Warning: This story includes graphic images of a sexual assault. We have pulled them.
When I left home on Aug. 27, 1980, as an orphan, I didn’t think my life would take me on a journey as unique as this one.
I was just starting to get to know my little sister, Carolyn. I remember for a moment thinking my mom wasn’t smiling at me because of my outfit that day. I wasn’t worried about what I was going to wear the rest of the summer, because I didn’t think my life would take me to Oxford, where I landed just minutes after a sexual assault occurred.
The woman who assaulted me was also working at our church.
My mom came to the hospital in a limo where I’d been turned away for an emergency appointment the night before. My mom drove home while my dad was sent to pick me up. I must have a lasting distrust of men when they work for me. I think that when my mom took me, one of the reasons she was so protective was that she just didn’t know what was going to happen when I got home.
I was too young to tell anyone what happened. Of course, as an unmarried teenaged girl with a new baby at home, I didn’t have many options. I wasn’t good at giving honest answers. Instead, I told myself I was too old to fall in love. So I kept my secret.
I remember thinking about how to find an escape from my situation when I left home. One day, I tried the bars at the local playground. I fell in love and thought if I kept trying, I could finally get out. I spent a couple of weeks in Memphis before I could even tell my parents.
On a Sunday afternoon in October, during my pregnancy, my father proposed to my mother and me. They were huge supporters, and there wasn’t a dry eye at our wedding. When they left us, my mom said that she wanted us to be independent. When I had to work at a babysitting service, we did not have food stamps, so we had to figure out other ways to make ends meet.
My dad took a job in the woods and got a hunting license. When he wasn’t spending every cent we had on buying food, he was growing beautiful archers.
Then one day, my mom got a call. Some of the children from our church had gone to visit this new baby they’d gotten at the hospital. A police officer showed up and took Carolyn away. We didn’t know what was going on, but they were suspected of neglect and rape. We never knew why, but they weren’t living with us at the time, and we were told they were taken to the state hospital, which seems crazy now.
I tried to imagine where the girl who assaulted me was. For years, I was angry at God.
No one deserves to feel terror or want to die. I also didn’t understand how people could be so hateful and vicious, especially in the teeth of a sexual assault. My father had to scrape together a little money to take me to court. In court, I was having trouble keeping my composure, and the lawyer in charge of the case was telling me that there was nothing I could do to stop it from happening. I remember looking at him and thinking, “You’re lying.” He would have had to make another sort of plea. I felt very angry at the whole court system at the time.
Then, the judge asked me a difficult question. I lied. I said I did not know anything about the girl who was raped at the local church. When he asked for the record, I dropped the name of the man I was accused of having sex with.
My ex-husband proposed me to him in 1987. I knew I couldn’t stand a lawsuit, because the man who attacked me never should have existed. I think I was already contemplating a run for the office of lieutenant governor by that time. I came from a family of church folk. I did not want to run against God. I was afraid of losing everything. I had my two older brothers on my campaign team. They knew I was too young to run for governor. When they said I should run for lieutenant governor, I didn’t need to think too hard.
My run for lieutenant governor, about all I ever wanted to do, happened when the governor and his wife asked me to run for lieutenant governor of Arkansas. I drove past the governor’s mansion on the way home from my mom’s house. It was just a few