I took to the road like a bird its wings shortly after its mother teaches it to fly. I walked down the road, toward the nearest bus stop and stuck my thumb in the air. One-hundred bucks and a trucker later, I was headed toward my next destination—obviously, here.
I didn’t initially intend to stop here. I didn’t. What I’d wanted to do was to cruise around and try to make a couple hundred more bucks before I started off again. At the time, my goal had been to accumulate enough money to open a bank account and to establish myself somewhere where I could get an ID, a job, etcetera. However, when the trucker dropped me off at the nearest gas station and said he was supposed to pick someone else up and that I’d be suspicious if I stayed along, I had little more to do than hop out of the truck and start heading into town.
You’re probably wondering, and yes, John—this is it. This is where it happens. Happened, I should say, because it isn’t happening over and over again. It happened once, and it’ll never happen again, because I’ll never allow it to happen again and because I will never walk alone at night, not anymore, not in that part of town or any suspicious part of any town.
With that being said, this is what happened the night I was beaten, raped and left for dead:
I was walking down the street with my backpack over my shoulders and my eyes set on finding a place to sleep. I’d known I was in a bad part of town based on the way people would look at me whenever I passed them. A woman pulled her blinds shut when I walked past her window. A group of children playing in a front yard were ushered into the house by a wary father. An elderly woman smoking on her porch looked at me, tilted her head up, then grabbed her cane and walked into her home. It seemed to be the perfect setup for something bad to happen: Little Dakota Hammel, ex-boyfriend and now full-fledged traveling prostitute, is walking alone at night while trying to find a place to sleep. Unbeknownst to him, something is about to happen. A monster is about to come out of the darkness and change his life forever.
And it did.
The black sedan seemed to morph out of the shadows in the alley before me.
At the time, I wasn’t sure what was happening. I thought maybe the alleyway led to a group of apartment complexes and that the sedan was simply leaving, or that maybe someone had detoured through a broad alley so they wouldn’t have to take the long way to wherever they were going. However, when the doors opened and five guys came out, I knew I was in trouble.
“Hey,” the one guy had said.
“Hey,” I’d replied.
That’s when someone pulled a switchblade out of their pocket and another one dragged me into the alley.
I don’t think I have to describe exactly what happened. It’d be too graphic and gruesome, and I know for a fact that you don’t want to read about what they did to me. All I’ll say is that after they asked if I had any money, and after they painstakingly tried to navigate the several pockets on my backpack for the wallet I’d had hidden in a secret pocket in the inside of my pants, someone punched me hard enough to knock me out, undressed me, then started having their way with me. The five guys took turns beating and fucking me until they had their way. At the end of it, someone pulled a baseball bat out and hit me in three places: my chest, my ankle and my arm. I’m surprised he didn’t crush my bones with that bat. He probably would have if the guy who’d been driving hadn’t stopped him.
After all that time—after beating and fucking me for however many odd hours they did—they finally stopped.
I didn’t believe in a God until that moment, when a cloud of peace came down at the moment the guy stopped beating me with the bat. I’m not sure if the God exists, but it doesn’t matter, and I’m starting to stray away from the point.
When the bat stopped raining down, everything stopped.
“He’s good, dude,” the leader guy said. “We got off. Let’s go.”
That’s what happened that night.
I saw the sedan leave before I passed out.
The following morning, I woke to the sound of someone walking toward me in the alley.
You know who that was, John?
It was you.
You saved me that morning.
When you took me in your arms and helped me into your car, when you drove me home and offered me shelter, you did the one thing a dozen other people probably wouldn’t have—saved me.
I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but I love you. You’re the greatest friend and one of the best men I’ve ever known. It’s because of you that I’m alive right now.
Thank you for helping me.
Thanks for helping me fight this until the very end.
It’s December eighteenth. Eighteen days after John told me that I would start fighting this thing until the very end, I’ve conquered just that. It’s kind of crazy to think that I’ve been here for forty-seven days, but it’s even crazier to think that I’m almost completely healed after such a short amount of time.
I’m not sure what else to say.
John hasn’t read my journal. I think he’s been swamped with pre-Christmas clients and has been too tired to read my journal because of it. That’s all right though. I’m ok with it. Right now, I’m just happy that I accomplished what I set out to do—to fight it, the memory, to conquer it and to start to put it behind me. Now that I have, I’m not sure what else I have to do.
I guess John will give me the next step.
I hope that now that this journal is over, it won’t become meaningless.
I hope I’ll keep writing.
I hope something will keep me going for however much longer I’ll be here.
Six days until Christmas. John asked me if I wanted anything. I could only tell him that I wanted to stay longer.
“You know you can,” John had smiled.
I learned a long time ago that Christmas wasn’t just about presents.
When I was eleven and mom died, Dad took me to see Santa at the mall and I asked him for only one thing: For my mom to come back to life.
Obviously, that didn’t happen; and obviously, I stopped believing in Santa after Christmas day came and my mom wasn’t under the tree. She wasn’t sitting there, smiling with a camera as I unwrapped my presents, and she wasn’t hidden in a box, a mummy in a brightly-wrapped sarcophagus waiting for the tree robber to defile her grave. No. My mother was gone. She wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
That year—on my eleventh Christmas—I learned that Christmas wasn’t about presents. I would have learned that it was about spending it with the people you loved had Dad not gotten drunk and passed out on the couch, only to rise later that night with a hangover that brought out the bad side in him.
It’s sad to think that I have such a bad memory of the holiday. Oh well though. I guess there’s not much I can do about it.
I’m starting to run out of ideas, so I guess I’ll start counting down the days until Christmas.
John’s been at work more and more the past few days. Maybe it’s because of the holidays. People say the holidays are bad for violence. People drink, get riled up, set off fireworks, pull out guns to ‘salute the Big Guy up in the sky.’ I’ve heard a few noises since yesterday. Maybe people are counting down just like I am, or maybe people are ending it so they don’t have to count down anymore.
To John—hopefully you won’t have to go into work within the next few days. I’d hate to think that you have to work to the bone right before the holidays.
I can’t believe I’ve been writing in this journal for fifty days. It’s already more than halfway full. If I keep writing at this rate, I’m going to need another journal come time for the eightieth day.
Four days until Christmas.
A part of me is starting to miss how much snow we used to have at home. Another part of me is thankful for the temperate weather and the fact that it’s not freezing cold here right now. Regardless, it’s a bit different, not being all the way back—well, there, I guess I should say.
It doesn’t really matter where I came from, not anymore. I’m here now. That’s all that matters.
Three days until Christmas.
John’s been coming home the past few days dead-tired and with lines running through his eyes. “So many people,” he’d said, “so little time.”
He then proceeded to pass out in the recliner for three hours.
Now, as of writing this, he’s in the kitchen scrounging up some dinner for us, but he’s moving like a slug. His shoulders are hunched like he’s hurt his back and his movements are so slow he seems like a sloth navigating its way through the Amazon rainforest. Not that I’m sure sloths live in the Amazon—I’d imagine they would, but I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to look that up sometime.
Even if sloths don’t live in the Amazon, there’s one in the house right now, swearing at the burners for not lighting when they should. I guess I should stop and offer some help before he burns himself.
Two days until Christmas.
I’m not sure what all to say. I mean, Christmas has always been a weird thing for me, at least for the past seven years. After Mom died, the magic seemed to die with her. Sure, there were always presents under the tree, and Dad still had a few years of sanity left before his head became completely consumed by the alcohol, but—
I don’t know.
I’m having a hard time writing this. I never imagined Christmas would be this hard, but I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because I don’t have a lot of focus right now.
Maybe John will give me a prompt.
I guess I’ll end this here. There’s no point in trying to summon magic when there isn’t any left in the world.
John wants me to tell him about the best Christmas present I’ve ever received. He said it doesn’t have to be a long entry, but seeing as how it’s Christmas Eve and the holiday is almost upon us, he wants to inspire a little cheer in me, even if it might bring up some past memories.
So, without further ado, here we go:
The best Christmas present I ever received was a stuffed deer when I was seven. That day is still vivid in my head, even though it’s eleven years later. I remember waking up, jumping out of bed and running into my parent’s room only to barrel-dive on top of both of them. I scared my mother half to death. She screamed, then laughed when she saw me wiggling between her and my father, who laughed and shrugged me off with half-sleep disregard. My mother asked me if something was wrong. I only said it was Christmas.
It’s Christmas, Mom! I’d cried.
“I know!” she replied. “What did Santa bring you, Dakota?”
I hadn’t run into the living room to see if anything had appeared during the night. My mother’s few simple words had me running from the bedroom.
To keep this entry down a little bit, I’ll explain what happened in a nutshell: I opened all the presents in the room, from the largest to the smallest, until I had only one left. I hadn’t noticed this one at first because it hadn’t been under the tree—it’d been sitting atop a coffee table, completely unannounced and almost missed entirely.
You missed one, my mother said.
I’d unwrapped it with such fervor that the paper came off instantly.
When I opened the box, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a stuffed deer, fresh and new with beady black and brown eyes.
On my seventh Christmas, my favorite present was a stuffed deer, one which has sat and probably still continues to sit in my room back home. I’ll probably never see him again (I’d named him Rudolph, because I believed him to be one of Santa’s reindeer, even though he was only a regular white-tailed deer,) but I guess that doesn’t matter.
That was my favorite Christmas present.
It still is.
My favorite Christmas.
This morning, when I woke up and walked into the kitchen, John pushed a small, gift-wrapped box across the table toward the chair I usually sat in and told me Merry Christmas.
This is for you, he’d said, just after I started saying that I didn’t want or need anything from him. I don’t care if you don’t want anything. I got this for you.
I couldn’t argue with him. John was my savior, my Godsend, I guess you could say. So, in ways Christ-like and whatever else you can manage, I seated myself in my usual spot, unwrapped the present and opened the box.
Inside that small, little box was a gold-colored necklace, a heart with a stag standing proudly in the center in it.
“I found it at the store,” John said, “when I went out to get last-minute groceries.”
There’s little I can say about it. I feel guilty for not getting him anything, but I guess I really can’t. I didn’t go to the store. I didn’t have any way to get him anything. When I mentioned this, John told me not to worry about it, that Christmas was for kids and I was a kid one last time when I was nineteen, but still—
I can’t help but feel touched.
I am touched, actually.
To John—thank you. You’ve made this one of the best Christmases ever.
It snowed Christmas night.
It looks beautiful outside.
I’m trying to keep these journal entries longer than a few choice words, but right now, it doesn’t feel particularly easy. It’s like I’m trying to force things out when they shouldn’t be forced out to begin with. Is that wrong? To think that your journal is winding down to a close after such a short period of time?
I don’t know.
John and I are going to the store today. He says he wants to get a few things for me, particularly a cell phone, as the one at the house has been acting funky and he wants me to have a little more independence. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll have to write in this, but I figure I’ll stop before I get any further.
John’s ready to go. He just said so.
I’ll stop here.
Another day without much to talk about. I got a cell phone yesterday and a few pairs of new clothes. John’s finally caught up on the last few pages of my journal and says that he’s incredibly proud of me, even going so far as to give me a hug when I woke up this morning.
It’s nice—to be hugged by someone who means it. It makes me wonder whether or not Josh ever meant it.
I probably shouldn’t be thinking about that. It’ll only upset me if I get myself too far into it and try to figure out what exactly I’m feeling.
I guess I’ll stop here.