I must apologize before I begin this blog, as it is written, not from the perspective of a champion, but a coward. It’s the tale of being a witness to an avoidable, stark, brutal and haunting violation. Disturbing is the recurring thought that I had the ability to intervene; to put an immediate end to the madness before it began. But youth, selfishness, and an absolute unwillingness to be placed in possible harm’s way dictated my actions. So, as the demon indulged in his bacchanalia, I cowered behind a heavy oak door and wished away the monster on the other side.
Here is the story…
There were forty of us occupying the second floor of the twenty-year-old dormitory; boys as light as virgin snow and as dark as midnight bliss, yet profoundly foreign to one another. Initially, we were strangers, venturing into dynamics which each of us, were unfamiliar, despite sharing culture, music, thoughts, and struggles. Some of the boys seemed worldly and sure while others wandered aimlessly, waiting for reality to find, and ultimately, save them. I fell somewhere in the middle. We were virgins, in the less common connotation of the word. Life, love, and a comprehensive knowledge of the grander universe remained shadows but, at that time, there were few experiences with enough importance for us to bother paying attention.
We were the freshman; a displaced caste. Aimless and immature. Forty longing bodies hoping to find somehow, our identities; longing, before too late, to identify our purpose.
Foolishly, but willingly, we chased the unknown into dark crevices that quickly closed and locked us in. No matter what region we claimed and despite our inherent strength, we were helpless. Unknowingly, we all held the key to release us from our vassalage, but opted, for reasons unknown, to continually bash our skulls (and brains) into brick and mortar while desperately clawing at the door. Those of us who survived the self-inflicted brutality realized that in the crevice was an unlocked door.
Slowly we would mature into the men that legend and tradition promised we’d become. The college would change our voices and sharpened our vision. We’d slowly began to understand the importance of academia, self-preservation, a level of elegantly arrogant confidence and being a man of honor.
But this was freshman year; the shock of the new, and none of us was certain, in the beginning, that we would find our way through the next unlocked door.
“Look to your left, look to your right; this time next year, one of the brothers sitting next to you will not be here.”
We relied on one another to translate our issues and share our preponderance. Our new-found freedom brought thoughts and lies about adventures we’d probably never have, lives we’ve never lived, and dreams with no promise. We gorged ourselves, ravenously, on the fruits of fantasy which starred those superstar fly songstresses our very limited minds defined as irresistibly beautiful. Their likeness, plastered on massive carefully handled posters, was methodically nailed into concrete walls over our beds. And there we lay, beneath their image, hoping, perhaps, that they would come to life and tumble between our sheets. We LIED… a lot!
Big brothers were assigned to teach us how to become ‘men of’… before we earned the right to be called ‘men.’ Late one night we were gathered around the quad and waited. This wasn’t unusual; we often were told to report to an on-campus location with no knowledge as to why. A tap on the mic quieted us. A tall, dark brother with a stern and meaningful face stood before us.
“Brothers,” he began with a voice that thundered through us, “they call me Hound, and mine is the last face you want to see if shit flies off. Not the college president, not the dean, not security, not even your parents; mine!”
“Now, you probably askin’ who this Negro think he is? Well… for the next 186 days, I will be the only thing, brothers, that stands between some of you and expulsion. How do I know this?” he laughed, and the five big brothers that stood with him also laughed, “because you stupid, and because you’re stupid, you will, inevitably, make stupid decisions, especially when it comes to drugs, drinking, and girls.”
The mumbles turned to grumbles.
“I know… I know… some of y’all all experienced and whatnot, thinkin’ you know everything. So did we. Wet behind the ears high school graduates. Here, you’re at the bottom rung; you don’t mean a damn thing. But this city, this campus, those sisters across the way and the local girls, they aren’t the ones from your yesterday. Step wrong, the Hound’s gonna get you.”
When you set foot on this campus– this sacred ground– you were REBORN! And tonight you will be baptized, and I implore … no… I advise you to remember that.But I assure you if I find out that you have violated your ass is done. DONE!”
His roar commanded immediate attention. Behind me, a boy said,”Nigga trippin.’ He ain’t nobody, and he ain’t gonna do nothing to nobody.” Within seconds, the brothers point him out, as if he was a shooter.
He lasted less than a semester. Hound spoke the unknown into existence.
Then when the water hoses doused us all. The baptism was official.
The ‘IT’ Boys
There were guys who had the “it” factor, and girls flocked hypnotically to their mirage, only to find heartbreak and embarrassment. The “it” guys, proved, in time, to be temporary occupants of the second floor, and in the greater dynamic, space fillers for the freshman class. They were pretty; curly hair, Crayola eyes, thin, athletic, smooth… artificially flavored (no, I’m not hating). I was not of them. Perhaps it was my ordinary demeanor or cautious personality that kept me from their fraternal order.Their girls were, to freshman’s eyes, desirable but there was something about their perfection that was frightening. Intuition told me that their tomorrows were bleak and broken; that their immeasurable beauty was Delilah’s mask. I feared them. I convinced myself that: A taste of their youthful sweetness would be an ocean of poison.
Okay, a little dramatic, my creativity was budding, and I was a square, but to a degree, I believed it to be true.
But one incident, one poor decision, changed everything.
Spring of 1984.
The unexpected is the truest teacher of lessons. How one reacts to the unknown or the unfamiliar dictates how well one copes, day-to-day, hour-to-hour, or minute-to-minute. This held particularly true one Saturday night, making our ‘best of times’ campus the very bane of our existence. That April night would affect me forever.
It was Spring and for over a week the Georgia sun blazed high during the day, angrily scorching the landscape; a southern heat wave, an onset of early Summer, nothing unfamiliar to the south, but new to those of us who had come to Atlanta from the north. At night, with residual heat spewing from the dormitory’s cement walls, we feverishly attempted to cool ourselves by securing electric fans, of various sizes, into widely opened windows and turning off most of the lights. The doors to our rooms were ajar for the purpose of a hopeful cross-breeze; anything to get some relief from the sauna-like effect. Many of the guys went outdoors, seeking relief from a possible night time Zephyr. Several of us stayed in the dorm, knowing that there was no escape. The intense heat kept the ‘regular’ girls away that night. Their familiar antics were sorely missed and desperately needed to curb the boredom we were experiencing.
But then came one….
Her laughter echoed from the darkened end of the hall. It was soft, timid, and unsure; unfamiliar. It sang nervously. I saw only shadows. This girl, whose presence was enveloped by muted darkness; she was different. The light that once existed on that end of the dorm was extinguished after a poorly executed drunken game of touch football knocked the fluorescent bulbs from their fixtures and rendered a quarter of the hall in near darkness. We quickly adjusted to the dim, and never reported the need for replacement.But the shadows that were formed, as a result, were ominous and, for some reason, profound.
My room was where the fluorescent glow resumed; two doors from where they stood. In this shadowy light, as I exited the bathroom, I saw her. Her short stature was obvious, and her silhouette revealed what today would be affectionately called ‘thick’: large breasts and wide hips, concealed by a fitted mini skirt and tight-fitting blouse. She eyed me from behind glasses that reflected the little light beaming through the slightly opened doors and moved her lips. I knew that her initial joy had morphed into nervous uncertainty. She seemed so innocent, like a lost lamb that wandered, no, was lured into a wolf’s den. Bradley (not his real name) shoved her purposefully, directing her toward his room, pressing his denim covered genitals against her inexperience. She fanned her face for relief, as the heat spraying from the high gloss walls engrossed her. An inexplicable pain shot through me. I took a deep breath and tuned into the bootleg Sade lyrics coming from another room:
Jezebel wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth / She probably had less than every one of us / But when she knew how to walk she knew / How to bring the house down / Can’t blame her for her beauty / She wins with her hands down / Jezebel, what a belle / Looks like a princess in her new dress / How did you get that / Do you really want to know, she said / It would seem she’s on her way / It’s more, more than just a dream / She put on her stockings and shoes / Had nothing to lose – she said it was worth it (Sade, Jezabel, 1985)
I watched them as they drunkenly fumbled at the door. I paid little attention, although my intuition told me to intervene. She wasn’t with me. This affair wasn’t my business. Bradley was the lucky guy who caught her attention, despite the fact that she looked much too young to be making her way into a dormitory, especially at that hour, and she accepted his proposal and a taste from his crystal tumbler. It was obvious that she wasn’t the girl next door– but a local (local in Atlanta had a 25 mile radius)– most certainly in high school, perhaps, lured by the promise of chicken wings, potato wedges, the devil’s spit, and, if she carried this correctly, a college boyfriend.
My heart sank as I watched her, with unsteady steps, stumble into the wall, partly from Brad’s urging and partly from her apparent inebriation. She rested her head against the wall. I could hear her panting. Bradley fished for his key while groping her young and overly developed body. She giggled, peeking at me but hiding her face from the other boys who had emerged from their rooms at the sound of a girl in the dorm. She whispered to Bradley, with laughter in her tone, “stop the boy.” Sade sang louder. I knew what was next, behind that door, in that room, but a pledge to this brotherhood was far more significant than the regret that was to befall this ignorant little girl, and the rules could not be broken.
When she disappeared behind Bradley’s oak door, and the lock sounded, many of the boys returned to their rooms. Music videos were on, and it was better to secretly fantasize about musical vixens than to openly gawk over someone else’s trophy. My mind remained on the full face of the little brown girl in Bradley’s lair.
Only fifteen minutes had passed, yet my uneasiness rose. Why I cared, I do not know. I didn’t know this girl, and the quiet understanding among the brotherhood was that any “new” girl who came to the floor came for one reason only. Still, my gut told me to rush into the room, remove her from whatever vice Bradley may have had her in, and hurry her from the building. But it was late, and I was broke (couldn’t afford a taxi), and the thought of walking her home was dismissed by the assumption that she lived in one of the less humane, “do not enter,” communities near the school. Boys from the college were not welcomed in most of the neighborhoods in the area because they acted as if they were better than the people who lived there. Sadly, it was true. Spoiled little rich kids looked unfavorably upon the hard-working, lower-middle-class families that resided where we were simply visiting.
My angst grew for the strange girl a couple of doors down from me. I kept thinking that she was someone’s daughter, possibly someone’s sister, cousin, niece, grandchild. She would one day become someone’s girlfriend, wife, and mother. On that night, she was a toy. This indulgent moment would be the moment that her life changed, and her dreams, wants, and desires, took a turn toward the heavily populated town of Ruin.
Bradley came from a small town in Oklahoma known, according to him, for hard-drinking and low living.
“We was poor, but my momma kept us spiritually rich. She had a monkey that was taking all of her money. My daddy was a ghost,” he said, “I only knew he was in town when I heard my momma moaning.”
He smoked heavily. Plumes of white toxic clouds lingered behind him. He’d cut off half the filter for a fuller effect. But what was most unusual was the crystal tumbler he carried, always filled, from sunrise to sunset. We all wondered how he was always so stocked. The legal drinking age was 21, and the laws of Georgia were not to be challenged. Even the rot gut liquor stores in the area refuse the sale of spirits to anyone who looked too young, regardless of if your ID said otherwise. We’d ask him how he got over, and he’d say nothing. Maybe it was his peach blush red eyes, burnt caramel complexion, and dusty Georgia clay brown hair that fooled the spirit brokers. Maybe it was because he walked with a haunch, giving him the appearance, from a distance, that he was a much older man. To see him face to face, one would never guess that he was only seventeen. For him, no ID was required.
Bradley was, for the most part, a loner. I know it was not because he wanted to be, but because none of us could fully, regardless of the attempt, connect with his odd and unreadable demeanor. On weekends, when we all hurried to the mall, library, one of the many nearby colleges, or the girls across the quad, he sat in his room in a paisley smoking jacket and terry loin-cloth wrap. It haphazardly covered his thin, five and a half-foot frame.
He spoke in riddles, and we weren’t sure if he was brilliant or a sociopath or simply absent of basic social abilities. On occasion, with no warning, he would rave like a madman, perambulating throughout the dormitory; a cat overdosed on catnip. He’d run from floor to floor, tumbler in hand, a burning cigarette pinched between his index and middle fingers, chest bare, and that paisley smoking jacket flapping like a super hero’s cape; yelling a mix or words, phrases, and sounds that were more haunting than amusing. Then he’d disappear from the campus, for a week or two.
One night, with no prompting, he talked about how he raped a little girl in Oklahoma. “Lil slut couldna been no mo’ than twelve, thirteen. But she had an ass on her that’ll make water cry!”
Then he would laugh and say, “I’m just fuckin’ wit y’all. It’s my momma’s fault that I’m so fucked up.” He was as weird as hell. We didn’t know if he was telling the truth about the little girl or not, but after that, we all just pretty much kept our distance.
Behind Bradley’s Door
Nearly forty minutes passed since she entered. There were quiet mutterings periodically coming from behind the door and giggles that implied that she was where she wanted to be, and everything was as she needed it. He’d mumble something, laugh and then make a sound like he was sucking air between closed teeth. Quiet fell between the giggles followed by a long pause… perhaps to kiss, or grope, or….
“No, I don’t wanna…” Her voice fell off. She spoke as if trying to free herself from a heavyweight. “Get off me! I said… get… off ….”
Things were falling apart. Bradley’s room changed. A physical altercation was happening, and curses rained throughout the dimness. Her muzzled screams, wailing sobs, and rhythmic tapping of the metal bed framed against the wall became a terrifying symphony of pain.
“NO! Don’t… PLEASE… dammit! Get your damn hands off me. Noooo… no…. please! ” She wept. She wailed like the child she was. Her cadence echoed. She began to cry and released a painful yelp. Bradley let out a frustrated growl and said, in an amplified whisper, “Now, see… isn’t that better. Shhh… it feels so good, don’t it?”
Suddenly, eerily, the noise, the frenzy, the need for immediate liberation were muffled, lost behind the plea of a broken soul. It was obvious; his hand covered her mouth, muted her cries, and turned on his animal. Her voice became her age and fear swallowed the searing heat still flowing from the concrete walls.
Exhausted, she submitted.
The boys on the hall gathered about the door again, listening to her songs of sorrow, listening to her whimper vocalize each thrust of pain, each stroke of depression. Bradley grunted, louder and louder until his grunt became a roar and the roar parted oceans, and time, at that moment, stood still. Her agonizing cries were the only sounds remaining. The silence was deafening. Five minutes later, the door opened, and she slowly walked out; all of us standing there frozen, looking at her, unsure what to say. She showed her face, but none cared to look.
I watched her as she walked from the room alone. Her glasses were gone. Her skirt twisted. She stumbled, although she was now very sober. Her hair was messed. Her face was more visible, and I saw that her eyes were swollen. Smeared make-up and moisture kissed her cheeks. God, she was young. She bent in agony; not actual physical suffering (although she was obviously hurting), but spiritual agony. We looked at one another. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to tell her that everything was going to be okay. I mouthed sorry, then looked away as she exited the building.
Bradley walked out nearly twenty minutes later in a paisley smoking jacket and Terry loin-cloth wrap. A cigarette dangled between his grinning lips and his tumbler was nearly empty. He looked smug and satisfied. He approached the few of us that had gathered at his door, smiled and dropped, just beyond the door seal, a pair of pink panties, a white bra, a pair of glasses, and an unrolled but unused condom. He walked back into the room and closed the door.
The following day Hound came to the dorm with his five guys. They walked to Bradley’s door, knocked gently, and when it opened, they walked in without an invitation. There were grunts and the sound of flesh crashing against concrete. There were unintelligible yells and the crashing of bone against bone, skin meeting wood. Bradley was dragged from the room, blood dripping from his lip and nose. His eyes nearly closed shut. He was quickly and brutally battered. We scattered. Hound said nothing as he, alone, dragged Bradley from the dorm. A few minutes later two other brothers followed. The other guys remained. Bottles of liquor smashed against the wall scattering liquid and glass throughout the hall. Several cartons of cigarettes were crushed. They walked from the room with the tumbler in a bag and yelled to us…” Y’all clean up this shit.” Bradley never returned.
That was over twenty years ago. I have since become an advocate and an educator; trying to impart to developing minds the proper demeanor of a proper man. Yes, hindsight is my nightmare, as I would have approached this matter with as much fury as it was enacted if I had the frame of mind I now carry. To this day, I do not know what happened to Bradley after he was escorted off campus, but it was rumored that he was killed in a drunken accident. I have no proof that this is true. Perhaps he was mauled by lions or became a politician. He did not return the following year. There were many stories about him, none of which I can validate. What is true is that my heart bleeds only for the person he could have been; the person none of us forty got a chance to meet.
As for the girl, her name is Tina (not her real name). She was 15 when Bradley brought her to the dorm and violated her. During my last year of college, I saw her at the mall. She was a sales associate in a hip and eclectic boutique. She was around nineteen and exuded tremendous confidence and pride, as if the incident three-and-a-half years prior never happened; as if her life was seamless. Our eyes met briefly. Her face was much prettier than I remembered and, it seemed that she didn’t recognize me, but after a month of my invisible weekend visits I conjured up the nerve to talk to her and told who I was and how I knew her. She said nothing at first, searching my face for traces of the familiar; pictures of that night. Her mature and serious face finally produced a smile that said, before she could utter a word, “I forgive you… I understand.” And I said to her that I was sorry for my cowardice. I don’t think, before my visit, that she ever talked about it.
Soon after I graduated, we lost contact. I later found out that she had graduated from college, went to law school and was an attorney like her father. She didn’t live in the communities surrounding the school like I had assumed, but in parts of Atlanta that showcased antebellum homes and grassy knolls. We did briefly reconnect, many years later, through social media, and met in DC for lunch. After three hours and no mention of the ‘incident,’ we parted ways. I haven’t seen nor heard from her since.
But there is one certainty; we will forever be connected by the events of that hot April night in 1984.