Two weeks. Looks like I’m going to manage another year’s challenge, right? You’re all rooting for me, right? I hope so, because I do need your support. It’s…difficult sometimes. Especially when I write a story like tonight.
Some of us, no matter how independent, how strong, how intelligent, how…feminist, still manage to apply different standards when things happen to us. All the strong, intelligent, feminist things we’ve said slip away and we accept society’s assessment of our own failings. Why? Because we were brought up that way? Then why don’t we apply that to other women? Why are we sometimes our own worst enemy? (I know, I asked that question last year, but it still burns, so I still keep asking it.)
THE BLAME GAME
The guests were already seated long before Mandy arrived. She could hear the sound of clearing throats and whispered conversations as she snuck in the back door and crept down the hall toward the changing room where her mother waited. Mom tapped her foot and glared at her watch, clearly angry about the delay.
“You had to go and do it, didn’t you? I always said it, didn’t I? I always said you’d be late to your own wedding!”
Mandy didn’t answer. She slumped into the chair in the corner, too exhausted to stand. Mom prodded at her; she needed to put on her gown and get out there. She was already 45 minutes late. Logan would leave if she didn’t hurry. Why did she always have to do this? Why did she always have to inconvenience everyone? Why couldn’t she just be like her sisters, and show up eager for her wedding, put on a gorgeous white gown, and prance down the aisle in happy anticipation?
Mom kept up a constant chatter as she bustled about trying to get Mandy dressed in the bright blue gown that had caused such dismay when she picked it out. Mandy resisted the urge to point out that one of her sisters was already divorced and the other one had tried to commit suicide last week…so much for happy marriages…but she had said yes to Logan, and she had meant it, so why pretend she was being forced into this? It wasn’t the wedding, anyway, it was all the things that happened trying to get here.
A knock sent Mom scurrying to the door. She heard her mother argue with Logan, explaining that yes she was here no he couldn’t come in why because he couldn’t see her before the wedding yes she was going to be out there soon no she didn’t know what happened yes she was fine no limbs missing nothing wrong just tell everyone to hold on a couple more minutes. Mandy marveled as usual about how Mom could keep up a chain of talk in one constant, unpunctuated sentence without pausing even as another person asked her questions. Mom was a marvel, all right.
Mandy debated slipping out the door, grabbing Logan by the arm, and taking him to the courthouse to get married alone, just the two of them, without all this nonsense. Mom had him pushed back into the hallway before she could summon enough energy to get out of the chair, and her opportunity was past. Mom was hauling her out of the seat and shoving the dress over her head.
“Mom! Let me get my jeans off first.” Mandy slipped out of the outfit she wore to the church, and allowed her mother to dress her. She balked at the panty hose Mom held out, and slipped a pair of thin knee high socks out of her bag. “I’ll wear these.”
“You really are a mess. Can’t even get to your own wedding on time, and now you want to wear socks. Go ahead, don’t listen to me, make yourself look like an idiot, see if I care.”
“You do care, Mom, because you think it makes you look like a bad mother. Don’t worry, everyone here knows us. They know how difficult I am. Just…settle, please? I’m exhausted.” Mandy didn’t mean to snap at her, but she couldn’t help it.
Mom paused, possibly for the first time in her life, and cocked her head as she looked at her daughter. “Okay, what happened?”
“No, I think…no. I’m not going to tell. You haven’t been nice to me.”
Somewhere outside, a door creaked, and a floorboard squeaked. The air conditioning unit clicked on. Everything else was quiet. As quiet as…a church, Mandy thought, and began to laugh hysterically. Before she could stop herself, she was sobbing uncontrollably.
Mom dropped to her knees beside Mandy and stared at her youngest daughter. “What are you doing? This is supposed to be the happiest day of your life.”
Mandy’s shoulders shook as she tried to stop crying. Mom didn’t reach out for her, or try to comfort her. She glared at the young woman, tears running over the hated blue dress, no make up, and barefooted. This was no way to have a wedding. Mom was puzzled. This isn’t how a woman was supposed to react to a wedding. This was supposed to be the greatest day of a woman’s life…even though the marriage would probably be a disaster, she wouldn’t be happy, she’d find herself old at the age of thirty and wishing she were somewhere, anywhere else. Mom had a way of assuming every woman’s life would mirror her own.
“Mom, tell them…tell everyone…I can’t. Not right now. I’ll…try to come out…later…but…” Mandy tried to speak through the sobs.
Mom slapped her daughter. “You stop this. There is no reason to act like this. I know, I know, you don’t believe in marriage, it’s an outmoded relic of the patriarchy, blah blah blah, but you accepted Logan’s proposal and I will not let you act like this. You can get divorced next week if you want to, but you are going through with this marriage!”
Mandy grabbed her shoes and headed out the door. Mom ran after her, determined she was going to wear a bit of make up if she had to hold her down and apply it by force. To her dismay, Mandy didn’t head for the sanctuary where her fiancé waited, but for the bathroom on the other end of the hall. Mom was so busy worrying about things that she didn’t notice the blood staining the chair Mandy had just vacated.
Logan intercepted Mom and stopped her from following. “I think…I’d better handle this, okay?”
Mom protested. He couldn’t see her until she walked down the aisle. He dismissed her concern as a superstition and headed toward the bathroom, ignoring Mom’s calls telling him he couldn’t go into the woman’s room. When he disappeared into the forbidden zone anyway, Mom shrugged and headed back to the dressing room. The blood stain on the chair brought her up short. Is this what was bothering Mandy? That she had started her period. Mom shook her head. Silly. That was no reason to stop a wedding. She should have just planned better.
Logan leaned against the door and waited for Mandy to speak. She was huddled on the floor next to the sink, her blue dress stained with blood and tears. She looked up when he came in but didn’t move toward him, and he sensed she wasn’t sure she wanted him around right now. He had never pushed her, never tried to violate her space if she needed to be alone, but he sensed she was in a different spot right now than just an independent woman trying to juggle the demands of a relationship. This looked serious. The blood worried him.
Mandy still hadn’t spoken when he knelt beside her and took her hands in his. He pulled her close and held her without speaking, allowing her to cry against his shoulder. She needed his strength right now more than his conversation, he sensed, and he wanted to be there for her. She shuddered a few times, and then was able to stop crying. She threw her arms around his neck and hung on.
“What is it, Captain?” Logan addressed her using his pet name, hoping it would reassure her enough to confide in him. “Are you worried about getting married? I thought…we’d talked about that. It’s not going to be a straight jacket, you know. But if you need…we can…”
Mandy stopped him. “No. It’s not that. It’s…” She stopped, unable to finish. She didn’t know how to tell him what had happened, not even this man who knew her better than anyone else, and still liked her…loved her.
“You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to leave this room if you don’t want. I know we only have the church for one day, but we’ll stay here as long as you need.” Logan tried to interject a moment of humor, and was rewarded with a sick smile.
“I…I’ve been...oh, how could this happen?” Mandy gulped a few more times before she spoke again. “How many women…how many women…manage to get themselves…raped…on the way…to their wedding?” She whispered, and Logan had to lean nearer to hear.
“You were raped? Oh, my God. Where? Who?”
Mandy shook her head. She couldn’t talk any more right now.
“We need to get you to the hospital. You need an examination.” Mandy shook her head. Logan insisted. “You…you’re bleeding. I thought…maybe you’d started your period…or something…but…look at the blood…”
Mandy stared at the piece of cloth he showed her. She hadn’t realized she was bleeding. The sight of her blood shocked her and she slid into fetal position. Logan lifted her and carried her out of the bathroom toward the outer door. Mom came running to intercept them.
“Where are you going? You’re supposed to be getting married.”
“She can’t. Not today.”
Mom frowned. “Look, I know she started her period.” Mom hesitated, shocked to hear herself mention something so private. “Sorry, but…you know, that’s no reason…women have been managing to function for all of history…don’t look at me that way!”
Logan growled at her to get out of his way, but she blocked the door. He didn’t want to hurt her, but he had to get Mandy out of there, and he didn’t want to tell her mother something she had chosen not to share. He waffled. “She’s…hurt. I need to get her to a hospital.”
“Hurt? No, of course not…you did know…oh, my God, you didn’t know women bleed?” Mom stared at her son-in-law to be with horror at his naiveté.
“I know all about that. This is not her period. Get out of the way, I don’t want to have to shove you…please let me through.”
Mandy moaned, and Mom moved. The sound was eerie and painful enough to send the strongest among them scurrying, and Mom was far from the strongest among them. Logan flew out the door and helped Mandy into his car; Mom chased after, wanting to go along, but he was down the street before she could reach them. She jumped in her own car and followed.
The rest of the day was a blur for Mandy. Nurses bustled in and out, doctors flew through the room, and Mom seemed to be everywhere, a continuous stream of instructions and questions flowing at machine gun pace as she demanded to have her daughter taken care of properly, by her definition of properly, a standard no one, including Mom, could possibly meet. Logan hovered without speaking much, the concern on his face speaking more than words. He held onto her hand as long as they let him, and released her with reluctance when they wheeled her into surgery. The damage had been much greater than any of them, including Mandy, had realized.
Mom paced the waiting room, her constant barrage of conversation now turned against herself. She berated herself for not realizing her daughter was hurt, for scolding her, for not hearing her pain. Logan was afraid she would start slapping her, so he insisted she sit and read a magazine. She managed only one paragraph before she was on her feet again. He finally persuaded her to go to the cafeteria and get them both some lunch. That gave him a few minutes of peace before the barrage began again.
Mandy couldn’t look at Logan when he came into the room. She turned her head and stared at the wall as he tried to get her to talk. She had fallen into a depression he couldn’t break through, and all his attempts were met with silence. She didn’t seem to be herself anymore, the animated vivacious woman he loved. He ached to see her like this, but he didn’t know how to help her.
Mandy accepted the flowers he brought her the next day, and tried to tell him she loved him, but she choked on the words. She did love him, but…she didn’t deserve his love. She wanted him to stay, but she wouldn’t blame him if he went. He held her hand and whispered sweet phrases, and she could hear the pain in his voice. He didn’t deserve any of this.
The police came and went, breezing through the hospital like a battalion, taking her statement and comparing notes with the police who had taken her statement yesterday. One policeman started to chew her out for not calling them immediately, but one look at Logan’s face and he fell silent and wrote out the report, the same report that some other policeman had filled out that morning. Mandy wished they would all go away. Eventually they did, and she was alone with Logan…and her thoughts.
Logan took her hand again, and looked into her eyes. For the first time, she looked directly at him. “I want to stay…I need to know…are you angry with me?”
Mandy shook her head. “How could I be angry with you? You didn’t do anything to hurt me.” She stopped, and he handed her a glass of water, sensing without her telling him what she needed. They had that kind of relationship. “I hurt you…I did it.”
She noticed Logan’s puzzled look and decided she needed to tell him the whole story. Okay, so he’d probably leave, but he needed to know. She plunged into the story about the men, the men she’d told the police about, the part he’d heard, that she knew who the men were, they were classmates of hers when she went to college. She paused, and then went into the part that he didn’t know. She had dated one of them, gone out with him three or four times their last year in college. They hadn’t done anything, no, they hadn’t gotten that far. But she had teased him…that’s what he said, anyway. She had led him on, made him think he would get something from her. She had gone out with him, held his hand, and then…she told him she didn’t want to go out anymore. He was only taking what was his…and sharing it with a few of his friends.
She had stopped when he called her name. She had been picking up a gift she’d ordered for Logan, and was about to leave for the church. He told her she looked nice, and asked what she’d been doing since college. She had been polite, but not overly friendly, because she wanted to leave. She was going to be late if he kept her, and she remembered how Mom always said she’d be late for her own wedding. Just once, she didn’t want Mom to be right.
She started to sob, and Logan tried to take her in his arms, but she pushed him away. “How can you stand to look at me?”
He drew back, startled and dismayed. His beautiful Mandy, a woman strong and independent, fiercely feminist, ready to fight for any woman that was being treated badly, and she was accepting this story? She was willing to assign the blame for her own rape to herself? He had heard the depositions, heard the entire story of what happened that morning as she described it to the police. Nothing had changed in her story, but she was blaming herself. He knew she would never have blamed any other woman for this.
“Do you think you owed him something? Just because you went out a couple of times? Why did you quit seeing him?”
“I wasn’t really…seeing him. We just…had a couple of dates. I…didn’t like him much. He was…rude and unpleasant. He was mean. I just broke it off. He wasn’t right for me, and I told him, and he left. That was it.”
“Did you ever even promise him anything?”
“Not that I know of…but he said…there are things a woman does, moves she makes, ways she turns her head, lights in her eyes…the way she dresses. I did dress for a date when we went out. I looked nice. I always dress, you know that. Even if it’s only jeans, it’s always…nice enough for a date.”
Logan held her, and this time she let him. “Shh. Don’t you think about that. You didn’t do anything wrong. You have a right to choose who you have sex with, you know that. Damn, if I’ve heard you say that once, I’ve heard you say it a thousand times…you tell every woman you work with, if that’s what she needs to hear. How could you…how could you think such a thing?”
Mandy shook her head. She’d been working with rape victims for two years now, and she had told them that. Logan worked in the next office; he probably had heard her say it a thousand times. He said the same thing, often, to the women who crept in the door, needing someone to listen. She had listened, but still, when it was her, she had forgotten.
“Logan…do you…hate me?”
Logan stroked her hair. “How could I hate you? I’ve loved you for so long, I wouldn’t know how to hate you. Even if you had teased him, even if you had led him on…and I don’t think you did, it’s just not like you…he had no right. You know that. Please tell me you know that.”
Mandy held him and cried. His tears mingled with hers and wet the bedclothes. She whispered that she loved him…finally, she could say it. They sat together, neither of them speaking, neither of them needing to speak. They knew the healing process would be tough. They’d seen too many women to think otherwise. But she realized she could get through it.
“Keep reminding me…every day…that I didn’t…you know, ask for it. Okay?”
Logan promised and bent his head to hers for a long delayed kiss. Mom walked in the door and was about to say something snarky when she was stopped short by Mandy’s next words.
“Logan, when I’m released, let’s just…go get married on the quiet…just the two of us. Nobody else there.”