All day I’ve thought about that woman, that girl, Lynndie England, who pled guilty today for her part of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. I know almost nothing about her personally. I just know that she’s the gal from all those heinous pictures and that her boyfriend was a person in charge. And now I know that she’s pleading guilty and it's so inexcusable what she did, and yet, I feel so awful for her. I can't help but feel sorry for her. I wonder what the real story is. I have done things – of course, not tortured people – but done things because some guy told me to. Things that I regret. And I’ve had other times when a guy almost drove me insane where I did things that seemed impossible for me to do. Like I wasn’t in my right mind.
One thing I’ve learned about humans is their astonishing ability to coalesce: to be willing to go along with the group; to coerce and be coerced. Whole societies seem capable of going mad. I always think of that social experiment at Stanford – I think I’m getting the college right – but anyway, they took a random collection of students and divided them into two groups, one being the prison guards and one being the prisoners. And they had to call off the study after only a few days because of what was happening in the group. Sadism, torture, all kinds of behaviors that would have seemed impossible to everyone involved before they signed up or were chosen for the experiment.
I’m thinking of two things, two really personal things. But what the hell – one is when I was with my boyfriend of a few years ago, the one who broke my heart – well in some ways that’s so not true, but it seemed like it at the time. We argued all the time about having kids. He had a son who we had come down to California for a couple of summers. I took off work, and made myself available to be with both of them. It was a hard situation, but we made it work.
But in the back of my mind, I was always hoping desperately that I would show my boyfriend what a great mother I would be. I even bought mom-looking clothes that would look right, I searched for kids activities, I signed up for classes. And I’m not saying I was so great at this – but I did have…well I did put in effort. And we all had fun together. And I was proud of myself for really going the distance with this kid and with this situation.
In any case, after the second summer, when his son went back home (it wasn’t really the whole summer but five or six weeks…) I remember me and my boyfriend got into another big argument about kids. Of course. I felt like I should be rewarded for my efforts with his son by his agreeing that we could raise a child together.
Now, looking back. I’m sure he felt that one child was hard enough and that the last thing he wanted to do was have another child to be responsible for. But what I remember is that his arguments were about how I wouldn’t be such a good mother. He even said that he thought I was too smart to be a mother, because mothering would be boring to me. And that he had read somewhere that women who didn’t have college degrees were better mothers than women who DID have college degrees because they weren’t thinking of other things besides being a mother or something (I could write all night about that part of it, but I won’t - it was like I was dating someone from the middle ages.) And I was so upset – I had, in my mind, been so good with his son and taken such a big amount of time to be with him.
In fact, I had even turned down work that would have added up to about five or six times the yearly salary of this boyfriend, so that I could spend this time in the summer with him and his child. I didn’t tell him this, not explicitly – I mean I probably said something like…I got a job offer for this or that, but of course I’m not going to take it because your son is coming and…
But you get the idea. The pressure was mounting. This is so painful to write about, because I almost cannot stand to remember myself in this situation. I had no cards. I had nothing. I had no leverage. I was sooo on the bottom of the bottom. I was in love with a guy who not only didn’t want children, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to be in a relationship – any relationship at all. Also, he didn’t like Los Angeles and it’s so clear now that we should not have been together at all. But at the time I was convinced that my charm and wonderfulness would win his approval. (I could also write on and on about how I could have had such little self esteem that this would be a person I would want to spend time with, but that’s for another time…Plus, of course, there were other wonderful things about our relationship that kept it going, but this part of it was just a big blechy black hole situation)
So there was this moment, this argument rather, that occurred after the second summer with his son. And I don’t remember a lot about it except that I was hysterical. I mean, really hysterical. I’m not sure how honest we were even being with each other, how honest we were even capable of being with each other at that time. But he went to sleep and I went to the guest room (which is now Mulan’s room) and I tore these wooden letters off the door which had spelled out his son’s name. Of course I had gotten them and put them up, trying to make his son feel welcome and that he had a place in the house that was his.
Anyway, I took these letters off and I went outside, out in the front of the house, and I broke them into little pieces and threw them all over the front yard. At like three or four in the morning—me and my puffy eyes and splotchy cheeks, I was really at the end of my rope.
Then I remember the next day, my boyfriend found the letters. And he was so devastated. He really took this as an insult to his son. And the worst part is, when he came in the house with the broken up letters in his hands, I honestly was shocked myself. I couldn’t believe I had even done that. It seemed so hysterical. It reminded me of something my mother would do, and this was gravely embarrassing to me. It really felt like I hadn’t done that. That it wasn’t me, it was some other out-of-control person. And I'll never forget the way he looked at me, like, "You are a crazy woman." And at that moment, I felt such shame, and so much embarrassment and I felt he was absolutely right -- I didn't deserve to have kids anyway, not if I was capable of that kind of hysteria. It became this vicious circle that was heading downwards.
Now of course, this is a far, far cry from the Lynndie England situation. All I’m saying is…some guys can drive you mad. I feel I was practically driven over the edge in that relationship. I didn’t feel in my right mind. I think about this, about me doing that, honestly all the time. It’s this horrible memory of what I’m capable of doing. I remember it to remind myself how I can behave in ways, I can be driven to behave in ways that I would not ever ever EVER THINK that I could – given the right mix of influences.
Who knows what was going on with Lynndie England and the boyfriend who was her boss and who was telling her to do things. Most people are not in that kind of military service because they have all kinds of options back home. And then imagine what it was like there, how frightening, how desperate. And here was this guy she was dating, or maybe just fucking, but still -- he was asking her to do things. And she did them.
And she’s pleading guilty. I hope she’s doing that because it’s the right thing to do and not because it will give her the best chances at a reduced sentence. I would plead guilty too. But honestly, what was going on there?
Here’s another painful memory that Lynndie England brought up for me today.
I remember when I first moved to Los Angeles, I was about 22. And I was set up on a date with this guy who was a big successful movie industry type. I actually have no memory of this guy’s name. Or what he did. All I remember is that he drove a really expensive car and he had a condo in those multi-storied condos in Westwood. And I was pretty overwhelmed that I was on a date with this guy. And he was all about impressing me, and I also got the impression that I wasn’t pretty enough for him, or something enough. It was a horrible mixture of feelings I was getting from this guy. I now can recognize this – this type of guy. They are not particularly attracted to my “type” for whatever reason and yet, they can see that I’m smart or something so they feel a little intimidated or I don’t know, but they spend the night trying to make me understand how smart or tough or successful they are. And it’s for no reason at all – I mean they aren’t even attracted to me. I was so insecure, I don’t think I even asked myself if I were attracted to this guy! I was just getting these vibes: not attracted to me and yet needing to show off to me.
Anyway, he took me back to his condo. I was honestly so naïve, I didn’t realize what he meant when he asked me to come back to his place. I was just out of college where all the guys I dated were people I hung out with, friends who became boyfriends, guys you’d talk to for months while you worked together and suddenly found yourself sleeping with. In any case, I was really wide-eyed – in Los Angeles, this big city and dating a guy who took me, like, on a real date – he paid with his credit card and everything.
So we went back to his condo and there I was, so innocent – so dumb!, saying, “Wow, you’ve got such a great view!” And I remember being shocked that he didn’t have any books and actually thinking, maybe he puts his books away in cupboards! Or maybe he just moved here and the books are still in boxes.
And as I was staring out at the view from his condo, he came out of the bathroom totally naked. As in no clothes. And I was so shocked, and – now this is the really embarrassing part – I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have the wherewithal to be appalled or the self confidence to say I had to leave.
So, I pretended not to notice that he was…naked. And then he said – oh this is so hysterical and painful – he said, “Let’s make love on the carpet in front of the fire place.” And I froze. Time just stopped. I thought, “If I say no, how will I get home? And I’ll have to ask him for a phone to call a cab. And it will be so awkward to say no. It will take so much awkward energy, it will be horrifying. And he might feel really bad if I say no. Or worse, mad. ”
And so I had sex with him.
I just did it. I didn’t know what to do. It seemed like it wouldn’t be nice not to. I mean, he had bought dinner and he didn’t even seem to like me all that much. It’s weird, I think if he had actually acted like he liked me a little bit, I might have had some strength to stop him. But I felt so,,,low, so without any recourse, I felt so worthless and it seemed so impolite to say no.
And again, not exactly torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib, but still… I can barely believe that that person was me, that I was so vulnerable, had so little self esteem, had so little knowledge that I had any personal power in that moment. And I just wonder,,,what the story really really is.
I just read the article in the paper about Lynndie. She was pregnant by the guy – her boss! And she had a baby in October. Ohmygod, how did I miss that? I am so totally out of it! This must have been all over the news and I didn’t know it. Oh my goodness, now it’s even more complicated and creepy and horrible. Is he being sentenced too? I assume so. Oh my, oh my, oh my. Wow, what’s going to happen? Oh how horrible. Also, they said she has some learning disabilities. Well…duh. Don’t we all. I DEFINITELY have learning disabilities.
(Ha! I feel so high school with all the caps…)
She is sooo not the person who should be the example. It’s the higher ups, the ones who allowed this type of torture to even be possible. Oh, my god, this is really just so sad. I wonder how much play this is getting on the news. Since I don’t ever watch any TV news, I don’t know. And yet, those pictures are in my mind. They are burned there. I can see her, holding that leash, standing in front of the pile of guys -- her with her cigarette. The die is cast, she is the face of this catastrophe, it cannot be undone.
I just know that any person can do things that they cannot believe they would be capable of doing. It’s probably just me stating the obvious, since this is what so much drama is based on, my pathetic little stories are just blips in the course of human history, how people can be driven to behave in ways they would never think they could. Do things, agree to things, be coerced into things, mistakenly think that certain behaviors will lead to something we want so desperately, this is inside all of us.
But then, I suppose if you deconstruct every situation, you wouldn’t have any basis on which to convict anybody, ever. I think it shouldn’t even be based on punishment, maybe. Maybe our justice system should just be about keeping people away from other people who infringe on their rights, by say…torturing them. And not get caught up in guilt or not guilt.
Hmmm… What’s going to happen to that baby? Will the father get the child? Why don’t I just look this up instead of asking all these questions?