If you’ve known me for more than a year, you’re probably aware of my deep, weird love for Bill Cosby. I’ve been the proud recipient, on more than one occasion, of various pieces of Cosby paraphernalia. Once, my friend gave me a vinyl of a lesser-known 36-minute stand-up bit from the beginning of his career called 200 MPH where he talks about how much he loves his money and his motorcycle. Another time, my dad got me a DVD set of the short-lived Bill Cosby Show, which predates The Cosby Show we all know and love. Part of why I married my husband is due to the birthday gift my he gave me last year: the entire box set of The Cosby Show. I listened to Himself on cassette when I was in kindergarten to put myself to sleep. I can do the “push ‘em out, shove ‘em out, wayyyyyy out!” bit verbatim, with the crazy Lamaze breathing and everything. I read his tattered books that were put carefully away in the middle of the bookshelf at Grandmamum and Grandad’s house, and the one that was occasionally put beside the toilet. His books, another of which I was given last Christmas that I placed and used on the toilet, are about being a dad, a grandad, a guy who came from the projects of Philadelphia and had amusing and charming memories of his own parents and grandparents.
At dinner parties, my Grandad recited Cosby’s “I want you to build an arc!!!” routine so well, some of his friends dubbed him Noah.
I haven’t read any of the articles until today. I knew, or had heard at some point, that there were sexual allegations made a long time ago against Bill Cosby, but I knew they never could have been true. I put them out of my mind and when I sat on the couch in college watching another TV Land marathon, someone’s boyfriend (who clearly didn’t know me or the depths of my obsession) would snarkily say, “You know he’s a rapist, right?” and I’d immediately decide I didn’t like that new boyfriend because he was a know-it-all cynic type and my roommate could do better. As this beloved character’s face flicked in and out of every newsfeed on every site I regularly visit over the last few weeks, I vowed not to read anything until it was all settled. They’ll learn the truth, I told myself, none of it is true. It’s just women making crazy accusations to try and get money.
I’m all too aware there is an epidemic of victim-shaming in this country, and I want no part in it. Those kids in Stuebenville were excused by members of their community because they were athletes, young kids whose lives were now going to fall apart, an unjust consequence for rape. (Note: I’m being sarcastic here. In case you were worried.) Girls are told they need to watch what they wear, be careful, don’t get raped, it’ll be your fault. As a country, we are finally seeing how women are unheard and untrusted when they claim to have been sexually assaulted. Robert R. Jennings, president of Lincoln University, is completely and utterly unjustified in undermining those claims made by the very students who he has been hired and entrusted to protect. I’ll never, ever change my mind on this matter. It is never okay to blame the victims of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Never.
And yet, I haven’t read a single article about Bill Cosby this month. I’ve read an article about Hayden Panetierre’s baby bump. I’ve clicked on a link showing Miley Cyrus making out with someone at a club, and I’ve seen an Instagram photo of the Kardashian sisters’ kids. (I’m proud to report, I never looked at the bare-butt “Break the Internet” photo. Ha-ha!!!). But I have refused to “believe the speculation” around Bill Cosby’s rape allegations. I have pitted his accusers as vicious women out to destroy the integrity of a man I’ve viewed with a great amount of reverence. What kind of feminist can stand in solidarity with girls carrying their mattresses around campus, but tell a friend asking what’s going on with Bill Cosby, “Oh, this happens all the time with celebrities. Women just lie about rape because they want money”?
I’m part of the problem here.
Fine. Nothing’s been proven yet. But it’s incredibly difficult to ignore that now more than a dozen women have come out and claimed separately they all were victims of the exact same crime. Many of them have described identical scenarios of which they were taken advantage of by a man they believed to be their mentor. It’s difficult to ignore that Cosby won’t comment, and that many of his shows and appearances have been cancelled. It’s difficult to ignore the obvious emotion coming through these womens’ eerily similar and horrifying stories, and it’s equally hard to ignore the fact that Bill Cosby’s lawyers, who are brushing off the claims as ridiculous, are probably very well-payed. While no allegations have been proven in court, some have been settled out-of-court, making the truth even more muddled and hard to stomach.
I ignored it for a while, but I don’t think I can anymore. Whether or not Cosby is guilty is irrelevant. All of these women feel they have been silenced for years, some for decades, and that is not only hard to ignore, but wrong to ignore. I have victim-ignored, victim-blamed, and I don’t think I can stand firmly against that kind of damaging behavior and continue to write off the women accusing him of these crimes.
When I was 16, my Grandad was diagnosed and dead in the matter of four months, and they were the funniest, hardest, deepest, most faith-filled and discouraging months I have to write about. One day, I’ll give that time the pages it really deserves. In those months while our family was experiencing a strong sense of closeness, some of Grandad’s past resurfaced. He had been married before he met my Grandmum, and for reasons that were never really explained to me, his daughter from that marriage was unwilling to come visit him as he died. While it was only a blip in the story of Grandad’s great escape into his next life, I guess it stuck with me. I wonder why she didn’t come. What version of this remarkable man had she known? Or rather, didn’t know, because they had no relationship? The hundreds of stories flooding in from around the world about Grandad’s great life and how deeply he impacted those he met drowned out the disappointing reality that he must’ve let this woman down greatly in her life. We forgot about it as we watched him die, and we memorialized the amazing, kind, gentle, and funny Grandad we knew and loved, as he completely deserved.
I think it was more of a subconscious adoption, but Bill Cosby gave me a great sense of comfort after he was gone, and he became a bit of a surrogate Grandad. I could hear Grandad’s dry sense of humor all over again when I showed Eric Himself on YouTube. I knew we, his kids and grandkids, drove him lovingly crazy the way those bits described. I could feel myself bouncing on Grandad’s knee as I watched Rudy go flying around Dr. Huxtable’s. I’ve always said I know I’ll sob when Bill Cosby dies, and watching him age has been harder than it probably should be for me. And now, I’m losing my adopted Grandad faster than he or I intended. He’s dying much quicker than the natural process would allow. This image of him as the loving, gentle and honest Grandad are slowly being devoured by a darker version of the human who is Bill Cosby; with the same swiftness of the brain tumor that made our six-foot-one South Carolinian disappear from view.
There is this horrible day when we realize our Dads and Grandads are just people, like us. There is that day when we see our superheroes are just human. There comes that day when we just have to read the articles, we just have to face the lost daughters from the past. We have to understand these women were hurt in the wake of a hurting man who did his best and really did touch the lives of many. They can’t be silenced or ignored or blamed for their hurt. And we have to take the good with the bad in our Dads, our Grandads, Bill Cosby, and everyone around us. Just because they’ve made mistakes, or even done truly horrible things, doesn’t change that they’ve done amazing things as well. And just because they’ve done amazing things doesn’t mean we can ignore the hurt they’ve caused. If we deny one or the other, we are denying the reality of the world we live in. The reality that we are broken and we are evil, but we are healed and we are loved. There is a Dad, a Grandad, a Comedian, a Creator, an Arc-Commissioner who won’t betray, hurt or abandon us (or Bill Cosby), and in Him lies our hope.
As for today, I am grieving the loss of a man who could make a room erupt with laughter, who winked at me through a fog of radiation and intense memory-loss. I miss him all the time, and I wish he and my quiet husband could have sat together and loved each other the way I love both of them so. I am sad for his daughter and for the man she didn’t get to know. I am deeply grieving for the women who have claimed such a horrifying crime has been committed to them by America’s Surrogate Dad or Grandad. I am deeply saddened to have to face the sins of a man who I viewed as blameless. But that is life, and that is sin. It has to be unveiled in order to be dealt with. It has to be grieved, accepted and brought to light in order for life to move forward. I’m immensely grateful for the time I’ve spent with two great men who made me laugh time after time, whose stories live on through our TVs and through my own family’s stories. But I know, as well as anyone, that it can’t always be laughter, us humans can’t always be all good. We all have a darker side, even our heroes who we wish didn’t. Even myself, who I certainly wish didn’t. But I do, you do, they do. Nobody’s a hero, nobody’s a saint, nobody’s a perfect Grandad.