I wrote this three years ago and published it quietly. The shame and embarrassment still roiled up inside. I am republishing now, with the momentum of #metoo behind me. I’ve been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack nearly everyday and have decided that Hercules Mulligan’s line in the song The World Turned Upside Down is my new mantra. “…I need no introduction. When you knock me down, I get the f— back up again.”
This is the hardest blog I have ever considered writing, let alone actually attempted to write…My palms are sweaty. My heart is pounding in my ears. I have chills running up and down my spine. I am sweaty and scared. I think I might throw up. It’s not often I visit the deep dark recesses of this part of my brain. It’s a place I try to forget about. But sometimes can’t…
I was talking to a girlfriend of mine the other day when she told me her horror story. It’s her story to tell, or not, so I won’t go into what happened to her but her story awakened in me what I have spent 23 years living to forget. This is not a story I tell often and not many people know it, outside of those who were there during the aftermath. I think I’ve told it a handful of times to different girlfriends through the years, never to be talked about again. But I think it’s one that deserves to be told because I am a survivor.
May 20, 1989.
The night began like any other warm, spring weekend night in a college town ~ it was a night for partying. My best friend had just turned 21 and we were in celebration mode. We partied and partied and partied some more. We had a blast! But I was done with the bars and the party scene before my friends so I decided walk the few blocks back to my apartment, ending my night early.
I was living alone at the time. My roommate had just moved out and I was looking to move myself but was waiting until my lease was up. I have to say, I kind of liked living alone. It was liberating not having to worry about disturbing anyone. I felt so grown up and mature, living life on my own. I liked that I had all of the space of the two bedroom apartment to myself. I liked my apartment. I liked that I lived on the ground floor so I didn’t have to walk up steps to get home. I liked living there, not far from campus or the bars.
The night air was warm and soothing so I decided to sleep with the windows open. The breeze coming in from the open windows was pleasant and sweet as I drifted off to sleep. The chirp of the crickets mixed with the smell of spring turning to summer lulled me into a peaceful, dreamless sleep.
I’m not sure how long I was asleep or what time it was but I remember being roused from my sleep by someone shaking my shoulder and calling my name. My eyes opened to man standing over my bed. He had a rope wound tightly around the black leather gloves on his hands and he was reaching over my head to close the blinds over my bed tighter and tighter, ensuring no one could see in. He was naked from the waist down. The images stop there, mostly. I don’t remember much of what happened after that. I don’t remember what was said. I don’t remember feeling scared. I think I just flipped a switch and went into autopilot. Survival-mode. I do remember talking, and talking a lot. I remember focusing on the rope and his nose. I focused on the rope. I kept the images of being tied up at the forefront of my mind. I did not want that rope anywhere near my hands or my throat. I kept my focus there. And I focused on his nose because it was so unusual. I knew it might help identify him. The only other thing that stands out to me, from my time lying on my bed, waiting to see what my fate was is how he smelled. The smell is seared into my memory and if he walked by me now, I could pick him out, today. He had a sickly, sweet odor mixed with a musty, metallic smell. It was repulsive and I worked hard to not gag as his odor wafted in the breeze of the night. My guardian angel was by my side that night, allowing me to talk my way out of whatever it was he was planning to do to me. The would be rapist, I knew that’s what he was, left my apartment, with his apologies and asked me to hold off calling the cops for 10 minutes.
I didn’t listen to him. I shot like a bolt out of my bed as soon as I heard his foot scrap against the metal on the window frame in my old roommate’s room. I needed to call for help. It was in the next few moments that I crumpled. I stayed strong through the ordeal of wondering what was going to happen. Then the terror hit me and I froze. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t dial the phone. I was lost. It was then I heard a key in the lock and my best friend walked in the door. The terror was evident on my face as she opened the door and saw me standing the middle of the living room with a phone in my hand and tears streaming down my face. She had been planning to just go home but she said she “knew” she needed to come to my apartment and check on me. She took the phone out of my hand to call for help but the number to the police department left both of us. Neither of us could remember 9-1-1. The near rape experience sapped every bit of me, and I was useless.
The rest of the night is swallowed up in a giant void in my head. I remember very little. I do remember the police and a victims advocate in my apartment but I remember little of what happened in the early morning hours on May 20, 1989. I do remember shaking and shaking so violently I could barely write down my statement. I have no idea if my statement was legible. I just remember sitting at my kitchen counter trying so hard to keep the pen steady in my hand. I remember two other things, which are based more on how I was feeling rather than events of the night. I remember I felt safe and protected with the police in my apartment, and I remember they told me I did the exact right thing when I kept talking to him. I made him feel I was a person, I made him feel. And by humanizing myself to him I survived.
After the police and victim’s advocate left, my best friend packed up a few of my things. She and I went to her parents’ house for what little was left of the night.
The events of the days after are much clearer. I remember spending many hours with the police, analyzing every scrap of evidence and giving statement after statement after statement. I worked with a police sketch artist to come up with an image to help find him. The police tried to set up a sting operation in my apartment, thinking he might come back to me because of unfinished business, I guess. They put a mannequin in my bed, making it look like I was there, sleeping. It didn’t work, they never found him lurking outside my apartment. The police followed me around the bar scene for weeks afterward, hoping I would see my would-be rapist and would be able to identify him. I never did. I looked for the nose but it was nowhere to be found in the bars where I usually went. I remember running away so much, trying to find what I lost the night my safe little world crumbled down around me. I remember just wanting to leave the pain in my heart and the fear in my head behind. I clearly remember running and running and running ~ trying to find safety and security in my now topsy turvy world of working with the police and trying to sort out my head.
As I worked with the police, I found out I wasn’t his only victim. There were at least five others. Only two of us escaped physically unharmed ~ both of us on the same night. He tried to assault another woman just hours before me as she was entering her house just blocks from my apartment. It was only the two of us who could give a description of the rapist. A serial rapist.
In every instance where he broke into a house or apartment, his M.O. was always the same. He went in through a screen in an open window and he always took the screen with him when he left. He only assaulted women who lived alone and, according to police, we all bore a striking resemblance to one another. I don’t know if there were any other victims after the summer of ’89. My hope is there weren’t.
I worked with the police for several weeks, hoping to catch the fucker who turned my world upside down. I know I walked away physically unharmed but the mental damage took a huge toll. It was years before I could go outside by myself at night, always fearing what was waiting for me in the darkness. It was years before I could look at myself without shame for being so stupid and naive…living alone, with my name on my license plate and the mailbox that corresponded to my apartment ~ that is how he knew my name. It was years before I came to terms with the fact that I “escaped” and others didn’t…survivor’s guilt.
While I don’t think the mental damage will ever be completely erased, it’s been so many years since I’ve looked at the calendar and felt terror and disgust as May 20th approached. It is now just another day in time. I no longer fear walking outside in the dark. Although I can no longer pull up the smell that permeated my entire being when he walked into my life, I would still know it if he walked by. I can face nights alone and be OK. I am a survivor.
It took me years to get here ~ to this point. It wasn’t an overnight fix. And still there are times when the fear of seeing his nose or a rope or black leather gloves will trigger something in my memory bank. But I have worked hard and come out on top. I have invested time, sometimes tremendous amounts of time, in counseling, therapy and self-improvement. I have so much to be thankful for and I chose to focus on that ~ keeping this memory at bay. I didn’t want to let the scumbag win and he didn’t ~ I won because over the course of years, I choose to be a survivor.
Like I said, this is not a story I tell often, it’s usually told within the safe confines of girls’ weekend and never talked about again. It’s been years, maybe 23, since I revisited this night as in depth as I have today. And my emotions are raw. My shoulders are crimped and kinked. There is a knot of fear in the pit of my stomach as I think of reactions to my story. Surprisingly, I am more concerned with those who know me now knowing my story than I am about strangers knowing. But there is the anxiety I felt when my friend told me her story that has been swirling around, creating a disturbance in my whole body, and I knew my story had to be told. It was in listening to my friend’s story I finally let myself feel anger ~ anger for myself, this rapist’s other victims and the countless other women who are victims of sexual violence. This was not a pleasant place to go back to and I hestitated, greatly, over telling my story and not just because I don’t want to go back to the day but because I never want anyone to look at me with pity. I never want to see pity or despair when I look into someone’s eyes now that my story is told because…I am a survivor.