The night Senator Susan Collins said she’d vote for Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court and the rest of her wavering colleagues had chimed in, I had the following dream:

A long house I occupy with others is laid out in a straight line. Sitting down to a convivial meal, apparently we’re also a café and others come expecting to be served—they take our places at the table. Then there is some delay with the food and it turns into a Hell’s Kitchen type of pressure, one of my housemates urging me to hurry up. I go farther back in the house to fetch something and see that there is a tiger in the hallway of the next section of the house. He is magnificent, vivid, but sleeping, until he begins to stir…eyes open but still sluggish, I grasp there’s only a moment for me to close off both the door that leads deeper into the house, and the one that leads back to the kitchen area, which I do with the sense it’s just in the nick of time.

The tiger’s black stripes were stunning in my dream, his orange pelt livid with color. I say “him…his” but I know who the tiger really is. And what. It is a rage that I have to trap by closing doors at all the exits, to protect everyone from mayhem. The tiger is fear-inducing and perhaps uncontrollable, but inexorably the tiger will be just who s/he is. That’s how I see things now, thrust into examining my own assault experiences when like so many, I blamed myself and hid the memories.

But the waking tiger can’t stay in the blocked hallway forever. The doors are flimsy barriers in a long house of Be Quiet, Be Nice.

My mother was visiting me during the week of the extraordinary Kavanaugh developments: the testimony of accuser and accused, the women at the elevator confronting Jeff Flake’s lowered eyes, –“Look at me!” said one, and the world shook before her raw audacity and need– and the FBI investigation that wasn’t. All along, I tried to hold back tears before the TV. I explained to my mom in a vague way that there had been incidents in my life, and as the media kept pace with the heightening tensions I was clearly not holding it together.

“This is really getting to you,” she remarked, a little puzzled. At one point she asked me point blank, “what happened?” I couldn’t seem to get the words out in any form—uncharacteristic for me. At that point I didn’t even know why.

I was under 21 when the incidents occurred. Most related to hitch-hiking. It was a very different time then—college students and assorted hipsters chose this method of transportation in droves. I spent many an hour lined up with my peers at on-ramps. But I didn’t want to risk hearing my mother tell me that I shouldn’t have been hitchhiking. And since one of the close calls happened when I was a fifteen year old runaway, I didn’t need a cold shoulder on top of it.

My family has never forgiven me for leaving home that way as a minor, and while I deeply regret the fear for my safety I caused them, I recognize that when a narcissistic parent leads while modeling narcissism for their children, someone who quits the game is seen as the ultimate betrayer. There’s a saying that “behavior is communication,”–what troubled teens do is often a telegraph, what they can’t outright say. But at the time I was tried as an adult by my family and the verdict stands.

Abandonment is the core issue in narcissism since it is the original wound that shapes the disorder, and loyalty is demanded by the narcissist above all else. My reasons for running away I’ve written about in my book:  I actually felt I was doing my dad a favor.

But the decades-long silence among my family about this action I took, eluding capture for a full month and subsequently being placed in a mental hospital for punishment, accounts for my reticence to speak to them about my experience. Of course, the societal edict is more brutal: if you’re going to be so stupid as to stick out your thumb and get in a car with strangers, we have no empathy for you. Loose hippie slut, you.

One day while a runaway, age fifteen, I left my boyfriend at our grungy apartment to go to the grocery store. I hadn’t calculated how to get the groceries back there. I accepted a ride from a man in a parking lot; I may have even asked him. He was nearing middle age, kind of big but seemed okay. You have to understand that in the era of thumbing rides, standards were pretty low because a ride was a ride. Also, I was naïve. I didn’t realize until I was trapped in a moving car just how creepy he was. Still, there was a code for drivers too: he took me right to my destination. He was talking about sex when I slid out of the car as he reached across the seat for me.

Toward the end of our time as runaways my boyfriend took to grabbing me and dragging me down a hall away from our gathered friends, into a bedroom to berate me when I said something he didn’t like. Once when angry he removed my clothes and shoved me into a closet, holding the door shut; as our bond deteriorated his big finale was hitting me in the face with a fist, which took two weeks to completely heal.

Not much later, I married someone else at age sixteen and divorced him by nineteen. Sometime during this period I hitched a ride from two men in business suits on a lonely stretch of California road. One of them had long hair, which again (I thought) in those days denoted a code, so as a hippie chick I felt I’d be safe with him. At a very remote exit, they pulled over and the longhair was ordered out of the car by (I found out) his boss. The boss then offered a sickening deal: you give me sex in exchange for the ride, all the way to San Francisco. I spent a few minutes trying to talk him out of it. Seeing it hopeless, I got out of the car and waited forever by the side of the road between the small towns of Nipomo and Pismo Beach. I felt like the stupid one for getting myself in such a mess:  he hadn’t tried to force me—an asshole, but at least not a rapist.

The last time I hitchhiked was an epic haul from central California to Lincoln, Nebraska. I traveled with a sweet boy and we’d had an interesting though tiring trip. He was heading on to his folks’ home in Ohio; I would veer south to see mine in Kansas. We parted ways at a Greyhound bus station where I planned to stay all night then board in the morning. Only problem, I found out after my boyfriend had already sped away with a good ride: this bus station closed at night.

With only enough money for my ticket, seared by fatigue, I was terrified of navigating a strange city. A bus station employee, a few years older than me, offered to put me up for the night. I was trusting and saw no other strategy. I tried to stay awake on the back of his motorcycle as we drove far into a residential area; my heart sank when he stopped at a liquor store and told me we were going to party. At his house, I explained my utter exhaustion and begged just to crash in a corner. The whiskey he pressed on me only made me more tired. Miffed, he revealed his terms: no sex meant no ride back to the bus station in the morning. I would be stranded with a big duffel bag that was impossible to carry any distance.

It was late at night. I had no idea where we were. There were no cell phones with GPS, no money for a taxi, and I was used to relying on the protection of a male partner. I went ahead with shamed reluctance, and to add injury to insult, he was rough. He told me that women liked it rough. I remember sitting in the bathtub the next morning feeling raped. I cried on the bus when it pulled out of, good riddance, Nebraska. I have told very few people about this because I felt it too was my fault.

It’s easy to still burn with some shame because today’s world is so different and the feisty, independent problem-solver I hope I became can judge that scared teen I was. But I burn with something else. When the old white men and their lackey female senators told women that in 2018 sexual assault is still to be the norm, so get used to it…my rage at being seen as a teenager up for grabs just like Christine Blasey Ford erupted like a volcano assumed inactive for life.

I don’t care if I was a hitchhiker, a runaway, wore a halter top or smoked weed, I didn’t deserve any of that. It doesn’t matter if Christine was drinking underage or sneaking off to see boys, she didn’t deserve to be pushed into a room and laughingly corralled for attempted rape.

But now we are one. She, and the elevator-confronters, and the protesters, and the silent women everywhere with their stories, so many stories. Because we’ve all been put in our place, eh? No matter the era of Me Too, the message to us can’t be misconstrued: We may believe you, but you will not prevail. The show must go on: our show, the White Male show.

Let’s not be tempted to point to Clarence Thomas to erase the whiteness about who runs the show. Thomas was there on sufferance at the behest of white men who let him in. A New York Times opinion writer makes the argument that white women who are “gender traitors” by supporting Kavanaugh are more concerned about protecting whiteness than standing by their men: “White Women, Come Get Your People.”

Like a Greek chorus the survivors chanted, look at us, listen to us, fellow humans feel our pain. They lined the halls of power and painted the plazas with their forthright signs en masse. Now they go home to do what? Drink and cry? Or regroup, in the amazing way that a tragic blow can force creative power to turbocharge?

Dear White Men:  what goes around comes around. You have not seen the likes of us before. No more the putting up with glass ceilings, reproductive rights constantly threatened, tearing children from their mothers at the border, rape and assault. You won’t be overthrown in a day, and we have been at it for so long we’re weary. But you went too far. You ruined the ideal of an impartial justice system at the highest level–now our disillusionment must not fold into resignation. You have drawn the lines, and we will stand. Let the consequences begin.

A Just Anger            by Marge Piercy

Anger shines through me.
Anger shines through me.
I am a burning bush.
My rage is a cloud of flame.
My rage is a cloud of flame
in which I walk
seeking justice
like a precipice.
How the streets
of the iron city
flicker, flicker,
and the dirty air
fumes.
Anger storms
between me and things,
transfiguring,
transfiguring.
A good anger acted upon
is beautiful as lightning
and swift with power.
A good anger swallowed,
a good anger swallowed
clots the blood
to slime.

 

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