The fog rolled in before I got up and even before I awoke I could feel it. The air is heavy and thick with moisture. Today’s high will be near ninety and the humidity is going to hang around from now until next October. Spring has barely peeked out from the covers and Summer is already making plans to invade. Here in the South Summer shows up like Christmas at Mal-Wart. Even when it is totally out of season and fully inappropriate it’s going to be in your face for about nine months and there is nothing you can do about it.
As I pull out into the highway from the driveway I noticed that someone a mile away has been pulled over by a patrol car. The blue light is like an early sunrise in the South and the fog magnifies the blueness so it looks alien and weird. I can’t explain to you why this triggers memories of long ago but it does. Two memories surface, unrelated and unbidden and they stick with me on the ride to work.
The first memory is of a small hill, an incline where there were trees growing and on one of them was a large Oak tree. We would ride our bikes up the little hill when we were little kids and it took some momentum and some effort to reach the summit. Going back down again was awesome, too. It was just a small mound of dirt and a tree, but for some reason it remains in my memory.
The second memory arrived about the same time and I have no idea why it was summoned with the other. It’s the memory of a young woman who was raped back in the early seventies, before I really understood the crime fully, and I remember very distinctly the conversation regarding the crime and the victim.
Back in South Georgia, even in the seventies, who your family was made a real difference as to how much justice you would be served. The first conversation about the crime was to who her father was. It had to be determined if she was worth the effort of really caring about or if in fact, everyone ought to be outraged. The victim herself, a sixteen year old, would be protected by her family name or she would not be. In this case her father was respectable enough for there to be some consideration that a crime had been committed, but as always, and forever, there had to be some questions about how the victim had behaved before the alleged attack.
It was Summertime so there had to be a conversation about what she had been wearing. The girl hadn’t been at a pool, or even so much as wearing a bikini, but the fact that girls did wear bikinis, something the previous generation would have never done, said something about the moral character about young women at that point in time. This is a girl that willingly and without any forms of protest belonged to a group of people, sixteen year olds, who wore bikinis. This was suspect behavior. Then the question had to be asked as to how she knew the man who had, allegedly, attacked her. Was there some connection to him that her parents didn’t know about? What were they doing alone together? Before anyone knew anything else about what had happened there was talk about those two “carrying on together” which wasn’t a good thing at all, her being so young, but…
I remember when my grandmother was robbed at gunpoint when she owned a country store. It was a stupid and senseless crime, mainly because out where she lived there were no strangers and there was no way to hide that sort of crime. The thief was apprehended within a few hours and he confessed to the crime immediately. But no one questioned if there was some sort of complicity. No one said anything about my grandmother having that money right there in the cash register, in plain view, where he might have been tempted to take it. Robbery was crime of physical property not personal being. That was clearly wrong without any debate.
I went back to look at my old neighborhood a long time ago and the tree, and the little hill, they were both gone. There was a duplex in their place, a small brick structure without class or personality. A dead inflatable pool lay rotting in the sun. There were toys scattered out in the yard as if they were trying to all escape at once. For this the tree had been cut down?
Whoever owned the property clearly thought if he built it they would come and I wonder if this is what the owner of the duplex wanted when he built it. Substandard housing crippling the morale of the neighbor and giving the people inside no real sense of home couldn’t be what someone once dreamed of, could it? It looked like two or three people had robbed a Mal-Wart then decided to throw their ill-gotten gains at the duplex.
The man who raped the girl must have thought about it before he did it. The act itself took some time because despite the rumors to the contrary, she put up quite a fight. Yet the crime still occurred and despite the senseless brutality of the attack, before the first word of truth had been spoken, the girl’s reputation was being assailed in an attack that mirrored the physical assault. It was a deeply personal assault without any sort of provocation or reason connected to it at all.
We have convinced ourselves that if a man wants to push trees down to make room for a hovel he has the right to do so regardless of the consequences of those actions. We have convinced ourselves that women, too, are expendable if a man wants to push her over.
Oh, and the fate of the girl who was raped, and the man who attached her? Her daddy put a bullet in the man’s back as he tried to escape the wrath of a man unwilling to trust the law to do right by his little girl.
I can’t say this is the answer to the problem but I can tell you he never raped again.