An open letter to the man who raped my wife

A jolting tale of incest, rape, and the strength to heal

At about 10 a.m. on a weekday in mid-November, Bill sat down to write a letter. A steady rage had been burning inside him for a week, and this was the only way he could think to get it out.

Bill's mind was clear. He'd had his customary five cups of morning coffee, black. The kids were playing quietly. Bill touched his fingers to the keyboard of his computer.

You are a rapist, he wrote.

James Dankert

You drugged a woman. You drizzled your infection on her body with your small, pathetic tool. You did a woman who was nothing other than a warm corpse.

Bill imagined addressing the rapist directly, as if in that courtroom moment when a convicted criminal must hear from his victim's family. Tears dripped down Bill's cheeks as the words streamed out.

Big man, Bill wrote. Rapist.

He finished the letter in about 45 minutes. He sent it to a few friends. He let the letter sit for a few days. Then, on November 22, Bill sent the letter to City Pages.

NINE YEARS EARLIER, Bill's life had changed forever when a pretty blonde named Ella (names have been changed) walked into the Italian restaurant in Eden Prairie where he worked as a waiter. She wanted a job application. A week later, she was working as a hostess.

They had little in common. He was an uptight, self-conscious student at the University of Minnesota with dreams of becoming a big-time environmental lawyer. He spent far more time studying Spinoza than he did chasing tail. She was a party girl who wore skirts so short her panties showed when she reached for the oversized pepper mill. She spent her weekends with guys who went to motocross rallies and talked of engines and not much else.

She was also frequently high on meth. She hardly slept, staying up for days in crystal-induced cleaning frenzies.

One night when Bill was working, Ella came to the restaurant for dinner. Bill told her he'd gotten a scholarship and a new job. She said she had gotten a new job too, in a bank. They made plans to go out to celebrate later that week.

On a blustery December night in 1999, Bill pulled out all the stops. He took Ella to an expensive, cozy little place in the Warehouse District. He bribed their waiter ahead of time to have champagne waiting at their table (he wasn't yet 21). They talked about the poetry of Dylan Thomas.

After dinner, they walked into the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, where they cuddled under a blanket in the shadow of the Spoonbridge and Cherry. To Ella, the scene felt as if it were out of a movie.

A few weeks later on New Year's Eve, Bill left the restaurant at 11 p.m. and drove an hour and a half to meet Ella at a party at her brother's house a mile outside of New Prague. It wasn't his scene—too many mullets and too much cheap beer—but Ella was having a great time. She was one of only a handful of girls in a sea of country men, bopping around the party, amped on meth, chatting with everyone.

Bill had a couple of beers, got tired, and climbed into Ella's bed.

Ella was too high to sleep. She wrapped her arms around him and dug her fingers into his back. Her face pressed into his. Bill breathed in her smell.

"Promise me you'll never leave me," she said.

Bill inhaled. He felt as if Life itself—the force that drives the universe, that breathes being into every living thing, Life with a capital "L," as he thought of it—was speaking through her, to him.

"Ella," Bill said. "You don't understand. If I make that promise, it'll be you leaving me."

"Promise," she said.

He was her one chance, he thought. He was her one way out.

"Okay," he said. "I promise I'll never leave you."

Ella hugged him tight, for just a minute. Then she bounced back into the party.

ONE OF ELLA'S earliest memories is of her brother sticking his penis in her mouth and ejaculating while his little friends watched. He was nine and she was seven. She was so young that she didn't yet understand what the fluid was—she wondered why her brother was peeing in her mouth.

Ella's brother would take her to the attic, where they'd take off their clothes. He would tongue-kiss her and finger her in front of his friends. When they heard their parents come home, they'd dress hurriedly and scurry down the ladder.

At night, Ella, her brother, and their older sister would sit at the top of the stairs and listen to their alcoholic father sexually brutalizing their mother. They had no way of knowing whether her shrieks were part of some sick fetish or a nightly crime.

Ella's brother abruptly stopped molesting her when he reached junior high, shortly before their parents divorced.

A few years later, Ella's mother remarried. Ella spent the summer she was 12 with her mother and stepfather and his relatives in Indiana. Sex toys and porno magazines littered the house. Ella's stepfather kept saying that he wanted Ella, her mother, her sister, and him to pose for a Playboy ad. That summer, Ella's mother came downstairs in lingerie and showed her daughter her freshly shaved pubic area, as if the 12-year-old should be impressed.

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