Janene laughed. Hers was a high-pitched and rapid-fire giggle. She made me laugh, too.
So when she told me, through hysterical tears, what had happened to her one afternoon at her house, when her parents were out and a group of boys came over, I said nothing to anyone. We were 12. I rarely saw her after that and heard that her family moved. I forgot about her.
Faith cried, a lot. I didn't understand why, but I didn't like her scowling father who kept her inside and wouldn't allow her to come to my house when we were teens. I don't remember her mother. I forgot about Faith, too.
And there was that editor when I was in my 20s. My heart broken at the death of my father, I penned a loving essay about everything he'd done for me as my No. 1 nurturer and champion.
"You have no idea how lucky you were," the frank female editor said, noting that she was still trying to heal from the emotional wounds of her own father. I brushed away that interaction, too.
It's no longer possible to stuff these memories. They're back, and threatening to knock me over.
I'm late to this discussion and the reason leaves me feeling sad and strange. The onslaught of sexual harassment allegations nationwide has been an eye-opener for me.
I feel like I'm operating in a parallel universe, trying to get my brain around these sickening stories from courageous women, and men, who are speaking out knowing full well there is personal heartache and professional risk in what they are telling us.
It's forced me to confront answers to questions I never dared ask as a younger woman:
Your father? Your brother? Your uncle? Your boss? Your co-worker? Your coach? That group of teen boys did that to you?
I've been on this planet for more than five decades, so I haven't escaped boorish behavior in dating, in work settings, or by walking down a street. Far before college, I learned how to hold keys between my fingers as I entered a parking lot in the dark.
But these instances were blessedly few. They quickly evaporated, replaced by a different driving force that has been my lucky life:
The gift of unconditional support from men and boys who didn't hurt me, would not hurt me. Good men who guided me, and asked for my advice. Friends, siblings, lovers, teachers, supervisors.
I know this is no solace to anyone, so I've stayed mum, growing increasingly sick, and guilt-ridden. My unique protection has left me like one of the guys, largely clueless to the scope and daily insidiousness of sexual harassment and assault.
Was I just not listening? Did I give off a vibe that I couldn't be a trusted sounding board, or that I just wouldn't get it?
Is my hashtag? #me:too naive?
That wake-up call to men is also my wake-up call. But we who want to understand and act are large in number. Let's harness our intentions.
Let's support due process, of course, but also punish criminal behavior.
Let's resist our culture's go-to strategy for dealing with deviancy, which is to let the poisoned trees grow strong and tall, and then chop off the top as if that will end anything. Let's begin instead when that tree is planted.
Let's let our sons cry. Let's redirect men who were socialized as little boys to show affection by chasing and swatting a little girl.
Let's believe in men's capacity to do better. To be better.
Let's redefine too, our casual buy-in of the term "powerful men." Yes, these men, largely, are rich and they have control, but men with real power are willing to share it with enthusiasm. Without conditions.
I'm guessing the men now on the defensive don't feel any power at all. Deep down they feel small. Some maybe are sick. They lash out, punish out of anger, and because they can get away with it. Maybe they'll feel bigger and better, they think. And then they don't.
Enhanced sexual harassment training for them? Good luck. The offender will not see himself there.
So we need to see them. And say something.
I think often now of Janene and Faith. I was too young then to understand what they were up against. And then they were gone.
Faith. Janene. I didn't know. But I know now.
If I had the power to do it over again, I would see you, and I would see them.
And I would shut them down.
firstname.lastname@example.org 612-673-7350 • Twitter: @grosenblum