C’est Moi, Dr. Ford by Debby Dodds
Even if you’re one of my best friends or a former lover or a family member, you probably don’t know this story. I’m no Doctor Christine Ford. I’m not brave. I will not give you the names or place or details that will identify the guy who attempted to rape me. But for the first time, I’ll write about it.
Yesterday I posted on Twitter, “C’est Moi Dr. Ford.” It was a paraphrase of a quote by Gustave Flaubert; Flaubert made it in the face of a social outcry against a fictional character he created, Madame Bovary. Society at that time resented the notion of a woman who dared to have aspirations, who dared to step outside of the accepted misogynistic definition of a woman as a docile, grateful partner of a man.
I know I’m not the only one triggered by the ubiquitous comments on social media: If she had this happen in high school, why is she just speaking up now? Let me help you try to understand that if I can.
I was 19 when a shockingly similar event happened to me as the one that happened to Dr. Ford. I did not speak out that night. Or the next morning. My mom could tell something was wrong. I remember hissing at her to DROP IT.
I still did not speak out a year later when my assailant was caught stalking another girl and he was asked to leave the college. My guilt about that was, and is, immense. I talked about it in therapy 20 years later after the fact. My therapist told me it’s not a victim‘s fault or responsibility to speak out, but I still feel guilt the size of an anvil that could weigh me down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. I’m a selfish person. I am weak. The detectives on Law and Order told me through my TV that “If you don’t prosecute him, it could happen to others” so it’s my fault that girl got stalked or maybe worse.
At the time, I thought if penetration didn’t happen, well, then it’s not a crime. What would I report?
I thought it was my fault I put myself in a situation that this could happen. I should’ve known not to go to a virtual stranger’s room alone.
I thought if I pretend, it might go away.
I thought I can’t tell people because they will think differently about me.
When the topic of rape comes up, both women and men inevitably post about the necessity of women taking self-defense courses. Women shouldn’t let themselves get hurt. They have no idea how horrible that makes victims feel. I worry it’s my fault because I didn’t take a self-defense class.
It’s also my fault I was too naïve. In the 80s, when Dr. Ford and I were assaulted, people thought of rape as something that happens in back alleys by masked villains.
Boys in my high school openly joked about getting girls drunk to “have sex.” Heck, I remember some boys in my high school talking in the cafeteria about trying to drug girls with “Spanish Fly.” It seemed wrong as they bragged about it, but everyone laughed, so I stayed quiet.
I drank all that social poison in, myself.
If I told you my attacker’s name, which I won’t, you’d know. You’d gasp, maybe. One of the richest families of the 20th century. I knew they’d have lawyers who’d go after me for defamation of character or something like that. I remember once, about 15 years after the brutality, I took a tour of the mansions in a fancy area. The attempted rapist’s family owned one. The mention of it made me nauseous. I blamed it on car sickness.
How did I meet him? He was a friend of a boyfriend of a friend. We met at a club we were too young to legally be at. Then he asked me out. He was sweet. We had a nice dinner. Very expensive. He paid. After he told me he had an advance copy of a CD of a band that I liked. We went up to his dorm. I noticed many pill bottles on the table. Was he ill? Cancer? Of course I knew it would be nosy to ask. My gosh, it was only our first date. I knew not to get too personal or to make him uncomfortable. I had manners about things like that. We drank beers. He had a few. I nursed one.
When we kissed, I wanted to. Make no mistake, I kissed back. I was enjoying it. Back then, I loved to make out. I could make out for hours. I often did. But I remember a boy or two complaining that “just kissing” is selfish. If I didn’t want to have sex, I just wanted to kiss, I was a tease. I gave men blue balls. What a jerk I was. But I didn’t stop. It wasn’t a power thing, I just loved kissing boys.
Always before. when I moved their hands, when I said no, they were would desist for a while. They might try again, though. If they got annoying, I stopped it and went home. I’d heard “Boys were the gas; girls were the brakes.” Also, “boys will be boys.” Please don’t think I always stopped. I didn’t. So there’s another damning thing. It wasn’t like I was pure when I was attacked.
I read that online recently several comments that boiled down to this: many moms of 17-year-old boys supported Cavanagh. They understood he was drunk and he couldn’t help his hormones. Those moms didn’t want their sons judged, either. When I read that, I cried. I’m the mom of a girl but I believe if I had a son, I would tell him forcing yourself on someone is never OK. There is also the religious leader who said “no penetration means no rape” and that Cavanaugh walked away. No. She escaped. I escaped.
We both lucked out. I did fight at first. I said, “No!” But then I went limp. I’ve heard “fight or flight” are the only two reactions to fear. But there’s another one: you shut down. It can happen after the panic after the fight. Or maybe you go still because your brain circuits just get overloaded and shut off. Or maybe your subconscious is considering the situation and it just seems practical that you can’t win so you give up. Or maybe that passivity comes from a childhood protective device, like when you disassociated then when atrocious things happened to you, so it’s easy to now to protect your mind the same way. I don’t know. I just know when you have someone almost twice your weight and strength on you with an arm on your neck, it can happen. It happened to me, and you feel even more ashamed. I thought I was a fighter, you say to yourself and greet your weakness. It’s terrifying. Like how when you know something bad is going to happen in a horror movie and then it does. The waiting for it is as excruciating, so just let it be over.
And then as his hand met my skin under my jeans, I used all my strength to try to fold myself up. I was desperately trying to curl up like a pill bug into a protected position. It was like the violent reaction when your hand is burned and you pull it back, hard. Reflex. I wish I could say I kneed him in the junk on purpose and then I ran. That I was strong. Not the truth. But I have told that lie. The smattering of times I’ve told the story of my attempted rape, I tell it as if I escaped by kicking him in the balls. I did not want to be a victim, I want to be the strong woman, but the truth was it was an accident I got away, just like Dr. Ford.
When he got my knee in his crotch, he wailed in pain. And he doubled up involuntarily like I was trying to. I was free. I jumped up and I ran. But then I hesitated at the door. I kid you not,. I felt guilty. He did pay for an expensive dinner after all and he was in pain. Should I say something? But then I ran because he was calling me bad names, the C-word and the B-word. I didn’t like that, so I ran to my car.
I hate origami. Lots of people will tell you that about me. They’ll chuckle and say, “That Debby has some weird origami phobia! Ha Ha!” When my daughter brought me a paper frog she made it age 5 in school, I thanked her but I ripped it to pieces in the bathroom after she wasn’t looking.
You see, the attempted rapist loved origami. He got my address, even though I was in school many miles away. He sent me a letter a month after what he called “our date.” They were many excuses he wanted to make me aware of. He was bipolar and he hadn’t taken his meds. Also he was drinking and drinking and taking meds was bad. Also I was so damn pretty. Also he could see a life with me one day if I could just forget this first date “mistake.” Also I seemed into it and that confused him. Also his ex-girlfriend liked it rough. Also she was a slut. Also I obviously wasn’t a slut; I was a nice girl. Also have pity, he was recovering from her leaving him but he had feelings for me now. And with the letter, he also sent me another little gift: an origami flower. Could I forgive him and give him another chance? I was traumatized all over. Would he try to find me?
I tore his letter up and then I puked on it before I flushed it. Stupid me. Lack of planning. What if he would be the nominee for the Supreme Court in 30 some years? I’d have had proof if I kept that letter. So shortsighted of me; Congress would tell me that I should’ve thought ahead.
I have many things I screwed up; I’m not brave or strong or wise. But also to my credit, I don’t hold people down and grab at their chest and maul them and I don’t shove myself between their legs against their will and I don’t pull out my own sex organs and show them, as if wielding a weapon, and tell my victim what I plan to do to them and I do not disregard a weaker person’s pleas to stop and I do not make them hurt and cry and I do not instill in people lifelong fears about stupid things like origami.
I believe you, Doctor Christine Ford. I am you.
Debby Dodds is the author of the YA novel Amish Guys Don’t Call (Blue Moon Publishers, 2017) and has stories in fifteen anthologies, including My Little Red Book (Twelve) and many magazines and online journals. She received a BFA from NYU in Drama/Acting and a MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. As an actress, she was featured in many independent films and television shows, wrote and performed in stage shows at both Disneyland and Disney World. She’s the proud mom of an thirteen-year old daughter, Dory.