Monday, January 26, 2015

Who I Am

*5ish Weeks Later*

Walking to my class from my car felt weird.  There had been two full weeks of classes, but I still wasn’t used to living off campus.  And I hated the way people looked at me.  After what happened right before break, word spread quickly.  Especially once people had moved back in. 

Most people looked at me with sympathy.  Some people avoided me.  And a few blamed me.  I’d heard all the rumors.  Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you looked at it, I had fiercely loyal friends/teammates that backed me up, but also informed me of what was being said.

The main few that blamed me were close friends and/or teammates of Luke’s.  No one had said anything to my face.  Yet. 

While I was at the formal interview at the police station the day after the incident, my dad had used his power and prestige to call the higher ups at the University.  The University was overly apologetic, in my opinion.  Athletes were predominantly expected to reside in campus housing, except for extenuating circumstances.  This qualified as one of those circumstances.  Due to my full ride and not having to pay for anything, the school was actually providing me with an allowance towards off-campus housing.  My roommates were being allowed the option of going with me or staying there, since they could’ve claimed discomfort of being in that apartment now, or lack of safety.  Since I didn’t know Nellie well, I requested that she not be living in my new place, if she chose to not stay at the on-campus apartment.  The school obliged and transferred her to a new housing situation.  Sarah and Maddie chose to join me off-campus. 

My dad had found a large, nice rental home in Lincoln, only a few miles from campus.  It had 3 bedrooms, so was plenty large enough for the three of us.  Although we had the allowance from the school, upon insistence from my parents of living somewhere safe and in a “nice location with a low crime rate,” the rent was high, but my parents were paying the overage of the rent that the allowance didn’t cover.

The walk to this class was now almost double what I had to walk before, and the weather had been so hit or miss, but today was cold.  With flurries.  It made my fingers numb.  But, they only matched how I felt on the inside.  I hadn’t cried since the night it happened.  I refused to cry.  I kept telling everyone I was okay.  But when I told people that, I was really telling myself.  I was really convincing myself.  I told myself that if I acted normal and continued living my normal life, I would start feeling normal.

I didn’t, though.

I had gone to every single tennis practice.  I forced a smile on my face at Christmas, and still insisted on going to the big family get together.  When classes started, I was on time every day.  I had my first tennis match of the season this past weekend, and I was there.  I played horribly.  Losing 10 pounds (on my body that didn’t need to lose any, nor could afford to) from not eating, and not sleeping at night will make a person weak, irritable, and not at the top of their game.  I knew my parents, Sarah, and Maddie saw through it, but they let me get away with it.  There was only one person who wasn’t letting me get away with it, and I was pushing him away. 

There was no way Aaron could want me after what he saw.  That’s what I now believed.  He would eventually stop calling, texting, coming by to see me.  Not yet, but he would.  He saw me at my worst.  At my weakest.  He saw the tears and pain.  He saw me frozen and numb, unable to function. 

He was at my last match of the weekend, yesterday.  After I lost, and the team was done, he insisted on taking me to dinner.  I didn’t want to go.  I wasn’t hungry.  However, I was famished, but still not hungry.  He just took me to a little hole-in-the-wall diner.  He ordered for me, probably because I didn’t even pick up a menu, I just stared blankly at my hands.

“Aleah,” he began, and I knew this wasn’t going to be good.  I looked up and he was looking at my earnestly.  He was so devastatingly handsome, but now I felt dirty, and undeserving of him.  “I’m saying this because I care about you.” He paused.  “A lot.”  He took a long drink of his chocolate milkshake.  “I think you need to talk to someone.  You just... you aren’t the same.  And I don’t expect you to be.  But, you aren’t eating...”

I tried jumping in, “Yes I am!”

He firmly cut me off.  “No.  No you aren’t.  Your clothes are fitting loosely, and you just don’t look healthy.  Anyway, you aren’t eating; you barely talk or even look at me.  Your smile is fake, all the time.”  His voice and eyes simultaneously softened.  “I don’t blame you, at all.  But I’m hoping and praying that you start getting back to you.  That you grieve, heal, and actively work through this.  For your sake.”

I felt the burn at the back of my eyes, and I blinked hard, refusing to give in.  “What if this is who I am now?”  I said it quietly, afraid of the answer.  I hadn’t even meant to say that out loud.  I had been asking myself that question for weeks.  But I didn’t want the answer. 

He cocked his head at me.  He reached a hand across the table and grabbed mine, which were clasped tightly together.  “Aleah, I know who you are.  You are the girl that I saw strutting confidently through that club.  You are the girl who was covered in gross trash, locked out of her apartment, but still appeased me by playing I Spy, and won.  You’re the girl who will sit there and beat me at my own game of trash talking.  You are the girl who is fiercely loyal to her friends and loved ones.  You are the all-star athlete.  You are the girl who, when you look me in my eyes, causes time to stop and makes me not want to be anywhere else but with her.”  He squeezed my hands.  “I’m not going anywhere.”

I couldn’t look him in the eyes.  My insides felt like they were on fire, for the first time since the incident.  I felt something.  But I was terrified.  What if I never got back to being that person that he so clearly adores?  Would he leave, then?  I don’t know that I could deal with anymore hurt.  The fire inside dwindled away just as quickly as it had roared to life.

I felt like a robot.  I mechanically looked at him, but still avoided his eyes.  My voice was coming through as monotone when I said, “I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

I felt his hand flinch, but he didn’t move it from mine.  “You don’t mean that,” he said gently.

And he was right.  I didn’t.  But I didn’t feel worthy of his affection right now.  I was spiraling, and I didn’t want to drag him with me into my pit of despair. 

I slowly pulled my hands from his grasp, and I got out of the booth.  I walked to the bathroom, where I called Sarah and asked her to come get me.  I stood in a stall with the door closed, until she came bounding in, asking me what happened and what was wrong.  Aaron tried to check on me a couple of times before she got there, but I told him to go away and Sarah was coming to get me.

When I left the bathroom, he was gone.  And so were any lingering feelings of hope.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Through the Night

*Readers, There was a new post up, yesterday (Homeward Bound).  So if you didn't see it, head back and read that one, first!  ~A*


My mom had quickly ushered me into the house and into the living room where there was a fire ablaze in the fireplace.  She wrapped me in blankets and was almost sitting on top of me.  Aaron had dutifully trailed behind, and was standing awkwardly near the couch with my bag.  My dad stood up from his chair and walked over to Aaron, shaking his hand and thanking him for bringing me home.

“What happened?” My mom finally asked what I’m sure she’d been over-analyzing about since I had woken her up.

I could feel the tears in my eyes, filled to the brim.  I barely whispered, “I was almost raped.”

My mom’s expression appeared sickened and my dad looked as though he was about to murder.

Without many details, I briefly explained everything that had happened from Luke showing up until now.  My mom was crying along with me, feeling and hearing my pain.  My dad had positioned himself on my other side, his arms wrapped around my mom and me. 

When I finished, my dad stood up and walked over to Aaron, once again shaking his hand, and this time thanking him for saving his little girl.  My dad then asked Aaron the question which I, too, had asked, but for different reasons.  “Why were you at Aleah’s apartment?”

I had never seen Aaron appear timid until then.  I think he almost blushed.  “I’ve, uh, I’ve been courting your daughter, sir.”  He looked over at me, almost shyly.  My dad nodded his head once, in an action of approval.

His reaction caused me to forget about the night’s events for a fleeting second, as my heart skipped a beat.  But it all came flooding back into my memory immediately.  And along with it, my exhaustion.

I yawned.

Without a word, my mom helped me up and to my room, where I collapsed into bed.  She sat with me for minutes, maybe a half hour, stroking my hair.  She didn’t say anything.  And she didn’t have to. 

I drifted off, but jerked awake at the sound of the floorboard creaking under my mom’s foot as she was leaving my room.

And that’s when I was alone with my thoughts.  And my fears.  And my tears.

My eyes were wide open, staring into the darkness.  As my eyes adjusted to the dark, shapes began to form of the various items located in my room.  They brought about comfort.  Enough so that I drifted off again.  But awoke, what felt almost immediately.  The clock in the far corner of my room burned red 3:50 into my tired, wet eyes.  I was crying again.

I started whimpering.  And shaking. 

I saw my door crack open, and I froze, unable to breath.  I gripped my comforter tightly in my fists, clenching it to my body.  The faint yellowed light poured into my room over my body, but I could only make out an outline of someone in my door.

“Aleah?” came the silky call of my name.  Aaron.


He walked over to my bed and sat on the edge.  “I asked permission to check on you before I left.”

“You’re still here?”

“I was talking with your dad.” He paused and then added, almost as an afterthought, “He’s a great guy.”

I nodded my head.  “You didn’t have to stay.”

I could see the outline of him shake his head.  “I wanted to.  I wanted to make sure that... well, to make sure that you’re safe.”  I could hear the sincerity in his voice, and felt the tenderness of his touch as he wiped away the still present tears.

I was curled up in the fetal position, and he sat on the edge of my bed, running his fingers from my temple to the base of the back of my head, as my eyelids got lower and heavier.

And soon I was sleeping.  But the nightmares began immediately.  I was in a car, trapped, underwater.  I was banging my fists as hard as I could on the window, but the glass wouldn’t break.  And suddenly, a shark appeared, ramming its nose against the windshield.  Over and over again.  I watched as the glass cracked, then spiderwebbed out.  More and more with each passing slam.  Until the final one when the glass broke and the water came gushing in and I could hardly breathe. 

I sat up with a start.  Awake.  Aaron was gone.  I was breathing fast, my heart rate high.  My eyes were wide open.  I quickly looked at my clock, and saw only minutes had passed.

I let out a loud gush of air.  Is this what my every sleeping moment was going to be like? 

I was desperate for a couple hours of rest.  I wanted to sleep and not be awake to relive the night over and over again.  I knew that my mom had often struggled with insomnia.  When she was a nurse, she had worked nights, and for some reason, her body seemed to prefer those hours, so she was often awake.  She always had a prescription of Ambien or Lunesta on hand, that she took periodically when her body was fighting sleep.

I stopped to use the bathroom before heading into the hall.  I leaned into the mirror as I was washing my hands and looked at my complexion.  Normally flawless and bronzed, I appeared sallow and haggard.    There were bags under my eyes and my eyes were bloodshot.  My hair was a greasy, frizzy mess.  But the worst part was that I appeared lifeless.  My eyes were blank and sad.  There was no underlying joy, like I’d always thought, previously.

My bathroom door was open, and I was just blankly staring at my reflection, pondering if I would ever be “normal” again.

I didn’t know anyone was there, until I saw my mom’s reflection also in the mirror.  I could see her heart breaking through her eyes, as she watched me.  A now empty shell of what her daughter used to be.

She wrapped her arms around me, and we sank to the floor, against the wall, crumpled into a heap of despair.  The difference this time, though, was that I didn’t cry.  I simply felt empty.

This time, I fell asleep like that, in my mom’s arms.  And, thankfully, I slept dreamlessly.

When I woke up, I was in my bed.  I’m not sure how I got there, but I was there and alone.  I looked at the clock and saw it was almost noon. 

I stayed curled up in a ball, just staring at the wall.  I tried focusing on anything, and everything, to keep my mind busy and my thoughts occupied.  I saw my door start to crack open and I shifted my eyes to my door, but didn’t move my body. 

My mom entered, after seeing my eyes open, carrying a tray of food.  She had made one of my favorites: biscuits and gravy.

But food just didn’t sound appealing.  My stomach was upset and churning from the stress and anxiety I was feeling.  She coaxed me into taking a few bites, but after that I refused anymore. 

I sighed.  “I guess I need to get ready.  I’m supposed to be at the police station in a couple of hours.” I paused, then whispered, “I don’t know if I can do it.”

My mom started lightly scratching my forearm with her nails.  That had always been one of the most soothing things to me from my childhood, and it gave me a sense of calm.  “Honey, you are stronger than you think.  But if you don’t want to go today, your father can give Brad a call and reschedule it for you.”

“I just...” my eyes darted around my room, searching for what I was feeling.  “I’m just really scared.”

“I know,” she murmured.  “And that’s okay.”

I sat in silence for awhile, just focusing on mom’s nails scratching my arm.  Focusing on something that felt good, rather than the pain clouding my mind.

“When did Aaron leave?”

“After he put you into bed.  He came in to check on you again around 6 this morning and found us curled up on the floor.  I wasn’t asleep, though, but you know I couldn’t pick you up without waking you.  He put you into bed and left.  He said he would come back and take you to the police station if you wanted.  I told him I’d ask you and one of us would let him know.”

I didn’t even have to think about it when I answered her, “Yes.  Can you please let him know to come get me?”

I could see the questions in my mom’s eyes, but she didn’t say anything, and instead nodded her head.  I hadn’t spoken with her about ending things with Chase, and never told her I was seeing a detective who worked with Brad and is 6 years my senior.  So this past night had brought about much news for my parents.

She kissed my forehead and left with the tray of mostly uneaten food.

After I stripped my clothes off, I stood looking at myself in my full length mirror.  I knew my body was worth being envious over.  However, I hated it, in this moment.  I felt angry seeing the teeth shaped bruising on my breast.  I regretted trying to use my looks to my advantage.  Maybe if I hadn’t been trying to seduce-tease Aaron, Luke wouldn’t have wanted me when I opened that door.  I didn’t know if I could ever say that out loud.

When I stepped into the shower, I turned the water on as hot as I could stand, to melt away the dirt that I felt was covering my whole body.  I felt tainted and used.  I hoped the water would wash me clean.  I washed my whole body from head to toe.  Not once, but three times.  Luke was right.  I did need a shower from being dirty.  But what he didn’t know was that it was he who made me that way.

When I finally got out of the shower, I realized what had washed down the drain was my anger.  Now I just felt numb.  I decided that was better than hate.

I sat naked and cross-legged in front of my full length mirror using make up to try to cover the dark bruises.  I wanted to hide my wounds and pretend like they didn’t exist.

There was a knock at my bedroom door and I immediately tensed up.  I looked at the clock and saw it was 1:20 p.m.  We needed to leave for the police station soon.  I tentatively called out, “Who is it?”

“It’s Aaron.”

I took a deep breath.  His voice calmed my edginess.  “I’ll be out soon.”

“Okay, take your time.”  I heard his steps walk away.

I looked back to the mirror and saw the bruises were nearly invisible now.  As satisfied as I could be, given the situation, I tried to conceal the dark circles under my eyes, but that was as much effort as I could put into “getting ready.”

I stood in front of my closet, unsure what one should wear to a victim interview.  I cringed as the word “victim” rolled through my mind.  I thought to one of my favorite shows, Law and Order: SVU, and characters, Olivia Benson.  As she would say, You Survived.

I put on leggings with boots and an oversized long-sleeved tshirt.  Frankly, I didn’t care how I should look.  I walked out to Aaron, my hair falling over my shoulders, still wet.  He looked at me, with evident concern plastered on his face, but he didn’t seem shocked or appalled by my appearance, either.

We said our goodbyes to my parents, and left.  I fit perfectly into my new safety blanket: the crook of Aaron’s arm, with it wrapped tightly around me, as he walked me to his car.

When he opened the door and helped me in, I could smell the cleaners, and realized Aaron had taken the time to cleanse his car for me.  He had wiped away any remnants of Luke that could possibly be in his car.  I knew, as I watched him slide into his driver’s seat, that he would do anything to give me a clean slate.  He would do anything, to heal my pain.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Homeward Bound

The rest of the night was a blur.  Shock and exhaustion, I suppose.  I’d managed to remember to have Aaron grab my phone, which was still on the couch, and my purse.  He rode with me to the emergency room. 

EMS had determined that the gash on my head wasn’t deep or large enough to need stitches.  As the medic said, “Heads bleed a lot.”  They treated it and put gauze over it, wrapping it to my head.  I’m sure under different circumstances, I would’ve laughed a lot at my appearance. 

I’d told Brad, and the nurses at the hospital, that there was no penetration, and I didn’t think his penis had touched me, anywhere.  They said they would still need to swab me, just in case any bodily fluids got onto me.  They swabbed the inside of my mouth and around it, my breasts, my vagina, and underneath my fingernails.  Brad also had to take pictures of me.  I cried as he photographed my breasts and the now evident bruises, and slightly visible teeth marks.  He also took pictures of my head wound.

I had changed into a hospital gown upon arrival, so he took my shorts and underwear, and bagged them. 
“Aleah, you’re lucky Detective Janakowski arrived when he did,” Brad said, when he was finished.  I nodded in agreement.  I set a time to go in for a formal recorded interview at 2 p.m.  It was already 12:30 a.m.  Brad stepped out, to where Aaron was waiting right outside the room I was in.  He pulled the curtain closed.  I got up and fished out my phone from the bag, knowing I needed to call my parents.  Aaron had told me he would drive me out to their house after Brad drove him back to my apartment to get his car. 

As I clicked on my speed dial for home, I heard Brad ask Aaron what he was doing at my apartment, anyway. 

At the sound of my mom’s groggy voice answering the house phone, I burst into tears.

She seemed to wake up at that sound.  “Aleah?” she asked frantically.

“Mommy,” I cried.  “I’m at the hospital.”

“What? Are you okay?  Were you in an accident?  Dean, wake up!” she shouted.  I could picture her nudging my dad out of a deep sleep.

“No.” I took a deep breath.  My voice was shaky.  “A... a friend is going to be driving me home soon; I just wanted to let you know.  I’ll explain when I get there.”

“Do you need us to come there?  We will leave right now,” my mom said firmly.

“No.  Please don’t.  I’m almost done here.  I’m not injured.  I will be home as soon as they tell me I’m released.”  I knew I was glossing everything over, but if I said more, there would be more questions.

“Okay, Aleah.  We’ll be up and waiting.”  And I knew they would be.

While I waited for the nurse to discharge me, Aaron left with Brad to get his car, though I pleaded with him not to leave me.  He asked me if I really wanted to ride back to my apartment and I told him no.  A female uniform stayed with me, at Aaron’s request.

By the time they got back, I was dressed and ready to go. 

I sat quietly in Aaron’s car, purposely avoiding thinking about Luke having just been contained in the back of it.  I had given Aaron my parents’ address, so he was just using GPS to get there. 

We were riding in silence.  Aaron kept his hand lightly resting on my knee, his car laptop pushed as far forward as possible to give me room.

I must have drifted off at some point because I awoke to Aaron gently calling my name.  My eyes fluttered open, and I was severely confused, thinking everything that had just happened was all a nightmare. 

But then I looked over to see I was sitting in Aaron’s car, in my parents’ driveway, at 2:05 a.m.  And it appeared as if my mom had turned on every light in the house.  It was glowing in the stark darkness.

I started shaking again, and tears silently slipped down my cheeks, snaking a glistening path that Aaron must have seen, as he moved his hand from my knee up to my far shoulder, pulling me towards him.  He awkwardly wrapped his arms around me, limbs contorted due to the small space, center console, and laptop, all blocking any sort of natural movement.  He moved his mouth to my ear.

“I’m here,” was all he said.  And that’s all he needed to say.

I wiped my tears off on his jacket and slowly climbed out of his car.  In the time I took to get out of his car, he had gotten my bag from his trunk, and was at my side.

With each step taken up my parents’ front walk to the door, I felt equal parts dread and relief.

I knocked on the door and it immediately flung open.  My mom’s eyes were wide with shock and fear.  I realized, now, that it probably didn’t help the situation that not only did I look like I got hit by a train, but I was standing there next to a police officer.  Although not in uniform, he still had his holster with gun and handcuffs on.

My mom’s arms opened wide and I practically fell into them, sobbing.