“Me Too” – A Short Story inspired during the “Me Too” movement after the Harvey Weinstein story broke.
Five years after her brutal assault, Alice is forced to pick-up the pieces of her shattered, once hopeful life, but she will have to face the darkness and her demons first, head-on. The only way to do that is to leave her self-imposed prison where she has locked herself away reclusively, without any real contact with the outside world, with the exception of mandatory meetings with her doctor, “The Pink”, who finally helped her to make her breakthrough.
Available for Publication, Copyright 2018, Tonia Allen Gould, All Rights Reserved. firstname.lastname@example.org Word Count: Approximately 8000 Words "Me Too" A week passed since her breakthrough, and every day since required a sequence of giant leaps of faith coupled with baby steps, as if she were learning to walk again. She didn’t know how she had gotten here, and why she took so long, but she was putting one foot in front of the other to finally make her way home. Alice Parker stood near Carousel #3, gnawing at her cuticles, reviewing her meticulous plans over and over again in her mind. Waiting and thinking, Alice scrutinized her curiously dry hands, yet she resisted the urge to reach into her handbag again for her moisturizer. Already, she was embarrassed she had been assailing her seat mate’s senses earlier on the plane, with her vanilla-scented lotion, from Los Angeles to Chicago. The poor lady next to her had to ask Alice if she wouldn’t mind maybe putting it away because, as she so nicely put it, “Vanilla is my least favorite scent.” This interchange made Alice acutely aware she was lacking in social acuity, which is why she had not considered the faux pas of using scented moisturizer in flight. Alice would trade anything to get back to the confines and comfort of having only one person to contend with on the plane, in exchange for the absolute chaos going on around her in the baggage claim area at O’Hare. Back when Alice had a sense of humor, she made-up words or phrases that didn’t exist, typically reserved to describe various, awkward predicaments she had gotten herself into, like the one she was in now. Some habits die hard. The made-up phrase that came to Alice’s mind to describe the commotion going on around her today, was “mad-dashery” as people were frantically and madly dashing all around her, environmentally overloading her senses. Usually, Alice was never in any kind of a hurry because she never had any place in particular to be. Alice rationalized harried people ran into all kinds of trouble from letting their guards down, and Alice knew, firsthand, what could happen to someone who wasn’t always hyper-vigilant. Given her current circumstances, she discerned it was best to stay put, perusing her surroundings, while she awaited her bag. But, the streaming influx of holiday passengers inched closer and nudged her forward, pushing her closer to the conveyor belt and all the frenzied people clustered around it, despite her best intentions and her carefully laid plans. Alice would have preferred retrieving her suitcase after everyone else left the baggage claim area so she wouldn’t have to keep her back to the torrents of people coming in from behind her. But the steady deluge of new passengers required her to stand where she had been thrust, up close to the carousel, and midst the commotion. To her further consternation, people were now standing in such close proximity, her skin crawled from the warmth of someone’s breath breathing down the back of her neck. But she had no choice but to bear her predicament, while reminding herself never to get hung-up in a similar situation, ever again. Everyone, it seemed, had someplace imperative to be, but not her. Alice was reticent and still questioning her decision to come back to the Midwest on this trip her therapist pressured her to make. She was sure no one even noticed her, uneasily standing there, among a sea of jet-setting itinerants who were anxious to get home to their families in time for Christmas, a holiday she herself had not celebrated for a very long time. Yet, she still felt naked, exposed, despite the fact she was ridiculously bundled-up, even for wintertime in Chicago with its sharp bite of blustery wind and its notoriously unpredictable, lake effect snow. While fervently wishing away the breath from the unseen stranger behind her, a large, blue suit in front of her loosened his tartan plaid necktie, removed beige trench coat, and whipped it over one of his broad shoulders, nailing her squarely in the eye with its belt buckle. “The Suit” didn’t turn back, or he might have noticed her flinch and wince, while her eyes welled-up with newfound tears she long ago taught herself not to let fall. But she didn’t trust herself not to cry this time, particularly since she opened the floodgates last week, releasing a veritable downpour with her doctor who had feverishly clapped his hands and exclaimed, “We’ve just had our first major breakthrough!” Breakthrough or not, Alice was not fond of confrontations with anyone, let alone from this sizable, self-possessed man in a dark, navy blue suit. She kept watchful eye on The Suit and his errant apparel, but she knew she was nothing more to him than a speck of a dot on a map of the universe, something he had to go around to get where he was going, uninteresting as a barren tree at a four-way stop in the middle of nowhere. This diminishment Alice experienced was as familiar and as non-descript as the sensation of her own touch on her skin. While she nursed her eye and forced back her tears, she tried to combat these self-deprecating thoughts, but couldn’t. Alice felt guilt-ridden about taking-up space, let alone consuming oxygen she felt should be reserved for someone worthier of it than her. Alice knew she was being unkind to herself. There was no magic eraser to wipe clean her soiled past, even after five long years of cognitive behavioral therapy and a varied slew of cheery, pastel-colored antidepressants she was forced to pop like candy. Up until last week’s breakthrough, Alice had not been able to disentangle herself from the dark edges of her subconscious, a domicile where she lingered most days, one in which she described to her doctor as a place in her mind that felt simply, like “nothingness.” “Let’s try and get your medications right this time,” her therapist, Dr. Pinkerton, always said after some of her most 5 challenging sessions. “The Pink,” as Alice secretly called him, because his face took on a sort of rosé hue when she spoke about the specifics of her assault in their closed-door sessions, was her only hope. At first, the doctor didn’t appear to be deserving of such an impressive title, “Cognitive Behavioral Psychologist,” as he seemed to get easily embarrassed, but particularly since he couldn’t get her medications straight. But Alice was handcuffed to The Pink both by her health provider’s in-network policies and by her own design. Alice wished the latter were not true, but The Pink was her only selection because she was a woman of convenience who lived her life almost completely in isolation, and his office was just six minutes from her apartment, door-to-door. Plus, she could always count on getting to his office and back, well before dark. During Alice’s last session, when The Pink announced their purported breakthrough, he concluded if she could take this trip back home to see her family, she could get her previous life back, or at least begin to dust off some pale, fragmented memory of it. “Let’s call all this progress, subject to predetermined conditions,” he said. The Pink seemed excessively thrilled when Alice finally conceded, but she regretted the arrangement ever since, because managing an itinerary, plane travel, and airport crowds was just the foundation for Alice. There was so much more to contend with over the next many hours, and typical Alice was tormenting herself by worrying about every single detail about what lurked up ahead. The Suit, naturally, was one of the first to get his bag off the carousel but, despite his splendid fortune, he practically knocked Alice over in his fever to cut and run with his suitcase now in tow. Rather than proffering an apology for his haste, he merely grunted something indecipherable under his breath, and scurried off into the crowd with that certain degree of arrogance and importance that smart, handsome businessmen sometimes projected. At least that’s how Alice remembered men like him were, back at Loyola Law School, when arrogance and a lot of confidence were wildly attractive to her in a man. But it had been a while since Alice had been able to reach any kind of a perspective on the gesticulations of the opposite sex, especially since Alice had no recent frame of reference, and particularly since Alice lived her life, reclusively, in a 700 square-foot studio apartment. When Alice mustered the courage to venture away from her apartment back in California, it was only for brief interludes, and even then, she practiced the art of positioning. Alice always pulled herself back and away from crowds. She sat facing doors in restaurants, so she knew who was coming in and who was exiting. She unwaveringly refused to wait in lines. Lines were a hard NO. And, she clung tightly to her purse, despite the fact she kept very little money in it, on those brief excursions when she built-up enough nerve to endeavor away from her apartment. Those were the days she referred to as “I feel great days,” but those were always few and far between. She could count the number of her outings on two hands in the almost five years she had been identified with Avoidant Personality Disorder, along with a host of other diagnoses. Alice also never went outside after dark. In fact, Alice had not gone out past 3:00 PM, since her attack, for fear she would be caught somewhere between daylight, dusk and darkness. Even an inkling of a greying or darkening sky gave Alice uncontrollable quivers. Accordingly, she lived with her roller shades closed-up tightly, unleashing them only when she woke, and allowing them to stay open through late morning when she basked in the warm sunlight streaming through her breakfast nook window. After The Suit finally vacated the premises, Alice migrated from gnawing on her cuticles back to her fingernails that were already red raw and bitten clean, down to the quick. There was nothing left to chew, but she somehow managed to find a straggling piece of skin or nail she obsessed over with her teeth. If she went after it long enough, the tiny particle of skin would finally tear away, exposing a new sliver of flesh and a fresh onset of discomfort. It was that sensation, when her fingernails had nothing left to contribute but pain, that made her stop biting them. For now, she relished in the reprieve from looking like a nervous child, caught-up in a crowd, with her fingers in her mouth. The mere habit of biting her nails, was problematic for Alice, and she instinctively reached into her bag for her sanitizer and rubbed her hands together. Having been a self-confined human for nearly half a decade, Alice had also become a germaphobe, just one more “byproduct” of her condition, The Pink had told her. Thus, the need for lotion, since her hands were always dry from over washing them. Looking at her hands now, it was hard for Alice to believe she once possessed perfectly manicured and painted fingernails. Her favorite color had always been OPI’s Root Beer Float, although she preferred French-tipped toenails. And she used to be a fashion-savvy dresser too, while sporting perfectly coiffed and highlighted hair. But today, Alice couldn’t help but fixate on her shoddy and unkempt nails and the fact she was decked-out, head-to-toe, in ill-fitting clothes she found online. Her meager wardrobe, designed for apartment wear in California, was no match for the ruthless Midwestern wintertime’s she remembered, and she was forced to buy clothing to wear on her trip. When the outfits arrived last week, she realized she had purchased the wrong sizes and didn’t have enough time to return anything. She had lost so much weight, she didn’t even know how to dress herself anymore. Alice knew she presented herself to the world as nothing but a pale and depressed bag of skin and bones. Yet another defeat. Alice finally lugged her roller bag off the carousel and joined it with her Louis Vuitton Keepall at her feet. She knew she looked ridiculous, in her budget clothing along with the luxurious carry-on, but the handbag was a present she bought herself, her most expensive purchase ever, from the windfall her family gave her when she graduated from law school at the top of her class. And she watched that bag today, her most prized possession, afraid someone might purloin something else from her again. Something important to her she could never get back. Like the life she once knew before it was prostrate in an alleyway of a safe suburb of Los Angeles. Once in the parking garage, the bitter cold air was palpable, even in Alice’s new, ill-fitting garb and all those silly layers that weighed down her frail body. She was trembling in place at the rental car checkout counter, waiting for her keys and a stall number. The Uniform attending her was all business at first, tapping away at his keyboard as he prepared her paperwork. After a few minutes, he looked-up, seemingly noticing her for the first time and smiled, revealing perfect teeth above a chiseled, cleft chin. “Where ya headed?” The Uniform asked. Alice’s heart skipped a beat, panicking, she noticed he stopped typing. “Indianapolis,” Alice replied meekly, struggling to find a way to avoid the confrontation, but she was stuck in time and place. “Looks like you came in from Los Angeles? You know, you can fly directly into Indy from LAX? Could save yourself some time if you went direct instead of passin’ through here.” “I’m using my father’s miles. My hands were tied,” Alice replied nippily while looking down at her obsolete flip phone. It struck her that those were two of the longest sentences she had uttered to a perfect stranger in a very long time, and she felt herself her blushing. It was clear to Alice that The Uniform was looking to make a connection with her, but Alice didn’t have the time, nor the inclination to indulge the tête-à-tête. None of her travel specifics was any of his business, even if she happened to notice he had a nice smile and a dimpled chin. All she wanted was to get on the road so she could arrive at her parent’s house as scheduled. Alice stiffened her shoulders, mustered some confidence, and nonchalantly grabbed the keys and her paperwork from the attendant’s hands the second he was finished. “Gotta go! Thanks!” Without turning back, Alice hurried to her stall, found the black Ford Escape her father rented her, looked in the front and backseat to make sure no one else was in it, popped open the trunk, delicately set down her coveted Louis Vuitton, and closed the lid. She then looked behind her to make sure no one had come in behind her, raced around to the driver’s side and swiftly opened the door, sat down, found the door lock, positioned her mirrors and seat, applied more hand sanitizer, and quickly reviewed her route back home to her family. Since she didn’t have one of those new-fangled smartphones everyone was using, and there was no map in the rental, she was going to have to use the directions she printed before she left L.A. Five years is a long time to try and remember how to get back to a place. She finally amassed enough nerve to back-out of the stall, and with trepidation, she inched her way towards the exit, and the darkness lurking beyond it. Once she reached the edge of garage, she glanced in her rearview mirror, observed no one behind her, rolled the vehicle to a complete stop, and placed the SUV into park. It took all of her courage to roll down the window. When she did, a blast of cold air confronted her, slapping her hard on the face, severely reminding her of the undertaking at hand. She swallowed her fear whole. Alice forced herself to look up into the very darkness from which she had been sheltering herself for so long. There she sat, with her head out the window, staring-up at the opaque, nighttime sky highlighted by light noise coming from the Windy City, and immediately relived the violent push from behind, her body falling hard to the ground, and the horror that followed. The shrill honk of a horn coming from a car behind her, reverberated, breaking her spell of harsh reminiscence. She looked in the rear-view mirror, addressed the tears rolling down her face and wiped them clean away. She had two choices. Put the crossover in gear and go. Or turn back. Since she had come so far already, the direction she chose was forward, and into the darkness where she was forced to reconcile with her demons. Alice had discovered earlier, from other passengers on the plane, there was at least six inches of freshly fallen snow on the ground that had accumulated throughout the day. She deduced the state highwaymen had long since been through from the plow marks and salt she could see in the filthy, slushy mess that obscured the asphalt for miles in front of her. But the light trickle of rain on her windshield reminded her if the temperatures dipped below freezing, she’d have one knuckle-bender of a drive ahead. She remembered, from her time spent growing-up in the Midwest, how quickly rain or melted snow could turn the roads into a slick sheet of glass when the temperatures dropped. Wintertime in the Midwest could be a formidable brute. For now, Alice was thankful the temperature gauge stayed steady at 38 degrees, even though the wind-chill factor made it feel much, much colder outside. She was now three hours from home, almost exactly, and had no idea how she was going to handle herself once she got there. Luckily, she had the long drive ahead to sort everything out. “Alice, please. Please let us come get you. Vivienne can’t contain herself; she’s so excited. She’s driving me absolutely nuts! And your dad, OH MY GOODNESS, he’s beside himself with worry you are making the drive by yourself. I forced him go to work and had him book a dinner meeting so he will be preoccupied, or he will pace the floor all day! He will get home just before you do. But, please,” she pressed, “it’s not too late. We haven’t seen you in almost five years. We are so afraid you might change your mind and not come.” Despite her mother’s heartfelt pleas to let her family retrieve her from the airport, she told them she would be fine, and she promised to see them soon enough. Plus, The Pink had told Alice it was important for her to go through the process of getting home like she had done so many times during college, before the attack. And, right now Alice was cognizant she needed to follow her doctor’s directives, word-for-word. Otherwise, Alice couldn’t trust herself not to turn back. “See, Mom, driving at night ain’t no big thang,” Alice said aloud, admittedly proud of herself, as she finally made her way onto the interstate. She gripped the steering wheel harder and allowed herself to revel in some of her successes to that point, something she had not permitted herself to do in a very long time. She couldn’t believe she had actually found the gumption to make the trip on her own, but Alice knew she was at a crossroads with her recovery. If she didn’t begin to take back control of her life, she would never move past her attack; she knew this now more than ever. She had sentenced herself to solitary confinement; she couldn’t live the same way anymore. She was desperate to feel anything, but the nothingness she felt since her attacker robbed her of everything. She was hungry for an embrace, a touch, a kiss. Anything. She craved the ability to smile and laugh and listen and be heard, but she had long since pushed everyone that loved her away. Alice missed her people, and she was on her way to earn the right to have them back. She knew she had to keep propelling herself forward and into the darkness that bound her, or she would stay imprisoned, forever. So it was there, somewhere on the interstate, with her headlights illuminating the rain and darkness, traversing along vast stretches of vacant and barren land, past small towns, and gas stations lit up by neon signs, big white farmhouses with dilapidated red barns, and long-since harvested fields of soybean and corn swathed in deep snow, that Alice forced herself to reckon with the past five years of her pathetic existence. Dirk. It had been a long time since she allowed herself to think about him. Before her attack, they had been talking about marriage and their future blonde-haired babies that surely would be born with Alice’s eyes and Dirk’s smile, but Alice wanted to get her feet firmly planted into a law firm and start her career before even discussing an engagement. Ultimately, Dirk and Alice never had a running start at tackling their hopes and dreams. To Alice, those were now nothing more than fleeting and naive delusion. Of course, Dirk loved her and pledged to stay by her side, and steadfastly contended he would be there to help her pick up the pieces after her attack. But everyone, including him, treated her and “her situation,” as they liked to call it, delicately. Even Dirk referred to what happened to her as an “ASSAULT.” While everyone around her demonstrated nothing but undying love and support, there was no way to dampen Alice’s reality, especially with their meaningless, albeit well-intended, words. Alice felt she was quickly losing her voice to everyone’s design on how to puzzle-piece her once promising life back together. She knew she had to focus on healing, and to do that and to have to constantly impede everyone’s involvement, with their strong opinions about her every move, was emotionally draining. Early-on, especially in those first few months, Alice felt she was no longer in control of her own life; she felt she had been reduced to a helpless baby that everyone around her thought had to be coddled and pampered. Alice’s resentment grew, and she slowly began to pull back from all the attention and away from everyone that loved her. Eventually Dirk said, “You know, Al. You can only push someone so far away, until they eventually know their place. Gone.” And, that’s what happened next. Dirk grabbed his jacket off the coat-hook in her apartment, turned back to look at her one more time, opened the door, walked through it, and stayed gone, just three months and a day after her hospitalization. Once the door slammed behind him, she snidely laughed, “Was it something I said? Or was it my Chlamydia?” Those were her angry days, back when she was still fighting hot mad about the senseless act that stripped her of her dignity, gave her an STD, robbed her of her sense of self, and destroyed her trust in others.Dirk never looked back, and Alice couldn’t blame him. Good riddance! Her mother was the worst. She relentlessly babied Alice; she sent her a list of law firms that were interviewing, called her three times a day, and bought her new clothes and shoes, while she incessantly fussed over every single detail of Alice’s life. Her father, on the other hand, reprimanded her for going out at night alone in Los Angeles, and slowly began to obsess about her every move. Was her oil changed in her car? Did she check the tires? Where was she headed that night? Would she be alone or was a friend or Dirk with her? What time did she plan on coming home? Despite her parent’s meddleing and intrusion into Alice’s privacy back then, she had been moving forward, slowly, and methodically. But in those days, no one could say the disgustingly loathsome and dirty word to describe the heinous crime perpetrated on Alice. Her boyfriend, her parents, the medical staff at the hospital, the police, and the media referred to what happened to her by its ten o’clock news and suited for television name: assault. Assault. Such a pleasant-sounding word used for such a delicate flower who took an injudicious walk in a skirt one night in her own neighborhood, simply to catch a breath of fresh air. But Alice had caught Chlamydia instead. What Alice really wanted was for everyone to feel the same anger she felt, at the same time, and in the exact same way she felt it, but no one in her orbit could relate, not even her so-called best friends, and it infuriated her. The Pink often told her early on, “You can’t make other people feel anything. Stop trying.” Alice wanted to recount her attack in words that made people understand, but that seemed inconceivable, not to mention, unladylike. How could she tell her loved ones what it felt like to be forced down, unsuspectedly, onto cold, hard concrete, or what it felt like to have the full weight of a large man bearing down on her, a man that had no face because he cowardly came at her from behind, throttling her neck and covering her mouth with one rough, calloused hand, while the other one groped a breast as he panted the words, “Don’t scream or I will put a knife into you,” and when he finally gave her neck and face and knees and legs some reprieve from being ground until they were raw and bloodied by the concrete, only then to have him pull her hair so tightly Alice found a small clump of it next to her after he ran off. How could she tell the people that loved her what it felt like to have her skirt hoisted, her panties and shirt ripped off, her bra askew, and what the desperate, despicable, faceless force of a man felt like, thrusting inside of her from behind as she wept and clung to hope that he wouldn’t kill her? How could she tell them about the ugly sound of his moans and groans while he climaxed on top of her, and how he simply rolled her over, punched her in the face, and then darted off, leaving her beaten, all-used up, a pathetic and discarded wad of trash, crumpled on the ground in an alleyway, just a moments walk from the safety of her own apartment? And all this, just days after she graduated, all fresh and hopeful, and ready to tackle the legal world by storm. And so, she didn’t tell anyone anything. After all, she hadn’t seen her perpetrator; she never even opened her eyes. Instead she let the black eye, the blood, the bruises, the scrapes, and the STD that followed, do all of the talking for her. That’s why words, to Alice, sounded like nothing more than vacuous clatter coming from mouths attached to faces on bodies that had never lived through an assault. She just wanted everyone to stop talking and leave her alone. Of course, she also wanted justice, but that never came either. What Alice genuinely needed was to talk to someone who could relate, and despite the fact that Alice knew there were legions of women just like her who had been sexually assaulted, dialogues felt candy-coated, palatable, and easy for everyone to digest. Alice reconciled with the fact that she was now a full-time member in her own secret club. And since no one could console her, she wanted else but to be left alone. Recluses, like Alice, had a lot of time on their hands to watch television, read the news, and to scan through feeds on social media, especially after five, long years of isolation. Women were finally now beginning to come forward, but Alice was still mostly disaffected by all of it, because she couldn’t bring herself to ever feel much of anything at all. Except for that one time in the recent news. Alice recalled reading about entertainment industry leading ladies emerging and using their stories to finally talk about sexual assault. Alice thought some of those women were in a position to take action sooner, and their stories didn’t sit well with her because many of them never demonstrated anything but courage in the past. Alice felt each of them had it within themselves to command their audience, stand on a podium, and take a mic to prevent other women from getting hurt, but didn’t, because they were afraid speaking out would impact their careers. Alice didn’t have a platform. Rose McGowan was Alice’s true heroine. She was the first person to leverage her celebrity and voice to impart change, and she couldn’t care less about the impact speaking out would have on her career. Now, thanks to McGowan, Alice’s club was less private and was becoming infinitely bigger, almost overnight. But still, it was all too little, too late for Alice, because not long after her attack, “her situation” felt hopeless, and back then, she figured she may as well get used to being unabashedly and permanently alone. Somehow, she found a certain degree of comfort in her isolation, but with it, she sank deeper into an unshakeable depression. Not long after Dirk left, Alice phoned her parents and begged them not to come back to Los Angeles. She needed space and time to process it all, she told them. Seeing them so heartbroken after her assault was more than Alice could bear. At the hospital, Alice’s mom remained by her bedside, her lower lip quivered with something she had been trying to say. As soon as her mother started to speak, she stopped, looked down at her hands and watered her lap with fresh tears, and the words never came. Alice’s sister, Vivienne, who was only twelve at the time, was too young to completely comprehend much of what was happening, but she was visibly shaken to see her family so distressed; she stood pouting in the corner. And, Alice’s father was so incensed, she thought he would pop a vein on his neck as he paced the hospital room like a protective lion circling his den of females, all of whom took turns crying. Had her assailant ever been caught, Alice was sure her father would have wanted him to die for what he did to her. But there was that one time, while Alice lay healing in the hospital bed, while she watched as her father’s eyes scanned her body, taking in each bruise on her legs, and followed them up to her split, bloodied lip, eventually stopping at her eyes, one of them blackened, bulbous, and bloodied-shut. Alice saw something there, in her father’s stare, she couldn’t identify. It would kill her father to know the look on his face, from that day in the hospital, coupled with Dirk eventually walking out on her, was what ramified her fate as a victim, and it was then that she began to disconnect her tether to everyone. The barrage of questions from the police subjected Alice to even more torment. What were you wearing? Why were you walking alone? Had you been drinking? What do you remember about your assailant? Could he be someone you know? How big was he? How much do you think he weighed? What did he sound like? Did he have an accent? What did he look like? What color was his skin? What do you mean you never saw him? You didn’t see anything? In which direction did he run away? They tried to milk more and more from her, but Alice had nothing left to give; Alice’s assailant had taken everything. “You have to remember,” they implored, but all she wanted was for them to leave so she could get back down to the business of forgetting. But she couldn’t forget. She started to examine and analyze the data, like she had learned in law school, and that made her feel ugly, tainted, dirty, and undesirable; She made herself feel like a defendant she had put on trial. She began to question herself like a plantiff would question her. Why did she keep her eyes closed? Could she have done something, anything, to protect herself? Why did she go out at night alone, anyway, and especially if she had known better? And then her line of questioning got carried away. Why was she so stupid? Would she ever not be afraid again? Would she ever love and trust and smile and be happy? But, most of all, would her father look at her, that same way, for the rest of her life? Alice’s parents finally forced her to leave the neighborhood where her assault happened, after they found her a suitable apartment in Manhattan Beach. They rationalized a “nice, safe beach town would do you a world of good, along with fresh, ocean air.” For months, after her relocation, her parents called, and Alice tried her best to satiate them with good news about her progress. She assured them she was still in counseling and working to process everything she had been through. She informed them she was an active participant in her sessions, but her parents already knew this because they were, at Alice’s own request, on a direct dial relationship with The Pink. But it wasn’t until around the sixth month after her attack, that her parents discovered Alice wasn’t being forthright and truthful with them or her doctor. She couldn’t hold down a job and had blown through all her savings to pay her bills. Not a single resume went out to any law firm. It was then her parents realized just how far Alice had sunk into a very deep and dark depression, and Alice reconciled with the fact that she couldn’t keep her secrets from them anymore. What they couldn’t possibly have known was, most days, it usurped every ounce of Alice’s energy to sit-up erect in bed, not to mention to have enough will to be able to land her feet on one side of it, so that she could eat or drink, or go to the bathroom. Still, she refused to let her mother come to take care of her, because Alice also feared she would try and take her back home with them to Indiana. “No, please, Mom. Please, don’t come. I can’t let you see me this way,” Alice continuously pleaded. Her parents had nothing left to do but to oblige, but not before they located a doctor who specialized in working with violent crime victims with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But that doctor was all the way in Santa Monica, too far for Alice to venture out to, and Alice ended-up cancelling every appointment her mother scheduled for her. Not giving-up, her mother eventually landed on Alice’s doorstep, but Alice refused to answer the buzzer. The Pink had assured Alice’s parents that she was not in any real danger to herself, and there was nothing they could do, but support her financially, and eventually, Alice would want to rejoin the living. Still, her family beseeched her to come back home to Indiana, but Alice didn’t want any part of it. She couldn’t fathom being a burden on her loving parents who worked so hard to raise her and put her through law school, only to turn their lives upside down the moment she returned home. More importantly, Alice didn’t want them to see the pajamaed, lifeless and limp, stringy-haired, unkempt shell-of-a-person she had become. She couldn’t fathom going home and making it from her childhood bedroom, down the stairs to the dinner table, let alone assuming her role within her family. Fortunately for Alice, her parents had the financial wherewithal to sustain her jobless and depressed life, alone in her apartment. Days, months and years passed, with seemingly no hope in sight. Her parents sent money that Alice never spent, and they took over her rent and utility bills, and even had a local market deliver a steady flow of food to her apartment, all the while thinking she would recover from wanting to be shackled in her self-imposed prison. Instead, Alice stopped answering the phone altogether, and time and solitude made Alice become more and more reclusive, except for the obligatory, once-weekly visit she made to her doctor’s office. The Pink continuously assured her parents that Alice was making it to her sessions, and together, they were crawling towards progress while managing her antidepressants, which were the minimum stipulations her parents set with Alice in lieu of being placed in a rehabilitation center for the clinically depressed. Eventually, hope appeared on the horizon. Session after session with The Pink finally unraveled the inner workings of Alice’s psyche. Progress eventually came from just one little word that sprang from Alice’s mouth. The Pink forced her to articulate it because even she had never uttered it before. “Say it,” he implored, “and we will finally get somewhere. Put all your anger into that one word.” But even though Alice wanted to speak, she couldn’t project any sound from her mouth. Still, the Pink pressed on. “Say it, Alice, or you will never, ever be able to put this behind you. Don’t you want to get your life back, or do you want to empower him forever?” Empower him. Something about the word “him” got through to Alice. The Pink had given the unknown assailant a face and a name. “He” was just a cowardly “man” and she had let “him” control her whole life. Suddenly she remembered who she was, her hard-earned effort to get through law school, graduation day, her parents, sibling, and grandparents proudly standing next to her with her diploma in hand, and she recalled, for the first time in almost five years, what it felt like to be unscathed and happy. Her old anger, long since suppressed and bottled-up inside, emerged, finally reared its head once again. Alice marshaled up her inner Rose McGowan and uttered the words she so desperately needed the world, and herself, to hear. “I. Was. Raped.” “And it was not my fault.” When the word RAPED finally poured from her lips, for the first time in almost five years, Alice wept. She sobbed and gasped for breath while her whole body and heart and soul quaked. She finally cried the stagnant tears she kept dormant for so long. When she calmed herself, she sat and rocked gently, back-and-forth, on the sofa and listened carefully to what The Pink, and his rosé colored cheeks, had to say next.There was still a lot more she had left to do, he told her. It was time for her to finally leave her apartment, fly back to the Midwest, face the darkness and drive home to her family, after having been estranged from them for so long. And like a robot programmed to follow voice commands, she left The Pink, went home, and called her parents for the first time in years. They, of course, were smart enough not to press Alice or ask any questions, but she had to put the phone down next to her, they were so loud, euphoric to hear that she would finally be coming home. Alice could hardly believe it herself, how much time she had let pass her by, enslaved by walls, with only Judge Judy, Ellen, and the like, to keep her company for all those years. When she first heard her parents’ voices over the phone, she realized how desperate she was to be back in their arms. The phone call to her family reminded her she had even missed the sound of their voices. It had been such a long time since she had spoken to anyone else but The Pink, and it was pure melody to her ears. Alice had been so lost in her reverie; she couldn’t remember taking the exit off the highway. It was almost as if she and the vehicle were working together, in tandem and on autopilot, to get her home. She was alarmed to note the light drizzle outside had turned to cottony tufts of snow, piling up quickly on the edges of her windshield. Her wipers, which she didn’t remember turning on, could barely keep up, and she noticed the temperature outside had plummeted to 29 degrees, but thankfully her tires were still gripping the road, albeit now covered with at least an inch of new snow. The plows hadn’t been through, and she needed to slow her roll, or she might get into an accident, and she had come too far now to let that happen. She celebrated the fact she hadn’t needed the printed directions after all. Her triumphs, however small, were racking up by the minute. She was almost home. When Alice finally arrived into her old neighborhood, she noticed how things had changed since the last summer she was home. The sprawling estates, now fully decorated for Christmas, peppered the landscape with their circular driveways and stone or brick pillar lights. A new, monster of a house had gone up in the neighborhood, architecturally beautiful, but was bigger than the rest, and it stood like a regal watchtower, a proud guardian of its domain. Alice keyed in the gate-code at the wrought iron entrance, adorned on both sides with giant, red bows. She slowly made her way up the long, winding flagstone driveway, her tires were now beginning to spin beneath her. The perfectly mowed and patterned acres of lawn she remembered the last time she was there, was now blanketed in dense, pristinely white snow. She could see her family’s enormous Christmas tree aglow from the parlor window, and the whole house was lit-up like Guantanamo. It was as if her family wanted every light on in the house to serve as a beacon, welcoming Alice home. Alice surmised that each of her family members knew she was parked outside and they would be waiting patiently at the door to greet her when she walked in. She instinctively knew they wouldn’t want to overwhelm her by descending on her while she was still in the driveway, and she was thankful for that courtesy. She still needed one last moment to regroup, catch her breath, and to take one final giant leap of faith, along with the new baby steps required to make it up the slippery walkway. When she finally opened the door, just as she had suspected, they were all ready and waiting to meet her, one by one, but under Alice’s terms. She noticed her mother and, while she still looked as beautiful as she remembered, her worry over her daughter’s condition had aged her more than a little. Vivienne was now seventeen, much taller and far more developed than she anticipated, and was, in essence, a stranger to Alice now. Alice felt a sudden and tremendous amount of guilt and regret that she had inadvertently abandoned her baby sister, someone Alice now realized she would have to struggle to get to know. Tank, the family’s golden retriever, who always filled-up the foyer with his boundless energy and incessantly wagging tail, was missing from the picture, and Alice immediately mourned his absence, while her eyes welled-up with new tears. She intuitively knew Tank must have died sometime during her time away. But, when Alice finally got around to her father, new emotion rose-up through her throat, and everything suddenly became vividly clear. There her father was, standing before her, as dashingly handsome as always, in a navy-blue suit with a loosened, tartan plaid tie. But her father wasn’t just another suit, like the careless man in the airport that she had eyed with suspicion. Her father was not despicable, nor capable of rape, nor was he someone to be feared. No. Her father was the man who raised her; he was smart, and warm, and kind, and generous to every woman he had ever encountered in his entire lifetime. He was the man who took nothing from her but who had given her everything. Her first love. And, that unfamiliar gaze that made her question everything before, was still there, but surprised her when it suddenly broke into tears, streaming, hard and fast down his cheeks. Her father came to her and pulled her in close and tight to his chest, enveloping her, wrapping his hands gently around the nape of her neck, momentarily pulling her away to kiss her square on the lips. They held each other for what felt like an eternity while they both cried. Everything unexpectedly and now suddenly made sense. The look her father had given her, that day in the hospital, had not been one of repulsion or disgust; it had been one of unadulterated anguish, a look of having to stay strong for his daughter, a look that struggled to hold back tears he had been taught, since he was a boy, to suppress. Alice hadn’t recognized it back then, because it was a look she had never seen on her father’s face before. Her father had always been able to protect her before that day in the hospital, when Alice had begun to question everything, after having been beaten, all used-up, and discarded, but her dad had been questioning himself too. She knew that now. Alice had been so lost in her own agony, but she now knew she wasn’t the only one who had lived through unimaginable and insufferable pain. And, then Alice’s mother and sister joined them, each of them wrapping their arms around her, a reunion that restored their broken bond. But it wasn’t until her mother gently pulled Alice aside, hugged her tightly, lovingly pushed back the hair from over her ear and uttered two little words, almost indecipherable, that she was finally, finally released. "Me too."