As I’m writing this, nine women have accused Donald Trump of sexual assault or sexual harassment – or sexual aggression, you might call it.
It’s difficult to believe, right? Because why are they just coming forward now, less than a month before the election? It’s suspicious. If what he did to them was so bad, they would have filed some sort of complaint.
In 1988, I started graduate school at Boston University, studying for a master’s degree in journalism. That year could be called the final stage of my wilding phase – I had just come off a two-year stint working on the Mississippi Queen steamboat, which had followed a job as a swamp tour guide. I was a free-spirited girl who loved boys and books and booze, and I was excited to spend a whole year writing.
The journalism grad students quickly bonded into a hilarious clique – we spent hours in bars talking about Michael Dukakis and politics and sexual escapades and the latest investigative piece in the Boston Globe. And we went to class. We hardly ever skipped because our professors were brilliant and engaging; we could listen to them for hours. One of our favorite classes covered literary criticism, and it was taught by a great critic who just two years earlier had won a Pulitzer.
This man – let’s call him Edward – graduated from Harvard and had worked as a foreign correspondent for two decades. He then delved into the world of reviewing dramas and film, eventually focusing on literary fiction. He was married to a woman he had known since childhood; they had a bunch of children. He was in his late 50s at the time he taught me.
As a professor, he was spellbinding. He told stories of meeting foreign leaders and interviewing famous authors. He often read his work in class, and his words mesmerized us. He was a fascinating, talented man.
In the beginning, I was not a very good reviewer. I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. But for one assignment, I reviewed an episode of the Geraldo Rivera show – the one in which Geraldo is at a nudist colony and conducts interviews with a bunch of naked people in a hot tub. Note: bad reviews are notoriously easier to write. My copy was resplendent with adjectives like pulsing, writhing, steamy and wet. He asked me to read it to the class. I captured the absurdity of the Geraldo show with a sexual playfulness that was fun to read yet made a point. I got an A.
At some point toward the end of the term, Edward called me and asked me to meet him in his Beacon Hill office to talk about my grades. At the appointed time, I knocked on his door and he let me into his messy office swamped with books and papers. “First things first,” he said. He was hungry, he told me, and wanted to go have lunch at his favorite Italian restaurant next door. He asked me to join him. Flattered to be in such esteemed company, I said yes. At the restaurant, he ordered wine and food for both of us. When my glass neared empty, he ordered me another. We talked about my goals and my life, and he spoke encouragingly to me about my writing.
Back at his office, we sat down in chairs facing each other. “I have a gift for you,” he said. He pulled a guitar from beneath his desk, strummed it a few times, and said he had written me a song. He picked at some chords, then began singing a somewhat tuneless ditty: There was girl with red hair and blue eyes, who sailed into the skies, with bright blue eyes, across the sea….
It was painfully long and bad. He kept his eyes locked on mine the whole time.
When the song was over, he put down the guitar and rolled his chair so close to me our knees were touching. He took my hand. “Tricia, I have to tell you,” he said. “I really like you as a friend. But I also really, really like you as more than a friend. And I would like us to be more than friends.” My hand in his, his finger stroking my wrists. Him leaning into me, his parted lips perilously close to my face, looking for a kiss. His ghastly post-lunch breath.
I backed away from him. I told him I had a boyfriend. I told him I was sorry if I had given him the wrong impression. I carefully willed myself to not run screaming from the building. He looked at me sadly with puppy dog eyes and a weak smile. “I’d at least like a hug,” he said. So I quickly hugged him. And then I left.
As soon as I arrived home, I called my best friend who was also in the program and told her what had happened. She was stunned. We laughed about it uneasily, and discussed whether we should tell the department’s lead professor, but didn’t come to any conclusion.
Class was awkward the next day. Edward ignored me, and I felt shunned. And then something weird happened: my friend and I noticed another woman in the program began talking about Edward incessantly. Edward loaned me this book to read, or Edward and I were just talking about that! “You should be careful around him,” I told her after a couple of days.
“Don’t be silly!” she said. “He’s wonderful!” But this woman also had red hair and blue eyes, and I was suspicious. I started quietly singing Edward’s song to her, and she gasped in recognition before turning and walking away.
The semester came to a close, and I received my final grades. Edward gave me a C. I demanded that he change it to a B, which he did, and then I told the lead professor who told the dean, and Edward was called in for questioning. He didn’t deny it. He just spoke about how tempting it was to be amongst so many beautiful co-eds.
Should I have held a press conference to announce what Edward had done? Should I have sent letters to his employers? Should I have sued someone? Told his wife? I would have been ridiculed and shunned. And for what purpose?
So I did nothing. Edward was a famous, respected man who had done something kind of loathsome. I moved on with my life, and cringed every time I had to conjure up his name for a NYT crossword puzzle. I’ve never publicly told this story. But if this man was suddenly nominated for sainthood, I’d definitely be calling up the media saying, Hey, listen to this. That won’t happen. He died a few years ago, and there’s no reason to name him here other than for revenge, which I’m not seeking. Still, it happened, and it says something about his actions that I still recall how he looked at me, how he held my hand, my helpless revulsion at being propositioned by a man whose approval I literally needed to graduate.
I’m guessing that Trump’s accusers had the same experience. Trump did something loathsome to them, but what could they do? They extracted themselves from the situation and moved on with their lives. Had they come forward 10 years ago, or five, or 12 months ago, they would have been ridiculed, and for what purpose? No one would have believed them. But they were struck by Trump’s insistence that he has never treated women that way. He forced their hands, in a way. He unintentionally dared them to come forward.
Listen, men have been doing bad things to women since forever. We don’t always tell. But not telling shouldn’t reduce credibility. Donald Trump cheated on his first wife. He cheated on his second wife. He actually told a reporter years ago, on national television, that he could never run for president because of his problems with women. He has been recorded explaining exactly how he assaults women. And now we’re all surprised and suspicious when women come forward and say, Yup! That’s how it happened!
“No one has more respect for women than me,” Trump has repeatedly said. Edward might have said the same thing. But that doesn’t mean it’s true.