Content Warning: Assault
“Stronger Than She Seems” by Jordyn Wilson
I was unable to see them but could feel the dense stare as they watched my every move.
How many eyes are present? I don’t know.
Why are there no chairs?
Why am I here?
I was fifteen; young enough to be confused by the procedure, but old enough to be pissed that I was being put through it. I sat on a singular, carpeted step watching the sweat trickle down the miniature water bottle a woman had given me. Mirrors lined the entirety of the back wall making me uneasy. I was completely stationary, completely silent, but my mind was screaming.
It felt like an eternity before a woman, probably in her mid-thirties, opened a door and entered the closet-sized space. Letting the door close slowly, she sat only inches from me on the step. She gave the usual “hi” and “how are you,” to which I responded “hello” and “fine.” She explained to me that we had an audience, a group of people watching from behind the mirrors, recording our conversation to be reviewed at a later time when needed. I’m still unsure why I glanced back at the mirrors after this comment, knowing I wouldn’t see anyone, but I will never forget the eyes that stared back. My own. Almost unrecognizable.
The woman took a sip of her own water, crossed her legs, and took a deep breath before speaking again.
“I just need to ask you a few questions and I need you to be completely honest with me, okay?”
Why would I lie?
He confessed. Why do you need to hear ME say it?
At this point, I was tired of talking. I was tired of explaining a situation I believed should be over. I was tired of reliving a nightmare. I was just so… tired.
But, like I had grown used to in previous weeks, I relived the moments, crying with each word that escaped my lips. I explained to this stranger the fear that seemed to sprout out of the garden of my grandmother’s house when I saw her neighbor for the first time since 2011. I told her of the nightmares, random, but each including three consistent factors: the song, the sound, and… him.
She sat, nodding, as I explained how I told my mom. How I felt dumb for not remembering if it was a terrible nightmare or something that actually happened. How the pieces were slowly returning but my mind wouldn’t let me remember.
“Well, what DO you remember?” she asked.
I remember the song. “Fly Away” by Tim McGraw. This was played while we picked up toys, only fifteen minutes before nap time. I remember innocently singing along to the words “one, two, three, like a bird I sing” while I put away plastic apples into a toy shopping cart.
I remember how proud I was to wear big girl underwear that day. Telling my friend, they had Cinderella on them. I remember lying down, feeling scared, and being unsure of what was happening. I remember the sound of elastic; a sound that shouldn’t terrify anyone, but still sends shivers down my spine to this day. And I remember feeling relieved as the giant oak door made a silent but splintering noise as it creaked open. My dad was there to pick me up. I can leave.
I remembered these little details. Why couldn’t I remember if it was true? My mom wanted to talk to someone, but because I was so unsure of the reality of these memories, we waited.
The woman sat silently as I stopped to take a drink. She handed me a tissue and asked what happened next.
I relived the moment at the grocery store in Bethany; the day my grandfather passed away. I sat in the front seat, my sister in the back, as we waited on my mom to get my grandmother’s groceries. Only three seconds of the song had to play for me to frantically change the station. My sister noticed, but neither of us spoke for a moment. Finally, she began a conversation I never wanted to have with my best friend.
“That song reminds me of clean up time at day care.”
Here it comes.
Please don’t say it.
“Did he freak you out?”
… My heart sank. I turned around.
“What do you mean?”
“I think he…”
I will never forget that conversation.
My palms became clammy, and I began to mildly shake and grow cold as I waited for my mom to return. I felt like I could vomit, but what came from my mouth when she opened the door was far worse. A taste I hope to never feel against my lips again in this lifetime.
June 29, 2016 – My mom made several phone calls that night. One being the Sheriff’s Office. They let us know they would be going to the man’s residence the following morning to speak with the couple.
That never happened. He was conveniently out of town for work, so they scheduled to speak with him upon his return home.
That same night, as the Sheriff was getting groceries with his family, his visit was interrupted. He was approached by the man he was to speak to earlier that morning, and right there, in front of the sheriff’s wife and children, he said the words… “I did it.”
He was arrested June 30th.
The woman asked me once again if what I had told her was, in fact, the truth.
I know you’re just doing your job, but please, for the love of god, don’t ask me that again.
“Yes.” I said.
You now know the same details as me. No matter what I do, these memories can’t seem to scratch their way to the surface. They stay, neatly tucked away, buried six feet under where I hope they hide forever.
Guilty – he plead to seven counts. Guilty – I should have said something sooner.
I heard numerous times the following two weeks of how strong I was. How I was a hero to the others; this wouldn’t happen anymore.
I didn’t feel like a hero, I froze. I waited. My mind betrayed me. I wasn’t able to react till others were already affected. My sister and cousin shouldn’t be going through this.
Emotionally, I flatlined. I was supposed to feel relief that it was “over,” but this only felt like the beginning.
We met Mr. Walke, our lawyer, who was amusingly from Waukee, Iowa. He slowly became a part of our family as we were in contact daily for four long years. I will never forget the first conversation we had with him upon meeting. He told us of the angered families that were involved. One of which tried to bail out the man so they could personally get their own revenge. After this incident, he was moved to a different facility for his own safety, and I was glad I no longer had to drive past where he was kept.
These four years felt like a blur with only a few significant events happening to map out the chaos.
One of these moments was when my school unknowingly hired the wife of the man to work with preschoolers – something she had failed at miserably before. I did not own my own vehicle, so I walked to the elementary where I waited for a bus to take me to the high school. I pushed open one of the large double doors and made instant eye contact with her. I froze, she paused, then walked away. I was furious. My school was not known for having amazing staff, but had they done absolutely no research to find that she was in the middle of a lawsuit? Let alone with a fellow student? Shortly after our encounter, she no longer held the position.
My senior year, the fighting began. We were one of three parties involved in the lawsuit, two families versus him. The difference between my family and the other: we wanted justice, they wanted money. I feel guilty to this day for my feelings towards this family.
We are supposed to be on the same team.
They refused to sign agreements to equal payments, which ultimately halted our settlement process for months. We fought, trying to right this greedy decision, but in the end, it wasn’t the money we cared about, so we settled for less.
The next big moment – court. I refused to go. It was my first year of college, my first week. I moved in early and was having a terrible transition. Now, I was supposed to skip my second day to go sit in a room full of strangers, my family, and him. I couldn’t do it. I have never regretted this decision.
December 2, 2018 – one week before my birthday. We had a land auction. The man’s brother was a regular at my aunt’s dusty, run-down thrift store. He admitted that his brother had a lot of land under his name. She passed the information on to me and this was the result—98 acres for our two families to sell.
The rest of the process seemed to drag along. All we were doing was waiting for the settlement to be signed and approved. I tried to focus on school and forget about everything I was dealing with outside of that.
It wasn’t until this year that I finally got the email that we needed to come in and sign paperwork.
It’s finally over. Kind of.
“You’re so strong.”
“We’re so proud of you.”
“Without you, it would still be happening.”
I still hear these comments today. Where my thoughts once intruded –
Your memory failed.
You could’ve stopped it sooner.
Is now replaced with –
I’m proud of what I accomplished.
I stopped this.
I’m a survivor.
I am strong.
I stopped being so hard on myself, something I do on the daily, and came to the realization that what I had done, so many don’t have the courage to do. Let alone at the age of fifteen.
I had finally found my voice. It took the support of my family, a few select friends, and my lawyer, but I did it.
When people look at me, they see the quiet girl. The goody two-shoes that spends her weekends doing homework. They see the girl too afraid to order her own McDonald’s meal, and cringes at the thought of setting up her own dentist appointment. Some see the girl who cries as she takes her medication every morning, unable to fix her own mental state without its assistance. They see the girl that hates hugs and has a panic attack when a stranger stands too close. They see the girl with no muscle in her arms because the gym gives her anxiety. They see the girl that, despite it all, is so much stronger than she seems.
Biographical Note: Jordyn Wilson is currently a junior at Simpson College where she studies multimedia journalism and English. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family, crafting, and advocating for mental health. She hopes her stories help others feel they are not alone.