When I was 18, I went to the Bahamas with my family and my sister’s best friend. We stayed at Atlantis Paradise Island, a resort near Nassau. It was mid-August 2009, and we were surprised to find that the Miss Universe pageant was taking place a few days after our arrival. Mostly, we only glimpsed the contestants while they did PR before the main event—posing with the on-site dolphins, etc.—but the hotel was crawling with Miss Universe’s senior staff. These included Donald Trump, the company’s owner. He would later open the awards ceremony before giving it away to the show’s co-host…Billy Bush. (I’m not kidding; I just found this out, and I’m hella laughin’.)
One of these upper staff members was (and is) the VP of finance and CFO of The Miss Universe Organization. His name was (and is) Larry Parra. He introduced himself after sitting beside me at the sports bar just off the casino late one night, where I sat, bored, with a gin and tonic, waiting for my sisters and our friend to come back from wherever they were. He led by saying that Trump might have been the owner of Miss Universe, but in fact it was he, Larry, who ran everything at the pageant. He immediately started boasting about his position by way of details about the contestants’ bodies as a way of trying to make me feel special and chosen—like, I didn’t look like them, but he was still paying attention to me!
That didn’t work out so well for him initially. I made it clear that I was neither into the idea of Miss Universe nor him—as an incumbent college sophomore, I found both highly gross. I think I literally turned my shoulder and told him to fuck off—that I didn’t want anything to do with a person who would never see me as one.
“I give these girls scholarships! I have a daughter!” he cried. “How could I have a daughter and be a bad guy? It’s about their futures! These girls use their bodies to get a future! I want only the best for them!” In these staid terms, he talked about his daughter, whom he said was about five years older than me, between his gulps about the contestants’ fitness, which was extremely fucking weird. (I hope she is doing amazingly in this world, if she is real.)
I was wasted—and sane—so of course it seemed funny. Like: Is this is what cartoonish rich people are like? Just so, so absent from how anything resembling rationality actually goes? Saying that they have children as an excuse to hit on drunk teenagers whom they know are far from home? It was like he couldn’t hear himself. It was like he wasn’t on a business trip.
It felt like our entire conversation lasted 15 minutes. I guess he anticipated that teenagers are lightweights: He ordered me a drink from the bartender without consulting me, handing it over before I had finished the one before. I wasn’t used to drinking after already having been drinking. I blacked out.
Sometime later, I came to with Larry thrashing around vertically on top of me on a sofa in the hotel room I shared with my sisters. I don’t know how long I was unconscious prior. I do know that when I woke up, I wasn’t really awake—just immobile and Frankenstein-esque, with this 60-something-year-old making fucked, heavy darting movements all over me. I clumsily pushed him off, then kicked him. He yelped, looking shy and caught. The first/only thought I registered was MY FACE IS WET. I tried to sit up, so he left—just out the door, like he thought it was very bad news that I was suddenly conscious. The next morning, I woke up to a magnum of champagne delivered to the room by way of silent apology.
I let him take this picture of me that next afternoon—I’m on the right.
My sister’s friend asked him to photograph us as he passed us in a lobby; she asked me to come with her as she tried to pick up cute dudes, and I wanted to feel a little more normal/eligible/fine/blameless than I had all terrible day. She and my sisters knew what had happened, which still makes me sick to think about. They woke up and laughed after he left—I felt like a mutant for “hooking up” with a sexagenarian dude in terrible strappy sandals and a worse curly mushroom cut. “Hooking up” is what I thought the verb was for what had happened that night, not knowing otherwise, despite how shitty it felt—it was made to be my choice. Do you know what that’s like? When you’re a YOU, and someone insists that you chose a Donald Trump or an, actually, I run the women’s grade-A meatshow behind the scenes NON-TRUMP? Jesus. Larry still looked embarrassed as the flash went off. He and I didn’t say anything besides hello.
What no one says outright about sexual assault—until this election, when an entire party has made a point and a joy of saying it triumphantly—is that it’s usually not a big deal to anyone else but you, even if they care about you. This is out of the instruction of authorities—rich people, older people, people who have things that you/they presume you lack. Still, in order to work with your people, you can sometimes feel like you have to act like sexual assault isn’t a big deal when it happens to you, and I behaved the exact same way about the assaults of others when I was younger. Note that my (older) friend is joking about it in the caption, and I’m desperately trying to correct for it, but still following her lead. I bet someone else followed my pursuant one—my little sister was on that trip, too. I hate how casual I’ve been about this.
When I think about people “coming out of the woodwork” to tell what has happened to them, and how that’s “suspect,” given that they hadn’t spoken up before…that isn’t how this works, this “why now?” defense. The answer to “why now?” is because now beckons it. I’ve been reading the news for a whole obsessive election cycle—all day, every day, “Miss Universe”—before it occurred to me just this morning that this is also a part of my life that really happened. I am so far away from it, just as I was when it was happening. This election yoked it up from where it waited, quietly osmosing into the rest of me. Reading the news reminded me of my assault insistently until it was right here.
Some people don’t have the luxury of forgetting—or of letting it seep into their whole without altogether realizing it, as I have (among a similar lot of things, the re-realization of which is a fun side effect of caring about the presidency this year if you are not male, not white, or neither). I respect equally the people who have decided that assault “isn’t a big deal” almost to the point of not knowing it anymore, and the ones who don’t want anyone else to know that it does, in fact, matter to them, and the ones who let everyone know, nationally, heroically. What a risk. Being on vacation, on a plane, doing business, an employee, a teenager, a sister, a daughter, a wife, your own person. What a risk.