“Yesterday’s Thumbelina” by Gusse Farkas

Tulips in the Wind, Tain Leonard-Peck

My story begins in a large Midwestern city. I was a female third-year pediatric resident and I had come to town for a month to learn pediatric emergency room procedures in the children’s hospital. When children came in with complex facial lacerations, a certain up-and-coming plastic surgery fellow was consulted. He was charming, maybe ten years older than I was, and his suturing skills were impressive. He had the hands of an artist. When we spoke, we talked about the practice of medicine. He said he was divorced, but that made no difference to me; there was no flirting and we did not share much personal information. After all, I was only in town temporarily. The other pediatric residents were in their home territory and would not talk to me. I knew the surgeon had not been born in the States and assumed he was shunned because of this. He invited me to a farewell dinner. I agreed. We would be in a public place for a meal. 

I was eating salad and drinking iced tea. We were discussing health care and medical education.  The next thing I knew I was lying naked on a strange bed in a strange room. On top of me, also naked, was the physician. Three thoughts immediately came to mind. First, I believed this man had drugged me since I had no idea how I got there. Second, the man on top of me was much stronger than I was and probably dangerous. Third, because I was five feet tall and 100 pounds, fighting him would be useless. I pictured his hands around my neck, imagined the air I would not breathe and decided I would do whatever it took to stay alive.

“Please don’t hurt me,” I whispered.

“Darling, how could you ask me that after all our time together?” he said. Even though the drug dragged me under again I remember him asking me that bizarre question. 

When I awoke from the drug a second time I saw that I had been dumped, still naked, on a straight-backed chair. He had raped me but I was alive. My clothes were folded neatly next to me. He was asleep on the single bed. His clothes were also neatly folded at the foot of the bed, next to his feet.  I dressed quietly then investigated my surroundings. 

We were in a small efficiency apartment in an old building, perhaps an old hotel. I could smell mildew and ammonia fumes. Someone had been trying to clean the place, so it wasn’t abandoned. The apartment was one room with a single bed, a small table and a few chairs. In one corner there was a toilet, a sink, and a shower. There were no pictures on the walls or mementoes that you would see in a residence. On the table was an old alarm clock that had stopped ticking. There was no phone.   

The single window was painted or sealed shut and held a sturdy pane of glass. The few functioning street lights revealed a stop sign almost obliterated by bullet holes. Turning away from the window I tip-toed to the door and found a double dead bolt lock. The door was locked from the inside and there was no key.

I might have pounded on the door or tried to break the window or loudly insisted on the key.  And I might have awakened an angry, unbalanced and much stronger man. I realized that a place with a double dead bolt lock in this part of town could be as dangerous as my crazy companion. If I had been able to escape from the room I had no way to call for help.  I had a purse with a credit card, but no coins I might have used in a pay phone.  I had to survive the night and the only thing I had were my wits. That was when I decided to play a role and try to convince my captor I was no threat to him.

I fell asleep on the floor, probably still affected by the drug. I woke up when the surgeon flushed the toilet but stayed very quiet until he was ready to leave.

“You need to learn how to handle your booze,” he said as we prepared to leave. Neither one of us made eye contact. We both knew alcohol had nothing to do with this. The evening before, in the restaurant, he had bought me a drink, but I had decided not to drink it.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I replied. He was testing me. Maybe he was sane and thought he could trick me.  If that was the case I would pretend to be clueless. Keep him calm.

I was careful to follow closely behind him as we left the apartment, certain to be on the other side of that double dead bolt lock. We walked quietly down the hall and down two flights of stairs. I had no memory of getting to that location. He might have had help at the restaurant, telling the other patrons he was a physician, claiming I was drunk.  However, to get upstairs in the old hotel he would have had to carry my limp body up two flights to the third floor. There was no way I could have fought him and lived to tell the story.

We drove back to the medical center where we both worked. I tried to keep the conversation casual and acted as if nothing was wrong. If I had known the city I might have memorized the route, but my heart was pounding and nothing was familiar. We parted at the hospital’s main entrance.

I went straight to the pediatric emergency room and insisted on speaking with the director, my supervisor. I told him what had happened and named the perpetrator. I wanted time off to go to the police. I had been drugged, abducted and raped and I wanted to report the assault.

The emergency director shook his head and said simply, “If you go to the cops they will destroy you. It will be the end of your medical career.”  

At first I thought he was saying the police would abuse me. That was not what he meant, but I did not understand his warning until years later. My supervisor was adamant that I not pursue the matter. Eventually I backed down.

Later in the day one of the pediatric residents, a woman who had never before said a word to me, shuffled me into a quiet corner.

“I just wanted to warn you,” she said. “That surgeon you have been talking to has raped three women at the hospital.”

No doubt she had seen me storm into the director’s office.  She might have seen the vicious look I sent to my attacker when I saw him that day.  The women residents had been watching me talk to the surgeon for weeks, knew he was dangerous, and had not bothered to warn me.  I just stared at her, at a loss for words. At that moment the compounded cruelty was beyond processing. 

At the time of the trauma I could not expect emotional support from my family, and my friends were far away. My father had once said to me, “Never come home saying you have been raped.”  He did not believe a man could force himself on a woman. He only acknowledged my M.D. degree one time before he died. That was when his fellow employees accidentally found out he had a daughter.

Many years later I joined a support group for women with eating disorders. In our private discussions we discovered that all of us had been victims of sexual abuse. Finally, I was able to describe that night and get support from women who understood. That was when I finally understood why my supervisor had refused to let me go to the police. The surgeon was a member of an influential and wealthy family in that Midwestern city. No doubt the man’s family contributed money to support the medical center. If I had gone to the police the surgeon’s family would have been willing and able to ruin my medical career.

It is possible this man continued on into a private plastic surgery practice. I will never know if he continued to drug and rape other women. This happened in the early 1980s and I doubt the police would have arrested the man had I reported the crime. I had no remarkable injuries. I could not have shown the police the scene of the crime. At the time, few laboratories could check for traces of date rape drugs, although there were several drugs available to criminals.

I am the survivor of drug-facilitated abduction and rape. I am not proud of this. I say I survived by using my wits, but that is something I say to make myself feel better. The truth is that I was lucky and a coward. The man was so sure he would get away with his crimes he felt no need to silence his victims. His conceit sickens me as much as my shame in not reporting the crime. To say that I am sorry will not comfort any of the women he attacked after I was gone. 

Men like that do not stop unless someone stops them.

✶✶✶✶

Gusse Farkas is a retired physician.

Gusse Farkas is a retired physician.

Gusse Farkas is a retired physician.

Gusse Farkas is a retired physician.

Tain Leonard-Peck writes poetry, plays, and short stories, and is completing his first novel. He is also an actor, artist, musician, model, and competitive sailor, skier, and fencer. His work has been published in literary journals, including the 2020 Anthology of Youth Writing on Human Rights & Social Justice, TAEM, Sleet Magazine, The Elevation Review, Idle Ink, Crack The Spine Magazine, The Riva Collective, Molecule, Multiplicity Magazine, Czykmate, and others. He won an honorable mention for the Creators of Literary Justice Award, was a finalist for #ENOUGH: Plays to End Gun Violence, and won the first place Poetry Fellowship to the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing.