I was deep in thought wondering what would happen next when suddenly I heard the familiar ringtone signaling a call was waiting on the other end of the phone.
For a split second I entertained the idea of not answering the phone. Maybe my journey only consisted of making the call to the police – maybe this act of courage was the overall lesson. In this moment I wanted nothing more to be true. Listening to my phone I knew only two rings remained before the caller would be sent to my voice mail. It’s amazing how quickly I was able to form a Plan B: to wait for a message, listen to the tone of the voice on the other end, and then decide if it sounded safe to proceed on. I mean that seemed reasonable, right?
One ring left….OMG – which will it be answer or voicemail? This was THE MOST stressful 18 seconds of my life.
Finally I realized I was creating so much more stress of the entire situation and I answered the phone and said “Hello”.
“This is Officer Todd from the Tempe Police Department is this John?”
Wait what?! “No“ I replied.
“Um, oh okay. I have a message here and I”m trying to reach a John.” This was definitely not what I expected the voice on the other line to say. My nerves were so twisted and now I’m speaking to a police officer who isn’t even trying to contact me. An entirely new set of butterflies immediately began to flutter around inside me.
In a quiet, jittery voice I said “I’m I’m sorry but I’m not John – my name is Bita.” Silent pause and through the phone and I can hear the rattling of papers.
“Oh y-yes, I’m sorry. I’m looking at the wrong note. Yes, Bita – I’m so sorry.”
Okay so this call has just started and it’s already torture. I was irritated with myself for not going with the voicemail idea – if this is a sign of things to come then it sure didn’t look good. I was beginning to regret my decision to ever file a police report.
Then the moment finally arrived that was late by only 41 years. Officer Todd asked me THE MOST important question that up to now had never been asked:
“How can I help you?”
So you might be thinking didn’t someone ask you that in counseling? A pastor, a therapist maybe? Well, somewhat. In these situations I was asked something like “Why are you here?” “What do you hope to accomplish?” “What is your goal?” Those questions (while similar) focused on dealing with sub-issues (depression, low self-esteem, PTSD, etc.) that were a direct result of my childhood abuse and neglect.
It took over four decades for someone to finally ask the question how can I help how you were abused and mistreated? I had given up on hearing those words a long time ago, and now holding the phone it felt like I’d been hit by a ton of bricks. The furiously fluttering butterflies in my stomach were working overtime and I also felt slightly dizzy. I was overwhelmed in this moment that was just very long overdue…
“When I was young I was sexually abused by four relatives and if I can I want to press charges. I heard there isn’t a statute of limitations in Arizona reporting this type of crime – is that true?”
“In most cases – can you tell me what happened?”
I began to describe to him my childhood nightmare. I told him places where the abuse took place: my home, the neighbor’s pool and even the outside of a paint company near my home. I shared of my four sexual abusers only one was still alive, because if I had the chance I would now press charges against each one.
He asked me a few more questions and said I had two options:
- I could go to the police station to make a formal statement
- We could record the statement over the phone
I said “I better do it now while I have the courage.” So I was placed on hold while the officer prepared to record our conversation. I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer and did my best to calm down – yeah right. There was something oddly familiar about this situation. It felt similar as when I was ready to give birth to my first child. My adrenaline increased as I knew it would be painful but not exactly sure what would happen. I understood the steps that would take place but I didn’t know all the details in between and if I could truly endure it.
The officer came back on the line and began to ask me questions. I did my best to mentally prepare myself for it. I knew it was part of the process. It felt strange and unnatural because I’d spent most of my entire life stuffing and burying the past – although the ironic part is that it’s pretty much all I’ve thought about. Now it was officially time to dig up many years of my horrific childhood memories.
He asked me standard questions of who and when – and that was difficult but easy in comparison to what followed. “Where did he touch you on your body?” (eyes closed & deep breath) “My genitals.” I’ve never been shy to name body parts but in this moment I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just couldn’t. Officer Todd then said “I understand this isn’t easy and I’m not trying to make this harder for you, but I need for you to be specific. Depending on where you were touched and what acts took place will determine the type of crimes that were committed.” I remained quiet but then said “I understand”.
I did my best to will the words to come out of my mouth, but it took a while. Officer Todd then said “You are very brave to make this call and I know it isn’t easy for you. So take your time and we will only go as far as you are able. If we need to stop and finish another time then we can do that too.” It was a kind gesture and I appreciated it, but I needed this to be over. “He touched me all over my body and that included my butt, vagina and breasts”. Speaking these words to a stranger over the phone wasn’t easy.
“Bita can you tell me how he touched you?” I slowly began to describe the sexual interactions between my uncle and I that were most engraved in my mind. As I did this I was overcome with emotions and tried to hold back the tears, but it was impossible. I took several deep breaths because I was concerned I might completely fall apart. I needed to finish this report as soon as humanly possible because each question was becoming harder than the next. I was asked to describe the rooms and places where I was hurt and violated. I learned the mind is an amazing thing -some things were hard to remember, but other details were crystal clear to me (like wall colors, carpet color, furniture details and so on).
I knew reporting this crime would be emotionally difficult, but however I imagined it – it was WAY worse. The questions I was asked directly pierced the center of my internal wound and I began to bleed. The dark, heavy cloud that I’d fought my whole life to keep at bay seized this moment and devoured me. As if it helped me to continue on – I paced around my bedroom – back and forth between my bathroom area and my bed. It was if each step gave me strength to keep speaking and I never stopped moving. Towards the end of report I felt myself becoming tired and weak. I just heard myself describe the most horrible and disgusting interactions with a person who in my mind has always been a monster. As things were wrapping up I thought Did this shit actually happen to me?
“Bita, I will type up this report and send it to my supervisor. It will be up to them if it will be investigated. I will give you the report number and you will receive either a call or a letter in the mail with the decision.”
“Okay, thank you. About how long will it take to receive a response?”
“Well I will have the report submitted by tomorrow – so you should hear something within the next two to three weeks.”
“Bita I know this has been very difficult for you and I think you are very brave. Do you have any other questions for me?”
“No but thank you” I hung up the phone and instantly fell apart. I was no longer brave or strong – the phone call had used it all up. Now I was a great big ball of emotions and having trouble managing it. It was as if someone had poked the hornets nest and now I had the impossible task of recapturing hundreds of hornets, and shoving them back in their home. It was exhausting and really hurt.
Robbie had arrived home from work and I shared what had just taken place. I couldn’t go into detail (it was all just too raw) so I gave him the abridged version. The rest of the night was a messy, painful blur. Did I regret filing the report? No. The only thing I regretted was not doing it sooner. I didn’t realize it that day but this was necessary for my healing. I’d made much progress up to this point, but to break through to the next step I needed to stand up to my past. To face it directly, to grab on to it with all my might, and wrestle it down to the ground. Not hide it, or bury it deep down or learn to live around it, but to literally take the power away from the demons that have held me captive.
It became clear to be restored and change the course of my future I must be willing to stand in the fire. Filing the report and answering questions – while painfully difficult – were the steps that led me towards the blazing fire. The fiery heat became more intense as I approached the ignited flames. I was trembling and afraid but also resolved to not back down – I hadn’t come this far to turn back now. My journey led me to a place where it was easier to breathe and life was now manageable, but I still wasn’t free. So I had a choice: turn and walk away from the flames or step right into them. My human self couldn’t do it but if I continued to walk under the shadow under THE ONE who protected me – all things would be possible.
So I checked the mail every few days expecting to find a letter. I had mentally prepared myself to read the words that would tell me that (due to the length of time, and lack of evidence) the case would be dropped. I told myself if this happened it would be okay and I could then move on, and put this part of the journey to rest. I truly needed to believe it.
I was in my car heading home one day when my phone rang and I answered it.
“This is Bita.”
“This is Detective Bacon from the Tempe Police Department.”
“I’ve read the report you’ve submitted and would like to ask you a few more questions.”
“Okay.” I internally braced myself for more dark, difficult questions. Another step towards the heat.
“I’d like to schedule a time for you to come into the station to discuss this further.”
“Oh, okay.” I was a little confused.
“So are you just trying to gather more information or does this mean the case is moving forward?”
“The case is very much moving forward and I need for us to meet and talk about it.”
Once again the familiar butterflies returned and filled up my insides. We scheduled a time to meet and he told me I would receive an email confirmation. I hung up the phone and couldn’t believe it – the case was still very much open. My eyes filled with tears as I no longer felt crazy – I finally felt validated.
Just few more steps and I would be standing directly in the middle of the flames.
I took a step back and looked at the whole situation and thought I think I’m finally ready to do this.
I prayed and hoped I was right.