[Here’s one of the columns I wrote but didn’t post. A little dated now, but not really.]
Why didn’t they step forward at some point in those 40 years?
Why didn’t I step forward at some point in the last 40 years?
When I was ten, I was attacked by a distant cousin who was 14. I saw it coming. On a previous visit to his parent’s home at the other end of the country, another cousin my age and I were hanging out in his room, when he suddenly handcuffed me to the end of his brass bed and told me what he wanted to do with me. Through the open window, I could see sunlight dancing through the branches and hear the gentile voices of our mothers and grandmothers sipping tea and eating petit fours in the living room below me. Eventually, he was satisfied that I was terrified of him and let me go. I never said anything, other than to tell my mother that I didn’t like him.
A year or two later, his family had come to visit and stayed in our home. The parents went out for a fine dining experience, which they invited his elder sister to attend, but he and I were left at home with the kids. I begged to be allowed to come with them to no avail. I begged to be allowed to have an older friend, a girl who took nothing from no one, come and “babysit” and was also refused that. After they had left, he attacked me, threw me on a daybed, stuck his hand down my pants and… I can’t remember any more. I’ve tried and I can’t. I’d like to think I got away but he was so much stronger, I don’t see how I could have.
It took me years to tell my mother. Years of nightly bouts of stress-induced vomiting. Years of inappropriate lizard-brain reactions. Years of hiding myself beneath hats and oversized clothing. Years of inappropriate behavior. Years of writing about it through poetry and metaphors. This is the first time I’ve written about it in so many words.
Why did I wait so long?
Was I ashamed that I had been put in a situation where I couldn’t take care of myself? What ten-year old should be put in such a situation? What ten-year old should be expected to take care of herself if she finds herself in that situation? And is it the ten-year old’s fault that she’s in a situation like that?
Did I feel like I had “asked for it” as my attacker told me? Asked for it? What woman – much less a ten-year old — “asks for it”? At ten, I didn’t even really understand what “it” was – and I certainly didn’t ask to be pushed down on a bed, my arms pulled over my head, my tiny wrists trapped in one of his huge mitts, while his other large hand angrily groped me in places that I didn’t like, in places that hurt, as he pressed all his weight on me until I couldn’t breathe, and exhaled hot, angry, selfish words in my face.
Why did I wait so long?
Was I afraid that it would reflect badly on me, that I would somehow be tainted, and unworthy of a loving relationship with someone who would treat me with kindness? Or unworthy of a career that I could love where people would treat me with respect and dignity, even when they disagreed with me?
Was I afraid that people wouldn’t believe me? That I’d be gaslighted, told that I had imagined it? Or that such things didn’t happen the way I remembered them? That I had mistaken the situation or unintentionally led him on? That no one else had ever had such problems with him? Was I afraid that I’d have to sit at holiday dinners with him, facing him across the kid’s table, him knowing that I had told and not been believed, the other family members around us treating him like a normal human being, not like the pedophile that he was, while he said things to me, things that would reflect his knowledge of me as a victim, a loser.
Was I afraid that there would be retaliation? That it would cause a rift between his family and mine, that relationships with people I loved would be hurt and pushed away, or that they would push me away? That they would say bad things about me and turn others against me.
Was I afraid that if I told about this, that the delicate balance within my family – a family where you didn’t talk about things like this – would be upset? That we would be forced to talk about things, dark things, things that had happened to my parents, things that scared me would have to be discussed? What if that caused my father to work even more hours? Or my mom to retreat to her greenhouse even more of the time? Or what if it caused restrictions on my movement, and prevented me from hanging out with my friends because if I were outside of our home I might be endangered?
Why did I wait so long? Why did I, a confident, competent, courageous person, who would always stand up for someone else that confided their situation to me, why did I wait so long?
Why didn’t I warn his wife when I met her and her two young daughters decades later? I wanted to, girls, I did, but I was terrified and I told myself I wasn’t sure it was him that was your stepdad and it’s not something to accuse someone of, unless you’re sure, right? Why didn’t I take the girls aside and give them some vague reassurance that if they ever had to tell about something like that, their mom could call me, virtually a stranger, and I’d back them up.
Why didn’t my friends, also confident, successful women, women that I envied their poise and glamour, why didn’t they tell me that their husbands were beating them when I called to chat? Why did they wait until years later to confide in me, to confess that they couldn’t share that information because the role of victim didn’t square with their own perception of themselves?
Why didn’t the women in Alabama step forward some time over the last 40 years?
Look at the response they received. Look at how they are already being blamed, gaslighted, accused. Because they think they’re alone. Because, although they were older than I was when it happened to me, so was their attacker, and in a position of power that the state of Alabama had given him, had awarded him even though now it is coming out that others around him knew that this was happening, knew that he was a predator.
Voters could tell themselves that this election was too important to your party, to the country, to care about what happened to four teenage girls 40 years ago (I remind you that it is four that we know about), who didn’t take this man of power to court and offer themselves up as willing sacrifices to political expediency then. They could tell themselves that the election was bigger than one 14-year old girl. But what is it that is bigger? What were they telling people about what they want to be acceptable and unacceptable behavior in our country, when they endorsed this by endorsing him?
Why didn’t these women step forward some time in the past 40 years? Let it happen to you, then look in the mirror and tell me why they didn’t step forward.