Tuesday, October 13, 2015

One Afternoon in Sodom

Continuing with the exercises in the "Sources of Fiction" chapter in Novakovich's book, the assignment is to remember a verbal or physical fight and write a fictionalized version of it. It's supposed to be an easy assignment, particularly the dialog.

When I wrote Jacob and the Angel's Curse, I based it very loosely on a fight between two girls I witnessed in high school (a very long time ago). When I read this assignment, the first thing I thought of was the time I was attacked and beaten by a group of men when I was 16 years old.

In the early 1970s, racial tension was running high all over the United States. I had gone to the Homecoming football game at my high school with some friends and after the game, I became separated from them and attacked, pretty much the same way I describe below. Not much dialog in the story because what I remember most is feelings of panic and helplessness.

Unlike the fictionalized version I've rendered, I've long since gotten past the feelings of being afraid of people all the time, but for a year after the attack, I was very afraid of people of color. I changed the situation from racial gangs to rape gangs below because I wanted to use a somewhat more "generic" group of attackers. Most everything else is pretty much the same. I used Biblical place names just because they were handy. Oh, and I've cast myself as an adult in the story below.

The rape gangs were roaming all over Sodom that afternoon. Rumors had it that affiliate gangs had been shipped in from as far away as Gomorrah and Zoar. The police were everywhere, except, of course, they couldn't be everywhere. That's where my problems started.

A group of us had just left the stadium after the football game and were walking back to the parking garage. It was pretty ballsy to not cancel the game and even more ballsy for the fans to go watch it, but the Mayor was putting pressure on the team owners and stadium managers to keep things running as normally as possible. I stupidly thought that if the Wildcats and Cowboys were playing, it was safe to go with my mates and watch these two rivals clobber each other.

Frankly, I think someone should have declared martial law. I wouldn't have gone to the game that day with my mates, but I also would have avoided what came next and the lifetime of terror that followed.

I don't remember how I got separated from my group. All I remember is that I'd been lagging. Half a block behind us at the intersection were five or six cop cars and a bunch of officers trying to keep the peace. Crowds of people were milling everywhere, and the rape gangs were mixed in with the rest of us, attacking innocents at will.

I was scared and confused by everything happening around me but figured with the police so close, I'd be OK.

About six or seven guys moved in front of me, blocking me so I had to stop. I was still hoping they just wanted to threaten me. I was still hoping the police were looking up the street at us.

One of the guys in front of me very gently touched my right hand and softly said, "Hey."

That's when the sky fell in. I don't remember any pain, just a feeling of helplessness and almost weightlessness, as if I had been wading in the ocean, been caught by a wave and pulled underwater.

My glasses sailed into the air and were gone. It was the last thing I saw. I tried to curl up into a fetal ball with my eyes closed and my arms crossed over my head.

Then everything stopped and a new crowd surrounded me, police and ambulance attendants. Another guy with a camera ran in front of me, stopped briefly to snap a shot of me being scooped up out of the gutter, and ran off (my bloody face would be plastered all over the front page of the morning and evening editions of the local newspaper the next day).

A steady stream of blood poured out of my nose. As the ambulance guy tried to lift me out of the gutter, I felt a sharp stab of pain in my lower right back. Later, I found out one of the gangsters whipped me with a bicycle chain.

The gang bangers didn't have time to get my pants off, so they didn't get to live out their name as a rape gang, not with me anyway.

It doesn't even make sense to me why there are rape gangs and why they're so open about it. They used to only roam at night in bad neighborhoods, or that's the way I naively thought about certain parts of town. Now, they want to take over whole cities, making their own law or just taking apart the ones we're supposed to live by. Chaotic anarchists who want to run the world.

For the next week or so, I was in a lot of pain (well, the drugs helped). I couldn't bend at the waist and either had to stand straight up and walk very gingerly, or lay flat on my belly. My mates came over to say hi but they didn't want to stick around much. Maybe they felt guilty that I got hurt and they got away.

The police interviewed me while I was being put back together at the hospital, but I couldn't remember what any of the gang members looked like. I really wanted to identify them, too. I wasn't scared to say who they were, not then. But it all happened so fast. I didn't remember seeing any faces. I didn't feel any of the individual punches or being whipped by a chain. I didn't even remember being afraid.

I just knew I had the results of being beaten all over my back and face and the pain to go along with it.

I suppose if it had happened today, someone would have recommended counseling but back then, psychological treatment for assault and trauma victims wasn't common.

Eventually, the police rounded up the gangs and they either ended up in prison or deported. The streets were "safe" again, but not for me.

I'm not just terrified of groups of people but even of being alone with stranger. I remember I was riding on a bus to my job across town a month after I was attacked. There was only one other passenger so I wasn't too scared. Then the bus driver stopped at a transfer point and left to use the bathroom.

I can't really describe what it's like to be that afraid. I wasn't trembling or sweating, but every muscle in my back and shoulders was stiff and painful. I kept watching and waiting and planning how I'd curl up into a ball and hope I didn't get hurt too bad. The four or five minutes the driver was gone and I was alone with this guy seemed like an hour.

But nothing happened. The other guy probably didn't notice me. In fact, he completely ignored me and kept reading his newspaper. But being alone with him for even a tiny march of minutes was a nightmare. I have a lot of nightmares, especially when I'm awake.

I don't go out much anymore. I go to work because I have to, because I have to live, but that's about it. Shopping for food and a few other things I need. I watch TV now instead of going to the movies. My mates have lost interest in visiting me since all I want to do is stay in and play cards.

A lot of time has passed but I still think about the others like me, the other victims. I wonder if they're still as afraid and alone as I am. I wonder if they still hate their attackers and rapists as much as I do. I have violent fantasies of what I want to do with each of them, but they're just fantasies. If I were alone with even one of them, I'd be too paralyzed to do anything.

Nothing will be normal for me again. Sodom will never feel safe. Sometimes I wish the whole place would be wiped from the face of the earth.

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