When I was a senior in high school I was assaulted in a hotel room in Austin, Texas.
I was on an overnight field trip for the Youth in Government program. I competed in the state finals as part of a team of female lawyers in one of those mock trials. We were smart white girls who were pretty freaking confident for the early 90s in West Texas.
We had adult chaperones on the trip. Baby lawyer dudes in their 20s. They bought beer for the teenagers and left us to run the halls of the high rise hotel while they partied on 6th street.
It was the night that the Ground War started in the Persian Gulf. By some circumstance which escapes me now, I found myself accidentally alone in a hotel room (not mine) with the brother of a friend. The brother went to the University of Texas and had come over to the hotel to say hi. We sat on the bed and watched the war on CNN.
Suddenly the brother was on top of me on the bed, pinning me down. It happened so fast that it took me a moment to even know what was going on.
I recall bits and pieces of the scene. All fast and unpleasant. His mouth covered mine. Hard. His hands were everywhere inside my clothes, under my bra, grabbing me, hurting me. He trapped me under him, while I kicked like a little kid.
I pushed and meekly told him to stop it. He pressed on me with more force. I can still feel the sensation of his mouth pushing on mine so hard that his teeth hurt the outer edges of my lips. It wasn’t sexy. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t consensual.
I told him to stop it again and pushed. Harder this time. He got off me and stormed out of the room, slamming the door.
I sat on the bed and stared at the footage of the war, embarrassed, scared, confused as to what actually just happened, too frightened to leave the room and venture into the hotel hallway.
The next day I flew home full of dread. I had a boyfriend who wasn’t on the trip. We were loyal to each other in that sweet high school sort of way. I would not have kissed another boy, much less do anything else. I was afraid that someone knew something, someone heard something, that word would get out and my boyfriend would think that I had cheated on him.
I told my mock trail partner. She was full of kindness and empathy and we agreed that the attacking older brother was trash.
I told a mutual (guy) friend about the incident. His response was to laugh and say “I heard it was the opposite. That you attacked him.” More humiliation. After that I shut up about it.
The boy who assaulted me is now married with children. I accidentally saw a picture of him just a month ago through via one of these weird Facebook connection things. Maybe in his mind he didn’t do anything wrong. Maybe he has forgotten the whole thing. Maybe he felt like it was his right to grab me and hurt me. Maybe he remembers and he’s become a woke-ass enlightened man and he feels regret.
I’m sorry to say that this wasn’t the only time I was touched or grabbed or kissed against my will. But it was definitely the most frightening. And I’m one of the “lucky” ones. He didn’t bruise or penetrate me. I escaped.
With so many more brutal, more vicious, more violent sexual assaults in this world, this story may seem small.
It is small. It is a tiny shard in a nasty mosaic of hate and violence perpetuated by those who think their power makes them invulnerable.
When someone who could potentially be the leader of our country says it is okay to assault women, and when other leaders and pundits rush to defend him, it’s time for all of us to speak, no matter how tiny a shard we carry.
Women. Men. Gender-fluid and binary friends. Democrats. Republicans. People who have been victims and people who have not.
It’s time to open our hearts to each other’s humanity. To be brave and to take care of each other. To stand up for what is the most best and beautiful in each other. To say a vehement NO to ugliness and cruelty and hate and keep saying it over and over again.
I have to take the long view here. Love will win.