On November 3, 2018, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee released its report about its investigations into allegations against (now) Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The remarkable conclusion reached, on whether or not Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford was unanimous: There was “no credible evidence to support the allegations.”
By contrast, the committee called Kavanaugh’s 1982 high school calendars “a very thorough recordkeeping of his daily activities and engagements.” And, because he was described as “an exemplary public servant, judge, teacher, coach, husband and father,” those messy schoolboy scrawls proved to have more probative value than any of Blasey-Ford’s gut-wrenching oral testimony.
I read about the existence of those calendar pages a few days before a scanned image appeared on my screen. I gasped and stared hard. Then I held my breath. Where were Blasey-Ford’s diary entries? Surely, as a teenager, she must have kept a journal. I silently and vigorously hoped so. Her own notes might have been a powerful rejoinder to Kavanaugh’s strikingly well-preserved submission, forcefully negating any lacunae in the Justice’s own scribbled notes. I scoured news stories, then googled her name for a sign of any written records. Still nothing.
It wasn’t enough that Blasey-Ford had rescued and recounted countless vivid details from her splintered memory. It wasn’t enough that she had shared those memories with her husband, friends, and her therapist — long before she sent that first letter to Diane Feinstein. And it wasn’t enough that the looming appointment of her assailant to the Supreme Court triggered her defiance and courage to speak up. As if the toll of lugging around a decades-old secret wasn’t burden enough.
Without the benefit of an unbiased judge and jury, the burden of proof was hers alone. What exactly did the committee expect Blasey-Ford to produce as credible and verifiable evidence? Hard to say because I saw no mention of it. But, with those calendar pages in the spotlight, it is undeniable that the senators expected nothing less than written corroboration. Barring proof on paper, vaguely couched in the phrase “verifiable evidence,” Blasey-Ford was heading to her all-but-certain downfall — as if the rest of her testimony didn’t amount to a hill of beans.
As I followed the unfolding arc of the story, and held out hope that Blasey-Ford’s diary would still materialize, deep inside, I cringed for her: I knew a thing or two about the import of credible evidence.
Long before I became a researcher and a writer and (ever so briefly) a lawyer; long before I too was sexually assaulted — cornered by a stranger in the dimly lit mail room of an apartment building I had just moved into, where moments later in fear and panic, I shoved off my assailant and fled through the only exit door I’d spotted that I hoped would be unlocked and lead outside; and long before I reached puberty, I must have understood the power of words. I was all of 10 years old, when an invisible life force took root inside my body, prompting me to record, verbatim, details of psychological onslaught, verbal abuse, cruelty. Behind closed doors — of my own home. I never spoke to anyone about those crude, handwritten scribbles that articulated my confusion, fear and pain.
Decades later, when I pulled a dusty notebook out of an envelope in storage, the still-legible scrawls of my youth, complete with a few amateurish illustrations, were intact. Layers of self-hatred and shame were caked onto the back pages of a lined yellow notebook, letters strung together in faded grey HB pencil. Words, etched into paper, that could not be refuted. They were my archival records of abuse. And, once I revealed them to my abuser, who claimed to remember nothing from the many incidents and memories I shared, those scribbles alone proved to be a turning point on my jagged path towards salvation.
Imagine if Dr Blasey-Ford had kept such a diary, in which she would have written: Brett held his hand on my mouth while he tried to rip off my clothes. Mark just stood there, and did nothing to help me! Even they were laughing at me hysterically, it was drowned out by the music. I was so scared that Brett was going to rape me that I just wanted to get the hell out of that bedroom. I don’t know what to do now!!
Had Dr. Blasey-Ford transcribed details about Kavanaugh’s assault right after the fact, she might have avoided the ignominy of being dragged through the sordid sludge of her past. And Senator Susan Collins, who claimed that “accusations against the judge could not be corroborated” might have said otherwise — or said nothing at all.
Here is what I learned, from my own experiences as much as the backfiring on Blasey-Ford: If you are ever the victim of an assault, after which you are suddenly deluged with a tsunami of indescribable pain, shame, fear and guilt; if you cannot bear the thought of telling the police, your friends, school counselor, or family (because don’t we know that even in the most ‘respectable’ families shit happens), for the sake of your sanity and future self, you better keep your wits about you long enough to: Write It Down.
Take notes. Mention names. Cite scents and sights as if your life depended on it. Bits of dialogue. Leave nothing out. Date it. Store it away, in a safe place. Where you can keep an eye on it. (Take photos of your surroundings, if you can bear it). A piece of you will be forever preserved. Even if you are not believed — especially, if your spoken words will not be believed.
Somehow, your broken brain and body will survive. You’ll manage to steel yourself, suppress the memory, bury your secret in a space so deep and hollow that you will question whether it happened at all. But then one day, one word, one sound, one image might trigger that which can no longer be quashed and denied. You might become unplugged. You might dare to challenge the silence. If you do, having recourse to that one tattered record, black on white, might be all the verifiable, irrefutable, airtight evidence you will ever need.
If only Dr. Blasey-Ford had not faded from the spotlight as swiftly as Kavanaugh had been exonerated. If only Dr. Blasey-Ford had been truly believed. If only the teenage Christine Blasey-Ford had kept notes.