A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
In the days before Ronan Farrow and the #MeToo movement, there was Jocelyn. Let me set the scene from May of 2006. On a train to DC, I was holding court in the diner car with just a few guys joking over coffee.
I eventually noticed a lovely coed sitting slightly behind me staring at me. She had reams and reams of gorgeously long dark curly hair and the face of an angel. I turned to her and asked if she had had a pleasant night’s sleep on board. She nodded. And I returned to the general discussion.
A conductor came through to say they were closing the diner because we’d be coming into DC shortly where they’d take on new foodstuffs and we were all to return to our seats.
As I was leaving with the others, the coed stopped me and asked if she could talk to me. “Sure,” I said and we found some seats together in the next car.
It soon became obvious she could not speak. Finally, after many attempts, I got her name out of her, Jocelyn and finally, she looked at me straight on and said in a whisper, “You know, I used to be pretty. I used to be smart.”
I wanted to cry. And without missing a beat, somehow I had the chutzpah to say, “Jocelyn, sweet Jocelyn, don’t you know?…. You are still pretty. You are still smart.”
She was in shock, I would say. And what I could piece together from her very halting narrative was that she was a student at the University of Virginia studying Arabic. I said, “Wow! That is so cool! Why are you studying that language?”
Of course, I rather expected a typical kid to say, “Well, the CIA is looking for translators” or something else related to future employment. But, Jocelyn was obviously not the typical kid and she did not let me down. “Because Arabic is so poetic and lovely,” she replied. I wanted to hug her!
“Right answer,” I said, “the most absolute right answer!”
Then somehow all the pieces began to fit – she had been raped by one of her professors. Now for the hard part! She had gone home to recuperate, only to have her father kick her out of the house for having been a slut!
She showed me a large photo of herself, but without a face! She said, “He did this,” which I took to mean her father had torn her face out of the picture. Imagine – the people you need to trust the most, your parents reject you for something that victimize you, a kid!
We talked (or rather, I talked) for nearly two hours. (It turned out we were forced to wait on the track because of an accident ahead of us.) I needed to make sure she was going to be all right.
She told me she was getting off in Alexandria VA (the very next stop) to stay with friends. One of them had had a similar experience and knew what to do, she said.
I have worried about her ever since that day. I gave her my business card and said, “I’m not going home right now but visiting friends in New York. I’ll be home in about a month but I need you to email me and let me know how you are doing in the meantime.”
Needless to say, I’ve never heard from her again. Every time I recall her face, Jocelyn haunts me to this day. And I cry inside. Is she ok?
Copyright 2021 Christine Skarbek
Christine Skarbek is an American writer living in Poland.