I have a story to tell about Mark Judge, Georgetown Prep, and Brett Kavanaugh, but it might not be the one you want to hear.
It also might be too late. The horses have left the barn; the votes are all but counted; the Great Betrayal looms. Where are the men who might have stopped it, the boys I knew at Prep who never would have let this pass? You know who you are. You have sons and daughters, wives and lovers. You went to Prep for longer than I did and knew Brett better than I did. Maybe you don’t think he did what Christine says he did. I can respect that. But you were educated by Jesuits too. How could you not stand up, or quietly put in a call to Brett and lend him encouragement? Just a call: “Brett, wait a minute. You’re my friend. I believe you. But we need to look at this. We need to address it. Publicly, honestly, and slowly.” Friends don’t let friends hedge their way onto the highest court in the land.
I attended Prep from the fall of 1980 through the spring of 1982. Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge were one year above me, but I had overlapped with Kavanaugh in junior high; and because Judge and I lived in the same neighborhood, we carpooled to Prep for a year or two. They were both popular boys, and I remember them each with that mixture of fear and fondness that only a 14-year-old boy can feel toward well-liked upperclassmen. There is no question in my mind that Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth.
I believe her not because I know attacks like the one she describes were regularly happening (I don’t and, for the record, I do not know what happened at the party described by Dr. Ford), or because I have some inside knowledge that Brett Kavanaugh was a sexual assailant (I don’t), or because Prep promoted a culture of drunkenness (it didn’t, though some students did drink and party to excess). Prep was a remarkable school, attended by kind boys, run by good teachers, supported by caring parents. For most of us, the drinking and partying were kept in check by sports, school plays, and studies. But I remember Brett, and Mark even more so, and I am convinced that Dr. Ford is telling the truth because of a very specific detail she shared about the night in question.
Dr. Ford puts Mark Judge in the room. She says he was there, watching, giggling, shouting, until he finally jumped on top of Brett and they all rolled off the bed—allowing Christine room to escape. In her testimony she said that she kept looking over at Judge, hoping he would help: “Mark seemed ambivalent, at times urging Brett on and at times telling him to stop. A couple of times, I made eye contact with Mark and thought he might try to help me, but he did not.” And then she notes that he jumped on the bed twice, the last time toppling them over and allowing her to escape. That’s why I believe her.
I believe her because the detail takes me back, as immediately and powerfully as an odor, to the Mark Judge I knew in high school. He was one of those kids that other boys would whip up just to see what he’d crash into, a noisy kid with too much mouth on him, a kid who always managed to tip the bucket of boisterousness over into a pool of abusiveness—of self and others. He would be described in today’s therapy-laden culture as someone who “self-medicated” with alcohol. He watched The Benny Hill Show every night and tuned the radio dial every morning to whatever station was playing The Who. “Baba O’Riley” was a favorite. At pep rallies in the school gym before football games he’d come charging in and unabashedly make a fool of himself to get the howling and the cheers started. Maybe that sounds like just more prep-school grotesquerie, but it was also, for a 14-year-old, profoundly liberating. To be someone who didn’t give a damn. Someone who was confident enough to make a buffoon of himself in front of his peers. We’d be shoulder to shoulder in a group and he would rush up and literally throw himself into our midst, giggling and yelling, tackling someone and rolling off into the grass.
Dr. Ford’s description of Mark Judge’s behavior on that night rings absolutely true. When I read it I thought to myself, “Yep. That’s Mark Judge. That’s exactly how it would have gone down. You couldn’t make that up.” He was like a slobbering, overgrown puppy, now that I think of it. And many of the boys at Prep—including me—were actually quite fond of him.
I remember one Friday at Prep after a football game that I missed for soccer practice. It was played against a school from inner-city DC, which meant that there were probably more African-American boys on our campus that single afternoon than in Prep’s entire 200-year history. The greatest privilege that class provides is a callow ignorance of class inequality, and we were callow, ignorant boys.
The racial tension on the campus that day was off the hook. It was nuts. Unstated, but palpable. This team from DC had bused out to the suburbs to play a bunch of rich white boys on their very lush, green, grassy home field… and they had lost. Abysmally. It was a rout. There was a very weird feeling on the campus. No one seemed happy about it; something felt off. I remember walking out of the gym carrying my book bag and crossing the driveway to get into the car with Judge and some others for the carpool ride home. One of the football players from the other team, a black kid obviously, was standing there, and he waved me over to him in kind of a friendly manner. I thought he wanted directions or something. So I walked up to him, and he walked up to me… and he just flat-out wound up and sucker-punched me in the gut and then kept walking across the driveway. It didn’t really hurt, but the shock of it was overwhelming. One of the most intense things I’ve ever experienced. I didn’t know what to do, so I just kept walking and pretended nothing had happened. Adolescent boys are weird, all of us.
Anyway, Mark Judge was at the car and he saw the whole thing happen. He looked at me and said, “Holy shit, man, are you OK?” And he kind of put his arm around me (very unusual that, in an all-boys prep school, something that would get you called a “faggot” in the 1980s), and he took my bag and threw it into the trunk.
I didn’t say much more than, “Yeah, I’m OK.” There wasn’t really anything more to say. On the way home we stopped and he bought some beer at a 7-11 with his fake ID and we opened the car windows and drank it while listening to The Who. We didn’t say much or talk about the incident. I just wanted to forget it. I didn’t tell anyone about it, not even my parents, mostly because I was so weirded out by the whole thing and even more because I felt like I deserved it. Who was I, who were we? Privileged, white, prep-school boys. We had the money, the cars, the country clubs, the green fields, the happy homes. We had all of it, and we deserved a collective punch in the stomach.
The following week I got called out of Latin class and into the dean of students’ office. The dean was a great guy, a superb individual, a former boxer, and a Jesuit. We called him Pappy Boyington because he was a doppelgänger for the character played by Robert Conrad in the TV series Baa Baa Black Sheep. He sat me down and very carefully and tenderly asked what had happened after the football game the previous Friday. I told him, we talked, and he led me through the confusion in a discussion of forgiveness and pain and injustice. It turns out that Judge had told him what he had seen, not to rat the other kid out, but simply because even Judge, this teenage drunk-ass idiot who would grow up to become a shitty writer with some very bad ideas indeed, had a soul. Had a humanity. Thought that someone needed some help.
With great trepidation I’ve scoured the calendars that Brett Kavanaugh made public, and I recognize many of the names on it. I went to Beach Week, 1982, though I stayed with a different group of boys than he did. It was the end of my sophomore year at Prep and I would be leaving the school in the fall because my family was moving to another state that summer. My parents felt bad about taking me out of a school I loved and in which I was thriving, and they had green-lighted my going to the eastern shore for the week. Yes: There was beer in the condo. There was also tackle football and swimming on the beach. A massive storm had just swept through the area, and we spent the first day frolicking and body-surfing in waves that carried the full force of the Atlantic Ocean behind them. The kind of waves that pick you up and drive you head-first into the sand, relentlessly and mercilessly, and from which you emerge spluttering and laughing.
When I saw that Brett had spent the weekend following at a friend’s house in Rehoboth, I shuddered. I don’t believe I joined him on that occasion, but I know that house. It belonged to the grandmother of a friend of mine. I had spent time with Brett Kavanaugh in it. It might have been in junior high. I can’t be sure. But I know we were still boys then, and we had spent time there as boys do. There were no parties or girls. There was no beer. In the mornings we rode bikes and ate jelly donuts and played basketball for hours—Brett was good—and then went inside and drank pitchers of iced water over Monopoly games that lasted into the evening. It was harmless. Innocent. In retrospect it is heartbreaking to imagine that soon after that week at the beach in 1982, something happened that would ruin lives and more than 35 years later convulse our national politics. I knew the men we’re discussing when they were boys. Our heroes were Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye and Phineas and Gene from A Separate Peace. We wanted to be like them.
I’m not telling this story to excuse Judge, or Kavanaugh, or an obscene culture that treats women as tasty morsels on a man’s groaning board. I believe Christine Blasey Ford. I’m with her. I admit that while watching her testimony I was thinking, “Please let this not be true. Please.” The cognitive dissonance was overwhelming, uproarious. And she stilled it. She didn’t hedge or prevaricate, or claim to remember things she doesn’t or misrepresent what she does. I’m not saying that anyone else is lying, but I’m certain she isn’t.
This is not an apology for guys or a claim that boys will be boys. I have a 10-year-old daughter and know very well what I would do to a boy who did what I believe was done to Christine. I also have a 7-year-old son and am often baffled by the aggressiveness and anger that seem latent within him, the swamp of emotion through which he is condemned as a male to wade on a daily, even hourly, basis. But I also remember some good things about Georgetown Prep. It wasn’t a gladiator school for proto-rapists. There were decent kids there too, and somewhere, I have to believe, we still have some decency in us.
Who knows the truth, and who can tell it? Christine notes Mark’s ambivalence on that night in 1982. Did he jump on the bed to join in the assault? Did he do so simply out of the wild teenage exuberance that was characteristic of him, with no clear motivation of any kind? Only Mark could say.
But I knew Mark, a little bit and for only a short time, and I’d like to think that a boy who began to participate in a sexual assault stepped back from the brink, even if for reasons of which he was only dimly aware. I believe that Mark Judge, even in his stupid, drunken state, recognized that something was going on that shouldn’t be going on. That he had a kind of person-to-person awareness of the claims of the other that was lacking in Christine’s assailant. That after having done many wrong things, Mark did one right thing. That he may have prevented the rape of a 15-year-old girl in 1982.
I’d like to think that that boy who comforted me, drove me home, and bought me a beer after I got punched in the gut one afternoon might be able to do another right thing, right now, and reach into his memory, sweep the intervening years away, and tell us the truth about what happened that night.