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It’s Really Not OK to Pray in Public Schools

Graduation seems to be one of those times during the school year when religion rears its head and wants to elbow its way into the public square, disseminating itself messily all over unwilling captive audiences. This year is no exception.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) got involved in an Arkansas case recently, writing a letter to tell the Riverside School District in Lake City, Arkansas, that plans to pray and sing hymns at its sixth grade graduation were unconstitutional. Variations of two different versions of what happened next have made their rounds. In the first story, the school board, possibly at the behest of the superintendent, decided simply to cancel graduation rather than bow to the law. In the second story, the school board voted to abide by the law, but the parents organizing the graduation said that if they couldn’t pray, then graduation at the school would be cancelled. The upshot was that the sixth grade graduation was indeed cancelled, and the organizing parents decided to hold graduation exercises at a local church instead. More uproar has ensued.

Because apparently we’re the only advocates of separation of church and state to be found in Arkansas, the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers was invited to participate in a radio talk show about the kerfuffle. When Alice Stewart, Mike Huckabee’s former spokesperson and the host of the program, told me that her other guest would be the evangelical preacher who enjoyed the spotlight at our fair state’s National Day of Prayer event at the state capitol, I asked her if she had considered asking a representative of a more progressive variety of Christian – one that supports separation of church and state. She said she didn’t know any.  Right then and there I probably should have directed her to the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, or Jews, but I didn’t. I agreed to go on the show.

Here’s the TL; DL version of the hosts’s and pastor’s points:

  1. There’s a war on religion.
  2. They’ve done it this way forever, so there’s no harm in allowing them to continue praying at public school events.
  3. The Constitution says we are entitled to the free exercise of religion.
  4. God is the foundation of our founding documents.
  5. Many of our founding fathers went to seminary with certainly the intent that God would be incorporated on our money and in our system and society.
  6. We’ve tried, and we just can’t ever take God, guns, sex, violence, drugs out of school.
  7. God is everywhere in school forever.
  8. Our country is built on the principles of God.
  9. The pledge is a prayer.
  10.  By insisting on leaving religion out of school functions, atheists impose their views on everyone else.
  11. It’s more important to keep faith in schools than anywhere.
  12. It’s impossible to take God out of schools because too many religious people are in the schools, and god is in the songs that the school choir sings, plays that the school theater performs, civics and history books, and because there is a federal holiday honoring Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who taught the nation about the Bible.
  13. We shouldn’t have to wait for another bombing or mass shooting before a school assembly prays again.
  14. We should not have to care about the rights of minorities in public schools.
  15. FFRF wanted graduation stopped.
  16. Public prayer in school isn’t illegal.
  17. God calls the light day and the darkness night and no one can change that because it’s an order from god. (If you listen closely you can detect that I nearly busted out laughing here. Sorry.)
  18. If the Constitution allows the pledge, which contains a prayer, then it is resolved that all prayer should be allowed in schools.
  19. Religion never changes.
  20. Jesus said always to pray and not to think.
  21. The word that God gives Christians is in Psalms 1.
  22. God’s law is higher than Constitutional law.
  23. If we say “under God” in the pledge at school, we are obligated to continue praying in schools so as not to be hypocritical.

I know, I know. Our first response is “What? They actually believe this tripe?” followed immediately by a facepalm and “Oh, boy. They really believe this tripe.”

So…

1. The War on Religion

Evidently I burned my draft card on this one. Personally, I couldn’t care less what religion someone else practices, as long as they do no harm with it. (Yeah, I know. That’s impossible, unless they keep it totally to themselves, which they never do.) They can have all the fantasies they like about what happens after death, and no one else is affected. We are, however, affected by their dogmatic attempts to indoctrinate our children, deny freedom of conscience to our children and to us, and to curtail the rights of other people based on their fantasies and what someone said their invisible friend wanted more than two millennia ago. So, practice religion all you want – just keep it strictly to yourself.

2.  They’ve done it this way forever, so why make them change?

Ah, yes, the appeal to tradition. As logical fallacies go, this one is pretty easy to dismantle. It is also symptomatic of the traditional conservative state of mind, which holds that progress is bad.

Let’s say you’ve got an employee who regularly steals from the till. You’ve warned him time and time again that if he doesn’t stop, you’re going to take legal action. He doesn’t stop. You call the cops. Do we seriously expect the police to say that since you never called them before, you can’t call them now?

Or, let’s say your neighbor is a wife-beater (the POS, not the shirt). He’s beaten his wife at least weekly for all 40 years of their marriage, and your long-suffering family has witnessed it. One day, you’ve finally had enough. The wife has two black eyes and a bloody nose after one of their little tiffs, and you call the cops. Do you want to live in a society where the police say, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but she let him beat her up for 40 years, so she has to keep letting him beat her up. Just use ear plugs and avert your eyes if you don’t want to be aware of it”?

I didn’t think so.

Illegal is illegal. Period.

3. The Constitution says we are entitled to the free exercise of religion.

It sure does. And then it says that the state can’t tell us how to practice our religions. This is the part the religious right loves to forget as they strive to use government-sponsored events to impose their version of God on the rest of us. And impose it they do – at public invocations, in schools, in the laws they pass, and on billboards across the country.  Only one of those instances is actually legal. (Hint: it’s the one that has nothing to do with government.)

4. God is the foundation of our founding documents.

The only foundational document that mentions anything about a God is the Declaration of Independence, which wouldn’t have been a founding document if the rebellion had not been successful. In its introduction, it mentions “Nature’s God” and which in the famous second sentence of its preamble says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” One of those unalienable rights, which was added to the Constitution 15 years after the Declaration (it wasn’t there to begin with), says that Americans are free to practice whatever religion they choose, and that the state cannot tell them what religion to practice.

It’s the second part that people like Rev. Hunt and Ms. Stewart and their fundamentalist friends have so much trouble with. In fact, they prefer to ignore it, under the short-sighted and arrogant assumption that their version of religion would naturally be the one established by the government.

5. Many of our founding fathers went to seminary with certainly the intent that God would be incorporated on our money and in our system and society.

Sometimes when religious people say idiotic things, we have to graciously understand that they are grasping at straws. I certainly hope that Ms. Stewart knows the facts don’t support this assertion of hers. I hope she has a better grasp of history than what this particular assertion indicated.

First, let’s look at the education opportunities in the late colonial period. Actual colleges were not easy to find – or, maybe they were, since there were so few of them. New College (now Harvard), the College of William and Mary, the Collegiate School (now Yale), the College of New Jersey (Princeton), the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), King’s College (now Columbia), Rhode Island College (now Brown), Queen’s College (now Rutgers), and Dartmouth College were the only choices for formal higher education, and the last three in that list were founded after 1760, so it’s unlikely the founders attended them. Without exception, all were associated with religious institutions. However, like the colleges and universities sponsored by religious institutions in the 21st century, none of them was strictly a seminary. Since the founding fathers all obtained what formal education they got prior to the Revolution, these nine schools – and probably actually only six schools – were their only choices unless they opted to go abroad. A number of them whose families had money did indeed send their sons abroad for education at places like Cambridge, London’s Middle Temple (one of the famous Inns of Court where British barristers were – and are – formally trained, not a religious institution), and various schools on the European continent.

So, let’s take a closer look at the oldest six. By 1750, the era when the founding fathers who went there would have been enrolled, only 15% of Harvard graduates were seminarians. William and Mary, the second oldest institution, was founded with only one-third of its resources dedicated to a college of divinity, and separation of church and state was already a thing in Virginia prior to the end of the Revolution thanks to the work of George Mason and James Madison on the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Yale was not founded as a seminary, but as a college of the arts and sciences. Princeton was founded primarily to train Presbyterian ministers, but by the 1760’s was focused on the disciplines valued by the Enlightenment: philosophy, science, and the arts, and by the 1780’s no longer housed a seminary at all. Penn was never a seminary, but was founded, mostly on the advocacy of atheist Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin, as a liberal arts institution. Columbia, also, was founded as a liberal arts school. According to its website, “various groups compet[ed] to determine its location and religious affiliation. Advocates of New York City met with success on the first point, while the Anglicans prevailed on the latter. However, all constituencies agreed to commit themselves to principles of religious liberty in establishing the policies of the College.”  Brown University was founded as a Baptist college – not Southern Baptist, but traditional, original, New England Baptist – although Congregationalists, Quakers, and Anglicans all had significant representation on its original board of trustees. Its Charter, granted by George III in 1764, declared its purpose was to prepare students “for discharging the Offices of Life with usefulness & reputation” by providing instruction “in the Vernacular and Learned Languages, and in the liberal Arts and Sciences.” It was not a seminary. Rather, the charter specified specifically that “into this liberal and catholic institution shall never be admitted any religious tests, but on the contrary, all the members hereof shall forever enjoy full, free, absolute, and uninterrupted liberty of conscience.”

But easily half or more of the founding fathers of the United States of America had no formal education at what we would now consider a secondary level. The state of education in colonial America was such that most people were taught to read and write at home, and additional education was often sought with private tutors. For the most part, our founding fathers were autodidacts – self-taught, widely read, and definitely products of the Enlightenment. They never stopped questioning their world, reading, debating topics as diverse as philosophy, agriculture, and astronomy, and most importantly, they never stopped learning.

I think it is extremely safe to assume that not a single founding father decided to go to a seminary so he could foment a revolution and put his god on the money of a new nation, much less so he could violently rebel against his sovereign specifically to get more religion.

 6. We’ve tried, and we just can’t ever take God, guns, sex, violence, drugs out of school.

Maybe it’s just me, but when the good Reverend Hunt said this, I couldn’t help but notice that his deity was lumped in with all the other bad things we don’t want in schools. The clear implication of his statement was that we can try, but we ought to just give up. Sorry, Rev. Hunt, but no can do – not as to any of these things.

7. God is everywhere in school forever.

Indeed, our imaginary friends can be wherever we choose for them to be. Inflicting them on other people is unacceptable, though.

8. Our country is built on the principles of God.

The principles of God that I see when I read the Bible are intolerance, caprice, narcissism, homophobia, misogyny, and violence. Are these the principles upon which our country is built? If so, it’s beyond time for reform.

Rev. Hunt probably meant the Ten Commandments, though, because before they were written down about 500 BCE, people just went around killing, coveting, disrespecting their elders, stealing, and bearing false witness all harum-scarum and willy-nilly. Never mind that Egypt’s laws (3000 BCE), Mesopotamia’s Lagash Code (2400 BCE), Sumeria’s laws (2200 BCE), and Hammurabi’s Code (1795 BCE) predate Leviticus by much more than a millennium, and Sparta’s laws (800 BCE) predate it by 400-500 years. Other codes of law from roughly the same time period as Leviticus are well documented, including the Dharmasutras of the Hindu tradition and the evolved versions of all those laws that went before, as well as Roman law (550 BCE), the Zoroastrian Avesta (600 BCE), China’s Zheng laws (500 BCE),  and Draco’s Greek law (620 BCE). It is worth mentioning that our trade and maritime laws originated with ancient Phoenicia (~1200 BCE).

Don’t pretend to know legal or social history if you look at it only through the opaque lenses of your Mosaic blinders.

9. The pledge is a prayer.

In the 1962 case of Engel v. Vitalethe Supreme Court held that prayer led by government officials was not permitted in schools, but did not address whether the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance rendered it a prayer. Justice Douglas, in his concurring opinion, said that he believed the religion “honeycombed” throughout our federal laws was not permissible, and that the words “under God” should not stand – and that, yes, the pledge was indeed a prayer.

A 2004 case, Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow  challenged the pledge directly, but was dismissed because the plaintiff, a noncustodial parent of the school child in question, lacked standing.

Therefore, I sincerely hope the good Reverend will be willing to repeat this assertion that it is resolved that the Pledge is a prayer the next time some godless heathen decides to file suit to challenge the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, because it get us one step closer to getting the words stricken.

10.  By insisting on leaving religion out of school functions, atheists impose their views on everyone else.

There’s a difference between religious neutrality and forced atheism. If we were forcing our atheism on the impressionable little school children, we’d be hosting “There is No God” as the cool after-school activity to go to instead of tolerating the insidious presence of “Good News Clubs” that indoctrinate children. We’d be demanding that the school choirs sing Tim Minchin songs instead of classical choruses. We’d start every event with an announcement that there is no god, and repeatedly remind any believers out there that they are stupid to still have an imaginary friend. As it is, we may think those things, but we don’t say them in government settings and we certainly don’t try to scare the shit out of their children to ensure the little darlings will come around to our way of thinking.

Religious neutrality means no one says anything one way or another about deities, religions, or the way those imaginary beings think we should conduct ourselves, much less what they plan to do with us when we die.

11. It’s more important to keep faith in schools than anywhere.

On the contrary, school is exactly the place where things should be questioned and not taken on faith. School is the place where facts should be tested, experiments performed, empirical evidence gathered and assessed, and ideas debated. Critical thinking skills need to be emphasized much, much more. Our children should be taught never to take anything on faith, but to investigate and find truth for themselves. Otherwise, all we are doing is drilling information into their heads without giving them the skills to apply it to reality and to the betterment of the world. I don’t know about you, but I want more for my child than for him to be an automaton  that dully repeats whatever he’s been told. Faith is the last thing we need to teach our children in school.

12. It’s impossible to take God out of schools because too many religious people are in the schools, and god is in the songs that the school choir sings, plays that the school theater performs, civics and history books, and because there is a federal holiday honoring Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who taught the nation about the Bible.

Where do I even begin?

Okay, so, there are religious people in schools. Sure. There are religious people everywhere. It does not necessarily follow that everything that comes out of the mouths of those religious people is religious. In a school setting, they need to keep their religion to themselves and teach kids how to think critically, how to solve problems, and what a logical fallacy is. (Maybe by teaching logical fallacies, they will recognize the ones they use on themselves to keep religion alive.)

God is in the songs that the choir sings. Because ecclesiastical patronage is responsible for a considerable chunk of the greatest art and music in history, we neither can nor should avoid some religious songs or art. There is plenty of secular art and music out there, though, and it also should be taught. And if the public school is performing a religious play, someone needs to let the ACLU, Americans United, and FFRF know so a lawsuit can be filed – because it’s illegal. Period.

Religious history is part of human history. The history of the Catholic Church’s political maneuverings is valid study – it has had great effect on the politics of medieval Europe, and despite its lack of stature as an official religion for governments now, it still wields a mighty sword. Its complicity in the Holocaust, for example, should not be downplayed, nor should its interference in human rights issues in places like Africa, where it has helped to spread the HIV/AIDS pandemic by preaching against condom use, and Ireland, where women die because their lives are considered less valuable than the fetuses they carry, sometimes against their will. Religion has a great deal to do with the denial of women’s rights in the Middle East and Central Asia. So, yes, study religion’s effect of world history and current events.

Do not ever make the mistake of teaching public school children which religion is “better” or “correct.” That is establishment of religion, and in this country it is illegal.

And now for Martin Luther King, Jr., who apparently taught us all about the Bible so now we honor him with his very own holiday. I hardly know how to begin to address this idiotic statement, so I’ll just heave a huge sigh and delve in.

Dr. King was indeed a minister. He did indeed connect his faith to his fervent advocacy for civil rights, and frequently invoked his deity and the teachings of the Bible. He wasn’t assassinated for being a minister, though. He died because he was an extremely effective advocate for civil rights and for peace. Dr. King was much more than a minister, and his civil rights and anti-war activism is the reason for that holiday, not his messages from any pulpit. He pioneered peaceful civil disobedience to a degree this country had never before seen. He worked for racial parity and desegregation, something the Bible definitely does not advocate. He worked tirelessly to end an unjust war. The war he wanted to fight was against poverty and the disparate treatment of human beings in American society. That war, at least, was a noble one.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the greatest orators of the 20th century, if not one of the greatest orators in all of American history. His work was rewarded with international acclaim and he was the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize because of it. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Four people have federal holidays in their honor: two of them were presidents, one is popularly credited with “discovering” the continent, and the fourth is Dr. King. Could he have done this work without being a minister? Absolutely. Unequivocally. Does he deserve the acclaim he has received? Without a doubt, yes. But not for being a minister. He deserves every accolade he has ever received because of what he did for race relations in the United States 100 years after the Civil War, and for using his popularity and influence to end a horrifically unjust war and to advocate for human rights.

Dr. King didn’t teach Americans the Bible. He taught us something much more important: that all men must be treated equally and fairly. We would certainly appreciate it if the religious right would demonstrate that they understand that lesson.

13. We shouldn’t have to wait for another bombing or mass shooting before a school assembly prays again.

When that next bombing or mass school shooting happens, we still shouldn’t pray – at least, not in school and not as part of a government-sponsored event. Prayer won’t undo it, prayer won’t prevent it, and prayer won’t stop it mid-horror.

Do we really lack so much creativity as a society that we cannot devise another way to honor the dead or mark a tragedy without thanking God for it? Do we really think a prayer will stop malicious and crazy people from socially aberrant behavior? If so, church shootings wouldn’t happen, and legislatures wouldn’t have to make church-goers feel safer by allowing them to carry weapons to Sunday services. And isn’t it ironic that we thank a god for such monstrous atrocities and celebrate the deaths of those killed by saying they’ve been “called home” to that deity? How screwed up is that, anyway?

And this leads us back to good old Epicurus (341 BCE – 270 BCE), another philosopher roughly contemporaneous with the scribes of Leviticus:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then why is there evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

14. We should not have to care about the rights of minorities in public schools.

There is so much insensitivity in this statement that my mind nearly boggled. The majority rules when votes are counted for candidates. When the candidate elected by the majority takes his oath of office, though, he represents everyone, not just those who elected him, and he owes a duty to everyone, not just those who elected him.

We do not operate our society by doing what the majority of people want to do just because the majority want it done. We also look at the public policy behind doing things, the ramifications of doing them, and the overall effect on society.

We also don’t squash the little guy under our heels just because he is poor, speaks a different language, is mentally handicapped, physically challenged, from another country, homosexual, short, illiterate, fat, old, sick, red-haired, of a different racial derivation than we are, of a different religious persuasion, or for any other reason. It’s just plain wrong. When will the Christian right get this through their thick skulls? Seriously, what jackasses!

15. FFRF wanted graduation stopped.

One of the reasons the uber-conservative media is so good at persuading its watchers and listeners that the boogeyman is at the door is because when the truth doesn’t suit them, they change the facts to fit their narrative.

Benghazi. Obama was a foreign college student. Planned Parenthood exists to provide abortions. Shirley Sherrod is a racist. FFRF’s intent.

They make us refute their fake facts, and thereby deprive us of the time to make our points. To borrow a phrase from Christopher Moore, this is heinous fuckery most foul. If you have to lie to make your point, you obviously have a crappy argument to begin with. Go home. You’ve forfeited the game.

16. Public prayer in school isn’t illegal.

The hell it isn’t. See  Engel v. Vitale, supra.

17. God calls the light day and the darkness night and no one can change that because it’s an order from god.

If you listen closely at this point in the segment, you can detect that I nearly laughed out loud here. I apologize for the audible derisive snort. I couldn’t help it. I did, however, have considerable empathy at that moment with David Silverman’s conversation with Bill O’Reilly about the reason for tidal forces. Evidently the good Reverend Hunt is a flat-earther who does not understand the earth’s rotation or heliocentrism. He thinks it gets light and dark because God says so. We’ll just ignore the fact that we have night and day for the same basic reason as we have high and low tides: gravity.

After all, gravity is just a theory.

18. It is resolved, that if the Constitution allows the pledge, which contains a prayer, then it is resolved that all prayer should be allowed in schools.

Well, he was almost right. It is definitely resolved that prayer is not permitted in schools. Engel v. Vitaleremember? But what isn’t resolved is whether or not the words “under God” make the pledge tantamount to a prayer. The atheist that is me thinks it does, and the religious guy that is Reverend Hunt thinks it does. Therefore, the pledge is a prayer and pursuant to the precedent set by Engel v. Vitale and pursuant to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the pledge shouldn’t be recited any more than the Lord’s Prayer should be.

Resolved.

19. Religion never changes.

The delegates to Vatican II would be interested to learn of this.

So would Martin Luther, who kicked off a pretty serious change in Christianity by tacking those 95 theses to the door of that Wittenberg Church back in 1517. (Okay, fine, so the church door thing may be a bit of a myth. But the invention of the printing press did a heck of a lot to change Christianity because that’s how word of the 95 theses got liberally sprinkled throughout Germany and the rest of Europe.)

In fact, I think the attendees of the Council of Nicea – you know, the meeting at which the books of scripture were either included or jettisoned from what we now call the Bible and the meeting at which the Jesus character was determined to be a god – would find the Rev. Hunt’s assertion patently ludicrous, as would those who attended the other thirteen major ecumenical councils of the last two millennia.

I wonder if Rev. Hunt has a Christmas tree? My money says he is clueless about its pagan roots or somehow thinks no religion changed to accommodate that tradition.

20. Jesus said always to pray and not to think.

Herein lies the biggest problem with religion. “Don’t think,” religious leaders tell us. “Just believe what you’re told.” A gullible, uneducated, ignorant populace is all too willing to accept any popular authority that purports to explain their world.

“You’ve got to have faith,” they say.

I have plenty of faith. I have faith that the sun will rise, because every morning it does, and because scientists have provided a reasonable, testable, consistently provable reason for it happening. I have faith that gravity won’t stop working, for the same reason. I even have faith that my computer will post this little rant when I hit a certain combination of keys – because it’s happened before, because it happens consistently and reliably when I hit those keys, and because there is some computer scientist person who knows how and why it happens. I don’t know how or why, and I don’t pretend to understand it, but because it works reliably and consistently with predictable results, I am satisfied that there is a reasonable explanation for it. It might feel like magic to me, because I just say (type) my incantation and poke my fingers at the right buttons and watch it happen – again and again. But I know people who not only understand why it works, but can tell me why it has stopped working, fix it, and make it work again. Reliably and consistently.

That’s the kind of thing I can have faith in.

21. The word that God gives Christians is in Psalms 1.

Wait wait wait wait wait. Wasn’t the Book of Psalms compiled a long time before the guy who started the whole Christianity thing? Hasn’t the god of the Christians failed to utter one single word to them since that dude’s alleged death in the early first century CE? (Well, except for like, the Book of Mormon, but those people are in a cult and not really Christians, right?) I mean, I thought most of the Psalms were attributed to King David, who lived a full millenium before the Jesus character.

Of course, Christians use the Old Testament, too. But since Christianity hadn’t been invented at the time of the composition of the first Psalm (there’s that old religion changing thing again), it would seem that the Christian god might – just might – not have been talking to Christians back then.

Just sayin’.

22. God’s law is higher than Constitutional law.

Not in the United States of America, it isn’t.

In fact, the original language of the Constitution never once mentions or even refers to any deity or creator. The only time religion is mentioned at all is in the First Amendment, which says government is to keep its hands off religion. The government can’t tell us how to practice religion and can’t tell us not to practice religion. It also can’t tell us that we must practice religion.

This is not Indonesia, Iran, or Saudi Arabia. We do not have to believe in any gods at all, and no one can tell us what version of which of the 3500+ gods man has ever worshipped that we should worship.

And just to make sure that foreign governments were aware of this, John Adams, this country’s second president, included in the Treaty of Tripoli an affirmation of the secular nature of the American government with the following language in the Treaty of Tripoli, which was duly ratified – unanimously – by Congress in 1797:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any  [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

23. If we say “under God” in the pledge at school, we are obligated to continue praying in schools so as not to be hypocritical.

Fine. I won’t say the Pledge, either. Not that I have since I was in elementary school and thought I had to. Actually, I stopped saying the pledge before I was out of elementary school, because by about 5th grade I had had it with religion and with the “because I said so” reasons that I was given for really just about anything. Plus, I thought it was stupid and meaningless to pledge my undying devotion to a piece of cloth. If any piece of cloth could be that important, it would have been the old pink blanket I used to drag around the house when I was a little kid. At least that ratty old thing gave me some comfort and kept me warm.

Rev. Hunt should keep in mind that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have to say the pledge, either, because doing so violates the rules of their religion.  Neither does anyone else who doesn’t want to, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 1943 ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

We’re back to that “free exercise” thing that necessarily goes hand-in-hand with the “disestablishment” thing, and the “freedom of speech” thing that necessarily implies freedom of conscience.

We are free to reject religion, to follow our own consciences, and we are free not to have to submit to someone else’s religion.

Even the religious right’s.

 

An earlier version of this entry was posted to What Would JT Do?

Another Day Gone

This is My Brain on Migraine
(source)

I wake up; the pounding in my head forces me to. I drag my sandy eyelids up and try to focus on the clock. 4:45 a.m. My mouth tastes like dirty socks and my stomach wants to heave. I make myself sit up and the room reels. The telltale rush of saliva into my dry mouth warns me that I don’t have much time. When the room stops moving I put my legs over the side of the bed. Somehow I’m vertical and staggering toward the bathroom.

I keep the shots of Imitrex ready to go. Finding the injector in the dark is not a problem. The container is on the bottom shelf of the bathroom cabinet, right where it’s supposed to be. My fingers fumble and pry up the lid on one of the twin ampules. The only reason I can do this now is years of practice. When my doctor first gave me the shots I was slower. The novelty meant I sometimes couldn’t prime the injection device properly and a spray of precious triptan would shoot across the room instead of into my flesh. When the headaches are really bad, sometimes that still happens. Migraines steal fine motor coordination. Gross motor skills are pretty much out the window, too, but it’s the fine motor I need now. And the dismay of seeing an injection that costs over a hundred dollars wasted into thin air has no equal. This morning I manage to load the syringe and press it to my flesh. My thumb hits the button on the end of the device and I can’t help but hiss as the sting of the medication hits my intramuscular tissue. It takes a couple of tries, but I manage to cram the injector into its holder and prime it for the next shot. Then I stagger a couple of steps to the sink.

Surely I will feel better if I get those nasty gym socks off my teeth. My hands tremble as I load my toothbrush. Applying toothpaste to my toothbrush takes extra time and effort. It’s hard. I turn the water on and wet the brush, then bring it to my objecting mouth. No sensation is good, because every sensation is amplified with a migraine. The sharp taste of minty-fresh explodes in my mouth and I rinse the brush again. I just want to peel off the cotton that coats my mouth, not breathe on anyone. I don’t want to sanitize myself yet. I just need to get rid of the grimness of first waking up.

Afterward, I grip the sink with both hands. The Imitrex still isn’t working, and even the slightest head movement is agony. Maybe if I lean here for a moment the drug will kick in. But not yet. The jack hammer in my skull subsides with stillness. When I think I can bear it, I move tentatively toward the toilet. Whether or not I really need to go, I need to sit down, and, at a distance of twenty feet, my bed is too far away. I miss the three-foot-tall stacked cube shelf that I used to have in my bathroom. I could sit on the toilet, pull it close, and rest on it, my head lying on my folded arms. Sometimes I would drift into unconsciousness that way and my husband would call to me, asking me if I was all right. If I had assumed that position, I was never all right. Now, though, the shelf lives at his house and the twelve-inch distance to the tiled wall is to far to lean, no matter how good the cold tiles might feel on my skin. I sway as I sit there.

My eyes are closed. I lose track of the minutes. I beg the drug to start working. I wait for the sensation at the back of my neck that signals its effectiveness. Nothing happens.

Eventually, I think I can make it back to bed. The nausea is a reminder that the meds aren’t working, and I know that on my way I need to get the Phenergan. Dr. Archer has prescribed it in a cream. Philip at the Drug Store compounds it and puts one dose into a syringe without a needle. A plastic cap at the tip of the syringe keeps the cream from drying out. It’s hard to get those caps off. I dread the effort, but I know it is necessary. If I start throwing up, I won’t stop. Vomiting with a migraine doesn’t make anything better.

I stand before the door of the medicine cabinet again, reach into the Ziplock bag that contains the Phenergan cream syringes, pull out a syringe, and start wrestling with the cap. Not only do I lose coordination with migraines, I lose strength. It takes me more than a minute to pry the cap off. With a grateful sigh I push the plunger and spread the cool cream on my wrists. I aim the syringe at the trash can and let it go. Of course I miss. I’ll pick it up later. Now it’s time to stagger back to bed and hope that the combination of drugs will stave off the nausea.

Too late, I forget that I have a bead of blood on my skin from the Imitrex injection. I know I smear the sheets with red as I lie down. I hope it has dried and I can brush off the crumbs of blood easily. I washed and changed the sheets just yesterday, using strong spot remover on the blood stains from last week’s migraines. They never seem to come out completely unless I use bleach. I care, but not enough to do anything but pull myself into a fetal position. My pillow is too hard. There’s nothing I can do about it except keep very, very still. My body is covered in a sheen of sweat from the nausea. I don’t want under covers yet. Warmth amplifies the pain. When the Phenergan kicks in, the sweat turns clammy, then evaporates, leaving a salty residue. Once my skin is dry, I find the coolest spot on the smooth sheets. I tug the top sheet over me, and a few minutes later pull up the quilt, too. The Imitrex still isn’t working. I am grateful for Phenergan’s fortunate side effect of drowsiness. I lie there, waiting for the Imitrex, and waiting for sleep.

Sleep evidently came. I am wake again. It’s 7:40 now, and the Imitrex has only dented the migraine pain. The nausea is mercifully gone, but even though every shift of my head doesn’t bring waves of agony, a full-blown migraine still actively assaults my head. I try to sleep again, lying still and letting my mind drift hypnotically. It’s no use. I’m awake and alert, pain and all.

I can dose myself with Imitrex again. After two hours, if I don’t have relief I can take one of the tablets. I carefully leave my bed and make for the bathroom. The blackout curtains in my bedroom don’t close completely, and the shaft of daylight stabs my eyes as I pass through it. I need a ladder to reattach the last drapery hook to the rod.  Not now, though. I can barely walk steadily. Climbing a ladder is out of the question.

Imitrex’s packaging is intended to be impossible to open. Insurance only pays for nine pills a month, and they come in paper and foil-backed blister packs. Normally I take all the pills out of the blister packs and transfer them to a pill case as soon as I get home from the pharmacy. Stupidly, I neglected to do so this time. It’s a new box of pills, and I fumble even to tear away the box top to get at the blister pack. I still have no fine motor coordination, and tearing away the paper and foil backing is beyond me. Finally I stab the back of the pack with tweezers to get it open. The pill breaks as I extract it. It will leave a horrible taste in my mouth because of that. I swallow it anyway, and take a long drink of water to wash away as much of the residue as I can. Now for the other weapon in my migraine arsenal.

Hydrocodone. I hate it. I love it. I hoard it. Dr. Archer allows me twenty pills a month, but I rarely use them all. It scares me. The last thing I need is an opiate addiction. My tolerance to it is high. For all I know, I’m already addicted. I don’t know. What I do know is that hydrocodone is an extra lifeline for when the triptans don’t work. Today, I need it. Maybe I can go back to sleep. It will be an hour before either it or the Imitrex tablet will take effect. I shake the fat tablet into my palm and wash it down with water. I go back to bed.

I doze, but I don’t go back to sleep completely. After an hour, there is no change. I am tired of my bed. The cats have been anxiously head-butting the door and crying. They’re hungry. Their water dish is probably empty, too. I debate taking another hydrocodone tablet, but decide to wait. I want to see how the effort of climbing the stairs affects me, and if I take one now it will make me itch. Of course, I can always take Benedryl with it. The antihistamine will help with the itching and make me drowsy again. No, I’ll wait.

I should have taken the second pill. In my kitchen, I sink onto a stool at the breakfast bar and lay by head on my arms. The cool granite of the counter feels wonderful. The pounding in my skull does not. When it subsides, I reach for the bottle of hydrocodone I keep on my lazy Susan. The cats are sitting next to their empty food bowls, expectant. “Just a minute, guys,” I whisper. I run water into a dirty glass sitting in the sink and swallow the pill. I stand at the sink for a moment, waiting for the pounding to start again because of the movement. Thankfully, it does not.

The cats’ food dishes are on the floor. I squat slowly, not wanting to bend or even tilt my head for fear that blood will rush into it and the throbbing will begin again in earnest. I nearly lose my balance, but I’ve thought to hold the edge of the counter to ease myself down, so I have a lifeline. I’m shaky as I rise. The three steps to the bin of cat food in the pantry go well. I scoop food into one of the bowls. No wet food this morning, kitties. Sorry. I can’t bend over to get the can, and the smell of it would destroy me. I can smell the litter box across the room, and I know it needs attention, too. There’s no way. Not now. Not yet. Please understand and don’t do your business in the house plants, I beg them silently.

I sit on the stool again to recover from this round of activity. I need to eat something. Lack of food will only make things worse in the long run. I keep coffee in the fridge. Caffeine sometimes helps, sometimes hurts. As bad as this headache is, I decide to give it a try. Iced coffee with a bit of hazelnut-flavored sweetener and a dollop of milk. It isn’t as sweet as Starbucks, but then nothing really needs to be. My sister says those sweet coffee drinks from Starbucks are “a candy bar in a cup.” She’s not far wrong. I sit and drink. It tastes good. I feel stronger after sustenance. I mix myself another iced coffee, and munch on a few strawberries. The carbs will give me strength and energy.

It’s 8:25 now. I move to my computer, which sits in an alcove off the kitchen. I bring my coffee with me. I can sit relatively still, reading blogs and news, and wait for the hydrocodone to do its magic. Eventually, the itching starts. I keep a back scratcher next to the computer because my perpetually dry skin always itches. Itching from too much opioid  is not satisfied as easily. I read. I sit. When I get up to forage for more food, my head reminds me that I need to stay still. I return to my computer chair with a small chunk of Havarti cheese and rice crackers.

A little after eleven, my phone rings. It’s Jan, wanting to go to The Full Monty at the Weekend Theater. She’s not sure we can get tickets. Tonight is the last night. Even though I tell her I am not up for it, she is determined to go. She will have to drive in from Hot Springs, so if the show is sold out then she’ll have a wasted trip and an hour’s drive home. I turn down the volume on the phone, because the conversation is unnaturally loud. I tell her I’m not feeling well, but that she is welcome to come by if she can’t get a ticket. I hope the show is not sold out. I hope she can go. I realize I need to go back to my bed. We hang up, and I take a deep, slow breath to steady myself. The phone call has brought back the raging throb.

I get a glass of ice water before descending the stairs to my bedroom again. I climb into bed. The sheets are smooth and cool, and I think again that I need to rehang that drapery hook so the curtains close completely. The shaft of midday sun coming through the opening stabs my eyes. My head hurts too much for me to turn my back to the windows. Besides, the light bounces off the wall; it doesn’t really go away if my back is to it. I close my eyes and hope for sleep.

I haven’t yet started to doze when I hear the garage door open. Jack is home. Lora is with him. They’re going to hang out in the basement. He brings me an icepack. I’m glad he’s come home, because I can really use that icepack. I drape it over my forehead, pressing its ends to my temples. The kids go to the basement. They know to be quiet when I have a migraine. Poor Jack. His whole life, his mother has been sick. Sometimes, she’s sicker. Like today. He has told me that by the time he was eight, he could read the labels on my meds and even spell hydrocodone. I don’t doubt it. I sent him to get them from the cabinet often enough.

I doze, and finally I sleep. It’s almost 5:00. The migraine has receded to the back of my brain. It’s still there, but right now it’s not attacking me. It doesn’t hurt. I go upstairs again. If I don’t eat a meal, I’ll suffer for it. I need protein, vegetables. I make a sandwich and chew it slowly. I don’t really want it. I’m not hungry. The consequences of not eating will be worse than forcing myself to eat now. I sit at the kitchen counter and read a  magazine while I take unenthusiastic bites. I hear the kids come upstairs. They’re leaving. They chat cheerfully. Their good moods and the sandwich have combined to lift me up. Lora tells me she’s reading The Princess Bride, and I am delighted. It has been my favorite book since I was sixteen. I refused for years to see the movie, because I was so afraid that Hollywood would ruin it. I shouldn’t have worried. William Goldman wrote the screenplay for his own great book, so everything was as it should have been. Miracle Max and Valerie. Fezzik and Inigo Montoya. The Man in Black. Buttercup. Prince Humperdink. The Six-Fingered Count. Talking about it with Lora, I feel animated for the first time today.

The kids leave and I return to the computer. I need to sit still. If Jan comes tonight, I need to be functional. I’m functional now, but I don’t know how long it will last. I start writing this blog post. I feel myself tiring, but Jan calls at 7:30 to say she could not get a ticket to the play. For the last hour I have been checking the clock, wondering if she will call. About fifteen minutes ago I had decided that she must have gotten in, or I would have heard from her. “No, no, it’s fine,” I tell her. “Come on by.” I go downstairs to get the skirts I need to alter for my niece’s school uniform. They are hand-me-downs from her sister, who is shaped differently. As Jan and I visit, I rip out the hems. By 9:30, she says she’s tired and is going to get back on the road. I’m glad, because I’m fading, too. The headache isn’t back, but it’s skulking in the recesses of my skull, waiting to strike. And all those meds exhaust me. I’m happy to have seen Jan, though.

After Jan leaves, I rip the hem out of the last skirt, and I head downstairs with a fresh glass of ice water.

I read a little in Sacré Bleu, the newest book by Christopher Moore. I’ve had it since its greatly anticipated release, and I keep getting distracted from it. I love Chris Moore’s books. I wish I had his wild imagination. I want to keep reading, but my brain won’t let me. I’m too tired.

Another day sacrificed to migraine. Another day, gone.

 

 

 

Migraines

I have chronic daily headaches.

My migraines were diagnosed when I was 9 years old.  I don’t remember the first one I had.  I have always had what we called “sick headaches.”   My head would pound to the point where I couldn’t speak or think, and my stomach would lurch.  Then I’d lose everything I’d eaten in the last 24 hours. It might last a few hours, or it might last 3 days. However long it lasted, the hours and days were simply written out of my life.

My migraines came at irregular intervals.  I would get three, four, or perhaps five a year. They were manageable with pain medications, which would help me to sleep despite the pain.  Without the meds I would lie curled up and moan.  Tears, unbidden, would leak from my eyes, which were screwed tightly shut to ward off light.  I was prescribed codeine.

When I was in boarding school no drugs were allowed in our rooms.  Even aspirin had to be deposited with the school nurse, who was there only from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The nurse didn’t believe my headaches were real.  She thought I was a druggie teenager seeking narcotics when I asked for my medication, so I kept a bottle of pills in my room and another in my purse.  Had they been discovered, I would have been suspended or maybe even expelled.  They were the only way I could even partly function when the headaches were their worst, and sometimes even then I couldn’t. I hoarded and guarded those pills.  There was no way they were going to be used recreationally.  Those pills were more precious than diamonds.

The world often seems brighter, louder, more active, and more intense just before a migraine hits.  Sometimes before the pain begins colors suddenly take on an energetic quality, smells become more pungent,  and sounds seem louder. Activity around me makes my heart beat faster.  I don’t perceive it as a threat, just as too much energy that makes me uncomfortable or edgy.  I get irritable. This is my “aura.” I don’t hallucinate. I don’t see anything that isn’t really there, unless the increasing intensity of my senses counts.

Sometimes a migraine hits with no warning at all. I may be calmly walking to my car and be slammed with a 2×4 to the brain. I fumble in my purse for the triptans – drugs that are designed to abort a migraine – knowing that it may be an hour or more before the pills begin to work. Another slam, and I wonder if I can drive my car home.  I have to.  That’s the only way I can get there.  Digging back into my purse I come up with the Vicodin ES my doctor prescribed for pain that isn’t alleviated with the non-narcotic triptans. It still takes an hour before I can drive, and I am thankful I don’t have to drive far.  It’s not just for my sake, either.

I call these headaches “Mike Tysons.”  With the first sudden blow I am reeling; with the second I am almost unable to move, talk, walk, or look at anything.  I curl into a fetal position in a small, dark, cool place and wait out the pain. I am oblivious to my surroundings except for the sounds and lights that assault my senses.

A car accident a decade ago made them worse.  The headaches I got perhaps five times a year suddenly became several times a month, then several times a week, and now are almost daily.

My triggers include physical stress to my cervical spine (sleeping wrong on my pillow), soy, corn, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, the weather, seasonal allergies, irregular sleep, stress, irregular meals, alcohol, and aerobic exercise. Being in a crowd where I can’t hear well causes a headache, too – I’m talking about football games, crowded parties, and noisy restaurants.

Emotional surges can induce a migraine.  When I was told my father died, one hit me immediately.  Great joy can induce one, too.  Winning a tough case makes me feel wonderful, and is always followed in just a couple of hours by a splittng headache.  The shouts of boys playing inside on a rainy day, the birth of my favorite oldest niece and both of her siblings, a favorite song cranked to top volume, the satisfaction of a difficult job done well, the pleasure of a story completed after wrestling with the plot and characters for so long – all of these things make me feel wonderful, and all leave me with a hatchet striking my frontal lobe repeatedly.

In college, I would always get a migraine after the exam or after the term paper was turned in.  I call it my neurological let-down.  Once the period of stressful high productivity was over, my body and brain knew they could rest.  Before I embarked on another project,  a migraine would force that rest on me.  The same thing happens still.  I finish a brief, I’m through with a settlement conference, I leave a hearing and my head throbs.  The stress is over; the migraine is just beginning.

I lose the ability to speak coherently.  My brain fumbles for the right words.  My fingers fumble with the Imitrex packaging.  What sociopath at Glaxo-Welcome designed that packaging, anyway?  It’s hard enough for someone without a migraine to open it, but someone with a migraine, who suddenly has the strength of a kitten and the coordination of a newborn has an extremely difficult time getting to the stupid pill!

Migraineurs know exactly what the ice pick in the eye feels like.  We have experienced a head that literally feels about to explode, and we pull our hair in an effort to force the explosion to completion or we squeeze to hold it in.  Other time we feel the vise tightening around our skulls, squeezing until we think the bones must shatter… but there’s nothing there.

Migraineurs have experienced soft pillows that are too hard. Walking up or down stairs is excruciating. Any movement causes a swell in the degree of pain, a giant THROB that suppresses all reason.  Each footstep across a room creates those throbs, as does turning over in bed and sitting up to accept the glass of water and pill from someone kind enough to bring it to me. Turning one’s head during a migraine can be agony. Every migraineur understands exactly why decapitation would be a relief.

I’ve tried biofeedback, meditation, acupuncture, chiropractors, cupping, Chinese herbs, oregano, and magnesium supplements. I’ve tried several drugs that work for others, including Neurontin, Topamax (the gastro side effects of this drug were horrific), Verapamil, and Atenolol (Beta Blockers).

I’ve stopped working full time to reduce my stress levels, and moved my law office home so that I can take a nap when I need to. My bedroom is painted a dark mossy green and I have blackout curtains. I am careful to take cases that will not cause undue stress. I got out of a stressful marriage. I don’t drive more than an hour at a time because even on cloudy days the glare gets to me.  Forget driving in the rain, too – windshield wipers are like strobe lights to me.  They induce a headache in a very short time.  Even the long shadows falling on the road through the trees in the late afternoon are enough of a strobe effect to set me off, and it only takes a few minutes.

In an effort to avoid soy and corn additives to food , I am now make almost everything I eat from scratch – I can’t eat any of the prepared meals from the frozen foods section of the grocery store, and practically no canned or packaged foods other than fruit or vegetables.  My bread machine gets a great workout.  I read food labels religiously.

My migraines are manageable with my current regimen of drugs, which includes an anti-seizure medication.  Triptans like Imitrex, Maxalt, Zomig, and Relpax usually break off the headache.  I use Vicodin ES for extra help in reducing the pain. I use Phenergan suppositories to quell the nausea. I take a mild muscle relaxer before bed to help keep my neck supple. I use ice packs, heating pads, and naps.  I listen to cool jazz even though I really want to hear Foo Fighters.  I never go anywhere without my medications. The pain killer, the triptans, the anti-nausea… I am a traveling pharmucopia.

I have also discovered a fantastic massage technique.  It’s expensive, and my insurance doesn’t cover it, but once a month I go to a masseur who does myofascial release.  I follow that appointment with a deep muscle massage.  I have found that the massages not only help relieve muscle tension, but they help relieve stress.

Learning to live with chronic daily headache doesn’t mean giving up the fight against it. I go to my neurologist every three months, and I am always up for trying new procedures, drugs, supplements, and techniques to alleviate the pain and prevent the headaches from happening.

I am realistic about what I can do, though.  Because I can’t be relied upon to be at functions (crowds stress me, and a headache is guaranteed), I do the behind-the-scenes stuff at my son’s school and for two historical societies I belong to. I wish I could do more, but I have learned the hard way that I usually have to say “no.”

Even the things I want to do will be torpedoed by a migraine. A coffee date with girlfriends, a dinner out, plans for the theater – all of these get derailed by migraines occasionally. My friends don’t understand. It’s just a headache, after all.

I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, you have a magnesium deficiency.” Nope, sorry.  I tried magnesium and saw no appreciable difference in the frequency or severity of the attacks.

“Oh, you need to relax more,” I’m told.  I have eliminated all possible stress from my life. It’s not just stress.

If I could tell you the number of times someone has told me about Topamax, or fever few, or acupuncture, or some other remedy! And even friends who suffer common migraine with aura don’t seem to get it. Mine occur almost every day, not once a month with my period (that stopped at 32 when the plumbing got yanked for cervical cancer). Hearing that this treatment or that treatment will “definitely” work amounts to a platitude. I want to say to them, “Don’t condescend to me.  You have no idea what I’ve tried and what I’ve gone through.”

I live life one day at a time.  The rare day without a migraine – today! – is a treat.  I accept it with cautious pleasure. Tomorrow the drugs may work, and I’ll be able to function.  The next day I may be in bed, wishing the Red Queen’s executioner would hurry up.

Fear of Addiction

Recently a friend of mine wrote a blog about addiction that touched my heart. A friend of her children’s died as a result of his use of mind-altering substances.

I have a cousin.  He’s 66.  He’s a medical doctor.  He is currently serving six concurrent one year terms in jail for six DUIs he had in the last 14 months.  Two of the incidents where he was arrested involved accidents.  In one accident someone was hurt, although I’m not sure how badly. It’s amazing to everyone in the family that he hasn’t killed himself yet.  He lives alone when he’s not in jail. He drinks alone.

I had an aunt.  She was an Olympic class equestrian.  She and her horse fell in the early 1970’s  at a practice for the Olympic trials. Her horse had to be put down and she never rode competitively again. She took solace in a bottle and in the prescriptions she was given. For more than 30 years, alone and angry because her dreams were dashed, she drank and medicated herself.  She was hospitalized at least 20 times for detox, overdoses, and various problems with her health due to her alcoholism. When she died her blood alcohol content was .430. Yes, she drank herself to death. She probably didn’t mean to, at least not that day.

Alcoholism runs hard in the genes of my family. I can point to almost any member of my grandparents generation and say, “He was an alcoholic” or “She was an alcoholic.” The alcoholics are fewer in my parents’ generation, but they’re there. I remember swearing to myself growing up that I would never drink alcohol. I hated what it did to the people I loved.

But I did drink.  In college I realized that I drank too much and too often.  I thought about the alcoholics in my family. I slowed down. I slowed further in law school, and then when I married and had a baby I realized how hard it was to change a smelly diaper with a raging hangover.  I slowed drinking even more.

In 1997 I was in a serious car accident. As a result of that accident the migraine headaches I have had all my life became worse. Ten years later I have a condition called “Chronic Daily Headache” or “Intractable Migraine.”  I have to take drugs to combat it.  Most of the drugs don’t alter my mind, but occasionally I have to take muscle relaxers and painkillers.

Because of my headaches I have stopped drinking alcohol almost completely.  Two drinks and I can guarantee myself a migraine.  The margaritas aren’t worth it.  I may go out with friends and sip one drink for three hours.  I may drink it faster then switch to soda water. I almost never have more than one drink any more.

But there’s another problem. You see, addictive behavior runs in my family, and I have prescriptions for addictive medications for the pain I have almost daily.

I am afraid of these drugs.  I hoard them; I use them sparingly.  I don’t want them to control my life.

Yesterday and today have been a bad days. My headache started early yesterday, but I was focused on something I was doing and didn’t take a break to get my Imitrex. By the time I was through with my project, I could barely sit at my desk.  I wanted to curl up under it in a fetal position. Unbidden, tears fell down my cheeks.  I staggered downstairs. The movement exacerbated the pain.  I could barely think.

I fumbled for the device that contains the most powerful dose of Imitrex. It’s an injection, and thankfully it works quickly. I can use the injection no more than twice a month. I use it only when I can’t bear the pain.  By the time I reached for the device, I was unable to form a coherent sentence.  My thoughts were disjointed, and overlying it all was a little girl crying plaintively in my mind, “It hurts!  Make it stop!”

I gave myself the shot.  I took a muscle relaxer.  I went to bed.  I slept for three hours.  When I woke, I still had a horrible headache. I took a painkiller.  My head still hurt. Yet I still had to function.

I am a mother; I run a business. I have to take care of myself so I can take care of my child and my office.

I worry that I will become addicted to the painkillers.  I worry that I take too many prescription drugs. I take three pills every morning in a futile attempt to control the neurological aspects of my migraines.  They have helped.  I shouldn’t say it’s futile.  The headaches would be worse if I didn’t take them.  Then there are the triptans – the drugs that actually stop the migraines. I can’t take them more than three days in a row, or I risk rebound headaches.

On days like today, when my head feels like it is split in two and one side is three times the size of the other, when a throbbing pain goes from above my left eye over the crown of my head and down into my left shoulder blade, when the pain is so bad I can’t sleep even with the soporific effect of the drugs, I despair of ever feeling good again.

The drugs don’t make me feel good.  They just mask the pain.  It’s still there; I just  don’t care as much.  I can laugh and joke and carry on a conversation with the drugs.  I hate them.

I am terrified of addiction.

Why I Haunt Them

 

In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite, residing in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah.  But his concubine became angry with him and she went away to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. Then her husband set out after her, to speak tenderly to her and bring her back. – Judges 19:1-3

“It’s Bobby Wayne!”

The shock at hearing my husband’s name was only slightly less than the shock of hearing it spoken with such pleasure by my father.  Exchanging a look with Mama, I moved to the kitchen window. The familiar F-150 was indeed in the driveway, and Daddy, who had been working on his old Camaro under the shade of the live oak, was stuffing a shop rag in his hip pocket and walking toward the truck with a grin on his face.

I couldn’t believe it.  Daddy knew why I had left.  The meth had led Bobby to more and more erratic behavior, and by the time I was able to get the money together to get back home I was practically unable to use my left arm any more.  I think Bobby had broken it at least twice, and the second time he didn’t let me go to the hospital for two weeks.  They said they’d have to break it again and do surgery, and he said he didn’t have the money to pay for it, so it never did heal right. Finally it seemed like the muscles just seemed to quit working in it.

But Daddy was greeting him like a long lost son, not the abuser of his only daughter.

Bobby stayed three days. By Monday morning, Daddy had loaded my things into the bed of the pickup and told me my place was with my husband. Mama didn’t argue about it any more after Daddy popped her in the mouth Saturday afternoon. I had no choice. Bobby had been making sweet promises about how good things were going to be. I thought that if things got bad I’d just walk out again.

We were on the outskirts of the city, about an hour and a half from home, when Bobby told me he had to go see a man there for business.  Since the only business Bobby ever did involved things like guns and drugs, I knew we weren’t likely to go to a good neighborhood.  I was right.

We were in an area that had clearly seen better days. “Urban blight” is the euphemism for it. Porches sagged without anyone standing on them.  Graffiti covered everything from the walls of the homes to the fire hydrants to the sidewalks, and I could understand none of the writing. No one ever taught me this other language or the script in which it was written.

Bobby parked on the street in front of what looked like a store front that had been converted to living quarters. Before getting out of the truck he reached under his seat and removed his pistol. He checked it to be sure it was loaded, then stuck it into his pants at the waist, covering it with his t-shirt. “Stay in the truck,” he said.

As I waited, tough looking men drove by.  I saw no women.  No children played outside. Finally I lay down on the seat and slept.

Bobby had been inside almost three hours when a group of men approached the truck. When they tapped on the window I sat up, confused for a moment. An ugly scar bisected the cheek of the tall man who demanded Bobby’s whereabouts through the slightly lowered window. Wordlessly, I pointed at the building. The tall man stomped off, his followers behind them. There were about ten of them.

They pounded on the door, and although they apparently talked with whomever was on the other side, I could hear nothing.  I saw the angry looks on the men’s faces, though.  I saw two unsheath knives. Another’s gun was poorly concealed in the waistband of his jeans. A man on the edge of that crowd leaned down and picked up a piece of pipe.

While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house that we may have intercourse with him.” And the man, master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.”  – Judges 19:22-24

The door opened then, and I saw an older man holding a young girl by the arm.  She couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen years old and she looked terrified. He shoved the child toward the crowd of men, but the tall one with the scar pushed her back inside.  There was more discussion.  Gesturing, and then loud voices told me that they wanted my husband, they wanted him now, and they wanted him dead.

Bobby had taken the keys with him when he went inside. I locked the doors of the truck and sat in the middle of the seat.  I was afraid, but I didn’t panic until I heard the thundering demand from the tall, scarred man: “If he won’t come out here and answer us like a man, he’s a pussy.  We want the pussy. If you don’t give us that pussy, we’ll take his other pussy!” He was pointing at the truck.  He was pointing at me.

The men surrounded the truck.  Terrified, I refused to open the doors.  The man with the pipe struck the window on the passenger side.  It took him several tries, but finally it shattered and he reached inside and unlocked the door.  They pulled me out of the truck.  At first I screamed my husband’s name. Then I simply screamed.

They more than raped me.

Every man in that crowd had his turn, and several of them had more than one turn in more than one place on my horrified body. I lost track of the number of times each took me, and the way each took me. My abdomen felt near to exploding, then was numb. Two at once, three at once, there were more than I could count. I knew I was bleeding because they pulled away from me drenched in my blood.

Apparently their access was not easy enough, because they pulled my legs apart to more easily get at me from front and back at the same time. My hips and thighs cracked audibly, and I knew I would not be walking again any time soon.

When they forced my mouth open to defile me there, too, I bit down. Mercifully I felt only the first few of their blows to my head.  After that, I lost consciousness.

As morning appeared the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. – Judges 19:26-27


“Get up. We are going.”

I lay on the pavement at the door to the house. I couldn’t answer.  My jaw was probably broken, and the teeth on the left side of my mouth were gone. Painfully I lifted my head slightly and dropped it again. I could only see out of my right eye, and Bobby looked blurry even out of it.

He reached down and yanked on my arm. I screamed wordlessly.  It was obviously broken and the shoulder was probably dislocated as well. My legs had no feeling in them.  I couldn’t walk.  Bobby dragged me whimpering to the truck and threw me in the passenger side, ignoring the fact that I was naked and the broken glass was ripping my skin to shreds.

I died on the way home.

When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel.  – Judges 19:29

What I found to be humorous about the whole affair was that he packaged up the parts of my body and mailed them to the men in that crowd.  He also mailed a piece of me to the man in whose house he had hid.  He sent my head to my parents. Daddy opened the package and vomited. I laughed.

I haunt them all. The pieces of my flesh that were sent to each man allow me to stay with him.  The fact that their flesh is part of me because of that awful night allows me to stay as long as I wish. I have learned to give them boils, to call lice and fleas to their hairiest regions, to drench them in a stench so powerful none can stand near them, to afflict them with breath so fetid even their vicious dogs turn away from them. They don’t sleep at night, these twelve men who wronged me.  The man whose seed created me, the man whose seed claimed me as his wife, and the ten men whose seed defiled me against my will do not sleep because of the wrongs done to me.

The thirteenth man, the one whose seed never became a part of me, is haunted by his own daughter, whose reproachful eyes remind him of the woman he sacrificed, and remind him that he nearly sacrificed her.

She prays to the bit of finger she saved from the rotting flesh that was delivered to their door by an unsuspecting postman.  She prays to me to help her escape the madman she calls her father.

She will kill him soon.

I will help her.

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