It’s the day of the primary, and now look: another rising DFL superstar has been taken down – or might be, depending on how today goes – by loudmouthed women, just like poor Al Franken and Dan Schoen. Is there a conspiracy? Anything’s possible, these days. Because look at them! Likable guys on their way up, funny men, nobody you could picture molesting anyone or shouting at them or pressuring them into sex – but now here she comes, another lady marching in to say he –
Did what to her, precisely?
In this case, the evidence is maddeningly hidden. There’s a videotape, allegedly, but it’s in a storage locker somewhere on a flash drive; who does that to a piece of damning evidence? At least the Franken ass-grabbee marched back to her husband and expressed her outrage, which… thank God she at least told him, he’s a credible witness. The best this woman’s got is an angry son, who sort-of knew all along, then found the video that confirmed it. Only now he can’t find it, either.
All of this makes good Democrats suspicious. “I mean, how would you record it?” said an older man to me last night, a good person. “Was she, like, recording everything in their apartment?”
Implicit in that question: if you recorded everything anyone ever said, wouldn’t you find something to get a politician on? (We’re talking normal politicians, here.) Doesn’t everyone say and do things that are probably objectionable taken out of context?
(I think, with shame and gratitude, of times when I’m glad I haven’t been recorded.)
The objections continue. Wouldn’t you find something like this, the man I was talking to said-without-saying – our beloved congressman walking into his bedroom to find his girlfriend lying down, listening to a podcast; getting angry and saying that he told her to take out the garbage; when she didn’t respond, yanking her by her feet off the bed and shouting at her that she’s a bad guest?
Anyone can concur that this video isn’t a good look for Ellison. Well, if it does exist.
Still, the fact of its existence seems suspicious – why was she recording this one time? She’s mentioned, in texts, the fact that she’s writing a memoir about him and their relationship; was she trying to blackmail him? Just taking something – well, not innocuous – but something private – public, out of context? Why record his one moment of wrath?
I do, unfortunately, have an answer. I wish I didn’t.
Isn’t it more likely – I say-without-saying hesitantly – that shit like this happened every night? And this just happened to be the one time she had her phone in her hand, could stealthily press the camera into life?
Well, maybe not every night. Fine.
Isn’t it almost worse, though, if it happened irregularly? If not every night – if some nights were normal and good and snuggly even, went by without blowups – then every two or three, or once a week at minimum? Enough that she could calm herself down, thinking it was over – saying to herself, maybe it really is done, I’m not a bad guest anymore, I’ve fixed the bad-guest part of myself, the stuff he dislikes – but then two days later she finds him looking despondently at potato peels between the garbage can and cabinet side, and it starts again: baby why do you throw the peels on the ground not in the garbage can, can’t you see we live here, it’s such a mess, do you want our house messy, what is wrong with you, why are you such a slobby person – then on and on into everything else that’s wrong with her – because she is, as it turns out, not fixed, wrong in all the ways, thank God he’s here to fix her, he’s saying this out of charity.
It’s only awful in the way he repeats himself, keeps doing it. He says there’s nothing wrong with these – he doesn’t call them arguments but Conversations, even though she doesn’t talk during them – but still he’s always careful to do it in private. In person, in public, he is such a Catch. She has to catch herself and shake herself sometimes, say to herself – this man, the one that all your friends envy you for dating – remember what he does, when the door is closed and nobody else can hear it.
So, I say-without-saying, am only saying here, in the safety of print: that’s why she records. Because this one time, she wants someone else to see it. Or she wants evidence of it, for herself, later, so she can prove she’s not crazy, that all of this really happened.
Here’s why I’m not voting for Ellison (which, just 24 hours ago, I was so excited to do):
His ex-girlfriend is saying that the tape exists, but that it’d be too shameful to show anyone. She says she’s buried it so deep in a storage locker that she can’t find it.
This is, paradoxically, the same thing that makes her sound like a Russian sleeper agent. You picture a man in a fur hat, going Da, darhlink, go, say zese zings ze day before ze primary. Yes, you too! Provoke ze infighting! HA! Picture it so much, the unlikeliness of these hard-to-prove accusations, that it starts to seem like – well, a conspiracy, a slop job, yes, but come on, do we always have to believe women? Isn’t this a little Salem-ish?
Why can’t she find the tape?
I know that damn feeling.
She says she doesn’t want to go public with it because it would be so embarrassing for both families: it being the sole evidence of the way he was in private, all these Conversations in which he convinced her how bad she was, how delusional she was being, how lucky she was that he was staying with her even though she was so awful.
I’ve felt that embarrassment. I’m feeling it now. I should stop typing, I should delete this.
See, the thing with these – relationships with men who like to have Conversations – is that you get out, however you do. (Unless you don’t.) You beg a deposit from your parents. You get into an unlikely grad school and move across the ocean.
For a time, you Try to Make it Work. That’s the funny part, the times you send emails or texts saying you love him – if it was so bad, why wouldn’t you cut ties entirely? Why would you leave this whole paper trail of very sane-sounding messages of love in your wake? I think it happens because you’re trying to convince yourself it was as he told you – that the two of you were in love, only you were bad, too bad for him, and so had to leave him, regrettably. You tell yourself that if you were better, you could be together. Or if he just changed a little bit; stopped taking everything so much to heart all the time.
With distance, he peters out, meets other women. His voice gets quieter. You separate fully. He’s only in your head, anymore, any time you chuck a potato peel on the ground instead of in the can by accident.
Maybe you dash into a relationship with someone else, someone antithetical to him, someone meek.
Maybe your friends say you seem happier. Maybe you start to tell them, bit by bit, what it was like to live there in that room, the blanket over your head, his voice not diminishing no matter how much you cried.
But the shit thing is, it’s very hard to talk about.
There’s never a One Thing to point to, not unless you’ve been savvy and taken a video. He never broke your arm or left bruises. He still thinks of himself as a person who treats women fairly; he never hurt you, just tried to isolate you from your family and then yelled at you til you wanted to walk into the river, and cops can’t prosecute that. Besides, your memories are so hazy.
Later, you learn that this is something your body does deliberately, and it really bums you out, the way you’re suddenly comparing yourself to a Real Victim.
You say, I should write about it. You want to have some proof that it happened, even though there was, in that room, only him and you, and it’s not like he’ll ever corroborate. But what would be the point? Maybe he’d message you awful things, try to take down your computer from the inside, come and try to beat up your lovely boyfriend. It’s not worth the risk.
And then… he’s the DFL nominee. And you see his face everywhere. And your child is angrier and angrier.
Alternatively, and then…
His second-to-most-recent ex-girlfriend sends you a Facebook message out of the blue. “Hi Jessie,” she says. “I don’t know if you know who I am.”
You definitely do. Four years ago, when they started dating, you stalked her profile out of a sense of real obligation. You remember marveling at how beautiful and accomplished she was. How lucky for him that she is perfect and that he likely had nothing to complain about anymore.
She says, after explaining that they dated for a while after you two separated:
“Now I’m just starting working up the past….I realized lately it still depresses me in some way. This sounds a little bit strange and I understand if you don’t want to, but I thought maybe we could talk a little bit about our experiences? It’s hard for me to put it in words, thought maybe our conversation could help me understanding what happened.”
You exchange anecdotes: how he was very good at interrupting your job interviews, calling and picking a fight just before you were about to walk in. How the night before she had an exam, he’d shut off her alarm clock because it disturbed his rest, and she’d oversleep. How when you expressed a desire to meet other Americans in the city you both lived in, he was genuinely confused, distressed: why, he said, would you want to be friends with other people? Aren’t I enough?
You are both so goddamn relieved to be talking about this with someone else. You feel like you should form a Facebook group, should pull in his other exes, all the women he told you were so crazy.
She finds out you’re a writer. She asks you to write about it, please – she’d like to tell his current girlfriend, just drop off the link and leave it.
You’re not sure. You’re afraid. Is this the right time? Why bother? It’s all in the past –
And then it keeps coming up again. Not in the form of you, your current relationship, but in other people’s lives: this woman rising up to claim Keith Ellison, and the world rising up, in trade, to deny her, to say, you’re lying, you’re a sleeper agent, you’re conveniently timed, you’re not even good at presenting evidence, you’re obviously… Even good men are so shocked, so skeptical.
You don’t have to believe her. But you should believe me, believe us. Because believe me: I have nothing to gain from revealing this.