A Reluctant Lady in Waiting

I’m a 30-year-old woman who isn’t looking for love. This is not quite a response to, but inspired by, Becca Rothfeld’s essay “Ladies in Waiting.”

By Saira Khan

Not quite a response to, but inspired by, Becca Rothfeld’s essay “Ladies in Waiting.”

 

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I’m a thirty-year-old heterosexual woman and I am not looking for love. When it comes to dating, my style is now firmly casual. A serial monogamist for most of my adult life, two years ago I decided to stop wasting time in relationships with men I saw no future with. Since then, I’ve met some remarkable and kind men, none of whom I wanted to date long-term.

Because I am a woman, some consider this unconventional. “What do you mean you don’t want to be in a relationship with him? He likes you!” is an exclamation I’ve heard many times, indicating the man’s willingness is all that’s required. The equivalences that follow include “You date like a man!” and the requisite “Sex and the City” reference, “You’re such a Samantha.”

To be fair, I’m not complaining.

I don’t like holding hands, I don’t like sharing my bed, I don’t like cuddling. I get my emotional fulfillment from my female friendships. For most of the last two years, I’ve been the one who makes first contact, I haven’t anguished over text messages and surely haven’t waited for someone to ask me out. In her essay “Ladies in Waiting,” Becca Rothfeld examines why women have traditionally been the ones who wait and why they often find themselves in a “state of involuntary idleness.” It is precisely this historical norm that I believed I had broken free from.

I was wrong.

***

One thing I have overlooked, and that you, the reader, may have missed as well, is that I hadn’t met anyone in nearly two years who I truly liked. So naturally I didn’t care if they were in my life or not. On the rare occasion when a text went unanswered, I was unmoved. Then last year I met a man who I will call Kyle, and all of my seemingly unconventional feminist wisdom was lost. It seemed that, when it came to someone I liked, I fell victim to the same “lady in waiting” trope I thought I was immune to, proving Rothfeld’s point that waiting is perpetuated by women who self-police. As someone who is candid about her feelings (or lack thereof), it was jarring to fall into a pit of self-doubt and, yes, constant waiting.

“The lover waits, speaks, entreats, but the beloved is constitutionally silent.” – Becca Rothfeld

The Day After Text

The day after text, as we’ve been told, is of crucial importance. It’s a ritual that serves as an acknowledgement of a potential future—and, in a heterosexual relationship, it is never supposed to come from the woman. This is a dating convention that I have, and gladly will, continue to ignore.

I first met Kyle in October, over drinks at a nearby bar. I knew I liked him when I didn’t give him my standard “I’m not looking for commitment” spiel, used previously to temper any misplaced expectations. A few hours later, after we drunkenly parted ways, we continued our conversation, through texts, into the next morning. Achievement unlocked.

Waiting is the Rule

I saw Kyle again about two weeks later. It was after this second date that I walked away feeling things I hadn’t felt in years. I was nervous. I cared about what he thought of me and, more frighteningly, how he felt about me. Three weeks later, after Thanksgiving, we went on our third date. By then, I found that in his presence I would stumble on my words and the pitch of my voice would falter. The more I liked him the more I retreated into the habits from my pre-enlightenment days; sometimes, I’d wait methodically to answer texts so as to not seem too eager, and allow him to reach out for our next date. I was no longer the pursuer. I waited.

Rothfeld notes that the concept of feminine waiting is ingrained in us by well-meaning female friends whose advice is always the same: wait, wait, wait. Indeed, even the most well-intentioned counsel I have received falls into the same pattern.

When Kyle would go a week without initiating contact, I’d swear he was “ghosting” on me; that it was the last I’d heard from him and the connection had been in my head. Just as I’d get to the point of writing him off, his name would flash across my phone’s screen. A constant battle raged in my head: was he a fuckboi or just really busy? I didn’t know but I sure as hell was happy that he messaged. “Romantic waiting is, like certain shades of pain, delicate enough to hint teasingly at future gratification but never disagreeable enough to preclude it,” Rothfeld writes. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

The funny thing is, neither of Kyle or I text much. When we first matched on Tinder, this was our conversation:

Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 8.47.37 PM.pngAlthough I was, and still am, seeing other people, I found myself in despair in the weeks I didn’t hear from him. Had he lost interest? We were dating casually but in person it felt like more. We did all the things I thought I hated doing. I obsessed over the details: We held hands, slept in the same bed, often broke bread together, and talked, and talked, and talked. Surely I wasn’t crazy in thinking he felt something more? Right? RIGHT?

When hesitating to reach out to Kyle, I was, like Rothfeld, trying to prove my affection, my true feelings, through “mute endurance,” that is, wait him out. Or was I trying to prolong the inevitable demise of our relationship under this shroud of constant waiting? “Waiting, which renders everything provisional, which suspends progress or conclusion of any kind, is worse than clarity,” Rothfeld writes. While being in a constant state of will he? or won’t he? is excruciating in its own right, was I buying myself time and hoping he’d like me more through the act of self-policing?

Jolted Out of the Self

Indeed, if love is feminine and waiting is a sign of that femininity, as Rothfeld observes, then I  subconsciously began acting traditionally feminine in order to gain affection. “The alternative to dejected waiting, then, is patience, the art of elective waiting: a capitulation that women author, a passivity over which we assert ownership and which we might come to more comfortably inhabit,” Rothfeld writes. Even I can admit that I quickly went from being compared to Samantha to comparing myself to Carrie, inviting friends over to analyze a voicemail from Big for some hidden meaning that, likely, wasn’t there. In other words: I was losing my damn mind.

What made me feel even crazier was thinking I was crazy: What if this is all in my head? How much of what we agonize over is a narrative that we have constructed? Has our constant need for communication turned into a constant need of validation– in this case a validation of my feelings? Is my new found state of waiting a manifestation of my own insecurities about liking someone after so long? Have we, women, self-policed ourselves into this modern romantic norm? And what would happen if we stopped? I decided to find out.

In working on this story, I went back to the beginning of my communication with Kyle and noticed something: although there are moments when we went days without texting, there were times when I was the one who trailed off, leaving him waiting. These casual exchanges, to me, felt like the natural end of a conversation, but could easily have been perceived by him as me making him wait. Had I done to him what I thought he was doing to me?

With this new lens and impassioned clarity, I did the unthinkable: I texted Kyle the afternoon he was leaving town for a few weeks.

“at the risk of sounding trite, i think i’m gonna miss you while you’re gone. hope your trip is phenomenal. see you when you’re back.”

His response? He thanked me for missing him.

Welp. Han Solo would be proud, and I am a lady in waiting once more.


“I mustn’t. I mustn’t do this. Suppose he’s a little late calling me up—that’s nothing to get hysterical about. Maybe he isn’t going to call—maybe he’s coming straight up here without telephoning. He’ll be cross if he sees I have been crying. They don’t like you to cry. He doesn’t cry. I wish to God I could make him cry. I wish I could make him cry and tread the floor and feel his heart heavy and big and festering in him. I wish I could hurt him like hell.” -Dorothy Parker, “A Telephone Call,” in The Portable Dorothy Parker.

Invaders in My Stream: On Being Cyberstalked

The summer I turned 25, I gained a firsthand education into personal and anonymous cyberstalking after being featured in a Breitbart article.

By Monica Torres

The Professional Troll

The summer I turned 25, I was featured in a Breitbart article co-written by the site’s then-editor Milo Yiannopolous. The article itself was laughably bad journalism. I was not contacted for quotes, my college articles were taken out of context, and basic facts about me were wrong (which was not an isolated incident; The Daily Caller later called me “Monica Flores”).

Yiannopolous, who left Breitbart on Tuesday after an interview of him defending pedophilia surfaced online, was once kindly described as a conservative provocateur by mainstream outlets like the Associated Press. He identifies as a “virtuous troll” who is doing “God’s work,” using the protection of free speech to condemn transgender identity as a “psychiatric disorder,” declare his birthday World Patriarchy Day, author “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”, create the Yiannopolous Privilege Grant, a scholarship to help white men gain “equal footing” with minorities, and to rally his army of followers to harass and humiliate countless people online.

Even now, months later, I find myself using qualifying statements like “not so bad” to minimize the experience because the worst has not yet happened to me. Less than a week after Yiannopolous wrote about my liberal biases, he led a Twitter harassment campaign against comedian Leslie Jones, inciting his followers to barrage her with racist, demeaning, and threatening tweets until Jones quit the platform, saying she was “in a personal hell.” Yiannopolous’ harassment of Jones got him banned on Twitter, but it also cemented his status with the alt-right movement, earned him speaking invitations at college campuses, and led to a reported $250,000 book deal (which was finally cancelled this week, not because 100+ authors had condemned Simon & Schuster for supporting Yiannopolous, not because of his racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic beliefs, but only after the video of him condoning pedophilia had surfaced).

In the aftermath of the article, before I set my Twitter to private, someone with an unknown account reached out to me, saying he wished to rape me. Everything before this had felt like an inconvenient distraction from my time and energy. But in that moment, I felt fear, then a hot flush of shame for letting a tweet scare me.

My employer told me the tweets weren’t a credible threat, but I documented them anyway, putting that tweet along with all the article’s comments that wished me harm, in a folder on my computer entitled EVIDENCE. I was told to remove my email address from my website and LinkedIn, and told to take any mention of clients I worked with off of my social accounts. ‘A way to avoid stalkers or an abdication of my employer’s responsibility to protect me?’ I thought mutinously, as I nodded and did what I was told. I changed every password and added two-step authentication and security questions to my bank accounts, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Instagram and Tumblr. Friends and colleagues told me over and over that what happened wasn’t my fault, but I still felt like these protections for my safety were punishing me for existing online. As a digital journalist who relies on these social networks for job prospects, making my accounts private hurts my career.

“Don’t worry, we’re keeping an eye on the deep web for any credible threats against you,” I was told. Worried by the lack of structured advice I was receiving from employed security experts, I reached out to my friend Patrick Hogan who had lived through the worst. He gave me step-by-step advice.

Exhibit A.
Document everything. Screenshot tweets, archive e-mails, record phone calls. Anything you receive relating to this needs to become a permanent record. Be sure to note any relevant details like the time you received something or the incoming phone number for a call.

Any time you can report something, do it. I know this isn’t always the most effective, but even if Twitter says no rules are being broken and won’t do anything, that’s ammunition for you.

Escalate this to your employer. I don’t know the contracting situation over there, but you are being harassed because of your job. Your employer has both an interest and a responsibility.

If at any point you feel like your safety is threatened, go to the police. Even just getting it on the record that you filed a report can be helpful.

So I did that.

In “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” Amanda Hess writes what I consider the best and most comprehensive analysis of why the online abuse of women goes unchecked. In her story, Hess recounts how an anonymous user with the handle HeadlessFemalePig set up a Twitter account with the explicit purpose of threatening to rape her and cut off her head. HeadlessFemalePig said he had done 12 years for manslaughter and he knew Hess and him lived in the same state. He promised Hess he would find her, rape her and kill her. When she went to the police, authorities didn’t know what Twitter was. For Hess, the threats she faced as a journalist who wrote about women were viscerally real, but authorities dismissed the internet as a “fantasyland” where threats weren’t real.

In these cases, when the police declines to investigate the abuse, the burden is placed on the victim to determine what kind of threat is immediate and weigh what you can endure.

Hess’ article was written three years ago, and the outlook for women facing abuse on the internet is still bleak. A 2016 Australian study found that 76% of women under 30 face online harassment, which includes “unwanted contact, trolling, and cyberbullying to sexual harassment and threats of rape and death.” The researchers said that online abuse of women was at risk of becoming “an established norm in our digital society.” There isn’t enough research being done on online harassment against women, but in February, Amnesty International began soliciting stories of this nature. 

When women face violent online threats, they are often told to ignore and endure the threats, lest you “feed the trolls.” But, short of deleting your online presence or putting yourself on a social media lockdown, you cannot opt out from the abuse. When tech platforms ignore violent threats and police decline to file reports on them, the message to women rings loud and clear: you are on your own.



The Personal Toll

That same summer I turned 25, in the midst of my public reckoning, I also faced a private one. I broke up with a man after two months of casual dating, and more than five months later, he is still carrying a one-sided text conversation with me(himself). The texts vary in length, mostly coming after the lonely hour of midnight, but all of them have a possessive familiarity that makes me deeply uncomfortable. As Maureen O’Connor explains in “All My Exes Live in Texts,”exes can jump into your pants whenever they want by sending text messages that land in your pocket.” I feel low-key dread whenever I see his name light up my phone. Immediately after I ended things, I let him air his grievances over the phone and in person, hoping it would give him closure. He has persisted. You’re advised not to contact an ex after a breakup because each time the person doesn’t respond, it will feel like the breakup all over again, a sage Redditor explained. This has not been a deterrent for a man willing to disregard all etiquette if it means he can pursue the fantasy of a relationship.

Exhibit B.
You wasted the last /
sorry for letting my emotions take over /
I miss you like hell /
fired two weeks ago /
at the end of the day we are POC. We need to stick together /
hi. /
Yes, I’m drunk on New Year’s eve but /
I really wish /
like hell /
Hey. Can we please talk? /
Okay let’s not then.

His last text was three weeks ago. At what point does an unwanted, repeated contact become stalking? It varies state to state. Colorado defines a stalker as someone who believes “the victim either returns these feelings of affection or will do so if the stalker is persistent enough.” I’d have to prove that my stalker had “strong, unshakeable and irrational emotional feelings” for me. In Vermont, I need to prove “credible threat.” New York penal law, which defines stalking as “the unwanted pursuit of another person,” says at the very least for a misdemeanor charge, I need to prove: “would a reasonable person have been made fearful, based on history, context, etc.?”

I feel unsettled but not yet unsafe. Right now, I put him in between men who come on too strong and men I can legally call stalkers. Both put me on edge, but the latter is the eventuality I am preparing for. I don’t think he’s sent me his last text. I read Christine Stulik’s account of receiving a harassing email by her stalker every single day, sometimes multiple times a day. After Stulik took an acting class with her stalker, he began to send her banal and flirtatious emails. When she turned him down, he persisted. It was when he showed up to where she worked that Stulik finally took action and sought a temporary restraining order. Like all men who disregard boundaries, he treated her No as Try Harder. In one of his emails to her, he said that he would make her the star of his new play if she dropped the charges. When police finally confronted Stulik’s stalker more than a year after his harassment first started, his reasoning was, “She just never told me ‘No.’”

Exhibit C.
Hearing this made my blood boil. Of course I never explicitly said “No” to him: I never said anything to him. I didn’t reply to a single email, even when I wanted to write down every obscenity I was screaming into the computer screen. I wanted to reply with hurtful, debasing language that made him feel as small as his words made me feel. I wanted to write intelligent, biting attacks that made him realize the futility and stupidity of his endeavor. I wanted to confront him to his face as he sulked around the lobby of my work. I wanted to tell him STOP and NO and FUCK OFF—but I couldn’t allow myself to. Because he had the power, and I couldn’t give him any more of it. In fact, the advice I was given by the domestic violence liaison during one of my many visits to the courthouse was to not reply to anything, because any sign from me would only give him reason to continue contact. He was not to be encouraged.

When you lack structured protections from the state and from online platforms, you must make do with your own. Hess lugs around a physical copy of her expired protection order against her harasser each time she travels to do business in his state. When the order expired, he reached out to her, through comments on her articles, emails and occasional tweets“a little reminder,” Hess writes, “that his ‘game’ is back on.” In what is easily the most chilling account on stalking I’ve read, Helen DeWitt describes how a stalker’s “game” became her worst-case scenario. After DeWitt’s stalker was released five months early into the same town where DeWitt lives, she sleeps with a baseball bat. Her stalker had gotten a plea bargain because DeWitt, who had documented every unwanted interaction, had failed to convince as a damsel in distress in her deposition. The prosecutor said DeWitt’s deposition showed an “absence of fear.” Her stalker had broken into her home with a gun.

Here’s what I tell people I don’t know when they ask what happened to me this summer: I am very lucky. Just fine. Could’ve been worse. No worries. (Would a prosecutor say I’m showing an “absence of fear”?)

I am just one more woman on the internet who has to make contingency plans. I think twice before giving men I meet on the internet my number or my address. Even now, I sometimes wonder if I am blowing this whole thing out of proportion, if his texts were benign, if his tweets were just trolling. But I trust my instincts, and with my EVIDENCE laid bare, I feel exposed. ‘Prepare yourself,’ the part of me that doesn’t have to maintain public pretense urges me. At least one of the unwanted men I have encountered online knows where I live.

When I walk home alone at night, I look behind me and I carry mace.

Exploring Self(ie) Doubt

A lone whiner dives into a sea of selfie-enthusiasts to explore the world of solo photos.

By Gabrielle Sierra

I don’t take photos of myself. This isn’t a principled stance, unlike my stance against using emojis. (I’m a writer in an ever-disappearing industry, let me use my words while I can, damn it.) I don’t selfie because I just don’t get it.

I am well-aware that I stand in the minority on this subject; a lone whiner against a sea of selfie-enthusiasts. The word itself has become so ingrained in our lives that it was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Celebrities and social media influencers make enormous amounts of money just by taking photos of themselves while wearing a product or selling a lifestyle. Even images from the recent election cycle regularly showed crowds facing away from candidates in order to take a selfie. According to a 2014 Pew research study, 55 percent of millennials take selfies and post them on social media, and a 2015 survey by Now Sourcing and Frames Direct calculated that millennials spend more than an hour every week on selfies.

As someone who feels awkward posing for photos in general, the desire to take a close-up snap of my face, and then ask people to judge it, seems strange as hell. I will never understand the impulse to take a selfie in a dirty bathroom mirror unless you just saw a ghost and want to document it. I will never relate to the motivation behind snapping a photo of yourself in a car unless the interior of said car is crawling with ants and you want to prove you are cool under pressure. I will never jump on board with the urge to pout or frown or “smize” for Instagram followers, because I just really don’t get how people can be confident enough to assume we all care about their faces. Subsequently, I have always assumed that people who are driven to take and share photos of themselves must be on some sort of alternate spectrum that runs from extremely confident to straight-up narcissistic.

“As someone who feels awkward posing for photos in general, the desire to take a close-up snap of my face, and then ask people to judge it, seems strange as hell.”

However, as I started speaking with people and doing research for this piece, I began to realize that verbalizing the motivation behind taking or sharing a photo of oneself is complex, to say the least. Most answers and statistics seem to show a struggle between overt self-confidence and inner self-doubt, a social media generation problem if there ever was one.

For example, a study published in Psychology Today did in fact suggest that narcissists, especially psychopathic men, are more likely to share selfies. However, the results of the study also showed that men who view their bodies as objects are more likely to edit them in shared images. This act of editing is a sign of self-objectification that is associated with low self-esteem, not high.

The combination of outward certainty and inward uncertainty is something I kept running into, even with those around me. My queries were met with defensive answers almost every time. Easy selfie questions lobbed at friends and colleagues resulted in several heated debates. Some people began rationalizing their photo activities, saying they only took “funny”or “ugly” selfies. At brunch, an argument broke out and photographs were feverishly scrolled through, presented as proof that this particular selfie was more reasonable than that one. In more than one instance feelings were hurt by casual remarks. 

“This act of editing is a sign of self-objectification that is associated with low self-esteem, not high.”

A 2015 paper authored by Brazil’s UFMG and Korea’s KAIST researchers explained that a number of theories exist when it comes to selfies. One is that sharing a selfie with the world is a means of “self-exploration,” a way to “re-see” yourself. “With the ability to control the aesthetics of a picture, selfies are a perfect tool for showing the world one’s subjective self-image,” the paper states. In an interesting twist, the research goes on to indicate that when presented with an edited selfie and an un-edited one, people tend to identify the more attractive image of themselves as the original picture.

“The amount of selfies you take isn’t something that you really think about. It is sort of like a sickness, it is something you can’t control,” said Ronald Ferret, a colleague I convinced to discuss his tendency to take and share a lot of selfies. “My friends recently made fun of me for taking so many, and I was like ‘no I don’t!’ but then I checked and I was like god damn it, yes, they are right. I realized I had stopped taking pictures of what surrounds me and was taking more of just me in the place. I deleted a bunch of shirtless ones. But my friends were right, and I still do it a lot.”

This selfie-doubt is intriguing, since the act itself still feels so inherently tied to confidence. Many authors seem to agree and have encouraged selfie-taking as a form of affirmation. A quick search around the interweb pulls up a number of articles hailing selfie-taking as a way to build up self-assurance, including the “I Took A Selfie Everyday for A Year and Now I Am Confident” piece and the “Take a Selfie to Feel Better About Yourself” portion of a self-help piece. There are even studies that indicate taking a selfie can lead to more positive feelings.

But a new report, published in Frontiers in Psychology, seems to suggest that while people enjoy taking confidence-building selfies, no one cares about seeing them. Researchers surveyed 238 people and found that while 77 percent of them reported regularly taking selfies, 82 percent reported that they would rather look at other types of photos. This seemed to be yet another instance where the motivation to take, possibly edit, and then share a selfie was less about looking at these types of photos and more about achieving something personal.

Regardless of the many motivations and emotions behind posting and sharing an image of yourself, it is clear the fad isn’t going anywhere. Google statistics estimate that about 93 million selfies were taken per day in 2014 on Android devices alone, a number that no doubt has gone up over the past few years. And as younger generations grow up testing the limits of what we share online, selfies are bound to become more socially acceptable, so much so that my selfie-aversion may soon be archaic.

Either way, I doubt my opinion will change. I took a test selfie while writing this and couldn’t fathom ever posting it. I will always be the person who would rather take a photo of a beach with a friend walking in the frame than a photo of a beach blocked by my big head. And maybe in the long run selfie-takers will fare better, as the process is clearly an attempt to work through something deeper than just “look at me!”

For now at least I will attempt to scroll through selfies with a more open eye, although I can’t guarantee I’ll ever cave to giving my “like” approval.

Repeating the Past: Notes to a Holocaust Survivor

Revisiting letters from students to a Holocaust survivor in the wake of Trump’s travel ban.

By Gabrielle Sierra

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Felicia, in 2013, at the age of 94

My cousin Felicia Berland Hyatt was a Holocaust survivor who took great care and pride in telling her story. She spent decades giving lectures, speaking in documentaries and appearing on panels. She even wrote a book. But Felicia always said one of her greatest accomplishments was being asked to appear as a guest speaker at various schools in New York, discussing her life and answering students’ questions.

Felicia often said that her story, although painful, sad and terrifying, had to be told in order to prevent history from repeating itself. Just as she refused to have her concentration camp tattoo removed, she refused to let the millions of people who died during World War II disappear.

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Felicia, right, and a friend

As a guest speaker in K-12 classrooms, Felicia left her mark on many young children; she recounted a time and place and tragedy many had never even heard of. Some students wrote letters in response to her story. These letters showcase an incredible range of emotion, jumping from curiosity and disbelief to fear and sadness.

After Donald Trump signed his executive order (currently suspended) prohibiting people from seven Muslim-majority countries, including war-torn Syria, from entering the United States, I decided to go through Felicia’s letters and pull out a few that seemed especially relevant. The idea that this administration is capable of denying refugees sanctuary is chilling, and made all the more poignant by the fact that the ban was signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Felicia died in 2015, at the age of 96, but I like to think that she would have enjoyed reading these old notes from students and sharing the hope I felt when reading them; hope that the stories she told these kids, now adults, will help us all as we face the challenges ahead.

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Felicia, an only child, was born in 1920 and raised in a town called Chelm in eastern Poland. Her parents ran a successful bakery and sent her to a public gymnasium (school), where she was one of four Jewish students admitted under a strict quota system. It was there that she learned to speak German, in addition to her native Polish and Yiddish, a skill that would save her life more than once.

In 1938, her father sensed that war was on the horizon and traveled to the U.S. to set up a new home for their family, but Poland closed its borders before Felicia and her mother could join him. They, along with other residents of Chelm, were placed in a ghetto, where they remained from 1939-1942. The night before the final liquidation of the ghetto, Felicia and her mother escaped and went into hiding.

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In the following months, the women took shelter with two Polish families before being forced to hide in barns and abandoned buildings. Eventually, they decided to separate, a strategy they thought would increase their chances of avoiding capture. It was the last time Felicia would ever see her mother.

Felicia made her way to Krakow and secured false papers. There, she dyed her hair blonde and found work as a housekeeper for a local SS Officer and his family who risked their lives in an effort to help her survive. In 1943, Felicia was discovered and sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

FeliciaLettersScanned-3.jpgOnce in the camp, Felicia survived a series of close calls, including a last minute removal from a group being sent to the gas chamber. Her education and ability to speak German and Polish proved to be of value to the Nazis, who assigned her to be a barracks bookkeeper. In this position, Felicia was able to provide a few reprieves for other prisoners; at one point, moving a group of young sisters into low level positions similar to her own. Over 70 years later, one of these sisters would attend Felicia’s funeral in New York City and tell us that she and her siblings would not have survived without the reassignment Felicia was able to provide.

Auschwitz was a death camp and people were being killed all around Felicia every day with no end in sight. She decided her best hope of survival was to escape. In November, 1944, she found her opportunity. She snuck into a group being sent to a work camp in Stare Mesto, the Czech Republic. She remained there until the camp was liberated in April 1945.

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After the liberation, Felicia sought to reunite with her remaining friends and family, only to discover that her mother, as well as countless relatives and friends, had been killed. She decided to travel to New York to reunite with her father, but this proved to be a great deal more difficult than she had imagined.

The United Nations was sending children to reunite with their families in the U.S., but being in her early 20’s, Felicia was too old to qualify. She was told to go to Sweden, where they were helping survivors settle into new lives. She remained there with friends for over a year but still wanted to be near her father. In 1948, she obtained an American transit visa, intended to allow her a brief stopover on the way to Canada. When she arrived in the U.S. she skipped her connecting flight and remained in New York. She eventually moved into an apartment with her father.

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Felicia may have reunited with her remaining family, but she still had to find a way to stay in the U.S. She was investigated by the FBI under suspicion of being a Nazi or communist. The agency raided her apartment and tracked her movements. Felicia enrolled in college, but was told by refugee agencies not to have any books on Marxism in her home and was warned not to take any philosophy classes, as those ideas could be viewed as subversive.

Finally, in April, 1954, Felicia was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. Until that point she lived in fear of being send back to Poland or having to flee. Years later, she would tell our family that it was this moment, the moment she was given the protections of U.S. citizenship, that she finally felt safe. Although, her nightmares about the camps, the smells and the sounds, would never cease.

Looking through these letters, it is hard not to be moved by the sympathy, horror and sadness expressed by the children Felicia spoke to. Perhaps some of these students were present during the protests that sprung up after Trump’s executive order, or spoke out with a call to a local official. I know that Felicia would find comfort in knowing that even one student was influenced by the story she told in their classroom, and that her mission to prevent history from repeating itself still resonates today.

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Seeking Solace After Trump’s Muslim Ban

Trump’s executive order is not just political, it’s personal.

By Saira Khan

It was around 30 degrees on Saturday and the crowd in front of me at John F. Kennedy Airport appeared to be in the thousands. People were packed into a space across Terminal 4 (international arrivals) and more were lined up along the bus stop and taxi stands. Some had already been standing and chanting for nearly five hours. There were people overlooking the crowd on all levels of the parking garage. An upside down American flag hung from the fourth floor, someone had spray painted a peace sign and “no borders” onto it. I made my way in, unsure of what to do. I was alone and didn’t have a sign. I was able to find a spot on the third floor of the garage where I planted myself for the next few hours. I didn’t know what to expect at the protest but I do know I wasn’t expecting what I saw.

***

On Saturday morning, I woke up feeling a sense of dread and anxiety that I haven’t felt since last year, when I learned that my father had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Late Friday, Donald Trump signed an executive order fulfilling his campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the United States. The order temporarily bans travel from seven Muslim-dominated countries for refugees and visa-holders. There are reports that the White House is looking to expand the ban to include Pakistan, which is where I am from, and where my parents currently reside. The order makes an exception for persecuted religious minorities; Trump later clarified that he specifically meant Christians.

My sister texted me early morning, “Baji, this Muslim ban is really scaring me.” I had no words to comfort her. As American citizens, the executive order doesn’t affect us yet but the sense of otherness it is fostering is real and immediate. I was born in Pakistan and have spent most of my life in the United States. My sister was born in the U.S., has spent most of her life in Pakistan, and recently moved to New York. Trump’s executive order is ostensibly about religion, but it feels racial. It’s hard to dismiss this as mere politics; it’s personal.

When, late Saturday morning, I saw a handful of tweets and Facebook posts from activists, American Civil Liberties Union lawyers, and immigration organizations calling on people to gather at Terminal 4 to protest the executive order and stand in solidarity with those being detained, I knew I had to go. I needed to do something to shake the loneliness and helplessness I was feeling.

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I spent the early afternoon speaking with friends who were immediately impacted by Trump’s order: people who have been told by their lawyers to cancel travel plans for the immediate future, people whose families can no longer visit them, people who feel the effect of this ban so deeply that they worry even voicing these concerns publicly will result in retribution.

By the time I made it onto the A train to JFK, around 4:00 p.m., it was full of protesters with signs declaring their support for refugees. “We are all refugees,” read one, “No more hate,” read another. Upon arriving at Terminal 4, I was greeted by four NYPD officers in full riot gear. The protesters were nowhere in sight. Outside, there were dozens of officers and a steady stream of flashing red and blue police lights. Further ahead, I heard the faint chants of protesters. I couldn’t make out what they were saying but as I got closer the size of the crowd became apparent.

A week ago, I had attended the Women’s March in New York City, for which the turnout was approximately 400,000. While it was empowering to march with women for our rights, I did not feel the sense of solidarity and emotion that I felt on Saturday. The crowd at the march appeared to be largely white, and, historically, white feminism hasn’t been sympathetic to people of color (much has been written about this, so if you want to know more I recommend reading this and this.) I felt no bond and no sisterhood  with the strangers marching with me. I expect all the women and men I know to fight for my rights as a woman, but I have lower expectations from people when it comes to fighting for my rights as a Pakistani woman of Muslim-descent. Our struggles, as women of color, aren’t their struggles and thus it’s easier to talk about gender than it is about race.

I was expecting anywhere from two dozen to 100 people at JFK. I’m not much of a crier and I surely don’t cry in public, so when I saw the size of the protest at Terminal 4, which appeared to be over 1,000, and my eyes welled up with tears, I felt naked and vulnerable.

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In the garage, as the temperature continued to drop, my fully-charged phone stopped working and my hands became colder. A young woman handed me a packet of hand-warmers. Another woman handed me a bottle of Gatorade, “to stay hydrated,” she said.

I didn’t chant at the protest. I couldn’t bring myself to. I stood there, mostly in silence, at the top of the parking garage, taking in the crowd, and felt the sense of dread I had woken up with slowly melt away. I saw women in hijabs, men in yarmulkes; there were black people and white people and brown people all around me. This wasn’t a protest for overarching women’s rights. This was a specific protest against an executive order that discriminates against a specific sect of peopleit’s likely that many of those in attendance weren’t directly affected by Trump’s ban. The ones who came out that day had cancelled their plans and stood in the cold with no purpose but to voice their dissent. As a woman of color, macro- and micro-aggressions tinge every aspect of my life. I’ve learned to expect the worst from people. On Saturday, this expectation was challenged.

While I was at the airport, my sister was at Cadman Plaza, in Brooklyn, awaiting Judge Ann Donnelly’s ruling on an emergency challenge to the order by the ACLU. It was shortly before 9:00 p.m. when the stay was granted.

“When I got here there were a few dozen, now there are soooo many,” my sister texted me.

(In all the rejoicing, it’s important to remember that we still have a long battle to fight. The stay blocks only part of the executive action: it prevents the government from deporting people who arrived in the United States during this chaos, or people who were already here. The stay does not state that they must be allowed into the country; another hearing is set for Feb. 21. And we still don’t know what is to come from this administration.)

I made it home around 8:50 p.m. and my sister came home shortly after the ruling was issued.

“How’re you feeling now?” I asked her.

“I cried a lot and I’m still really scared about what’s going to happen. But I feel a lot better. Does that make sense?” she asked.

“Yes, it does.” I said. And I meant it.

 

A Friendship Interrupted: Loss During the AIDS Epidemic

A story about loving and losing a best friend during the AIDS epidemic in New York City.

As told to Gabrielle Sierra by her mother, Samantha

 

I first met David Poole in 1975. I was 23 and he was 25 and we were both working at the New York Public Library. He sought me out as a friend and I don’t really know why; it felt like we lived in different worlds. He was an openly gay man living in a fifth-floor walkup in the East Village, with a bathtub in the kitchen. I was a Brooklyn hippie commuting to the city every day, balancing work with night classes in community college. But David and I became fast friends and he brought me into his world.

There was so much about David that was unique. He biked everywhere and was brazen too; if a taxi cut him off he’d spit on it. It was David who first brought me to a sushi restaurant and introduced me to clubs like Paradise Garage where we would dance until dawn. He was a great dancer and knew everyone. In fact, it was a friend of his who introduced me to the man I would eventually marry.

David was a true-blue friend and utterly unselfish in his relationship with me. I’d never had a friend like that before and never have again.

David had a tremendous love for exotic plants and he sacrificed a room in his two-room apartment just to grow orchids. He had a complicated lighting and misting system that would go off on a timer. Depending on which one went on, he would either hand you sunglasses or an umbrella. Geckos ran loose in the apartment to eat roaches.

David was a true-blue friend and utterly unselfish in his relationship with me. I’d never had a friend like that before and never have again.

He first had suspicions that he had AIDS in 1985. Many of his friends were being diagnosed and he was right in the thick of the community. There was a lot of promiscuity and drug use; David wasn’t monogamous so the possibility was real. There were so many lies and misinformation surrounding the disease so it was hard to know what to believe. People believed you could get it from spit on the ground, from someone handling your food or touching the poles on the subway. There was a lot of fear.

At first David wouldn’t go to the doctor. He developed oral thrush and even though it really freaked him out he stayed in denial. But as more and more people around him started dying he grew consumed with the idea that he had AIDS. He was eventually diagnosed in 1986.

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David and Samantha


The doctor didn’t flat out tell him he had AIDS; they wouldn’t say it then. They listed ailments related to the disease but never said the actual word AIDS. After that he started to go downhill fast. He grew weaker. The library asked him to resign from his job.

A few of David’s friends and I began a desperate hunt for AZT, a medication used to treat HIV/AIDS. We contacted the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and they directed us to a doctor who would prescribe the medication but it wasn’t available at any pharmacy. We would be told it was on order and to come back tomorrow only to be told the same thing the next day. I went to different pharmacies, all over the city, every day, for nearly a month. They knew he was dying, knew so many people were dying, and they still lead us on. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. He didn’t get the AZT until he was too sick.

“They knew he was dying, knew so many people were dying, and they still lead us on.”

We tried to take him to the hospital but they wouldn’t admit him. Multiple doctors literally turned their backs to us. We contacted the GMHC again and they told us the only way to get David into the hospital was to bring him to the emergency room and walk away, because legally they had to take him if he was abandoned and in need of care. Walking away, leaving him all alone and so fragile, was the hardest thing I have ever done.

Once he was admitted, it was the same story. No physician would state that he had AIDS, they would only discuss what was happening to him. Eventually I cornered his doctor in the stairwell and asked him to just tell me off the record if it was AIDS. He said yes and I broke down. I guess I had just been holding on to this scrap of hope that since they never said it, it wasn’t real.

While David was in the hospital I found out that I was pregnant. I was going to the city every day to visit him at the hospital and I had no intention of changing that pattern. People gave me shit about exposing the fetus to AIDS and said that my stress would affect the pregnancy. Their concern was fueled by their ignorance and fear. Most of his friends didn’t visit him for the same reasons.

Before David was admitted, my husband and I had purchased tickets to visit my in-laws in Puerto Rico. As the trip got closer, I became more and more hesitant about going. But eventually two close friends of ours agreed to stay with him in the hospital, so we left. I called frequently.

His struggle with AIDS didn’t end in death.

We were just a few days into our trip when I grew concerned about David’s mental and physical state. Each time we spoke on the phone, he seemed more and more confused, repeating his fears to me, forgetting things. The disease was spreading to his brain and he was deteriorating quickly. I decided we had to go home right away. We bought tickets and I called to let David know I was coming. Our friends answered and said he wasn’t talking anymore. I asked them to put the phone to his ear and I told him I was on my way home and that we’d be back so soon. By the time we landed at the airport David was gone. He was 36. I didn’t get to see him again, I didn’t get to say goodbye.

His struggle with AIDS didn’t end in death. We couldn’t bury him. We went to multiple funeral homes only to be turned away. We would argue or offer more money but they would still refuse. When we asked how they could deny us, they said that by law they could refuse us service. It was surreal and devastating.  

Thank goodness for the GMHC. They instructed us to go to a certain place to cremate him, but then no one would take his ashes. Cemetery owners were terrified to put him in the ground. My lovely best friend.

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David, the author, and her dog Max

David’s life of kindness, easy friendship and love of nature helped us find an answer. He had been close with the groundskeeper for the Quaker cemetery in Prospect Park, a nice guy who used to let him come in and garden. When he heard that we couldn’t find a place for David’s ashes, he came to the rescue. The groundskeeper and I drove out to New Jersey and picked a tree we thought David would love. Then we illegally dug a hole for the tree and his ashes in the hidden idyllic cemetery. The tree is still there. It is amazing looking – a huge tree, beautiful and blue. We had a small ceremony there and a couple of us spoke.

I miscarried the baby very shortly after David died. People blamed it on the stress and all that, but I never thought about it that way. It was just the way things happen.

I was the executor for David’s will and he had a ton of odd and interesting stuff. We donated his plants to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and divided the rest of his things among friends and various charitable organizations. One day my husband and I were packing up at David’s apartment and we began searching for the geckos to take home with us. We knew there were four but since they were all loose, we were struggling to find them. We finally found three but it just seemed like the fourth was gone. I was extremely upset and I kept apologizing saying, “I’m sorry David, I’m sorry we couldn’t find him.” I was despondent when my husband said my name and pointed as the last gecko found his way onto my shoulder.

I have tried my best to honor David the place he had in my life. In the 1990’s I made a section on The AIDS Memorial Quilt for David and traveled with The Names Project around the country. I protested when children were being kept out of public schools due to AIDS. Through my job I now work with LGBT organizations and am an organizing member of a Safe Zone for all faculty and students at my school. I am proud to say my own children are liberal-minded and sensitive and thoughtful; what I went through with David had a hand in the way I raised them.

My wonderful friend will never be able to enrich the lives of my children as I know he would have.

But the panic I saw in people’s eyes and their actions during that time struck me in a deeply profound way. To see those sworn to protect the public turn their backs on us. To know that if some people had their way they would have left David and the rest of the gay community on an island to weed itself out was heartbreaking. It was murder. My wonderful friend will never be able to enrich the lives of my children as I know he would have.

I don’t think I’ll ever lose my fear and dread: not of Ebola or terrorism or threats to our planet, but the capacity of hate we humans can muster when we are afraid.