GriefSpeak: Dirty Laundry

By Dr. Mari Dias

I often ask my clients to journal for homework. The following is 45 year- old Thomasina’s journal entry about her rape and the first and only time she told the story. Ironically, she chose to share her story with men incarcerated in a men’s maximum-security prison. She was a high school English teacher.

“They called me Miss T as inmates are not privy to our last names. They sat discussing the pros and cons of committing rape versus murder. I was facilitating a bibliotherapy group in men’s maximum-security prison. Today’s story was Mary Gordon’s short story “Violation “in which the female narrator begins by saying:

“I suppose that in a 45-year life, I should be grateful to have experienced only two instances of sexual molestation” (page 397).

Ralph Cosgrove agreed. A tall, lanky well-read and literate forty-something year-old with a military crew cut was serving a 30- year sentence for the rape of his 13-year-old developmentally delayed daughter.

“Miss T, you have to admit that she really was grateful; the life she describes is so boring and mundane that she was indeed appreciative of the rapes. They serve as the highlights; the only exciting experiences she had in her drab, little, pitiful, traditional life.”

“Cosgrove, you are so screwed up! Sorry Miss. T, you are crazy! She was being sarcastic! She didn’t really mean she liked the rapes – they weren’t exciting!” Ray Barrino argued.

Ralph, who always spoke in a monotone cadence replied calmly and solicitously, “Barrino, I suggest you re-read her description of the rape in Ireland… Never mind, I’ll read it to all of you.” Ralph referred to a page and began…

“In conclusion, she didn’t resist. She never said no. Which means she liked it.” Ralph looked up at the group, making silent eye contact with each one of them.

Julio Martinez, who had remained silent spoke up, as usual, gritting his teeth to ameliorate his anger. “Cosgrove – you skipped somethin’.”

“By all means Martinez,” Cosgrove replied with a palm up hand sweep invitation theatrical bow, “Please, enlighten us.”

Julio, whose spoken English was second only to his reading the language, began to stumble over the words as he read: “I did as he said, closed my eyes. I didn’t want to look at him (page 401) AND…” I don’t know when I realized that I was in danger (page 401) … So there, she says so herself. She was scared.”

Julio continued, addressing the rest of the 11 members of the group. “You guys know why I’m here. Triple homicide, which makes me a serial killer. Lifer. No parole. But I’ll tell all of yous, I would kill anyone, any time before I would RAPE ‘em! That’s all I got to say, Miss. T.”

Julio’s statement was met with many nods, a few high-fives and a “Damn straight, Martinez” from Tommy Fung. Outnumbered, Ralph showed no emotion as he replied “Martinez, Barrino, Fung, allow me a moment to clarify your views. Am I correct in assuming that you all feel that taking someone’s life is more acceptable than simply raping them?”

This time Tommy Fung stood up and angrily banged his fist against the wall, shouting “Damn straight, Cosgrove! When you kill someone, their life is over! When you rape someone, you let them live when they are all screwed up and have mental problems.”

Cosgrove staunchly replied, “You are highly mistaken, Fung. Rape leaves the victims with a choice as to how they want to live the remainder of their lives. They might choose to simply forget about it. Murder is final. We have no right to take a life. No one does, except God. Perhaps we should survey rape victims and ask if they would rather be dead.”

I asked myself “Should I tell them?”

It was a balmy postcard evening in the Bahamas, the last evening of our senior high school class trip. Fifteen 17-year-old girls from a private, catholic high school were celebrating at a small, local club called “The Hot Spot”. Randy was a 25-year-old white, Native Islander with an Afro; funky, cool and manager of the night’s band. He was the kind of guy every girl wanted. He wanted me. He approached me to ask for the last dance. Despite the heat, Randy wore a black leather jacket that bled sweat as we danced. As the last chord played, the house lights went up, indicating closing time. I was aware that Randy still had his arm around my waist as he began to shout commands at the roadies from the band. “Hey, what did you say your name was?”, Randy asked in a low, soft, cool voice with a tinge of a British accent.

“I didn’t. It’s Thomasina.”

“Great name, Thomasina. I’m gonna call you Tommy. Listen Tommy, I am really, really attracted to you. Let’s spend some more time together.” I told him we were flying out the next morning. “Well that sucks.” he said. “Hey, how about taking a walk back to my place for a cupper? You know, true island style?” I looked around the deserted club. There was no sign of any of my classmates, although our hotel was just around the corner. “Sure” I replied. “How far is it?”

“Oh sunshine, it’s just a short walk on a full moon. Hang on, let me grab my keys.” We walked in silence until we reached a three-story tenement. “That’s my place – top floor. If you look out the window and squint, you can see the water and your hotel. Wait ‘til I grab a flashlight; these lights can be a bitch in the dark. Wouldn’t want Tommy Sunshine to fall and get hurt.” Randy crouched down under the first step and took out the flashlight that was hidden in the dirt.

As he unlocked the front door, I chose not to notice the chipped paint, the drab old wallpaper or the single light bulb that hung over the second-floor landing. I was excited, curious, and flattered. I thought, this is going to be a great story to tell my friends! We entered a very small, one room, cramped, half-dormered space. Against the wall to the right was a bed that appeared to be a pull-out couch. It was stained and smelled of mold and the wooden headboard indicated an old, ornate mahogany. Plaid couch cushions were strewn all over the floor and the 3-legged, scratched coffee table sat where an end table should be, it’s fourth side held up by a stack of magazines. The top magazine peeked out of the stack. It was pornography. I hate pornography.

“Sorry there is nowhere to sit, Tommy Sunshine. Just sit on the corner of the bed. Forgot to make it.” Randy seemed to disappear around the corner into what I could only guess was the kitchen.

As I waited, I wondered what time it was. Not because I was in a hurry but because I wanted time to stop. I heard the tea pot whistle and Randy shouted “Be out in a sec.” I waited to hear the creak of the black leather jacket as a signal that he was finally returning. But all was silent.

I was stunned when he emerged from the kitchen. He held a beautiful, ornate silver tray that balanced two matching cups of tea, each with mauve roses in bloom, outlined with gold trim and coupled with a matching sugar and creamer and two hand embroidered lace cotton napkins. Randy was completely naked.

I had never seen a naked man before. I panicked. “What’s going on?” I asked Randy. “Why are you naked?” I was very confused and honestly did not understand. I was mesmerized by the tea set. It reminded me of the miniature tea set that Mama B gave my twin sister Francesca and I on our 5th birthday, so we could serve a proper tea to our dolls.

“C’mon on sunshine. Did you really think I invited you back just for tea?!”

I sat stupidly as he placed the tray on the 3-legged coffee table and turned toward me. “C’mon sunshine. God, you’re beautiful. Let me feel you.” He leaned in over me, bracing himself with his flat palms on the corner of the mattress. I began to get nervous. “No Randy, I mean, yes, I did think we were just going to have tea. I think there has been a mistake.”

“No mistake, Thomasina, you ‘ct’. You American girls are alike.” He then let his hands go and fell on top of me with his full weight. As I squirmed to get out from under him, he put his hands under my shoulders and lifted me so that my head was now at the top of the bed. “C’mon, Tommy Sunshine, let me have you. Easy or hard, I will have you.”

I kept my eyes on the tea set and went from a whisper to a scream. “No Randy, no. Please let me go. My friends will be looking for me and the chaperone will be calling the police!”

“Nice try, you little American hottie.” He lifted my head and held it in both hands as he began to bang my head against the wooden mahogany headboard. It hurt. With every bang he muttered “F’ing’ American whore”. Bang. “American tease”. Bang. Harder and faster. “F’ing American ‘cs’.” I kept my eye on the tea set, thinking that Mama B would be disappointed that Randy hadn’t thought to include the little frosted tea cakes.

Then everything went black.

It was daylight when I opened my eyes. I was alone, still on my back on the bed. A slight sliver of sunlight cut through a torn window shade and illuminated the blood. My dress had been ripped down the middle, my sheer white tights in shreds, while blood pooled between my legs and crusted on my inner thighs. I felt dizzy and nauseous as I tried to raise my head. The last thing I remembered was the tea set, which remained on the coffee table, the tea now cold.

I had to get out of that place. I struggled to get up and heard a chuckle. I looked up to see a still naked Randy, his head cocked to one side as he drew in a long, languid, drag from his cigarette. “Morning Tommy Sunshine” he laughed. I tied up my dress as best I could. He didn’t move when I stumbled out of the door. When I finally reached the bottom of the stairs I limped into full sunlight, still hearing his chuckle. As I rounded the corner of the yard near the side of his house I saw him. He posed, naked on the top step of the fire escape, still watching, still smoking.

As I finally entered the hotel lobby, our chaperone was pacing, speaking with the hotel concierge. She took one look at me and cried, running up to me and repeating “Where have you been? What happened to you?” I didn’t know that my face was covered in blood and bruises.

“It was my moped Mrs. Jackson! It was dark, and I forgot about driving on the opposite side of the road. A car was coming so I swerved and hit a stone wall. I guess I have a concussion, because I blacked out and don’t remember anything!”

She bought it. I flew home with a story I would not tell. Until now.

My story was met with stone silence. “What happened?” asked Julio. “I don’t know,” I responded.

“Miss T, why all the blood?” asked Fung.

“Because I was a virgin. I was naïve, immature, and stupid.”

“Why didn’t you tell anyone, asked Barrino?”

“I thought it was my fault.”

Cosgrove cleared his throat and asked, “Well Miss T, would you rather be dead?”

“Most times” I thought.

Dr. Mari Dias is a nationally board-certified counselor, holds a Fellow in Thanatology and is certified in both grief counseling and complicated grief. She is Professor of Clinical Mental Health, Master of Science program, Johnson & Wales University. Dias is the director of GracePointe Grief Center, in North Kingstown, RI.  For more information, go to:

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