It was the summer of 1999 in what was then called Chocolate City. It was a sweltering season curated by music that sprang forth from the backyards, churches and ghettos east of the Anacostia River. Go Go music. Drums for mating and drums for war. It vibrated around and through us, activating something tribal in us that called our young bodies to any mating ground we could find. Most of the girls in my neighborhood lost their virginity in a friend’s basement, on a playground, or in the back seat of a car. It was just how it was done; you got in where there was enough standing room for two human bodies–or three, if you were the wilder sort–and grunted out all your angst about school, absentee fathers, poverty, and blackness. It was a reckless summer followed by a winter that saw girls drop out of high school to prepare for newfound motherhood, and a surge of violence as would-be fathers stashed rocks in their slouch socks and picked up their guns to defend the drug turf that would yield money to feed their shoe habits and their young. There was death and sex and chaos that beautiful summer, and to outsiders it would appear there weren’t any rules for engagement at all. Only, there was. Through it all there was at least consent.
But on August 26 of that year, at fifteen years old, I didn’t even get that.
Over fifteen years later and the run down of events still play out in my brain like that horribly chipper Lambchop’s Play Along tune. The Song That Never Ends. And each time it does, my mind tries to fill in the holes with all the shoulda-coulda-wouldas that would’ve saved me from being raped, sodomized, and strangled within an inch of my life. Because the latter is what accepting a ride from a friendly stranger cost me that rainy, humid evening. So the memory runs on a neverending loop, sometimes muted in the background of my thoughts,, and sometimes on full hi-def, surround sound with razor sharp imagery if I’ve been triggered in some way. Because the act was brutal. And even I’m sure no one in the courtroom on the day my rapist accepted his plea deal felt any connection to me in any way–me, a slightly pudgy sixteen year old girl in too much eye makeup and an ill-fitting blazer– what the defense couldn’t help connect with were the 8 x 5, black and white glossies taken after I’d been admitted to Washington Hospital Center from the night he assaulted me.
There were bluish purple welts around my neck.
There was a gruesome looking ring finger from when I tried to crawl away and lost an acrylic nail as I was pulled backward, kicking and screaming.
There were scribbled comments from the doctor about the trauma to my anus and vagina.
And most of all, there was no fucking way he could argue consent, so his ass was going to jail.
But even with all his defense team had been confronted with, they felt the need to give a statement to the court about a girl who had a checkered past. A trashy girl with a history of recreational drug use. A girl who’d gotten into the car of a man she didn’t know while wearing revealing clothing. They, of course, left out the part where we rode around for hours talking about our favorite bands. They left out stuff about my battle with bipolar disorder and about me being molested and bounced from home to home since I was eight, but I’m sure those details were just semantics to them. So they took the plea, but they made damn sure they bared their teeth to me in the process. I left the courtroom feeling as if I’d been assaulted for a second time.
Right after the rape, I’d cried for days. Weeks, maybe. After I was released from the hospital and put on a battery of preventive STD meds, I sulked around my Nana’s house in a big t-shirt and only got up to put Neosporin on my cuts and check the color of my bruises. No one who visited me offered any comfort, either. I know they tried, but there was just nothing they could say that didn’t equate to “Gee, sorry you got butt fucked in the park” to my sixteen-year-old ears. Only one text I received read like a true gesture of support. It was from an entrepreneurial fellow I’d known for a few months then who dabbled in music–among other things, and his words were straight to the point:
“I can find him whether he’s outside or inside.”
I remember nodding to myself at the text. I didn’t respond to it, but I stood there in my oversized shirt with my half-healed bruises and my puffy eyes and I nodded yes to the text, slowly and surely. I nodded my intent to God/Allah/The Whole Fucking Universe. Then I spent the next few weeks pulling myself together and preparing for my upcoming court date.
Fast forward to the day I walked out of the court building lamenting a system that would only steal eight years from a man who raped a girl, but twenty from brown and black kids with baggies of crack rock. It was a day that ripped me to tendrils and left me calcified. As soon as I swung open the double doors and emerged from the grey sterility of court building, the sun washed my face and body in warmth. I felt the reassuring hand of my lawyer on my shoulder and felt its warmth too. But I didn’t want it. What I yearned for was something cold.
I pulled away from my small throng of supporters and walked to the shade of a nearby tree. Then I pulled my pink Nokia from my fake designer handbag, put on my oversized shades, and replied to the text.
“Find him on the inside.”
That summer was full of sacrifices and drums. Drums for mating and drums for war. I ignored the drums for mating for the rest of that summer, but I did heed the drums for war. I would show him that I could reach him where the law could not. I would show him that my village was a small and insular one but we were, indeed, one. I would show him that I was not a beaten and docile thing, declawed and defeated. I would show him that I too, had teeth.
M’Shai S. Dash is a blogger, digital content creator, and freelance writer from Washington, D.C. She attended the University of the District of Columbia and currently resides in the Washington, D.C. area.
Dash began writing music and poetry as a child, and has recently completed a work of poetry called Woman In Sujud. After appearing in PBS’s Legacy: Being Black in America (2007), she began speaking publicly about social justice issues. Dash has spoken at the Apollo Theater, Charles Sumner School, and Duke Ellington School of the Arts.
Dash writes about race and culture, mental health, and popular culture. Her writing has been featured in For Harriet and MadameNoir.com. She is also a staff writer for BlackSci-Fi.com and a regular contributor for Blavity.com.