Issue 287 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


It was refreshing to read Derrick Jensen’s interview with Satish Kumar in The Sun [“Foot Soldier,” August 1999]. Kumar embodies the idea that providing a small light in a dark room serves us all better than discussing (or lamenting) the darkness.

I might easily have found this interview in one of the yoga magazines I subscribe to, but it would have been squeezed in among a nauseating number of advertisements. I’ve reflected — idealistically, perhaps — about the effect of an ad-free day across the country. What might it be like to have a commercial-free twenty-four hours in all media — newspapers, magazines, TV, radio? Just one refreshing day.

Patricia Gray Kansas City, Missouri

When I read the Readers Write on “Cats and Dogs” [August 1999], I was struck by the number of writers who should never have had pets in the first place. They seemed self-absorbed and uninterested in taking any responsibility for their animals’ fates.

The caretakers of Peaches should have had her on a leash instead of allowing her to run in the front yard, where she could get away, especially since they faced the grim reality of not having enough money to pay for her vet care. They subsequently took in another dog, only to discard him because they couldn’t forgive his trespasses.

Why didn’t Shara S. protect her cats, knowing what her Satanist neighbor was capable of? Why didn’t she bring the evidence to the police?

The woman who took in Charlotte didn’t bother to bring the cat to a vet for five years to be neutered or to find out if he had any diseases that needed treatment.

I shudder to think how Gianna De Persiis Vona’s child is being raised, after her account of how she failed to protect and, once again, spay or neuter any of the cats under her care.

The worst thing about those accounts was that they were delivered in a casual, matter-of-fact tone, as if this sort of treatment were the norm, without any consciousness of the authors’ ability — no, obligation — to protect their charges as they would any innocent soul at their mercy.

Jenny Pike Silver Spring, Maryland

Being an avid reader of The Sun, I’ve come to understand that most of your stories are depressing. But there’s always been a lovely, inspirational moodiness intertwined with the despair — until recently.

Reading Sybil Smith’s “A Dog Named Hopi” [August 1999], I started asking myself, What’s the point? I am not angry about the inclusion of this story. I merely question its purpose, which seemed to be merely to shock the reader. Lately The Sun as a whole seems to be going in this direction. Its pages are filled with the writing of victims and addicts.

I’ve never been the type of person who writes a letter to a magazine demanding the cancellation of my subscription. Instead, I’m just not going to renew it.

Kristen Pitzen Chicago, Illinois

Today I had my first day off (no work, no children, no husband) in a long time. I wanted to spend it with as much meaning and grace and peace as possible. Reading “A Dog Named Hopi” left me with a flushed face, a beating heart, and a feeling of inner turmoil. When I discovered that it was fiction, I felt as if I’d been raped. Why make up such a story? Why print it? If it were true, it might be justified, but as fiction, I don’t want it.

Please don’t add to the glut of material exploiting sex and violence. The truth needs to be reported on a personal level, but don’t make up stories like this. It does no good.

Katja B. Szarafinski Allen, Michigan

When I read “A Dog Named Hopi,” my first thought was This is too much. Why do I need to read this? I was feeling like one of those letter writers who say, “Enough already!” And this was fiction. Why would somebody invent such a disturbing story?

But then I found myself thinking about it all day, and I now believe it’s a brilliant story, incisive and intuitively authentic: from the narrator’s relationship with her tormentor, to his walking her to the door and then asking for the paper towel. There was remarkable compassion in the detective’s remark when the dog smelled the narrator’s crotch: “ ‘Yeah, that’s her.’ ” He could have looked away, but he didn’t. Compassion sometimes means simply not looking away.

Marc Polonsky Berkeley, California
Sybil Smith responds:

If people think that just because my story is fiction nothing like this has ever happened, they’re wrong. Such things do happen. We need people brave enough to tell about it and others brave enough to listen. Otherwise, the people who have been raped are wounded twice: once by the rapist, and again by those who refuse to listen because it makes them uncomfortable.

There were many times while reading Sybil Smith’s “A Dog Named Hopi” that I had to put the magazine down, get a glass of water for my dry mouth, and take a few minutes to calm my pounding heart.

I am a middle-aged woman. Thirty-five years ago, I was abducted in New York City. I showed up at a friend’s apartment at the wrong time. My friend was tied up in a chair with duct tape over his mouth, and the loft was being ransacked by two burglars. One of the guys wrenched my arm behind my back and held a buck knife to my throat. I was to go with him, while the other guy took the valuables.

My captor explained in a slow, deliberate tone that we were going to walk quietly down the stairs, arm in arm, and get into a cab. The knife would constantly be in my side. If I made one move or sound, he would cut me. He enjoyed cutting women, he said. (Later, he would show me photographs — his trophies — of the damage he had done to other women.)

It is a fantasy to think you are going to escape a strong man intent on holding you captive. Even now, I wonder, Why didn’t I scream on the street, or jump out of the cab, or signal to the cabdriver? But it is much easier to imagine an escape attempt than to risk one. Instead, I kept weighing the odds: Maybe I’ll have an opportunity when we get out of the cab.

I was taken to an apartment filled with trash, overturned furniture, and liquor bottles. There was a mattress on the floor. He ordered me to perform fellatio on him. When I started to cry and beg for mercy, he went berserk. I realized that if I continued to cry, I would be dead. So, somehow, I shut off my hysteria. And like the woman in the story, I struggled to learn his name and find some shred of shared humanity.

His name was Eddie. I used it before and after every sentence. If I made him a person, I thought, perhaps I could become a person to him, too. It didn’t work out that way, but it may have helped.

It was actually heroin that saved me. There was a knock on the door: Eddie’s man with a fix. While Eddie cooked up the heroin and got out his works, I acted like a country hick: “Wow, Eddie, I’ve never seen anybody shoot up before. What are you doing now? Why do you have to do that?” He started feeling like a big-city dude, and pretty soon he was nodding off. The sex drive, the aggression — it was all gone.

He told me I could go.

When I got out on the street, it was maybe four in the morning. I remember thinking the air was so sweet, the street lights so beautiful.

Like the woman in the story, I now have a dog. He came from a shelter and was abused by a previous owner. He won’t go down in the cellar and is frightened of enclosed spaces. We are the perfect match: He guards the top of my driveway and alerts me if anyone is approaching. He will not let a man in my van unless I assure him it is OK. I did not train him to do this.

And what about me? For most of my adult life I have dressed in drab, oversized clothes to hide my body from male attention. For years, I had recurring dreams of suffocation and would wake in a sweaty panic. I have to warn my dentist that I might sit up quickly from a reclining position. And I cannot watch movies or read books involving captivity, torture, or sadism.

I could hardly read this particular story. I kept asking: Why am I doing this to myself? But I trusted The Sun and Sybil Smith to lead me through the dark labyrinth to . . . what? Perhaps reaffirmation that we are strong, intelligent women who have picked up the pieces of our lives and gone on and done well. We are not dead, not shattered and maimed. We are very alive and blessed and grateful.

Name Withheld
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