2014: the bad, the ugly

Scanning headlines the past few weeks has made two things clear:

  1. There are more “Best Of” lists than there were actual best things.
  2. 2014, it is generally agreed, was a horrible year.

I can’t welcome 2015 properly without a nod to last year, which, while full of marvelous experiences, wasn’t one of my favorites. The year, it felt, was to be endured. I utterly failed at moving through certain challenges with grace, particularly one with which many people in Humboldt must already be familiar: the painfulness of sharing small town social circles with someone who has hurt you.

I’m going to revisit this for a moment.

Not pressing charges at the time will remain one of my bigger regrets. Partly because men should be more often held accountable for grabbing, jabbing and otherwise treating a woman’s body as if that body is theirs to abuse. Partly because then the line defining right from wrong would have been more clearly drawn – one of the disappointing revelations of this year was (again) realizing that some people will shrug off sexual assault, especially if the man involved is charismatic and skilled at entertaining. And I get that to some degree. How many movies or stories feature a bad guy who is nonetheless appealing? We’re suckers for charming rogues. We want to like people who display qualities we find attractive, especially when they make it easy for us.

But understanding the appeal of a fictional antihero doesn’t do much to assuage the sense of betrayal when your friends share giggles with a guy, your own former friend, who laughed in your face when you begged him to stop. Jezebel’s Sara Benincasa responded nicely in her advice column regarding a similar situation:

Some of my close male and female work friends are still really chummy with my former friend and industry colleague who sexually harassed me a lot. Back when it all happened, I told my mutual friends about his behavior and they agreed he was out of line. They even said they’d tried to intervene and get him to knock it off (BTW he has a really great wife who is also our friend). They suggested I confront him in a direct, professional manner, and I did. He and I are no longer friends and merely acknowledge one another in public at industry functions. But it’s like my buddies think it’s totally okay for them to party with him and post fun pics on Facebook so long as they don’t invite me along, too. What should I do?

Here’s how I see your situation: you gave your friends information about the way in which a particular fellow acted towards you. They chose to support you in your decision to part ways with him. But they also chose to continue to support him as a friend. They have different relationships with each of you, and perhaps they have never experienced his creepy, gross, awful side… Now, I do not believe that the enemy of my friend needs to be my enemy, as well… I know it is entirely possible to love two different friends who can’t stand each other.

However, this isn’t just about two buddies who don’t get along. In this case, the man did something predatory and disturbing. I want you to ask yourself honestly if you need to maintain anything more than friendly working relationships with these colleagues. If the answer is yes, and you cherish any of these friendships on a deep level, speak to these friends one on one. Without any expectations, tell each person, “I care about you and I want to be honest with you about something. Your friendship with Douchebag worries me very much. He really hurt me and scared me, and I just don’t understand why you would continue to spend time with someone who did those things.” Listen to their rationale and judge for yourself if their arguments have merit (spoiler alert: they probably won’t).

So, yeah. The unfortunately defining circumstance of my 2014. After 16 years rooted in this beautiful place, I felt like Humboldt was no longer safe.

What turned out to be excellent, however, the proverbial silver lining, was the number of friends who immediately stepped up to support me, to reassure me, to let me know they had my back and continued to do so through all my inelegant struggles to navigate my way to some sort of peace. I express my gratitude toward them repeatedly (most lately by remembering to talk about everything else in life) and hope they know what a gift I consider their friendship to be.

And the others? I’m trying to be generous and gracious and remind myself of the bigness and complexity of people’s lives, that we’re often in different places and on our own journeys and all that. To note the goodness when it exists and remember, “…you are so much more than a victim. Life offers so much more than this one shitty act. The beach. The forest. Skinny-dipping. Goat cheese-stuffed dates drizzled with hot pepper oil. Frisbee.” I lost a lot of time, energy and tears struggling with this last year. I’m ready to leave it behind.

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