This is an excerpt from my next novel about a rape survivor, Kate, whose attacker, Vin, shows up decades later as someone she may know on Facebook. Seeing Vin’s face again threatens the “normal” existence Kate has worked so hard to build as a wife and mother. Kate knows that “…it’s such a gossamer line between well and unwell, between balanced and on the edge, ready to tumble over the precipice.”
*16+ readers only – while it does not describe the act of rape itself explicitly, it does describe in flashback how a walk with Vin after a party turned violent when Kate accompanies him to his room to get a sweatshirt. Just a disclosure – I don’t want anyone to start reading, not realizing that it’s not a breezy beach read like Goddess of Suburbia, but a darker exploration of the aftermath of violence and how it never quite goes away…
Feel No Evil
2:21. 2:22. 2:23. All I could see were the digital numbers of the clock. All I could hear was his menacing voice, “Is it going to be hard or soft?” All I could say was, “Please stop. Please don’t.” See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. They forgot feel no evil. All I could feel were his hands pushing down on my shoulders and the searing pain ripping through my core.
I close the journal—the flowers on its cover faded; the paper almost silk-like from age. It has been over twenty years—twenty-one years, to be exact—since I wrote those words. I wish that they were fiction from a long ago college creative writing class, but they aren’t—they’re real and every year on the anniversary of my assault I pull out that journal and read that entry. After I read it, I put the journal back in my old leather briefcase on top of my closet and drink a glass of wine. It’s my way of marking the anniversary and moving forward. My husband, Alec, keeps our kids downstairs or even takes them out for a slice of pizza or ice cream, so I can read it alone, in peace. So I can shed a tear or two.
I know that it might seem odd for a forty-one year old woman to still think about something that happened so long ago, but if you’ve ever been assaulted, you know that the fact of what happened never really goes away. It just sits like a rotten little bit of food in the back of the refrigerator. The smell will eventually take over the whole thing if you ignore it, so every year I pay attention to it—I take out that rotten bit of food, throw it in the symbolic garbage and try not to think about it, until it starts festering again a year later. It’s an odd ritual, to be sure, but one that works for me or at least it did work, until this year.
It’s a cruel joke being raped on tax day—for months before commercials remind me that the day is coming. “Don’t forget, April fifteenth is right around the corner,” a voice ominously intones. It’s everywhere, warning people of the day of doom. For me it’s the lead up to reading that passage. I know I’ll pull down the briefcase, I know I’ll open it to the same page and I know that I’ll put it back and lock down any thoughts of that April fifteenth so many years ago for another twelve months. But, as I put back the briefcase, I know that this year is different. This year I might not be able to lock it down. This year, the person who destroyed my life, Vin Merdone, just popped up on Facebook as “someone I might know” three days before April fifteenth and I realized that while he damn near ruined my life, his life just went on as happy as could be.
With morbid curiosity I had clicked through his profile pictures. There were pictures of him smiling on a beach; swimming with dolphins; lazing on a lounge; emerging from a pool and one of him holding up a beer, no doubt saying “cheers” to the person taking the picture. He looked happy and tan—and, quite honestly, had a slight menace about him, muscles bulging beneath the tattoos covering his arms—in all of them. The worst photo by far was the one of him kneeling next to a large shark lying in a pool of blood. The smile on his face was broad and satisfied, a cruel glint in his eye. I quickly moved on, the knot in my stomach tightening. One glance at his About told me that he now makes Miami his home. It didn’t look like he had a wife and kids, thankfully, but it did look like he was living a dream life, happy as could be.
The shock of seeing his face after all these years cut right through me—sure, he was older, but the set of his jaw remained, the curl of lip was the same. He still had a full head of hair—slicked back in most photos, giving him a look of smarmy intensity. When I clicked on our mutual friend, shock morphed into anger. The thought that my old friend, Sean, the friend who introduced us that fateful night, the friend who apologized so profusely and swore up and down that he didn’t know Vin was violent, the friend I thought I loved was still friends with this person, even on Facebook, filled me with a feeling I couldn’t quite name—rage, surprise, despair. Or perhaps it was all of those rolled into one.
I quickly “unfriended” Sean and started to block Vin. Only I couldn’t. It was like passing a car crash on the highway—I just had to look at it. I had to try to make sense of the man he is now, so maybe I could understand the boy he was then. Staring at his grinning face, once again I berated myself for only filing an anonymous police report—one that went on his record, but didn’t get him arrested.
Even worse, looking at those pictures, I spun back to that night. I had been drinking—I always admitted that, but I would never agree that drinking made me a victim, that anything other than violence made me a victim. Sean was hosting a party in his dorm room and Vin was there. After we talked for most of the party, Vin asked me to take a walk. Up until that point in my life, my sophomore year in college, I had only encountered people with good intentions. Even the drunk guys who hit on me at parties, took a “no” in stride and moved on to the next girl. If I did go home with someone, they too took my “no” in stride and were content to just fool around a bit, before I went back to my dorm room. I had never slept with anyone at college and I was proud of my ability to stand my ground. That all changed on an early spring night when I was twenty years old.
Vin was charming, regaling me with stories of growing up in the city, a hardscrabble kid who spent every day after high school training at a run-down boxing gym, but still worked his way into a scholarship to our small, liberal arts college in the country. He wanted to be a journalist, a music writer, and promised to take me to see his favorite band the next time they played in town. I liked the juxtaposition of tough guy and creative soul, so when he asked me to take a walk with him to look at the stars an easy “sure” slipped from my lips. Why wouldn’t I?
As soon as we stepped outside, he asked if I minded making a stop at his dorm. The spring night had turned chilly and he wanted to get a sweatshirt. For days, weeks, even months after, I beat myself up over the fact that I didn’t just stay in the lobby. When he said, “Do you want to come up?” I should have said, “No, I’ll wait here.”
I should have run back to my dorm, but I didn’t. I went up to his room and my life was never the same. As soon as we stepped in, he closed the door and locked it. He pushed me on the bed and climbed on top of me. It was so sudden and so shocking that I didn’t even know what to say, “Uh, uh, uh,” I spluttered. Then I managed to roll out from under him and bolt toward the door.
He stopped me, putting his arm up over my head, holding the door shut as I tried to pull it. He turned me toward the full length mirror behind the door and ran his hand down the side of my face, “So beautiful,” he whispered. “Why are you fighting me?”
“Let me go,” I hissed. Then I screamed. My screams brought feet running towards the door, followed by banging on it. As I tried to yell for help, Vin covered my mouth and only a muffled whimper came out.
“Go away,” he barked and they did. To this day I wonder who that person was—who listened to that “Go away” and decided that it was more important than my screams. It didn’t really matter of course. No one else bothered to try to save me—not even when Vin dragged me out to the bathroom a few minutes later, growling, “I need to take a piss and you have to come with me. I don’t trust you to stay if I leave you here alone.” Of course he was right. I would have left in a second.
Our dorms had co-ed bathrooms, so no one really thought twice about a guy and a girl heading into the bathroom together. Even though there were tears streaming down my face, even though his hand gripped the top of my arm as he dragged me. I stood in that stall while Vin urinated, my face to the metal wall, trying desperately to think of a way to escape. If I went under the stall would he turn, showering me with urine and pull me back by my leg? Would he catch me and smash my face into the wall? I didn’t know.
There really was nothing I could do, but stand there. Of course after, I went through all of the possible scenarios in my head obsessively. If I had just slid under the stall and ran out, someone surely would have helped me. If I had screamed loudly enough, maybe someone would have come to my rescue. But, that night I was paralyzed. I was a twenty year old girl and I just didn’t see a way out.
Back in Vin’s room, he pushed me back on the bed, that bed with black satin sheets that rose up in my dreams after like they had a life of their own. He held me down so hard that the next day I was left with purple fingerprints ringing both of my shoulders. I remember going to my favorite teacher, my creative writing professor, two days later not saying a word, just pulling my shirt back to show her my shoulders and she knew right away. She sent me to the Women’s Counseling Center on campus and I told my story.
My counselor marveled that I never cried. “How are you so strong?” she asked every time I came to see her. “What you’ve been through is so horrendous, Kate, even the strongest person would cry. I think you really need to cry,” she implored, so I never went back.