I just got back from Sundance. I went with my husband, the supervising editor on Lorena, the Amazon doc-series about the infamous Lorena Bobbitt case. With an introduction by Jordan Peele, its executive producer, Lorena premiered at the festival. My intention was to watch all four episodes in a row, along with everyone else in the packed Egyptian theater. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. A survivor of sexual abuse, I expected some “triggering.” But I’ve worked long and hard to heal from the effects of incest, date-rape, and lesser sexual assault. I thought I could do it.
I sat with my husband and the rest of the Lorena team. They had all done their professional best to tell what was — and always will be — a bizarre crime story. Apprehensive and excited, I was anxious to know the larger story of the 1993 crime. God knows I was sick of the stupid castration jokes.
The director, Joshua Rofe, walked in. I turned around and gave him a thumbs up. I’ve known Josh for as long as I’ve known my husband, and am more than familiar with the work they’ve done together. Swift Current, in particular. Swift, the story of a former NHL hockey player who suffered and survived sexual abuse, wasn’t easy to watch, but I did. Most likely, because Sheldon Kennedy took his rage out on himself. I could relate. Lorena Bobbitt was another matter.
When Lorena came in, I reluctantly glanced back, and thought how good she looks as a blond. My husband asked if I wanted to meet her. “Not now,” I said, “maybe later.” I didn’t tell him I was terrified. For some reason, just thinking of meeting Lorena Bobbitt brought tears to my eyes.
As I listened to John Cooper, the festival’s director, acknowledge the heaviness of the material, I became uneasy. “If you find yourself getting triggered,” he more or less said, “feel free to leave the theater, regroup, come back, and do whatever necessary to take care of yourself.” I loved hearing his thoughtful concern, but it suddenly made it very real. I was glad I was on the aisle.
The lights went down, and episode one began. I loved the opening shot. An American flag seemed fitting in the dark age of Donald Trump. But then, some voice mentioned the crime, and I started to cry. It hadn’t been a minute.
There was a time when I would have dissociated from myself and my feelings, and done my macho best to tough things out. I would have played the good wife and watched every single episode, no matter the cost to myself. But I’ve suffered enough. “I can’t do this,” I said to my husband, who watched me run up the aisle.
Out in the cold Park City air, I called supportive friends in New York and LA, and spent the next two hours walking in and out of Main Street stores, and talking to friendly strangers. But hope springs eternal, and I decided to go back in. Maybe I could watch episodes three and four.
Slipping into the theater after a second weapons check — I was in Utah, after all — I took a seat behind Lorena. I looked out. Her dark-haired screen-self was on the witness stand doing her best to talk about the night she cut off her husband’s penis. I started crying again, and ran out of the theater for the last time. I took myself out for tea, read my new Mary Oliver book, bought an unnecessary plaid flannel top in L.L. Bean, and walked several miles in the freezing cold to the after-party. Pizza was in order.
Embarrassed to be the only one who hadn’t seen even one episode of Lorena, I forgave myself because everyone else did. I talked to interesting people, ate more pizza than usual, and basically had a good time. When it was over, I looked around for my husband. He was talking to Lorena in the back of the restaurant. I took a deep breath and walked over.
Before my husband could finish his introduction, Lorena jumped up, slid out of her booth, and gave me a big hug. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t watch it,” I whispered, “but I’m a survivor, and it triggered me too much.” Lorena smiled, and said she understood. I promised to watch it on a smaller screen, and that I thought being blond worked really well on her. She thanked me, hugged me again, and I said goodbye.
As I walked away, I started crying again. I had met Lorena Bobbitt. I had just come face to face with the woman who did what I have more than once fantasized about. Of course I was upset. I was looking at myself.