The news stories about Jeffrey Epstein conjured up images of a rarified world of jet-setting celebrities. The words used to describe him and his lifestyle — financier, billionaire, private jet, tropical island — are not those we associate with anyone we would meet in real life. We gobbled up each bit of news to come out, adding detail to the portrait of this rich and powerful man. We comforted ourselves with this picture of Epstein, shaking our heads as the tale grew more bizarre every day. The more twists there are to the tale, the easier it is to think of predators like him as rare exotic creatures, when in reality they’re as common and ordinary as the man down the block.
One Saturday when I was 15, I went to my friend Beth’s house. Nobody else was home but her dad, and he gave us drinks. I wondered later what was in the drink. Thinking back on that afternoon was like looking into a mirror that’s been shattered and glued back into the frame. The image is recognizable but there are cracks running throughout, narrow spaces between the pieces, each one floating, disconnected from the others. There is the impression of a whole, but filled with gaps. I never told anyone about that afternoon. And I never went back inside Beth’s house.
My memories from that afternoon are broken, too, there are parts that are missing, parts I remember vividly. I remember Beth’s wavy brown hair, her husky voice, and brown eyes. The claustrophobic feeling inside her house. Every cliche from 1970s interior decor, all crammed together. Patterned, textured wallpaper. Shag carpet. Wall phones.
Were we sitting on the floor of her bedroom closet at one point? I seem to remember that. Sitting on the floor of the closet. The drink, a tall glass with ice, ginger ale, and whiskey, or that’s what he said. Beth saying if I saw her dad watching us, I should pretend I didn’t see him, act like he wasn’t there, it was just something he liked to do. Wondering why he would do that. Hoping I wouldn’t see him, watching us.
Then I’m sitting on the floor in her room. Sitting in the cab of his pickup. Sitting in a seat at the table in a clubhouse, or whatever that place was, a place he drove us to where we had another drink. Some dingy veterans club or union hall with a plank floor and bar in the corner, a smattering of middle aged and old guys in it. Somewhere he shouldn’t have taken a teenage girl, and where they shouldn’t have served her alcohol. Then back in the pickup. Then I’m standing, in the driveway outside Beth’s house. Then finally, I’m walking, the half block from her house to mine.
I remember his eyes, dark brown like Beth’s but not warm like hers. Not kind, but hard. I remember him holding my hand, on the bench seat of the truck between us, not sure how we got in the truck, not sure where Beth was. Feeling like it was wrong for him to hold my hand, but being scared to pull my hand away.
I remembered Beth’s dad, when I saw the photo of Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein with a girl who looked 14. A girl who’s looking down while Trump grips her waist and leans in to plant a kiss on her hair, his eyes on the camera. Is she drunk, or high? Impossible to tell. I remembered Beth’s dad, telling me I was a beautiful girl, I could make a lot of money with my looks. I remembered me, in my bell bottomed jeans, a bandana holding back my long hair, no make-up, braces on my teeth.
I never told anyone about that afternoon until I was in my fifties, but I remember the girl I was, how anything could have happened to her, how she never knew for sure what did happen. When a new MeToo story comes out, I don’t wonder why a girl didn’t say something, or took years to say something, about what some man did to her. I know what it’s like to feel ashamed, to feel like it was my fault, to feel like I was probably lucky the worst didn’t happen. I can understand not knowing who to tell, being afraid of not being believed, deciding I’m better off staying quiet.
Epstein won’t have his day in court. He died in jail and won’t have to face his accusers, but they can still seek justice. They will be able to tell their stories, and Epstein will never face justice but maybe, just maybe, his partners in crime will.