When I first saw the words “Me too” on Facebook, it was on my daughter’s page. Not knowing what she was referring to, I commented with a humorous “Me too,” and went on to explain that I was not sure what I was talking about, but whatever she was supporting, I supported too. Within seconds, she was messaging me explaining to me about the “Me too” campaign that was flooding social media, and what it meant.
It all started when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, "Suggested by a friend: If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem." Next thing we know, thousands of “Me too” statuses pop up on FB and Twitter. Women and men letting the world know that they have at some point, been sexually harassed or assaulted.
Within seconds, “Me too” is on my wall.
A man who loves me a lot seems shocked. You mean that now, everyone who reads your stuff will know? He asks. Yup. is my answer.
It feels right. It feels right in part because the words are so simple. Me too. Me too it happened to me. Me too I let it happen. Me too I did not know how to stop it. Me too I thought maybe I should let it happen. Me too I thought I should not make a fuss. Me too, Me too, Me too. And then, seeing all these “Me too” posts, one after the next, felt almost like a party, to me. A sad yet celebratory party. Me too I have survived, Me too I am still a good / useful / mostly sane person. Me too.
As the day passed, I gently ran through my mind the few occasions that have granted me my membership card to this gargantuan club. One of these times, I was rather young and the offense looked almost inoffensive from the outside. It was sold to me as such, and I turned out to be a willing consumer of that convenient theory. Another time, I was 17 and my body never forgot, nor fully healed. I still hope that it may. There were other times. Some more subtle than others. Times when men “have made their hunger more important than my feelings or boundaries.” (Keith Paolino) Times when, having been raised to believe that “boys will be boys,” I decided that it was best not to make a big deal.
Some of these occurrences took place much later in life than I am proud to admit. I had to learn. I had to re-learn, really. I had to re-learn that I was the boss of my body, that “no” was a complete sentence, that whether a man thought I was difficult, irresistible or uncool would be his business, and never mine. I also had to re-learn that if needed, I could kick - or I could leave. And eventually, I did learn.
By the end of my 40s, I knew that it was unlikely that any man would ever again “make his hunger more important than my feelings or boundaries.” This felt good, darn good - and it affected other places in my life, too.
A little over two years ago, I boarded a flight for Paris. I had not been home for sixteen years and as I walked onto the plane that was to deliver me to my birth country, I felt very tender.
The plane seemed completely full with the exception of the seat next to me, the window-side of a small row of two. Just as the doors were about to close, a young woman was standing by my side, looking as though she had ran through a whole lot of airport corridors to get there. She wanted to get to her seat, and needed me to get up. Also, she was in tears.
She sat down, arranged her bag, looked at me and asked me if I wanted some wine.
I shook my head no thank you, she made her way over my legs (we had not taken off yet) and somehow came back with two plastic glasses filled with white wine. One for her, and one for her.
By the time we were launched, she had drank both glasses, explained to me in detail what an a**hole her soon to be ex-husband was, and was on her way to ask for more wine.
She talked. A lot. And she cried. And because I am professionally engineered to listen, I listened.
The meals came and she drank some more. By the time I was about to take a first bite into my gluten free dessert, something weird was going on.
She was licking my shoulder.
This well dressed, model-looking young woman was licking my shoulder.
Well, isn’t that weird? I asked myself. Now, why would she be licking my shoulder? Surely there must be a reasonable answer to this question.
As I tried to go through my Rolodex of “reasonable answers to this question,” her hand was making its way towards my right breast. Sloppily, but no so sloppily that it missed it.
My mind blew a fuse.
Something really unpleasant - and terribly unpleasant to recall - happened: Half of me knew that I was being asked to participate in something that all my cells were saying “no” to, and half of me was feeling protective of this young woman, who was close to my daughter’s age. The combination was sickening.
I will not go on about the next hour, partly because I am sure you get the idea, and partly because I am still not fully ready to relive it. Suffice to say that it got ugly. Knowing that the plane was full, I decided that I could not ask to be moved anywhere else. Knowing that she was close to my daughter’s age, I decided that I could not kick her in the shins. Truth is: I was completely paralyzed. Me, who had taken more than 40 years to know that when it came to men, I was the boss of my body. Me who knew that no men would ever sweet talk me into doing anything I was not looking forward to ... I was paralyzed. Because you know what? The freaking data had changed. And I had no tools for this new data. I had no tools against a pretty young woman my daughter’s age. There was no chapter in my book of self care that addressed that unlikely topic.
It was horrible.
Eventually, she fell asleep, her pants half way down her ankles and her hand between her legs. I covered her with a blanket, and spent the rest of the ten hour flight with my eyes wide open, my Lizard brain frozen.
When she woke up, before we landed, she seemed to be upset with me, and went to lock herself in the bathroom. When the stewardess came by and told me that she was asking for more wine and “how did I feel about it?” I could barely squeak out a sound.
We landed, I was home, and I was out of my body. Just like I had been, for days, three decades ago.
Two years have passed and while it is very rare for me to not be able to write about something, until today I just could not do it - nor have I told many people about it.
The trauma was big, and the biggest part of the trauma for me was to see how just a little tiny variable in the data (a woman instead of a man), and a wee bit of motherly concern had made me almost incapable of taking care of myself.
So humbling. And such a great opportunity to fill up my compassion well.
So yes. Me too.
And none of the Me too I can write will ever hurt as much as seeing my daughter‘s, own Me too, three mornings ago on her FB page. We promised each other than her future daughter would never have to say that.
Here’s to witnessing each other’s vulnerabilities, strengths and stories. Here’s to growing, learning, and then learning again if needed.
Here’s to learning so deeply, so “from the inside,” that even when the data changes or we are confused, our alliance to ourselves remains solid.
And here’s to remembering that there is no greater loneliness than when we abandon ourselves.
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