Watching and reading all the coverage for days around the Brett Kavanaugh nomination for Supreme Court and the allegations of sexual misconduct hit me hard today, just now. The stories and denials, the people supporting the accusers, the naysayers – all the fucking naysayers – like Mitch McConnell standing on the Senate floor and denouncing the accusations as a low Democratic campaign to besmirch a man who has hundreds of people writing letters of support and all the people who dismiss the alleged behavior as typical for teenage boys.
I suddenly started to lose my shit. My blood pressure is spiking. I have a lump in my throat. It’s like all of these stories and outrageous dismissals have been tapping at the protective glass I started installing around myself as a kid and that tapping created a crack and that crack is breaking open.
Third grade seems to be my earliest memories of inappropriate behavior. There was a boy who was about five years older. He decided to teach me how to French kiss. I was 8, maybe 9. I hadn’t been kissed – and I shouldn’t have been kissed – but it happened. It was scary, but I liked it, even though I was very confused and knew on some level that it was wrong. He was older, he was trusted. I held on to that idea rather than believing what happened was wrong and I might get in trouble.
I can’t remember how old I was when I finally told someone about it. It was a very long time.
Also in third grade, a new kid was seated behind me. I can’t remember his name, but I remember his face, and the weird, trendy shoes he wore. He slipped a note into my little-girl purse that had my name etched into the leather – a gift from my aunt and uncle. On one side, the note said, “I love you,” and on the other side, “I fuck you.” Third grade.
My teacher, whom I adored, was sitting on a desk next to mine, lecturing. I was so upset, I handed her the note right there. I didn’t think to politely wait until there was a break and I could discreetly show it to her. I didn’t know what ‘fuck’ meant, only that it was a bad word and people get in trouble for saying it, so this was pretty serious and he’s gonna get in big trouble.
My teacher paused, read the note, made a dismissive sound like, ‘Tsk’, shoved the note into her polyester pants, and continued with the lesson. Nothing was done in that moment. His seat was changed the next day but nothing more was said, explained, no assurance this was serious and he would be dealt with. My parents weren’t even informed.
I turned 13 and it seemed that boys – technically men – of 18 wanted to kiss me. At the time, I liked it. I thought it meant that they thought I was pretty, that they liked me, that I was mature.
Had I ever caught an 18-year-old kissing my 13-year-old daughter, I would have castrated him and kept his scrotum as a trophy.
I didn’t make any moves on these guys. I was a nervous, awkward tomboy trying hard to transition into a girl – like other girls my age who were pretty, who did their hair, and were actually conscious of what they wore.
I was away visiting with family friends. The son and I stayed up late watching Saturday Night Live. He invited me to sit next to him on the couch. Bit by bit, he drew me closer – a hand on mine, then an arm around my shoulder, I looked up and there it was, the kiss that other friends were doing with other friends our age, but he was 18. In a twisted way, I was glad for the French kiss incident in third grade so I kinda knew what was happening even if I didn’t know to breathe through my nose so I had pull away to get some air. I was so nervous and awkward and thought I was ready, but of course, I was not.
The other guy was a baseball coach for a little league team – maybe my brother’s team. I hung out watching the game, then talking with the coach afterward, then walking with him toward his home which took us on a path through the woods where he stopped and kissed me. Again, I forgot to breathe. I pulled away and said, “I’ve gotta go.” I never told anyone. Not even my best friend – who will learn of it when she reads this post.
I never told an adult about the kissing. Partly, I was ashamed. Partly, I was afraid I’d get in trouble. There was no groping or penetration. I’m blessed I wasn’t raped. But that’s still not okay. Having those experiences too early pretty much ruined how I should have behaved with adolescent crushes. It set me up to believe that I was more mature, so of course, I shouldn’t date boys my age, which meant I really didn’t date much. Hearing all the dismissive, boys-will-be-boys commentary confirms that even if I had told an adult, my stories would have been dismissed too. My mother would have gone to her comfortable space of melodrama. My dad could have gone either way. Dismissed the guy/s with a warning – if he found the guy was likable; or gotten arrested for beating the hell out of one, the other, or both. Regardless, knowing that communication in my family consisted of yelling or conversations about surface-level bullshit, I would not have been supported and very much encouraged to forget it ever happened – all three times.
So why am I sharing all this now? To set the foundation of why women don’t come forward right away – if ever – or tell someone or file charges. It’s because women – at least in my age range – have learned from a very young age, that we are somehow less than. Our thoughts and feelings are dismissed, our ideas disregarded, our talents and contributions minimized. So that’s how we, as women, begin to treat ourselves.
Here’s more of my story.
When I was 18, I was living with my dad. His best friend – who was named as my godfather – stopped by one evening. He was wasted and reeked of alcohol and cigarettes. When I came into the room, I went to hug him, because that’s what was expected. He kissed me – on the lips – and shoved his ash-tray-tongue into my mouth. Right there! Right in front of my dad! My dad was a heavy drinker back then and he didn’t notice. I pulled my head away but I couldn’t pull away from his ‘hug’. He held onto my waist really tight and kept smiling a drunken, smarmy smile, and telling me how grown up I was as I was trying not to wretch from the awful taste in my mouth.
I minimized myself by never telling my dad. To tell him would be to hurt him. Never mind how it made me feel. If I told him, one of two things would have happened. It would have destroyed a 30-year friendship, and I didn’t feel I was worth that. My dad would have used the excuse that his friend was drunk and dismiss it. How do you think I would feel then?
My dad passed awhile back. His friend is still alive. A few years ago, I minimized myself again by sending him a Christmas card which was a collage of pictures of me and my daughter. Somehow, I thought it was something I should do. I thought my dad would appreciate the nice gesture to his friend. When the friend sent a card in return, he didn’t ask about my daughter – what sports she was playing, how school was going – he didn’t ask me about my life, work, etc. – he said, “Beautiful ladies! Love the pictures. SEND ME MORE!” No matter what anyone says, I know exactly what he meant. There’s no making excuses. No dismissing it as complimentary.
This is how insidious the dismissal that girls learn at an early age manifests – and remains – for decades. There’s no reason to name names because these fuckers aren’t earning some cherished honor or a lifetime appointment as a judge. But you can be damn sure that if one of them was, I’d come forward, and share my experience of their inappropriate behavior and that without acceptance and remorse, they are unworthy of high praise and commendation.