I woke from the nightmare secured by stiff sheets, suffocating on the odor of clean with an aftertaste of bare wet iron as if I’d been snorting rancid bean curd lo mein.
“Hi, Lindsey. Can you hear me?”
She must have seen my eyes moving under the lids. I wasn’t ready to come from the darkness, taking in the muted shuffle of soft-sole shoes on linoleum, quiet voices, the rustling of papers, ticking – an odd ticking – someone breathing heavy, a whoosh, change pitch, whoosh again and repeat, behind that a rhythmic beeping from many sources like aliens talking back and forth.
“Lindsey. Can you hear me?” Fingers rubbed hard on my upper chest.
Yeah, I can hear you. Now go away.
“You’re lucky to be alive.”
Matter of opinion.
Another voice Dopplered from the door. “Dr. Howard said she’s awake?”
The voice was tense, dripping with reserved optimism and excitement. This voice I wanted to hear.
Mom. I thought I said it. I hadn’t. I tried again with the same result. Her hand came to my cheek.
I opened my eyes. I wanted to say I couldn’t see, everything a smear of dancing colors. Mom kissed my forehead, sobbing.
The other voice intruded. “This machine’s helping you breath. Don’t try to talk.”
Stop asking me stupid questions, then.
Mom forced words through her sobs. “You’re going to be just fine.”
Time will tell.
Again, the other voice intruded. “Did you see the person or persons who did this to you? Do you know where you were held?”
I dropped my eyebrows, scrunching my face, shaking my head no.
Mom, tangled in my breathing tube and IV, draped herself on me, crying.
“Maybe later.” The voice withdrew.
I coughed out the endotracheal tube, which didn’t seem as invasive as frustrating given my recent past. I gathered my right lung had collapsed. Being a minor, explanation came from above with eyes rolled to the left, jargon masquerading as information.
I was repeatedly assured the prognosis was good with a full recovery expected. This made me honestly believe I’d code any minute.
The hospital must have had the intrusive voice on speed dial. Not that I puzzled over such things, I assumed she was attached to the hospital, maybe a shrink to help me sort out the mess. She introduced herself on the second meeting, not three minutes after the tube slid from my throat.
“Kelley Lewinsky.” She badged me like on TV. “John Hopkins.” She thumbed over her shoulder. “We’re with the mayor’s task force.”
I couldn’t help myself. I looked past her. “You’re kidding, right?” My throat hurt. My whole body hurt. I managed to talk, barely able to move my lips and unable to sit up.
The younger detective, in his late twenties, half Kelley’s age at least, blushed.
“I don’t know what you’ve been told –”
I cut her off. “I meant the name.”
John Hopkins shrugged. “I’ve considered changing it.”
John snickered. I knew we’d get along.
“No one told me anything much. I didn’t want to ask. I vaguely remember dark and wet. I remember smelling something like when I opened an old ‘fridge that’d been laying in a dump for God knows how long with food in it.”
“What are you doing playing in a dump?”
“Recycle center. We climbed the fence on a dare. I think I was ten.”
“Five years ago.” John nodded.
I was sure we’d get along.
“I thought I was easily distracted.” I closed my eyes. “I’m a Dumpster Girl?” I’d thought as much long before I was dumped.
“That’s what the press is calling the victims.”
I let out a slow breath. “I’m the third.” I resented being called a victim. I was victimized. I chose never to be a victim.
“Seventh.” John glanced at his notepad.
Kelley shot him a look, then turned back to me. “The press has you as the fourth.”
“Sorry.” John’s sorry was to Kelley, not me. “That’s off the record.”
I nodded the best I could.
“We need to know everything you remember.”
“Nothing.” I did not roll my eyes up and to the left. “I’m not in the Scooby Gang or anything like that, but are you sure?”
John snickered. “Because you’re older than the other vics?”
Vics. How cute. “Me and a friend got a morbid curiosity.”
“No offense, Lindsey, but unless he carded you, how’d he know you’re not ten, maybe twelve?”
I took my turn blushing.
“Oh.” Kelley made a note. “What’s the last thing you recall?”
I did my best to look like I was thinking. “Leaving school on Friday.”
“That’d be three weeks ago.” John pointed his pen.
I stared, my whisper breathless. “That long?”
John jumped on his rhetorical horse and galloped around the room. “The doctor said in cases like yours, it’s not abnormal to experience memory loss. Chances are you’re never going to remember any of it, which could be a good thing for you, given the medical reports.”
John looked from Kelley to me. “Would you be willing to undergo hypnotic regression?”
I held his eyes. “What? Is the voodoo priest on vacation?”
Kelley pressed the importance of remembering. With seven known victims, she had no doubt there’d be more.
John Hopkins had wonderful puppy dog eyes and knew how to work them. I was disappointed he thought I looked ten, maybe twelve. I don’t have an overactive imagination, but I do have an imagination, after all.
A girl can dream, especially a fifteen-year-old girl.
He owns a gun and has a carry permit.
During the six interviews, I watched their eyes. I knew they couldn’t hear what I had to say. I knew they couldn’t step into the fire with me. They looked at the medical records. Kelley turned white, John green. They talked to experts. They reconstructed what might have been done to me. What they thought damaged their souls.
Seven Dumpster Girls, only one survived.
I remember everything. I can’t tell my mother, maybe the strongest human being I know. The fire would sear the flesh from her bones.
That’s why I never told anyone.
I had my lower intestine resected along with reconstructive surgery to my anus, rectum, vaginal opening and vaginal canal. They managed to stop the bleeding of my uterine wall without doing a hysterectomy. They, the doctors in charge, were concerned about the trauma a hysterectomy might have on a fifteen-year-old child.
Given the uterine wall, fallopian tubes and ovaries were burned useless with chemicals, likely bleach, I don’t know why they were concerned with preserving my uterus.
My right wrist was broken, with three fingers smashed. I’d enumerate my contusions, cuts, lacerations and bruises but it’d be easier to draw a human body map and mark what’s not been hurt.
Over ninety stitches circled around my face.
They took my appendix, which was inflamed. They noticed when in to wrap my bruised liver and kidneys with fiber mesh. It was just as well they opened me up. They had to take a liver biopsy to determine the best treatment for my hepatitis C infection.
I tested positive for syphilis and two strains of gonorrhea.
The rear and front of my brain were swollen.
I had an atypical pneumonia infection, having repeatedly aspirated semen and urine.
Dad came to the hospital often, only to my room once. Horror dripped from his eye sockets as if he were the vic. He proclaimed in a mindless blurt I was lucky I didn’t have AIDS.
Mom’s hand came firmly up the back of his head, she shoved him hard on the shoulder and sent him away, cursing under her breath. Mom’s the strongest, most powerful person to ever take flesh. Her wit and sarcasm can scorch the landscape.
She passed the gene to me. Maybe that’s why I’m not dead.
I wasn’t named on the news, however, the Dumpster Girl murderer was thoroughly profiled ad nauseam on the twenty-four hour cable news shows. Talking heads filled the screen, bantering on and on nonsense, having no way of actually knowing anything. The same flaccid faces missing the DC Sniper by three and a half universes relentlessly pounded away, giving every detail imaginable of the Dumpster Girl murderer, right down to boxers or briefs.
Boxers they said. They were wrong.
My medical details, along with the other known victim’s records, were not released but enough was leaked, leading to speculation parading as facts. The coroner gave interviews off the record. The way I know this, is one article quoted her, speaking off the record.
“You know, keeping my name out of the news isn’t going to help.”
I looked forward to John Hopkins’ daily visits. Though he denied it, I knew his visits weren’t official. He’d stopped asking whether I remembered anything.
“If he knows you’re alive and who you are, he could come after you.”
“I had my purse with me. He’s got my school I.D. tacked to a cork board.”
“I had my purse. That’s what I’d do if I were him.”
John brought comic books, which I traded for magazines. I liked how he took interest in me. I was young, not dumb. I imagined he was romantically interested in me, I knew he wasn’t.
At least he shouldn’t be.
I wasn’t a virgin at the time of the occurrence. The occurrence is what my father called it, his eyes never finding mine.
Since two and a half minutes after my first indiscretion, I felt my choice an error in judgment. I still feel I made an error in judgment, but not necessarily an error. I’d been seeing Tommy for a couple of months. He was fifteen, too. We made out a lot.
I guess a lot.
I admit it. I got a kick out of him dry-humping me with our clothes on. I didn’t get the bells-and-whistles feeling or burning desire to be penetrated I read about in the magazines. I was still curious.
We didn’t have a conversation like people say we should. One night, with his parents away and us making out for an hour, I pulled a condom from my purse. He couldn’t get his pants down quick enough. I insisted we go to his room. I insisted we get naked. There’s something about Tommy with his pants around his ankles that’s – I don’t know.
In the dimness, naked, Tommy made a confession. “I don’t know how to do this.”
This, was put on the condom. I’d seen movies featuring bananas or latex surrogates, still I lacked practical experience. I wasn’t a stranger to his penis, the turtle-headed snake making an appearance occasionally while dry humping. I’d never actually touched it. Naked, in the dark, sitting on the bed, he stood before me, the penis bobbing in my face.
I was glad for the dark. I blushed, my face hot.
I crowned his penis with the condom and rolled it down just like our health book said. I scooted back on the bed. He followed. His lips touched mine. I took hold of his condom-clad penis. He bit my lip. As I wondered how difficult actually getting the penis in my vaginal canal might be, with a little push on his part and a tugging inside me, his penis disappeared.
He released my lip.
The penis backed up, plunged, backed up and plunged once more. “Wow.” Tom pecked a kiss and withdrew. “I gotta go to the bathroom.”
Given my experience as a kid on a farm, I wasn’t surprised.
His cheeks danced like Jell-o as he hurried away.
He returned two and a half minutes later. “You’re not dressed yet?”
Yeah, romantic, I know.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying my close encounter of the penis kind with Tommy got me ready for the occurrence.
John Hopkins was not a large man. I enjoyed watching his dark Baker’s Chocolate eyes watching me as he talked. Helpless on the hospital bed like a turtle on its back, I wondered whether I’d be able to receive a penis in my vaginal canal again. The doctor, as if I wasn’t there, assured my mother I’d be able to have normal sex.
“How many children you want to have?” My question stopped John in mid-sentence.
“Hadn’t thought about it.”
“Would you do what the girl you marry wanted?”
“How do you know I’m not married now?”
He nodded. “I really don’t know. I’m not sure I’d make a good father.”
Right answer from where I was lying. “Why not?”
He watched the floor, rubbed the back of his neck and then wrung his hands. “I’m just not baby-crazy like most women I meet are.”
I knew John lost his way, never meaning for a fifteen-year-old vic to become a confidant. I’ve always been a good listener and as he played his puppy dog eyes well, I played my listening well.
“I understand,” I said.
John opened up to me. I got the feeling he held things in his whole life and those things weighted him down like a ten yard dumpster on his back. I wondered if my story untold would do the same to me. As he shared about his stoic taskmaster father, I could see his step get lighter. The lines in his face smoothed as he told story after story of his never-diagnosed alcoholic mother, maybe schizophrenic.
The weeks ran like water under our bridge and by the time I could get out of bed, John was kissing me on the forehead hello and goodbye.