“Friend in urgent need of a room or place to stay. PM me if you can help.”
A post on Facebook popped up.
I was living in a three bedroom house in an Armenian suburb of Los Angeles. I use the word “three” loosely as the third bedroom, tucked between both bedrooms, could barely fit a bed inside of it. It was unused though it had been utilized as various things at various moments. A doggie rehab after my pit bull was hit by a truck. A room to change into Halloween costumes. A passageway from the back bedroom into the house.
Mostly it acted as a buffer between the lonely life of an unemployed poker player named Frank in the back and the delightfully noisy love affair I was starting with a younger man in the front.
I replied to the post. The message I received was vague: “I think she was attacked. Not sure. She needs a place to live immediately.”
The same day, I was friended by Annie on Facebook. We spoke on the phone. She told me she was raped in downtown Los Angeles and needed a new place to stay. She was uncertain, she didn’t want to commit. I told her I would hold the room without any need for deposit. Frank, my new boyfriend Michael and I cleaned up the room, popped in a futon and burned an incense candle. I took a picture and texted it to her. “It is all set up for you when you are ready.”
She texted back: “<3”.
The next day, she stopped by with a male friend. My dogs barked, pounding the glass with their paws, their large pit bull heads smudging nose prints and hot breath all over the front window. I looked out and watched as she crumbled and cried. The dogs were too much.
I popped outside to introduce myself, soothe and apologize to her. My dogs were friendly, just loud.
She was small and skinny, like a doll concealing her limbs of ribbon under a tiny outfit designed around a glass head, hands and feet. She turned her head to me like a spring tulip. She had big, brown eyes and a brown long bob, like a throwback to the 60s Bond Girl. “Sorry, this was just too much,” she said. Her eyes were wet.
I took this to mean she did not want to move in, but after I tucked the dogs away in my bedroom she toured the house and decided to stay. We spoke in the kitchen and I introduced her to Frank. All three of us were entertainers and we awkwardly spat out a joke or two until she laughed and plucked the remaining tears off her eye lashes.
After she moved in, she needed a ride to the police station. They were going to drive her around the scene of the crime and ask her more questions. They believed Annie’s story matched the profile of a serial rapist.
“Wow…” I said. “So, he knows where you live?”
“Yeah, um, he followed me home after …”
“We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
“No. No it’s ok. It’s helpful actually.” Her voice sounded steady and rich, like she was sipping tea and resting in a large arm chair. I was impressed. “I was walking with my iPod on. I felt his arms come up around me so fast and hard, I thought he was someone I knew hugging me from behind. He pulled my ear buds out and tapped his gun on my forehead. He told me not to look at him. I let him guide me into this dark ally. There was a spray painted traffic sign on the ground for me. I was worried about my backpack because it had all my drawings in there. He got on top of me but had trouble so I got on my knees and,” she motioned with an open mouth as if the ghost was sliding over her tongue again. “I just wanted it over with.
The worst part was the people walking by on the street. They saw me. They saw what was happening. I asked for help but they just kept walking by and said ‘Trust in the Lord’.
He followed me home and said this was the only way he could ever be with a girl like me. I kept calling him ‘Sir’ like ‘Yes, sir’. ‘No, sir’. When he said I would never bother to get to know him, I asked him some stupid questions about himself.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“What’s your favorite color? He said blue. Or what song made him emotional every time he heard it. Then he sang a song that reminded him of his mother. She just died. He said it always made him tear up.”
Little miss magic, what you gonna be? Little miss magic, just can't wait to see…
“When we got to my building, he made sure it was mine. He wouldn’t leave until he watched me use the key to open the door.
Then I went home and called my friend. He came over and we called the police together. When they did the rape kit, it was almost worse.” Tears shined over her eyes.
“It’s okay,” I said warmly, generically, honestly. “You know, I was raped too. When I was 14.”
She moaned a reply as I navigated us off the freeway.
“They fed me beer. It was my first time drinking so I blacked out and got sick. One was in my Pre-Algebra class and the other one was his twenty-two year old cousin or something. I woke up to them like … taking turns. I don’t know if they planned it. I don’t know how many times they did it. I just know both of them were inside me. But…” I side glanced at her before making a turn. “Yours is worse because it was stranger with a gun.”
“Oh,” she said. “I think yours is worse because there was more than one person.”
We both laughed like birds bathing in street water after a car rolled over us.
I dropped her off outside the station, watched her skip run across the street like a little girl landing in puddles and went home.
She started to paint abstract monsters. They were fantastic. Canvas after canvas, she molded unearthly creatures in black and white pictures.
“How did it go with the police?”
“I don’t know. We drove around where it happened and I started saying I am not sure if I wanted to go through with this. Then they started doubting me. I don’t know. It was weird.”
“Are you going to go through with it?”
“Yeah … yeah. You know all these people always look so sad when they hear what happened. Everyone is sympathetic and sorry. I have been on dates with guys where I knew the only way to get out of their house or to leave their apartment was to have sex with them. You know, when you don’t want to? But you decide it would be easier that dealing with that other side of them,” she said. “That is almost worse.”
“I know exactly what you are saying.”
“Really?” she asked. Neither of us ever really ever had the opportunity to speak from this special place before. Not just this odd, rectangular room in between lives—but from a plane where we both could acknowledge monsters existed. Unlike other conversations with other types of women, we weren’t judging, we weren’t competing and we weren’t studying. Annie and I were both broken and examining the pieces scattered across her paper wood floor. It was one of the most honest conversations I’ve ever had.
“I know what you are saying. When you are on a date with a guy and they work you. They wear you down. It starts with light pushing, and then it gets aggressive and uncomfortable. And then they make you feel bad. It can go on for hours. It’s exhausting. And they think that kind of behavior is par for the course. Get sex by any means possible. Do they have any idea it makes dating on a whole a miserable experience?”
Even now, as I write this, I can see owning stronger boundaries may have saved us several unpleasant sexual encounters. Our weakness was not going in as fighters, as warriors. Then again, dating on the defensive doesn’t sound like a winning combination either. Men were setting us up for a sexual encounter. It could be anyone: the “nice” guy, the professional, the neighbor. Dating wasn’t about getting to know anyone. It was about opportunity. It was about sex by any means possible. Whether that be through putting us down, expecting us to be polite, ignoring personal space, crushing against our knee and breathing in our hair, pushing alcohol, criticizing ex-boyfriends or life decisions, exploiting our heartbreak or story, comparing us to other girls, throwing money at us or simply just not getting out of our face.
No it wasn’t rape, but yes it could be as bad.
I just wanted it to end.
. In the back of the house, Annie and Frank would listen to music, chat and even go out for coffee or a meal. It was clear there was an attraction, in spite of Annie’s PTSD. New leaves and closed blossoms formed around her eyes and smile.
One night, the two kissed. Frank suffered an especially bad day immediately afterward. He either lost a lot of money at the casino or suffered from chronic car trouble. Perhaps it was both on this particular day. “I was thinking through the whole thing, I am gonna come home and there will be this great girl waiting for me in my bed. Instead, I opened the door and she asked to talk. I knew I wasn’t getting lucky anytime soon.”
Various parts of his narrative bothered me. Annie was raped a month and a half before, why would he think she was ready to slip into his bed on a second physical encounter? A few weeks before I watched him pace around the apartment, punching his hand, steaming that a man would take advantage of such a small, petite girl. To him, he was nowhere near the monster that pushed Annie onto a spray painted traffic sign. To me, he was putting his own desire in front of what was best for her.
I never asked her what she felt about it. It was none of my business to ask. I do believe she left on good terms with him. Her parents asked her to move back home to New York. I asked her to paint us a monster before she left. I still have it hanging up in my living room. A couple days after she was gone, the same friend that escorted her to our front door that first day returned alone. This time all he delivered a monster painting to Frank. I could see he missed her.
I will never forget the girl who painted monsters. The monsters that lurk on dark street corners. The monsters that appear in “nice” guys who want to get laid. The monsters that sleep inside all of us.
Vita Lusty is a nonfiction writer. She has work appearing or forthcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul, Penny, Papernautilus and the collaborative manuscript By One’s Own Hand: Writing About Suicide. She is now hiding in the Joshua Tree desert and finishing her first book in a key lime house with a pack of rescued dogs.