I remember being a little kid and having nightmares so real, even after I woke up screaming and sweating I would still be scared to close my eyes. The flashes of distorted, smiling faces looking down at me coupled with the screams that never escape from my throat haunt me even when I’m wide awake. I roll over in an empty bed and savor the smell of the clean sheets. I feel my jaw untighten just a little and my shoulders relax as I moved to check the time. My phone read 8:30 am and next to it, a picture of myself and my sister caught my eye. Both of us were smiling, my hair a mane of brown and blonde, hers a cropped bob. Our arms were slung around one another, just happy to be together and excited for life in a new city. God, I miss that girl. I miss being free from the scary consequences of the world and feeling like there is always someone breathing on the back of my neck.
I forced myself up and into the shower. I don’t remember ever showering so much in my life. Showering until the scalding hot water runs cold. Showering four or sometimes five times a day, scrubbing my skin so hard in places it has become red and raw. I almost didn’t notice until I looked down at my legs while I was getting dressed. I felt disgusted. My body only served as a reminder. I hated looking at my body so much that I covered my mirror with a sheet. I didn’t want to see myself, my body, a tool for that man to do whatever he liked. But today it the day. The police are coming over and hopefully, I can hear the conversation now, they’re going to tell me that they have been working hard and they think they’re getting close. I sometimes have daydreams where I get to go into a police lineup and point out the man that did it. Feeling that power surge up within me, taking back control of my life. It almost made me salivate.
I heard a knock on my apartment door. I live in an apartment building and didn’t buzz anyone in. My stomach immediately started doing flips as I tiptoed to the door. I held my breath before looking through the peep hole only to see two men with badges looking impatient on the other side of the door. My heart continued to pound in my chest as I let them in.
I offered the police officers, no- detectives, coffee as they made themselves comfortable at my grey and glass dining table. My apartment is a loft and very spacious. From the table you had a vantage point of the whole room which was plain but messy. I hadn’t cooked food or cleaned, hell, I’ve hardly left my bed in at least a week. I poured them coffee into two matching mugs and saved my extra-large, chipped college mug for myself. I sat at the table, shifting my weight trying to be comfortable under their gaze but constantly found that I wasn’t able to relax. Every interaction with a police officer or detective just leaves me feeling like they don’t believe my story, my account, of what happened last Thursday night. They ask the same questions over and over like they are expecting me to slip up and tell them something completely different and wild.
The first detective finally looked at his partner and then back to me. “I wish we had some better news for you. We were able to catch part of the struggle on the camera outside your building and we’re waiting on our tech guys to scrub it so we can try to get a license plate number. But until then, why don’t you recount your… story, for us one more time since we aren’t the cops who took your original statement.”
My face flushed and I continued to stare into my coffee. A sort of numbness takes over me each time I recount what happened. Like I’m telling a tale about someone else and that this all didn’t really happen to me. I took a deep breath and started at the top. “Okay,” I mumbled, “if you insist.” The second detective clicked open a pen and opened up a tiny notebook that he had taken out of his pocket. He gave me a nod as if to say, go ahead.
“I went out with a few friends on Thursday night, just to hang out for a little bit with some friends that I hadn’t seen in a while. We had a flight tasting at a brewery downtown before just me and Kate went to another bar.”
“And why was it only the two of you going?” the first detective asked.
“I hadn’t seen her in a while. We used to see each other two or three times a week but we hadn’t and wanted time to catch up, just the two of us,” I replied. He gave me a nod, and I continued.
“We got to the next bar, The Peacock, and things seemed fine. It was really crowded and Kate and I sat at a table outside. She ordered us both a drink and a water. I remember that it was so packed on the roof but Kate felt like this group of kids in the corner was looking at us the wrong way. Everything happened so fast. Kate went to the bathroom and I guess on her way back she started yelling and getting into a fight with a girl who was sitting at that table. I don’t know what the fight was about but Kate is like, the sweetest girl in the world. She would never have started something unless she felt like she had to. But I told the waitress that stepped in that Kate and I would leave. As we were going down the stairs Kate started acting weird. She couldn’t stand up, she wasn’t making any sense when she was talking. My only thought was to get her safely to my car so I could figure out what to do next. But I had to carry her, literally carry her, and her purse and stuff and in all the craziness my purse fell and was picked up by someone who later stole my money and my credit card. Someone saw Kate passed out on the ground and called an ambulance. They took Kate away, the doctors told her that she had been roofied with Ketamine and had an allergic reaction. I think I was roofied too but I’m double Kate’s size and I don’t think it impacted me as much. But anyways, Kate was taken away in an ambulance and a cop told me he would take me to a homeless shelter for the night or back to my apartment. I didn’t have anything- no purse, no phone, no car keys, no apartment keys, I mean nothing. The cop took my back to my apartment building and left me there.
Not too long later, I was sitting on the corner crying when an Indian man in a red car pulled over. He listened to me, he told me he would help me and the next thing I knew he punched me in the eye,” I lifted my hand up to my green, swollen face, “and drug me into the alley next to the apartment building. He threw me on top of a dumpster, pulled my dress up and raped me. I don’t remember if he finished. I don’t know how long it went on for. I only remember the smell. The stink of the garbage, it smelled like rotting beef. The next thing I remember is him grabbing me by the ponytail and throwing me in his car. I don’t remember a lot after that. He kept stroking my bare legs telling me he was going to take care of me. He would take me to a motel and take good care of me. Maybe he said it was his motel? I’m not exactly sure. He touched me all over my clothes. I remember we drove on roads that didn’t have a lot of lights. Suddenly, I looked out the window and saw a fire station. We stopped at a red light and when it turned green I jumped out of the car, ran over the median, and went straight to the firehouse. From there the police were called again and they took me to the hospital to wait for Kate to wake up since they didn’t have anywhere else for me to go. And that’s it. That’s what happened,” as I concluded I glanced up. I realized how quickly I had been talking and how fast the second detective had to scribble to keep up.
“Thank you,” the first detective said. “I know its unpleasant to talk about.”
I half laugh and half snarled. It was the first time I looked up to the detective’s scrutinizing brown eyes. “Yes,” I spat, “it is.”
The first detective continued, “We will let you know when we have some more information from the security cameras and go from there. That’s all we have for you today. Thank you for the coffee. Where should we leave our cards?” The detective was finished with me. Just like all the others, came to take from me and leave. He had no intention of sharing anything in return. I walked them out before returning to the comfort of my clean smelling bedsheets for the remainder of the day.
I laid on my side in a tight ball, sweating. Another nightmare, I thought, as the images of hands squeezing my throat from behind and eyes looking down on me started to fade from the front of my mind. Curled up like this, I felt safe, my body felt protected. I made a conscious effort to slow down my breath and wipe the tears from my eyes as my heart continued to vigorously pump blood through my veins, ready to escape the danger that lives inside my own head.
That’s it, I thought, switching on the light. I am done. I am done sitting and waiting for something to happen. I am done hiding away from the world. I am done being a victim. I need to go out and find him. I need to know that he can’t hurt me or any other girl ever again. As if I was hit by a bolt of lightning I realized that justice was probably never going to come to me. The police weren’t ever going to help me, they certainly couldn’t keep me safe so why should I trust them to help me now? The answer, I’m not. I felt the gears of my mind shifting, finally fitting pieces together so that I felt like I had a handle on how to run an investigation like this. I know the guy who did this. I talked with him, I spent time in his car. I know how to find this guy if only I can remember some more of what happened that night. If the police won’t do the work that needs to be done, then I will.
I walked into the plain brown office building situated in a large plaza close to town. I had never done anything like this before but I figured that I might as well try. I walked inside and scanned the building directory plastered to the wall near the entrance until I found the office number for Dr. Benson. She was the most well reviewed hypnosis doctor that I read about online. I walked into her office and filled out her intake forms which she reviewed with me once we were seated together in her office. She asked me a few questions, mostly about my willingness and goals for the session. Her demeanor was honestly refreshing. She didn’t look at me like a broken Barbie doll, she looked at me like, I would imagine, she looks at all of her clients.
I closed my eyes and let Dr. Benson walk me through a narrow hallway in my mind with short, navy blue carpet. I saw identical closed wooden doors scattered on sides of the hallway. I walked forward, carefully considering each door. Which one was the right one? How do I go back to the right parts? As if she could hear my thoughts, I heard Dr. Benson’s voice tell me that I would be able to see the broken door and to start there. I continued to walk, unsure of how far I had gone until I came upon a wooden door that looked different. It hung off the frame a little and looked as though it had been punched. A fist sized crater in the door sent wood splintering out at weird angles. I grabbed the door knob to find that it was warm, like someone had been holding their hand on the knob for a while, constantly using this door. Just as Dr. Benson promised, I knew this was the one.
I twisted the knob and slowly pushed the door open. It was dark inside, like when you’re standing just on the outer glow of a street lamp. I realized that I was now sitting in the back seat of the red car. The seats were grey polyester and the car still smelled new mixed with the spices of cumin and curry. I watched the large, heavy-set man stroke my leg in the front seat. I heard him tell me that he would take me to his motel soon after he picked something up. He said his motel. So, he does own it. Just then the car stopped at a red light. I looked up at the street signs. Madison Avenue and… the light changed. I saw the passenger door fling open as the car began rolling forward. My black t shirt dress was short and loose and bounced up as I clamored over the median in the road. The car continued forward as the bottom sole of my favorite black boots came half loose and slapped the ground as I ran toward the fire station door.
The fire station itself looked brand new. The sand and grey colored bricks of the building looked hardly tarnished. But the entire station was well lit and I watched from the backseat of the red car as I dropped down to my knees outside the fire house and cried. I sobbed there for what seemed like an eternity before two men in their boxers and white tee shirts knelt down beside me and helped carry me inside. The darkness around me started closing in, all the sharp details looking fuzzier and fuzzier until I opened my eyes to Dr. Bensons sterile, white office.
I rushed out of Dr. Benson’s office with clarity. Now I knew for sure that the guy who tried to take me owned a motel. Probably a motel close to the fire station I ended up barging into at 3 am. I situated my new whiteboard on the wall near my kitchen table which is also where I set up my laptop. I started writing out what I know. Red, mid-sized car. Maybe a Toyota or a Honda. I don’t remember exactly but I know it wasn’t anything flashy. He was Indian and talked about taking me to a motel. Not just any motel, HIS motel. I’m sure property records for the motel could give me a name I just need to figure out which motel it is. He definitely said motel not hotel, right? No, I know it’s a motel, likely near the fire station. The new looking fire station near Madison Avenue. Now, at least, I know where to start.
I began my search spree. I started looking up all the fire stations in Albuquerque, focusing on ones that are within a fifteen-minute drive of my apartment. I don’t know how long I was in the red car for but I know that if you drive more than 15 minutes in any direction from my place downtown you’re basically in the middle of nowhere. I tried to see images of the fire stations online but couldn’t see all of them. The fire stations that do have pictures online were definitely not it. I made a list of the fire stations that it potentially could have been and I set out to see them. I drove in a circle around the outskirts of Albuquerque looking for the shining new structure until I found myself driving on Madison Avenue. After four hours of searching, my energy was low. I felt like maybe I couldn’t trust my memory of things that happened that night, even what I remember through my hypnosis session. Maybe it’s all a crock of shit like the real doctors have said again and again.
I drove until I pulled up to a red light. I came to the end of the road. With a sigh, I looked left and right, unsure of where to go next. I decided to turn left and immediate got light headed. When I turned the car, I saw it. A big, light tan and grey brick building. It was the fire station. I pulled into the parking lot and sat there, my hands trembling, gripping the wheel with white knuckles. I had really done it, I found the fire station from that night, I almost couldn’t believe it. Suddenly, I felt bile rise up in my throat, barely making it out of car before the vomit started spilling out of my mouth.
I found the fire station, Station 7, on my list and circled it with a pen I found in my dash. I debated going inside, thanking them for their kindness towards me that night. I paced outside my car with the driver side door open. As I paced, I felt like someone was watching me. I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder. Was that a person in the bushes? Or just a shadow? I wrote a note on some spare paper in my notebook and stuck it to the door of the fire house with some gum. I couldn’t stay a minute longer. I got in my car and drove to the safety of my parking garage, sprinted to my apartment and I went directly to the comfort of my bedroom to try and get control of my racing heart. Baby steps, I told myself, baby steps.
Okay, now for the tricky part. I needed to find the motel. I made Station 7 the center point of my search. From there, there were seven motels in a five-mile radius. I know in my gut that the motel is close to that fire station. Out of the seven motels that came up in my search, one was no longer in operation and another would probably classify more as a hotel than a motel. I kept it on the list but moved it to the bottom, as I thought it was least likely. The five I had left weren’t far from one another and I didn’t need to see them so much as I needed to know who owned them. If I can find the business records or maybe property records for all of them, then maybe I could find the guy who took me. But that also meant I needed to call in a favor.
I got the number for Alejandro through a girl friend of mine. She didn’t ask a lot of questions but she knew something was up. She told me that Alej knew I would be calling him. So, I walked the length of my apartment over and over again, maybe hoping that this would power me up to make the phone call. Alejandro is not someone I know well, I knew him as a nice police officer that sometimes hung around at Sasha and Roone’s house. Sasha and I had become really good friends in the brief time I have lived here in Albuquerque. She was like family to me, inviting me over for Sunday dinner and always including me in happy hour at the breweries. Her house was always the place to be and there was always a diverse group of people coming in and out of Sasha and Roone’s house. Alejandro was one of them and I trust him more than any other police officer I know.
I hit the number and my phone started ringing. When Alej finally picked up I realized it was just like talking to an old friend. I told him what happened to me that night out with Kate and I told him what I had already found out. “You need to be calling the detectives, Mija, not telling me,” he lectured, “but if you promise me that you up will update them, I will find this out for you. And I will find out if you tell them,” his voice was stern. I agreed and thanked him a million times over. After hanging up with Alej, I thought about the detectives that came to see me earlier this week, how different he was than them. I thought of how cold and detached they were even listening to me speak while Alejandro couldn’t have been more kind. And, even better, he agreed to help! This meant that I had to call the detectives and update them if I wanted Alej to follow through on the names of the owners and their addresses. I called the detectives to update them and they sounded less interested than if I had told them I found a penny on the ground. I don’t even really think they have ever actively listened to a word that I’ve said. I thought back to the detective taking notes at my kitchen table. I’m fairly certain that he was actually just doodling on a sketch pad, not noting any important breakthroughs in my case. So what, I thought, I don’t need them. I am going to end this all on my own.
I couldn’t take my eyes off my cell phone for two days. For a full 48 hours I wouldn’t go anywhere, even to take one of my four daily showers, without it. Finally, around 8:00 pm on that second day, Alej called me back. He carefully went over all the names that he was able to pull for the five business licenses and property reports. Some of the hotels had two or three different names on the different licenses but I had Alejandro give me all of them. I thanked him again, choking back tears as I spoke. I told him that I spoke to the detectives and I don’t think they’re going to help or do anything. Alej was silent for a moment. “Not all of us are as committed to helping people as they are to getting their paycheck. I’m sorry that they didn’t help you and I’m sorry for what happened to you,” it was like a warm hug over the phone. After we hung up I ran down the list of eight names and my pulse quickened.
I quickly opened up my laptop and went to Facebook. First things first, I wanted to see if I eliminate any of these names as the man who attacked me. I searched, and searched, and searched again. Three of the men I definitely found and between their names and their pictures, I could rule them out. I crossed their names off the list. Three of them I couldn’t find on Facebook at all, and the other two I found but couldn’t see any pictures of them on their pages. The five names that stared back at me from the paper taunting me. I know the man that took me was Indian, I know it. Only one name on the list had an Indian surname, Patel. Mohamed Patel, to be exact. I felt all the blood drain from my head and started seeing spots. I reached out an arm for my bed and slowly lowered myself to the floor. It had to be him. It had to be.
I called Alejandro on my way to the Motel 6 that is only a twelve-minute drive from my apartment. I got his voicemail and told him that I was going to the Motel 6 to confront Mohamed about what he did to me. I told him I figured it out and I was going to make it right. I sped all the way there, ignoring the quick changing lights and traffic signs telling me to yield. Every part of me started sweating despite the air conditioning pumping icy air through the car. The only thing I could think about was the rotting smell clinging to my nostrils, smelling rot in hair for days, smelling rot on all of my clothes, showering over and over again to make the smell of rotting meat go away. I thought of being filled with smells of lavender and soap. I thought of smelling wet dog and coffee. I thought of smelling anything but the smell of rotting meat for the rest of my life.
I pulled into the parking lot. My heart racing and my mind blank. I asked the woman at the front desk to call the owner and tell him that I need to speak with him, it is immediate and important. I remember that she looked at me, I think she asked a question, but all I could do was repeat myself. I saw her eyes open wide, her lower lip tremble as she reached for the phone. Next thing I knew, the elevator door opened and there he was. Only a few inches taller than me but much heavier. He had broad shoulders, thick, hairy hands, and a substantial beer belly. Without missing a beat, I walked up to him and punched him in the eye. He turned to face me, looking both surprised and enraged. Before he could react, I kicked him. With blood trickling out of his nose, I kicked him as hard as I could. I thought about all the years I spent playing soccer and all the soccer balls I had tried to boot down the field and I kicked him again, even harder. He doubled over, onto his side, his arms scrambling to protect his most vulnerable body parts. I kicked, and kicked, and kicked until I felt someone grab me from behind and pick me up. I screamed, loud and wild, until I realized that I was being carried out of the motel.
There were three police cars that I could count with lights flashing and an ambulance pulled up to the entrance of the hotel right as I was being carried out. Paramedics swarmed me, each holding an appendage while another held a small light up to my eyes, prompting me to take deep breaths. Deep breaths, I thought, deep breaths. I noticed my breathing was short and shallow, basically a wheeze, before everything turned black and I passed out.
When I woke up, I was laid out on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance, my arms restrained on the stretcher. I asked the paramedics what happened and they told me that they gave me a sedative as they released my arms. They called me hysterical. Ha, hysterical. If only you all knew. I got out of the ambulance to see only one police car remained, Alejandro was inside finishing up his conversation with the hotel manager. I thanked him for coming when he said, “We arrested him, Mohamed Patel. I just thought you should know that he’s going to jail. You did it.”
“I couldn’t have done it without you,” I replied, my eyes fixated down at my shoes. I gave him a hug and walked back to my car, feeling numb for that first moment. Is my nightmare really over? Can someone pinch me so I know that it’s real?
A sudden relief washed over me. Tears came pouring out of me and I started to hiccup once I was alone in my car. He’s behind bars, never to hurt anyone again. And I’m the one who did it. I walked with a weight lifting from my shoulders. I stood up straighter, with a bounce in my step. No longer feeling unwanted eyes on my back. No longer feeling hot breath making the hair on the back of my neck stand up. No longer smelling rotting garbage everywhere I go, filling the air all around me. I felt the shackles that had tied to me to my apartment crack and crumble. I felt the invisible chains come loose from my mind. The evening Albuquerque air smelled crisp and fresh. The world pulsed with life and possibility. In that moment I vowed to never allow myself to lose this feeling ever again.