Jane Doe January


For John Hughes,

much missed


Relief is first. After twenty-one years, the man has at last been identified. Tabs fill my browser: news articles describing his arrest in New York by a Fugitive Task Force at the request of Pennsylvania police. Google's image search has called up many different faces, but I know his immediately. His chubby cheeks make me flinch. I find his Facebook page, but don't dare friend him to see what he's posted, even though I'm desperate for information.

Jealousy is second. The other victim is going to get it all: a solemn courtroom, a sympathetic jury, an avenging judge. For more than twenty years, that's what I've wanted: to get to say what happened, to be who he's punished for. Now she gets the detectives who need her to prove their case; she gets the attorneys who need her to perform on the stand. She matters. I'm still the beggar I've been for two decades, calling the police every couple of years to ask them to look again; always talking to new detectives because none of them
stay; always having to explain who I am, explain the case, because no one remembers, except for me. And her. And him.

This is good news. This is terrible news. This is everything I've wanted, but for someone else.

He's been arrested for what he did to her. I want him charged for what he did to me.

I practice, just in case.

I pace; I talk to myself. If I get to court, if I get my chance, I want to tell everything in an orderly way. I want to get it right.

In 1992, I was a junior at Carnegie Mellon University's elite drama conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was an intense program, the goal of which was to turn out actors who could transform. Being “safe” was looked down on. Freshmen and sophomores were forbidden from playing characters with which they were comfortable. No elegant, witty Restoration ladies or innocent ingénues for me anymore. In acting class, in voice and speech class, in movement class, I was challenged to play against type: be physical, be sexual, be angry. I accepted the challenge, but clung to churchgoing and Bible study in my personal life as a counterweight. I was proud to have made it into the program. I was proud at the end of each of the first four semesters to make it through “the cut.” More than thirty young actors had been admitted to the program in the fall of 1989. Four years later, after aggressive cuts and a handful of students ditching the program to go straight to New York, only thirteen of our original class would graduate.

In our third year, we were past the cut. We were also supposed to have been sufficiently stretched by the experiences of our first two years to be given back our comfortable roles that we would now play better, deeper, and with real choice. Underclassmen looked up to us.

I lived in a little studio apartment off campus, in Shadyside, the most posh of Pittsburgh's college neighborhoods, full of restaurants and shops. I had worked at the nearby Victoria's Secret briefly over Christmas break, as holiday help, enjoying the over-the-top femininity of the job. All my life I've vacillated between enjoying and eschewing dress-up; I was then on a dressy upswing, wearing makeup and girly clothes daily. Classes were going to start up again that week in January. I had two monologues to memorize. I needed to do laundry, but had no change for my building's coin-operated machines. I went out to get some.

It was early evening on a Sunday. I saw a man watch me exit the building, and was wary. The fancy ice-cream shop on the corner was open and I got quarters for the washer and dryer. People were happy in there, chatting and choosing flavors. Outside, the man was still there, still hanging around. I hesitated. He started walking toward my building, not behind me, but from the side. That seemed to make it okay; it's not as though he were following me. He'd started from farther away than me, which timed him to reach the building just after me. I wanted to make the door click shut behind me, but it had a pneumatic closer and moved slowly. I couldn't pull it any faster. He caught it.

Again, I hesitated. I sort of knew the woman who lived in the other apartment on my floor. I could knock; safety in numbers. But he passed me and went up the stairs, clearly on his own way, again not following me. He passed my apartment door, and trotted up more stairs toward the next floor.

I knew he wasn't the man who lived up there, but I assumed he was a friend. This was a college town. Confident nonresident visitors were normal to me, even if they weren't common in this particular building, which was more full of yuppies than students.

I passed, without knocking, the apartment of the woman I sort
of knew. I unlocked my door. He sprang from the stairwell behind my shoulder, pushing me inside my apartment, covering my mouth. He shut the door and pressed me up against the wall by my face. He asked me, “Do you wanna die?”

“Do you wanna die?” was the phrase that made detectives sit up straighter when they interviewed me in the hospital later. An attacker had said the same to another student three days before, in nearby Oakland. She, the detectives told me, had escaped before the man could do what he wanted to do.

I did not escape. He had me for exactly as long as he wanted me, which, it turns out, wasn't that long. He seemed to have a mental checklist of foreplay that he cycled through efficiently:
Do this, now do this . . .
I had never done any of it before. I had only ever kissed, and not even that since high school, except for onstage. I was waiting for love and marriage.

Later, my attempts to describe him to the police were pathetic.
He was big,
I said.
He had a childish face and voice
. That vague “big” could have meant any number of things, and at first they brought me a tall man, a jogger they'd found nearby. He looked terrified. At the hospital, a tall detective had towered over me and asked, “Was he as big as
?” I had never meant tall. I'd meant fat, broad, strong, heavy, powerful, and terrifying.

I did what he said, but I begged him to please stop. He persevered through token touches of all the “bases”: kissing, hands and mouth above the waist, hands and mouth below the waist, him to me then me to him. He didn't linger at any of those places, just claimed each intimacy as if he were winning points for it and moved on to the next.

I balked at the fucking. As much as I wanted to live, I screamed. He had to put his hand over my mouth, over my nose and mouth
together, and push down hard. I couldn't breathe. He told me he would move the hand if I promised to stop screaming. I nodded, desperately. Anything for a breath. His hand moved; I sucked air and screamed again, unstoppably, overriding any logical sense of self-preservation. He had to smother me again, longer this time. He taught me how much I want air, how much more important it is than anything. I nodded again, promising, begging. I was able to mean it. He released my face. I didn't scream anymore.

He positioned my feet on his shoulders, my knees squished up against my chest, and pushed. I told people later that this part took a long time. I know now that it was actually a pretty standard amount of time, but to me then it took surprisingly forever for him to finish. While he was doing it, something splashed from his face onto mine: either a shower of sweat from his forehead, or maybe he was crying. Maybe it was tears.

I remember all of this easily, having told it so many times back when it happened. But some details have faded; for example, I realize I've forgotten the name of the street I'd lived on then, and have to look it up in an archived news report. I reread the poems I'd written then and which I haven't looked at in years. There's a lot that haunted me then which surprises me now.

I've forgotten that he nipped at my legs with his teeth; the detectives had perked up with interest when I mentioned that, but he'd done it too lightly to leave forensically useful bite marks. I've forgotten that he pulled my shoes off, which was different from the way he'd left so much of the rest of my clothing on, shoved out of the way but still connected to me. I'd wondered after if shoe leather could take fingerprints.

I've forgotten that I'd tried to push him away with my hands. He'd wanted me limp and had to tell me, over and over, to put my hands on the floor, but I kept pushing against his shoulders, trying
to force some small extra distance between us while he worked toward getting done. He'd repeated it, over and over, annoyed and commanding—“Put your hands on the floor”—so I must have kept them there, or kept putting them back.

That phrase had stuck with me after, bothering me when I washed my hands or even just looked at them. “New memories,” I'd written a few months later. “Wouldn't that be nice? To think of, say, my hands, and think of someone nice instead of him. But wouldn't it be even better to look at my hands and see my hands, to think of my body and think of myself? Must my hands, my body, always make me think of a man, even if someday a nice one?”

My mind is a jumble of details coming back again and again to the smothering: his hands pulling at the buttons down the front of my dress; his hands pulling down my leggings and tights; his hand pushing down hard on my face, the back of my head pressed into ratty renter's carpeting. It's not his mouth or his body or sweat or tears that I think of; it's his hands and my hands. Lots and lots of hands.

The drama department was surprisingly patient with me after it happened. Actually, it's to be expected that creative people would be sensitive, but I found their generosity unexpected given how readily they cut from the program those who don't keep up. I was allowed to miss the first few weeks of the semester entirely, and, after my return, was fully excused from “rhythm,” a demanding physical class that could reduce participants to tears even under normal circumstances. I attended the rest of my classes, but was allowed to slip away anytime I needed to, without consequence. I was even allowed, if I wanted, to take a friend out with me.

I made rules for myself. I wanted to accept the support I'd been offered, but not become dependent on it. I wanted to grieve and
rage and whatever else I needed to go through, but didn't want to get stuck there. I was a little afraid of being hurt again, but mostly afraid that I had been fundamentally changed for the worse. I didn't want to permanently become (as I wrote then) “timid and fearful, faithless and cynical, frigid, hysterical, angry and bitter and tired, weak, crazy.” I didn't want to become any of those, but I felt it a real danger that I would become all of them. So, I made rules.

The first was that I would let myself be a mess for one year. After that, I had to get it together. The second was that I would lean on my friends, my generous, sweet friends, only during the day. I would go ahead, tug someone's arm to bring them aside with me, or make a phone call asking for company on the rare daylight occasions that we weren't already together in class or rehearsal (we were heavily scheduled). The caveat was that I would never allow myself to wake someone up. At nighttime I had to look after myself. That gave me a bit of self-respect.

I slept surprisingly well, and in the whole “be a mess” year I only had to act on that second rule, the no-nighttime-neediness one, once. The police had taken my clothes away for evidence the night of the rape, and weeks or maybe a month or two later they returned them to me, in a tall, thick paper bag with numbers scribbled on it in heavy marker.

I was living with friends, previous graduates of the drama department, in my own room in their newlywed apartment, where I would end up staying for the whole semester. I had all of my things in my one room, including then this awful bag. I couldn't sleep. My friends were just on the other side of the wall, in bed.

I was desperate to talk, but had promised myself to get through my nights on my own. To make it possible to sleep, I wrote down what I wished I could tell someone. I could call someone in the morning, I reasoned, and could read from my notes like a script if necessary. This is what I wrote:

The bag broods in the corner

sitting on its haunches

squat, over two feet tall

with my body inside

my coat

pretty little thing

used to be my mother's

old-fashioned high neck mink collar

that had been covering my low-cut neckline that evening—I swear!

The detective persuaded the lab not to cut it up for evidence

The dress had soaked up enough, he told them

so that he could bring the coat back to me

stained but in one piece

one whole piece

like me

alive but blotched

the coat that was taken away from me that night

the body-shaped thing I haven't seen since

the dead me

who I used to be

sitting stuffed in a bag

The next morning, I read it and was satisfied. I didn't need to call anyone. After that, I wrote as much as I talked.

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