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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 2:05 am | Fair 50º

 
 
 
 

Susan Estrich: The Alley, and Its Source of My Strength

30 years later, a columnist returns to the scene of the most personal of crimes and learns something new about herself

I made it to the corner.

The last time I tried, I didn’t even get that far. For the first time in 30 years of nonstop traveling, I managed to literally “lose” (not the airlines, me) the suitcase with the jeans and sneakers I planned to wear when I snuck out of my hotel to head over to the alley. So much for that.

The next time, my daughter was with me. I hadn’t planned it. The rental car’s GPS had yet to be adjusted to the Big Dig, and there we were, on Massachusetts Avenue, heading toward the intersection. I lost it. I screamed at my daughter (I hope, I think, I pray one of the few times I’ve done that) for her lousy navigation skills and drove as fast I could.

This time, I was wearing the jeans. This time, my daughter was not with me. This time, it was broad daylight — of course, it was also broad daylight that day — on a Sunday morning. This time, I was going to do it.

I took a deep breath and turned on the left turn signal of my rented Camry, thinking of the day I did just that in my yellow Maverick.

The cars behind me started beeping.

They had turned it into a one-way alley.

I drove around the corner. The next street was one-way the wrong way. Then I couldn’t take a left. I circled back and found myself, again, looking down the alley, but this time from the right lane, where I could see it. After all those years.

There was nothing to see.

It is just an alley. I had forgotten all about a hill in the alley that I would climb to walk around the corner to the front door. People who live on Commonwealth Avenue, one of the prettiest streets in Boston, park in this alley. I wonder if any of the young people living there now, in one-room apartments like the one I used to live in, know that, probably before they were born, someone’s life changed one Thursday afternoon in that alley.

I have spent much of my life in the lemonade business. Rape me, and I will become the world’s expert in rape law. I will work to change the law, to change the teaching of the law. Treat me like dirt, the way the doctor at Boston City Hospital did, and I will spend the rest of my life working to make sure no woman is treated that way.

But the lemonade was for other people. I could never turn the alley into lemonade.

So, finally, I went to the alley. Not all the way down, but far enough. And this is what I found: just me. I was 21 years old. I was working two jobs. I got raped on a Thursday night. On Friday, I got the locks changed (he stole my car, with my keys on the chain) and moved back in. On Saturday, I graduated from college. On Saturday night, I went to work.

I look down the alley, and I think not of that man but of that 21-year-old girl, alone. Where did that strength come from?

It came from me.

It was what I found, all those years ago, in the alley.

— Best-selling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.

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