Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Victorious

It was the summer of 1995 and I was twenty-one years old, living in my first off-campus apartment with three friends. Two were away for the summer so K and I had the two-bedroom apartment to ourselves. We had spent the evening of August 2nd out at a party with other college students that were in town for the summer. K had lost a shoe down a chimney on someone's rooftop; I was determined to go back and find it somehow.  

We came home and K went to her room at the end of the hall and went to sleep.  I went into my room at the top of the stairs, but I was too hot to sleep.  So I stripped down and turned the fan on.  Still too hot to sleep, so I decided to play on the computer.  I was lying on R’s unused bed and began typing away.  At 1:30 am, the door opened just a crack.

It’s amazing to me now how many thoughts I had in what only could have been a few seconds.  I thought it was K; I saw a man’s hand—I thought it was one of the guys we had just been with—how did you guys get in here? —I saw a face I had never seen before—I screamed.  My scream seemed to be an invitation for him to rush into the room and hold a knife to my throat. He put his hand over my mouth and reached for the phone, which had been next to me on the bed. He cut the phone cord and told me that if I screamed again he would kill me.

I didn’t scream again.  I cried, though, and thought immediately of my baby nephew.  “Please don’t kill me,” I whimpered, “I love my nephew.”  He began to rape me and I closed my eyes.  “Do what he says and he will go away,” I told myself. He raped me and then he did not go away. He made me dance for him. He forced me to say that I loved him and that I would be his girlfriend. When he finally left it was 3 o’clock in the morning. He had been there for an hour and a half.



      I had never been afraid before but surviving the attack introduced me to fear. I have been handicapped by fear.  I have lain in bed, having to go to the bathroom but too afraid to move, too afraid to go back to sleep, too afraid to turn on the light, too afraid to call someone for help. I’ve lain in bed thinking about how easy it would be for someone to climb in the kitchen window.  When I tell my husband how scared I sometimes feel, he tells me that there are times that he feels scared as well.  “Yes, but I never felt scared before,” I think, “He did this to me.”

I saw a scary movie a short time after I was raped. In it, the male attacker surprises his female victim in a public restroom. It resulted in my being absolutely terrified of public bathrooms for two years. On many occasions I found myself alone in a public bathroom and heard a noise outside the stall; I’d be instantly paralyzed by fear.  More than once I had to muster up my dwindling courage just to leave the stall; more than once I have cried when I realized that I was safe.

 Sometimes I would just be glad to still be alive.  Better that someday I have to tell my nephew what happened to me then someday someone else saying to him, “you don’t remember your Aunt.  She was murdered when you were a baby.” Other times I was furious.  Why didn’t I fight him? I could have hit him with the chair when he turned around! Why on earth did I ALLOW someone to hurt me? 
 
I realized I thought a lot about dying after it happened. I never seriously considered suicide but at times I felt like if I died I wouldn’t care. But yet I know I wasn’t ready to die yet.  I still wanted to finish school; I knew I still wanted to have a family. So I went for HIV testing.  In the afternoon after my test I accidentally cut myself and looked at the blood on my finger.  It upset me to think that other people would have to be careful if they were handling my blood because it could be infected.  Then I instinctually put the bleeding finger in my mouth but immediately pulled it out, thinking, “Be careful! That blood could be infected!” . . . then I realized I was talking about my own blood here, that if it was already infected that meant I was already infected.

That fall, some friends I knew back in my freshmen dorm called to check up on me.  They invited me to go out to some local bars with them. I wanted to see them and agreed to go. We went to a bar I had never been there before and as soon as I walked in I knew why—barely any lights on, loud obnoxious music, lots of jocks.  (So, not my usually type of place.)  Apparently it was my old friends’ type of place because they all knew other people there and dispersed throughout the bar.  Some guy started talking to me, so I entertained myself by pretending to be a Spanish exchange student.  “Your English is really good,” he said. “Want to dance?” “Why not?” I figured.  He led me to the dance floor. I looked up to make my way through the crowd when I noticed a man that was very out of place in this sea of college students.  A middle-aged man with a scar on his cheek.
 
His eyes locked on mine for just a moment and then his face disappeared.  I had asked the police what I should do if I ever saw him but I never thought I would. I pushed my way to the pay phone by the door and dialed 911.  “I think the man who raped me this summer is here!” I told the operator.  She asked me where I was and then instructed me to step outside.

 It was amazing. It seemed as if a police car pulled up immediately.  Then another and another and another, later I was told it was 9 cars total.  Soon I was surrounded by cops and we were back in the middle of the bar.  The lights were turned on, the music was turned off, the students were stunned. Officers were in the bathrooms, the backrooms, the side alley.  They led me around the bar, asking me specifics about what he looked like and what he was wearing. 

 Not that it mattered anyway.  He was gone. I could see in his eyes he knew who I was, but then again how could he not? He had spent an hour and a half raping and threatening me less than two months before.  But now the tables were turned—we were out in public and HE was scared of ME.  He bolted the minute he saw me. 

And so the lights went off again and the music came back on. The police brought me home to a quiet apartment. As soon as I walked in the door, I was completely hysterical, like I had never been before.  I screamed, I threw things; I woke my roommates with my yelling.  I couldn’t believe that I really saw him and then HE GOT AWAY!

They listened to me and let me scream.  They gave me tissues and glasses of water.  They ducked when I threw things.  When I finally settled down, the doorbell rang.  We cautiously went down the stairs together to find the same two police officers that had driven me home thirty minutes before.  They said they had caught someone who matched the description I had given them.  K and I went with them and sat in the back seat of the cruiser. When we turned onto Hamilton Street, we slowed to a stop.  There, on the corner, some other officers were holding him and shining a flashlight into his face.  I was crying when I said, “It’s him, it’s him.”

They brought us back to the police station and told us about the man they had just captured with my help. At the time he was on parole for a prior sexual offense against a 12-year-old girl. When he was arrested he had with him a screwdriver and a razor blade, most likely to follow another young woman home from the bar and rape her, too.

It was tremendously satisfying to know that I was instrumental in his capture.  The fact that I may have saved another woman from being raped made it even more so.  When I woke up the next morning, I felt so rested and relieved.  I intrinsically understood the expression “a weight has been lifted off of me.” I felt so free and I was so proud of myself.  I was my own hero.

The judge set the bail at $150,000 for the “alleged” rapist (I hated seeing the word ‘alleged’ in the newspaper, I knew for certain he did it.  They were sure he would enter a guilty plea but he stalled.  The first time he was supposed to enter his plea he changed his mind and said he was going to get a lawyer. Then we had to wait for a new date.

Two months later I went before a grand jury, at the prosecutor’s suggestion. That way if the defendant entered a not guilty plea, we would be already for trial. The grand jury decided there was enough evidence for a trial. At that point, though, it no longer mattered as the suspect finally did enter a guilty plea.  Now there would be no trial, just a sentencing.

The prosecutor asked me to prepare a statement for the judge so he could see how my life had changed since the rape. I couldn’t sum it up in a paragraph, so I gave the judge a copy of my journal. I wondered if he would take the time to really look at it.  A few months later I found out. On Valentines Day of 1997 I sat in the courtroom with my mother and sister. The rapist was brought in.  I could see my book on the judge’s bench and occasionally he looked at it.  I was so glad I had given it to him.  Now if only the rapist could see it and began to understand the consequences of his actions.

The rapist was given a chance to speak.  He addressed me by name, which really surprised me because I thought my identity was protected from him. He said he was sorry and that he only meant to rob me but when he saw me lying there naked he “couldn’t help” himself.  He also said that life in jail was hard.  Like I cared. 

Then it was my turn. I walked to the front of the courtroom and stood about ten feet away from the rapist. I looked him in the eye and began to speak. “I’m really glad you’re sorry,” I said.  “That’s really nice and all but I don’t think you have any idea what you really did.  You have no idea how this has effected me, my family and my friends.  I mean, did you know that my little 8-year-old friend had to learn what ‘rape’ means because of you? Did you know that all I’ve ever wanted was to have a family of my own and now I doubt that I’d ever be able to spend the night alone with my children?”

I don’t remember what else I said but it felt so good to look right at him and speak my mind.  I like to remember it the way it was described in the newspaper the next day: “It was the first time she confronted her assailant, but if she was angry, she didn’t show it.” It’s true. I wasn’t angry. I was calm and I was proud. The rapist was taken from the courtroom in handcuffs; he had been sentenced to twenty years in prison. The judge wanted to know if it would be okay to give his copy of my book to the rapist.   He must have been reading my mind; that is exactly what I wanted. I doubted that the rapist would be receiving the proper counseling in jail; maybe my book could help him to understand the consequences of his actions.

For years the title of my book was “My name is Rape Victim.” I was never really comfortable with it, though.  As I flipped through my original journal, this phrase caught my eye: “I know I will emerge victorious.” I think enough time has passed to say that I have indeed emerged victorious. My name is not Rape Victim; my name is Victorious. Why is Victory mine? Is it because my attacker is in prison? Well, that certainly helps.  But many rapists are in jail while their victims remain imprisoned by fear. I am victorious because I refuse to live in constant fear. I am victorious because I have someone to hate and I don’t hate him. I am victorious because I am not living in silence; I am victorious because I share my story with you.


          

9 comments:

  1. You are courageous and making the world a better place. Thank you for sharing!

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  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment, it does mean a lot.

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  3. Victorious you are, in every way. When I was single and living on my own in a studio apartment in New Haven, a burglar broke into my apartment with a crow bar. Fortunately I was out of town at the time, and fortunately he ran away before entering my apartment because one of the neighbors heard sounds and tried to see what was going on through her peep hole. Still, I couldn't sleep and couldn't stop crying for days after the incident. I felt so invaded and so afraid that the burglar would come back to finish the job he began. That incident gives me but a teeny glimpse into what must be the horror of invasion by rape - how dare he! I am just in awe of your bravery and I hope he reads and languishes over the words in your journal every day for the rest of his life.

    By the way, I finally wrote and shared some of my life story with you!

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  4. I often wonder if he read the journal...once? Never? Multiple times? I also actually have entertained the notion of visiting him in prison before he is freed. Sometimes I feel like I need to see him face to face and see that he's a human. Sometimes I think that is the worst idea I've ever heard.

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    1. I can see why you feel that way, and I can see why there is no right answer. Could be the best thing you ever did - or the worst thing. My inclination would be No, don't go - no rationale, just a random gut feeling that you will not get the satisfaction you hope for out of the visit (no matter how it goes)

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  5. You are a really strong woman. Thank you for being you and sharing this with the world.

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  6. Thank you for taking the time to comment Juanita Tortilla!

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  7. This is a terrible and beautiful story. I love your transformation from Victim to Victorious. Deeply moving. Thank you for telling it.

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  8. Thanks Beth. Sometimes I forget that it is kind of amazing, because it's just my own story that I know by heart.

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