It wasn’t listening to his asinine bragging about adultery or pussy-grabbing.
It wasn’t listening to him refer to Arianne Zucker’s publicist as “the other one” or to Zucker as “those legs.”
It wasn’t listening to Billy Bush guffawing like a 33-year-old frat boy.
No, the worst part of the video was watching Billy Bush coax a woman into letting a man who had just boasted of sexual assault touch her.
The worst part was seeing her clench her teeth and acquiesce, despite every non-verbal cue she gave to demonstrate her repugnance. She kept her body as far as physically possible while she half-heartedly submitted to an embrace and a kiss.
The worst part was watching Bush continue to act as the world’s sleaziest “wing man” as he maneuvered Zucker to walk arm-in-arm with Trump, demanding that she “choose” which man she’d rather date.
The worst part was the strange mixture of deep empathy and betrayal I felt as I listened to her laugh nervously and decline to choose, and then faux flirtatiously pick “both” to de-escalate the situation.
I understood what she was experiencing, yet I wanted so badly to see her withdraw her arm.
I wanted her so badly to say “Can we not? I’m here to do a job, not to be whored out to a reality star.”
I wanted so badly to see her walk away.
But I knew why she didn’t, because anything she said would have been met with defensiveness, with gaslighting, and with “just harmless fun.”
That’s the worst part ― not the assault, not the sleaziness. It’s having to “just go along with it” or fight to be taken seriously.
I’m 13. It’s summertime. I’m behind the clubhouse at the pool. Two older boys in my neighborhood are teaching me how to smoke.
“You have to breathe in as you suck the cigarette. Not like a straw, that’ll make you sick.”
They have a good laugh as they see me go green, gag, and cough until I almost vomit.
But after a few puffs, I get the hang of it.
A week later, I’m home alone and there’s a knock at my apartment door. It’s the boys. They have a new pack of smokes. Wanna go have a smoke break?
I go with them. We walk to a small wooded area on the edge of the apartment complex. We huddle around the cigarette pack. I reach to pull out a cigarette when one of the boys pulls it away, out of my reach.
“You can have one of these, but you’re going to have to suck our dicks.”
I freeze. They’re joking. They have to be joking, right?
But one of them starts unzipping his fly.
After an hour of hiding out at a neighbor’s apartment (I don’t tell them because I don’t want to get in trouble for smoking), I go back to my place.
When I go to my bedroom I see that the window is open.
They threw dirt on my bed.
Here’s the worst part:
I’m at a hearing at juvenile court, testifying against the boys. Their defense attorney is questioning me.
“Your mother tells me you’re involved with theater, is that correct?”
“You like to act, is that right?”
“Isn’t acting pretending? Do you like to pretend?”
“…um, yes, but — ”
“So it’s fair to say you must have a very good imagination and must be very good at making things up, right?”
I look at my mother. She looks down at her hands. I feel sick.
I’m 14. We’re at a cook out. I’m wearing a tank top and Daisy Dukes.
One of my mom’s friends, a guy in his late twenties, looks at me and gives me a slow whistle.
“Man, if you were legal, I’d do you in a heartbeat.”
I feel naked. But I laugh and smile through clenched teeth.
Here’s the worst part:
Later, when I tell my mom, she smiles and says I’m turning into a beautiful woman, so I shouldn’t be surprised if guys start noticing me.
I’m 9. We’re taking a train from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale. We’ve been on the train for 12 hours. It’s late at night.
To pass the time, my mom has been hanging out in the club car.
I’ve been reading in my seat but get up to check in on her and to get something to drink.
When I pass through the doors, I spot her playing a card game with a tall guy wearing a wide-brimmed hat. She introduces me and we take a moment to chat before I let her know I’m going to sleep. She gives me a kiss goodnight.
I settle into my seat, close my eyes, and drift to sleep.
I shift in my seat, and feel the presence of someone else.
Someone staring at me.
I open my eyes a sliver and between my lashes I see the silhouette of a tall man in a wide-brimmed hat.
I shut my eyes and pretend to sleep and wait, occasionally peeking through my lashes.
He doesn’t leave for at least 5 minutes.
Here’s the worst part:
When I tell my mom, she shakes her head.
“It was probably a bad dream.”
“Stop wearing such baggy clothes. You have a gorgeous body. You should show off your curves.”
“Don’t be afraid to flirt. It’s the only reason some of these guys will let a female sales rep in the door. Use it.”
“Oh, he was just a dirty old man.”
“…Just locker room talk. …A distraction.”
I’m 39: “Whoa, whoa, whoa... you’re getting way too emotional about this. It’s sad that this happened to you, but all kids get bullied.”
That’s the worst part.
It isn’t when it happens; it’s what happens when you talk about it.
This piece originally appeared on Medium. To see more pieces by Alaura, follow her here.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.