I didn’t report because I knew I didn’t matter.
If you think that sounds harsh, you have read it correctly. It is harsh. It is also true: I didn’t matter.
I didn’t know that I knew I didn’t matter, not quite that explicitly, until I actually typed the words on Twitter this afternoon:
Holy shit, is that true?
Oh, honey. Of course it is!
I wasn’t a notably insecure young adult.
Full disclosure: I was an actress and a writer so I definitely needed constant reassurance that I wasn’t driving my life off a cliff with this arty-farty nonsense because while I was scraping up enough money to buy myself a Goodwill suit jacket to wear in a student film in which I had 3 lines, I was keenly aware that I could have had a whole closet of blazers purchased with my very own Banana Republic card, if I’d just settled into a nice steady desk job with a 401(K). (Holler to the artists and creatives! Hang in there!)
But when it came to my inherent worth as a human on this planet, I knew I “mattered.” My parents were proud of me. Boys wanted to buy me drinks. I went to a good school and had gotten good grades. I was nice. I was punctual. Let’s see, how else did I know I mattered? Oh, I got birthday cards! Also, my Granddad has a building named after him in Denver. It seemed quite clear to me that I was a person whose existence validated itself through my achievements and general likability. Matter? Achieved. I mattered.
I knew I deserved a Katie-sized amount of space on the train into Manhattan every morning, and I wasn’t shy about taking up exactly that amount of space. Manspreading is no myth. I have seen it. I have, on occasion, beaten it back with my passive-aggressive knees.
But most of the time, I took up a Katie amount of space while standing in front of the half-seat left between two exultant bastards whose knees practically touched in front of the empty seat between them.
I mean, I wasn’t trying to cause a problem. I wasn’t going to be aggressive about it. Not while I hurtled through underground dark tunnels in a sealed metal tube. I mean, I wasn’t trying to get myself in trouble. Not worth the risk. Besides, standing never hurt anyone.
One time I even sent back a salad because it came with bacon after I’d asked for no bacon. I knew I mattered enough to say aloud, “I actually don’t eat meat. Sorry. So sorry. Sorry.” It was a big moment for me, made slightly less triumphant by the fact that yes, I apologized at least 9 times when I did end up sending it back; and yes, of course I tried to eat around the bacon bits at first.
I mean, I wasn’t trying to cause a problem. Also, you don’t know what they’ll do to your salad dressing if you send it back, even if you did clearly say, “No bacon, please. I’m a vegetarian.” Is it really worth the risk? A couple of little bacon bits never hurt anyone.
It occurs to me that unasked-for bacon bits are a lot like sexual violence. Stick with me.
I didn’t want them but there they were; I tried to suck it up and live my life avoiding them but they were just fucking everywhere; the idea of complaining about them scared the shit out of me because I had no idea how badly I would be punished for speaking up; I’d have been “Sorry, so sorry, so sorry to bother you, but I don’t like this, I’m sorry,” if I had.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the chef saw an order for salad, and dangit, salad just comes with bacon! It just does! That’s what salad IS! So he dumped on the bacon with gusto, and it never occurred to him that my stated preference for “no bacon please” might be more than a whim or a fancy that could be steamrolled with a shitload more bacon. It never occurred to him that my lifelong vegetarianism, as my lifelong right to life free from sexual violence, wasn’t as changeable and insubstantial as what a girl craves, sometimes, for her salad toppings.
It never occurred to him that I didn’t want him to change my mind.
I still think about it that way, you know. Like I was the strange one, ordering off the menu, attempting to modify the printed recipe to accommodate by weirdo preference for not having sex when he wanted to. Who did I think I was?
That’s still how I think about it. I’m not fixed. Everything I write comes from a place of needing to make sense of what actually happened in order to feel something other than terrified when my understanding of how the world works gets obliterated, again.
Everything I knew about the world pivoted on the fact of my need to cooperate with people who mattered.
Everything I knew about the world spun on the spindle of whether people who mattered approved of me. Look at how I knew I mattered:
I had the approval of my parents who were proud of me.
I had the approval of boys who wanted to buy me drinks, friends who sent birthday cards.
I cooperated with other people when I was punctual.
I cooperated with my teachers when I got good grades.
I mattered not because I mattered, but because people who mattered allowed me to help them feel good.
I knew it but I never said as much out loud because to say it out loud would have meant I’d considered the fact of not-mattering to the point of conclusion, and I never did.
I also never meditated on the complexities of my hair color. It was obviously brown. I also never sank into deep contemplation on my shoe size. It was indisputably 9. These were facts about my body, things I learned about myself in the missing time before my brain started saving memories: I have brown hair. I am right-handed. I have big feet. You can do what you want if it makes you happy.
What happened to me was as common and unremarkable as a bowl of lettuce. The idea of kicking up a fuss about a salad I didn’t much like? Terrifying.
Now I’m talking about the literal salad: I was terrified to send it back. My heart thundered. My voice shook. I made the sorry-sorry-sorry face, the one that makes zero sense to my husband because his heart doesn’t thunder when he sends back a salad. “That’s not what I ordered,” he says. “No problem,” they say. Easy. It sounds so easy.
Now I’m talking about the figurative salad, the literal assault: I had to juice myself up to send back a salad, people. It never even occurred to me to vocally object to… that.
I can just imagine the discussion:
Why didn’t you send that salad back? I would have sent that salad back so fast.
You sent it back? After you ordered it in the first place? Kind of a mixed signal, don’t you think?
But you did take a bite, right? How many bites? So, it couldn’t have been so terrible.
Who do you think you are to order a PERFECT salad? Are you the perfect salad-eater? Please.
That last one really dills my pickle because it feels so true when it silently surrounds my heart, and it sounds so fucked up when it emerges into actual written words.
It feels like it’s my fault because it’s easier for me to believe I could have controlled what happened than to assign responsibility to a person I can’t control, will never see again, and scares me. I feel like the girl sitting in the restaurant, staring at a bowl full of bacon, heart pounding as she argues with herself.
I know that there is an ever-expanding universe of distance between “the perfect person” and “a person who sexually assaults people.” I never asked anyone to be perfect. I asked them to keep their hands to themselves. I know that I got in the wrong cab with the wrong person instead of going home with my friend. I know that choice was flawed. I know that my flawed choice does not make me responsible. I know it.
(I feel responsible. The world only makes sense if I agree to be responsible. I prefer to make sense in the world.)
So that’s #whyIdidn’treport.
If it sounds untidy, you have read it correctly. It’s a fucking mess. But it’s also true.
My hope is that someone who reads this feels seen, heard, not alone. If you feel that way, I wrote this for you. You matter, not because of who you please, but because you exist. There is nothing you could do to matter more. There is nothing you could do to matter less. Your worth exists. It simply does.
My hope is that someone who reads this begins to understand why she makes that “sorry sorry sorry” face at the restaurant. She’s not pathetic. She understands. I hope you do too. If you feel that way, I wrote this for you.
If your world was just obliterated, I’m sorry. But please believe me while I work on believing myself:
it’s better to not make sense in the middle of ruins
than to make sense in the middle of rot.
Thanks for reading this post.
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