Trigger warning: Sexual assault
June 12, 2017
Aaron was known as a business man. He owned several shops around D.C., grocery stores, gas stations, and even a barber shop. He also helped families struggling to survive; he bought a 50 year-old abandoned building and renovated it. Once it was finished he turned it into a youth center. Not just that, Aaron also used the money he made to help families facing eviction: paying their bills, buying food, etc. Many people in the Black community deemed him a hero and dare I say a God. Little did they know, he was only a hero in disguise. Hiding behind his heroic acts was a monster built by the devil himself.
One day after school, Mama asked me to help Aaron with one of his shops. He let one of his employees go because she had got caught stealing money from the register. I begged her to let me stay home, claiming I was not only tired but that I had homework to complete.
“It will only be for an hour or so baby,” she laughed.
“If I don’t turn this homework in tomorrow morning I’ll receive an automatic F.” I cried.
“Just go and if need be I will do your homework for you.”
I was shocked. The woman who was once so strict about school and my grades was offering to do my homework for me.
“Don’t tell anyone!” she yelled as I walked away.
Don’t tell anyone… Those words rang in my ear. Aaron had said them every time he touched me. Every time he raped me, he’d demand I told no one. When I was younger, it was easier to keep it in because I knew no one would believe me.
Mama came in my room at 5:00 to see if I was ready to “work”. I shook my head and went with her to the car. Other than the music playing softly from the stereo, the ride over was quiet. 20 minutes after leaving the house, we arrived at the shop. It was called A’s Grocery. I was thankful when I saw Mama getting out of the car, less time spent alone with Aaron.
“Hi beautiful,” Aaron smiled at Mama as we entered the store.
He reached out to hug me and I jumped back. Mama looked at me with crazy eyes.
“I had gym today and haven’t had the chance to clean up.” I lied.
“Well say that next time.” Aaron replied.
Fuck you. I thought.
Mama stood there, looking clueless. I was growing to despise her. How could she not see what was going on? How could she be blinded by the changes within her own child? She said nothing more other than telling the both of us goodbye. I was alone with Aaron and I was petrified. I knew what was to come and tried to stay as close to the door as possible. Thankfully an elderly woman walked through the door shortly after Mama left.
“Sweetheart, could you help me find something?” she asked.
“Sure. What is it you’re looking for?” I ran to her rescue.
“Beans. I’m making two batches of chili tonight for my grand kids.”
I smiled. I was no longer the outspoken girl I’d been when I was younger. I wasn’t good at making small talk so I just smiled.
“Over here ma’am.” She followed me to aisle four.
“We have chili beans with and without meat. Which would you prefer?”
“Eight cans with meat please.” she replied.
Grabbing eight cans, I put them in her basket. “Will that be all?”
“Actually, is Aaron around? I haven’t seen that boy since he was a kid. I suppose he’s a man now.”
I wanted to run and hide. Everyone knew him! I couldn’t escape his presence even if I tried.
“H..uh he’s…,” I was stuck.
“Ms. Alva?” I hear Aaron’s voice.
“Oh look at you! I knew you’d be tall.” she smiled.
I headed back to the front and waited for Ms. Alva to check out. It took her about 20 minutes and from what I heard, she and Aaron’s mom were close. Aaron’s mother passed away from lung cancer when he was in his twenties so Mama and I never met her. From the stories he’d told us, his father was in and out of his life during his childhood years, which is why he’d devoted so much of his time to taking care of families in need.
From the outside looking in, Aaron was a hero.
My father wasn’t around either so all it took for me to let Aaron in was for him to act like my father. For him to show up and make an effort. He’d made it seem like he wanted me to be his daughter, even though our DNA wasn’t a match. He’d made me feel safe, which is something Mama did but it was different having it from a man. Mama could only do so much and what our family was missing was a provider and protector. Mama let her guard down with him so I felt it was ok that I did the same.
It wasn’t. Everything he’d done in the first year was a ploy to gain my trust. Now here I was, stuck. I had no one to confide in. I couldn’t tell Mama because she was acting as though even the strongest pair of glasses wouldn’t be enough to help her see what was going on. She was worse than a teenage girl who’d fallen helplessly in love with a boy who’s known for using girls then throwing them away like trash. She was dumber than the woman who knows she’s the side chick of a married man, but believes him when he says he’s going to leave his wife. She wasn’t the mother I had from birth to age 5. At this time I didn’t think Mama knew in detail what Aaron was doing all these years but I had a feeling she knew something wasn’t right. My intuition told me she knew something and here she was, still forcing me to be around this monster. She was bending over backwards trying to keep him happy.
After ringing Ms. Alva up, I darted to the bathroom. My hands were shaking and my heart was beating rapidly as I struggled to lock the door. My anxiety was alerting me that it was only a matter of time before the next assault. It’d been two weeks and Aaron hadn’t made his nightly walk down the hall, into my room. He hadn’t busted in on me in the bathroom when Mama left for work nor had he’d touched me while I stood in the kitchen. I was smart enough to know the next time would be worse than all the others. With my heart pounding, I tried desperately to breathe.
“Babygirl?” Aaron called. I watched as the doorknob rattled. I was quiet.
“Open the door.” he said calmly. I stayed still.
“Open the door!” he demanded. A customer must have come in because it got quiet. 20 minutes later he was back.
“Sunitha, open this door. I just want to see how school was.”
“Bullshit.” I whispered.
I sat there on the bathroom floor, praying more customers showed up. It was Wednesday evening and business was slow. Next thing I know the door busts open and he walks in. Standing there he went on and on about how disrespectful I was. As he belittled me he inched closer and closer until he was directly in front of me.
Aaron was over 6 feet tall and I was 5’3. He grabbed me by my arm, forcing me up from the ground.
“Look at me.” I smelled the liquor on his breath. Aaron was a drunk. A high functioning, abusive drunk.
“Just go away!” I yelled. Surprising both him and myself. I never yelled or fought back.
He smiled, kissed me, then threw me to the ground.
The bell in the store rang, alerting us of someone walking in. He left and I stayed there on the floor in fetal position.
A tear dropped on my notebook, bringing me back to the present moment. Writing about the past means reliving it. Most times it’s so painful I react physically by throwing up. I sat on the edge of my bed, awaiting the puking but it never came.
Tomorrow is Tuesday which means visitation. I was a jumble of emotions ranging between fear and hope. I still had no clue if this woman, Coretta Jenkins was legit. Tomorrow I’d find out how she planned to help me. My case is obviously closed. I was senteced to life in prison so again, what could she do? Help me tell my story? Yes. Get me out of prison? Hell no. In a number of hours I’d be face to face with a woman who claims she went through exactly what I did.
I wasn’t tired but I forced myself to lay down. The sooner I fell asleep the sooner visitation day would be here.
June 13, 2017
It was time for visitation. I walked in line with the other women who had someone coming to see them. Once we reached our destination, the guard directed us to our visitors.
“Hi.” I picked up the phone.
“How are you?” Coretta asked.
“As good as I’m going to get,” I said. “You?”
“I’m well. Thank you.”
Although we had something in common, the conversation was extremely awkward. Looking at her, I saw myself. I saw who I could have been if I’d waited a few more years until I could afford to get away from home. She was able to get away and make something of herself.
“As I mentioned in my letter, the law firm I work for specializes in sexual assault cases. My plan is to present your case to my team and propose working to get it re-opened as well as having your sentence challenged. It’s a lot of work and I know you probably have several questions but this is where I plan to start.”
“Do you honestly think they’ll be interested in reopening my case?”
“Honestly, probably not but I assure you I’m going to fight like hell. I’m going to do what I can because I know you’re telling the truth.”
“So what happens if they turn you down? Don’t get my hopes up if you know there’s no chance.”
“Listen Sunitha, I know you were sentenced to life. I understand how confusing and frustrating this is for you, having a stranger ask for your trust. There’s no way you’d just let me in.”
“We don’t trust easily.” I whispered.
“No. We don’t.” she looked at me with compassion.
“If I agree to this, what do I need to do?”
“Well right now, if you agree, all you need to do is sign a few papers which gives me permission to fight for you. After I present it to my firm, it’s a waiting game.”
“Okay. Let’s do this.” I looked away from her.
“Look at me.” she demanded.
I lifted my head.
“If they aren’t interested, I’ll take matters in to my own hands.”
It was quiet for several minutes until Coretta broke the silence. “I wish I had the strength to do what you did. He deserved it. Part of me is glad he’s still alive so that we can take his ass down.”
I chuckled. She made me look at things from a different perspective. Had Aaron have died, he wouldn’t be here to see us fight to get the truth out.
She passed me the papers, and I read each and every page before signing. My hands were shaking as the pen glided across the signature line.
“I’ll be speaking with the firm this Friday and will be back next Tuesday to see you.” she smiled.
“Thank you, Coretta.” I smiled back.
“No. Thank you.”
I hung up the phone and waited for one of the guards to walk me back to my cell.
Aaron was nothing more than a hero in disguise. Whether I’ll get closure or not was the thought that was driving me crazy…but either way, I was ready to tell my story.
To be continued…
Letter Four: Back to the Past – 10/31/18
Image credit: Photo by Tess on Unsplash
- What did you like best about Letter three?
- Do you think Coretta’s law firm will accept the proposal?
- If they choose to fight it, does having the case appealed/reopened sound realistic?
- If so, what would you like to see done to Aaron?
- Will Sunitha’s letters help her tell her story if given a chance?