I was in my mid-twenties when a friend gifted me four or five books for my birthday that included The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao . I read every book in the stack in just a couple of weeks, except for the Junot Diaz title. It stared at me for months from my bookshelf because I knew I needed to brace myself. Those days were full of a lot of glittery vampires and students at schools of witchcraft and wizardry: for me, the most effective escapism from the sting of a broken heart and a difficult recovery from attempted assault.
When I did finally read it, I was undone. The hot, choking tears I cried took me weeks to process. I’d just read a soul-shaking piece of work that left me both stunned in admiration for Diaz’ prowess as a writer and desperately grieving for both his characters and my own experience. It wasn’t really a pleasant read but it didn’t need to be. I was moved. Junot gained a fan that day even if it took me awhile to realize it.
His body of work has meant so much to me, particularly as one of the few in a small pool of successful Latinx authors to “make it big.” His blurb on a book will immediately make me pick it up. His speech at the American Booksellers Association 2018 Winter Institute on representation again brought on the waterworks and filled me with big, bubbly Latina pride. I’ve lauded his children’s book Islandborn for allowing little brown girls to see themselves so beautifully reflected in the pages of kids literature. I sobbed through every word of his New Yorker piece where he revealed his own experience with sexual assault. I applauded his bravery, his honesty and his unique ability to wield the written word into a powerful punch to the stomach.
Why then, WHY, did I have to wake up to the news that #MeToo has now come for the great Junot Diaz? Several women have come forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct and all I can do is sigh. This is the one for me that stings, that fills me with a burning and unfair temptation to hope that it isn’t true... that it was a misunderstanding... that it wasn’t that bad... that these women are just out to get him. I want to slap myself for that train of thought, even if it only lasted four or five seconds. When karma calls to task the ones we love and respect, it’s too easy to make excuses. I won’t do that. I know better. But boy, does this fucking suck.
I’m now seeing a lot of folks calling that New Yorker piece a preemptive strike. I’m hanging on, clawing maniacally to the hope that this just isn’t true. I need it not to be. That piece ripped me open and then put me back together. To lure in readers with such a raw and vulnerable revelation and have it all be a power move is such a gross betrayal. Even in my profuse anger though, I’m reminded that he too - in theory- was a victim; it’s not that far a leap to conclude that his own violent experience and inability to cope with it effectively led to his own destructive and abusive behavior.
I’m trying to balance my empathy for his experience with the conviction that it doesn’t excuse- even if it does in part explain- his own abusive behavior. It’s a mind-fuck, and I hate it. There is not a scenario in which I could ever, ever defend the act of an abuser and I will not dare sit here and attempt to tell any of the women he’s hurt to give the guy a break. I also know that abuse really is a vicious cycle; I’m trying so hard to see the man who wrote that New Yorker piece as one hurting and trying to heal by working through his role in that cycle.
I cannot deny the convenience of its timing. I read it twice again this morning and cannot definitely say one way or the other what it’s true intent is. I only know how it made me feel, the same as I know how the works of so many accused have made me feel. Which brings me to the other shitty part about all of the #metoo movement: not knowing how to move forward. I haven’t yet figured out how to detach myself from prior consumption of the art of the accused. Even if I refuse to support it going forward, can I ever unfeel what I felt in the past? Should I? Where do I draw the line? Am I only considering the line at all because the accusations happen to be against someone I like?
I still hope it isn’t true. Something tells me it is. It’s awful, and never-nding. It hurts. I don’t have a pretty and hopeful spin to end on here because I’m still too angry to get there. I just want all of these men to do better. Stop letting us down.