69: One Boulder at a Time

69: One Boulder at a Time

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

One Boulder at a Time

Fear dances with courage.

~Ever Garrison

Every day I stepped off the school bus I repeatedly looked over my shoulder. Beads of sweat broke out on my forehead, and the two blocks to my house seemed like miles—agonizing miles.

I hoped my life would return to normal after school started in the fall—but it didn’t. I tried to pretend that nothing had happened. I wondered, is life ever going to feel safe again? Only a couple of my closest friends knew that summer I had been raped by a serial rapist. And I certainly didn’t want anyone else to find out my world had turned upside down.

At fourteen I should have been excited about school games, dances, and other activities with friends, but I didn’t want to attend anything. My classmates couldn’t help but notice the change in me. I felt like people were looking through me and knew my terrible secret and saw my shame.

While playing basketball during PE, I couldn’t conceal the red blotches that broke out on my arms and legs. My friends asked questions like: “Is it catching?” “Does it hurt?” or “What’s wrong with you?”

Finally, I told them, “My doctor said it’s hives, probably an allergic reaction to something.”

Actually, my doctor said the hives were caused from stress brought about by being traumatized. He put me on tranquilizers and told me to stay out of the direct sun, but that didn’t stop the nightmares.

Weeks passed, the questions stopped, and I finally began to feel better. Then news reached us that an arrest had been made. My nightmares returned.

A couple of days later, as we walked down the hall to the room where the line-up would occur, my legs started to shake. I cried, “I can’t go in there. What if he sees me?”

Officer Jones put her arm around me and said, “It’s okay. The men in the line-up can’t see through the glass partition.”

I pointed to my attacker.

A couple of months later a court date loomed over me like a dark cloud. I realized that during the trial I’d have to face the man who had stolen my innocence. The thought terrified me. Once again, my stress levels climbed, and the nightmares and red hives returned.

Then an unexpected source of comfort came when I joined my church choir. The words in the hymns soothed my shattered nerves. One of my choir friends invited me to her house for a slumber party.

My mom encouraged me, “Karen, go to the slumber party, I know you’ll have a good time. You’ll be safe there.”

I took my mom’s advice and went to Lynn’s party, and for the first time in a long time, I felt excited. We sat in a circle and told scary stories while the fire crackled in the fireplace. Our sleeping bags were strewn across the floor. Their family room was separate from the main house, which gave us a sense of independence. Laughter filled the room. Then Sally suggested, “Why don’t we sneak out at midnight and go for a walk?”

“Yeah! That sounds like fun,” Lynn agreed.

My throat constricted. I shouldn’t have come. Now what was I going to do? The friendly environment had turned threatening. I could feel my body tremble as I said, “It’s not safe to wander the streets at night.”

Sally asked, “Why not?”

The girls grew silent and waited for my response. Tension mounted so thick one could almost envision slicing it. I leaned forward and said, “Because...” My throat went dry and I paused.

Lynn broke the silence. “Everyone is asleep, so what’s the problem? What can be dangerous?”

All eyes were on me without understanding that a battle raged inside my mind. Fear played a game of tug-of-war with my heart, but I knew the time had come to share. I took another moment, sighed deeply, and began. “Last summer while I was babysitting my brothers and sister, a stranger came to our house. He said he was a contractor and had come to measure the floor in the family room. I knew my parents were talking about remodeling that room, so I didn’t suspect anything when I led him downstairs. I found out too late that he was a serial rapist.”

I paused and took a deep breath as tears ran down my cheeks. “It’s not safe on the streets in the wee hours of the morning.”

After I shared my story, the room filled with an eerie silence, and we all settled down to sleep. No one went outside. I understood that my friends didn’t know what to say to me, or how to deal with the pain of my experience, but I felt a sense of relief, as if another huge boulder had been removed from my shoulders. By telling my story I felt I had helped keep my friends safe.

I thought, perhaps, I’ll find the courage to face my day in court after all. Maybe life can become normal again one boulder at a time. I took a deep breath, relaxed, and went to sleep.

~Karen Kosman

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