In Our Shoes: The exhibit

Steamboat Pilot & Today’s In Our Shoes project included an art exhibit featuring over 50 pairs of shoes created by local community members in response to their experience with sexual assault.

Many of the shoes were accompanied by a personal story written by the shoe artist. The In Our Shoes art exhibit opened during a special In Our Shoes community event held July 27. The shoes were then moved to the Depot Art Center where they were displayed for the month of August.

The In Our Shoes event and accompanying art exhibit was a collaborative effort between The Pilot, Advocates of Routt County, Young Bloods Collective and Steamboat Creates.

The project’s title, In Our Shoes, was based upon the familiar expression, “You have to walk a mile in a person’s shoes before you can know what they’re going through.” “We called it ‘In Our Shoes’ because we wanted it to be about community,” said editor Lisa Schlichtman.

How we survive?
The gift that keeps on giving.
What helps us as children
Disables us as adults
— Carla Portigal

My boots are decorate to demonstrate the mental battle of rape and some of the things that helped me through it. I was raped by my boyfriend who justified his actions with the phrase “If you don’t want to have sex with me then why are you wet?”

He proceeded no matter how many times I told him I didn’t want to. His actions that day led to the resurfacing of my childhood trauma of being raped at the age of 6 years old by a family member. I shut myself down and was unable to do even the basic, everyday things. I would come home from work and lay in my bed for hours. No matter how hard I tried to do the things I loved, I couldn’t bring myself to leave my bed. I had many meetings with Advocates and was pointed in several right directions on how to get help. I reached out to a therapist and started EMDR therapy to help redirect my trauma. After several sessions with my therapist, I finally grew strong enough to start leaving my bed and engage with friends I had shut out when this all started. Although I feel I’ve made a lot of progress to overcome my depression and anxiety, I still feel like a lot of progress is to come.

So we come from a generation that says that we need to be able to, as a man, just lace up our shoes and move forward. Perform. Be able to step on the right foot and be professional. As a survivor, I say screw that. Being a survivor of child sex abuse, I have learned that I often seek to protect myself and others. I do that as a projection of my emotional need to protect my body, emotions, and life from being hurt like I was. What I’ve learned from this experience is that I’m kinder. I’m more in tune with others. What some days has felt like my biggest detriment, has allowed me to grow as a human and grow into what my definition of what looking like and behaving like a man looks like. Being a man means loving the beauty of life. Being a man means loving the God I depend on that keeps me staying positive. Loving my family and community makes my heart grow! Where once my heart held like death, my heart pursues God to bring life to the tree of Christ he has gifted me! On the days that suck, you have to remind yourself, one bad day and bad week doesn’t mean a bad life!

Sweet Girl, By Nicole L. DeCrette

incredible, inconceivable

Subject: Speak Up, Speak early and often to curb and inform the horror of Sexual abuse.

Coming home from school I found a white haired lady in my bedroom whose feet and legs lay under a teepee with a lite inside. Peeking under I saw ugly black charcoal feet. Mother, found me crying in the garage. The lady is your very sick Grandmother and she needs to live with us until she gets well. First, a crying baby sister and now a GM messing up my freedom. Yuk. A large Raggedy Ann doll and a pair of shiny black shoes sat on the floor. I liked the doll, maybe for me, but the shoes are too big. Perhaps she’ll let me dress up and wear them, mother doesn’t let me clomp in her shoes. Supper time found Sally, my dog, waiting for her forbidden under the table handout. GM supper tray had no cookies! I added cookies. Spotting my addition, my mother removed them saying they would make GM sick. Sally is happy with handouts so now I’ll help GM. No dessert for GM, it’ll make her sick. She’s sick now, cookies will make her happy. I felt sorry for GM never out of bed, her feet burning up and no cookies. I continued trying to make GM happy until my disobedience caused a stay in my room after school, no play time. Two whole weeks! Yuk! After that I could not find any cookies. I spent a-lot of time reading and GM left me clipity clip in black beautiful noise making shoes. School out for summer so GM opened up a red bag full of brilliant shining copper pennies. Are there stores that sell penny candy? Yes, but Old Man Metzer’s store was forbidden and scary! If a girl friend had a birthday, then maybe we could get a silver nickel to spend for penny candy. Grandmother wanted a treat and I liked candy but I’m not going to the spook store. After many requests maybe I could try to do as GM wished. I was not disobedient, BUT I DIDN’T LIKE MY CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT SINCE MY SUMMERS ARE SPENT IN THE WILDS OF Rocky Mountain National Park. Now, I’m 7 1/2 going on 8 and a brave girl, however at the front door I ran away. Again repeated pleases so trying again, I spent 2 pennies and ran. Next time after 2 pennies, his fifty hands with long black fingernails reached for me and pulled me behind the counter. Looking up at his big wart nose and beady eyes as he put candy in a bag. Take this and this as he played on me. I didn’t like it but was too afraid to run until his wife, the Wizard of Oz Witch shrieked from her window above the store. I ran as fast as I was sure she’d send the scary vicious monkeys after me. I got way and I’ll never go back. Arriving home Mother spotted the candy bag, knowing where it came from she grabbed me and with a very raised voice said, “I told you NEVER, look at me you lady, I said NEVER.” As she passed the bedroom she raised her voice at GM also. I got the scrubbing of my life inside and out during my bath of fear. It was not until high school that I sorted out what happened. Sex was what girls giggled about, but no home discussions at least not from anyone I knew. I began to understand, “No touch, No play, no stay, run fast.” Start conversations early at a child’s level adding some adult words. As my younger sister grew mother made a cloth doll with a red X at the “No touch” area. Today so many sick individuals are tempting children, with money drugs, guns and false safety. Despicable clergy preying on young boys making false claims. My father had been taught to obey, now teach them differently. Promises and threats by family, friends and a never ending list. Unfortunately some people are afraid to Speak up and Speak out early which defines a different trauma. It takes courage by you but with help we can save many from a sexual abuse horror which might end their life due to or from fear, shame and or societies lack of instruction. Early instruction will help now and a realization of possible future fears. Thanks and keep speaking.

Wading in hurts vast it creates a new horizon
in feelings of sixteen my hallow body sways against
currents of angst and shallow daydreams memories broken apart like morse code
easily rippled distorted and misplaced
by the flask of your face the waves come sharp
a simple thought of you and I am below the surface
a splash without a sound with hands ridged cold
there is nothing to grab onto they have nothing left to hold.
and I wish the tides would play kind
take the sand back from beneath my feet

Broken down from the verbal and emotional abuse, I finally broke it off.
But then he raped me. 
I kept saying no, but he had me trapped in my own home. 
I finally gave up, resigning myself to the fact there was no other way out.
“Get it over with,” I thought.
“How dare you cry,” he said.
And then, to tell someone and be questioned
“Did you really do everything you could?”
As if I wasn’t already blaming myself enough.
True, I didn’t fight back physically or scream for help or try to call 911, 
But I had learned at a very young age 
that my boundaries wouldn’t always be respected, 
that I was powerless, 
that sometimes I just had to suck it up and endure. 
And in that moment fight and flight didn’t feel like options. 
Only freeze.
And that doesn’t make it my fault.
Nor should I need to defend myself. 
We’ve all heard it said that no means no, but let me elaborate. 
No is not a tease, a playing hard to get. 
No is not an invitation to persuade or belittle. 
And no is certainly not a challenge to be overcome. 
But, I have overcome my past,
thanks to God and His work in me.
I’ve forgiven. I’ve been healed, redeemed, restored, and set free.
And I have hope for the future — for my own, and the world’s.

“Show yourself love.”

This shoe was made to honor the lives of black trans women that we’ve lost. This shoe personifies two incredible women in particular, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Who changed everything, yet had next to nothing and are finally being honored 50 years late. These women were also sex workers, because often that’s the only job black/poc trans women can get. Sylvia Rivera became a sex worker at age 11 because she was disowned for her feminine proclivities. 

These women in particular had a fire in their souls, in the most authentic sense, instead of allowing their flames to be extinguished by others (including the gays and lesbians of the ‘60s to ‘90s as they were not inclusive to trans folx) they took what little money they had from sex work and started STAR house, a safe space with support, food, and shelter for at risk, homeless queer youth. In New York City from 1970-73 STAR house was a refuge. They always seemed to do whatever it was within their capacity to fight for the “others” to make sure they knew they were OK, and seen.

I honor these women, those before them and those that are still dying, every, damn, day for being who they are. Their deaths are most often at the hands of men who, if ever even tried, plead the panic defense, which is basically “I didn’t know she wasn’t a binary woman, therefore when I discovered it, I stabbed her repeatedly and then lit the house on fire as a reasonable response to this affront to my masculinity.” and then they go, free into the world. While the lives of trans women are lost over and over again with no justice, simply because they are living as themselves, and that often means constantly at risk. 

“We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.”

“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”

That palpable space, however
slyly shifts to emptiness
All of a sudden, it is a vast void
inhaling everything I have to give

Whispers echo in the hallway,
I fly under the radar,
rumors spreading that I am gay,
I sob while seeking refuge in my car,
The shame and loneliness pierce my soul,
I will speak the truth for understanding,
I am a survivor.

Hope and Despair
Investigating sex assault takes its toll. It can be depressing, frustrating and sometimes literally horrific. It can also be rewarding and inspiring. There are two sides, each represented by a boot. In each case there is Hope, and there is Despair.

You see the strength and bravery of the survivor who is willing to take the change and share the most personal and horrifying details of what happened to them. Often they don’t come forward for their own sake but in an attempt to try and stop it from happening to others. Sometimes you’re the first person they tell their story to. You see a bit of weight lifted from them, just by having someone to share it with. You feel the weight lifted from them, just by having someone to share it with. You feel the weight and responsibility of their trust in you. Often you get to experience the love and support they have from family and friends. You see the benefit of the help they receive from Advocates. Sometimes you see them get at least some of the justice they deserve. There is hope that they not only survive the attack, but they overcome and are a bit better off because of your actions.

You share in the horrors of their experience; you can’t help but feel some of their pain. You wonder why and how. You battle feelings go hate, disgust and anger. You worry for the survivor and their future. You feel helpless and attempt to make it right. Sometimes you watch as the system fails them and justice falls short and you struggle to explain why. Some cases you’re left feeling frustrated, and share in some of the despair they feel.

My workplace threw the BEST Christmas parties. Every year my colleagues and I waited with anticipation for the announcement about where this season’s party would be. 

This year I had Mande any new friends from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and I even had a boyfriend. He was smart, handsome, kind, and I adored him. Life was pretty great. 

The Christmas party was a hit as usual. We ate, we drank, we danced, we laughed … and then the party ended and some of us chose to continue the festivities at another establishment.

After several more drinks, we retired to someone’s house for a pingpong challenge, and that’s the last I remember. 

The next morning I woke in a colleague’s bed. A colleague who was NOT my amazing boyfriend! What had happened? I had no idea. I am NOT a ‘cheater!’ I would NEVER do that. I didn’t know what to do.

Long story short — I lost my incredible boyfriend, I lost a little faith in humanity, and I had no idea how to talk about it. 

It’s 20 years later now and I think about it regularly. I’m pretty convinced that I ‘got roofied.’ Not by the colleague I ‘woke up’ with, but by someone at the bar, and that lead to ‘the unfortunate situation’ that followed.

I’m past it now, but I’m angry and annoyed that people do this to each other. That certain people feel the need to manipulate others in order to get what they want. I don’t understand why people can’t just BE KIND!

I was sexually assaulted in my first week of college. I was 18 and on my own for the first time. I reported to the police, but nothing happened. That year, I learned how many others had stories like mine. I found out just how bad the issue of sexual assault was on my campus and campuses across the country.

We Will Walk Together

From dusk to dawn, and dawn to dusk — I will meet you. I am sad you are here, but I am glad you came forward. I respect you and I respect your body. We will have uncomfortable conversations. I will talk about the things that are haunting you, as well as the things you may have not already thought of. I may be the first person to touch you, after someone touched you unkindly. We will walk together through this exam. We will walk together on what comes next. I will not do anything without your consent. I do not judge. You did not ask for this. I know you would have fathered never met me. I want you to come forward. I will welcome you whether you are woman, man, trans, nonbinary — white, black or brown — adult, child or elderly — rich or poor — or anything elsewhere society may’ve treated you unfairly in the past. We will walk together and you may as me any questions. You may ask me to stop. You may ask me to hold you. You did not ask for this. Your bravery and your willingness to let me care for you, will give me strength and courage to take care of those patients I see after you. I will carry you in my footsteps. When you walk away, I will walk the hals of the hospital reflecting on you and your healing. You give me a solid ground to stand up for what is right for every person and to respond from dusk to dawn and dawn to dusk.

Artist: Kim Keith

Title: Beyond Duality

Mixed up memories and fluctuating emotions from prior sexual assaults are expressed in these two high heeled shoes:

•     anger mixed with love and violence
•     purity and sadness spilling into a puddle of disgust

I was an innocent fifteen year old girl. When my eighteen year old sister threw a pool party. I decided to go. I’m still not sure why – maybe because I was seeking attention and a sense of belonging. The pool stank of mildewed socks, chlorine and stale beer. Older kids were doing keg stands and engaging in a variety of competitive drinking games. I learned a lot about teenage debauchery that night.

I watched. Then I drank some beer, wanting to fit in, not knowing the effect it would have on me. Before I knew what was happening, I was shoved into a steamy sauna, molested, screaming, silenced, raped and bleeding. I was a virgin. He covered my mouth with his hands and I whimpered trying to squirm away from his force.

He was the most popular boy in high school, all-star athlete, talented musician with a famous dad. Everybody loved him but after this night, I knew a different side – hateful, controlling predator of the youngest and most vulnerable person in the room.

Hot tears falling down my cheeks, lipgloss smeared across my face, paralyzed with fear, I closed my eyes and survived. Afterwards, I ran as fast as I could and jumped into the darkened swimming pool to hide, hoping the blood would disperse in the water.

Afterwards, I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I thought if I told I would become an outcast.. It was clear he was untouchable in the eyes of the private Christian school we both attended. He a senior, me a freshman. He had clout, I had fear and trauma and the emotional maturity of a fish. I buried my shame and pain for many, many years.

Sexual assault and unwanted attention became part of my relationships with men. The control and violence and invasion of space was repeated throughout my life by people I loved and thought loved me and also by people I barely knew. I was careless at times and completely innocent other times. But never did I deserve to be violated.

The layers upon layers of trauma were tucked away, quietly surfacing in the shadows of my personal art projects, sometimes showing up as self-destructive behavior or poor choices in mates and eventually resting in my belly, materializing as tumors. Memories were vaguely shared on occasion but mostly I felt they were too disturbing to be accurately voiced.

My sexual trauma became a mixture of emotions and memories that made telling the story very difficult and confusing. The trauma still resides within me, even though I have done significant psychological work to come to terms with the experiences. Without warning, the trauma can be re-triggered and brought back to the surface as quickly as the snap of a towel or a feminist movement like Me2. Digging deep into the source of the re-trauma can reveal the origin story that must be acknowledged and worked through, yet again. And again. And again.

Every day for the past 10 months I have been in an active trauma protective guarding mode due to the life altering, body altering surgery that triggered a constant re-living of these past sexual assaults and unwelcome invasions. I started telling my story through art. The beautiful thing about art and creative expression, for me, is that the more and more I share, the less I become re-traumatized, instead recognizing the past experiences as horrible memories. Art, music, writing and the creative process are helping me heal.

As I began opening myself up to new experiences through creativity, I decided to attend a long weekend of alternative healing through sonic art performances. Not long after I arrived, this kind eyed, handsome man with his pretty mouth moving and perfectly pitched voice, engaged the inquisitive part of my brain and my guard lifted. Harmony and trust arrived. Hope opened the door and hitched a ride. The sound performance ended but the night continued.

He simply touched my hand in the car. I tingled all over. I didn’t recoil or freeze up from the touch of another. His touch. So soft, a gentle stroke of the skin. Thinking of it now still sends a shiver up my spine. I will do everything in my power to not forget the moment.

Every molecule in my body was screaming for his touch to move from my hand, up my arm, over my round shoulders to cradle the base of my neck and pull me into a warm, wet kiss. I imagined it happening. Even so, I was thinking to myself – Am I imagining this? What is going on? Where is my protective guard? Come back. No don’t.

I longed to be touched but I was so very scared and hypersensitive to the chronic pain I was experiencing from the surgery that removed my tumors but not my trauma. I felt inflamed every time he looked at me with those kind eyes, that sly, luscious smile. I felt self-conscious and vulnerable, but emerging from a darkness, the cloud was being lifted, ever so gently.

‘Can I kiss you?’ he asked.

Yes please.

‘Can I touch your scars?’

Yes please, no one has.

‘Can I kiss each one?’

yes. yes. yes. It all rushed back.

With him, I was that sexy, strong and sweet woman I wanted to be. Those tendencies rushed right back to the surface in his embrace. The fear mingled with desire mingled with sweat and tears, a beautiful sweat. It was a cacophony of mixed up emotions, mutual physicalness all playing in the sandbox together creating a string of magical moments that lasted three days. We jumped up to meet the sun each morning and raced to home to meet the moon each night. Breathless, I was literally breathless from his tenderness. His asking permission, his careful, thoughtful approach to touching me. Taking care around my pain, taking care but helping me push through the fear. It was a beautiful blessing I didn’t know was possible. He shook me awake.

Today, I stay focused on my work, my healing, my friendships. Anything can happen, anything does. I tell myself ‘Let go and let life happen. Mostly let go.’ It’s so wonderful to know that these parts of myself are still there, resurfacing under exceptional circumstances; faith in the lush potential of love, the beauty of my sexual being, spontaneity and healing vibrations surrounding me.

The possibilities those three days offered me are the sugar I long for. A spoonful, thick and sticky sweet like black cane molasses, the decadent dessert course of life. I am ever so grateful to that chance encounter and those tender touches and the other human beings in my life that support me in my path towards love. My own willingness to disarm the protective guarding is contributing to my feminine awakening.

One day I will be ready to fully open my heart again. Until then, I seek out opportunities to share a veiled expression of the violence and betrayal that I experienced as an adolescent and a young woman and the healing that is possible with time and maturity.

I know the adult me would have approached those early situations differently. I try patiently to let the little girl that still resides inside know that I will protect her from that happening ever again but not so much to prevent love from entering.

Hi, I’m 5 years old; I like trucks, dinosaurs and Oreo cookies.

I don’t like my grandma, she makes me feel funny and she scares me sometimes.

She makes me sleep in her bed when I go visit her, even though I’m a big boy, and she won’t let me wear my PJs or even my underwear to bed. Sometimes she wants to play a naked game, I don’t like this game.

My mommy says I’m big enough to wash myself but when grandma helps me in the bath she touches my penis (big boys say penis not pee-pee). I don’t like that either.

I told my mommy, and she cried, she cried a lot, but she told me I was a good boy for telling her, but I don’t feel like a good boy, good boys shouldn’t make their mommies cry, should they?

Mommy took me to the Police Station, I got to sit in a police car and play with the lights and siren. I talked to a really nice police lady who gave me my very own police badge.

Mommy told me grandma wasn’t allowed to talk to me anymore and that I wouldn’t be going to her house anymore. But grandma would come by the school or sit by my bus stop and watch me. It scared me. 

I started not wanting to go to school. Even though my friends are there, I was afraid grandma was going to take me away from my mommy and my baby brother. This made my mommy cry too.

I talked to the police lady, and she told me grandma wasn’t allowed to be near me anymore and that I would be safe. The police lady was right, I don’t see grandma anymore, and we moved to a different town and I go to a different school but that police lady came to visit me at my new school and brought stickers for my new friends.

I’m happy again. Sometimes I see mommy looking at me and she looks sad, but she gives good hugs and tells me she loves me, so I’m OK.

About 75% of rape cases go unreported in the United States. The empty lace holes on my shoe represents that amount. “No Means No” is something everyone should remember.

Balancing over fast current

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

The purpose of the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s In Our Shoes reporting series was to shine a light on the issue of sexual assault in Steamboat Springs and Routt County and ignite a community conversation about a tough topic that has been forced into the shadows because it’s difficult to discuss. These old boots symbolize Steamboat’s western heritage, and they are plastered with clippings from the newspaper signifying the in-depth nature of the news reporting. The flashlights in the boots symbolize the light that community journalism can shine on a problem with the ultimate goal being grassroots change, action and more support for survivors.

My mom was sexually assaulted by a family member when she was a child. She shared this with me when I was a teenager. I know it wasn’t easy for her to share, but I think she thought it was important, especially as she was raising two young boys. The sharing provided her a platform to discuss healthy relationships with me, and how a victim feels after being victimized. The shoes represent a very traumatized little girl, who I know overcame a very difficult situation to become one of the strongest women I’ve ever met. My mom has since left us, but I’m reminded every day of her courage, strength, and lessons, lessons which I will pass along to my children. I love you very much, mom. I’m sorry for what you went through, but I appreciate you helping make me the man I am today, and teaching me about the importance of healthy relationships.

As a victim of sexual assault, it’s important to remember to love yourself.

Sunflower boots

Healing is like growing
Reaching toward the sun
Stretching for life above
Out of the darkness
Into the beauty of a new dawn
Into the light
I am strong like a sunflower
Shining proudly above the rest
Allowing me to begin again

Rainbow Runners

These shoes are an homage to the LGBTQ community. The rainbow colors, gold glitter and feather — they are all about being colorful and loud and proud, which I feel are good descriptors for this community. Two names — Harvey Milk and Matthew Shepard — are written along the outside. These two men were killed for their sexual orientation. They are reminders of why I fight for LGBTQ rights. May they, to all who have lost their lives from hate crimes, rest in peace.

We left the party. I was falling asleep on my friend’s couch, when his hand on my knee woke me up.

He thought I didn’t want to do it because the couch was too small. I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want to do it.

I was drunk and tired. He was my friend’s boyfriend. He was our waiter at my family’s favorite restaurant.  

I said no more times than I can count. I feel lucky, like somehow I said it enough times that he figured out that I didn’t want to do it.

He went back to her bedroom. I feel lucky. 

I was scared he’d come back. I wanted to put a door and a lock between him and me. I texted my best friend, asking if I could sleep in her bed. It was her house, but she was out of town. She told me I could, as long as I’d taken a shower. I remember thinking “she doesn’t understand.” I went to her room. I locked the door. I slept in her bed, even though I hadn’t showered. I feel lucky.

She called me in the middle of the night.
I could hear her sadness, feel her fright.
She wasn’t sure she could go on anymore
She felt like life had become a chore
At first I was confused by her words, her pain
And felt that my advice and comfort were all in vain.
Then her story started to unfold
A story that she had never told
A year earlier she had been brutally raped
A man with a knife, no escape
He came into her room, masked by the dark
Committing a crime without a single remark
Too scared to run, scream, or fight
She froze and complied in the middle of the night
A dog that stayed quiet, why her apartment on the third floor
She couldn’t stop questioning, had they met before?
Even though she surrendered and he took what he wanted
He still drug his knife across her skin and left her haunted
While the wounds may have been superficial
The nightmares of the night became official
This stalker of the night was never caught
And she questioned everyday whether she should have fought
Unfortunately healing isn’t something easy or quick
And living through trauma isn’t something you pick
While she slowly has worked to get back to “okay”
She still struggles with PTSD every single day
How can we prevent this from ever happening
The lack of absolute solutions can be quite maddening
But we all have a part, we can all help create change
We need to act now, but have our sights set long-range
Speak up, be bold, have the strength to act
If we work together that we can have the biggest impact

Some people may describe me as a highly educated, intelligent, independent woman. Yet I allowed this to happen to me? It is this and much darker questions that cause me to go to the place represented by the black shoe.

It took me several years to tell anyone. I heard the perpetrator did it to another woman, and this prompted me to call the district attorney. Even then I started out by describing all the other things this person had done – less personal things. Even then I did not call it sexual assault. At most it was date rape. As if that is somehow less “bad.”

Eventually I testified against the perpetrator. I have done much hard work through therapy and coaching. I found running. Don’t misunderstand – I am not a fast runner and my form probably sucks. I just run. Running allows me to think things through without the outside world. Clear the mind. Through hard work and running, I discovered this single event does not define me. I am the one that defines me.

I choose to define myself as an Adventurous, Sparkly, Badass Runner.

From my soft breasts
rise jagged mountains. 
Bruises morph into liquid
filling Alpine lakes. 
The skin you touched
without asking
stretches out becoming 
rolling hills of wildflowers. 
My impenetrable celestial body
evolves, revolves on its own path. 
You may have hurt me
but I am a force of nature
and will win in the end. 
I existed before you 
and will thrive after.

Every other day, I feel a different way.
One moment I’m rotten and the other a bouquet
Most healing happens at a person’s unique pace,
Some of us need comfort while others need space,
I wish I could fight back, a vigilante in the night,
But best defense is more knowledge and valuable insight,
I learned to stick together even if our shoes are in disarrayTo polish ‘em up and ensure a bright future is underway.

Artist: Esteban Blanco 

Title: Black and Blue

Domestic violence, unlike rape (which can be a crime of opportunity between strangers) appears to develop over time and has components of manipulation and entrapment which leave the victim confused and questioning her conduct as represented in the maze. 

Although the piece certainly can be seen as a reflection on the disparity of power which informs all sexual and personal aggression, it very much focuses on domestic violence and its manipulative characteristics.

My Storm

The year was 2000. I was living in Steamboat Springs, newly married, a new homeowner and working as a professional woman in my career. 

Life was good. Life can change quickly and mine did. I was a registered dental assistant working for a new dentist in town. I worked hard at setting up the dental office. During

this initial time I also became friends with the dentist and his family. I especially enjoyed playing with their 4-year-old daughter. The family was new to Steamboat, so I enjoyed showing them what the town and mountain had to offer.

Being in the health care field requires you to attend courses every year to keep your license and registration. Over the years I often traveled to Denver or out of the state to continue my education. I traveled either alone or with a dentist, which was normal in my career.

I had been working for the new dentist for two years when that fall a dental convention was being scheduled. This time it was out of state. My boss, the dentist, asked if I wanted to go. He agreed that I would be paid for my time and trip expenses while I gained more education and hours toward my license. He mentioned that he would have the office manager set up flights, hotel and register us for the convention in Kansas City. He also stated that his wife would be traveling with us.

October arrived. The day we were scheduled to travel I had finished work, packed my bags and my husband dropped me off at the office where I was supposed to meet both my boss and his wife. The plan was to head to Denver, stay the night and fly out the next morning.

When I arrived at the office one thing had changed: his wife was not going. For a second it entered my mind that it seemed odd accompanied with a strange gut feeling. This feeling vanished just as quickly as it came over me, thinking nothing more about it. We put our bags in his car and headed to Denver.

Arriving in Denver for the night we both had separate rooms. Morning arrived quickly, and we boarded a plane for the ADA Dental Convention in Kansas City, Missouri. Everything felt fine. I was comfortable around him as I had spent considerable time around both him and his family. My relationship with him felt like a brother, father, friend and a boss — a trusting relationship.

Nothing seemed out of place. That is until the third night at the convention. It had been a long day of classes. We decided to grab dinner afterwards where we talked about our classes while also reading through our books. We also went over receipts from dental items I had purchased for our Steamboat office.

After dinner we returned to our hotel, entering our separate rooms. Going over my notes from the day I noticed I didn’t have the receipts for the office purchases I had made, which I needed to get reimbursed from our office manager. Realizing this I walked down the hall and knocked on his door, asking for the receipts. He said he wasn’t sure if he had them but I could look through his pile of books, pamphlets, flyers, etc. from the day. I proceeded to the desk in his room, rummaging through his papers where to my relief I found the receipts. I proceeded to the door.

It was during the brief moment of only being in his room for no longer than five minutes that my world would be turned upside down. As I got close to door I was stopped. I was pushed against the dresser. I pushed back. I tried to leave. He was over 6 feet tall and well over 200 pounds. I was barely 5 feet tall and 100 pounds. I could not get away.

He asked me to have sex. Feeling trapped, I had to listen to him explain how bad his marriage was all the while he pushed his body onto mine, trying to kiss and touch me. I fought back, managing to myself to the hotel room door. He then went to the door, putting his hand on it while I continued to tug at the door. I asked him to stop many times. 

For a moment he paused while holding the door closed. At this moment I quickly pulled the handle again as hard as I could. The door opened. I squeezed my body through the opening and ran to my room locking the door with the security bar latched behind me.

I sat on the edge of the bed, asking myself, “What just happened?” I was confused, almost in a dream state. My mind raced. I was in shock. I could barely move. 

My mind raced, nothing seemed to be in focus other than it felt I was trapped in a tunnel wondering what I had done wrong. It was the beginning down a road of depression. The next morning I woke up very tired and disoriented. This was the day we were leaving to fly back to Denver. 

I had all sorts of emotions running through me. I was sad, mad and scared. I got up, got ready, packed my bag and went down to the hotel lobby. He came down, he checked out. and we left for the airport. I was very distant, I walked around with him like a child that had been molested. I just wanted to get home, away from him. It was a long journey back to Steamboat.

Arriving home was a relief but I couldn’t get rid of the mess that I had been left with after the incident in the hotel room. My mind was flooded. I asked how could someone you worked with for two years could suddenly betray your trust. I felt alone, scared, frightened. I thought I had done something wrong, even questioning if there was something wrong with who I am as a person. 

I spiraled into depression. Over time I barely ate. I became scared to walk out of my home. I felt along inside. I self-loathed, blaming myself. I needed help. My world continued to close in on me. Co-workers, who didn’t want to lose their jobs, sided with our boss. I was ridiculed by some for not being tough enough at the time of the assault.

I was told I should have kicked him because I wasn’t actually “raped.” I was consumed with anger. I was so mad at him for my new found conflicts, both those on the outside passing judgment on me and, perhaps more potently, the internal war within me that I was struggling with on a daily basis.

After enough depression I made a bold choice. I decided to find therapy. It was through this path that I became strong enough to find an attorney. I still questioned if I could go down this road. Healing from an assault was one thing, following through down the path of our justice system was another. 

My father gave me some advice that made things clearer. He asked me if I was able to look myself in the mirror everyday? I pondered on his words for days and decided to go forward legally.

I had no idea what I was about to embark on, but I went through with it. I filed a lawsuit in February of 2002, 4 months after the assault. I had a 12-person jury for five days in the courthouse in downtown Steamboat on Oct. 12, 2003. The courtroom was filled to capacity, and people were standing in all corners. I was able to tell my story.

Advocates had walked this whole journey with me and sat with me in the courtroom.

The last day of the trial, the judge read the verdict. Hands down I was awarded justice from our legal system. The courtroom applauded, tears of joy from everyone, and I was covered with love as I walked out.

To all of the women who have experienced any kind of assault please don’t stay silent. You have a voice. Find the strength to use your voice. No has one meaning! Let no one tell you how you should of handled a situation like this. They are not in your shoes. I walked this path in my shoes.

Not in my shoes,

Tiffany McKoon

In the Darkness… there is Light.

Now Happy Feet.

Take These Broken Wings and Learn to Fly

She was undone in a moment – wings clipped. She hid the truth from her closest until she couldn’t any longer. Piece by piece. Slowly. She rebuilt – her confidence, her trust, her life – her. And, now she soars.

Your support matters. Your words make a difference. It was years ago, and I have pushed it down. It is easier to not think about it, then ever address it. I don’t want to think about it. Who would? These articles, these stories, they brought it back. It bubbled out. I couldn’t control it. I shared anonymously with the editor of our newspaper. She gave me a new name. It felt good to share but still hide. I was worried it would become a game of hide-and-seek. It didn’t. She was kind. Words were kind. It hurt to see it in newsprint in the paper I have read every day, as an adolescent and beyond. But there was a new sense of power. Wow. My story can help other people. Other people shared that that story helped them come forward. These eight weeks have changed my life. It opened my eyes. We all hide behind our smiles, our normal days, our confidence – when so many of us have moments of darkness that have changed our lives forever. But that doesn’t mean it defines us. We don’t have to stay in that darkness forever. Let us each keep this momentum. We each make a difference – sometimes sharing, sometimes listening, sometimes doing nothing but not “seeking” the truth of each other, but allowing each of us to just be us. Thank you.   

“The only time you should ever look back, is to see how far you’ve come.”

“She overcame everything that was meant to destroy her.”

“I see you. I hear you.
I believe you.”

“If I asked you to name all of the things you love, how long would it take you to name yourself?”

“Sexual assault and rape are NEVER a victim’s fault.”

“I know my worth, I’ve paid dearly for every ounce of it.”

Happy, skipping, running and jumping
A smiley and happy 5 year old girl
My best friend and I are playing
In my favorite dress, pig tails and a curl
We love to play board games at her house
Didn’t think it could change my world
Her dad calling for me, quiet as a mouse
Telling me “secrets”, my destiny unfurled
Many more days of playing and “secrets”
And weeks go by like they do
Thursday at school, a changed sequence
An all school assembly on abuse to sit thru
I felt sick to my stomach, I couldn’t breathe
Still and quiet outside, screaming for help underneath
No child or family wants a friend like this
“Don’t tell the story!” A story that no child gets
At 9 years old I disclosed to my gentle dad
So upset he punched a hole in my wall
Ashamed at myself for making him mad
This marked the start of a breakdown for all
My mom required much soothing
And became quite depressed
Took me to church for praying 
“Ask for forgiveness; to be blessed”
Confused and alone, and a lot of tears
No criminal proceedings for us
Just in case it “followed us” for years
“Remember! It’s nothing that we discuss!”
I hope the entire community hears my words
And thinks, “This cannot happen anymore”
For the people that this story disturbs:
Take action. Open your hearts and explore.

“I got my own back.”

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