Death By a Thousand Cuts

I talked to a friend yesterday who told me that he ran into what I guess could be called a frenemy. Said frenemy is a woman that I worked with years ago– beautiful, intelligent, similar East Village history. It was not a great combo; I found her abrasive, unnecessarily defensive and territorial, overall a very difficult coworker. At the time I hated every second in her presence and I’m sure she didn’t adore me either. But I could see that she had some good qualities in dealing with other people, and I got over it with time. I thought she did too.

I liken this later time in my life to senior year in high school, when everyone has managed to get close to the finish line and the cliques don’t matter so much. There is a camaraderie of making it through together. It feels the same, for the most part, with all of those rivalries and beefs we had in our youth. The grudges have faded and we’ve matured enough to get past some of the issues that created them in the first place.

The last time I saw this woman was a couple of years ago at a memorial for another mutual friend. We had a nice conversation about what had been going on with us since that job, and I felt good about our interaction and was grateful and pleased that things were friendly. I thought we were great.

So friend who ran into said frenemy said that she told him that the last time she’d seen me I was crying in a dive bar. Now–the part about me crying in the bar is undoubtedly true. As mentioned many times here, I went through a very difficult period a few years ago, and I was drinking and crying all over the damn place. BUT, that was most definitely NOT the last time she saw me and she knows it. The last time she saw me I was not crying or intoxicated and, side note, was wearing really good shoes and an excellent dress.

I was at first confused, then irritated. I thought about sending her a message asking essentially, “Bitch, why??” Why must you perpetuate this ancient, dried brown bad blood by purposely talking shit? Why, whyyyyyyyyyy??? Then my second thought was that if I were to send a message then I too would be perpetuating and it would turn it into a “thing”. And I’m practicing not turning a thing into a thing or being a “right fighter” (thanks, Dr. Phil!), meaning that I understand that I don’t always have to have the last word, and that it’s not my job to harass people for not thinking I’m as awesome as I think they should.

So I let it be. But I like to fester on things for as long as humanly possible in order to maximize internal suffering. And as I was gloomily ruminating (gluminating!) over it, I happened to catch a woman on TV discussing a seemingly unrelated topic, specifically about how movies have often negatively shaped female comparisons and opinions about ourselves, that somehow felt related. Because I am guessing the answer to the why question is a lingering feeling of competition and a need to cut a competitor into more bite sized pieces. So it feels like I’m being nudged to work on this a bit.

The BLM movement has caused me to examine my own personal role in perpetuating racism and white privilege, and it’s been both eye-opening and saddening. I am sad that it’s taken 2/3 of my life to ingest this information, and to understand fully that I have to be proactive in all of my conversations, thoughts and encounters if I want to be a part of the solution.

So along with this I am now also realizing that I must do the same with women. It is imperative to change some ingrained, learned behavior if we are ever to disassemble another prejudicial system–the patriarchy.

This is more complicated for me. First, just typing the word feels yucky. Not because I don’t feel that it exists and needs to be dismantled, but because I don’t like winging it on subjects that feel too large for me. I like to stick to my own little dust-ups and the information I can glean from them.

But this is indeed a personal dust up, if only inside my head. It’s clear that for her there is some residual dislike. In my mind it’s unwarranted, but not unexpected, because women are always suspicious of one another, and often shitty as a result. We slice each other to ribbons with sharp little criticisms, bits of whispered disapproval. gossip that sometimes lies, often exaggerates or gets it at least partially wrong. We undermine our own personal integrity with publicly sanctioned, often whispered, sometimes funny abuse of each other, which rewards us with a temporary feeling of control or superiority.

I have always been a girl’s girl, but I can also act as insecure and mean as anyone else when feeling attacked or defensive. I love words, humor and getting into people’s heads, so I can easily tear someone up either to their face or behind their back with those three things. I want to do better, do the right thing, and I’m definitely closer to it. But I’m realizing that maybe just trying to be nice isn’t the point, isn’t as far as I need to take it.

So what does taking it further entail? I don’t want fake niceness with people I don’t like. It seems kinder to be honest with someone than string them along passive-aggressively. I believe that if I am speaking my truth that gives the other party the control and freedom to live their own truth. So even if it’s not enjoyable in the moment, it’s a cleaner way of living.

So maybe it’s the way we deliver that honesty? I don’t want to give up my dark sense of humor, it keeps me afloat. But what about all the tiny, unnecessary ways that we injure each other without self-awareness, often without the other person’s awareness, under the guise of humor, or even worse, faux concern? The way we judge someone we don’t know or don’t like by weight or appearance, the way we make some snide comment or joke that we quietly know is unfair or bending the truth. And even if it is the truth, couldn’t it be possible to convey that information with compassion and empathy instead of with a sting?

I’m still sorting it out. I feel much more of a kinship with Cersei Lannister than Gandhi. I would very much enjoy blowing up my enemies with green fire while sipping wine. I come up with terrible nicknames for people in my head that no one needs to hear. I tend to snicker when someone who has tormented me falls, probably because it puts scary things/people in a more manageable, less threatening box, which feels empowering in the moment. Winning a war is comforting.

But in the end it’s only a seductive illusion. At the end of the day it denigrates both parties energetically/vibrationally. So that means that in order to move forward I have to start viewing a person as a full entity rather than that quick, disdainful assessment and boxing up that keeps me feeling safe.

This is almost scary; it feels too vulnerable. I’m finding that the first step for me personally is just to keep my big mouth shut. Utilizing a filter is pretty new to me, but I’m guessing that if I get more adept at carefully choosing words, the thoughts might follow. So forgiveness in this case, I think, doesn’t mean pretending it didn’t happen, but it means I can let it die on the vine without retaliation or comment. And I’m grateful for the awareness that came with this little dig. I’m thinking about it, writing about it, and hopefully gaining knowledge from it.

I’m thinking that it could be possible to approach dislike with integrity. It isn’t about reaching for sainthood or trying to be liked by everyone, which can be a form of self-judgment anyway, like “I will try to be better, and then maybe I will deserve love, but I can never be perfect, therefore I can never be loved.” The snake eats its tail.

Any time someone decides that I am behaving in a way they dislike or disapprove, the first criticism leveled at me is always “For someone who spends so much time pretending to be spiritual, you sure are… [insert insult here].” Possibly. It seems strange to criticize someone for working to improve, but it’s an easy dig in my case. For me, any spiritual leanings are primarily about finding ways to live and think that remove pain and create joy, because I hate feeling bad and much prefer to feel happy. So the goal, whether you call it spiritual work or not, becomes simply about protecting one’s peace of mind: I don’t want to waste one more minute of my life dealing with competitive schism because it makes me feel bad.

And then if that feels palatable, we can move to the admittedly more global/spiritual level, and consider that if we shift our own personal consciousness to be happier, that in turn nudges the collective conscious closer to a world in which we don’t have to make a decision on whether to deal with bitchiness or not, because it no longer exists as a standard or readily acceptable means of relating to one another.

Women can do better, people can do better, and I think many of us are ready for it. I do believe that we are in the age of Aquarius and that a new world is slowly coming to fruition. But it’s at a glacial pace and I get disheartened sometimes when I look at things on the large scale. These little changes feel more doable. I can’t control the world but I can control my small piece of it, and maybe influence someone whose small piece is adjacent to mine, and then boom! Patriarchy dismantled, all animals and children are treated with respect and kindness, people notice my awesome shoes and forget they saw me crying in a bar in 2016.

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Wot, fisticuffs?!

I have been debating posting this story (below) that I read recently at a livestream benefit for The Wild Project. I have all these tales from the past that people love, but that are most definitely not coming from a 2021 kinda woke place. Which is part of the reason that my friends love them, but sometimes I’m afraid to stir up certain old energies publicly, especially after a devastating break-up promptly followed by an unwarranted series off attacks I received in 2019 and 2020, starting with the laptop dummies, an ex’s impossible-to-placate girlfriend, a pissed off junkie I barely know, and a misogynist fool who is inexplicably angry at me because Sam doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. It was a parade of meanness, to the point that I have had so much vicious and erroneous shit said about me and to me via the internet that the attention is almost flattering.

Happily all of that misdirected hatred being flung like monkey poo seems to be in the rearview mirror. I’m sure they still hate me, but if I am not put in a position where I have to respond, they can feel however they want. The upside to all of that is a shiny new, much thicker skin and the lightness of emotional freedom.

in the good old summertime i dont care GIF

I was trained from an early age to mistrust my intuition and instinct, to say yes when I wanted to say no, to feel constant shame about my very being, my body, my thoughts, and to hide away my true self and true feelings or risk being punished or mocked. I have spent much of my adult life trying to understand what happened, how it unconsciously directed so many bad choices, and to clear out that baggage. I am only now becoming able to forgive myself for all of my shortcomings, and to at least contemplate the idea that I am not a bad person. Maybe even a good one? The mind boggles at the possibility.

I know that I have been given certain gifts this lifetime in order to speak for and to like-minded people who have similar experiences and feelings, and to allow a window into a life that some people would like to experience. I feel that connection and obligation when I write and I always try to be as true and honest as I can be within the confines of not outing or harming the people in my orbit. The attacks left me fearful and somewhat voiceless, but I’m ready to get back to what the Universe keeps nudging me to do, which is simply write it down when it circles my brain.

Okay, so with all of that in mind, here’s the story I read. I thought the theater would have the livestream up for viewing after the event, but it’s just as well that they didn’t because it was so effing cold in there that my nose ran and I shook so hard that it appeared I might have some substance issues of my own. If they ever do post it I’ll add the link. This is edited for a live situation, meaning some details are cut out for brevity’s sake.

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Betsy was going to get it.

I was Queen Vixen of the Cycle Sluts from Hell goddamnit. You did not fuck my man and walk away unscathed. I did not operate that way. I was a powder keg of emotion on a good day, and this was definitely not a good day. Or week. Or month.

I lost countless hours of sleep festering over the details: imagining her and my faithless boyfriend in bed together, smiling at each other over their clever deception. Then in order to keep my heart from exploding in agony I would imagine all the ways that I would make them suffer. I pictured tearing her throat out with my teeth or pushing my long fingernails into her eyes, blood spraying everywhere as she screamed in pain and terror.

This did bring some brief comfort.

She knew she was in trouble and laid low for months. I went everywhere with an army of loyal mean girls and we had a strict code about right and wrong, meaning mostly that we got to do whatever we wanted while less locked-in females did not. We brooked no disrespect in our scene.

I kept an eye out constantly but by the time she finally showed up at a Manowar concert at the Ritz, I had almost forgotten to scan the crowd for her basic brown bob. So it was a surprise when she passed me in the fray of people, distracted and smiling with friends.

The audacity. I felt myself go hot; red flashed behind my eyes and flooded through my body and my vibrating arm shot out of its own accord before anyone could register what was happening. Cycle Slut sisters Dolly Dagger and Nyquil Nancy slammed into my back as I stopped short and lunged.

I snatched Betsy by the front of her shirt and yanked her face close to mine. I held my lit cigarette an inch from her cheek while tall, scary Nancy and always-up-for-a-scuffle Dolly glared backup behind me. We were dressed in our uniform of short leather jackets, cut off denim shorts and thigh high leather boots, looking (intentionally) like something out of a 70’s B-grade biker film.

Time slowed and stretched. Betsy stood very still, her two friends frozen wide-eyed behind her. Her eyes flicked down to the cigarette and back to me.

I said, “You fucking bitch. You whore. You think you can just show up and hang out now? You think you still have that right? I’m going to fucking kill you, you know that? I’m going to kick your fucking ass.”

Still glancing at the cigarette millimeters from her cheek, she replied in a shaky voice, “There’s nothing to fight over. I don’t want to fight with you. I don’t want Curt. You can have him.”

I smiled grimly and hissed, “Oh, but I don’t want him. I want YOU.”

I shoved her away from me and she stumbled backward into her friends. A long-haired dude watching nearby said, “Hey, that last line was pretty good! Did you make that up on the spot?” I ignored him and stomped away to try to get my pals working security to throw her out of the club.

After that, it was only a matter of time. She continued to avoid venues and parties that I might venture into, which was pretty much anything rock and roll based on any night. She would show up here and there, never staying if she spotted me. And I always made sure that she spotted me. I reached out through the crowd and slapped her hard on the back of the head as she walked through the Scrap Bar. I shoved her at the Cat Club. She had a friend with her, a seat-filler who looked a bit like me and considered herself my competition. She got in my face and shouted, “Leave her alone, Raff!”

I said, “You’re gonna get it too, you fucking cunt.” I snatched her bondage cap off her head and threw it into the crowd. It sailed over the dance floor like a Frisbee.

“Go get your hat, twat. You look like shit without it.”

Eventually though, Betsy tired of life underground. There was a lot of fun to be had back then and she was too young to stay home.

Raging Slab headlined a gig at a club called Downtown, and it was one of those nights where everyone and their bass player showed up. My band, my unfaithful boyfriend’s band Blitzspeer, Joey Ramone, Circus of Power, White Zombie, the Hells Angels… Everyone attended this show, including her.

I was primed for it, and when she walked a little too closely to me as I took a swig of beer, I chose the opportunity to spit a mouthful of liquid directly into her face. It was harsh; I shocked even myself with the crassness of it. She looked stunned for a moment as beer and spit dripped down her face, and then her expression shifted awake and she jumped on me, grabbing for my hair. Her sister pounced on Nancy. Other girls jumped in and within seconds there was a full on girl brawl on the dance floor: hair pulling, screaming, bystanders getting knocked out of the way. I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since.

I had been counting down to this moment. Betsy was not a person to me anymore, she was simply the Enemy, capital E. She embodied all the pain and betrayal, real or imagined, that I’d experienced up until then: the self-esteem obliteration that comes with being raised Catholic, daddy issues and abandonment of death, the diabolical behavior of high school girls, date rape, Curt’s incessant lies and verbal cuts, myriad major and minor heartbreaks, real or imagined. I was drowning in sadness and anger was the only thing that kept me afloat. I had managed to climb out of the Midwest and recreate myself as a big fish in the rock and roll pond of New York City, and I should have enjoyed it, but sadly I never did. Instead I lived like there was a war on. All I ever thought about was defense. Better to burn than to feel burning tears.

I exploded outwardly, tight fists swinging at her face. Betsy continued to pull my hair trying to hold my head down. I flung my purse off my arm and grabbed at her hands with one hand and punched upward with the other, where I knew my fist could connect. She was no match for me but she held onto my hair with a deathgrip. I kicked her off her feet and shoved us both to the ground.

I wore a Zack ring, which was very popular at the time, solid pewter with heavy jagged edges pointing straight upward. It was a small but evil weapon. I slammed my fist into her as she crouched on her knees, now just trying to protect her face with her hands and the ground. I could only make contact with her forehead, but I hit it with full force. It felt good to hit her, hit something firm and real for a change. I couldn’t feel the ring cutting into my hand.

The fight was broken up quickly enough; the boys grabbed their flailing girlfriends and dragged them apart. Betsy and friends left or were ejected and our side retired victorious to the bathroom for clean-up. My bag had been stolen. I had a bleeding scratch over my lip and my hand ached from so much pounding, the ring finger cut and bruised. We fixed our faces; I wiped away the blood on mine. Nancy and I hugged and I said, “I fucking love you man!”

I could not have been happier. We went back to the bar where Butch, the president of the Hell’s Angels, had a celebratory kamikaze shot waiting for me. But as he handed me the glass his eyes widened and he said, “Cops are here, you gotta hide.”

Someone shoved us into a back room, but it was too late. Seconds later the door flew open to reveal two cops with Betsy behind them with a swollen, bloody forehead. It looked like raw meat. Nancy and I were handcuffed in front of all of our friends and led wild-eyed out of the club.

I was stunned. This possibility had never occurred to me. No one ever called the cops in New York in the 80’s. You just duked it out and then went back on about your business. Sometimes you’d buy each other a drink afterward and become best friends.

I was held in the 9th precinct, then chained hands and feet to a group of other female arrestees, then hauled in a van to the Tombs, where I spent the better part of a weekend laying on cold concrete, learning the intricacies of crack use and street prostitution. It was the longest 30 hours of my life. Curt called my mom to tell on me and she laughed and said, “Well, she’s your problem now!”

I was lucky. Nancy went to jail too, so I had a friend along for the dry bologna sandwiches and wailing junkies writhing around us on the floor. Our arresting officers liked us and gave us candy bars and helped me pass off the ring surreptitiously to Curt before going in. Otherwise it would have been considered a weapon and brought with it a felony assault charge. Rock writer Lisa Robinson wrote about the arrest in the Post, and Bob Gruen photographed me leaning on the cop car, so the band got some press out of it. Eventually Betsy dropped the charges in exchange for my promise to stop tormenting her, which set me on the road to some of the deeper lessons in my life: humility, compassion, forgiveness… impulse control. She went on to get a black belt in karate, I’m assuming, just in case. We are friendlier now and I promised that I wouldn’t make her look too bad. She’s a mom now and I changed her name here.

Decades later Betsy told me that after the fight she went to a friend’s house to get a knife, to wait in front of my apartment and kill me when I came home. The wannabe in the bondage cap talked her into calling the police. I should have beat her up instead, I discovered later that she was calling Curt late at night behind both our backs; Betsy just managed to get there first. In any case, I think I probably would have preferred the early morning knife fight back then. I thought I was going to die young and that kind of end could have made me a legend. Curt would be sorry, she’d go to prison, my friends would hold a big memorial, it would have been glorious. But life sometimes has other, more mundane plans in mind. Still, I get a good giggle out of thinking about it. So much passion! Like West Side Story but with sluttier outfits.

A few years ago, a much better boyfriend than Curt, upon hearing this story, rolled his eyes and said, “You can’t just beat everyone up, Mary.” To which I replied, “Well, I know that…NOW.”

It is certainly easier to be 50 than it is to be 20. It’s taken me a long time to understand that when we operate defensively we are often at our most offensive. But that which does not kill us, makes us friends on facebook, and that’s kind of okay.

Golden Girls Thank You GIF by TV Land