Credit: Till Krech
Three Ways I Was Beaten
by Ariella Yendler
It’s a really weird story. I was beaten. Not like—well yes, like beaten. With a tire iron. I KNOW, RIGHT. I knew him, the guy who beat me. It wasn’t just some random person who ran in and smacked me around at 4 am. I live on the eighth floor. No, I was just noodling on my essay, and this guy comes in—I know him, kind of, not biblically, he’s this small boy who comes up to my shoulder—and we talk. He doesn’t run in and start hitting me, we’re chatting and it’s a nice little conversation, and I go back to work. Some time passes and we’re both quiet and then–he starts hitting me. With a tire iron.
It was like the college edition of Clue: in the lounge, with a pipe. I found out it was a tire iron later, which kind of ruined the joke. I had some staples in my head and my finger was broken, but I didn’t even get a concussion. You could say I’m very hard-headed.
I started making jokes like two minutes later, as I ran upstairs. I told the girls who came to the door that I wanted to be Carrie for Halloween and was trying out my costume a little early. I can’t decide if the worst part is the fact that he interrupted me while I was working on my essay (which was due in six hours) or if it’s because he ruined my favorite shirt. I was bitching incessantly about the essay in the ER. The doctor was stapling my head and I was busy inquiring if he thought I’d be in a mental state decent enough to finish it.
Oh! No, the best part is definitely why he did it: He didn’t like me. That’s what he told the cops. God knows I don’t like some people.
It’s 4 am. It’s dark outside. I’m alone on the top floor of my dorm, in my lounge. The long hall outside is empty; behind the doors, everyone is asleep. The lights are always on in my dorm and it makes 4 am look watery and if I weren’t staring so hard at my computer screen, my eyes would be swimming.
It’s 4 am. It’s dark, and quiet. I am the only one there. I am working on an essay that’s due in six hours.
A boy comes in. I know him; he lives on the floor below me, and he’s dating the girl who lives across the hall from me. The girl and I are friends. She’s a sweet mouse of a girl. The boy I don’t really know that well. He’s very quiet and I only ever see him with his girlfriend.
I glance over my shoulder, my back to him, and offer a hello. It’s the week before spring quarter finals at 4 am, and obviously everyone is your best friend at this hour. We chat for a bit, talking about housing for next year. It’s really pleasant, actually, but I apologize and turn back to my work.
Twenty minutes pass, in silence. The only thing you can hear is my keyboard and the irregular turn of pages behind me; there isn’t even a ticking clock.
And then he gets up and starts beating me. He slams me in the head with a pipe and I stand up—he keeps hitting me. I scream, I think.
When I run, slamming into my room across the hall, I can hear him outside my door, talking softly.
He says, like he’s keyed my car, like he’s broken a glass, like I’m his girlfriend and he’s upset me: “Ariella, I’m really sorry. You should call the police.” I can feel blood dripping under my shirt, over my stomach.
A girl tells me later when the EMTs are taking me away, she sees him standing a few feet away, shaking.
Here’s what happened.
I was sitting in my dorm lounge, working on my essay. It was dark—4 am. I lived on the top floor of an eight-story building with alternate male and female floors, in a room smaller than my parents’ walk-in closet. I filled it with tea and books and pillows but I ended up with a stuffed gasp box, not a nest. I left my home, my family, my friends left me—and this was all normal, this was what college was but I was still twelve inside and eighteen slammed me down onto the campus green. I curled up on the grass, breathing hard, and my mother crouched next to me, rubbing slow circles on my back. When I say that my first year of college was awful, my friends don’t understand that’s what I think of, not what was about to happen. That was just a cherry on top.
It was quiet. I was the only one there and the only one awake. My essay was due in six hours.
A guy came into the lounge; my back was to the door, so I twisted to face him, say hello. He was someone I knew vaguely—he dated the girl who lives across the hall from me, one of my friends. The boy lived on the floor below but spent a lot of time up here. He was quiet, and no one really paid much attention to him. I’d been in a room with him alone maybe once.
“Hi!” I said brightly. It was 4 am, it was the week before finals. At this point I was willing to feel camaraderie with a fish.
We chatted for five minutes or so, pleasantly, more pleasantly than I remember him being before, but it was 4 am and it was the week before finals. He told me he drank an entire pot of coffee and I clucked sympathetically. We talked about living situations for next year, and after a bit I smiled apologetically and turned back to my computer. The room was silent, and I sank into a brown study. My back was to him.
Roughly twenty minutes pass.
He gets up, and starts beating me.
I remember I was very confused, and he was aiming for my head. My vision was blurry, I only remember seeing him holding some kind of pipe that he was using to hit me. I shot up, my hands shielding my face, and he continued to hit me, though I had something like half a foot on him standing, and he had to probably raise his arm to keep going. I remember thinking that standing would stop him because then he couldn’t reach me.
I took off to my dorm room, right across from the lounge—I leapt over a chair and I think I tried to push it in his way. I slammed the door shut, locked it, flipped on the lights. I started screaming for my floormates to wake up. My finger was crumpled like paper. Without thinking, I pulled and straightened it, and grabbed tissues for the blood dripping into my eyes.
I paused and heard the boy standing outside my door saying softly, “Ariella, I’m really sorry. You should call the police.”
“HOW?” I roared. “MY PHONE IS IN THE LOUNGE, YOU MOTHERFUCKER.” I continued screaming for my floormates. I resented how long it took until I heard doors slamming and feet and girls clustered outside my door.
“Get him away from the door,” I told them over and over until someone interrupted me and said, “Okay, he’s gone.” I sounded hysterical.
When I saw the girls staring, their eyes like marbles, I knew I had to be the calm one because there would be no one capable of saving me except me. “Hey.”
I was covered in blood and I knew I looked terrifying so I smiled a little and say, “I know, I must look like Carrie right now.” In the next few minutes I trotted out orders, asking for my phone, telling them ten times to call an ambulance and the police, please get our RA, is the boy off the floor, can I have an ice pack. There was absolutely nothing on my mind but the fierce need to make sure I stay alive in the next few hours. Head wounds bleed a lot and I know this, but I was terrified my skull was split, my brain was damaged—that the one part of me I treasure had been irreparably ruined and I was consumed with the need to keep it safe.
Someone brought me my purse. I grabbed my phone, I asked someone to get my insurance card for the ambulance when they came. I dialed my mother, who lives five hours away and I was very apologetic as I explained that I was attacked and I’m okay (I feel my blood soaking into my pants) but my parents should probably come down here.
“Hey, Mama,” I told her. “Just, go back to sleep, okay? Come later when you wake up. There’s nothing you can do right now.” My mother, to her credit, was as calm as I on the phone. She did not tell me I was ridiculous to tell her not to come right away but only to keep her updated. I was so relieved I had no need to reassure her.
Over the next eternity as I waited for the ambulance, I poured jokes out like vomit. Girls started laughing. The jokes were awful and about as black as you can get, since I had to keep switching out my tissues for a dry clump until someone thought to get me a towel. “Hey,” I quipped. “This is like college edition, Clue. In the lounge, with a pipe. Hey, don’t you bleed like this when you get paper cuts? Oh my god, I hope there’s no brain damage.” I look mock-horrified. “That is the only part of me I even like.” When I later changed, my shirt which has a cartoon ribcage doodled on it, was soaked with my blood. I still think it’s funny.
When the EMTs arrived, after I’d been snippy to a bunch of cops (“No, I do not want to give a statement, do I look like I can do that right now”), they strapped me into the board with a neck brace. The board was too tall for the elevator, so they had to tip me, and I dangled from it a little. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. The shakes started. They put me on the gurney proper and wheeled me out to the ambulance.
In the ambulance, my bravado finally started to leave, and I asked the EMTs inane questions, about their wives, about their lives. I begged for an icepack. I thought maybe I could stop thinking about myself now and rely on them to save me. They couldn’t find the fucking ice pack because they were firemen, not EMTs. It wasn’t their ambulance. I tensed up again, aware that I was not in safe hands yet. One of them informed me as I was being wheeled in there would be a cop to take my statement. I told the EMT that I refused and he started to berate me, telling me that he’d be the one in charge of the situation, not me. Had I been less drained I would have verbally clawed his face off and told precisely how little I trusted him to take care of a houseplant, much less a beaten teenager.
Probably the morphine and then Vicodin relaxed me, made me feel at ease, like someone else could keep an eye on me now. The nurses clucked over me, the interns grinned sympathetically, the doctor nicely explained every single thing he was doing. My quipping came back in full force. I wanted to reward them with a pleasant patient, with some kind of nice experience in the ER they might not normally get. When I asked about brain damage the doctor said it was unlikely, since I was “mentating” fine.
“Mentating? What’s that? Is it a vocab word? Can I use it in—OH MY GOD MY ESSAY.”
Everyone smiled. I was content.
Eventually a police officer came by and spent a long hour taking my statement. He coaxed it from me; he was handsome, and his name was Rory, who is one of my favorite characters on Doctor Who, so I didn’t mind at all.
He tapped his pen against the pad and asked, “Do you know why the guy might do this?”
I shrugged. “I barely know him.”
The doctor put eleven staples in my head and stitched up my finger, which sustained an open fracture. I’d later get it set very badly by a local doctor and have to keep a splint on for the entire summer.
The whole incident seemed like a fact of a random and unfeeling universe. “These things do happen,” I’d say, over and over. Everyone gets hurt eventually—everyone on this earth gets to experience horror. My rabbi said in a sermon that tragedy was as much a part of life as joy, and not an interruption. Horror is much of the same, I think. There are things you cannot explain and you just have to take it. Being beaten was my dosage.
I slept in my parent’s hotel room while my dorm room was processed as a crime scene. I became rabid and snarling about everything involving the university—the university attempted to transfer me to a different room, attempted to let me off of finals which started next week, attempted to be kind and understanding. I politely ripped apart all of their efforts to treat me like a victim and moved back into my dorm room the moment they got the blood stains out of the carpet. He did not even manage to put a proper dent in my skull; I wouldn’t cede an inch of myself further.
The boy was placed under custody, under a half-million dollar bail. I idly concocted revenge fantasies, filled with passive rage that someone attempted (managed) to hurt me. I daydreamed about beating him until his nose pointed backward. I thought about where to twist knives in him that it would hurt the most, about kissing his ex-girlfriend in the court room in front of him. Every time I got into the shower this summer, I had to unwrap my hand and see my mistake of a finger.
It was like a yo-yo—in between coming up with satisfying tortures, I felt such pity for him and his parents. He’d sacrificed his education at a third-tier school to beat some girl for ten minutes. He didn’t even manage to kill me.
Everyone from my psychiatrist to my mother pointed out that he had been punished quite a bit—he spent the summer in the county jail. I spent the summer in the Bahamas. I didn’t care. I wanted revenge on the universe, and an institutional punishment was merely proof of a working legal system. It was not me getting a little of my own back. Someone else had made the decision for me how my damage could be recompensed. His being in jail was less of a symbol that he had hurt a person and more a reminder to those who violated societal agreement. This is what happens to you if you hurt a member of our society: we take you away. I did not like that a benevolent government felt the right to take care of my problems.
And yet—sitting in the assistant DA’s office, being told that I could have a hand in his punishment, I could help decide his future, I recoiled. I did not want that. I wanted him to disappear out of my consciousness. It was four months later, my finger was out of its splint, and I had a midterm in two weeks. This is the kind of story that can have a clean ending, with the villain in jail and the victim climbing some metaphoric path to recovery.
Instead, I read his psychological report. I talked to my psychiatrist. I did nothing. I don’t care what the ending is anymore. I have become some kind of statistic and that’s fine—this is not the narrative I am interested in. I care more about the grade on that essay.
This essay was originally published by The Toast and is reprinted here with permission of the author.
Ariella Yendler currently attends college. She would like to apologize to her mother for writing under her real name. She knows her father is probably giving her high-fives though, so that’s fine.