A true story I told on Monday under the theme “EXPOSED: I Did What?” has become quite the topic of social media blowups and public controversy. But there is speculation and there is source material. Feel free to judge me harshly on either one. Or on both. That is your choice now. That is your business.
I want to make it clear that absolutely no one knew the content of this story before I told it except me. Not Story Story Night’s board or any Treefort/Storyfort organizers. This was my choice alone.
There is much to condemn me in this story. But I do not condemn myself for telling this story. People are complex. Reality is not always pretty. And public facts do not belong to any one person. The specific events I outline—other than my own personal terrible choices—have been part of a highly, highly public record for quite some time. I included links not to expose, but only to underline this. I feel absolutely terrible for using this person’s real first name at the show, and I’m so, so sorry for that. I deeply regret that. I’ve changed it here.
Still, even though I have faced a firestorm of criticism, and some very real punishments, I do not regret telling this story. I have been holding this inside as my own private shame for nearly 2 years. It has been eating me alive. Saying this story out-loud, however misguided that may have been, somehow released the extreme weight of guilt and regret I’ve felt down to the pit of my soul. That weight is now off my shoulders, even if I subsequently dropped it back on my own foot.
I am not a perfect person. I am both very, very good and pretty goddamn evil. And that is the nature of being a human being. And speaking your real truth aloud—not just your pretty truth, not just the spinned truth—is the nature of true vulnerability.
EXPOSED: I Did What? Story
I’m going to preview Story Story Night’s Storyfort exclusive show + theme, EXPOSED: I Did What? Stories [the event is now cancelled because I told this story].
Lying in bed, wondering what story to tell, wishing I was Kim Kardashian. Seriously, a sex tape then a reality TV show empire? The best EXPOSED story ever.
Then it came to me in a flash of expletives.
I always say Story Story Night stories are the stories you tell everyone or no one. This is a story I’ve told no one. But I’ve always been the type that if I’m not touching a raw nerve, it’s not really real, you know.
» Keep in mind this Alexander Solzhenitsyn quote: “The dividing line between good and evil cuts through the center of every human heart.”
» And I’m leaning heavily on the sex, drugs and rock and roll ethos of Treefort. Heavily, so if any of those topics make you uncomfortable, better head inside.
So I do have one Kardashian-style selfie out there.
I took it the day I found out my ex of 7 years was in a Facebook official new relationship with a burlesque dancer soon after our breakup.
I texted my crush in NYC, “I’m not sure how to feel better about this one.”
Immediate reply: “Want a naked pic?”
Yes, well, that is the only thing that would make me feel better about this one.
So he sent me one, on the condition that I do the same.
It took me 2 hours, so many poses, and I accidently sent some to my best friend while she was in a sex addicts’ 12 step group.
PLUS ONE WASTELAND
It was pretty hilarious. My BFF and I turned the whole thing into a comedic TV show script.
Because I was a comedian. I won this Boise’s Funniest Person contest while living with my ex and making fun of our break-up. And my best friend was a stand-up going through a divorce.
And we were going to make a comedy TV show all about it. And about our friendship. It was called Plus One Wasteland. “A comedy that’s a cringe-worthy riot.” We had producers, a photoshoot, a pitch deck, a website, everything.
We were writing scripts based on the formula that Tragedy + Time = Comedy, we just skipped over the time part. Whatever was happening to us, we would turn into hilarious art, man, in real time.
It was all centered on our cataclysmic falling out nearly 2 decades before.
Let me set the opening scene:
The Who is playing the song Baba O’Reilly, aka Teenage Wasteland. Or maybe someone’s covering the Who because we could never get the rights.
It’s an overhead shot, you see the expanse of the Idaho desert, then a high school, a parking lot, and there on the front steps…
Two 16 year old girls are ripping a prom dress—and each other—apart.
Of course, the fight really wasn’t about the prom dress. It was about our toxic, codependent relationship. I was the awkward, shy, repressed girl fighting against her chastity ring and fundamentalist upbringing. Ava was the sex and world savvy hippy-raised rebel. Together, it was us against the world, layered with sex, drugs and rock and roll. Together, as teens, we were both spiraling into dangerous territory. It just blew up one day, ostensibly over a prom dress, but really over everything. And we didn’t speak again for nearly 2 decades.
When we reconnected, she had 3 kids. I had a storytelling program. We seemed like the opposite of what we had been. But we picked up right where we left off as each other’s most supportive champions and worst enablers.
During my breakup, I feel like she was the only person who actually cared about me in the world. The only person who actually understood the true depth of my heartache and dating incompetency. She took me bra shopping, sex toy shopping, gave me invaluable advice.
MARKUS ROUND 1
Like to maybe not wear my vintage 1970’s velvet jumpsuit when picking up my crush Markus for the first time at the airport. Instead, she took me to Forever 21 to find something imminently more screwable, leggings and a fuzzy sweater.
He was a comedian too, based in NYC. He asked me the last day he was in town during summer of my live-in break-up: “Do you want to get laid?” It was so sweet. I just smiled and walked away.
But he still kept asking via Facebook, and after four months and lots of ex plus burlesque dancer social media spying, and no other prospects in sight, I switched positions. He would stay with me over Christmas.
He was the first person I would be with outside of my ex in over 7 years. I was terrified. I had no idea what I was doing. I tried to imagine what kind of tea to make that would be an aphrodisiac?
But when I finally brought him home. He just tore everything off anyway. As soon as we stepped inside the door. I didn’t even need to make tea. And it was easier and better than I could have ever imagined.
And I have a pretty active imagination.
He’s black, and a former college football player. He has huge, huge…calves.
We spent the entire week together. One of the best Christmas’s of my life. We danced to records. We told jokes. We took acid and walked to the foothills. We had sex non stop.
Ava said: “You’re both dorks and that’s why you like each other.” It was true.
On one of the last nights he was here, we drove out to Blacks Creek Road to get away from the inversion, and just stared up, looking at the stars, and he said, profoundly somehow, “It’s all ok. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter anyway.”
And in those few words, I felt the grief of his childhood, the abandonment then death by drug addiction of his mother and father, the more recent death of his grandmother who raised him. Beyond all the funny business, the profound loneliness of his life.
“It’s all ok,” I said back.
But then he left, and life got back to normal. And by normal, I mean nothing felt normal.
I felt like I was in an old-school Nintendo game, but the really crappy gray level.
Everyone was the enemy. Everything hurt like a fireball to the heart. Especially comedy, which made me feel raw and overexposed. Like I kept picking at a scab just so drunk people could laugh at me. But I couldn’t stop.
Ava still felt like my only true friend in the world. I felt like she could see through me, like she could see through everyone, down to their true core. And in her mind, everyone was broken.
Especially me. It was pretty clear there was something deeply wrong with me. Something beyond the breakup. I just couldn’t stop crying. Even when we met at the Crux for a few hours everyday to talk through scripts, I couldn’t stop crying. I found out much later and through much therapy that I was in the middle of a major depressive episode, but I didn’t know that then.
So those script-writing sessions often pivoted around the burning question: What is wrong with you?
She had a lot of theories. I was a drug addict. I was a sex addict (a mostly non-practicing one). I needed to go to 12 step meetings too. I needed to read Codependent No More. I needed to stop being so afraid. I needed to stop dressing like an old lady. I needed to get on stage.
And I would do it all. And she and I became more and more isolated from everyone else, because it was still us against the world.
Then she wrote a script about a fight between our characters. My character was dating someone disgusting, and he hit on her character, and I didn’t quite believe her, or continued to date him, or I can’t even remember now what they were fighting about. I remember thinking then that if these two characters fought, it would take like a full season for them to reconcile.
And I just didn’t like the script, and I told her so. I thought we should stick to our plan. Stick to real life.
And everything started to blow up. She told me I was a terrible collaborator. She told me I wasn’t as funny as her. And we began to distance ourselves from each other.
THE AWFULNESS & THE AFTERMATH
That summer, Markus came back. This time, for a month. Almost like a real relationship, right?
One night Markus acted super strangely, the weirdest I’d ever seen him, like a toxic cocktail of drugs and inexplicable agitation and grief.
The next day I got a call from Ava. And she told me something that still breaks my heart. The night before at the comedy club, Markus had grabbed her ass, but not just that, as he grabbed her, his fingers slipped inside of her, and she was extremely violated. In a horrific way.
I was shocked and horrified.
After his comedy show that night, I tried to confront him outside the venue, and he just said,
“I’m a horrible person Jessica, didn’t you know that?” And just rode his bike away.
And I have never felt so blown apart.
INDEPENDENCE DAY & THE DR. SEUSS OF SCREWING
The next day, it was the 4th of July, and he and I were booked on the same show, and I hated him, and I hated I had to be there, making jokes for him and the 3 people in the audience. And he tried to talk to me and tried to touch me and I just batted him away.
But then, out on the porch, he held out his hand, and in his hand were mushrooms, and of course I took one. And we ended up staying for the midnight mic, and watching box fireworks go off in the alleyway, and it just felt like old times, and we laughed and laughed.
He came over the next day to talk. He downplayed everything. And I didn’t know who to believe.
Ava’s story just followed the script so closely. I had no doubt he was awful, but I didn’t know if he was that awful. He said he’d call her and apologize.
We took acid and wandered through Boise, from my apt to the West End, through the North End to the foothills, back downtown. With him everything was just easy, like we were just kids, playing around.
Eventually we ended up back at my apt.
I still wouldn’t let him touch me, and he kept asking for a hug. Eventually, I gave in. We hugged for a solid minute, then started kissing, and I said,
“Ava’s going to hate me.”
And he said.
And from that point on it was like a Dr. Seuss book of screwing.
In a box, with a fox.
Here or there.
I would screw him anywhere.
It reminded me of that Pixies song, Gigantic.
“Lovely legs, they are
What a big black mess, what a hunk of love.
Walk her everyday into a shady place.
He’s like the dark but I want him.”
He was my secret plus one. There’s something about the combination of a sex addict, a depressive, and a high dose of psychedelics that was actually extremely therapeutic.
The last night he was here, we lay on the grass outside my apartment, staring up at the stars, and I said,
“It’s our own private Idaho.”
THE FINAL FIGHT
But of course, it wasn’t. Ava surprise visited me a few weeks after he left. I could tell she was pissed.
She told me that the only thing left that was wrong with her life was me.
And it just blasted over me, I had decided I had to stop thinking about what she thought of me to ever be my own person. So I pulled out an Amy Poehler phrase I loved repeating from Tina Fey’s Bossypants: “I don’t care if you like it.”
“Don’t you quote Amy Poehler to me.”
Comedian fights are hilarious.
Then, even after we seemed to have defused everything else, it came down to Markus. She asked me if I slept with him, and I admitted I had…like a Dr. Seuss book of screwing.
“He’s a horrible person. You have to say that he’s a horrible person.”
And I realized that she sees things as all black and white, and I see things in infinite shades of gray. And that’s just who we are as people.
“I just can’t say that,” I said.
I’ve never seen someone so angry. Her face went red. Out on the stairs she screamed at me, “You bitch.”
And the last thing I gave to her was two middle fingers.
But the thing I regret most is saying:
“I’m already over this.”
Because of course, that was a lie. Of course, I would never be over this. There’s a reason why those old-school BFF necklaces are jagged hearts broken in half. Because there are two girls out there, forever wearing pieces of each other’s broken heart.
And I now know where the dividing line between good and evil is (thumps chest).