Of triggers and memories: the Kavanaugh nomination and a flood of memories

I’d like to introduce you to David, Marshall, and a doctor whose name I’ve long suppressed.

I’ll start with David because that story is easier to tell, at least it is now, some 25 years since I met him. He was the graduate advisor at the university where I completed my PhD. From the very first time I met him, he was aggressive and harassing. He told me my family would be ashamed of me if I chose some path I was considering then that I’ve completely forgotten now. Safe to say it was a choice about a course I wanted to take or not take and not about a desire to drown kittens.

During my four years at the institution, David kissed me on the lips twice (against my will) and rubbed the inside of my thigh with his hand underneath my skirt. I never told anyone, until four or five years later when he was coming up for full professor. A friend told me that she was writing a letter to tell the university about the abuse she had suffered at his hands. It was oddly comforting to know I wasn’t the only one. I wrote a letter, too, detailing my experiences.

David was promoted to full professor and none of us who wrote letters were ever contacted. That wasn’t entirely surprising because just a few years before, Anita Hill testified before Congress and Clarence Thomas ascended to the Supreme Court.

David died a few years ago, and I felt sick to my stomach reading the glowing remembrances that traveled around Facebook about him from some of my grad school colleagues.

Marshall was an entirely different beast. He was a peer of mine at college, studying for the ministry. He asked me on a date and I went. At the end of the date, he turned to kiss me and I declined, so he unzipped his pants and tried to unzip mine. I struggled so much that he managed to only masturbate against me.

I ran from the car, told my RA and not another soul. Marshall went back to his dorm and told everyone there that we had sex that night.

The doctor is a harder story to tell, a degree of magnitude more traumatic. I was in college, had a period that wouldn’t stop and went to the doctor. My mom said if they would not prescribe hormones without a pelvic exam to come home and she would go with me to her doctor so I wouldn’t be alone for my first pelvic.

This doctor had different ideas. When I told him I didn’t want a pelvic exam, he chided me and had his nurse hold me down. They muscled me into position and then the doc told me he didn’t want to do a vaginal exam because then I “would no longer be a virgin.” So he did the exam anally. It felt like his entire hand was inside me.

I can still remember the nurse’s body across my chest as she held my arms down. Her face was very close to mine and she said, “Stop crying.”

Icing on the cake, he prescribed four birth control pills. Not four months worth, four pills. And he told me they wouldn’t protect me from pregnancy.

My mom did take me to her doctor, and he was livid, though seemingly more about the ridiculous and medically stupid prescription than about the assault.

I am writing about these experiences not because they are so awful, though they are to me. I’m writing because they’re so common. For every woman who tells her story/ies, there are dozens who never breathe a word. I have no problem with women choosing to not tell their stories. They own them and can do with them what they will. Their stories are not in service to anyone.

I do, however, want people to know, especially men, that thousands of us walk around carrying these memories. When #metoo began, for me the memories were stirred up again. With the Kavanaugh nomination, the memories are a flood.

I guess i want to record that these things happened. I want people to know that sometimes I still feel shame, that I often wonder why I wasn’t worth more. I wonder why women in general aren’t worth more in this culture.

When I write about having trouble with doctors, this is the main reason why. It has taken me years of therapy and lots of medication to find some peace with docs since being diagnosed with cancer. In fact, cancer prompted me to begin the work.

For all of the horror of both assaults, it’s the more banal harassment that stays with me. I remember most viscerally the feeling of David’s hand on the inside of my thigh, a tingle on my skin and a scream suppressed in my throat.

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