serve, the only right they have to life after what they have done: a lesson to the rest of us what devastation and corruption that power and abuse bring to the world.