Three Things, Issue Forty-Nine

I opened her email, happy that she had thought to check in on me. She mentioned the “triggering headlines” splashed throughout the media about the alleged sexual misconduct of the most recent Supreme Court nominee. She shared how she has finally found some peace surrounding the sexual assaults she had experienced.

“And yeah—rapey men,” I wrote back. “I feel like I dodged a major bullet, having worked and played in such male-dominated fields since I was a young teenager and escaped without a rape story,” In parentheses–almost like a casual afterthought–I went on to recount an experience of being held down by a man I had a crush on. I finished by saying how sad I felt for the millions of women who have had to live with the memories of such shame and violence.

You know, other women.

ONE: TERRY

He seemed different from the rest of the roadies. Tall, with a confident swagger and shaggy, blonde hair–he could have been mistaken for the lead singer of a band, rather than part of the crew. My friend, Steve, introduced him to me and I felt his eyes take in my body with a hunger that made me blush. “I’m Terry,” he said, his blue eyes twinkling as he grinned and shook my hand. My entire arm buzzed with an energy I had never felt before.

“He’s an asshole,” Steve told me later. “Stay away from him.” I laughed his opinion off, figuring that he had noticed the chemistry between Terry and I and was jealous. It was no secret that Steve had always been a little sweet on me and I had never reciprocated his feelings. “Don’t worry,” I assured him. “I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”

At seventeen, I was a virgin and had already spent a couple of years hanging out with local rock and roll bands with my best girlfriend and Steve. I had found my happy place–all three of us had–a refuge away from the dysfunction of our respective family homes. A place where we belonged. The guys in the bands were cute and sexy, but largely unavailable. My bestie and I, like little sisters to these exciting older men with their guitars and microphones.

It was a warm spring afternoon when Steve and I were driving about, likely picking up equipment and supplies for an upcoming weekend gig. My best friend, relegated to home that day and not with us. “We have to pick up Terry,” Steve told me, and I felt a rush of excitement flush through my veins. Terry got in the back seat of the red Impala and the three of us chattered on about the band and the weather and what we were going to eat later on.

I don’t remember why we stopped at the house we stopped at, or even exactly where it was. It was unfamiliar to me, but I plopped down on the sofa in the living room while Steve left and busied himself with other things. Terry handed me a beer and sat down beside me. We began talking and I enjoyed the gentle flirtation between us. He was cute–cute enough for me to ignore the stale cigarette smoke on his breath. Terry put his hand on my leg and I felt that familiar charge of energy surge through me again. He leaned over and kissed me and I was thrilled.

At seventeen, I was a virgin but I loved kissing. Kissing boys was something I could spend hours doing. Terry was older, though–by four or five years, at least–a maturity that both frightened and intrigued me. As we kissed, Terry become more insistent, shoving his tongue to the back of my throat and beginning to press his body onto mine. We both fell back on the sofa, Terry on top of me. There was a point at which something changed in him–like a switch that was flipped that I didn’t understand, but viscerally felt. His hands shoved roughly up over my breasts and under my bra and I instinctively pushed them away. “You’re a little tease, aren’t you?” he sneered. The weight of his body and the shift in his demeanor panicked me. I struggled to breathe and turned my head away as he tried to continue to kiss me. Terry grabbed my hand and pressed it into his crotch as he began to unbutton his jeans. “No. Stop.” I said. I wanted to be nice, to let him know it wasn’t his fault, but I couldn’t breathe and I was terrified.

Be careful, don’t make them mad, my mother said.

Steve walked back into the room and everything stopped. I couldn’t tell you if it had been ten minutes or two hours. Terry sat up, took a swig off his beer and glared at me, shaking his head. He leaned over and hissed in my ear, you’re just a stupid little girl, you know. His breath was full of beer and cigarettes, disgust and irritation.

I’m sorry, I told him.

The three of us piled back into the red Impala and drove away, an uncomfortable silence filling the space between. I sat in the front seat and struggled to blink back tears as I stared out the window. Shame and embarrassment wrapped around my shoulders. I felt Steve’s eyes on me, a mix of disappointment and concern. I never saw Terry again. He was fired from the band, something about stealing equipment.

I told you so, Steve said later. I know, I said.

TWO: KRISTOFFER

At twenty-one, I was finally coming into my own. Or so I thought. My dirty little secret–my anorexia–resulting in an attractively flat stomach, narrow, boyish hips and no discernible breasts whatsoever. The boob thing–that was okay, I thought, a small sacrifice to pay in order to finally gain the admiration of family, friends and strangers, all of whom openly approved of my newly svelte figure.

Fresh out of my first, long-term relationship and finally old enough to go to the clubs we so urgently desired, my bestie and I found our way back to the music and the bands we had become acquainted with as teenagers. I was “legal” now, a hair model for a Seattle salon, immersed in edgy, punk rock and New Wave fashion trends and quickly becoming adept at masquerading a certain worldliness and hipster vibe that brought me the attention I craved.

Kristoffer was the bass player in one of Seattle’s most popular bands. Years prior, the lead singer and I had shared bouts of consensual, clandestine trysts in backstage broom closets, but now Kristoffer was openly courting me, like a legitimate girlfriend. More dark and brooding than the usual blonde pretty boys I preferred, I could see Kris watching me from the stage as the band played their set. He’d seek me out during their breaks, pressing his body close to mine, whispering in my ear me how attractive I looked. He sent me sweet Valentines and flowers and invited me to concerts where he took me backstage and introduced me to his famous friends.

He shared a two bedroom apartment in Ballard with the guitar player of another Seattle band, and my bestie and I would often stop by after a night of club-going to drink wine and watch old movies with Kristoffer and his roommate. The first time I watched  “It’s A Wonderful Life” was on a icy night in December, curled up in Kris’ apartment.

After I moved to Wallingford, a nearby neighborhood, my visits to Kristoffer’s apartment became more frequent and usually by myself. Our attraction was mutual and intense. We’d kiss and make-out for awhile until eventually I was giving Kris blowjobs on the sofa while his roommate played guitar in the next room. I’d stay fully clothed and he’d force my head down into his lap and hold it there until I could barely breathe. My neck ached and I’d feel that familiar sense of panic rise up again, but I figured it was just the way these things went. A few weeks later, with his roommate gone for the evening and plans for a nice dinner together, Kris unbuttoned my blouse and unhooked my bra. He fingered the fabric of my bra, immediately noticing the thick padding on the cups and my small breasts underneath. “What is this?” he spat out angrily. “What do you mean?” I asked him, already wishing I could disappear. “You lied to me!” Kris said, his voice filling with indignant rage, his face reddening, looking so unlike the man I thought I knew. “You deceived me! You’re fake! How dare you do this to me?”

I’m sorry, I told him and slunk out of the apartment, alone.

Desperate to rekindle the sweetness we once shared, I saw Kris one more time after that. I promised myself I’d swallow my shame and forget his bitter accusations about my body–my sham of a body that had let him down. We had sex–awful, horrible sex. Kristoffer was impatient and rough while I tried to cover my chest in shame and pretend to enjoy it all. He fell asleep and in silent darkness I pulled on my clothes and drove home.

You’re not so pretty when you’re drunk, my mother said.

THREE: TELEVISION

By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I had built myself a respectable career in television production and broadcasting. Within a handful of years, I had worked my way up from a part-time graveyard shift master control operator to crew chief, overseeing a staff of a dozen or so broadcast technicians. I loved working in television–it reminded me of the music business with all of its buttons and knobs, flashing gauges and pulsing meters. The thrill and immediacy of live broadcasts. I was one of just a few women working in our department and I had developed a comfort level working with so many men. We were all pals–I knew their wives and kids and we’d hang out and party together. I felt like one of the guys. I was proud to be considered a “guy’s girl”.

The station I worked at was an independent channel, not affiliated with one of the three major networks at the time. It seemed we were forever under the threat of being bought and sold by new investors, our jobs always hanging by a thin thread. Tensions would run high as gossip trickled through the grapevine, each one of us always on the lookout for an opportunity for a better job before we were forced out. I was already moonlighting at a post-production house on the other side of town, but couldn’t afford to quit my day job quite yet.

“You’d be surprised at just how many people here keep guns in their lockers,” one of my crew members shared with me. I had just told him of my fear of guns during a discussion of the target practice he’d just come from. I was alarmed, but chose to interpret this information as just his way to add some shock value to his comments. He was like that–always with a bit of unpredictable crazy flashing in his eyes. Silly boys, I thought as I sighed and went back to work.

A few weeks later, I had to address a problem that had arisen within our department. Sloppy work, some misrepresentation of data and facts. I walked into the master control room where the two guys I needed to talk with sat, leaning back in their chairs, watching satellite feeds and our on-air broadcast. I told them of the problem, warning that if it happened again that there would be serious repercussions. One of them turned around slowly to face the other and said, “You know what Tracie needs? She needs a good gang-raping. That’s what she needs.”

The two men laughed and laughed, so pleased at putting me in my place. The sure exertion of power.

I remember them laughing, she said.

I didn’t sleep much for the next few days, but I did report their comments to my boss. He took it seriously and addressed it appropriately. Oh, we were just joking! they said before their apology. Can’t you take a joke? they asked me, these two men whom I had considered my friends. Whose wives and kids I knew and who knew my husband.

I never felt safe there again. Within a few months, I began my new career as a colorist at the post-production house on the other side of town.

Don’t make a fuss, don’t cause problems, my mother said.

EPILOGUE

I never told my mother about any of these. I never told anyone. I never told her about working as a secretary at the car dealership years earlier, when the general manager and the two sales managers would call me into their office, close the door and make me look through Penthouse magazines, all the while giggling and searching my face for a reaction. Or how they’d supply me with sports cars to drive on the weekends and drugs–so many drugs–to keep me quiet. Or how they finally fired me but made sure I was able to collect unemployment insurance because they sensed “I knew too much and might start talking.”

What did you do to make them mad? my mother asked.

It was Thursday afternoon and I had just come back from teaching my yoga classes–the last one so full of power and ferocity, the one in which I reminded the thirty or so women there that we needed everyone’s voices as we roared through our Lion’s Breaths. At home, The Mister had the TV on, rapturously watching the hearing. As I puttered through the house, I heard Christine Blasey Ford’s voice describe being held down by Brett Kavanaugh and how she felt panicked and powerless and how she worried she might accidentally die. How she never told anyone because she didn’t know how. How she was so afraid. I felt sick to my stomach and my insides shook as I began to remember. I thought of my email to my friend and my naiveté as I wrote about how I “dodged a major bullet.”

I grabbed my phone and typed out a text to my nineteen-year-old daughter in Seattle, on the cusp of her sophomore year of college. I shared with her my anger towards these rapey men and how I prayed that she would never, ever have to feel the shame and powerlessness that so many women have had to endure.

You know, other women.

Like me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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