Tale as old as time, tune as old as song. Two women fighting, man in the middle.
But this tale is really old.
It's Thomas vs. Hill, a battle 19 years and running. It proves that no amount of time, power, education or media attention can stop a woman from calling another and saying, basically, "Back off my dude."
In 1991, Anita Hill testified during Supreme Court confirmation hearings that nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her when they worked together in the early 1980s. Thomas denied it, calling the televised hearings a "high-tech lynching." His wife stood by his side then, and apparently now.
On Oct. 9, almost two decades after the hearings, Virginia Thomas called Hill's work office around 7:30 a.m. and left a voice mail.
"I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something," she said. "I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay, have a good day."
Hill has since said she owes no apology.
"I appreciate that no offense was intended, but she can't ask for an apology without suggesting that I did something wrong, and that is offensive," she said.
Some have speculated that the bizarre phone call was politically motivated. Thomas, 53, is an outspoken Obama critic and heavy hitter in the tea party movement. She has been a consultant to the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. In 2010, she founded a nonprofit conservative advocacy group called Liberty Central. Her online biography says:
Ginni, the 'proud' Nebraskan, is a fan of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham and other talk radio hosts. She is intrigued by Glenn Beck and listening carefully. She also enjoys motor homing and watching "24."
If Thomas was wrong to call in the first place, critics say Hill, 54, was sketchy for calling attention to the voice mail and communicating with reporters. Hill, a professor of social policy, law, and women's studies at Brandeis University, has long been called a liberal tool, a pawn for feminist anger.
Maybe the political stuff is true.
But maybe Thomas is just a person like the rest of us, carrying a grudge she just can't drop.
"What happened between Clarence and Anita and his wife, none of us are really privy to all the details," said Jeffrey M. George, a licensed clinical psychologist at Family Psychology Associates in Safety Harbor. "It would be pretty understandable that Virginia would feel traumatized and wronged and publicly humiliated if she believes that nothing actually happened. She's going to be righteously indignant about it."
Thomas has a history of leaving her two cents on answering machines.
In 1999, she called a Washington Post reporter after reading an article about a wrongly accused sex offender. She cried and told the reporter how it reminded her of her husband's situation. And when author David Brock renounced a book he had written that was critical of Anita Hill, Thomas left him a message saying that she was praying for him.
"We hang onto things that are hurtful or painful because of the story we tell ourselves about what happened," said George. "That story for us is valid. That is our reality. But is it a story that leads us to continual suffering and frustration?"
High-profile grudges are relentless and juicy.
Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy fought for years starting in 1960, when Johnson called Kennedy's brother John a "little scrawny fellow with rickets." John F. Kennedy took it in stride, but Robert took it personally. It never got better between the two.
Jimmy Carter held hostility toward Ted Kennedy for 30 years. The two were political rivals, and Carter told 60 Minutes this year that Kennedy did all he could to sabotage Carter's health care plan.
"He did not want to see me have a major success in that realm of life," Carter said.
Letting go, on a basic human level, is hard.
"I don't forget," said Andrea Nazzaro, a 46-year-old divorced mother from Trinity who said her ex cheated on her. "I still … I've got to tell you, I still have this crazy anger that comes out of nowhere. I just saw a picture of him with his girlfriend and it threw me over the edge."
Nazzaro is in a divorce support group and recovery class. She is learning to let go of anger. But she can see why someone like Virginia Thomas could have a flash of emotion and pick up the phone.
"You know, sometimes there's just no answer," she said. "Not having closure and not knowing why is the hardest thing."
In 2007, Clarence Thomas wrote about Hill in his book My Grandfather's Son. He called her a mediocre employee who was used by political opponents.
Hill responded after the book's release.
"I am surprised he has held on to the anger for that long."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at (727) 893-8857 or firstname.lastname@example.org.