A weight lifted off my shoulders after finishing my speech for Public Speaking. I smiled as the sliding doors opened to show a beautiful day. The sun shined for the first time in months, melting the snow and turning the courtyard into mud. I embraced the warmth of the spring day and took the long way to Shakespeare—walking around the courtyard instead of cutting through like I had done every day before. I looked up from my phone and saw you. Shock drained the color from your face and your mouth dropped open. You reached to cover it with one hand, while the other searched for support, grabbing the pillar next to you as you fell to your knees with instant sobs, staring at your phone. Panic: for you and me. Hamlet can wait.
Using your sleeves to wipe the tears from your face left mascara stains on the thin white sleeves of your blouse. Your black Michael Kors purse dropped to its side. I know walking by would have been normal. Your body deflated within itself, making you smaller and unnoticed. I noticed, and needed to know what made you rely on a concrete pillar for support. I crouched down to ask if you were okay, and your bloodshot eyes locked with mine. Fear hugged your irises and I heard your heart break as you threw the words at me. I have no idea what I was expecting—maybe a death in the family?
With all the trust you had left in the world, you looked at me said, “My daughter was raped.”
Maybe I have a face that offers comfort, or a calm aura where you feel safe. You might have just wanted to say it aloud to someone. Did it make it more real to you? I wrapped my arms around your small frame and let you cry into my black blazer.
“Do you know who did it? When did it happen? How old is your daughter? What happened?”
Your boyfriend’s son. Tuesday after school. Twelve. Your boyfriend left them alone when he went out, when you had told him not to.
“Using your sleeves to wipe the tears from your face left mascara stains on the thin white sleeves of your blouse.”
I remembered my dad’s reaction when he came home from buying milk to see a police officer at the table, facing me. Confusion took over his face as he searched for solace within my mom’s eyes. “Something happened with Alanna,” was all she said as she escorted him through the rarely shut door, out of the dining room and into the living room.
But you were at work. You gave your boyfriend one rule and he broke it. He broke your daughter’s innocence and your trust in him. The blame bounced from person to person: It’s your fault, his fault, the son’s fault. You should not have gone to work. You should have protected her better. You should not have brought that man and his son into your family.
Your heart broke again when she told the school, not you. She thought there was a barrier between you two and didn’t feel comfortable. You blame yourself because you’re a “bad mom.” You should not have trusted him. You should have been more open with your own daughter. When I gave you a hand to help get you off the ground, you leaned on me for physical support. I gave a simple hug and you let out a loud sob. I looked into your brown eyes and told you to breathe a single breath for your daughter. Another, another, and another. Slow and steady.
I offered to drive you to your daughter’s school, offered to pay for an Uber just to make sure you were safe. Driving in a panic, with tears clouding your vision, is something I am too familiar with. You assured me you are safe and okay to drive. You thanked me for the support.
“Remember, your daughter needs a hug, support, and love. She is hurt, and you are the support she needs. You’re a good mom.” You got into the soccer-mom-mobile, looked in your mirror, and wiped your tears away. I watched as you pulled onto New Britain Ave. and drove away. I began my walk to Shakespeare and decided Hamlet still did not matter. I would remember these ten minutes in the future more vividly than Hamlet’s soliloquy.
I searched for you on campus day after day. I took the long way to Shakespeare every day for the rest of the semester. I selfishly wanted an update. Did you leave school? Is your daughter doing okay? Have you trusted another man to enter your home since? My mom says it is best I never saw you again, because it’s better I remain a kind stranger and do not get involved. I was the peace and support you needed at the time, but not forever. Because you are strong. Your daughter is strong. I am strong. Ten years have passed since one terrible sleepover at a friend’s house. I refuse to let a sexual assault from ten years ago be a defining quality of myself. Three years have passed since I met you. I want to be known as the woman who listened to strangers and did not give in to the bystander effect. I want to be the woman who helped.
Alanna Levesque is a senior at Central Connecticut State University.
Headline Photo credit of Mike Orazzi.