'Indelible in the Hippocampus'

By Sara Bosworth, managing editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.”

This was Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s answer when Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) asked her what she remembered most vividly from the alleged assault in the summer of 1982. That’s when Ford says Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, back when they were in high school.

The idea that Thursday’s hearing was a mission to “get to the truth” of the issue is ridiculous. By now, there can be little doubt that Dr. Ford is telling the truth. The hearing, in the end, went neither the Republican-preferred trial route nor the Democrat-preferred job interview route.

Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor hired by the Republicans so that they didn’t repeat the poor optics from 1991—when male committee member after male committee member hurled questions at Anita Hill—did little more than confirm the layout of the town Dr. Ford grew up in. And, oh yes, that Dr. Ford did indeed travel to D.C. on an airplane.

There were none of the “Aha!” moments of a courtroom drama. In the end, the hearing was just a display of messy and raw human emotion — pain on the part of Dr. Ford; petulant entitlement on the part of Judge Kavanaugh — none of which was pleasant to watch.

As she gave her opening statement and answered the committee’s questions, Dr. Ford’s voice was strained. It appeared she was trying to hold back tears all morning.

And even in her discomfort, even in her evident terror at having to sit in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for hours, delivering raw testimony about a hugely traumatic experience, she accommodated. She made lighthearted jokes, apologized when she didn’t follow the line of questioning. When Sen. Chuck Grassley asked if she wanted to take a break, she said, “Does that work for you? I’m used to being collegial.”

This is what women have been taught to do — to apologize for our pain, try and correct the fact that our trauma might make someone else uncomfortable.

Flash forward a few hours later to Judge Kavanaugh, who, when asked by Sen. Amy Klobuchar if he’d ever lost consciousness while drinking, shot back, “I don’t know, have you?”

Dr. Ford’s voice wavered a little while answering Sen. Leahy’s question, but the language of her answer, “indelible in the hippocampus,” stayed with the millions of viewers watching from home.  

The hippocampus, that strangely shaped, curled-up part of the brain responsible for the retention of long-term memory, takes its name from the ancient Greek word for seahorse, from hippos (horse) and kampos — sea monster, a root which seems especially appropriate in thinking about the more sinister traits of memory, its ability to surface suddenly and unwelcome from some deep and dark place.  

There are seahorses under the Brooklyn Bridge, a breed local to the Atlantic that has made its home in the seagrass right under the Brooklyn Bridge. The northern lined seahorse is a dull, dirt brown, and at an average 5-inch length has grown hard ridges across its body as a protective armor from the hyper-polluted East River water.

This is normal — the more hostile our environment is, the more protective features we grow: hard ridges, easily camouflaged colors, quiet voices, deferential apologies, lighthearted jokes in the midst of trauma.

The environment is pretty hostile as it stands. The last thing we need is a lifetime appointment for full-grown frat boy in the seat responsible for the jurisdiction over right and wrong.

Believe women. Don’t reward the Brett Kavanaughs of the world. Work for better.

AP Photo