Twilight hours of February 25, 2016 are buried in oblivion, bygone, sunk out of my head, perhaps for self-protection. This eclipse of my heart in dead of night. Fraternity boy coolness turns to shadiness at nightfall. His country boy accent is of the coal pitch blackness of the mines, sinking into his swarthiness, and I am sadly a canary in his coal mine. Try to take flight, hasten away from my wails, make a quick getaway. I sink lower, shutting my eyes in this icebox. This is a hard winter and goosebumps grow on my bare skin. He is soulless, like a lone wolf committing acts of terrorism upon me in his below-zero bedroom. He seems so casual – putting on his airs, indifferent, like he could not care less. His 240 pounds are unrelenting against my five-feet. Can a moment be more austere? The stinging feels glacial; I am raw, then numbed.
This hole-in-the-wall pigsty – Greek letters strewn all-around – gashes the artery of innocence. It must be ingrained in him, a stony-hard ability to hurt. He’s deaf to my screams and I tunnel inside myself, finding a crawlspace to hide from the hard-hearted in this ramshackle rental. He’s blind to my tears, devoid of humanity or mercy, maybe even godforsaken. He finishes with a coquettish, “Don’t go out there and make a big deal out of this.” So I am cast aside, and sent back to his party, shunned by friends, deprived of my pants as I bolt from his clutches. My feelings hemorrhage as fast as the rain deluge outside; tears cascade like Niagara and I am left in the cold.
Not even a year before, I was case-hardened. Spending a summer with a Commonwealth Circuit Court Judge, one is proffered the creature comforts and leisure of special entrances. The back room banter of affluent attorneys, coupled with their advice and opinion of the legal field, a general dissatisfaction and warning that these trials and tribulations shall be no bed of roses. Still, a young pre-law student has high hopes. She shall save the neck of that fellow sitting in front of her. She will get that suspect off the hook; unshackle that orange-jump suited alleged and do it all before dinnertime. You put on your peremptory church dress and look out over those wooden pews. Be poker-faced, stay deadpan, and act like nobody is home. You become anesthetized to the lice-prevention stench of lockdown and detached to victim pain.
Just yesterday I saw him again. There he is. Stood at his elbow in front of the Rowan County District Court bench, beseeching for yet another extension of my safety. Just six more months. I, prayerfully, will be in law school by then, beginning a pilgrimage like many students before me. Because of that one tempestuous night in February, my initiative will be in earnest. I shall know where I am heading, away from this forcible violation on my élan vital. The pain in the recesses of my heart shall make me fight for those like me and I shall find my journey’s end with a law degree. The penetrating cold becomes a fire in my belly.
To find this moment was not easy. It’s a small town and people tend to talk. I am “that girl.” Gawking on the sidewalk, innuendo and hushed tones, grapevine and scuttlebutt. On a campus, scandal tends to follow; but, what if the object of such is the Student Body Vice President? Always well-expressed and unequivocal, with larger aspirations to teach students convictive campus safety, what happens when she becomes the survivor? I was ultra-precise in my actions following the lambaste on my life – straight to the emergency room, don’t shower, call the police – do the things you learned about that summer in court. Don’t ask for pity, be unbreakable as strangers probe and pull hairs for evidence. Try to recount every hellish moment for the detective. The domestic violence shelter is just up that hill. The process shall be no picnic, they counsel. Be iron-hearted, as they photograph all that you have left of bruised womanhood. The seasoning of that courtroom summer is not enough and the wait for justice is toilsome. Jail bond is low, and his brass-bound wrists are freed within a few hours. You cannot keep a man down, they say. His fraternity begins a personal persecution on my character. A first-degree rape turns into a community of young men giving me the third-degree.
I only missed two days of classes spring semester following the sexual onslaught. As this barrage began, I was a 4.0 cumulative college student. To permit him to rob me of such achievement would be a secondary
criminal offense. His impalement of my mind is over. I upraised my head and went back to school, which proved a Herculean task. His fraternity brothers waged social media warfare, while he was given free rein to play and plenty of rope to tie other women with. Due process is slow-going and evidence is postponed. He uses this time to act lordly, so cavalier, as he buttons his navy blue blazer one-handedly with brashness. With swollen-headed strawberry blonde hair, he plods sleepily to the judge’s bench as if that man in the black robe is unimpressionable to a hotshot hometown hero. Maybe when you were the high school quarterback, you warrant the right to be so cocky, to take such a high-handed approach with women. He seems unashamed standing here, charged with what we as human beings consider a tawdry crime. His act was flagrant and wanton, but he looks lackadaisical with his pricey mouthpiece alongside.
Maybe this is what those counsellors of the Commonwealth made me wise to back when, the casualty of a predator who fights for freedom. There he is. I steeled myself, yet feel short-winded. We stand before a seat of judgement and hold to good faith that a fair shake is possible. You entreat the heavens that decency and decorum will be rendered along the way. Then, brace yourself. He is right there.
I would be remiss by not saying this could appear my plaintive cry against a villain. This, by no means, is remonstration of my cynicism or a sound-off against sexual assault. Alternatively, I rebounded without pause. I quickly became the guiding spirit of fellow students who encountered and withstood sexual violence. In autumn, I was chosen to serve on Morehead State University’s Homecoming Court. I used this occasion to offer counsel to the struggling. I built a campus-wide platform, where open discussion about sexual assault became commonplace. We brought mental health professionals to campus and disseminated data and material. The word “no” is now chapter and verse and women have a fighting chance. Over the course of a week, I personally spoke to over twenty campus organizations, with square-shooting argument against sexual violence, laying it on the line, offering my story.
I belong to a sisterhood of women. About 20 percent of us who were raped in college. I am the wreckage of a boy in a button-down, who tossed out the evidence of my pain like last night’s party beer bottles, straight into the trash can for the police to ferret out. I refuse to be received as rubbish and will not be typecast as the victim. Law school is my free will to become a firebrand in prosecution of rape. I shall champion her and remain in her corner as she endures therapy. The past year helped me rediscover myself, forced to salvage my strength and neutralize the pain. In this reconstruction, I latched onto my service mission to legally aid sexual assault victims.
It began as a wintry, one-dog night. Bleak and licentious, a solitary invasion upon a young woman. Hateful and hostile, vile and all-out, I was left abandoned in sheets of freezing rain that could not wash away the damage. A premeditative crime of a frigid heart shall ultimately provide me passion and warmth to litigate for the one in dire straits, the scarred and agonized, and that girl next door, torn to pieces. I am on a peregrination, once grounded, now on ascent, bent upon gaining strength and rallying.
There he is. Once my run-in, you are now my showdown. I used to be static, now dynamic, as I step forward to help her, with momentum. You were my blackguard. Today, you are my impetus. In stagnation, I find renewal. There you are, gruesome and shadowy. You will not dim me. I am light.
— Kennedy, age 23