This is my addendum, or postscript, to my last post. I wanted to write this only after taking a long breath from the last one, where I unloaded part of that story for the first time, publically. I say “part of the story” because there’s more to that one as there are others, as there are always others. And there are millions more and the world seems to be opening up a Pandora’s Box of trauma to a world governed by mostly old white men, many of whom just have no idea how to compassionately react to it all. Have you watched the news in the past few days? I think right now, these stories have to be spat out in anger. There’s a collective rage: mostly female but there’s a lot of men raging on behalf of women too. There’s a lot of men raging for the men, too, and (quite baffling to me) women complicity raging on behalf of their men. Not as many, I’d hope, but there are some.
This world is in the middle of the beginning tremors of an earthquake. We are in deep deep psychic pain. Collective trauma is real.
I will only share one more story, at the end of this, as a bookend to the college story. One hurt. One scarred. Both were painful because of the cold dismissal.
I shared the first story after hearing too many men and some women comment that it was such a shame to ruin a good man’s life with innuendo and unproven statements and that he was such a nice guy and couldn’t do this, yada yada yada. I wanted to say to people: what if that were your daughter? I mean, I’ll give Kavanaugh his rage. It must be hard being accused of something you really don’t think you did. But I know how it feels to be Dr. Blasey Ford and I know what it’s like to not tell your story because you know there’s holes to poke in there and you’re tired of it all. It’s exhausting. And with all the stories being spat out at the world, it must feel to men like a never-ending pile-on. Some men can’t be reached – that’s for sure – and a few of them are old and white and have been elected to office and it’s enraging to watch their defiance. My essay was not intended as a reactive indictment of Kavanaugh. It was to show the grey shadings of these things. Of course, I believe her. You know I do. I’ve been there and I can’t imagine the upside of her lying. But, you know, I believe something about him too. I do not believe he’s telling the complete truth, but what I believe is that he doesn’t remember the event happening as she does. In fact, he may not remember it all, and not just because it’s clear he could have been piss-blind drunk. He may not remember it because it may not have been memorable. To him. Which is the tragedy of these things. I hated that the media, and by media, I mean the kind of news shows I watch regularly, jumped to the language of “alleged attempted rape.” Nobody knows what Kavanaugh’s intent was in putting his hand over her mouth and grinding on her. We can assume nothing good, but what if this was his idea of horseplay? Sick, yes, awful, yes, but what if it was? I knew those guys. There was a football player from my high school who asked me if I’d give him a blow job (we weren’t dating) and I laughed at him. The next day in class he literally picked me up in my chair, tipped the chair, and dumped me on the floor. In front of the entire class. During a test. He was suspended for a day. To him: horseplay.
This is not the essay that parses what is true and what is not in the Kavanaugh case. This is not the essay to talk about the eruption of privileged white male rage – the President expressing sympathy that a man’s life has been ruined by this woman’s accusations. Another witch hunt. Burn her burn her (“lock her up”). Which turns my stomach. And probably re-traumatizes 60% of the population and 99.9% of women.
This is the essay to say, with some experience and authority, I know that trauma does a funny thing to memory. It takes it apart and puts it back together and sometimes the picture carried forward looks less like a photograph and more like a cubist painting. Limbs akimbo. Dead grandmothers next to your ear, whispering “you’re going to be ok; I’ve got you, Princess”. A book, The Velveteen Rabbit, on a shelf. The earthy smell of a futon. A few words, here and there. Nothing that constitutes proof, except that I changed, inside and out. I came to college naïve and trusting and I left jaded and cynical.
I don’t know if the rape made me an alcoholic. I may have ended up in church basement meetings on my own without that backstory. I don’t know that there wasn’t some trauma that pre-dated the rape, that made me, what my therapist has termed, ‘groomed and vulnerable’ to putting myself in dangerous, toxic, unhealthy situations. And they got ugly later in my life. The shame. The shame. But I do know that whenever I feel like I’m done with working through all these issues, they tug on my sleeve when I see someone else going through them and I’m seeing them in spades and it hurts to hear the dismissals, the easy mockery, the crazy conspiracy theories.
Over the years, sometimes I wished for a clearer picture of what happened to me. I wished he’d have held a knife to my throat so I felt more of a backbone about using the “R” word. The phrase “Date Rape” makes it sound cute, the little cousin to real abuse. Pain is pain is pain is pain. And I’m grateful for therapy that worked, finally, not endless talk therapy about my childhood but somatic body-centered therapy that cried and screamed and raged and massaged and acupunctured and painted and sang and wrote and structured and EMDR’d the grief until it regrooved my neurochannels and moved the pain from an uncontrolled present-day reaction to a past-tense story that lives arms-length away. Still my story, but I have some distance and some control over it. And I’m grateful for sobriety and a god(dess) of my understanding and my incredible husband. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be a mother at the last minute, before it was too late, so I can raise a good man into this beautiful broken world.
If it were possible, I’d like to take a walk with that college boy-now-man again. I have been back a few times for class reunions. I have enjoyed seeing everyone. I have said hello to that judgmental woman who sat between the boys. I have said hello to the date’s roommate. Both have barely contained their seeming dislike of me, years later, although I do have a vague memory of the roommate apologizing to me for his part at the end of our senior year at a party. But I have never seen the man I dated. He doesn’t return for reunions and I don’t blame him. I never saw him rage, as we all watched Brett Kavanaugh do. I saw sadness and confusion in his eyes. I saw someone of privilege not understanding how my version of the truth could be so different from his memory of the night. I did see some regret. Which is why he is not the enemy and is a bit player in this story. Because the enemy is the cultural conditioning that allows anyone to think this is all alright and that someone like me or Dr. Blasey Ford is lying or misremembering or doesn’t even have a valid complaint without lock-tight solid proof.
Here’s the last story. The bookend. The one I’d forgotten until today. When I was in 7thgrade, there was this 8thgrader named Scott who I had a huge crush on. Everyone knew because I was young and new to crushes and would blush when he was around. I was new to town. Scott was dating a popular, pretty 9thgrade cheerleader everyone liked. Scott had perfectly feathered blonde hair and lived a few houses down the street from me. Scott knew I had a crush on him. And in the spring of 7thgrade, Scott started inviting me to come to his house after school to play basketball in his driveway. The invitation thrilled me. I loved to play “H-O-R-S-E” and the like. For weeks, after school, it was just me and Scott, innocently laughing and playing basketball in his driveway. Sometimes his younger brother Skip was there and would play with us. His parents both worked. One afternoon, Skip wasn’t there, Scott invited me to come in his house. I followed him inside and he began to give me a tour. I was nervous – his parents weren’t home – as I followed him in and out of rooms until he led me into his bedroom and then closed the door and locked it. His girlfriend was popular. She was beautiful. She was nice. What was he doing, I thought? And he pushed me up against the door that he had just closed, came in close to me, body to body, so close I could smell his gum-scented breath. He held my hands in front of me, down by the waist of my jeans, and began slowly pushing my own hands, locked with his, up my waist, up my stomach to just under my 13 year old breasts where he stopped and looked into my eyes, teasing, staring. No expression. He said nothing. I had no idea what to do. I was shivering. I thought, naivey, dumbly, he’s going to kiss me! But he kept moving his hands and then I was confused, wait, he’s going to try to feel me up before he kisses me? This isn’t what I want. But I didn’t know what to do. I desperately wanted the kiss (I hadn’t had my first kiss – that would be the following year). I wanted Scott to like me, I wanted to believe a boy with perfectly feathered hair could like me, a girl who couldn’t figure out social signals from other girls, a girl who was so afraid to wear a training bra to school she wore an oversized orange Wheaties sweatshirt every day to hide her blossoming breasts. A girl who was terribly ashamed of getting her period during gym class. A girl who didn’t swear and went to church and said her prayers and wanted to get good grades and to make her parents proud. A girl was afraid God really could see everything. But Scott didn’t like me. Scott was just trying to get away with whatever he could get away with. And Scott was mean. And arrogant. And privileged. At some point, his smile faded, he grew bored by his game and he dropped my hands unlocked the door and walked out of the room. I followed him downstairs, and without a word of explanation, we resumed the basketball game. I didn’t ask anything. I just did what we do: we play it cool, act like nothing happened, wait for the next signal. He did not invite me back the following afternoon nor any other afternoon after that. I told a few friends in confidence what happened. Chrissie had an older sister in 9thgrade who was friends with Scott’s girlfriend and Chrissie was a gossip and couldn’t keep a secret, so word got out and one day I went to middle school to find that everyone was whispering and pointing at me calling me a liar, including the so-called friend. Nobody believed Scott, who was dating beautiful Michelle, would be interested in the awkward girl who had a center part with long, scraggly braids when feathered, Ogilvy-permed hair was in style. This shaming lasted a week or so and then was forgotten with the next Middle School scandal. A year later, I was sitting on my front lawn with Scott’s younger brother Skip who said to me, unprovoked: “I am so sorry about what happened to you last year. Scott told me what he did to you. I know it was true. He was a dick. You didn’t deserve that.”
I didn’t remember that because it was so mundane. Because it had seemed like something that happens a lot. A strange game I didn’t know the rules to, a cruel kind of hazing. What hurt the most was that I was not believed and that, it seemed, the entire school came after me. There was one person in that school who watched it all happen and could have stopped it by just saying, “It happened. I’m sorry.”
There are Scotts and there are Skips. And there are Chrissies. The Scott’s turn into Kavanaugh’s. The Skips may turn into Jeff Flake’s. And the Chrissie’s may well turn into the woman who sat in between my college date and his roommate. I may not like how they respond, and I just don’t understand them, but I have to send love and compassion their way because chances are, at some point, they’ve had the same thing happen to them.
It’s up to our generation and the ones below us to teach our sons and daughters better.