Maybe this is it. The time when we get to talk about who you are to me. Who I was then and who you maybe thought I was. Maybe this is the time when we all get to look back and reflect on who we each were back then, at a time when we were just learning who we would become.
Maybe we were a young girl who thought college would be a safe place with young people like her who wanted, needed to be held to a higher standard. A girl who chose more to prove that she could be more. More than girl body. More than exotic being. More than silent, compliant self swinging between extremes of self-loathing and deep longing. Longing to be seen as something, someone more than troubled daughter, neighborhood plaything, ethnic oddity.
If you’re a friend I meet at college, maybe you see me for the first time without knowledge of past indecencies. You haven’t seen me climb into incongruously luxurious cars on the way to one night hotel stays along the highway or watched me emerge from project houses up on the hill, looking a little too unclean to greet the sunrise. You didn’t ever hear the rumors about time spent with crack dealers and crack heads, two sides of the same sordid system of despair.
If you’re that friend, maybe we’ll call you Brian and you’ll be tall and kind and respectful. You’ll share with me the stories of your Jamaican mother who cleans houses out on Long Island and I’ll tell you about my Brazilian mother who cleans houses in Monsey. We’ll look around and laugh a little, not meanly, just knowingly, at the kids who come from country club lives but want to seem hard and down and dirty but we know they drive Volvos back home and get money banked in private accounts by mommies and daddies who just want to make sure they don’t forget where they came from. But we don’t come from there so we find comfort in each other’s company.
If, early in our freshman year you came with me to a dorm party where people were drinking you would know that we were both disinterested in the alcoholic state having seen drinking and drugging a little too close to need to see it any more. But at the cajoling of other friends you might have watched me take a few sips of something, then stop because alcohol really just wasn’t my thing. Yet. A few sips made me a little more reflective and compliant and you noticed, so you stayed by my side, asked if I wanted to grab a bite, walked with me to the bodega on Sullivan and Third where maybe we bought crappy, smelly chips and sodas then went back to the dorm and hung out in my room until I crashed and you made your way back to your own room because once I was asleep the you-and-me part of the evening was over. So together we kept each other safe, company.
But maybe instead you’re a different boy. Not a boy, a bro. A tall, white male with a face not worth considering. Maybe blonde, though not memorably. Maybe wealthy, though not overtly. Totally unfamiliar to me. Not a friend. Maybe you see me hanging with my friend another night at another party. Find me willing to sit and chat. Friendly, if a little wary. But compliant. Willing to take a sip or two of something. No big deal. Maybe you seize on the idea of friendship as an open-ended opportunity. So when those few sips turn me a little more reflective, a little more compliant, you stay a little closer to my side, just like a friend. My friend who watches, a little wary. You notice and perform safe companionship. You ask if I need anything and then send my friend alone to the bodega to grab some chips and soda and you walk me back to my dorm room. Seeing the opportunity, you stage something that feels like safety. That feels like gentle. But you know better. You use the full weight of your being to keep me down, silent but not compliant. Withdrawn but not consenting. You knew you’d be quick. Quicker than it takes to walk to Sullivan and Third to pay for cheap snacks. So by the time my friend gets back you’re done and heading out the door. Safe company has come and so you retreat, knowing your wrong.
You go on with your college career. Maybe you never touch anyone else like that again. Maybe withdrawing safety from one girl was enough and you learned a lesson. You maybe went on to a satisfying career as, say, an oceanographer. Successful and privileged and shielded from reprimands about past behavior. Under the radar.
If you’re my friend, you don’t go back to your room and go about your evening. You find a blanket and crash on my floor, where you’ll camp out for at least two weeks until I finally tell you, “okay, enough, you have to go sleep in your bed now, okay? I’m okay. It’s okay. It wasn’t your fault.” So you go. And we go on.
If you’re the other boy, the predator, the “Kavanaugh,” you may not remember this. If reminded, you might say, “boys will be boys.” You might say, “I would never do that.” You might say, “she must be mistaken.” But you are wrong and there is no more maybe to this. This is the time and “maybe” is done. But for the fact that you raped me, I would never have remembered you because you are not worthy of the mental space you take up in my memory. But because you did, because you raped me, you are etched in memory. Your act of violence is etched in memory. Boys will be boys but not all boys will be rapists and there is no maybe in your violation of my being, my body and my safety. But for the fact that you raped me, I would never have remembered your name. I wouldn’t even have an idea of you in my mind. Because no maybe about it, You Ain’t Shit. But because you raped me, that moment lives within me and I can’t forget.
Men like you think you’re memorable for all the wrong reasons. Think you’re worth destroying because you’re important. Because you’re desirable. Enviable. Notable. You are remembered not because you, you nobody, became a pillar of society, an honorable sir. You are memorable for raping. Were it not for you being a rapist, a predator, a low-life, you would be no one and no one would bother to remember your name. You are not worth the memory.
But you Feddersens and Andersons and Kavanaughs, you are etched in memory. We are not mistaken. We have not misremembered. The details are not the act. How many sips and where exactly we were and what the weather was like and what exactly was said; those details have no consequence. But the holding down and forcing in is memorable and we will not forget. No matter how long. 38 years and 38 hours are all the same in the memories you embedded in our brains. You are not worth the memory, but still, I will never forget because even though you are nothing, you changed everything for me.