They trapped her like a pack of hungry wolves, single-minded and relentless.
I had a secret crush on Sue in high school. We were born on the same day and even looked very much alike, tawny skin and blonde hair, typical of the beach town in which we lived.
Sue was at a Friday night party. I noticed her while I squeezed through the crowd for a cup of beer off the keg. She stood at the end of a hall, looking wasted and ready to pass out, eyes bleary and numb. She stumbled a bit, aiming down the hall, looking like she needed air.
The hallway was lined with high school guys, rowdy and horny. As she began walking the gauntlet to get past, about six of them blocked her way and began groping her breasts, running their hands up and down her blouse and skirt, even in her panties. She couldn’t speak or move. They trapped her like a pack of hungry wolves, single-minded and relentless. The pack mentality.
None of those guys would have laid a hand on her if she was herself, the beautiful Sue who silenced these same boys as she walked into classrooms. But now, nearly unconscious, she was being groped because of her vulnerability. I wanted to rescue her, protect her from this ugly disrespect, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.
As I stood there holding my warm, dumb beer, I was frozen by words running through my head, as if they were broadcast over the house speakers. Words that told me it was OK for Sue to be treated like this because, well, it was well-known that Sue was easy. She bore the mysterious stigma of being labeled a “slut.” For these guys mauling her, this was not only acceptable behavior, but expected and cheered!
Was that the wolf pack voice that I heard being transmitted through the ethers? Was it saying that we found a wounded elk, let the feeding begin?
Five years later, I had a roommate who’d remained good friends with Sue; she told me that Sue had a horrible childhood, that she was adopted and sexually abused by the new “dad.” I see now how well she fit into the stereotypical patterns of dysfunction, how well her life reflected the ruptured attachments she inherited from her abusive upbringing. I also understood, then, why I felt so connected to her.
My sister Tami barely survived her own childhood traumas. Our early lives were stained by parental neglect, abuse, and narcissism. Tami was beautiful, strong, and at a petite 4-foot-8, she easily excelled in high-level gymnastics.
When she was 12 years old, Tami placed a babysitting ad on the bulletin board of our local supermarket, which allowed her extra spending money over the summer. One “job” was a man who asked her to wait a while, saying his wife and child were due home any minute. He sat on his couch, drinking.
She pulled out some fabric and a pattern for a dress she was learning to make and sat on the living room floor, staying busy laying out the fabric. After a couple more drinks, the man got up, grabbed her scissors and held them against her stomach, commanding her to strip and keep quiet, or he would kill her. So became the ugly end of Tami’s childhood innocence. I doubt that man even had a wife and kid. Likely, he was just a predator, and Tami was easy prey.
Keeping that incident secret, under death threats from this neighborhood monster, was the beginning of Tami’s unraveling. Within a few years, in the middle of high school, she began to crumble. Our mother dropped her into an “evaluation period” at the psych ward of the general hospital, complete with barred windows, padded cells, and high security doors. Insurance covered it, so it must have been “the right thing to do.”
The lithium, thorazine, and who knows what other drugs she was put on, made it impossible for Tami to think or feel clearly, and so it was there, inside that ward, that Tami fell into the abyss. She broke.
After her fourth month in that insane hell, she found a way to escape, though her freedom was short-lived, as the hospital put out an All Points Bulletin (APB), fearful of the liability of losing a minor. It was the beginning of Tami’s career of great escapes.
Her tiny body—with its freakish strength and flexibility—combined with her innate intelligence, allowed her to mastermind escapes from over a dozen high-security state hospitals. But she’d usually be arrested again within days, due to her identifiably diminutive physique, which gave her away as she stole food from markets to survive.
The periods immediately after escaping were difficult as she would often be unaware of what city or state she was in. She would be penniless, in odd hospital clothing, and either loaded on heavy drugs or in withdrawal from them. Instinctually, she wanted to head for the beach where life made sense to her, but that often meant traveling distances in unknown directions.
On the road one night, hitchhiking, probably heading for the beach in one of those disoriented mental states, a van full of guys pulled over and collected her. One by one, they took turns raping her little body. She was brought in from the side of the highway clinging to the remnants of her hospital garb. Inhuman bastards.
One afternoon while sitting on the sand, I noticed an odd procession coming down the walkway along the beach. This walkway was a popular beach walk, busy with rollerbladers, bikes, skateboarders, and many people strolling along.
As this raucous parade came more into view, I stopped breathing. There was my tiny, naked sister, staggering without much aim or purpose, clearly escaped yet again. She was in obvious poor mental shape. She had only a bed sheet draped around her…barely.
She was circled…dogged by a pack of boys, laughing and jeering, routinely stepping on the dragging sheet so it would slip off her shoulders to expose her nakedness—until I caught up to them.
Tami has spent the entirety of her adult life, decades now, in institutions. She is incapable of living in the world in which you and I live; she is too fragile, too broken, too vulnerable. She shared accounts of horrific sexual abuses with me during moments of her lucidity—and I am only reporting a fraction of it all. I know these contributed to her demise, if they were not the cause of it.
Why do humans sexually brutalize fragile human beings, people’s sisters, daughters, sons?
Individually, most people seem to have a decent moral compass, but when we fall into packs of our peers, why is it that we so often descend to our lowest common denominator? Our animal, socially undeveloped natures? Does it bond us into a hunting party in some primitive, unspoken ritual?
And why do they laugh, as though it’s entertainment?
How can we proceed to call ourselves a human family, to pretend to root for our common good, and then resemble the brutal gangs in a Mad Max movie? I desperately want to believe in our shared humanity, but I struggle to reconcile the parts of “humanity” that succumbs to such barbaric actions.