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Listening to the victim l Chuck's World


Last updated 10/3/2018 at Noon

I watch pretty much everything. I wonder if people think I don’t watch.

Or, rather, I read. My interest in current events and the political landscape has been with me as long as I can remember, and certainly in the old days I’d have CNN on in the background constantly, with an all-news station on the car radio along with two newspapers on the front step every day.

We eventually ditched our cable, and by then both my wife and I had migrated to only reading our news. We have much livelier political discussions when we can make citations. We’re old-school news junkies that way. We need a little ink on our fingers.

So I know what’s going on. I don’t want to talk about it.

Part of this has to do with the civic ugliness that seems mandatory now. Mostly, though, it’s because I can’t have a conversation with someone who only gets their information from television. I feel that it’s a flawed medium, and we end up lacking a common pool of data.

Also, I write for a newspaper. I assume if you’re reading me, you’re reading other stuff. I assume you know what’s going on. I assume you don’t need to hear my opinion about the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

I have opinions, of course. They’re the right opinions, too, at least until I change my mind.

I just remembered something, over the past week. An old memory, stored in some dusty locker, pressed between the yellowed pages of my mental yearbook. I hadn’t thought of it in years.

And there are a lot of years to cover. I was in my final year of college, hitching a ride back to school with another student. This was pretty common, as was the fact that I didn’t know the driver very well. We may have had classes together. I can’t begin to remember her name.

But she didn’t mind the company, and we talked a lot on the three-hour trip. We talked about our relationships, about people we both knew, about goals after college, a nice conversation, and at some point in there she mentioned that she’d recently been raped.

That wasn’t the nice part.

I knew the guy, too. About as well as I knew this woman, just barely, just his name and what he looked like. I now had some new information.

I remember being confused. A rapist hid in dark places, grabbing women in stairwells or parking garages or alleys. I had trouble comprehending. Words were important.

I'm pretty sure, in fact, that I'd never heard the term "date rape." It seems to have been coined in the 1970s, and became popularized in the ’80s. It was out there at the time of this conversation, but I recall the concept being weird and new to me.

It took me a few moments, but I understood. She went on a date with this guy. Things moved in a certain direction, and at some point she said, “Stop,” and he didn’t.

As I said, many years have passed. I’ve heard a lot of these stories now, as you have. They’re told by women I know and trust, who raise their eyebrows and roll their eyes at my astonishment. They know all about it.

This is why I just shake my head at guys like Matt Damon, trying to finesse the #MeToo movement into degrees of damage. Just shut up and listen, I thought. I think Matt’s a nice guy. I think I’m a pretty nice guy. This is all new information. Time to be quiet for a while.

Except that’s a tricky thing, staying quiet. It’s sometimes not enough to just listen, and now that’s what I wonder about.

Once I heard my companion’s story, and I certainly believed her, I was still confused. Obviously a crime had been committed, but she hadn’t been shoved into a dark room and had a hand clamped over her mouth. She was in a common social situation in which two people in their early 20s, in that era, certainly could have ended the evening romantically, even sexually.

She felt there was nothing to be done, and I couldn’t understand that, but I had no answers. I’m not sure I ever saw that guy again, in a classroom or hallway. I’m not sure what I would have done, or thought.

But I see his name. He’s on Facebook. He’s friends with friends of mine, not a surprise.

I’m not going to out this guy. It was nearly 40 years ago. I can’t remember the woman’s name, or many details. For all I know, I’m misremembering this man’s identity. I’m not saying anything, and there are no hints in this column. Not even my wife knows.

It’s just that I do. I don't know if I have any responsibility in any way, and I can’t imagine what that would be, but I think about it now. Just as I think about those Kavanaugh hearings.

I've just lately been wondering if there's someone in this messy, ugly, divisive business who knows the truth, and doesn’t know what to do.

In my situation, there's nothing I could do, or should do. I heard a story once, a long time ago. I have no idea what has happened to this woman, name long forgotten. Maybe she's on Facebook, too.

I just know he is. I know something else, too.

And so does he.


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