With gratitude, a farewell from #MeToo
Gary Caruso | Monday, March 22, 2021
Editor’s note: This story includes descriptions of sexual abuse. A list of sexual assault reporting options and on-campus resources can be found on the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross websites.
The odd paradox about growing old is you’re the same person, and yet you’re not. Each facial wrinkle is a story unto itself. From my life’s viewpoint, the universe flows in a rhythm of threes — the Holy Trinity, a Broadway play, a journalistic writing technique or our actual physical phases of aging. We oftentimes segregate by Youth, Growth and Yoda. For this wrinkled Yoda, I’ve penned Capitol Comments for exactly three decades, and this is the last.
In October 1991, I inaugurated my Viewpoint column by honoring iconic English Professor Francis J. “Frank” O’Malley, one of the last bachelor dons who lived a few doors down from me in Lyons Hall. The recluse remained invisible other than sporadic treks to class or the University Club. The quintessential chain-smoking instructor had a fondness for an overabundance of “hopelessly dry martinis.” His charisma and wisdom smudged glimpses of the meaning of life onto his students.
Recently, 30 years later, I opined another memorial honoring U.S. Capitol Hill Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, a patriot and friend. He sacrificed his life defending our democracy from delusional domestic insurrectionist terrorists who stormed the Capitol in early January. I could never have planned better memorial bookends for the start and close of my Viewpoint era.
I owe a world, nay a heavenly universe, of thanks to the Observer staff year after year for allowing me to hone my writing skills, spiritually grow, inspire others and express my understanding of the meaning of life while voicing my point of view on a variety of issues. I’ve written forcefully at times, yet respectfully. Many times I acted mischievously, for example by emphasizing my appointment from President Bill Clinton while knowing many would react negatively through political instinct rather than read my column’s content. Oftentimes readers asked how I could critique others having worked for that “lowlife.”
Throughout, I’ve taken delight in exposing hypocrisies at Notre Dame and within the Catholic Church, while always defending everyone’s right to chart a personal spiritual course in life. At times, the University staff replied to parse their exclusionary policies. In fact, a quite highly placed Notre Dame Administration member’s spouse once told me to leave the Church if I did not like its strict dogma. Naturally, I chose to fight from within, and hold my ground. It takes a thick skin to opine, as many Observer staff and I learned in 2017 after an alumnus threatened and cyber stalked several of us to the point of law enforcement intervention.
My journalistic Yoda status arose by writing often and learning along the way. My first few columns featured a range of issues and styles: underscoring O’Malley’s hope that the world has time for us during sorrow or while in love; sharing my election loss for Student Body President to a king and his cat joke slate; composing humorous columns; advocating tolerance against cancel culture at Notre Dame; and recalling my Sugar Bowl experience. However, I learned from reader comments that in my zeal to share my New Orleans enjoyment, I became exactly what I abhorred — a petty, better-than-you protagonist. Another reader suggested that I leave a lesson-learned in each column rather than simply reconstruct my youthful delights.
Fortunately, since then, I’ve shared lessons-learned, most importantly the missed warning signs of a classmate’s suicide. Today from my firsthand experience as a child, my send-off column shares warning signs that your preteen child may have been molested or traumatized. I am a legacy member of the #MeToo society of childhood abuse that still litigates against churches, fraternal organizations and school institutions. For me, sometime between 5 and 10 years of age, I was assaulted, which steered me through lifetime paths unexpected.
Immediately after the assault I wet my bed, which I had never done before. I suffered a reoccurring nightmare that lingered for years afterwards. I was trapped in a small black room with walls five-times higher than usual and only one door behind me. A birthday cake lay on the floor in front of me. It started expanding and grew bigger and bigger and bigger, squeezing me against the door without any escape. And then the cake exploded, awakening me in a fearful sweat.
Trauma taught me to choose loneliness over disappointment. My safety zone became sports activities with the guys. Lacking confidence to simply socialize with girls, I struggled to maintain relationships or initiate intimate interactions. In college, I sidestepped the overwhelming stress to fit in by hanging with the guys because merely thinking of “dating” frightened me. Eventually, I compartmentalized and suppressed everything in my life upon its conclusion, like lifting a book back onto a library shelf. And here I am closing my Capitol Comments chapter by depositing it into the archives.
My archived columns revealed that experiences at Notre Dame are not monolithic, but unique to life in our era on campus. My early columns are part of the person I was back then. I tried to fill wells I did not dig and kindle fires I did not build to comfort others and burn my hurt away. Now forged by time, I’m here to lend a hand for others.
Regardless of how drastically harsh the future may appear, I’ve always believed in a tomorrow as the better day to come. And so, now is a better time to go for #MeToo.
Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73 American Studies major, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. Contact him on Twitter: @GaryJCaruso or e-mail: [email protected].
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.