Excerpt from I Can See Clearly Now
December 19, 2011 § Leave a comment
This is a chapter from a memoir I ghost wrote for a client. It is still looking for a publisher.
“If you let them do this to me and get away with it, then you’re giving them the eternal right to do the same damn thing to any one of you!”
After the Newsweek article ran, I continued to work as a bartender at the Greek restaurant and at night at Sally’s. It took both jobs to pay the bills for Paul and me, and though I was tired most of the time, I liked my work, and my customers liked me. It was the disco days, and every night was a party night at Sally’s.
Sally, the owner, was an incredible woman. She had several children, and she liked younger men. At night, she’d come to the club dressed up and looking beautiful. She was a fun lady, and she made sure the staff got treated fairly.
We dressed in the basement next to Sally’s office, and besides the skimpy costumes we wore, we were issued “stacked heels” to wear while waiting tables. My foot ached constantly from those shoes, but I never complained. I needed the job.
Sally made sure the staff got two checkout drinks. While we emptied ashtrays and cleaned tables, all the staff indulged. I learned to drink beer and peppermint schnapps. The Kansas City winters were bitterly cold, and the schnapps warmed us up before we changed and went out into the weather. These two drinks were my limit.
It wasn’t unusual for people, mostly men, to come into Sally’s and strike up a conversation with the waitresses. Most were friendly and just wanted to talk, so when on a February evening a nice looking man wandered into the club and paid particularly attention to me, it wasn’t out of the ordinary.
Morris was an ex-Marine, strongly built, and had just moved to Kansas City from St. Louis. He drank several drinks, and we chatted off and on during the evening.
“Hey, I saw your picture in Newsweek, girl!”
Sally had the photo made into a life-sized cut out that she stood at the front door. I was uncomfortable about it after a while, but she said people wanted to see me.
When the club closed that night, we cleaned up, had our two drinks, and went back to the dressing room provided for us to change into street clothes. I wore a turtleneck sweater, a dress, and boots. I left by the back door as usual. Outside, I walked toward my car. It was cold. Morris stepped out of the shadows and surprised me.
“How about going for a drink?” He asked.
I was still wired from work and not ready to go home, so I said sure. But all the bars were closed.
“Well, I’ve got some scotch in my motel room. How about it?”
I really didn’t sense there was any danger. He seemed nice. We had chatted several times. So, I agreed to follow him. In fact, on the way to the motel, I convinced myself that I really liked him, that if he made a pass at me, I wouldn’t mind.
I followed Morris up to his room and as soon as the door closed, he bashed me in the face.
“What are you doing?” I screamed.
He didn’t answer; he just continued to beat me in the face. I fell on the bed and blacked out for a few seconds. When I came to, Morris was on top of me tearing at my clothes. He pounded me all over my body.
“Please don’t hurt me, Morris. You don’t have to do this.” I begged. But it was like he couldn’t hear me. My eyes were so swollen I could barely see.
It wasn’t like before. I was very aware of each movement he made, of each angry thrust. He bruised my arms, my breasts, my thighs.
Why? I kept thinking. Why was this happening to me again? What was it about me that made men think they could use me this way? I fought and struggled the whole time, but he was much too strong. He left me bleeding and bruised and swaggered off.
Dazed and confused I struggled to my feet and followed him out the door. I saw Morris strolling down the hall as if nothing had happened. I don’t know what made me cry out, but something inside, some roiling, boiling anger erupted, and I called out.
“Help me! Help me! R-A-P-E!” I yelled, over and over, and finally, someone heard. The night guard heard me and chased Morris down. The police came and took him away. I was sent to the hospital.
At the hospital, I endured the examination, the photos, the questions, the looks. The worst of it was when they kept my underwear for evidence. The police questioned me and I could tell they weren’t convinced of my story. Eventually, they let me go home.
Morris was charged with the rape. A hearing date was set. I couldn’t stop crying. I wouldn’t leave the house. I was terrified he’d find me and hurt me again. Paul never knew why I was so sad. I called Aunt in Memphis. I needed a mother, better yet, my Grandma, and Aunt was the only substitute I had. I told her what had happened, and she begged me to send Paul to her, to give myself some time to heal. I hated to let him leave, but I was no good for him or anyone else at the time. So I sent Paul back to Memphis, and Bev and Alice became my support system.
Depression settled in hard and fast. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I suffered terrible headaches, and my hands shook so badly I couldn’t have worked if I had wanted to. I had to quit work until my face and body healed. Then I had to wait until I had the courage to face the world again. John Ball, an old friend from Memphis, sent me a plane ticket home. I stayed at his house for a while. He took good care of me and even sent me to a counselor. Then back in Kansas City, Bev and Alice saw me through the rest of it.
My attorney filed a petition with the courts for damages: $100,000 plus costs, and for the sum of $500,000 for punitive damages and costs.
The hearing was held in a private room, not in the actual courtroom. I learned that Morris had raped before. My lawyer presented the evidence that made it clear that I had fought him. He assured me that everything would work out, and I felt some measure of relief that the courts would punish him.
But the Defense Attorney used everything he could find against me.
He showed the Newsweek photograph of me in my working costume, labeling it and me provocative.
He held up my stained underwear, passing it in front of everyone present. “Did you have a climax during the alleged attack?” He asked.
I was humiliated. I left feeling raped again. In time, my body healed, but my soul had been damaged. Eventually, my friends helped ease me back into work.
My friend Mary invited me to go to Las Vegas. She worked at Hallmark Cards during the day and at Dirty Sally’s at night, and because there was a Dirty Sally’s in Vegas, we got the red carpet treatment. A limo picked us up at the airport and took us to our hotel. We had carefully planned just what to wear to the various shows we wanted to see. Mary wore a long black dress, and I wore a white one. We were a pair of opposites in coloring, but we were sisters at heart.
Frank Sinatra performed on stage, and we really liked him, but Wayne Newton was the Vegas star we most wanted to see. We even paid extra to sit up front at his concert, each of us hoping to be the one to get his scarf during the performance. The night was magic, and Wayne seemed to notice us from the stage. Our hopes for the scarf grew, but then this old lady climbed up on stage with him and grabbed him in a bear hug. She slyly slipped her hand up to his neck and stole that scarf away. The audience went wild, and even though Mary and I were disappointed, we laughed and applauded her like everyone else.
Back in Kansas City, I found a new apartment, but I was still afraid of being alone. So I found two perfect roommates: Ed, a college student, and Charlie, both of whom worked as bartenders. They knew about the rape and became sort of bodyguards for me. Life resumed its usual pace, but for me it was mostly going to work and coming home. Ed and Charlie eventually lured me back to some sort of social life. We had a lot of fun together. But the memory of what Morris had done to me overshadowed everything. And almost as bad, was what the justice system had allowed.
I still have nightmares about seeing my underwear displayed in public. Grandma would have been so embarrassed for me.
Finally, in April of 1978, a check came. My attorney received $917.12 for his services. I received $898.13, and I never again wore underwear.