I talked about you today.
I got up at 5 a.m. and did my makeup in dim light. I wore jeans and a blazer that always make me feel like I can take on the world. My black ankle boots with the heels look best with this killer outfit. I normally reach for them without a second thought.
But today, I hesitated.
You were front and center on my mind, and I was going downtown, you see. It would be early morning, still dark, with only a hint of dawn reflecting off the office buildings, a tired few people beginning to shuffle off busses and auto-piloting their way to the nearest coffee shop. Who else would be there? Would I be walking alone? How far did I have to go from the parking garage to the studio? Would anyone notice if I ran into trouble?
Could I run in those heels if I had to?
These are the things you make me think about. This is the legacy you left for me.
Of course, we both know you weren’t a stranger walking a few paces behind me on a dark street. I knew you. I invited you into my home. I thought I could trust you to take things slow like I had asked. Slow and steady, going at the pace I was comfortable with, because I was 14 and you were 19 and this was all new to me. So, not this night. Not this time. Not yet. We can just hang out and watch TV, ok?
But you made the decision without me, and not only robbed me of what should have been a sacred moment, but also of my trust and any semblance of confidence I held onto as a 14-year-old girl. For the next six months, I would fall, and continue to fall, emotionally, mentally, physically, until I was a shell of the girl I once was. I nearly lost everything, including my life.
For 27 years, I have thought of what you did every time I take my dog for a walk in the park, before I head out on a trail, and anytime I go downtown when the sun isn’t up. I walk to my car with a key between my knuckles. I always know where my phone is. I am always aware of my surroundings.
Because you introduced me to the idea of men like you, and you did it in a terrible way.
It wasn’t until I saw the #MeToo hashtags that I started to realize how much power you still held over me. Just typing #MeToo brought up an immense amount of shame.
Shame that I had you over that night in the first place.
Shame that the minute I smelled alcohol on your breath, I didn’t send you home.
Shame that maybe I didn’t make it clear enough. How many times did I say “no”?
Shame in trying to remember what I was wearing.
Shame in wondering if I somehow brought this upon myself.
Shame in not reaching out for help after it happened.
Shame in not reporting you.
Shame in knowing you did this to at least one other person after me.
In that moment, I finally recognized the weight of that burden. For nearly three decades, I’ve been carrying your shame. Yours. What you should be carrying. It’s not mine to lug around.
You did this to me. You were predatory. You committed a crime. You victimized me. You nearly destroyed me.
This morning I wore my blazer, my jeans, and my delicious fucking heels. I walked tall out of that parking garage – keys firmly in hand – and made my way to the radio studio with my head high.
And I talked about you. Oh, did I talk about you.
I told thousands of people what happened to me. I even told them about all that shame, and how it never should have been mine to feel.
I talked about prevention, about how good men can step up and help stop men like you when they see or hear something that perpetuates this kind of violence. I presented action items to society, because I am determined to live in a world where no woman should be afraid to walk to her car, to go on a date, or have to decide between a great pair of shoes and personal safety.
I let it all go. I shed that shame like a cumbersome winter coat and left it on the floor of the morning show.
If you want it, let me know. I’ll happily send you the address.
I got about six blocks towards home in the car when the tears started falling in front of half a dozen cyclists and a concerned construction worker. It’s okay, I waved at them. I’m okay. I’m more than okay.
The final unburdening. Sweet relief. Goodbye, Shame. We were never meant to be together. I will no longer take responsibility for someone else’s horrific actions.
I wiped my tears and headed back to a wife who loves me, a home I feel safe in, and three kids I hope to make the world better for.
So yes, I talked about you.
I talked about you for my daughter, so she may hopefully grow up in a world with less fear than I’ve had.
I did it for other victims, who can’t speak up for a variety of reasons.
But mostly, I did it for 14-year-old me, to show her you didn’t break us.