It’s a hideous word on paper. I can hardly even speak it out loud without cringing. Imagine if you not only had to read it, or hear it, but rather, you had to feel it.
Alice Sebold’s memoir, Lucky, is riveting, moving, terrifying and uplifting all at the same time. The subject matter of this book made it incredibly difficult to get through emotionally, however, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I was encompassed by her seemingly triumphant yet blatantly torturous climb up from the rubble she was left in after her violent rape.
As a freshman at Syracuse, Alice was walking home from a party before her entire life changed. She was snatched out of the darkness, beaten, and raped – all of which are vividly detailed within the pages of this book leaving nothing up to the imagination.
It’s not so much about the act of the rape that makes this book impossible to put down. It’s about her attitude, her perseverance, and her transparency, which makes this book so real.
Imagine, for just one second, telling your parents that one-minute you’re a virgin and the next that virginity was ripped from you. And all you want, all you ever want, is to be able to lead a normal life again.
“I was trying to prove to them and to myself that I was still who I had always been. I was beautiful, if fat. I was smart, if loud. I was good, if ruined.” (p. 29)
During her plight to regain normality, Alice toyed with humor. Whilst many of her jokes were, in fact, not funny, it proved her character and her will to endure even the most traumatic of events.
“Would you like something to eat?” [her father asked.]
“That would be nice…considering the only thing I’ve had in my mouth in the last twenty-four hours is a cracker and a cock.” (p. 51)
Despite Alice’s humor and attempt to regain the confidence and respect she involuntarily lost, others around her were not especially inclined to treat her as they had before. She was viewed as “broken,” “ruined,” and “sad.”
When faced with the question whether or not she complied with the rapists requests because she didn’t want to die, and whether she almost wishes she would have died instead, she is torn but remains steadfast in the decisions made that night.
“That question continues to haunt me. After telling the hard facts to anyone from lover to friend, I have changed in their eyes. Often it is awe or admiration, sometimes it is repulsion, once or twice it has been fury hurled directly at me for reasons I remain unsure of. Some men and lesbians see it as a turn-on or a mission, as if they can pull be back from the wreckage of that day. Of course, their best efforts are largely useless. No one can pull anyone back from anywhere. You save yourself or you remain unsaved.” (p. 61)
It’s that paragraph that resonated the most with me – the way she is able to eloquently and gracefully place into words the idea that she is the only one who is able to save herself, is simply beautiful.
Alice’s rape did not just affect her, her family and her close friends. The reach of this incident was unparalleled – from a classmate, to a friend’s mother, to her best friend, Alice’s story changed the lives of many others along the way.
“…the story of my rape had stormed into their lives uninvited. It had catalyzed a revelation inside their home. How that revelation eventually affected them I do not know. But via her son, Mrs. McAllister gave me two things: my first awareness of another rape victim who lived in my world, and, by telling her sons, the proof that there was power to be had in sharing my story.” (p. 73)
Despite her parents’ wishes, Alice returned to Syracuse for her sophomore year. She was determined to not allow her rapist to take everything from her. However, she was stripped of the normal freedom college offered. She would not walk through the park at night, she would live in an all-girls dorm, she would have a personal phone installed in her room, she would be escorted by campus security if she had to walk anywhere in the dark, she would stay out of the bars. She wasn’t free, but she was trying to overcome.
She was also trying to catch her rapist.
Alice decided to pursue the arrest of her rapist – she wanted to seek revenge, get him behind bars, and keep other women safe.
She only came in contact with her rapist once – in the street. He recognized her, and with a smug look on his face, he thought he was going to get away with everything he did to her. She called the police, drew a sketch, and began her pursuit.
Alice was forced to relive her rape in detail throughout the entire duration of the trial. Her strength and resilience was inspirational. Through tears and triumph, Alice retold the events of that night with one thing in mind: revenge.
Alice wrote a poem for a creative writing class that encapsulated every emotion felt during her rape and throughout the aftermath. The poem was titled, “Conviction.”
“If they caught you,
long enough for me
to see that face again,
maybe I would know
I could stop calling you “the rapist,”
And start calling you John or Luke or Paul.
I want to make my hatred large and whole.
I picture you now,
your fingers rubbing sleep from
those live blind eyes, while I rise restlessly.
I need the blood of your hide
on my hands. I want to kill you
with boots and guns and glass.
I want to fuck you with knives.
Come to me. Come to me.
Come die and lie, beside me.”
Fourteen traumatic months later, a verdict was reached. The rapist, Gregory Madison, was sentenced to the maximum for rape and sodomy: eight and a third to twenty-five years. And Alice began to live a normal life. She wanted nothing more than to put the trial and the rape behind her.
She moved in with her best friend, Lila, had several boyfriends, but still struggled with moving forward from the events of the past few years. With each boyfriend, she was unable to give herself sexually, constantly equating this potentially romantic endeavor with her brutal rape.
Alice was trying. But her rape would prove to haunt her.
Through a series of heart-wrenching events that drove Alice apart from her best friend and closer to heroin, it became apparent that the pieces left behind from her rape were proving difficult to reassemble.
“When I was raped I lost my virginity and almost lost my life. I also discarded certain assumptions I had held about how the world worked and about how safe I was.” (p. 239)
The story ends with no reassurance, no summary, no wrapping-up in a happy ending sort of way. I’m afraid there is no happy ending to Alice Sebold’s story.
“In the tunnel where I was raped, a tunnel that was once an underground entry to an amphitheater, a place where actors burst forth from underneath the seats of a crowd, a girl had been murdered and dismembered. I was told this story by the police. In comparison, they said, I was lucky.”
Get your copy of Lucky here.