The second time I was raped was a far cry from the first. Looking back, I count what happened to me that day as a stroke of incredible good fortune for myself, and out-of- the-blue evidence of amazing community solidarity in its intolerance for violence and cruelty, and its endeavor to maintain peace.
I was 17. My first year at Parsons School of Design. My father had loudly lamented sending me there, telling me, “You’ll probably just get married and spend your life making babies and washing dishes, and give up making art anyway, so why should I go to the trouble of paying for this expensive school?”
If he meant that as a joke, it didn’t ride. Our family’s forté was the say-the-reverse-of-what-you-really-mean thing, so I never really learned how to tell if someone was speaking the truth or not. I still struggle with that.
As an example, instead of telling me I looked nice in a new dress, he’d say, “Too bad your ears stick out – kind of detracts from how nice that dress should look.” Gee thanks for the kind, supportive words, Dad. Not.
So I was wearing one of those dresses on my way to my apartment from school late one afternoon. I was carrying my purse jammed full of the jars of paint and brushes I wanted to use over the weekend, and my big, clumsy flat black portfolio. The thing was huge – imagine a flat faux-leather briefcase about 30” x 40”. It held all the drawings I’d done all week.
It was getting dark – I’d stayed after class for some personal instruction. There was a shortcut through a nasty alley that ended right at the steps to the subway. I knew I ought not go that route, but it looked clear, so I started walking fast.
I got through it, and down into the subway entrance. I was about to take a breath in relief, when I felt something tugging on my purse, and then on the portfolio. I was fiercely protective of my body – and especially of my work – so I yanked back hard against the tugging, surprising my attacker.
He gave up trying for the goodies, and instead pushed me up flat against the disgusting wall, my face glomped sideways painfully. I felt blood start to drip down my chin from my tooth grazing my lip.
I was furious. I stomped on his foot, right at the instep, and he backed off slightly, but continued to shove me right up into the wall, pressing himself against my back.
I heard him unzip his pants. At that sound, I suddenly went into a kind of blind, white fugue state. It was as if I was suspended in time, watching what was going on as if it was another person, helpless to do a thing for her.
He lifted my pretty yellow sun dress up, wrenched my pants down around my knees, and inserted himself where he damn well didn’t belong. In about three and a half seconds, he emptied his load.
Internally, I just snorted and laughed, because he’d only succeeded in getting between my thighs, but not even close to the Precious Cavern. And three and a half seconds was a joke. An ugly one, but nonetheless…
As he slumped back, spent, I regained my senses. Using my elbow, I forced him away from me so hard he almost fell into the train tracks. Ask me if I cared. Nope.
As I bent to pick up my bags so I could run away, I kicked him in the kidneys. Hard. He squealed like a stuck pig. And then I felt another person’s hand on my fighting elbow, stopping me.
I was about to use that same elbow to continue to defend myself, but heard, “It’s OK, Sister, it’s OK, I won’t hurt you. I’m just here for my bad little brother.”
I stepped back, and my red rage turned to curiosity. I shouted, “Where the hell were you when I needed help?!?”
He held his hands up in ‘I yield’ pose. “I’m so sorry, I was chasing him and he disappeared and I lost him until I heard you screaming bloody murder, so I guessed he was down here!” he said.
I was astonished – I didn’t remember ‘screaming bloody murder’! I said so, and he laughed and said, “Yep, you sure was, and boy it was loud, yeah man!” Huh.
Right then, four hulking-big guys came down the steps. They crowded around the older brother, asking what had happened. What’s going on?
And I’m to the side, trying to gather all my things, thinking I’m wanting to somehow get rid of the sticky wet garbage that had run down into my pants. I wasn’t too sure how that was going to happen in front of all these guys.
Big brother asked me what had happened. I told him. He was livid. “I knew he’d go too far one day, that asshole! Now he’s gonna pay!”
As one, all of them stepped over to the little brother, who was writhing around, whining about where I kicked him, probably thinking he’d get these behemoths to feel sorry for him.
Wasn’t happening. They started in on him and pummeled him up down and once again, until I suddenly felt like, hey, ’nuff already, and I shouted “STOP!” And they did.
I told them, “Just take him home to mama, and have him tell her what he did. Tell her that he pushed me against the wall and raped me. That’ll get him more punishment than you can do with your fists any day.”
They laughed and said, “You are so right about that!” And proceeded to start lifting him up to drag home.
When another four guys came down the steps, rushing over to them. What happened, what’s going on?
I tried walking away so I could finally deal with the Sticky Pants, but they called me back.
“What? The train’s here, I have to get on!” I exclaimed.
Said train stopped, opening its few doors. I was way up town, near Harlem. The guys motioned to the old man who was at the front of the train, driving it. He got out, came over, complaining, “What?!? You’ll make me late!”
They gave him the rundown. If I never see fury on a man’s face like his ever again, it will be way too soon. Turned out it was the kid’s own grandfather. Boy was that kid in red hot peepee trouble.
By now, the people on the train were coming out the doors. What happened, what’s going on? I lost count at 20 people.
My pants were still suspended right above my knees. My dress covered them, but this was really getting old. I hobbled over by the turn stiles and at last was able to turn my back to everyone and quickly reach down to nudge a tissue into my pants, and pull them up from around my knees.
Since I had to get on the train anyway, I walked back over. Four of the guys had the little brother in armlocks, and were again starting to drag him up the stairs. “Gonna go see Momma, ain’t we, bro’…” I heard them taunting the kid, as he protested, whining all the way that he “ain’t done nothin’, it was just a little bit of fun, didn’t do no harm…” and he was gone.
No harm, huh? I was bloody, bruised and aching. My dress and body were dirty and defiled. And I said so, loud. The old man came back over to me and asked where I was going.
I told him. Nodding, he motioned for the rest of the dudes hanging around to go help the brothers. Two of the guys refused to go, and stayed with me, asking me if it was OK for them to escort me onto the train and ride with me until my stop.
As we sat there, I told them I thought it was odd that anyone had rushed forth to help a little white girl in trouble, and especially so many people. They smiled, and said anybody in trouble in their neighborhood would get help, whether they were white, black, purple or green. “It’s how Grandma brung us up,” they said. “Help people, not hurt them.”
At my stop, they offered to walk me home. I hesitated, but allowed them to take me to the block next to mine before I said good bye and thanks. We exchanged phone numbers, and I was able to meet up with them a couple times before I left school for good.
It was horrible for that few minutes, but their determination to help me – and punish that kid – well, it was amazing. They, at least, were good guys. I was so grateful.