The warning whispers at the fringes of my consciousness; I can’t shut it up. In my defense, writing about myself, it’s not untrue. Watch the news, look at the statistics. Our president is an actual rapist. A rapist. The President.
The degree to which women are endangered by men has never been clearer to me than when I fled my own abusive marriage. My first stop was home for battered women and children. Naively, I was shocked by the sheer number who’d beaten me out to claim one of the insufficient numbers of rooms the house had available. And it’s a big house. All over it, there were children crying, women with bruised faces. A beautiful teenage girl sat curled into a ball with her back against the wall. To her chest, she clutched a teddy bear that she was way too old for, and she rocked back and forth, back and forth, ceaselessly.
And as my fear was temporarily displaced by fury, I thought, men, did this. They did all of this. And then the fury slipped over a cliff into a pit of hopelessness from which I’ve not yet extracted writing about myself.
When I was running this morning I watched a male sparrow mate with a female sparrow. I know better than to anthropomorphize and call it “rape,” but it didn’t look consensual. She tried her best to escape him three times before he got her. It killed me to watch. I thought, maybe this is just how things are. Maybe it’s inescapable.
Maybe we’re all just destined to be prey.
But humanity has transcended nature in myriad ways. We don’t live like animals anymore. And if men want to retain the right to take women against their will, then they’re going to have to relinquish their rights to own laptops, to drive cars, to watch porn on the Web.
They’re not going to do that. Men are evolving and will continue to evolve because that’s what humans do. Granted, some specific manifestations of that evolution are taking way too long, but evolution, by definition, does continue. And lest it appears I’m seeing the future through rose-colored glasses, let me assure you that the shade of my glasses runs from a cool grey to black right now.
But because I don’t want to keep living in such darkness, I’ve started to tell writing about myself other stories, to replace the “men will hurt you” refrain with words and images that have the power to eclipse, or at least to challenge it.
I now carry with me a photograph of my father that was taken when I was a little girl. In it, he is holding a ragged-looking cat that I clearly remember as feral. I’m not even sure where he found the cat (or where she found him), but he tended her round-the-clock, fed her tuna and cream until she grew fat and shiny. She remained skeptical of the rest of us, but from the day he brought her home spent the whole of her life within the borders of his shadow.
A few weeks ago I was sitting in a coffee shop when I noticed a disabled teenager struggling to navigate between tables while using the walker that she needed to support herself. As I began to stand to help her, two young men about her age from a table across the room moved toward her, quietly and efficiently moving tables and chairs out of her way to clear a path. They didn’t make a big deal out of it.
These are small things, but they are real things. They are snapshots of men who are gentle and honest and kind. There are lots of such men.
The new story I tell is about seeking and finding the good, about not giving into fear and anger and hopelessness. In the story I am the heroine: I am the one who, when everyone else is screaming and ranting and tossing their hands in despair, whispers, This isn’t over yet. There are places you haven’t looked at; there are things you haven’t seen. I remind writing about myself that defaulting to stock characters is cheap and that not all stories become German fairy tales.
And then I keep going. I’m not reckless. I have flashlights and water bottles, blankets, and signal flares. I pick my way carefully over rocks, through thickets, over rivers, into caves. And all the while I am looking, noticing details, finding gratitude and grace and redemption.