Avenue du Maréchal Joffre, Tourcoing

The Bridge

Part Five in the Derailleur series.

It’s been a couple of years since I have had the recurring dream of going back and serving the last six months of my mission that were taken from me. I had been out just a short time when the First Presidency decided to make mission service 18 months for everyone. Those who were out longer had a choice in the matter, many of whom in the Belgium, Brussels mission opted out, some were eligible within days to go home, and did.

I didn’t have the option and on April first on my way to mission headquarters to start my trek home, I felt like the joke was on me. I didn’t want go home. I wasn’t done.

The dreams typically went that even married and being a parent I was called back out to finish the six months. I did it gladly, though I had little in common with the young men I would end up serving with in these dreams. Maybe Freud would find meaning in these that I wasn’t satisfied in my marriage and was longing for simpler more meaningful times. He wouldn’t have been too far off.

And then not long after I get back, the service time for Elders goes back to two years. What’s that supposed to mean? For the longest time I wished I had those six months. I don’t anymore.

Every transfer was the same way, I was never ready to leave, I wasn’t done. And so came my transfer to Charleroi, too soon. So soon, in fact, that it allowed only one more visit with Pierre and Karren and Isabelle. It was the night before I left.

I don’t recall much about our visit other than feeling sad to be leaving them. I can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a simultaneous relief as well, for everyone. It wasn’t easy saying goodbye, I do remember that.

I shipped my bike earlier that evening via train to Charleroi, which left my companion and I walking home, with him pushing his bike. It was late, way past the time the Holy Ghost goes to bed. There’s much to what happened next, most of which I’ve filed away, only to have it come back to me in pieces.

What I do remember is crossing Rue Faidherbe, a cross street on Rue Carnot a couple of hundred yards from our apartment. The actual intersection doesn’t exist anymore, having been re-routed to the city centre. We were crossing on a green light. There was a white Peugeot station wagon at the red light turning left onto Rue Carnot. Its occupants were staring at us as we walked past. We mounted the sidewalk and kept making our way.

The light changed and the car advanced. I turned to look being a bit disconcerted, and watched it start to turn left then change course right. There was no traffic that late and the boulevard was wide. The car arced around into oncoming lanes and then into the lane adjacent our path and then it mounted the sidewalk just ahead of us, inhibiting our way.

A large white man got out of the passenger side of the car. He stepped toward us. We stopped walking. His hands were taped as if they’d just been in boxing gloves and he was wearing sweats. Another step and he was right in front of me. I had to look up to see his face.

I had to look down to see my companion’s. He was almost a foot shorter than me, which might explain why the man picked me. I began to speak but didn’t get the entire sentence out of my mouth when I caught his right hook on the left side of my jaw, shattering the joint, but failing to knock me out.

“Go,” I told my companion. Two more Elders were just a few hundred yards away up in our apartment. Strength in numbers.

I was stunned at the pain, still standing though. I tried to reason with him and again got interrupted this time by a left upper cut that connected under my chin. That put me down and delirious. I had to get back up. I couldn’t defend myself laid out on the sidewalk.

Two cheeks, I figured. I got to my feet and spit out the blood in my mouth and wiped it with the sleeve of my crimson sweater. He was waiting for me like we were in a ring and some invisible referee had me by my mits looking to see my eyes pull focus again.

The man was listing and I could smell alcohol. I can’t remember how I got there, all I recall is having him in a headlock with my left arm and punching him in his face with my right. It was a horrible feeling. His body relaxed in his brief unconsciousness taking me down to the sidewalk with him. I released the headlock and got back to my feet to get out of there.

The driver of the car got out and must have come around the back of the car considering the angle where the heel of his boot connected just below my nose. He was black, my size and much faster than my retarded condition. The force of the impact of his kick slammed my head into the wall behind me, fracturing my skull and knocking me out.

I gained consciousness while being beaten with a baton and kicked, and I’m guessing that’s when my ribs were broken. I’m also guessing they put me in the back of the Peugeot and took me away from Rue Carnot when I lost consciousness a second time.

The second time I regained consciousness it was from the shock of something smashing into my genitals, and then invading me anally. I was prone, slumped over the back hatch opening of the car, pinned by one person sitting on my neck while I was brutalized by another, my pants at my ankles.

The beating stopped, the two got into the car and drove away, dragging me behind, the road tearing at my knees and thighs. In that interminable moment the instinct was to pull myself off the abrading pavement to save my life, but the logic was certain death if I didn’t escape the car, so I let go. I fell out of the car onto the overpass at the railroad tracks that fed into the train station at Tourcoing on Avenue du Maréchal Joffre, just a kilometer from my apartment.

The beating resulted in a skull fracture, a broken jaw, nose, ribs, and road rash on my legs. The assault left me with a broken coccyx, genital trauma and rectal and anal tissue damage that I still deal with to this day.

While I wouldn’t dare compare my incident with hers, Elizabeth Smart articulated in a speech on human trafficking at John Hopkins University, something we shared, something I believe all rape victims share – the truncation of human value that only the physical invasion into a person’s being could execute.

A baton invaded me. Up to that moment I was beaten to point of defenselessness.

I know the moment when the truncation happened, in a gutter on a bridge in the dark. I had pulled myself off the road fearing I’d get hit by a car or my assailants would come back and run me over. On the sidewalk I had pulled my pants up, racked with pain. And then the shame.

I grew up with the better-dead-than-unclean school of virtuous training. It was reinforced in the Mission Training Center, a place where nascent missionaries attend to learn teaching methods before reaching their assigned areas. In a fireside, Gordon B. Hinkley, who’d later become President of the Church, was quoted from a general conference talk, “I know what my mother expects. I know what she’s saying in her prayers. She’d rather have me come home dead than unclean” (Conference Report, April 1967, pp. 51-55).

Not my mom. I knew she’d just rather have me come home, regardless the stains.

It was much later, having tucked it all away and faking my way through the rest of my life, when I read a book called The Miracle of Forgiveness, by an author that I had grown up with, a leader, the president of the church through my adolescence, a man I revered as a prophet who talks to God. President Spencer Kimball wrote:

“Also far-reaching is the effect of loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation when there is no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 196).

My shame bifurcated into two levels; not only had I no value due to the invasion of my body, I now had no value in not dying in my defense. All this didn’t happen that night. It took a week, and then the rest of my mission, and then a marriage of nineteen years.

To restore myself, my self, I have since truncated something else, similar to the moment I let my body fall to the pavement that was tearing the skin from my legs. I let it all go, all the promises, all the doctrine, all the saving ordinances, all the comfort, some of the fear, most of the judgement, much of the shame.

That’s what this writing is about, the derailing of certainty and faith, not just due to my attack. For me, that was just the beginning.

I got to my feet that night and made my way down a pedestrian stairway off the bridge and walked back to the apartment.

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