I knew it was time to tell my daughter I was a rape survivor. It is a significant detail in my life, and it has influenced many decisions. This detail inspired many years of research on sexual violence, and it seemed natural to have my family members know. Some day I will tell my son. Telling one’s teenager about one’s sexual assault is important, but I think the time needs to be chosen carefully. Their growth should be about them and what they experience, not about how you have been hurt or how you have survived and thrived. If we tell too early, there is no point because they will not comprehend the enormity of it. Instead, as they are younger we need to show and teach our empathy for others, for them, and for ourselves.
Additionally, I am writing about my life and experiences and want to include my entire history. If anything would go online, even if anonymous, my daughter might know it would be her mom from the context. There are journals and electronic devices around our home with my past outlined, so if I died or otherwise because incapacitated, she may come across the information. It felt that I had waited long enough, and she was old enough. I also needed to write and add my piece to the metoo movement, in case it would help even one other person.
I had considered telling her for years, but it hadn’t felt right for various reasons. Now, in 2018, my kids are older, and I’ve been writing more since 2016. I am clear-headed, healthy, and strong, and it’s time. Telling one’s teenager about one’s sexual assault felt like it needed to be well-thought through, if possible.
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My considerations were these:
I did not want to burden her. I did not want or need her to worry about me or be scared for me or her family. That would be putting a burden on her, and her life is full enough now as a teenager.
I made it clear from the beginning of our conversation because she is my daughter, it felt important to explain this large part of my life, my existence. My assaults do not define me. Yet they have been an immeasurable part of me since I first realized all I have survived, and I wanted her to know about this.
I told her I was telling her from a place of strength because I have done many workshops and hours of therapy sessions. I explained the growth process from victim to survivor to thriver. In so many areas of my life, I felt I had reached the point of thriving. I wanted her to know that although I recognize the injustice and tragedy of sexual assault, I also feel my power as a person.
I told her she could ask me any questions, any time.
As I was speaking my voice caught a little. Instead of ignoring the emotion and having her wonder, I explained why. Even though I was telling her from a place of strength, it still is a significantly sad part of my life history and so to tell someone as close to my heart as my daughter is emotional. The news can affect someone who loves me, and I know this deeply.
I explained the anger I had felt in the decades following my great realizations. I said that even today a part of me also feels shame.
Telling one’s teenager about one’s sexual assault is okay!
Basically, I ended up telling her one afternoon because I couldn’t stand it any longer thinking about when a good time would be. I told her when there wouldn’t be that much time for us to sit and discuss. Originally, I had planned to tell her when we had a lot of time. But I felt it was better this way because the awfulness then couldn’t bog us down. Even though it was my first time, I knew that telling one’s teenager about one’s sexual assault could be emotional.
I knew from experience that telling people you are a survivor can be a shock to the other person. Even though it is the survivor’s pain, the person listening also experiences emotions. Still, I knew I would be there in the next hours and days for any questions or feelings she needed to process. She was able to ask four or five questions, and I answered them. I checked in after the interuption to reiterate that she could ask questions and we could talk any time. She said she was okay, and we hugged…
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I am fifty one, and my daughter will be seventeen in a week.
My first rape was a statutory rape when I was sixteen and the man thirty-two. He took advantage of me one other time, as did an additional man in his twenties on a different occasion. I never included the latter occurrence as one of my rapes, but of course it was illegal for him to do what he did. I was lucky I had the sixth sense to know he probably wasn’t the type to tie me up or physically rip apart my body. Many people in my life have told me I have some kind of extra “sense.” I truly believe this sense saved my life on many occasions.
The other two were before I was twenty. I had been drinking alcohol before all instances, and the last rapes I was intoxicated.
None of the men used a weapon or physically harmed my body. But these assaults, having grown up in a rape culture and all that that entails, personal family circumstances and the way I was raised (which in part was influenced by our rape culture), immeasurably affected my self esteem, some major life decisions, my research, numerous day-to-day decisions and habits formed, and my general life direction. I have suffered and survived. I thrive as a survivor, and I still suffer in ways that continue to surprise me. And this is still only part of my story.
Originally posted July 30, 2018 on an anonymous website.
I commend the football players who take a stand against racism. I have never supported the NFL, nor been a Vikings fan. When Croatians were excited that I was from Minnesota, I could barely remember what sport the Timberwolves played. The research revealing the high incidence of sexual violence and football players added to my dislike of football. I am saddened by how many ex-athletes have life-long physical and mental health issues. Their experiences either on the field or in the spotlight can have debilitating long-term effects. The issue of concussions is a travesty. It shows how greed and ambition trumped the welfare of players. Despite their wealth and fame, were still pawns in the great monetary game of sports.
I am opposed to how much money these athletes and their managers and owners make. Caretakers, teachers, essential workers, and other educated people in our society make so little. Working class people have to struggle so hard to get basic healthcare or schooling. It isn’t just that I don’t usually enjoy watching these popular sports. Once in a while I do enjoy a game if kind of forced to watch because of a situation. But I also oppose them for political and social reasons.
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But what the NFL players and owners are doing now is worth commending. They are using their visibility to take a stand against racism. Our lousy president’s continued, childish Twitter responses reveal his racism and his inability to understand more than one side of an issue. The tweets also reveal how he doesn’t want us to think about his failing presidency. His rhetoric about peaceful protests against racism in juxtaposition to his tweets about some Nazis being nice people is shameful.
He is frustrated by the inability of the Republicans to repeal the ACA. Plus, he is on a dangerous path with North Korea because of his insistence to take things personally. This man is incapable of being a unifying, democratic, diplomatic, and conciliatory leader. In response to Trump’s horrific, racist rhetoric the NFL players and owners have bravely continued to peacefully exercise their right to protest racism in our country in an extremely visible setting.
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I adjure the NFL players who have so much wealth and visibility to also use their power and influence to take a stand against racism. This is work toward a a more racially and economically just America. Some already have and currently do philanthropic work. I hope more of them follow suit. But members of the NFL kneel to protest racial injustice. They lock arms to show solidarity with those who choose to practice their right of free speech. These are brave moves that come from their hearts and probably after much personal consideration.
Their actions raise awareness about the racism of the White House, our president, and of institutions and far right groups across America. These actions of protest may spur others to action as well. Our flag and national anthem symbolize the freedoms we hold dear in this country. These are freedom of speech, of protest, and of the press. Unlike Trump, these players do not insult veterans or families of veterans. America is far from being a equitable country, and if this is how some want to make a statement about the very real injustice in our land, I commend them for it.
Part of the problem with bullies and people who feel victimized by bullies is that often the latter do not realize they are cruel. Often the people they insult do not know how to speak up. I believe I continued to be berated for personal choices in my life by certain people because it took me so long to clearly point out the fact that this was inappropriate and that I wouldn’t tolerate it anymore. We need to speak up! I needed to learn to speak up!
I am not blaming myself for other people’s cruelty and insensitivity. As a young girl I was not taught at home or in school that my private life choices are to be respected and that my feelings are important. Nor did anyone teach me I am not too sensitive, and that it is necessary and healthy to speak my mind so long as I do it in a respectful way. Had I been taught these principles, I would have spoken out more often. I would have set more boundaries for myself. This would have saved myself a lot of anxiety.
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One area in my life I often had to ward off disrespectful comments concerned dietary decisions. I stopped drinking cow’s milk in the late 1980s. To my incredulity, this seemed to offend people around me. I heard various comments in voices filled with shock and emotion. It was as if I had personally decided to insult them with my private decision about what kind of milk I would drink. People were so aghast and dumbfounded at my decision! This showed the success of the dairy lobby because giving up cow’s milk seemed to be an idea that had never entered their minds. It felt as though I had told them I had joined a new religion from outer space and that as a ritual I would be cutting off one of my arms.
I was private about my decision and didn’t advertise it. People found out because I declined when offered milk or because they saw me pour myself a glass of soy milk. I didn’t announce my decision or try to convince other people to give up cow’s milk. And yet some reactions were this strong.
Later, becoming a vegetarian caused an uproar in various situations, especially with my family of origin. Again, it was somehow as though I had insulted others, and the anger and distaste displayed toward me was impressive. At certain gatherings, how we ate seemed to cause such discomfort even though I never expected people to go out of their way for us, and even though we always tried to be flexible.
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At gatherings we took part in the dinner rotation schedule when at a vacation spot for a number of nights. Each night a different family would be in charge of dinner. My husband and I spent much time making sure what we made to eat would be something satisfying to meat eaters. On one of these weekends I remember making a wonderful chili with fake hamburger. I had often served this to meat eaters who almost always proclaimed they couldn’t tell the difference and that it was delicious.
Not everyone on these mini vacations was cruel, but one family member not only never had anything good to say about what we offered, but they would berate it. And on a few occasions when it was their turn, they served meals where my husband, kids and I ate bread and butter. Everything else, even the salad, had meat in it. Of course, we didn’t expect a full-out vegetarian meal, but just bread and butter? Childish and rude.
After a few times of having to later feed my kids and us separately, we opted out of the dinner rotation and brought our own food. I was fed up with the blatant verbal insults as well as the passive aggressiveness our vegetarianism provoked. And yet, I only rarely said anything to my main bully. When I did say anything, it seemed to be too late and ineffective, and it was after we had opted out of trying to do any kind of collaberation with food.
We need to speak up
Even after having been a vegetarian for a decade or more, at one gathering a person berated my choice of soy milk over cow’s milk in front of my young, impressionable daughter. This was at least fifteen years after I had quit drinking soy milk and had endured friends and strangers odd and sometimes cruel comments. I felt sick that I allowed my daughter to be with such people who would openly insult such personal health decisions. This inspired me to slowly started speaking out and pulling myself away from such gatherings.
When my daughter was just a baby, a person close to me incessantly cracked jokes about my decision to feed her vegetarian and would say things like, “I bet she would just love a sausage right now!” Or, “I bet when she gets teeth, she will love the way I cook steak.”
After listening to these jokes for months, I finally brought an end to it by telling the person the jokes were hurtful and disrespectful. I said that how I chose to feed my child was a personal decision. This was over fifteen years ago. I was still nursing, was exhausted, and leaving for an airline flight. I also was not yet speaking out as much as I would learn to, so this felt like a milestone. Indeed, the jokes stopped for about a decade.
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People who find offense at such jokes about food or religion choices are not too sensitive. I think most of us understand that we would never make some senseless joke to a Muslim woman about her wearing a headscarf. We wouldn’t tease someone on a paleo or low carb diet about their choices. We understand that making a joke about someone’s personal decisions is hurtful and disrespectful.
But as a young girl, I internalized that my opinions were unimportant. Growing into adulthood, I started to speak out about various issues. But I often heard from others that my feelings were too big, that I should just lighten up and that I was too sensitive. When the person who is somehow different speaks out, it sometimes is met with silence and acceptance. On the flip side it can sometimes be met with defensiveness and the comment, “lighten up!” This only adds insult to insult. When this happened, the childhood internalization of the idea that my opinions were unimportant would rear up. I would have to go back to ground zero and figure out how to speak out again.
It feels I wasted much time and emotion being upset about other people’s dysfunction while in my twenties and thirties. I also spent time figuring out ways to express my anger and disappointment in a healthy and respectful way. I did not want to lower myself to a bully’s standards of communications. And yet, this time spent was the only way I knew to grow strong in the realization that my feelings counted, and that these bullyish comments explained a lot about the people making the comments.
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If you are reading this and think I cannot laugh at my vegetarianism, it isn’t true. I have laughed many times with others about misunderstandings with food or diet. One example was in the dentist office when I asked why I should want to fix my teeth. I argued that my mother-in-law had dentures and she seemed to manage just fine. The technician said to me, “well, it can be quite difficult chewing with dentures, especially trying to chew a nice, juicy steak.” I laugh and said that I was a vegetarian, so that wouldn’t be a loss. We all laughed, and she said, “well, you won’t be able to chew that carrot very well either.”
No offense was taken. Nothing was said with passive-aggressive distaste or anger. There were no negative feelings. This and other conversations I have had are funny and enlightening.
I am not too sensitive. I can tell which jokes or comments about my diet, personal habits and choices, are disrespectful and hurtful. There are no hard and fast rules about what is disrespectful and what isn’t. But if someone says something that feels wrong and you wish the comments to stop, then you can request this and be assured that it is okay for you to do so. And we need to learn and be assured that it is courageous and okay to set these boundaries. We need to speak up!
Recently my fear of a controller in a bus was a surprise, but it saved me from a lot of hassle and stress. My crimes of smuggling illegal books, other written material, and East German Marks into the German Democratic Republic (GDR, aka East Germany), purchased with West German Marks (DM) in the west, still haunt me. My many experiences in these police states had an effect on my psyche, even if at the time I didn’t feel the fear I do as an adult.
Not that I regret doing what I did, but in certain situations I acutely feel the fear I felt as a young person. I remember crossing from West Berlin to East Berlin with illegal printed material hidden under the bottom of my duffel. Since I was living in East Germany, this could have cost me my visa and probably a lot of time sitting somewhere alone. Smuggling eastern marks I purchased in the west into the GDR was likely a serious crime. I have not researched this, but I think I could have been in a lot of trouble.
Also probably what haunts me is all the travel as a young person alone. Police stopped and searched me multiple times on the trains. Once in the pedestrian checkpoint they put in a room in East Berlin with my friends and made us wait and sweat. In general, I traveled a lot in the east during a time when there were so many police with machine gun type weapons. I felt invincible as an American, but of course I wasn’t. When I did feel the fear back then, I always suppressed it emotionally.
So, now I am fifty and many of those experiences were all between twenty and thirty or more years ago. But today I still overreact to certain situations that involve security, police, or other forms of authority. Here is a recent story of such an over-reaction in Krakow, Poland. Oh, my fear of the controller and his power was extreme, but not exaggerated.
The botched ticket purchase
My legs still feel like rubber as I begin to record this. Luckily, I could understand some Polish because of my knowledge of Russian. And, luckily, Cora had decided to sit halfway back in the street car. She did not follow me as I went forward to get tickets from the machine with the coins I had counted out. I had checked earlier to make sure I had enough (2.80 zloty per person). But as I tried to get my reading glasses off my shirt to read the coins, they tangled with the sunglasses also hanging there. And splat went the coins. I tried to pick them all up and thought I was successful. I bought one ticket and proceeded to try to buy the next. In alarm, I realized I was 10 groszy (one coin) short.
As an aside, so that you know I am an honest adult, I had always bought tickets and never rode “black.” Schwarz fahren it is called in German, and I believe similarly in other languages. That morning in Krakow, I had also rightfully purchased two tickets for us to ride the street car to Oscar Schindler’s museum. The tickets were very inexpensive, so there was no incentive for me at all to ride black. Especially knowing that we were in Poland and the fear of any controller would be huge, I would not have tried to cheat the system.
Since the machine didn’t accept bills, I didn’t know what to do except go back to Cora and sit down. I guess we could have gotten out, since we had twenty minutes before the first ticket expired. Then I could have gotten more change. Unfortunately, I guess I thought we would chance it. At the end of our European blitz trip, we were exhausted. Getting off to try to find some coins from some establishment would involve quite a bit more walking. More walking when we needed to get back to eat seemed insurmountable me.
Or, I guess I could have gotten off the train temporarily and tried to talk to the driver in English. This actually didn’t even occur to me though, although I do not know why. You cannot speak with the driver while in the car. The driver is in a separate area from the passenger area. Had I thought of this, I would have dismissed the idea, though. I know I would have thought that the driver would just tell me I needed to get the money.
(All of this is me overanalyzing my steps, which is something people with PTSD commonly do. It sometimes makes for a good essay, though!)
So I sat down and briefly told Cora the problem. I very nervously started counting the stations as the street car made its way toward the city center. For some reason, though, I was hoping it was “just” my trauma from years back causing me to panic. (I will write more about my trauma in more detail soon). But I had a strong feeling that Murphy’s Law would prove right. That is, the one time I am riding illegally (having only one full ticket for me and my daughter), I would get caught.
The switch to slow motion
Sure enough, I suddenly heard something on the speaker about “Billet Kontrolni.” Since it was in Polish, those were really the only words I remember understanding. I screamed so loudly in my head! My fear of any controller shot forth through my eyeballs. I was suddenly hyper aware of my surroundings! My brain raced to understand what and where this controller was or if I had misunderstood.
Shortly thereafter, I saw a balding young man with a round face and dark brown eyes, dressed in a white dress shirt. He was moving his way amongst a crowd of young kids who had jumped on the streetcar after we had. They had surrounded the pay station where I had tried to buy both tickets.
It felt like the train was moving very slowly on purpose, so that the ticket controller would have enough time to make it through the train to us. It felt like everything was moving in slow motion except my heartbeat. I imagined that the city or state purposely had the trains move slower when a ticket controller boarded. This would ensure that no one could escape. I actually caught his eye once, and I immediately looked away, the contact not having been any kind of comfort. Of course, I felt I looked even guiltier because I had looked away. But fear of this controller would not allow me to act casually and keep eye contact.
My mind was racing
I immediately dug out the one ticket and asked Cora for her ticket from the morning. Although it was irrelevant, I thought we could appeal to his kinder side if we showed that we had paid for the morning ride. I also got out my money that was just ten groszy less than what was needed for the ticket.
All this was to prove that I had really tried my best to get both tickets. I wanted to show I was an honest person. We had paid four hours earlier for the ride to the museum, and I did have at least one ticket for us. I wanted to show that I had honestly attempted to purchase another ticket. I would explain that I had bills, but the (stupid) machine didn’t accept them, that I dropped the coins, and so I hadn’t been sure what to do. In my mind I was even ready to explain how tired my daughter was, how her back hurt, etc. I would play the mother role as to why we had continued on the streetcar despite only having one ticket.
As all this was going through my mind, I noticed that a man kitty corner from us on the train had immediately stood up. He was heading to the door next to where we were sitting. I caught his eye, but his face revealed nothing. An unverifiable truth occurred to me: he was also riding without a ticket. I hoped we were nearing a station. With that thought in mind and this huge urge to run, I literally ordered my daughter to get up. She complied, and we went and stood by the door.
Waiting impatiently for the next stop
It still felt as though the car were moving too slowly, and I impatiently waited to see if a stop was coming. I did not turn around to see where the controller man in the white shirt was. I wanted to run off the car. Finally, finally, the train slowly came to a stop. Suppressing my great desire to shove the man in front of me out of our way, we innocently stepped off the train. It felt like my pounding heart was visibly bulging my chest in and out!.
I didn’t have any idea what the fine would have been had the controller not believed my story and taken my 2.70 zloty, but I just didn’t want to deal with it. I felt like I COULDN’T deal with it. My fear of having a Polish official confront me was so huge, my legs felt like rubber. My torso felt heavy. I had experienced enough exchanges with the police in East Germany before the wall came down.
We ended up getting out of the train just on the opposite end of the main square. I briefly shared how I felt with my daughter. As she happily looked into shops, I got out my phone to type in some notes. This helped me process what had just happened. It was a nice walk through the square again (such a lively place!) back home to our hotel on the other side. It was clear to my that my fear was rooted in my past experiences traveling alone and in eastern block countries.
But my fear of the controller were spot on
Almost ready to post this story, I read online various posts about how harsh and bullish the Polish public transportation controllers have been. I read about a woman and child crying, about one family who was forced to pay 240 zloty on the spot. Since they did not have it, the controller, joined by another one, took their ID and escorted them to a cash machine. They were told they would be arrested if they weren’t able to produce the cash. It is uncertain whether the controller really would arrest a foreigner. Still, this man had made the mistake of not stamping the purchased tickets. For a ticket to be valid, the purchaser needs to stamp it when they get on the train or street car or bus. Foreigners probably often make these mistakes or try to pretend it was a mistake to avoid purchasing more tickets.
With the adrenaline already rushing through my body and my fear and panic grossly exaggerated, that would have been hard to endure! I know I would have survived. But my bank card only worked in one of five cash machines we found near the Krakow main square. So it might have been very trying…
My sixth sense
As I end this post, another thought occurs to me. So many other situations which are similar to this one have occurred. I have often felt such fear and anxiety because of security or other authority figures. Going through airport security used to cause me great anxiety. Once, an usher caught me recording a concert back in 2007 or so when they still tried to control that. The sensations were so strong they almost enough to bring me off my feet. That tells me these exaggerated reactions are my hidden trauma, perhaps also related to my officially-diagnosed PTSD.
Still, it might not just be the trauma from the past that spurred my body into panic mode. I have also often been told I have a sixth sense. Perhaps it was this sixth sense I have which rightfully informed me of the upcoming great harrassment and trauma that we would experience if I did not get Cora and me off the train as soon as I could. I am hyper vigilant and intone to situations and to people, so this could have played a role as well…Who knows!
My fear of the controller in 2020 is a normal expression of deep emotions that hide inside of me. The fear is rooted in crazy experiences I had as a young person traveling in eastern Europe, which the Soviets ruled at the time. The Stasi (East German secret police) was not a kind organization. Plus, it was one of the largest secret police organizations in the world at the time with a member for almost every ten citizens.
When I lived in the east, the Stasi watched and searched me. The police opened all of my mail before I received it. There were armed police literally everywhere. But I also traveled in other countries throughout the east in my teens and twenties. There, also, police with machine guns controlled long lines to for various controls where extremely rude officials were also seemingly omnipresent. I remember my friend and I laughing and talking to the guards outside of Buckingham Palace until one couldn’t help but smile just a little bit. They didn’t scare me. Instead, I was simply in awe of them and this spectacle I had never witnessed in all my seventeen years. But my fear of police in the east was different. That is why this close encounter with a controller brought up my fear.
It is 2017 and Germany still has not owned up to its widespread sexual violence during World War II, committed by German soldiers, members of both the Wehrmacht and the SS. The myth that only the Soviet soldiers in Berlin who committed mass rape continues to be in so many people’s thinking.
I was apprehensive after I read the sentence about how Red Army soldiers harrassed German women in Berlin as they entered Berlin. We entered the open air museum at the end of the exhibition and read chronologically backward. I could only suspect that they wouldn’t mention that German soldiers had also committed massive sexual crimes during the war.
Because we began reading at the end of the exhibition, it made sense the Red Army rapes would be mentioned first. But I had little hope the exhibition would mention the vast German system of sexual slavery. I had even less hope that the many German rapes of Jews, Slavs, and others during the war would be mentioned.
The Germans were as sexually bestial as were the Soviets
And sure enough, unless I missed it, I did not see any mention of German sexual crimes during the war. As usual, those behind the making of this museum only thought to include the crimes of the Slavs. They helped to further the stereotype that for some reason the Slavic men are more beastly than the Germans.
Of course, it mentioned other crimes the Germans committed, but not sexual crimes. If the authors thought to mention sexual crimes of one army, then they should also mention the sexual crimes of the other. The SS, Wehrmacht, and other Germans in the east were not innocent of sexual criminality.
The evidence is out there even from before my dissertation in 2004! And I clearly documented widespread rape and system sexual slavery committed and established by the Germans. In the years since my published research, other scholars have documented additional German sexual violence during the war.
Topographie des Terrors, Shame on You!
Come on, Germany! Own up to your sexual crimes as well! Stop pretending only the Soviet Army committed these on the eastern front.
If I am wrong and missed something and the historians and those responsible for the text of this exhibition did include something of the sexual crimes the Germans committed, let me know. We were unable to spend as much time as I would have liked at this outdoor museum, so it is possible I missed something. I actually hope that I have.
I do commend Berlin for having the open air museums it does have. Many of the stories and photographs are available to the general public. This is especially important to students and young persons who do not always have the financial means to enter the more expensive museums housed inside buildings.
Still, the general public deserves to know that the Germans forced thousands and thousands of women of all races to work in brothels. The SS, Wehrmacht, other soldiers, and concentration camp inmates visited the brothels to engage in sexual intercourse, in effect raping a woman each time. No woman chose to work in one of these brothels. If the choice is between starvation and the slight chance of living, that is not a choice. Each man who visited the brothel is in effect a rapist.
German soldiers also raped before they murdered, outside of brothels. Scholars have documented this time and again. So why not, in Berlin, do the scholars in charge of this open air museum mention this and pretend the Germans committed no such crimes? The Germans even raped Jews, which was categorically and falsely denied for decades.
Driving in the UK is actually not as scary as I had imagined. By the third day, I skillfully and cheerfully manipulated the single-lane hedgerow streets. These really should be called paths. As my daughter said, these are as wide as the bike paths we use in Minnesota.
But everyone was friendly and smiling, and we never had any incident. I knew when to break and wait, and also took charge when it seemed it was I who needed to go first. After the pass, there was always this friendly wave from driver to driver.
Still, the second day driving from Port Isaac to Padstow where we were staying, we had lost track of the handwritten map our hostess had written for us, so we temporarily were relying on Google offline maps. Of course, Google wanted us to get to Padstow as fast as we could. This meant driving these single car-width hedgerow streets. My daughter instructed me to turn left, and at first it seemed to be a fairly wide lane, in English terms. But having driven fifty yards or more the road turned and we saw it was tall hedges on either side and only room for one car.
* * * * *
I panicked. The adrenaline soared through my body, and I said, “I cannot do this.” A car appeared heading toward us. It was a Beamer. Veering to the left as far as possible, and sure enough, the lady was waving and smiling, and she made it past us without incident. I couldn’t believe it – there was absolutely no room!
I immediately started backing up. We reached the turn, which wasn’t far and I backed around the turn. I noticed a wider part of this street and thought I could turn around there.
As soon as I started turning a car appeared. Cora yelled out. Although I also panicked for a second, I figured they would just have to wait, which they did. I cheerfully waved them on and turned onto the main road.
We found the little handwritten map under my bum and made it home without having to drive these hedge streets until the next day when I felt ready.
After driving these, I felt like the other streets were wide highways.
“Now I have tomorrow behind me,” I said, now having driven in the UK.
I was extremely exhausted after our harrowing eight-hour trip (supposed to be 5-1/4) from London. We drove in an hour-long traffic jam. We drove through roundabouts. Maybe only three times did I slam on the breaks so hard because cars came up so suddenly. This sent, of course, everything in the car to the floor. I drove over curbs (once definitely causing damage to the underside of the “carriage”). Only one time did I completely panic, screaming an untruth, “I am on the wrong side of the road!!!!” Luckily, I was able to immediately pull into a “petrol” station, saving us from the peril we never were in.
Adding to our stress, we had no cash despite repeated attempts. We were dehydrated and starving (ok I am exaggerating). Through all of this I always stayed positive. I didn’t want to stress out my young daughter who was calmly and continuously selecting music from her playlist for us to listen. But I’m kidding also. She definitely picked up on the fact that I couldn’t not keep the car in the middle of the road and always wanted to drive on the wrong side…I wonder how why she knew? 🙂
That was my first driving experience in the UK. I’m not sure I will ever do it again.
I never foresaw how getting to London would cause such stress in our morning. Having left the cozy bakery where we had filled up on coffee and bread, we walked the block and a half to the U Bahn station. Unfortunately, we were supposed to take the S Bahn. I had forgotten to think this step through, and I automatically headed us down the stairs to the U Bahn station we mostly had been using while living on Mueggelstrasse. When we reached the bottom of the stairs, I remembered that the S Bahn didn’t go there. We had to turn around and go up the stairs again. Already my muscles were excited from the exercise of rapidly walking and then lifting the suitcases up the stairs.
First hurdle getting to London passed
Since there were no signs, we followed a crowd, hoping and assuming it was for the S Bahn station. Our pace had already quickened because I could feel myself start to worry. I asked a lady halfway up the hill to be sure we were following the right crowd. Getting to London was going to take many more steps than I had anticipated.
Arriving at the S Bahn station, I only knew that we needed train number nine. That one had just left. A new one did not light up on the sign that showed the next two arriving trains. I looked for a time table, but of course there wasn’t one anywhere to be found, at least for the S9.
Looking at the map, I realized we could take another train and then change. Still, it wasn’t yet entirely clear to me. One lady told us just as a train was leaving, “you should have taken that one.” This German repeated that fact three times during our subsequent conversation. To shut down the repetition, I finally said, “well, we can’t do anything about that now.” She then finally confirmed that I should get on either such and such or such and such number train.
Getting to London got me exhausted!
I looked at my watch and thought we should be okay still, but really I wasn’t entirely sure. We got on the next train where I immediately asked another woman for directions to the next train. Of course, I could see this on the map, but the Berlin U/S Bahn map is so complicated I wanted to be sure. I felt sure I couldn’t make a mistake. It looked like we would transfer in Adlens-something so the S46.
We had two small roll suitcases and a super heavy backpack that I could already feel in my shoulders. We were also carrying coffees, a fruit cup we had purchased last night, two sandwiches, a sweet baked good, and who knows what else.
When we got out of the first train, and I quickly realized the next train would come on the same track. We sat and waited up to two minutes before our final train came. That ride to the airport was maybe ten or fifteen minutes long. When we got out, the walkway was completely packed with people, which made me worry because of the crowds and because our flight was in just over an hour.
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As we walked this wide corridor I saw signs for Terminals A, B, C and D, but I had no idea which one we needed. I stopped, checked my ticket and couldn’t see where it stated which terminal. We just kept walking/running, and finally, as we came out of the corridor, I saw a sign and quickly checked and saw which terminal we needed. Of course it was D, the one that was the furthest away. Still almost running, we headed toward that one. I was waffling between feeling like we would make it and also just hoping that we would. The flight was so cheap, so that wouldn’t have been the loss – but trying to find a new one, messing up our plans, having to either sleep again somewhere in Berlin or somewhere new in London – I didn’t want to even go there in my mind.
When we got to the first door of D, I quickly looked around and found the Easyjet counter we needed. But what I saw made me even more anxious. In front of the counter was one of those zig zag lines that crossed back and forth at least ten times. The crowd was huge, with hundreds of people. We got in line right away, but my heart sank. It didn’t seem possible that we could get through in time.
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I went to the bathroom where there also was a line, so I immediately came back out. I was just too nervous to stay in a small, smelly room with a line. An EasyJet employee was standing near my path back to Cora. I asked him what he thought we should do. He said to just get back in line, that we would make it. The long line was moving fast. But since it was now less than an hour before takeoff and we also needed to get through security, part of me still worried. Another part of me thought they would have to take care of us since they want their passengers on their flights.
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Sure enough, suddenly the large man I had asked ten to fifteen minutes prior suddenly yelled out “London Luton? London Luton? Here number 28 and 29,” and he started opening up the gates to let us out of the long line. I told Cora, “go, go.” So we got into the next line and waited there. Finally having checked our bag, we got into the next long line for security. That was stressful trying to unpack things. Cora also temporarily panicked that we left her bathroom bag in the hotel, not realizing it was in the suitcase we had just checked. But we finally got through.
Then again I checked what gate number since it wasn’t on my phone, and we walked/ran to the bathroom and then the gate. We made it with hearts racing, only to stand and wait fifteen minutes to board. They checked the second wheelie bag for free because the flight was so crowded. That was fine with me. I just grabbed my book and papers out of it.
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Waiting to board, I just kept breathing. It had been a stressful morning. I keep my mood up, but the stress was still there. I didn’t feel like missing our flight and probably paying much more for another one. This also could mean we would have to drive in the dark to arrive in Padstow. Or it could mean we would have to stay overnight in London because it was too late. I sat in the plane, and my body felt shaky from the early-morning exercise we had, walking up and down stairs, lifting the suitcases and carrying the heavy backpack. For an international two and a half week trip, we packed very lightly, but still…and then I got to drive in the UK on the left side of the road for the first time.
I recently made it onto a BBC News page because I submitted comments after reading an article about the woman who coined the term Ms. The Mrs. title is patriarchal and should be eliminated from our language. Patriarchy and the title Mrs. go hand in hand. The BBC edited my comments and included my picture along with comments and photos of a few other women. What fun! It is an important issue, and young women should not voluntarily and knowingly be using the term Mrs. any longer. That is only continuing the linguistic prison we find ourselves in much of the time. Language matters!
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Thank you for the article.
This issue is one of my pet peeves and has been for decades. Several men have told me I am “too sensitive” and am “expecting too much of others” because of my opinions on these words and titles.
I only ever use Ms. and have used it since I was my early twenties. I am now fifty. It is insulting to me that I would be considered a possession of my husband while he is an individual, being a Mr.
I have been frustrated in Europe where Ms. isn’t used so much, so, for example, in Germany, I am Mrs. Gertjejanssen or even Dr. Mrs. Gertjejanssen. “Frau” gets translated as Mrs. instead of Ms. Also, when purchasing an airline ticket there is no Ms. choice on some European airlines.
It is also disappointing how many young American women use the possessive Mrs. Perhaps they don’t understand the meaning behind it and use it because it is traditional. Perhaps they view Ms. as too feminist instead of as an equivalent to Mr.
Thank you again for the article.
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Patriarchy is upheld by sexist language, and patriarchy and the title Mrs. go hand in hand. Females are not the property of men and therefore need to reflect this in their names. They need to keep their first names and use an equivalent, non-hierarchical title. Ms. reflects equity, independence, and doesn’t insinuate old-fashioned patriarchal subjugation.