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The Alley

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

Saturday, March 12, 2011

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 Mass. Ave, 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 Ave, 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.


See Other Political Commentaries.

See Other Commentaries by Susan Estrich.  

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