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, Caleb, 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.
“Can I push longer?” I asked, gasping. They had already counted to ten, the nurse and my husband, Zach, each holding one knee. I took an extra sip of air at seven—they didn’t know this; I was supposed to hold my breath and bear down all the way through to the count of ten—so I could push a bit longer. I needed to. That wrinkly gray head, slick with wet swirls of hair, needed to come out.
“You can if you need to, Grace, but remember to rest.” The nurse patted my leg. During the thirty seconds before the next contraction hit, she put the oxygen mask over my face. “Breathe,” she whispered in my ear.
An hour earlier the epidural wore off just around the same time the Pit drip kicked in with a force that knocked the air out of me. “We need another cocktail,” the nurse shouted into the intercom.
It seemed like an eternity before the anesthesiologist slid next to me, colorful pendants hanging from his neck almost brushing my cheek. Each contraction still grabbed me in the back first, then the belly and strangled me. Whatever he shot into me didn’t make much of a difference. But, that head kept me going and I bore down with all my might, feeling stronger and weaker than ever before.
“Go, Grace. Go, Grace. Push. Push. Push. Go. Go. Go.”
I was a racecar driver. My pit team was cheering me on. I was about to finish the Boston Marathon, the New York City Marathon, the Iron Man Triathlon. I was Woman hear me roar.
The paparazzi start trailing me the moment I pull out of my driveway at 532 Rockwell Circle. My street sounds fancier than it is - mostly ranches and capes dot the landscape of postage stamp size lots, a slice of blue collar in this upper class Long Island town. My street has never seen a line of paparrazi follow anyone and they certainly have never see the paparazzi follow a worn out mom dragging her cranky so to ShopRite for eggs and milk. My neighbor glances up from watering her mums and stares at the spectacle, jaws slack, until muddy puddles form at her feet.
It is an achingly beautiful October day, the kind of day that reminds me why autumn is my favorite season - blue skies and no humidity, the tiniest bite of a chill in the air, mild enough though, that the sweatshirt jackets necessary this morning will be stuffed in backpacks by this afternoon. I would love to take a detour, take my four year old son, Sam, to the playground. I would love to catch him at the bottom of the slide, give him a push on the swings while he pretends to be on a spaceship, valiantly pumping his little legs. Only, I can't. I constantly glance in my rear view mirror. Are they still there? Where will these pictures end up? How much more can my family take? Like the silver spheres of a pinball machine, there thought bounce around my brain.
She belonged in blossom pink or cerulean blue, sage green mixed with crisp white. But, all she wore was black or occasionally charcoal gray. On my single mom budget, I bought her skinny jeans at Target and cute cotton tops at Kohl’s. Still, she wore her baggy sweatpants and that black hoodie that hid her figure. Not that I wanted her to flaunt it, but I wanted her to own her beauty. Her glossy, raven hair was kept in a messy topknot at all times. Her stormy gray eyes, just like her father’s, almost blue, but not quite, were ringed in thick black liner. She was hiding. Better not to be noticed.
I was the complete opposite at sixteen. I wore tight, faded jeans: bleached and frayed, the denim almost white; and fuzzy angora sweaters that hugged my curves. My hair was in wild curls, just as inky black as Josie’s, but never pulled into a bun. The higher my curls were, the better and I went through a bottle of hair spray a month. I may have hit my peak back then.
My boyfriend, Billy, was crazy about me and we were kind of like a verse in a song, a song about longing and perfect love and innocence. We dated from the time we were fifteen until we were almost twenty. We were born three days apart and as we planned our yearly joint birthday party on the beach, I suddenly felt suffocated. I had celebrated my birthday the same way with the same people for four birthdays in a row and I just couldn’t do a fifth. I needed to break away and see what else was out in the world. But, I always wished I didn’t break Billy’s heart in the process. The song ended as I turned out of the parking lot and left me wondering what ever happened to Billy Leibowitz.
I’ve searched for him everywhere I could think of—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram. I even looked on MySpace. I Googled him every few months for years—nothing. I couldn’t understand how someone could just disappear off the face of the Earth.