I don’t remember the name of the colleague who almost strangled me. Not his first name. Not his last. I remember he had a wrestler’s body and that he could vault like a gymnast over the couch on the set of the play we were in. I remember that he had me pinned to the front seat of my car before I knew what hit me.
I don’t remember what year it was. I don’t remember the name of the play. What I remember is the pressure of his thumbs pressing hard into my windpipe. Come with me to my place. You have to come with me to my place now, he said. I could barely muster enough breath to dissent.
I watched Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. I watched Kavanaugh’s.
Christine Blasey Ford walked into an environment where she knew no one except the small coterie of lawyers, her husband, and a few people she’d brought with her. She was in a room mostly populated by men talking about being sexually assaulted. About how she’d feared for her life. A hazy story with many of its details lost to memory’s inherent failings while other details had drilled themselves into her being. The bedroom. Her bathing suit.
I don’t remember everything I was wearing the night I was almost strangled. What I remember is a black silk shirt, soaked with sweat and fear.
I don’t remember how I drove myself home after I was able to talk my assailant out of his plan. What I do remember is that my boyfriend dissuaded me from taking any action. The police won’t do anything, he said. It would be your word against his.
Dr. Ford suffers from anxiety. Check. She suffers from claustrophobia. Check. She’s afraid to fly. Check. Flying is anxiety and claustrophobia combined. I need an aisle seat. Near the front or the rear of the cabin. I need booze. I need the strange man sitting next to me not to touch me. Not his leg against my leg. Not his arm against mine. I need more booze. I need something completely engaging to read. Preferably something somewhat terrifying. Though not something terrifying about flying. Terror to cure terror. A weird homeopathy.
Bret Kavanaugh was in his element. Washington. Familiar faces. Scores of men ready to believe him, rooting for him, the esteemed federal judge. Yet he came in full of bluster and protest. He would not or could not answer many questions directly. I might believe that he believes that he did not attack Dr. Ford. But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t attack her. In the best case scenario I can imagine, the Bret Kavanaugh of then and the Bret Kavanaugh of now don’t know one another.
Some things must be pushed to memory’s deep dark places if you want to survive. Some things are easy to remember. Some are easy to forget. People question what you don’t remember and confuse it with what you want to forget.
A couple of years after, I was almost strangled, I was raped. I remember his first name. Jerry. He was a pillar of the community. Fatherly. A family man. We’d just met. He was the Pepsi bottler sponsoring the traveling show I was in. Maybe it was South Bend. Maybe Indianapolis. I don’t remember the name of the hotel. I’ll walk you to your room, Jerry said. With a shove, he was inside. Another shove, and he was on top of me. You know you want it, he said. You know you want it—until he was through.
I didn’t want it. I wanted my job. I wanted the money I was making. I wanted my success. I remember what I wanted and what I didn’t want.
You must be mistaken, people say. Rising star. Don’t ruin his career. Don’t ruin his family. So we are the ones who are ruined. Senators tearing off our clothes. Orrin Hatch holding us down. Lindsey Graham’s hand over our mouths. Chuck Grassely’s thumbs pressing into our windpipes.
There are so many of us. So many survivors, telling our stories for the first time. Terror to cure terror. Voices to give voice. Every time a woman speaks, another woman will speak. I have to believe that story by story, vote by vote, jail sentence by jail sentence, impeachment by impeachment, change will push its way forward.
Denise Emanuel Clemen’s fiction and essays have appeared in the Georgetown Review (including an honorable mention for their prize,) Literary Mama, The Rattling Wall, Knee-Jerk, Chagrin River Review, New Plains Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Serving House Journal, Sand Hill Review, and many others. Fellowships include the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, Ragdale Foundation, and Denise was an Auvillar fellow in France in 2009. Her memoir, Birth Mother, was published by SheBooks in 2014.