I want to write about sexual assault, but I struggle for words
When I tried to become a writer as an adult, I had a very hard time. I kept putting inadequate words in ALL CAPS, needing them to be bigger and bigger and BIGGER. Finally I thought no, I’m not a writer. I need to try visual art instead — big and then bigger canvasses, bolder strokes, stronger colours.
A sexual predator is about to be (has been) confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States. I’m Canadian, so why does it matter to me? Well, it does.
Like millions of women, I felt the truth of Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony in my body. And, to my surprise, in that same body, I felt the strong need to withdraw and defend from the assault of Brett Kavanaugh’s loud protestations of purity and innocence.
She testified that when Kavanaugh, aided and abetted by his buddy, assaulted her, he wore his laughing face — a face and sound encoded in her brain forever. When Kavanaugh presented the hearing with his angry, self-pitying, attacking face, the face encoded in my brain forever came forcefully out of the box that I try hard to keep it in on a day-to-day basis.
I am experiencing symptoms that I thought 10 years of therapy had eradicated: painful muscle spasms; the recurring desire to vomit; an all-over-body tremor; sleep disturbance; emotional volatility and difficulty concentrating. I want to write about sexual assault, but I struggle for words.
Christine Blasey-Ford and her husband went to couple counselling when a dispute over architectural details of their home renovation became problematic. He couldn’t grasp why she needed an extra front door — and even to herself, it must have seemed a bit strange, but she knew she needed that.
My partner and I went through a similar struggle when we were renovating our home. It wasn’t about doors for us. It was about height of ceilings — she wanted nice low spaces that felt cozy and safe, but to me that felt unbearably claustrophobic. I wanted to raise the roof to make a high cathedral ceiling with windows up there — a meditation loft, a place for my mind to go even when my body couldn’t. I fought for it and, like Blasey-Ford, because I had a loving partner and because I felt strongly about it, I got my wish. But as for her, it was a previously unidentified trauma-related wish. I never realized that until she spoke on TV. I wonder how many other women have struggled to have bizarre-seeming architectural safety wishes respected and accommodated. I wonder how many have not been as lucky as Blasey-Ford and me.
Her attacker went on to rise through the echelons of power, largely out of her sight and conscious mind. She escaped to the opposite coast — where accidental encounters, like the one with her attacker’s sidekick at the grocery store, would be unlikely — and proceeded to make the best of her life. I too have made use of geography to put distance between myself and my attacker.
I was well into adulthood before my sisters and I took action to get my father out of a job in which he had easy access to vulnerable children, but although we succeeded, he retained his reputation as a “retired” Baptist pastor — a holy man of god — and retains it to this day, in his 100th year on this earth. We did not press criminal charges — one of my sisters was extremely reluctant to do that — but eventually we filed papers with Ontario’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, and after a formal hearing in which we were all heard separately, were awarded monetary compensation.
The recognition of wrong-doing was important to my healing. The money is long gone. But the sight of that angry, self-righteous attacking face is burned forever into memory. A person with that emotional make-up and mind-set should have neither the power to define morality, nor the privilege of occupying any seat of justice, particularly at the Supreme level.
Patricia Seeley grew up in Ontario, but now lives in a small house with high ceilings on the rugged Fundy shore in Kings County, Nova Scotia.