Donald Trump has triggered our traumatic memories of sexual violence.
I want to join the chorus of women who are saying, "I don't want to be silent anymore. If my silence is my complicity, then I will be loud."
I had no intention of telling her.
No intention, in fact, of sharing my story of the bizarre sexual assault or assault-lette that occurred last weekend -- beyond my husband and the Facebook message I hurled like a scared grenade immediately after it happened to two of the most reflective feminists and genuinely empathetic people I know.
But your mom asks you how your weekend getaway was, and unfortunately there it is --- the image of the fat, drunk man pushing you up against a shelf of potato chips in a convenience store off a New Hampshire highway exit, grabbing you with both his arms and squeezing you while breathing a boozy, "I love you" into your face from a proximity that can only be called inappropriate.
So I told her.
And there was much alarm and empathy.
And, of course, there it was. Her story. One I have never heard before until today. About how when she was seventeen years old, sometime in the early 1950s, and camping at Hammonassett State Beach on the Connecticut shoreline, she was nearly sexually assaulted. Sunbathing alone on the beach, her parents less than a quarter mile away, she was all innocence when a man came up to her and asked if she'd like to make $10.
|This is not my mom, but it's a pretty close facsimile.|
And then she went on to say that he came very close, way way too close, and smirked in a way that sent fear racing through her veins. So she ran. Left everything where it was and ran all the way back to the trailer where her family camped.
She laughed as she said she would never forget her father's face as he grabbed an enormous glass milk bottle and leapt out the tiny door of the caravan, shouting, "I'm gonna kill that son of a bitch."
He never found him, Mom said. "Thank God. There would not have been much left of that guy if he had."
It was a relief to talk to her about it and it took the residual sting out of an unsettling and kind of scary experience. Not to say I didn't have support. My husband and the two friends I told were really supportive and let me process the incident. The sting was almost gone already, but my mom helped.
The thing that upset me the most in the immediate aftermath, when I knew I was fine, when it was clear that this was really very minor on a scale of one to sexual assault, was this: It had power. It made me feel vulnerable and it reminded me, in shocking clarity, of a long history of vulnerability.
It brought back, in technicolor detail, the other times in my life when I've been a victim of assault. It took me back to running out of a parked car on a dark lane after a very stupid teenaged decision to accept a lift from someone I didn't know well. It took me back to a covered bridge on a Sunday afternoon in a small city and not running when someone came up from behind me and quite literally "grabbed me by the pussy." It took me back to the second-guessing, self-recriminating refrain of, "If only I'd......" It's not enough for everyone else to blame the victim, why not jump on the bandwagon yourself, right? (Regardless of how unproductive retrospective regrets are....)
While I could intellectualize away my own brief but deeply disturbing trip down memory-of-violence lane, it didn't really occur to me until I talked to my mom that she would have a story, that virtually every woman in the world has a story of, if they are lucky, a near-miss -- and if less lucky, a not-miss -- of violence. It didn't occur to me that my story would spark her memory, that now, over sixty years after the event, she could remember it and narrate it so clearly. It was right there, on the tip of her tongue.
I hadn't much thought about the fact that below the surface of conscious thought, these memories haunt us.
I wonder if this is why people sometimes get hung up on women "over-reacting" to catcalls, to inappropriate and unwelcome overtures, to leers on the subway and overfamiliar hugs at the holiday party. Setting aside the whole, "Wait up, you have absolutely no right to dictate the coordinates of my response, bucko" thing --- yup, it is possible that our reaction might seem excessive to one singular entitled and disrespectful act against ourselves and our bodies.
That's probably because it is another one, not the first, probably not the last. And like it or not, the events linger in our memories, resurfacing in unanticipated ways. And memories get triggered, come flooding back and immerse us again in the fear, anxiety, adrenaline-rush of panic and vulnerability.
Boozy dude wished me a Merry Christmas after he let me go. Like the whole thing was normal.
Thanks for the memories, asshole.
****(That goes for you, too, Mr. Trump.)