By Annette Hudson
It's odd, isn't it? How there can be one defining moment in your life that will change you forever.
Sometimes it's a small, quiet moment that you will probably overlook, wouldn't even notice upon reflection that that was the moment, the catalyst that would alter your future.
And sometimes it's so fucked up there's no mistaking it.
Mine was the latter.
My life had been on track and was moving in a stately and organised fashion towards the goal I had set myself. I was 23 and I had it all. I had finished uni and had a great job, my family were close to me and gave me all the support I needed, Josh and I were definitely moving towards the proposing stage, I'd bought a townhouse in a nice suburb close to the city, what didn't I have? I was happy, in love and loved.
I remember the day clearly, even if the incident itself is slightly blurry.
It was February, one of those hot bloody Februarys that make you wish summer would hurry up and pass the reins to Autumn. I'd woken up sticky and warm, despite the aircon having been on all night but since it was my RDO, it didn't particularly bother me since I could put on a singlet and a short skirt instead of a trouser suit for work.
My morning routine was the same really. I got up, showered, dressed, had brekky, watched five minutes of appalling morning tellie. What is with those shows? How can they stand there with a perfectly straight face and blatantly flog some 'new' piece of exercise equipment that will work about as well as the last piece of 'new' equipment - put simply, not well at all...
Once I'd had enough of that tripe I'd thrown on my cross trainers, grabbed a bottle of water and set out for an early walk. As I've said, I don't live that far from the city and even though I don't particularly want to go for a brisk walk down Hay Street Mall, I do enjoy the parks that lie on the outskirts of the CBD. Nicely manicured, green and fresh, lots of water features to keep the appearance of being cool despite the mercury rising to the very high 30's, all surrounded by the lush homes and mansions of the wealthy. If there was any place to escape to, this would be it.
It was quite and serene that day. The Christmas break was over and so being just before nine, the streets were deserted. Mum and Dad had done the school dash before heading off to work themselves and the only people out and about seemed to be retirees walking their beloved dogs.
I warmed up by doing a lap of the private harbour that jutts in from the river, crossed the bridge and decided to head into the grounds of one of the large parks to avoid the crowd of nannas that seemed to be converging on the waterfront footpaths. As soon as I entered that lush overgrown space, everything went quiet. The sounds of the small amount of traffic about was muted, no dogs barked, no one spoke at top volume on their mobile phones, it was just me. I felt peaceful and relaxed and ironically enough, safe.
Yes, sometimes I do look back and laugh. Not often, only in my more hysterical moments. But something has to give every now and then and if I didn't let it out that way, well who knows? Maybe I'd end up going postal on someone's arse.
I'm not the world's most dedicated exerciser. I'd guilted myself into the walk only because I'd spent the entire weekend drinking and had figured my RDO was a chance to redeem myself. So once I had relaxed a bit, I slowed my pace, the day was really warming up and I had already worked up a sweat. I kept my mind occupied by imagining the various ways Josh would pop the question. He was an imaginative sort who liked big gestures and so there was no end to the ways he could propose and cause a scene all at the same time.
It came without warning.
A man had been jogging down the path towards me and when he had come even with me he had suddenly stopped, swung back his arm and punched me in the face. I had been looking away slightly and so my cheek bone took the full force of the blow, if he had gotten my nose, I think I would have passed out completely.
I staggered, the pain was immense. In movies and books, people always seem to take punches so easily. An opponent can land several blows and the hero just takes them, waititng for their chance and then they launch into the attack with a myriad of punches and kicks of their own.
I was dazed and groggy and completely stunned. And so I missed my chance to struggle early on, the only chance I'd gotten.
From then on, the story was written in stone.
I was dragged off the path by my jogger, forced through branches and ferns, still not resisting, not even crying out. We had gone quite a way before my senses started to return but still they were groggy and delayed. I started to struggle but my attacker easily resisted my urge to break free. I looked about me, trying to figure out where we were headed when I heard the sounds of voices coming from ahead. There was a split second when hope surged in me, when I thought that perhaps help was just around the corner, but instead of slowing, the man pulled me along faster, moving towards the voices eagerly.
That was the last time I felt hope. It has not returned since that day.
I fear it has abandoned me forever.
At last I was pulled through a patch of harsh branches, the skin on my arms scratching easily. Two other men were waiting there, one tall and lanky, the other slightly shorter but powerfully built.
Those are the only details I remember of my attackers. Nothing else remains of them in my mind apart from the fact they were so ordinary.
There was no preamble, no talking themselves up, no explanations, nothing. Jogger twisted my arms behind my back while Lanky crossed to me. He held a wad of material in one hand and he grabbed my jaw and sqeezed hard until I cried out in pain. He used that chance to shove the material into my mouth and I gagged when he shoved it too far back. That evoked a chuckle and he raised his other hand to show me the small knife he held.
It wasn't a large knife, and it wasn't a spectacular killing machine. The thought that crossed my mind was that it was the same as the one I had in my kitchen at home, the one that fits into the second smallest hole in my knife block.
I still flinched and Jogger pulled me tighter against him, so tight that I could feel his excitement pushing into my lower back. Lanky brought the knife to my singlet and in one quick jerk, sliced right the way down from the neckline to the bottom seam.
He licked his lips and slowly pocketed the knife, then reached towards me. I sqeezed my eyes shut so I didn't see him grab my breast but I felt it as he roughly groped me, twisting my nipple harshly through the lace of my bra.
"That felt nice, didn't it?" Jogger whispered in my ear. I choked on a cry and it was then that my fight reflexes kicked in. I struggled and squirmed, I kicked and twisted. All to no avail. My chance has passed me by five minutes ago and there was no turning back the clock.
My struggles seemed to excite the men even more and the third man came to join in. He and Jogger pulled me to the ground, pinning me down easily. Lanky unzipped his pants and my mind went numb.
That's the only way I can describe it. I guess it knew exactly what was coming and knew that there was no way to escape and so it did the only thing it could to protect itself.
It shut down.
My mind literally shut itself down.
I ceased to struggle and went as limp as possible. I didn't feel the odd blow that one or other of the men would deal me, I didn't hear their remarks, didn't take in any detail that would later help identify them.
The only time I reacted was the first penetration. The sweat from the heat of the day helped slightly, but the pain as Lanky forced himself into me was awful. I felt myself tear and he thrust again and again, and soon there was no resistance for him as my blood provided lubrication.
Time lost all meaning, there was just numbness, occasional pain, and more numbness.
I didn't even know when it was over.
I lay there for hours, lost in the emptiness of my mind, hiding from the fear, not even aware that I was completely alone.
Two school boys found me. They were on their way to their secret hideout when they stumbled across me. They must have only been about ten, no where near old enough to cope with the awfulness of the situation, but really, is anyone old enough for that? One of the boys ran off, screaming for his Mum but the other, bless his little cotton socks, stayed with me. He held my hand, and told me it would all be ok. I didn't have the heart to tell him that he was wrong, nor could I with the gag still in my mouth.
There was an investigation. Two other attacks in the area, both committed by three men led the police to believe they were the same men. No brainer really.
But I was as useless a victim as could be. No information, no descriptions, just numbness. The physical examiner provided more information than I did. Multiple penetrations, at least five times, most likely more, bodily fluids left behind but DNA forensics aren't as developed as they make you believe in the tv shows and so unless the men were caught, that was useless. I needed 44 stitches. I had a minor concussion, multiple abrasions and bruises, two fractured ribs.
But something else was missing.
Inside, there was nothing, just emptiness and numbness. And I still haven't found me. I'm still gone. It's been a year and I'm still just nothing. There is no trace of me anywhere.
On second thought, perhaps that's not quite accurate.
Every now and then, late at night, I scream in horror at what has been done to me.
But I scream silently, in my dreams.