TW: Sexual Assault, the usual
Note: I first drafted the majority of this post in October of 2017, but didn’t post it, because like so many, I hate that my art is now my outpouring and that most of my posts are centered on this very thing. But today, revisiting this post, I re-read it and wanted to add to it. So I’m going to post it, because sometimes it’s better to have put it forth into the world. I’ve been meaning to start writing again, in that, I need to push past this block that still weighs heavy on my mind and affects my ability to put forth the content that I’d like to put forth, rather than rumination on this subject.
I first saw “Me too,” posted on the Facebook wall of a friend, who then suggested that a better data point would be “Who hasn’t?” I knew without explanation that she was referring to sexual assault/harassment, and later, upon reading an expanded post, I was in no way surprised.
Having breakfast with my friend/mentor, we talked about what it’s like to be “out” about that sort of thing. I’m out about it, because I couldn’t not be. I don’t always want to be. Sometimes I wish I weren’t. Jesus, it’s the only thing I seem to manage to write about these days. I’d give a lot to give that up.
I think I’ve been anxious since Election Night. That sounds like a weak, victim-y statement, but bear with me, because that’s just a description of a state of being. There’s been a lot to be anxious about, both in and out of my control, and also in this vast world that we live in. Our leaders are insane and hungry, profit-driven and determined not to assist or better anyone who isn’t useful to them. The stunning lack of empathy in our government today is indicative of far greater social plagues….but, I digress (I see you, Mom):
I cried myself to sleep before the final tally that night, before the concession, before the triumphant Trumpian speech from the Hilton in Midtown. I had a lot on my mind that night. There were so many reasons to cry.
Funny, how so many things that I hate have happened at that Hilton. A sliver of me hopes that parts of my dark energy will haunt the 6th floor of that hotel forever, as a warning, maybe, or even a mere testament to trauma. That’s unfair for the guests, I gather, and so the rest of me, save that sad sliver, wishes that all the strings holding my spirit there have been severed, not merely for the future occupants of that room but also for the salvation of my own soul.
Last year, coming up on the four year anniversary of “the bad thing,” I found myself in New York City for the Women’s March. I felt the nervous energy of return and was possessed with the determination to confront the space of the Midtown Hilton and reclaim it, as though it were an abandoned fence I might turn into fancy, rustic wall art. (April 2018 note: I have no idea what I mean with my abandoned fence metaphor attempt.) As it happens, that’s not exactly how it happened.
But something did happen. Unremarkably quiet but ultimately profound. I went, intent on drinking a Tanqueray and tonic (the drink I was drinking) in the very seat that marks the last memories of who I was, before. It was Sunday night, and after finally gathering the courage, I wandered in, and was denied entry because the bar was closed. Ah, Sunday. Of course.
I stood across the street, staring intently through the darkened window at the bar, at “my” seat. Still for a few minutes, I let whatever feelings I was feeling settle into the pit of my stomach where the darkness lives, and I took a deep breath, blinked, and went home. It was quiet, unfussy, emotional and momentous. I didn’t even cry
That night will never leave me. I’ll never be the same. There’s a sadness somewhere inside me that has yet to subside, and that may never slip away, but the city doesn’t hold me any more. I hated the city so much, for so long. It wasn’t the city’s fault. This last trip to New York, I took it back. I cut the strings, rode the trains, wandered, and was not bound by the past. I felt the promise of the city, the hum of constant motion, and I was truly present.
That week, with all of the news about Harvey Weinstein and the trending “me too” on social media, I felt it rising up again, like bile of the mind. The thoughts crept back, in flashes, memories of tears and anguish, snapshots of that long struggle. It’s not something I think about every day any more; it hasn’t made me cry in quite a while. I get frustrated sometimes, when I think of the hold I let it have over me, and feel weak for not being quicker about it or better about letting it go.
Hearing women say the same thing, over and over, is heart-wrenching. I know that there’s a lot of gray area here, intangible factors at play, misdirected rage at all men when it should only be centered on some, but at the end of the day, it is something that’s far more impactful than you imagine.
The other day, I was through old papers from the glove compartment of my old car. They had been grabbed hastily after the car accident and shoved into a bag, along with nearly a decade of proof of insurance paperwork and maintenance records. I was examining them before throwing them away, and smiled to find the single warning I’ve ever received from a police officer, bringing me back to an optimistic road trip to Chicago when I was still in college. But then, my heart sank a little.
I found a neatly folded piece of paper, thicker than usual, not quite cardstock, and I opened it. Synaptec Software letterhead; my warning; dated 02/04/2013. I read it. I read it again. I stared at the yellowed paper in my hands. It read: I was unreachable for an extended period of time. I missed meetings. I should take steps to ensure that I am ready and able to attend all scheduled work meetings. I remember that meeting. I remember my old boss, Gretchen, asking me if I might have been drugged. Me repeating over and over that something must have happened, because nothing made sense. Them telling me that they were leaving that part out to “protect” me. Five years on, I tore that paper into shreds and threw it away. Like those outdated insurance documents, it’s useless to me now. There’s nothing to be done – it exists as proof of something that has long since faded into the oblivion for everyone but me.
Since the #metoo movement, I’ve often wondered what would have happened if my sexual assault would have happened now, whether it would have been handled differently; whether someone would have listened; or whether the salesman would have received anything other than the verbiage including “no matter how noble your intentions” in his write up, issued 6 months after the incident, and only at the urging of outside legal counsel. Optics and defensibility, thin as those may have been.
But I am constantly reminded that not everyone understands.
I was talking to one of my dearest family members the other night, and we were talking about life, as we do, and I told her that when I finally told my family about the assault, months later, one of my aunts said to me, “Well, what have you learned?” and my own brother’s response was, “Jesus, Katie, you can’t just accuse people of that.”
My family member texted me the next day, and told me that she hadn’t been able to get it out of her head, and that she understands what it’s like to go against the norm in a traditional family. She said, no matter what, we are here for you and we love you and we have your back. That text meant the world to me. Those small, seemingly insignificant moments of support are everything.
So many people lack a fundamental understanding of the emotional damage wrought, and lack the ability to respond in a supportive way. My own boyfriend, on the five-year anniversary of the incident, didn’t understand, and went off on a rant about how anniversaries are just arbitrary and that the emotions that come with them are therefore arbitrary as well, due the arbitrary nature of the Gregorian calendar. I was furious. My rage was not just at him, though. It burns tight, coiled inside me, and erupts out in furious tears at the most inconvenient times, so much less so now, though.
Arbitrary as anniversaries may be to some, they are full of weight for others. He recognized that his attempt at reasoning me out of my furious but ultimately futile funk was wildly incorrect, and apologized, and I was understanding of that, because for him, there’s nothing he can do to help save me from my own memories, and his off-base attempts to outmaneuver my feelings were rooted in some sort of attempt at empathy, a way to ease my troubled mind. Many conversations ensued, and I’d like to think that they were productive and informative. I have his support and his understanding, and that’s amazing.
And yet, in the midst of all of it, is the frustration that comes when people so wrongly want to align themselves with this in a way that ultimately undermines the experiences of those who have actually lived the experience. That’s my current frustration, and not one I can even begin to address in this post. We focus so much on trauma, and its effects on the mind and body, and while everyone has lived through their own particularly traumatic moments, each is insular to its owner. Your trauma is not mine. I cannot live it with you. I can try to sit with you and hold space for your trauma, but I will never be enmeshed in your memories. I think that realization has extended my ability to empathize. Sometimes, people don’t need to “learn” anything. Sometimes they just need someone to understand.