His name was Carl

by Pari Noskin Taichert

She was 18, home from her first year at college. They met at the diner where they both worked. She, a waitress. He, a prep cook and dish washer. He represented everything she knew nothing about — coarse, druggie, uneducated. She was fascinated.

He asked her to come over one night after work, near 2 a.m.

Why not? He intrigued her.

They walked to his apartment, her trusting him with all the naivete of a kid who’d mainly seen the good side of life. His place was in the bad part of town, somewhere she’d never been allowed to go before. But she felt safe with him. He was big, probably outweighed her by 125 pounds. He’d know what to do in a dangerous moment.

The apartment he took her to couldn’t have been a place where anyone actually lived. No telephone. No mattress on the bed. His brother and wife were supposed to be there, too. Only, they weren’t.

The small fridge was full of cheap beer. She drank one with him, then another, feeling increasingly unsure. Fear wormed through her shell of optimism when she realized how limited her choices really were. Should she stay with him — a sort-of known quantity — or go outside and take her chances in the unfamiliar dark?

His face changed into a mask of oddness. His eyes no longer focused on her. The folly of her trust became apparent when he began talking about her being his "guardian angel" and the "purity of her light." He smoked a joint and then offered her the next one. Trembling, she refused.

During the next four hours, she learned that she could leave her body, go somewhere else, totally disassociate from the pain and horror. She survived it all and left him, sleeping, on the floor. In the cool early morning, the bruises and bites were only small remnants of her loss of innocence. She now knew, with unshakable certainty, that some people were simply, sickly, insane.

Her mother noticed the violent signs, but never asked.

Carl skipped town the next day.

Though she continued to work at the diner for a few more weeks, she never saw him again.

She also never spoke about it until 12 years later. A serial rapist terrorized the part of town where she lived. One afternoon, walking home from the store, she thought someone had followed her. In her apartment, she threw her groceries onto the kitchen counter and ran to the bedroom closet. She cowered there for two hours. The ice cream melted. Finally, she acknowledged the rip in her own core.

She called the police first, to report what she’d seen. Then she called the rape crisis center, went for counseling, and began to unravel her tangled despair.

Yes, it’s a true story. What a difference a few pronouns can make: she, her and they rather than I, my and we.

I wrote this after reading Ken’s and Dusty’s posts last week. What struck me was the thin line we writers tread, tiptoeing down dark alleys, mining our own sorrows and experiences.

We can craft the output. We can experiment with description, tense, POV, what to include and what to leave out.

We can re-write our histories.
My heart goes out to those people who can’t.

13 thoughts on “His name was Carl

  1. billie

    Pari, wow. I have a LOT to say but am battling, along with my entire family, a nasty cold/flu bug dh brought home from a business trip on Friday, so I don’t think I can be coherent.

    You’ve tapped an artery with this one. What the human psyche can do with trauma is amazing.

  2. pari

    Billie,Please feel better.

    When you do, I’d very much love to read your take on this post. Your experience in mental health would shed an interesting light on it.

    BTW: one of my children is home sick with the stomach flu today. And, so it begins.

  3. JT Ellison

    You guys are tearing my heart out.

    We do tread a thin line. I spend a lot of time making up bad things to do to fictional people. It’s a whole different story when its real. I’ve always said I’m trying to right the wrongs with my fiction, but this post makes all that feel rather insignificant.xo

  4. Louise Ure

    “We can re-write our histories.”

    Pari, you were the trusting 18-year old? If so, I’m so sorry that you had to learn that lesson of evil.

    Back to my favorite writing quote, from Colette: “We write, in order to live life twice.” Maybe to make it come out differently. Maybe to understand for the first time what really happened.

    If so, I do the same.

  5. pari

    Yes. That was me.

    I originally wrote the post in the first person and with more poetic prose, but decided to make both changes to give it more punch.

    If I’d written it in first person, readers would be thinking of me, Pari, and I didn’t want that.

    The stripping of metaphors and analogies made the reality more stark; it was a more fitting approach, I felt, to this kind of crime.

    And, J.T.,I didn’t mean to bring anyone down . . . as writers we are so damn fortunate to have our words and abilities to tell the stories in the first place. To me, that’s incredibly hopeful.

  6. Louise Ure

    Pari, that story would have “punch” with or without metaphors. In first person or third. In this case, the objectivity and distance you’ve created don’t diminish the sad, cruel facts of that night. The same way that the raw details of a police report can make you cry.

  7. Tammy Cravit

    Pari, thank you for sharing your story.

    As a sexual assault survivor and a volunteer rape crisis advocate (for nearly 5 years now), I know the courage it takes to face those memories and put words to paper. In a way, it’s the same courage we have to draw on as writers, to make our writing truthful and honest without crossing the line into gratuitousness.

    It’s a fine balance to walk, sometimes, but we owe it to our readers and to ourselves.

  8. pari

    It’s weird, all these years later, to write about it. I’m not that innocent 18-year old anymore.

    Louise,You’re probably right; the story would have punch not matter what.

    Tammy,You must know from personal and professional experience how some demons take years to exorcise. I remember being so utterly stunned when I hid in the closet, my reaction was so out of proportion to the thing that triggered it. But, luckily, I had the tools to realize that and to get some help.

    I think you’re comment about courage as human beings, and as writers, sums it up just beautifully.

    Jacky,Thank you.I’m not sure it’s strength so much as a willingness to explore something that once, long ago, was so very hurtful. I feel pretty distant from it now.

    Of course, it also took me more than 40 years before I was willing to write anything about it . . .

  9. Rob Gregory Browne

    “What a difference a few pronouns can make: she, her and they rather than I, my and we.”

    When I read this line, I felt as if I’d been smacked in the face by a two by four.

    Amazing what human beings can do to one another.

    I’m so sorry this happened to you.

  10. B.G. Ritts

    “…years before…writ(ing)…about it…”

    …but with your writer’s assurance, showing us the human spirit overcoming the despair of an 18 year old’s horrid experience. Powerful as well as personal.

  11. d.a.davenport

    Dear Pari,My heart broke when I read your experience. I was a Rape Crisis Counselor for 3 years and seeking help was the best thing you could have done.

    I heard so many stories for the first time and while being there to help was one of most fulfilling things I ever did, I still carry all those outpourings locked inside. It was a privilege, but a gut-wrenching one.

    But most of all, I was struck by the immediacy of every one of the stories they told, even after 30 years of silence for some women and men. It wasn’t until they finally began to speak, that they began to heal and consign their pain to the past.

    Thank Goddess you chose to. And you have your writing to help you reshape it. Take care. You are an amazingly brave woman.Deb

  12. pari

    Rob,I didn’t mean to hit anyone with a 2′ by 4′. It just struck me how incredibly different the story came out when I replaced those little pronouns. Actually, it amazed me.

    I, too, am sorry it happened to me. But that was several lifetimes ago. I’m fine now.

    B.G.,I’m glad that you caught that it really was a story of overcoming, though that was only a tiny part of the ending.

    The decision to tell the story in this public format was an interesting one. I just decided that I so often post about things that are a little removed from me . . . I wanted to let people know I was capable of the other, too.

    Deb,Thanks for having done that work, for having made a wonderful difference in people’s lives.

    I remember telling the rape crisis counselor that I couldn’t believe how angry I was about it — even 12 years later. I’ll never forget what she said . . . “You have every right to be.”

    For years, I thought I somehow “deserved it” because I’d gone home with the guy. The counseling made me realize that it wasn’t my fault. Sheesh. The things we do to hurt our own psyches.

    And, I don’t feel particularly brave — just truthful.


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