Wednesday, October 1, 2014

two rapes and a thousand words.

your fear thrills me. i want only power and satisfaction. i am everything. 

this is the mind of the subhuman who raped two women on the rail trail in morgantown five days ago. i haven't stopped thinking about it.

the trail has a few veins that travel to different areas of town, in one direction stretching as far as pennsylvania. the most populated section lies along the riverfront near downtown. during college in the late 90s and early 2000s, i used the trail often, running the small, straight stretch along the riverfront or rollerblading with my best friend erin and one time with a new friend, smitty, whose aloof pit bull, saturn—along with my own dog at the time, kaiser—was among my first introductions to a breed i'd grow to adore and defend (and in later years that breed would defend me as well). on the rail trail, i never went too far in any direction. when i moved back to morgantown last spring, i was just as wary. quite a few times, i would walk off the busy stretch toward the section under the south high street bridge, which winds around downtown and along decker's creek, but a feeling of discomfort would come over me and i'd balk. this is the section of the trail where the first woman was raped. eventually i started traveling that section, but only with joker, my pit bull, and only a few times, because it just didn't appeal to me. a runner for 21 years, i've always preferred busy routes to quiet ones. i don't wear headphones to cancel the noise; rather, i treat the sights and sounds along the way as swatches of color to save for later use, maybe in my writing or various quasi-art forms.

the straight stretch by the hazel ruby mcquain park and amphitheater on the river is seemingly the safest spot on the trail because of its visibility; last friday proves this is not so if you're jogging at 8:38 a.m., which is when the second woman was attacked probably less than a hundred yards away. this struck me because just last week i started venturing in that direction, past the amphitheater and toward star city, the next town over. still, i wouldn't go very far because it didn't feel right. turns out my intuition was correct.

since last friday i've been thinking: rape is like a crack in a window, splintering out from the source of contact. it's a crime against all women. this is not to take anything away from the victims, whose horror i can't fathom. i've tried. i've imagined that moment of feeling someone grab me and ... put his hand over my mouth? ... put a knife to my neck or side? i don't know how he actually attacked them. that moment has to be one in which they didn't know if they'd live. and to think it was brought upon them not by an act of uncontrollable nature or circumstance but by another human. he isn't human, not to me. in two events four hours apart on the same day, he proved his inhumanity. 

i've thought about that man. his face—in mugshots from various crimes—was all over facebook. is that a blank, soulless look, or am i projecting? i've wondered if i have ever passed him on the street or at the grocery store. i've thought about the fact that it's due to luck or statistics or god that a man has never hurt me, because the years have presented opportunity—in my many solo outings and late-night steps from car to front door and unsafe windows in rental homes.

i've thought about what i'd say to him:

who are you to take away my freedom to walk through my town? who are you to infringe upon my sense of safety? i hate what you represent: the facility with which men can oppress women. the way you use the human body as both weapon and target. you have only the appearance of a human, and to call you an animal is an insult to creatures who act on the purity of instinct. i've thought about how, if you had been unlucky enough to come across a victim with a safeguard, like me with my dog, i'd have unleashed him on you and kicked you in the face as he brought you down. hate doesn't come naturally to me. i try to see the good in everyone. you are an exception. all i see in you is a type of selfishness that surpasses comprehension. for the pleasure of dominance, you tortured two helpless women who did nothing but cross your path. if you're ever capable of recognizing the abject inhumanity of what you did, it won't take away what you've taken away from those women and all women. 

in 2011, in memphis, tennessee, i was living alone in a two-bedroom bungalow. it was a rental and in need of updating and repairs, but still i was thrilled to have my first "real" house after spending many years in lackluster apartments and cramped spaces. in april of that year, around 3:45 a.m., i awoke to my three pit bulls sniffing and barking at my bedroom window. a quick flick of the miniblinds revealed the outline of a man looking in. horror set in. i screamed and screamed. he didn't retreat as fast as i think one should when faced with three big dogs clearly in protection mode, but he did leave. nothing came of the police's search. he was long gone. in the following days and weeks, my longstanding sense of safety and the joy of my newfound home were demolished. will he come back? does he live nearby? has he been watching me? although i had friends, who let me sleep on their couches and in their extra bedrooms, i knew there were limits to their offers. the only people who'd never run out of time or energy for me—my family—were 12 hours away. so eventually i had to stay by myself again. i stayed scared for a long time. this is the mark a man—even if merely a shadow at a window—can leave. 

recently, i was jogging across the walnut street bridge in downtown morgantown, with my son in the stroller. a man, likely in his mid thirties, smiled as he came toward us, so i smiled back. as he passed, i could tell he was about to speak, and i figured he'd say some variation of the usual remark about what a heavy load i was pushing. instead, he made a vulgar comment about my body. i was instantly furious. how could he disrespect me in front of my child? on the verge of tearing into him, which has been the usual when catcalled, etc. in all my years of jogging through various cities, i instead bit my tongue because i didn't want to expose my son to potential confrontation. 

thankfully, my history with men—strangers and intimates alike—although far from ideal, is fairly tame. i've never been hurt physically, but hurt i have been. women are so often disparaged and devalued. it leaves a stain on the soul. we furiously rub at it, sometimes for many, many years, trying to make it fade. every time a man steps outside the confines of propriety or commits a horrific crime, especially in my community, i'm drawn to wonder: what happens to men in the course of their lives that makes them capable of dehumanizing women? did they lack parental affection or attention? were they abused? enabled? i feel like somewhere we are failing. women endure fear and disrespect as everyday parts of life. even when no definable crime is committed, the seeds of dysfunction in the male-female dynamic are all around. 

i grew up in a small town and went on to college in a bigger city and moved on to even bigger cities. mostly single during these years and away from my family, i developed a sense of suspicion toward strange men and a defensive stance of personal safety. i've been unfriendly toward overly friendly male neighbors or strangers knocking at my door; i never leave windows open in my home at night; when i go for a run or take my son to the park or walk to and from my car, i pay attention to who's around; i have always owned and will always own a big dog, or two or three. such is the state of being a woman. i don't live in fear but in awareness. 

may those two women discover the strength to move forward. may that criminal who harmed them be punished—both by the law and in the depths of his ravaged mind.

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