by: Anne Heck
It was January 6, 2004 and after 10+ years of pain and having just birthed my second child 3 months earlier, I was ready to claim my strength.
So, on this wintery afternoon in my quiet living room, I stood and claimed this year my year of strength. That same afternoon, I took my children for a walk at the park and my body responded harshly. Our bodies don’t lie and I knew that it was telling me that the shift was happening. Two days later, I received the phone call from Detective Newsome telling me that they had, after 14 years, positively identified my rapist.
This was the ending and another beginning — a beginning I had strongly intended for myself just 2 days earlier. I found myself intensely inspired during these following days and wrote this piece that winter:
I hadn’t heard from the detective in years. One chilly afternoon in mid-January, I received a phone call. “It’s Detective Newsome,” he said in a voice soft and friendly. I felt anxious for his next words. He continued, “got a call two hours ago from the state prison in West Virginia; there’s been a DNA match for your case.”
Silence. My mind and emotions flickered between past and present. It’s been 14 years since I was brutally attacked and raped. Detective Newsome said “The fellow’s been charged in a similar case. A West Virginia woman was raped in her home two days before you. Same pattern—hit her in the face and raped her.” I wondered about her smile.
The detective spoke with compassion. “This is a lot to digest,” he said, “so be good to yourself.” As always, I allowed emotions to settle, ripen and then I took small bites so as to improve digestion. I told him that I’m really no longer emotionally attached. “I’m glad they’ve caught the man. I’ll help in any way I can.” I added. Thirty minutes later, I was in tears.
Therapist—I always read the word as ‘the_rapist’ after that awful day. And that’s what it was to me—my therapy—someone trying to bare my private parts, a stranger in so many ways.
I’ve certainly experienced my share of therapy over the years, mostly reluctantly, always bleeding a few more tears, never enjoying the process.
It was a warm summer day and I was on vacation from my teaching job. I was doing lots of cycling those days and loved to have a day with a destination, some yummy snacks and sunshine.
He needed directions. I smiled, ready to help. Something in me felt cautious, but I ignored this feeling. It all happened so quickly —my smile, his fist, the blood, the force, leaving my body, finding my clothes—losing my smile.
At the hospital, they collected their samples for the detective, they took my favorite cycling shorts as evidence, swabbed my bruised lips, didn’t see my smile. The detectives couldn’t wait to get me out of there; they escorted me, still in my paper hospital gown, back to the scene of the crime. There my bike was dusted for fingerprints; I found my bike helmet in the woods. I couldn’t find my smile.
At home, some friends called around to dentists. It was nearly closing time, but one kind dentist agreed to stay in his office and help me out. The roots were damaged; I would lose the teeth. For now, we cemented them to neighboring teeth until I could see a dental surgeon.
Somewhere in the weeks that followed, I saw the_rapist.
“Can’t I heal through laughter instead of tears?” I asked on my first visit. I thought it a grand idea; was I the first to think of it? Surely one could laugh their way to happiness. “No” the_rapist said, “this is therapy; there will be tears.”
But I preferred smiling, and so I did. This is strength, I thought. I’ll just pretend it didn’t happen. I wasn’t really hurt that bad. But my teeth, my smile— he took away my smile.
I learned very early in life that the best gift you can give someone is a smile. Such a simple thing, we often forget to give it. I was a smiley child and received lots of reinforcement for it, so it stuck. I befriended many with my smile and often didn’t realize it. So innocent and unaware I was that my immediate friendliness might cause me grief someday.
He took my smile away. For months I’d catch myself with that habitual smile, and then I’d remember.
I had lots of trouble breathing. I’d be fine one moment and then I’d be huffing and puffing as if I’d had my worst fright. And it would last for days, making me dizzy and disoriented. And there were the meetings with detectives, trying to remember his face, his car, the details.
At six months, I had to get an HIV test. It took 2 weeks to receive the results. I was hardly breathing, and then I lost consciousness. Right there while I was teaching my chemistry class, I could feel myself fading. I held onto the desk. I awoke in bed at a friend’s home.
I mostly cried when I saw the_rapist. She encouraged me to lead the process. What process? I didn’t know how to do this. I’d rather talk about the weather, how I enjoy my students. But all that was misted over in a fog. Would a day ever pass when I didn’t live with this memory?
After the bruises healed, I had my root canals done. In the months that followed, my front teeth turned gray. I had veneers put on and it was a decent match, but I could still tell that something was amiss. And others knew it too.
The fear in me seemed like a geyser. It would erupt at the most unpredictable times. It was so ‘not me’ and yet I carried it like an extra bag I packed, just in case, like I couldn’t quite trust that my hotel would have towels. The smallest things set me off – walking in crowds, the telephone ringing, noticing my bicycle in the corner of my apartment, still stained with black fingerprint dust.
I became used the way the_rapists listened, patiently until I erupted with the contents of my bags. I never revealed my emergency bag. It was too scary. If I opened it, I couldn’t predict the end of it.
A year later I moved from that area to the healing mountains of Western North Carolina. Over the next several years, the_rapists—four of them—helped me search for my smile. There were threads still connecting me to that place —interviews with media, America’s Most Wanted, consults with detectives; they were searching too.
I’ll always remember the day I had my root canals redone and my teeth capped. Over ten years later, I saw my smile emerge, somewhat changed, but a smile nonetheless. One more step toward healing. I’d learned so much over these years. Of course, I learned that I don’t always need to be the one giving the smile. In fact, it’s okay if sometimes I choose not to smile.
After Newsome’s call, it was as if the thermal pool was ready to erupt again. I scheduled an appointment. At the office I sat down, unpacked my bags. I shared the recent news. It was time for those extra towels. “Please, can’t I laugh my way through this?” The_rapist laughed. I smiled.
Read more at www.anneheck.com.