Broken Branches—Broken Life Chances
This happened about fifty years ago at one of my first jobs, so I cannot remember if the man, a co-worker in an upscale office downtown in a large city, whom I had never met before, grabbed a specific body part or my entire body. I fought free of him, and immediately ran with humiliation and fear out of the office, and down to the parking garage to find my car to go home. (In the early 1970’s there was no “protocol” for reporting sexual assault, and I did not have the experience to know how to handle anything like this.) Before I could get into my car, a uniformed security guard ran toward me yelling an angry command at me, “Hey you, stop.” He charged at me with his hands out to grab me. I screamed as loud as I could, a passing car immediately stopped, and the young, male driver jumped out to help me. The security guard barked at him and waved him away. The young, male driver hesitated but seeing me frozen in place, silent, apparently docile, he got back in his car and drove away. I sprinted to my car and got away. The next day the president of the company telephoned me and said if I wanted to be paid for my work I had to come in to meet with him. I went directly in expecting to sign paperwork and be free of the situation. The president of the company called me into his office and kept me there while he harangued at me, demanding that I account for my “behavior”. I was unable to speak about being attacked by his employee, I could not explain why I left the office so precipitously. I could not speak. The president of the company dismissed me with obvious anger and contempt. I was shaken, and my paycheck was shorted.
I wanted to withdraw from everything, but I had to work to pay the rent, so I immediately took a temporary job, this time for a small legal firm. The attorney who owned the legal firm was an intelligent, wheelchair-bound, black man. I tried to work as best I could especially as I was interested in seeing what people did in a legal firm, but I found that I could not speak, and the job required me to speak when spoken too, etcetera. About midway into the first morning the attorney asked to speak with me, but I was unable to walk from the hallway into his office. I was overcome with fear. Today we would say that I was suffering a flashback due to post-traumatic stress. The attorney talked to me in the narrow hallway, soothing me, saying things like “I cannot help you if you will not speak.” He smelled of urine and my young mind briefly marveled at his ability to try to help me considering his own circumstance. But my fear overwhelmed me. The attorney’s face was open and kind, but I could not speak to him. Instead I immediately left the legal firm and lost yet another job. He might have helped me if I could have spoken. This was yet another branch of my young life broken off.
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Writing this fifty years later makes my stomach roil with anxiety, and my body stink of fear. I am writing it because it happened to me, the damage that it did to me reduced my life chances in the world (the opportunities I had to improve my quality of life); and I am writing it because I want to give my voice to others who have suffered this.
Caption: Broken Branches-Broken Life Chances
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018