I'm visiting my oldest friend tonight. We're sitting at her dining room table in companionable silence, each of us on our computers. I'm editing a story - actually a column, the socio-political one I write for EDGE. It's about the Log Cabin Republicans, the lobbyist group for LGBT conservatives. (Yes, LGBT conservatives actually exist.) I'm fiddling with a section about Donald Trump. I'm absorbed in my work, but I hear her mutter under her breath.
"What's up?" I ask.
She tells me about the post she's reading on Facebook. It was made by an acquaintance, someone she knew years ago through work. The woman has started a Go Fund Me account to help her pay for a month's worth of anti-retroviral medication, the treatment recommended for rape victims to prevent HIV, which costs thousands of dollars. It seems she woke up the other morning in her bed, bruised and scraped, her car no where to be found, her clothes dirty and torn, bra missing. She couldn't remember how she got there, what happened to her or how she got home.
The thread below the post is filled with supportive responses. "I'll be fine," she's replied. "This isn't the worst I've been through." Underneath her comment is an old picture she's posted of herself, of the side of her face. She's got a large bite mark on her cheek. The teeth didn't break the skin, but the wound is inflamed, red and swollen. It's one of the ugliest things I've ever seen.
I burst into tears.
Hours later, I'm still crying. I'm crying with horror and empathy, disgust and grief and, most of all, rage. I'm filled with it, and I've got nowhere to put it, nothing to do with it except write about it.
Because seeing that picture, reading that woman's story after the last couple weeks, after hearing that narcissistic fascist brag about sexual assault and then watching, dumbfounded and filled with revulsion, as his legion of supporters defended him - it's just too goddamn much. It's too goddamn much after seeing Trump creep after Clinton across the debate stage, predatory, threatening. Is there a woman alive who can honestly say she didn't feel the slightest bit uncomfortable, even afraid for her? Because we've all felt a similar presence behind us at one time or another, haven't we? In the parking garage maybe, or walking home after a late night out? We've all wondered at least once in our lives "Is this it? Is this when it happens?"
It's too goddamn much after the eleven - at last count - women who have come forward claiming Trump assaulted them. And still he leads in 16 states, from Montana to Nebraska, Louisiana to Kentucky. It's too much after Bill Cosby and Brock Turner. It's too much after hearing the calls at Trump rallies and beyond: "Hang the bitch," "Kill her," "Shoot her" - and still there are men who insist that this reaction isn't based in misogyny, that somehow she deserves it.
She's asking for it, I guess. Right?
And it's too goddamn much after reading just a few of the stories posted online by women as a response to that Access Hollywood video. Stories of sexual assault. Rape. Humiliation.
It's too goddamn much because I've got my own. The first time I was young - 8, 1o? - in a babysitter's pool. A man, I don't know who he was, sat me on his lap and put his hand down my bikini bottoms. I don't remember if he put his fingers inside me. The second time I was in my 30s, at a house somewhere. I was drunk, I think. Maybe high. There were two of them and they put their fingers in me. But I was strong, able to protest, to push them away.
There are so many other, quieter moments that hurt. Smaller indignities, that came from loving a man once upon a time who didn't really like women. Who maybe, in some dark, sad place, even hated us a little. The time I was told, clinically, "You have really firm breasts. For a woman your age." The time he came home from work and I didn't get up from my computer to open the door for him. Furious, he'd looked at me and said "You know, I don't expect the women I'm with to wear makeup every day, but why don't you clean yourself up?" The time I was called a "fucking bitch." It wasn't the words. It wasn't even the words. It was the venom behind them.
What I don't understand is, what I want to ask men who rape and assault, who demean and threaten, who beat us, or simply can't see our value beyond our appearance and what's between our legs...what I want to ask them is why? Why do you hate us?
But I can't. I'm too angry. It's too goddamn much.
Jill Gleeson is a journalist based in the hills of western Pennsylvania. She is a current contributor to The Pioneer Woman, Country Living, Group Travel Leader, Select Traveler, Going on Faith, Wander With Wonder, Enchanted Living and State College Magazine, where her column, Rebooted, is featured monthly. Other clients have included