I utterly believed Christine Blasey Ford when she said she was sexually assaulted at a drunken teenage party years ago. I also believed Brett Kavanaugh when he said Thursday, a few weeks late, that he had at times drank too much as a teen and had done things that today make him “cringe.”
I believe each of them because, like them, I too was a teen coming of age in the early 1980s. I knew my share of Christine Blasey Fords and Brett Kavanaughs. Though I was in Satellite Beach, Florida and they were in the tony Maryland suburbs of D.C., we could have run in similar circles. We would have been at the same parents-out-of-town parties and post-football game beer busts.
Whatever lessons come from this past week’s historic moments on Capitol Hill, the one I know most is that we cannot deny our personal truths. They are what make us the people we are today. We were not then the virtuous, responsible people that we publicly portray ourselves to be today. Few of us were, and to say otherwise is disingenuous.
This was the era when Tom Cruise, in the 1983 film “Risky Business,” bluntly delivered the one-line philosophy of the age: “Sometimes, you just gotta say, what the…” The movies were our internet of the day, a medium that reflected a culture that, real or not, we absorbed and projected back. In these movies, boys were always on the make, even the inept nerdy ones. Girls were focused on boys too, torn between a craving to be popular and to be respected for whom they really were.
Back then, the legal drinking age was 18, and more than a few of us looked all of that and more. In the lax beach-ethos environment, beer was readily available. We didn’t need Facebook or Twitter to know the convenience stores that didn’t card for ID.
Drinking beer as teens in the 1980s is akin to smoking pot in college in the 1960s. Who among us believed Bill Clinton when he said of that time that he “didn’t inhale.”
In high school, the talk early in the week was about the party the weekend before, who hooked up with whom and whatever other scandalous side dishes were served up. By midweek, the talk would turn to whatever party was coming up that weekend. I’d be an idiot to think things have changed dramatically over the years.
I can only speak of this generally, because I simply don’t recall specific days and parties. What did I do after the big football game with Merritt Island High School in 1983? No clue, but since I was a senior, we likely headed to the park along the Melbourne Causeway connecting the barrier island to the mainland. There, we’d drink beer, listen to music, holler and scream, splash in the Indian River and try to hook up with each other. I can only imagine how undergoing a traumatic event would affect my memory.
Looking at Brett Kavanaugh’s calendars from that time — I’m stunned that he kept a calendar at the time much less held on to them — I see my own life, though he was far more popular with the girls. I was in Latin Club and played few sports, but I was friends with and hung out with many of the athletes. And though I graduated high school a virgin, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Today, most of my high school peers are respectable adults with good careers. We can laugh at our own ineptitude or silly hijinks from a time when our bodies and hormones were far ahead of our brains in the development department.
But some of us can’t blithely pass off those days. Heavy, life-altering things happened to them, often while fogged in by alcohol and drugs. Some, like Christine Blasey Ford, lived through that pain and came out the other side stronger. Others have not made that journey, and they suffer still.
And those like Brett Kavanaugh, imbued with privilege and power and a belief the world was theirs for the taking? Some had a Copernican moment and grew to realize life did not orbit around them. But many others live like it’s still high school.
We are who we are, sometimes because of — and sometimes in spite of — our teenage selves. Thursday’s dual testimonies showed that, at some point, we all must reckon with the truth of our histories, its effect on others and its impact on ourselves.
We came to terms with 1960s college pot-smoking from would-be presidents. Now we measure the impacts of 1980s teen drinking.
Those teenage years were risky business. If nothing else, the reckoning has begun.