Here I am posting a chapter from my novel Holy Days because yesterday's testimony of Christine Blasey Ford brought it back to me in full force. What is described in this chapter was not the only experience I had of sexual assault; it is the one very like Dr. Ford's. Mine was not an assailant of privilege. He was a rough sort of person, an older boy, elite in his own way in the neighborhood. Also, Holy Days acknowledges the Stockholm Syndrome of childhood, not the popular reaction of rage and revenge so prevalent now. The passage about the lion may not appeal to most victims. However, it was very real to me. I was 8 in this photo; the assault happened 4 years later. I looked about the same.
Before I tell you what happened, I want you to know, Marie and Jakey had done what I did hundreds of times before. The only unusual thing was: it was me who walked across the street to the Likus’ house to look for Ma.
What was equally unusual: Rick answered the door instead of one of the girls.
I was only slightly taken aback. After all, he lived there and, if Ma wasn’t at home, she was probably at Annie’s.
“Is my mother here?” I asked him, warily.
“Yeah,” and he stepped back to let me in.
I stepped into the dim hallway.
The second I was in the darkened hue of the Likus house, the second I smelled the musky odor of Likuses, the heavy, bodily odor of their chaos and mystery, the second I saw the amused face of Rick’s pal, Frankie Campbell peering at me from the end of the hall, I knew in a flash of absolute terror - Ma wasn’t there!
I turned to run out, but landed right in Rick’s arms.
Down the dark tunnel, he carried me and every step was a jolt I emphasized, almost comically, with a cry of “Rick! Rick! Rick!”
He threw me down on the couch and jumped on top of me.
I scrambled underneath him.
“Don’t! Rick! Don’t!”
Frankie stood in the corner. He was blonde and narrow, smirking nervously.
“You’re fuckin’ nuts, man,” Frankie told him.
“Come on!” he said, struggling with me. “You can do it too!”
He unsnapped my dungarees. The zipper slid open though I grabbed at frantically.
He unclenched my fingers, threw my hands down and held them over my head.
He laughed. Neither of us could move.
“Gloria!” he smiled down at me, his blue eyes sparkling against his dark skin, against the raw, white flesh of his scar like a twisted, agonized bolt of lightning from his damaged mind.
At that moment, I was terrified of him and I hated him, but I recognized him. He was the Nazi. A small part, a very strong small part of me wanted to throw my arms around him and pull him down on me. I’ve often wondered, though I hardly need to wonder, what I would have done if Frankie hadn’t been there, standing, watching idiotically, altering the chemistry of the room. In my memory, I think of it sometimes as the death embrace of animals, the lioness teething upon the throat of her victim. I know she must love her prey: how much of her hunger and her agony she’s put into pursuing it’s delicious flesh and blood that will feed her and her babies and keep them alive and I know her mate has teased her throat with his teeth in much the same way when he took her and the love embrace and the death embrace are almost identical. So it was with me and Rick as we looked into each other’s eyes in stalemate that dark afternoon. And I was the prey who entered into a special, familiar, and just relationship with its killer. I loved him and hated him as surely as I loved and hated myself.
But, I had too much to live for and I had to go on living. I couldn’t let him! When he let go of me to unbuckle his belt, I pulled at his hands hysterically, not letting him. He laughed and laughed. He never once hit me. I didn’t even know till years later that women were hit, or worse, during a rape. Then, he grabbed my pants legs around my thighs and yanked hard; traitors, they slid down to my knees.
“Wow! Look at this!” Rick said about my underwear, tiny bikini panties with little pink rosebuds.
“Hey, Likus, isn’t that your grandmother coming?” Frankie drawled stupidly from the window.
“Shit!” Rick spat.
Rick picked me up by the shoulders and threw me off the couch toward the direction of the kitchen. I landed awkwardly in my bunched up pants, but before I could fall over, he had picked me up again and pushed me further toward the kitchen and again, I was being flung out the back door where I landed on my shoulder in a heap by the garbage pail, fish and banana peels cooking in the hot sun, buzzing with flies at the foot of his back steps. I could hear him answer his grandmother while his face was still toward me. He latched the backdoor shut.
I struggled to come to my senses. I couldn’t be seen like this and in Rick’s backyard! I didn’t know whether to run first or pull up my pants. I pulled up my pants and zipped the fly.
I knew I couldn’t simply walk out the driveway to the front.
Shaking with terror that I might be seen in Rick’s yard, possibly I already had and with my pants down, I hid myself in the thick tangle of brush that grew against the tall wooden fence that separated the Likus’s yard from the Strummer’s. I considered the track side, but the fence there was even taller and since, I had to throw myself over, I didn’t know what kind of shopping cart or soaked mattress or broken bottle I’d land on down by the tracks. The Strummer’s yard beckoned me with the soft, green memories of its apple tree.
Thorns of scrub rose sliced at my arms and ankles as I tried to gain a foothold on the smooth fence. By sheer will and emergency, I smashed myself into the boards and catapulted my aching body over. I tumbled on to the grass.
I let myself stop for a minute. I panted heavily, hoping for that moment when my breath would come easily. I wanted to cry. I think the tears started to come and I wiped them away and they continued and I wiped them away again, streaking my face with dirt and blood from my hands.
Johnny came out of his house and rushed toward me. I was so glad to see him! He was married and didn’t live there any more, but he was home on leave from the Army before going to Vietnam, I remembered all this at once, in my daze. But, there was something wrong about him! His hair was gone! His beautiful, sun-filled hair! And his expression was wrong! He wasn’t happy to see me! He looked furious!
“Get the hell out of my yard!” he yelled at me.
His handsome face was twisted. His sunny hair had been shaved along the bumpy round of his skull like a prisoner of war.
“I couldn’t help it,” I mumbled, stunned and unsure what was happening.
He also pulled me by the neck, like a small animal, and threw me in the direction he wanted me to go, toward the front walk. I thought, “If Rick’s watching, he’ll laugh.”
“What are you doing, Johnny?” A soft voice called him sweetly from the front door. “Who is that?”
I looked up through my tears to see the vague shape of a woman wavering there behind the blackened screen door. It was Johnny’s mother.
“Why it’s Gloria! Gloria Wisher! Hello, dear! How is your mother? I never see her anymore!”
“Fine,” I sniffed.
I figured she must be drunk. She didn’t have the slightest idea what was going on. She had never called my mother or spoken much to her unless she happened to be out on the porch when Ma walked by. But, Celia Strummer never came out of the house these days. I didn’t even think she was a nurse anymore. I was surprised, somewhere on top of my misery, that she even knew my name.
The metal gate made a high-pitched squeal like a caught pig as I opened it and Johnny Strummer, my beloved sun-kissed sweetheart, kicked me real hard in the behind and sent me flying forward out the gate so fast I fell hard on the cement scraping my palms, tearing my pants open and raking my knees in long, bloody scratches.
His mother was shocked.
“And stay out!” he screamed, crazily. “Get back in the house!” He turned and strode up the porch steps toward his mother.
I could hear her voice, retreating, protesting sweetly, that she “didn’t see why -”
I went home, to my room, to mourn and lick my wounds and gather my strength. Maybe Johnny was mad at me because I hadn’t gone for a ride with him. Maybe he was mad because he’d had to get married or because he had to go to war. But, really, it didn’t matter why. It was an odd circumstance of my life that so many people had behaved so strangely for so long that when, suddenly, someone I’d trusted and believed in, like Johnny or my pediatrician or Daddy, for no reason viciously struck out at me, when it had happened for the thousandth time, I simply went home, washed and salved my wounds, and prepared myself for the next onslaught. Rick had caught me off guard, but I never thought for a moment he’d acted out of character. Somehow, in Revere, that was a virtue. It created a warped kind of trust.
©Patricia Goodwin, 2015
Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Her newest poetry books are Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse.