A Day in the Park

There had been nothing, eventful in my life. Just school and then college. I had been an average student. Not bad to look at. Not that my looks were extraordinary. Of course there had been dreams. Romantic dreams. The kind that girls have. Then the day came when nightmare became reality.

I walked home from classes through the park as I always did. It was autumn and a bit chilly. Grey weather. The trees had been stripped of most of their leaves. They lay in piles on the ground like broken crust. A dismal day.

Suddenly I found myself in a grip. I couldn’t scream. My mouth was covered by a hand. I struggled but couldn’t free myself. I was in terror. I was dragged until there was nothing around me but bushes. If only I could scream, someone would come. Someone had to help me. It couldn’t happen. But 1 knew that no one and nothing could help. It would happen.

I was thrust down. I tried to defend myself with teeth, nails and knees. I was struck several times open-handed across the face. I gasped my breath in and tried to scream but something was roughly stuffed into my mouth. I felt my clothes being ripped.

I was burned open.

I saw red, then black.

When I came to, someone was leaning over me. I saw a handsome bearded face. Someone had come to help, but it was too late. I was ashamed. My clothes were torn. I tried to put them in order as best I could. My hands trembled so. He told me to lie there, that he would get help. I noticed that his clothes were disheveled. He must have fought with my assailant. But why hadn’t he come sooner? Why hadn’t he come soon enough to prevent it?

I told him not to go, not to leave me alone. He stayed and helped me up. My feet were unsteady, and it was hard for me to stand, but instead of holding me, he knelt down in front of me.

He asked me to forgive him. He started to sob. He was lower than an animal. Nothing could rectify what he had done. He said that I should spit on him. I could kick him if I wanted to.

I had been shattered inside, broken into small pieces. I was no longer afraid. What else could happen to me? I was too weak to do anything but lean on him. The creature that had raped me, I despised him. But what could I do? I didn’t have the strength to break away and run. We just remained in that ridiculous position: I with my torn dress and he groveling at my feet.

It was he who suggested that I report him to the police. But I was too weak to do so. He finally got up and put his arm around me to support me. Like, that we walked away. We left the lonely spot where it had happened. And we were among people again. The people who had mindlessly gone about doing what they were doing while it had happened. They were just as I had been
before I had been attacked.

When we saw a policeman, I expected the rapist to let go of me and run. But he remained at my side. We approached-the policeman. I didn’t know how to tell him. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. The rapist came to my aid. He told the officer what had happened. The policeman looked at us in disbelief. He removed his cap and scratched his head. We must have been a sight, the two of us, rapist and raped, standing side by side. Rapist supporting raped. I, bruised with my dress ripped, he, his shirt ripped and red streaks where I had scratched him.
The rest was agony. The police station with the staring policemen. I was a corpse they were viewing. The unmentionable had happened to me, I had been successfully attacked in broad daylight. But the corpse was alive and I had to live with my shame.

There were the questions. The rapist was charged and placed in a cell.

The ambulance came and I was taken to the hospital, Then more of the same, except my inquisitors wore white instead of police uniforms. There were intimate questions and intimate examinations. The coal clean sheets. The top sheet lifted aside. The wound displayed for all to see. The wound handled and swabbed. Why hadn’t he killed me?

It went on, The discreet lawyer. The embarrassed visits of my family. My discharge from the hospital. The trial. My appearance on the witness stand and the horrible questions. Although my assailant pleaded guilty, they had to determine whether I had enticed my assailant and whether I enjoyed it or not. And more staring. The satisfaction. It had been me and not them. Then finally he was found guilty. The sentence was passed and it was over.

But now it had only started.

I was pregnant. Naturally I wanted to have an abortion. To have the trace of the shame removed. I begged and pleaded for it. But it was denied to me. They gave me consolation, but no abortion. I was told that it wasn’t allowed. They sent a priest and he confirmed it. I was to be brave. It was my sacred duty to bring the child into the world. I was to do God’s bidding.

I cried, lashed out threw myself onto the floor. They gathered me up and again placed me in a cool clean bed. I was forced to remain in it. I hoped that my pregnancy would be interrupted or that I would bear a stillborn child. But in spite of my wishes, after causing me great pain, the child was born.

What was I to do? They told me that I could have the child adopted. But it was mine and I decided to keep it. After all, it hadn’t had anything to do with the cause of its birth. It was only a child.

That’s when I began to get the letters. The return address was the penitentiary. They came from him. He begged for forgiveness. He inquired about the child. Continued to ask about it, His letters were not what one would have expected. Not uncultivated. At first I left them unanswered. Then coldly wrote of the horror I had experienced. Finally I gave him the information he requested.

My family and friends had changed toward me. They were kind all right – too kind. I was treated
solemnly. They never joked or laughed in my presence. In truth they wanted to avoid me as it I were a cripple. But his letters kept coming.

He asked me to visit him in prison. It took much persuasion before I went. But I did go on visitor’s day. He behaved differently than one would imagine. He was a rapist, a convict in prison. Yet seeing him there, it was hard to believe, but I know that it was true. When he asked me to come with the child, his child, I refused. But at my next visit, he asked me again. I hesitated, but did as he asked. I fulfilled his wish.

He was a model prisoner and it did not take long before he was paroled. I met him after he was released from prison. Always in the afternoon. And in a public place. My fears were unfounded. He never as much reached for my hand.

I wasn’t surprised when he asked me to marry him. He wanted to atone for what he had done. He promised to be a good husband and father. He said that he was happy to be the first man in my life.

 

– Herbert Kuhner