Never think it can’t happen to you. You are too aware. You are too smart. Things like that don’t happen to you.
Things like this happen. They happen repeatedly, and to people who thought they were just as smart as you think you are.
Do you remember how clever you thought were when you first tied your shoes? And how clever you thought you were when you first snuck candy? How clever you were when you aced the spelling test? Or, convinced your parents you were responsible enough to be left alone? Or how clever you were, later, when you secured the perfect job only to find the person who hired you primarily wanted in your pants?
We like to think we are so clever, but we can be outsmarted, and are, more frequently than we like to acknowledge. Everyone thinks they are so clever, but the ones who take advantage are the ones not thinking they are clever, but using all of their cleverness to deceive. We are only more clever than they are if whatever we are spending our time thinking about, all of our time thinking about, is how to get what we want. Those people aren’t more clever than we are in all things, but they are more clever than we are at something primary: they are very good at making us believe we made the choice to be deceived.
We made the choice. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s ours, and they not only convince us of that, they somehow have a way of unleashing everyone’s blame on the victim.
Why didn’t you tell anyone? Why did you let that happen? I thought I raised you better. I thought you trusted me. What did you do to make that happen? Why didn’t you stop it? You could have just told someone. You could have told me.
It’s not what you were wearing or how you looked or that you were prettier or more handsome or that you asked for it. It’s that everyone agreed to ignore the signs and everyone agreed to absolve the perpetrator because to see it means they aren’t so clever and it also means they are wrong, and they want to be right, even if it means blaming the innocent.
How high did you feel when you snuck the candy? Good? For how long? Did you then feel guilt? Did some of your joy over taking the candy make you feel badly later? Badly enough that you didn’t do it again?
When you tied your shoes, you were proud you could do something yourself, not proud that you deceived the shoes into letting you have your way with them.
Perpetrators don’t feel guilt about taking the candy. They want more. And it doesn’t have to be candy, either. They want the high of everyone thinking they are good, when they aren’t. They like hiding. Hiding is where they feel power. If they can stand right in front of you and you can’t see them, they have not only won, they are powerful, and they want power. They crave it. That’s why they pick those they can overpower. They can overpower you. They can overpower more people than you know, so much more than you know.
And you are especially easy to overpower if you need parents, or love, or money, or shelter, or someone to help with your kids. Money? Time? Help? They hear that word, help.
Do you have it all except you have never been told you are beautiful? No one has ever loved you for who you believe yourself to be? Someone has made you feel less than deserving. Maybe it wasn’t even your parents. Maybe you just look in the mirror and think you don’t deserve anything or aren’t good enough. You don’t see them, but they see you. They know exactly what you need, and they will give it to you, so you’ll give them what they want, until you are so ensconced that it’s like the carnival ride of funny mirrors and you feel the glass and see the other side and cannot find your way out.
The first (or last) person to say I love you, whether they do or not (because it won’t matter if they seem like they mean it because they don’t know what it is) will charm you, because they say they love you and they don’t have to. You won’t know the definition yet. That won’t matter. Those words will seduce you. And they may even be withheld until some damage is already done. You will already know you should have said something about what they wanted. You should have said something, you tell yourself. This is your fault. Not the thing, the not telling. You didn’t tell.
And now there’s this love out there, suggesting you should accept or forgive or even say thank you, thank you for loving me, even if it will take decades to know this is not love.
It isn’t love, right? Even after everything you will learn about love, you will wonder, was it love? It felt like love, even if it only felt that way once and briefly.
You were sleeping, or doing the dishes, or gardening, or just getting out of the shower. The first time you were surprised and didn’t know how to react. You froze. It happened. You didn’t scream. You knew it was wrong. But this person had never been presented as wrong. Only right. Only kind. Only sympathetic. Only generous. You didn’t say yes. You weren’t asked. You were taken. You didn’t say no. You didn’t say anything. And immediately afterward, or the next day, or week, or month, you were told you didn’t say no, so you liked it. You wanted it too, didn’t you? You know I love you, don’t you? We love each other. No one else would understand. They say it’s forbidden. It’s not. I am only like this because I love you and love makes a person do wild things. Remember the great love stories? Wild things.
And it will stop because the high will pass. The person who took you won’t want to anymore because you won’t be as afraid. You will succumb. The secrets will not be so fascinating to them anymore. They will need new secrets. More secrets. The power isn’t power when you don’t recede. It’s not power if you have a choice, any choice. You aren’t supposed to have a choice. And when everyone is so used to it, to what’s happening to you, they aren’t even watching anymore, they haven’t even noticed or questioned or paid any kind of attention in months, the one who taught you all about what love wasn’t will slither away leaving you to wonder what it was that happened and why you let it. You thought you were clever. But if it happened, and it did, then you let it, and you must have wanted it, and you are to blame.
You are to blame.
You believe them. You believe all of them. The perpetrator and all the people not looking at the perpetrator. All the people who turned their heads from you and are now looking directly at you. You say you don’t believe them. You were not to blame. But some part of you still believes them. They get their teeth in you.
If you don’t believe them, then you have to admit you were powerless. And you want some power too, not that kind of power, not the power over someone else, just the kind you felt that first time you tied your own shoelaces. You want to feel proud like that again. But you can’t.
The only really power you have is in convincing everyone else they were the ones who didn’t tell, not you. You shouldn’t have had to tell. It was so obvious if they were only looking.
Look at the perpetrator. The perpetrator is standing right over there. Look at that face, not through it. See it? See that face. It’s deceptive isn’t it? But you are clever too. You can see it if you don’t look away. Don’t look away because it’s easier. Don’t look away.
Look at me you say. See me. I want to be seen. Do you think you are clever? #metoo
DEIRDRE FAGAN is a widow, wife, and mother of two who publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Her poem, “Outside In,” nominated by Nine Muses, was a finalist for Best of the Net 2018. She is an associate professor and coordinator of creative writing at Ferris State University. Meet her at deirdrefagan.com