What They Don’t Tell You About Miscarriage (Yes, I Miscarried/Am Miscarrying)

I miscarried. Am miscarrying. And it’s a cruel thing, these pregnancy hormones, because they can trick your mind into believing you are still pregnant. I’m still nauseous. My breasts are still tender. But I’m no longer narcoleptic. And I no longer drop to my knees at the scent of raw meat. The hormones are dropping. The nurse called with my blood results yesterday afternoon. The blood doesn’t lie.

To all of you who read my blog post about pregnancy, about waiting for these results, and the fear of miscarriage – thank you. We (my husband and I) felt your support. Thank you for sharing your own stories – they have given me comfort and hope in a devastating time. And thank you for sharing in this journey with me – it isn’t an easy one.

I want to acknowledge the women shedding light on keeping their pregnancies private (I will no longer use the word secret, it is no longer apt for this discussion). You opened my eyes. Did you know that some women keep their pregnancy private because they don’t want their employer to find out they are with child? Because they are worried they will be replaced at work? And did you know that some of these women have miscarried, and they have miscarried in silence, going to work, sitting through the pain and the heartache, suffering in silence. This. Breaks. My. Heart. That we can live in a society that doesn’t celebrate pregnancy, that doesn’t acknowledge the physical and emotional feats that come along with this journey. Now I know not all employers are like this, but I’ve heard many stories about many who are. NOT OK.

And other women work with small children and couldn’t bear the conversation they would need to have with the children if they were to miscarry. I get that. Completely. There are some things we need to keep children away from, at least for some time. Protect these small, growing hearts and minds.

Now, I think about my situation – I’m a writer and it is my job to write. So write I will and I also acknowledge the freedom of expression I’ve been given in doing so (I am very lucky in this respect). Here goes:

Tuesday night I woke in the middle of the night with cramps so intense they stole my breath. I woke my husband up and had him rub my back. I thought, these are just implantation cramps – that’s it. But looking back, I believe this was the beginning of my miscarriage. I bled throughout the week, little by little, getting brighter and thicker, and then on Sunday when my husband got home from grocery shopping, I looked at him and said, “I think I’m miscarrying.” But we elevated my feet. And I “rested”. And I sat on the couch, fearful, scared to use the restroom, scared to push too hard when I peed because I was too afraid of what might slip out. It’s a horrible thing, to be afraid to use the restroom, to try and hold everything inside when in reality fate has already been set into motion. I couldn’t hold anything inside. It was only a matter of time. And this, this, is what needs repeating: I could not stop the miscarriage, no one could, it was already happening, and would already happen.

I have learned to trust my body. I knew. I knew. I knew when I was pregnant. And I knew when something was wrong. And last night I woke again in the middle of the night with pain in my abdomen like I’ve never felt before, pain that made me grasp the trash can in the bathroom and dry heave – I’ve never wanted to throw up from pain before – and my husband put pressure on my belly back in bed, and the pressure helped to ease the pain, and we fell back asleep that way, him cradling me in his arms, hand pressed firmly to my stomach.

I miscarried early. I can’t imagine the pain for women who miscarry at 9 weeks or 10 weeks, 12 weeks. This is what I know: we are all warriors, us women. The amount of strength it takes on this journey, the changes in our bodies, the pain, the fear – strength of mind, strength of body, strength of heart – I am in awe of all of us, the ones who undergo fertility treatments, those who miscarry, those who deliver, those who have C-sections – all of us, we are warriors.

And I see the men as well. The strength in them. The helplessness they must feel throughout this entire journey towards having a child. The support they offer, hands flailing, as some don’t know exactly what to do, but just being there, loving and supporting. This support is everything.

My husband cleaned the kitchen last night (he never cleans, well sometimes), he scooped the litter box, he took the afternoon off of work and we walked along the water together, looking at houses, and grieving, drinking double espressos (because I can have coffee now), and realizing how small we are in the scheme of things, in the vast existence that is life. My breath caught in my throat as the breeze fluttered through the changing colors of the leaves in trees, green to red to orange and yellow. And I found peace in the stillness, in the little moments like these, in the comfort that all that matters is me and him and the life we are building together, the little life that we will build again once we are done grieving the loss of this one.

This is life. We are devastated. And today, I am shutting all of the blinds, shutting the world out, and watching every single Harry Potter movie, and I’m not getting out of my sweat pants for anyone or anything. I have the luxury to take the day off of work (not everyone has this luxury), and I will take it.

And to those of you who read this, I will feel your support from miles away, I will feel the love you generate, and I will listen to your own stories because you have listened to mine and we should all be listening to one another, growing and healing and understanding together.

And today, and tomorrow, and for a while, I will grieve.

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What They Don’t Tell You About Pregnancy (Surprise – I’m Pregnant!)

Today I am 5 weeks, 1 day pregnant. And today we find out the results of my blood work from Friday and Sunday to see if this pregnancy is viable. It’s a scary thing, being pregnant. And I had a conversation with my therapist about how couples decide to keep it a secret until they are out of the first trimester, and how even books and forums encourage this secrecy (which is fine – I support the decision that is best for each couple), but for me, for my husband, this secrecy breeds isolation, it breeds shame around miscarriages – which are SO common – and I understand why they encourage this quiet, because it can be such an emotional time and you need space, but it also sets expectations, expectations that you could, perhaps, miscarry, and that’s important to understand, but my therapist agrees (and therapists are always right, right?): it is time to speak (at least for me).

In July, the doctors (I went to a few) believe I had a chemical pregnancy, which means the fertilized egg did not complete implantation. And did you know that 75% of miscarriages are chemical pregnancies? I didn’t even know what a chemical pregnancy was. It seems that I have spent so much of my life ignoring my reproductive organs, pretending they don’t exist, pleading – please don’t get pregnant, please don’t get pregnant – that now that we are ready for a child, this new world is opening up to me. But it isn’t really opening up. I need to pry it open. Do the research. Learn about women’s bodies, men’s sperm – so much to learn! So why don’t we talk about it? I had a conversation with friends the other weekend about sperm, and how – did you know that using lubricant can drown the little spermies and end their quest to fertilize a woman’s egg? We didn’t. But we learned, trial by error. And our friends squirmed in their seats, the man saying, “Eww.” Because talking about reproduction is weird.

But we should talk about it.

Because I thought I was crazy in July. I thought I was making all of the symptoms up in my head, creating nausea and tender breasts, my husband said my lips became swollen and my cheeks glowed, because people say most women don’t know they are pregnant and have a chemical pregnancy without knowing. But guess what? My body feels EVERYTHING. I knew immediately. But it got into my head – this being crazy.

Roll around to September. My husband said my lips were swollen again, cheeks glowing. I was feeling my body changing, but I told myself not to pay attention (the chemical pregnancy wasn’t confirmed because symptoms stopped before I could get a positive pregnancy test, so it’s possible my mind is a strong, strong thing and created it all), that I would ignore the symptoms until I got a positive pregnancy test. And even when I did, when 5 tests turned positive, I lined them all up and said to my husband, “See? I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy, right? There are two lines here. Two.” “Yes,” he said. “I see them. You aren’t crazy.” But as I sit here, bleeding, waiting for these blood tests, I’m expecting the doctor to call and say, “Your blood doesn’t have any HCG levels at all.”

So why do we do this? Because I know I’m not alone. A dear friend miscarried and her husband had to tell the doctor to look his wife in the face and tell her that she was pregnant, that she didn’t make it up, because as she sat in the doctor’s office she was thinking to herself, “Did I just create an entire pregnancy up?” No. No she did not.

Let’s talk about it.

On the flip-side, the doctor could call and tell me that my HCG levels have dropped, and this pregnancy isn’t viable (then I’m not crazy, but I’m miscarrying – worse). OR the doctor could tell me I’m just fine, that the levels are increasing and it looks like a viable pregnancy.

But here’s the thing: my symptoms are confusing. This pregnancy thing is confusing. I have been spotting since last Sunday. Brown blood at first. Then bright red. Heavier these last couple days. And so my husband and I took to the internet, gobbled up question and answer forums trying to find some comfort in other people’s stories, other people’s experiences and this is what we found: each pregnancy is different – some women bleed and it turns out just fine, and others bleed (even less) and miscarry. This is what I know: there is little we can control when it comes to pregnancies. The nurse told me that there is no way to stop a miscarriage, and this was oddly comforting. No shame, no blame. But grief.

Grief.

For me, writing is coping. And if my pregnancy story (stories) can offer comfort to even one person out there, I will continue to write. And when this pregnancy gets past the first trimester, you better believe my husband and I are still going to take a cheesy, happy picture announcing the expectance of Baby Tereshko, and you better believe I still want some Facebook likes because this will be a milestone we have crossed, a bridge scaled. But in the meantime, I’m pregnant, this is real, I’m not crazy, and we are waiting.

BadAss Writers Don’t Quit. They Persevere.

“Own your vision. Be unrelenting in its creation. Control the nuance while allowing for malleability.” – Bucho Rodenberger

 

This morning I got fired up (Lately, I’ve been feeling on fire) when I read these words. A quote from a colleague of mine, a fellow writer who, like me, chips away at his craft daily with fervor and passion and perseverance because to create is to persevere. And sometimes it becomes tiresome, and doubt creeps in as compensation and praise are not instantaneous (you don’t write for your ego, you write because you must), and in those times it is easy to curl into a ball, turn on some sort of distraction, and wallow. BUT – we must be unrelenting.

I love this.

After the PNWA Writer’s Conference at the end of July, I went into wallow-mode. Not because the conference wasn’t fruitful – it was – but because there is still so much work to be done, and my expectations shifted.

I learned about the business of publishing. I was daunted as most of the conference’s workshops were geared toward self-publishing, not traditional (Most authors, I learned, are self-published). And I’m not ruling out self-publishing. Especially after learning that publishing houses don’t have the budget that they used to, and that they are frugal with that budget, saving it for established authors, rarely taking a chance on a debut author. And if they do take a chance on a debut author, the odds that the book will be a literary novel is slim. The houses want genre novels, genres they know will sell.

In a nutshell (pardon the cliché), publishing houses are wary of risk. And that’s understandable. But I’m a risk-taker.

Traditional publishing is my first choice. And only once I have been rejected, rejected by every single agent and editor in the business (I’ll take a page out of JK Rowling’s book on that one), will I consider next steps. Next steps being self-publishing.

So…this will take patience. Traditional publishing is all about patience. Waiting to find an agent who believes in my work, wading through their revision notes, implementing those notes, and then waiting as editors read. And if I’m lucky enough to get an editor, then taking their revision notes and implementing those. This is where part of that quote resonates – control the nuance while allowing for malleability.

Writers must be malleable. But we also need to own our visions. Which is why I was in wallow-mode. I have another draft before my novel is ready, a draft where I own my vision, where my intention is like a laser so that when I do get those revision notes (because I will – no way around that), an agent will be able to hone the manuscript and make it better alongside of me instead of changing it completely.

I must be clear.

So the conference forced me to think like a businesswoman, and not just a creative. It forced me to define my novel further than Upmarket Women’s Fiction. This is too broad of a genre. I have a literary novel. So I must shape it as such.

This is what I know – damn the odds. This is my personality – taking on the highest risk of rejection and saying, “Watch me now.”

Well, watch me now. I will be published. I am a debut author. And I have written a literary novel. And I say this with pride.

And when this next draft is finished, I will begin book two. Because it could take a year or more before this book will even be looked at closely. So in the meantime, while I wait, I write.

A Note On Grief.

Today is for acknowledging fear, darkness, and the shadows that live within us. It is for honesty and self-love. Vulnerability.

I am open. I am speaking. Please listen.

Today I had a polarity therapy session with my massage therapist, and about an hour into the session, she laid her hands over my chest. I imagined the healing energy radiating through my limbs and this is what I told myself: Do not have fear; there is no reason to fear; let go of your fear, you beautiful soul. Tightness in my throat, my chest, burst. I said, “Whatever you just did, I can’t stop crying.” And she said, “I’m working on your fear. One way to release fear is through tears.”

I am fearful of this post. I am fearful of being honest, sharing my honesty, and upsetting someone else through my release. I am fearful of backlash. I am fearful of judgment.

But here’s the thing: I have been suffering in secret. And by stilling my voice, quieting my pain, I have allowed my pain to linger.

I heal through words, through a creative outlet. I write to understand my feelings. It is the way I process life. And I would be a hypocrite to encourage openness and honesty in those around me, and not to share my own. We are all on a journey. This is part of mine.

My grandfather passed away almost two years ago, and when he passed, he left each grandchild a Bible. I was told that my Bible had special messages written inside of it, passages highlighted and underlined – my grandfather speaking to me through verse. I felt special. And after his funeral, after a trying, emotional visit back home, I opened the Bible up to read those messages and instead found judgment. I was stunned. Stilled. And by the time we made it back to California, off of the plane, out of the cab, and into the apartment, I was curled in the fetal position on the floor, shocked with grief and loss and pain and judgment. I have not found my way back from this loss.

I have been struggling through this grieving process. Because to grieve would be to acknowledge my pain, and to acknowledge my pain would be to accept the Bible as truth, as a reality, and to accept this parting gift as a reality would be to accept that my grandfather did not approve of my life, and to accept that he did not approve of my life, would mean acknowledging that I was blind.

I was blindsided.

My therapist says the best way through grief is straight through it. And instead, I’ve been cradling this hurt, hiding the pain, and by doing so have become a rabid dog – hungry, needy, scared. Ready to bite. Shamed and undeserving of love. I have become a prickly exterior, the Iron Gate slammed shut around a vulnerable, fragile heart.

So today I decided to strap on my jumbo jet packs and go – straight through this thing we call grief. And this is what I learned. I need to forgive myself (I forgave my grandfather long ago) for being someone my grandfather didn’t approve of. I need to accept that I am not responsible for other people’s judgments. He said that I have a vile, serpent tongue, and my tongue has been quieted since. Two years of stillness. So much quiet that I now breathe through my nose most of the time. But I am unsealing my lips. I am accepting that I allowed his judgments to quiet me. It is my responsibility to flip this thing, to accept his judgment, but to be proud that I have a voice and the ability to speak because that voice has defended in the midst of abuse, and that voice is strong.

Hear me.

These judgments, these highlighted verses and text ran through my mind today during my polarity session, and as they did, I forced myself to accept and appreciate those parts of me that offended. I began to accept the dark pieces of me – the pain and anger and vindication – as I accepted the light – my love and forgiveness and compassion. And this is what I realized – every one of us is a mixture of gray for we cannot have the light without the dark.

I envisioned myself in a shroud of gray, a cape of storms billowing forth; I embraced my shadows.

Here is a shadow: I threw the Bible in the garbage at the Detroit airport not because I no longer loved my grandfather, but because I couldn’t hold on to something that hurt me so much. I have been shamed for doing so, but this is my journey, my actions, my life, and I own them all.

And here’s the thing about grief and pain, about holding onto emotions without acknowledging or releasing them – they trickle into other areas of your life. They bleed through. And this pain has made me overly protective to the point where simple intimacies are strained. I do not know how to accept or receive love and affection any longer. (But could it be perhaps that I don’t know that I can trust love or affection when it is given?)

So this is what I hope. I hope that by sharing my pain, my journey, I can help others face theirs. I hope that by speaking out, my throat will loosen and I will find my voice again. I hope by finally grieving, my heart will reopen. I hope I will be able to be intimate again with those that I love and trust them with my heart. I hope to find peace with my grandfather’s passing. I hope to be able to receive love and compassion. And I hope to accept that I deserve it.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for listening. Let us be open. Let us be honest. Let us be heard.

Facebook is my Answering Machine

Do you remember the days when we had answering machines? When cell phones didn’t exist and you couldn’t be reached ALL the time? When others didn’t expect you to be reached all the time? And do you remember coming home, and feeling that little flitter of excitement because the red light on your answering machine was flickering and someone had left you a message?

I miss those days.

I miss the excitement of knowing someone had called and took the time to leave a message. And I heard their voice. And I had no idea if I had other missed calls because a regular phone didn’t tell me that. Now it is assumed that if you call someone, they will see you called, and call you back. No more voice messages. Or you a send a quick, blasé text message – thinking about you! But are you? Really? Or is it easier than investing the time in calling someone?

We’ve gotten lazy. Or, at least, I have. I don’t even like to listen to my voicemails anymore. I prefer you don’t leave me a message unless it is extremely important. And this is why – it is because I have become inundated with social media. Sometimes I feel like I want to hide in a corner and unplug, be unreachable for a good few days, but then I would have to do the damage control and explain to others why I didn’t call back, or text, or respond to their Facebook.

I miss the simpler days.

So I took Facebook off of my cell phone (It was draining my battery). But you know what happened? Facebook became my answering machine. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with notifications and getting annoyed with my “friends” who are “liking” things, or commenting, or sending me a message (which I don’t want to do – I don’t want to be annoyed with my friends) – annoyed that someone wants something from me and I want to be left alone or I’m busy doing something else and the little buzz on my cell phone is interrupting me – now I look forward to these notifications. Now I look forward to responding to comments, liking other people’s posts (and truly liking them, taking the time to read them because now I’m allotting the time to do so).

Facebook has become a sporadic treat. No longer an every day, all day social media assault.

And I find that I’m less stressed, and anxious, and overwhelmed. My fuse is longer and I’m less apt to snap at someone who posts something offensive on Facebook (because they probably want a reaction anyway). And I’m more thoughtful, less hurried.

This is something I’m working on anyway – balance (the elusive minx, balance). I’m working on slowing down.

So friends – I welcome your notifications and comments – I now look forward to them and appreciate them. But if I don’t respond right away, don’t worry – I will. I’ve just unplugged for a bit.

Query Letters & Pizza Hut & Alcohol: lessons from PNWA Writer’s Conference 2016

 

So many emotions inside of this body. So many questions, doubts, and fears. Will my book ever be ready? Will an agent want me? Will my book be published? Will I amount to anything? All of these questions as I order Pizza Hut (a childhood staple) and sooth myself with old episodes of The OC.

So what’s got me in a funk? Well, I’m processing. I’m processing information received this past weekend at the PNWA Writer’s Conference, and the idea that, perhaps, my manuscript is not yet ready to query. And, perhaps, the way I have been querying has been wrong.

There was much to learn at the PNWA Writer’s Conference, and my ears were open and my eyes wide, soaking it all in, gleaning all that I could from each conversation and workshop. So what did I learn? I will be posting several “lessons” from this conference, but for now –

Lesson One: Query Letters.

I began querying in mid-June after years of digging and digging, whittling away at my novel until I believed it was ready. My calling card would be the query letter. Some agents (most) only want to see your query letter, and this is what they use to determine whether or not they’d like to take a look at your manuscript, whether it is a partial look (five pages, ten pages, three chapters), or a full request. For those of you who don’t know what a query letter is, the writer sums up their project with its title, genre, word count, a brief synopsis (as concise and engaging as it can be within 1-2 paragraphs), comparable titles, and a bio – all of this in only one page.

To say query letters are important is an understatement so I took great care while constructing mine. Made sure that it was professional yet also held the voice of my protagonist, showcased my style. When I was finished with it, I thought my QL was the shit, so proud to send that baby out to agents, and it was – is – it is the shit, but I realized that my calling card has been wrong.

Sure, I’ve gotten traction with agents. I’ve had 5 agents request my full manuscript after reading partials, after first reading my query letter, but I wouldn’t be surprised if all five of these agents rejected me. Because this is what I did and what I didn’t do…

In my query letter, I stressed the excitement of a revenge novel, but I didn’t showcase the personal journey of self-exploration my protagonist, Maddy, goes on. I used comparable titles that sizzle with revenge like Gone Girl and Girl on a Train because, like these books, my novel has a complex female character (but I added this bit – who takes the reader on a journey of unfiltered, unbridled revenge). And while this is true, this is all true – that’s not all that happens. It is not all about revenge. My book is literary in nature. It is not a genre novel. It is thoughtful. It is a slow burn, like Tampa or I Smile Back, with an unlikeable female protagonist because unlikeable female protagonists are my jam. And this was my desire: to crack Maddy’s skull open for the reader and expose her secret heart, her secret desires because once exposed, it doesn’t matter if you like her at all. It matters if you care about what happens to her, that you are invested in her story, and she has become relatable to her readers through her imperfections.

So what should have I done differently? I should have taken more care before submitting to agents, really thought about what type of book I have written. Because, really, your query letter is teaching the agent how to read your book, setting expectations for the reader. And the expectations that I have been setting are wrong.

Agents will read my book with Gone Girl in mind. They will expect the fast-paced thrill. They will expect the thrill of revenge. But perhaps they won’t appreciate the slower moments, the moments where we sink into Maddy’s mind and the only action is that of her brain ticking and clicking.

This conference forced me to think about my book as a product, and not a creative endeavor. It forced me to understand the business side of this artistic world. And I am a business woman. So I have tweaked my query letter. Gone is Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. Replaced by Tampa and Fates and Furies.

And, oh yeah, another tidbit – at the editor’s forum, an editor from a Big Five publishing house said, “I don’t want anything like Gone Girl or Girl on a Train – the market is saturated with them. I won’t even look at them.” Interesting. This business. And perhaps this is the very reason why some agents have rejected me based solely on my query letter. And little did I know (did they know), my comparable titles were off. I didn’t give it enough thought. Too eager to throw my baby out into the world.

Writing has taught me patience. Traditional publishing, even more. And the thing that’s got me eating Pizza Hut and watching television shows from the early 2000’s? The fact that my manuscript is not ready. It needs one more draft. (Sigh. Tears. Give me alcohol.) Because now I need to make sure that my intention within my novel is clear. I need to think about it as a product. Make sure my product is shaped to my liking, to my genre’s liking. As a debut author, I must think of these things. I must not give an agent any reason to reject me. I must give them every reason to take a risk on me. Because I have done the work.

So other writers out there – make sure you take care with your baby. Make sure your allegiance lies with the writing, not your ego. Make sure your query letter best represents your novel. Take a breath. Exercise patience. And I will be doing this with you. Over and over and over again. And we will wait and hope our baby lands in the right hands.

 

**Lesson Two will be on revisions. Stay tuned, friends.**

I said “No Comment”, but here is my comment. In regards to Profiles Theater and the Chicago Reader article.

My name is Emily. I’m the actress in the Chicago Reader article (http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/profiles-theatre-theater-abuse-investigation/Content?oid=22415861), the article that exposes the professional and sexual abuse, and predatory nature of Profiles Theater, who threatened to leave a production (Kid Sister). I originally declined comment when the journalist approached me, but had I known that the article would be such a thoughtful, eloquent display of journalism, I would have opened my voice. Now I am.

I did not want the article to be a smear campaign. And I felt that my battle with Darrell Cox and Profiles Theater was won, so why would I add to the list of victims? Why should I take attention away from their plight? But I should have added to the list because while I fought my battle, there was still a battle to fight, and there shouldn’t have been. This article was no smear campaign. I can attest to many of these stories. I lived it with these men and women.

But here’s the thing. A tricky thing. I was so proud of the work that I did on that stage. I still am. And I feel uneasy, a bit ashamed, that I have this pride for performing on a stage that was used for predatory purposes. And that stills my voice a little bit. That makes me be quiet because I was compliant, wasn’t I? I mean, I was, a little bit. Even though I talked with these women, even though behind the scenes we would build each other up, give each other strength to walk away from this “family”, yes, that’s what we called each other, and strength to say – “No. This is not OK.” Still, I complied. Because I saw the wolf in sheep’s clothing.  And yet, I used this wolf and this theatre to build my resume, to do good theatre – yes, we did good theatre because I thought, “I can handle this man. I’m aware of this man. My eyes are wide open.”

But there are other theatres. Other good theatres. Theatres who will not abuse your time or your talent or your body or your mind.

And we do not have to sacrifice, not like this, for our passion.

When I moved to Chicago, I was told Profiles Theater was THE BEST non-union theatre and the only way to be “seen” by them was to take the Advanced Scene Study Class. I vowed that I would take the class, and I would be seen, and I would work my ass off to get on their stage because their stage was a springboard to theatres such as Steppenwolf and The Goodman, and that was my dream, so I took the class. And I quickly realized how charming Darrell Cox was, how special he made you feel when he turned his gaze on you. Because he was so unaffected, right? (But really, so deeply affected and insecure – but you ignored those things because he was THE DARRELL COX.) And he didn’t give his attention to just anyone. He didn’t bother. So when he looked at you, spoke to you, you perked up a bit, you craved his respect, the thrill of the unattainable.

I’m pretty sure he fucked one of the other girls in the class in the wee hours of the morning in the dressing room while we, the students, were all partying at the theatre, drinking and dancing onstage, because I heard them through the thin walls grunting and moaning, but I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t sure I heard what I heard, but my ears are sharp, and my intuition like a knife. I was friendly with Darrell, but aware. Kept a bit of a personal distance. My first show with Profiles Theater was Graceland, where I stepped in for Somer Benson as she went on to another production. I was then cast as the understudy for Somer Benson, as Sharla, in Killer Joe.

It was inferred to me that Somer was jealous of me and despised me so I kept my distance. And it was inferred to her that I felt that same. Already, women were pitted against each other. Distance settled in. Distance that allowed abuse to be quieted. Little did I know (I would find out later), that the violence onstage was real as Darrell choked and ignored Somer’s safety word, that she was abused (because she was). Meanwhile, I was told by others in the company that she was protective of her role and would never allow me to play the role of Sharla in front of an audience. It annoyed me, angered me that she would be so intimidated by her understudy.

But really, she was protecting me. In my opinion, she was protecting me. Because if I’d been put on that stage, I wouldn’t have been prepared for what was to happen because no one taught me the fight choreography.

Darrell caught wind that I wasn’t comfortable performing and he belittled me, looked at me as though I were a disappointment and said something along the lines of, “What do you mean you wouldn’t be able to perform?” And I was incredulous. Of course I couldn’t. This show had so much violence. I needed rehearsals. And so then we had understudy rehearsals. We were taught the fight choreography. But had I not spoken up – I would have just slipped right in unprepared.

I was cast in their next show, Kid Sister. The relationship between Darrell and Allie was uncomfortable, the tension thick, and I just knew, knew, there was more simmering beneath the surface, that there were secrets here. Darrell would complain about Allie to me, once again pitting females against each other, complaining that she was the reason he was tense and angry because she wasn’t being “honest” on stage.

Honesty is a huge deal at Profiles.

One night, days before opening, I asked Joe Jahraus (the director) a question about my notes. Darrell was lurking, listening, and misconstrued my question. He thought I was placing blame on him and flew into a rage, screaming at me, telling me it was all my fault because I wasn’t giving him anything real to work with onstage, I wasn’t being honest. But the tirade didn’t end. I found myself sitting in a chair being abused for hours. I remember thinking, “Listen, breathe, rebuttal.” And so that is what I did. I would listen to his abuse, take a breath, and refute it. I threw his teachings in his face. I didn’t back down. I had no idea I possessed this much strength. And that is a beautiful thing to realize, to recognize one’s own power. But the abuse should have been stopped. Joe, the director, this was his job. But he sat idle, compliant.

I went to the bar down the street when we called a “break” and took a shot of vodka. Met a good friend there, a theatre friend, who said, “You’ve got some balls.” (To stand up to Darrell Cox – that’s a career-breaker.) In fact, during the abuse, I threatened to quit and Darrell said something like, “You would quit? After everything we’ve given you?” And I remember saying, “You didn’t give me anything. I earned it.” But that was their mentality, it seemed. We’ve given you art, theatre, and we can take it away, too.

Around 2 am Joe called me back to the theatre. I walked in and Darrell sat on the couch, arms slung out on the backs of the couch, cocky, so self-assured, with this arrogant look on his face like, “This is my theatre.” There was one lone chair in the center of the stage, presumably for me, while the rest of the company sat in the audience, watching. I sat down in the chair and said, “Round two? Bring it.” And he brought it. And I fought. And no one stopped it. And it wasn’t until I began to cry where he was like, “Oh, baby, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” And I won. (But did I? Really? Because it doesn’t seem like a win. Not any longer. Not as I write this.)

This was clear: Darrell got off on it, the power, the tears, and afterwards he took me in his arms and whispered apologies and called me, “Baby”, and said it had nothing to do with me, that he was pissed at Allie for messing up and he took it out on me.

Bullshit.

After that altercation, certain friendships within the theatre dissolved, while others flourished. Somer, Allie, Claire – these women, each one stepping forward saying, “This wasn’t right.” Wasn’t it? All of us whispering to each other, sharing our stories, becoming closer and closer. At first there was hesitation and unease as we were conditioned to be quiet, to doubt ourselves, manipulated into silence. I could go on and on about a hand grazing my ass, barely, just barely, like a feather, so that I would question if it really happened. Or dancing in the middle of the night on the stage for fun, just for fun, and Darrell murmuring, “That’s sexy, Baby.” Or Darrell trying to mind-fuck me into breaking up with men I was seeing because he was jealous. All of us – his actresses – we were his. Tucked carefully away into boxes away from each other so that we wouldn’t speak, our stories wouldn’t come out, secrets wouldn’t surface. And he was good at it. But secrets have a way of coming out. And now, those boxes have blown wide open.

And I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t afraid of posting this, of throwing this out into the universe, or that I didn’t fear his wrath and disapproval because I do. Still, I want to please him. Still, part of me seeks his acceptance. This, folks, is honesty.

There has been some criticism within the Chicago theatre community on how long it took for people to speak up, but I spoke up, and what did that get me? Behavior did not change. Sometimes it takes time for change to be enacted. Sometimes it takes patience, and research, and a flawlessly constructed article to reach not just a handful of people, but millions.

I should have shared my story when called for comment. I should have publicly stood behind my friends and colleagues – Somer Benson, Claire Wellin, Corey Weinberg, Darcy McGill, Cheryl Graeff, Allie – this is truth – I hear you, I see you, and I stand behind you all.

*These are my interpretations, and my experience.*