by Lori Lynn Turner
When a group of Alaskan women flew to Washington, D.C. to meet with Senator Lisa Murkowski during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, I wanted to be on the plane with them. The day before the final vote, I watched Senator Murkowski speak on the Senate floor about why she would vote No on Kavanaugh’s confirmation. I was thrilled and shocked to hear a public figure from Alaska, the only Republican to vote No on the confirmation, say that she had met with survivors of sexual assault.
She listened to her constituents.
She believed them.
I live in New York now, but I spent my teenage years in a small town in Alaska. The last time I was in that town, a group of women stood with me as I confronted one of the five boys who had raped me when I was 16.
* * *
In the early 1990s, when I was living in California, I received a call from Maggie, a friend since elementary school, who still lived in Alaska. We talked once in a while and when she called we hadn’t spoken on the phone for several years. Her tone was solemn: Lori Lynn, I have something to tell you. She said that she had just talked to another friend of ours, Rachel, who had been at the party where I was raped, a party Maggie hadn’t gone to. Rachel had just seen Kyle, a boy who had been at the party. She told Kyle she was angry he hadn’t done anything to stop the rape. Kyle claimed he could tell what was about to happen and he didn’t want to be a part of it, so he left.
I think you should talk to Rachel, Maggie said.
I called Rachel.
There are details of that night that are seared into my brain, but there are also details that seem to have been erased. Rachel had seen Brad leave the bedroom where I was – I remembered that my friends had been in another room smoking pot, and that I had left to get a cup of beer from the keg in the kitchen. I took a big slug and felt queasy, so I opened a door I thought led to the bathroom, but there was a bed there and I laid down. After a few minutes, I heard the door open, and in walked Brad. Though he didn’t resemble a fox, he was what we girls then called a fox, tall and sleekly handsome.
Brad was popular with the group I hung out with, but we’d never spoken. Now, he asked if I wanted another beer and returned with a bottle of beer with its cap off. (This small detail I see so clearly now that I wonder if he put something in the beer.) I steadied my shoulder against his shoulder and took a sip of the beer. He roughly angled my face to his and tugged at the zipper of my jeans. I took them off. He fumbled with the back hooks of my bra. I took it off. My underwear dropped to the floor.
He climbed on top of me. My mouth was soured by beer, bile rose and liquid sloshed in my stomach. I felt sicker. We didn’t talk or make any human connection. It was over quickly. I rolled to one side, feeling nauseous, used, and invisible. I don’t recall what happened between the time Brad left the room and when I found myself standing naked at the top of the stairs that led down to the front door. But as the door closed, I remember hearing a female voice say, You’re not our friend anymore.
Rachel’s memory picks up where mine fades, before my friends left the party. Eva (one of the friends who came to the party) was mad at the boys. (But why? Rachel didn’t know.) Rachel went into the bedroom, where I remember being with Brad, and was startled to see me there, naked. Brad walked back into the room and handed me the beer. Rachel said that when she was in the room, there were other boys in the hallway laughing. She said that I insisted I had to find my coat. She was trying to help me out of the room.
The rust-colored coat. I’ll never forget that coat. My mother had just bought it for me. It was the most stylish coat I’d ever had, with big lapels, oversized cuffed sleeves, and an attached wrap-around belt. It was big and bulky and cozy and protective, like a blanket.
I didn’t find my coat, and the front door closed as the female voice said, You’re not our friend anymore, and then I was alone with boys – I didn’t know how many yet – in a split-level suburban house with no adults present. The boy’s parents who lived at the house were out of town. I reached for the doorknob. I had to get out. One of the boys pushed me aside and took the doorknob off the front door, and sang as he tossed the doorknob to another boy: I got the doorknob. You got the doorknob.
I remember two of the boys shoved me to the carpeted floor and they held me down. The boys seemed to know what to do, as if they’d done this before, or had planned it in advance. I can still see my body on the carpeted living room floor and six boys lined up ready to take a turn. I was crying and I screamed and screamed. They didn’t listen until I said I thought I was going to get sick, and then the boy who lived in the house took me to the bathroom and stayed with me. He wouldn’t let me out of his sight. I pleaded with him to make it stop. He led me to a room downstairs with brown paneled walls.
He closed the door and I was finally alone. I pulled a sheet up to cover myself. I heard voices outside the door. The boys had lined up again and now they came in one by one and raped me. Eventually the door stopped opening and the house was quiet. I got out of the bed and found my clothes and took a shower. As I stepped out of the bathroom, one of the boys was still hanging around and handed me $10 for a cab.
* * *
The memories of that night became recurring nightmares. During the several years before Maggie called, I dreamed at least once a week about the rape. In one dream, one of the boys is chasing me and when he catches me, he stabs me in the back. In another dream, I am standing alone on a stage and everyone from my high school is in the audience staring at me. One of my old friends yells, You’re not our friend anymore. One of the girls yells, You fucked my boyfriend.
After I talked to Rachel, I called Maggie back and asked her if she knew if any of the boys, now men, still lived in town. She was able to locate Brad. I’m coming to Alaska, I said with determination. First she told me I should wait until I was less angry before I did anything, but when I insisted I had to do something right now, she relented: Come home, Lori Lynn, and you can stay with me.
The day after I returned to Alaska I went with Maggie to Woolworth’s and ordered the lunches we’d ordered when we were teenagers. I ate a tomato stuffed with tuna fish and she ate a club sandwich. Okay, what do you want to do? asked Maggie.
Over lunch, I wrote down the plans, which I labeled “Plan A” and “Plan B.” Plan A was to ask a friend to call Brad’s office to find out if he was at work that day. When we stopped by the restaurant where the friend worked, she was in the middle of the lunch rush. We moved on to Plan B. We drove by Brad’s house and parked across the street. He’d done well. Parked in front of his two-car garage was a Lincoln Town Car and what looked like a new truck. A large balcony at the back of the house was neatly decorated with patio furniture, and hanging pots of flowers. Children’s toys were scattered on the lawn.
I asked Maggie if Brad had any daughters. She’d heard he and his wife Debbie had kept trying until they finally had a girl. Maggie and I discussed returning to Brad’s house later, knocking on the door. But what if his daughter answered? Would I tell her how I knew her father?
We drove off and stopped at a drugstore. While Maggie picked up a few things, I found a phone booth, closed the door, and called Brad’s office. A receptionist answered. I said I was an old friend of Brad and Debbie’s and that I’d like to stop by the office to see him. She said he’d be back from lunch at 2:00 p.m.
Don’t tell him, I said. I want it to be a surprise.
We shouldn’t go alone, said Maggie. She called several friends and they called some more friends. Several hours later, we met Janice, Patti, and Rose in a parking lot. Before we left, Janice, who worked at a safe house for women, asked who the man was, and what I wanted from him. For years, I had believed that I had done something wrong, that I was to blame for what happened to me. I imagined the boys bragged about that night, but I felt excruciating shame whenever I shared the story, even with friends. I told Janice that all I wanted was for Brad to hear what he had done to me.
My women’s brigade got into three cars. I rode with Maggie. A mile or so outside the city, we turned down a road, and then down another, and then into a rocky driveway. Janice stayed in her station wagon with her baby daughter.
I noticed a man leaning into a van, talking to two men. He turned his head in our direction. What’s it like to see a man, once a boy, through the eyes of a woman, once a girl? A terribly intimate night had coiled our bodies together in violence. Brad’s once-trim torso sagged over his waistline where his blue T-shirt was tucked into beige painter pants; his blond head of hair was still thick. He didn’t seem to recognize us. Brad didn’t speak, but turned back to the men in the truck and spoke to them; then he turned and walked into the office building.
The women and I walked toward the door, opened it, and stepped into the office. I saw Brad walking down a hall.
Is Brad here? I asked the receptionist. Brad turned and approached us: Ladies, are you here to see me? I stood there, with Patti and Isabelle to my direct left, and Maggie to my right.
Do you remember me? I asked.
I only know Maggie, Brad said, nodding in her direction.
I have a surprise for you, I said, and pulled from a manila envelope an 8×10 print of a photograph my mother had taken of me back then. In it I’m dressed in bright clothes: yellow cap-sleeved sweater, yellow big-bell cords, and, over the sunny attire, the rust-colored coat. Behind my head, the camera’s flash washes out a brown paneled living room wall. My face is sullen.
I’m Lori Lynn Turner, I said. My hands gripped the photograph. Brad’s sparkle dulled. I know Lori, he said, looking in my direction.
Maggie moved her camera into shooting position. She snapped the picture I have in front of me now as I write this.
At the far left side of the picture is the blur of my right shoulder. Brad is leaning on the receptionist’s desk, but you can’t see the receptionist. The shock on his face had once been a boast: Yeah we fucked her, and yeah, she fucked us.
Behind his head, a clock marks the time at 2:45 p.m. His mouth is opened slightly as if he is about to speak. He might be about to say, What the hell are you going to do?
You and five other boys raped me at Doug’s house, I continued. I’ve carried this for seventeen years. You can have it now! I shouted. Releasing the picture from my grasp, I watched it fall to the floor as my underwear had that night, and watched the image of my sullen face stare up at me.
No way! Get out! Brad yelled, taking the room back under his control. The receptionist didn’t move or speak. Get out! Brad yelled again.
Maggie opened the door and we walked to our cars. Brad followed and headed toward the men in the truck who were still there. As I got into the passenger’s seat of Maggie’s car, I heard Brad say loud enough so we all could hear, She said I raped her. I never raped anyone in my life!
Maggie sped out of the parking lot, and the others followed. About a mile down the road, Patti motioned for us to pull over. We piled out of the cars, and on the side of the road we five women, Janice’s baby girl safely strapped in her car seat, hooted, hollered, and high-fived. Janice took a picture of Patti, Maggie, Isabelle and me, arms linked. Sunglasses hid my bright teary eyes. Though my hands and legs were furiously shaking, I felt light and liberated.
When I returned to California, the nightmares ended.
* * *
I haven’t been back to Alaska since that day, but during the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings, I tumbled back in time to the place I thought I’d left behind.
While confronting Brad was empowering, the constant news cycle about high school sexual violence brought on by the Kavanaugh hearings forced me to revisit that night. I was 16 again, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that no one would have believed me if I had told them what happened to me. They’d say it was my fault, that I had been drinking, that I’d had sex with Brad. They’d believe I was a willing participant. While the boys knew what they’d done, I would need to prove it was rape. But all I had were haunting reminders of the night.
First, we have to listen, Senator Murkowski said.
Here’s what I want to say. Here’s my proof: a rust-colored coat, a door slamming, a female voice saying: You’re not our friend anymore, two boys singing, I got the door knob, you got the door knob, five more boys lined up outside the door, and my body, naked, on the carpeted floor.
Lori Lynn Turner’s essay Eating Together, (Tin House, spring 2018), was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. An excerpt from her novella Serena’s Home was published in Brooklyn Rail (May 2014). Her nonfiction, fiction, and poetry have appeared in Guernica, Brooklyn Rail, Tin House, The Inquisitive Eater: New School Food, the literary journal Killing the Angel, and Coldfront Magazine. Lori Lynn recently completed a memoir, It’s in the House. She is currently working on an essay collection, Prison Visits. Lori Lynn is the Associate Director of The New School Creative Writing Program.
Featured image courtesy of the author.
(Note: some names have been changed.)