Life As I Have Seen It
Monsters Are Real
The Story of Elisabeth
Written by Samantha Evans
The boogeyman is real.
He snatched me from home late one night.
I was 10 years old.
My older brother could sleep through anything.
If my parents asked me to wake Danny for school, I’d burst into his room and jump on his stomach. No response. Sometimes, I’d make a buzzing noise, like a fly, and I’d mess with his face and poke him. Nothing. Sometimes, I’d pull his covers back and pour water on him so when he woke up, he’d think he wet himself.
Danny could sleep through anything.
I don’t blame him for what happened.
When the police asked me to describe the man who attacked me, I couldn’t.
I never saw his face.
Our parents had left us alone at home for a few hours with instructions to stay inside and lock the door. But the moment their vehicle disappeared from sight, we threw on our coats and headed outside. The air was unseasonably warm, and neighborhood kids migrated to our yard to play. Hats and mittens dropped into melting snowbanks and mud puddles as we raced the length of the block on bikes, laughing until dark.
“Eli! Time to get inside!” Danny called.
I grabbed my jacket and grinned as I ran toward him. He opened the front door and locked it behind us — a compromise of obedience.
We made dinner and watched TV. When Danny got tired, he went to bed.
After I changed into my favorite nightgown, I went back downstairs and slumped on the couch to watch TV.
Reaching behind me, I grabbed an afghan. Snuggled underneath it, I fell asleep.
A loud noise startled me, but I didn’t fully wake up.
The front door, I assumed. Mom and Dad are home.
Someone wrapped the afghan tightly around my body and over my face, jostling me, but that didn’t fully register.
Groggily, I guessed my parents carried me to bed, so I didn’t question the motion until I felt cold air.
Outside? Why? That registered, finally. But I had no brain space for kidnapped.
It didn’t occur to me that someone would break into our home and rip me from it. I possessed no vocabulary for what would happen that night.
The afghan snagged on the door and tore away from my body. A rough, cotton duck material covered my whole head. His coat.
I stopped thinking. I stopped feeling. I nearly stopped breathing.
He carried me under one arm like a football. My body remained stiff as he tossed me onto the front bench seat of his vehicle. We drove away. Fear squeezed my voice box. I felt safer with the coat on my head, so I left it there.
I’m not sure how long he drove.
My next memory is lying with my head near the steering wheel. I felt cold air on my exposed legs.
The coat shifted, exposing my mouth only. He kissed me. His wet mustache smelled like stale beer. Dirty remarks spewed from his dirty mouth.
Then my body exploded with pain I could not fathom in a place that I’d never been touched. I wailed, shocked and mortified.
I continued sobbing.
His knuckles collided with my mouth.
“Shut up, or I’ll kill you after I kill your parents.”
Then, in a twisted attempt at sounding sympathetic, he asked, “Are you cold? Do you want the heat on?”
“Do you want the radio on?”
“No.” I hesitated. “I really got to pee. Can I use the bathroom?”
He touched me, and I nearly cried out but bit it back, my sore teeth and bloody lip fresh reminders of his threat.
Instead, I clenched the steering wheel with both hands until he finished.
I gripped that wheel for what seemed like hours.
Afterward, I sat in the passenger seat as he drove, his coat still covering my head. I leaned my forehead against the passenger window until he stopped and said, “Get out.”
I groped around the side before fingering the door handle.
“Get out of the car. Now! And don’t look back,” he warned.
Dazed, I stumbled out. My neighborhood. I walked toward my house, and when I was closer to home than to him, I turned around and peeked back at the car. The tires spit gravel as he sped away.
I unhooked the afghan from the doorknob of the front door. He’d splintered the doorjamb when he’d kicked the door in.
Upstairs in our bathroom, I tried to pee but couldn’t due to the intensity of my pain. I threw away my nightgown and did my best to clean up the blood. I hurt everywhere. Then I crawled into bed, nauseous with shame.
Some 15 minutes later, I heard my mom’s voice wavering with trepidation. “What happened to the front door? Where are the kids?”
Her footsteps hurried toward my room, and she shoved open the door.
“Eli, are you all right?”
Without waiting for an answer, she threw back the covers and gasped at the bedding covered in blood.
“What happened? Fred!” Her voice faltered. “Get in here! Call 911!”
My dad stood in the doorway, shocked into silence.
A police officer arrived, and at the mention of an ambulance, I panicked. If people hear the siren, will they know what happened? The man’s threats terrified me.
“Honey,” my mom said with a placating tone.
You don’t understand, Mom. This man was going to kill you!
“No, please, no!”
They relented, and the officer drove me to the hospital.
The first time I heard the phrase rape kit was in the hospital, just before my mom slumped over in a faint.
When the doctor inserted the cold metal tool called a speculum during the exam, I passed out.
Through a fog, I heard a doctor say, “She’s going to need surgery.”
The attack had torn through three layers of tissue.
When I woke up from the anesthesia, I wore a pad designed for women post-delivery. It went from the middle of my back to my belly button.
It destroyed my mom that her 10-year-old experienced trauma so horrific, the bleeding was on par with afterbirth. A shift happened in that hospital room, and I heard myself consoling her.
“Mom, it’s fine. I’m alive. I’m all right. We’re gonna get through this.”
I couldn’t pee, hadn’t peed for three days.
Shut up! Shut up, or I’ll wait to kill you until after I kill your parents.
I’ve really got to pee. Can I use the bathroom?
A doctor told me that if I couldn’t urinate, they’d have to insert a catheter. Then he told me what that was.
“Please, no!” Tears followed. I trembled with fear at the thought of being touched down there again. “Please, no.” I covered my face with my hands, inadvertently pressing my swollen lip where he’d hit me.
“Honey,” a nurse said, “you can make your body sick if you don’t go to the bathroom. We’re trying to help you. I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”
My grandma rocked me in her arms. “You can do this, baby. You can do it. I’ll help you.”
Grandma took me by the hand and helped me sit on the toilet. She sat on a hospital shower chair across from me, gathering my smooth hands in her wrinkled ones. She touched her forehead to mine. Her curls tickled my temples. Our tears mingled and traded cheeks as she cooed and sang to me.
With her help, I relieved myself for the first time in three days.
The doctors didn’t want to release me from the hospital yet.
“You don’t understand,” I pleaded. “Johnny Lawrence is my replacement for the district spelling bee. I cannot let Johnny Lawrence take my place.”
My mom championed my cause and persuaded the hospital staff to release me in time for the spelling bee, which I attended before returning to school. I came in fifth out of 48 competitors and lost on a French word, misspelling mademoiselle. Decades later, out of spite, I still refuse to learn the correct spelling and turn my eyes away whenever I see the word in print.
My mom came from a large family. Her brothers and sisters, in addition to my parents, my brother and my dad’s mother, all sat in on a family counseling session with me the day after the spelling bee.
The counselor seemed nice enough at first. After a while, she asked to speak with me alone.
“You’ll be safe,” she assured me. “This is a safe place.”
She attempted to hypnotize me, reiterating that I was safe while asking me to remember and recount the sequence of events of the abduction. Her soothing tone washed over me.
When the police had questioned me, I couldn’t describe what the man looked like and had provided very few details to help them catch him.
This woman determined to be the hero whose efforts would crack the case wide open.
“Now, describe him to me.”
“I … I can’t. I never saw his face.”
“You must have seen something.”
“Who was it, Elisabeth? Which one of the men in that room are you protecting?”
“Was it your brother?”
“Ew, gross! No way!”
“One of your uncles?”
“I don’t know who it was! Why doesn’t anyone believe me?”
When the session ended, I told my mom that I never wanted to see that woman again. She didn’t make me go back.
I begged them not to put the story in the paper. I didn’t want people to find out. I also feared that this man would return to kill my parents and brother.
“They will not release the victim’s name,” they reassured me. Adults can be so dense sometimes.
True, the small article buried on an inside page did not use my name. But it said the girl’s parents were gone, and she was in the care of her older brother. We lived in a small town; everyone knew everyone’s business. And how many girls missed school for an entire week? Needless to say, my secret didn’t stay secret for long.
I could not have defined the word statistics at age 10 or quoted the colloquial “statistics don’t lie,” but my account of the attack didn’t fit the typical pattern. It took me years to realize that the authorities who accused me of lying only played the odds; the vast majority of rape victims are raped by someone they know. No one beyond my family seemed to believe I fell in the minority who didn’t know their attacker.
My insistence didn’t sway their thinking. Surely, they persisted, I’d seen something. Because I said I hadn’t, they assumed I lied.
Two male detectives asked me the same questions week after week. One of them, Detective Pat, remained fairly stoic throughout the interrogations. The other man often sounded angry when I didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. They sat me down in a colorless room with a metal table and a few chairs and repeated the same questions, perhaps expecting my story would change. I realized neither man believed me.
Eventually, like a student who determines the answer the teacher’s waiting for, I started answering questions, even though I didn’t possess the answers.
The sketch artist was determined to draw a face that I insisted I’d never seen. He dropped multiple large photo albums onto the table. The sound startled me. Then he sat across from me, pencil at the ready. I cracked the first cover back and found pictures of every shape and color of eyebrow you could imagine. Noses filled the contents of another. Face shapes, mouths, hair and on and on.
Since I don’t know hadn’t proved a good enough answer, I opened the pages at random, feigning interest, and selected images using the eeny-meeny-miny-moe method.
The man was ecstatic that I finally provided enough detail for him to do his job. His enthusiasm was infectious until the moment he showed me his final image.
“Is that him?” he asked.
“Because most victims have a very emotional response when they see the face of the man who violated them.”
He crumpled up the paper and pitched it across the room in frustration.
I know how you feel, mister.
I started to feel like a normal kid again, though more skittish than I’d been prior to the assault. One day, lined up outside to go in after recess, I stood behind the boy I liked. The thought of talking to him terrified me. Standing that close to him, my heart beat a million miles a minute.
He turned around.
Is he really going to talk to me?
I grinned, the happiest I’d been in months.
His face contorted with disgust, and he made a show of moving to the back of the line, away from me. All the other kids erupted in laughter.
My mom had taught me that crying shows weakness, so I sucked up the embarrassment and made it through the rest of the school day. Eventually, the air brakes squealed on the school bus as it came to a stop down the block from my house. I trudged by each padded seat and down the metal stairs without saying a word to anyone.
I passed an apartment building each day on my walk home. That day, a man swept the outdoor steps that led to the front door. As I walked past him, he stopped and took a drag of his cigarette. His eyes narrowed at me.
I’d used all my suck-it-up on the boy I liked, so by the time I made it to the house, I was inconsolable.
“Our neighbor gave me a mean look, and he hates me, and everyone hates me!”
My mom called my dad, and my dad called the detectives. Minutes later, they all stared down at me, wondering why this man upset me so much.
I should have told them about my day. I should have told them about the boy making a face and all the kids laughing at me.
But I didn’t.
Detective Pat bent down and looked me in the eye.
“Elisabeth, is this the man who hurt you?”
Relief changed his entire demeanor. He mussed my hair.
“Good job, kiddo.”
It could have been him, right? Right?
I desperately wanted it to be over.
But after processing the man’s DNA, the police determined that my neighbor had not raped me. Due to a lack of evidence, leads or suspects, the case went cold.
My mother awoke to a whimpering sound and found me lying on the floor in my parents’ bedroom. She leaned over the bed and held out her arms.
“Eli? Eli, sweetie? What’s wrong, honey?”
I crawled into bed between my parents and snuggled down under the covers. Dad’s large, warm hand covered my shoulder.
“Mom, how could God let this happen to me?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart. I just don’t know.”
That question must have resonated with my dad’s own broken heart because, later, my dad went to church to ask God himself. Then he kept going and started bringing Danny and me.
One Sunday, on the drive home, I pondered what I’d heard in church that day about forgiveness.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“Dad, so if my attacker asked God for forgiveness, then he could go to heaven?”
My dad hesitated. “Yes.”
“Well, if God lets people like that into heaven, I don’t want to be there.”
“Sweetie, you don’t understand —”
“No, you don’t understand.” I ended the conversation.
God and I had a rocky time. I wanted to believe in him, but I couldn’t reconcile the concept of God’s love with what had happened to me or with thinking God had allowed it to happen.
In time, I came to understand that God didn’t want the rape to happen. God gives us all free will, and some people do terrible things. I also came to believe that, in order for my rapist to get into heaven, he would have to be truly sorry and humble enough to ask God to change his heart.
That made me feel a little better. Just a little.
My mother did not fare so well. Following that night, my mother’s drinking became more than a social affair. At first, she enjoyed it because she could laugh and smile and forget.
She’d yelled at my brother that night, demanding to know how he’d failed to protect me. But the person she’d truly been ashamed of and disgusted with for leaving me unprotected was herself.
So she poured drinks, and my dad poured himself into work.
They drifted apart and eventually filed for divorce.
After that night, my grandma, who lived in the same town, installed three deadbolts on her front door.
Rape assaults the entire family.
I flipped off the covers and checked the clock: 2 a.m. Fantastic. Mom’s still not home yet.
I drove to the bar and retrieved my mother.
“Hey, E-e-eli,” she slurred.
“Let’s go home, Mom.”
When we got home, I escorted her to her room. She reeked of alcohol. I slipped her out of her soiled clothes and slid clean sweats on her. I pulled up each of her eyelids and removed her contact lenses.
I got so good at that routine, I could nearly do it in my sleep.
Though my body had been violated and my family had been assaulted, I believe God protected my heart from succumbing to despair. Multiple authorities commented that neither Danny nor I carried ourselves with a victim’s mentality. They called us statistical anomalies. Despite blow after blow, my brother and I remained fairly normal — well, normalish.