Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Kind of Freedom Worth Fighting For

What are we celebrating today?

Hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.

Independence day. America’s freedom.

Freedom for David Ritcheson came the other night. After enduring a horrific attack- because he was Latino- having been raped, tortured, and beaten by men who shouted “White Power,” he committed suicide July 1st. (

15 months and 30 surgeries after the attack, he jumped to his death. He was 18 years old. Six years older than my oldest son. Six years is a blink in parenting.

He was sixteen when the attack occurred.

David testified during the congressional hearings for hate crimes.

“The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (H.R. 1592) would expand the federal definition of hate crimes to include violence against a person because of his or her "actual or perceived" sexual orientation or "gender identity."

Under the bill, people who attack others out of "hatred" for their race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability would be committing a federal offense.”

David was savagely sodomized with an umbrella pole after making a drunken pass at a 13-year-old sister of one of the attackers. They stomped on him and burned him with cigarettes, and poured bleach on him before leaving.

I can only imagine the stigma of the rape was too much to live with. Everyone knew what happened to him even though he could not remember the four-hour attack himself. He refused counseling, over and over.

The rage turned inside.

I understand.

I was a victim of violence. I was repeatedly raped as a child. I was young enough to completely shut it out of my mind. Disown it. Float away and pretend it wasn’t me, eventually dismissing it as a bad dream, not reality.

Until last year.

I was 43 years old when I started to remember the hazy images were not nightmares but real events. I was barely able to keep it together. I felt so violated I could not eat, I could not sleep. I would look at my children, knowing I was younger than them when I was abused and cry uncontrollably for hours.

I cannot imagine being 18 years old, a child, and having to deal publicly, over and over again with such a horrific crime as David did.

In my own blog, in my own writing, I have written about my experience. I have friends tell me they cannot bear to read it. I have been asked why? Why do I do it? Why expose something so private?

I do it because I understand. I write it for kids like David. While the crimes against us were different, I understand the draw of the edge of the rail on the boat that night.

I understand what it is to stuff the rage and live with it until it rots all sense of self-esteem away. To live with the nightmares, the fear, the sense of impending doom around every corner.

And because I can hold it, I continue to write. The more I learn to express the rage, to put it where it belongs, the farther away from the edge I am. It is not my wife’s fault, or my children’s, or my friends’.

Or mine.

I know he believed testifying to congress was a way to make a difference. “…he wanted to help prevent attacks like the one he had endured.” (

I know I’ll never be able to stop the kind of attacks that happened to me. I also know sharing my story, my recovery, my ability to live with it, is essential.

No one can do it alone.

I know he believed his freedom would finally begin. The unbearable pain would finally end.

I also know he could have found another way, to spit the rage out and live his life fully. Always with a scar- I don’t think you can ever be completely whole again. But you can heal.

You end up with a different kind of freedom. One where edges don’t pull at you. Where the rage still burns but is no longer an inferno searing you and everyone around you. When hope doesn’t seem like a ridiculous fantasy.

Today, while we celebrate this country’s independence and freedom, I can only think of David.

And the kind of freedom worth fighting for.


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