The Silver Locket
Esperanza Vargas is happily walking along a path that overlooks the Hudson River, feeling safe because she’s on a college campus, when suddenly from behind her a strong arm locks around her neck and chokes her unconscious. The next thing she knows, she’s being raped by four guys, who have blindfolded her, gagged her, and stripped her naked. When they finally leave her, she reaches for the silver locket that she wears on a chain around her neck, but it’s no longer there, and she can’t find it. The missing locket eventually turns up in an unexpected way and offers the possibility of a reconciliation.
On Monday after her math class she was on her way to the cafeteria when out of nowhere a girl stopped her and urgently said: “We need to talk.”
The girl was a head taller than her, with pulled-back hair, a long face, and intense blue eyes.
“I don’t know you,” she stammered, feeling as she had when that boy stopped her.
“My name is Wendy,” the girl said. “Do you have a class now?”
“No. I’m going to the cafeteria for lunch.”
“I have pizza in my room. Come on, let’s go there.”
Wendy put an arm around her and turned her back in the other direction. She didn’t want to go with this girl, but for some reason she was in her power.
“You’re Esperanza Vargas, right?” the girl said as they left the building.
“How do you know me?”
“From your picture in Facebook.”
She had posted a profile on Facebook when she was in high school, along with every other girl her age. But she hardly went there anymore, feeling that she had outgrown it.
“You look younger in that picture, but you haven’t changed much.”
As they headed toward the dormitory Esperanza asked: “Can you tell me what this is about?”
“I will as soon as we have some privacy.”
They didn’t talk again until they were in Wendy’s room. It was on the same floor of the dormitory as Griselda’s room, which reassured Esperanza. If anything happened, she could run down the hall and get help from her friend.
The room was dominated by a desktop computer whose screen was almost as large as the television screen in the student lounge.
“Please sit down,” Wendy said, motioning toward one of the two chairs.
Esperanza sat down, wondering if this girl watched movies on her computer. As well as playing games on his computer, Charro watched movies.
“I know what those guys did to you,” Wendy said without a preamble.
“What do you mean?” Esperanza asked, hoping it wasn’t what she thought it was.
“I know they raped you.”
“Oh, my God.” She held her hand against her mouth as if to stop herself from throwing up. “How did you find out?”
“They made a video of the whole thing, which they posted on a website for gang rapes.”
“A video? Then everyone will know about it.”
“Everyone doesn’t watch videos of gang rapes,” Wendy said. “But people who watch it will tell other people about it, and it’ll go viral.”
“Dios, por qué has hecho esto a mí?”
“I don’t know why. You’re a good girl, and you did nothing to deserve it.”
“You understand Spanish?”
“I spent a year in a barrio in Los Angeles doing social work.”
Trying to pull herself together, Esperanza asked: “How did you find out about the video?”
“I monitor those websites for the purpose of identifying guys who commit gang rape.”
“Does the video show their faces?”
“No, they were careful about that. But they made the mistake of showing your face before they gagged and blindfolded you.” Wendy reached for something and handed her a photo that showed her lying on her back unconscious.
Esperanza looked at the picture. They hadn’t yet undressed her, but she knew what followed, and she covered her eyes to block it out.
“I got that picture from the video. It’s definitely you.”
“No me queda nada por qué vivir.”
“I don’t agree. You do have something to live for.”
“What?” Ahead of her she could see only a bleak future of mortification and disgrace.
“Bringing those guys to justice.”
“I don’t want to bring them to justice. I want to go back to what I was before.”
“You can’t go back. You have to go forward.”
“But I didn’t see their faces,” she argued, “and if the video doesn’t show their faces, how would you identify them?”
“Did you hear their voices?”
She had definitely heard their voices, but she didn’t want to admit it. She didn’t want to get caught up in this girl’s mission. “I might have, but I don’t remember them.”
“I think you do remember them.”
She was conscious of the guy who had stopped her in the hall. She remembered his voice when he had said he didn’t want to do it. To buy more time to think about it, she asked: “Why did you tell me about the video?”
“I wanted you to know about it, so you’d be prepared. And I wanted you to join my mission to stop the violence against women on college campuses.”
“Why is that your mission?”
“Like you, I was a victim of it. Before I went and did social work,” Wendy explained, “I was a student at a big university. You know, with fraternity houses. And I went to a party at one of the houses. I had a few drinks, but I didn’t get drunk, and I didn’t invite them to carry me up to a room and tie my hands and feet to the posts of a bed and rape me. I lost count after the fifth, but there were a lot of them.”
“Did they blindfold you?”
“No. They didn’t care if I saw their faces. And they didn’t gag me, so I could scream. But no one came to help me.”
“I’m sorry,” Esperanza said, feeling the pain of the other girl.
“I went to the dean of students. I had their names, and I could positively identify them. But they were football players, so the college didn’t want to touch them. I had a hearing, but the verdict was that I’d consented to what they did.” With a bitter laugh Wendy added: “Can you imagine a girl consenting to have sex with all those guys?”
“So what did you do then?”
“I went to the police. But that was more than a week later, and they didn’t find any evidence of rape, so they didn’t take me seriously.”
“Did people on campus know what had happened?”
“Oh, yeah. They didn’t make a video of it, but they made sure that everyone knew. And I couldn’t bear the way guys looked at me when I walked by them, so I dropped out.”
“Did you feel it was your fault?”
“Of course I did. We’re programmed to feel it’s our fault if anything like that happens. Somehow we asked for it.”
“But you didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t either.”
“I know. There’s no logic to it.”
“Do you still feel it was your fault?”
“No, I got over that. And you will too,” Wendy added.