I don’t remember the name of the colleague who almost strangled me. Not his first name. Not his last. I remember he had a wrestler’s body and that he could vault over the couch on the set of the play we were in like a gymnast. I remember that he had me pinned to the front seat of my car before I knew what hit me.
I don’t remember the name of the person who had the cast party. Or the name of the street that it was on. Only that the house was severed from the street and the street from its neighborhood by the Hollywood Freeway. It was a no-man’s land. A dead-ended cluster of marooned houses, reachable only by a dark broken-up path.
I don’t remember what year it was. 1975 or ’76. Or ’77. I don’t remember the name of the play. I could tell you the name of the theatre though, and so with some investigation these lost details could be reconstructed. What I remember is how terrifying it was to feel his thumbs pressing hard into my windpipe. Come with me to my place. You have to come with me to my place now, he said. I couldn’t muster enough breath to dissent.
I watched Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. I watched Bret Kavanaugh’s. That night when I’d had enough, I took myself out to dinner and to the Fathom Events’ “King Lear” with Ian McKellan — a film of the play from London, captured live. “Lear” is a typical Shakespeare tragedy, by which I mean almost everyone dies. It felt like a party. Popcorn and my silent cheers every time another manipulative character met his/her bloody end. Though I flinched and squirmed when Cornwall gouged out the good Gloucester’s eyes. Earlier in front of the TV, I’d felt like gouging out my own.
Christine Blasey Ford walked into an environment where she knew no one except the small coterie of lawyers, her husband, and maybe another few persons that she’d brought with her. She was in a room mostly populated by men to talk about being sexually assaulted. In a strange city. In a different time zone. Participating in a process she knew so little about that she was surprised to learn just a few weeks earlier that she’d need a lawyer. She was there to tell what had happened to her 36 years earlier. A story of assault and how she’d feared for her life. A hazy story with many of its details lost to memory’s inherent failings while other details had drilled themselves into her being.
I don’t remember exactly what I was wearing the night I was almost strangled. Probably jeans. What I remember is a black silk shirt, soaked with sweat and fear. I remember knowing that if I could manage to scream, no one would hear me over the freeway’s roar.
I don’t remember how I drove myself home when I was able to talk my assailant out of his plan. But I remember that my boyfriend at the time dissuaded me from taking any action. The police probably won’t do anything, he said. And it would be your word against his. Why don’t you just avoid him?
Dr. Ford suffers from anxiety. Check. She suffers from claustrophobia. Check. She’s afraid to fly. Check. Yet she flew to D.C. to appear at the hearing. Check. While the fear of flying yet flying conundrum seemed to puzzle a few people, I wasn’t one of them. I am afraid to fly. Flying is anxiety and claustrophobia combined. But I have to fly if I want to get to the places I need to go.
I need an aisle seat. Near the front or the rear of the cabin. I need booze. I need the strange man sitting next to me not to touch me. Not his leg against my leg. Not his arm against mine. I need more booze. I need something completely engaging to read. Preferably something somewhat terrifying. Though not something terrifying about flying. Terror to cure terror. A weird homeopathy. I might watch a movie if there’s an appealing one offered, but if there’s genuine emotional content, often I will sob uncontrollably — like I did recently when I watched the Mr. Rogers movie on a flight back from Minnesota. Love and its companion emotions move us in the face of terror. Those are the moments during the hearing that Christine Blasey Ford cried.
Bret Kavanaugh was in his element. D.C. Familiar faces. Scores of men ready to believe him, rooting for him, the esteemed federal judge. Yet he came in full of bluster and protest. He would not or could not answer many questions directly. I might believe that he believes that he did not attack Dr. Ford. But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t attack her. In the best case scenario that I can imagine the Bret Kavanaugh of then and the Bret Kavanaugh of now don’t know one another. There was a struggle going on inside that weeping man, blustering and bullying in order to protect his honor — a knock-down, belligerent, eye-gouging battle wherein the now Bret would pluck out the “vile jelly” in order to not see the past Bret.
I can’t quite see my rapist’s face, but I remember his first name. It was Jerry. We’d just met. He was the Pepsi bottler sponsoring the show I was in. He was supposed to take me out to dinner, but he was late. I waited for him at the hotel bar. The drinks were unusually strong. He and the bartender seemed to know one another.
I remember this was in Indiana. 1979. Maybe South Bend. Maybe Indianapolis. I don’t remember the name of the hotel. I’ll walk you to your room, Jerry said. With a shove, he was inside. Another shove, and he was on top of me. You know you want it, he said. You know you want it — until he was through.
I didn’t want it. But I wanted my job. I wanted the money I was making. I wanted my success. I remember what I wanted and what I didn’t want.
I didn’t tell my boyfriend. I already knew what he would say. Your word against his. And weren’t you drunk?
Some things are easy to remember. Some are easy to forget. Some things must be pushed to memory’s deep dark places if you want to survive. People question what you don’t remember and confuse it with what you want to forget. Or they forgive what you can’t forget. Boys will be boys, people say.
I know how boys can be boys. In 1970 I went to a party in the woods after prom with my date. A bonfire, the night sky through the treetops. Stars in my eyes. A perfecting ending to big event of senior year. But the only other girl was leaving just as I arrived. “Hey, why don’t you pull a train for us?” one of the football players asked me minutes later. I didn’t know what that phrase meant. I’d never heard it. But the look in that boy’s eyes told me. The laughter of the other boys told me. I remember all their faces in the firelight. And their names.
You must be mistaken, people say. Pillar of the community. Rising star. Don’t ruin his career. Don’t ruin his family. So we are the ones who are ruined. Senators tearing off our clothes. Orrin Hatch holding us down. Lindsey Graham’s hand over our mouths. Chuck Grassely’s thumbs pressing into our windpipes.
There are so many of us. So many survivors of sexual assault telling our stories for the first time. I want those stories. Terror to cure terror. Voices to give voice. Every time a woman speaks, another woman will speak. I have to believe that story by story, vote by vote, jail sentence by jail sentence, impeachment by impeachment, change will push its way forward. And I want to believe that some Republicans, even those who have suffered from the madness of not believing will, like King Lear, come around to see the truth of their own tragedy in the end. “Get thee glass eyes, And like a scurvy politician seem To see the things thou dost not,” says Lear to the blinded Gloucester.
Please, Senators, before the vote to confirm Kavanaugh, open your eyes. Look around you at the women in the halls and in the streets. Read the signs they are holding. Listen to their stories. Look forward. Look back. Look inside yourself. See.