I reach for my cell phone in my pocket to call the police. I give her my coat. I ask for her name, and she replied “Rachel, but please don’t call the police” while trying to talk in between her pleading cries. I gasped from surprise, and told her they would be able to help her and take her to the hospital. She pleaded for me to rescue her however I could, but restricted me to no outside sources. I wanted to phone her parents but for some reason, she didn’t want anyone to know. Rachel. Rachel who? Who was this girl and who did this to her? Why can’t Rachel call her father to come whisk her away in his arms making her feel like it will all be ok? Why is it her mother wouldn’t be the first person she would reach to when she has been pillaged of her soul by a demon in the alley? Why would Rachel feel more secure getting help from a stranger and not from the people who are supposed to protect her? I am troubled and filled with angst. I call the Dr. and cancel my appointment. It is just an annual physical anyway.
Bus 22 pulls up, but I had to make a decision. Do I take her on the bus and take her to the police station downtown? Do I betray her trust that she barely has for me when she can’t trust anyone else? My apartment is only a few blocks away. The street is filled with honking horns and the sun is starting to come up. Everyone will see her like this. I grab her hand, pick up the umbrella and briskly walk her to my apartment. The rain has picked up again. Perfect timing.
My apartment is humble. I don’t like too much clutter, and I can’t really afford it in the first place. Lately I have just been too tired to do much with decor. Rachel is hesitant to step in as she is covered in mud and dirt. Her shirt, barely there, is trashed. She managed to get her pants back from where the perpetrator threw them aside in a puddle, tossing the only shred left of her self esteem with them. With one shoe missing, Rachel’s foot is bleeding from running across the pavement. The other shoe barely on as she had to use the shoelace to hold her jeans up. He ripped off the button when he tore into the denim. I explain it is ok to come in, and guide her to the bathroom. I start the bath and removed the rugs so she can undress and not have to worry about how I would feel if she soiled them. We need to bag up the clothes she has left for the police when she finally decides to report the rape. I explain that she needs to also try to wipe her vagina to get any DNA that may be left behind. Rachel looked at me like I just asked her to jump off a bridge, but I explained it would be the only way to punish whoever did this to her if she went through with contacting the authorities. My paper bag collection on the side of the refrigerator now has a purpose and my sandwich size baggies should preserve the DNA sample good enough for now. I give her the bags, a towel, and show her all the toiletries she can use while she is trying to scrub the filth from her body. Remembering her missing wardrobe, I grab a pair of old, but comfy, pair of grey sweats, a v-neck plain white t-shirt, a dark blue hoodie that is missing the draw string for the hood and has a corner ripping on the pocket. I gave her things I didn’t mind losing. Shutting the door behind me was a switch turning on her flow of tears. I hear her fall to the floor and just cry. And cry. She did this for an hour before finally embracing the steaming hot water in the shower.
Hearing her in there tore me apart. Poor child of God. Precious innocence stolen from her. I’m pissed . My heart beat is extreme, and my adrenaline is starting to make me tremble. I have been thinking about her resistance to help from everyone in her life. The troubles start building in my mind as I try to figure Rachel out. I need to think. What am I going to do with her? What is she going to do when she gets out of the shower? Is she going to want to stay? I want to help her but she is some one’s daughter. I need to call the police. I am hoping we can do it together. Maybe she will be ready after the hours of trying to erase the images from her brain with soap and a washcloth. Yeah, that sounds plausible. This is almost too much for me. I run into different people all the time, all with their own individuality, and cultural disparities. I have encountered mental disabilities, physical disabilities, or just broken down homeless people who aimlessly wander the nights with no fears or even recollection. None of them have ever brought me to a place where I start to question my purpose, my reason for being here. Rachel. Rachel who?
The bathroom door slowly opens as the steam rolls out releasing the turmoil that was just spilled out inside for two and half hours. Rachel grabs the bag off the toilet after hanging her towel on the shower curtain bar to dry. Her hair wet, but combed, hangs just to her shoulders. Her eyes are red from crying, cheeks swollen, and one eye blackened from the weak attempt to knock her unconscious. Now what? She stands waiting for direction as she lifts the bag to me. I made sure all her belongings were in there. The now button-less blouse with one sleeve ripped off completely, her jeans with a shoelace belt, her one tennis shoe, and the baggie with the only weapon she has to defend against this monster in court. No bra. No panties. I took the bag over by the front door. “Are you hungry or thirsty?” I ask. Without a voice, she says no. “Then we need to talk about this. Are you ok with that?” I said, walking slowly over to her for guidance to the couch.
It was approximately 5:15am when I first saw Rachel. It is now 8:42am. Rachel decided she can walk me through the nightmare that happened about 11 hours earlier. Yes, just after 930pm the previous night was when it happened. She was alone, scared, withered, beaten, bruised, raped, and just plain destroyed for all that time, in the bitter cold and rain, and didn’t feel a thing.
Rachel had a curfew of 9pm that she hardly ever followed. The knight I pictured as her father was a “functioning” alcoholic and drug abuser. The guardian angel I saw as her mother was the exact opposite, following the general stereotype of a wicked step mother. Rachel’s step mom had a heavy hand and a weak heart. She took that out on Rachel often, I’ve learned. I was enlightened now a little more than before, but I still didn’t understand why it would be so hard to call on them for help if Rachel was truly in trouble. I can’t imagine not being able to count on your parents for something like this. Rachel then started to paint a picture I wish I had never seen. “If I don’t make it home by curfew, my dad says to not come home at all. I thought he was joking the first time he said it. So one night I was late by 5 minutes and he wouldn’t let me in the door. I called a friend and stayed with her for the night” she explained. “Last night I was already late by half an hour when I realized what time it was. I was already halfway home, but knew I’d never make it through the door. There is an alley not too far from our apartment and I knew I could sleep in a doorway for the night. I don’t own a cell phone. I am only 16 and now I just want to die” as she started to jump from subject to subject, bawling silently due to the gut wrenching facts of the night. Tears are now flowing slowly down her face. Rachel has experienced so much pain, but this is different. This is hopelessness bound by neglect. This is abandonment, at the least. “You don’t have to go through the details with me Rachel, but you need to talk to someone who can help you whether your parents will or not. Please let me call the police. I will ask for a female officer to come here instead of us going to a station. Can we do that? At least tell them what happened. That man is still out there and he could be preying on another girl right now. We’ll hear what the officer has to say and then we’ll decide what to do. Is that fair?” I asked, hoping she would agree to the compromise. Like she hasn’t compromised enough. Thankfully she agreed.
Two officers showed up at my door in lest than 15 minutes. One female, and one male. The woman was older, maybe 45 or 50 and was from the Child Rape and Abuse unit. Her partner, a young spry kid, no older than 25 was a little too energetic but ready to solve the case. The female officer introduced herself as Maggie. “Officer Mureau, but please call me Maggie” she said to Rachel as she holds out her hand to make her introduction with a handshake. Rachel doesn’t move other than to look up and say “hi”. “This is Officer McIntyre, my partner, but you can call him Jim” Maggie explained. Jim just held up his hand as to wave and said hello to Rachel. I offered a seat to the officers and went to put on water for tea. I live in a one bedroom apartment and there is a breakfast bar to my kitchen which allows me to see through to the living room from the kitchen sink. I still felt like I was doing something wrong by leaving Rachel in there by herself, but it was only for a second. By the time I returned to the couch, Rachel was in mid memory. The pain on her face, fear in her voice, and the crawling of her skin shattered me. I listened to the foul details of the penetrating disgust this man laid on her. Rachel described him as a tall male, smelled of liquor and wore a knitted ski mask to hide behind. Maggie asked if she could see whether he was black or white, or another ethnicity. Rachel shook her head no and looked ashamed. Maggie reassured her that it would be ok and told Rachel to take her time. “Do you remember any specific smells, or tattoos maybe?” Maggie asked, hoping Rachel could give a little more detail. After thinking for a few minutes, Rachel responded with “I remember his breath smelled like a spice my grandma uses to cook with ham”. We all looked puzzled by this, trying to figure out what that could be. After asking Rachel a few more questions regarding the smell, Maggie rattled off brown sugar, and butter for a glaze, but that wasn’t it. We all looked around still trying to come up with the impossible. I made everyone jump when I busted out with “Cloves!” That was it. We concluded the man smoked Clove cigarettes, or maybe a cigar. It was a start.
An hour and half has passed now. We all have had some tea, and a very rocky conversation. This was the most uncomfortable situation for me, but I was glad I could help. The officers grabbed the bag for evidence, and looked inside making sure they had what they needed. Rachel allowed them to call her parents, but there was no answer. “We need to take you with us, Rachel. I know you don’t want to go, but you should go to the hospital. I want to be sure you aren’t hurt or that he didn’t have a disease of some sort”. Rachel refused the visit to the emergency room. The officers would have to take her anyway. Rachel’s parents would have the ultimate say-so but they aren’t here, and can’t be reached. They take Rachel only to be probed and prodded all over again by more strangers in the ER. Before she walks through the door, she pauses, turns around, and throws her arms around me. She quivered a whisper and said “thank you.”
A week has passed. I think of Rachel often. With everything that happened I never thought to see if I could check in on her. I called Maggie but it was an ongoing investigation and I couldn’t have much to do with it. I think of the bus stop. The place where I saw a young girl with no where to go after an event that made death sound pleasant. I hope she’s ok.
Two weeks have gone by now, and I still can’t erase Rachel from my mind. There is still a blood stain on my carpet from her lacerated foot. The phone rings. It’s Maggie. “I have someone here who would like to talk to you” she says with excitement and puts Rachel on the phone. “Hi Natalie” Rachel said, with much more cheer in her voice than before. She sounded good, and almost happy. “Rachel! I am so glad you called. How are you?” I asked, not really sure if I wanted to know the answer. “I just want you to know that when you found me I was contemplating jumping out in front of the next fast vehicle that drove by. I wanted to die. My life has not been textbook by any means, but I am smart and now can see my future because of you. Maggie had social services take me out of my house. I am now in a foster home. There are 6 of us there, but the house is nice, the foster parents are fun, and I just had my first full night of sleep last night. I don’t know where this road is leading me but I finally feel like I am moving forward instead of one step at a time into a grave. Thank you Natalie. You changed my life” she revealed. Rachel was not the battered child under a tree that I knew. She was a grown up 16 year old with hope in her heart, strength in her voice, and passion in her future. I can’t have Rachel’s phone number, but she knows if she ever needed to just talk, she could call me. I hope she does.
I need to go to the store. I have hardly any groceries. I find my bus route guide and head back out to the stop. Bus 22 is here and I’m on my way to the city again. I need to make a transfer at Wilcox Blvd. I will have to wait an extra half hour for bus 19. I don’t really like that stop. I never see a smile there. It’s a dirty neighborhood that has been torn down by each generation and their digression in society. The hood, they call it. I’m not afraid to be there, just a little disgusted. There is only one other person on the bus and he is sitting in the back. I stayed up front close to the bus driver. It is warm out, enough to wear shorts. My flip flops are thinned from wearing them so much, and my shirt is a little faded from all the washing. I don’t dress up much. I need to blend in.
We arrive at the Wilcox stop. I get off the bus, and go over to the bench where a woman sits with a picture in her hand. She looks over at me and says “this is my little girl”. I told her she was pretty and she said “I’m sure she is. I haven’t seen her since she was 11. She is now 17. She just had a baby and I get to meet my grandson for the first time. It has been 11 years. Do you think she will still know me?” she begged, looking for support. Who is this lady and why does she think I will have any insight on her life? I told her I didn’t know but to stay positive. I kept it short for a reason. I really didn’t feel like talking. I had a migraine,which I had been getting a lot of lately. “My name is Glinda. What’s yours?” she asked. “Natalie. Nice to meet you” I replied, but I don’t reach for a proper handshake. I pretend my hands are too full with my sweater and bag. I turn my head to look as if I’m looking for the bus. “Are you waiting for the 19?” she asked. I said yes. “Oh, don’t you know? That bus is cancelled today. The next one going that way is the 6. It won’t be here for another hour, though” she explained. Well this is just fantastic. Glinda proceeded to confess her story of how she abandoned her daughter to find God as a cocaine addict and alcoholic. Intriguing. Who ever does that? Who admits their unforgivable faults, much less to a stranger at a bus stop? An hour huh? Guess I will be entertained during the wait…