“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” –Ernest Hemingway
It hurt a lot of people in a lot of ways. For most of us, the pain started in 2016. Many people sang the praises of 2017 as the new year, hoping for a reprieve. I was not one of them. All I could think this time last year was, “You guys know it’s just going to get worse, right?”
And it did.
2017 made things worse for families. For children. For seniors. For immigrants. For women. For national parks. For scientists. For government employees. For poor people. For communities of color. For students. For LGBT folks. For patients. For journalists. For religious minorities. For animals. For small business owners. For refugees. For workers. For victims of natural disasters. For members of the military. For small farmers. For criminal justice reformers. For homeless people. I’m sure the list goes on and on.
2017 hurt a lot. But I cannot explain everyone’s pain. Only mine.
2017 made me raw. Made me vulnerable. Made me face demons head-on in a way I did not expect. The disbelief and soul-searching that came out of the 2016 election gave way to genuine and constant discomfort on Inauguration Day.
I watched as a rapist took the oath of office.
Since the election women all over the country have had to come to terms with the fact that a majority of American men, and way too many women, looked at a rapist and decided that he was fit to hold the highest office in the land. We have friends and family that think it’s okay.
I have friends and family that think it’s okay.
In one fell swoop all of my trauma and pain was speaking from behind a podium with the presidential seal and rubbing his victory in my face as if to say, “Not only is what happened to you fine by me, but it’s fine with your entire country.”
I can’t listen to his voice. It makes my skin crawl. It gives me flashbacks. But I forced myself to sit through the entire Inauguration. I am a political professional after all, and I needed to witness this moment in American politics. I needed to witness this moment in history. I needed to draw motivation from it because even though it hurt, I knew I would have to keep fighting—fight harder than before.
So I sat alone in my house and I turned on CSPAN and I cried.
I’d like to say I cried for our democracy. Or for all of the vulnerable people that will be hurt worse than I will. Or for any number of reasons that make me seem less selfish. But it would be a lie.
I cried for myself. For the pain that I’ve been through and the pain that he triggered. For all the people who didn’t believe me and all the people I never told. For the fact that my own mother couldn’t see why this was wrong.
The very next day was the Women’s March and I cried again. This time it was the realization that I was not alone. That other people were in pain too. That this isn’t just politics—it’s a deeply personal struggle that got people off their sofas and surfboards and into the streets. It was the first moment I felt anything like hope since Election Night.
After years writing about and then working in politics that was the biggest show of grassroots strength I have ever seen. I still return to it in my memory when I need some hope. I am not alone.
But the year went on and the conversations got harder. More complicated. There have been more battles to fight than I can even dream to keep up with. I can’t even imagine how a “normal voter” feels in this rapid-fire world where you say “Hey, remember when…” and it’s only actually been a few weeks even though it feels like years.
2017 has been slow and painful. Death by one thousand cuts. Months dragged on and I could not put words to my discomfort. I knew it was there, but I never got very far when trying to explain it.
Then came Harvey Weinstein. The women of the world said, “Me Too.”
Then Kevin Spacey. Matt Lauer. Mario Batali. Charlie Rose. George H.W. Bush. John Conyers. Al Franken. On and on and on it goes and the women of the world keep shouting, “Me Too!”
Every single day for months on end I open up my internet browser and I am face to face with my demons. Most days I have an uncomfortable conversation with some man about why this is all happening and what it means for society.
Inevitably the conversation ends up with me telling a story so that the man understands what constitutes harassment, assault, and rape and why I get so riled up about it.
I go through a film reel in my mind. Which story do I tell? What would be most relevant to him?
Do I talk about the time an old man at church put his hands in my underwear and whispered in my ear that it would be our little secret? It is one of my earliest memories. I was so relieved when he died.
Do I talk about the boy on the playground who rubbed a stick between my legs? Kindergarten? Maybe First Grade?
Do I talk about the boy who turned off the bedroom lights except his lava lamp and asked me if “this lighting would do” as he blocked my access to his door? I still can’t look at lava lamps without cringing.
There’s the fact that I met one of my childhood best friends because he knocked a guy off me who decided to use a game of two-hand touch football as an opportunity to dry hump me as half a dozen other kids watched. To this day no one else has ever stepped in to stop these situations.
What about the time a classmate cornered me in the 8th grade in a dark classroom while I was grabbing my backpack to leave early for the day? Where the hell did he get baseball bat?
Or the time my European History teacher groped me? That’s when I learned that rumors are a defense mechanism.
Or the time I was kicked out of a frat house because I refused to have sex with one of the brothers and I slapped him when he grabbed me anyway? That could have ended so much worse.
Maybe I should talk about the time that a local staffer pinned me up against the wall at a fundraiser? Or that time a donor groped my thigh under the table? Or that time a club member grabbed my hips and pulled me into him as I walked by at an event? You would think Democratic politics would be safer.
There was that time a few months ago when a man rushed me in Balboa Park with his hands down his pants. Thank goodness for my dog scaring him off.
Do I talk about the rape? That probably goes too far. He’ll get too uncomfortable and shut down.
What about all the innocuous moments on the street or at work where I’ve felt unsafe? All the times I have checked over my shoulder on the sidewalk to see if a man is following me? All the times he has been? Would that be enough to convince him? Men don’t have to walk through the world that way.
Each time I go through the memory reel I feel as if I am digging at scars. My heart starts racing and I start to panic. Even now, typing it out, I am struggling to breathe properly. An attempt to catalog them all would end at the bottom of a few bottles of wine and hundreds of dollars of therapy. Admitting some of them to myself, let alone sharing them, would likely end in untold damage.
These are not my only stories. And I know I am not the only one. Most women I know have more than one story. Some women have dozens.
I’m not good at math, but I know it does not bode well for men when they insist, “it never happened.” And although I know #NotAllMen are terrible, I am much more skeptical of the gender now than I ever have been. (And that’s saying something.)
Every day since Donald Trump was elected, I have seen my demons take up a majority of the news cycle. Every single day our society is actively and loudly wrestling with the things I have been through and whether or not they matter. Whether or not my sovereignty over my body matters.
These conversations are necessary, but they are awkward and painful and personal and raw. They hurt.
2017 brought a lot of pain to the surface for a lot of people. We are living through a significant cultural shift that is trying to undo deeply embedded ills in our society. It is complicated and it will take a long time to settle if it ever does.
2018 will likely hurt too. So will every year in the foreseeable future.
But pain is necessary for growth, and the thing that is getting me through this is the belief that this moment will make our world a better place. So I will keep facing my demons, and keep digging at my scars, as will millions of women just like me.
Because I am not alone. We all hurt. And after hurt, comes healing.