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Prey

In the aftermath of rape, and throughout the two-year-long rape trial, I was obsessed with dangerous animals. This is how I went from prey to predator.

Prey

 

My obsession with animals preexisted any trauma in my life. As a five-year-old I wrote a fully illustrated book titled Tigger Maskkir about circus animals that revolt and eat the clowns. My teachers thought I was becoming deranged but my mom explained that it had been going on since before the divorce. I interviewed neighbours about their dogs. I put my teddy bears and stuffed lions to bed every night under blankets of washcloths—I couldn’t fall asleep until they were safely arranged like Tetris pieces on the floor, covering every inch of carpet. I once stood for an hour with my face against the glass at Sea World, trying to make meaningful eye contact with a manatee.

My ritualistic obsessions are no longer limited to animals (currently, they include Diane Sawyer, The Slender Man Stabbings, and eating bacon every day for lunch). I never look for things to grab me. They just do, and once they do, the obsessions usually continue until I’m so sick of them—or of myself for enacting them—that suddenly, and with a sense of great relief, I’m repulsed.

On other occasions, it’s as if I can’t stop. Like on my 18th birthday.

The night was raucously fun—I must have stolen the karaoke microphone 11 times—but as dawn broke, my friend asked if I could please stop singing Limp Bizkit. She needed to sleep.

“Believe me, I’d love to, but I physically cannot.” I was tired, too. I’d sung “Faith” twice, but five was my number and I was halfway there.

And sometimes I worry that telling the story I’m about to tell you is a compulsion, like counting. Giving testimony under oath was supposed to bring closure. But here I am, so sick of my own voice. The urge persists.

*

“Playing possum” means “pretending to be dead.” The idiomatic phrase stems from behavioral traits of the Virginia opossum, which is famous for feigning death when vulnerable. —Ann Bailey Dunn, “Playing Possum.Wonderful West Virginia

This instinct can be counterproductive: for instance, opossums scavenging for roadkill may ‘play possum’ in response to the threat posed by oncoming traffic, and consequently end up as roadkill themselves. —”Virginia Opossum.” Mass Audubon

*

It was my first day of college. After unpacking, my mother and I went to the Habitat for Humanity sale and bought a broken futon for 20 dollars. We carried it back across the quad, up a few flights of stairs and into my new common room. And then my back started hurting. Flustered by the fact of our impending separation, my equally obsessive mother became fixated on the idea of getting me a massage. A fan of free massages, I traipsed alongside her through Harvard Square, looking for options.

Every place was booked except for a store called About Hair, which offered haircuts and massages in addition to selling antiques. The store was so stuffed with secondhand items that some of them were arranged outside. A dark-haired, sullen-looking girl around my age was keeping an eye on them.

“The masseuse isn’t here today,” she told me in a thick, Slavic accent. “But—”

“I can definitely fit her in,” Duncan Purdy interrupted, ducking through the front door of his shop. He was pale and muscular and bald, like an albino snake. You could see the blue veins in his cheeks.

“Was that place creepy or artistic?” I asked Mom as we walked away after making the appointment.

“Cambridge is very artsy,” she said, sounding distracted. Travel makes her nervous.

I nodded. We were from out of town—from Wisconsin, specifically—and I was self-conscious about how my Midwesternness looked against the backdrop of Cambridge, Massachusetts. As I would later explain in my cross-examination, “I was trying very hard to be open-minded and not be sort of like a country girl, like a country bumpkin who didn’t understand the big city.”

I returned to About Hair after putting my mom in a cab to the airport. Duncan Purdy was the only person there and he led me down a short flight of stairs, past mountains of antiques, to a dark, windowless room. A stool stood next to the massage bed. There was an industrial canister of massage oil on top of it. The cap was off. “I’ll give you a second to undress,” Duncan Purdy said, giving me a hand towel.  

“What’s this?” I asked. 

“To cover yourself.” 

At home, a family friend had often given me back rubs on a portable massage bed that she kept in her car. She and I knew each other very well, and even she covered me with a large bed sheet during massages. But as I told myself, things were different on the east coast.

*

Hognose snakes will often roll onto their back and play dead, going so far as to emit a foul musk and fecal matter from their cloaca and let their tongue hang out of their mouth, sometimes accompanied by small droplets of blood. If they are rolled upright while in this state, they will often roll back as if insisting they really are dead. It has been observed that the snake, while appearing to be dead, will still watch the threat that caused the death pose. The snake will ‘resurrect’ sooner if the threat is looking away from it than if the threat is looking at the snake.

*

I gave the account of what happened next so many times in preparation for what would become my sworn testimony that during the actual trial I could tell the story with no emotion whatsoever. I once admitted to the prosecutor that while I never actually questioned my version of events, I’d relayed them so many times that on good days the incident felt more like something memorized than a genuine memory.

“That’s the point of testimony,” she said gently.

But I get nervous, even after all this time—not because I can still feel his hands on my body, but because so many people questioned or cross-examined me even before the trial that I have learned to expect incredulity. Despite what we say about sexual assault being a crime of violence rather than of sex, the knee-jerk response is: If it wasn’t a home run, it doesn’t count. I had internalized that logic—and still have, at least insofar as my anxiety about sharing is concerned. Until I found out what counted legally, I didn’t know how to categorize my experience emotionally. I thought of it only in terms of his name: Duncan Purdy. In my gut it registered as a gross, sweaty thing that wouldn’t leave. I didn’t know where to place it.

So that’s the big reveal, and here’s the quick and dirty chronology: I lay face down on the table underneath the hand towel. Duncan Purdy came in fully clothed and yanked my arms behind my back until I thought my shoulders would dislocate. He tugged the towel off, flipped me onto my back, and leaned over me in a 69 position so that his crotch was in my face and his face was in my stomach. I could hardly breathe. He was tugging at my tits and working his way down to my thighs. Unlike the hognose snake [heterondon platirhinos] I didn’t shit myself or spit blood to make my lifelessness appear more real, but I did lie there frozen, with a detached sense of shock at my own paralyzed reaction. I felt his non-erect penis through his pants at one point—a fact that stuck in my craw for a while afterward as one of the grossest parts—but I never saw it. As the defense attorney said on the very last day of the trial, “It’s not quite the same as the worse of the rapes that one can envision…for instance, if he had actually, you know, thrown somebody on the ground and raped them with his penis.”

The details of which body parts he touched and in what order seem mundane and boring to me now—irrelevant on the witness stand—though I still remember the overwhelming need to tell myself, over and over, that it wasn’t bad so long as he wasn’t looking at me (and he wasn’t; he was staring at the ceiling the whole time). As he raked his rough fingers over my skin, slathering me in waxy-smelling oil, I clung to the notion that his contemplating something other than my body was polite and professional. He couldn’t see where he was putting his hands, I reasoned. I was overreacting. It wasn’t happening. He didn’t mean to.

I had made an appointment for 30 minutes but the whole thing lasted 45. When it was over he left the room and I wrapped my arms around my legs to cover my nakedness. Then I looked up and saw a mirror on the ceiling, tilted in such a way that if someone were lying naked on her back underneath it, you would be able to see clearly between her legs. He hadn’t been looking away, he had been watching from a strange remove.

It started to sink in that I was in danger. Nobody knew where I was except for my mother, who was on a plane. I looked up and there was Duncan Purdy with an industrial bucket and a sponge, blocking the doorway. I let him wash me. He cupped the sponge in his hand and shoved it inside of me multiple times. He fisted me basically, with a sponge in his hand, and I didn’t make a sound.

“Go ahead and get dressed, I’ll be upstairs,” he said finally. “I’ll be upstairs.” 

I put on my skirt and tank top—an outfit I remember only because Duncan Purdy’s attorney would later ask me multiple times what I had been wearing—and met him by the cash register. In my mind, and in that moment, handing over the money my mother had given me was the last step to safety, the end-piece on a very close call. I hadn’t yet wrapped my mind around the fact that getting out alive might not be the only issue, or that paying would hurt my chances of being taken seriously in a courtroom. At that moment, my instinct was to quietly survive.

“You have a very athletic body,” he said, ringing me up. “Here’s my card. If you come back I’ll give you a discount.”

“Thank you,” I said, feeling dazed as I slid his business card back across the counter. It was my only act of defiance that day. “Thank you so much.”

As soon as the sun hit my face, I laughed. My knees were shaking and oil was dripping off the tips of my hair. I called my high school ex-boyfriend and giggled uncontrollably. “Why in God’s name didn’t you leave?” he asked. Fifteen minutes later, I collapsed on the broken futon in my common room and gave one of my roommates the abbreviated version. “When I was ten, a man pulled down his bathing suit and masturbated at me,” she responded. “In my opinion, it’s best to forget about it.”

The last person I told that day was my freshman proctor, a 33-year-old man with braces who lived in the suite below ours. I pulled him aside at our dorm’s meet-and-greet said, “I think I was molested.” I wasn’t sure what to call it.

“Were your breasts touched?” he asked sternly. I blinked at him, not knowing where to start. I wandered away and found myself in the sleep aid aisle at CVS. It was light out but I wanted to be dreaming. Fifteen minutes later, I was back in my dorm room, my eyes droopy from NyQuil, spending what would be the first of countless hours Googling animal factoids. Feral hogs can grow up to eight feet long and four feet at the shoulder. An anaconda’s prey can ostensibly remain alive up until the digestion process. There were worse things out there than Duncan Purdy.

*

*

“Tests of animal bones [at Chernobyl], where radioactivity gathers, reveal levels so high that the carcasses shouldn’t be touched with bare hands.” –  Mike Hale, “In Dead Zone of Chernobyl, Animal Kingdom Thrives.” The New York Times

*

I’ve always been a social creature. But during those first two months of college, it became difficult for me to talk to other humans about anything except animals.

As midterms rolled around, I found myself in the bowels of the library researching wild beasts instead of studying. Most afternoons, when I should have been talking to professors about stuff I failed to understand in class because I wasn’t listening, I would aimlessly prowl the halls of Harvard’s Natural History Museum, where I read every single plaque five times, circling the space for hours, sometimes, before standing dazed under the whale skeleton—its baleen still intact and sprouting from its skull like a mustache. I preferred the clammy frenzy of my pointless research to class. In lecture, each professor’s sonorous voice triggered instant claustrophobia. As I fantasized about life-or-death scenarios with various non-human species, the professor’s head became an unthreatening speck across the room, his voice a harmless, fanlike drone.

As the weeks progressed, I refocused my attention from the deadly beasts themselves to surviving hypothetical encounters with them. My know-how was gleaned from a combination of National Geographic videos, library books, and natural instinct. I even invented a game to distract and entertain myself during class: I’d flip to a fresh page, make it look like I was excitedly taking notes, and instead list as many scary creatures as I could, quizzing myself on the respective survival techniques. Then I’d check my answers against the answers in my diary—occasionally chiming in on class discussion with evasive gobbledygook such as, “I totally agree with Bethany,” or, “Well, if you consider the text through a Foucauldian lens, the characters are actually emphasizing what they don’t discuss. So what I’m interested in is the negative space in this book—what things have you guys noticed aren’t happening?”

Unbeknownst to me, I wasn’t preparing to survive another attack, but rather to execute one.

I finally told my mom after the Harvard Crimson published an article announcing that Duncan Purdy had been accused of running a house of prostitution. It was Thanksgiving break and I was home for the long weekend. The Slavic-sounding woman we’d encountered on the sidewalk had probably been a sex worker, and I found myself wondering whether Duncan Purdy assaulted her too. The idea that he might have done to others what he had done to me, combined with the fact that he was potentially a career criminal, somehow made my experience more real to me: more categorically wrong.

“This is all my fault,” Mom said, looking crumpled in the front seat. We were idling in the parking lot outside the mall. I kicked myself for not waiting to tell her until after we’d gone shopping; she hated the local shoe store even at the best of times. Now she was so upset we might not even end up going inside. “I set up the appointment. I should have known better.”

“Can we please buy shoes?” I mumbled numbly. “Everyone at school is wearing furry boots.”

She nodded. “Can I tell Daddy?”

I shrugged. Just imagining the conversation made my face burn. Plus, I wasn’t used to seeing my mom cry.

“Your uncle knows people who could kill him,” she said gravely. “I think it’s Irish mafia.” She wasn’t joking. We had connections.

“Mom. Come on.”

“I’m serious.”

I could feel her staring at me and wished there were something I could say to make her feel better that didn’t involve us talking about it anymore. I was struggling with conflicting mindsets: there was the need to be believed and heard, and simultaneously the need to acknowledge that my experience paled in comparison to some. (To paraphrase Sarah Nicole Prickett, other people have been “raped worse.”)

“Have you ever heard of the Goliath tigerfish?” I tilted my head back, trying to keep the tears in with gravity. “They’re humongous and have these awful, dagger-like buckteeth. They’re the only fish that don’t fear crocodiles. They eat crocodiles, actually. Well, smaller ones, technically, but still.”

“Can I hug you?” she asked.

I let her.

*

Individual organisms in a community interact in many different ways. An interaction may benefit both individuals, or the interaction may benefit one organism to the detriment of the other. An interaction between two organisms that benefits one to the detriment of the other is an antagonistic interaction.Allison N.P. Stevens, “Predation, Herbivory, and Parasitism.” Department of Biology, Mount Ida College, 2010 Nature Education Conference

*

The victim’s room at the district attorney’s office is decorated for the worst-case scenario. That is to say, it’s decorated for children. The first time I told my story in its entirety, I was sitting at the wrong end of a two-way mirror, in front of a Fisher Price table strewn with toys. Plastic farm animals and dump trucks.

They told me I was not the only girl. In addition to prosecuting Duncan Purdy on charges of running a house of prostitution, Assistant D.A. Melinda Thompson was also building a separate rape case against him. Melinda explained to me that although rape is often culturally defined by the number of injuries a victim sustains while fighting off a dick, Massachusetts’s legal definition of rape is defined by three elements: “Penetration of any orifice by any object; force or threat of force; against the will of the victim.” I finally had a word to describe what had happened, and as Mary Gaitskill put it in her 1994 Harpers essay on “acquaintance rape”: “The pumped-up version was more congruent with my feelings of violation than the confusing facts.”

Jillian Gagnon looked like she could be my sister, and had suffered a massage virtually identical to mine. (There were suspicions that Duncan Purdy had also hurt some of his sex workers, but none of them would, or really could, come forward due to citizenship issues.) Melinda explained that if I built my own case against Duncan, the judge and jury at Jillian’s trial would not know about me, and the judge and jury at my trial would not know about Jillian. However, if I served as a prior bad acts witness at Jillian’s upcoming trial, one jury would get to hear both stories.

“The rules of evidence allow a jury considering a person’s guilt in one crime to hear facts about a different crime that is similar to the charged crime as proof of the person’s intent, system, or plan on the day he committed the charged crime,” she explained while my head spun. “They aren’t considering whether or not he is guilty of the “prior bad acts” crime, but they hear about that crime as supporting evidence of his guilt in the charged crime.”

I had never filed a police report. There was zero physical evidence. It had been months for me, and years for Jillian, since our respective massages. Any verdict would hinge almost entirely on accuser testimony. At the time, I never considered the possibility that they would not believe me.

I’d watched enough National Geographic specials on group predation to know that deadly animals often hunt in packs. A few days later, I gave Melinda my answer.   “Hyenas, wild dogs, lions—they’re all social carnivores,” I told her. “Even leopards—I mean, they’re incredibly fast, but they rely on teamwork to survive.”

If my drivel made her question having invited me to be a witness, Melinda didn’t show it. Instead she listened attentively, arms crossed, nodding without any judgment—as if digressions about hyenas were common in the toy-littered victim’s room. Then she shook my hand.

“Welcome to the pack,” she said.

*

Prior to Jillian’s trial, Melinda suggested it might be helpful to watch Duncan Purdy’s prostitution sentencing. “Closure and stuff,” she said. “No pressure.”

I felt optimistic because Melinda had told me the judge was left-leaning. As a college student, I naively correlated liberalism with intelligence and empathy, because at the time I paid no taxes and only associated my politics with gay rights, women’s rights, human rights. I thought any judge who voted Democrat would side with the victims—not yet realizing that in a country where the imprisoned population is predominantly made up of poor people, black people, and the mentally ill, criminals are also victims. Hence, liberalism in the courtroom hinges first and foremost on second chances for the guilty.

The man who got sentenced immediately prior to Duncan Purdy had been found guilty of hunting trick-or-treaters with a BB gun. I snatched a pen and notebook from my backpack and added “poachers” to my growing list of dangerous animals.

As I reviewed my notes on venomous snakes, one of the kid’s parents stood up and read a statement for the judge about how their eight-year-old had a BB pellet lodged near his heart that couldn’t be removed or he would die.

“There’s a chance it will slowly travel through his body and kill him anyway,” the father said, fingers clasping his wife’s, the printed statement shaking in his other hand.

The judge wasn’t paying attention. She gave the guilty man probation so quickly it was clear she’d made her decision even before putting on her robe. She explained that he’d had no priors, as if the BB thing had been a fluke.

Then Duncan stepped up.

In that moment, watching him stand before a lenient judge, I began to understand that humans are the most dangerous creatures. Of all the animals I’d studied, he was the only one who’d actually hurt me. I watched his bald head shine greasily under the fluorescent lights and regretted turning down my mother’s offer of a hit man. I knew what happened to sex offenders in prison. And I wanted that for him.

The judge pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. She explained to the courtroom that, due to Duncan Purdy’s previous crimes—which I learned ranged from drug possession to armed robbery—she planned to be slightly tougher on him than she had been on the poacher.

She sentenced him to two years and one day. After that, I stopped casually picking phone arguments with my mom about Fox News and actually prayed, almost every single night, that the judge at Jillian’s trial would be a Republican.

*

Animals are ostracized by their pack for being mentally or physically incapacitated, or for any other behavioral displays that might threaten the survival of the group. (Gruter & Masters, 1986)

*

I lost a lot of friends that year, in part because I wanted to tell everyone about the trial. Boys fetishized me, thinking they could reintroduce me to sex, which I had never learned to hate—or else they pulled my head to their chests, kissing my hair, like they were enacting some paternalistic movie moment. In general, I think hearing what had happened made recently-deflowered Harvard boys feel like sexy dads.

Girls, aside from those who became my closest friends, tried to give me hugs and then disappeared forever, or judged from afar. (My best friend from high school took one look at the For Sale sign outside Duncan Purdy’s forlorn, now empty store and said, “God, I would have left right away…What’s wrong with you?”) I was a teenager and they were teenagers.

Eventually, I whittled down my friend group to a combination of genuinely sensitive people, semi-empathetic mentally ill people, basic masochists, and those who would, for whatever reason, patiently listen to me digress at length about radioactive wolf bones. Before that, and for whatever reason, the story often burbled to the surface during the most inopportune times: over lunch with new acquaintances, during a fight with a friend about something weird that I had done, or when a paper was due.

In retrospect, these were potentially stressful moments, and so it makes sense that they might have conjured stressful memories. But at the time, peers saw my decision to spill the beans over cafeteria brunch as tactless and possibly unhinged. Teaching assistants hinted that such confessions, when made while asking for an extension, seemed a little calculated.

“I couldn’t tell if you were a bad person, or the best person,” a boyfriend from that period recently confessed. “When you were talking about it, especially if we were fighting, it felt like the ultimate trump card.”

In general, my audiences felt manipulated by me, and as a storyteller I grew increasingly anxious about my power to unsettle. Writing this essay has taken its own toll; last night I called an old friend and confidant to ask about the way I acted freshman year. He asked if this was an opportunity to air old grievances and I told him sure—I asked forgiveness, realizing only afterward that doing so was tantamount to apologizing for screaming after somebody had hit me.

On a visceral level, I also began to associate talking about what had happened with a certain degree of dissociation.

After Duncan Purdy was sentenced for prostitution, we had almost a year to build the rape trial against him. But instead of practicing my testimony in front of a mirror, as Melinda had instructed, or thinking about what I might wear on the stand to wordlessly convey my victimhood (I ended up impulsively ordering an ill-fitting, beige, polyester pantsuit from eBay and giving the matter no additional thought), I took out books from the library on fanged deep-sea creatures, and memorized animal attack statistics (28 people in the U.S. died from dog bites in 2005).

When it came time to tell my story under oath, I put my hand on the Bible, spelled my full name for the court transcriber, and promptly panicked that the jurors in my peripheral vision would respond like my TAs and see my testimony as discomfiting and crafty. While the judge warned me to limit my remarks to “yes” or “no” when possible, I sweated copiously inside my little pantsuit, deliberating over how to make the jury like me. As far as I could tell, most people’s negative reactions to my confessional tendencies hinged on how uncomfortable I made them feel and to what extent they blamed me for that discomfort. So I steeled myself to give my responses frankly and without emoting, to be more convincing by appearing less invested. I didn’t want to look like I was letting myself cry to sway them. I felt that any supposed performance on my part would be akin to lying under oath. So I answered the attorneys’ questions casually, stony faced, and between each of my remarks I silently counted the number of constrictors I could remember offhand.

I did a horrible job, in other words.

Eleven out of 12 jurors believed Jillian and me, but one thought we were lying, which meant a hung jury, which meant a mistrial, which meant another whole trial, which could take one year, or two, depending.

At the time, I felt like it was my fault for holding back, for speaking too plainly, and for telling my story in the order it was asked for, rather than re-structuring it for effect.

My sense of responsibility for that verdict seems sad now, bordering on narcissistic. But in retrospect it also marks the moment where I stopped apologizing for how my story might make others feel, stopped waiting on others to tell me what had happened, and instead put the onus on myself to express that what haunted me was real.

*

Domestic or ‘pet’ pigs… will revert back to their wild state in a relatively short time. And that doesn’t mean the next generation—the actual escapee will begin to grow hair and tusks in the wild.” – “Pigs Gone Wild,” Eileen Stegemann. 2012 NY State Conservationist

*

Melinda encouraged me to wear something more formfitting for the second trial.

“An outfit that shows how small you are,” she said. “Let’s lose the Hillary Clinton pantsuit.”

I tended to wear pajama pants and baggy, cashmere turtlenecks, so I rifled through my closet and picked out what I secretly referred to as my “party clothing”: a fitted white T-shirt and flared jeans that clung to my butt (my friend now has the jeans in her drawer and wears the shirt to yoga; I gave them away after the trial). I also bought a headband, since I was planning to cry this time, and figured the jury sitting to my left should see my pretty face and practiced, bereft expression.

I wore that outfit to the courthouse many times before the trial actually began; the date kept getting pushed back because Duncan Purdy kept getting sick or falling down on his way to the courtroom. It was his legal right to ask for medical attention.

Reading the transcripts now, it seems that Justice Diane Kottmyer started to think that he was crying wolf, because eventually she sent a patrol car to bring him in despite his injuries. I remember he looked fine, though still pale and veiny. I remember knowing he was a liar.

Here’s what else I remember: camera phones were new then, and I had taken my first selfie in the hallway outside the courtroom to see what I looked like before going in. I remember thinking I looked beautiful, and knowing how dangerous that made me. I remember sitting on the witness stand, and identifying Duncan Purdy for the court as the man with the blue striped tie, even though in my mind he was no longer anything more than a fleshless carcass—a sun-bleached rack of ribs eaten by vultures. I remember letting my hands shake on either side of the microphone so that the jury could see, so they would think that I was weak and fragile, even though I wasn’t. I remember reshuffling the structure of my narrative without changing my story—this time, I started with the fact that he’d restrained my arms, and that it had hurt.

And I remember being able to tell by Duncan Purdy’s bored and blank expression that he didn’t recognize me. (Melinda told me in the wings that although he pretended to know who I was, he kept confusing me with Jillian; she had the feeling that he’d done this sort of thing so many times he could not even recall specific incidents.)

I’m trying hard to remember, because although I know I made myself cry, and made the jury cry—and generally stirred the courtroom so that the defense attorney started his closing remarks by saying, “The first thing I want to talk to you about is Kathleen Hale’s testimony, which just seemed very emotional, very heart-wrenching”—there is no record of what I actually said that day.

The transcript cost me almost $400 (they charge per page) and ended up being one of the more poignant artifacts of the trial, despite the fact that my words weren’t in it. I now know that of the potential jury pool, more than 20 individuals were disqualified from serving at my trial because they knew rapists, or someone who’d been raped, or had been raped themselves, making the record of those proceedings a tender testament to the statistical likelihood of sexual assault.

One lady described how her young niece had been raped by a neighbour, and then argued for her right to serve on the jury despite that. She claimed to be capable of objectivity despite what had happened to her loved one. Reading the transcript now, I have a feeling she was lying, but I thank her for it. Unbeknownst to me, a whole herd of people could identify with my experience and lost its voice as a result.

If anything, the absence of my testimony allows me to go on thinking that I contributed in large part to the actual jury’s final verdict: they found him guilty of rape.

*

*

The interesting thing about humans is that we’re the only animals I can think of that collaborate not only for survival but for something we call justice.” – from my diary, Christmas 2007

*

At Duncan Purdy’s rape sentencing, two of my best friends sat on either side of me and watched in horror as he flexed his butt muscles in front of us. He was handcuffed at that point, and looked like a tied horse shivering its ass to shoo a fly. The aerobic display lasted so long that the three of us dissolved into nervous giggling messes, and had to clutch each other, pretending to sob so that we wouldn’t look like psychopaths.

Judge Kottmyer glanced at us over her glasses, looked away politely, and asked if Duncan Purdy had anything to say for himself.

“Your honour,” Duncan said, still flexing his butt. “On behalf of myself and my family, I would just say that I regret the circumstances of this case and the burden that it’s caused the Commonwealth and all the families concerned, myself and my family.”

In the transcript, he then goes on to talk for four pages about how he can’t go to prison because he needs to sell paintings.

Judge Kottmyer—whose disdain for Duncan Purdy had become increasingly evident throughout the trial—finally cut him off, responding: “What I see, Mr. Purdy, is that you don’t comprehend and you’re not remorseful—”

“I am,” Duncan Purdy muttered, and dropped onto his seat like a petulant teenage boy.

“You don’t comprehend that, in fact, what the evidence shows here viewed against the backdrop of your entire record in terms of deriving support from prostitution, is that you—you have acted as a predator.”

“I respect your opinion—”

“Stand up, sir,” she boomed.

In Massachusetts at the time, the minimum sentencing for rape was probation. But Judge Kottmyer sentenced Duncan Purdy to seven to ten years.

(A representative from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts recently called to remind me that Duncan would be up for parole one year from now. The representative also encouraged me to update any restraining orders I might have, because Duncan Purdy had recently changed his name to Duke One Blood True Blood—“AKA, Mr. Blood,” the guy said, sighing. “So at least anyone who meets him after his release will know he is a fucking lunatic.”)

Duncan Purdy was dismissed shortly after sentencing. But before leaving her bench, Judge Kottmyer, who thought I had already left the room, added one more thing: “I do want to say one thing to Ms. Hale, who is not here. And that is that the sentencing is the responsibility of the Court. You don’t bear any responsibility for the sentence that’s imposed in this case. That’s my responsibility.”

I pressed my face into my friend’s neck, and this time I cried for real. A weight was lifted, a sense of culpability temporarily quieted, and the critter factoids swimming through my brain were now a still pond to draw from rather than drown in. Yet there were still so many things I wanted to say on the witness stand—they just didn’t fit into the categories of “yes” or “no.”

And I feel that way a little now (choked and incomplete) because my word count is running out and there are so many details I still want to include—how my friends donned all black and traipsed with me to Duncan Purdy’s defunct store to loose bricks from the sidewalk and steal discarded signs; or how sad I felt about the dodo bird, which became extinct due to its friendly tendency to walk up to human strangers and expect the best—but then the other part of my brain, the writerly part I guess, keeps saying, That’s irrelevant, That isn’t crucial to the story, Delete, Move on—

Let go.