On Eating Others

Let me tell you a story of a boy from the South whose dad was proud of his lineage in the Confederacy and often spoke of it. This boy, who was too small to know, wanted so much for his dad to love him and to accept him. He was a curious boy, a writer in the making, and he read books about oppression, about slavery, about injustice, about rights, about true love. His world had heroes—ones who fought for those who were deprived. 

He dreamed of freedom for himself, out of the expectations around what it meant to be in his body, his lineage, and his genetics. This boy wanted out. 

To love his father would mean to accept him as a man who was abhorrent to his mind and his ideals.

This boy wanted to somehow recapture and reform the love he refused from his father, the love that was tainted with so much historical baggage. 

He had to find acceptance and love elsewhere. He had to make friends. He was awkward. Never knowing when it was not right to get so close so quickly—never knowing that so much can be gleaned from a gesture, a word, a movement. He has lived in his mind, in his ideals, and he was not able to fit in. He did favors for people to get approval, as I saw him do at Sewanee, letting folks hop in his truck to drive them around, carting food and cigarettes around for those who couldn’t get around that easily, giving a chance to newcomers like me who knew no one. I was one of the only Arab-American women at Sewanee that year—the one who wrote about how she doesn’t like to identify with her clan, how she is not a label but how she also despises any clan, or any label. She hates group-think. She hates mobs. She hates expectations placed on her on what she should be, should believe, and should represent.

You can say John Edgar is guilty of being awkward, too open in admiration, of speaking over someone, of having so much to get off his chest that he doesn’t pause, of name-dropping, of trying to be bigger and stronger and less emotional than he really is. I have seen it myself, firsthand. You can say those things. You can tell me that he has called and texted too much at the wrong times and sometimes given more away than he realized. He did that to me too. You can tell me he has begged for friendships and gone out of his way to belong. 

You can say that he loved having a position in which he was able to have a reason to be important in people’s lives. I will give you that. 

I have read both Natassaja Schiel’s posts on social media and the more recent essay by Meg Griffitts. This is not a matter of disbelief—I believe these women felt this way about John Edgar. 

I believe you can look around you and see all kinds of monsters. I believe that a text or a phone call can send you into frenzy. I believe that having a friendship with a man can be misconstrued on his part or on yours—that boundaries are nebulous—that friendships do sometimes become relationships. Sometimes even the best ones. 

I believe you, but his actions DO NOT ADD UP to what I would call predatory, or violent, or abusive. I am sorry if you live in such a scary world that such small things, like the ending of a friendship or a feeling of discomfort, or a flurry of voicemails and texts will cause you to wage a campaign against a person, to smear him and his name and demand nothing is left for him. 

He called you too much. He texted too much. He was too familiar. He thought you were closer and better friends than you were. That is what I read. You allowed him to do small favors for you because he thought he was doing them out of friendship and mutual regard. Maybe you would love him, as he wanted to be loved? Maybe he would find some redemption in you? 

He thought then that redemption may be found from outside of him, but in the last year, he has realized that it is within. He has been sober for over a year, is sorry for the late-night texts and calls, for not knowing his boundaries, and most of all, for believing in a fantasy of closeness that did not exist. He is healing himself. 

He was a man lost in a world that he wanted so much to be part of—and has found himself about the same people he would have shunned if he had not broken away from the place where he came. Now you turn to him with pitchforks and threats. 

Do you disagree with me? Well I disagree with you. Last I checked, I was entitled to my own opinion. 

I will temper my words here—but at the very least will say I find the post and the essay self-indulgent and privileged, and perhaps self-serving. I don’t know these women well enough to make the assessment. They are not my friends. John Edgar is my friend, however. 

Eat him alive and you eat those who would take up for better causes. You eat yourself. You devour others. 

Do you demand I take your side because I have a vagina? 

I belong to a time when one took great thought before writing and asked questions: 

Is it true? 

It is necessary? 

It is kind?

Thank you for proving to me again that I did the right thing getting off social media platforms. 

I came on as a publisher and editor of Opossum with a platform of empathy and of compassion. I will not step off that platform. If you would like to remove your work from the contest or from submission, please withdraw. We will also refund the contest prizes if you no longer want to be part of it. 

John Edgar removed his name from masthead. He took it down himself without telling me. He did so because he, his family and friends, and his ability to work have been threatened. 

My goal, as a Palestinian-American woman, is to spread love and acceptance to all—including my Jewish and Israeli brothers and sisters—I am working on getting submissions from around the world, not just America. I want all points of view. My humanity demands it. I am looking at outsider perspectives, outsider art, not just those ensconced in their MFAs and the dogmatism of the left. Yes, dogmatism is not just reserved for conservatives. 

For those of you who don’t know, I was on the Opossum staff as a flash editor before the proverbial shit hit the fan. When it did, and he took his journal down, it was me who encouraged John Edgar to restart Opossum with my help. If you want to point your gun at someone, point it at me. If you need someone to harass and to rage against, do it against me. I am very well-equipped to take it. I’ve lived a million lives in this one and not all of them were roses. 

I am not an enabler. I have denied all conventions in my own culture, religion, and heritage. I have my own voice. I refuse to join a chorus if I don’t like what is being sung. If you knew me, you would know that, at the very least. 

Say what you want about me. Slander me if you will. Lay me out on the platforms and say that I’m the awful, submissive, Arab-American Muslim woman who was a puppet to John Edgar. I will only laugh at that. My strong will and my free-thinking are my best qualities. And even more, I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t give you that power and I will not allow you to destroy a man I respect as a human being, a writer, and as a survivor of a very difficult life. Would you like to see him self-destruct, as his father did? 

Defund social media and not by getting back on it and complaining. Change the narrative. Make real friends. Create true networks. 

Free yourself. Find your bliss.

If I ever do join social media again, I can promise you I would not use it for public slander and for campaigns to cancel human beings.

Take the time to think before you speak. Stop taking bites out of those who are already wounded. For we are all wounded. 

Love and light,

Rima Ruhman

Publisher. Opossum