The first time she walked in, no one noticed her. The speaker never hesitated a word. Barely an eye flickered when she sat quietly by herself in a back seat near the door. She listened quietly as the speaker finished her talk and when the leader of the meeting took her place at the podium, the mousy brown-haired girl hidden under a heavy coat, sneaked out as quietly as she’d sneaked in.
Three and a half months later she walked in again. The weather was much warmer, but the same long coat still hid half her face behind its collar. This time, the long sleeves hid fresh razor scars bandaged on her left wrist. This time, when she started to sit quietly in the back again, a heavy-set blonde in a skirt that was too short for the size of her ass jumped from her seat. The speaker stopped speaking and everyone turned to watch.
“I’m Carol,” the blonde whispered in an endearingly squeaky voice as she rushed up. “Come on in.”
The speaker began again.
Carol took the new girl by the arm and led her to a closer seat and sat down next to her. “It’s okay. Everyone’s welcome at HELP,” she whispered again. “We only have one rule.”
The quiet girl with the hidden scars and the circles under her eyes sat and listened. The next week she was back again, and though she never said a word to anyone, she came back week after week, until one night Keiko, the leader of the meeting, said, “Perhaps someone new would like to talk,” and looked her way.
Quietly, and timidly, the girl who still wore her coat anyway stood and walked to the podium and took her place behind it for the first time. She was thin, undernourished. Lack of sleep added half a decade to her twenty-five years. She couldn’t look into any of the eyes looking up at her, so she stared at a chip in the finish on the edge of the podium and she picked at it nervously while she cleared her throat.
“Hi, I’m Maggie, and I’m an alcoholic,” she said aimlessly to the podium.
There was some laughter around the room and half a chorus of, “Hi, Maggie.” This wasn’t AA.
“I guess,” she started, glancing nervously at Keiko and then back at the blemish, “I guess…I don’t really feel like I belong here. I guess I just didn’t know where else to go.”
Several voices assured her she’d come to the right place.
“I know I was raped. I mean I know that, okay? When you’re 15 and the guy’s almost 50…”
The only eyes she could look up at were Carol’s. Carol sat there wringing her hands with perverse excitement and Maggie quickly looked back down.
“I feel like such a drama queen. It’s so yesterday, God it’s ten years ago, and I don’t know why I can’t just get over it already.”
“It’s never easy,” she heard one girl whisper.
“I knew when I met him. Most guys just undress you with their eyes, talk to your chest and stuff. Not him. He stared into my eyes trying to psychoanalyze me. I knew a 50-year-old guy hanging out with teenagers wasn’t right, but he had a daughter my age. She was in my class.
“He spent months giving me things, beer, a computer I could play on, art supplies…trying to make me feel safe, all that kind of stuff.
“I know I was manipulated into something I didn’t want to happen, and I’ve had to live with it ever since.”
She began to pick more seriously at the annoying chip in the podium finish.
“I feel so stupid being up here. God I heard Christina talking the first night I came and I felt so stupid for even coming I couldn’t come back. It makes me sick every time I let myself think about…what I did.”
“You didn’t do anything, sweetie,” came a voice. Keiko hushed it.
“I was suicidal afterward…until I finally realized how close I came to killing myself…
“I tried again.” She pulled up her coat sleeve to reveal the scars still healing on her wrist. “A few weeks ago. Can you believe it? After ten years? My best friend found me on my bathroom floor. She won’t talk to me since. I guess that’s why I came back. I don’t really want to die.
“But that’s the thing. It’s not him I hate for it. It’s me. I knew he was a pervert. I knew…” She began to cry. “I knew what he was after. I teased him…
“I teased him to get things I wanted from him. I told him I could get whatever I wanted from him because he wanted me…
“I let him give me drugs.”
Maggie had to stop and let herself cry for a moment. The room listened attentively to her sobs as if they were words.
“When he…took advantage of me…I pretended I was unconscious. Even though he disgusted me…because…
“I wanted to know what it felt like.”
Maggie stopped and burst uncontrollably into tears for a few minutes this time. Patient ears had heard it all before, so many different ways. HELP – Here Everyone Listens Patiently.
“I never said a thing about him to anyone, because I blamed myself, not him…I was responsible for what I did. God, there was even a lady I knew there…her name was Sue…who saw him touching me. She asked me later if I needed help and I told her nothing had happened and I was okay.
“I watch it over and over again in my head like a horror movie, and every time I watch it I want to vomit all the way through. I want to strangle Maggie for being so stupid. I hate her. I hate her because she keeps making me watch what I did. She keeps showing me how stupid I was.”
Maggie finally looked up from the podium. It seemed like the chairs were all empty. Or maybe just the podium was.
“I was passed out from the drugs when he woke me up. I felt him rubbing my back. His hands were all dry and calloused and I thought if I just ignored him he’d go away. I rolled away from him, pretending I was asleep. I’ll never be able to get rid of the sound or the smell. He squirted disgusting Jergen’s lotion on his hands and started massaging me with it.
“I wanna puke when I smell it now, or anything that smells even remotely like it. I couldn’t even wash it off my back and I still smelled like it the next day, and all my clothes smelled like it when I went to wash them…
“I can’t touch squirt pumps. I almost puked in a meeting because someone pumped the hand-sanitizer.”
Maggie switched hands and picked at the spot on the podium in silence for a moment, composing herself again.
“I don’t even know how to describe the horrible turmoil…how incredible it felt to be touched like that on the outside…how utterly disgusting and dirty I felt inside. I thought it would just be over with in a couple of minutes…
“Guys just roll over and go to sleep, you know?” She tried to smile.
“He never touched me with his penis…just his hands…
“In some ways, it was almost worse that way. He went on for eternity…an hour and 12 minutes…I could see the clock from where I was lying…an hour and 12 minutes…touching me…touching me…everywhere…poking me with his fingers…
“How does anyone pretend they’re unconscious for an hour and 12 minutes?
“He knew…I knew he knew, and it made me feel so…god…damned…small!
“I realized after a while he wasn’t going to stop until I…” she couldn’t bring herself to say it. “…only he didn’t stop.”
Maggie cried until her tears were done. Her story was done. She had managed to make a pretty good hole in the podium’s finish, and she suddenly noticed it, twisting her mouth to one side in embarrassment. Just as Keiko was about to get up, Maggie spoke again.
“I read some girls don’t experience the rape. They go through a thing called a brief reactive psychosis. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a personality disorder where you disappear mentally to avoid a trauma and another personality takes over. I wish I could say that happened to me.
“I disappeared from my life that day. I’ve been pretending I was unconscious ever since. Some other girl who makes stupid jokes about everything showed up in my place. She’s a lot smarter than I was. At least she’s smart enough to know a 50-year-old pervert is responsible for his actions, but it doesn’t matter. She still doesn’t know how to forgive me.
“Sorry about your podium.”
© 2014 Anne Schilde