Today is Ian’s birthday. He would have been 15, and a student in high school. Birthdays are always difficult. They show you exactly how much time has elapsed. All the things you have missed, that he has missed, are highlighted in stark relief. I love him. I miss him.
On the boys’ birthdays, it has been my habit to post a “Happy ________ Day” post, focusing on who they were. Sometimes I suggest something that can be done in his honor – different for each one of them, since each one was different. I post a photo or collage. I change my ring tone to something the birthday boy liked. Sometimes I change things to a favorite color. I desperately want to remember and celebrate who my boys were and share them with others. I have posted such a post for Ian today on social media. He was a bright, sunny, three-year-old, who didn’t get a chance to be four.
Today was also a difficult day because of the Senate hearing on the confirmation of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Like one in three American women, I have also been the victim of sexual assaults – three different times. That could have been me facing all those hostile men. I could have had to answer the questions of a professional prosecutor designed to poke little bitty holes in my story and make me seem to be a liar or a mercenary, or a dupe. So, I want to talk to you about trauma and memory. I want to tell you my experiences.
The first time I was assaulted, I was about 10. My uncle took me into a big hug, and then proceeded to fondle my growing breasts. It hurt. I scrambled out of his grip and ran away. Did I report the incident? No. I’m not even sure I had the language to describe it. Vaguely I knew that it was wrong, and that it would cause a lot of upset. I felt bad. I feared I would be blamed. And, I never said a word until I was in my 20s.
Why did I finally say something? My brother was taking his kids to visit the same uncle, and my niece was the same age that I had been at the time of the assault. What happened? My mother told me that I must have misunderstood. I may have not fully understood when I was ten, but I knew it was wrong. And I understood it when I was in my 20s and talking about it! By the way, I have no idea of the dates of the incident or my relating of the story. I probably didn’t even know the date at the time of the assault. What 10-year-old knows the date? The assault is crystal clear though, as if it was yesterday. So is my telling of the incident and the hurt of having it blown off.
The second time I was assaulted, it was by a room service waiter in Rio de Janiero. I was 16, and had accompanied my parents to an international convention that my dad was attending. They were at a boring lunch meeting, and I stayed behind to read and write postcards. I got hungry and ordered a steak sandwich. After he set up the meal, the waiter reached out and took hold of my hair. I thought he was just interested in the color. My long blonde hair had caused interest as we traveled through Central and South America. It was unusual to the people there. Then he stuck his hand into my shirt and grabbed my breast. He stuck his tongue in my mouth. I didn’t know what to do. This was beyond my experience. He only spoke Portuguese. I tried to indicate that my father was on the way back and pushed him out of the room.
Did I call anyone? No. I was afraid. What if they didn’t speak English either? What would I say? What if I wasn’t believed? I hid in the locked bathroom to wait for my parents to come back, and all the while he kept returning and knocking on the door, and calling to me. I could hardly breathe, I was so traumatized. When my folks finally returned, they called the hotel manager and my dad held on to the man while waiting for someone to show up. After questioning me in English and the waiter in Portuguese, the manager said that he would be fired. That’s it. Everyone continued as if nothing had happened. It meant nothing to anyone except me – at least, that’s how it felt, as we attended dinners and went sightseeing. My trauma was trivialized. And, I do not know the date.
The third time I was assaulted, I was a 49-year-old, over weight grandmother. I worked in the fundraising department of a college, and had gone in to the office on a Saturday to catch up on some work. The phone rang. It was an important, well loved alumnus, who wanted some duplicating done. I went to pick it up. He was wheelchair bound, and in a private home that cared for the elderly. I was shown to his room and found it odd that he wheeled over and shut the door. He told me I was beautiful and asked me to take him to my house. I told him it wasn’t wheelchair accessible, and tried to get back to the duplicating. He handed me to a huge stack of papers – at least a full ream. I took it from him, and he suddenly reached around me with both hands, grabbed two handfuls of ass, and pulled me close. He plunged his face into my breasts and rubbed his face back and forth, making smacking noises. I managed to extract myself from his grip, but had difficulty opening the door, which opened inward. He was too close with his wheelchair. I had to squeeze around and try to wrestle the heavy chair away enough that I could slip out.
This time I called someone right away. I reported the incident to my supervisor and to Campus Safety. My first thought was fear that this man, who was always coming to campus events, would assault a student. Did I go further and file a police report? No. A DA wasn’t going to file charges against an old man in a wheelchair. He was revered and beloved by many rich, important, alumni. I knew what the response would be, and as a single parent, I needed my job. I needed my health insurance. And, I didn’t want to be humiliated.
As far as humiliation goes, well, the incident flashed around the campus with the speed of light. People actually said to me, “Hey, I heard about what happened to you. That is absolutely hysterical! So funny!” I ask you, is it any wonder women don’t come forward and report these things? “So funny” some of my colleagues thought. A fat grandmother grabbed and groped by an old guy in a wheelchair strikes people as funny. It wasn’t funny to me. It was painful and humiliating. It was traumatizing. When I think about it, it is like reliving the whole experience again. I don’t remember the date though. It was a Saturday. There are probably records somewhere. But, no, I can’t tell you the date. Does that make it a fabrication?
This has been a bad, bad day for me, what with one thing and another. I hope my stories have at least been thought provoking. And I hope you will still remember sweet, energetic, little Ian with me, with a smile for the beautiful child that was. Monkey.