Trauma is a weird thing—it often feels cyclical and repetitive. When I see someone keep repeating the same story and going back to the same moment in their lives, I think, “Oh yeah, trauma.”
Time feels different with trauma, as if it both never ended and never began.
And the same thing goes for questions, questions that circle around and around, trying to make sense of something that ultimately doesn’t make any sense, that refuses the sense that I try to make out of it. All the questions seem to be some version of “How did this happen?”
Last month I went to a panel at the Hammer Museum on Black Women and the #MeToo Movement.
Supermodel Beverly Johnson spoke first, about being drugged by Bill Cosby in an attempted assault. She talked about how Cosby groomed her prior to the assault by inviting her to the set of “The Cosby Show” and introducing her to his family, his wife and kids.
When you introduce someone to your family, you’re saying: You are safe here. We’re all family. You belong with us.
The word “grooming” is commonly used to refer to child grooming, which Wikipedia defines as “befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a child, and sometimes the family, to lower the child’s inhibitions with the objective of sexual abuse.”
But in the context of abuse or assault between adults, what does it mean to be groomed?
Dee Barnes spoke next of being brutally assaulted by Dr. Dre in 1991. But some of the first words out of her mouth were, “Was I groomed?”, as if the question had never crossed her mind before this moment.
She described Dre as an intimate friend, someone who treated her like a little sister, someone who brutalized other women but would never hurt her. She was family. You don’t hurt family.
Barnes ended up repeating the question “Was I groomed?” over and over again during the panel discussion, as if to ask 28 years after the fact:
Was I set up to be abused? Was I deliberately made to feel safe and protected by someone who intended to hurt me or at least had no intention of actually keeping me safe?
Maybe it was an arm around the shoulder or a whispered inside joke. Maybe he teased her constantly or called her “lil’ sis.” Whatever he did, he made her feel safe enough to go into that fateful night without any kind of protection, physical or otherwise.
She wasn’t attacked by a stranger. She was set up.
I don’t know how you deal with that kind of hurt, that kind of betrayal.
I think one of the hardest things to articulate in the aftermath of any kind of abusive relationship is all the nice things the other person did for you, the thousand small moments of care, empathy, compassion and love, the tucked in blanket and the Hallmark movie moments. These things feel so impossible to explain—at least not in any kind of way that makes sense—given what I know now.
Trying to explain why something was traumatic feels like trying to explain why every time you sneeze, someone in another state mispronounces the word “ingenuous.”
Me: You don’t understand. He found out I liked chocolate croissants and then he bought me sooooo many chocolate croissants.
Other person: [blank look] Uh huh…
It’s been years for me too, but a question came up for me like a slap in the face, writing this:
Why would you agree to go into a room alone with him?
Because I didn’t know. Because I felt safe.
Was I groomed too?