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Writer dream hampton tells of the life-changing night that taught her fear is no match for her resolve

dream hampton

by dream hampton, March 08, 2012

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oven, then chopped some carrots and poured Italian dressing over them and fed my brother and Bo, who was from the block where the boys who’d stolen my brother’s bike lived.

I was in my bedroom on the second floor when the doorbell rang. Bo was in the bedroom attached to my room, a room that had once belonged to my parents, but since they’d moved to the basement for privacy, was called “the playroom” where they left a bed, a tv and a chair. Bo was sitting on the chair watching tv. The bell rang more than once, and I went downstairs to see if my stepdad had lost his house key. He had not. Marvel and two other tall boys were yelling through our heavy wooden, locked door, through the thunder and the rain, for my brother to open the door. I told my brother he better not even think of it. My brother looked at me, on the stairs, and then again through the window, where Marvel was threatening his life should he not open the door and my brother did something that still makes my heart sink. He opened the door and let the outside in.

The three boys, who were all older than 16 (I’d learn this later, from Friend of the Court documents) pushed my brother aside the moment he cracked the door and chased me upstairs, where I was hoping to lock myself in my room and use the fire escape ladder my dad bought me to run to my neighbor Ms Erma’s, across the street. I remember having that plan in my head. But they ran faster than me. And were stronger. And they threw me on the bed in the playroom, where Bo sat frozen, and pulled off my panties. There was an attempt, many attempts, to pin me down, to keep my legs from kicking, but I would not stop kicking. I kicked and I punched and I screamed and I spat and I squirmed.

One of the teenagers pulled his penis out; it was my first time seeing a real one since I’d bathed with my brother as a pre-schooler. I kicked the boy in his groin and he doubled over, just like in the movies. One of the other boys slapped me, and for a moment I didn’t fight. Then Marvel pulled out his penis and I regained my fight. I wanted to will myself into the Tasmanian devil, to be un-pin-downable, impenetrable. And I succeeded. After what was more than 15 minutes, what felt like much longer than the second half of the Brady Bunch, which, once the police came, was how I measured the time, the three boys finally gave up. And left. One of them said “She don’t wanna fuck.” And they left. My brother never came upstairs to help. Bo never left the chair where he sat in the same room the entire time.

I’ve told this story three times. To my two best friends and to a lover I trust. In the sister circle where I sit, or the many friendships where my girlfriends have asked me to witness the telling of their own rape stories, I’ve stayed silent. I always felt my not being raped because I refused to stop fighting would seem an indictment of their stories. And I don’t feel that way. I don’t believe they weren’t strong enough or should have fought if they didn’t or that their rapes were in any way their faults. But I never tell my own because of a kind of survivor’s guilt. That, and the deep contempt I hold for Bo and my brother. But now, here, I see it all differently. Now I know I tapped into something bigger than me.

My audacity is my fight, to be bigger than my fear. I’ve never been able to summon fearlessness by anger, even when it’s been a reaction to deep injustice, social or personal, instead it’s functioned in my life as a kind of walking meditation, one that has driven me around the world and back. That stormy night on the east side of Detroit was terrifying, but it was also the night I learned there’s nothing I fear too much to fight.

Excerpted from Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness, edited by Rebecca Walker (Soft Scull Press, 2012)


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