My dad took me to see Bill Cosby in Columbus, Ohio when I was a kid. We used to listen to a record of him talking, which I could only pretend to find funny even then, but dad liked it and wanted to see him in person. The venue had really narrow seating, and although I could barely hear Cosby’s routine, I laughed for most of the show. I had brought a friend with me, who was heavier set, and she squirmed miserably the whole time, at one point looking pleadingly at me and whispering, “I’m trying to get comfortable.” Now, he’s in the slammer, and I get a little ill every time I think of Pudding Pops.
Not too long ago, Uncle Frank died. He terrorized three generations of women in my family. My mom was a little girl when he exposed himself behind a door jam, so that all she could see was his ghostly pale member protruding through the open walkway. She would laugh when she told the story but reminded us to stay clear of him. He was regarded as a family clown, but on his death bed, as my mom put it, he finally “got her.” As she sat at the edge of his bed to bid him farewell, his toes wriggled contentedly into her buttocks. He died with a smile on his face. We laugh, but it isn’t funny. Who knows what he did on his free time?
Now, I have this personal thing going on with the Kavanaugh debacle. I have been listening to it, and I am amazed, especially by the vitriol of Lindsay Graham. Back in the Clinton-Lewinsky days, I used to find Graham measured in his speech, and his eyes seemed kind. You see, they bear a resemblance to my mom’s eyes. Now, the familiarity of his eyes makes it seem more of a slap in the face when he gets all red-faced and flustered in his defense of the system, the Republican nominee, the process, the privus lex, or rather, the privilege, that should surround the questionable-honorable-virginal-prohibition-era-dry-ivy-leaguer Kavanaugh.
Here’s the thing. I listened to the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, and while talking about it with students in an ethics course, I heard myself saying, “the same thing happened to me.” And, it did. I was with a friend. She had a friend. We three were in a car. The friend of the friend wanted to see her boyfriend. We went to his house. I went inside. It never occurred to me that the friend of the boyfriend of the friend of my friend would have some malicious intent when he offered to show me the house. I walked around saying, “oh, it’s nice,” when this squat-wrestler guy decided to pin me to some bed and try to touch me and cover my mouth. I was surprised more than scared but rapidly coming to the realization that I could not get his weight off of me. I was spared whatever foul thing he might have inflicted on me when a younger boy came into the room and jumped on the bed to “tickle” me too. His innocence saved the day. I can’t remember a damn thing about the street, but I can see the house, and I can see the ugly, thick face of my attacker. I didn’t know his name. He’s probably got some kind of normal job and life now and would just die if I showed up to say, um, hey buddy, remember me? He was probably drunk and wouldn’t even remember. I’d be ruining his life. And, is there a sound to a fallen tree with no witness?
The funny thing is that I never considered it sexual assault, not once, not ever, until last week when I listened to Ford’s testimony and people expressed sympathy for her. People started reporting their own stories. I thought, shit, I had that too. And, that was just one incident. There was the time when my “boyfriend” tried to get me take off my blouse in a room with several of his guy friends. There was the time I was with that same friend, and her brother’s friend offered to give us a ride to the mall. Instead, he took us to his home and together with some other guy who was in that home, they blocked us in a small bedroom. They were drinking and laughing and debating which one was going to have the “cute” one. I was cute. I knew I had to get out of there, and when they momentarily stepped away from the door, I leapt up, tore past them, and fled out the front door, calling for my friend to follow NOW. And, there was this repulsive professor who blocked me in his office; called me every night; and would gaze perversely at me. I can still see his red face, even though I couldn’t tell you his name unless I looked up my college transcript. I surely don’t remember his office number, or the names, or locations of any of those guys I mentioned above.
They blur. The whole thing blurs. And, this isn’t the whole story. There’s other things, unmentionable things. I’ll mention just this one. A man was staying in our house. He was Russian. He was some guy my parents met when they visited for the Moscow Marathon. He was there for a couple of months. He would chase me around the house with an erection in his open robe, kind of like Uncle Frank, without the door jam. He tried to stick his tongue in my mouth. He was so sickening to me, I started gagging just being in his presence. I guess I told what was happening to me. I don’t even remember now. He was Russian, though, and an invited guest, so I guess I just thought it was something I had to endure. I was fifteen.
Even writing this stuff, I realize, I could sound angry. I could sound as one unloading my sordid history on an unsuspecting readership. Maybe it sounds like venting. But, I tell you in all honesty, I am entirely dispassionate. I am merely recollecting a history of impositions and assaults that I never even considered to be, well, objectively wrong or (really????) assaults. I never particularly grasped that my child self was not the perpetrator but the victim. I assumed, maybe still do, that I was to blame for being friend’s with that girl, or going to someone’s house, or getting in a car, or being cute, or being an American when some hungry Russian thought he might get a green card out of me well, I’m not going to go there or I WILL become angry!
The funny thing is I am pretty sure most of the people who know and love me are never thrilled to hear this crap. It makes everyone feel bad. There is probably a quotient of disbelief in my telling as well. And, here’s the rub. I admit, I kind of feel stained or damaged even talking about it. I feel as though it discredits me as a serious thinker and writer and philosopher to give a shit about those idiots. I was tough and strong and came out ok, right? Anyway, I think I know why people are calling the news stations and reporting their stuff from a million years ago. I think I know why many remain anonymous. I think I know why they never told their fathers and husbands and mothers and friends. I think we better take heed too. We can’t all be lying, right?
I think I hear rocks falling…
Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie’s most recent book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin. Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology. Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan. For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.