NOW AND THEN

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I apologize to people who will see no point in reading this post. There is no point in reading this post.

I have been trying to think of other things, to focus on the good I know is everywhere around, and to remember that I am a fortunate person. I am the oldest in my family and a woman, and the men in my life are almost entirely good people, kind and decent and loving people. I am trying to remember that times have changed.

When I was a freshman in college, a man in the house behind me was molesting his daughter (“Please Daddy, no.”). The police advised me to call the public health nurse in downtown. It was late at night. The police would not come. They said there was nothing they could do. Maybe they did come but could do nothing to the man. It’s hard to remember. They did not accuse me of making up my story for political reasons.

It was 1970. It was probably October, forty-eight years ago. I can only pin down the date that far because I have thought it through so many times over the years. It was while I lived in the View Ridge house before I was laid off from work in the record store at Northgate and caught the flu and moved back home with my parents even before my first college term ended. So I might still have been 17 years old. Or maybe it was right after my October birthday.

In a fit of desperation and fear, one night, listening to that child cry, I ran around the block on the wet sidewalks and confronted the man. I was barefoot. I could describe the house, the front door, how naked my knuckles felt knocking on his door, what the man was wearing when he answered it, the expression on his face when he said, “Who are you?” He looked around behind me to see who else was there. Just me. I was terrified. I felt like a fool. I feared he would follow me home and hurt me. Cowardice. Impotence.

For many years, this terrible mix of self-blame and fear did not connect to carrying keys splayed between my fingers when I walked across campus or to hiding from people who crossed my path in the dark. Or to my own experience on the playground when I was a little girl (I never told) or to an explosive overreaction when a boy trapped me against a counter in my junior year of high school (was that overreaction?), the men who exposed themselves to me, the physical therapist who made lewd suggestions (that was recent), or my embarrassment trying to report a man who chose to masturbate beside me in an otherwise empty college lecture hall when I was 18 (“Well, if you’re scared,” he’d jeered as I ran away).

I was young then. And now I am old. I did not even have words to describe what I experienced then. I still prefer not to think about it now.

Nobel Peace Prize for anti-rape activists Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege

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