liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

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No Pity, No Shame, No Silence

I meant to comment on this when I first saw it, but I was too wiped to write anything up.

Since the author has closed down comments, I'm linking to it from here.

No Pity, No Shame, No Silence

You probably didn't know me, but you knew I probably existed.

I'm the one who used visit the police station every day to get the items for the police blotter round-up for your local paper. I'd view the scrubbed logs, scribble some notes, and be on my way back to my desk in a too-noisy newsroom.

If your sexual assault was there--assuming the police were involved, assuming you reported it--I probably didn't throw it in with the daily round-up. I probably wrote up a separate thumbnail piece to run somewhere else in the paper. The nature of the crime made it stand apart from the "suspicious activities" and the robberies and the stolen cars and other assorted petty crimes that usually get lumped together.

The piece I wrote was probably four inches long, maybe a little longer. There was probably no byline, so you wouldn't know that I wrote it, assuming you saw it, assuming you wondered who wrote it.

All that was there were bare facts. What happened? Where? Did you know your attacker? Was the attacker even known? If he or she was known, was there an arrest? Or are the police still looking for him or her?

Your name, of course, was never used. You were faceless and nameless; an utter abstraction to me, to the copy editors, to the city editor. Everything you were? Boiled down to those too-few column inches. I knew it didn't define all of you. Eventually, I hope (and now that I'm not faced with the prospect of more like you, I'm allowed to hope) you figured out that this news brief did not define all of you.

But how you reached that point was not my problem.

It's nothing personal, see? Just doing my job. It was safer to keep you nameless and faceless.

Let's be clear: I didn't do it because of any Shield Law. I didn't do it to protect you or your privacy.

I did it to protect me.

Because there was a little part of me that whispered while I wrote: I've been lucky.

Then there'd be a mental pause.

An even darker mental voice always added, So far.

I'm sorry I'm not being more specific. I'm sorry about being vague. But you see, I wrote too many of these for too many newspapers covering far too many towns and cities. I lost count somewhere along the way.

The pattern changed if you were unlucky enough to be murdered, because once you're dead all bets are off. Not that this is much comfort, but if you die then your story got my byline and probably a spot on the front page and above the fold.

I'm pretty sure you'd trade that front page story mouldering in the newspaper morgue and anything I might've written just to be alive.

If you're curious, I talked to your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your mother, your father, your siblings, your friends. They were furious that this happened to you and to them. They wanted blood. They wanted answers. And there was no one who could give it to them. I know I certainly couldn't, so I never knew what to say when they'd turn around and ask me.

But they did talk to me simply because I was there. I was a voice on the phone. Or, I was the young reporter who knocked on their door to ask for your picture.

They'd always invite me in. I'd always ask if they wanted to say a few words about you, the person they loved.

And they'd talk. How they would talk! They'd talk about who you were and who you were going to be. They'd talk about the could've beens, the should've beens, and the what ifs.

I'd sit there and encourage them through a million subtle, probing questions. They saw the reporter's notebook. They saw the pen. It didn't matter. I was safe, you see. I didn't know you or them. I wasn't involved.

You might not be surprised to know that I was very, very good at my job.

You might be surprised to know that one of my enduring nightmares is that someday some young reporter will knock on my door and ask me about the could've beens, the should've beens, and what ifs.

You might be even more surprised to know that even though I don't remember their names or yours, I remember what their faces looked like because you were gone.

And when I got my quotes and scurried back to the relative safety of the newsroom, I'd carefully (very, very carefully) piece together the police reports, the quotes, and the pictures.

There were always pictures.

When I saw your face, the whisper would kick in:

I've been lucky.

So far.

When I first got out of journalism school and being a reporter was still fun...that was when it was the worst because there were so many of you that got killed by a stalker or by an ex-lover. It seems they wouldn't just kill you, but they'd murder anyone who was with you.

You did everything right: restraining orders, calling the police, but none of it mattered. That other still got to you anyway and too many people paid the price because the system failed somewhere along the way.

This was during the very late 80s in Massachusetts where it seemed like stalkers and ex-lovers everywhere were playing copycat murder spree. I don't know when the trend started, but I can tell you that it at least slowed down when the state passed its anti-stalking law that allowed the police to take action before someone got hurt.

Too late for you, I know.

If it's any comfort, it probably saved other lives.

But before that law got passed, all of us in the newsroom--men and women alike--felt a little overwhelmed. It was laugh or cry time and since it was our job, crying was not an option.

I won't tell you about the pool: "How many people will die this month because of a sex crime/crazed stalker/ex-lover?"

It was black humor at its darkest.

I know it was in bad taste. It definitely was contemptible to reduce human lives to a mere game.

But you see, all of us couldn't help but think that you could be our sister, our brother, our mother, our father, our child, or our friend. So we shoved it away by making you the other.

Not that this excuses anything, but we really all were thinking the same thing:

We've been lucky.

So far.

If you survived, if you pressed charges, if the person who did this to you didn't cop a plea, I covered your trial.

Don't go into shock if I tell you that not too many cases like yours got to trial.

I was one of the reporters at the back of the courtroom scribbling away through the testimony. I watched as the defense hammered at you:

Why were you there? Why were you wearing what you were wearing? What were you doing there alone? Why did you wait to report the crime? Did you know the defendant? What do you mean you don't remember the time it happened? Did you lie to the police? Are you lying now? Are you sure you didn't encourage the defendant? Are you sure you said no? Are you sure the defendant heard you say no? Are you sure you didn't lead the defendant on?

And on and on and on...

I probably don't have to walk you through the questions. You remember them. Hell, you probably asked them of yourself.

But you'd sit there and answer them anyway in that even voice. Me? I'd probably reach out and slap the defense attorney across the face, but then again I've never been in your shoes, so I really don't know what I'd do.

I also watched as the prosecution hammered at the other, but somehow those questions seemed less personal and focused on, you know, actual evidence as opposed to insane questions that made you the criminal and put you on trial.

Yes, it is a cliche. It doesn't make it any less true.

If you were lucky enough to survive the attack and the trial (again, assuming there was a trial); if you decided to stand in the sun and share your story; if you decided that you were going to make this awful thing have meaning by working like hell to make sure it didn't happen to someone else, I was probably there, too.

You'd talk about your ordeal, detail the fight to get your life back, and how things were going to be different because now you were on the case.

No, you didn't expect to save the world. Your goal was just to save one person. Just one. That's all it would take to give you some sort of peace, at least it seemed that way to me.

But you and I both know: because you were fighting, because you were speaking, more than one would probably be saved from this. Or, failing that, someone could find some courage as they rebuilt their lives.

I'd scribble away in my notebook while you talked. Occasionally I'd peer at you over the top of my notebook with cool, brown eyes and ask a question or make a comment.

I'm not delusional. I know the interview and the momentary conversation was nothing personal for you, just as it was nothing personal for me. You were probably talking to more than one reporter, opening yourself up to the public, putting your name and face out there, being brave when too many people are not.

I have to admit, I never asked the one question I really wanted to ask: If you could trade places with me, would you?

I never had the courage to ask because I was afraid of the answer.

See, I've been lucky.

So far.

But again, I don't remember your name, your face, and the details of your story. I interviewed a half-dozen like you for far too many newspapers.

If you're curious, I do remember one face. I do remember the details of one story.

I remember because at the time I was not on the job. I remember because this young woman just started talking to me. I remember because it took me so much surprise.

I remember because I actually had an answer.

For this one person and this one person alone, I had an answer.

It was back in 1993. I was half-heartedly looking for another job for another newspaper. Things were already changing for the media, even back then. Less hard news, more happy talk. Less what people needed to know, more what they wanted to know. Reporters were increasingly overworked, the pay was getting smaller, and the suits were getting more abusive.

Anyway, that's not the point.

I was trudging back from a job interview with AP in Concord, well aware that I wasn't getting this job either. I was traveling through Hillsboro when I decided to pull over. There was this one spot in the north of town that overlooked this valley and the hills. There was nothing there, I mean nothing, except for this one park bench.

Yeah, I never got that either.

Even though Hillsboro was on my beat, one of 13 New Hampshire towns I had to cover, I maybe stepped inside the town boundaries three times in two years.

This was one of those times. It was the last time.

So, I pull over and plop myself down on the bench and just chill.

You came out of nowhere. You were blonde, high school aged, and you had one of those gentle smiles. You sat down next to me and just started talking.

This is nice, you said.

I like this spot, you said.

I'm pretty sure I must've made small talk. Nothing rude, mind you, but certainly in that tone that had to tell you that I just wanted to sit in silence and enjoy the view. I absolutely didn't have any curiosity about you. I certainly wasn't asking you why someone as young as you weren't in school, since we were sitting on the bench in the middle of the week.

What I said or thought right then isn't important, I guess.

I know you couldn't possibly have picked up on it, because you were still talking.

Maybe you were lonely. Maybe you just needed someone to talk to.

Maybe it's because I didn't know you and you didn't know me and I wasn't involved.

Anyway, from out of the blue, you said that you had a son.

I'm pretty sure I raised an eyebrow at that and revised my guess about your age upwards.

You said he'd been adopted in an open adoption by a doctor and his wife somewhere in upstate New York. That you were glad it was an open adoption so that if your son ever wanted to find you, he could.

Then you told me how your sister and her husband and her kids told you that you were going to hell because you had premarital sex.

I know I looked at you funny. I know that I said it wasn't true. Most people sure as hell don't believe that.

You smiled and said I sounded like your brother the atheist. He wanted to find your baby's father and pound him into the dirt.

Let me guess, he took off, right?

After he found out I got pregnant after we had sex just the once.

Instinct kicked in right at that point. Something wasn't adding up here. So, I was clever. I was subtle. I pulled you in with questions and comments. Teased your story right out of you while you sat in the sun, seemingly oblivious to what I was doing.

Remember: I was very, very good at my job.

Then again, I suspect that I could've been the worst person on the planet, and you still would've talked to me.

It came out in dribs and drabs:

You were babysitting your brothers' kids and a friend of his was there. Your brother and this friend were about the same age: mid-20s, I think. You all got into a water fight and you were covered with mud. You went into the house to take a shower.

While you were showering, he walked in, naked, locked the bathroom door behind him, and stepped into the shower with you.

He said you'd like it. He said if you didn't, he'd say you asked him into the shower and that you changed your mind. He was bigger than you and you were kind of afraid to say no because you were pretty sure no one would believe you.

In the end, you gave in, because he wouldn't let you say no.

Right after that, you find out that this one thing resulted in a child and he took off for parts unknown, leaving you to tell everyone what happened.

The only one who believed you was that atheist brother of yours, who was making it his business to track down this guy and not having a whole lot of luck.

Your parents (fundamentalist, evangelical Christians) pulled you out of school and started home schooling you. They taught you that you had to be ashamed. They told you that you sinned and that you were going to hell because you premarital sex.

Even after the baby was born, they kept you out of school and kept you in the home school, because they believed that you needed to learn more about morality.

I felt my face go white while listening to you cheerfully pronounce sentence on yourself.

I interrupted you with a, "Honey, you were raped."

You blinked at me in surprise. Judging by the look on your face, I think someone had told you that (the atheist brother, I would guess) but the message had been drowned out by all those people telling you that you were a bad, evil, dirty little girl for letting a man stick his dick in you.

But I could've said no and I didn't, you said.

The roll of questions came off my tongue:

Was he bigger than you?

Were you afraid of him?

Was he going to stop if you had said no?

I was a regular prosecutor for the state.

And you answered all those questions in that even voice that I'd heard from too many people that came before you.

At the end of it all, I insisted, "You were raped. This isn't your fault. Don't let anyone tell you different."

You stared at me a long time then, like you couldn't quite grasp what I was saying.

Then you said that you wanted to go back to school and stop being home schooled.

I wished you luck with that. I really didn't know what else to say because you jumped the tracks on me.

You looked at your watch and jumped off the bench. You had to meet someone someplace in the center of town and you had a ways to walk. You smiled shyly and said, "I'm meeting my boyfriend."

And then you added that he really wasn't your boyfriend, more like a boy you used to go to school with and you'd meet and the two of you would just talk. You said you really weren't ready for him to kiss you yet.

I told you to remember what I said. I wished you luck. I said that you'd be all right.

I watched you turn and walk down the road. I know I watched until you disappeared around the bend.

I never did get your name.

I hope everything turned out all right.

I hope you're happy now.

I hope you're walking in the sunlight again.

I hope, but I don't know. And I don't delude myself into believing that you're guaranteed the happy ending I want for you.

A month after that, I, along with a dozen others, were laid off from the newspaper I was working for.

I never did work for another newspaper after that.

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

The thing is, some things remain with me. Some stories I never do forget. They're not mine, but they're yours.

I don't know if you can ever possibly take comfort from this, but I just want you to know for whatever it's worth: I was a witness after the fact.

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