A Knock on the Door
Diane Wasden

I am always worrying, even still today, whether I did or said enough to have stopped it all from happening. I immersed myself with guilt and experienced gut-wrenching pain, along with years of wrestling with my grief.

At 17, my eyes had not seen, and my ears had not heard. Growing up, I had always seemed to be in all the wrong places at the wrong times. These are the hidden pathways of my life.

I was in basic training, summertime in the ‘70s, at Fort Jackson, S.C. Another soldier and I were ordered to pull KP in our unit mess hall. It was very early in the morning, and we had mistakenly gone to the wrong mess hall. If any one has ever been stationed there for basic training, you know how all the buildings look the same. We hadn’t been there long enough to really know our way around yet.

The top sergeant in charge ordered me to follow him into a storage room to get some canned food. As the door closed behind us, I felt alone, nervous and deeply vulnerable. I heard him inhale deeply as he forced me into a corner in the back of the storage room. A blur of thoughts and emotions flooded my mind and body. I was stunned and outraged as he started kissing my neck. My resistance only angered him, and he frightened me. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. The odds were all against me as he pulled rank on me. I worried that if I did or said the wrong thing, I would be punished or worse, discharged from the Army.

I could feel the beads of sweat on my forehead, and my hands were hot and sweaty. My knees were wobbling so fast that it became hard for me to even stand up. I became filled with fear, and I trembled with humiliation as he started to unbutton my top. He proceeded to touch me, saying, “Doesn’t this feel good?”

I felt like I was going to vomit. I could hear my own heart beating so fast and loud in my ears that it was the only sound I heard. I felt light headed, as if I were about to pass out.

I begged him to please just stop. I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone.

He yelled at me, “Shut up! You are taking my moment away.”

He then tried to kiss me on the lips. When I refused to cooperate, he covered my mouth with his hand. I knew this was a bad sign. He then put his other hand down into the front of my pants. Tears were falling, and I felt so ashamed. My body became numb.

Then I heard the best sound in the world to me — a knock on the storage room door! It was the other sergeant in charge demanding to know why the door was locked. It had seemed like forever in that room, like time forgot about me. (Thank you, God, for setting off the alarm clock, so to speak).

As the sergeant uncovered my mouth, he looked straight into my eyes and ordered me not to say a word to anyone. When I caught my breath and wiped my face, he led me to the door. I felt like a prisoner being set free. Freedom never looked so good.

He took away my dignity and I still feel angry, resentful and bitter. People like that don’t care about whom they hurt. They don’t understand or grasp the lasting effects of the damage it will have on their victims or how the pain and sorrow will weigh us down.

The whole day this sergeant made sure that I worked alone, washing dishes, sweeping, mopping floors, etc. I thought my nightmare was over.

But this was not the case for me.

While my life was being torn apart in that mess hall storage room, another situation was unfolding. The other soldier and I were reported to be missing to the post commander, staff and military police. My drill sergeant was not at all happy with us. She told us that we were an embarrassment to the U. S. Army; how could we be soldiers if we couldn’t even find our way to the unit mess hall?

I felt like a huge knife had been stabbed straight into my heart. I was lost and had no one to talk to or turn to. No one had ever done something like that to me before. I felt so unclean and unworthy. I felt dead, and I would take my secret with me to my grave. My life was over at 17.

I will never ever forget what happened, what he did to me and how he made me feel. And there’s nothing in this world that can ever, ever remove all this from my memories. It has altered my view toward having any kind of relationship. Predators like him ruin fragile lives that bear very heavy burdens.

Sergeant, you have helped to give me a whole new perspective about loneliness, heartache, sex, trust, isolation and misery. What I have learned from you, Sarge, is: