A Survivor's Tale

When Darkness Falls

The night I got into the wrong car and thought I was going to die

There was something wrong with his smell. I knew it as soon as I got in the car. We were in front of the Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Sunset Strip. It was 2 a.m. and the place just let out. Guys were circling in cars looking for a party, selling drugs, harassing the groupies, trying to catch a glimpse of someone famous. They were nobodies, but nobodies were usually good for a ride.

I was 15 and lived around Hollywood with other groupies, guys who took us in, or crashed with the occasional rock star in town. If I really had nowhere to go, I'd return to my mother’s house, but she lived with my stepfather who was my childhood rapist, so almost anywhere was better than there.

I leaned on the passenger window of the faded red Volkswagen bug. “Hi. I’m going over the hill to the Valley. North Hollywood," I said. "Can you take me?” He just stared forward out the window and said, “Get in.”

My nose is like a dog’s and this was a bad scent. Maybe it was his feet, which were bare. In fact, all he was wearing were dirty white shorts that were once fancy; the kind that rich men wear to play tennis when they keep the balls in the pockets. He was wearing nothing else. He was pasty white and thin, with a blob of a gut and no hair on his chest, arms or legs, but his skin wasn’t smooth either. Maybe it was freckled. I can’t remember. He was about 30 years old.

We turned out of the Rainbow parking lot onto Sunset Boulevard. For a moment, I thought of getting out of the car. I looked at the crowd in the side-view mirror as they receded. I asked him again, “Can you take me all the way to the Valley?” He nodded.

I glanced at his hands as he shifted into gear. His nails were dirty. I kept the window down and pulled my short faux-fur jacket tightly around me. We drove in silence.

When we reached the Valley, I gave him directions to my house. Then I asked him his name. Usually I didn't talk to the people I got rides from. They talked to me; asked me dumb questions like how old am I and do my parents know I hitchhike and do I want to go to their place for a drink.

When we were within walking distance of my house, he pulled over. I was going for the door when he reached to his side and pulled out a huge, long knife with a scrolled wooden handle.

I wasn’t even afraid at first. It registered in my mind as a game or that he was showing off. I said, “Please, can I go home,” my hand searching for the door latch. “I just live around the corner. Please.” He put the curved knife to my throat and told me to get on the floor. This was the first time I got a look at his face not in profile. It was expressionless, a mask of a face; eyes blank. It was like a baby’s face before time wears in the lines of emotion.

“Take off your clothes,” he commanded. I sat there in a ball, clutching my purse, crunched under the glove box. I didn’t move. He kicked me in the head with his filthy bare foot. I took off my clothes but kept on my striped wedges. He handed me a blindfold from the glove box and told me to put it on.

We drove for a very long time. Hours maybe. If I questioned or protested or whimpered, he hit me, kicked me and pulled my hair. And now, after the silent drive earlier, he would not stop talking.

He said I would be taken to a house, tied up for days and raped by many men and then I would be killed. I listened but didn’t panic. I didn’t project into the future. I couldn’t give up and think of myself dying. I tried to stop listening to him. The terror of not being able to see and having no idea what he would do next or when we would get to this house with all the men made my mind very focused.

We pulled off the highway and then off the street. We were bumping along on uneven ground and he was driving in a crazy way, turning the car wildly and spinning the tires. We came to an abrupt stop. I listened as hard as I could. He got out. I heard my door open and he yanked and grabbed at me like an animal tearing apart food. I screamed at him to stop, pulling myself up to the seat. My legs were asleep from being crammed in the tight space for so long and my head was pounding from his constant kicking. I was out of the car but couldn’t stay upright.

He shoved me against the hood bending me over. I pulled off the blindfold. We were in a rugged terrain with nothing around but hills and chaparral. It was such a silent, pretty, serene landscape. The sun was just starting to rise. The car made no sense here. It looked like a Volkswagen commercial, I thought.

He pushed my face against the hot hood of the car and held it there. He was strong for a guy who looked like a garden slug. I felt a searing pain and thought he stabbed me with the knife, but I could tell by the way he was moving that it wasn’t the knife. I didn’t fight. The pain was so bad, I was dizzy. I started to cry.

In the near distance I heard what he heard — dirt-bike riders. They were coming closer. He pulled up his shorts and ran to the driver’s side yelling, “If you go anywhere, I’ll find you. I’m coming right back and I’ll find you.” As soon as he started driving, I took off my platform shoes and ran.

Running fast, sobbing, naked, my bare feet hitting rocks; I ran until I saw the road we must have turned off of. There were no cars anywhere, no sound of the dirt-bike riders. I heard nothing but my own panting and pounding heart. I crossed the road and ran up an embankment that turned into a landscaped hillside — my feet and ankles smashing into sprinkler heads. I fell and clambered up the hill whimpering, crying. When I saw the house, I screamed bloody murder.

The outdoor lights turned on and a large dog came bounding out a doggie door. Two men in kimonos stared at me from a panoramic window. The dog circled and barked. I looked behind me down the hill to see if he was coming. My bloody footprints were all over their terrace. “Let me in! He’s coming back!” I yelled over and over.

When the police arrived, they found a barking dog and a naked teenaged girl curled up, knees to chest, bleeding and crying beside a doggie door. They put a scratchy wool blanket around me and walked me to the car: “Santa Barbara Police.” So that’s where I was — two hours from home, due north on the coast.

The cops drove me back to Hollywood, to the police department closest to the Rainbow Bar & Grill. The sun was up and I was hot but couldn’t remove the blanket because I was naked. It itched terribly and stuck to the blood on my feet. I couldn’t sit properly because I was in so much pain.

The next day, after an emergency room doctor called me a prostitute, after a police artist drew a picture of my captor’s ordinariness, after it was clear that no one would look for him, after my mother arrived with clothing and didn’t speak to me all the way back to the Valley, after I slept the rest of that day — I put on a miniskirt, fishnet stockings, a torn T-shirt, wedgies and jewelry. I put bandages or cover-up makeup on my many wounds and hitched a ride back over the hill to Iggy Pop’s apartment. I wasn’t scared anymore. I told Iggy what happened. He pulled out a mic and wrote a song that he called "The Robin Rape Tape." (He later added instruments and made a demo.) I wrote one line: “Somewhere in the desert of Santa Barbara, someone found my favorite wedges.” Then I fell asleep.

A gut instinct isn’t something you’re born with, but that you acquire from watching parents and other caretakers respond to negative things and have them impart that gut wisdom to you. I grew up in a muted family and my gut instinct has been honed through not the wisdom of others but my own experience. After this experience, I could always smell trouble.

This is the latest in a series of stories this month about how we cope with various types of tragedy and loss.