Looks Like Brett Kavanaugh’s Yearbook Has Become Part of His Permanent Record

When I edited my high school yearbook in 1987, I was occasionally struck by the thought that folks would be looking at this annual record for the rest of their lives.  That was a fairly self-congratulatory thought for the editor of the high school yearbook to have, but this week’s news about Brett Kavanaugh has proven my high school self right.

Last night, the New York Times ran a story about Brett Kavanaugh’s personal page in his high school yearbook from Georgetown Prep, a Jesuit school for boys located in the DC suburb of Bethesda, Maryland.  It’s a real doozy.  I didn’t go to Georgetown Prep, I went to a public high school in Chicago’s south suburbs, but, yep, I sure as a scrunchie recognize the type that Brett Kavanaugh appears to have been in those years.

As it turns out, Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook page has become part of his permanent record.

Georgetown Prep gave their students the freedom to author their own yearbook pages, which, as it turns out, provide more than a few clues as to that student’s character, personality, and self-image as they entered the realm of adulthood.  Kavanaugh was, it seems, a bro amongst bros.

For those who lack context, a Catholic boys high school is a very particular culture.  Sports are king in this environment, even at a Jesuit (known for their scholarship and intellect) institution.  I met a mom last year who did not enroll her kindergarten age son in the local Catholic school that her older daughter attends because he was more of an artist than an athlete and even at the tender age of 5, she knew he would be an outcast there.

Let that sink in for a moment.

So we know that Kavanaugh was the captain of the basketball team and played football for four years.  Got it.  He was in the inner circle, if you will.  Looks like there are also lots of inside jokes he references, too, because what is high school but a four year parade of inside jokes that you either get or not get?

Looks like BK got ’em.  He was part of the “bowling alley assault” and treasurer of the Keg City Club — “100 kegs or bust,” yo.  We are learning from former classmates that Kavanaugh drank heavily in high school and college.  His freshman roommate at Yale gave an interview yesterday and characterized him as “aggressive and belligerent” when “very” drunk, which was, apparently, often.

Most troubling, though, are the references to a social peer, Renate, who attended a neighboring girls Catholic high school.  Renate is Renate Schroeder Dolphin, who was mentioned, per the NYT article, 14 times in the Georgetown Prep 1983 yearbook.  Kavanaugh refers to himself as a “Renate Alumnius,” as did a dozen other of his classmates.  The inference is clear, despite what BK says today about his virginal teen years.  Having been unaware of the yearbook comments about her high school self until just recently, in a statement provided to the New York Times, Ms. Dolphin comments:

“I don’t know what ‘Renate Alumnus’ actually means. I can’t begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things, but the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue. I pray their daughters are never treated this way. I will have no further comment.”

Why 13 separate boys were allowed to reference Renate conquests on their personal pages is beyond me.  Well, actually, it’s not.  It’s understandable, woeful as it may be.  It has been part of the tolerated culture for far too long.

A teacher employed by Georgetown Prep saw these references, approved of them, and went on with their day.  Done and done.  Except, it’s not done, and 35 years later the woman referenced as the collective conquest amongst the 1983 varsity football team of Georgetown Prep, immortalized in its yearbook that, yes, is now part of Brett Kavanaugh’s permanent record, is feeling the impact.

Kavanaugh’s lawyer, Alexandra Walsh, released a statement yesterday about this yearbook page and the references to Renate specifically, “The language from Judge Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook refers to the fact that he and Ms. Dolphin attended that one high school event together and nothing else.”

That’s gaslighting right there, done by a woman in service to a powerful man working hard to distance himself from his own actions, and it is despicable.  Any reasonable person would look through that yearbook and see the numerous references to Renate Schroeder and come away with the assumption that she had dated the Georgetown Prep football team.  For a good time, call Renate.  It’s clear as day and read as it was intended to be read.

Finally, note the references to boofing, the Devil’s triangle, and celebrating the FFFFFFFourth of July.  Urban Dictionary is a good source for seeing what this particular future SCOTUS nominee was up to in high school.

Do bros ever stop being bros?  I don’t know.  I think it is possible.  I think there is a case to be made for youthful indiscretion and all that, but sexual assault is not a youthful indiscretion.  It is a criminal act.  And a toxic, alcohol fueled, misogynistic youth is not a rite of passage that all boys go through.  Most of the bros I knew in high school and college, if Facebook is any indication, are still very much bros.  I avoided them in the 80s and I still avoid them.  And, full disclosure, I am pretty much the same person I was in high school.  Still awkward, still shy, still political, still a wee bit sanctimonious.

If boys will be boys, seems like bros will be bros.  None of that belongs on the Supreme Court.

Loving Chicago Is Complicated, But It’s Home

As a white, middle class woman who lives on Chicago’s far north side, it’s easy for me to talk about loving Chicago.  It’s easy for me to feel defensive when I hear politicians and muckrackers and outsiders like Trump and Giuliani and FOX News anchors talk smack about my city.  It’s easy for me to stay in my lane, feel the security (false as it may actually be) of living in my white, middle class bubble.  It’s easy for me to feel angry towards folks I knew long ago who wonder why I stay and feel the need to tell me to leave, now, before it is too late.

The truth is that I love Chicago, despite its many flaws.  It is my home, gifted to me by my four immigrant grandparents who crossed the Atlantic to settle here.  Chicago would be their new home, their chosen home.  They worked in steel mills and scrubbed the floors of tony addresses on Division and rented apartments in Englewood and owned a sided bungalow in Vrydolyak’s 10th Ward on the southeast side.

My beautiful skyline, dressed up for Spring.
My beautiful skyline, dressed up for Spring.

In the 1990s, when all of my family opted out of Chicago, I stayed.  When people came home, where would they go if none of us were here?  I stayed and made it my home.  I’ve had addresses in neighborhoods like Lakeview and Ukrainian Village and West Ridge and Roscoe Village.  I’ve lived in Chicago proper longer than any other place and my roots here are deep.

But my eyes are open.  Wide open.  The Chicago I know and love does not exist for everyone.  Chicago is brutal.  Is it cruel.  Its politicians are misguided at best, corrupt at worst.  Its police force is in bad need of reform.  Its public schools are segregated and inequitable, just like its neighborhoods.  Its violence is relentless.  Its infrastructure is aging.  Its pension obligations are staggering.  It needs help.

And yet, despite all these problems, I don’t think I will ever leave.  Hell, our older boy’s middle name is Daley.  That was intentional and less about an idealization of the Irish Catholic Mayors Daley and more about a mother’s hope that if he ever leaves this place, he will always know it was home.

My city, like America, is long due for a reckoning.

Milwaukee Avenue mural, Wicker Park.
Milwaukee Avenue mural, Wicker Park.

Chicago’s history is storied and deeply entwined with institutional racism.  Factors that were put into play decades ago are still wreaking havoc on black and Latino folks.  Neighborhoods that were once jewels are struggling with gun violence and gangs.  Other neighborhoods that were ethnic centers with affordable housing stock are gentrifying, losing their literal and figurative flavor, now catering to those who can afford million dollar homes.

As an adult raising children here, we’ve made choices to try and balance providing our kids a safe and comfortable environment while still having them be in what is very much a thriving, diverse neighborhood, full of apartments, condos, and single family homes.  Our neighbors are black, white, Latino, Middle Eastern.  When I look out my front window, it’s an even toss to see someone wearing shawls and yarmulke, a burqa, or the latest pair of Jordans.  Someone once told me I live in a fairy tale and my neighborhood isn’t real.  Nope. I can’t abide folks I knew long ago suggesting that our valid life choice to live in an integrated neighborhood is somehow pie-in-the-sky romanticism.

Our older boy is enrolled in one of CPS’ controversial selective enrollment schools that many consider elitist, but he was also reading at three and has some pretty unique educational needs that are very well met there .  Our younger guy will, most likely, attend our neighborhood school up the street when he starts kindergarten next year.

Again, though, is that issue of choices, and the privilege inherent in having them.  My family has choices.  We can move schools or addresses.  We can leave any time we want.  What we want is to stay.  For us, staying means acknowledging that there is a deep and profound inequity in Chicago, just like many other American cities.

We want to teach our sons about the whole of Chicago, not just its bright and shiny parts.  And, like my father did with me and my siblings, we want our boys to feel an ownership with every part of this city — its steel skyscrapers, its cultural offerings, its gorgeous lake shore, its public transportation, its segregated neighborhoods, its alleys, its projects, its racism and ugliness, its storied colleges and universities, its muck, its majesty.  If my boys grow up to be like my Dad, who appreciated most everything about this city, we would have succeeded.

Last weekend was horrific, with over seventy shootings, more than a few of them children.  This weekend was calmer, only thirty-three folks were shot.  Hard to believe that almost three dozen shootings feels calm, but there it is.  My older boy and I spent Saturday afternoon walking up and down local alleys, looking for garage sales.  That kid never met a garage sale he didn’t love.  We scored a new scooter and book for him and a bag of magnetized cars for his younger brother.

Somewhere else, not too far away, some other kid was resting in a hospital bed, recovering from a bullet wound.  It ain’t right and we have to stop ignoring it.

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Do you want to read more about Chicago from folks who actually live here?  Read THIS, something I wrote a few years ago — it even won a fancy award.  WBEZ reporter, Natalie Moore, wrote a book I highly recommend, The South Side:  A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, that taught me a tremendous amount about real estate patterns in Chicago that enforce racism.  Oh!  And you can pre-order the magnificent Eve Ewing’s, “Ghosts in the School Yard:  Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side,” which breaks down the recent closure of 50 Chicago public schools.

Once Upon a Time I Had a Daughter

It’s that time of year again.  Tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday.  She would be 13.  Should be 13, except she hasn’t celebrated a birthday for nine years, since she died from a rat bastard aggressive brain tumor at four years old.  Donna has been gone for over two of her lifetimes, but here I still am, her mother.

This is my annual typing through tears birthday entry for my girl.  It’s almost 11 a.m. and I’m sitting here in my pajamas.  I mother two boys now and this time of year they tend to enjoy a disproportionate amount of screen time as their mama struggles with the reality that once upon a time they had a sister.

Once upon a time . . .

I still grapple with the reality that I used to have a daughter.  It has never not felt surreal to me, like, impossible.  Every year that passes takes Donna further away from me.  Some of my religious friends might reframe that as me getting closer to Donna with each passing year, but, well, I just don’t know.  It’s a lovely thought, that possibility, but that, too, feels surreal to me, impossible, improbable.

Mothering Donna, my happy girl. What a glorious Donna Day this was.
Mothering Donna, my happy girl.

What is real is that thirteen years ago I was in labor for the first time.  Me, the gal who never had a maternal bone in my body, would labor for 54 hours until Donna entered this world, swhooshed from between my legs.  We didn’t know, boy or girl, and there she was, a girl, our girl, Donna.  She was a gorgeous, beautiful, healing balm to us after my Mom’s death.

Donna’s birthdays have always been hard for me.  On her first, I had a migraine and by her second, she had cancer.  On her third she had just relapsed after a stem cell transplant seven months earlier and would have surgery the next day.  Her fourth birthday would be her last and we knew that all too well because the doctors told us so a few weeks before.  And yet there were always candles and cake and presents.  Donna never asked for anything, just flowers.  She was so sweet that way.

Thirteen is hitting me hard this year.  Donna would be a teenager, which means I would be the mother of a teenager.  That, too, seems surreal, impossible, improbable.  With each passing year, with this realization that Donna has been gone more than twice the short time she was with us, I sometimes feel a sense of imposter syndrome come on.  I know that once upon a time I had a daughter, I am the mother of a teenager.

My invisible daughter, my phantom girl.  I ache for her.  This grief I have gets to grow up when my daughter does not.  This grief has been with me so much longer than my girl.  How is that possible?  One of the cruelest aspects of grief is that you learn to live with it.  It seems impossible to go on without these people you love so much, and yet, we do, we keep moving forward, but always keep a part of ourselves in the past, when we were whole.

Tomorrow I will get a cake, probably, and buy something for the boys and wrap it up, probably.  A gift in honor of the sister they never knew.  A gift for them because there will be no gifts for her.  She would like that, I think.  Donna loved parties.  Happy birthday, girl.  You are so missed, so loved, so cherished.