It was 1981 and I was twenty years old. I lived in a little beach house in Venice, California with a roommate. A girl I worked with at Mace Neufeld Productions in Beverly Hills. I worked there part time and held another position as the acting assistant to my acting coach, Nina Foch. I had been her student for nearly three years. Through her class I met some wonderfully talented people who became my friends. Together, we independently produced plays and showcases in and around LA. It was an exciting time in my life.
In 1981 I was part of a new theater called “The Living Room.” I did one play with this group. It was a play by Mary Orr titled “The Wisdom of Eve,” upon which the film “All About Eve” was based. I had a small role, the part that Marilyn Monroe played in the film version.
It was a wonderful space. The theater was located in a large side room attached to the foyer on the downstairs floor of a very old Hollywood apartment building on the corner of Franklin Avenue and North Wilton Place, just East of Gower, less than a mile from the hospital where I was born. The building was magnificent. The neighborhood was rough.
It was a Friday evening when I arrived for a rehearsal. It was after rush hour and the heavy commuter traffic had thinned out considerably. Franklin Avenue, which had an hour before been bumper to bumper with cars, was almost quiet. The sun was low in the sky. Shadows began to fall and the air was growing cool. I parked my car and walked to the corner where the building entrance was. The door was locked. I looked up and down the street, but saw no signs of my fellow cast members. My director and friend Jim should have been there by now.
Daylight continued to fade. More shadows fell, though it was still not yet dark. It was that time of day that came long after a school day had ended and children and teachers had all gone home. I flashed upon the memories of my childhood when my mother would forget to pick me up from school, leaving me to wait alone in the aftermath of the lively sounds of children’s laughter, silly voices and happy reunions with mom’s in cars who came to collect their little ones and take them safely home. It was a lonely time of day when only the janitor barely noticed the little girl who was still sitting outside the school gate as it was being locked down for the night. That’s how it felt that Friday evening on Franklin Avenue and North Wilton Place: Like I had been forgotten again and I was eight years old.
As I stood by the front door of the apartment, I watched as a man and a boy about eight years old himself, approached from down the hill. They walked leisurely towards me and I pretended not to notice them. I looked around here and there as they came closer to me with each step. I told myself to smile and act like I was not in the first stages of panic that had begun to fill my chest. I leaned back against the wall in my little mini skirt and black boots and pulled my long pink vintage opera coat around me.
It happened so fast.
This man. This pig. This sadistically smiling brute with the hands of a giant had me by the throat and pinned me to the wall, his face in my face, his other hand up my skirt, forcing his way past my underwear. I was helpless. I could not breathe as he was choking me, let alone scream or utter a sound. My eyes went to the little boy who stood beside him, not watching as his Grown-up molested a strange young woman on the street. He had a little toy that he was fiddling with and I thought I almost heard him humming a little song as his gaze was somewhere else. I remember thinking that this little boy would one day grow up to be a sex offender. I fixed myself on those thoughts and wondered how many little girls that were now his classmates would someday become his victims. I felt that this little boy had no hope of ever becoming anything but a monster like his Grown-up who was violating me in his presence.
Finally, the hand released my throat. The hand beneath my skirt reappeared and I was frozen, terrified to take the breath that my body so dearly needed. The hand that reappeared was filthy and crude. The man attached to it snorted a laugh of victory and disgust. He turned, little boy faithfully at his side, and entered the very building I was waiting to enter myself. Again I was alone. I stood for what seemed to be an hour or a minute, I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t tell.
My private nightmare was broken through by the smile of my friend Jim as he hurriedly approached with apologies and chuckles about traffic and how he’d been delayed at the copy store. His hands were full of papers, notebooks and script pages…and his keys. He unlocked the door and I followed him in, carefully searching the lobby for any signs of my abuser, his filthy hands or his little boy, but there were none. There was nobody there. The great palatial lobby was empty. The winding staircase bore no signs of anyone having just climbed them. I could hear myself breathing in and out and soon the sounds of what I had come there to do had replaced the lonely, hollow pounding of my heart.
The show must go on.
I never said a word to anyone about that day. In fact, I buried it deep in the darkest chambers of my mind. It has only just come back to me through the use of hypnotherapy like an iceberg that broke loose from it’s hidden parts and floated to the surface, bringing with it an endless flood of heartbreak and tears, sorrow and rage. It is just one more incident of sexual abuse to add to my already much too long list.
I was told by my doctor, my therapist (THE RAPIST, such an ironic title for someone who couldn’t be more opposite) that it is good to tell this story. That the more I tell it, the less power it will have over me. I want it gone from my being. I want the light back. I want my heart to heal and my soul to not be held captive any longer in it’s twisted, lingering manifestation of panic, hyper vigilance and fucking PTSD. Crippling, fucking PTSD.
I never saw the man again. He did not come to our performance. He did not see our play. He wasn’t seated in the audience beside the great screenwriter Horton Foote who stayed past the final curtain call and waited to speak with me and offer his praise of my work. He became a ghost to me, the man with the little boy beside him. This ghost has haunted me unseen and unheard in every moment that I have lived since then. A clever ghost who has even eluded me these past 35 years, his great big ugly hand clutching my throat, choking me, violating me, condemning me to carry the shame of having been his victim.
He is out of the shadows and I can see him now. I think about him and wonder if he’s dead. Did he grow old and die a horrible, lonely death? Did the little boy rise up and kill him? How does the story end? Can I write the ending, now that I remember? No matter what, our stories intertwined for one brief moment. The shining little girl and the hideous beast of a man is not a fairy tale I once read. It’s an ugly truth that I survived. I don’t have an ending to be honest. I can’t wrap this up neatly and give it a title just yet, so I will stop trying and just let it be for now. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am to Dan, my therapist, though. I feel a little bit lighter today and that’s good.
A final word to all who have been victims. Speak up. Find your voice. Do not hide in shame. It's not your fault and you are not alone. You've already endured the worst possible hell imaginable and have survived it. You're stronger than you know. Tell your story. There are so many of us who need to hear it. Let us come together without fear and find the joy again, in life and in love...