It wasn't an ordinary night for I was alone and blissfully so. My husband was out of town with his brother for an overnight visit to an uncle, my daughter giggling under the covers at a friend's house likely until well into the morning.
I fixed no dinner, and did no chores. I showered, prepared a bag of popcorn and settled down to find a movie. Tonight there would be no wrestling, no kill, maim, and bleed to death scenes, no sports, no MTV videos. It was Bridges of Madison County and me for the duration.
A couple hours and a half a box of tissues later, with long suppressed memories of lost love much too real once again, I decided to take a drive. I needed some fresh air, what could it hurt?
It was a quiet night and not much traffic on the highway as I headed in no particular direction. After all, no one knew I was gone, no one missed me. It was peaceful and I simply drove and thought.
My first inkling that something was amiss came from a slight pull of the steering wheel, followed closely by a reverberating and telltale thump as I realized I had a flat tire. Mentally thanking my father for teaching me to change a tire before he taught me to turn the ignition, I pulled over to the side. Glancing at the clock I saw it was after 2 AM. I was well off the road and next to a heavily wooded area, but at that time I doubted I'd see many other drivers including any that would want to help.
I'm not by nature a nervous person, and often take unnecessary risks. Still, with the darkness, and the chill in the early October air, I was just as glad that the few passers-by ignored me. I hurried about my task stopping only once to find a jacket from the car.
I'd finished and was putting the jack away when I saw headlights, none too straightly making their way towards me. I sighed as the vehicle pulled over, knowing that being a weaving pickup truck, I'd surely have to thank politely some drunken redneck when he offered to help.
I am now more cognizant of what it means to have something happen so fast that you can't quite recall the blur of the events. All too soon this 'polite' gentleman had me by the arms roughly shoving me towards the woods. Purely redneck from his flannel shirt to his acrid smells, I discovered also all too soon that the sheath attached to his belt was not empty.
I had been schooled in handling this, I'd been told to not fight, to give in, to not scream. Conversely, I'd been told to kick and flail and holler with all my might. I can honestly say at that moment all rational thought had left me. There was no decision to be made, I simply ceased to exist for a few moments. Had I wanted to scream I doubt I'd have had the ability nor would anyone have heard me.
I can't remember if it took too long to be over, or if I thought it would never begin. I remember the point when he told me if I fought him he'd kill me, brandishing the knife with a macho bravado. I remember not caring if he did. I remember wishing he would, and fighting as if to allow him to make good on his threat.
There was no moon on that night and I never saw his face, I only felt everything with both a clarity and a dullness at the same time. The terror was more painful than the physical act, and the sense of worthlessness was more painful than both.
I don't even know when he left.
I got to my car, tattered, beaten, filthy and sick. Somehow I found my way home, to my shower, to my bed. I'd never been so happy to be alone in all my life. I'd never been so sorry to be alive.
I called no one. When the light of day finally came although sleep never did, I realized I could not identify him. What was the point of bringing all this to the public eye, accepting the pity, embarrassing my daughter, putting all of us through something that would only hurt us while some nameless faceless being slept away a hangover?
So, I covered the bruises with a story of running with my dog in the woods and falling. Being naturally clumsy it washed. I found rape hotlines online and called, but began to cry after only a few minutes of telling my story. And I went to a clinic to be tested for AIDS. I feigned disinterest in sexual relations, alienating my husband in order to save him. I sold my car. Somehow I got through the waiting for the tests and counseled myself, pushing the memories back to a safe place in my mind. They are still there, and sometimes, like now, come spilling out with a vengeance.
I know I handled everything against the norm, I probably should have called the police, told my family, and gotten therapeutic help. But, I had been enough of a victim, I wasn't going to let him hurt me anymore. Forgetting is safer, forgetting is clean.
It's been about two years now. I still see his featureless face in a thousand other faces that pass me by. I've tested clean for AIDS each time. I've never been back on that stretch of highway since, and I've never been able to watch Bridges of Madison County again.
But I wonder if he knows MY face. Did he see ME? Was he more aware than I was? Sometimes I'll catch someone staring at me, and I wonder...
That's what scares me.