by Jackie Rosenfeld
audio by Carly Robins
I look at Sally Field’s face paused on my TV screen in an episode of Gidget she wrote about in her memoir, In Pieces. As Gidget goes to confront her fictional father, Sally is triggered long before being triggered is a thing to be and in the doorway to his bedroom meets the memory of her step-father’s abuse of her little girl body. The wave of pain crashes onto her cheeks. She cannot stop it. And it is bitter, and it is sweet that crying fit the scene so no one yelled cut.
In her twisted lips and swollen eyes, I see myself.
I press play and wait for a new angle. I press pause again and see a sweet young face so full of regret over something she could not control. Tears. Snot. Lips now curled.
I listened to the audiobook of In Pieces days before on a long round trip drive between Texas and Arkansas. On the drive back, towards the end of the book, I had to pull over near Texarkana to keep myself from throwing up in solidarity as Sally retold learning that her mother knew something of the abuse and did nothing. Said nothing.
It was not a step-father I didn’t have, and it was not my mother—who would have done a million things if she had known and none of them would have been still or silent. It was my grandfather, and it was my dad who pulled his father out of my room at last when I was fourteen without looking me in the eyes and without ever mentioning or asking about it. Without ever allowing me to feel protected or safe.
The irony of listening to this book on this trip just after the Kavanaugh hearings and during Sexual Assault Awareness month does not miss me.
I unpause again and see Gidget’s father hold Sally close and gently and safely. Her face calms and she relaxes into his shoulder for a moment before another wave crashes and pulls her down.
The night before I went on a date at a local bar with a man I met online. My first date in three years, and I was glad to be taking this kind of chance again. He seemed kind and quirky and was legit according to my Google searches.
It was rainy, so I let it slide when he was twenty minutes late. I let it slide when he, joking about the rain, asked me how wet I was with the innuendo of a pre-teen boy. I blushed and made a face when he mentioned his predilection for porn. I groaned and shook my head when he compared the flavor of passionfruit to Poprocks and vagina on crack.
And then he crossed a line. He said something so sexual and vulgar that I interrupted him by standing up to leave. He retreated. He apologized. He asked if he could try again, and I sat. Within minutes he was telling me about a woman he dated who was “not in touch with her body, not sexually” at which point I asked for the check, paid in cash, and left.
All the drive home I thought about what he said that was so sexual and so vulgar that my immediate reaction was to escape–…because I could not remember. It was as if that moment were cut out of my memory with a razor, the edges were so sharp. Sharp like the edges around the missing memories of my childhood, the memories of when I was with my dad’s father.
The irony of going on this date with this man just after the Kavanaugh hearings and during Sexual Assault Awareness month does not miss me.
I pause the Gidget episode again. I see the consoling embrace Gidget’s fictional father holds her in. I see the comfort the actor Don Porter gives Sally selflessly and safely.
I think of the men I’d trust to do the same for me. The man. I am able to think of only one.
I press play and stare into her eyes. I see at last what it looks like to feel what I’ve felt for most of my life. I see the humiliation, the fear, the vulnerability, and the rawness of being stolen from yourself.