CW: Sexual assault
Just as I switched on the radio to go off to sleep, I noticed the porchlight flick on. My heart started beating a little faster, a jolt of adrenaline forcing me out of bed. Geoff propped himself up on his elbows on the other side of the bed. I scurried out of the bedroom and into the hallway, boldly opening the front door. Sarah stood there, her face illuminated green through the shade-cloth. She clutched her body, dripping wet, clothes stained with blood.
“Oh my goodness Sarah.” I opened the screen door and shepherded her inside.
Geoff, Mum and Dad appeared in the hallway.
“What happened to you?” I couldn’t help but ask.
I feared that she’d been harmed, maybe even sexually assaulted. Sarah and I barely knew each other, having met through the church, which I attended from time to time. It shocked me that she would have come here.
“We were just around the corner. It happened so quickly.”
I helped Sarah into the house, around the time that my parents woke up, wanting to know what was going on.
“I’m not sure,” I admitted in a hushed tone.
Mum fetched towels from the linen press. Geoff and I padded down the stairs with Sarah, into the back room, sitting down on the lounge. I was plagued with uncertainty and confusion.
“I just feel so ashamed,” Sarah admitted.
I finally placed a towel around her.
I knew that Sarah was older than me, even though I wasn’t quite sure by how much. I doubted Sarah would have had sex before, but I couldn’t possibly know for sure. We didn’t have the sort of relationship in which we would share those sort of intimate details.
“Do you want the police?” I offered, but Sarah took her head, so the three of us retreated.
“I’m a police officer,” Geoff muttered, then he sighed, “but with adults, it is the victim’s decision, it’s the survivor’s decision. She doesn’t have to report it.”
I understood that might have been the law. It didn’t seem to be in keeping with my sense of justice.
“She doesn’t have to say anything if she doesn’t want to,” Mum reminded.
I let out a heavy sigh and ran a hand over my hair. While I longed to return to bed and not have to think about this situation at all, I knew that I didn’t have that luxury, so both of us returned to Sarah.
“I would like to go to the police,” she decided, so we drove her to the station.
I felt a shiver over me as we walked through into the police station. Geoff had already informed the officers that we were on our way.
“We were walking, we were just walking back along the street,” Sarah outlined.
I’d agreed to be her support person. I wasn’t sure how long the interview would take. Hopefully back home, Mum and Dad had been able to get back to sleep. As Sarah told the story of her date, I wasn’t sure where to look. The man had lived just around the corner from us. We never knew who would be lurking in the shadows.
“So, then, he touched.” I didn’t want to be in that room, hearing those things. “It was with his fingers, at first.”
I wondered whether Sarah wanted me to leave.
“Um, I told him to stop,” she insisted.
Finally, the interview came to an end. By that point, the medical examiner had arrived – a nurse from the local hospital, I thought she might have been. Fortunately for myself, I didn’t have to be part of that process. Geoff took a moment to be with me. We didn’t have long to speak before Sarah emerged.
“I mean, whatever you want to do. If you want to see a counsellor, I think that would be helpful.”
I thought about recommending Rose. It wasn’t really my place, though, given that we were friends, rather than having a patient-client relationship. I drove Sarah back to her house after we were finished at the police station. Parking out the front, I waited for her lead before stepping out.
“Do you want something to eat?”
Sarah shook her head. She still had her keys, so we were able to make our way into the house. I hoped that Sarah would be able to sleep. Before I could leave, I wanted to do something more. I found the kitchen and pottered around. The place was small and I’d never been there before. Thoughts swirled through my mind, so I considered praying. I felt like it was what she would have wanted me to do. My hands moved to a sacred rhythm, as well. I padded into Sarah’s bedroom, a steaming mug of tea between my palms. She was sitting on the bed with her legs crossed and her hands clasped over her ankle.
“How are you, Sarah?” It wasn’t the most helpful question, but it was all I could think of. “I’ve brought you some tea, I used your strainer. I hope that I did it properly and that it tastes alright, it will be very hot.”
“I’m sure that it’s fine,” Sarah interjected, although her tone wasn’t sharp. “Thank you very much, Nina. You don’t have to stay.”
“I’ll stay as long as I’m helpful,” I promised. “Then, I’ll leave, because I don’t want to impose.”
“Thank you, Nina,” Sarah echoed.
I carefully placed down the mug on a coaster atop the wooden bedside chest of drawers, then took a step back. Sarah reached over and grasped it by the handle, cautiously taking it into her hands.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”
“You’re welcome,” was all I could manage to say.
I felt a little guilty leaving Sarah behind. When I returned home, I fell into a deep sleep. It felt indulgent, but it was exactly what I needed. Finally I woke up in the mid-morning. After a moment, realisation stained my skin. I rolled over and grabbed my phone to check back in with Sarah.
The younger sister of missing Sydney man Mitchell del Reyan, Nina del Reyan lives on Dharug land in western Sydney. She has recently commenced a teaching degree at Macquarie University. Nina loves her family and friends and is deeply committed to finding answers and justice for the families of missing people.
Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.