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True Grit : One Woman's Triumph Over the Nightmare of Random Violence

May 01, 1988|CAROL ROSSEN | IN 1984, Carol Rossen was in control of her life. She was an actress who had worked for such directors as Elia Kazan, Franco Zeffirelli, Gene Saks and Brian DePalma. She was the mother of a teen-age daughter, and she was a very busy woman. On Valentine's Day, a perfect California morning, she went for a walk in Will Rogers State Park. On the trail to Inspiration Point, a man tried to kill her. What follows is the story of that moment and the next two years, adapted from Rossen's upcoming book, "Counterpunch."

THE DAY

FOOTSTEPS WERE dancing down the mountain, out of sight, 20 yards ahead. I glanced at my watch, as if time provides insight, and clocked the hour at 9:05. Neatly tailored blue shorts and a red polo T-shirt loped toward me, a young man in his 20s gently jogging his way down the trail. He seemed Indian, from either North or South America, if genealogy can be read with any certainty; his cheekbones were high and broadly spaced, and heaps of healthy brown-black hair combed a la John Travolta framed his olive-skinned face. A blue backpack, sparkling clean or perhaps it was new, embraced a muscular middleweight frame. The blue of his high-toppers matched the blue of his shorts. He was neat. He was upright. He was graceful.

I wished him good morning as I passed on the right.

"Morning," he said, and he was gone.

I had arrived at the Y, the split in the trail that led to Inspiration Point. Hugging the mountainside, I chose the right arm sweeping up to the top .

The trail became steep and arduous, requiring muscle to maintain an even pace. I walked steadily, evenly, long, confident strides. Fifty yards up and only 50 to go, and then a park bench with an ocean view! I felt good. The sun was shining. The sky was blue.

Footsteps again, this time from behind, someone else heading for the point. I glanced over my left shoulder and saw him, my Indian friend, the red-and-blue kid, trailing by 20 yards. Hunched, deeply curled in a starter's position, sprinting up the incline, his face was drenched with that intensity of purpose that afflicts the sporting world. He hugged the mountain, as I had done, the easier route in an unnamed course, and seemed to be racing against himself, squeezing the distance between us. I turned away from him slightly to adjust my position and give him the right of way.

And suddenly I felt it. I felt a bash to the right side of my skull, and it was prickly and buzzing and warm. What the hell is that? What the hell is happening? I turned in the direction of the blow. He was there, the young man, standing on a diagonal, just above me, outlined against a vibrant blue sky. He was poised, feet apart, his hands together above his head, holding something dropping behind his back. Something long. Something half-hidden and hard to discern. I hadn't seen him pass, I never saw him pass. He was just there, and it was beginning again.

He hit me, he hit me a second time. What the hell is happening? What's happening? I bobbed and weaved, a prizefighter against the ropes, my hands palms up, palms down, my hands butterfly-flitting about my skull, trying to fend off the blows.

No! No! No! echoed my brain, I'd not made a sound--backed up to the mountain and nowhere to run.

He'll follow! He'll catch me! I can't escape! He hit me a third time, then a fourth. Unrelenting, consistent, three-second intervals, striking head, striking hands that protected my skull.

What's happening? This can't be happening! I was conscious, my mind was racing. I turned to face him--perhaps the challenge might work. I pivoted, he bashed me at the top of my skull, and the gravel of the trail scattered every which way under my shifting weight. I slipped and fell backward into the ditch lining the base of the road cut. Ditch cradled spine as both legs karated upward, catching him midsection. Let him fall, somehow stop the onslaught!

And he stopped. He had stopped the action.

Our eyes met in the pause, his face speaking surprise that I fought back even now. He stood rigid, head held high, arms raised overhead, the heroic worker pictured in a '30s mural, a 3-foot sledgehammer pointed skyward in his hands. He was perfectly balanced. My kick had meant nothing. We did not speak. It began again.

The sledgehammer arced in a downward motion. Where'd he hit me? Didn't feel it. Doesn't matter. I get it, what's happening--he wants to kill me. This is about murder. I must die for him. I must die for him right now.

I stopped fighting and rolling and shielding my head and slumped on my side in the ditch. It stopped, he stopped, and it was silent and still and I was limp, a dead weight, my eyes closed, play-acting, and alive, conscious, listening.

I heard the sounds of gravel crunching under footsteps and felt two hands around my ankles pulling outward. He was straightening my legs and turning me face upward and pulling me over the road. Brush scraped my back and then combed through my hair, tree limbs crackling in front of my face. I'd levered to the sun and now lay flat on my stomach, head downward toward the ravine. My right cheek was pressed against the earth, my head twisted back to my shoulder.

I felt hands, gentle hands, tug at my pants, and I cracked my eyelids to see. He was squatting by my thighs, pulling down my sweats.

Does he see that I see? Does he see me?

Closed eyes once more, blind eyes, birds chirping, bathed in silence, covered with brush.

It's about rape, that's what it is. This is all about rape!

No hands. No touch. No tugging. My eyes opened.

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