Authors: Laurie Gray
Overall, taekwondo really seemed to calm my mind. By concentrating on each movement in the form and executing each step with physical precision, I felt the tension in every cell of my body begin to release. I didn't need the vodka quite so much. Instead of drinking alone in my room, I practiced white belt form and sparring one-steps over and over again in my mind. I even went all day Wednesday without taking a drink. I had it with me, but I never actually needed it.
Then came Thursday. After camp, Mr. Washington asked Shanika to run to the grocery store to pick up some refreshments for a rank-advancement celebration on Friday. Shanika asked me to go with her. I called Dad to let him know Shanika would bring me home later.
We split up while we were in the store, each gathering some of the items her dad wanted. I walked through the liquor section by myself and felt really good about the fact that I wasn't there to steal anything. My backpack felt especially light. I headed back through the school supply aisle and picked up another spiral notebook for
myself; then I joined Shanika in the check-out line, putting all of the taekwondo things I'd gathered into her shopping cart.
Shanika waited for me to pay for the notebook, and we walked out of the store together. The moment I stepped through the door, though, a big guy in khakis and a polo shirt that said S
stepped in front of me, blocking my way. He startled me so badly that I couldn't stop shaking.
“Hey!” Shanika cried, letting go of her cart and trying to step between us. “What do you think you're doing?”
The security guard pushed her aside. “You're free to go.” Then he pressed his finger into my chest and said, “You're coming with me.”
“But we're together!” I heard Shanika argue.
“Fine,” said the security guard. “You can both come with me.” He took me by the arm and escorted me back into the store. Shanika followed closely behind. There was a loud rattling. I knew it was the wheels on the grocery cart, but it felt more like every bone in my body.
The security guard led us back into an office where a woman wearing a S
pin-on tag was waiting for us. She looked surprised to see Shanika. The woman sat behind a desk next to a television, and there were several TV monitors beside the television showing different areas of the store. My eyes fixed on the one surveying the liquor aisle.
“Hand me your backpack,” the man commanded.
Without a word, I removed the pack from my back. My hands shook visibly as I handed it to him. I knew he wouldn't find what he was looking for, but there was a little water bottle half-filled with vodka.
“Now sit down,” he ordered. He glared at Shanika. “I suppose you can stand there if you like.” He pointed to a corner behind me. I wasn't sure whether it was better for Shanika to stay or go, but if she was going to stay, I really wanted her someplace where I could see her.
The store manager sat at the desk calmly filling out paperwork while the security guard rummaged through my backpack. “Nothing!” he muttered. He tossed the backpack into my lap.
“Doesn't matter,” replied the manager. She handed me a form that consisted of several different colored sheets bonded together at the top. “Fill out the first part,” she instructed. Then she motioned to Shanika. “What about her? Did you see her take anything?” The security guard shook his head.
I could hear Shanika stirring behind me. “What's this all about? Sandy, you don't have to do anything they tell you to do.” The security guard swiftly escorted her out of the room. “Do you want me to call your mom?” Shanika called back to me. Shanika's voice began to fade as she walked away, but I could still hear her verbally assaulting the security guard. “She's a lawyer, you know. You have no idea who you're messing with!”
I filled out my name, address and age on the form entitled N
. I handed the completed form back to the store manager.
“Do you want me to call your parents?” she asked as she took the form.
I shook my head.
“I have something I want to show you.” She picked up a remote, pointed it toward the television and pushed the play button.
It wasn't very clear, and it wasn't very smooth, but I recognized the person picking up a bottle of vodka and scurrying down the aisle.
“Is that you?” the store manager asked. I didn't say anything.
“Maybe you'll remember this next one since it was taken just this past Saturday.” Again she pushed the play button. It wasn't any clearer or any smoother, but there I was, picking up two bottles off the shelf and hurrying away.
I still didn't say anything. I knew from years of listening to my mom talk about her clients that I had the right to remain silent. The worst thing I could do was to admit that was me in the videos.
“Is there anything you have to say for yourself?” the woman asked.
I held my tongue.
“Fine. Have it your way.” The woman carefully tore the back sheet off the form and handed me the pink copy of the N
. “You are no longer welcome in any of our stores. If you so much as set foot in the parking lot of any one of our stores again, I'll have you arrested for trespassing. Do you understand?”
“Now take your backpack and your bag and get out of here.”
I walked out of the office and out of the store. Shanika was standing in the parking lot beside her car arguing loudly with the security guard. The security guard held an empty grocery cart between them. When she saw me approaching she gave the cart a push and shouted, “Well, it's about time!”
When the security guard saw me walking toward them with the pink paper in my hand, he said, “I dare you to come back here, you little snot.” He rammed the cart into one of the metal holding areas and marched back into the store.
I climbed into the car and slammed the door. Shanika was ranting, but I only shook my head. “Just get me out of here,” I pleaded. She nodded, and we drove away.
Confess yourself to Heaven,
Repent what's past, avoid what is to come,
And do not spread the compost on the weeds
To make them ranker.
, Act III, Scene iv, Lines 149-152
E DROVE BACK
to the taekwondo studio in silence. I reached inside my backpack, pulled out the small water bottle, and took a serious gulp of vodka to calm my nerves. Shanika parked the car near the door, but we didn't get out.
“Are you going to tell me what this is all about?” she asked.
I handed her the pink N
She read it carefully before handing it back to me. “Why are they treating you like a shoplifter? Better yet, why are you letting them?”
I took another drink from the small water bottle and handed it to her.
“You stole a little bottle of water?” she asked incredulously.
I shook my head. “Smell it.”
Shanika put it up to her nose. “It smells like alcohol.”
I nodded, taking the bottle from her hands. “I stole a bottle of vodka.”
“What!” Shanika exclaimed. She pounded the steering wheel with both hands. “Are you crazy? You walked in that store with me and instead of takin' care of business, you're stealin' vodka? I am so going to kick your butt!”
I shook my head. “Not today. Over the weekend. That's why they stopped me today. After you left they showed me the surveillance video.” I sighed. For a moment I thought having Shanika literally kick my butt might actually make me feel better. I closed my eyes.
Bam! Bam! Bam! It would feel so good to be knocked senseless.
“You have some serious explaining to do.” She paused. “Sandy, look at me.” I steeled myself and looked directly in her eyes. “Why are you stealing vodka?”
I shook my head and looked away again. “Because I'm not old enough to buy it?” I closed my eyes waiting for her to knife-hand strike me.
Just hit me. We'll both feel better if you do.
“Very funny. I'm serious, Sandy. When did you start drinking?”
Tears filled my eyes, but my throat wasn't swelling shut. I turned back to face Shanika and in that instant, I knew that I was going to tell her. I was going to tell her everything, even if she didn't believe me and even if it meant she never spoke to me again.
I wiped the tears from my eyes and inhaled all of the sniffles from my nose. “The Ides of March,” I said. “March 15 . . . ” I let my voice trail off. Shanika waited. I took a deep breath.
Just say it. Just tell her what happened.
Again I turned away, just to swallow the sob that wanted to leap from my throat.
Shanika put one hand on my shoulder and used the other to gently turn my face back toward her. I didn't resist. “Sandy, what happened on March 15?”
I kept my eyes tightly closed. My jaw trembled. My lower lip quivered. I forced myself to take a deep breath and finally blurted out the awful truth. “Aaron Jackson sexually assaulted me.”
“Oh my God,” Shanika whispered. She dropped her hands into her lap. This time she looked away. Finally, she turned back to me. “Did you tell anyone?”
I shook my head. “I tried to tell Cassie, but Aaron already fed her some line. She thinks I'm making a big deal out of nothing.”
“What about your parents? The police?”
I shook my head. “It happened so fast. Nobody will believe me.” I gave her a weak smile. “I decided it would be better just to act like nothing happened.”
“Well, I believe you,” Shanika declared. “And drinking yourself silly isn't going to help.”
I shrugged my shoulders and took another drink from the bottle.
I leaned my head back and closed my eyes feeling the soothing warmth of the alcohol surging through my arteries.
“I mean it, Sandy. We've got to do something about Aaron.”
I looked at her blankly. “Us? You and me? What can we do?”
“We can call the police.”
The thought made me shiver. “After what just happened? I don't think so.”
“Well, we have to tell somebody.” She looked around the car and then after the window. “You can tell your parents. Your mom's a lawyer. She'll know what to do.”
“Right. My mom represents people like Aaron and gets them off.” I looked at the bottle in my hand. “Plus, if I tell my parents I'll have to tell them everything . . . the drinking . . . the stealing . . .
I'm just not ready to do that. I drained the last of the vodka from the bottle. “I'm really not ready to do that.”
“Well, you can't keep stealing alcohol.”
“I know. I was hoping you might know someone cool who was old enough to buy it for me.”
Shanika shook her head. “That's no kind of a plan.” She took the empty bottle from my hands and crumpled it up. “We can tell my dad.”
“You think your dad would buy me alcohol?” I asked feeling suddenly hopeful.
“Forget the alcohol, Sandy. We can just tell my dad what happened.”
“No way!” I cried. “Besides, even if he believed me, what could your dad do? Break every bone in Aaron's body?”
For a second I thought Shanika was going to cry. She put her hands over her face and rested her head on her palms, eyes covered, elbows propped on her thighs. “My dad would believe you, too,” she said softly. “But I'm not sure what he could do, either.”
Shanika appeared visibly shaken, and it made me uneasy. She looked like she was about to tell me something, but then she shook it off. I waited. When she turned to look me in the eyes, she said, “Sandy, I'm going to tell you something that I'm not supposed to know about.”
A tingling sense of danger crept up my neck. I wished I had another bottle of vodka with me.
“You know Hector Quintana?”
“Well, he was on the wrestling team this year. He's pretty good for a sophomore and made varsity. Right before the first match,
while he was getting dressed in the locker room, there was some sort of hazing incident.”
“What's that got to do with me?” I asked.
“That's what I'm trying to tell you. The hazing thing was really a sexual assault. They took Hector's mouthpiece and shoved it âwhere the sun don't shine.'”
I felt my eyes widen. “Aaron did that to Hector?”
“I don't think Aaron actually did it, but he's the captain of the team, and you know he was behind it.”
I sat there stunned, trying to soak it all in and wondering what it all meant. “So what did Hector do?”
“He washed off his mouthpiece, pinned his opponent, and then quit the wrestling team.”
I nodded. “And signed up for taekwondo.”
“Yeah,” Shanika replied. “Actually, I think he told his parents, and the taekwondo was his parents' idea.”
“Wow,” I said. “I never would have thought that about Hector.”
“Well, you just never know, do you?” said Shanika. “And anyway, this isn't about Hector. This is about Aaron.” She pounded the steering wheel with her fists. “Somebody really needs to do something about that guy!” She sounded so angry. It was the most anger I'd ever experienced in such tight quarters.
I didn't know what to say. “He just thinks he's such a stud,” I offered.
“Aaron's no stud. He thinks he can hide behind that hard-on, but it's not about sex, Sandy. It's really not . . . not the hazing, not the rape, not the assault . . . it's pure violence. The cruelest kind of violence.
It seemed funny the way she said the word
. “I don't think it was really rape, what Aaron did to me. Or to Hector.”