As Bad As She Says

TRIGGER WARNING: This piece contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

I am exhausted. No. Nauseous. Smoldering. Sitting, reclined all the way back in my car seat, trying to breathe. I am in the parking lot of Pet Smart. Because I can’t move. I have been rendered completely helpless. My chest cavity hurts. My rib cage feels too small, my bra too tight. My stomach is twisted in knots. My breathing is shallow and tight in my throat. After reading my President’s tweet of earlier this morning –

– I had the most visceral, explosive, emotional reaction that terrified both husband and dog. Gasping for air, pounding on the table, sobbing. And then I realized I had an appointment to take the dog to the groomer.  

And so I did. 

I took my dog to the groomer.  

Who the fuck cares if my dog is clean? No one. No one cares that my dog is clean. I’ve also learned that a large portion of people wouldn’t care if I had been raped. Particularly, if I didn’t follow the organized, clinical procedurals suggested by people who clearly have never been sexually assaulted.

I have not been raped. I have been assaulted. And I didn’t share the details of those events until long after they happened. And I never “filed charges.” Because of fear. Because of self-judgement. Because I was at risk of losing a job by disclosing. And what if it wasn’t “bad enough?” Bad enough for people to agree with me that what had occurred was Bad. Bad enough for official paperwork filing—the international sign for deep caring!

When you are someone who has been hearing how “sensitive” and “emotional” you are from the time you could string together sentences and memories, and you are savvy enough to glean that these things are not said as a form of flattery, you learn to edit yourself. To withhold. When you are raised as a female in the Catholic church, a strong sense of guilt and shame are showered on you almost immediately after the baptismal waters on your fuzzy head have dried.

I also had “loving parents” (who were indeed loving). The first time I was groped and fondled, I was working in a hotel dining room where my manager would creep up on me from behind, at the register. Put his hands on my waist. Kiss my neck. Play with my hair. Rub his pelvis against my backside when he slid behind me at the tight corner that was the hostess station. This gem of a fella also told me that I needed to wear makeup, because our guests were paying enough for waffles and eggs that they deserved some lipstick and mascara on the girl bringing them their breakfast. (At 16, I didn’t actually own mascara.)

He was a friend of my father’s. That’s how I got the job. I never told my father. Why? Because I was 16. Scared. Uncomfortable. The manager was a powerful personality, active in the community, respected. In a “he said/she said” situation, I thought my dad would have believed him over me.

For those of you who know me, I’m sure this seems out of character. I am an extrovert. Outspoken. Brassy, loud and not easily put-off or embarrassed. But there was another reason I didn’t say anything: he did it to ALL the women at work. It was completely normalized. I worked with two friends, who were peers, and we talked about it. Complained about it. To each other. We accepted it as Fact. Part of the infrastructure. Part of the culture at the job. So, our solution was to keep mobile. We were careful not to stand still for too long. We would occasionally run each other’s block with him.

Mr. Pervy Von Dining Room was just my first groper. I could tell you about my adventures in college, or my adventures in Los Angeles, but it’s all just variations on the same theme. Same tune, different words. But louder, with a more aggressive sound system. And in Los Angeles, there were higher stakes because I wasn’t living in the safety of my parents’ home in Freedom, NH. I was trying to make a living as an actress in Los Angeles, 3,000 miles away. Culturally, it was like moving to the other side of the universe. People smiled when they lied, everyone was 20 minutes late, for everything, drivers freaked out and cancelled plans whenever it rained, and on at least three separate occasions, I went on meetings that I thought were legit, career-shifting meetings, but turned out to be dates. What does one do with that? I was finally in meetings with people who could help develop my work, my career, and they didn’t want a “tight 5” standup set or the first draft of my original pilot script, they wanted sex. So, how do you DO that meeting? 

“Before we start talking I just want to let you know there is no way we are ever having sex.” 

Yes! Great start. That meeting will be as smooth as fresh hockey ice. For sure.

Or I could just pretend it’s a normal meeting, as I wished it to be. I could just talk and talk, until they tried to touch or kiss me, and THEN I drop the hammer of professionalism? 

Would they think I was being coy? Would they feel angry because I had wasted their time? 

Which is better? 

Or maybe I could forge a stable friendship and slide out of the situation with a quick A-frame hug and a cheery (but not flirty!) – “we should do this again soon, buddy!” – hoping it will somehow resolve itself before we planned a follow-up “meeting,” where something professional might (maybe hopefully possibly?!) happen? 

If I filed a charge, who would I have filed with? The police? The Screen Actors Guild? The heads of the studios that these men worked for? Had I done any of those things, of course, those meetings would have had the exact opposite effect of their intended purpose. Career killing instead of career growth. 

In L.A. where these kinds of occurrences are a dime a dozen these became anecdotes to whip out at parties. A circle of women one-upping each other with horror stories of career-related sexual dominance that we had to make funny, or else why the fuck where we even there?

Today, I am a 45 year-old woman, sitting in a car, furiously tiny finger-tip typing on my phone, trying to remember to breathe, while I unleash the hurt, the fury, the bottomless horror I feel that the President of the United States, the President of my country, just demonstrated with a single tweet that it is acceptable to discount other human beings’ pain—to humiliate them, really, on the most public of stages, for not having the wherewithal to file charges after they have been traumatized. 

“…if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed…”

Again: 

“…if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed…”

Or perhaps she immediately ran home and hid. Pretended it didn’t happen. Hid it from her parents. From herself. So she didn’t have to relive it.

Talk about it. 

Blame herself for it.

Or maybe she sat in her car. In a parking lot. And waited for her dog to get groomed. Trying to breathe. Wondering if what happened to her was really as bad as she thought it was.

It’s been two hours. I guess I’ll go in and get the dog.

anna cranage conathan

6 thoughts on “As Bad As She Says”

  1. Anna….you are a poet with your words. I venture to say we all know a “Pervy”. The burning, nauseous feeling that immediately returns us to THAT place, that time, that age. It fuels our rage, as we listen to this man, who is beyond reproach, vilify the victim. In his nasty, sneering, beyond reproach way. The voice of generations who can make you, the victim, silenced. The voice of insinuation, confidence, and conquer. Your story, our story, the stories I cannot yet tell, those are why we speak. Those stories are for the future. Only the brave and strong make change. I send you immense love be for being both brave and strong. I’m proud of you. Your story is so important. Shine on, my fierce friend.

    Like

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