My family lives around Williamsburg, and on Sundays, I go to church with my mother and younger sister. Last week, with just 10 miles to go on the ride back to campus, my mother asked me about Judge Kavanaugh, and I replied that I believe Dr. Ford.
There was silence, and then she asked if I was serious. I said yes. She asked if I watched his testimony. I said I had seen some of it. Then she asked me how I thought what I did … and I explained. Her voice was rising, tensing up. My sister was losing patience. They told me I was wrong, and they couldn’t believe that I doubted him. They knew he was innocent. They had watched him testify and knew it. He was a good man, and this story was concocted to keep him off the bench and ruin his family — this good man’s family. In that moment, I felt that they hated me.
My sister lost respect for me. She told me I was ignorant. The car stopped at my dorm, and we were silent. I opened the door and thanked them for the ride and the breakfast my mother had packed. They wished me a good week, and I thought about saying “I love you,” but then I didn’t and walked away.
I don’t know if Judge Kavanaugh is innocent or guilty. I don’t know how he is as a husband or a father or how he was in high school or college. Neither do the senators, despite what many say. He knows, his accusers know, but he and his accusers have different stories, so we will probably never be sure.
Being sure is a luxury we don’t have, not just because it would confirm or deny this judge, but because the different sides wouldn’t be able to hate each other as easily. If it were certain, the question would be one of right and wrong, but in the confusion, this whole thing is just about what sticks.
For a time, it looked like what Dr. Ford and Ms. Ramirez said would stick, but after two weeks of testimony, questions, scrutiny, small talk, certainty, doubt and everyone’s opinions, it didn’t — at least not enough. As I write this, senators are near a final, confirming vote, and we are here again, just as we were two weeks ago.
In this ambiguity, everyone feels sure that they are right and even more certain others are wrong. We can argue with each other and testify to the things we know and raise our voices until we end up in the same place as we were before, just as the Senate did. Except now, we end up more angry and disappointed that we took this path.
The accusations against Judge Kavanaugh matter. The experiences of Dr. Ford and Ms. Ramirez matter. It’s a shame sexual assault was debated this way, and it’s a d— shame that their lives were ruined, and we ended up right where we started.
I’ll see my mother and sister again this Sunday and ask them, smiling, how school is going and respond when they ask me the same. Maybe we’ll go for bagels after the service. I hope we will.
My life returns to normal after this — that’s a part of my privilege — but just like everyone else here, what the Senate does is out of my control. In this position, I can only try to do the things I ask of others: believe survivors and be respectful, responsible and honest.
The decisions made in Washington, D.C. affect us all, but we all have our own lives and people we love. And this Sunday, no matter what we talk about, I won’t step out of the car before I tell my mother and sister that I love them.
Email Noah Petersen at [email protected]