To All the 'Jane Does'
When I tell my mom I describe it in detail and she asks questions and it feels like a normal conversation. While I talk to her the sun starts to set, and then it’s gone. Yellow light peeks through under the door but the room is dark and blue. Cold air comes through the window. The room feels drafty and empty. I feel drafty and empty. I tell my dad that I need to talk to him, it’s important. I push my pillows to the floor, wrap my comforter around me. I sit against the bookcase, the shelf hard against my back. He calls me, I pick up. “Are you okay?” I pull the blanket tighter around me. My feet are still cold and clammy against the floor, I tuck them under the rug.
“I don’t think so,” I say back, my voice quieter than I thought it would be, quieter than I’d intended it to come out. I tell him what happened.
He breathes out. He breathes in again.
His voice is quiet but comes from close to the phone. I’m holding my phone with two hands and the blanket has fallen off my shoulders and it’s still cold and it’s still dark. Crumbs on the floor stick to my feet.
I hear him start to cry. I don’t realize what’s happening at first. His breath gets louder but weaker and he doesn’t say anything for a while. Neither do I. Somewhere there’s a picture of him holding me as a baby where we have the same toothy smile. When I was little I didn’t know how to smile, and I would just show all my teeth. I thought it was a weird quirk until I found this picture and realized we had the same smile, I’d just copied what I saw every day: him looking at me, teeth showing smiling smiling, loving. It was hot during the summers and our house didn’t have air conditioning. We lived in a humidity and the rest of the house was heavy so we’d all sleep in his room. We had a little air conditioner in there. The room was bright blue and big but didn’t have a lot of furniture, just a mattress and a painting of a hummingbird hanging above it. We’d move boxes in there and use them as tables, we each had one that was a different size and mine was the smallest and I’d sit at my box, my sister at hers and my dad at his and I’d draw and it was fine if the marker got on the box because it was just a box and wasn’t real furniture like the kitchen table. I’m thinking about the boxes and stepping from the hot hot house into the cool room and shutting the door behind me because I learned about temperature and air and money and I’m thinking about me and my dad and my dad and me and now he’s crying and I’m crying and he still doesn’t even know what happened yet and maybe I still don’t know what happened yet but the room is dark and the floor is cold. His voice is so small you can barely hear it. Both of us, our voices don’t get quiet or weak or whisper they get tiny tiny tiny and I remember when I was six and I knew they were getting a divorce and he was watching TV and it was his alone time and I wasn’t supposed to bother him but I went in anyway and in the memory everything is so big. He smelled like white wine and I was small enough that I could fit on his lap, my whole body climbing right into his lap, just a glass of white wine in this dark room but I feel warm. And the tiny tiny voice that came out of me then when I said that I was scared is the voice that comes out of him now and his toothy smile isn’t the only thing we have together it’s this little tiny voice that comes out of nowhere. And he’s just my dad crying.
Later they take me to another curtained room and I’m given a gown and told to take off my clothes. Two nurses come back and introduce themselves, and I tell them as best I can remember what happened and they look upset and I don’t. They tell me that they’re going to take some pictures and they come back with a digital camera. One nurse asks the other for a ruler but they can’t find one so they agree that they’re going to use a band-aid for scale. I lie with my legs open, gown pulled up, and they place a band-aid on my upper leg, right where it meets the rest of me. A dark circle of blackish blue spreads over my thigh. The band-aid hovers next to it, like a misplaced attempt at treating the too-big bruise. The band-aid falls between my legs and they pick it up. I feel the nurse’s acrylic nails touch my skin.
These pictures were lost a few days later — something happened while they were transferred to a computer, they say — and in the case “the accused” will imply that the pictures never existed so the bruises never existed so nothing happened. The hospital offers no explanation for the disappearance. The nurses say they’ll show up to the hearing to explain, but they never do. Brown says they refused; the Hospital says Brown never told them when to come. I never figure this out.
I only file a complaint with the Board of Health when I get charged for the visit a few months later. The bill was a little more than a hundred dollars, plus an additional late fee because I apparently hadn’t answered their previous notices. I call the hospital, and I tell them that rape kits are paid for by the state of Rhode Island and they have charged me (illegally) in error. I try to explain that they have also charged me for a service they failed to render, a service for which, to be frank they Fucked Up, but this makes them angry. I demand to know what happened, and I worry about all the women who do not know that rape kits are paid for by the state of Rhode Island, and who do not have the time to dial through five hotlines and press a thousand buttons to Speak to a Representative, Please. I briefly think that this is a racket, that the hospital wants to get double the fee for every rape kit they offer. They tell me the charge will not be erased until there’s a hearing a few months later.
The woman on the phone — the director of Risk Management, I am a risk to be managed — tells me I need to calm down. I want to know the details of the bureaucratic process that allowed this to happen, and I want them to change that process so this will never happen again. She tells me after an hour on the phone that she’s worried about me. “You sound…” she pauses, “traumatized.” She suggests I come back to the hospital for therapy.
To all the 'Jane Does:'
One year after the fact I woke up to a headline-- a man was suing a woman who had accused him of sexual assault. The accused was referred to as “John Doe,” and the accuser “Jane,” like two perversely related siblings. I hadn’t heard about this case, but luckily the newspaper thought to publish the entirety of the suit, which included my birth date, the initials of all of my friends, my home town and my current place of residence.
I waited. There was a smattering of comments on men’s rights message boards, but the story never picked up steam. Someone somewhere said that I ought to be beaten to death. I wondered if they knew where I lived.
I waited. I expected to be served in the worst possible way — in class in front of everyone I knew, at home as I was about to fall asleep. I imagined dates, interrupted by a process server who demanded to know my name, who handed me a Manila folder. How thick would the folder be? What would it feel like to hold it in my hand? I waited the 120 days allocated by Rhode Island law for plaintiff to serve defendant, and on day 121 the suit was dismissed for inaction. Nothing had ever arrived.
I’ll try not to say anything else about it.
An example to illustrate a theme: in my original complaint, I wrote that I rushed out of the room so fast I put my shoes on without socks. In their suit, as an example of my pathological need to lie (I suppose), they wrote that my socks had never been found in his room (his room was never searched, though they leave this out), and so I couldn’t have been telling the truth.
The socks were in my pocket.