She’s speaking for me
Let’s go back 36 years to when Christine Blasey Ford met Brett Kavanaugh. I was 16, one year older than she was at that time. Like a lot of young girls, I depended on the validation of others to figure out if I was funny, smart, noticeable, pretty. I felt like I was in a room of mirrors at a carnival: I didn’t know which reflection to trust, and although none of them seemed right, it was all the feedback I had then. So I relied on those reflections until I could figure out who I really was. And just as I was seeing myself through other people’s eyes, I also often confused other people’s mistakes as my own.
The year that Dr. Ford will be recalling this Thursday is the same year that I, just one year older, was in my art class in high school. When my teacher noticed I got paint on my white pants and told me to come into the back room to get it off quickly, I did what he said - even after this same teacher made me uneasy with his comments about how much he wished he could stroke another girl’s mohair sweater. I didn’t protest when he shut the door to that little room, with only the two of us inside. Instead, I thought about what the rest of the class was thinking about me, going into that room with that teacher. Then, when he filled the sink and told me, “Take your pants off so I can get the stain out,” I didn’t tell him he’s a creep and barge out in a kickass fury. I just mustered a shaky smile, and said, “No, it’s okay.” But he looked me in the eyes and said, “No one will see you. I’m keeping the door closed, just give me your pants.” He wasn’t smiling. Still, I didn’t scream or go running to the FBI, the police, or even the principal. Instead, I smiled through trembling lips and said, “Honestly, I’m fine. These pants are old.” And I walked out into the art room, knees weak, searching the faces of my peers for signs that they could see my terror. But they couldn’t, because I’d already learned to do that half-lidded “I don’t care” thing with my eyes. I resumed my painting and later that day, in the halls, I screamed with laughter with my friends. I went to Dairy Queen that night and flirted with a classmate. I looked nothing like a victim, or a survivor.
The incident in the closet felt like I tipped over a row of bikes, so I ran from it. This is something I wanted to forget, not report. Besides, nothing happened, really. But that feeling stayed with me like a stubborn shadow for 36 years. And a lifetime of being made to feel insignificant in the eyes of male bosses, boyfriends, teachers, professors and presidents, consolidated the idea for me that telling someone would be futile. Watching the Anita Hill hearings made me stay under the invisibility cloak thrown over me by male dominance. Reporting that teacher was the furthest thing from my mind. My plan was to just make sure I always got away.
But when the president of my country asked why a 15-year-old girl didn’t report her abuser to the FBI 36 years ago, I was catapulted out from under that invisibility cloak. The dark shadow of that memory colorized, and is now playing on repeat as a high-definition home movie in my head. 36 years ago is a long time. But I remember the tiniest details of that moment: the colors I was mixing to make the clouds in my painting just before I spilled the paint on my pants; the record that was playing; his tinted eyeglasses.
When Dr. Ford speaks on Thursday, she is showing the girls and women who are still under the invisibility cloak to throw it off. She is speaking for me, and all of us who didn’t report. And I am so grateful for her testimony.
Darcy Hicks is a Westport resident and founder of DefenDemocracy of CT which stated goal is to raise “local voices to carve a national road to change.”