Photo by: Her husband | Sent from: Toronto
The two things I remember most clearly about my old roommate in Montreal are: (1) she had these red slacks she wore every day from first grade to fifth grade and (2) she was raped and (almost) murdered while hitchhiking in France. The red slacks were her favorite pants when she was a kid and she never let go of them. Even as she slept. When she woke up for school every day, the pants were clean because her mother had snuck into her room, washed and dried the pants, and then snuck them back into the bed before morning. As the years went by, the pants aged. When they got holes in the knees, patches were sewn on. When they got too short, cuffs were added. When they became too tight (this is about three years in), the seams were split and extra material was added down the sides. Although my roommate grew out of her pants physically several times over, it took until her tenth birthday before she had grown out of them mentally. We’re both convinced her ability to survive the rape was rooted in the way her mother handled her red-pants obsession. Which brings us to number two. After graduating from college, she started hitchhiking across France by herself, despite the risks. Unfortunately, the risk was real and one of the people that picked her up turned out to be a rapist. He took her home, drugged her food, and raped her on the floor. She was totally awake and could do everything but move or speak. The drugs paralyzed her. After he was done he decided to tie her up, kill her, and throw her in a nearby river. In France, rape is almost as serious as murder, so a lot of rapists end up killing their victims. It’s a gamble that often makes sense to them. After he tied her up, he drove to the river in a park and started to bash her head in with a rock, but she regained strength and began to fight back. He panicked and strangled her so hard he broke a bone in her throat. Nobody knows if she got loose then or if she woke up next to the river much later, but at some point, she ran three kilometers in the dark to a forester’s house deep in the woods. The beautiful part of the story (told by the forester at the trial two years later—she doesn’t remember) is that she was circling his house screaming “courir et ne pas mourir,” which means “to run, not to die.” After the forester heard her screams he called the ambulance and she was rushed to the hospital. She awoke a couple of days later, and with the same determination, immediately told the police where to find him. Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. This is France, after all. After about two years of trials, going back and forth from Canada to France, her assailant got off with a mere assault. She was furious, but at least she was alive. We often wonder how she survived the river. Was it some kind of resolve rooted in the red slacks? Whatever the reasons for her lifesaving fortitude, one thing is certain: If my daughter ever insists on holding on to the same pants for five years, I will have no problem sneaking into her room at night to wash them.