The thing about overcoming things is that you may be struck by something at unexpected times. By situations or people or how things are interpreted or by a saying, maybe one you’ve heard a million times over.
Something might dig in, and keep you thinking, until you unfold it all the way.
That happened the other day, when Stephen Colbert asked Gayle King what she was thinking during that contentious interview with R. Kelly, during which her make-up artist captured a telling, if intimidating, photo.
I had seen the photo before I caught her late-night appearance with Colbert. I wrote about it, too, saying how transparent Kelly’s performance was. The word “performance” is a tricky one, because someone like him really believes he is entitled to act the way he does.
But as I listened to King tell Colbert how she digested those moments mentally, I paused. I listened again. I called a friend and talked it out, seeing if she knew what I felt while watching King’s confession.
Yep. She did. Instantly. Because, she lived it, too.
That’s when I realized I missed a big part of that now-infamous interview. I missed the math, which I’m prone to do. While I was immediately in awe of King’s composure – her stoic posture as he stood over her – I needed to hear her talk with Colbert to compute that King in that interview was actually 162 million of us.
She, in that chair, represented 162 million of us.
That’s not some rating number the interview pulled in. It wasn’t a payday. It’s a statistic. A damn dark one, too.
Speaking to Colbert, she told him that during that moment, when Kelly stood and cried and screamed and foamed at the mouth about how he was being persecuted, she decided she would wait for him to finish “whatever this is.”
She wouldn’t engage. She wouldn’t tell him to calm down, because that’s worthless. She instead would try to keep the boat from tipping. She would stay steady in the face of chaos. She would wait, so he could get it out. Whatever it was. From wherever it came.
She would wait for it to be over.
That. That admission makes me nauseous. Talking about it makes me hold my breath for a minute, without realizing it. It made me do math, too, something I’m not fond of.
King was, in that moment, employing every survival tactic I knew, intimately. She was saying back to me the things I did, without knowing that we shared this instinct.
Stay steady. Don’t rock the boat. Wait it out, whatever it was. It will be over…sometime.
She is 162 million of us, because statistics indicate that about half of men and women in the U.S. experience psychological aggression from an intimate partner over their lifetime. Jesus. That’s, what? Just ugh.
And, she’d walk out of that room without a scratch. Instead, she’d feel the adrenaline running through her — a casualty of such engagements.
About 12 million people experience physical violence from an intimate partner every year, too. That number’s too high. And we don’t talk about either of those stats enough. Those people are someone’s kid, someone’s parent. Makes me sick.
One other thing struck me about King in that moment, and it didn’t click with me until just a few minutes ago – before I started writing this. Everyone is hailing her strength in that moment, rightfully so. Her colleagues. No doubt, close friends and family. Even Elton John called her as she waited to go on stage with Colbert. I mean…
She showed a level of strength that was palpable through a photograph. You could feel the heat coming off of him, and you could sense where she was. And she, in that moment, was 162 million of us.
While we waited things out like King, we weren’t weak for enduring it. We were strong for getting through it. King got to walk out of that interview and close the door on that behavior. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a large percentage of the 162 million rest of us only waited until we had to wait it out again.
Until we decided to stop waiting it out. Was it the waiting that gave us strength? The patience we needed? I don’t know.
I just know that King was more than her in that moment. She was 162 million of us. And I’m glad people got to see that. Because we don’t all have cameras behind closed doors like TV networks do. And abusers know that.