18 | On Crete, Afterwards | September 1992
Three weeks later, almost to the day from Nicole’s rape, Sharon and I arrive on Crete. We have long been planning the trip, never dreaming it would be in the aftermath of this horrible assault. The weeks have been rough for me, and there is massive relief in finally seeing my daughter. Sharon, who has been my best friend and occasional roommate for 15 years, has been a powerful support for me always, and particularly during this time. She loves Nicole as much as I do, so I never feel alone, and being with her on this trip provides much comfort. I couldn’t do it without her. Believe me. And this way Nicole gets double the love and caring. We stay in a beautiful house just a few doors from Nicole and her boyfriend’s place. We rent a car and travel all over the glorious island of Crete, so there is much fun in those weeks; the winding roads, sunny outdoor breakfasts of homemade yogurt and local honey, swimming in the sea, baking cookies in the town’s “communal” oven, eating delicious food, and drinking lots of the local retsina.
But the backdrop, of course, is Nicole and all she has been through. The cut on her hairline has pretty much healed, and aside from a chipped front tooth, there aren’t any visible physical injuries. She really is ok. She is. I take her to a dentist to have her tooth repaired. Doing these small things for her is a welcome antidote to my feelings of helplessness.
We meet her boyfriend and immediately like him. He was away in South Africa visiting family at the time of the rape. If he had been on Crete, they would have been at the beach party together and no opportunity would have presented itself to her rapist. He blames himself for that. And he blames Nicole for having been “careless” about her own safety. “You shouldn’t have gone alone. You shouldn’t have accepted a ride back home with him.” Nicole is young and fancy free, while P., a few years older, is more cautious in general. By this time next year they will have ended their relationship.
Besides hanging out with Nicole and P., and touring the paradise in which we find ourselves, we have another agenda. I have vowed to meet everyone, Nicole’s friends and strangers alike, to express my thanks for saving her life, and for supporting her in all ways afterwards. I want to share my bottomless gratitude.
Mostly, I look forward to meeting Nora and David. Nora hears about the rape hours after Nicole is hospitalized. Having three small children doesn’t stop her from leaving home and travelling to the hospital to comfort her, and wash the blood from her hair. Of course, she is at the top on my list. And David, her husband, who knows my friend Eve and thus provides the thread for our connection from Vancouver, he’s right up there too. They live in a neighboring village, and Sharon and I take a taxi to meet them. It’s wonderful to greet them at their home, with their kids, sit and drink iced tea, and share being together.
They feel like family. I express my gratitude, especially to Nora. How often does a stranger wash the blood from your child’s hair?
Over the following days we meet Jan and his girlfriend, who were with Nicole in the hospital and then took her into their home when she was released, and many other friends who have been such a great support to her.
One evening, at a community party in the neighboring village, I have the good fortune to meet the policeman who had been so compassionate on his visit to her in the hospital. He was there right after the attack and assured her; “Don’t worry, we will catch him. We're on an island, and the ferry docks and airport are under surveillance. He won’t be able to escape.” Indeed, within hours they find him hiding in some bushes by the ferry dock. In his pocket was the $300 he had taken from her. Everyone in the village knew that Nicole had gone to Western Union to receive the money I sent for the rent on our villa, and it followed that he would have been aware of it as well. In fact, that may have been why she was attacked. The rape may have been opportunistic. The perpetrator confessed to the magistrate at the police station, as well as the officer who detained him.
It’s a great blessing to shake the policeman’s hand and thank him. He is modest; the Greek version of “Shucks, just doin’ my job ma’am.”
I want to meet the truck driver who had rescued her, but don’t have the opportunity on this trip. A year from now, after the trial, we will meet and speak.
So many strangers, Greek and ex-pat alike, know about Nicole, about what happened, and feel both upset on her behalf, and admiration for how strong she is in handling the situation.
Nicole’s experience in the aftermath of rape is diametrically opposed to what mine was, back in 1963. I told no one, including my parents, for a full year. Even after I told one friend a year later, in the decades to follow I was very slow at letting people in. Our circumstances were very different. She was assaulted in an intimate island environment where, as a foreigner, she was highly visible. The truck driver, policeman and Nora were locals, and word of what happened spread quickly. I was raped hundreds of miles from home, in an unfamiliar locale, and I had no one to help me. Certainly, I didn't encounter a kind, caring policeman, but instead a Maryland State Patrolman who threatened to rape me. Also, thankfully the times and the rape culture were vastly different for Nicole and me the early 1960s vs. 1992.
By the 1990s rape was being talked about in the media, rape kits existed, female police officers were often dispatched, doctors were instructed in ways of not re-traumatizing victims. In the 1960’s, none of this was in place.
Nicole was immediately taken in by Jan and others in her large friendship group. I suffered silent and alone, and never imagined it could be otherwise. Was it fear, or shame, or ….? I don’t really know. I do know that I am so thankful that her experience was so different than mine.
When Sharon and I are ready to leave Crete, I feel assured that Nicole is well cared for. But still, I ask her if she would like to come back home with us.
“No mom, I’m staying here. Dad said he would pay for me to hire a lawyer, and I want to stay until the trial.”
“But honey, why not leave and let the wheels of justice turn on their own?”
“Mom, I don’t totally trust the wheels of justice. It’s better if I stay to help them along.”
And for the next year, until the trial begins, that is exactly what she does.