BIDDEFORD — On an exchange program in Finland, four days before turning 16, Bre Kidman went out to a bar with friends.

Half a lifetime later, with a 32nd birthday right around the corner, the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate from Saco talked with the Sun Journal on Friday about what happened that night and why it matters.

Bre Kidman, U.S. Senate candidate, at age 15 in 2003. Provided

Kidman, a Saco lawyer who today identifies as a non-binary person, was a typically mixed-up Goth girl that early December night in 2003 in the central Finnish city of Jyväskylä.

While her friends chatted, Kidman sat on the edge of a stage, watching everyone and feeling out of place, a man came up and started bothering her. A couple guys quickly nudged him away, she recalled.

Then they bought her a drink, the last clear memory Kidman possesses of what became a defining experience.

“Everything else from there was patchwork,” Kidman said.

She struggled at a pizza place to keep her head up. Someone shoved her into a Honda. She saw the ceiling of a bathroom. She woke up naked on a sofa bed, someone sleeping beside her. Others slept in an adjoining room. A baby cried. One man had a swastika tattoo.

Some of the memories, though, Kidman holds close, too awful to tell a reporter about. There were several people involved.

“I think I fell asleep for a little while,” Kidman said.

When she woke, Kidman reached behind the bed and squirmed into her clothes, grabbed her coat and boots and quietly slipped off.

Barefoot and bleeding, she “made a run for it,” out the door just as the sun rose, racing down a path with no idea where she was.

“I was bleeding a lot,” Kidman said. “I was a mess.”

Eventually, she found a bench some distance away and stopped running long enough to put on the coat and boots, then started walking, eventually spotting the outline of building she recognized in the distance.

Kidman asked at a pharmacy about going to a hospital, but nobody understood what she wanted. The host family she stayed with didn’t speak English and didn’t seem to notice anything wrong.

Even as she escaped, Kidman remembered thinking “I’m fine. This isn’t going to change my life.”

She didn’t report the crime to the authorities, convinced nobody would believe her.

Kidman only told her best friend, who proceeded to tell her own mom, who told her daughter’s friend to call her mother back home in Rhode Island or she would do it herself.

So Kidman made the call.

Her mother wanted to come immediately to Finland or for Kidman to return right away.

But Kidman refused.

“No, I don’t want this to ruin my experience. Let me just finish this out” and return for Christmas as planned, Kidman said.

Numb to her own feelings, Kidman kept telling herself “everything is fine.”

Then “I got home and the world fell apart,” Kidman said.

That night on the verge of her 16th birthday shattered her sense of herself, disrupting everything, leaving her convinced she would die early, that she simply wasn’t someone worth caring about or protecting.

Kidman stumbled through college and law school — no small accomplishments for anyone — but felt somehow defective or even a failure.

For a dozen years, most of Kidman’s adulthood, “it was just the defining feature of my life” — the cause of nightmares, flashbacks and a string of abusive relationships.

Kidman got therapy, medicine and help.

But the only real solution was for the clock to tick endlessly on.

“Some things take time,” Kidman said.

She came to identify as a non-binary person along the way — someone who doesn’t pick a gender — and got ever more involved in the pursuit of social justice, partly in pursuit of “a culture that doesn’t let” things happen like the terror of that night in Finland.

Working on a music album, Kidman said, helped make it possible to come to terms with what occurred and to break the grip of the horror that had haunted so many years.

Then politics intervened in the form of Brett Kavanaugh, the man President Donald Trump nominated for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Accused of an unproven rape, a “blubbering and flailing” Kavanaugh raged at his critics and left Kidman feeling the “crybaby predator” had no business on the court — and that society should be lifting up victims, not promoting the men who hurt them.

So she decided to run for the Senate seat held by Republican Susan Collins, whose defense of Kavanaugh was perhaps the key moment leading to his confirmation.

“It sucks to watch these people always win,” Kidman said, “the ones who take advantage, the people who abuse. These are the people who always get ahead.”

Bre Kidman in Saco Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

“People like me, we don’t get to,” Kidman added.

She decided to tell the story of what happened in Finland because it’s time to shatter the notion that senators should be cookie-cutter clones, people who tread carefully and don’t have backgrounds with pain and trauma.

“It’s time to start looking at the people we discount,” Kidman said.

Her candidacy is motivated in part by a desire to show up “for people who count themselves out,” to let them know they matter just as much as anyone else.

It’s a hard-won lesson for Kidman.

“I don’t think there’s anything in this world that I can’t come back from,” Kidman said. “And I think we need more of that.”

Kidman is in a four-way race in the June Democratic primary, facing Sara Gideon of Freeport, Betsy Sweet of Hallowell and Ross LaJeunesse of Biddeford. Other candidates may join the contest.

The winner will face Collins in November 2020. Other possible contenders include Lisa Savage of Solon, of the Maine Green Independent Party, and independent Danielle VanHelsing of Sangerville.

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