As I describe in Weaving the Threads Together, 03 October 2008 marked three interrelated events: 1) former President George W. Bush signed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act rewarding financial industry and legislative greed while temporarily prolonging our globally unsustainable automotive industry and consequently Western dependence on oil, 2) a Utah genealogist published Bush family ancestry on all sides of the Salem Witch Trials, adding to our former presidents’ previously linked Nazi heritage, and 3) overnight, a young woman in Ohio hanged herself outside her bedroom window, successfully completing suicide.
Almost as if, 300 years later, the “witches” in America are now hanging themselves.
Coincidentally from my personal timeline, that morning I woke from a dream of giving birth to a girl child. There was a boy toddler in the dream, the difference between ages the same as the chronology of years between Sladjana and Eric, one of her former classmates who successfully completed suicide the previous year, coincidentally on the date that utterly meaningless “anti-bullying” legislation was signed into state law in Ohio, stories that I did not encounter until another 03 October 2010, the year and the date that I coincidentally posted my last iteration of my online portfolio and was catching up on national news after two months of being buried in code.
The suicide of a young student at Rutgers, and by association, Sladjana’s story, most captured my attention, as her name becomes my name when abbreviated by the taunts of some of her abusive peers, and I do not very often encounter my unusual name.
Born at the height of the Bosnian genocide while then-President Bill Clinton and the rest of the world turned its back on the city coincidentally home to the incident that sparked World War II, and coincidentally on a date in my journals when I wrote a poem titled my own personal marilyn, memorializing a friend who coincidentally died when we were in high school, Sladjana immigrated to the very state coincidentally home to the Dayton Accords ostensibly resolving that conflict, only to decide that American adolescents are more brutal than Serbian soldiers, a beautiful young woman who had gone to the unfortunate extreme of surgically removing a beauty mark from her cheek in hopes of escaping the taunts of high school peers. Antidepressant medication for which she was strip-searched by a school guidance counselor blaming the victim increased her trauma and the profits of the pharmaceutical industry but did nothing to change the abusive behavior of Sladjana’s peers and administrators at Mentor High School in Mentor, Ohio, in a nation starved for healthy mentors.
In graduate school, while producing my You Have Seen Me series of drawings, I was frequently overcome with the sensation of inviting the oft-times deceased young women into the room with me, as I erased their faces from out of charcoal against the whiteness of the page. One particularly evocative October evening, working late into the night to the screams of young women from two neighboring university campuses touring the rural community’s Haunted Palouse across the street from my studio, the likeness of Miranda Gaddis, coincidentally born on the exact date in history that I married my first husband, and raped and murdered in Oregon City coincident with moving to Portland from Salt Lake City with my second husband, her disappearance coincident also with the abduction of Elizabeth Smart, beamed back at me.
That is when you know you have found your life’s work.
In 2010, I wondered what would happen if, instead of making drawings to install in a gallery long after the fact, Drawings-with-a-capital-D or A-for-Art, what if those same drawing products could offer healing similar to the process of drawing?
In 2012, I met with Sladjana’s family. Not much had changed in Ohio. The police still jeered at her mother’s accent, similar to the taunts of her daughter’s school peers and administrators. Ohio high school students were by then gang-raping their peers at parties. By 2013 and the time they’re shipped off to college from high schools like Mentor, that abusive behavior spills into their community streets. My portrait of Sladjana hangs on a wall in her family’s home, a sorry substitute for their flesh and blood daughter, but a rare gift of care in a world gone mad with narcissistic rage.
In 2014, as I describe at some length in The ‘Madwoman’ v. the Madness of the State, I suffered similar experiences with police on the other side of the nation again, jeering at me for not my accent but my educated language that challenged their abusive definition of masculinity, coast to coast, Washington to Washington, Mentor to Meridian, sea to polluted sea.
Of course Sladjana’s and Eric’s abusers deserve care too. The major reason they arrived at high school unprepared to engage in healthy communication is due to the failures of their parents, K–8 education, and community mentors.
Earmark your generous donations with Mentor Project if you would like to build a nation of healthy mentors, Unplay the Shame and Blame Game designed as age-appropriate curricula teaching and learning healthy communications with a K–12 audience.