In the tunnel where I was raped, a tunnel that was once an underground entry to an amphitheater, a place where actors burst forth from underneath the seats of a crowd, a girl had been murdered and dismembered**. I was told this story by the police. In comparison, they said, I was lucky.
Last night I ended “Lucky” by Alice Sebold. I know that the author’s name is not new to your ears: she wrote the best seller “The Lovely Bones“, from which was taken also a movie. I didn’t read “The Lovely Bones” yet, even if I remember it in the bookshops’ windows some years ago, when the movie came out and it was immediate success. I surely will, but in the while destiny decided that before, for me, are coming the other two works by Sebold, found in a second hand bookshop in Belfast: “Lucky“, indeed, and “The Almost Moon“.
I said destiny for a reason: I think that if I was starting to read Alice Sebold’s works from her best seller, as many did, from that “The Lovely Bones” that talks about an horrible story (the rape and killing of Susan Salmon, a 14yo girl), but made as much acceptable as to be chosen to be a movie, I was probably opening “Lucky” with another spirit. And I’d be ending surprised, hurted, maybe even a bit scared from the story that it tells. Because the story inside “Lucky” is not fantastic horror with a bit of paradise here and there. The story inside “Lucky” is the true story, the detailed and intimate report of the rape the author was victim when she was eighteen and of all the complications and consequences that this happening put later in her life.
A rape changes your life: the day before you are just one of the many girls going to a school, the day after you are – and you will be forever – the student who has been raped. If then you decide to fight for justice, you may find out that, to go ahead, it will be necessary more than you thought: you will be doubted, judged, sometimes humiliated. There will be those who admire you, but always with that bit of annoying compassion. You will try to leave everything behind, and maybe you will think you had, but one day you may find out that the mental healing process you thought was about to end, in reality wasn’t even yet started.
Sebold explains all this with a so clear, direct, sometimes brutal language, that it is impossible to not empathize; if you are a woman even more.
You need strenght and perseverance to avoid the wish of hiding everything under the carpet and continue to go ahead with your life, like nothing ever happened. You need strenght and tenacity to look in the eyes of the one who hurted you, but also of all those who, unbelievably, support a person who made of violence and abuse his strenght, and to fight for a justice that should be assumed but it’s not, for a sentence that judges you for the person you are and not for the gender.
Alice Sebold made it, she won the fight against her raper: she testified at the process and sent him where he deserved. Then she rolled up her sleeves and started rebuilding her broken life. It seemed all ok, but it was not: she discovered what post-traumatic sytress disorder is, and years after the rape it all came back, destroying her life again.
Luckily we are only partly made of what happens to us. The other part is composed of what other people we meet gift us: they can’t change the happenings, still, if they please to help, they can affect the consequences. One of these people, for Sebold, was another writer: Tobias Wolff, at that time her admired and feared professor whom, as came to understand the hard situation his student was struggling with, pronounced some words she was not going to forget and that, years later, made her write her first book: “Lucky”.
“Alice,” he said, “a lot of things are going to happen and this may not make much sense to you right now, but listen. Try, if you can, to remember everything.”
I have to restrain myself from capitalizing the last two words. He meant them to be capitalized. He meant them to resound and to meet me sometime in the future on whatever path I chose. […]
So it was a shout across a great distance. He knew, as I was later to discover when I walked into Doubleday on Fifth Avenue in New York and bought “This Boy’s Life”*, Wolff’s own story, that memory could save, that it had power, that it was often the only recourse of the powerless, the oppressed, or the brutalized.
*From Wolff’s book was also made a 1993 movie with the same title: This Boy’s Life
** Susan Salmon, the main character in “The Lovely Bones”, and her story are inspired by the girl who was raped and killed in the same tunnel where “Lucky”‘s story has its start. The author said that she didn’t realize for long that he book was about that story.