Most People Are Good–My Cincinnati Airport Miracle

My plane from Charlotte NC had landed about fifteen minutes ago. I was back in Cincinnati where I’m staying for a few weeks. Pulling my little carry-on, I got to within 20 yards of the parking garage where I left my car 36 hours earlier when my brain exploded with the realization that I did not have my computer. It was not hanging, in its case, from my shoulder where it belonged. I was slammed by the white flood of horrible awareness that wants to be denial. You know that feeling? My mind fell to its knees wailing, “NNNNOOOOOooooooooooo!”

But my (tired) body raced back into the airport. I headed to the first official-looking person I saw. It turns out she is called an “airport ambassador” and she has a magic telephone. But though she used the phone to seek help for me, none was forthcoming. It was while I was standing there with her, waiting for a call-back from the security guard who was going to look in the women’s room—and I explained exactly which one it was and how it was on the right side, just after the first moving walkway coming from gate B22—that I realized the case was not in the women’s room.

“The train!” I exclaimed in a voice squeaky with panic and hollow with disbelief. By now 25 minutes (at least) had passed, and my on-flight, post-job interview sense of well-being and exhaustion was completely washed away by adrenaline spiked by cortisol. “I had it on the train!” How could I explain to the utterly baffled ambassador that for almost a half hour immediately after getting off the train, I had forgotten I was even on the train? The human mind is maddening.

Now I remembered. I was so tired, I’d decided to take that little tram/train—which I normally eschew in favor of walking and the cool moving sidewalks. My daughter called while I was aboard the zippy little train, and I missed the announcement that we’d reached the destination—near ground transportation. The only other person on the train got off and I leaped off too, in the nick of time, before the doors closed and the train would return to the gates.

That’s when the computer case became a distant artifact lost in the Cincinnati airport, without my realizing it. I begged the ambassador armed with The Phone to find out if I could go back to look? Somehow? With a security guard? Please?

Finally, after another call or two with her not-so-magic phone, she said it was time for her to go home. She informed me that the American Airlines personnel upstairs at the ticketing counter could give me a pass to go beyond the checkpoint.

Not so.

I went upstairs and the woman at the counter told me what my good sense already knew. “No, we cannot give you a pass to go back.” (Implied: you poor deluded woman.) She explained very kindly that it was very likely someone would turn it in to security and tomorrow Lost and Found would contact me. “This happens often. People usually do the right thing.”

It was at that moment that I realized: my wallet was in the computer case.

No kidding. I’d forgotten that too. Why? Am I fucking senile or something? No, I swear. But my brain, like yours, is a creature of habit. I never—and I mean never—put my wallet in that bag. But in the interests of traveling light, I had not brought a purse, and so, in addition to my computer, the case held both wallet and hairbrush. The really essential things.

At this point I was vividly pre-living the next 24 hours in my mind. Cancelling all my credit cards. Trying to think of all the websites that my computer remembers my passwords for. My bank, for example. Why hadn’t I used a good password to protect my computer instead of the word “peace” which is probably second only to “love” as a non-birthday password among the hippie/shaman/gluten-free set.

“People are good,” I kept telling myself. “People are kind. People usually do the right thing.”

The airline lady—Traci—looked at me with great compassion but her hands seemed tied. I said, “Do you think that, somewhere in this airport, there is a person who would just go peek on that train?” She looked at me and said, “You know what? I’ll go.”

“C’mon,” she said. I followed her down the escalator. “You stand here and just watch people coming through.” She pointed to where travelers poured out from the American arrivals gates. She used the secret employee passage and said she’d be right back. I stood there paralyzed with the intensity of my hope, and stared at every man, woman, and baby stroller that passed me on the way to their cars, Ubers, and waiting grandmothers.

Then I glanced at the security guard. You know, the guy who sits at a little desk/kiosk thing at the end of the tunnel? His job is probably pretty boring. He was chatting with someone. That’s when I noticed a black strap—suspiciously like a computer bag strap—dangling down from the shelf of the desk/kiosk behind him. “Sir!” I burst out, my voice cracking. “Is that…” He looked at me, eyebrows raised. “Is that,” I pointed, “a computer case?”

He turned, grabbed my case and said, “Someone found it on the tram. I don’t know if there’s a computer in it…”

I did not even mind his lame attempt at a joke. “It’s mine! OH MY GOD IT’S MINE!”

The hot flood was back but it was such a happy flood this time. “I can prove it. My wallet is inside.” He unzipped the case, peeked, zipped it and said, “Yup. This is yours.”

I must have looked like I was about to stroke out because he said, “Breathe! It’s okay. Breathe. Just breathe, lady.”

A no-man’s-land divided us. A line painted on the floor near him kept him in his spot, and a wide strip, on which the toes of my boots shuffled impatiently, said, “DO NOT CROSS THIS LINE.” Six feet divided us. “You come to me,” he said with an authoritative nod.

Grabbing the case to my chest like a recently ransomed infant, I thanked him 63 times. “Just so you know,” I explained, “I’ll be waiting here until Traci from American comes back. She’s looking for this.” I raised the case as exhibit A, as if there would be any confusion. “I need to thank her.”

Not even a minute later, Traci emerged from the employee hallway with a dejected “I didn’t find it” look on her face. I waved like a madwoman, swinging the computer case around like a total fool. “I got it!”

She rushed to me, and we embraced—a genuine, full body, arms tight embrace of joy and solidarity. “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” she kept saying. We pulled back, grinned into each other’s faces, and embraced again. “I’m so happy for you!”

“Most people do the right thing!” I said, nearly weeping. “People are good. Really, really good!”

As she hustled back to the escalator and the end of her shift, she called back, “Yes! They are!”

 

Note: I am neither deluded nor stupid, but I do believe that most people are good. We cannot forget this, despite the palpable evidence that there are, in fact, people who callously do evil on a daily basis, using their power to increase their privilege and to disenfranchise, belittle, ignore, mock, bully, and harm others. Remember that you are good. And I am good. And the person who turned in my computer is good. And Traci is good. And millions more who can take our planet and our country back from the ones who are not. Don’t give up. #resist

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PWITP: Women, Empowerment, and Purpose

What gives you hope? For me, today, May of 2018, it’s the same thing that has boosted my flagging optimism for the last 12+ months. It’s a movement, a mission, a project called Putting Women in Their Place and it’s the brainchild of my very own sister, Megan Park.

And it’s fucking brilliant.

Let’s look at a few brief facts.

Without overstating the blatantly obvious, one of the (many) reasons the current government holding power in DC is seriously compromised is that it doesn’t actually represent Americans. In a democracy, the idea is that the government is supposed to be representational. Meaning every American citizen can register to vote and can actually get to a voting booth without obstruction. Meaning that the people voted into power actually represent their interests. Thus, the concept goes, our elected officials won’t screw over the poor in favor of the one percent. They won’t systematically reverse legislation that, after years and decades of fighting and struggle, guarantees the rights of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ. They won’t deny scientific evidence of climate change in order to ensure profits for the oil companies lining their pockets.

A democracy means that those in power won’t compromise the free press and lie in order to push through legislation that serves only them. It means that they are voted into office legally and ethically, without the intervention of a foreign power and the corrupt inner circle who greased the wheels for that to happen.

And to put it bluntly: 51% of the country’s population is women, and only 19% represent us in congress. 18% of the population is African American but only 9% of Congress is black. 17% of the country is Hispanic or Latino/a but only 7% of Congress is. And 10% of the citizenry is LGBTQ but only half of 1% of the people allegedly representing their interests in Congress is L, G, B, T, or Q. That is not representation.

And what about governors? Just as one example, women are sitting governors in only 6 out of 50 states. If I’m doing my math right, shouldn’t that number be closer to 25.5? And it’s not as if they are running for office in equal numbers and simply not being elected. They are not running. The system, is still and has always been, rigged. Society as we know it is still, and has always been, rigged.

So what’s a gal to do?

I was feeling so helpless. Not just in the days after the 2016 presidential election, but as I read the news reports day after day as our precious, gorgeous democracy began to look more and more like tyranny, or at the very least, a corporate oligarchy. And then there were the legislators defending the NRA as more children are gunned down in schools. And the golf trips of the president on my dime. And the hateful and persistent misogyny and racism. Imagine… the man holding the highest office in the land sticking up for sexual predators and Nazis.

Helpless is a bad feeling. My sister, Megan Park, didn’t like that feeling either. She said to herself, “If the system is rigged… we gotta unrig it.”

Megan explains the “trickle up theory” that fills the pipeline with women from the bottom… up.

 

She and her business partner have a company, Little Sprig, that makes videos. That’s what they do. They know how to tell a hell of a story. Her lightbulb moment was a good one. She knew what she could do to enact real change.

She would make free campaign videos for any progressive woman running for office. How does someone get elected to the highest office of the land? One way is for a candidate to have no experience or credentials and to buy and bribe and cheat his way into office. Another way—the way most often used in this country through history—is to start at the beginning. As town supervisor. Local circuit judge. Sheriff. District Attorney. And do good. Represent the people. And get elected to the state senate, or as mayor. Eventually, to Congress, or as a senator, a governor…

From the courthouse to the state house to the White House—that’s how. And there can’t be just one or two—not good odds. The political pipeline must be full of women. Women of every color, faith, heritage, sexual orientation. If we support women all the way into office, the demographics inside every legislature, state capital, and DC’s halls of power will shift across the board.

And that is exactly what PWITP is ensuring. As more and more women step up to run for office –in unprecedented numbers—PWITP is there to help. They’ve already made videos for 65 candidates in 6 states. They made a video for Andrea Jenkins, the first openly transgender black woman to be elected to office in Minnesota. She is City Councilwoman in Minneapolis.

Some of the passionate voters (and one candidate for NY Senate) who came out for PWITP.

Last week, my home was bustling with passionate, intensely committed people. Mostly women, I admit, but not exclusively. I’d invited them to join me on the day before Mother’s Day to hear what Megan had to say about PWITP. Their current project—called the 1000 Video Project—is exactly what it sounds like. They are setting out to make free campaign videos for at least 20 progressive women candidates in every state. 20 x 50 = 1000. PWITP, as Megan says, amplifies the voices of women who want to serve and have the guts to do it.

People left my place that unseasonably chilly evening well-fed, well-informed, truly inspired, and eager to help. This is a real thing that we can do. We can spread the word. We can contribute money as we are able. And we can volunteer, as appropriate.

Go to their website. Sign up. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and share, share, share till they go viral! Tell everyone you know. The future is female.

Please join me in feeling very, very hopeful.

Me with my feminist, empowered, badass sisters.

 

 

 

 

Stranded in C’ville? Checking My Privilege

I arrived in Charlottesville, VA last Monday. One week ago today, in fact. I got almost all the way here under my own steam. In other words, as usual, I drove. But the last 22 miles into town were under the steam of my old friend Annie. She had to fetch me from the automotive garage where I landed ignominiously when my car shuddered to a stop on Highway 29 and whispered, “I’m done.”

Here’s what happened and what I’ve learned.

  • I probably drove a few too many miles after I could feel how unhappy my car was about accelerating from a full stop. Has putting my finger in my ears and singing “LA LA LA LA” ever, EVER been a good strategy?
  • The reason I came down here is pretty basic: I love this place. Did my happiness at being here change because I didn’t have a car to drive around? Especially since I DID have a car to drive around, because Sarah, another awesome friend of mine, literally gave me unfettered access to her Subaru while she recovered from foot surgery and worked from home.But to be honest, I did feel unsettled all week. I mean, I had fun, saw friends, took a walk in a Virginia snowstorm, enjoyed the Festival of the Book, was warm, fed, blessed, and engaged in more great conversations per day than I can count. But I had a hard time sleeping and felt anxious.So what was it? Uncertainty? What was wrong with my car? How much would this cost? When will I have my own wheels back? And a little bit of “Waaah, no fair?” Ew.How on earth could I feel so sorry for myself when I am in one of my favorite places (maybe my favorite place ever), with some of my favorite people, doing some of my favorite things (from nerding out at panels and lectures about books to drinking Virginia wines to basking in C’ville beauty). I’m a spoiled, privileged person who needed to be slapped upside the head. 
  • In case I was not slapped hard enough, this happened: I got my car back Saturday. It took a while for the part to arrive because of the snow. (Note to self, don’t take weather personally as it is definitely not about you.) YAY! I had my car! I was so very VERY excited!

    Hugging my car when I got it back from garage… the first time

    Exclamation point-worthy happiness! I was so psyched that I even had Annie take a picture of me hugging my car before we headed back to town to join the March for Our Lives on the downtown mall. I got away with a car bill less than $500 and I was going to get to head home almost on time.Then my car died again. The poor thing could not make it even 30 miles without suffering terribly and saying, “No, no, I’m sorry but I can’t.”

    Getting towed… round 2.

    Tow truck (money). Wait till Monday (time). Wait till 2 in the afternoon on Monday. (Are you kidding me? I can’t wait anymore! I’m so spoiled and impatient I can barely believe I exist! Put me out of my toe tapping misery!) Then Cranston the mechanic said, “In my professional opinion, I’m afraid you need a … new transmission.” (More money! More time! More lessons! More slaps upside my head!)

Meanwhile, in a land called reality, as I scolded myself every day to be grateful, and was (mostly) successful, the March for Our Lives happened (check out the pix in that link). Record numbers of people at demonstrations all over the country and world. Young people taking to the streets in numbers even greater than during the Vietnam War (social media is the game changer there). I didn’t make it to DC as I’d thought I might, but I marched in C’ville with Annie and Sarah (who was on crutches no less)

March for Our Lives C’ville

and we joined our voices in song and, much more importantly, lent our ears to the students who spoke so eloquently about not wanting to die at school.

And… Writers and scholars, in town for the Festival of the Book, lifted their voices to elevate the conversation around many topics, from the racial history of the country to how to hold onto hope. Poets read their poems of anger and faith. Thoughtful, measured discourse happened. Beautiful words and beautiful ideas.

Perhaps the most moving event I attended was a conversation with Khizr Khan, famous for his speech at the Democratic National Convention and for being insulted by our president.

Khizr Khan in conversation with Douglas Blackmon

His faith in the Constitution of the United States is impassioned and informed. He truly believes that voters will do their job to make radical change in the coming elections, snatching our nation from the brink and from the clutches of racist egoists with no agenda beyond their own self-interest.

In light of his sacrifice, wisdom, and undaunted optimism, I think I can deal with the inconvenience and expense of car trouble while a few hundred miles from home. I’m neither refugee nor victim. Neither disenfranchised nor unemployed. I’m privileged beyond imagining in a world gone mad. I’m grateful that I am here. Grateful I have a car that will be soon fixed. Grateful that I love people and am loved back. Grateful that I can read and write. That I feel joy. Often. That I have a pot of tea even now, sitting by my elbow, and that it comforts and soothes me.

I want to do better.

My week of “hardship” is nothing more than a non-sensical blip on the radar screen of my privilege and, though I’m not done learning, I am glad it slapped me upside the head.

My dear friends Annie and Sarah

 

 

 

 

Virtuality Check (not your typical blog)

I pinch myself. Is this my life? Or am I asleep on a beach having a vivid hallucination-induced dream. Like the convoluted geographically intricate dreams I wake in the middle of. Dreams in which I don’t know where I am, but there is a staircase or a porch. Something specific going somewhere or leading away. It is often made of unlikely objects, like wine crates, or giant pencils the size of barn beams. It seems plausible if a little unsettling, as the dream progresses. Sometimes there are moments of relief, joy, empowerment that explode unexpectedly. Other times I must take flight to escape a predator of uncertain origin, or a horrid dream-world plot twist.

The dream is invariably more real than any idea I might have about the dream. Or anything one might think of as actual, perhaps glimpsed through a curtain of eyelashes: a sun-soaked beach, the blue, distant horizon, a sandpiper at the edge of my beach towel.

But I don’t feel like I’m on a beach. Or otherwise plugged into a matrix of hallucinatory alternative reality. But still. I look around me and I can see the brush strokes in this “real life” and beyond, in the virtual world humans have created. The realm of tweets and counter-tweets, airbrushed, bumpstocked, drydocked, flimflammed reactions, counter-reactions, hyper-reactions to… that’s the part I don’t know.

Who wrote this version? Is there a theme? Is the theme the gradual dissolution of social consciousness and the relentless creation of narcissistically motivated power?

Times like this, other places I’ve been, or lived, seem more real and near than the place I find myself now. This chair, that table, this window, that bank of snow. Where did they come from? The story of their arrival is known to me, but is it known to me because it took place or because my brain trusts it as real? The brain that invented the whole story, perhaps, in a detailed mental construct, a subconscious screenplay, complete with smells and tastes.

The feeling of having my hair brushed and braided by a father dead now many years, a truth that lives even now at the very edge of my scalp’s sensory receptors, is more real to me (sometimes) than the sweat under my breasts as I grunt my way through class at the gym, the smell of my favorite coffee shop, or the talking heads analyzing why no one actually in power wants to do anything about assault rifles in the hands of killers. For example.

What I realize is that my brain, powerful organ that it is, loses its power over reality. I reach out and touch something. You, if only you were here. Or maybe the cat. Or the keyboard. Virtuality check.

My heart is what is left, in the end, to know the difference. To know that the madness “out there” is not “in here” –and never needs to be. We can stay in truth. Or try hard to. That place where the versions intersect and something immutable is imaginable. Conceivable.

A fellow blogger recently reminded me of the Wheel of Fortune—the ever-spinning, ever-rising, ever-falling wheel upon which we can be racked, or whose center we can seek. The seasons will turn with or without me, you, Twitter, Starbucks, or the grid. The sun and the moon will rise and set, and shed their influence, and their light, upon the world, regardless of where on the wheel we are, at the moment.

For the past 24 hours my power has been (mostly) off due to a snow and wind storm. The still place in the center of the maelstrom of 2018—I glimpsed it for a moment in the night when everything was completely dark. The wheel moved slowly, and I could see the spokes as they seemed to float past me in their circling path. But at the center, nothing moved. Head back, to look up at the darkness, I felt maybe, barely, the shifting of that slowly turning hub, but in that moment, I was able stay still and centered and realize, “I exist.”

Love and Righteous Anger: A Personal 2017 Perspective

How 2017 began–women marching.

I love women’s anger. Without realizing it, I’ve been waiting my whole life for women all over the place to finally admit how PISSED they are.

As a child, I was peripherally aware of my mother’s struggles against the entire fabric of society in order to be successful on Madison Avenue, rise in her field, be a divorced woman in the 60s when that meant social ostracism, all the while raising a daughter on her own with literally no support system she didn’t have to pay for.

I was aware of all that through a glass darkly, as I went about my business, blessed by my mother’s visionary decision to put me into a girl’s school where I could just be. But as I grew up watching her closely, as only daughters of single mothers tend to do, it was clear that she was never angry enough. She was too afraid that her anger would be a strike against her in a man’s world, or so I imagine. She swallowed ALL of it.

And then she went crazy. Probably not direct cause and effect, but sure enough, after her psychotic break, the anger was reallllly close to the surface. And who can blame her? The last 25 years of her life were spent paranoid and delusional, it’s true, but her conviction that she was and had long been a victim of countless injustices was based largely on the non-alternative fact that she was a strong, smart woman fully marginalized in a world run by men. Story of the world, right?

But not for much longer. Because we are so very, very pissed. Somehow, the rise of the Trump Machine primed women across our country to take it to the next level. (You notice I don’t say “all women” because there are those women who still vote for guys like Roy Moore, as if inviting men like that to fuck their preteen daughters as long as no one can have an abortion and whites can still get first pick of jobs and neighborhoods and colleges).

First, women marched. And they wasted no time about it. Within two months of the “election” of 2016, millions upon MILLIONS of women (and their kids and a bunch of very cool men, too) mobilized and marched the hell out of DC, NY, Boston, LA, and a many more American towns and cities, and in Europe, and Antarctica too. Yes, that happened. It was magic.

And with the rising up, it was almost as if there was a change in the air we breathe—we humans who breathe air because a woman birthed us to do so. A change in the tone of every moment and the feeling of every “hell no” that gets spoken instead of swallowed…. That rising-up has continued unabated for a year.

And in that year, the #metoo movement powered by empowered women has empowered other women to speak up and fling the truth in the faces of anyone willing (or, frankly, unwilling) to listen. And men are going down, right and left. The predators are slinking off, some of them with stunning lack of grace.

And women are not just marching and speaking their truths, they’re running for office.

Everyone is fully aware of the fact that, in 2018 and 2020, women are going to rise to seats of power like at no other time in history. Badass, go-for-it organizations like Putting Women in Their Place are making sure that happens.

Like so many of my sisters-in-arms, I am pissed and feeling unable to swallow that feeling just so the men around me don’t have to feel fragile and threatened and thus lash out at me and make my life a living hell. There is something to be said for solidarity. It is, truly, empowering

Meanwhile, in a parallel and vivid reality, I met someone. I met a man—one of the thousands of single men within 500 miles of me interested in a relationship with a grown-up woman not 25 years younger than they are. Yes, there are quite a few men who actually like women over 50 (this is good). But this man, you see, fits me. He surprised me. He won my heart. He opened his. I’m getting to know him more every day and, guess what? I’m really happy.

One of the many cool things about this man is that he does not take it personally that women are pissed at men. He has daughters, a sister, a mom, women friends… but guess what? So do most men—yeah, the ones who perpetrate and the ones who apologize for the perpetrators. Just being a person who knows and loves women is not a guarantee that a man will embrace feminism, demand equality for women, or even believe them.

But lucky me.

So what to do with this year of sorry lows and a great big high? Well. Here it is: we can embrace our rage—long overdue—at the system, at the patriarchy, at all the individual men who have power over us (in government, for example), and the individual men who demand we smile, put out, shut up, or who just take what they want without asking. We can embrace that anger, and still love a man.

Postscript: Feb. 25, 2018. Though this relationship, sweet as it was for awhile, did not last, it gave me hope and my position on all the above has not changed.

How 2017 ended.–companionship in the “bed office” morning of the 31st

 

 

 

 

Me Too

He gave me a ride home from a party. He was older. Maybe eight or nine years older. He was a friend of the guys my friends and I were hanging out with that night. Pot-head frat types who played great music and had a big room for dancing in. In our first year of college, my nerdy writer friends and I quickly figured out that going to a few of the less mainstream frat houses was a cheap, jolly way to have fun on a Friday night. At this particular place, we felt comfortable. The guys were not grabby or patronizing. We could hang and dance. We felt safe. They were chill, ya know? And we were innocent. Naïve. Very, very smart, but… not really that smart.

Forty years later and I am still friends with one of those guys, someone I dated for a while, thought I was in love with, maybe even was. But I never told him this thing that I’m now going to post publicly on my blog. I never told anyone until the day in marriage therapy when it bubbled up. I said the words out loud for the first time and my then-husband looked at me, incredulous. Twenty-five years together and I had managed to avoid mentioning that I’d been raped. By a trusted semi-stranger in my own apartment at eighteen, a week into my third semester at UVA.

I spent most of my life telling myself a version of the story in which somehow it was “my first sex” and an inevitable, even normal way to “lose my virginity.”

Normalizing sexual harm, male aggression, female powerlessness—yes. I did that. I participated in the massive cover-up that is our male-privilege normative society. I did not want to admit I’d not had power in that moment. I wanted to believe I chose those offensive eight minutes, because what would it mean if I had not? So, feminist that I am, I did not say the word rape to myself, let alone anyone else, for decades. Years of therapy in which I dealt with a lot of crazy shit did not excavate that little artifact of experience from my subconscious. So what finally did?

Don’t know, really.

Fast forward to 2017. The grossest kind of misogynist is in the White House. The entire government seems hell bent on disempowering, disenfranchising, and just plain dissing women and anyone else they don’t want to give up their white male privilege to. And yet none of us who sees what’s going on seems willing to go gentle into that horrific night.

And now, this month, October 2017. A worldwide movement of saying, “Me too.” Me fucking too, ya bastids. It is a huge problem, okay? And you can’t shove all nine zillion of us under a rug.

Many are embracing “me too.” Some question it. Some think it does not do enough to create change or real dialogue. Others ask, “Why is it always on women to tell the hard truths?”

As for me, I don’t even want to analyze it or question it. Instead I’ll simply wholeheartedly applaud the countless women who are saying, not just to their sisters and friends, but to everyone who cares to read their status on Facebook, their blog, or their Tweet: ME FUCKING TOO.

Are people surprised? I don’t know anyone personally who is shocked that women are routinely, daily brutalized in small and huge ways. If people are surprised, I simply don’t want to know that. I would be too angry. Seriously. Enraged at the stubborn obliviousness people hide in, like a closet of privilege that protects them from uncomfortable truths. Because think about all the times that (let’s face it pretty much every) woman has been catcalled or assaulted. Shoved into a corner with a leer and a wink. Groped in the empty hallway and then silenced by shame, threats, or feigned innocence (“Honey I didn’t mean anything by that!”). Blamed by society for her experiences of harassment or sexual violence because of her clothes/attitude/choices. Propositioned by employers or superiors, or just treated like shit for being smart, sexual, ambitious, tough, emotional, or badass. And raped. Violently or quietly or multiply or repeatedly. By the stranger, the trusted friend, the uncle, the boss, the neighbor, the husband, the priest, the therapist, the teacher, the guy who is just pissed off because she did not acknowledge his right to possess her.

And these are not “bad experiences.” These are not “experiences” at all. Experience is when you go outside and there’s a rainbow. Or when you spend the day in the museum. Or you have an afternoon of glorious sex with the windows open. Or jump in the car for an impromptu road trip. Those are experiences. We participate in them. They occur. They can be sought or they can be serendipitous. But no one is perpetrating them.

Assault, sexual intimidation, rape—these are not things that “happen”—they are done by men to women against their will.

So given the reality of “me too”—what about the men? For every me too there is a man who took action. To grope, grab, hold down, threaten, penetrate, bribe, intimidate, belittle a woman. To order her to get on her knees, or fetch him a beer, or smile, or shut up and enjoy it, or just plain shut up.

What about the men who know about it, see it, hear it? How dare men be surprised or “taken aback” by this long-overdue public awareness announcement from all those women on their social media feeds. Where have they been?

I don’t remember much about that semester, after that “ride home.” (“Your friends want to stay. I can give you a ride home if you want.” “Really? That would be great.”)  I remember spending Thanksgiving at a friends’ house in Philadelphia. I remember nothing about Christmas. I know I was not completely in my body. That feeling of not “being yourself?”—that’s when part of you leaves and the rest of you feels incomplete. School—always my happy place—had lost its luster. I did not want to go to class. I did, of course, being always more than adequately “good” at doing what needed to be done. But, you know. The thrill? It was gone.

I left school that second semester of sophomore year. I went to visit my dad for a couple weeks. Returned to Charlottesville. Got a job. Went back to school. And, not sure how, but I gradually regained my optimism, my desire to go outside and see a rainbow.

These experiences take a toll on women. Women survive and “move on” because they have to. These women—so so many women—may, briefly or for decades, have their inner knowing knocked out of them when men steal their power and rob them of…so much. Women may be set back—literally—and need to catch up yet again, to prove that “WE TOO” will persist and all the shit you do to us won’t keep us down.

But it’s hard. It’s exhausting. And it is absurd—a folly, a civil wrong—that it is still on us to fix this mess not of our making. Men? Grow the hell up and stand up for your sisters literally EVERY TIME. In the board room, the classroom, the bedroom, everywhere. If you are not one of the perpetrators, prevent those who are from getting away with it and joking about it later. If you are one of those dudes—if you rape or insult or beat or catcall or belittle or grab or assume—STOP. Just stop now and live with honor for the rest of your days.

And as for me, the rape on the hallway floor of my apartment was one of several catalysts in my youth that prompted a lifetime of self-reflection and an insistence on growth and forward movement. A refusal to accept any status quo. A refusal to stay hidden.

The Narcissistic Lover—a Trump Allegory

When they met, he was a self-proclaimed “enthusiastic suitor.” He found her to be just fabulous. And just like him, in so many ways. How could they not be together? A match made in heaven. They both believed in magic. In love. In the triumph of love over loneliness—isolation itself. Finally, they would have what they both deserved. Each other. And the world as they envisioned it.

But she didn’t get it at first—that all those perfect things he said were calculated to make her want him. At this point in his life, the calculations were so embedded in his very being that he was no longer aware of making them. He was keenly tuned in to “people like her” – women of a certain age who long to be seen, acknowledged, loved for who they are. Women who have kept themselves under the wraps of motherhood, wifehood, the double life of domestication and career, for so long that they just want to break out of the restraints and let their true selves shine forth for all the world to see, without apology. He seemed to give her permission to do that. Why did she feel she needed permission from a man, from anyone? Even she wasn’t sure why. But the world doesn’t always see women through a clear lens. Now maybe the world would see her through his eyes, and accept her, and she’d be empowered.

He knows her, or people “like her,” just well enough to know exactly what to say so she’ll want him. And accept him in spite of any red flags that may poke up. Because, after all, he accepts her fully, so shouldn’t she do the same for him? Doesn’t he see her “greatness” as he calls it? He seems to understand that she has gone too long unrecognized, and her disillusionment in the system of love will be swept away by the fulfillment of all that he promises.

Is she so predictable, she sometimes wonders? Is it so easy for him to see how much she longs to be courted, wanted? Just acknowledged? Her needs have been unmet for so long. And he seems to have lots to offer such a woman. He is like Barry White—he has ALL the words to say to make any woman feel that IT is about to happen at any moment. That union. That revelation of the perfect joining.

She waits for that. She waits for…so much.

Like the call “in ten minutes” that doesn’t come. Or, when it does—two hours later—never seems to feel as good as she hoped it would. Wasn’t she going to tell him about her day, and that awful thing that happened, and wasn’t he going to help her solve the problem, see it in a different light, soothe her with kind and loving words? Instead, she listens to him talk about a woman at work who wants him. A girl at the pharmacy who was way too young for him but really seemed to want to talk. His secretary and how much she loved his jokes this morning. Then it is always too late to say what she had on her mind. They’d have perfunctory phone sex and hang up. She would lie in bed, with the song, Where is the Love? running through her head.

When he does offer his support, or try to help her through tough times, he gets angry. His advice is always, “You should quit that fucking job!” Or: “I’d punch her in the face if she talked to me like that.” These suggestions are not that helpful to her. Still, she finds she is more short-tempered, more likely to succumb to her basest impulses—at work, in life, even with her friends—because she knows he would, too, and that he loves it when she “goes low.” He finds it (weirdly) sexy. When she told him about calling her assistant a moron for printing the wrong labels, he laughed and hugged her. Kissed her darkly, with cruel passion.

I ask her, “Does he actually show up when he says he will? Does he deliver on those promises? Is he really leaving the hamster wheel of online dating behind him or is he still shopping on Bumble and Tinder?”

“Don’t you want a man,” I ask her, “who will always see the best in you and help you be that person? One who won’t egg you on in your worst impulses. Who will remind you of the kickass woman you are and that he fell in love with. The way you are. The way he will always see you: truly.”

“Don’t you want a man,” I go on, “who won’t capitalize on your fears and lie to you to get you to cling to him? A man with the self-confidence to let you make your own decisions and hear the truth? A man who will show you his best self and admit when he errs? Who will help you find the right path and ask for your help in return?”

“Don’t you want a man, who will go into the bathroom with you at night when you’re taking off your makeup? Who will put his hands on your hips as you wash your face and, not only will he not care about that pimple on your nose or the crow’s feet by your eyes, he’ll find you beautiful still. He won’t fan the flames of your hidden insecurities. He will nuzzle your neck and pull you by the hand into the bedroom where he will respectfully and lovingly adore your body, mind, heart, and soul.”