I have written about what happened to me my senior summer in multiple ways, the most recent time was in the anthology THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID, which was released this year.
It was a party. I was not drunk. I didn’t drink in high school. I liked to brag that I was “weird enough without drinking.”
This is a weird thing to brag about, honestly.
The young man who assaulted me had mono. As I started college, I came down with mono. The Epstein-Barr virus that causes mono attacked my brain and gave me seizures and some cognitive degradation. That’s how I have epilepsy. Every time I have a seizure, I know that it’s a horrible, tangible legacy that my assailant left me for the rest of my life.
Also, yes, I used to be smarter. It’s hard not being as smart as I once was. It’s impacted my confidence and belief in my abilities.
And as the country listens to Professor Christine Blassey Ford’s testimony about her high school assault, I realize how incredibly lucky I was in the years after my own assault.
Yes, I lost IQ points.
Yes, I still occasionally have seizures.
No. I didn’t tell my family.
No. I didn’t tell most of my high school friends.
But I had people who believed me.
But I did tell the people in college that I trusted. Some of them were wonderful. Some? Not so much. One guy insisted that we should have sex so I wouldn’t ever find sex scary. His drunken insistence was pretty overwhelming and not helpful at all. One guy eventually wrote about my assault in his memoir, not using my name, and making it into a bonding moment with his adopted brother who offered (I guess) to go beat my assailant up.
A couple years later, my boyfriend insisted that we help inform other woman about date rape. So, we enlisted real Maine judges, real Maine lawyers, classmates to play the roles of the rapist, witnesses, and had a trial in front of an auditorium full of students and people from Lewiston, Maine. It made the news.
I played the victim. He thought it would be empowering.
We didn’t have scripts. We had a set of facts and we had to present them according to our characters’ point of view.
And telling a story that was basically my own, but not my own, so that the process of the legal system could be shown and explained to other women and men who might someday need to report their own rapes? It was so hard. And I was hiding behind the façade that I was acting.
So, every tweak and twist of Professor Ford’s voice, every tremor and pause, both breaks my heart, and makes me ill with compassion, but also – it also makes me so amazed by how brave she’s being as she says things that she remembers, things like “indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two.”
“You’ve never forgotten the laughter? You’ve never forgotten them laughing at you,” Senator Patrick Leahy said.
You don’t forget things like that.
I can’t forget Anita Hill’s testimony about sexual harassment from (now) Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. I saw how she was treated.
Patrick Leahy was on the committee when Anita Hill testified back in 1991. He is on the committee now. Senators Hatch and Grassley were also on both committees.
Speaking truth matters. Surviving matters. Taking care of each other matters.
I’m in an organization that has a membership of about 35 women. Of those women, I know at least seven of them have been molested or sexually assaulted. These are leaders of the community. These are kind women who devote their lives to their community and family. And I know of seven of them who have openly stated that they’ve been hurt.
There are probably more.
And here’s the thing: What could they have become, what could they be doing, if they didn’t have to deal with that baggage?
What would this country be, this world be, if the borders of women’s bodies were respected? If they weren’t hurt by sexual assaults and have to deal with the trauma of that for so long? And it obviously isn’t just straight women, it’s non-binary people, it’s gay people, it’s men. What would we all be if we didn’t have to be derailed by violence? What would we all be if we didn’t have other people constantly doubt and deny our pain?
Spoiler alert: We’d be even more awesome.
That’s what our country needs to work towards. We need to work towards kindness, respect. We need to work towards caring about each other.