Trigger Warning: Sexual Abuse
November 11, 2018
The videos Coretta and I have been recording are what got us here. Yesterday we sat down to record our final video. I spoke of the night I tried to kill Aaron but we had to cut it short due to intense flashbacks. Over the past five months, Coretta has worked diligently to get my case reopened and finally, all her hard work has paid off. Today, I sit down in front of the same people who deemed me a liar. Today, I get to tell my story to the world.
I chewed the inside of my mouth as I waited in the lobby of the same court house I’d been in just a few years ago. Two police officers stood on both sides of me. My heart began racing as I looked up to see Coretta approaching me.
“They will be ready in 10.” she says.
I take several deep breaths, “I-I can’t do this Coretta.”
“Yes you can.”
I shook my head.
“We have prepared tirelessly for this moment. Everything you need is already within you. All you need to do is tell your story. Tell the truth.” I knew she was right but the tightness in my chest convinced me otherwise. My anxiety was awake and in full effect. I was certain I’d have an attack at any moment.
Coretta grabbed my hands and looked into my eyes. “I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you that this is going to be easy. I’m not telling you that when you go in there, everything will go as we’ve hoped or that Aaron will be arrested. But I do know that, regardless of the outcome, this is worth it. Everything I’ve put you through these past few months was all so that the to truth could be told and to show everyone exactly who Aaron is. You have the pages from your journal and I even got some of the videos we shot approved. So, I’m telling you, you can do this.”
At that moment, Coretta felt like the best friend I never had. I had everything I needed. I’m going in there with one goal in mind: to tell my truth. Coretta helped me see things from multiple perspectives but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see Aaron pay.
“They are ready,” a man from inside the courtroom informs us.
“Thank you.” Coretta smiles at him. She stands in front of me and the officers, not missing a beat, walk me into the room. All eyes are on me as I make my way to the front. Suddenly, I freeze. Staring at me with her big, brown eyes is Mama. I’m stuck with my feet planted firmly on the floor. My mouth feels as though its been attacked by a cactus and my head is spinning as fast as a tornado.
Coretta stands beside me giving me a slight push in the direction of our table. I finally break free of my trance and finish the short walk. Once seated she assures me she had no idea my mother would be present.
“It’s ok.” I lied.
Although I knew Aaron would never be allowed in the same courtroom as me, I somehow imagined him being here. I couldn’t believe Mama was here though. Does this mean she still loves me? Or is she only here to ensure Aaron doesn’t get thrown under the jail.
Coretta and the judge speak for several minutes before I’m called to the stand. She gives me one more quick pep talk and I walk to meet my fate. It’s quiet and all eyes are on me. I know I should start but my mouth isn’t moving.
“We don’t have all day.” the judge breaks the silence.
With trembling hands, I reach for one of the notebooks placed in front of me and begin reading:
December 13, 2014
I just finished crying. Every day after my last class, I spend 20 minutes in the bathroom crying my eyes out. I’m terrified of going home. Mama texted me and told me she was staying late at work for a meeting which means it’ll be just me, Aaron and Simone at home. The last time she stayed late, Aaron raped me for an hour straight. I only know the length because I had just started watching a movie when he came in. I don’t know how much more of this I can take. I don’t know how much longer I can live with what he’s doing to me. I’m scared of him. I’m scared that he’ll begin doing the same to my little sister and I want to tell Mama but I can’t. She loves his dirty drawers. She loves him more than she loves her children. If she loved us, he’d no longer be here. While I know Aaron’s routine, my mind has not and will not ever get used to what I endure on a weekly basis. Tonight, when I get home, the first chance he gets, I become his victim once more.
I glanced up at Mama as I finished my the last few words from a journal entry I’d written four years ago. Her mouth was hanging wide up with tears streaming down her face. She finally knew.
“Thank you Sunitha. Can I ask you a couple questions?” Coretta looked at me.
“When did the sexual abuse first begin?”
“It started when I was six. About a year after Aaron and my mama met.”
“And how often would you say it was happening?”
I fumbled with my hands before stating, “Weekly.”
“Thank you Sunitha. Your Honor, if it’s alright I’d like to display the videos we discussed.”
“Go ahead.” the judge responds.
“Ladies and gentlemen, to the left of you, you will find a series of short clips Sunitha and I have recorded over the past few months. These videos not only tell the story of what happened to Sunitha Drew but they show us exactly who Aaron Michaels was and who he still is.”
She hits play and I’m suddenly facing a screen of flashbacks. She shows clips from each video we recorded and by the end several people in the room are in tears. So am I. Once she stops the clips, I watch as Mama gets up and runs for the door. I’m overcome with sadness but relieved that she heard every word.
The male judge speaks, “Ms. Drew, is it true that you neglected to tell anyone about what was happening to you?”
He cuts me off, “So wouldn’t it be fair to say that if you would have asked for help long ago, this would have stopped and you wouldn’t be facing life in prison for attempting to kill a man? In those videos you speak of wanting to help your younger sister. Telling someone would have been the best way to do that.”
I sat there, calming myself before speaking. “Have you ever been raped?” I whispered. “Have any of you ever been raped? Have any of you ever been taken advantage of? Have any of you ever had something so terrifying happen to you and as badly as you wanted to disclose it to another human being, the only thing you could tell it to was a piece of paper? I was a child when it started. A joyful and innocent 6-year-old girl who had her world flipped upside down. I watched my mama give birth to another joyful and innocent baby, my younger sister. I did what I felt was necess-”
“That’s enough.” the judge stated. “Ladies and gentlemen, court will resume tomorrow at 10:00AM.”
Stepping down from the stand, teardrops soiled my shirt. Coretta hugged me without saying a word. While I was still up on the stand, I noticed Mama stepping back into the room. I wanted desperately to run over to her but what would I say? There was no time to think because she was walking over to me.
“Sunitha.” she cried. “I am so sorry. I should have known. All those times you begged me not to leave you alone, I should have known. I should have known that his story about why you tried to kill him wasn’t the truth. It’s not much now, but I am so sorry, baby.”
I stared at her for a minute before replying, “Yes, you should have known.” I turned to Coretta and the two officers and told them I was ready to go.
“Tomorrow I have to do it all again?” I questioned.
“Kind of. Tomorrow it’ll be more about the judge coming to a decision.”
“I felt attacked. The judge basically overlooked everything I said in those videos.”
“It seemed that way, but I saw his face when you were reading your journal and again when the videos were playing. The expressions left on everyone’s face told me one thing: Your truth was felt.”
I smiled, “My truth.”
Next, Coretta asked a question we were both wondering. “How do you feel about your mother being present?”
“Part of me is still shocked that she was there and the other is happy that I was able to open her eyes. Her apology felt genuine but I couldn’t bring myself to say anymore than I did.”
On the bus ride back to the prison, my head was spinning. I couldn’t believe I’d challenged the judge like that. I couldn’t believe how powerful my words were. I still couldn’t believe Mama was there.
I was one day away from finding out if I’d receive closure and justice.
To be continued…