A few weeks ago I read that Christine Blasey Ford was on Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people. It would be so much more of an honor if Brett Kavanaugh weren’t on that very same list. That seems utterly perverse to me. I’m not sure what that list really means and who thought it was a good idea to put both of them on it. But those hearings were certainly memorable, with the sniffing, the outrage, the inky social calendar with references to all the beer and the bitter crocodile tears of a man who seemed like he might not get what he wanted for the first time, ever. What really affected me, and most of the women I know, was the woman whose voice shook as she told a story of a traumatic night that happened many years ago. She testified to all of this in front of an audience of strangers, many of whom didn’t believe her and/or didn’t care.
The unsurprising conclusion to all of it was a kick in the gut to me. I knew what was going to happen, but it still hurt. But still, those hearings and Christine Blasey Ford’s courageous testimony were very influential to me, in a way that has changed my life. Her bravery in the face of horrific judgment and backlash is something I won’t forget. And a part of her testimony gave me a small but amazing gift: the permission to not be ok. Hear me out. (Or don’t. You can probably tell where this is going, so you may want to skip it. After all there are so many of these stories.)
Many years ago, I was in the process of divorcing my first husband, although I still loved him deeply. It was the right thing to do and I knew it. I was learning how to take care of myself and follow my own instincts. During this time I met a man, a friend of my dear friend and roommate’s boyfriend who was also going through a divorce. He seemed like nice guy. He would come by our apartment with the boyfriend, his toolbox in hand and fix things without our even having to ask. He asked me out on dates and I demurred at first because my heart was broken, but at some point I said yes. We dated for about a month and I never felt much of anything for him. He seemed nice most of the time, but he drank in a way that alarmed me sometimes. I slept with him just once, toward the end of the month I was seeing him. I felt guilty about it, though, because I didn’t love him and didn’t think I’d ever love him. That really mattered to me back then.
He could tell. I went to his company party at the lake and he got wasted. A colleague’s wife referred to me as his girlfriend and I blurted, “Oh I’m not his girlfriend, we’re just dating.” I knew immediately that I’d fucked up. He was quiet and cold for the rest of the night. Late in the evening we were walking on a path by the lake and I said something else he didn’t like and he shoved me hard. Falling to my knees, I remember thinking, “Ah yes, there it is.” He quickly pulled me to my feet, apologizing and acting like it was an accident, but I knew. I pretended it was all fine and dropped him at his place, feigning exhaustion. I called him the next day and broke it off. He was livid. He was still yelling at me when I shakily hung up the phone. But I knew I’d done the right thing.
We hung out in the same circle, so I saw him now and again over the next several weeks. He glared at me occasionally, but didn’t speak to me. I felt really guilty about hurting his feelings. I felt like I’d messed up. Six week after I’d ended things, I saw him at a Halloween party. I was dressed in a short plaid skirt, like a sexy school girl. This is one of those things that shouldn’t be relevant. I wasn’t wearing it for him, but that doesn’t matter, either. He came up to me and was friendly and I was stupidly relieved. He wasn’t mad anymore! We could be friends again. He offered to get me a drink. It was my second of the evening. I think that fact is relevant. He handed me a tall drink and we kept chatting as I sipped it. It probably was a jack and coke, because I liked those a lot back then. It was sweet and bubbly and I don’t remember anything weird about the taste of it. I drank half of it. And at some point I realized that I didn’t feel right, but it was too late to do anything about it. I don’t remember much of the party after that, but I’m told that I passed out and he sat in a room with me laying in his lap. He told people I drank too much and he was taking care of me. Everyone knew we’d dated, so I’m sure it seemed sweet. He carried me out of that party and brought me back to his house. At some point I woke up in his bed with him. I didn’t know why I was there. I didn’t have my underwear or my shoes on and for some reason I was way more concerned about my shoes. I really wanted my shoes.
Don’t worry, I don’t remember any of this well enough to share any gory and upsetting details with you. Whatever he *allegedly* put in my drink makes me a terrible witness. I’m sure this would be relevant in a court of law, but we are not in one, so who cares? I remember asking him why I was there and he said, “You wanted to come here.” I said I didn’t think so, and I instantly knew that I’d fucked up again. That man knew how to exude rage without having to raise his voice. He was talking to me quietly but I don’t remember most of what he said. The only part of it I remember was him asking me if I “just fucked everybody?” and I only remember that because a couple of years ago, some asshole friend of a guy I was dating put his arm around me and asked me that same question, out of nowhere, and the jolt of terror that went through me at that moment took my breath away. I didn’t fuck everybody. Then or now or ever. But none of that has ever or will ever be relevant. Back in that bed that night, that man was very angry at me. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew I was in trouble. He kept talking and at some point I put my hand on his arm and said, “It’s ok.” I don’t know who I was talking to, him or me. But I know that it’s relevant, in that I can’t call what happened later rape. I never said no. In fact, I said it was ok. I thought that would make it better, but it’s the last of many things that I was wrong about that night.
For the next month or so I still ran into him. And when I did, I went home with him. He always wanted me to leave with him and it seemed pointless not to. This fact has seemed very relevant to some of the people I’ve told this story to and they have judged me for it accordingly. I judged myself too. I can’t say why I did it. That month was a blur and I couldn’t really feel anything. I also couldn’t eat anymore. I lost nearly 15 pounds in just four weeks. It was the single most effective diet I’ve ever been on! I didn’t have much of a voice, either. I’ve always been quiet, but I could barely talk, especially around him. That made him almost as angry as when I did talk. Nothing really worked with him. Sometimes I wondered if he was going to kill me, but I didn’t really care because some part of me wanted to die.
I was seeing a psychologist back then and attended a weekly support group of his depressed patients. Toward the end of that month someone in the group said they were worried about me because I was even more quiet than usual. I suddenly blurted out what had happened on that bad night. A sweet guy with a blond beard and glasses said gently, “That sounds like sexual assault.” I started to cry and I said, “No, no, it’s not. In fact, I’m kind of seeing him still. It’s all fine.” I didn’t want to talk anymore but I couldn’t stop crying. After the group meeting, the psychiatrist wrote me a prescription for a stronger anti-depressant and in two weeks I miraculously didn’t want to die anymore. I never went home with that soulless garbage person again. A deceptively easy ending to a brief, but horrible and self-destructive period in my life.
I wish that was truly the end of it, and I had immediately been all better, but the truth is that I never felt safe again. And I started having all these quirks and workarounds for my crippling anxiety. I was terribly ashamed of all of it and I always tried to hide these things, only letting someone know about it if it was absolutely necessary. There were just so many. And a lot of them persist to this day. Some examples: I have an security alarm on my house, but I only set it at night when I am there. I can’t sleep unless it’s on and I’ve checked to make sure all my doors and windows are locked, usually more than once. I don’t really care if someone breaks in and steals my stuff when I’m not home. I mean, I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I’m not a stickler for setting the alarm when I’m gone (besides, I own little of value and have a mean, barky and bitey dog). I can never sleep with the windows open, even when I stayed in a house without air conditioning for a summer. I’ve camped, but I don’t actually sleep when I’m outside in a tent. That’s why I hate camping.
There’s more! Inconveniently, in order for me to have a repair person in my house, someone else has to be there with me….or better yet, without me. I can’t park in a parking garage by myself at night. If that is the parking choice, I’m not coming. If I have to park too far away at night and I’m alone, I am also not coming. And I nearly always run on a treadmill inside unless I’m running with a group. I tell people it’s because of the weather or childcare, but it isn’t. It’s all about safety from predators. I hate when someone I don’t know touches me. I hate when anyone touches me unexpectedly when I’m sleeping. I always have a pair of shoes by the door. There are more, but I don’t feel like sharing them. I’ll say that it takes a ridiculously long time for me to trust anyone, especially men. Way longer than most reasonable people would expect and that’s caused some really unpleasant conversations. I don’t know if all of these quirks are because of that one traumatic night, or that whole shitty month, but I don’t think I had most of these issues before then. I kept thinking I’d be better at some point. That I should be better. And stronger. But so far, this is just the way I am. High anxiety with lots of quirks.
Which brings me to my point. As horrifying as it was to watch Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, it was freeing. I will forever be indebted to her for changing my life. Decades after the trauma that a laughing Brett and his friend caused, she talked about how she still lived with the effects. She had quirks and workarounds, including the fact that she couldn’t live in a place without two exits. This seemed crazy to her husband, but not at all to me. Instead a lightbulb came on in my brain and I had the amazing realization, “Holy shit, I am fine.” Finally, after all this time, I had permission to feel ok about not being ok.
The way I was and am makes perfect sense. I am not broken or crazy. I have been managing my life so that I can live and sleep and move through the world every day. And I don’t have to be ashamed about any of it. And I can tell this story and I don’t have to be afraid for people know these things about me. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about it or how anyone judges me for my actions and reactions. I am fine and I am free. Thank you Christine Blasey Ford.