Home > Health, Personal, Safety, Social Justice > two bicycles

two bicycles

this morning,
my two-year-old
awakened me with his howls

it was too early
to be awake, but also
too late for me to fall asleep again

in the darkness,
i thought two words
that jolted me out of bed:

two bicycles

i’d read, as many now have,
about a (now former) stanford swimmer
found guilty of rape and yet
barely sentenced
because his life
should not be ruined
for “20 minutes of action
out of his 20 plus years of life”

what i hadn’t read
was the statement
written–and read–by the (brave,
eloquent, fierce, lovely)
woman he raped, who is
so very much more than
“the woman he raped”

so i read,
though i knew
i would likely weep,

Me, at age of testimony

Me, at age of testimony

remembering the sense
of the inviolability of my body
being destroyed by a hand placed
on my prepubescent breast
by the “family friend”
who was molesting
my younger sister
(whom i would have protected
if i’d had any idea),

and remembering
having to testify against
the family friend predator
while his attorney insinuated
my sister and i were only in court because
my mom was an impoverished single mom
who hoped for a payday
from the perpetrator’s
wealthy mom

and remembering
learning most the jurors didn’t believe me
because i was angry, when what
i should have been was
heartbroken
(as if
they had
any
clue)

and remembering
how the trial was even worse
than the touch, as was being told
we’d never win because,
well, there wasn’t
enough evidence
and that’s
how
these
things
go

and remembering
how many predators
i encountered in childhood,
and knowing how few
consequences they
ever faced

and remembering
a loved one telling me,
after i’d become enraged one day
by police handling of an assault investigation,
“so the officer shouldn’t have asked me
‘did you like it?’
back when i was
a little kid?”

and remembering
a mom sobbing,
“he raped my baby!”
on her discovery
of this fact
well outside any
statute
of
limitations

and knowing
that i am both
lovely and powerful
(as are you)
to have arisen from
that past and be
who i am today

but also that
being powerful
doesn’t mean
not bowing under
the weight of bygone
tragedy, when reminded
how uncarryable that weight felt
for so long

so i read
her letter,
and oh! i was
overwhelmed with love
for her, for the clarity
and the heart
behind the words
and the tenacity
that pushed their writer
through what recovery she has made so far,
through trial, itself another set of horrific violations,
through sitting down to write
her narrative, through the pain,
and through the trauma,
and through the grief

reaching out to
others who have been assaulted
to help them know

that you are important, unquestionably,
you are untouchable, you are beautiful,
you are to be valued, respected, undeniably,
every minute of every day, you are powerful
and nobody can take that away from you

(tears stream down my face
just rereading those words)

and what of
two bicycles?
where do those
factor in to this
heartbreak?

i will have to
be roundabout
in getting to those,
but please bear with me

when my still tiny sister
left the courtroom sobbing
at a break in her being eviscerated
by the perpetrator’s attorney,
a university of oregon law student
followed her out, crouched down
in front of her, and said
three words that
make me cry
to this day:

i
believe
you

i felt some small bit of their power
even then, having been counseled
by my own attorney that
no one would believe me
(that’s just how it is
in sex assault cases)

but it was only later,
much later, that i would
come to understand those words
as a not-child,

to see what
that law student had probably herself
experienced to know to speak those words,
and to imagine a bright golden glow
around her as she spoke
them:

i
believe
you

these are
the three
most powerful
words in my vocabulary
today

the woman
who wrote this letter
is …
a superhero,
to my heart

(it will take me years
to find the right words
to describe this adequately)

i hope you will read
her words and know
that, in american courts,
where even witnessed assault
is treated so dismissively,
and where unwitnessed assault
a situation where she is likely conniving
to destroy him, because isn’t that just like women?,
some justice can nevertheless be worked,
not necessarily by the voices
of those daily affiliated with
the courts, but by those
forced to endure them
and still courageous
enough to
stand tall
afterward

but …
two bicycles?

the woman
(or is it angel?)
who wrote her story,
defying the narrative
advocated by the perpetrator’s attorney,
described now sleeping
“with two bicycles that I drew
taped above my bed
to remind myself
there are heroes
in this story”

that law student
almost three decades ago
was my two bicycles:

i
believe
you

and now,
now this survivor,
this advocate, is part
of my two bicycles:

a living, breathing, beauteous reminder that,
no matter how great the pain,
“there are heroes
in this story”

(you,
as survivor,
are one)

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  1. Paul
    June 9, 2016 at 5:52 am

    Beautifully said Deborah. I read the letter – it was as moving as you described.

    • June 9, 2016 at 6:06 am

      Thank you, Paul. Much as I can get overwhelmed by the noise of connectivity these days, I read pieces like this and find myself reflecting how the pros are pretty profound, too. I’m grateful we’re past the days of pamphleteering to get powerful voices out (and hear them).

  2. June 9, 2016 at 6:45 am

    Your words are beautiful, and sad, and knowing, and exactly what needs to be said to counterbalance the horror of this entire trial, and a culture that allows it to happen, and how “I believe you” is not said often enough.

    • June 9, 2016 at 7:25 am

      Thank you. As a child, I thought my experience was an outlier. As I’ve gotten older, and particularly in my last couple of years of reading, I’ve seen how very, very common such experiences are. Statements like this are, I believe, a huge part of how that present truth will slowly become past.

  3. June 9, 2016 at 6:56 am

    There are super heroes out there. That truth is worth smiling about.

    • June 9, 2016 at 7:26 am

      You remain a safe place–a place for smiles, and relief of burden-shifting–for how you responded to my request to get that post off my site and over to yours. I remain grateful.

  4. June 9, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    I was sent his fathers letter. I was also sent her statement.
    His letter appalled me for its self-centred lack of empathy.
    The sentence also appalled me.
    It not only condones that young man’s actions, the very token slap on the wrist he receives dismisses her pain as inconsequential.
    Her statement? Powerful, beautiful.
    And I hope that all of us have twenty-two bicycles (at least) in our worlds.

  5. June 9, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Your words, like hers, cut deeply, but bravely to the heart of the matter. We are never alone. We should not be silent, not ashamed, and we are not to blame. Our stories are also that of someone else who hasn’t a voice to cry out, no steady arms to hold them/hold them up.
    I have tried to write about this but just couldn’t fill in the blanks without crying. It is a hard moment, but I know it is a blessed day…because I/you have a voice.
    You ARE all the things you say my sweet Deb, and so much more.💜

  6. June 9, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    Yes…she (and you, dear heart) are super heroes. The back-lash of the father’s letter and the son’s lack of remorse has gotten a lot of discussion (world-wide!) Her letter was deeply moving and so, so powerful for one so young. I just hope/pray that we (as a society) actually use this as a turning point and go forward (not backwards) in our treatment of this very, very important subject…rape is a crime, PERIOD. A terrible crime and IT (not the victim!) needs to be treated as such….

  7. June 10, 2016 at 7:12 am

    💔💔💔💔

  8. June 10, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    You might like to see this letter from another father . I loved it.

  9. June 13, 2016 at 10:21 am

    This was so eloquently said. I read that letter too and was horrified to learn the details of this case. My eyes have been opened to all the times I’ve been treated inappropriately and just assumed that was normal even if unwanted. I have grown up in a culture where I was taught that being harassed just means the boy likes you and that’s somehow a good thing. A thing to be desired. How am I just learning that I’ve been fooled for over twenty years? How is it that we are just now getting the courage to speak up and speak out and FINALLY being believed? Finally being told that it is not us who did something wrong? And we’re still fighting for this. Every woman has a story, even if we haven’t realized it yet. I hope we realize, I hope so badly this culture changes. Hugs to you for going through this and love to the world which will continue to suffer until we get this under control. 💕

  10. June 13, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    The image of the two bicycles, yes. That has stayed with me too. So much in all of this story that haunts, that angers, that undoes me.

    And then: a drawing of two bicycles.

    Much, much love to you.

  11. June 14, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Powerful post. It breaks my heart. I am a survivor and that’s why we don’t speak up. Nothing ever happens. We have to change that.

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