Hope That Comes

Hope That Comes

Hope That Comes

An Essay by Rhonda ZImlich

NOTE: The following essay contains a graphic recounting of one woman’s sexual assault.

Since Jerry Brown decided to remove the statute of limitations on filing charges against sex offenders in California, I have been thinking about what happened to me at seventeen-years-old. I know there are theories against the removal of the statute. People cite possibilities that victims might forget certain details over many years, might fill in blank spaces with things untrue, but I remember the parts I have always remembered with the same amount of clarity, the way the music droned on, the dim lighting in the room, the smell of acrid sweat. The sharp pain of the rape is still sharp. The muddied parts of my memories are muddied still and I’ve never flushed them clear. At the same time, those moments of drug induced haze remain blurred, even after all this time. I’ve never been able to flush them clear. When I recall that night, nothing has changed over the past twenty-eight years.

Seventeen-years-old and on the streets after my mom asked me not to come home, I partnered up with a friend, Brandy (not her real name). I sought a place to crash. Brandy knew two guys who frequented a local bar, a seedy place we’d snuck into a few times only to be removed by the bouncer for being minors. The men offered me a couch for the night, and Brandy went along, too, because talk of booze and drugs punctuated the plans we discussed. Mere teenagers then, naïve and restless, and also without parental supervision, we went with these men to their apartment for a good time and a place to sleep.

I’d been in situations where partying and drugs permeated the events, but this was different. Just the four of us went back to their apartment, the home of men much older than Brandy and I—by at least ten years. Still, we drank and told stories. We played darts while we joked about trivial things while, which is strange with an age deficit, the conversation skewed between generations. I loved Bon Jovi and Duran Duran.The men liked death metal and 70s rock. They played in a band and had toured at some point.  One of them (I’ll call him Jonah) had long, greasy hair and a receding hairline. From a certain angle, he looked almost bald except for the fringe of curls that hung around the perimeter of his head, a curtain along the back of his neck. At one point, he offered some pills. Brandy accepted but I held back, unsure of the affects. A few drinks later I accepted the pills. After that, they separated me from Brandy. I’m not exactly sure what happened to her, but I can tell you what happened to me, even though I felt pretty intoxicated by then.  Part of the story is muddied, most likely from the pills, but, like I said, these parts have always been a blur. The parts that are clear have always been clear.

The other man, Charles (again, not his real name) took me to the hot tub in the courtyard of the apartment complex. We stripped down to our underwear and got into the churning water. Embarrassed and shy of my developing body, I tried to act grown up. After all, they had invited me to spend the night, those two adult men. I didn’t want to behave like a little girl. It was complicated. I didn’t know any better.  Imagine explaining that to a judge. This adult man, Charles, came on to me immediately, kissing me and then fondling me, even though I moved away from him. I tried to show my disinterest, but I know I never said the word, “No.” I got out of the hot tub and got dressed. He did too and he apologized for his advances. Back upstairs in his apartment we found Brandy and Jonah drinking shots of whiskey in the kitchen. When we joined them, Brandy handed me her shot glass and I downed it. The men left the room and Brandy asked me if I liked Charles. I told her what happened in the hot tub and, like a teenage girl trilling about a cute senior boy, she squealed. She thought I should go for it, but I had doubts. He seemed so much older than me and that made me feel uncomfortable for a lot of reasons. Also, I knew he didn’t want to be my boyfriend. I’d had only one real boyfriend by then and Charles did not fit that ideal.  I had no delusions that a man of that age wanted a relationship with a girl my age beyond anything that might occur within one night. I told her as much.

But then, when the men came back in the room, things changed. Charles came off more aggressive toward me. He put his hands up my shirt and I pushed him away. He joked about how I wanted to have sex with him in the hot tub, how I couldn’t keep my hands off of him. We continued to drink, even though I felt out of control. Then, Charles showed me where I would be staying the night in the back room. “The band room,” he called it. When I followed him back to the band room—a third bedroom in the apartment with a drum set, an old couch, a few guitars hanging on the walls, and Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” already playing on the stereo—he invited me to sit on the couch. I did as he instructed, but when I sat, my heart jumped as he shut the door and dimmed the lights to nearly dark. I felt afraid and strangely sober. He joined me on the couch, pushing himself into me, putting his mouth on my neck. He bit my throat as I pushed him away. I called out, but he put his hand over my mouth and shushed me with a menacing force that terrified me. Then, he slapped my face, though with less impact and more power, pointing his finger at my nose as he pushed me all the way down on the couch with his other hand. He threatened me to stay quiet.

By then, the fear of what Charles might do to me raced in my thoughts. I also feared for what might happen to Brandy. I remember feeling like I couldn’t breathe until I realized that—in fact—I couldn’t breathe. After he had my pants off and had entered me, Charles had wrapped his hands around my throat. He started choking me.

It’s strange the things that went through my mind then. I did not feel drunk anymore, and yet, I wished so much that I still felt that warm buzz, the numbness of intoxication easing the pain and fear and demoralization of the entire experience. Like I said, the clarity of these moments that have not faded over time.  

This brutal event seemed to go on for hours, but in reality, episodes came and went over the night. Thankfully, the intoxication gifted intermittent oblivion when I faded out or passed out, but always I’d come back into lucidity with a new level of horror.  I remember at one point crying while not looking at him. Instead I stared at a place on the wall trying to guess the type of guitar that hung there. Was it a Les Paul, a Fender? I could just make out the nub where the button held the guitar strap a few inches below the bridge. Ever present wafted the longing that the night would end, it would be over soon. I thought about that first boyfriend, the only other person I’d had sex with before then, losing my virginity only six months earlier.  We called each other ‘hon,’ like honey. He moved back to Georgia at the end of summer and we cried and cried. What would he think if he could see me then, underneath Charles? I wondered if this made me a slut. I wondered if Brandy and Jonah also had sex. I thought of this act as “having sex.” It never occurred to me that he raped me while it happened. That is, it didn’t occur to me until the very end, until the door opened.

That’s when I found my voice, though through a strangled rasp. I started saying “Charles, stop. Charles. someone’s in the room.” I remember I felt embarrassed that someone else had come in, seeing my naked body being pounded on by this man on top of me.

The person who came in the room—was it Brandy? Had she come to get me? To rescue me?—made their way over to us on the couch, and still Charles did not relent. He continued his thrusting into me, squeezing my neck again as I pleaded for him to stop, barely able to speak his name, “Charles, stop.”

Then the figure knelt next to the couch and looked directly into my face and answered, “I’m right here.” Charles, entered the room. I was staring into his face as he knelt next to the couch. Looking back up, I realized that his roommate, Jonah, had been on top of me.  It had all started with Charles but at some point, they had switched places, and now Jonah held me down. Jonah penetrated me then while Charles knelt next to us. I suddenly remembered when Jonah hit me, bringing me into consciousness just enough. I remembered when Charles hit me too, held me down, flipped me over pushing my face into the couch so that I thought I would suffocate, turning me back to hold my throat again. All of those moments—the blurred ones, those precious moments of obscurity—became lost to a swirl of some substance I would never name, some terrible drug which had rendered me defenseless. I would only have the recall of the harshest of that night as shadows of the abject. But I had some clarity, looking up at the face of Jonah hovering above me, his greasy curtain of curly hair hanging down around him, and then looking at Charles next to me, his smile askew, I knew: They had both raped me. They had both been there, taking turns with my young body so vulnerable in their care.

The terror of this realization knocked me out cold. No drug could have produced such a stupor.  When I came to, the sun had risen. Daylight described the room in early morning. The music had gone. Brandy was there with tears in her eyes. “Are you okay?” she asked, but by her tone and her flitting eyes as her gaze traveled across my face and neck, I knew I was not okay. She helped me to sit up and get dressed. We barely spoke.

After I got dressed, the men took us to their car and drove us to where Brandy directed them to take us: my mom’s house. She probably thought my sisters would know what to do. When we pulled up to the curb, Charles asked if he could get my phone number and he pulled out a pen and a piece of paper. I felt so confused by this request. With a look, I tried to convey to Brandy to not give away my deception.  Then, I rattled off some phone number that I’d made up. When we went into my mom’s house, we found my sisters watching TV. They looked me up and down and asked “What the hell happened to you?” And I answered them in a way that I always knew would not play out well in court, but was just about the bravest thing I could think of to say at the time. “I had a good time last night,” I told them. Then I climbed the stairs and went into the bathroom, I set the shower as hot as I could stand it, and I entered the hot stream of water still in my clothes.  There, I sat on the floor of the tub and cried and cried.

For months when I shut my eyes, the image of Charles kneeling down next to the couch and saying the words, “I’m here,” haunted me. I drank any intoxicating thing I could get my hands on so that I could escape that image, the picture of Jonah hovering over me, his receding hairline and crooked nose, his stringy hair hanging down toward me. Only after I had attempted to take my own life by cutting my jugular vein with a broken bottle in a drunken fit one night did I finally tell my sisters and then a few friends what had happened. They urged me to tell my mom and I did. She gave me money for a visit to Planned Parenthood and a pregnancy test, but I used the cash for more booze. By the time I made it to rehab, only a few months after the rape, I had damaged my liver. The whites of my eyes had a yellow tint in them and it hurt to sleep on my right side. The doctor said I would’ve caused irreversible damage if I had continued to drink for even one more week. At his urging, I told the therapist everything that had happened, leading up to me being placed in rehab, including the story of Jonah and Charles and that terrible night. The therapist, a mandatory reporter, called the cops.  Shortly after I had confessed the assault I found myself face to face with a female sheriff’s deputy.

I had just come back from the cafeteria to get ready for the weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Once per week a group from AA outside of the hospital came to visit and share information about their program in case any of the patients wanted to attend AA when we got out of rehab. I always looked forward to the meetings. My aunt had been in a twelve-step program for many years and, during her visits, she had encouraged me to attend the visiting AA meetings. However, instead of attending AA that night, I had a deputy waiting in my room.

She sat on my roommate’s bed along with my therapist. The deputy, a black woman with a round face and smart eyes, smiled warmly at my arrival. I froze in place and then pivoted on my heel to turn and leave when my therapist said, “Hold it.”

I stopped with my back to them as the therapist explained why the deputy had come. I knew why the cop was there but resented the therapist for bringing her. Still, I turned back around and sat to listen to their spiel. The therapist explained about mandatory reporting. The cop, Deputy Tracy (again, not her name), talked about statutory rape.

“Even if you were intoxicated,” she explained, “it is against the law in the state of California for a person who is over eighteen years of age to engage in sexual activity with someone who is under age.”

I listened. My heart beat and my palms sweat, but I did my best to listen. I worried this visit, with its forced entry into my night of AA meeting plans, might trigger memories of that awful night. I had mostly avoided revisiting those memories while in the comfort and safety of the rehab hospital. Still, I liked Deputy Tracy. I thought about what it might be like to be her, a woman in a mostly male field, and a black woman, too. I took no pride in what I felt I had to say to her then. I still don’t. In fact, when I look back on that moment in my life, I still wonder why I said the things that I said then. I have certain theories, ideas of survival and protection, how an animal feels when backed into a corner, basic ideas of fear. Still, I think about where those words came from, so certain and confident, and why I felt the need to protect myself.

“It never happened,” I said.

“Excuse me?” Tracy asked.

“Yep,” I said. “You heard right. It never happened.” I looked at my therapist before I continued. “I’m just getting off of booze and, as I understand it, I’ve been pretty sick with it. I guess I can act out in all sorts of ways now, including attention-seeking behaviors like making up outlandish stories. I made it all up.”

“Don’t do this,” the therapist pleaded, her body slumping a little. “If these guys did this to you, they’ll do it to someone else. Maybe lots of other girls. Please think about that.”

“I’m not responsible for anyone else,” I said, reciting a twelve step catch phrase I had already learned. “I am only responsible for myself.”

The more I thought about how I responded, the more justified I felt. Why else would Deputy Tracy go into detail about statutory rape rather than acquaintance rape or even aggravated rape, especially in Jonah’s case? I knew why. She meant that, under the circumstances of my inebriation, it would be hard to get charges of acquaintance or aggravated rape to stick on a crime that had happened many months earlier based on an account from a girl in a drug rehab. She knew that the strongest case she could make would be statutory based on the indisputable fact of my age. But even that would not stop the lawyers from dragging me through the drudges of my inebriation, pitting my shame against me. I knew I’d never pursue justice or retribution, then or ever, lest I hurt myself more than I’d already been hurt.

In September of 2016, twenty-eight years later, I played the clip of Governor Jerry Brown again.  He talked about passing Senate Bill 813, about ending the statute of limitations on rape and child molestation cases in California which would enable a victim of such crimes to pursue justice no matter how long ago the crime occurred.  As I listened, I thought about an amends I owed Deputy Tracy, that therapist, and also my seventeen-year-old self. For the first time in nearly three decades, I considered filing charges. I knew one of the attacker’s last names. I knew where they lived back then. I knew they played in a band that performed in that seedy bar, a place that still existed. And now, as an adult woman, especially one with two young daughters who, as the therapist said, could be the next victims of such a crime, it might actually be my responsibility to ensure that it would not happen again. With the change in that law, I had found new hope and new courage.  

And then November eighth, 2016, came.  My husband turned fifty that day and we celebrated with cake and tears watching the election results on TV. When we went to bed, I did not sleep.  Instead, I lay awake staring at the pantsuit I’d worn to work that day hanging in the dark near the closet. I replayed the events of the evening as I examined the suit’s broad shoulders and black buttons.  I replayed the evening, the bitter-sweet chocolate of the cake seemed more bitter than sweet as Wisconsin turned red, then Pennsylvania, then, it seemed, the entire country, our “pantsuit nation.” Across our dark bedroom, I traded stares between the ever-changing clock and that pantsuit. I hoped that sleep would come, overtake the dread that gripped me, but my hope felt ever useless. I considered the phrase, “the audacity of hope,” what a bold stroke such a verb could be for a woman of our current era. Precious thoughts of my daughters arose as I smashed the fear about them back into my heart, longing to keep those young girls hidden there from the chauvinism of our country. What kind of a world would they know, I wondered, those young women just entering adolescence, their next four years (at least) marked by a true misogynist in the White House. I agreed with President Obama’s choice to call hope audacious. I tried to physically force the thought away by tossing my body around in the bed, seeking comfort, seeking hope that would not come.

So much hope had come from recent events: the Black Lives Matter movement, equal pay for equal work, a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage with the abolition of DOMA, an agreement between many large countries to finally join forces and address global warming in the Paris Agreement. All of these things and many more led to a sense of real hope, one that I experienced for the first time in my adult life watching McCain concede in 2007, watching Obama take oath in 2008. But Governor Jerry Brown’s removal of the statute of limitations on rape cases hit me on a personal level. Inspired by reports of Bill Cosby’s sexual assault on a minor, and then fueled by the many more women who came forward claiming similar charges against the aging T.V. star, people began talking about many old cases which might lead to prosecution. This meant that no matter how long ago a sex crime occurred, charges could still be brought. I started talking to others about how I might go after the two adult men who raped me at seventeen-years old.  After all, I now had the experience of age on my side, the poise I lacked more than half a life ago. Back then, I’d heard stories of what happened to young girls when they stood up for themselves on witness stands, especially under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and because I had recounted this trauma to a therapist in a drug rehab, I hardly thought my testimony would be credible. Now, nearly thirty years later, I wondered if I might be able to speak for that younger me who ended up seriously ill and institutionalized.

The circumstances of my ending up in rehab at seventeen had a lot to do with what happened that night with those two men, but it also had to do with my family and why I’d been asked to leave home in the first place. I’d had a traumatic entry into puberty, hid my changing figure from the catcalls of adult men by wearing baggy shirts and dirty jeans, resented being pretty, punched the first boy who tried to kiss me. Since then, I had been sliding down a spiral of teenage drinking and delinquency, skipping school and getting into trouble. I’d attempted to run away from home years earlier but failed. I’d started hanging out with a rowdy crowd, the kids who sold drugs and stole items and vandalized. I never sold drugs or broke into any buildings, besides a few abandoned factories where we hung out and listened to The Ramones on our boom box, but I knew people who did other things, criminal things. Because of this, I didn’t experience shock from deviant behavior, or at least I experienced less shock than when I first started high school. Before long, I stopped going to high school altogether. After that, my mom declared she’d had it. She said I wasn’t welcome to come home anymore, that she couldn’t handle my unruliness. I only lasted one night on my own, and by that I mean I almost didn’t survive. I do believe those men threatened my life that night, that perhaps my life had always had been in danger because of my womanhood, that as long as society is okay with sexual violence against women and girls, my life will always be in danger.

When Trump gloated—no, boasted—about grabbing women by the pussy, it felt like a personal assault on me. Other women have shared this sentiment, though some men I know took up the cause of reducing it to locker room talk.  These men have clearly never been fondled at their waitressing job or had a man masturbate at them as they walked home from school. They’ve never had to alter their jogging path because a scary figure blocked the trail. These men have never been told their job description is to look cute and answer the phone. And then Trump talked about how he would date his daughter. Then the accusations came of Trump’s sexual harassment during his beauty pageants, accusations made by young girls, minor girls, girls not much older than my daughters, some as young as twelve, others seventeen. And then accusations arose about Trump having an orgy with prostitutes in Russia. And then, he became President of the United States. President.

The 2016 presidential election halted any inclination I had to try to bring about justice for my younger self. Regardless of all Jerry Brown tried to do to ensure a safe passage for victims of sexual crimes, no matter how long ago, my bravery could not match this country’s support of such misogyny and sexism and sexual violence. I could not put my seventeen-year-old self through that, even as a grown woman armed with life experiences and motherhood and feminism.  

I knew then, as I lay in bed on that election night—images of the states turning red across the screen, the faces falling, people’s hopes falling—that I wouldn’t stand up for my younger self, that I couldn’t.  I heard that defiant and yet desperate seventeen-year-old voice inside of me deny that she had been a victim again, tell her sisters she’d had a good time, tell the deputy it never happened and want to believe it with as much conviction as she’d said it. And yet, I couldn’t silence the woman in me that screamed to be let out, to run amok against this failing and wicked machine of misogyny and sexism that had placed that man into such power.

As I lay there thinking about the audacity of hope, the vision of my lovely daughters coming of age during an era of Trump made me sick to my stomach. Then, the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates came to me. I thought about how, when he wrote Between the World and Me, he wrote for his son, the perfect audience. His words came across with such clarity because Coates needed to be quite specific in what he conveyed, offering heritage and history, experience and truth that might help pave a way to justice for his young boy. So, how could I convey the history of misogyny to my daughters and have it be as honest and truthful and helpful, especially if I couldn’t even stand up for myself or any of the other countless young girls who have been raped or who will be raped? My daughters are twelve years old, so they already know a lot. But should I warn them about the cat calls that will begin and increase as their breast sizes increase, how their shapely figures will change the shape of how they will be treated by others, boys and men and teachers and coaches and principals and presidents? My daughters have begun to show awareness that a woman’s body is as much a tool as it is a weapon, being wielded for power and position when we have had to struggle for seventy-eight percent of the pay of men, how we have to apologize for the changes that occur to these tools and weapons after we bear children, taking on the toll of carrying and supporting other life, decreasing our own physical value in the process. My young daughters are already receiving messages about what it means to be pretty, how to carry themselves, and the things that they should say, how important it is to smile, to act polite, to hug relatives that they would rather not hug. Even I have been the teacher of such lessons of discrimination.

All of these thoughts ran through my head as I lay there election night, 2016, looking between the clock and my pantsuit.  But what I thought of most, and still think of now is, will my daughters continue to learn how to battle stereotypes, how to overcome inequality? Will our schools still offer and encourage their freedom, their right to choose, their right to control their own bodies when such newly acquired rights are still drying on the parchment? And who will protect their minds, uphold them to the same esteem as their male counterparts? And who will speak for their hearts when they break wide open with a history of misogyny enveloping them? In 1947 it was against the law for a woman to sit at the bar on barstools. That perch, elevated above the other bar patrons, belonged to men, a man’s arena. In 1919, women did not have the right to vote. Did we forget that in 1866 the 14th Amendment passed by congress egregiously defined voters as “male?” Women fought that amendment for another fifty-four years before corrections and suffragists made right again. In 1974, during my lifetime, congress had to outlaw housing discrimination against women. And in 2007, Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House after women came into positions of power in other countries long before.  The U.S. has been slow to put women in positions of power, focused more on what female candidates wore on the campaign trail and whether or not their position would interfere with their ability to parent, to mother. We made “mother” a verb, and often a derogatory one. As I lay there that night, the thought of that last milestone—when Nancy Pelosi became Speaker—brought me to tears. My daughters were two years old when Pelosi took that seat.  I remember I felt a small amount of hope then. I had hope that there would be a brighter future for my daughters, where women would be honored in main roles in government and law from that date forward. In 2009, Hilary Clinton became Secretary of State, the third woman to do so. The year before, Hilary became the first “first lady” to run for president. She and many other women infiltrated the higher ranks of government bringing fresh ideas and change, and along with them, they brought hope, no small feat considering that women in politics are held to higher standards for their family values than their male counterparts. Imagine what the media would have done with Hilary Clinton if she’d had the same family dynamic as Trump, children from multiple partners, several marriages, a history of infidelity. Clinton never would have made it into the political arena in the first place if she’d come along with that same baggage, and yet we all seem to eat it up from male politicians these days.

When Coates said that race is the child of racism, not its father, perhaps a similar aphorism can be made about misogyny. Gender, a social construct, is likewise the child of misogyny, and a very old child at that. It’s been around as long as we’ve had civilizations. This brings to mind an experience that happened for me in an Early Western Civilization class, which I dropped after the first class meeting.

As the basis for his pedagogy, the instructor of the course chose the art of war and male domination to define and describe the evolution and growth of western civilization. I am in no position to dispute this as a scholar, though someday would love to try. But if I were to write like Coates, to my daughters, I would want them to understand that this is a widely held opinion, that war and domination shaped western civilization. But I’d also want my daughters to understand that there are those who put just as much stock in the theory that art shaped our modernity, along with literature, music, electronics, the scientific method, modern medicine, etcetera. But on that first day of class the instructor only focused on war and domination.  To demonstrate, he asked for volunteers. He picked two young men. The first had the appearance of fitness and fortitude, and the other meek, smaller. He placed them on opposite sides at the front of the class then asked them to imagine primitive Neanderthals, to pretend to be them. The physical one obliged by making monkey noises and a few students laughed. Next, the instructor asked for two female “volunteers” from the class. The first, a young Asian student, and me. I said, “no,” without enthusiasm. The instructor showed some intelligence by not pushing his request. He skipped over me and picked a different woman. Then he demonstrated his theory of the development of western civilization by telling the monkey man to thump the other Neanderthal over the head with an imaginary club and take the woman he possessed. Aside from the hilarity of the pantomime that ensued, the example was dreadful. Not only did most of the women in the class feel quite uncomfortable at being made into a commodity that could be stolen by brute force, the objectification reduced half of our species to objects that had no actual role in the development of our modern world. Even my twelve-year-old daughters can name several reasons why this is wrong. In fact, I asked my daughters and they responded without hesitation with these following ideas (and many more I couldn’t capture):

“Without women the species would die out.”

“If everybody just starting killing each other, the species would go extinct.”

“This is just objectifying women and we are not objects or pieces of meat. We can think.”

“Women are teachers. They are the healers and child rearing centers in our cultures. They often care-take the society, shaping its morals and ideals.” (Actual quotes!)

“Did anyone say anything? I can’t believe the whole class wouldn’t say anything.”

“Also, men would have to display their hyper-masculinity . . .”

As I listened to my daughters, twelve-year-old twins, continue in their discussion about hyper-masculinity, sexism and misogyny, I regarded them with awe. During the progression of their conversation, that idea of hope returned to me and I felt a little more restored.

That election night in November 2016, intersects with that other dark night back in 1989 in a strange crossroads in my personal life. Parallels exist within those events that I might not ever be able to explain or understand, clarity of recall or not. I am still undecided about whether I should seek justice for my seventeen-year-old self, but what I do know is that, in the time since the election results of 2016, we have already seen such change against the onslaught of misogyny that my hope is gaining momentum. Not only did a world-wide protest take place on January 21, 2017 calling women’s rights to the forefront of our collective consciousness, but it repeated itself again the following year with a promise to continue each year commemorating our efforts and redoubling our commitment.  Through the Women’s March we ensure that we will fight even after we no longer need to fight—and I hope a day will come when we don’t need to fight. Plus, the #metoo movement has given rise to the awareness of just how far-reaching sexual assault and violence runs among us. And, on a more personal note, in reading that one small example of my early western civ class to my middle-school-aged daughters, they became so fired up with their own feminism that they took the issue back to school.  One of them joined a gender and attraction group to keep her part of the conversation going.

If I could return to that night on November 8th, I might whisper in my own ear some soft reassurance, giving myself permission to burn the pantsuit instead of having it cleaned. It’s much too heavy of a suit anyway, lacking all the soft edges of my shawls and dresses that I love just because they are comfortable and for no political reason at all. Or maybe I would just sit with myself and encourage sleep. What would I whisper to myself if I could return to 1989?  Be strong? Be true? Maybe. But really, I think that version of me did the best she could do at that time. I think she still does the best she can do today.

I do not fault myself for protecting what I believed then, and I cannot fault myself for my hesitation now. It is poignant to remember that being brave doesn’t mean having no fear; it means having fear and stepping through it. Having hope doesn’t mean I don’t experience times of hopelessness; it means I grow from those times. This is why I refuse to give up on hope. It is my choice, and I will fiercely cling to hope under any circumstances even if it means returning to tough memories and sifting through the muck. I will offer hope up and share it and cultivate it. It is audacious to have hope, especially being a woman in this era, and especially on the heels of our history. But I invite you—I challenge you—to join me there in that space where fear lives just before hope arrives. Strength presides there for you, my daughters and my fellows. You can hear it just over the horizon, the thundering sound of the hope that comes.