What I remember best — what still keeps me from closing my eyes at night until the lids are weighted with so many pills that they seem to fall shut of their own accord — is being blind and not knowing where the pain would come next. With the duct tape wound around my head, I could barely breathe. My whole naked body was alive in every follicle, each inch of skin straining to see if it would be the one. Would it be back, buttock, thigh, neck? Would it be pliers, teeth, mallet, cigarette? Because I couldn’t see him, he was not quite human to me — more a force, a sound here and there, a large, gnarled displacement of space.
Weeks have gone by. My wounds have healed into inscrutable pink glyphs. My hair has grown back. I keep a notebook. I write down what I think about (I remember it all) and bring it to Diane, my psychiatrist. I bring her my sordid little offerings, and she sits in her chair and listens: a small woman, possessing no esoteric wisdom, no startling answers — just a quiet ability to receive and transmute pain. She is a human wireless, crackling with compassion. What messages I get from her seem to come from beyond her office, beyond the quiet street, the sullen winter sky — seem to come from God. Through Diane, I have learned that God doesn’t have the answers. All she does is listen, and there is nothing so terrible that I cannot say it.
I was jogging. When the truck pulled up, I stopped and ran in place, ready to give directions or answer questions about our land. Perhaps he wanted to hunt. Was it posted? Did we mind? There was a rifle in his gun rack.
He looked clean and pleasant. He approached me smiling. When he stuck a handgun in my gut, I was so shocked I felt my bowels loosen. My skin became a new organ, an organ that sensed evil, sending my heart rate up like a Geiger counter near something radioactive.
In my dreams now, in my re-imaginings, I leap away as easily as a deer, and with as little hesitation. My spandex-covered legs scissor the ditch, and my feet ride the ground instinctively. My brown hair sways as I dart off into the forest.
In real life, I got into the truck.
He told me to put my head down on the seat, and I did. He put a coat over me and drove for a short, bumping distance with the gun on my head, except when he shifted gears, in which case he laid it in his lap.
I tried to tell myself that he only wanted to rape me. I thought of all the women down through the ages who had been raped and silently asked for their help. I asked their spirits to hover over us and lighten the dark corners of this man’s mind.
I had always felt it would be possible to survive rape if you looked upon it as simply a traumatic accident, like a broken leg. I had real faith in hot showers and scorn — scorn for any man who thought he could hurt a woman’s soul merely by using her body. My body was like a valuable china bowl: its worth and beauty could rise above whatever it held, briefly. The problem was: the bowl could be broken.
By the time we got to where he was going, I was too far down a logging road to cry for help, a thousand screams from the nearest person. I fought when he tried to put the duct tape around my head. Then I pleaded.
“I’ll do what you want. You don’t need that.”
I have to.
I have to.
I tried to look him in the eyes. He wouldn’t let me. He got angry then and hit me across the temple with his gun. (I still have a mark there, and the spot throbs as I write this.) Stunned, I let him wrap my head.
I couldn’t breathe at first, and I flopped like a beached fish on the front seat of his truck. He straddled me and, holding my head still, made small slits for my nostrils. I pulled the air in with pathetic gratitude. I wanted to ask him to cut an opening for my mouth, but I couldn’t speak, and he ignored my grunts. Once my face was covered, he felt freer with me. I was his thing then. Still straddling me, he squeezed my breasts, squeezed and kneaded and ground himself against me. He pulled my shirt up, pulled away my jogging bra, and gloated over his treasure. I could tell he had pictured this for a long time, and that it was better than he had imagined.
I felt his breath on my bare chest, as if he were bending to listen to my heart. Then he bit me on the nipple. The pain was horrible. I struck out blindly and managed to hit his head, sending him into an ecstasy of hate:
Bitch. Cunt. Whore. Cunt. Bitch. I’ll fix you.
He turned me onto my stomach and bound my wrists behind my back with more tape. Then he put my face in his lap, hitched my hands to the door handle, covered me with a coat, and started up the truck again. We drove for a long time. The place where he had bitten me burned. I breathed in the clean scent of his pants. He wasn’t dirty. I plotted and planned. I didn’t give up. When he opened the door, I’d run. When he untied my hands, I’d gouge his eyes. I’d wet my pants so he wouldn’t want me. I thought of my husband, Brad. I was sorry we’d been fighting so much lately, and that I hadn’t said goodbye when he’d left on a business trip that morning. If I lived through this, he’d say that this proved he was right: we should move back to the city. He hated Vermont. I thought of my cat. I went over my morning jog, retracing each step.
I swore that, if I lived, I would never again forget how quickly the world could change. I would never take another thing for granted: the sunrise, the road meeting my feet, air, digestion, water, the color blue. I would never stop blessing them simply for being there.
He brought me to his house. I could tell it was his because he used a garage-door opener. I heard a dog barking. Without speaking, he pulled me up and led me inside, using a key to open the door. The dog jumped all over me, as if l were an old friend. I thought it was a Lab, probably — something about the weight and the bark.
Obie. Good boy, Obie. Hi.
He said this in the voice of a man who loved his dog, and it filled me with hope. I heard a tone, a cadence that reminded me the rest of the world was still there, outside this nightmare, carrying on with a modicum of sanity and by the same old rules.
Obie followed us upstairs. The duct tape was still in place, and I could feel blood loosening the adhesive where he’d hit my head. My tears, too, had softened the glue. He laid me down on a bed. He undid my hands. I tried to thank him, but the sounds of my grunts unnerved me. I didn’t want to sound like that. It made it easier for him to think of me as an animal, a catch.
Right away, he pulled down my pants. Then he realized he had to take off my shoes. He did it, efficiently. Then he spread my legs and took me in the ordinary way. I was dry with fear, but it didn’t hurt. I wanted him to finish as soon as he could. I hoped then that whatever drove him would be released, that he would be out of fuel.
But what fueled him was bigger than I’d imagined. Who knew what it could be? A sadistic mother, a treacherous girlfriend, a sodomizing older cousin, a secret life, spirit possession? Whatever it was, it held him hostage.
I tell Diane everything. Every little thing. Her philosophy is this: if I could live it, surely she is strong enough to hear it. Each detail must be carefully gone over, to flush out any poison attached. In the hospital afterward, the nurses cleaned every wound with peroxide and betadine. They had given me a shot for the pain. Two nurses worked together. They sighed and dabbed and sighed some more. Then one of them started crying and left the room, and a new nurse replaced her.
Diane is doing the same, only she’s working on the wounds inside my head. Instead of peroxide, she swabs them with light, and applies the cream of acceptance.
When I fought for my life, using every wile, I shamelessly tarnished the noble ideal instilled in me by the silly romances I used to read when I was young. The heroine, always a feisty woman, would close her legs and say, “Kill me if you must; my honor is more important than my life.” She’d lift her chin and say, “Do your worst, you beast. Though I may die, you shall not besmirch my soul.”
My strategy was different. I decided that, as much as possible, I had to please him. I had to figure out what he needed and give it willingly.
The problem was, he needed pain. My pain. He had set the room up to torture me, and that is what he did.
He put me on my stomach and tied my hands to the bedposts. I wasn’t sure what was happening until I heard the match and smelled smoke. My sphincter tightened. Suddenly, I felt a hot pain on my right buttock, like a bee sting magnified a million times. I couldn’t really scream, because of the tape over my mouth, but the moan that came out of me had gestated over centuries. It started low and deep, then rose. It took every sac in my lungs and wrung it empty.
The pliers were next. He twisted the skin on my left thigh until I felt the flesh give with a pop. Then the mallet. It was a rubber mallet. He pounded my head with it.
I knew then that he would kill me unless I talked to him. I couldn’t point to my mouth, so I nodded my head up and down, up and down, while emitting a rhythmic series of grunts. In a moment of weakness, he slit the duct tape between my lips. Perhaps curiosity got the better of him.
I had very little to work with. I kept thinking of how I looked, my head a dull silver knob. How could I bring dignity to this?
Words . . . words . . .
“Listen. Please let me go. I don’t mind that you raped me. You needed it. I promise I won’t tell anyone. I just don’t want to be hurt.”
You saw my face.
“Yeah. But why should I tell? All I want is to get home and —”
What do you think I am: stupid? Do you think I don’t know you’ll run to the first cop?
“I won’t, I won’t. I promise.”
Did you like it?
“Well, to be honest, I was scared, so I couldn’t get into it. It would help if . . . what’s your name?”
Just call me Sir.
“Sir, it seems like you just have a lot of strong feelings, and you needed to act them out. But that’s OK. As long as you don’t hurt someone.”
I like your tits.
“Feel them again if you want. I don’t mind.”
Call me Sir.
He straddled me and pushed my breasts together.
A nice set. You’re so hot. You like it, don’t you? Tell me you like it.
“I like it, Sir.”
People look at me now as if I’m different, special, amazing. Everyone is so politically correct; they wouldn’t think of suggesting that I was blackened by my experience. Not openly, that is. But to themselves, I wonder. My husband, Brad, for instance. He’s afraid of me now, doesn’t dare touch me. The other day, he saw me coming out of the shower with my scars all red from the heat, and he turned away. I was always perfect, smart, hip, pretty, fit. Now I’m marked. I’ll always remind him that he isn’t safe, either.
Mostly, people don’t talk about it. When they do, they say things like “You’re so brave. I don’t know how you found the strength.” And I reply with a joke: “Yeah, it was some field trip. Don’t sign up for that one.” Or: “Yeah, it was bad, but it was the direct route to God.” That’s supposed to be funny, but the truth is, I believe I may have found God that day. When the pain hit, my soul shot out of my body, and something else held it. The pain was still there, but I discovered that the pain could not kill me; it was pure and powerful, but not deadly. I learned that my mind could dwell on each locus of pain, each bite and burn, and still skip above the whole, like someone hopping from stone to stone to cross a brook. Most important, I learned my torturer was human. When he entered me from behind and quivered with pleasure, I hated it, but I also welcomed it as a smaller pain. And his skin brought some strange relief on mine, on my wounds, with its weight and relative coolness.
After the second rape, he untied me to turn me on my back, and I jumped up and tried to run. I blundered into a wall, and he wrestled with me. I could tell he was getting angrier, so I stopped fighting. He led me to the bed and tied my hands again.
“I’m sorry I was bad. I won’t do it again.”
I have to punish you now.
“I’ll give you a blow job.”
You’d bite my dick off.
Then he leaned down near me. My skin prickled. He began biting my breasts until he broke the skin. This time, I could scream. My wail bounced off the walls and filled the room.
The dog scratched at the door, whining. The screaming had upset it. Sir was distracted. He loved the dog, and though he could torture me, he could not leave the dog in despair. He opened the door, and the dog came in. It sniffed the blood, and I felt its cold nose on my skin.
“That’s a nice dog,” I said. “What kind is it?”
“How long have you had him?”
Five years, since he was a pup.
“I’d like to get a dog,” I said.
The truth was, I’d never wanted a dog.
I don’t know why he let me go. The police say it’s because I kept talking. When he hurt me and hurt me, I never gave up. I screamed and pleaded, but I never swore at him or cursed him or told him he was evil. I wanted to, but I knew it was the one thing he couldn’t have stood right then. He would have had to kill me for speaking the truth. Right then, he needed lies. Myself, I think it was the dog that brought him to his senses. The dog’s simple dislike of what was going on made him ashamed. At one point, he said:
I guess I have to kill you now.
“No, you don’t,” I replied.
“I won’t tell. This will be our secret, forever.”
How can I believe you?
“Because I’m different.”
“I understand that you don’t really want to kill me.”
He said nothing. I knew I was on the right track.
“You have these thoughts and these urges, but deep inside you’re not a bad man.”
How can you not hate me, after what I’ve done?
“I’m a Buddhist,” I lied. “I don’t believe hate does any good.”
The odd thing, the oddest thing, is that while I spoke these words I believed them. And if I hadn’t believed them, he would have known and would have killed me. Later, when I was safe, I felt the anger and the hatred. They swept through me like an avalanche, and I had terrible fantasies in which I crushed his head, stabbed him, lit him on fire. Now I think of him, sitting in his bare cell, and I feel sad. I don’t want him to be free, but neither do I want him to die. If I saw him face to face, I would feel I was meeting someone I knew well, someone with whom I’d been to hell and back.
He drove me home, the duct tape still wrapped around my head. For some reason, he brought the dog. It rode with us in the cab. I was gripped by the fear that he’d change his mind, and a fit of shivering assailed my body. I held the dog so he wouldn’t notice. Obie and I lay together on the seat, and comfort flowed into me from his thick, leaf-scented fur.
He knew where my house was. So he’d been watching me. He took the tape off. Some of my hair came out with it. I made sure to keep my eyes down, not to look at him. I pretended I wasn’t looking at anything, but I was staring at Obie. He wasn’t a Lab, as I’d imagined, but a black collie. I wrapped this clue up and hid it in my mind.
He walked me to the door, and for the first time I wanted to laugh out of sheer hysteria, because it was like a date: He was walking me to the door. Would he want a kiss? Should I say, “I had fun. Give me a call sometime”?
Instead, I said, “Goodbye. I won’t tell. I promised, and I never lie.”
He handed me my keys. My hands trembled as I tried to unlock the door. Politely, he opened it and held it for me as I went in.
Once the door was closed, I sank against it, still in the dream state that had saved me. I didn’t even slide the deadbolt. I just leaned against the door and breathed.
Then he knocked. This is the part I go over and over with Diane: why did I let him back in? The cops wonder, too, and so does Brad. Somehow, I knew it was the right thing. I wanted him to stay inside the dream I’d woven, where he was safe, where I didn’t hate him. If I’d locked him out, he might have come in through a window, and I didn’t have the strength to fight. If I’d used the phone, he might have heard me. There was no one around. The nearest place was a half mile up the road. He was waiting to see if I’d keep my end of the bargain.
I opened the door and looked at him calmly.
I need a paper towel. I want to wipe my fingerprints off your doorknob.
“OK,” I replied and went to the kitchen and back.
“Here, take the whole roll. Be sure to clean your truck, too.”
The door shut again. This time, I silently turned the doorknob lock, but not the deadbolt. Then I tiptoed upstairs and found the key to Brad’s drawer. I got the gun out and loaded it, as he’d taught me. By now, the shaking was so bad I could barely get the bullets in. I looked out the window. He was cleaning his truck. I tiptoed downstairs and out the back door, leaving it open. Then I ran for the woods, hoping Obie wouldn’t see me and bark. The woods are about two hundred feet from our back door. It was the longest two hundred feet I’ve ever run, and I’ve run marathons. In the woods, I scrambled up the ridge like an animal. I ran and ran. I must have gone two miles before I dared look around. No one. A crow called. The wind blew. It was late fall and cold. I sank to the ground and held it. It felt warm.
The rest was easier.
I walked back home and skirted the house. The truck was gone. The back door was still open. The garage door was open, as it had been all day. I didn’t go in. Instead, I walked up the dirt road to the nearest neighbors’ trailer and knocked on the door. When my neighbor — Betty is her name — saw me all bloody with the gun in my hand, she shut the door and locked it.
“Call the police!” I yelled. “I’ve . . . I’ve been raped.”
“OK!” she yelled back.
I waited on her step. Finally, she inched the door open.
“Will you put the gun down?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. I left it on the step. She let me in. She took one look at me in my dirty, bloody jogging outfit with my hair torn out in clumps, and she burst out crying.
From that moment on, the world could not do enough for me. Again and again that night, I saw it on the faces of police officers and nurses: horror, anger, and the wish to take away my pain. Respect, too, after I’d told my story. I told the police everything I remembered: He had a black collie named Obie. His truck was a new-model Chevy. He was about forty, medium height and weight, no distinguishing marks. He made me call him Sir.
They had him in less than two days. They went to every town clerk within an hour’s drive and looked for a dog license for a black collie named Obie. So Obie saved me again.
I hate that TV show about angels, and I think the whole angel craze is sappy, but I kept thinking that perhaps Obie was an angel. I asked Diane if this was delusional, part of the post-traumatic stress disorder. She said that my bond with the dog was reasonable. Obie had been a comfort during my ordeal. Perhaps, as I had speculated, the dog was the reason that Ralph (I found out his name was Ralph Weston) hadn’t killed me.
An eager, clean-cut detective named Ken had handed me his card after one of my debriefings. One night, I called the number. Ken got right on the phone and asked me how I was. I told him I was OK. I was taking pills because I had trouble sleeping, and I was seeing a psychiatrist.
“That’s par for the course,” he assured me.
“Duh,” I replied.
“Go ahead, bust my chops,” he said kindly.
“Sorry,” I said.
“No problem,” he replied. “You could fart into the phone right now, and I’d clap my hands.”
That made me laugh. I laughed hard.
“It’s a relief to talk to someone who’s seen the ugly side of things,” I told him.
“I might ask you to slide me a few of those sleeping pills,” he said.
There was silence.
“I wanted to ask about the dog.”
“Good old Obie,” Ken said. “We brought him to the SPCA.”
“Oh, no!” I said. “No one will ever adopt him.”
“We asked Ralph’s family if they wanted him. You can guess what they said.”
“Have they killed him yet?” I asked.
“Don’t know,” he said. “I’ll check for you.”
He called me back to tell me the dog was still alive. The people at the SPCA didn’t have the right to kill him until they knew whether the owner was coming back. Ken had told them the owner was going away for a long time, longer than Obie would live.
“What’s your interest?” he asked me.
“I want the dog,” I said.
He laughed nervously. “There must be a law against that,” he said.
“Not that I’m aware of,” I replied.
“If I were you,” he said, “I’d have someone else go and get him and then give him to you.”
“My husband’s not too keen on the idea,” I said.
“You’re the one who matters right now,” Ken said.
I was silent.
“Why don’t you think about it for a few days,” he suggested. “If you still want the dog, I’ll see what I can do.”
A week later, after I’d thought about it, a silver Subaru pulled up in the drive. I wasn’t alone; my family had been staying with me in shifts, screening visitors. My mother looked out the window.
“Oh, my. Who’s that handsome boy?” she asked.
“Ken,” I said. “A detective.”
“What’s left to detect?” she asked.
I get my sense of humor from my mother.
Ken waited by his car. Obie danced around him in the new-fallen snow. Both of them breathed plumes of fog around their heads. I put on my coat and boots and went out.
“You could have come in,” I said.
“I wanted you to come out,” he answered. “It’s such a nice, clean day.”
Obie was investigating some bushes with his nose. He bounded over to us. He was so glad to be out of his pen, he couldn’t run enough, but he stopped for me to squat down and hug him. He sniffed me, and I swear his pupils widened. He sniffed my neck and then my crotch. Ken could have ignored this, but he didn’t.
“Yup, it’s her,” Ken told him.
My mother was watching us from the kitchen window.
“Mom’s watching,” Ken said.
“I know,” I said. “I told her about the dog.”
Obie went after a blue jay at the feeder. The bird was indignant.
“Good dog,” I said. “I hate those bully jays.”
Ken called the dog over and put a hand around his collar. “You going to change his name?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m gonna call him Hopi.”
“Like the Indian tribe?”
“No. Long for hope.”
Ken laughed. I took hold of the dog’s collar. Our hands met.
“Thank you,” I said.
Ken bent down and whispered some instructions in Hopi’s ear. “You take care of her,” I heard him say, but I couldn’t catch the rest. Ken’s head was right below my hand. I touched his clean, soft hair, and then held his head with both hands, as if I were a monk, blessing him. He didn’t move. It was the first time I’d intentionally touched a man since the rape. It made me so scared, and so sad, that I started to cry. Ken stood up. Then I bent down to hug the dog and cried into his fur, big sobs I’d held in before. Ken waited until I was done. When I looked up at him, he had tears in his eyes.
“I guess I did the right thing,” he said.
“Yes,” I whispered.
“You still got my card?”
“Well,” he said, tipping an imaginary hat, “let me know if I can be of service, ma’am.”
He drove off. I stood outside for a while, which I hadn’t done in quite some time. The world looked pure. I knew it wouldn’t last — the snow would get dirty, and then there would be mud season. But then, in May, the landscape would swell with eighty shades of green, and I would accept it as the gift it was. I would jog again, with Hopi at my side, and his bark would penetrate the dark corners of heaven.