Did You Ever Ruin Someone’s Life?
Like Brett Kavanaugh did? And you just didn’t know it?
I recently sent an apology to someone for nasty shit I did forty years ago.
Better late than never, n'est-ce pas?
I was digitizing my life, scanning journals, stories, and photographs, reminding me of silly crap like my first boyfriend, playing 'beerhunter' with friends, the uber-drama of who likes who and who just broke up with who, and dumb private in-jokes whose humor is lost to the annals of time.
One afternoon I read a forgotten movie script I'd written for a college class, very thinly based on an uber-drama in my life at the time, and my words reached out from 1984 to gob-smack me in the face with the evidence, in fading black on white with smudgy typos and clumsy ballpoint pen corrections, of what a serious bitch I could be when I was a college student.
Okay, I won't mince words, I can be a bitch even today but damn, did I really do that?
I laid it down on the coffee table and walked away, so appalled was I at how my friends and I had acted. I had help, but I was the Lead Asshole.
I never read the rest. I threw it away without scanning it.
What I'd done to Alice gnawed at me.
Our inner Brett Kavanaugh
This occurred during the Ford/Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings. I half-listened, half-watched a proposed Justice who was a way worse asshole than I had ever been deny everything. At least I never pretended to rape someone and then laughed my ass off when they ran away crying.
I listened as the Senate Committee slowly pried Kavanaugh's ancient memories apart.
I became convinced that:
- Ford was telling the absolute truth about what happened that fateful Maryland night thirty-six years previously
- Kavanaugh was lying through his #$%ing teeth about not remembering--now--but…
- He really had forgotten about it until Ford came forward, and probably needed to rack his brain, because he clearly had a serious alcohol problem then
- He #$%ing remembered by the time he sat down to give testimony.
Brett Kavanaugh had a moment few of us ever do: He faced consequences for something he’d done a loooooong time ago he’d completely forgotten about, hadn’t thought was a big deal at the time, and now, decades later, it came back to bite a giant chunk out of his ass.
He literally had no idea how he’d impacted someone for an entire lifetime. He didn’t get it, and he didn’t want to, because admitting the truth to himself was too soul-shattering for an older, wiser, soberer man. What did it say about him as a person that he ruined a teenage girl’s life with what sounds like a cruel, thoughtless prank? The fact that he and his buddy laughed hysterically when Christine Blasey tore out of the room indicates they really thought it was a big joke.
Well. He wasn’t laughing at his hearing. He was Sniffle-upagus, a petulant man-child, the nasty adolescent boy’s face transparent behind the tissue-thin middle-aged man-mask. This wasn’t fair. This happened like a thousand years ago. Why was she trying to screw up his biggest career move? Why was she bringing this up now? It was just a big joke, ya dumb broad!
But before you judge the Judge and write him off with ‘he deserved it’, and he did…
…What’s your secret Brett Kavanaugh moment? What should you be judged for? Do you even know?
Brett Kavanaugh moments are universal, and usually not nearly as serious as a semi-rape attempt. Most of us will never find out about our moment, something we said or did we didn't think was a big deal, except it was. To someone else. We may never find out unless they decide to confront us - via an email, a Facebook post, a snail mail card, maybe a voice mail message.
The risk is greater if you become a public figure.
We say and do stuff throughout our lives. When we’re teenagers we’re particularly vicious little bastards, half-formed adults and half-baked savages. My worst bully in high school, the only person I ever felt like I could kill, had finally grown up five years after graduation and later got married and had a child at some point. I don’t know if he’s still married as he hasn’t updated his Facebook profile since the early Obama years (yes, I accepted his friend request) but the little boy in the photo must be in college by now.
I haven’t gone through life cursing Dan, but he still left a lifelong imprint on me. Do you think it was a good one?
I could bring him his own minor Brett Kavanaugh moment, if he ever publicly stated he’s never hit a woman. Which will probably never happen, because he’s not a public figure.
…I wonder if there's my own Christine Blasey Ford out there somewhere, who could tell a story of something perhaps far more thoughtless and cruel than the shit I pulled on Alice in college. Something I've completely forgotten about.
The aggrieved have far longer memories than the perpetrators.
I'm not worried about Alice, my Ford. She could, at worst, embarrass me a little but not cancel me on Twitter. She'd never do it because she wasn't blameless herself.
It doesn't excuse the way I treated her, or the climactic Biff Thing.
I don't know if Kavanaugh ever felt remorse for what he discovered he'd done. Maybe you resist more when you've been globally shamed, rather than privately contacted. What struck me was the similarity in our experiences: We both traumatized others and forgot about it, because it didn't happen to us.
Brett Kavanaugh had forgotten about Christine Blasey until she smacked him in the face with a giant, thirty-six-year-old wet mackerel of a misdeed and he learned how abominably he’d changed someone’s entire life. She became a psychology professor to better understand her long-term trauma, and explained why she could be certain it was Brett Kavanaugh, and not someone else, to California senator Dianne Feinstein. Without missing a beat.
"The way that I'm sure I'm talking to you right now, it's just basic memory functions and also just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain. That neurotransmitter encodes memories into the hippocampus so that trauma-related experience is locked there, so other memories just drift."
It wasn't a 'big deal' from Kavanaugh's perspective. But it was to her.
Alice in Blunderland
Alice created dissension for our college crowd by going after everyone's boyfriend, but deciding mine was the one she was destined to marry. It was comical at first as she had commonplace looks and was somewhat unsocialized. She was, however, relentless. She'd fallen madly in love with James and the only thing standing between her and him was me. And the fact that he wasn't into her. But still. When he didn't fend her off sufficiently I felt insecure and threatened.
Between the script and my old college journal, I shook my head disparagingly at my mean-girl bullying, how I gossiped about Alice, wouldn't shut up to anyone who would listen as to how much I couldn't stand her, and the childish pranks I instigated.
Like wearing a dead aunt's engagement ring my mother had given me on my left hand, whenever Alice was around, to make her think James and I were engaged. My stunt worked, it hurt her, as a friend confirmed, describing the look on her face whenever I flashed it around.
I joke-formed a fictional 'hit squad' with a few friends, with fictional stories about getting back at the people who'd done us wrong, always starting with Alice. I'm sure at least some of it got back to her sometimes.
Alice had been easy enough to get along with until she started chasing James, and then everyone else's boyfriends. She created bad feeling, especially for James and myself, and started fights between couples. She told my roommate she was waiting for me to instigate some 'precipitating event' that would break James and I up, and that she'd 'wait me out forever'. She shares the blame for her troubles. We all had good reason to put an end to her crap. But the way we ultimately handled it was horrible.
The way I handled her leading up to it was horrible. I was her worst bully.
One of our number - I'll call him Biff - got everyone's agreement on a scheme to rid ourselves of the troublesome Alice once and for all. The plan was to meet up at the weekly gathering of a social group we were all in that met at the university. We'd get her alone, and in front of us - because, Biff emphasized, she needed to see everyone was behind him on this, especially James - he'd yell at her and tell her in no unclear terms she was to leave us all alone, as we didn't want her around anymore.
What really makes me cringe is how it didn't go down that way. What was a terrible idea turned out far more humiliating for Alice than we'd intended. We waited in a secluded area while Biff tried to get her to leave the meeting room, where there were many more people. Alice knew he hated her, she must have figured something was up, and when she wouldn't leave he spoke his mind and humiliated her in front of the entire chapter.
Until I dug up the old movie script, I'd almost forgotten about this. I'm quite certain Alice hasn't.
A bottle of the house poison, please
I remember wondering how I or other girls might have reacted to Kavanaugh's and his friend's 'joke'. You never know what negatively impacts another's life forever.
Getting raped, for example, ruins some women's lives, and strengthens others. Some emerged from the Holocaust saying, "I won't give the Nazis one more damn minute of my life," while others descended into survivor's guilt-driven madness or committed suicide.
I don't know if Alice ever made her own private peace with us over our groupthinked Biff bomb. As I re-read my forty-year-old journal I was struck not just by how abominably I treated her, but genuine anger I held which I revisited dispassionately; I didn't get angry all over again or re-traumatize myself, but I felt some empathy and compassion for the faulty young woman who had begun to fear Alice might really take her boyfriend.
Buddhists say anger is a poison we willingly consume. You can't always control how people treat you but you can control how you react, and how much power you're willing to give them, long after the offense. Had Kavanaugh and his buddy picked a different teenage girl, one who brushed things off more easily, his Supreme Court nomination might have gone more smoothly. He could have moved through the rest of his life blissfully ignorant of Ford's and several more black marks against him, as others stepped forward to tell their own Gross Encounters of the Brett Kavanaugh Kind, including one who accused him of actual rape, albeit outside of the statute of limitations.
I'm over Alice's malice; I can honestly say I bear no ill will toward her. She's not an unresolved memory popping up when I'm stressed or angry like a bottle of poison I willingly drink so I can mentally upchuck all over myself again.
I don't know whether she can say the same for me.
James and I broke up a year or so after The Biff Thing and Alice moved to another city where she married a nice guy, although they divorced later.
A few years after college I moved to southern New England, she to the north. We ran into each other sometimes at our social organization events and got along well. She'd left an unsuitable religion and adopted Paganism, a far better choice for someone way too intelligent and progressive for the earlier religion. I gave her a ride once at a large annual gathering and we chatted about our lives in New England, never mentioning the past.
I looked for her for years. I reached out to her recently on Facebook. I wanted to connect so I could apologize to her and I thought she might accept since we had been cordial with each other in New England. She didn't accept. So I sent her a direct message, unsure if she'd see it or not since I wasn't a connection. I feel like I've done what I can.
Brett Kavanaugh's Brett Kavanaugh moment
When we women think of Brett Kavanaugh we think ‘man who sexually abused someone and got away with it.’
Except he didn't.
Kavanaugh didn't rape teenage Christine Blasey, he only pretended to. There's a gap between a 'joke' and a real rape. Some women would have shrugged it off, perhaps even laughed it off. Not all women react the same way to rape, or ha-ha-jokey-not-rape.
But some are heavily traumatized even when no actual rape occurs. You never know how the victim of your 'joke', your bullying, your cruelty, will be impacted. For Blasey Ford, it impelled her toward a psychology career, to better understand what happened.
Kavanaugh impacted her life that much. I don't know how much I impacted Alice's life. While The Biff Thing was a group effort, I think I was the ringleader in a nasty longer-term campaign to personally humiliate her.
Christine Blasey Ford failed in her attempt to stop Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, but she returned his favor by traumatizing him - and make no mistake, it's pretty damn traumatizing to be globally shamed. She wasn't the only one whose life and family were threatened during the 2018 hearings; Kavanaugh and his family were subjected to the same anonymous abuse.
It's rare for someone with an ancient grievance to return the favor, although social media has made it easier. Kavanaugh didn't get off scot-free; his life will never be as hunky-dory as his critics imagine, and with the recent loss of Roe he may find himself especially in danger.
His family will never be the same either.
He has two school-age daughters. A controversial 2018 political cartoon depicted a child saying her bedtime prayers…. “Dear God, forgive my angry, lying, alcoholic father for sexually assaulting Dr. Ford.”
It was in poor taste and generated the customary backlash. An understandably sympathetic Chelsea Clinton issued a plea to leave Kavanaugh’s daughters alone.
But this illustrates how his family will live with his legacy for the rest of their lives. His daughters will forever be tarred as ‘the rapist’s daughters.’ Kids of both genders can be vicious little rhymes-with-runts. Enough has come out about Kavanaugh that they know or suspect the truth about their father, however much they might publicly defend him or privately deny it.
While most women, especially Kavanaugh’s critics, don’t think of themselves as bad people and have probably never driven anyone to suicide, or Ford-years of therapy, they don’t know. The bullies rarely remember. The victims do.
A few years ago I reconnected with an old boyfriend on Facebook and he mentioned some thoughtless remarks I'd made that clearly stuck with him decades later. I have no memory of them, but I can't say I didn't say them.
I defer to his memory, because they stuck in his craw, not mine, and I imagine it's the sort of semi-raw wound that emerges when he's angry, depressed or upset just like everyone else and myself has.
We may die not knowing who our Christine Blasey Ford was.
Along with Alice, I learned of someone else I hurt as I scanned my so-called life; and like Alice, he wasn't blameless. But I still think I was a real bitch to him, and I wonder: As petty as it all actually is, is there anyone who has a real *bitch* of a story to tell about me?
I doubt I ever drove a fragile mind to suicide like the Mean Girls of South Hadley, Massachusetts, but I wonder who may still be drinking a bottle of poison with my face on the label.
Before you dismiss your inner Kavanaugh protesting, “I’ve never done anything that bad!”…maybe you didn’t. Or maybe you don’t remember it. Or maybe it was, to you, 'no big deal'.
We are all blind Brett Kavanaughs, walking around and living our lives blithely unaware of our personal Christine Blasey Ford. Until maybe one day she emerges and explodes like an IED to tell her truth.
When I'm not reclaiming my power over myself by making restitution to those who suffered under my inner Brett Kavanaugh, I help women and others reclaim their power on my website, Grow Some Labia.