All the Details
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There are moments, I've found, where something you already know becomes known. You can know all the effects of a drug, but you won't ever get it until you take it. But it's not always that simple. You can know all the details of being, oh I don't know, Chinese, but you're never gonna get it in the same way, and you can't take the drug and suddenly understand. That's an experience that is locked away from you. You can read essays, books, watch movies, listen to their music, hell, eat their food, visit their country, you're still never going to get it.

I had an experience, one day. I already knew that people's rights, their basic human rights, get voted on. But, being a cis, straight, white male, it's never been something that affected me. Not directly, not substantially. All actions I felt the need to take were out of sympathy and empathy, not because I had any real stake in the matter.

Then, I had a night. I don't know what the difference was. Some combination of sleeplessness, personal anxieties, job stress. It had put me in some kind of headspace. There's that state, where, if you already feel bad, your brain will simply search out and find new things to be sad about. Well, it just hit me — I had a brief moment, of going from knowing all the details, to actually feeling, on some level experiencing that some people's livelihoods — their rights to marry, their abilities to reproduce, and so many other things — rested on a vote. Worse, there was no guarantee that the vote would go in their favor.

I thought to myself, I never have before, but now, I think, I get it.

And I quickly realized that no, I still didn't. I still can't take the drug, that suddenly lets me experience being gay, trans, a woman, black. That's still an experience blocked off from me. That led to a second realization: I won't ever get it, which means that whatever I am feeling right now, they feel so much stronger, every day. The anxiety I am feeling isn't even a fraction of theirs. Because after all, I'm still cis, straight, white and male.

That was one of the strongest, most sudden feelings I've ever had. I think about it a lot. I think about it whenever I contemplate choosing inaction. Sometimes I still choose inaction because it's easier, and I think it's good that I feel guilty. I hope one day I stop feeling guilty about everything, because I won't have anything to feel guilty about. I think I'm going to get there. I'm not there yet.

I'm not there yet.

I was at a social gathering, in some mildly hot summer. I'd recently got my driver's license. I wasn't that young, I was twenty. I took so long to get a license because you can bike anywhere in Boring, Oregon. It's a small town; Robin and I were used to biking everywhere. I still take a bike when I'm not on a time crunch or needing to look presentable (read: not sweaty). But I wanted to look presentable, so I'd driven.

It was held on someone's massive property, woods all around, a nice secluded area, big enough for people to break off into cliques and go find a private spot, and, like any party, groups formed. Those that smoked on the porch, did mushrooms in the living room, those that hung out by the speakers and danced, those that swam in the pool, those that sat next to the pool. A big gathering.

My connection had already joined a clique I wasn't keen on being a part of. They were at a picnic table playing a board game. I wasn't averse to board games, but that's not what I come to parties to do. So I eventually gravitated towards another group, my connection loose at best, but that's what's so great about parties. You barely need to know someone to follow them around, join the conversation, become part of the crew. The party started close to dusk, so the property was growing dark, and some forward-thinkers were starting a fire at the big firepit, something a modest crowd was beginning to gather around. But this group I was a part of, we were growing a rapport, our conversations were mild, sterner, not "drink beer and laugh" kind of stuff, so we didn't want to be drawn into the big celebration and party games that were planned.

Instead, we appropriated that picnic table from earlier after it had been vacated. Someone who knew the house walked in and grabbed some blankets, which we'd use to stave off the chilly night air once the temperature really started dropping. Eventually, you couldn't see faces. Just the vaguest silhouettes of people against the darkest-blue trees and distant orange glow of the bonfire, talking over the laughter, music, and whoops. After that point, someone came our way.

In the darkness, I didn't recognize her at first. It took me a second to place her voice, too. I'll omit her name and our specific relationship for the sake of her privacy, but, I knew her well, we just hadn't talked in a long while. She was just a little drunk, and I was just a little tired, so since my connection with these people was already flimsy, I had taken up a more passive, listening position. I guess that was fortunate, because I don't think she would have said what she said if she knew I was there.

My focus was in and out. I don't remember how we got there, but booze had loosened lips, and she'd started talking, to this group primarily composed of young men, about her experiences. Her experiences that I knew all the details of, right, but had never experienced. That drug I couldn't ever take, the spirit I could never hold communion with.

The first thing she said, was — well, she wasn't a strong woman but she was working on it. She said she stopped going to the gym because she was scared of all the men there.

Some of the people there, people who knew her better than I did, asked her why that was. I don't know if she heard them, because she just went on, she talked about how much of her fear was inherited from her mom, that she had simply absorbed concerns from people around her. (One of the men of the group said he didn't want to feed into a fear, but that there were legitimate reasons to be concerned.)

But someone questioned that. It was a question I would never have asked for fear of it being too personal — certainly I wouldn't have asked in front of a group of other people, but maybe it was that he knew her well enough to know the boundaries, or he knew she was drunk and was more willing to spill, or maybe he was drunk enough to not be thinking straight. Maybe all these things, maybe none of these things. It doesn't matter. To his credit, he first asked:

"Can I ask you something very personal?"

She accepted. And he asked: "Was there any inciting incident?" For this anxiety, right.

She sat there, and she thought about it for a bit, and she said: "This isn't the inciting incident, but it's one I remember most clearly."

I wasn't, and am not, fully willing to unpack the implications of that sentence. But I remember it word for word. I remember how she said it, I remember how long the pauses were between the words.

She went on to describe a boy she dated, sometime early in high school. Or, she never said they were dating, so I'm not sure. But he sat next to her at the back of geometry class every day for a year, and under the desk he would put his hand down her pants. And she'd ask him, and asked him, to stop, and of course he didn't, because he wanted to, and that's how he operated. Eventually she got someone else to sit next to her in class so he wouldn't. She said she didn't tell anyone because she was scared of him. Not even the person who sat next to her in class knew.

I was sitting there, stock silent, just listening. Maybe listening more intently than I had been listening the entire night. Suddenly wide awake, alert, energized even. But stuck to that place on the bench, the blanket pulled over my shoulders, sidled up to the person to my right for warmth, some guy I don't remember the name of now.

There was a big pause. Some men started chiming in with sympathy. Sympathy from men who knew all the details. She didn't acknowledge it, really, but I don't think it was rude of her, just to be clear.

Some people tried to move the conversation along. Once it was clear she wasn't continuing, but because it would have been wrong to take attention away from her, someone asked how her college search was going. Turns out she had taken two gap years after high school, but she didn't mean to.

She said she was going to go to a law school in South Carolina, but at a student gathering she was part of, she had brought up how she was nervous about not having contraceptives easily available. In response, a student there said it was her fault if she got herself pregnant.

I think the conversation did successfully swerve away at that point, but I never rejoined. I was feeling sick, and I wasn't planning on staying the night at that house anyways. I was sober, so I just got up, got to my car, and left. Maybe if I had stayed longer, she would have recognized me.

And she would have talked to me normally, is the thing. She would have talked to me like I was just another man who knew all the details.

I didn't make it all the way home before I had to pull over. I'd heard that driving while emotional could be just as bad as driving drunk, so I ended up in a turnout on a twisty road, and I ended up getting out, and I ended up leaning against my car, cold underneath the trees and a speckled sky, but unwilling to grab my jacket from the passenger seat. My head was swimming, my hands were moving involuntarily, which I tried to stop by shoving into my pockets, but I couldn't. They were trying to contact the spirit I couldn't communion with.

Because I was another boy at the back of class. She was someone I would have called my friend, but in the hallway outside the debate club after school, I'd slid my hand into her pants, at a time she really did trust me. She was letting me feel her breasts, and I thought that meant that anything went, so while she was laying across my lap, I'd slid my hand into her pants, right between her legs. She didn't stop me for a moment, but after a pause she said no, grabbed my wrist and pulled it out. I think — I only think — that at that point it was still something recoverable. She'd smiled at me, she wasn't stopping me from holding her chest, and I'd asked before — the moment was okay.

But I was persistent. I really wanted to feel her, it was all I wanted at that moment. She pulled my hand out more times after that.

I wasn't dumb. Or, I'm not dumb, now. I don't act like that anymore, because I know it's awful. It's long been established, for me, that I was a creep in high school. And middle school, for that matter. It was something I had come to live with. But maybe I shouldn't have. I had come to live with myself, from the man's perspective. I had come to live with all the details, content that I couldn't take the drug. Perhaps not having fully considered the drug I couldn't take, the spirit I couldn't communion with.

She and I had still talked. We'd had sex, too. Consensual, though I despise that I need to specify that. But that's precisely the point. Or, this is where I lose the point. I don't know if I really know the point to begin with. Maybe I don't even know all the details.

Because at that moment, my headlights staring off into the silhouetted woods, my eyes staring right along with them, I was seeing it from an eagle's eye view. I saw how I wasn't an isolated incident. I answered that question for myself. The question of why she ever kept talking to me. I always thought it was a miracle, that girls kept talking to me.

Kept talking to me after I slid a hand down their pants.

After I groped them unexpectedly in the drama room.

After I admitted to feeling them up in their sleep.

I apologized to that one. It had eaten away at me for two years, that she didn't know. That I did that and she didn't know. But we'd gone to different high schools. I didn't have an opportunity to see her. But she was briefly between places, and I saw her, and I worked up the courage, and I approached her, explained what happened. Made no excuses. Do you know what she did?

She laughed. She laughed, and she said: "Boys will be boys."

Boys will be boys. That's what she said. I feel like an idiot, because it took me all this time — when I heard it the first time, I was mad. I didn't show her, but I was mad. I was mad that all of my agonizing about that "didn't matter," because she could just laugh it off. Because in her world, I was just a boy being a boy.

But that's what I didn't get yet. Boys did that. She laughed me off for the same reason that the party girl would have smiled at me and made small talk if I spoke up. I wasn't Anders, the guy who felt her up in her sleep. I wasn't Anders, the guy who slid his hand down her pants after she asked him not to. I am Anders, another guy. Another boy being a boy. Another boy who sits next to girls at the back of the class.

She laughed, because there are too many boys. You just have to laugh at them, sometimes. You have to get the girl to take their spot so they don't sit next to you. You have to smile at them, and tell them to not put their hands down your pants.

You remain friends with them because they're in your circles, and it's easier to pretend forgiveness then to bring it up. Hope that one day, they're a man who knows all the details.

And my hands, they were shaking, calling down the spirit I could never hold communion with. My throat was bringing in the air, it was bringing in the cold air of Oregon, and I was staring off into the trees, blue beyond the headlights' reach. And that other girl I groped in drama class, she never answered my texts after high school. I thought we were friends, but she never answered my texts. But when we ended up having the same summer job, you know what she did? She smiled, and she made small talk, and we caught up.

And now I was thinking, I never have before, but now, I think, I get it.

And then I thought: I won't ever get it, which means that whatever I am feeling right now, they feel so much stronger, every day.

I cried. I don't know when or how I got there, but I was sitting down, my head in front of the headlight casting a shadow on the trees, hands to my eyes, shaking like lightning was ready to shoot out of them, briefly illuminate the forest, the silhouetted trees, the ingredients on the bottle for the drug I can't ever take. And I felt it, almost. I felt like I was breaking down, the line between myself and the ground below me blurring. I wish I could hide all this behind a smile and small talk, and not in the turnout of a twisty road. That I could smile and say hello to someone who had sat next to me at the back of class, the lightning from my hands twisting into the sky, and summoning down the spirit. The spirit I can't communion with.

I hope one day I stop feeling guilty about everything, because I won't have anything to feel guilty about. I think I'm going to get there, but I'm not there yet.

I'm not there yet.


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