The Power of Decency

January 10, 1987…the date that altered my life forever. I was 23 years old,  had been raped, beaten, and had things done to me that I’d never heard of before.  I’d never had ‘normal’ sex before… After six hours of this torture (as it was termed by the newspaper writer at the trial) I finally was able to escape when the man who did those things to me passed out in my bed.  Before then, he was within inches of me along with one of my large kitchen knives.  I had to wait until it was safe to make the attempt to get away. Even when he had to use the bathroom, he had me get down on my hands and knees, and traced the knife along my spine with one hand until he was done.

I’d pounded on the downstairs neighbors’ door wearing a bath towel.  I had met them the day before (having moved to that complex 10 days earlier).  It was January in central Texas, and I was barefoot in a bath towel.  My face was swelling from being beaten in the head, my lip was bleeding where my teeth had gone through it, and I was bleeding from the force of the wine cooler bottle that he also used to repeatedly rape me (with it’s torn foil label on the neck of the bottle).  And unseen trauma from the force of ‘him’.  I was terrified he was going to catch me before the neighbor answered the door, and hadn’t even thought that they might not be home.  Fortunately, late on that particular Saturday morning,  Mrs. Neighbor was baking muffins. She answered the door with a muffin tin fresh out of the oven, an oven mitt on her hand.  She just sort of looked at me for a second, as if to try and make sense of why this 23-year old was standing in front of her in a towel.  I tried to be calm as I said “I was just raped. He’s still upstairs. Can I use your phone to call 911?”.

She got rid of the muffins, and grabbed me- pulling me into the apartment and closing the door. Mr. Neighbor then came out of the spare room, and saw me.  They both got me to the phone, and stood by as I called 911, and told the 911 operator the situation.  Mrs. Neighbor then went and got me a pair of underwear (she was about 5-foot nothin’, and much smaller than I was, but she wanted to give me some modesty), one of her robes that was quite small, and some slippers…she was also a mom, and treated me as a mom would.  The ensemble was complete; I was in a small robe that required the bath towel to fill in the gaping front, small undies, and slippers about two sizes smaller than I wore. I was so thankful to be covered.  Mrs. Neighbor told the police ,when they told her those items had just become evidence, that she wasn’t worried about her stuff. She wanted me to have something to help cover me up after what had happened.  That proper Jewish mama wasn’t sending anybody out naked.  *Thank you, Mrs. Neighbor, wherever you are*

The first police officer arrived fairly quickly and went up to my apartment. I’d left the door unlocked when I escaped, so he just walked inside.  What he hadn’t expected was to be beaten up by the rapist as he tried to handcuff him in my bed before he fully awakened.  The sound of his body being slammed around my apartment as I listened from downstairs was disturbing. One bookshelf was knocked over, and various items were crashing to the floor. Finally, the front door slammed, and he hollered down to Mr. Neighbor (who was listening from the doorway of his apartment- where I was) to call for backup.  Poor cop was a rookie, not expecting to get pummeled.  He ended up sitting on the pavement in front of the stairs leading to my apartment. He ended up with some minor injuries, and a major lesson.

Mrs. Neighbor called 911 again, and explained the situation. There were more officers en route, but they were having trouble finding the exact apartment on the large complex grounds.  Shortly, however, there were officers and police cars all over the parking lot.  Soon after that media trucks arrived, including all network TV stations. They made short work of setting up their cameras.

The backup officers went upstairs, and began the process of apprehending the man who violated me. There were more sounds of struggling, and officers in front of my apartment had their guns drawn, aimed at the balcony. Neighbors had started gathering to check out the commotion. At that time, I’d begun ‘shutting down’.  I had been in survival mode for so many hours, and hadn’t been able to let my guard down at all. When I finally could, shock set in fairly quickly, and while I was still aware of my surroundings and what was going on, I was more into my thoughts than what was going on around me. I was sitting in a rocking chair in the Neighbor’s living room, somewhat oblivious to anything but my thoughts, and the occasional glimpse out the window at the gathering crowd.  I never heard the gunshots upstairs, though Mr. Neighbor did.

By then, an ambulance had arrived for me, and the EMTs had started checking my vital signs, and assessing the busted lip and visible bruise that was blooming on my jaw. The other injuries would have to wait for a physician at the ER.  I had torn uterine ligaments, and various abrasions and lacerations from the foil on the wine cooler bottle.  A hospital helicopter was landing to take the rapist to the hospital. He had been shot in the groin, and was losing a fair amount of blood. From what I later heard, he was moving towards the officer, and not a ‘still target’; the officer that shot him later apologized profusely for not killing him.  I was kept inside the Neighbor’s apartment until ‘he’ was loaded into the helicopter,  and gone from the premises.

The EMTs were going to bring a stretcher in to take me to the ambulance, but I asked them to let me walk.  There had been enough drama, and the TV stations were still filming.  I was assured that they wouldn’t film me (rules about ‘victims’).  I still wanted to walk out, and not be buried under blankets on a stretcher. For some reason, I had to prove I wasn’t completely damaged, filming or not.  I didn’t want to look like I’d been destroyed.  I had to show I was stronger than what he had done to me. Those weren’t conscious thoughts at the time, but I knew I didn’t want to look ‘that bad’.

On the way out, cameras were still mounted on tripods, or in the hands of those filming, aimed in the general direction of the sidewalk. I walked past all of them, and looked at them. One relatively young female photographer made direct eye contact, and then did something that made a huge difference on that horrible day.  She aimed her camera at the ground, and bowed her head as I walked by that group of cameras.  She was offering me a sign of respect after I’d been completely dismantled in regards to dignity and simple human decency.   I wish I knew what TV station she was from so I could thank her (I’ve tried writing to all of them over the years), and let her know that that gesture was something I’ve never forgotten. That act of decency was, and is, greatly appreciated. It took her 2 seconds to do, but it’s lasted a lifetime for me.  That act of decency is one of the most healing things I’ve ever experienced.  It was the beginning of becoming a survivor, and not staying a victim.  While I had my ups and downs as I worked through what happened during the rape, that reporter/photographer was the beginning of shedding the ‘victim’ label. There aren’t enough thanks for something that powerful.

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2 thoughts on “The Power of Decency

  1. Appreciation for the little things, make life worth living.
    Your writing is evocative and its in the lines where you diverge from straight narrative that you are at your most powerful.

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