She was my teenage summer romance. It was a sweet and naively innocent passage in our young lives.
Separated by 40 miles of Ohio cornfields, we mostly shared our hopes and dreams through the written word. Every few weeks, my rickety Ford Falcon with three on the tree delivered me to her family farm for affirmation.
A year older, she left for college in the fall, and I started my senior year of high school. We had the non-exclusivity talk, and continued our faithful correspondence at a time when messaging was not so instantaneous. Our relationship was sustained by weekly snail mail.
Then her letters abruptly stopped. After nursing my wounds of rejection for a few months, I accepted the inevitable. High school boys were no match for worldly college men.
Thirty years later, we had a chance encounter, and I learned the real reason she had so suddenly disappeared from my life.
She had been date raped.
Of course we didn’t call it that in the ‘60s. In fact, we didn’t really call it anything, because such things were not talked about publicly.
Devastated, she withdrew into her private shame, dropped out of college and dropped out of life. Yet another faceless victim. Not even a statistic, because her violation was never reported.
Years later, my friend discovered her place in the world as a therapist, which seems altogether fitting. I only hope the recent congressional circus was not too painful a reminder of the trauma that forever changed her life. A violation she could never forget.
Memories of our lost relationship were recently triggered by “The Agitators,” a powerful play that recounts the lifelong friendship of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, and the impact they had on our lives by agitating the old white men who also governed their times.
One line particularly resonated with me: “From the day we are born, we women are pushed aside. We are told that our voices do not matter. That we are not citizens. That we are lesser.”
That lingering truism from nearly 150 years ago was poignantly reaffirmed by a brief interaction amid the embarrassing spectacle of a bitterly divisive Supreme Court confirmation.
A sexual assault victim admonished one of the men sitting in judgment over her lesser life to “look at me when I’m talking to you. You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter.” She was immediately condemned as a “rude elevator screamer … a paid professional only looking to make senators look bad.” She was told her voice did not matter to men who sanctimoniously lectured her to “grow up.” Chastised by men of senatorial entitlement who were offended that a sexual assault survivor would dare challenge their right to push her aside so they could “move on.” Apparently, there is time limit for victims to get over the trauma of sexual violence.
I wonder what my friend thinks about such arrogant indignation from men of power. My friend whose youth was stolen by a man whose life went on undisturbed and undeterred. The pain of her very real violation diluted to irrelevance by feigned political pique.
I know what I think. Where’s the outrage for her?
John Gunyou is retired and lives in Minnetonka. His daughter Emily Gunyou Halaas is currently appearing in “The Agitators,” at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul.
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