Two nights ago I was in New Haven, CT – more than three hours from my home. I was there attending a weekend intensive on Borderline Personality Disorder put on my NEABPD, by myself. I booked an AirBnB approximately four miles from the class location. The first day went on without a hitch. Second day I woke up to a car that wouldn’t start and what appeared to be a electrical system malfunction. Car lights went haywire. I decided to walk to class and deal with it after class.
Class was over around 3:40pm. On my way into town I was talking to my husband, Jeff. He had decided to drive down and meet me in town to deal with my car. We were working out the details and I lost track of where I was a headed. When I got off the phone with him I checked my navigation and spoke to couple of locals to reacquaint myself with where I was in context to where I was going. Slightly concerned at the impending sunset I trudged along happily.
Not long after I came to a parking lot entrance. An older minivan with darkened windows stopped on their way into the parking lot to let me by. I smiled, waved and proceeded. I turn back because the minivan pulls up and shouts something I can’t understand. I wave and nod my head in appreciation. The driver, a larger man in his 30s, yells. Again, I can’t make out what he is saying. He’s clearly talking to me, though, and he makes a gesture for me to come closer.
I’m a little uneasy. I mean, it’s a male stranger and a dark, beat-up van. I should be at a minimum a little uncomfortable, right? I tell myself to dismiss that fleeting thought. People are good, don’t assume the bad. Geez, Kelly!
I walk closer to the van. “What was that, sir?”
“I said we only did it so we could get a look.” I stop. I’m a little dumbfounded. I’m 44 years old. Why? Most of me is disgusted the rest of me is curious and/or concerned. “I SAID we only did it so we could get a good look at ya. You’re a pretty sexy woman. Mhmm” His tone isn’t flirty or kind. It has an air of hunger to it and a clear arrogance.
I back away. I smile. I laugh (awkwardly). “Oh. Um. Ha ha. Thank you. You have a nice night now.” I turn, walk and don’t physically look back but my mind reflects on the encounter. I almost always try to deescalate. Why? Is it my personality? Is it my upbringing? Is it society?
Should I, instead, have said something like, “Dude, that’s not cool. I appreciate you find me attractive but this isn’t a great way to tell that to a woman. It’s intimidating.” Another approach might have been to just flip him off. Did my smile and laugh reinforce the behavior? What was truly my alternative?
My encounters with men didn’t end there. I made it to Starbucks where I would wait for Jeff. There were two young men sitting directly behind me. One of the men was talking graphically about sex. There was a group of six or so middle school girls (in uniform) close by. The friend seemed uncomfortable with the other’s choice of topic and volume. He made it known.
The reply was, “It’s just sex. That ain’t on me if people are uncomfortable. That’s on them. I’m going to say what I want to say. That’s their problem.” He then went on to describe the body of a woman in insulting detail. This man was *right* behind me. If I leaned my head back I would have probably bumped heads with him. I wanted to say something but his earlier comment concerned me. The young girls didn’t seem to notice. Maybe I was the only on who did. The place was packed. I just happened to be alone and inches from him.
Then his friend spoke up for me, for all women really. “No. NO. Fuck this you’re just a womanizer.” The guy tried, at first, to minimize his words. The friend was having none of it. Then some thing amazing happened. The guy’s tone turned remorseful and he stopped.
Men listen to men. Truth is we all listen to men. That’s why it took… how many accusers and before the Weinstein accusations were taken seriously? How many for Cosby? How many for Clinton (oh, wait those still aren’t believed)? How many have their been about Moore yet STILL it is not believed?
Now, for a moment contrast that with Spacey. Let me clarify I am not, at all, minimizing the accusations against him nor the bravery of the individuals (especially Rapp) who came forward. I’m proud of them. I thank them. I believe them. At the same time… how many men came forward before it was taken seriously? ONE. Just ONE. Same type of accusation but the accuser was a man.
That’s not Rapp’s fault. It’s not any one person or group’s fault. It just is what it is. Just as there seems to be an inherent bias against men in the family court system there is most certainly an inherent bias against women outside of it.
What do we do about it? We? I don’t know if we can do anything about it as a collective but I’m pretty sure we can do something about it as individuals. And it starts with acceptance. Not of the actions, absolutely not. Acceptance of where we are at. Where YOU are at. Where I am at. Where we have been. What we’ve seen and what we’ve experienced with regards to gender inequality and predatory sexual behavior and objectification.
When there is acceptance there is opportunity for change.
Every morning, every night and (often) throughout the day for more than a month, I have been obsessively checking Drudge. Who’s next? What did they do? Will there be more men exposed? More victims?
Oprah said recently in reference to all the Harvey Weinstein accusations, as well as accusations against other powerful Hollywood men, that she believed this to be a “Watershed Moment.” What does that mean, exactly? Merriam-Webster says…
1. a: divideb: a region or area bounded peripherally by a divide and draining ultimately to a particular watercourseor body of water
2. a: crucial dividing point, line, of factor: turning point
I want to believe Oprah is right. I do. But I’ve been let down before thinking change would happen. We all have. Could this be the reason I’m so enthralled by the news accounts? Every day that there are more accusations, more men outed for this behavior the more hopeful I become we might see some significant change.
What significant change should occur may or may not look the same to everyone. I have some ideas which I’ll, hopefully, get back to in another post. First I want to share some of my own story/stories.
Whenever I have sat down to write any of these accounts I’ve experienced I am always compelled to not only give extensive background but also my own psychoanalysis of why I allowed some of this behavior to happen to me. Every single time. I’m struggling with that now. Some of this stuff I experienced over 40 years ago yet I’m completely unable to fully rid myself of the guilt and shame that is attached to it.
I feel so pathetic just writing that.
I’ll compromise; I’ll share a bit of backstory and a touch of armchair psychoanalysis but I’ll do my best to limit both. Please note the following are my stories of assault/harassment/inappropriateness but they are not all of my stories. In some (most) cases I have changed names.
Early Porn Exposure
As early as I can remember (3 or 4 years old?) I was exposed to pornographic magazines. This didn’t happen in my home. My mother and I lived alone for much of my childhood. We would visit my father who struggled with addiction and abusive behavior. He lived in rooming houses. My mother and I would visit him and the coffee table in his room would always be covered with Easy Riders, Hustler or Penthouse. Our presence in the room seemed less of a deterrent to my father and his friends and more of an opportunity to make her squirm. Sometimes my father and his friends would thumb through them, make vulgar comments, and laugh while my mother and I were sitting right there.
This was the mid-late 1970s. Playboy was generally considered respectable porn while the others – the types on my father’s coffee table – had more hardcore imagery. [Side note: The internet and modern television has made early porn exposure practically a given now-a-days.]
Jr. High Bus
I developed a skin condition called vitiligo when I was four. It started with my knees and slowly it spread to my elbows, feet, arms, hands and by the time I hit seventh grade it had progressed to my face. At 12 years old I had a white mask around my eyes (think reverse raccoon) and a white patch completely surrounding my mouth, even funneling down my chin.
Kids can be cruel but nothing really prepared me for the shit I faced on that bus. Two eighth grade boys would often make jokes about how it was cum running down my chin, someone “spooged” all over my face, and how I must really like sucking penises.
Freshman Year Health Class
It was the late 1980s and bleached jeans with holes were in. I was proud of a pair I had distressed myself and I wore them to school. There were no holes near my ass and they were not particularly provocative or tight. They were actually quite loose-fitting. There was one pretty large hole just above my right knee. I was sitting near the back of the class next to a boy I considered a good kid and decent friend. We often chatted or commented on what the teacher was saying.
On this day he made a remark about my jeans, complimenting them. I smiled and proudly thanked him. He then asked me if I shaved, while looking at the hole above my knee.
I started to respond, “Um, yeah. Why are you…” but before I could finish he reached over and quickly ran his hand over my exposed skin. Shocked I said, “Hey!”
The teacher looked back at us, annoyed with my outburst. The boy whispered, “Your skin is so smooth.”
I tried ignoring him. It didn’t work. He reached over and stuck his hand up that hole in my pants forcefully reaching for my crotch. I made some audible yelp and stood up. His hand was still stuck in my pants – my standing had pinned it there. Everyone turned at looked at us – or it at least felt that way. I sat back down as quickly as I had stood up, his hand was released and he sat back in his seat laughing.
I wasn’t laughing. I sat there shocked and embarrassed. To make matters worse I was reprimanded then the teacher made a statement about pants with holes being distracting.
Mr. Philbrook, Computer Awareness
This story has its beginning around my sophomore year. I was 15. As part of our required credits for graduation we had to take a half-credit class called, Computer Awareness. The class was pretty basic. It was held in the school’s computer lab which was relatively small and class size reflected that. There were maybe eight students in the class. I remember being the only girl, but truth is I’m not really sure.
What I do remember most about the class is my teacher, Mr. Philbrook, I adored him. He was this short little guy, laid back, friendly and hugely likeable. He also happened to live next door to me. I could actually see his house from my bedroom window. This came up in class and we did wave to each if we saw each other but we never spoke outside of school, at least not that I recall.
One day Mr. Philbrook wore a smiley face tie to work. I loved smiley faces. They were kind of my thing, I even signed my name with a smiley face at the end (this is the late eighties, before emojis). The Vice-Principal of the school even nicknamed me Smiley. I was so happy about this tie that I made a big deal about it. I told him how much I loved it and he told me his wife made it for him.
“Tell your wife I said she’s awesome,” I said to him. He told me he would.
From that day on he would wear that tie *every* Tuesday and Thursday, the days of my class. During class I found him kind of “adorkable” but not at all sexually appealing.
He spoke to me like an equal, at least it felt that way to me. He appeared to see the absurdity in the very existence of the class he was teaching. I mean, Computer Awareness, really? Most, if not all students, were already using the computer lab to complete all their written projects. Very little, if anything new, was taught in the class. Just another bureaucratic obstacle to a diploma, designed to convince parents and town officials our school was not behind the times. He validated my feelings.
Mr. Philbrook never made me feel particularly uncomfortable even though he – regularly – gave me shoulder rubs while I was typing at my computer and asked me about my day or what I was writing. I’m not sure why I didn’t find the massages odd. Maybe it was because physical contact with teachers was not uncommon at the time. Students often hugged teachers and teachers often made physical contact with students: back patting, a hand on the lower back to usher the student into a room or a finger on the chin to raise the student’s face to meet the teachers. I put the shoulder rubs into that same category.
Then there was one day when what occurred was the only time I ever felt anything off. I was at my computer. He came over and put his hip against my left shoulder and began chatting with me. He stopped talking for a moment and reached down lifting my hand off the keyboard with his and caressing my fingers in a way that suggested I spread them, which I did. His right hand was resting on my back. He pulled my hand toward him slightly and I looked up at him from my computer.
“Do you play piano?”
“Um, no. Not at all.”
“You have such long, beautiful fingers. They look like the hands of a pianist.”
I was oblivious to anything inappropriate. I did think it awkward but another part of me found it amusing. What an oddball. In a way it made me like him a little more although I am not sure why. Maybe it was the attention? Maybe it was watching him fumble? Watching him make a mistake even if I didn’t grasp the true depth of the mistake?
It was not more than a week or two later that I walked into class to find a new teacher. There was no notice, no announcement, and when I demanded to know why was given no answer of substance. Mr. Philbrook, I was told was just moved to another class. His friend, a language teacher took over the class. I’d see Mr. Philbrook in the halls, occasionally over the next few years. I was always sure to tease him for abruptly abandoning me. He was never able to give me a straight answer for why he “had to” leave the class but he did express disappointment about it.
Not soon after Mr. Philbrook and my Computer Awareness class faded into the background. I left my parents home, dropped out of school and got into more than my share of trouble… before going back to school, graduating, getting married and having kids.
Although I had thought of him from time to time it was not until 1996 and I was in my hometown hospital for the birth of my second child that I heard about Mr. Philbrook again. My nurse was making small talk. She asked the usual questions: How old are you? Where you from? Did you go to Dover High? Where in Dover did you grow up?
“I lived on Middle Rd. There is a little trailer park there.”
She lowered her voice and leaned in as though she was about to share something salacious, “OH… YOU know Mr. Philbrook then?”
“Yeah, I loved him. He was my Computer Awareness teacher.”
“You didn’t hear?”
“He’s going to prison. Apparently, he was taking girls to his house and having sex with them. He’s got two daughters! The girls were his daughters’ age.”
I couldn’t believe it. Or could I? Even though I hadn’t had any sexual feelings toward him… had he had them towards me? Was that why he was abrupt removed from my class? Did others notice he was getting too close to me and I had been oblivious to it?
I remembered one day he didn’t wear the smiley tie. He was standing in front of the door outside of class. I walked up to him and lifted the end of his tie and said, “What’s this? Why aren’t you wearing my tie?!” It had been an action on my part that had once represented -to me- joy, friendship and innocence and had now shifted to something vulgar. I felt dirty. Had my playfulness been seen as flirtatious?
Could what happened to his victim have happened to me? I couldn’t envision any scenario where I would have had sex with Mr. Philbrook; I told myself. What if that’s how the girls felt too, until they didn’t? I would continue to ask myself these questions for the next 20 years.
Fast-forward to January 2017. Frustrated with the mental health system and the struggles of so many family close family members I found my wanting to go back to school. I decided to pursue a BS in Neuropsychology then do a PA (Physician Assistant) program. I’ll likely be over 50 by the time I get my credentials; nonetheless I was determined to start down the path.
While I have some college credits I lacked a high school chemistry credit and needed to take a class before moving forward with my plans. I decided to enroll at Great Bay Community College, which is just a couple of miles from my home. The night before my first class Jeff and I were talking and Mr. Philbrook’s name came up. Thoughts of him, his crimes and my experience would drift through my mind over the years, yes, but I hadn’t really spoken about him much. This was likely the first time in 10 years his name had come up. Everything about it still threw me for a loop.
I never have known how to process it, and what happened the next day didn’t make it any easier. I text Jeff on my way into class.
*Shutting off my phone now. Love you. Wish this old lady luck.*
*You’ll do great. Love you.*
I turned off the phone and walked in. The room was empty but for one short, older man writing on the dry erase board. He turned, looked over the top of his readers at me. “Hello! You’re the first one here. All the seats are labeled. Just find your name.”
I did a double take – it was Mr. Philbrook. I noticed his name, Bob. I didn’t see his last name anywhere. I dropped my stuff at my seat and left the room. I turned my phone back on and text Jeff feverishly.
*You’re not going to fucking believe who the teacher is*
*Oh my god*
Jeff wasn’t responding quickly enough so I called him. “I mean I think it’s him. I haven’t seen him in nearly 30 years. Maybe it’s not. No, I know it is. What do I do? How can he teach here?”
He calmed me down. “Just go to class. That’s fucked up. Just go to class though. You ok? Right?”
“I’ll be fine. I’m just hugely thrown. And we just talked about him LAST NIGHT!?”
I went to class. I spent the next few days Googling, his name, dates, anything. I did all I could to find the information on his crimes. Had I ever looked it up before? I had so many questions. Did he actually ever do anything? Was it just rumor?
It took a few days before I realized I was spelling his name wrong and eventually I found it.
There it was. Again I had so many questions and this discovery only made for more. What was I supposed to do with this information? Was he allowed to teach here? How is it legal? I had SO much shit going on in my life at that very moment. This felt like icing on a Joker’s cake. I had no more capacity to make any of these kinds of decisions. To make matters more complicated, in some ways, my son joined the class. He also needed the chemistry class as a prerequisite in his course of studies. I was glad to have him there to observe with me.
I rationalized he must be able to teach at the school because it’s a college, not a high school. The problem with that is it’s technically a high school class. I know plenty home school and duel enrolled high school students who take classes there. That said as far as I could tell there were no students under 18 in either of his classes (I stopped by the other class twice).
I’d fluctuate between telling myself I needed to go to admission and alternately telling myself to stop obsessing about it. He’s an old man now. He’s harmless. What good would come of this? Would exposing him send him down a bad path? Maybe this job is keeping him from the gutters.
What held me back? My first answer was Guilt. Remember, I had really liked this guy in high school. That’s not it though. I literally thought about it before and after every single class. I eventually told myself, I’d keep an eye on his behavior while I was there. He only taught two classes. If it even slightly looked like he was giving any of the young women any extra attention – to the admissions office I’d go. Thing is, it didn’t happen.
He is also a much older man now. When I was his student he was 44; my age now. That was nearly 30 years ago. Now he’s a meek, flaky, kinda pathetic little old man. I felt bad for him. And, of course, I felt disgusted by him. My mind often shifts to the girl he was caught with and I’m yet again filled with questions. Is she OK? And his daughters. How are they? His wife who made that tie I loved so much. How is she? Does he see them still? Would my coming forward affect them adversely?
Life is not always as clean as we wish it were. There isn’t always a right answer. Sometimes it’s simpler to just keep moving. I’m not afraid of any consequences of coming forward with these kinds of stories. I’m no stranger to it. Jeff and I wrote a book (Skeletons Don’t Sleep) about his own assault and putting the perpetrator (his adoptive father) behind bars. It was hard. It was messy. The man is now in prison for likely the rest of his life. Was it the right thing to do? I think so. Did good come from it? I think so. No other victims came forward besides Jeff and his brother, Erik. Now Erik is dead (suicide five years ago) and their two younger brothers (biological children of the father) faced tremendous pain and have little to do with Jeff now.
I do know; I don’t have the answers. I do my best and right now my best is participating in the larger conversation going on and sharing my own stories and perspective.
The Troubled Year (or Two)
A large part of my sixteenth and seventeenth years were spent drunk, high or otherwise self-destructive. I dropped out of school. I “moved out” of my parents home and took to partying, camping out near train tracks, and couch surfing at the homes of friends and strangers. It was my experiences during this year that shaped a significant change in direction for me. I won’t share all of the experiences, in part because this is already far too long. But also, I’m just not ready – or willing – to share certain stories. Take this as a small window into my year (or two) of bad shit.
I don’t remember their real names. There were two of them. They were in their 20s. They used to hang around at my boyfriend’s house. My boyfriend was 16 and so was I – I have absolutely no idea why these two guys met up with and decided to party at the home of a 16 year old high school dropout. Yet, it happened.
It was the very beginning of my partying lifestyle. I couldn’t handle my alcohol much. I would come on to my boyfriend and he would sometimes reject my advances if he felt I had drank too much. He didn’t do so out of cruelty or disgust. It was much more of a responsible, compassionate choice. He would say, “I don’t want you to do anything you might regret. You drank too much to make choices like this.” And this was coming from someone who I had already been intimate with. He wouldn’t withdraw affection – just anything sexual.
One particular occasion I got not only too intoxicated but I was obviously a little two willing for the Cliffs. My boyfriend rejected my advances (sweetly) – per usual for the state I was in – and one of the Cliffs got mad. “What the fuck?! If you’re not going to fuck her, move over. I will.”
The memory is understandably blurry, but I remember feeling that he wasn’t kidding. He was genuinely pissed off. Up to this point I had trusted these two guys. I liked them. I thought of them in this weird – big brotherly way. The aggressor-Cliff got up and moved in my direction forcefully and my boyfriend got in between us. He told the guy to calm down and eventually made him leave.
Things between me and the boyfriend fizzled out and we went our separate ways. I’d grown uncomfortable being around the Cliffs and longed to branch out into new social circles.
Not long after that, my best friend and I met some new guys we spent our time with. This was generally the case with girls in my area. It was like this: either you were in a relationship with a guy and hung out with couples or you were single and found yourself generally outnumbered by guys. As was often the situation with my best friend and me. She was interested in in a guy named Marty. If memory serves me they had kissed at one point and it looked like they might start seeing each other exclusively.
Then one night we were all at a pretty big party, when my best friend ran up to me and told me, “You have to go see Marty. Kelly he REALLY wants to see you.” She was giggling a little and rolling her eyes at the same time.
“Just trust me. He really wants to see you.”
I caved in and walk over to see him with her. He was standing by himself outside in the dark near the gable end of the house. “Here she is.” She nudged me toward him and ran off. Seemingly thrilled to see me he said he wants to show me something and brings me over to some structure. My memory sees it as an old rusty car but I was and am not positive that’s what it was. As soon as we are out there in almost complete darkness he stopped me mid-sentence by grabbing by inner thigh, pulling me closer to him and shoving his tough in my mouth.
I laughed and pushed him away. Disgust hit me. “What the fuck, Marty?” I try to wiggle past him to get out of the space.
He said, “Come on. You like me. I like you. What’s up?”
“What about [my friend]?! I thought you were seeing her? I’m so confused.”
“It’s all good. We’re all good. Come on…” All this time he was still blocking my exit while putting his hands all over me. Eventually, angry, I shove him aside and made my way away from him.
He followed and yelled my name. I made the mistake of stopping and turning toward him. “What?!”
“Come on. Be cool. It’s all good. Really. Don’t be like this!” All while grabbing me and shoving me up against the wall of the house. More force. More tongue. More hands forcefully making their way over my body. I managed to close my mouth so he’s just essentially drunkenly licked my face. Then I feel his hand start to reach under my shirt. That was enough for me. I shoved him off of me and out of the way.
“Fuck off, Marty.”
The experience was upsetting, no question but what happened after was much worse. Although, Marty was forceful and horrible I never really felt completely helpless. He had an advantage strength-wise but his drunkenness mad him unsteady. I wasn’t drunk. I was steady. So, even though I was smaller and weaker I knew – at least physically – I’d be OK.
Why did I wait so long to get away from him? He was my friend. I didn’t want him to lose face. I wanted him to see what he was doing and stop. I wanted him to hear me. And what about that best friend of mine? I never figured out why she brought me to him. I asked but never got any kind of sensible answer.
What happened over the next hours/days/weeks/months is what fucked with me the most. I went to find my best friend directly after the incident. She was standing with some other friends. “What was that about? Do you know what he just did to me? I thought he wanted to rape me. Like he wasn’t taking no for an answer.”
She laughed. It wasn’t a mean laugh, more of a, oh how pathetic – kind of laugh but a little not surprising too. The two male friends who were with her looked a little horrified. I initially thought the abhorred expressions were because of my ordeal. Alas, later it became pretty clear they were upset over my comments and not my experience.
I had been a bad girl. I used the word rape. I never said he raped me but it didn’t matter. It only mattered that I had said it at all. It didn’t matter that he was planning on having sex with me and he had little care as to whether I would consent or not. Luck kept me safe – luck that I hadn’t drank any more myself and was relatively sober during the encounter.
A few days later I saw Marty. I had already decided to forgive him and chalk it up as drunken teenage boy antics so imagine my shock and surprise when the first words out of his mouth were, “You fucking told people I raped you?! Fucking bitch.”
I faltered. “I – I – I didn’t mean it. That’s um. That’s not what I said. I…” I took a moment to compose myself. I tried to act unaffected on the surface. I smiled. I purposely laughed a little. “I was kidding. But – come ON – you came on kind of strong. Right?”
It was enough to diffuse his anger, a little. But I never again saw the cool kid I had met and considered a friend. After that it was all coldness and gossip. I became the “the girl who cried rape” even though I never did. Nice guys avoided me. Assholes exploited me… people wouldn’t possibly believe her not after what she did to Marty… right?
As recently as two years ago I shared this story with an old friend. She said she had her own Marty story and said she recalled more than a few other girls did too.
Events changed my direction.
I want to be clear about something. Not all of the men/guys that I hung out with in that time period were bad. I had a number of good experiences with male friends looking out for me and treating me with respect. I blame the culture because even those good guys got stuck in predetermined or stereotypical roles and weren’t able to do much to change things – except in the immediate circumstances.
The weird porn party and realizing I needed to get the fuck out.
One day near the end of what had become my rebel year I met up with some friends. We were told that people were getting together at house nearby. My friends and I walked the mile or so to the house. There were maybe 20 people there, mostly guys but also a few couples. I was offered a beer. I took it and sat on the couch by myself. It didn’t really seem like a party. It was more like people were coming and going. My friends said they had some business to do (I assumed they were buying pot) so I remained on the couch while they disappeared into the kitchen. Within about 45 minutes of us being there most of the people had trickled out and new people were not arriving. I began feeling as though I wanted to leave as there were only men left.
My friend (a guy) called me into the kitchen. I got up thinking I’d tell him I wanted to leave shortly. When I walked into the kitchen they were doing lines of coke on the table. They offered me some. I politely declined and went back to the couch. I stopped drinking my beer. I didn’t do hard drugs. My partying mostly consisted of drinking beer, maybe smoking pot and the occasional hallucinogen which I didn’t consider a hard drug.
I sat on that couch wanting to leave but feeling completely trapped. There was a clear mood shift. There were guys who joined me on the couch but acted like I wasn’t there, talking only to each other. I focused on the TV – I don’t remember what program was on, only that I wanted out of that room. The TV served as a distraction to my thoughts…until… one of the guys picked up the remote and said, “Hey, why don’t I change it to something a little more interesting for you.”
“No…no… it’s fine. I’m good.”
Click. Click. Porn. One girl. Multiple guys.
“See isn’t this better?”
I looked around. Every eye in that room was either on me or on the TV. I started to stand up, “I’m going to go check on my friend.”
The guy next to me grabbed my arm and pulled me back down. “He left. They all left.”
“What?” I pulled my arm away. I felt like an antelope surrounded by coyotes. “No, um. It’s all good. Just a second. Is there a bathroom in here?”
One of the other guys pointed toward the kitchen. I got up and walked in the direction he pointed. “Don’t be long now,” said the guy who had grabbed my arm. I didn’t go to the bathroom. I walked into the kitchen and out the back door.
It wouldn’t be more than a couple of weeks after that creepy close call that I would be forever (and abruptly) changed.
There was this one guy my best friend and I used to hang out with a lot. His name was Gary. I remember him saying he was 24 years old. We were 17 at the time. He lived in his parents’ basement; a real basement with cement floors, cobwebs and an exposed furnace. He had a couch down there, some milk-crates, a massive stereo system and a stocked liquor mini-fridge.
He usually had others over too, but never more than five or six at a time. He would give us booze and he was almost always stoned. He loved the band Kansas. He played them every single time I visited. Dust in the Wind… all we are is Dust in the Wind.
He was totally a kind of a quirky guy and he didn’t see all that bright kind of what you’d expect from a habitual pothead. I remember him saying often how he was sterile because he had smoked so much pot. He say it sort of proudly. When I look back I think he might have been suggesting pregnancy protection would be unnecessary if any of us were to have sex with him. He had a dog too, a beautiful – and fierce – Doberman. I loved that dog, its very presence was commanding.
Gary didn’t have a girlfriend. He had a one point, he’d said, but things had not worked out and that was why he was back at his parents. I never got the feeling he had any interest in either me or my friend. I thought he was just one of these older guys who liked to hang out with teenagers. He had a younger brother or sister too – though I didn’t really know them – just the fact they existed made him seem nonthreatening.
One night my best friend, myself and another friend (a young guy) stopped over to see Gary. Gary was very excited. “Don’t you love it? Now I don’t have to sleep on the couch.” He had gotten a very large water bed. It took up the entire space. He already had a couple of friends sitting on the side of the bed up against the wall. “Come on! Sit down there’s plenty of room.” There wasn’t but we stayed for one drink anyway and then we left.
It would be another week or more before I would visit Gary again. The new bed thing was weird. But one night I was looking for my best friend and a friend told me she might be at Gary’s so I headed over. She wasn’t there but there were a couple of other people I knew and Gary insisted I stay for at least one drink. So I did. “Have you ever had a White Russian?” I shook my head. “No? You’re going to love it.”
He made my drink in what had to have been a 32oz plastic cup from a convenient store soda fountain. The alcohol hit me hard and did so fast. The next thing I knew the other two guys were leaving. I told Gary I had to go too. He would have none of it. “No, no. Stay.” While I was going back and forth with Gary the guys just left. Leaving me alone with Gary, his dog, his bed and his booze.
I had never been alone with him. I had never hung out long in his lair with this new layout. I wasn’t comfortable. And once I realized they had left I got more insistent about leaving myself. “You’re too drunk. I can’t let you leave. Do you know how much trouble I could get in?” Then he leaned in like he was going to kiss me. I moved away got up and tried walking out. He got up also stopped me then grabbed me by the shoulders and shoved me down onto the bed. “No. You’re going to stay here.”
“No. I need to leave. Please. You can’t do this to me.”
“I can do whatever the fuck I want to you,” he said as he leaned his body over mine. There have been few moments in my life where I have been as fearful as I was in that moment. Then in the same moment there was a knock on the basement door. He looked up with his arms still holding my shoulders down and said, “What?” There was no answer. “Fuck. I’ll be right back.”
“Can I come up with you?”
“No! I told you do you have any idea how much trouble I could get in if I let you out of here? Don’t you care about that? Stay right where you are?” Gary ran up the basement stairs. He was sure to close the door behind him. I heard what I thought was a lock latching. No. He couldn’t have. Could he?
I didn’t move for what felt like eternity, crying. I could here people talking upstairs and a television. Finally, I sat up. His dog sat facing me, guarding me, at the bottom of the stairs. I tried calling her over to me. She didn’t budge. Will the dog hurt me if I got up? She doesn’t look happy. I have to do something. I need to get out of here. When I was able to gather enough courage I stood up and walked toward the steps. The dog wasn’t moving so I slipped in between the stairs and the wooden railing and made my way up to the door. I turned the knob and pushed but the door didn’t budge. He did lock it. What am I going to do? I don’t want this. I don’t want this. Think of something.
The conversation upstairs seemed to be winding down and I hear footsteps. As quickly as I could I made my way back down, around the dog and to the bed. I took a deep breath. I wiped my eyes. I put a smile on my face and waited. He came back in. “Hey, now that’s better.” He said. I smiled bigger.
He sat next to me and leaned in to kiss me. I backed away coyly. I asked him to put on some music, “It’s quiet. Maybe some mood music? And another drink?”
He smiled back. He seemed please with himself. I worked at the small talk for just long enough to tell him I needed to go to the restroom. I saw a flash of suspicion in his eyes and added, “Did you see the size of the drink you made me?” He smiled again and nodded his head in agreement.
“OK.” He called his dog over and I walked slowly and carefully up the basement steps. I opened that door, stepped into the first floor and ran. I ran past the living room where his parents were watching TV. I ran out the front door without closing it behind me and I ran down the street. I was surprised how dark it was out. I hadn’t realized I had been down there so long. I was sobbing. I didn’t know where to go so I just went to Dunkin Donuts hoping I’d run into a friend. I sat outside.
Not much time passed before I heard Gary yelling for me. “Kelly, come here.” I turned around and he was walking right to me with his Doberman on the leash. I had to get out of there. I decided to walk to my best friend’s house. It was about a mile away. Gary kept after me. Following me. Yelling to me. “You can’t be out here.” Halfway to my friends house I ran into another friend.
“Please help me. Please help. Please make him go away.”
Then I ran and hid behind a tree in a random backyard. My friend, a guy, got rid of him. Promised Gary he would make sure I didn’t tell anyone and assured Gary he wouldn’t get into any trouble if he just went home. And Gary did.
I never went to the police about Gary. I didn’t tell a lot of people, maybe a half a dozen people in my entire life. The experience changed me. I decided to go back to school. I moved back in with my parents for the time being. I stopped drinking. I met a boy who I would end up dating for close to three years. When we broke up it wasn’t long before I was in another long term relationship with the guy that I would end up marrying.
Throughout subsequent years I would have other men hit on me, grope me or otherwise demoralize me but my longterm relationships shielded me from a lot of it. I was Mike’s girlfriend or Jeff’s wife. In both cases, in both relationships I played the role of sidekick. These men became my whole world and it showed. I may have stayed in both relationships longer than I should have (if you’ve read Skeletons you know what I mean). I was living that whole “devil you know” thing. Truth be told it was a pretty decent-sized risk but the second relationship is still going strong.
Another thing that shielded me was I didn’t stay in the workforce long as an employee, only for four years or so. I tried to avoid situations where men would have power over me. It wasn’t completely avoidable but it was somewhat controllable. I had kids. I stayed home with them. I did freelance work, on my own (guarded) terms. Has this limited me? Of course. To what degree? I don’t know really. I could speculate. Instead I choose to only to acknowledge it. I am where I am. I’ve been where I’ve been.
Why did I write this? Because I’ve spoken to enough women to know these events aren’t a one off, one guy kind of thing. It’s rampant. It’s everywhere. It’s not just famous people or just at work. It’s every woman I’ve ever known. Isn’t it? Don’t we all have one story or – more likely -multiple stories. Isn’t it a culture? Isn’t it what is meant by the term Rape Culture?
What can we do about it?
Absolutely, the men accused in these most recent headlines had power. So then, did a lot of the women. Context is important. Most of the women I know weren’t assaulted or harassed by famous men or men in powerful positions. Most of the men who have assaulted or harassed the women I know possessed power only through their gender. We live in a patriarchy. Men hold most of the power.
That doesn’t mean men are bad. Men are amazing. I love men. I look at people, first, as individuals not as separate genders. I think we all would benefit from choosing to see people as individuals over labels (gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc.).
Should we out every man who’s ever been inappropriate? Do we round them up? Jail them? Hate on them? I don’t think that’s the solution. This is not to suggest women be quiet. Maybe women can and should share all of their stories or more of them. I know I’m not the only one with more than one.
The question is: What do we do with these stories? I think we talk about them. All of us. We ACKNOWLEDGE them. We acknowledge the patriarchy and the many implications of it. All of us. We accept that this is where we are today. We commit to changing the direction going forward then we follow through.
Change can happen. Change will happen.
END NOTE: I want to be clear and add that even though my focus here is on my own experiences with men and specifically addressing Rape Culture from the perspective of a young girl and woman (myself). I do not mean to diminish the experiences of men who have also been victims of sexual assault (perpetrated by any gender). I stand with you too.
Let’s change this, together.