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There is a part I can’t tell / about the dark I know well.
It’s always one of two nightmares: I’m either trapped in a room with a many-faced man, or he’s chasing me into the street outside my childhood home. They always end the same way: I jackknife upright in bed and scream or cry – usually both. It’s impossible to remind myself that they are just dreams.
I am sixteen and volunteering at a gala for the museum where I spend my summers working with the education program. I am part of the group who greets the honored World War II veteran. It is my job to smile.
“Thanks, sweetheart.” A customer – a tall and slender man in a business suit – at the coffee shop where I work as a sophomore in college shoots me with a toothy grin. He winks and walks away, laughing with the man next to him.
FORD: I am here today not because I want to be.
I am sixteen when the eighty-something veteran sets his sights on me. I do not have time to register his brusque “c’mere” before he tugs at my waist and invades. His lips are all saliva against mine. I don’t remember his face. I don’t remember the shocked and wounded noise I must have made. I remember the applause from the audience. It was my first kiss.
FORD: Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter…
In the first nightmare, he sits behind a desk and speaks filthy things to me. I never remember what they are, but they fall into the room in a blitz. It’s not long before he encroaches upon my borders, pushes me against a table or wall. I wish he’d incinerate me in the fireplace instead.
He grabs my ass. It is one of my first solo concerts. I am with my best friend, and I have just gotten past the claustrophobia of knowing there is no easy way out of this mosh pit, not with the multitude of sweaty, pulsing bodies between me and the door. I do not see his face. I do nothing, the first and second times. I think it could be an accident. I want to think it could be an accident. He stops after the third time, when my elbow connects solidly with his rib cage.
You felt some guilt you had ever let him touch you.
I am still sixteen when I sit in my hotel room on my last night in Moscow with classmates. The door does not lock from the inside. I am eating pizza on my own when one of the boys walks in, more drunk than not. I don’t remember what we say. I don’t remember what I feel in those first moments. A condom falls from his pocket and we are both silenced by the impact.
“How much for a BJ?” I am nineteen in Amsterdam when a drunk American man and a posse of his friends approach me. He ignores my answer – “I’m not a prostitute” – and grabs my waist, pulls me to him, and asks again. I don’t scream. I punch him in the gut and run for three blocks until I find a burger joint. I don’t cry. I order a burger, my eyes fixed on the door, and the man behind the counter gives it to me for free. He doesn’t ask who I’m looking for. He doesn’t ask if I’m okay. He doesn’t ask me to leave when I’m still there an hour later, still watching, still not hungry.
FORD: I believed he was going to rape me.
I lose my voice the day Christine Blasey Ford testifies at Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It starts slowly. A scratching as I watch her opening statements. A deep ache as the questioning goes on. When Kavanaugh takes the floor, it is too painful for me to speak. By dinner, I am only a low, strained whisper.
The man in the dream has a face. He has hundreds of faces. He is my ex-boyfriend, my close friend, my professor, my boss, my uncle, my priest – he is every man, and I am shackled by the violence in his eyes as he surveys the battlegrounds of my body.
I am nineteen and I am already used to the constant catcalls that accompany a walk through the San Lorenzo leather market. I try not to show any hesitation when my professor announces that we will each conduct individual interviews with the shopkeepers, the men who have spent months shouting at me, who have taught me that my dress is permission, that my eye contact is an invitation, that my smile is a promise.
When your eyes can adjust and you see what’s in view / discolored and distempered smiles that seen you.
I am stumbling over my feet to get out of my house as the second nightmare begins. I never see his face, but I know that he is always behind me. I remember the goosebumps his hot breath leaves on my neck. I can feel the ghost of hands just millimeters away from my waist.
After three uneventful interviews, I am ready to leave the market when one last shopkeeper captures my attention. I decide that one more interview can’t hurt. I think my professor will be so proud until the man answers my questions with unsubtle flirtations. I try to leave when he asks me to have dinner with him, but he seizes my waist and brands the imprint of his lips on mine.
You don’t open your eyes for a while / You just beat that moment down.
It is not fair to her, but Christine Blasey Ford becomes every woman in her testimony. The only hope we have is if every man listens to her.
FORD: My responsibility is to tell the truth.
I am sixteen after the bomb drops in my room in Moscow, and I want to run, but I can’t. I know the boy will say something – or do something – but I don’t want that. I am rescued by my friend, a male classmate, who wanders in either unaware or all too aware, and sits beside me. We talk until the boy leaves and then it’s just him and I and I want to thank him and give language to my fear, my relief, but I don’t. I don’t want to cause any trouble.
FORD: I am terrified.
I tell my professor and two other classmates – a boy and a girl – what happened in the market. They are outraged and guilty and worried and want to know if I’m fine. I can’t seem to stop laughing. I don’t know how not to make it a joke. It has to be a joke. The boy walks me to my next class, watches as I make it to the entrance of the building, and there are no words to thank him.
I stop running when I hit the middle of the road. I try to scream but I can only force a long, scratchy breath from my heaving lungs. I try and try and try, terror growing with every muted attempt, because if I can just get someone to hear me, I’ll be saved. It never happens in the nightmare – I wake myself up every time after spending an eternity on that street unheard. But if I could just get something out – I don’t know what would happen.
KAVANAUGH: You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit. Never.
Lyrics from “The Dark I Know Well” from Spring Awakening, “The Alien” and “The Gold” by Manchester Orchestra, and “The Pit” by Sileversun Pickups.