The last official press question of President Barack Hussein Obama’s presidency went to Christi Parsons, White House correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.
She said, “I have a personal question for you, because I know how much you like those. The First Lady put the stakes of the 2016 election in very personal terms in a speech that resonated across the country. And she really spoke to the concerns of a lot of women, LGBT folks, people of color, many others. So I wonder now how you and the First Lady are talking to your daughters about the meaning of this election and how you interpret it for yourself and for them.”
President Obama answered at length. I listened to his answer pulled to the side of Noland Road in Independence, en route back to my office after court. His response drew tears from me, possibly not a difficult task because I weep at kitten videos, Hallmark commercials, and the sight of dog-eared letters from old lovers. His response continued for some moments and included the mild observation that he and his wife have tried to teach their daughters to live in a certain way, and to expect their future partners to behave in a certain way modeled by the President and First Lady.
And then he said, calmly, quietly:
“But what we’ve also tried to teach them is resilience, and we’ve tried to teach them hope, and that the only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world. And so you get knocked down, you get up, brush yourself off, and you get back to work. And that tended to be their attitude.”
That’s when my tears flowed.
I’ve been sexually assaulted at least six times in my life. I wouldn’t burden you with most of the details of those events. Some I have buried so far that I shudder at their rising, coarse bile heaving through me at vulnerable moments. I understand that the impact of those assaults still grips me. We survivors know that the damage done from those cruel moments cannot be understood by anyone who has not experienced this gross violation.
But I will share one incident and perhaps in sharing this, I can help others understand the fear many of us feel when we contemplate the impending inauguration of the president-elect.
Near my parents house, a set of railroad tracks passed through a rock-filled clearing in which some business took place in a cluster of crude outbuildings. I don’t know what kind of business it was. As kids we liked to play amidst the rubble and the discarded bits of steel. My two little brothers and I wandered there one summer afternoon and came upon a neighbor kid. We didn’t see what he was doing, though years later, I realized it must have been something sordid, something we don’t discuss in polite conversation.
At ten or eleven, I had no knowledge of sex. I had not attained full puberty yet, and would remain relatively innocent for another six or seven years. But I had a budding womanhood of sorts, I suppose. This neighbor kid must have seen it. He must have also felt the advantage he had over us, standing a few inches taller than I, and being five or six years older than my brothers.
The four of us lingered in that clearing, grouped in an awkward cluster while the older boy hammered us with questions. Where were we going, did we have any food, did we have any money. Suddenly his hand shot out, stiff-fingered, and punched me in my tender private parts. I doubled over, caught off-guard, terrified. He snickered and told me that I might not like this now but I would in a year or two and to come see him then. He threw a rock over the railroad tracks and sauntered off, leaving me staggering, falling to the ground. My brothers leaned over me — helpless, clueless, frightened.
I have never forgotten that day. That kid knew he could do whatever he wanted to me, and I had to let him. Bigger, older, stronger, he controlled the situation. He acted out of sheer perverse pleasure at his superiority and domination. That kid was a bully and a sexual predator.
But he was thirteen, and relatively powerless.
Imagine him a billionaire, an adult, and occupying the most powerful office in the nation with the persistent attitude that he can attack a woman’s body at will simply because he has wealth and notoriety on his side. Put yourself in the position of the person on whom he’s levied his disgusting conduct. Imagine how we feel.
Terrified. But also this: Certain that it should not happen again, to any woman — not to us, not to our sisters, not to our daughters.
So that is why the earnest answer of President Obama reduced me to sobbing in the Sonic parking lot, with my limeade in my hand. His example must sustain me. His lesson must guide me. His words must be a comfort and a mantra for this nation.
The moment has come when we have to say Farewell to the Chief, the native son who served with grace, dignity, and dedication. I want to say something memorable but I have only this:
Thank you, President Obama. You have given me hope. You have given us all hope. You have been a steward of our nation, and an example for us all. Your family has truly been a First Family for America. You have done us proud.
Thank you, sir. May God be with you, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha. We will miss you all.