top of page





December 24, 2002

     Opening the one eye not swollen shut, my matted eyelashes stretched, finally pulling apart. I gagged. My head pounded, the blood in my brain beating against the temples of my bruised forehead with each rapid beat of my heart. I struggled to move against the restraint, but the ache of each muscle cried out in misery and I realized every part of me was battered—every part of me was broken. The sting of raw skin rubbed against the coarse rope around my bloodied wrists. I thrust my tongue against the filthy rag that gagged me and tasted a mixture of salt from my own perspiration and dried blood from my cracked and bloated lips. The room smelled like death—my death. Between my semi-conscious state and the total blackouts, I estimated thirteen. Thirteen days since I was knocked in the head and pulled into a van along the side of the road. I was walking to the corner gas station from my karate class to get a Slurpee. It was the plan each Thursday night––karate from three to five, Slurpee from the Seven Eleven, then wait for the pickup promptly at five fifteen when he’d pull into the parking lot and give me a thumbs up. It was his way of making sure I was okay and he always expected one in return. Always.

     I stared out the window and watched the snowflakes begin to fall. Melting as soon as they hit the glass pane that separated me from the world, it was at least something to do in between the beatings and the…whatever. It was Christmas and even though I had no idea where I was in relation to home, I could see the lights and decorations twinkling in the distance.

     I watched the falling snow and longed to be with my dad. We’d been inseparable since Mom died three years ago. If he didn’t find me soon, I knew it was my mom I’d be seeing—in heaven.

     There had to be a nationwide search—my dad was a cop—the kind of cop who’d earned the nickname, The Terminator. I knew he had an entire team looking for me. The question was, would I be found before they killed me?

     Tears rolled down my cheeks and the saltiness stung my battered face, reminding me of the night I woke to this nightmare. Stripped naked, the Russian men in black ski masks had tied my wrists and ankles to the dirty bed. They rarely spoke in English, but I knew enough Russian to understand them thanks to my grandma who forced me speak to her only in Russian.

     The first night, their leader, Rodya, kissed me on the forehead saying, Ubit' devochku. Yeye otets svin'ya. Kill the girl. Her father’s a pig. I spit in his face and he punched me in the cheek, splitting my eye. “YA budu videt' vas v ad,” he shouted, wiping my spittle from his cheek. I’ll see you in hell.

When he’d had his way with me, he turned me over to the others to be raped. The more I fought, the more they punched my face and battered my body. By the fourth night, I quit fighting. Each taking their turn, they violated me. Over and over, their sweaty flesh pressed into me—their fat stomachs flapping against my thin frame. I cried at first but now—now I close my mind to it. I’m no longer myself. I no longer exist.

     I always thought I’d lose my virginity on prom night or in the back of an SUV after a field party with a bonfire and the hottest football player at school. I’d even saved it for that guy—someone I didn’t know yet and a moment just like that. I thought of my friends and what they must be doing or what they might think of me, and the reality hit me. I may never see my dad or my friends again. I closed my swollen eyes tightly and tried not to think at all.

Each time the masked men came to me, I went to a place in my head—a place they couldn’t follow. My captors were slowly killing my body but they weren’t going to break my mind. My dad had taught me to be strong and my two years of karate training had taught me a greater awareness of that inner strength. Dad always said, “Never be a victim, Gip.” It was his pet name for me. I hated it, but I’d give anything to hear him say it to me now. I’d happily sit through one of his many lectures on self-worth or doing the right thing. Instead I was here—gagged, bound, bloodied and bruised.

     One thing was for certain—they wouldn’t keep me alive much longer. My dad didn’t have any money to speak of, so there would be no reason to ask for a ransom and men like this didn’t stay in one place for too long. I’d learned of the ugliness that came with crime from the many dinner table discussions growing up. I’d wondered in the past few days if they knew who my dad was. If they had any idea the wrath that would rain down upon them regardless of whether I lived or died.  In the end I knew from what my father had told me, they wouldn’t take me with them. Perps never take the victim along. And they wouldn’t let me go. I was collateral damage at best, a cliché at worst.

     I began to cry silently, each quiet gasp of air a prayer for help. Gagging myself on the dirty bandana that was keeping me silent, I turned my head from the window. Even watching the snowfall was too painful, and for the first time I thought dying might be a blessing. I prayed to leave the world. I prayed for my mom to come and save me if Daddy couldn’t.

     The familiar Sports Center tune was playing loudly in the other room as my captors smoked, cracked jokes and shouted at each other over the ringing volume of the TV. Doing my best to find the untouchable place in my head, I tried to relax my throat. It was the only way I could keep from gagging and breathe through my mouth at the same time. My nose was clogged with snot and blood from the beatings. I knew I was feverish, sweating through the night as I lay sprawled out without a blanket, shivering in the cold drafts of the ramshackle house.

     A frigid breeze swept across my nakedness, pulling me from my own trance and back into the world around me. I turned my head away from the door, not wanting to see the next man who would ogle me, naked, open and tied to the bed. I acted unconscious, hoping whoever was arriving would leave me alone.

But whom was I kidding? They weren’t going to stop until I was a lifeless carcass ready for a shallow grave.

When I didn’t hear footsteps, I strained to see what was coming. Blinking to refocus, I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was my father. His eyes glistened with tears and he nodded, placing his finger across his lips. It was my signal to not react—to stay quiet.

     I mustered a relieved smile and felt my chapped lips crack at the corners as I gave him a thumbs up. He could tell I was beaten, but alive. Still silent, I began to sob, my shoulders heaving with each breath I took. And then he was gone.

     “Poshel na khuy!” I jumped at each of the three shots fired, my body straining against the ropes and screamed through the gag in my mouth at the thought of Daddy lying dead in the next room. Suddenly it was quiet. No shouting, no ESPN.

     I did my best to leverage my weight against the painful strain of the ropes, gripping the rough twists in my fingers as three more shots rang out in the silence of the broken down house.

     Dad rushed back through the door, his sweaty face flushed with tears and pure anger. He covered my nakedness with a dirty blanket from the corner of the room. “Sweetheart,” he gasped. Showing emotion he couldn’t control and I’d never seen before, he kept repeating, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

     The SWAT team broke down the back door and for a moment it seemed as if a bulldozer was tearing down the house. Dad shouted orders to them while pulling the gag from my mouth. He carefully cut my hands and feet from the bed and I fell into his arms, relieved, devastated and unable to make a coherent sound.

     I barely noticed the men in their full battle gear as they stormed the house. I closed my eyes and felt the strong arms of my father around me as he carried me away from the nightmare.

     The harsh winter took my breath away as it hit my nakedness in a blast of frigid air. I turned my face into Dad’s chest. A gurney outside the house waited for my limp and battered body. He placed me on the white sheet as though I might break and I used what little strength I had left to hold my pinky finger in the air for Dad to grasp with his own.

     The snow floated from the sky like angels sent to bless me and as the wet flakes hit my bloodied cheeks, I gave my dad the only thing I could muster—a nod. By the look on his face I knew he was different—he knew the same of me.

     Only when the gurney lifted into the ambulance did he let go. “I’m right here sweetheart. I’m not leaving you.”

     I gripped the warm blankets between my bloody fingers and pulled them tightly to my chin. Taking a deep breath, my ribs ached and the space around me began to spin. I closed my eyes and welcomed the quiet I’d longed for in my head—the dark serenity of nothingness.

bottom of page