So, I was in a photography class that was part of a summer arts program that I went to every year. Students from around the state gathered for classes in pottery, drama, music, writing and all that cool stuff.
In our photography class was a strange girl. I felt for her, but even the instructor had a very difficult time keeping his cool dealing with her odd emotional outbursts. She was easily angered and disruptive. I remember that at some point she simply burst into tears while talking to the instructor for no apparently reason. The instructor and the students were not equip to handle the situation. We generally tried our best not to be hostile. Her behavior was enough outside the norm, that we (as young as we were) assumed her behavior was due to an issue of mental or emotional health – something she could probably not completely control.
At some point she and I were in the dark room together. I was sitting on the table and she was standing in front of me.
To this day, I have no idea what may have triggered her behavior, but she flew into a rage, threw herself at me and started hitting and kicking me. In an effort to protect myself I put my legs around her and grabbed her arms. “Quit it!” I yelled at her. “Stop it!”
Suddenly she froze and looked at me with absolute horror.
“Don’t hit me!” I said, still holding her. I realized that she was no longer trying to hit me and was trying to get free. I let go.
She burst into tears and ran out of the darkroom. I just sort of sat there stunned for a moment and then left as well.
I went back to the classroom and she was there, telling the instructor, while still upset, that I had done something awful and that I was some sort of pervert. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was clear that she was saying I had sexually assaulted her. She was crying and pointing in my direction.
I remember how she looked at me. I have no doubt that she was telling the truth as she perceived it. To her, that is what happened. I felt horrible. I was scared, but also felt bad for her.
I took a deep breath, worried for both her and me. I tried to formulate in my brain the best way and most honest way of describing the situation. I expected the instructor to ask me questions. Perhaps he would bring someone else in, perhaps a counselor of some sort, to help him decide what the best course of actions was. Perhaps I would have to leave the class. Perhaps they would call my parents. I would have understood.
I was not quite prepared for what happened.
He just blew her off.
Nothing – not even a question. I don’t, for the life of me, remember him asking me one question. I don’t remember if she came back to the class again; it was so long ago. Maybe she did, and just avoided me. I really can’t recall. I wasn’t going to approach her, that’s for sure.
I vaguely remember some of my classmates asking me what happened, and they believed me. I was telling the truth. I did nothing wrong. I was defending myself.
But it still bothered me, that nobody took her version of events seriously – not even for a moment.
Would they have taken what she said more seriously if I was a boy? What if she acted more typically? I don’t know.
Would it have been better if everyone, despite her obvious pattern of behavior, believed every word she said and kicked me out or hated my guts? Would it have been better if I lost my friends or was arrested or punished for something I didn’t do?
Of course not. I was innocent.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t bother me, that in some alternate universe, where I’m not an honest person and actually some abusive ass – and something completely different happened in that dark room – that the response of the rest of the world would be the same. Nobody listened to her when it was not true – but there was no way for them to know – so nobody would have listened to her if it was.
These are not easy situations.
People’s individual lives are not about slogans and absolutes; or warpaths and agendas; or societal level problems and patterns. They are about the details, the nuances, the best guesses, the compromises, and the unknowns. It’s about loyalties and emotional attachments; and trust.
We can only do the best we can; to care for one another as much as we can and navigate the ambiguities that have no perfect answers.
At the very least we need to be honest about what we cannot know; and consider what the consequences of our actions might be given all those possibilities.