By JENNY BARDWELL
The bright lights blazed down on her, piercing her skin through her thin clothes. She fidgeted uncomfortably in her seat and stared longingly at the floor, wishing that the ground belonged to another building. She wished that she were anywhere but here, where justice falsely claimed to prevail.
Pulling on her shirt and smoothing her pants, she could not help but think, “I should be wearing more; I should be in looser longer sleeves. I should be more covered.” She felt the condescending eyes of the onlookers boring into her. She felt exposed. She wanted nothing more than to run; sprint through the oak doors and hide in some crevice of the world. But she had to be here. She needed to feign courage and sanity for a little longer. After this, she could fade away.
She was an insect, and an unassuming child had just picked up the rock she had burrowed under. She wanted to shrink away from the light and enclose herself once more in a shelter. But the darkness was as ominous and uncertain as the light, and she did not feel safe in the embrace of either. She would never feel safe again.
“How many drinks did you have?” rang out the hollow, relentless voice. She couldn’t come back to reality. She couldn’t focus under this intense level of observation. They were all staring, all watching. She could feel his eyes on her. They scraped along her body like a pair of freshly sharpened blades. She began to shake. Pretend, she willed herself, pretend you are stronger. This is your final battle and it is your conquest.
“I don’t know,” she whispered quietly.
“Could you repeat that?” shrieked the defense attorney, like a hawk circling its prey.
“I don’t know,” she repeated, louder.
“You do not remember?” asked the attorney.
She remembered. She remembered getting ready, arriving at the party, and seeing him. Then there was blurry darkness, pain, confusion, fear, helplessness, noise and confusion. She remembered waking up, with her head throbbing and mind clogged. She remembered the unfamiliar environment she had found herself in, the vulnerability she felt the second she realized. She remembered her torn clothes, sore muscles and bruised body. She remembered the nausea as her insides were rotting. She remembered it all. She remembered every aspect in a painfully exquisite detail, all except what was wanted of her.
“No. Probably six, I don’t know. I don’t remember.” She watched the disapproval infest their faces. She noted how their eyes shifted uncomfortably around the room. She could feel him smiling with victory, as if his mouth were pressed against her cheek. She could feel the rough surface of each tooth. The jury thought it was her fault, believed she had wanted it, perhaps even incited it, as he had testified. They thought she was not respectable, that she was lying out of shame. She felt the courage slip away. This was the final battle and her lone army had been defeated. She should have worn more, drank less, fought harder.
They were right. It was all her fault.