Written by: Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons
The woman I’m about to tell you about today is a hero.
She would deny it, but it’s true.
She was a helicopter mechanic in the Iraq war. She has been a good friend to her fellow service people. She survived war. She survived rape.
And she is thinking of running for office.
There’s only one small problem: She’s not real.
But by God, I wish she was, because we sure need her.
In 2007, Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau introduced Melissa Wheeler to the iconic strip. Melissa was going to counseling at the local VA center, where character B.D. was getting therapy. After a warm welcome from Celeste the receptionist (who makes it a point to welcome every veteran home and keeps the most current magazines out in the waiting area), Melissa gives B.D. the cold shoulder. B.D. asks his therapist Elias what her story was, Elias tells him because of patient confidentiality, he can’t reveal what happened to her. But soon B.D. and the readers find out Melissa’s story.
During Melissa’s deployment in Iraq, she found herself in a terrible situation. Her commanding officer ordered her to sleep with him. If she didn’t, she could kiss her mechanic job goodbye. Feeling as if she had no choice, she did what she was told. Later on, she found out what happened to her had a name: command rape.
Melissa tried to make out a report on him, however, since he wrote her up for a minor mistake it looked like she was being petty. She was also told that if she took it further, it would “hurt his career.” This was ten years before Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and other men were held accountable for their bad behavior. This was just life. Melissa left the military, then suffered PTSD, leading her to go to the VA center.
Thanks to her therapist, Melissa started to get better. B.D. didn’t know what happened to her but knew it was bad. One day he put something in her hand. Surprised, she looked down at her palm. It was a candy purple heart. On it said, “Born to Roll.” Melissa later told her therapist that it made her happy, that someone had her back again.
Melissa recovered enough to enlist and go to Afghanistan. She met a fellow soldier named Roz who happily came out when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. One time when Melissa was having a PTSD flashback, she confided to Roz what happened to her. Roz mentioned she had leave coming up and she would be happy to hurt the man in question. Melissa refused but thanked her for the thought. Throughout the story arc, Melissa has run-ins with Jeff, the son of characters Joanie Caucus and Rick Redfern. Jeff is a CIA agent and has the made-up persona of the Red Rascal, the man who gets the job done anytime.
While there’s been a hint of a possible romance between the two, one thing is certain: Melissa is way too mature for Jeff, who still has a lot of growing up to do.
After Melissa’s latest tour of duty, she went back home then spoke about her experience with command rape, which led to awkward silence with her and her father in the car while driving back. Since Trudeau is in semi-retirement, we hadn’t heard about Melissa for a while.But that changed this Sunday.
In Sunday’s strip, Melissa is having coffee with Joanie. She tells Joanie that B.D. recommended Joanie to help her with the next step in her journey: Running for office. She doesn’t specify what office (most likely a Congressional seat) so needs Joanie’s help; for years Joanie worked for character Lacey Davenport and also worked on Elizabeth Warren’s campaign. On Facebook, people begged Trudeau to go back doing dailies. If Melissa was going to run for office, we needed to see it from the beginning.
Reading the strip made me so happy that I couldn’t help but agree with them.
Even though she’s fictional, we need to have Melissa run. The past two years we’ve seen incompetent bullies throw their hats in the ring and run for office. They include a man who had an affair with a fourteen-year-old girl, a former pastor who killed himself when accused of sexual abuse by a former church member and a reality star/businessman with almost 20 counts of sexual assault accusations against him.
Art in all forms can inspire. Mary Richards inspired Oprah Winfrey to go into journalism. Countless women go on the Pacific Coast Trail because of Cheryl Strayed. I was inspired by reruns of “Newhart” to go to Vermont, then end up going to school there.
If a woman sees Melissa run for office, perhaps she will run for office as well.
So Melissa, run.
We have your back.
You were born to roll.
So roll to the Capitol and tell them who you are