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Shattered : We know all about Mike Tyson's release from prison--the limo, the mansion, the boxing prospects. But what about the woman he raped? Desiree Washington is still trying to pick up the pieces of her life.

March 31, 1995|MITCH GELMAN | NEWSDAY

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — She lives behind a blue door decorated with a lace curtain embroidered with white roses.

The door remains closed. The blinds on her windows are shut.

Desiree Washington stays with her mother in a cramped, upstairs apartment in a working-class neighborhood in East Providence, R.I. Once, she and her family owned a cozy, ranch-style home with a swimming pool and a deck in a small town south of Providence. Washington was the darling of Coventry High School, the girl voted the friendliest and most talkative in her senior class.

That was before Mike Tyson. Before the rape.

Since then, the 22-year-old former beauty queen's life has been in turmoil.

"Now when we meet as a family, she smiles, but it does not reach her eyes," a relative recently said. "It's like there's this mask and underneath there's just hurt."

Tyson was released from an Indiana prison Saturday after serving three years of a 10-year sentence. He climbed into a black stretch limo with boxing promoter Don King and drove into a gilded future. On Thursday, the 28-year-old ex-heavyweight champion announced that he will resume his career with fights on the Showtime cable network and that he has an agreement with the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It has been estimated that his first fight could earn him $50 million.

His victim, who is pursuing a civil lawsuit against Tyson seeking unspecified damages from the attack, has lost her childhood home. Her life, friends say, was shattered by her encounter with Tyson at Indianapolis' Canterbury Hotel nearly four years ago. Her parents separated; the pressure contributed to the breakup of their marriage. They sold their home.

And today, Washington, who once sought the spotlight, remains secluded with her mother in the upstairs apartment in a commercial district of cheap restaurants and hardware stores.

In the mornings, friends say, Washington boards a city bus and rides 20 minutes across town to Providence College. She is a senior psychology major and is expected to graduate with her class in May.

That alone is an accomplishment for the onetime Miss Black Rhode Island. Because since that early morning in July, 1991, when Tyson forced himself on her in his hotel room--No. 606--there have been so many problems.

"For nearly four years she has attempted to pick up the pieces of her life and move on," said Washington's Boston-based attorney, Michael Weisman. "This has not been easy to do. The trauma of the rape has had a profound and lasting impact on her life."

*

A few months before going to Indianapolis for the Miss Black America beauty pageant, Washington had attended her high school prom. Everyone there expected she would go on to be an attorney or politician. Her ambition was to be the first black female President. But asked what she would be doing in 10 years, Washington gave a simple answer in her high school yearbook: "Smiling and laughing."

"Dez was one of the most popular kids in school. She knew everybody and was always at the center of attention," said Alyce Pagliarini, a childhood friend. "She was a joiner. A real people person. Then she came back from the pageant and just cut herself off from everybody."

Washington worked as a cashier at Kmart that summer between high school and college. Before going to the pageant, she always seemed bubbly and bright, a colleague said. But she returned with a depressed, somber outlook.

"She became withdrawn," said the colleague, who asked not to be identified. "She used a different name on her name tag, but that didn't help. People knew who she was."

Friends said Washington was embarrassed by what they call "her ordeal," and did not feel comfortable talking about it.

"She called me one night and said, 'Something bad happened,' " Pagliarini recently recalled. "I asked her what, but she said, 'I can't tell you.'

" 'Why can't you tell me,' I said. I mean, we went to Girl Scouts together. She said, 'Because it has to do with someone famous.' I said 'Yeah, right.' "

At Tyson's trial, the 5-foot-3, 111-pound Washington described the confrontation with the 5-foot-10, 250-pound boxer with a history of brutality toward women.

"I tried to punch him, but it was like hitting a wall," Washington testified. "I said, 'Get off! Get off me!' The next thing I knew, he slammed me on the bed.

"I was begging him, 'Please, I have a future ahead of me. . . . Please, I don't need a baby. . . . Please, I'm going to college," her testimony continued. "He said, 'So, we have a baby,' and jammed himself inside me. I felt like someone was ripping me apart."

*

At the end of the summer, Washington moved onto the cloistered campus of red-brick buildings at Providence College and lost touch with most of her high school friends. As she began to recover, the aspiring attorney was learning her own lessons about the law in an Indianapolis courtroom. When she came back from the trial, her classmates tried not to talk with her about the rape and the college worked to protect her from unwanted publicity.

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