If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.
Sexually harassed or assaulted. I imagine all women can say “me too” to the first. I don’t think too hard, or try to consult my memory under the “traumatic incidents involving boys and men who felt entitled to my body” file, and they come without work. Just the word…harassed…and I’m looking at my hands in my lap on a train. It’s 1997. My pants are black. My hair is hanging, bright pink daggers at the edges of my periphery. My entire right side is being invaded by a fungus, the nucleus of which has a papery mouth and silvery tongue dripping with poison, smelling like whiskey. He must be 80, at least. He believes, due to the pink hair, and because I’m alone on a train from New Jersey into the city, that I am a prostitute. I am 16. He asks me to exit with him at Penn Station, tells me he’s able, not to worry about that, he can pleasure women my age. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to say. When the ticket taker appears in our car I plead with my eyes. Next stop, two women board and take a seat across from us. As he paws at me, and smacks his lips and begs for a kiss, I am not thinking or seeing, but hoping they notice and find something odd about us. They never do. I remember staring out the window at the words “Penn Station” when the train lurched to a stop and fixating on it, refusing to look his way or respond to his urging. He snarls and says something about “the nasty whore” but is gone.
It’s the year 2001, before the towers fell. I’m 19 and it’s a beautiful spring day. I’m in the back of a taxi cab crossing Central Park. I’m off work, so is my friend from high school, we’re headed to his apartment for a bite. I sit on his mattress in his bedroom as he changes, my head turned, eyes aimed at the wall and talking, when he is suddenly naked kneeling beside me, and I’m shocked and tears are my only response and shaking my head and saying no, no, no and he says “Lauren, you’re killing my boner” then finally “this isn’t going to work.” Later, he left messages on my parent’s machine that graphically depicted how he would kill me, which I guess is recompense for murdering his dick in its moment of splendor.
These two are extreme versions of the harassment I’ve endured because we all know there were some “pretty years” and I got fairly accustomed to the please-baby-pleases and the what-you-don’t-like-mes. They’re harassment-unto-assault, or almost-assault, but there are two that I consider assault-assault…
The first happened in late 1995. I was locked out of my mom’s apartment. I wandered around the complex. I had no money. I could have walked to the IHOP and asked to use the phone, but wasn’t sure who to call. I knocked on a friend of a friend’s door. He answered and seemed taller suddenly, with a dark aura; his eyes scared me. He had people over. They were all men. They were passing around a bong shaped like a skull. I didn’t know what a bong was at the time. I knew enough to know it was drug-related and slinked in, sat inside their circle, silently refused the skull, then asked if I could take a nap in the friend of the friend’s bed. I woke up to him standing above me, pants-less. The rest is painful. I grew up in a conservative religious tradition and didn’t know much about my own body’s sexual parts or functions. I didn’t know this is how it worked. I didn’t know it was supposed to hurt like you were being pulled apart. I didn’t know, for a long time, this was actually rape.
The second happened in 2002, after a show in Houston. I drove my friend and I back to my house-I’d met him a year earlier through the band he managed. He would be leaving the next day. We were giggling at 2am in my bedroom; I remember my ears were ringing. I remember he put his hat on my head and took a polaroid of me holding up a peace sign. Then he asked if I wanted to split a xanax with him so we could sleep, a trick he’d developed from years on tour; I said sure.
It took years for me to acknowledge: he didn’t give me xanax.
I don’t remember what happened between swallowing it and waking up the next morning wondering where my clothes went or why he was suddenly very quiet as I drove him to the greyhound bus station. I thought I must be sensitive to xanax, and maybe I did something outrageous…(where had my clothes gone)…was he mad at me?…had we…? We said our awkward goodbyes and after a year of calling me from the road every few days, I never heard from him again.
Years later, when I struggled with postpartum anxiety and a dr. prescribed xanax to take as needed I told her oh, I can’t…I’ll just…lose consciousness. She assured me it was a normal dose. So I took a third. It did nothing. I took half, nothing. On a full xanax tablet, I could still function, and it was THEN-in 2009, that I realized.
I looked him up on facebook. He’s successful, doing what he always wanted. 1995 has a family. 2001 lives in Hawaii and teaches yoga. 1997 is dead, surely, but I imagine it happened surrounded by the kids and their kids he mentioned in his slurring about how long he’d been virile.
All these many years and therapists later, I believe-I do! Not even that deeply! -they were all my fault. I should not have been there. I should not have been so friendly. I should have said something to the women across the aisle. I should have taken my parent’s answering machine tape to the police. I should have let my idiot “friend” pay for a hotel and a cab and why would I have swallowed a pill someone offered?
I don’t believe, but I tell myself as I would any woman who can say “me too”: you did not ask for it. You did not ask to be violated at 15, in a way you barely understood at the time. You did not ask to be solicited on a train. You did not ask your “friend” to expose himself and only fail to rape you when his penis didn’t cooperate. You did not ask your other “friend” to drug you and then do something your memory redacted and you’ll never know. And because you did not ask, and no human on earth WOULD ask these things, you cannot be culpable. No one asks to have their home broken into, and if they freeze as the invader digs through their belongings, if they don’t fight or scream or run, no one blames them. And no one blames the house that is rummaged through and desecrated. And you are more important than any house.