I walked to Biscayne Bay the other day and photographed a squirrel in a tree. Behind the tree where the squirrel hung out two cops inspected a white Mercedes Something-Something-SL. The neighbors reported the car abandoned. The cops disputed their claims. One of the cops was on a cellphone talking to the grandmother of the car’s owner. The neighbors were like nah-ah and it can’t be.
It was twilight.
I kept on walking. I passed the neighbors. I passed the cops. I passed the white Mercedes Something-Something-SL and turned left toward the alley behind Jimmy’s Diner where scenes from Moonlight were filmed. (Such a beautiful film.) Moonlight won the Oscar for Best Picture, but Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty mistakenly announced La La Land had won, effectively silencing the win. What a mess messing up an important night for the queer universe on one of the biggest nights in television history. LGBTQ cinema sidelined, once again, I thought. They didn’t do it on purpose, but you’d think there would be safeguards. Every great work of art deserves the spotlight.
That’s kind of what I thought about as I walked through the alley behind Jimmy’s Diner, but not really. What I really thought about was this: sexual assault, memory and Christine Blasey Ford. In retrospect, what I really really thought about was this: my near miss with sexual assault, blackouts and Brett Kavanaugh.
“Human memory is a complex, brain-wide process that is essential to who we are….But memory doesn’t exist in the way a part of your body exists: it’s not a ‘thing’ you can touch. It’s a concept that refers to the process of remembering.” -HowStuffWorks
After Ford’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, I had several intense discussions with friends and students about her credibility and, more specifically, about the credibility of an accuser’s process of remembering. The questions posed: “How can she remember her attacker, but not what day it was, or how she got home, or how she got to the house? There were so many ‘holes’ in her memory she can’t be credible.”
Translation: If Ford (or anyone) can’t remember all of the details of an event, then it didn’t happen or, at best, your credibility is shot.
At a campaign rally in Southaven, Mississippi, President Trump mocked Ford’s testimony: “How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know….What neighborhood was it in? I don’t know. Where’s the house? I don’t know. Upstairs, downstairs — where was it? I don’t know — but I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.”
That’s not all that Ford remembers. She remembers the house, especially the interior space. The staircase leading to the bedroom where she was attacked. She remembers it was across from a bathroom. She remembers Mark Judge and Brett Kavanaugh tackling her onto a bed. She remembers Kavanaugh grinding his body into her body. She remembers Kavanaugh trying to remove her clothes but he was so drunk that he couldn’t manage. She remembers Kavanaugh covering her mouth to silence her screams. She remembers looking into Judge’s eyes. She remembers Judge looking into her eyes. She remembers his facial expressions change. She remembers Judge and Kavanaugh laughing. She remembers their laughter. She remembers Judge jumping on top of them. She remembers toppling off the bed and onto he floor. She remembers running out of the bedroom and into the bathroom across the hall from the bedroom. She remembers waiting there until she heard Judge and Kavanaugh go downstairs. She remembers leaving the house. She remembers she had a beer. She remembers they were drunk.
Memory may not be absolute, linear or complete, but it is a process that records events of the past. Ford was careful not to embellish her story and only reveal when she remembers, only those details. This is why there are holes in her story. Memory may not be a ‘thing’ you can touch, and it may be incomplete, but the record exists just like oxygen exists.
In Don Palmerine’s “I Watched A Rape….”, he confesses that he witnessed a rape and failed to report it. His memory is eerily similar to Ford’s. In Palmerine’s perspective piece, he wrote: “I don’t remember the month it occurred or the exact town it was in, but I remember that the party was in an upper-class suburb south of Pittsburgh. I don’t remember how I got home. These details don’t matter to me. What I remember clearly was the rape. Recalling it, for me, is like remembering where I was when I found out that President John Kennedy had been assassinated. There is a before and an after.”
This isn’t happening to me. This is what I thought in 1990-something when I was almost sexually assaulted.I didn’t get hurt. I ended it before it escalated. The assault lasted a moment, maybe just a few seconds, but the memory of the attack has stayed with me.
I don’t remember the month it happened, but I remember it took place in my apartment on South Beach. I don’t remember how I got him out of my apartment. I don’t remember what I did after he left. I don’t remember his face, but I remember his name. He worked as a bartender at a restaurant on Washington Avenue next to the old Body Tech Gym, which is now Crunch. He was intoxicated. I was not. I remember thinking everything smelled of alcohol and cigarettes, even the air. He bear-hugged and tackled me over the back of a grey sofa. We toppled onto the seating. I remember looking out the living room window as we toppled over. I remember saying no and took control of the situation.
I don’t remember how I got him off me. I don’t remember how we ended up in my apartment and I don’t remember how I got him out of my apartment. I don’t remember what day it was or the exact year. I don’t remember his face. These details don’t matter to me. What I remember clearly was the attack and the alcohol on his breath. Recalling this event, for me, is like remembering where I was when the second plane struck the Twin Towers. There is a before and an after.
(As I write this, a memory emerged of the time an individual pinched my nipple, bear-hugged me and lifted me off the ground at work. I felt violated and disoriented in ways I didn’t fully understand until I made this blog post. I smiled and kept quiet because I thought it was just an expression of….? That’s the thing: the intent of the attacker doesn’t matter. I didn’t ask for it. I reported the incident to my superiors, but not until a few days had passed, because I didn’t recognize it as a violation. I kept explaining away the violation out of respect for the violator and I thought I would be accused of letting it happen. I felt powerless.)
“The only people who lose their humanity are those who believe they have the right to render another human being powerless. They are the weak. To yield and not break, that is incredible strength. You destroy the woman, you destroy the past she represents. I will not allow my story… to be destroyed. What I would have done to have heard a story like mine. Not for blame. Not for reputation, not for money, not for power. But to feel less alone. To feel connected. I want my story heard.” Hannah Gadsby from Nanette
It happened to me. There is a record missing information. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Even though I stopped the attack, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter, either. I was a muscular buff 20-something who rebuffed an attack by a drunken assailant. I chalked it up to alcohol and my Body Tec gym body. This doesn’t mean the attack doesn’t affect me today.
My attacker probably doesn’t remember. He was almost blackout drunk. His record of the event may not exist because he wasn’t there just like Brett Kavanaugh may have been there. His brain-wide memory process may have been shot or simply shut off. Memory doesn’t exist in the way a part of your body exists or a handwritten notation on a calendar exists. It’s not a ‘thing’ you can touch or wave around a Senate Judiciary hearing. It’s not something you can submit as Exhibit A, but when Kavanaugh referred to his childhood calendar at the hearing he argued that memory is a thing that you can touch. We are to believe what he held in his hands (or submitted to the Judiciary Committee) was the complete record of his life during that summer. (See the Kavanaugh’s calendar @ PBS News Hour here.)
I walked home from Biscayne Bay disappointed. I hoped to see a pod of dolphins. I remember seeing them the last time I walked to the bay. I recorded the sighting on Facebook. I didn’t see the pod this time, but I know that the dolphins are there beneath the surface out of sight.
I have seen them before.