The afternoon of Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest in 2019 for sex trafficking dozens of minors, my hands trembled as I scrolled through victims’ stories of abuse. I ravaged Google, devouring story after story of his pedophilic transgressions only to find her name alongside his, everywhere. Ghislaine Maxwell appeared in nearly every account, paralyzing me in a snakepit of nausea and pins and needles. Why did I know this woman? I searched my phone, G G G Ghislaine. Her number popped up along with several emails, all about working for her. That’s when I remembered.
In 2012, my NYC friend Camille* was in LA and invited me to join her and a friend for dinner at the Chateau Marmont. Months earlier, my father had suddenly died and my impulsive move from NYC to LA landed me in a sprawl of friendless solitude more vast than I’d sought. Camille was luring me out through her cheeky way of lovingly making light of heavy things—which she does with genuine kindness like no one else. Whether this was some disguise to check up on me, or a casual dinner, her invitations always promised laughter which I desperately needed. I was thrilled to see her. Her dad had died just before mine.
When I arrived, she was waiting at a table with her friend, Ghislaine, whose short, dark hair framed her spa-fresh, glowing face. Gold ropes hung around the deep V-neck of her blouse and diamonds fell off her earlobes and wrists. She was effervescent, intimidating, and powerful. I wished I had dressed better. I listened as she updated Camille on the abrupt end of her seven-year relationship, and coming to terms with a recent cancer diagnosis that turned out to be false. My inferiority was further softened when the subject of my father came up and she shared that she had lost her father too. We all managed to laugh over our common ground of unexpected loss and heartache.
Ghislaine divulged that she was a submarine captain, something in my state of grief that sounded so lonely and isolated. She shocked me with stories of far out sailing expeditions, which led her to found a soon-to-launch non-profit, The TerraMar Project, whose mission was to make a country out of international waters. When she bragged that Shepherd Fairey designed her logo, Camille bragged about my experience as a creative director. Ghislaine asked for my contact info, saying she needed someone like me for her non-profit. I was thrilled to be considered valuable by someone whose connections and extraordinary life experiences were not lost on how she could help the world. I Googled her when I got home that night, I didn’t believe the submarine captain part. I discovered then that her father was a Member of Parliament, a publishing tycoon and a fraudster whose body was found in the ocean, near his yacht.
My conversations with this ultra-wealthy, well-connected submarine captain trying to save the oceans ended when she found out I didn’t work for free, and I forgot about her until Epstein’s arrest when I binge-searched the Internet to find her. The TerraMar project closed a week after Epstein’s arrest. She was later spotted at In-n-Out holding a book on the CIA. The more I read victims’ stories and her of irrefutable connection to Epstein, the deeper I sank into dark pools of what the fuck. How could this be the same woman I’d met? My heightened radar for predatory men failed to register a woman supplying a pedophile. How could she do this to other women? How could I not know? I asked Google.
New window > Google > predator scent of prey
Predatory bloodthirsty power plowing deceit craving fragile young bones over daddy issues—the search results took me on a five-hour detour from which I emerged an expert on hyenas.
Allegorically the hyena symbolizes untrustworthy, two-faced people. Or it represents humanity, who first worshipped God and then worshipped idols. It can also signify a greedy and lustful man.
In Sudanese folklore, a nocturnal hybrid human-hyena terrorized and killed couples when they made love.
In 1300s Persian folklore, a half-human, half-hyena creature called a kaftar thirsted after children, violently slaughtering them.
Hemingway labeled the hyena a “hermaphroditic self-eating devourer of the dead.”
Hyenas are gravediggers who hunt like dogs and look like cats but belong to the mongoose family.
The female hyena has an eight-inch clitoris and what appears to be a set of fake balls that are her labia fused into a false scrotum. Females externally pass as male, which sounds modern except that they must pee, fuck and give birth through the same tiny hole in their fake penis. Pushing a two-pound cub through this pseudo penis hole often suffocates the cub or kills the mother.
Pliny the Elder wrote in his animal encyclopedia that hyenas could magically freeze other animals in place. I studied Latin for nine years and my lascivious Latin teacher with oily black hair plugs and a Burt Reynolds mustache never brought this up.
New window > Google > Pliny the Elder encyclopedia
“Written in 79AD. Largest work to survive the Roman Empire.”
I’m dumbfounded by the evolutionary history of hyenas over the past 15 million years, and how their mythology endures, surfacing beneath Ghislaine’s good-seeming exterior, a cunning devourer of vulnerable young women. For what? I’m terrified by my own naiveté, that I can’t understand this. I mourn for a time when my conditioning that I could unanimously trust in my pack—women—for safety and protection from sexually predatory men—was relevant. But I keep Googling, looking for an explanation, a clue, a better answer, something I can understand.
A year ago in August 2018, I went to Texas to direct a documentary for a client of the advertising agency where I worked. The agency awarded my work on the project days before, in particular my ability to deliver on the most challenging of accounts.
One of the clients, “J*,” a high-ranking executive swaggering in ostentatious cowboy boots, staked his alpha position like a dog marking its territory – in presentations, on calls, over lunches. He boasted about his Porsche, the exotic beauty of his fifteen-year-old daughter, and his Air Marshall status that allowed him to carry his gun everywhere he went. He said he didn’t feel safe otherwise.
While the last shot was being set up by the crew, he asked me in his Texan drawl, “Do you know what a cow pin is?”
He stepped towards me and locked his hands around my waist. I could smell his last cigarette and whatever swig he’d taken off the celebratory bottle being shared by our colleagues in a nearby conference room. He pulled me into his chest so fast I lost my breath. His grip left no space between my body and his. Words dribbled out of the wet curl of his mouth, mansplaining that a “cow pin” was something he would weld that weekend. I froze, watching this from outside myself. I thought about the whether the shot set up would work. I thought about what time it was. I thought about my dogs, and his gun. I thought about who was in the conference room and not in the hallway where we stood. I listened for footsteps. I wondered, since “J” was at least twice my size and his back faced the long corridor behind us, if my slight frame was visible to someone who might still be in the building at that time on a Friday. I noticed the fine blue checks on his button-down shirt.
He moved his hands down around my hips and squeezed me tighter towards his groin as he detailed how, once the bull was held still in the pen, he would castrate it, tying off its balls with an elastic.
He released his grip, I checked the shot set up, ok’d the cameraman, and stealthily arranged an earlier flight back to LA before thinking through the consequences of skipping the team dinner that evening. When I told my coworker, a single woman in her mid 50s, why I was leaving early, she said “Now I wouldn’t mention that to anyone if I were you.” This was the same woman who, when I’d told her I was pregnant months earlier, replied by saying “That’s really disappointing.”
I felt nauseous, confused, stunned.
The following Monday, my boss assigned two millennial women on my team to work with “J” on the next phase of the project. I felt it would be remiss not to warn them, and told my boss about the incident in Texas. He warned me not to mention it, and sent me to HR, where the two women in charge stated they were required by law to report my claim to the client. Weeks later, the two women in HR informed me that the client demanded I be removed from the account. I stared at them as I listened in disbelief at their suggestion that to “control the narrative” I should announce to my team that I asked off the business, because it was difficult and too demanding for me. Looking into their faces, these mothers, I thought about their sisters, their daughters, their girlfriends. I laughed. I laughed a loud laugh to cover the screams wanting to tear out of me. I couldn’t stop laughing. “My team will never believe that,” I said, refusing their suggestion.
The man who groped me countered my allegation, claiming I had raised my voice in a meeting. I was “terminated” a few months later.
If there were a life-size model of all the dank tunnels and labyrinthine paths I carved through continents of Google looking for a different narrative about Epstein and Ghislaine, a different outcome for most of the #metoo stories and mine, there’d be a foundation laid for an ocean-sized city that in my dreams is a refuge, a sanctuary, a place of hope, safety and truth. In 1993, in 1998, 1999, 2001, 2005, I knew it wasn’t safe, I knew staying silent protected me, somewhat, from shame. But here in 2019, I thought the time had arrived where it was safe to speak up, to warn others, and that I’d be believed, protected.
New window > Google > Creative Director Advertising Los Angeles Full Time
I stare, past my screen, out my window overlooking the neighbor’s roof where five palm trees swim in a postcard of California sun. Wind chimes and hummingbirds twinkle on my porch where my dog is lost in an ear-twitching dream. I splash out on my desk, alone, in my softest jellyfish and sea horse. I catch myself bleeding for a job in Glendale, uploading my resume, flicking eraser dust into the web.
I pull up a page where I have a list of jobs to apply to.
That’s a lie. I don’t have a list of advertising jobs to apply to. My lists are of other things. Things I want. Lists of ideas and dreams and situations and goals and to-dos on post-its, note pads, scraps of papers, piled under number 2 pencils, number 6 pencils, hard pencils, colored pencils, soft pencils, micro black and blue pens, sharpies, Italian pens, Japanese pens, magic markers, pens pens pens so many pens and pencils and a $952 bill for another month of my COBRA insurance. Imagine how many words are inside all those pens and pencils. I don’t want to be Creative Director Advertising anything. I don’t want a 90-minute commute to Glendale. I don’t want to work in a place where women help men misbehave. I don’t want to lie about why I don’t have a job right now. I want to feel safe at work. I want to feel safe around men. I want to feel safe around women. I want predators to be magically frozen in place, devoured by hyenas.
My phone dings with a text. Someone wants to know where I am. What I’m doing. If I found a job yet. I turn off my ringer.
New window > Google > Zillow > Ocean City New Jersey
I wonder how much a beach house there costs. No, really I want to know how much my best friend paid for her beach house. She told me but I forgot. That’s a lie. Doesn’t everyone ask Google stuff like how much their friend paid for her beach house? She was a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs. Following the birth of her fourth child, she was bullied into leaving, silenced by a huge payout.
Seven-hundred-fifty thousand dollars.
Brilliant to be fantasy third house shopping in the damage.com of “where I’d like to live if I was paid what I’m worth…” I’m no longer close to a down payment on a first house where I live. My down payment money supports me now.
Catching myself in this bottomless search for things beyond what I could settle for is epic. A job where I’m safe and valued. A vacation home in Summerplace, New Jersey near my best friend. I’ve orchestrated this method of torture, right here at my desk, soothed by the subtle sway of the palm trees over my neighbor’s roof, and the reliability of Google’s endless answers to any search. I might as well look up what’s for sale in Bolinas, that insulated, idyllic time warp Pacific preserve that rejects anyone looking to live there. Trust me. It’s locals only. Just Google > why you can’t live in Bolinas.
But I keep Googling because I want to find a different answer, something I can live with. I don’t want to accept the news that there are more victims. I don’t want to accept that money is offered to me to keep quiet, to change the narrative for J, and for the women in HR. I don’t want to accept that in 2019, the HR ladies had to fire me because their job security requires them to protect the men at the top who misbehave. I cringe wondering about Ghislaine, what may have happened in her life that compelled her to supply Epstein, wondering how she feels now, wherever she is, trying to hide from the inescapable truth deep in her heart. I keep Googling because I want to find a different answer, I want to learn how to better protect myself from predators, from women who protect them, and from fruitless dreams. I keep Googling because I want to find the answer I am looking for: accountability, respect, unity, safety.
The other night I Googled “are rattlesnakes nocturnal” before taking the dogs out in the canyon before bed. Never mind how many times I’ve walked the dogs in the light of night along the fire road that’s a rattler’s daytime sundeck, I’ve become hypervigilant about all the predators I’d never considered.
One search result insisted rattlesnakes sleep at night, another that they hunt at night. I scoured page after page for a trend in the dissonant answers that could land me in truth. I ended up walking the dogs with a flashlight for the first time, ever.
*Name has been changed.
Maggie Morris is a creative director and writer living in Los Angeles. www.maggiemorris.com