Thank you to Dr. Blasey Ford and all the women who have had the courage to stand up and name the men who attacked them, even when knowing that their renewed trauma will likely not stop these men from continuing to take what they don’t deserve. We have to keep talking. We have to NAME THEM. We have to insist on being heard. Not everyone will believe us. But our stories are not for them. Our stories are for our own healing. Our stories are for warning others. Our stories are for future generations who can change the course of history.
For 16+ years, I’ve kept a secret. Well, not from everyone. Immediately after the attack, I told my closest friends. But in larger circles – circles that included friends and family of this man – I usually kept quiet. I kept his shame a secret.
Two years ago, I wrote a post Protecting Our Attackers explaining why I never went to the police or formally accused him. And last year, I wrote “a brief history of hush-hush rape” about how genetics and evolution help to explain why so many of us keep quiet.
I’ve placated myself with ideas about how perhaps he has changed. Perhaps he doesn’t rape or assault women anymore. And why should I say anything now and risk fucking up his world for something he did so long ago? But why should I care more about hurting a man who hurt me (on the off chance that he is now a decent fucking human) than I care about the pain he caused me and about the women he could potentially be hurting right now on account of my silence?
Perhaps my story won’t even come as a surprise to those who know him. Maybe my story has already travelled, piecemeal, through our small town over the years. I haven’t really stayed close with many people or with the local gossip after moving far away from our small Ohio town 10+ years ago. Maybe I’m not even the first one to name him. I really have no idea how this will be taken.
But I do know I wasn’t the first to be attacked. And I also know I wasn’t the last. When I told my closest friends about what had happened to me, they were not shocked. Quite the opposite, in fact. They told me that they knew of other girls (including one of them) he had creeped on. And a month later, he sexually assaulted another one of my friends, too, while she was sleeping.
And I’ve decided to err on the side of telling my story in case he, like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Larry Nassar and so many others, has continued to assault women. And even if continued assaults are not apparent, there are many insidious ways men can harm women and claim fair play.
We have to get past the erroneous idea that men who rape are easily recognizable monsters. It is much more frequent that these men are friendly and even charismatic. They might even be (or appear to be) really good men – even to some of the women in their lives. It’s part of what allows them to continue moving through this world and getting away with it.
I starting writing this 7 years ago, and have considered naming this man many times. It makes me nauseous now to think about what may have happened in those years. I do believe that people can change, and I certainly hope you have changed, Cole Gardner from Jeromesville, Ohio (lest anyone confuse you with another of the same name). But I also think people have to atone for the shit that they’ve done in their lives. And this is what you did to me.
It was the summer between high school and college, and I felt so adult to be hanging out with my friend and her boyfriend at the house they just moved into. They had a house! A rented house. But still. We didn’t have to deal with parents or worry about getting discovered drinking. And we were definitely drinking.
I had never done shots in my life. And I remember, that night, celebrating our newfound freedom in “adulthood” by doing numerous shots with my best friend, her boyfriend, and Cole.
I’ve already gone through the phases of denial and of regret. I’ve felt shame for not knowing how to react in that moment – because I didn’t want to “cause a scene” or create friction (but there was friction when you held me down and didn’t let me go). But I’m done with that because I know that you know. Or maybe, like Kavanaugh, you’ve forgotten because it wasn’t a big deal for you, and it was so long ago – but at that moment, you knew. Protest all you want, but you proved it when you scrambled after you got caught and you proved it again when I confronted you, days later, when we were sober, and all you did was try to start touching me again. You are the one that should feel shame.
But for years afterwards, I blamed myself.
Shouldn’t have taken so many shots
Shouldn’t have danced with my friend on the coffee table in our bras and jeans (remind me again – why is it my responsibility to not get raped rather than your responsibility to not rape me?)
Shouldn’t have worried about your feelings or worried about being accused of overreacting when I wanted to scream at you to get the fuck off of me
But I know you knew
I told my friend not to leave me alone with you
(but she did)
I told you “No”
I tried to pull away, but your grip was tight and frightening
I finally got away from you and went to lie down in the spare bedroom
Energy seeping out, muscles heavy
Then you were there
On top of me, kissing on me
I didn’t want this
but I was mostly resigned to sleeping, my eyes and body heavy with alcohol
and literally had no strength to fight a man twice my size
Somehow, with one last push of energy, my only shot,
I ran to the bathroom
but as I was sitting, pants down,
I suddenly felt ill with alcohol, and I was on my knees
with my pants still at my ankles, expelling sickness
But in my head, fear,
I knew you would be coming after me
I knew that I needed to have my pants back on
before you got there
I quickly reached to lock the door
but I was too late
And you carried me back to the bed
where you kissed me more, sickness upon sickness
And then you put your tongue where my pants should have been
You told me you were good at it and that I would like it
As if this was about me, and my pleasure
Like you could convince yourself this wasn’t rape
Luckily for you and for me, we were saved
me from you, and you from yourself
My friend finally came to check on me – and she knew immediately that you had not been invited to my bed
When she saw you on top of me, she didn’t question
She didn’t hesitate
She yelled, angry, screaming
Like I wish I would have, could have
You knew, like she knew, like I knew