This is the most vulnerable I have been in print. I wrote this piece more than 20 years ago. This is the first time I’m brave enough to share it. But, eventually, for wholeness, we must be able to speak and live our truth. There are many women still too afraid of the judgement, cruelty, and scrutiny which often accompany their speaking, and it keeps them silent. But there is community in truth. Here’s another truth: Stats say one in three women will experience this in their lifetimes. One in Three. Closing our eyes and plugging our ears, or blaming those who tell the truth will not change that. That’s all I’ll say. Except this: I will not respond to trolls and will delete them immediately.
WHAT I REMEMBER
The District Attorney’s office has been looking for me. They sent two detectives to my parent’s house to find out where I was and to see if, perhaps, I would be willing to come to court down in DeKalb County, Georgia, and tell the people there what I remember. Well, I’ve spent eight years of my life trying not to remember. Tried hard, too, though I’ve not been too successful. Barring forgetfulness I’ve tried nonchalance: yeah, it’s happened to me but hey, I’ve gotten on with my life. See how easily I speak of it? My face and voice composed, the words dropped like small hard stones amidst crumbs.
The District Attorney thinks that my testimony, along with that of others, could help put a man away who should have been locked up a long time ago. And so I agree to go and to speak. I spend a little time thinking of my courtroom wardrobe. What would be most appropriate: the business look? The artist? Maybe the straight-laced missionary? But that is only a distraction because the jury, the judge, the District Attorney, even the defendant himself will be more interested in what I remember than in what I wear.
The Assistant DA says it happened on December 12th. I don’t remember. And I don’t remember the time, though I stood and stared at the clock for what seemed like hours after he left. I don’t remember what the doctor at the hospital looked like or even which hospital it was, though I remember that the doctor was a woman and that she didn’t laugh at my jokes though I continued to make them. I remember that she took my underpants and that I was a little ashamed because I’d slept in them the night before and hadn’t bothered to change them that day. I don’t remember what they looked like though. I remember my red velour sweatshirt and red sweat pants that I wore as a set but could not wear anymore after that night. My stepmother gave them away I think. I think I was barefoot. I’m not sure. I don’t remember my feet being cold.
But the floor was cold. That I remember. The floor was hard and cold and white and I stared at the kitchen light fixture just past his head and tried not to think about what he was doing. I remember that the floor was hard and white and cold and so was I and for a moment I was curious about what was happening, but I pushed the curiosity aside and returned to the contemplation of the light overhead. I have never forgiven myself for that moment. I remember that he murmured or muttered as though words of love or endearment but I don’t remember what he said then. Or perhaps I just don’t want to. I remember sitting up on the cold white floor and pulling up my pants. I was very calm and I gave him fifty cents for the bus and I walked him to the door and I kissed him goodbye because he told me to. I remember his lips were very wet and full and slippery and I told him I would call because he asked me to and I closed the door behind him and saw him standing on the porch facing the stairs with his hands in his pockets. The snow was falling thickly.
I remember staring at the clock in the living room. Staring and staring at the clock as though to remember the time. But I didn’t. And I can’t. I don’t know what time it was. They held that against me in court. But I can’t remember.
I remember wiping bright red drops of blood off the kitchen floor. With a paper towel, I guess. And I guess I threw it away. And I picked up the broken chair on the dining room floor and I tried to put it back together again. Probably hung the dangling phone back on its hook. I don’t remember that. I do remember screaming and trying to reach the phone from the floor and his weight holding me back. I remember the receiver in my hand, the impulse to beat at him with it, but at the same time another smaller, colder voice that said, “stop – you won’t be able to hurt him much with that – all you’ll do is enrage him further and then he will kill you.” And I wanted to live. That I remember. I remember that as the dining room chair went over and the slats thrust into my back and I grappled with him and screamed to Jesus as loud as I could that that same cold voice said, “so this is how I’ll die. I never thought I’d die like this. Gloria and Daddy will come home and find me. I never thought.” And my voice kept screaming and my eyes and ears kept looking for deliverance because it couldn’t be real. I remember the calmness with which I finally lay on that cold white floor and stared at the kitchen fixture. But I don’t remember what it looked like. Even now. And I lived in that house for many years before December 12, 1982. And I didn’t even remember the date before the DA told me. Just that it was Sunday and dark and cold, the night was muffled by a snowstorm, and I thought I would die. But I didn’t.
The District Attorney is a short sandy man. He meets with me in his office a few minutes before I am to go on the witness stand. He asks me for some history — how, what, when. He says, “Don’t say that the defendant said this thing or that thing in court. It isn’t admissible.” I tell him that I won’t. He says that he’s glad that I came. That the most recent victim is grateful and that he’s sure my testimony will be important.
“I’m glad I can help,” I say. My voice barely shakes.
The District Attorney tells me that I will have to walk right past the Defendant when I walk in to take the stand. I will have to be able to identify him from the box. “Do you think you will have difficulty identifying him?” he asks. I don’t think I will.
In the corridor outside of the courtroom I sit and wait for the uniformed bailiff to come for me and I listen to the investigator and a detective talk about the office Christmas party to be held that night. Then they call my name.
The walk from the door to the stand isn’t as long as I thought it would be. I am wearing a taupe dress and jacket set and high taupe heels. The business look I guess. When I turn and face the courtroom my legs are steady. So is my voice as I repeat the words of the bailiff. But my uplifted right hand shakes as though with tremors or as if I am waving, with a small frantic motion, at my rapist sitting there large, coiled and still in his blue striped suit.
The District Attorney stands before me; his small hands holding a folder, his beige lashes sparse over his beige eyes. “What happened on the night of December 12, 1982?” he asks. And I tell him what I remember.