The little girl who didn’t show up to Shields Elementary School on September 13th was me. I would never spend my first year of fourth grade in school but a vast majority of it would be spent in the hospital and recovering from injuries at home. What happened to me the morning of September 13th would become my past, present and future. It was only a moment in time that changed everything in an instant. In one day the town changed forever. I became the victim of a violent crime at age nine; a very vulnerable time in a child’s life, a time of change and a time of discovery. Yes, it was both of these; but the change was overwhelming and the discovery of what lay ahead was frightening, even though I didn’t realize how frightening but my family was more than well aware of how scary life had become and the future became so very uncertain.
I walked to school taking a shortcut, the shortcut we all took behind the hospital, through a small corner of a marshy area where we strolled down a well-beaten path and exited into the Edgehill Pharmacy parking lot, a block away from our school. Block House Pond lay somewhere in all the overgrowth of cat tails and marsh grasses. The history of the pond was that in the days before electric refrigeration, in the winter the people of Lewes would cut blocks of ice from it for cold storage of food. Long gone were the days of its usefulness to this community and it was left neglected and overgrown.
The marsh was also a place where we played and tried to act like we were smoking by lighting hollow reeds. It was a benign and yet mysterious place we hadn’t fully explored. On this particular day I was alone, unlike all the days before when this path was just a short cut, a quick way to get to school; on that day it turned into the beaten path; a place of horror. It became a place of fear and sorrow. A place I never visited again, until very recently. A place where I was so brutally beaten it would change me, our family, the town and State, its people, and the way the schools in Delaware operated when children did not arrive at school. Systematically and in an instant everything was different from the moment before that morning at about 8:00 AM.
I was a cheerful, wisp of a kid, happily walking through my safe little town, wearing all new school clothes feeling ready for the world in my new tan and navy saddle shoes that I begged my mom to buy. She probably couldn’t afford them, yet she couldn’t resist the excitement on my face over these shoes. They would become one of many things I would never have again.
I walked up Market Street as usual to my first few days of fourth grade not a care in the world, except that I knew I was running late and had to get to school quickly. It was gray chilly morning and even that didn’t seem to matter to me. I had woken up late; this wasn’t unusual, I had probably been up late. I was a night owl always fearing I may miss something that may happen while I was asleep. My friends had already stopped by to walk with me and I wasn’t ready yet so they walked on. Ironic how I enjoyed my days so much and was the most difficult child to get out of bed; this stands true to this day. I stopped at a couple friends houses to see if they had gone and then walked on alone no one saw me after that. As I hustled down the street Mom said something she never said before, “Don’t take the Shortcut.” I yelled back, “I won’t.” knowing full well it was a lie. I never listened to anyone I was stubborn so why should this day be any different.
I was approached by a young man who was 18 years old, he stood in the path that we walked through to get to the Edghill Parking lot. I stood surprised and scared by his presence, then he told me to come over to him and I refused. He asked if I had a brother named Matt, I said, “Yes.” He then walked quickly toward me, picking me up, putting a rope around my neck, and demanded that I not scream. He beat me mercilessly, hanging me with a rope as he dragged me into the marsh. My face a bloody bruised mass, I had a broken jaw in two places, a fractured nose, fracture of the cheek bone, my eyes swollen shut, and multiple lacerations of the face and body. I lay in the marsh, drifting in and out of consciousness. I had somehow gotten away from him and I am convinced if I hadn’t I would have never been here to tell this story.
The rope burn created a scar; that like many other scars still lingers. Like all the scars; I’ve tried to hide throughout my life, this would not be one of them; it stands there waiting around my neck for its recognition. As the summer tans it, it becomes a bulletin for all to read however; like all the other scars it is barely noticed by anyone- I notice it. And just when I think they are out of sight to me and the world; when I think I have done such a great job of concealing them all, neatly tucked away in places that are set up in a controlled little area of my soul they jump out and rear their ugly head. All of sudden I am faulty, a thing I have strived so hard not to be, much of my life..
My girlfriend many years ago who had known me for almost 14 years asked me, “What is that on your neck?” as she tried to wipe it off. I told her and she was moved to tears and she had a hard time just dealing with the fact that I had endured this kind of brutality. She was taken aback that she had never observed it and now all of a sudden it was there. She was also surprised that I had never told her the story, I could not because I was still running from it myself. She was now privy to something that was my secret, or so I had thought.
I had never told anyone all the details of the horror I recalled. It was a glance into a part of my life that somehow she only missed because it’s so natural for me to carry it around and not discuss it or bring attention to it as I tried desperately to keep it all hidden from everyone. No one really knows all of the things that I might remember, it was not something to be discussed until now as I write this book.
All of a sudden it was there for her to see always; like those pictures that trick us with one picture imbedded in another. The first picture is perceived easily and then the other picture suddenly emerges. Once you see the other picture within the picture, you can never go back and not notice it again. I didn’t know what to say or how I should feel, yet there stood a hint of shame that I had to hide it all from the people in my life, many who had known me for years and especially her. There it was out in the open never to dissolve in the background again, for her as it is for me.
Out of his fury at the world, I became someone no one would have ever comprehended; a limp, lost child, in a world that had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. I became unrecognizable even to my own brother, who was at the scene when I was found. Jason only knew it was me because of a spoon ring with a descending dove on my finger that I had worn since my eighth birthday. It was a spoon ring that I loved, because Aunt Gail gave it to me. Yet another thing I would never have again,
Jason was only 15 and had just become a junior volunteer at the Lewes Fire Department; he was in the search party that found me he told the other firemen, “That’s not my sister.” Aunt Mickey told me that she spent the night with my brothers that evening and he sobbed all night. No one in my family was unscathed by my injuries, it was as if he had beaten every one of us. He had altered what we thought our lives were really about but somehow he had not beaten our spirit for survival. He had stolen from us, pieces of what we thought we were only to be replaced by things we never thought we would have to be.
This somehow was the very essence of what our family was and what we would find in ourselves; courage, hope, togetherness, and separateness. We would find resolve in inner strength, depth of character, and a higher power that we would not always understand. But this beast also brought us a great many years of sorrow, grief, change, and a hunger for what used to be. A hunger so palpable it could be felt for many years to follow and sometimes now. The brutality that I endured would cling to us all like a spider web after you walk into it, you know it’s there but you can’t get it off of you. It would become something that many of us would have great difficulty shaking off over the years. It has become so tightly woven into the fabric of our lives that it is now who we are.
I became my own nightmare, struggling through the jumbled new physical defaults called my body with a traumatic brain injury. I became someone that would look back throughout my life and realize what I had lost and what I would struggle to regain. I became someone that I too would have never imagined. I became someone rebuilding a life that had suddenly been stolen from me in an instant, gone forever. I became someone traveling the longest journey through a shortcut. I became a victim.
I never asked for this. I never wanted to be this person. I was not going to be a victim. I was going to be better than that. I didn’t think it was fair to have a label placed on me at such a young age. I believed that being a victim was being weak and vulnerable, now I know that being a victim has made me strong. I am no longer bound, keeping everything inside all packed up in little boxes and I feel no need to NOT speak about my life ever again.