It’s our little Secret; The unspoken fukú
“…What he [Yunior] couldn’t say to Lola was that ʻI too have been molestedʼ” (Moya 4) Junot Díaz reveals referring to a part in his book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, where the two characters are at a partition. Either Yunior can state the truth or he can keep it stifled within and not only lose his one love, but also submit himself to a lifelong sentence of denial and pain. This sort of fate wasn’t reserved just for Yunior as Díaz also admits the DeLeon family had a very specific fukú, “…rape” (Moya 4). Rape can be defined as any unwanted sexual encounter brought on by force or any sort of gross violation or degradation of a person, place or thing (Rape). The psychological toll it has on a victim varies based on the amount of support they receive toward the healing process (Whealin). No matter the origin there are often feelings of violation, anger, oppression, vengeance, and many other possibilities. Rape or sexual abuse is a physical act that affects the victim’s psychology and is often repressed or unspoken. This reality is handsomely presented within the book as it takes a very critical eye to spot the signs of abuse in each of the characters as any sexual focus is projected onto secondary characters rather than those most affected, the DeLeon family.
The first of many rapes was done through the eviction of their freedom and domicile by racism brought on by years of colonialism. Oppression is a direct effect of a colonized world especially where one race is conquered by another. During the history of the Dominican-Republic there have been many race related conflicts including the Haitian occupation which lasted from 1822 to 1844 and was continuously referred to by the militant dictator Trujillo. Using this to instill fear Trujillo effectively turned the nation against anyone darker than the lightest of the Spanish-Dominicans leading to “conditions of misery, inequality, exploitation, marginalization and social injustices” (127) as Psychologist Prilleltensky describes in one of many dissertations on the effects of colonialism. When Beli is driven from her home and sent to the United States she discovers not just racism but a more specific psychological condition of the people around her, Xenophobia. This fear is described as having a hate of foreigners not just of race but of culture as well (Crossroads 21). The American dream, bare and naked on the shores of New Jersey as if being raped once wasn’t enough. The Dominicans call this fukú, but the DeLeon’s had darker steps to venture down, the sexual act of rape, and not a single member was immune.
The following is a case study of the main characters within Díaz’s novel with particular attention to the aspect of rape, beginning with the matriarch, Beli. Psychologists use case studies to evaluate subjects that have undergone specific psychologically traumatic events to understand the individual effects of which the trigger perpetuated within the subject. Beli, mother of three, only two surviving, is eagerly presented as angry, desolate, and callous. Her remarks toward Oscar when he asks if he’s ugly help portray this image as “she sighed. Well, hijo, you certainly don’t take after me” (30). Beli was initially an innocent young lady with many traumas affecting her including losing both parents, being fostered, sold, burned and scarred, then finally returned to family. In a way “safe” she hits puberty to discover a womanly physique only accepted once the power is discovered. She uses this sexual power as a tool to get what she wants, but then makes choices that place her into an even further psychologically damaging situation with the Gangster. The human want for physical things plus sanctuary creep into play here, as the Gangster is a powerful man and has a way of materializing material possessions. This creates a sense of reward within Beli to keep her coming back for continual self-gratification, hinting at her lack of self worth. In this situation while matrimonial obligations of the Gangster weren’t known, after learning of this she maintained seeking the affection of the same man, claiming “love.” This analysis leads to question if the young Beli, perhaps in the care of her foster parents, might have been subject to some sort of sexual abuse. Out of the population of women, 33% were sexually abused as a child (Hall, Hall 1) and in a country where little to no statistical information on abuse cases is available or organized, it’s assumed the number is higher. This particular case also shows some specific identifying characteristics of the long-term effects such as feelings of worthlessness, externalizing the abuse, difficulty establishing interpersonal boundaries, and getting involved in abusive relationships (Hall, Hall 2-3). If this weren’t enough, it is speculated that her beating in the cane field may have included rape as the narrator states, “was there time for a rape or two? I suspect there was, but we shall never know…” (Díaz 147). It’s also learned that this beating broke her, it completely changed her. So even if there was no sexual rape, she most certainly endured not just the rape of losing a child, but of being beaten and grossly degraded to a point of near death.
One effect of trauma is it touches those closest to the victim and Lola was first born after that terrible incident. Beli’s high stress levels after her rapes certainly affected their relationship as Lola is in continuous rebellion toward her mother, but there is more than just that to show. The narrator also ensures to tell us that, “when she [Lola] was in the fourth grade she’d been attacked by an older acquaintance,” (Díaz 25). Some on-line sites have the word attacked as raped, which may have been used in an alternate copy of this work, or may have been deduced by reading on to see that it was known within the family but leaked publicly making it harder to handle. It is common for children to be molested by someone the child knows and often loves and trusts (Hall, Hall 3) which would make this harder to deal with, especially publicly, than if it were just a beating. The book also states that she changed aspects of her appearance including shaving her hair. Often times after an attack the victim will feel dirty or guilty (Hall, Hall 2-3) which accounts for this action as being an attempt at redemption. Lola doesn’t stop here; she also runs away and continues to act out especially against her mother which is yet another sign of sexual abuse (Whealin, Barnett). Even though Díaz does not explicitly state that she was raped, this is one hidden assault that isn’t as concealed as Oscar’s.
Oscar Wao, born into the DeLeon family and only later given the name Wao by antagonistic friends, goes about life with a mysterious set of issues halting him from taking some opportunities presented. As the main character of this book the observational lens is set most closely on him yet a certain grave detail goes without notice as it’s cleverly placed innocently at the beginning of the book. Oscar has changed since he was a young boy and now remains detached from others, but also finds basic attention from a girl as a possibility of a future romance. He is unable to maintain relationships let alone develop any new ones; this fuses with the depression and eventual suicidal thoughts. Each of these main characteristics of Oscar are also the biggest symptoms of child sexual abuse (Gartner; Whealin, Barnett; Hall, Hall 2-4; Dube et al.). Many studies have been done to determine a set of adult characteristics that directly correspond to child sexual abuse and a study published in 2005 found convincing and significant leaps in percentile of suicide attempts, depression, and family problems are at least 40% greater than those who have not been abused (Dube et al.). There could be other factors to attribute some of these behaviors, but Díaz already acted as an informant into this disturbing reality. Here, we look to the narrator for tips and find one. It’s hidden at the beginning of the book as if it’s just common discourse, which is the genius in which this theme was interwoven, as it would be in real life, stifled and suppressed. Yunior, the narrator, tells how Oscar was a very handsome child and all the women noticed him, “even their neighbor, Mari Colón a thirty something postal employee who wore red on her lips and walked like she had a bell for an ass – all purportedly fell for him” (12-13). When he talks about the other women they’re simply “Lola’s friends” or “his mother’s friends” (12), but this one woman has a name with very specific recollections about physical features especially sexually associated parts. It is quite possible for a woman to sexually abuse a child and was recently found that almost 40% of male victims were abused by female perpetrators (Dube et al.). It is necessary to understand that the effects can be very detrimental if not treated, and as is apparent in the book there was no treatment provided. Often victims of sexual abuse close in on themselves but there are times when the opposite is true. Perhaps that is why Yunior and Oscar wound up bonding on a repressed level as that’s where both kept their abuse.
Yunior reveals himself later in the book when he begins telling about his college experience with Oscar. He’s immediately identified as a womanizer and a “macho” man who makes it a point to display his manliness whenever possible. In his moment of weakness when he’s about to lose Lola he, however can not face his own molestation (Moya 4). Richard B. Gartner, Ph.D believes that the first thing to conquering past trauma is acknowledging that it happened. Yunior can’t do that as “acknowledging victimization means admitting they’re weak or ‘not male’” (Gartner). He also shows many of the more aggressive symptoms through the book including acting out in incessant pursuance of women and engaging in frequent promiscuous acts with them all and though desires love, especially with Lola, often finds no sense of love after the act is done (Gartner).
Even through the specific examples of how these characters were affected by the fukú of rape it still took a second read in order to really see the connections. Each story strongly harps on the sexual tension, fallacies, or intention of everyone around with nothing more than behaviors left to be examined to find the truth of the main characters. Looking at the book through a psychological lens with the object of rape being in scope there is a plethora of hints and case study specific effects impressed upon each character. Choosing to look through the book with a psychological lens we can see the lasting effects sexual abuse and rape have on a victim. The negative effects are vast and terribly impeding upon the victim until they take the first steps to becoming a survivor. We see the effects of rape, racism, and colonialism displayed in each of the characters by the end of the book. It is so entirely well played out you have to wonder at the ability of authors to create and flesh out such intricate characters to where one can apply such a psychological lens and still have plenty more to talk about than is limited within a five page paper.
“Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century.”American Psychological Association, Presidential Task Force on Immigration, 21. Apa.org. 2012. Print. Web. 22 Oct. 2015 <http://www.apa.org/topics/immigration/report.aspx>
Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York. Riverhead Books. 2007. Print.
Dube, S.R., Anda, R.F., Whitfield, C.L., Brown, D.W., Felitti, V.J., Doug, M., & Giles, W.H. “Long-Term Consequences of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Gender of Victim.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 430-438. 2005. Web. 10 Oct. 2015 <http://www.jimhopper.com/pdfs/dube_%282005%29_childhood_sexual_abuse_by_gender_of_victim.pdf>
Finkelhor, D., Shattuck, A. (2012). “Characteristics of crimes against juveniles.” Durham, NH: Crimes against Children Research Center. (CV26R) Web. 22 Oct. 2015. <http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/CV26_Revised%20Characteristics%20of%20Crimes%20against%20Juveniles_5-2-12.pdf>
Gartner, Richard. “Talking About Sexually Abused Boys, and the Men They Become.” Psychology Today. Psychologytoday.com. 30 Jan. 2011. Web. 22 Oct. 2015
Hall, M., Hall, J.. “The Long-Term Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse: Counseling Implications.” VISTAS Online. Vistas 11 Article 19. Counselingoutfitters.com. 2011. Web. 22 Oct. 2015
Moya, Paula M.L.. “The Search for Decolonial Love: An Interview with Junot Díaz.” Boston Review. Boston Review. 26 June, 2012. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.
Prilleltensky, Issac. “The Role of Power in Wellness, Oppression, and Liberation: The Promise of Psychopolitical Validity.” Journal of Community Psychology
“Rape.” The New International Webster’s Student Dictionary of the English Language. 1996 ed. 1996. Print.
Whealin, J., Barnett, E. Child Sexual Abuse. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD: National Center for PTSD, 17 Aug. 2015. Web. 22 Oct. 2015
So I recently wrote about my visit to Arlington Virginia. What a wonderful trip it was. I was free to roam, but checked in with the boyfriend for lunch and at the end of the meetings, but any other time I spent roaming. While here I decided to take time to review my book. Walking the streets of Washington D.C. I found a renewed sense of motivation and inspiration as I walked down the streets that were written in my book. I could see my characters on the street corner, mid parade. I could see the White house where President Andrew Rakford spent a great amount of his time. I also walked along the Potomac which would soon be filled with blood to spite those searching for water in the excruciating heat.
Sitting at Starbucks (my FINAL cafe stopping point) I put my mind to the key board. I reviewed the opening chapter and wrote words that would make my buddy (Austin) proud. I spent two hours on the opening paragraph alone, and wrote words that impressed my worst critic (myself). The sentences flowed into each other, each new thought tied in with the previous one. Words were written that brought the visualization into the simple structure of each sentence. I wowed myself!
I recently began reviewing a chapter that I had sent to Austin for his review. When I noticed that I continued to call one of the items a “stealthy” my eyebrows furrowed in question. I thought I fixed that? I wondered. I then opened up the copy of “The Unexpected” that I thought I had been working on and experienced that sensation where your heart sinks into your stomach. I DELETED the wrong copy of my book!
What was I thinking!? I was simply trying to organize my desktop, I made a change in a different version, and deleted based upon “last updated!” Now as I write this I am working on recovering that file that I deleted. All other attempts have produced a document that resembles an odd code of boxes, and a few Arabic symbols. I ran to Cory for assistance. He tried, but nothing really seemed like it was working.
In conclusion, it is within my belief that had I kept things a bit more organized, and reviewed the work that I was deleting (WHY WOULDN’T I!) I would not currently be in this situation. So with no further a’do; Always make sure that you back up the hard work that you do, so you don’t loose it like THIS dumb ass!
Happy writing (and deleting appropriate files)
Caleb A. Mertz
Both Chad and Greg had a full day to think about the night prior. Chad had gone to work only moments before Greg left for work. All day at the office Chad had replayed the night prior. What was Greg getting at? There was no resolve. Instead the idea toiled at his mind. It flipped it, then slapped it, and asked, who’s your daddy! Work was short of miserable.
Getting home in a mood that was quite unlike any that he’d been in before Chad went quickly for more beer. Sitting on the deck he stared seriously into the moon. Trying to sway his mind away from the issue discussed previously he opened yet another beer.
“Can we get past this?” Greg sincerely asked. Chad considered him for a moment. Had he had the day Chad had? Or was this a ploy to get past what was his fault and move on without feeling any guilt, remorse, or emotion.
“We can,” Chad responded intelligently. On his fourth beer by the time Greg got home, the shattered beer bottles nearly spelled out disaster.
“Good. So how was your day?” Greg asked. His manner was that of somebody who had no clue what was going on. Someone that came in on the last part of a joke.
“Miserable.” Chad wanted to let it go. He yearned for this to be something of the past.
“Great!” Greg laughed. He took a swig of his own beer, then swayed his crossed legs momentarily. “So nothing ever changes with you.” He said passive aggressively.
“Nope.” Chad proclaimed,” At least you know I’m dependable.” He looked at Greg grudgingly. How dare he! Thought Chad.
“Yup, miserable as always.” Greg mulled.
“Only because of you.” Chad retorted quickly. It wasn’t the most responsible response. Nor was it really what he was thinking.
“Okay. With that I think I’m going inside.”
“No you’re not!” Chad voiced strongly.
“I think I’m going to sleep on the couch.”
“No you’re not!” Chad said again. This was how it always went. Chad would have feelings, and yet Greg wanted to treat them as if they were inconvenient. He wanted to show that he was strong. He wanted to show that no one had an impact on how he would live his life. “That will only make things worse.”
“I thought you said we could get past this.”
“I did!” Chad’s frustration was building. He had to talk his way through things. He couldn’t just let go of something. Scientific about his method, there always had to be a reason for everything.
“Oh my God, forget it Greg! You’ll never listen to me!”
“Okay, on that I’m going to bed. On the couch.”
“Fine! Do what you will. That’s how you want it anyway!”
“True.” Greg smiled. Although the love of his life was clearly upset, this was a point he had to make. At no point was there ever going to be somebody that told him what to do.
It will never end, Thought Chad. Greg since, stood and went inside. The silence quickly surrounded Chad. It was suffocating. The cigarette he was smoking increased his heart rate, and constricted his chest. The beer he was drinking force thoughts of other options quickly. The blackness soared from the core of his mind into the every part of his being. He sleeps on the couch, he’s dead! thought Chad. The negativity pulsated through the beer he practically chugged. The nauseating feeling, only urged him to drink further. Now anger crept into each extremity, each crevice, and by far every pore. He could hear the couch jostling around. Only beer, alcohol, or other mind altering substance could help him now. Greg had Xanax that he could steal. Going against everything he had argued about in the past, he opened the pill container dumped a single pill out, and consumed it with as much alcohol as could be handled. He soon passed out, calm as could be, at peace.
The stress of the slowness of the day was beginning to weigh on me. I stepped outside into the humid and disgusting night. The bugs flew violently around the light. I always wondered how they didn’t kill themselves when they continuously slam into the light bulb. A spider near the light scrambled frantically to capture every bug that came towards the light. I meandered on by. As long as the damn thing didn’t hang down and land on me, my face, or my person, I would be okay. The picnic table set up under the bridge was only occupied by a few employees. Each one, with cigarette in hand, either engaged in a loud conversation, or looking concernedly over the railroad tracks near by. I chose to walk over to the only young man sitting by himself. His name is Mike, he works as a bar porter. Upon the initial greets he was excited to ask, “how’s the writing going?”
It was only a moment long. It felt to have been forever. The thoughts that poured through my mind at the smallest question was dizzying. How HAS my writing been going? I began listing things in my mind. I began quantifying the little things that I have been accomplishing. Then again, the Agent’s interest that I had recently had extinguished, and my blog has sat vacant, yet again.
With this I pose the question to you. If you have followed my blog you are either a fan, or you might be writing something yourself. How are you doing with your writing? Is there something more you could be doing? Is there something more you SHOULD be doing? Think about it, and post your random thoughts. If you know me, you know I love random thougths…I have a whole section assigned to thoughts.
Talk to me people!
Caleb A. Mertz
The tables against the wall were only occupied by a single man playing on his laptop. The distance of the search was several miles, though the city was only a few blocks long. I had peered into every sidewalk window that I could. I made myself uncomfortable as I frantically searched for a place to sit with an outlet near by. The laptop doesn’t hold a charge anymore, so being completely wireless is impossible. The people watchers watched as I passed time and time again, going down different roads in my hunt.
I had a complex. I don’t spend much time in a city, so I wanted to experience it the best I could. I wanted to be able to hunch over my story while people passed, greeted, conversed, or glanced at me. I wanted people to see me sitting in a cafe, with the bold font across my screen “CHAPTER ONE.” I finally wound up where I had initially parked in a relatively busy part of Arlington Virginia’s Business District. Starbucks. They’re everywhere, yet I found my home here.
After ordering my venti iced quad caramel macchiato, I began to review my book THE UNEXPECTED. I decided to revamp my writing, after recently having the partial request denied and seeking feedback from a community of writers on webook.com. Something I noticed immediately was my over use of adjectives, sentence structure, and the constant start and stop of irregular sentences. I began breaking them apart. Since the man next to me was on a conference call, and speaking loudly I decided I could actually read the sentences out loud. Oh My Goodness! I rewrote the first sentence three times, the second twice. Then I read the third, and decided I could combine the third with the first. I HAD A BLAST! Next thing I knew I had a completely transformed initial paragraph. Something that portrayed emotion and feeling. What a rush when you can read something written three years ago in a different light. A different tone. A different sense of the beginning of the story. A renewed sense of joy for rewriting.
Sentence flow. Why haven’t I picked up on this before? I have been taking an on-line course of sorts through M.I.T.
(this is the link here) which is helping me read and write a little better. The course is entirely free, and the book cost me maybe five dollars through Amazon.com. Pretty much it’s amazing. Definitely check it out! And here’s to happy (re)writing!!!!
As always comment, critique, but with construction in mind.
Caleb A. Mertz
Herbert Alfricht sat on his enclosed front porch at three o’clock in the morning. The day had been a particularly odd day.
There had been a communion of senses, and neighbors. They surrounded their cars and ravaged the white crystals encasing their cars.
The old herbs burned slowly on the charcoal, as was intended, as he smoked his manufactured cigarette.
The first puff added a significant fragrance to the thistle, sunflower, sandlewood, and pine inscence.
The studious stout chilled his frozen touch, yet warmed his warning.
He closed his eyes as the children of the wind pushed at his storm windows. They laughed and whistled as they began to taunt.
He heard them running along the side of his house, pressing against every window in it’s pane.
He could hear the Halloween corn tacking against the front door. They threw his front door opened so it bent on it’s hinges.
They ran. His ears came back, and the cigarette intensified. The studious stout made him smile.
Old Herbert Alfricht knew what would come, so he had to hate everything about this world, so he wouldn’t miss it when he went.
“Damn those kids…”
“Damn this stout!”
Goodbye Mr. Alfricht…
– Caleb A. Mertz
The east coast has been an area for winter storms over the past week. Though I wouldn’t consider any of this a true storm it has made the people just as crazy as several times before. Last night I found out that I would be off today. It worked out well because of the snow, and the mound of dirty clothing that had been growing over the past week and a half was crying for me. I took this all in stride and set my goals for the day. One of my goals was dinner, so I made a trek to the grocery store with list in hand. I haven’t been to the grocery store before a storm in the longest of times. People were crazy. I nearly exploded after the third person bumped into me at produce.
I looked over, ready with a response to this person’s rudeness when I saw a meek little old lady. I brushed this off, and progressed with my shopping. As I’m walking towards the pasta aisle a man with his three kids and a cart come barreling past me.
“X’cuse me,” he says. The kids pass laughing as if this were something fun! (which if I were in their shoes and my dad was acting like a maniac in the store I would be having the time of my life, video camera in hand!) Being the grumpy old man I am I give the evil eye before wondering down the “Italian” aisle.
A line of cart’s, two lady’s arguing, and kids diving through the bottom of the carts was the image I was greeted with. The mom starts yelling at the kids in a hushed whisper kind of way. They pay her no mind and knock over the entire display of Kraft Parmesan cheese.
Now, please forgive me, but I gave up on shopping and headed to the self check out. Scanning my way through my produce and punching in quantity a lady walks up behind me with five loaves of bread and two gallons of whole milk. I saw her standing there just as I began trying to scan the chicken breast I picked up. While in U-Scan it can be difficult to ring up something if the sticker is confunkled. Needless to say, as I swipe the chicken back and forth over the scanner the lady begins to huff. At this point I’m truly freaking out, I go to pivot, chicken frozen in my hands, and ready to yell at this lady for being so damned impatient.
I stopped, took a breath and took the chicken to the attendant, who was texting her bff (more than likely) and asked her to ring it in.
Just to make a long story short, I went home, smoked a cigarette and lit one of the logs in the fireplace. I threw on some Enya and stared out the window at the snow falling. Somewhere in these final moments I found a serenity that resonated through me. All of the negative that I had gained from the store, I put to good use shoveling the older neighbors sidewalks for the morning. Though my back hurts now, it’s nothing compared to what they would feel in the morning.
Good night, and see you soon.
Caleb A. Mertz