Nine months ago, I was accused of rape. I don’t mention it often because the last thing I want to do is publicize it. For too long now though, that’s prevented me from expressing myself. It’s prevented me from doing just about anything. The accusation crippled me. Before I even had a chance to enter a plea and state my innocence, the charge was dismissed on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to even warrant a trial. That didn’t matter though – the story was already out there. In the Chicago Tribune, in the Chicago Sun Times, and all over the internet. (Mostly harsher) variations on the headline “Traveling artist accused of raping woman.” That’s the kind of thing that started to come up whenever my name was Googled. (Both my names: Sammy thrashLife and Samuel North). Scheduled exhibitions were cancelled or postponed indefinitely. In the coming months, four-figure sales would be negotiated and scheduled for the next day and, overnight, the buyer would disappear. I’d get some opportunity only to have it fall through shortly thereafter. There are plenty of possible explanations for each of these situations but I settled on one: Once a person got a chance to do a little research on me, they’d see those stories and decide that I wasn’t worth the risk. When thousands of artists are all competing for the same opportunity, why invite controversy upon yourself by giving it to one that’s been accused of something as awful as rape? For gallery owners, innocent or not, it’s safer to just steer clear of me and that whole situation and just book an exhibit with a different artist. For buyers, if you’re going to support an artist and buy something that’ll be displayed in your home for the rest of your life, do you really want a painting by someone that might have raped someone? There’s so much art out there – better to just go with a different artist, right?
I don’t know for certain that this kind of logic accounted for all of my opportunities drying up but it seemed like a pretty reasonable explanation. Feeling that rejection was now a guarantee, I stopped looking for opportunities. I stopped painting. I stopped writing. And I started shooting heroin again.
At different points along the way, I had thought about changing my name but that felt dishonest. That would be me trying to hide something. Besides, my art has always been about my story and – like it or not – this accusation was now part of it. A big part of it. The emotionally unbalanced law graduate who overcame heroin addiction and became an artist – I liked that story. The artist who was falsely accused of rape…? Even the word makes me sick to my stomach. I hate it. I don’t want that to be my story. I already had a story. Not to mention, even though the charges were dismissed, there’s no way that I can definitively, absolutely, unquestionably prove my innocence. So that’s who I was now: the artist who might have raped someone. I didn’t wanna be that person. I don’t wanna be that person. But I can’t help it. I can’t get my old identity back. My only other option is to find a new one.
Ever since those newspaper/online stories were published, my life’s been in decline. At no point since then has my life been as good as or better than it was before the accusation. Lately, in my head, I’ve been seeing a chart. It’s a chart of my life. There’s a plotted point on it for the day before my arrest. It’s not at the top of the chart, it’s somewhere in the middle. Then there’s the day that I got out of jail, when I found out about all the publicity surrounding my arrest. The line’s dropped all the way to the bottom of the chart; it’s broken through the bottom of the chart to new, previously unknown levels of terrible feelings. Since that day, the line’s gone up and the line’s gone down – but it’s never gotten any higher than the plotted point for the day before I was arrested. That’s the new ceiling. The stigma of that accusation has become a hurdle that I can’t get past and I’m really scared that, when I die, it’ll be the point on the chart of my life from which I never again made any progress. From which I never again got any better. I’m scared that this is it for me – that I already got my “comeback” – that this is what ends me.
Obviously, relapsing with heroin hasn’t made things any easier. I’m not in as bad of shape as I was a few months back and I’m clean right now but I still struggle. I think my biggest problem is that I don’t know what to do with myself anymore. For a time after the accusation, I’d still go out on the street, set up a canvas and paint while selling prints. And just as before, I did fine. I earned “a living.” That was before I relapsed though. When I could forget about the accusation and stick to my regular narrative: the junkie saved by art. But now that’s not true. Now I’m the junkie saved by art, accused of rape, and returned to heroin. That’s not an uplifting story. That’s not something people want to buy into. And it’s not really something that I want to sell. I don’t go out on the street to try to sell prints anymore and I don’t try to get into galleries anymore. Consequently, I don’t have all that much of an income anymore. I’ve been really broke. (Again, using heroin hasn’t really helped this situation much but I’d be having money trouble regardless).
There was this day when Wallis and I were walking out of the grocery store and she stopped to look at a potted plant. I knew that she wanted it but, on that day, I barely had a dollar to my name. I couldn’t afford to buy my girlfriend a ten dollar flower pot. That killed me. I love her so much and I want to give her the whole world – absolutely anything that she might ever desire. And that day I couldn’t even buy her some flowers to plant in our front yard. I felt so pathetic and useless. Though there have been brighter incidents (like the day somebody bought an expensive painting and I surprised Wallis by letting her pick out as many flowers, plants, and seeds as she wanted) there have also been a lot more where I haven’t been able to afford some little item and felt really terrible and guilty about it. (Just for the record, this is all my own doing; Wallis isn’t the kind of girl that ever makes me feel bad about not having enough money; she’s loved me unconditionally and been the one constant ray of light in my life ever since this nightmare started).
The stigma of the rape accusation might be significant enough that it’s no longer possible for me to make a living as an artist. Or it might not. It might just be in my head. Either way, my fear that it’s enough, and my fear of rejection, have absolutely made it impossible for me to make a living as an artist. So what do I do? I tried to get a few different writing jobs with companies where I knew there were people that were already fans of my writing. None of those panned out. (And, personally, I suspect it’s got something to do with my Google search results and the stigma of the accusation). Either way, my suspicion and consequent fear of rejection have prevented me from applying for any more of those types of jobs – jobs where I’d be a public name or face or personality of some kind.
Art and writing are the only two things I know that I’m any good at. If I can’t do either of those, I have my law degree to fall back on but I’ve never taken the bar. As a felon (I was convicted for possession of Adderall, even though I’ve had a prescription for more than ten years, because I didn’t have it stored in the proper bottle and I hadn’t had my prescription filled that month) it’s impossible (or close to it) to be admitted to the bar in Florida. Because I’m currently on probation (for the Adderall charge) I can’t move out of Florida. Besides, I’m pretty sure that it’s tough to get admitted to the bar as a felon in any state. So now I’m applying for paralegal and legal assistant jobs. I have a degree from Georgetown Law, one of the most prestigious law schools in the world, and I’m applying for jobs in the legal field for which I was already qualified when I was a teenager. And I might not even be able to get one. After all, if some law firm has a whole pool of applicants to choose from, it’s the same as gallery owners choosing artists for exhibitions. Safer to go with someone who hasn’t been accused of rape. Or that’s my fear anyway. And when the odds of rejection (or the perceived odds in any case) are that high, why even bother to try? That’s the kind of thinking that’s made me give up on being an artist and what’s kept me stuck in this rut, spinning my wheels for so long. That’s what keeps me frustrated. And what keeps nudging me back toward heroin. Heroin, after all, makes it all go away. It makes the pain and the fear and the anxiety disappear. At least for a little while. (And then it makes everything a whole lot worse, which is – obviously – why I’m trying to get away from it for good).
Even if I do find a regular job, I’ve got a whole separate set of fears about why it might not work out (which is a big reason I opted to become an artist instead of a lawyer in the first place) but – for now – those are still totally irrelevant. I have to actually get a job before I can reasonably be afraid of why I might lose it. Even still, I’d be lying if I said that those other fears don’t also scare me away from trying harder to seek out new opportunities, new options, and new paths I might go down.
I don’t know. I sent out a bunch of résumés yesterday. Hopefully, I’ll hear back on one of ’em on Monday or Tuesday. I just need something. I gotta find something to give me some direction, some purpose, some money, and some idea of a future that I’d actually want to get to.
God – I’ve wanted to write this for so long but I’ve been afraid that publishing something like this would hurt my chances of getting whatever job I was applying for at whatever moment. Or of causing a problem with my psychiatric treatment. Or of getting me in trouble for violating my probation. It’s been so hard, not being able to express myself freely. I’m still not legally supposed to talk about what I know about what did or didn’t happen that resulted in that accusation that’s fucked up my life so badly. I’m not used to keeping anything a secret and I feel like there have been so many lately. Having to hide this from these people or that from everyone. It feels so good to finally get all of this out. Sure, there are other secrets from the last year that have eaten at me and that I’ve continued to keep to myself but what I’ve written here today is what’s emotionally relevant right now – and my intention when I sat down wasn’t to “fill in the blanks” for any audience; it was just to write. Up until this last paragraph, I had it in my head that I wasn’t even going to share this with anyone – at least not anytime soon. I liked myself better back when I was an open book though so… whatever (forever) and so on. Writing (and sharing) this feels like a step forward.