20: Little Soldiers

20: Little Soldiers

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Little Soldiers

Happiness is a form of courage.

~Holbrook Jackson

I stood and ate a bowl of cereal in my kitchen. The almonds tasted delicious! I was so pleased that I had tried the new flavor. As I looked down into the bowl, a hand came from behind me, covered my nose and mouth, and held tight.

“Shut up! Shut up!” a voice whispered. “Don’t say anything or I will kill you!” While his words slithered into my ear, I realized, that along with the unswallowed cereal bouncing around in my throat, I couldn’t breathe.

“Don’t make a sound!” he said. “I will kill you!”

I buckled my knees, hoping somehow I could move his hand so I could breathe. I was right. He couldn’t hold my weight. I inhaled, prompting a cough, and spat out my mouthful of cereal into his hand. He was pissed. A fourteen-inch knife appeared in front of my face.

“Don’t make me kill you,” he snarled.

The next forty-five minutes of my life were unimaginable. This man, who had been released from prison twelve days before, took the crime that had put him into prison—drugs and weapons—one step further. For minutes that felt like hours, this man raped me and sodomized me, over and over again. While it was happening I felt what rape victims, and other trauma survivors, often describe: a feeling of floating above what is happening, an emptiness, a complete lack of emotion or fear, an all-over numbness, a resolution that death would come and it would be okay.

Over the course of that time, I did whatever my rapist asked me to do. I listened and obeyed while quiet tears fell down my face. During the attack my cousin phoned. Since I didn’t pick up, his voice came over the answering machine: “Hi, I am ready to meet for dinner. Where are you? Why aren’t you home? Call me.” Click.

Help! I wanted to scream. I am here!

As I lay under this awful man, I thought about my cousin’s voice. I thought about the act of simply leaving a message on an answering machine. It would be different now. Life had changed. As I lay there, eyes clamped shut, my body in shock, I realized I was in a position to actually look at my rapist. He had flipped me over and we were face to face. I forced myself to open my eyes. I had to look: look closely and memorize. When I think back to that, even at my weakest moment, I found strength. I didn’t recognize it then as strength, but now I know. After my eyes gave me the information I needed, I closed them again.

Finally he was done. He had been successful. What then? Would he kill me or let me live? He grabbed my shoulder, dragged me into the bathroom, and pushed me to the floor.

“Get on your knees,” he said. This was the moment. Would I live or die? I heard him moving, preparing behind me. Taking the wire cord from an electric clock, he bound my hands behind my back. Then he bound my feet. Then he bound my hands and feet together. He took my bathrobe that hung on a hook behind the door and threw it over my face. He left the bathroom.

In darkness I lay quietly and listened. I heard him ransack my apartment. Pulling drawers, rummaging, swearing, slamming, breaking, ripping. After some time, I heard a door close, and suddenly it was quiet. I listened. I listened harder. Nothing. He was gone. And I was alive.

What comes along with many of life’s big moments is a separation between “before” and “after.” Since my rape, I have always pictured a glass window. The rapist threw a big stone through me, and I shattered. Shattered into millions and millions of pieces. Looking down at all those pieces—there was no way I would be able to put myself back together again. No way. How could I possibly do it?

The answer was, of course, that I couldn’t. I could not do it alone. What I needed was an army of help. And I got it. Little soldiers in the form of doctors and nurses, rape counselors and detectives, ambulance drivers and uniformed cops, and my family and friends, each of these people came together to help. They brought with them whatever it was that they could offer, and they went to work. They supported me, they taught me, they loved me, they held me, they picked up my phone calls, they gave me books to read, they listened, they cried, and they answered my questions. They held the shards of my soul in their hands, and they pieced me back together using their love. I had no power to resist them, to tell them, “Oh, don’t worry! I’ll be just fine!” Which is what I would have normally done. Each one, especially my selfless family members and my dear brave friends, lovingly put pieces of me back together. Sometimes I myself could put a piece in, other times, not so much. With often tired, bloodied hands from small cuts of glass, these little soldiers marched on.

I am lucky. I was given the gift of life. So many other crime victims are not. I was also given the gift of immediate help. My journey back from being broken started right away, right after the call to 911. From then on, my little soldiers helped me fight back. They carried me until I could walk. They held my hand until I could walk alone. And slowly, slowly, I found that I could run.

Today I realize I am truly blessed. I am married to a wonderful man. I have two beautiful children. As I go about my life, driving my kids to school and wiping up my dirty counter tops, over and over again, I don’t have to look far to glance through an unshattered window and see life all around me.

~Jennifer Quasha

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