|Lacy Johnson was held prisoner in a soundproofed room in a basement apartment that her ex-boyfriend rented and outfitted for the sole purpose of raping and killing her. She escaped, but not unscathed. The Other Side is the haunting account of a first passionate and then abusive relationship, the events leading to Johnson’s kidnapping and imprisonment, her dramatic escape, and her hard-fought struggle to recover. At once thrilling, terrifying, harrowing, and hopeful, The Other Side offers more than just a true crime record. In language both stark and poetic, Johnson weaves together a richly personal narrative with police reports, psychological evaluations, and neurobiological investigations, provoking both troubling and timely questions about gender roles and the epidemic of violence against women.|
|*Chosen as a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick
"In this brilliant memoir, Lacy Johnson offers us a guide to the impossible—how to reconstruct a past when the past itself is shattered, each memory broken into pieces, left rattling around inside us. Sometimes flashes of poetry are all that we can find in the wreckage, sometimes these flashes are all that can possibly save us, brought together for brief, burning instances, and then let go. The Other Side bristles with life and energy and to read it is to be transformed.
—Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
"Wow. Just...Wow. The Other Side is the sonic boom of a powerful story meeting an even more powerful storyteller. It's hard to say anything about a book that leaves you this breathless. Lacy Johnson is my new literary hero."
—Mat Johnson, author of PYM
"Lacy M. Johnson’s powerfully moving and brilliantly structured memoir, The Other Side, asks, “How is it possible to reclaim the body after devastating violence?” Her intense desire and demand for a life lived in the body is triumphant. Johnson’s strength to free not only her physical self, but also to move through years of incapacitating fear by writing this book, is breathtaking: 'I lift the chain from my neck, over my head, let it rattle to the floor'."
—Kelle Groom, author of I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl
I don’t eat. I don’t sleep.
Why do we stay in dangerous situations?
First, I think you have to realize that most abusive relationships aren’t abusive all the time, and that not all abuse is violent. There are also many moments of laughter and tenderness. There are jokes and passionate lovemaking. Then suddenly there’s a conflict, which may escalate into violence, or into the threat of violence, but that is nearly always followed by remorse and a return to loving physical contact. It’s a powerful cycle, and I think that anyone who stays in that kind of relationship isn’t willing or able to acknowledge to themselves, and definitely not to others, the ways in which that situation is a dangerous one. It’s easier, actually, to hide or make excuses, or to fall out of contact with friends and family than it is to admit to being in love with someone who occasionally rapes you, or calls you a cunt or punches you in the face.
In my own experience, I tended to blame myself for the abuse, in all its forms. I always felt so surprised as it was happening, and shocked after it was done. I told myself that maybe if only I had done or said something differently, or if only I could be a better person, everything would be so much better. That went on for years: with me always thinking that if only I could be a better person he would love me. It was only when the violence started to become really consistent that I realized maybe I should actually get out of the situation as soon as possible.
How did you decide how much to tell?
Until I started working on this book, I told only one story about being kidnapped and raped by a man I used to know. The story was very brief and very factual, and I’d learned to tell it almost without thinking. When I started to work on this book, I requested copies of the police reports from the case, and felt shocked to see that the story had not changed in form in more than a decade. That seemed to me like a really important detail, and brought to mind something I’d read about how our relationship to traumatic events is often linked to the stories we tell about those events. So, I reasoned, maybe if I could learn to tell a different story about this traumatic event, I could change my relationship to it. I quickly realized that changing the story meant I would need to confront several powerful emotional and psychological forces that had been working on the story to constrain it into that single unalterable form. Eventually, I chose to focus my attention on the constraining force of shame, which proved to be incredibly fruitful, and which is contrary, I know, to all of our ideas about the function of shame -- that inner, critic that silences a voice by judging it as wrong, inferior, and worthless. The seemingly unalterable story I’ve always told about the event was my starting point, and from there I asked, what is the most impossible thing to say about this? That feeling, of trying to say the most impossible thing, helped me to write this book, since in the end I realized that all the most impossible things were actually what was most important to say.
All of the names in The Other Side are anonymous? Why? It feels like you are protecting the identity of others but not yourself.
I write in the book about breaking free from this story, and that is definitely, certainly, absolutely true. I’m not going to hide anymore. I refuse to go on living one more moment of my life in fear. I have every intention of living openly and giving readings and teaching and doing my thing. And yet, as much as I want to shirk off the terror that has haunted me all these years, I also have to acknowledge that by writing this story now, in this very public way, I might be putting myself in real danger. The person I write about is an actual sociopath, free and out in the world. If he decided he wanted to find me it wouldn’t be very hard. I haven’t changed my name. I’m not using a pseudonym. A simple google search reveals where I work, and my title, and my office number in the building. I’m not afraid of that anymore. I’m not afraid of him. But that doesn’t mean I want him knowing my address or the names of my children or my spouse. Why put them at risk by using their real names?
You address motherhood in this book—why did you feel it was important to include the birth of your children in this narrative?
My children, more than anyone else really, have taught me what it means to love. As I write in the book, I had this very naive and romantic idea that giving birth to my first child would “fix” me, that creating life would somehow balance out the negative space left by the abuse I suffered at the hands of someone I had loved. I totally bought into the whole fiction around childbirth: how my child would be a joy and I would look at her and feel love like I’d never experienced before. And like that,Voila!, I thought, I’d be “fixed.” Clearly, this is a really selfish way of thinking about bringing another person into the world, and it was based on what I thought I would get from a baby, and didn’t take into account all that I would have to give. And then the very first time looked into her face, moments after she was born, I realized that she had absolutely nothing to give me at all. I know that’s not a very popular way of talking about birth, because I’m supposed to say I felt so blessed or Her life is a gift or some crap like that. I don’t think that way of thinking had set me up for success, because in reality what I had was this screaming ball of pure want and need. I fed her and clothed her and put her to sleep, but that’s not all she wanted from me. Babies can be full enough, and warm enough, and well rested, but they have an appetite for love that is never, ever sated. And in that regard, I didn’t feel like I had anything to give her, because allowing myself to love her seemed like such a terrible, horrifying risk. As she grew older, she started to offer me something no one else in my life ever had: completely relentless and unconditional love. At first, it made me feel so sad and anxious and ashamed. It felt like so much pressure. I certainly didn’t deserve it, not after everything. And I certainly didn’t have that kind of love to offer her in return. But my daughter kept loving me in her fierce, stubborn way, and little by little, I began to see myself through her eyes: as a person who didn’t need to change a thing, who was already worthy of that kind of love. When my son was born, loving him came so much easier, because I had this really incredible teacher there to show me how it should be done. That is the gift my children have given me, and it has helped me to end the story I tell in this book.