Life As I Have Seen It
“Hey, it’s good to hear from you!”
My brother answered the phone before I could. “What did you say your name was?”
“Danny, not again.” I stood behind him and groaned. “Give me the phone.”
He lifted his elbow and spun, preventing me from yanking the receiver away from his ear.
“Give it to me now.”
He pushed me back and ignored my demand.
“Who are you, her boyfriend? She doesn’t have a boyfriend. She doesn’t need a boyfriend.” Danny paused, listening. “Are you getting smart with me? It’s not smart to get smart with me. Why don’t you meet me in front of the school tomorrow?”
I didn’t date much in high school.
After my brother intercepted their calls, guys rarely tried a second time.
At 16, I worked as a clerk in our local grocery store.
One day, a man cussed me out and unloaded his frustrations on me. After he left, I ran into the back room and cried myself into a puddle.
For the first time, I realized that the man who raped me might come in at any time. He would recognize me, but I wouldn’t recognize him. I thought I might suffocate.
I moved away from my hometown as soon as possible.
Singing and writing poetry became escapes for me, ways that I could distance myself from the pain and move closer to God, filling my heart with his wholeness and joy.
Years passed before I saw part of that night with a new understanding. At 10, I had no idea how important music would become to me. But I believe God did. That night, in the car, no music played — although the man offered to turn on the radio — so it didn’t become a trigger for me afterward. I often thanked God for saving music for me.
At age 19, I wrote the following verses:
You never believe it could happen to you.
Sure, it happens all the time,
But I never stopped to think what it’d be like
If the story in the paper was mine.
Are you afraid of the night,
Hoping it will pass you by?
Are you afraid to face the light,
Waiting to break down and cry?
Not knowing where you’re going,
Not living life enough to care,
You’ve gotta reach out for help.
Just ask, and it’ll be there.
And now naiveté is gone.
I’m disillusioned no longer.
I’ve finally learned that I have to go on,
And every day, I grow stronger.
More than two decades after that night, it was time again for my annual medical exam.
“You know, you have a whole lot of scar tissue down here,” my OB/GYN told me.
I looked at her strangely because she knew my medical history. I’d been going to the same doctor for years.
“It must have been from when you had your kids,” she said.
“Hello.” I laughed. “Remember? I had C-sections.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, then it must be from when you were a child.”
That piqued my curiosity.
“Can you tell what the damage was?”
“Not just by looking at it. You should try to call the hospital to find out.”
I called the hospital, but they had thrown away the records 17 days prior.
“Seventeen days ago? Are you kidding me?”
I tried the police station next.
“I’m sorry,” said the woman at the front desk, who could see the pending onslaught of frustrated tears. “Why don’t you tell me what you’re looking for.”
I explained the case. Her eyes filled with sympathy.
“Who was the detective?”
“He doesn’t work here anymore.” I squeezed my eyes shut momentarily. “But let me see if I can track him down for you.”
Hours later, I received a call from a number I didn’t recognize.
“Hey, kiddo.” Detective Pat!
“You didn’t forget me?”
“I’ll never forget you. Your case still haunts me. Every time I drive down your old street, I wonder how you’re doing.”
“Good, actually. Married. Kids. Attending County Line Church of God.”
He sighed with relief. “That’s good to hear, kiddo. That’s real good to hear. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what you want to hear. I’ve recovered pieces of reports and files but nothing substantial. County pitched the files.”
My heart plummeted.
I heard him flipping through papers. “Wait. Did you accuse someone?”
I swallowed back the urge to vomit.
“It says here that county sent some records to a lab out of state. They may still have something. Let me call you back if I find anything. You know, I hate to say it, but there’s a chance that you weren’t his only victim.”
Detective Pat connected me with Lucy, who worked in the prosecutor’s office.
“Is it still possible to press charges?” I asked her.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” she cautioned.
“First, we’d have to find a well-preserved biological sample that’s still valid after all these years. Then we’d need to create a DNA profile and run it through the system. There’s no promise we’ll get a hit. If we did get a hit, then we would need to find the person who matched the profile. Before we could do that, a judge would have to sign a warrant, which he won’t sign without proof of noncontaminated, nontampered-with samples.”
Lucy didn’t have to reiterate the likelihood of that after more than two decades.
“After that,” she continued.
Great, there’s more.
“We’d have to perform a confirmation DNA test.”
“Is there a statute of limitations?”
“Not in this case,” she replied. “Due to the violence of the crime, it was ruled a Class A felony. There is no statute of limitations for those. I’ll do what I can. If Pat and I find anything, we’ll call you.”
Months later, the phone rang.
“Are you sitting down? I need you to sit down.”
It was Lucy.
“Fine! I’m sitting. What is it?”
“We were able to process a DNA sample. We ran it.”
I didn’t say anything.
“And immediately got a hit.”
I still didn’t say anything.
“I know who raped you.”
I still didn’t know what to say.
“Are you still there?” Lucy asked.
“I think so.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. What does this mean?”
“It means that we have a chance, and we get to move forward.”
“Can you tell me who it is yet?”
“Can I at least see my medical records?”
The judge approved the warrant to collect the man’s DNA.
Two uniformed police officers delivered the warrant and obtained the DNA sample. They were able to do that because the man was already in jail. Lucy wouldn’t tell me where or what for, though I could guess.
DNA analysts concluded that the DNA sample was an exact match beyond any doubt. After that, I met with Lucy and Detective Pat at the prosecutor’s office.
“I just want you to look at this photo lineup,” Lucy said. “We already know who it is. I just want to see if any of these pictures looks familiar.”
The first page had eight photos. After voicing my skepticism, I picked out two of the eight. She flipped the page, and I stared at another eight men. I had a feeling my perpetrator was in this group due to the older style of clothing. I put my finger on two of the pictures.
She looked over at Detective Pat and asked, “Do you notice anything about the four people she pointed out?”
“Yeah.” His face looked grim. “They all have the same build, the same body shape and the same weight.”
She lifted up one of my fingers. “This is the man who raped you.”
I stared at his picture without any emotional reaction.
They called in my mom to look at the picture and later asked other relatives. No one recalled having seen that man before.
In the year I was raped, the Department of Justice reported hundreds of thousands of child abductions, nearly all by someone the child knew. Only 300 were taken by a complete stranger. Including me.
For the first time since my childhood, I felt vindicated.
“Now, what do we do?” I asked.
“Now, baby, we go to trial,” Lucy told me.
Detective Pat delivered the warrant.
“I didn’t do that,” my attacker said.
“Yes, you did. We’ve got proof.”
With that, Detective Pat told me, the man broke down and wept like a child.
I felt pity for the man. I hadn’t expected to, but I did. After serving jail time for another crime, he’d been months away from his release. Freedom was within his sight but suddenly vanished — because of a crime he’d long believed the law had forgotten.
Pity felt like compassion and looked a lot like forgiveness. I will never condone what he did, but Jesus’ love for me taught me how to uncurl the grip I held on bitterness. It felt good to let go.
I wanted my kids to hear it from me. I didn’t want someone at school to blurt it out or for them to hear about the case on the news.
On the way home from the grocery store one night, I glanced at my 10-year-old daughter before turning my focus back to the road ahead.
I nearly wept at the realization of my daughter’s age.
“A long time ago, a mommy and daddy left a brother and his little sister home alone one night. A bad man broke into the house and hurt the little girl. That little girl was me, and the boy was Uncle Danny.”
“Where were your parents? Why weren’t they there to protect you?” my daughter asked.
I explained that to her the best that I could.
My son didn’t say much, so I thought, Well, that’s good.
But, after midnight, I heard him crying. I eased his bedroom door open.
“What’s wrong, buddy?”
“I’m afraid someone’s looking at me through the window,” he said. “I’m afraid someone will come in and hurt us.”
I held him, but nothing I said calmed his fear. I stood with him and carried him to our bedroom.
“Honey, wake up. I need you.” I told my husband to stand in our son’s room. Then I took my dear boy outside, holding him close against the chill of the air.
We walked around the house, and I pointed to his window. “See, buddy? No one can even see into your room on the second floor.”
At the front door, I shifted our son from my arms to my husband’s. We shared a look over our son’s mussed hair.
“Lock the door,” I said to my husband as I stepped back outside. He closed the door between us, and I heard the deadbolt click into place. Then I kicked the door as hard as I could, over and over again.
When my husband unlocked the door, he was already explaining, “See? No one can break in and hurt you.”
I echoed his words.
“You’re safe,” I assured him.
Only after all of that did my son finally go to sleep.
I lay in bed that night, and my husband held me while I wept. Monsters are real, but telling my children about the boogeyman was even harder than I thought it would be.
The trial date kept getting pushed back, which made me nervous.
One day, I looked out at our backyard, where we’d cut down some trees. Then I looked again. The bark ripped in such a way that the scene reminded me of a crown of thorns with a cross. It gave me the reassurance I needed.
God did not abandon me when he gripped the cross, and he won’t relinquish his grip on me now.
When I testified on the witness stand, I recounted everything that happened in its entirety. As others also testified, I finally received answers to questions I’d had for years. I learned that the man lived only six blocks from my family.
“Why did you choose her?” the prosecutor asked.
“I saw her for the first time that day,” was all he said.
After court, one of the attorneys found my husband.
“I’m so sorry for what happened to your wife,” he said. “Someone raped my best friend when we were kids. They never caught the guy. I’m glad we found yours.”
As I grew in my relationship with Jesus and came to understand him better, I started seeing his fingerprints all along the hard road to recovery and healing.
I thanked God for Detective Pat and Lucy and all the people who had a role in solving the case and bringing it to trial.
I saw the hand of God in the discovery of the DNA evidence — not only that it was stored but that it was preserved properly and found decades later in a back corner of the evidence vault.
And when I thought about that night, I started to imagine Jesus himself in the car with me.
“Do you want the heat on?”
No, I’ll keep her warm.
I pictured my head resting on Jesus’ lap and him cradling me.
“Do you want the radio on?”
No, she doesn’t. Don’t you dare steal the joy of music from my precious Eli. I imagine Jesus getting choked up. Don’t you dare.
When I cried out in pain, I heard Jesus cry, too.
The crime scene unit never did find the car to check the steering wheel for prints, but if they had, I like to think they’d have come across prints that they couldn’t explain. Because that night, as I gripped the steering wheel in fear, I believe Jesus covered my hands with his own and infused them with his strength to hang on for the hard road ahead.