The Other Side by Lacy M. Johnson
Lacy Johnson bangs on the glass doors of a sleepy local police station in the middle of the night. Her feet are bare; her body is bruised and bloody; U-bolts dangle from her wrists. She has escaped, but not unscathed. The Other Side is the haunting account of a first passionate and then abusive relationship; the events leading to Johnson’s kidnapping, rape, and imprisonment; her dramatic escape; and her hard-fought struggle to recover. At once thrilling, terrifying, harrowing, and hopeful, The Other Side offers more than just a true crime record. In language both stark and poetic, Johnson weaves together a richly personal narrative with police and FBI reports, psychological records, and neurological experiments, delivering a raw and unforgettable story of trauma and transformation.
“Ferociously beautiful and courageous, Johnson’s intimate story sheds light on the perpetuation of violence against women.”
“This riveting narrative of a young woman’s kidnapping and rape at the hands of a former boyfriend moves fluently between dissociation and healing.”
“Johnson’s matter-of-fact retelling of the horrors that befell her is by turns poetic and journalistic but harrowing all the way through.”
—Starred Library Journal
“In this brilliant memoir, Lacy Johnson offers us a guide to the impossible—how to reconstruct a past when the past itself is shattered, each memory broken into pieces, left rattling around inside us. Sometimes flashes of poetry are all that we can find in the wreckage, sometimes these flashes are all that can possibly save us, brought together for brief, burning instances, and then let go. The Other Side bristles with life and energy and to read it is to be transformed.
—Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
“Wow. Just…Wow. The Other Side is the sonic boom of a powerful story meeting an even more powerful storyteller. It’s hard to say anything about a book that leaves you this breathless. Lacy Johnson is my new literary hero.”
—Mat Johnson, author of PYM
“Lacy M. Johnson’s powerfully moving and brilliantly structured memoir, The Other Side, asks, “How is it possible to reclaim the body after devastating violence?” Her intense desire and demand for a life lived in the body is triumphant. Johnson’s strength to free not only her physical self, but also to move through years of incapacitating fear by writing this book, is breathtaking: ‘I lift the chain from my neck, over my head, let it rattle to the floor’.”
—Kelle Groom, author of I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl
I crash through the screen door, arms flailing like two loose propellers, stumbling like a woman on fire: hair and clothes ablaze. Or I do not stumble. I make no noise at all when I open the door with one hand, and hold the two-by-four above my head with the other. Only my feet and legs carry me forward, the rest of my body remains still like a statue. Like a ninja. A cartoon.
In the small gravel lot behind the four-plex I find only one vehicle covered by a beige car tarp—the elastic cinched between the bumper and the wheels. I wrestle it off and climb inside, coax my key toward the ignition. The lizard key chain shakes like an actual trapped animal in my hand, ready to shed its tail and flee. Take a breath, I say. You’re not dead yet.
Inching away from the building, I see the front screen door slapping against the outer wall in the wind. It’s too late to get out and close it. The tires spray gravel around the building’s unlit side and toward the street, where the street lights strobe on and on and on along the deserted boulevard stretching between the highway and downtown, where the boys down Jaeger shots, the girls down Jaeger shots, all of them dry humping at the bar or on the dance floor or in line for the bathroom.
I’ll never be one of them again.
I cross the boulevard by stomping the gas pedal to the floor, fingers ratcheted blue-knuckle tight around the wheel, leaning so far forward my breath fogs the windshield from the inside: proof I’m still alive. Or my breath does not make fog. Does not leave my body even. Not one nerve-taut muscle gives way while my headlights illuminate the narrow street, the empty parking stalls, the low beige-brick buildings.
When I realize I am not being followed I begin to cry and laugh and scream. Like bubbles. Like a peal. The rearview mirror shows my mascara running. Maybe I should apply a coat of lipstick? A patch of blood spreads where I have bitten my lower lip. The taste of a penny stolen from the kitchen jar.
I park the car on the curb in front of the police station and run through the dark with my shoes in my hands, cross the cold tile floor—a checkerboard—to pound on the glass separating me from the two female dispatchers, a steel u-bolt still dangling from my wrist. Under the fluorescent lights, their skin flickers black and blue. They lean back in their chairs, hands folded over their soft round bellies, each pair of legs coming together like a V. Their black sweaters. Their blue polyester pants. The faces turn toward me, the eyebrows raised in disbelief. The clock’s arms both point to eleven. They’re black. They’re blue.
Page Count: 232
5 x 7 3/4
- Why do we stay in dangerous situations?
- How can writing be integrated into healing from trauma?
- There are many sections in the book about the body feeling split from the mind. In what ways do you think this is necessary to survive a traumatic situation? In what ways is it harmful?
- Johnson states: “I say, This will be the last version of the story I ever tell. I know how ridiculous this sounds. How foolish. How naive. Because the truth is: I’m afraid of what will happen when it’s done” (192-3). What has been your experience with the ways in which you tell someone a story of a significant event in your life? Did your language ever change? Has the story ever changed or taken on any new meanings?
- Johnson states: “The story is a trap, a puzzle, a paradox. Ending it creates a door” (193). What have been the stories of your life that have created a door for you?
Lacy M. Johnson is the author of The Other Side and Trespasses: A Memoir, and she is co-artistic director of the location-based storytelling project [the invisible city]. She lives in Houston with her husband and children.