In early Fall 1989 I did this painting of my beloved, cherished friend John Talbot Wallis. He was staying with me at my little basement apartment in St. Paul, trying to kick heroin. It didn’t work out for him, and he went back to NY and relapsed immediately. I desperately hope he is still alive. Last I heard, in the mid-90s, he was very deep in addiction and had apparently lost most of his teeth. The odds aren’t good, but we junkies are tough as cockroaches. I’ve said a prayer for him every night for almost thirty years.
This was one of the earliest portraits I ever painted, though I had drawn quite a few by this point. To get ready for going back to art school full time, I was taking a painting class in downtown St. Paul, an extension class from the Minneapolis College of Design, with a wonderful woman professor, Elizabeth Erickson.
I started out painting in acrylic, though there is tremendous bias against acrylics in the figurative and especially portrait painting community.
I really appreciated my teacher’s willingness to let me use acrylics. I was afraid I would have problems with my sobriety if I used oil paints, which involve solvents. I had never been an inhalant abuser, but I was less than a year sober and I wasn’t taking any chances!
Because it was a beginner’s class, we started in a limited palette, and the painting above really shows how new I was to handling paint.
I liked acrylics and it turned they are perfectly suited for my run-and-gun, punk rock style of painting, so I’ve never looked back. My palette was a lot more Fauvist early on, partly because I didn’t know how to mix colors or how to see color temperature in shadows.
I had never intended to be a painter – I was gonna be a comic penciller, and have colorists to take care of that! So I had paid little attention to my color theory class at Parsons and stubbornly avoided working in color as much as possible. It was really an accident that led me to becoming a painter, that the only class in the extension program that Fall was a painting class, and that I loved my teacher. I also just really love Fauvism, and I still think my early paintings are terrific examples.
This portrait of John, an homage to The Green Stripe aka Portrait of Madame Matisse, is probably one of the top ten likenesses I’ve ever achieved.
This IS John, who I met at Stuyvesant a day or two after my fourteenth birthday and was close friends and sometimes friends with benefits with til I was 23. He was literally the jolliest drunk I have ever met, a vibrant, loving, wildly creative guy without a mean bone in his body. He was a drummer, an artist, a rapper, and a lover who adored pleasing women.
He turned me on to NWA and The Tubes, and we walked thousands of miles together over Manhattan Island in the 80s. We logged thousands of hours hanging out, writing graffiti, drinking beer, roaming the city or watching MTV. We used to do acid and heroin and watch Jaws 3 in 3D with the colors on the television reversed, laughing hysterically. He had a heart the size of Central Park. Merciful Goddess, I hope he is still alive.
Another redhead, fellow MCAD painter Brad Geiken.
I painted this in the fall of 1990, I think, when Brad and I were together. Brad was a terrific, terrific painter and a really nice boyfriend. He looks mean here but that is the fault of me as the painter, not the man. Or he was mad because I was a shitty girlfriend and he deserved better. He had the most beautiful red hair.
Here is another painting of Brad, unfinished. I wish I’d finished this one. What a great subject to paint he was!
I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.
Until today, no record of these paintings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.
Spectral phantasmagori of my peripheral vision: journal drawing, winter 1981
I’ve always had a problem with the phrase “my rapist”.
My “Angry Unicorn” tag, journal drawing winter 1981
It attaches so much ownership and blame to what is actually an event that happened TO me, without my consent. It’s so much clearer to say “the man who raped me”.
Except I was groomed as a child to become a perfect assault victim, and my teenage alcoholism created a perfect storm of vulnerability, and so multiple men raped me.
Which means it’s not clear at all, to say “The man who raped me.” I can’t even say, “The man who raped me when I was fourteen”, and have it be clear.
So, one of the men who raped me when I was fourteen. The first one. Left a comment on my blog. Yesterday.
With a beloved friend and student, Charlottenburg Fall 2016
Rusty iron in my mouth, cupping my coffee cup for warmth, safe in Berlin, safe and loved, so loved, so strong, and still it sent an electric charge of nauseous danger through me.
He reaches out every few years, contacts me on social media, says he’s glad I’m doing well. That I wasn’t doing so well the last time he saw me. But never, “I’m so sorry”. Just say it. Trust me, it won’t solve the problem. You will still carry guilt and grief and horror at your actions.
But there is a tiny scrap of peace in knowing you have done due diligence at last.
I know how it is not to be able to say it. It took me thirty years to say it in one instance, to clearly and openly admit my guilt at the harm I did. And they say making amends lets you forgive yourself, but maybe sometimes it only lets you open your heart to the depth of the wrong you did or the loss you endure. And you just have to live with the depth of that wrong, just breathe it in and say “I am so sorry”. To the universe, to the family, to the spirit of that blue-eyed boy or girl.
It makes me furious that he always mentions how I wasn’t doing so well the last time he saw me.
Opening my 80s and 90s journals box to write this piece, Berlin 2017.
Well sure I was a mess, I was a fifteen-year-old alcoholic and drug addict whose live-in boyfriend had just tried to kill himself in front of her and been locked up at Bellevue! I am an addict, a person with multiple disabling diseases of the mind and body, and me being that doesn’t make me a lesser person, or excuse the harm you did.
My alcoholism did not make me complicit in the violations that occurred to me.
That is, I continued to see, and had sex once or twice with, Evan, the first man who raped me when I was fourteen. For several months, until on an early Summer day in 1981, I replaced him with a gentle lover, Teo.
I was so incredibly happy that winter of ’81, when I first met Evan. The happiest I had ever been.
On January 8, 1981, my fourteenth birthday, I woke up with a clear decision in my mind.
I would try one more thing before I killed myself: becoming a drug addict.
It seemed totally reasonable; I could not endure my feelings and the pain I was in, but drugs offered a way to manage those feelings until I had more resources.
I was somehow sure that if I made it to adulthood, got away from my father, I would be able to get tools to be happy.
With GIlly and other cherished friends, Abington Square Fall 1981
So I walked into Tony’s coffeeshop next to Stuyvesant High School, and asked where the kids with the drugs were. I found Gilly, and she took me to my people.
I had Found the Others, at only fourteen. Decades later, living in the Bay Area, I met a lot of people who hadn’t Found their People til college, or ’til they moved to San Francisco. As a New Yorker I was incredibly lucky, and it surely saved my life. My people were the last group of Stuyvesant Freaks, who hung out in the east half of Stuyvesant Park, doing drugs and listening to the Dead.
I immediately began taking all the chemicals of every kind I could find, as well as drinking. But my people didn’t drink much; they were Deadheads, and psychonauts, and hippies. So my first serious forays into drug use involved a lot of psychedelics and pot. I was stoned all the time. I smoked pot all day, and I took speed and acid with it.
My new best friend Jenny, who like all my new friends was a junior or senior, was so disappointed that I was still a virgin.
She had lost her virginity at 14, and wanted to be able to talk girl talk about sex with me. Falling in love with her, day by day, it became even more urgent to me to get rid of my hymen. I loved Jenny, I wanted to be lovers with her, but she was straight, and I couldn’t even tell her.
We roamed the park in a mob, only afraid of the Guardian Angels.
The park, shunned at night by everyone but criminals in 1981, was our huge playground. One night, high on acid and jug wine, I broke my ankle falling from the Frisbee Hill rocks. My friend Billy carried me to the huge Upper West Side apartment of one of the sweetest and kindest of the Music and Art kids, an adjunct tribe to our Stuyvesant Freaks.
In the morning I woke up and realized my ankle was broken; my mom took me to the hospital where it was reassembled with a pin.
And I had a cast and crutches. Plus a vague sense that smoking pot was turning weird for me.
Inside journal cover, Winter 1981.
But I was still deliriously happy, because my friends were amazing. I had briefly run away the previous month, and my divorced parents had agreed my mom would take me away from my father, to a place of our own. She had found a place, on leafy Abington Square in the West Village. We would move in together in May.
A week after the surgery, now pretty mobile on my crutches, I was back at the Music and Art guy’s place for a party. I had promised Billy I wouldn’t drink this time, so my friend John suggested a nice bowl. I smoked with him in one of the rooms of tie-dyed laughing singing teenagers, the huge flat’s endless rooms filled with our people, our beautiful brilliant gifted people. (You never knew where the parents were.)
But the high went wrong, it filled me with terrible paranoia, and suddenly I felt wildly unsafe and terrified.
So John let me drink a bit of wine, to take the edge off. My friends were three and four years older than me, there was no-one my age around, and they were experienced users. I started drinking. Billy, a gentle drug-dealer who genuinely cared about me, yelled at me. I went into the bedroom of the host guy (it grieves me I no longer remember his name, maybe David or something) where I had spent the previous Saturday night struggling to get up and dance while Billy held me and explained that my ankle was hurt. The host’s room was crowded with our people, and small; the kids always got the maid’s rooms in these flats.
I was sitting on the floor, looking across at a boy I knew playing guitar.
His name was Teo, and he would become my first boyfriend. He was wearing a white embroidered cambric shirt from India, open at the chest, and he was playing “Blackbird”; his long dark curls tumbled over his shoulders. I was drinking whatever bottle was passed to me. I was so happy and so full of love for the world I’d stumbled into. I blacked out.
I came out of the blackout kissing someone. I pushed him away to find out who it was.
Age 14 or 15, on Abington Square
It was Evan, a senior who I had bought acid from once or twice. Blue Dolphins, maybe. He was a graffiti writer, and tall and slim and beautiful, with brown eyes and long golden-brown hair in a ponytail. He looked like a hippy version of Shaun Cassidy.
I found him quite acceptable as a kissing partner; he was on my mental list of guys I found hot, “candidates”. He was eighteen, a little old, but that was ok. We were sitting in the window, and it was dark; the room was empty and silent. A lot of time had passed, obviously.
I kissed him some more, and we decided to go to my place. In the lobby we were kissing, me on my crutches, him holding me up I suppose, and he pulled away and said, “Look what you’ve done to me, you goddam little nymphomaniac!”.
I had a vague idea he was a vegetarian or Buddhist or something, and I thought possibly he had committed to celibacy for some spiritual reason.
So I thought perhaps what he meant was that i was seducing him into unwanted carnal feelings. I did not fucking care. It was April, it was Spring, young people had boiling sap for blood and missing out on desire was obvious foolishness.
We caught a cab the long way down the West Side to Chelsea and walked through the dark apartment, past my father’s bedroom and through the living room where my brother slept. We went into my tiny bedroom and got on my single bed, and started making out again. At some point there were less clothes, and I was backed up against the wall at the head of the bed. My head was angled against the wall, I was propped up on my pillow, and suddenly his naked hips and his erect dick were in my face.
He shoved his cock in my mouth, and I bit him. Pretty hard, I think.
I was offended as hell. I was raised by hippies, and the 1950s idea that women should provide oral or manual release service to men to avoid having further intimacy was tacky as hell to me. I wasn’t there to get him off; I was there because I liked boys and I wanted to do sex with boys. He pulled away yelping in pain, rocked back on his heels, and said, “Alright, I’m gonna fuck you then, you bitch.”
I looked him in the eye in my dim bedroom, and I said, “See if I care”. And he pulled me down onto the bed and did it.
It hurt quite a lot. I blacked out again at some point, and of course I was very intoxicated, so luckily I missed some of it.
All my life ever since I have drawn strength from that moment, the moment when my brave-hearted fourteen-year-old self met ugliness with brio and courage. I have always been proud that I stood up to him in a spirit of sarcasm and New Yorker sass.
And I have always grieved that I didn’t wait just two months longer, til the sunny summer day when Teo and I made love in my new West Village bedroom together. But I might not have had the courage to boldly seduce Teo – which I certainly did- if I hadn’t had the confidence of being devirginized. And Teo was a bit of a geek, he would never have made a pass. So it goes.
In the morning Evan was odd and awkward; only now do I realize he might have been a bit of an Aspie. He demonstrated his most impressive physical skill, the lighting of a match from a book with his toes. Probably to light my cigarette; I smoked Marlboro 100s in the gold pack back then.
He got dressed and picked up my white Princess phone and wrote down the number written on the metal place. “That’s not my number”, I said. It was the number of a very bad boy I had loved in 8th grade.
He asked me for my actual number and I gave it to him. I walked him out, past my brother and my father, and locked the door. There was blood on my sheets, not too much, and I was still pretty drunk.
I did not want to discuss the matter with my father, though he gave me an inquiring leer.
The first time a boy had spent the night with me was on March 16. That boy, Gerardo, had not had the resolve or perhaps the ability to wait, and it had ended in his messy ejaculation, though I would certainly have had sex with him. After I walked him out my father had wanted to know if I was finally having sex, and did i need birth control; I had been able to evade him and say no, which at least was a good thing.
I could not wait to get to school and tell Jenny. I had beaten her by a couple months; she was almost fifteen when she lost it.
When my mom drove me to school I told her I needed birth control, and she made an appointment for me with Dr. Wolff on the Upper East Side. The camaraderie with Jenny was glorious; we sat on 15th st. in the Spring sun giggling together.
Evan sorta stuck around for the next couple weeks, in a weird, embarrassing and embarrassed way. He would come out of school and sit with me at lunch ( I had long since stopped actually going into the school building, and went straight to the park with my friends each day.) He would sit near me but not really pay attention to me, and Billy would kiss me hello but Evan never did.
I felt like he was ashamed of me, which made me furious. Then he invited me to dinner.
I was still on crutches, so we took a taxi. I wrote about the evening in my journal (seen below) for my beloved English professor Roger Baronat, who adored my writing and treated it with great respect while never cutting me slack for skipping class, finals and homework.
I have transcribed it here. You can see I was not in any way a normal fourteen-year-old. And also that the Norman Mailer and Hunter Thompson I was reading were bad influences on my early writing style.
Well. Evan said he wanted to cook dinner for me, so after school (after his– eighth – school) ( I didn’t go) it was a beautiful sunny day and we stayed, in the park, for a bit – so many people! – mmm – then found a cab (takes a while – going downtown? – they yell over their yellow doors – ) and directed it to Brooklyn. Wide-eyed, enchanted and happy I looked over the bridge – ships! ships! Look, look, see the masts? see the dock? See the sailboats? Oh! Look! This is Brooklyn? How come? Suburbs? My god, you live in the suburbs?
‘Don’t look now’ (where?) ‘but my dad’s right behind us’, said Evan, and I turned with my chin on his shoulder to peer out the back window of the checkercab. Green car. Hee. hee. heeheeheehee…’Don’t wave.’ ‘No?’…Looks like my dad…– beard-brained, ponderous, charming and soulless — trees and crowded houses, quiet streets, wonderful Victorian turrets and formica ranches – driveways and cars and bikes — oh Evan, the air smells good! – the country!! Taxi-cab driver don’t know where he’s going so we walked a sleepy lawny block, down a path — a patio, no less, fancy me going in through a screen door after fourteen years of bolts and locks? Kitchen a tribute to TV commercials and floor wax America over, but Evan’s room is just like every teenage dope fiends’ and cluttered, postered and unmade. Jimi Hendrix Experience poster on the ceiling above his bed – now I couldn’t cope with black orpheus medusa snakes above my head every night, but that’s me. I won’t go near a lay-up either.
Anyhow – we went and sat outside, sun going down, by the garden, huddled close for warmth, and then went back inside so Evan could cook. Well I did the best I could to help, and now and then his dad harassed us, and his mom came home, as sweet and soft-smiling as you could possibly imagine, soft brown pageboy hair falling over her cheeks, tall and still graceful though in a weary way; laid her head on Evan’s shoulder, for a moment aglow with creator’s awe at this tall lovely creature who was yes, her son and was now cooking dinner —
She was a little bit drunk from champagne at her office, (to celebrate an account or somewhat) and as she fixed her scotch-and-water and sat back she told us how they’d had a beastie, a chameleon, named Camile, at the party. I never quite understood why but it was enough that it had been there, crawling among the vino-damp cocktail napkins on the desks pressed into bar service, and that she’d taken pleasure in its glowy, gentle eyes and soft tummy, iridescent tail and little feet.
May 8, 1981 journal page
Since the journal was for Mr. Baronat, who knew that I was a drug user and graffiti criminal but had perfectly good boundaries about sexuality with his students, I did not mention the sex.
After dinner we went into Evan’s bedroom and he had sex with me again. I told him I had an appointment soon to get birth control, but he didn’t care one way or the other. I looked up at the Jimi Hendrix poster as he pushed into me. “Lie there and think about pizza”, Jenny said, about sex that wasn’t fun.
It hurt again, and I rocked my hips, trying to get comfortable; he hissed, “Up and down, not side to side!” I was mortified; not a good start to my career as a femme fatale. Later his dad drove me home to Manhattan. For one night it seemed like maybe he was going to be my boyfriend. But things went back to the weird not-quite-hanging out at school.
And my mom and I moved in together, to our own place, where I had a nice bedroom and a double bed and was safe from my father.
Evan came over one last time after I had my cast off and my diaphragm (Dr. Wolff, who had delivered me, said I was too young for the pill, too young for tubal ligation and he was terrified of IUDs).
We had sex in my grown-up bed, actually naked, and he actually went down on me and acted like a lover. But it was not thrilling.
There was no intimacy, it was just awkward, and I was really pissed about every single way he was an asshole.
I knew he wasn’t what I wanted, and a week later I was with Teo. And with a half dozen other boys and men by October.
A quote from Gilly, written in my Fall 1981 journal.
Me age 15, with Paul, winter 1982
Evan stopped by six months later, after my live-in boyfriend Paul had slashed his throat with a razor and been hauled off to the Psych ward, after I’d embarked on a course of self-prescribed compassionate leave involving bottles and bottles of Valium obtained with forged prescriptions. Evan yelled at me about not going to school, about my drug use, and gave me a beautiful airbrushed piece of art with my name graffiti-style.
He seemed to be trying to tell me he was sorry without ever saying the words, in the 80s.
In the later half of the 80s I learned he was dating a very vulnerable and fragile sixteen-year-old friend of mine, doing Dead tour selling t-shirts with her. Figures, I said to myself.
In 2008 or so he tracked me down on Facebook. Said he was glad I was doing ok, since I wasn’t in such good shape the last time he saw me. In a sober spirit of full accountability for my own sexual predation, my decades of rage at men and the time I might have had sex with a boy below the New York age of consent at 20, I did not judge him. But I could be pissed that that was the tack he’d choose to take, and I blocked his ass.
“Hi Rachael, your blog is incredible, and very powerful. Glad to see you are doing well.
He left it on this post! About making amends! Where i state quite clearly that:
“The people I knew and who knew me, well, that’s up to them, and they haven’t made much progress to date.”
Jesus! Just say you’re sorry! The statute of limitations has expired!
I did horrible things in the 80s. I cheated like crazy on my sweetest boyfriends. I hit them. I froze them out emotionally when they just wanted to love me. I seduced boy virgins endlessly, thirteen in all, avenging my trauma by giving them the consent and attention and gentleness and passion I didn’t get, a night they would never forget. And then breaking up with them.
In the 80s, if you wanted to be a sexual adventurer, you paid a high price. The ratio of sexual trauma to adventure was very high, a friend my age once told one of our young women friends. Dark magic was all we had. Our desire was dangerous as hell to us.
We swung the cannons of our young bodies, firing broadsides. I suffered great harm, and I did terrible harm. Let there be healing for all who can heal.
Me and Daria at KaDeWe, November 2016. She said today,
“As for the guy, take it as they neither can live free from what they’ve done. They are evil in this story although they caused this evil not just to you but to themselves, if it’s still haunting them.”