This last week I have been more on edge than I usually feel in my safe suburban world of being a mom to three and a wife to one. I can’t turn on the TV, radio, phone, or computer without seeing an article about a new scandal involving the Republican candidate for president and the increasing number of women accusing him of unwanted sexual advances.
As it is whenever a powerful man is accused of sexual misconduct, the people charged with defending him question how a woman can be believed when the incident in question happened years, or even decades ago? How can anyone remember that far back?
At 51 my memory isn’t what it once was. I have a hard time remembering which kid I have to pick up where, and that I just made hamburger for dinner on Monday so nobody is going to want it on Wednesday. But there are a few things I can recall as if they happened yesterday.
I remember the feeling of being a 25-year-old woman on a packed subway car on my way home from work and feeling a man’s weight against me. Was this just because we were in a crowded car, or was something else going on? I put it out of my mind and didn’t think about it until I saw my mother, and she wanted to know what sort of stain was on the back of my coat. I felt humiliated and shame even though I did nothing but take a subway home from work.
I remember being a 28-year-old married woman, sitting in the front of the office at the reception desk. A visiting banker struck up a conversation, then suddenly came over to my side of the desk and started rubbing my shoulders. He asked me what I was going to be doing that night. I didn’t want to be rude, so I just smiled, got up from my desk to ostensibly get a cup of coffee and let him know I was meeting my husband for dinner. I told one of my coworkers, and I never had to deal with the creep again. But I did wonder if I did something to let him think I was open to that type of advance.
And, I vividly remember the night I was attacked. I was a 21-year-old young woman, walking home one night after going out with a girlfriend. Kay offered to wait with me while I got a cab, but the weather was so nice I decided to walk the 10 blocks to my apartment.
As I was walking I noticed a group of about seven or eight young guys a block ahead of me. I chided myself for being alarmed at their presence. They had a right to be out, just like I did. I continued to walk, faster now. I looked over my shoulder and noticed they were gone. See, I knew I was being silly. But I decided that since the streets were now completely empty, I should get a cab anyway.
While I stood at a corner waiting for a cab, I saw a young man at the crosswalk across from me. I thought it was strange that he was crouched down. He was moving his foot in a bull like gesture. As I was trying to process this he charged at me, knocked me off balance, and grabbed my purse.
I was stunned, and shouted out, “Hey, you took my purse.” With that another guy came at me from behind, grabbed me, and pulled me away from the curb.
Thirty years later I can remember the strength of his arms holding me down and his hands all over me. I struggled and grabbed at a piece of scaffolding. I then screamed my head off.
The deserted street suddenly came alive, and the guy ran away. I was beyond scared, and somewhat hysterical. An older man in a car stopped and told me to get in so we could find them. Stunned I almost got into his car, and then said, “How do I know you aren’t going to hurt me?” He pulled away and two guys who were visiting the city came up and put me in a cab. They wanted to take me to the police station, but I insisted I just wanted to go home. They rode with me to my apartment building and walked me up to my doorman.
I cried all the way home, not about what happened, but because my one and only hairbrush was in my purse. How was I going to go to work the next day if I couldn’t brush my hair?
I felt guilty and foolish for wanting to walk alone at night. I had lived in the city for over three years, I knew better.
I have always felt grateful that nothing more serious happened to me. After all, I have friends that have had to endure much more violent attacks. But each one of these incidents did make me feel a bit less safe in the world and had me doubting my own role in what happened.
As for the recent events in the presidential campaign, we may never really know what happened. People are innocent until proven guilty. But I take exception to the blanket idea that a woman wouldn’t be able to vividly remember an incident that happened years ago. Women never forget some of the things men do.