It changed my life. I became a different person. I pushed away people. I pulled away from friends. I thought of myself differently. I valued myself less. I made bad decisions. I did stupid things. At the time, I did not even realize why I was doing those things but in retrospect, it is clear to me now. It took time — a long time — before I realized that while what happened to me that night changed me, it did not define me. Now, I can usually reject the shame and embrace my anger.
Several years ago when I worked in downtown Little Rock, I saw Brian* in a crosswalk as I was driving to my office building. I immediately began to sweat. The hairs on my neck stood up and I got dizzy — woozy even. I ducked my head down low as he passed in front of my car. I silently prayed he wouldn’t turn my way. That he wouldn’t catch my eye. And that if he did, he wouldn’t recognize me. As soon as he cleared the front of my car, I felt myself exhale lingering shame as I sped away. It had been years since that night in the yard and I was now a successful, happily married lawyer. And yet, once I got to my office, I shut the door behind me and sobbed.
Shame does crazy things to people.
I decided to tell my #metoo story, in part, because just the other day, his face popped up on a friend’s Facebook post. The post asked people to share two photos of them with their significant other — one in the year they met and one current photo. I scrolled through the comments happily looking for some familiar faces and suddenly, there he was again. As with the day in the crosswalk, it literally took my breath away. I nearly dropped my phone. Tears immediately stung my eyes and I found myself pushing down a ball of dread in my stomach as I forced myself to examine his second photo; a photo in which he stood proudly beside a smiling blond while clutching a toddler in his arms– he now has a son.
My monster — the one who changed my life and led me on a downward spiral of shame, humiliation, and self-doubt and destruction – the one who to the rest of the world has always appeared to be a nice guy — that monster now has a son. There really are no words for what I felt in that moment but perhaps panic is close. I had to quickly click away from the photo — it was too much.
As I attempt, once again, to balance my anger and my shame, I wondered what he will tell his son about consent. About me? Or the others? Over the years, I’ve become convinced there were others. He was too blasé about what happened to me for there not to have been others. Will he talk about us at all? I wonder if one day he will secretly confess his crimes to his son. They were and are crimes. I wonder if he will beg his son to not repeat his mistakes. A less hopeful side of me wonders instead, if one day he’ll teach his son his ways. When his son comes of age, will he tell him to always be the “nice guy” who takes drunk girls home? Because perhaps, even after all this time, it was not rape in his eyes.
Is my monster raising another one?
I do not know what what he’ll tell his son, but I do know what I will tell my daughter about him and about that night. I’ll tell her the truth. I’ll tell her that affirmative consent matters. Every time. I’ll tell her that she should be smarter than I was but in no way, shape, or form does that excuse rape or sexual assault. I’ll tell her to always have a sober, female friend to get her home. I’ll tell her that she can always call me. I’ll tell her that not all men are monsters but that some monsters parade around as good men. I’ll tell her that you never get over the anger you have when sexual assault or rape happens to you. Or the shame. Or the pain. I’ll tell her that it sticks with you — that you have to come back to it continually whether it is with your future partner or your OBGYN. It never truly leaves you.
And then I’ll tell her that as a society, we are working on it. And now, I’ll be able to tell her that I spoke out and told my story too. I’ll tell her that I voted for politicians who do not blame women and who refuse to sweep things like this under the rug. I’ll tell her that no one deserves to be a victim — and I’ll tell her that though it has taken me years to even admit it to myself — I know that I did not deserve what happened to me.
I am raising a force to be reckoned with…
And one day, should I be lucky enough to have a son, I know what I will tell him. I’ll tell him that affirmative consent matters. Every time. I’ll tell him that he has a duty to speak out — to call out his male peers on the slightest type of predatory behavior. He’ll know that women aren’t delicate flowers, but I’ll tell him that it isn’t fair that young females aren’t allowed to go out, to be young and stupid and to make mistakes like their male counterparts. I’ll tell him that a heavy weight rests on his shoulders but that the weight is really a blessing. That weight means that his generation can end the culture that perpetuates such acts against women.
It has to end. For me. For my daughter. For yours. For his son. For our sons. For us all.
It has to end.
*Brian is not this individual’s real name.