He Said, She Said, Now It's My Turn to Speak
A personal story of sexual assault, fragmented memory, and what to do about it.
Posted Oct 09, 2018
I should have written to Dr. Ford to show my support, but now it’s over. I imagine she’d understand. She knows better than most how long it takes to get up the courage to air these violations in public, especially when you can't remember all the details. Thirty plus years in her case, fifty plus in mine.
My assault happened sometime between 1961, the year I graduated college, and 1964, the year I left New York and moved to California. I was working as a secretary for a talent agency and living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with a friend from college. Those weren’t particularly good years. My roommate was preoccupied with her own life which didn’t include me. I didn’t like my job, and my fledgling career in the theater was going nowhere. In retrospect, I was lonely and a little depressed.
I don’t remember the date or the time of year. I didn’t keep a calendar. I do remember the name of the college classmate who invited me to her apartment for a party. But I won’t mention it here. I haven’t seen or heard from her since.
I don’t remember what I ate or drank at the party or who else was there beside my hostess and two men who shared an apartment a few blocks from mine. One of them studied clarinet with a music teacher who lived on the same floor as I did. I don’t remember the teacher’s name, but I do remember she had long hair and I liked how she dressed. I assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that these two music-loving roommates were a gay couple. That’s why I didn’t think twice before accepting their offer to share a taxi ride home and stop at their apartment for a glass of wine.
Once inside the apartment – I don’t remember the time – I had a glass of wine and a hit or two from a joint they provided. I don’t remember how many ounces I drank or whether the wine was red or white. I do remember I was not drunk.
The larger of the two men started to kiss me. I don’t remember what he looked like, the color of his hair, his eyes, or what either of us was wearing. I was seated on a couch, he was standing behind me, bending over. I pushed him away. Told him to stop. The second man was seated across from me. I asked him to tell his roommate to stop. He just looked at me and shrugged. I remember feeling the bottom drop out of the room.
I got up from the couch and ran for the telephone, which I think was in a small hallway. The first man punched me in the jaw and snatched the phone from my hand.
I can’t remember where the rapes happened, on the couch or in a bedroom, or if they watched each other. I don’t know if I had my clothes on or off. If they had their clothes on or off.
The big man went first. I pretended I was going to vomit. That didn’t stop him. Then he tried, but failed, for oral sex. With the second man, I babbled like a fool, told him he didn’t want me, he wanted his roommate but couldn’t admit that, so by having sex with me, he was actually having sex with his roommate.
When they were done, in an ironic gesture of safety, the small man offered to escort me home. He hailed a cab and got in with me. As soon as he shut the door, I told the cab driver to take me to the nearest police station. If there was a moment when I did anything right, that was the moment. My “escort” jumped out of the car and ran off.
I didn’t go to the police. I was assaulted because I voluntarily went with strangers, drank wine, and smoked pot. If anyone was to blame, it was me. Monday morning, I went to work. The telephone rang. It was the small man calling to apologize. I told him to never call me again and hung up. I was scared he would call back. Or knock on my door when he came for his music lesson.
In many ways I was lucky. At the time of the assault, I wasn’t struggling with significant childhood trauma, addictions, poverty or serious mental health problems. Like Dr. Ford, I put the past behind me. I went on to get my Ph.D. in psychology, write six books, and get two prestigious awards for my work in police and public safety psychology.
Does this mean I wasn’t harmed? I have so many questions. Was my move to California fueled by the assault? Did my choice of profession reflect my experience? Have I been hanging out with cops for thirty plus years to feel safe? Did the rapes play directly into my feminism? How do I ever tally the costs of living with the certain knowledge that we women (and some men) are helpless in a world where sexual assault can be dismissed, trivialized, ignored, or accepted as the way things are and always will be.
I have carried the memory of those men and that evening for fifty plus years, reviewing it over and over, feeling the shame and the self-blame every time. It has been a burden, the weight of which I can now acknowledge by telling my story. I started with my husband several years after we married. Then, more publicly when the #MeToo movement gave me the push I needed to say “Me too” to the other “Me toos” on social media.
In my work with traumatized first responders, my colleagues and I tell our clients they are only as sick as their secrets. I now have more than an academic understanding of this piece of wisdom. Telling our stories is how we understand ourselves, make meaning of our lives, and connect more deeply with each other. To be vulnerable is to be accessible to oneself and the people we love.
Dr. Ford’s coming out was much tougher than anything I ever faced. I hid behind my secret. I didn’t have to speak in front of an international audience. I was never cross examined. My assailants, whose names I can’t remember, apparently never became famous nor vied for important positions of trust. I miss having the opportunity to bring those men to justice (I do secretly harbor hope that they somehow read this letter, recognize themselves, and crunch over in their wheelchairs, sick with remorse). But I wouldn’t want to go through what Dr. Ford has gone through. I am in her debt for inspiring me and so many others to tell our own stories. I’m only sorry it took me so long.
If you have a story about assault, please share it. These conversations cannot stop. Add your own in whatever way feels right to you. Talk to a friend, a therapist, a spiritual counselor. Make a poem. Write a song. Don’t worry about the holes in your story. They are part of your story as they are part of mine. Memory is inherently unreliable. With time, it degrades. With trauma, it fragments. In isolation, it festers, bursting out at inopportune times, creating nightmares, and fueling an enduring sense of fear and anxiety. This is such a paradox. The more we resist talking about our memories of assault, the longer they persist and the more power they have over our lives. When we tell our stories, we reclaim our power, help ourselves and help each other.