If she’d wanted me to go to the party with her why hadn’t she just said so? I wanted to warn her that I wasn’t much of a wing man, but I couldn’t make the words come out. I wasn’t in the market for a new best friend, either. Still, I kept that to myself.
Instead, I said to her, “We’re starting a self-defense course for girls at my dojo. Diane Davies—she’s a cop—is putting it together. She’s asked me to help. Are you interested?”
Zoe’s pretty face brightened. “You mean like teaching us to fight?”
I nodded. “It would be about protecting yourself from an attack, but yes, we teach you to fight.” Maybe I shouldn’t make that promise, but if Detective Davies wasn’t going to do it, I would.
She grinned. “Cool. I always wanted to learn how to fight. When does it start?”
“Thursday night. I know that’s soon, but we wanted to get going as quickly as possible. It’s at seven. Here’s the address.” I gave her one of José’s cards.
“Thanks.” She glanced at it before putting it in her bag.
“If you know anybody else who’d be interested, feel free to spread the word.” The more girls we got, the less chance there was of Drew Carson and his friends being able to continue hurting people. Warning girls that their drinks might be spiked only did so much.
We sat there for a while, not saying much. It was nice to hang out with someone. I hadn’t done that since Magda died. Lunch was almost over when I heard laughter. I turned my head toward it and saw Drew, Jason, Brody and Adam standing together farther down the lawn. They were talking to a group of girls, all of whom looked at them like they were special. I didn’t understand it. We all knew what they had done. Everyone in that school knew what had happened that night. For fuck’s sake, everyone in the goddamn town knew what had happened that night. Why, then, did the four of them get to continue on with their lives as if nothing had ever happened? Why did people treat them as though they were innocent, even though they had taken pictures of what they’d done to my friend?
And why did Magda, the best person I’ve ever known, get treated like she had done something wrong? I could almost understand why guys wouldn’t care, but I would never understand why the girls didn’t.
I stared at them, that familiar burn of anger and helplessness churning in my stomach, spreading up into my chest and throat until I thought my ribs might cave in from the heaviness of it, and I might choke to death.
They would all be at the party at Jason’s. They would be there, and so would those girls. And one of those girls would get Drew’s attention. Maybe he already had her picked out. He would get her a drink, and he would put something in it that made it difficult for her to fight back or even move. And he would take her to a bedroom, where he and his three best friends would take turns violating her while one of them took video and photographs. And if anybody found out about it, they would say she was willing. That she wanted it. That she was a slut. And they would get away with it, because they always got away with it. I knew of three other girls who had been assaulted by one or more of those assholes, and nothing had been done about it.
The edges of my vision were black, as I gasped for breath. Was this a panic attack? Or was I finally being suffocated by my grief, guilt and rage? My anger was not a bad thing. My anger was righteous. Teaching girls to defend themselves was only a small part of what needed to be done. Someone had to show those boys that they would not be allowed to hurt people, that there was a price. They owed Magda her life, and that was a debt they could never repay. But as I sat there watching them, caught between imploding and breaking down, I realized something with absolute clarity. The four of them had to pay.
And it was at that moment that I realized I was going to make sure they did.
* * *
I arrived at the dojo early Thursday night. Detective Davies was already there setting up. José was with her. They smiled when I walked in.
“Thanks for helping get this off the ground,” Detective Davies said to me. “I hope we get a good turnout.”
I shrugged. “We probably won’t. A lot of the girls from school don’t think anything bad could ever happen to them.”
Her smile faded. “Until it does.”
“Yeah.” How much violence against women had she seen since becoming a cop?
By the time class started we had five girls, including me. To be honest, it was a better turnout than I expected. Zoe was one of the girls. She had her auburn hair in a ponytail and was wearing leggings and an oversize T-shirt.
“I have a couple of friends who will come next week,” Zoe said. “They both had band meeting tonight.”
“Great,” I said. The more the better.
Detective Davies started the class by talking about nonviolent ways for girls to protect themselves. She talked about not leaving your drink unattended at a party, and not drinking anything that you hadn’t poured yourself.
“You know,” one of the girls said, “it would be a lot easier if boys didn’t act like assholes.”
The detective nodded. “It would be. No matter what happens, you’re not to blame for any of it. Unfortunately, the unfairness of the situation is that there are boys, and men, out there who will hurt you if they can. And until society stops allowing that, women have to look out for themselves and each other. That’s one of the most important things—you girls looking out for each other.”
I swallowed the bitterness that rose in the back of my throat. Guilt tasted like shit. I should’ve taken better care of Magda. I should’ve watched out for her and protected her instead of turning my back. The reality of it was that I’d been jealous. Jealous of the fact that boys seemed to find her so desirable and barely looked at me. I tried to tell her Drew was a jerk, but she didn’t believe me. I had wanted her to find out for herself, but not like that. Never like that.
Detective Davies went on to talk about things like pepper spray and using keys as a weapon. She talked about having safety words with your friends, so that if you thought a guy was a threat you could warn each other.
Half an hour passed before she got to the actual physical part of the class. The five of us sat on the mats in front of her chair.
“How many of you have heard of Krav Maga?” she asked.
I put my hand up. So did Zoe.
“Krav Maga is a form of fighting developed for the Israeli military. It combines several kinds of martial arts and street fighting. Like a lot of disciplines, it promotes avoiding violence, but if that is unavoidable the idea is to terminate the conflict as quickly and efficiently as possible by using attacks aimed at vulnerable parts of the body and designed to do as much damage as necessary.”
“By vulnerable do you mean the balls?” a girl named Jenna asked. A couple of the other girls giggled.
Detective Davies smiled. “That’s one place. But a lot of times men expect that to be the first point of attack, and they’re good at protecting what’s between their legs. Also, what if your attacker’s not a guy?”
We all exchanged glances. None of us expected a threat from one another. But I’d seen girls fight before, and they were nasty.
The older woman continued. “It is rare for women to perpetrate sexual assault against each other, but we can be just as violent as men. If you are attacked by someone who doesn’t have testicles, you need to know other areas to strike. Of course, these areas are also vulnerable on men. The eyes, the throat, the solar plexus, which is the area right here—” she gestured to an area in the center of her chest “—the knees, the face, the fingers... All of these areas are vulnerable. And I will show you ways to hurt all of them.”
I smiled, and so did the other girls. I guess she was right when she said we could be just as bloodthirsty as guys. But I don’t think any of us were gleeful at the idea of being able to hurt somebody—well, except for me. It wasn’t about inflicting pain. It was the idea of not having to be afraid. Sure, you still had to be smart, but there was power in the idea of being able to fight back.
We started with practicing how to fend off an attacker while on our feet. Detective Davies showed us how effective a shove could be, but then also turned it around and showed us how to use momentum against our attacker if they tried to shove us.
I don’t think most of us would even have thought of using what she showed us on our own.
“As women, we are taught that physicality is masculine, and any woman who fights is vulgar. I’m telling you, as a physically strong, older woman, that it is okay for you to do whatever necessary to save yourself.” Detective Davies’s face was slightly flushed from demonstrating defensive moves. “If you can grab your attacker’s finger and bend it, or break it, do it. If you can gouge his eye, knee him in the groin or stomach, do it. Smash your head into his nose or mouth. Punch him in the throat. Hit him with anything you can get your hands on.
“You’ve been told all your life not to hurt people, and now I want you to forget that. If someone is trying to hurt you, I want each and every one of you to do whatever necessary to escape. I want you to hurt back.”
I wanted to applaud. I won’t lie. I wanted to hug her, even if she had let Mags down. I wish Magda hadn’t had to die for her to teach this class. If she had learned how to protect herself, maybe it would’ve helped. Then again, Drew Carson had drugged her, so she hadn’t had much fight in her anyway.
I raised my hand.
“Can you show us how to get out of a pin? What if someone bigger than us has us pinned to the ground?” Or a bed?
The older woman looked at me for a moment. She seemed...thoughtful. “I had planned on doing that in another class, but I can show you now, and we can work on it more later. Why don’t you come up here and help me?”
I stood up. She’d used me for a lot of the class already, getting me to help her demonstrate different techniques as I was the only one there with a martial arts background.
“Lie down on the floor on your back,” she instructed.
I did. The mat was cool beneath my back. We may not have gotten into anything too vigorous, but I had still managed to work up a bit of a sweat. Detective Davies knelt in front of me and then braced her hands on either side of my head so that her hips were between my thighs and her torso had me pinned.