Fuck You, Brett Kavanaugh

I had no more words about the nomination, the hearings, the likely confirmation. I walked into the Maine woods with one of my oldest, dearest friends and we talked of other things. Then, on the last night of our hike, when I heard the outcome, I had some choice ones for the table full of older white men in the lodge, who broke the news.

They said Susan Collins (R-ME) had made “some very good points” in her speech, that she was “a very good senator.”

My heart began to to race. A strange pace, not the flutter of anxiety, nor the curious stillness I felt, two days later, 30 feet off the deck on some unfamiliar rock, someone else’s cam placed blindly in a wet and wonky crack, the next moves more awkward than I would have expected from a climb of this friendly grade. The way my heart pounded when they said Collins had voted yes, but made “a very good” speech, was as fast and forceful as its fury the times I fought off the would-be assailants, rapists, and home invaders, the way white powders made it pound in my punk rock-adjacent days. Some flood of hormones in the system that make it go.

“She is not a very good senator,” I said, “if she put a rapist on the Supreme Court.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa said the table full of old white men. You can’t use that word.

That makes me nervous, said one old white man.

Nervous like if someone were holding you down, covering your mouth, tearing off your clothes, about to rape you? I asked. Nervous like that?

It wasn’t proven, said the old white men. It was just her word.

There wasn’t a real investigation, I countered. But I believe her.

They didn’t like that, either. They lectured me on the process, the system, the meaning of justice, the dangers of taking women at their word.

Dinner conversation degenerated from there, until one of the old white men yelled at me that he had “listened to all of [my] opinions” and now I was “mocking” and “bullying” him (I had corrected him that the Constitution originally contained a 3/5 compromise, not a “2/3 compromise,”), and he didn’t “have to take it,” and what was the point since, he nearly shouted, “YOU have to be right all the time.”

I AM right, I thought, obstinately. But we never get to be right. We are right and right and right and this world is wrong and wrong and wrong.

Before he raised his voice at me, the old white man told a story about how a man at the company he runs had touched a woman “in a friendly way,” and, after the woman complained to him, the boss, he, the boss, had told the man, the “friendly” workplace toucher, that “if he so much as laid a pinky finger on the arm of a secretary,” then the man would be fired.

I knew he told this story to show what a good ally he was, or at least what a not-horrible man, but the story itself revealed a dozen more layers of his misogyny and ignorance, as had his jovial, “Hey, girls!” when he greeted my friend and I earlier that day. We were walking in the woods to celebrate her upcoming fortieth birthday. I didn’t like it, from the get-go, the way he called us girls. I’m not your girl, I thought. Would you let me call you “boy,” old man?

Sometimes we say it, among ourselves. My girls. That’s why I’m here, back East—to see my girls. Sometimes we say it, climbing in a big group. “Where are the boys?” “Are the boys back yet?” Another friend’s husband, a native Spanish speaker, might say “las chicas.” But it is all different among peers, among friends, among equals.

It is not the same as the old white man, a stranger, calling me a girl, or telling me that Susan Collins is a very good senator, made good points. Telling me how the world is, with an authority he has never questioned, and cannot even see.

A pinky finger on the arm of a secretary? As if to say, he was such a good man, that he knew it was wrong to let lawyers touch even the secretaries. Implying that while most male lawyers might know better than to touch one of his supposed equals, a fellow, female lawyer, he knew that it wasn’t okay to touch even the women less-powerful than yourself.

I thought, quickly, of Jefferson, and all the others, who spoke and wrote so eloquently about equality–for those they could even see as human. And who raped and bought and sold and killed all the others, even their own children, and their children’s mothers. Whose vision was this high court and this Senate tasked with staffing it, whose inheritance was these white men’s, in their flannel, at the table, in the lodge near where the first colonizers landed.

I knew I’d set them off when I said “rapist.” We’re supposed to let more lawyers and judges decide when we get to use that word. It doesn’t serve the cause. Bad feminist.

“Are you telling me which words I can and cannot use?” I asked the old white men, all around the table in their flannel shirts, their woolen layers.

This shut them up, quieted them, in fear of my fury.

The next night I stood on the edge of the Atlantic, outside the lobster joint with my old, dear friend’s husband, himself now an old, dear friend. (We are not even old yet, after all this! We are just…less young.) I stood up at their wedding. Their two girls, five and eight, had scrambled up the rocks in the parking lot, brave and bold, shouting, “Watch me, Emily!”

“I see you!” I shouted back. “Wow! So fast! So brave! Good job!”

Now I stood with their father on the edge of the sea. “I wanted you to see these rocks,” he said.

“They’re beautiful,” I said. “What kind are they?”

“I thought you knew,” he said. I was once a champion identifier of rocks, little numbered lumps.

“Slate?” he guessed.

“I was going to say shale,” I said. “Shale becomes slate. Under pressure.”

Everything becomes something else, under pressure.

The way you can tell shale from slate is the way it cleaves, the way it breaks.

“Cleave,” which means both “to split or sever” and “to stick fast to,” as half the nation begins to split from this patriarchy, and another half sticks fast to it.

She breaks just like a little girl.

But she didn’t break, Christine Blasey Ford. She didn’t cry, though I and every woman I know cried and cried, in our kitchens, at our desks, listening to her.

Two days later on the strange, wet rock of the state where I was born, I looked at this funny problem, this odd shape, this cracked and cloven rock. I yanked and yanked on the piece on which I’d temporarily hung my life, or maybe just my spine, which I could not see. It felt good. I looked around at all the things to hit were I to fall. Trees and such. So much to hit at these friendly grades. I hadn’t placed a piece on lead in thirteen months. How could I know if I were safe?

I wasn’t, exactly. I would have to make myself so.

“Your first piece of protection is your climbing ability,” I remembered a kind friend saying. He has much more than I ever will. I had let my body and ability and lead head go soft, staying on the ground to do the thing at which I have some real ability.

I am not the best at climbing, but I am good at protecting myself. But we could not protect ourselves from this, from him.

These last few weeks, thinking and thinking with our bright minds, and we could not solve this problem, we could not stop it, we could not save ourselves from this terrible threat, not with truth, not with tears, not with phone calls to the office of the undecided senator.

I knew we wouldn’t be saved, not by the senator of the state where I had come to hike, where my friends had come to raise their girls, on the rocks by the sea, in the lakes of the woods, not by all of our phone calls, truth, or tears. But I hoped anyway. It is only natural, like a rock, only human, like a woman. Isn’t it?

Now, here I was, on a Wednesday, in the mountains. No other cars in the pullout, no one else here at the crag. A stranger I had met two hours earlier in a diner parking lot, whom I now trusted with my life, holding the rope. I was as safe as I could be, but I didn’t want to find out how safe that was.

Something like relief flooded my body, though the hard part wasn’t over. Here was a problem I could solve. Here was a salvation I could find. I could figure out this awkward, wet crux on this moderate climb. I could make this go, I could make this right.

*You have to be right all the time,* said the old white man who thought himself a good man, because he wouldn’t let one of the lawyers at his fancy firm in Philadelphia touch even a secretary. (More than once.)

Not all the time, I thought, peering into the dark maw of the odd, wet crack. Just when it counts.

What was this rock? Was it granite? New Hampshire was the Granite State, but I couldn’t find anyone to climb with there, on a Wednesday. So I came home, to New York, though my favorite of all the state mottoes is “Live Free or Die.”

I looked down at my belayer. I knew I could trust her, felt it with my body when we shook hands in the diner parking lot, using the same sixth sense that tells me which men not to trust. We had the same name, the same pants in different colors. Her dog-eared guidebook was open to the pages of this cliff. She showed me, we agreed, I followed her muddied Subaru with my rental car, followed her up the faint climber’s trail ablaze with autumn leaves, to the base of this strange rock.

“Watch me,” I said, embarrassed to be stalled on such a friendly grade, before a stranger.

“Got you,” she replied. The air was so hot and wet, so thick with leaves and sweet decay. It smelled so familiar, after all these California years. Like home.

Watch me, we say, when we think we might fall.

Watch me, shouted my friends’ girls, who know nothing of all that worries their mother and father and aunts and uncles, all the grownups who love them, who would do anything, anything, that they would not know what we have known, what we have finally spoken, what keeps us up at night.

I took a deep breath and made a plan and made my mind go blank. Don’t fuck this up, Weinstein, I muttered, my secret mantra. I know, it should be nicer, kinder. It is the mantra of an overachiever, a perfectionist. What can I say? It helps.

Hello, old friend, I thought to myself, marching up the awkward rock, climbing into and through the crux, making myself go making it go. How silly it was to be afraid! Of course I could hold on! Only a complete idiot would let go! You’d have to be suicidal! You just put your foot there and—THERE. The body knows the way. The body wants to live. It fights the rapists and assailants and when it cannot bring itself to fight, it simply survives.

Oh, but I am a fighter. I always fight, or fly. I like to fight and even more to win. It took seven years of climbing to teach me how to fail, to teach me failure was not the same as death, that only death was death. And it gave me strength to fight when I had to fight, harder.

I didn’t fuck it up. I made it go. I did it right. I won.

And then I stood in the safe place, the hard part over, and the valley in all its rainbow-colored glory spread out before me, Adirondack peaks in every direction. It had only taken a few dozen feet of climbing and a handful of seconds of courage, to get up high enough to see.

O joy, O joy, O joy. Not one part of me hurt, not the hand that ached for the better part of a year, not the heart that sometimes feels it will break from loneliness and patriarchy, from the failure of all of my efforts to solve these problems, to even make a dent.

I grinned, tasting the sweet relief and triumph of not having fallen. It was like meeting a lover again, after a long time away. All this talk of rape and force and things unwanted. A person, a woman, could forget about what it is like to want and be wanted–O joy, O joy, O joy.

I am a hopeless romantic. I believe there is someone for everyone, someone we wouldn’t have to knock unconscious or hold down by force, someone who would be most willing. In this big, doomed world, maybe even more than one. Maybe some, however small the sum.

But I don’t know if they are into that, the Kavanaughs. Do they prefer us unconscious, unwilling? Do they even know what it is like to both want the same thing? Or is it not even about anything we know as sex or desire, is it only about power, about some confused set of beliefs of what they have been told about the sin of their own desire in the hands of an angry God? Or are they in blackouts, in darkness, and they know not what they do?

I am so tired of wondering what they want or think or feel or know or remember. I have concluded that they want me unconscious, unwilling, silent, and maybe dead.

And that is why I looked out at the beautiful valley, very much alive and whole, my broken heart not quick but steady, and said, aloud,

“Fuck you, Brett Kavanaugh.”

You can’t catch me here. Wear your robe, bang your gavel, throw your fits, reach for my private places with the long arm of your law.

I don’t have to be right all the time, but I know I am, I know we are. Just as it was Kavanaugh, not Blasey Ford, who cried before the Senate subcommittee, it was the old white man who raised his voice, who got emotional. I felt the tears behind my words as I said the things I said, but I didn’t cry at the table.

I went outside, to the blackness of the new moon in the dark Maine woods, got down on my knees, covered my own mouth, and wept for what we lost, where no man would see what he made me do.

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