Surely, true inspiration comes from within

But writing in a magnificent French château surrounded by 300 acres of topiary, formal gardens, parks, woodland trails and vineyards can’t hurt.

Maybe you’re perfectly content writing by yourself day after day in your kitchen on that old table, or at your cramped desk in the spare bedroom. Fine. À chacun son goût. You can find us this September at Le Château du Pin, a private French château in the Loire Valley which the French government has officially classified as a “Monument Historique.” We’ll be writing together in daily Amherst Writers and Artists workshops, using the power of the group to keep us from the many devilish maladies endemic to the literary calling.

Now look. I’m not a rich guy. I don’t come from money. I wouldn’t know how to get up on my high horse even if I could afford one. I’m as proletarian as the next lug.

But who doesn’t like a well-appointed Louis XIV drawing room?  I mean, even a person of modest means has choices. We could do our workshops in a nice Ramada Inn conference room in Fremont, or Watertown, or Atlanta. Or we could go to France. What’s it gonna be?

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Maybe our writing will get an extra boost from Le Pin’s gardens and grounds, which the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication has designated “Des Jardins Remarquables.” Or maybe we’ll just enjoy that for its own sake and let our writing take care of itself. All I know is—and I’ve been  a professional writer for about 30 years—this stuff gets old. Writing, or trying to learn to write, or looking for inspiration in the same old postage stamp of land, well, it worked for William Faulkner, but he was an odd duck. He liked to get so drunk he couldn’t get out of bed and then write from there. So, like I said. À chacun son goût. Or, in English: What’s wrong with getting out of the house now and then? I like to at least put my slippers on. Anyway …

You have to hand it to my wife, Norma, she of the many languages spoken and the intrepid traveler’s spirit. She found this place. She did all the work. We’ll just go and sleep in big French beds and come down in the mornings and eat croissants and then languish in the glory of our own collective unconscious.

So here’s the program, basically the same as the program at the Marconi Conference Center, and at Guest House in Chester, Connecticut, and in Tuscany and Amsterdam:

Mornings and most afternoons will be devoted to writing workshops. Workshops at Le Château du Pin will take place in the Grand Salon on the ground floor. When workshops are not taking place, the entire ground floor, including the tower library, Grand Salon, Petit Salon, and dining room are at your disposal for reading, writing, dreaming, and relaxing throughout the day. Feel free to wander into a secluded nook in the gardens to write, walk the trails of Le Pin, relax by the pond in the formal garden, or venture into the charming small town of Champtocé-sur-Loire. Angers is the nearest major town (about 15 miles away) and is also a beautiful place to visit. Nantes is also in easy reach. Check out this page to get more information on getting to and from Château du Pin.

TopiaryPondPrices range from $1699 to $1999. Some of the rooms are small singles and others are large with king- or queen-sized beds. Bathrooms are shared with no more than one other person. If you choose one of the smaller rooms, rest assured that there is plenty of room in the château and on the property in which to escape for peace, relaxation, and a beautiful view. All workshops, breakfast, nightly family-style dinners, and a private conference with Cary are included in the price of registration. $975 saves any room. For more information about rooms and reservations check out our online store. If you have further questions or would like to talk to Cary about your writing goals, give him a call at 415.308.5685 or email us at info@carytennis.com. Allez, on y va!

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Can devout Muslim and atheist Jew make it work?


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Dear Cary,

I was born in the States to a conservative Muslim Indian family. My mother, younger brothers and I moved back when I was around 11, while my (very religious) dad stayed on as a small business owner and came to see us three to four times a year. I came back to the States when I was around 18 to go to a small liberal arts college in the northeast, graduated and moved back to India with my mom and brothers.

Although I didn’t realize it growing up, I was in the middle of a hot identity mess. While I have an American passport and have somehow retained the accent I had growing up, I’d always considered myself more Indian than American, and felt distinctly out of place in ‘white’ cultural settings. I have a lot of white friends – black, Filipina and Asian too for that matter – but my closest are a group of brown girls at college who are similar to me – they have parents who grew up in Pakistan/Bangladesh and moved to the States and raised their kids there. The only difference is that they stayed there, and don’t really have meaningful relationships with people back home -‘home’ for them.

This is confusing for a lot of reasons to do with identity. Add to the mix a headscarf and a definitively non-Muslim boyfriend with whom I fell in love and it is all the more tricky. We decided to stay together and do distance after I moved back to India with my mom because we love each other, because we want to make this work, even though the only way for this to function with my parents’ blessings is for him, a raging Jewish atheist, to convert to Islam. And believe it or not, he’s learning. Semi-enthusiastically and slowly, but he is learning.  And for his part he’s agreed to go through with the motions and participate in rituals so long as our lives afterwards have minimal interference from my family, which I imagine to be the case judging by the level of involvement my parents had and have in my younger brother’s marriage (he married quite young by choice). They are very hands off once we’re out of the house. I eventually met his parents and we got along well although they were initially horrified at the idea of their son being with a Muslim. I think they’ve accepted us, and have an idea it’s serious.

Yes, it’s serious. We’ve talked seriously about marriage for a few years down the road – he’s in the middle of applying to PhD programs, and I want to start an MFA. He also wants to wait till he’s of a socially acceptable age in his family to marry. I don’t really have the luxury of time (my parents made me consider a total of FOUR proposals while he and I were dating and they’re not slowing down) We’ve talked about telling my parents at the end of the year and when he’s learned enough to convert to Islam.

There are obviously a number of problems that I need to address, like for instance, the ethics of this man pretending to be a Muslim so that he can marry me , the strain of the compromises we’d be making on us individually, and on myself –  I’d have to leave my mental health non-profit plans (inspired by own bouts of depression and rage during our relationship) in India behind to settle down in the States and give up ever really living there. He’s made it clear he can’t which makes sense – it’s not politically very safe for a Jewish man to be married to a Muslim girl from the hood ya know?

I’d have to make some lifestyle changes as well. The most important to me is that I dislike alcohol for religious reasons and he likes his occasional drink. He’s very controlled when he drinks, so I don’t ever mind if he does when I’m around and I’ve agreed to continue that policy. But truthfully I don’t know if I can live my married life rejecting a value that I grew up so observant of, even if I’m not quite as religious as I used to be. Not to mention that I’d be married to a man who doesn’t have any kind of religious ideals besides his cultural values which are very different from mine.  He says he’ll fast and pray with me, but how long can I realistically expect that to last? This strikes me as vaguely hypocritical at least – I’ve compromised other values by the sheer fact of dating him and I am in practice not very religious at all despite what the headscarf might imply- but I do believe in God and I am attached to my faith and culture.

Now, our relationship is wonderful.  Despite being from such a radically different background (or is it really all that different? I spent my formative years here after all), and his belonging to the ‘white’ culture at school I spoke of earlier, I was instantly comfortable around him. Even though we had different tastes in *everything*, we’re similar people in personality and we connected, and expanded our interests to learn about the other.  We’ve also had major trouble, and I had my serious doubts about him earlier on when he was more self absorbed and less communicative, but he’s changed a lot, and he’s put up with a lot of my own flaws. Also remarkable about him is how he handled my depression when the first symptoms emerged and I started seeing a therapist. Despite having no exposure to this from within his own family, he didn’t scarper as I was afraid he might, and is supportive and involved in my treatment.

The best way I can describe it without going on for pages at length is that we’ve been through a lot, enjoy each other’s company immensely, have changed and grown a lot from our experiences together, and are deeply committed to one another. And from another perspective, the people who know me best and have watched my relationship with him evolve think we make sense together. His friends apparently really like me as well.  And no man I’ve met since  has made me want to put everything on hold to spend the rest of my life with him.

But even then, the reality of what I am proposing to do is weighty. Let’s not forget the religious father and relatives who might pick up on the fact that he’s not a real Muslim and reject our marriage on the grounds that Shari’a doesn’t recognize a marriage between a non Muslim man and Muslim woman? Even if that were to work, what about the reality of the lifestyle and religious adjustments I’d inevitably have to make to make this marriage work? What of our children who will be confused as eff caught between two cultures and world views? I cannot begin to imagine telling my parents that we’d need to have a Jewish wedding ceremony too, to respect his parents wishes, or that their grandkids would eventually probably have a bar mitzvah and go to the mosque. What of him and his potential resentment towards me for making him convert, and what of me and my potential resentment towards him when he inevitably fails to fast and pray with me? What of my scarf, and the multitudes of spiritual, social and political complexities of dating him and wearing the hijab at the same time? What of this long distance? We’ve been apart for three months, and we’ve been good with communication so far, but I’m terrified I won’t see him again for a long time, and that distance will drive a wedge between us eventually especially considering that communication is not his natural strong point. Also consider the alternative – that if things dont work out between us, I’d have to marry a Muslim man who’d accept that I dated a Jewish guy before I married him, and while those guys exist, they’re not exactly the proposals my religious family is drawing in. And I have no idea if those guys exist anywhere near where I live or work.

Sorry for the spiel but I’d love to hear how you wrapped your brain around this. Is this worth it? Do you see such a marriage working out without long term bitterness and resentment? How?

Sincerely,

love’s got me looking so crazy right now

Cary Tennis Loire Valley Writing Retreat

Dear Love’s Got Me Looking So Crazy,

This answer is not going to help you if you propose to each keep your religion and somehow blend them. I have no advice about how to blend two religions. I wouldn’t know where to begin. Your best source for that would probably be your own religious authorities.

I am going to take a different tack. I am going to argue for secularism and the abandonment of personal religion.

I am going to argue for the one solution that does not require either one of you to adopt views and beliefs you do not have. Rather, it requires both of you to stand in opposition to your own faith and culture and proclaim, together, your secularism. It requires both of you to give up a good deal. But this is the American promise: that a person is a fully determined and responsible individual who can live his or her life in any way he or she chooses, as long as no one else is materially harmed.

Renouncing personal religion requires us to take the position that the resulting heartbreak of others is not our responsibility, even though our actions may be said to cause it. We may cause it but it isn’t our primary responsibility. Our primary responsibility is to our own nature, our own primary relationship, and our own truth.

I’m not against religion. I just think that in cases where maintaining its beliefs may do more harm than good, it is wise and noble to relinquish it, in favor of what is real.

This is very freeing. It is a wonderful thought: Religion is optional!

Many Americans have made this choice.

The contradictions of your situation are in your religious beliefs themselves. How can either of you maintain a religious belief that requires the other person to act or be in a way contrary to his nature, and still proclaim your love? If you are not willing to do this, it may mean that you are not willing to make the kind of sacrifice your situation requires.

If you weren’t with this man, it wouldn’t be complicated. You could simply bow to the power of your religion. But since you and he are uniting, your unity requires that each of you comes into conflict with your religion. There is no escaping this conflict. When you are in conflict with your religion, then you have to choose who is more important: your partner, or your religion?

I am suggesting that it is possible to relinquish religion and abide by a yet higher law, one that is not written, one that asks for faith in the unknowable behind the unknowable.

I also say this because it seems to me that the possibility of two individuals coming together in secular love is one of the few amazing gifts American culture can still offer the world.

This doesn’t mean you change what you like to do, what appeals to you, what you think is right or wrong, or how you like to dress or anything like that. You will remain the same person and will do many of the same things you did before. But in those areas in which your religion and your relationship are in conflict, I am suggesting you place your relationship first. Take onto yourself the power to decide what is right and wrong. If your religion tells you you can’t do that, just say, Well, I’m doing it. What will your religion do then? Will it punish you?

That is the interesting question: What will your religion do when you take a secular stance? Will it threaten you? Will it put in place measures to keep you in line? And what does that say about the sanctity of the individual? If your religion cannot tolerate you, then how can you tolerate your religion?

Of course you can muddle along. Or you can face the fact that it is indeed your religion that is most important to you. That may be the case. But you must choose. Whatever you do, I am suggesting  that you face the intellectual contradiction squarely, and consider the choices that inhere in your situation. And recognize that there is no law — no secular law, anyway — that prevents you from renouncing your religions and living as secular people, responsible to each other for your actions, and accountable to no religious body.

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I grew up poor but my boyfriend has money

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Cary’s classic column from

If we were to marry, could we make it work?


Dear Cary,

I’ve been dating a good man for the last seven months. We have loads of fun together; we’re both creative types who pursue our passions in our own time while working at jobs related to our respective creative fields. It’s a good match. People kind of hate us because we’re such a good couple. I love this man and appreciate how well he treats me. He’s patient, kind, mature, respectful, supportive — all of the things that most of the lads I’ve dated in the past have not been. It’s a pretty healthy relationship, I think.

And yet.

I worry that we will be incompatible in the long run. His family has money — not millions, but enough to afford monthly mini-vacations and second homes and German cars. My boyfriend has traveled all across the world, touring four continents. He owns a lovely house in a pretty swanky neighborhood. His family paid for his private-school education and college. His friends and contemporaries are the types to buy $10 cocktails and $400 shoes (he thinks $200 jeans are “reasonable”). In short, money is not a large worry for my boyfriend, and if bills pop up, he always has a family that can help out.

My family, on the other hand, lives off my father’s Social Security checks and my mother’s $7/hour part-time job. I think they made $18,000 last year. We were never destitute, but we were poor — the kind of poor that doesn’t really register until you’re an adult and you can look back to figure out that the reason Mom gave most of the food to me wasn’t that she “wasn’t hungry” but that we couldn’t afford enough for her, too. These days I’m making an OK salary, I’m paying off student loans and I stick to a budget, I rent in a kind of sketchy neighborhood, I have traveled but not extensively so, and a surprise $1,000 expense can really throw my finances for a loop.

The problem is that Boyfriend wants to do things that I simply cannot afford to do. “Let’s go to Japan!” he’ll suggest. Well, I’d love to go to Japan, but I don’t have the means. I politely tell him that I can’t afford to go to Japan (or, hell, Seattle) right now, and he comes back with a cheery, “Oh, there’s always a way!”

His unwavering optimism drives me nuts, because he seems to think that everybody has had the same opportunities that he has. He’s not a snobby rich kid by any means, but for him, my scrimping and fretting over money (“I should put money aside for a just-in-case fund,” “Let’s make dinner instead of going out,” etc.) is unnecessary. But to me, it’s not. Being poor isn’t just an abstract thought for me; it’s an unpleasant memory, and I don’t want to go back to those days.

I worry that my inner class warrior (and yeah, it’s there) may not be able to handle dating someone who can’t empathize with my situation. It frustrates me that he keeps suggesting expensive trips and overpriced adventures that I can’t afford — when he should know that I can’t afford them. In all fairness, he does sometimes foot the bill for birthday/anniversary trips and whatnot, but I don’t expect him to do that all of the time. Over time, I am beginning to feel poor again, embarrassed that I can’t keep up — in short, I am beginning to feel as excluded as I did when I was growing up.

That’s not what I want to feel around someone whom I care for and who cares for me. To him, it’s not a big deal — he thinks that if we get married, the issue will dissolve, because then it’ll be “my house” too, etc. But to me, it is a big deal, because class is a personal/political issue for me. He has the luxury of not having to think about it while it’s something that really affects me. So my questions are, How do we cross this class divide? How can I help him understand my situation without making him feel like I resent his privileges? How do I explain to him that I don’t really want to live a money-bleeding lifestyle of $25 entrees? Am I nuts to think that $200 is a lot to spend on jeans, or am I just a recovering poor girl who doesn’t know what’s “normal”?

Feeling Like Lula Mae Barnes,

Cary Tennis Connecticut Writing Retreat

Dear Lula,

You sound like you are compatible as people. It’s the money that stands between you.

It’s not a personality conflict but a material conflict. Ideally, your personal compatibility would serve as a foundation for resolving the material conflict. That is, you would like each other enough, and know each other’s weaknesses well enough, and have enough respect, and want to stay together badly enough, that you could work through this to the satisfaction of each party.

But it won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. There may be surprises afoot. You may find that his easy affability crumbles when he confronts the notion of actually giving up some control over his money. He is going to have to cede some control of his money to you if you marry. You will have to be an equal partner financially or you won’t feel secure.

He won’t be the only one to be hit hard emotionally by the issue. You yourself may find yourself conflicted and confused in ways that you cannot yet envision. This is an issue that touches us at the core of our existence — not only as individuals, but as political actors as well.

There is of course a class division in America. It is a fact of searing emotional significance to those who can’t afford to ignore it. And it is a trifling matter to those who can — which of course infuriates the rest of us all the more.

Right now, if things get too rough, he can always go to Japan. Money is nice that way.

How would he deal with losing that cushion, that safety valve? Would it tarnish his air of blithe disregard, that low-key air of well-being grounded in the accustomed knowledge that there is always a way out? Relax, he says, things will work out. Well, yes, things will always work out — for him. And presumably things will work out for you if you hitch your wagon to his. But unless you reach a binding agreement about control of the money, he will always be able to unhitch his wagon and gallop off without you when things get uncomfortable. I think that is the issue that you need to resolve.

He may want you to just trust him. I think you will need more than that.

The upside of this is that I’ll bet you would be a very good manager of money. He sounds like he throws it around. I take it there’s not an inexhaustible supply, just a good-size pile. You would do well to safeguard it.

I suggest, in short, though I don’t know exactly how to do this, that you do two things: 1) Tell him that if you got married you would want significant control over the finances — that as a matter of principle you would want to be thrifty rather than spendthrift, and that you would invest the money wisely. Tell him that you want to be in it together equally, sink or swim. 2) Engage your boyfriend politically. Tell him that if you were to marry, you would want to use at least some of his money to contribute to helping the poor.

See a lawyer who specializes in family estate planning, or an accountant. Get as much information as you can about what the issues actually would be if you were to marry. Get things in writing.

And then relax and see if you can’t make a go of it!

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Our friend got drunk and went to a hotel room with a bunch of Marines

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Cary’s classic column from TUESDAY, MAY 6, 2008

We think she’s out of control, and we think she should tell her boyfriend.


Dear Cary,

I am writing to you to get advice about a friend of mine who has some rather troubling issues that I fear may one day turn into very serious issues that will affect her entire life, and not just for the short term. My friend, whom I will call Jan, has been my friend for 13 years. We went to high school together. Jan rooms with another mutual friend from high school, whom I will call Lisa. All three of us are 26.

To make a very long story short, Jan went out one night with one of her friends (whom I don’t know very well), and got really, really drunk — so drunk in fact that Jan and her friend decided to go to a hotel room with a bunch of Marines that they had just met that very night. Lisa and I were up until 5 a.m. trying to find Jan, who had been drunken-dialing us with worrisome messages like, “I lost my friend, I can’t find her! I’m in a hotel room. Come and find me!” CLICK.

We did find Jan and her friend and brought Jan home, and immediately I knew something wasn’t right with her. Lisa got the full story from Jan’s friend, who then went home. As it turns out, Jan had consensual, unprotected sex with one of the Marines.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. Jan is notorious for having dangerous (unprotected), drunken liaisons with boyfriends and strangers alike. This happens frequently enough that Lisa has unwittingly become a “guardian” figure to Jan, having to rescue her on many occasions. Jan acknowledges, when sober, she has a problem, but refuses to take any steps to solve the problem. Rather, she blames everyone else (“You and she didn’t come with me to the bar!”) or tries to avoid the subject altogether (“I know, I know! Can we not talk about it right now?”). Lisa, for how kind and absolutely fantastic she is, is just too averse to confrontation to put down her foot and say, “Enough is enough! You need real help, and I am not going to come to your rescue at 5 a.m. anymore.”

Now, the kicker is that Jan is continuing to have sex with her long-term boyfriend, and she absolutely refuses to tell him about her encounter. (She hasn’t gotten the results of her STD tests back yet, either.) I personally don’t know Jan’s boyfriend well enough to talk to him about it, and even if I did, I’m not sure if it would be my place to do so. However, I worry that Jan is putting her boyfriend in jeopardy by risking infecting him with any STDs she may have. Lisa, on the other hand, knows Jan’s boyfriend really well, but she doesn’t feel it’s her place to get involved and is uncomfortably passive about the situation. I equate this situation to Jan’s pointing a strange, unknown firearm at her boyfriend and pulling the trigger, not knowing if it will fire blanks or a bullet.

My respect for Jan has waned so much that I fear I may not be able to look her in the eye and consider her a friend. She is a 26-year-old woman, handling adult problems like a child. Worse yet, she is possibly endangering the life of someone she claims to love. (She has been with her boyfriend for eight years.) Her fear is that he will leave her, and he very well might, but doesn’t he have the right to know and make an informed decision, at the very least to ensure he uses protection when having sex with her?

Do you have any advice for how we should handle this situation? In your opinion, it is our responsibility to confront Jan’s boyfriend with this issue if Jan won’t? Also, do you think that Lisa should continue to be Jan’s guardian figure, or do you think that she is unwittingly enabling Jan by always being there to bail her out?

Concerned Friend

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Dear Concerned Friend,

The boyfriend has a right to know that he may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease.

If the test comes back clean, that proves nothing. She is engaging in a pattern of behavior that may result in infection at any time.

She doesn’t need to tell him that she got drunk and went to a hotel room with a bunch of Marines. She just needs to tell him that because of her behavior he may have been exposed to an STD.

Informing him carries certain risks. The most likely risk is that they’ll break up. That would be unpleasant but probably for the best. There may be a risk of physical violence as well. Has he ever threatened her or her friends with violence? Some people respond violently to traumatic or upsetting news. If he is violent, she should be protected when she tells him. There should be someone capable of controlling him there — a friend or a police officer.

If she won’t tell him, someone else will have to tell him. Who will that be? Health department policies on partner notification differ widely from state to state and county to county. If she won’t do it, then you and your friends have to figure out a way to make sure it gets done.

Tell her that he has to be told and he is going to be told. Don’t let her talk you out of it. Instead, use the fact that he is going to be told as a way of persuading her to tell him herself. Maybe she will reason that if he’s going to be told anyway, she should do it first.

Then fill her purse with condoms.

Really. I mean, if she’s going to keep on like this — and she shows no sign of stopping soon — then she has to start putting condoms on the men she has sex with. Otherwise she’s a public health risk. She may be too out of control to actually be sure that her partners wear condoms, but put them in her purse just the same. Future partners may choose to wear a condom if one is available.

Remember: It isn’t just about her and him. It’s about those Marines, too, and about anybody else who might cross her path — or her boyfriend’s path, because we don’t know what he’s doing, either.

There is a limited amount of useful information on the Web; InSpot.org is a good place to start. See also this discussion and this article that discusses a survey of American doctors on the question of partner notification.

As I read over your letter, I keep coming back to the phrase “consensual, unprotected sex.” You say she had “consensual, unprotected sex” — while drunk, in a hotel room full of Marines. The sex was with a Marine and it was consensual. OK. She had just the Marine — while drinking. OK. Maybe they were both drunk. We don’t know. And there were a bunch of Marines. She was drunk in a hotel room full of Marines. Marines are strong young men trained to kill. OK. They are also trained to be gentlemen. OK. And, well, it may have started out fun, but at one point she was dialing her friends on her cellphone, crying out for help, calling for rescue, crying out that she had been abandoned. She was drunk and afraid. It does not sound like an episode of “The Love Boat.” That’s not to say she was raped. But perhaps we could say she had sex with a Marine under conditions of traumatic fear blunted by drunkenness. That’s not good.

I picture that hotel room full of Marines and your friend, drunk, abandoned by her friend and hungry for something, seeking something, vaguely aware that once she starts drinking she often can’t stop or control what she does next, vaguely aware that whatever has been happening to her lately is happening again, and every time it happens it seems to get a little more out of control. When I picture that hotel room and what went on there — maybe with just one Marine but maybe more than one, given that her shame may be overwhelming and her memory incomplete — when I picture her desperation and her hunger for whatever it is she was seeking at the end of the night, and then I hear the phrase “consensual, unprotected sex,” I marvel at the gulf between the language and the event. Perhaps this language indicates the gulf between your world and hers as well, and between the full horror of what happened and our willingness to imagine the full horror of what happened.

So I wonder what she says to herself about it. I doubt she says to herself, “Well, I went and had unprotected consensual sex with a Marine again, darn it!” I wonder what she would say if she could speak freely, with deep emotion, to someone she completely trusted. I wonder how it seems to her — that she was abandoned by her friends and ended up being taken advantage of? That they were nice guys but things just got out of control? That it would have been great if she and the one Marine could have just gotten off alone by themselves? And did she, in her heart of hearts, do it to get back at her boyfriend for some slight real or imagined?

I also wonder in what sense it was truly consensual. We are animals and we feel fear. Drunk, we do things to survive. We can feel when there is a killer in the room. We can feel when a killer’s reflexes have been trained. We can feel when it would be unwise to resist. Given our animal nature, the instincts that drive us when we are drunk and incapable of rational choice, given our desperate pretense in the face of implied danger, to say that it was “consensual” is to say what? What does the phrase “drunken 26-year-old woman in a hotel room full of Marines” say to you? Does that say the same thing as “consensual, unprotected sex”?

The more I imagine what went on in that room, the more I wonder if you and your good friends have come to terms with, or admitted to consciousness, the full terror of the event. No one probably knows for sure what really happened in that hotel room. Has anyone uttered the word “trauma” in relation to these events? Imagine the trauma to her roommate. Imagine her own traumatic shame when she woke up. And where did she wake up, or come out of a partial blackout? In the hotel room with the Marines, or in her car, or on the street, or in her own bed? Shame and degradation hide behind the phrase “consensual, unprotected sex.”

So beyond the public health issue of notifying the boyfriend, the emotional trauma of the event needs to be acknowledged, and she needs to get some help. I am convinced, having been out of control at times in my 20s, that we do not just go out of control for no reason. It happens in context. It happens because of feelings, because of our inability to control our response to alcohol, because we are hurt, cut off from friends and family, fearful about survival, unable to process and admit to ourselves our feelings about other things, and it snowballs. It escalates. One out-of-control incident leads to shame and humiliation and fuck it all, who the fuck cares now, might as well get out of control again because my friends did not rescue me the first time, so fuck them too, they must not care about me, and since they don’t care about me I must be pretty worthless, and if I’m worthless you’re worthless too, you shit, we’re all worthless, so what if I give my fucking boyfriend an STD, he should have been there to protect me from those Marines and protect me from myself, too. So fuck him. Fuck you. Fuck it all.

This is the way we end up dead. It snowballs. We stop caring. We enter into a spiral of shame and anger and humiliation, hopelessness, betrayal and self-betrayal, abandonment and apathy. We shut off. It’s too much to feel. We go dead. We shut off by drinking more and by abandoning ourselves, by giving ourselves away in pieces like a car parted out to thieves.

Cary Tennis Connecticut Writing Retreat

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