The charge is rape

In the heat of a summer night last year, a crime was committed. A trial followed, and finally, a weeks ago, a verdict was reached.

She heard a commotion to her right, in the direction of Broadway. She paid no attention until someone called her name.
  • She heard a commotion to her right, in the direction of Broadway. She paid no attention until someone called her name.
  • Image by Christine Kenner

No dwelling escapes coincidence. There's a thick-walled apartment building in Hillcrest, one with just enough character in its tiles to make the rest of it look better for being rundown, where I lived for a summer six years ago. In the apartment nearest the street lived a quiet young couple with a baby. Whether they were home or away, they left their windows, front and back, open to the air, and every day they put their baby on a big pink blanket on the lawn next to the sidewalk. Most everyone thought these were reckless things to do, but what could one expect? The couple were Hare Krishnas. No one had much to do with them. When they moved out, they opened everything in the house, right down the drawers and cupboards.

I don't know how many renters passed through that place before Marjorie James moved in a few years ago. She was an art history student at UCSD and word on weekends as a cook and all-purpose assistant at Central Manor, the live-in mental hospital at Fourth Avenue and Cedar Street. James looks English. Her arms are porcelain, white and shiny like that, and her dressy clothes are plaids and tweeds. She is friendly and polite, which a deep, sleepy laugh, but when she is the least bit annoyed, her language turns grammatical and old-fashioned, and even her accent grows more stately, as though from a different age. Her father is Canadian, actually, and her mother is a former dancer and actress from Kansas City. They were married to the tune of "God Save The King."

James dislikes talking about her childhood because she says it sounds privileged, but wasn't. When her father's work in chemistry took the family abroad, she was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland; when they settled in Massachusetts, she went to boarding schools in the suburbs; when it was time to go to college, she attended McGill University, her father's alma mater; and when she had earned her degree in art, from Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, she attempted suicide, underwent analysis and shortly thereafter converted to Buddhism and moved to California.

"I remember closing the screen door," she said, describing the ordeal that took place in her apartment. "I latched the screen door in two places, but decided to keep the back door open to get some air. It was about ten o'clock on August 28 — a Tuesday — and I'd worked all day running the slide projector for a convention at the Town and Country. I'd gotten the job through UCSD. (When you're a teaching assistant in art history, you know how to use a slide projector._ Anyway, I had to get up at five-thirty. I remember I left the bedroom door open.

"The next thing I knew, there was someone's hand on me, someplace either on the back of my head or on my neck. I screamed. I was an awakening-from-sleep, sort of nightmare scream.

"I could sense him kneeling next to me. His voice came from behind and slightly to the right. He reached up and turned on the drafting-table lamp that's attached to the wall above my bed. I saw his bare, black forearm. Then I think he asked me, 'Is that your natural color hair?' and I said, 'No.'

"'What is your natural color hair?

"And I said, 'Dishwater.'

"Then he started to reach under me, and at that point I kind of separated my mind from my body. I was on my stomach, and he told me to turn over, and I said, 'Let me just stay here.' He wasn't forceful and I didn't try to find out if he would be. I remember I started chanting, inwardly; with all my life I chanted. It only lasted a couple of minutes, then he got up and told me to get in the shower, and he went into the other room.

"I went to the bathroom and turned on the shower, but I didn't get in. All I did was turn the light on and stand there for a minute; then he opened the door and told me to get in the shower. He obviously must have looked at me, but I didn't see him. I think I didn't want to. I got in the shower with my nightgown on and turned on the hot water. Then I pulled the window up far enough to for me to reach my arm out and try to knock over the lid of a trash can. And just at that moment, I saw him slip out the back door. I saw his profile against the side of the building, but I couldn't see who it was. "Then I turned off the shower, jumped out, ran to the back door, closed and locked it, ran in the bedroom, tore off my wet nightgown, threw on some clothes, started to telephone, and decided to get the hell out of there."

At University Hospital, shortly after midnight, the first person James saw was a woman in white uniform, standing outside smoking a cigarette. James told her she'd just been raped and didn't know what to do. The woman asked her to wait a moment, then went inside and sent out a doctor, Dr. William Baxt. Having once been a policeman himself, he question James for a few minutes, asking if she could identify the rapist and suggesting that, although it was up to her, it might be good idea to call the police.

He led her to an office and telephoned for her, then asked if she wanted to talk to REAL, the local group that provides counsel at any hour for victims of rape. He dialed this number for her, too. James said she talked with a woman for a while, but found the conversation of little comfort. Soon two patrolmen came to fill out a blue Crime/Incident Report. One asked the questions and wrote on his metal clipboard while the other sat slightly apart and said nothing. James said the policeman was kind, and brought out his questions with elaborate care. She thinks now that REAL's contribution to the treatment of rape victims is the collective watch it keeps on the police department.

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