Trigger warning: the following story includes graphic sexual and violent content
It was the second time it happened. The first time could have been a misunderstanding. Perhaps she led him on, perhaps it was a blip of insanity. She was unsure and blamed herself. But the second time, it was him. His behavior was nothing she ever expected, it was barbaric and brutal.
Mary sat in the polyester desk chair, responding to an email when he came up from behind. She felt a hard lump against her back as he placed one hand over her breasts and pulled her knee-length skirt up over her knees and forced his fingers underneath her cotton pink underwear. She wanted to scream, she wanted to pull his hands out, and run away. Shock paralyzed her entire body, she was frozen in a nightmare where she opened her mouth, and nothing came out. It felt as if a pocket-knife pierced through her body and stabbed her insides over and over again. She squeezed her eyes shut and heard a loud pop, it reminded her of the noise her ears would make when she would suction water out with her hand after a day of swimming in the pool. Except it was much more painful and it burned like hot vodka going down her throat.
He grabbed the back of the chair and fiercely swiveled her around, his eyes empty and black. His face softened when he noticed the blood trickling down her legs.
He stepped back. “Are you okay?” Mary looked at her legs, watching the blood run down the office blue carpet. “You’re a virgin?”
“I’m 17,” Mary wiped her legs with Kleenex and ran out of his office. She did not shed a tear until she was in her car with the doors locked and turned the radio volume up high. She hung her head over the steering wheel and wept. She could hear her soul snap and shatter into pieces, leaving her naked in a pool of her own shame as she sobbed against the rubber steering wheel.
Mary couldn’t tell anyone. She’d only been his part-time assistant for six weeks. The assistant before her was there for a year without a complaint. Pastor Abel was 43 and the senior pastor for The Garden. He was highly respected in the community and in their church while she and her family were pitied.
When Mary’s father abandoned her mother and siblings, The Garden stepped in. When Mary’s mother lost her job and they were on the brink of eviction, The Garden stepped in. The Garden became their home and God became their father. When they became financially stable, Mary’s mother provided everything with almost nothing, and held tremendous pride for it. Still, members of The Garden pitied Mary and her family. They were seen as the needy, broken, family.
Mary wiped her nose with the sleeve of her cardigan and stared down at the crumb-filled floor of her car. She could feel the warm blood puddle 42 Trigger warning: the following story includes graphic sexual and violent content. underneath her. She needed to tell someone. If she didn’t show up to work the next afternoon, her mother would ask questions, Human Resources would remind her she’s still on a 90-day probation, and Pastor Abel might fabricate his own story. Although it was unlikely he would say anything at all. He couldn’t risk his position at the church, he couldn’t risk the stress upon his wife.
Pastor Abel’s wife was five months pregnant and would visit the office Sunday afternoons, her hands hugging her basketball-shaped belly, followed by their foster daughter. The wife admitted the doctors advised against the pregnancy, but they’ve been wanting a child for years, and God finally answered their prayers, and provided a miracle. After her second miscarriage, she quit her job as a schoolteacher, and devoted her time to ovulation cycles, monthly attempts of conceiving, and homemaking. Their last successful attempt resulted in a stillborn, due to an infection in her placenta. Her body mistook the baby as the infection and forced him out too early. Traumatized by their losses, they accepted and raised a foster child until she conceived a fifth time. The doctors labeled her a high-risk pregnancy and diagnosed her with preeclampsia, two weeks before Mary’s incidents.
Switchfoot, Mary’s favorite Christian band, drowned out her cries. It burned like fire between her legs, her underwear now crunched with dried blood, and her face was stained with tears, black from mascara. She was a garbage can of damaged goods and shame. She was dirty gum under a shoe, rotting fruit in the kitchen, a degraded corpse in the morgue. She was half-used and thrown out like snot-filled Kleenex.
Mary wanted to tell everyone. She wanted every member of the church to believe her, she wanted the men to storm into his office and throw him out the second-story window, she wanted to see his blood blanket the sidewalk and fragments of his skull strewn across the blacktop.
And then she would ask, quite stupidly, just as he had, “Are you okay?”
Even if everyone believed Mary, it would be his wife who suffered. If Mary pressed charges, his wife would lose the foster daughter she’s had for three years, they’d be forced to hire expensive lawyers who would clean out their bank accounts and take their home; his wife would live in the basement of some relative, divorced, broke, and alone. His wife, overwhelmed by it all, would lose her fifth baby. A baby girl they were going to name Esther after the character in the bible, a Jewish queen who stands up for her people.
Mary’s heart became heavy with the harrowing realization that it was no longer just about her. She was now forced to choose between herself and the Pastor’s wife. She has a foster daughter and a baby girl due. But there were two incidents in one week, she reminded herself. It wasn’t exactly rape. So, does it even count?
And as she sat in the parking lot debating while tears streamed down her pale cheeks, she watched Pastor Abel walk across the lot with his arm over his niece, a small blonde girl who was no older than 12.