The SFV Interviews: Jackie, by Karen Hunt

Editor Acacia Blackwell, Interview, July 25th, 2018

"A deep-rooted fear of abandonment and betrayal still lingers in my consciousness..."

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Growing Up a Girl in the Nightmare of American Suburbia.

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KAREN HUNT: Welcome to the San Fernando Valley, or the SFV, just north of Los Angeles. The SFV is considered by many to be the most culturally diverse suburb in the United States. It has everything from Calabasas, made infamous by the Kardashians reality show; to Pacoima, known for gang violence; to the birth of the porn industry.

Mostly, the SFV is inhabited by ordinary folks struggling to make ends meet, just like anywhere else in America. And, just like anywhere else, it’s a place of dark secrets, where the mask doesn’t always reflect what’s hidden underneath. For girls, especially, navigating this hidden world is a dangerous minefield, a truth which society isn’t always willing to face. These interviews fearlessly expose the truth. I have interviewed several young women about their experience growing up in this area, how they came to terms with their difficult upbringings and what they had to do to break free.

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JACKIE

NAILED: Tell us a little bit about the environment in which you grew up.

JACKIE: I was raised by my biological mother with my half-brother. My mom was constantly in and out of relationships with different men. We moved frequently. I have lived in a trailer park, suburban home, mansion, have slept on a couch, made my bed next to a washer and dryer in a garage, and slept in a small attic above a furnace that was so tiny I couldn’t stand up in it. My family was also overtly racist. In the trailer park, my bedroom curtain faced the street and my mother hung a giant confederate flag which read, “The South Will Rise Again.” One of her boyfriends had swastikas branded on his chest and my mother’s wedding ring depicted a swastika as well. This made it almost impossible for me to forge friendships with people of color outside of school. I was also raised with covertly sexist values which were reinforced through my mother’s behavior in relationships, my knowledge of her having been a famous ex-porn star, and the subtle ways I was slut-shamed and taught that men are the rulers supreme. Finally, drugs and alcohol were prevalent in my home and a “streetwise” mentality was impressed on me as well.

NAILED: What was the biggest challenge you faced growing up?

JACKIE: I think that abandonment and betrayal were constant themes throughout my childhood. My mom overdosed on drugs and was in a coma for almost a month when I was sixteen and was given a less than fifteen percent chance of living. I was alone with her for days while she lost all control of her bodily functions and fell in and out of consciousness. Although she survived, my relationship with her was forever changed. My father spent the first twenty-two years of my life in prison and when he got out, he shot me up with heroin and molested me. I felt both abandoned and betrayed in both of these instances. A deep-rooted fear of abandonment and betrayal still lingers in my consciousness and influences my behavior to this day.

NAILED: When you hit puberty, how did your life change?

JACKIE: I got my period in fourth grade. My mom and I had a very open dialogue which is how I knew, when I was just eight years old, that she was an ex-porn star. Graphic conversations about sex were the norm and I was given too much information at too young an age. My mom got me a teddy bear and flowers when I got my period and did the same when I lost my virginity. I am petite and developed at a slow rate, but this didn’t stop men from pulling their cars over, offering me rides, and whistling at me on a daily basis on my walk home from the yellow school bus starting in third or fourth grade. I remember being afraid that one of them would pull over and kidnap me. I did not act out in a sexually promiscuous manner until I was about sixteen. I never had to be told twice to change my too short skirt or crop top. I was naturally sort of a tomboy.

NAILED: As a teenage girl, what made you feel vulnerable?

JACKIE: I felt vulnerable expressing my emotions at home because the “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality created an environment in which my feelings were not acknowledged as valid. I was naturally shy but my mom wanted me to “hustle.” This manifested itself in my mom encouraging me to get calendars from the dollar store, dress them up in ribbons and candy canes and stand in front of grocery stores pretending to be with a fake charity to sell them. My mom would sit in her truck with sunglasses on and watch me from a distance. This made me feel pressured and vulnerable but I wanted my mother’s approval, so I quickly learned to adapt and became opportunistic and extroverted. I felt vulnerable in many other ways but the above stands out as a shining example.

NAILED: As a teenage girl, how did you gain power?

JACKIE: I felt powerful at school. I was never encouraged to achieve high marks but was naturally drawn to academic endeavors. I maintained a 3.8 GPA throughout high school, won national awards in improvisational speech and debate, was a competitive track & field runner, and participated in my school’s Literary Magazine. Writing came naturally to me and was something I recognized as one of my strongest assets.

NAILED: Did you ever fear for your life?

JACKIE: In my adolescence and early adulthood, I was in a series of abusive relationships. In one of them my partner punched me in the face, squirted toothpaste in my eyes, threw all of my money in the toilet and then dragged me by the hair and forced me to get it out all the while screaming at me and calling me every derogatory name in the book. This was both humiliating and scary enough to make me fear for my life.

I attended a party and was left behind by a girl friend of mine. A man I didn’t know tried to rape me and I managed to scream and escape. He chased me down the stairs and smashed my face into a brick wall.

For a brief time, I used heroin intravenously and overdosed a couple of times.

Occurrences like this, and many others involving abusive men, had me fear for my life.

NAILED: Did you have a place to go where you felt safe?

JACKIE: I felt safe at my grandparent’s house. They provided a necessary structure in my life that gave me a source of physical, emotional, and financial safety and security. I also felt safe at school.

NAILED: Who was the biggest positive influence in your life as a teenager? How about now?

JACKIE: I had many positive mentors throughout my life. They came in the form of paternal figures and teachers that encouraged me to succeed and validated my achievements. At times, my mom was also a positive influence despite her overall negative life choices. Now, the children I have worked with are my positive influences because they inspire me to rise to the occasion and do well in order to act as a positive influence to them. Children are muses for me, they inspire me every day. Teachers have continued to act as positive mentors and the relationships I have formed with strong women have also helped. The person that asked me to write this interview is a positive influence in my life, for example.

NAILED: As a teenager, how did young men make you feel about yourself? How about older men?

JACKIE: I went to four high schools and moving around a lot made it hard to forge relationships with peers my own age. When I was fifteen I lost my virginity to a man that was twenty-three and dated him on and off for eight years. I have since slept with over forty-five men ranging from a few years younger than me to forty plus years old. I feel that age has little to do with the way I was treated. When I was a teenager I actively sought after older men because I was looking for a paternal figure in my partner. I have come to realize that I seek authoritarian types: controlling, ultra-masculine partners that boss me around because I feel and always have felt a lack of stability and psychologically, this personality trait in men somehow makes me feel more secure.

NAILED: How did you perceive drugs as a teenage girl, both street and prescription?

JACKIE: I always fantasized about trying drugs since I can remember being capable of constructing thoughts. I began drinking alcoholically at the age of fifteen. The first time I drank alcohol I was twelve years old and I blacked out. I drank at every opportunity I got after that and have blacked out every single solitary time I have touched alcohol to my lips up to this very day. I hung out in parking lots, always wore black house shoes (slippers) and hoop earrings, cracked beer bottles open with my teeth and pounded forties of Mickey’s in a couple gulps just like most of the girls I knew. We were starstruck by the older guys we hung out with and sat on curbs watching while they did skateboard tricks and freestyle rapped. Crack was the first hard drug I tried at the age of eighteen with my boyfriend. I have been strung out on every street drug there is at one point or another and the only mainstream drug I haven’t done is acid. My father was a hardcore heroin addict and my mom was addicted to prescription pills.

NAILED: How do you perceive drugs now?

JACKIE: I hate drugs. Drugs have killed my friends. Drugs created pervasive dysfunction in my family. Drugs caused me to do more shameful things than I am willing to put on paper. I consider alcohol a drug and I still openly battle alcoholism though I no longer attach myself to the stigma and shame others would have me latch on to. I smoke marijuana and see this as a successful harm reduction strategy. I see alcoholism and drug addiction as a disease which is stigmatized much like AIDS was/is. I think that the United States incarcerates addicts and points them to a twelve-step program written in shit by a group of Christians. The section of “the big book” called “to the wives” is extremely sexist and outdated. This is all we have access to for treatment. In fifty years, we will look back on the treatment of addicts similarly to the way mainstream society perceives electro-shock therapy and lobotomies.

NAILED: Did you ever have negative encounters with the police and do you or don’t you trust the police?

JACKIE: I hate the police almost as much as I hate drugs. When I was twenty-one years old, the cops rolled up on me for having sex with a man in my car. I guess a neighbor complained about a strange car in the front of their home. I had parked there because I enjoyed the beautiful horses on the property and it was a nice setting for car sex. When the cops came they told me to put my hands up. It was my natural reaction to reach for my shirt but they stopped me. “Stop. Do not move! Put your hands up!”

I said, “But can I put my shirt on?”

They replied, “No. Hands up!” They made me sit naked in my car while they searched it for over forty-five minutes. When they were done they found my bottle of vodka which was in plain sight from the very beginning. “Okay, we’ll let you go with a warning.”

The entire interaction was unprofessional and humiliating. Another time, I was arrested for a DUI and the same officer that handcuffed me continued to aggressively hit on me throughout the entire process.

The prison industrial complex incarcerated my father from the age of twelve, when his first offense was literally stealing bread to feed his brothers and sisters because his mom—who had Huntington’s Disease—was unable to function and feed the family. Recently, I attended an anti-Trump protest in Portland and watched militarized police deploy tear gas on nonviolent protestors. The psychological trauma that invoked in me is unexplainable.

NAILED: Was there a turning point when you decided to change your path?

JACKIE: Yes. I began working with children shortly after I gave up street narcotics. I became obsessed with making sure I gave my utmost focus, respect, and attention to each child that I worked with no matter how I felt inside. This included creating a vibe that was 100% loving and nurturing at all times and demanded my consistent sobriety. The children responded lovingly to me and this positive reinforcement created a mutually beneficial relationship.

NAILED: What’s your stance on politic and the political parties?

JACKIE: I am currently debating between affiliating as an anarcho-feminist and socialist feminist. I do not agree with our current political system. I have a variety of friends from different walks of life that have vastly different political values. I cannot speak on behalf of them but I align myself with radical politics and resist reformist strategies.

NAILED: What’s the best thing about college?

JACKIE: The best thing about college is the freedom it has given me. The networking opportunities to advance my career are endless. I came to college so that I could establish myself professionally and to solidify my economic independence. I have also grown intellectually. The feedback I receive from professors is fundamental in the growth of my self-esteem.

NAILED: What’s the hardest thing about college?

JACKIE: The jealous backlash from my family. I’m the first person in my family to get a high school diploma and I just became the first college graduate.

NAILED: How has your perspective changed since you started college and what has it given you that you wouldn’t otherwise have?

JACKIE: I have come to understand myself as inherently an artist and an activist. I learned terms to describe the oppression I have experienced in my lifetime. I wasn’t able to dismantle racist ideologies I had before attending college. I unlearned all the lies I was told in K-12 and realized I would never raise my children in a traditional school setting, nor would I ever parrot the same lies I was indoctrinated with to the children I work with. I have grown as a writer and tell stories with more purpose.

NAILED: How many of your high school friends made it through and are you still in contact with them?

JACKIE: I don’t have a single real friend from my early upbringing that has “made it through,” but they are still my sisters and brothers and my aim is to make the knowledge I have gained accessible and palatable to them.

NAILED: When you get together with your friends now, how is it different from when you were in high school?

JACKIE: Most of my friends from my old life are strung out on drugs and I have made new friends in college that intellectually challenge me and are more supportive. In the last two years I have also finally discovered the true value of forging female friendships. I have learned that being a one man kinda girl and loner type has left me vulnerable to being manipulated by male partners and that having strong female bonds empowered me and helped me resist abusive relationship patterns.

NAILED: What did you have to give up in order to succeed?

JACKIE: Hard drugs. I also was pushed into running a multi-level marketing company that I started with my mom when I was eighteen. I ran it for five years until I was a skin-and-bones drug addict afraid to leave my home. I had to give that up in order to attend University and work with children.

NAILED: What did you have to add to your life in order to succeed?

JACKIE: I had to add self-esteem to my life in order to be successful. I had to stop seeing myself as a “stupid, slut, whore, dumb bitch, cunt, white trailer trash,” etc.

NAILED: Is there someone living now or from history who greatly inspires you?

JACKIE: All the children I have worked with and continue to work with inspire me. My grandfather also inspired me because he never judged me and I could trust him as a source of sound reason and security.

NAILED: Do you have a favorite quote?

JACKIE: My favorite quote today will be dated tomorrow. But right now my favorite quotes are, “True revolutionaries do not flaunt their radicalism. They cut their hair, put on suits and infiltrate the system from within.” –Saul Alinsky

“Girls are not machines you put kindness coins into until sex falls out.” –Sylvia Plath

NAILED: If you could talk to all the teenage girls today, what would you tell them?

JACKIE: I would tell them to stay true to themselves and trust their instincts. I would tell them not only to question authority but to question everything around them vigilantly and bravely all the time. I would tell them to never walk into anything they can’t get themselves out of. I would tell them that self-reliance is so important they shouldn’t even trust me and it would hurt to say that but that is how much I want the message to be clear.

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Header image courtesy of Ángela Burón. To view her photo essay, “Static Minds,” go here.

 

Jackie wishes to keep her true name anonymous due to the personal nature of this piece. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing and now spends her time writing and working with children. She is an advocate for garden therapy and can be found in the backyard planting and digging much of the time. Jackie ditched the city life and enjoys living with her husband in a small community where the forest meets the sea and people still wave to each other.

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Karen Hunt aka KH Mezek is, more than anything, a traveler. For the past two years, she has been on walkabout, writing her childhood memoir, Into the World, and her YA Urban Fantasy series, Night Angels Chronicles. “Reflections from Istanbul,” an excerpt from Into the World, won the 2015 New Millennium Writers Nonfiction Award. She is the author of numerous essays, co-founder of InsideOUT Writers, a creative writing program for incarcerated youth, and founder of MY WORLD PROJECT, an arts program connecting indigenous youth around the world. An avid full contact fighter and trainer, she is a 2nd degree black belt in Tang Soo Do and a first degree brown belt in Eskrima. It’s hard to say where her adventures will lead her next, but her passport is up to date and she is ready to go. Find her on Twitter: @karenalainehunt

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Acacia Blackwell

Acacia is a writer from Portland, OR, which suits her because sunshine gives her anxiety. She is currently completing an MFA, despite being recently told by Tom Spanbauer that to become a better writer, she needs to "unlearn all that grad school stuff." She listened, and it seems to be working. Acacia is working on a collection of personal essays that she really doesn't want to admit might be a memoir, and a memoir that she really doesn't want to admit might be a novel.