Selective memory

Early last week, I received a puzzling friend request on Facebook from someone named Brannon. I didn’t recognize his last name, but the only person I know of by that name is the guy who, as my section leader, sexually harassed me during my first (and only) year in college marching band. I double-checked with a friend to be sure and yep, it was the same person.

The actual details of what I put up with from this guy are pretty hazy, both because it all happened in the fall of 2000 and because I felt so weird and uncomfortable with the situation that I tried to push it all out of my mind as much as possible. But there was a general cloud of sexual harassment and “how far can we push things with the younger female members” attitude that hung over a lot of the sax section parties that semester. This is when I identified & presented as a woman so I was in that targeted group; I don’t know if I was singled out or not, but I certainly got plenty of unwanted attention from this guy (and a junior who was assistant section leader, to a lesser extent). Some other first-year students were dating or interested in other section members, so now that I think about it, I wonder if they were considered “off-limits” in a way that I was not in those first few weeks of classes.

There was one party in which we went through one of those “purity tests” that used to be popular online; I don’t know that this would be terrible in all situations but it just seemed like a transparent excuse on the part of the older students to try to get the newbies to disclose our sexual history and for them to brag about their “conquests” to us. Sharing stories about sex with friends can be a lot of fun! Feeling pressured to share sexual stories and details when you’ve said you aren’t comfortable doing so is no fun at all.

That same night, I’d decided to wear a sweatshirt and no bra underneath, just to see if that could be comfortable. (I think I got the idea from a book I had read shortly before that night, although I don’t know now why I thought a sweatshirt would make going bra-less any less painful for largish-breasted me. Ow.) I thought the shirt was bulky enough that this wouldn’t be noticeable to anyone else. Instead, Brannon called attention to it the moment I arrived and he and others called me “European” for the rest of the night and from time to time after that. I guess that’s because European people don’t wear bras that much? I was too embarrassed at the time to examine the name-calling too closely, but I believe that was the reasoning behind it. That was my last attempt to leave the house without a bra on until I had chest reconstruction years later.

These parties were generally at Brannon’s apartment off-campus, and those of us who lived in the dorms on-campus would get people with cars to drive us. Chapel Hill didn’t have great public transit, so we couldn’t really get to and from these places without help. At the end of one of these parties, all the people with cars were too drunk to drive the first-year students back to campus, so we all had to stay at the apartment over night. Somehow I wound up sharing Brannon’s bed with him.

I have to admit now that I really don’t understand how this happened. I wasn’t romantically or sexually interested in him, and in fact found him intimidating. I know some other people were on a pull-out couch, but I don’t know how I wound up in his bedroom. Did I volunteer? Did he suggest it? Was it just the only other option once the couch was spoken for? Whatever the reason, I did sleep there. I honestly can’t remember much about what happened. I know he touched me a little, and that I was facing away from him and trying to ignore him as much as I could. I think he tried to talk to me, maybe talking me into something, and gave up by saying something like “you’re acting like a kid” or “you’re so young” before falling asleep.

Maybe it was only the fact that I was still seventeen – something I’m pretty sure he knew – that kept him from pressing further. I don’t know. I feel a little sick trying to remember anything more concrete about that night.

What made me furious, once I got over the initial shock of seeing his name, is that I bet he doesn’t even remember any of this, or that if he does, he just thinks of it as “joking around” or “harmless fun.” What consequences would he have ever faced from his behavior, to make him examine his actions? Why on earth would he even try to contact me? We weren’t friends, and I haven’t seen him since he graduated in 2001.

And sure, I just blocked him without responding to the friend request and went angrily about my day. I was able to get mad, feel grossed out, and then move on. But still, I’m angry that the burden of dealing with those feelings is still mine when I wasn’t the one who was doing anything wrong in the first place. That I felt so overwhelmed and powerless that I did my best to forget everything about the situation for years.

I’m also mad because he could have been much worse to me and still, our roles now would be the same: I’d be dealing with anger, shame, and confusion and he’d be cluelessly trying to friend me on social media more than a decade later.

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