Most people are born with an identity. Parents provide the baby with a name. Grandparents exclaim that the baby smiles just like Uncle Harry, “but that nose! Oh, that’s definitely Aunt Sally’s nose!” Friends comment that the baby is unusually inquisitive. “Look at how she follows the dog with her eyes! She’s going to be a veteranarian!”

As time goes on, parents do their best to manipulate baby’s identity. “He’s such a happy baby! I swear, he never fusses – even when he’s hungry!”

Later, teachers get to take a shot. “Well, I’m not in a position to make a diagnosis, but I can tell you that all of the other children come right to the rug when it’s time for circle, and he just doesn’t seem to listen.” Parents fret that baby isn’t fitting the mold and buy books like “The Strong-Willed Child” to figure out how to fix it.

It’s not until pre-adolecence that we start to figure out that we are able to have some say about our direction. In fifth grade, she decides that she wants to be a tomboy, wear nothing but jeans and flannel shirts, and play kickball on the playground every day at lunch. He decides he’s going to be a Cassanova and sets off on a mission to kiss ten girls before Christmas. We start to push back on the identity that our parents created for us and try to figure out where we fit in relation to everybody else. She doesn’t want to be known as the quiet girl anymore, and starts to hang out with a different bunch of friends. He doesn’t want to be “he” at all, and asks people to start calling him Erica.

I think that’s where I lost the plot. I never created my own me. In junior high, I identified as tall, nice, smart, but not cute – not datable. In high school, I was still tall, nice, and not datable, but I realized I wasn’t smart either. I was slightly above average. I would give myself a 65. Of course, I don’t know who would score themself a 30, so the numbers are probably skewed.

In high school, I was supposed to figure out what version of me I was going to stick with, but I honestly think I was just too tired. Maybe it was because I’m gluten-intolerant, and all of that bread was zapping my energy. Maybe I was on too many committees: yearbook, literary magazine, newspaper, nuclear awareness… Maybe I just was too slow, and everyone claimed all of the good ones before I got a chance to jump in.

For a while, I tried to become interested in politics and social causes; but, being a 65, I never felt like I knew enough to discuss anything in depth. I tried being deep and introspective, listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell and Jackson Brown, and looking at most people like they couldn’t possibly understand. That was fairly isolating, and I got tired of moping.

In college, I still wasn’t smart, energetic, cute or datable, and I was starting to worry. It was getting too late to choose a passion. I was missing the boat. I started smoking pot – and lots of it – because when I was high, I didn’t care if I was directionless.  I was okay right where I was, watching Maryanne, Ginger, and Gilligan put on a talent show for Skipper and the Howells. I was just fine skipping classes and eating bagels in the Atrium, watching the other students go on their way.

Before I knew it, I was a senior, graduating, and going out to find a career for myself. Except, you guessed it, I didn’t have one iota of an idea about what to do with my life. I took a job in the accessories department at Jordan Marsh and got married.  I got a job in sales and had a daughter. I got a Master’s degree in Elementary and Special Ed and had a couple more kids. I opened a tutoring franchise and then closed it 7 years later because I couldn’t make enough money. I got another sales job and a divorce. All the while, I’m still just background. I’m the chorus in the spring musical.

There should be someone who tells you, before it gets too late, that you need to choose a path. Do it quickly, before you get to the fork in the road and discover that doors number 1, 2, and 3 are closed and bolted shut. While your friends are choosing the road less travelled, you end up just headed southbound on Route 95 during the afternoon commute.

Judge and Judgment

Like many Americans, I spent the morning fixated on the testimony given by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the afternoon mesmerized by Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s rebuttal. Part of the reason I was so transfixed is that I was sexually assaulted during the fall of my freshman year in college. I’m not going to talk about my attack, mostly because, 34 years later, I still can’t bring myself to think about it – let alone write about it. I didn’t say a word when it happened, and I didn’t say a word for probably ten more years when I finally told my husband. Very few people know about it… my therapist, some very close friends, and my daughters. That suppressed trauma came back to the surface when my daughters started going to college. I found myself crying – constantly – because I was so worried that it would happen to them, too. Sending them off to school was tearing me apart.  I decided to tell them a very vague abbreviated version of the story as a cautionary tale. I told them that nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand guys are perfectly safe, but there’s going to be one… One who looks normal on the outside, may belong to a fraternity, play lacrosse, or be an excellent student; but whom, under the right conditions (a late night after too many drinks), becomes a monster. Make sure you always always always leave a party with a friend. Never abandon a friend, and never let them abandon you. Find someone who will have your back, and you take care of them just the same.

I watched Dr. Blasey Ford tell the story of her assault and the consequent post-traumatic stress she still experiences. The entire time I was watching (in awe of her unfathomable strength and courage), I was trying to picture myself in the same situation. Frankly, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have said a word – despite my “civic duty.” Her entire life is upside down because she came forward. I didn’t have the guts to say anything 34 years ago; I can’t imagine it would be any easier today. I was so sure that I would tell the police or go to court, and the whole thing would be turned around. I would be the one defending everything from what I wore that night to how much I’d had to drink to how hard I tried to stop him.  I pictured myself on trial.  “If there was no music on downstairs, why do you think no one could hear you calling for help?” For 34 years, I’ve cursed my cowardice and prayed fervently that my fear and inaction didn’t result in another woman’s (or women’s) trauma. How many times did he get away with it, just because he could? I’ve also fantasized about having him on the witness stand, attempting to defend his indefensible actions. All of these years later, I relish the image of him sitting there in his suit and tie, sweat pouring down his face, in front of his wife and friends, twisting.

Why on earth should someone be punished for something they did so long ago? After all of this time, isn’t it just water under the bridge? Hasn’t he proven himself to be an upstanding citizen? Hasn’t he proven himself to be one of the most upstanding citizens in the entire country? That was just kids’ stuff. He was drunk. He didn’t go all the way. It doesn’t count.

What would you say if your daughter were the victim? Would it count then? Even a little bit?

I love that women are finding our voices and attempting to put an end to this injustice. I worry, though, that people (men and women) are developing emotional calluses around the subject. I have seen more than one man roll his eyes at the mention of the #metoo movement. I know they’re hoping this is just a phase. They’re thinking that this is like being gluten-free. It seems okay, but we’ll be back to normal before too long. I’m hoping it’s just the beginning. I’m hoping my granddaughters (and grandsons – I get that this goes both ways) grow up in a world where they’re safe and their words are both heard and respected.

My daughter’s college showed a magnificent short animated video to students during orientation. In the video, the narrator is explaining that having sex is a lot like having tea together. You can offer your friend some tea, but if they don’t like tea, or don’t feel like drinking tea at that moment, you are not allowed to pour the tea down their throat. A person can say they’d like some tea; but, if they change their mind – even after you went ahead and made the tea – you’re not allowed to pour it down their throat. Similarly, someone who is passed out cannot tell you whether or not they’d like tea, so you may not pour it down their throat. It gets the message across very clearly. Sex is something that must be agreed upon and consented to by both parties.

I watched the whole hearing, and they are both credible. I happen to believe Dr. Blasey Ford, but I fully recognize that I am biased. The situation is horrible for everyone concerned. Of course, the situation’s already been horrible for 34 years for one of them. I hope that the senators dwell on the testimony they heard and vote according to conscience rather than party lines.