With each new client I talk to, I appreciate a foretaste of the world to come. Victims, especially women, are fed up with being subjected to these violent acts. We are not willing to be quiet or accept blame for crimes perpetrated on us any more. I feel keeping my story to myself is a bit selfish in light of the brave souls who have come out with their stories. As my blog title hints, even an advocate, now living in Iowa, has a story related to current events. The story's long, it's real, and it feels great to finally share it.
Since June 2015, when Donald Trump rode down the escalator of Trump Tower flanked by paid actors to announce his candidacy for POTUS, my mind has been on its own personal adventure. The memory of a visit to New York City in 1986 gets continually mixed with involuntary hysteria at the thought of Trump being elected to be the leader of our amazing democracy.
When I caught a glimpse of that escalator, my mind immediately went to a winter's day in early 1986. I was a young mom at the time, traveling with my husband to New York City for business. We were accompanied by an older couple, I believe from Aberdeen, SD. Terry, my ex, was working for Farmland Industries (now defunct) at the time as a regional sales manager. A chemical company based in New Jersey invited him and one of his key clients to NYC, with their wives, for a night on the town, a Broadway musical, and a day of shopping for the missuses while the men talked business in New Jersey.
We went directly from JFK International Airport to Times Square where we were met by our hosts. Our luggage went to the hotel and we went to dinner at an Italian restaurant, then hiked on down to the St. James Theatre to see Jerry's Girls. I was grateful for the head's up that we would not have time to change, so I traveled in my most NYC night on the town outfit, in contrast to my husband and our other South Dakota traveling partners. Drinks after, and then a limo ride to the hotel sealed a glamorous evening.
The next morning, the men were up and out of the hotel by 8am, while Mrs. Aberdeen and I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at our hotel near the Meadowlands. A limo came and picked us up at 10 AM for the drive into the city. Mrs. Aberdeen would grab my hand and point to something out the window as we drove in . . . the bridge, the river, the skyline, the homeless people . . . new and different things than what we witnessed back at home on the plains.
We were dropped off at Trump Tower. The driver told us we could spend the whole day there with all the shops and restaurants. He was clearly impressed with the building and the developer, Donald Trump. I'd heard of him before, I think. Mrs. Aberdeen and I were more about walking around the city that boutique shopping. We promised to be in front of Trump Tower at exactly 4PM so we could be picked up by our driver early enough to beat the worst of rush hour back to New Jersey. We had a 7PM dinner engagement back at the hotel, and the driver wanted us to have plenty of time to change into the glorious new clothing we'd be purchasing at Trump Tower.
Mrs. Aberdeen and I were polite South Dakota women. We did not correct the driver's assumption about our shopping. We did not tell him that our husbands would leave us if we ever spent $50 on a single article of clothing. Instead we wished him a good day and promised we would be right here in this spot at 4PM.
The day was fun. We were tourists, not shoppers. We did drink a cup of coffee in the Trump Tower atrium as we looked at walking maps and made a plan for a 3 hour walking tour and lunch. We made it back in time for another cup of coffee, and some browsing the Trump Tower shops. At 3:45PM we headed to the spot. 4PM came, then 4:30, then 5:00. This was before cell phones, but I did have a business card for the limo service. Mrs. Aberdeen did not want me to leave her alone on 5th Avenue - what if the limo came and left without me? - what if some New Yorker abducted her in my absence?
Finally, at 5:15, I told her we either needed to flag a taxi to take us back to the hotel or I needed to go find a pay phone and call the limo service. We had no idea the cost of a taxi, so in I went to call the limo service. I followed the restroom/pay phone signs through the orangy pink marble halls. There was a single pay phone and it was open - and I had one quarter. I called the limo service and explained what was happening. I was put on hold while they looked into it. In a few seconds, the call was dropped and I was listening to the screeching sound of a and line disconnection.
A young women (in my mind she was Swedish) was waiting behind me. I knew I didn't have another quarter. In a blast I blurted out that I was disconnected. Do you have a quarter for two dimes and a nickel, I asked her? Four quarters for a dollar? I was hoping for some mercy. Instead, she pointed to the coffee counter and said, "Over there (imagine Bridgette Nielsen saying it). Now, step aside." She reached in and took the receiver from me and I, well, stepped aside.
I ran to the counter and got some change, cognizant of the time that was wasting away. I ran back to the corner with the pay phone, only to find the beautiful tall woman still on the phone. She was explaining that she knew this was the third time her credit card had been lost or stolen, but she was telling the truth. I listened to the details of what happened this time, thinking it was a bit sketchy, but smiling all the same, hoping my pleasantness would hurry her call along.
My heart fell as she said, "Of course I'll hold. As long as necessary. Just fix this." I started to do this shuffle that allowed me to keep my place in the imaginary phone cue that might form if I went looking for another pay phone. I was beginning to sweat, then cry. I was wiping away tears, trying to find another phone, while imagining that if I ran quickly to the end of the hall I could even see around the corner to monitor if the limo had arrived. I literally did not know what to do, so I danced the dance of the fearful tourist.
One time as I was bending around the corner to see if I could see the limo, I saw a line of four to five men in black suits, white shirts, and ties coming toward me. Well, maybe not toward me, but coming into the building. I did not recognize anyone, of course, but they did remind me of my husband, making me feel they may be some sort of resource for me.
I sort of stepped in front of them. "Do you know how I can reach the ABC Limo company?" I asked as I waved the business card in my hand. They stopped, surprised as I was by my question and action. The one on the end closest to me sort of held out his arm, I thought to brush me aside. Instead, he broke away from the line stood next to me with his hand on the small of my back, reading the business card over my shoulder. The rest of the men stepped out of the stream of pedestrians and watched us.
"Whoa. This beautiful lady needs a limo?" asked the man with his hand on my back. I blurted out my story - 4PM, waiting, friend outside, it all sounded like gibberish, even to me. "We need to call them," the man said. As he talked he took the limo business card and my quarters in his free hand, while moving the hand on the small of my back, quickly, down to my butt for a quick squeeze. "Let's find the phone," he said as his hand went back up to my back to turn me. As we walked his hand went back my butt, squeezing, squeezing.
Everything else in this most public part of Trump Tower disappeared in my mind for a moment. Then, I felt every person in the atrium looking at me, disgusted. I went back and forth between those two thoughts as he grabbed and squeezed.
When we went back around the corner toward the phone he was looking at me and smiling, "How's New York treating you? Have you found some fun. You look like you know how to have fun." I kept walking, smiling and saying I was finding fun, allowing the groping to continue. When we got to the phone, the beautiful woman turned and looked at us and told us to fuck off.
He laughed, so did I. As we stood waiting for the phone, about two feet away from the woman who was talking on the phone and just down the hall from his friends or colleagues, he alternated between groping my ass and rubbing my back. He leaned over and nuzzled my neck, making sickening sounds that may have been actual words. "Um, nice. Oh. Um."
After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably less than a minute, he was done. He moved his hand from my ass, picked up my hand and said "Here." He placed the card and quarters back in my hand. "You call them when she's done." He gave my butt one last, hard squeeze and walked away.
I just stood there. I didn't watch him leave. I imagined him and his buddies laughing at me and my easiness. I didn't notice the beautiful woman hang up the phone, but all of a sudden she was walking past me muttering something about assholes. I think she was talking about the credit card company, but it could have been me, or the perp.
I walked to the phone and picked up the receiver. My hands were shaking so badly that I dropped the first quarter on the floor. Though I do not know this to be true, I imagined the men still looking at me and laughing. The thought made my eyes fill with tears. I had to blink to read the phone number on the card. My whole body was shaking violently.
I managed to make the call and connected with the limo company. The woman on the other end kept yelling that she could hardly hear me. When she heard Trump Tower, she became immediately apologetic and said the limo had run into traffic, but he was there now, waiting for me.
I hung up, made my way outside, still visibly shaking. There was the limo, complete with happy driver waving me over to the big black car at the curb. It was sleeting now. "Get in quick!" he called to me as he noticed me shaking. "It's warm in here." As he held the door for me and I passed into the limo he asked, "Did you see Mr. Trump? He just went in before you came out. God bless that man, the best man in New York City."
"No," I was able to manage. "I didn't see him."
I don't remember the ride back to the hotel. All I could think about was how stupid I was to approach those men. I imagined them talking about me long after I'd been groped. I did not see this as a sexual assault or harassment. Instead, I blamed myself for my slutty boldness which was met by just deserts.
I must have said I wasn't feeling well in the limo, for when we arrived at the hotel, Mrs. Aberdeen told me to take my time and lie down, even skip dinner if I needed to take care of myself. She also requested that I call her room and tell her if I was not going to dinner, she'd leave the men to themselves if so.
I was "fine" by dinner. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone what happened to me. I kept blaming myself for thinking I could ask some important men for help. What did I think would happen? What was I expecting them to do? As I turned this in my head, I began to think of is as a sort of cheating on my husband. He'd be furious, maybe leave me, if I told him what I did.
I had no idea who the person was that groped me in Trump Tower.
More than a year later I was getting the mail when our weekly Newsweek magazine arrived. As I took the folded magazine out of the mailbox and opened it to reveal the cover, I felt my heart leap into my throat, burning my lungs and restricting my breathing as it ascended. In that same moment, trickles of sweat began pouring from my armpits to my elbows and down the crevice between my breasts. A wave of nausea flooded my gut and the empty space where my heart used to reside. Tears welled up in my eyes. I stood by the mailbox, across the street from our house, trying to slow my breathing, trying to not throw up. Finally, I folded the magazine again and walked back across the street.
For the next couple days, I would pick up the magazine and look at Donald Trump on the cover. This was the groper. I did not throw the magazine away as I did not want to have a conversation with Terry about where the magazine was, if it was delivered or not, etc. Eventually, I flattened it out and placed other mail for Terry on top of it, just the like I piled up his mail every week as he traveled.
A couple weeks later, when I was certain Terry was done reading it, I took the magazine from his bathroom and threw it in the trash. I was ready with excuses of why it was thrown out instead of saved in the pile with the rest in case he asked about it.
Over the years I told myself this was too bizarre to be true. Like a few other dysfunctional experiences, I've wondered if this really happened or not. I found a neat compartment somewhere in deep in my mind, labeled "Unbelievable," for the memory to reside in for 30 years.
As each story comes out about Trump, and as his talk of what he is permitted to do because of his status is played in loops on the news, my story becomes real again. I can not say with any certainty that is was Donald Trump who groped me. All I know is that his picture, or perhaps the memories of Trump Tower that his picture conjured, triggered me to remember that incident and re-traumatize me in the process.
I had not thought of that incident or the magazine until I saw Trump ride down the elevator in Trump Tower. This time I did not panic or feel nauseated, but I did have a weird reaction. I laughed uncontrollably. Laughed until I cried. Then I started googling. I found pictures of the inside and outside of Trump Tower, I found info on Jerry's Girls on Broadway.
Finally, I found some real evidence that I could hold in my hand. I got out my old journals and a bracelet I purchased in a small jewelry shop across the street from Trump Tower. I did not find an account of the trip to New York City in my journal other than an entry in December 1985 that said, "Going to NYC in a couple week with TA and Wheatgrower's pres & wife. Going to see Jerry's Girls on Broadway. Never heard of it. Want to see Cats." There were no entries again until May of 1986.
I don't feel that the person who groped me in 1986 is the Donald Trump of today. The man I remember was slim and handsome. He moved with a smooth stealthiness that allowed him to transition from standing next to me to groping my ass before I knew what was happening. He did not spew racist, misogynistic, or fearful words into my ear. Arrogant as he was back then, he was smooth and polished in the interaction I had with him. Unlike Trump, he seemed relevant.
I don't know what else to say or feel except, I know why women don't tell about sexual assault and harassment. I know why they don't speak up or fight or scream out. Sexual assault or harassment hits you like a lightening bolt on a sunny day. You don't expect it and it takes you awhile to understand what it was. Then, you internalize the blame and shame, feeling you have no evidence, no logical explanation, no language to tell what happened.
So, sue away Mr. Trump. I can not identify the 1986 face of my assailant today, but I am now able to recognize an ass grab as sexual assault.