An open letter to women

photo by Chris Barbalis

You keep the memories locked away in a box.

Hidden away under layers and layers somewhere in a drawer in a closet. Stuffed down, buried but not forgotten. Never forgotten.

Then a few weeks ago, the box broke open and all the ugly contents came flying out and tumbling all over the living room and just stayed there. An uninvited and unwelcome guest.

You didn’t even know what to do. It disrupted all your routines and rituals. Your normal way of dealing with it didn’t work.

It made it hard to function through the day. Or think about anything else. You tried to push it back in its place but it wouldn’t budge. Every time you looked at the news it seemed to grow. It just stared you back in the face.

You wondered if others saw what was now strewn about in your living room. You hoped they didn’t. But how could they not?

You never told anyone the full story. Not a soul. Certainly not your family. It would kill them.

You took parts of the box out with a few trusted friends. But it was all too overwhelming and the details too painful. The entirety was in that box, only known to you.

You worried. You were ashamed. He was friends with your friends. He was respected. Who would believe you? Would your friend group become divided and turn against each other? Or would they just turn against you?

But for some women, you didn’t need to spell it out. They just knew. When you couldn’t get out of bed. When you had to leave work.

You explained to your boss that something happened but you couldn’t talk about it and you just needed some time. She was usually all business and no-nonsense. But in that moment, she knew.

She just hugged you.

It was one of the kindest gestures you have ever felt.

Something felt different this time. The collective anger. The outcry.

Maybe they’ll listen to us this time, you thought. Maybe I don’t need to keep it locked away in a box forever.

Your voice mattered.

Talking about it publicly or privately didn’t feel like a weight had been lifted off your shoulders. Just the opposite. It was like a weight had been placed on your chest.

You never wanted to think about it again. Now it was just like before, if you caught a glimpse of him at a concert or in a coffee shop or grocery store. It set off all the flood of feelings again. Uncontrollable tears and a feeling like a loss of control.

But you had to talk about it now. If others could be so brave, you could be too.

Maybe this time would be different.

Then some people tried to turn men and women against each other and make it about winning and losing. As if the pain of your experience is a threat to their sons and brothers. You’re not allowed to talk about it.

They mocked these women in the most public manner. It was exactly as you feared. It’s why you didn’t say anything in the first place.

And that’s bullshit.

How many #MeToo men have been held publically (or even privately) accountable for sexually assaulting women? 25? 50? 100? How many men’s lives have been “ruined” only after incredible in-depth reporting and the threat of retaliation?

So that means we’re officially done with this conversation — with opening our eyes — and you should just put everything back in that box where it belongs?

How many women live with their secret their whole lives?

But this isn’t about keeping score. It’s not a zero sum game.

You just want to be heard. You want to be believed. You want your voice to matter.

You wanted this time to be different.

Then nothing changed.

You feel the anger turn back into acceptance. Into complacency.

You start picking up everything and putting it back into that box.

Like before.

You re-lived your most traumatic memories and shared your darkest secrets, both publicly and privately. And for what?

As a man, I want to say that we owe you so much more.

Based on conversations with women I know and the Washington Post heartbreaking article Dear dads: Your daughters told me about their assaults. This is why they never told you.

Educator. Podcast addict. Wrote a book about creativity:

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