RESCUE US - CHAPTER 1
Don’t make eye contact.
Don’t utter a single word.
Do as you’re told.
Don’t talk back.
No matter how much time had passed, I played the rules over and over in my mind. They were engrained in me like scars on my soul. No one could see these scars of course, but I could sure as hell feel them. Every time I went to bed at night and closed my eyes, the rules were there.
The cold, vacant eyes.
The other victims.
Before I fell asleep, I was always left with his eyes staring back at me. They were dark, cold, and soulless. I could never understand how someone could be as evil as him. I heard about monsters. In the news. In movies. From friends. Teachers. My parents. But I always brushed it off. It would never happen to me. There was no possible way that I could ever run across someone like these men who took girls and boys against their will, all to make a buck. I hung out with friends, had a buddy system whenever we went anywhere at night. But we should have had one during the day. No one would grab me if the sun was up, right?
I was wrong.
I tried to forget and move on, but I couldn’t.
I could still feel their hands, their bodies, parts of them I never wanted, but got just the same. They were forever etched on my very being, much like the scars on my skin.
Although they all terrified me, there was one man who stuck out the most amongst them all. I never knew his name; I never even saw his face. He always wore a mask that was made out of leather. But I remembered his eyes. I would recognize those eyes anywhere. They were soulless, black like most of the clothes I wore. I could still remember the smell as he breathed heavily against my ear. I could feel the smooth texture of the mask as he rubbed his cheek against mine. We may not have known his name, but he was there, constantly. He made us refer to him as Master. That was only when we were allowed to speak of course.
“How are you doing?” I was asked on multiple occasions ever since I escaped, but I never answered. How did they think I was doing? I didn’t speak. I no longer had a voice. I was a shell of the woman I used to be. She was still here. I knew she was. I could feel her. But she was cowering somewhere in the deepest parts of me. She had been broken, her will shattered. I missed her, the part of me that had once been fierce and strong-willed. Not knowing how to find her, I went through each day trying not to think about how much I had changed. How much they had changed me.
I jumped, finding Jay Rodriguez staring back at me. She gave me a small smile, her voice gentle but firm. Lines sat at the corners of her eyes and mouth, like she had spent years laughing and smiling. I wished for that. No, I longed for it. The happiness I once had.
“You have nothing to fear here,” she told me. “Do you understand?”
Of course I understood but it didn’t mean I wasn’t scared nonetheless.
Her face softened. “You’re probably scared shitless right now.”
My eyes flicked to hers. I swallowed hard, nodding.
“I get it.” She crossed one knee over the other. “I won’t even begin to say that I know how you feel because I don’t. But just know that any of us here are always willing to listen or just sit with you, even if you don’t want to talk.”
Talk. I hadn’t talked in years because I had never been allowed to. He preferred it that way. Although he liked when we called him Master, he much preferred to hear our screams instead. It was one reason I stopped making a single sound. It almost cost me my life a few times, but I refused to give him that satisfaction. I needed some sort of control over my life, even if it was something small like the use of my voice.
“There’s a reason I called you here,” Jay said, flipping through my file.
I nodded again because I didn’t want to be rude. It wasn’t her fault I turned out this way. Silent. Mute. It was theirs. The men who had taken me and others captive. The monsters who would forever haunt my nightmares. The bastard who organized it all. If I could get my hands on him and knew I would survive, I would kill him.
“How about you just let me talk, explain myself, and we’ll go from there,” she added.
I nodded and looked down at my hands. American Sign Language was my way of communicating. The silent language had always fascinated me, so I learned it as a child and thankfully became fluent before I was taken. I never knew how much I needed this language until now.
I sighed, knowing that some of the fuckers who took us were able to get away. I gave the cops whatever information I had, but I didn’t let it occupy my thoughts all the time. I couldn’t dwell on it because I knew that no matter what, sex trafficking would never end.
Jay stood from her chair behind the large oak desk in her office. She went up to the window that looked out onto the back of the compound. “I was kidnapped by my husband’s boss.”
My eyes widened at her words.
“I was found rather quickly but it still fucked with my head.” She looked at me then, the lines on her face hardening as the memories rushed through her. “Now, I know it’s still not the same as what you went through of course, but I just want you to know you aren’t alone. Everyone here has their own story. Don’t ever forget it.”
I looked down at my hands on my lap, nodding slightly. I wanted to thank her with my words, but I couldn’t. The doctors and therapists said it was due to the trauma I endured. Maybe so. But I had never been a talker. Even before everything happened. I liked being quiet and preferred to stay in the background, listening to everyone else. I hated being the center of attention. It was one of the reasons why learning ASL meant so much to me.
“I want you to know that you always have a home here. You have made so much progress since you arrived. I’m proud of you. Now, last month, per your request, we set you up with an apartment at the building run by our staff. You were also given a monthly allowance as well,” Jay stated, heading back to her desk. She opened my file once again, glancing down at it before meeting my gaze once again.
“Do you feel safe at your apartment? If not, we can keep your room here. I can’t imagine that things feel even remotely normal when it’s only been eighteen months since…”
I winced, forcing myself not to let those dark thoughts invade my mind.
“Do you feel safe there, Ainsley?” she asked gently.
I shrugged. Truth was, I didn’t feel safe anywhere.
“You probably don’t feel safe anywhere, do you?” she asked, taking the thought right out of my head.
I looked down at my hands, shrugging again.
“Okay. It’s settled. We will keep your room here for when you need to feel more secure. Now the reason I wanted to speak to you is because we’d like to offer you a job. If you wish.”
My head snapped up, my eyes welling at the thought of making something more of myself.
She laughed lightly. “I can tell by the look on your face that you weren’t expecting that.”
I shook my head quickly.
“Although, we often communicate in writing, you are fluent in American Sign Language. According to your file, you learned it as a kid but only started using it consistently after you were rescued.”
I almost scoffed at that single word. Sure, I, along with others, were saved from those men, but there were so many of us who weren’t. Some committed suicide because they couldn’t handle being out in the real world. Years of conditioning were so engrained in us, we didn’t know how to cope without being told what to do. It was fucked up to say the least.
Picking up my phone, I started typing. It was the way I communicated with people when they didn’t know ASL. Not that I expected everyone to know it of course, but it was a nice surprise when I came across someone who did. Jay even provided me with a therapist who could communicate with me using ASL.
I was sick one summer when I was a kid and couldn’t play outside. I read every book in my grandmother’s house a handful of times. She always told me I was too smart for my own good. Maybe she was right.
One night over dinner, she and my grandpa were talking about ways to challenge me. I was acting out because I was bored. Whatever virus I had, just wouldn’t go away no matter what we tried.
My grandpa suggested jokingly that I learn another language.
My grandma laughed.
They didn’t think I could do it, but I did. I learned ASL because it fascinated me but also because there was something about it that I needed. I just didn’t know it at the time.
“And you succeeded in learning it,” Jay added in awe.
I nodded, placing my phone back on my lap.
“Well, the job we are proposing is that you teach others here how to sign. Once you are comfortable with that, I’m sure we could find more work around the center for you too, to fill your time, help us out.”
I gave her a small smile, appreciating all she was doing for me.
“Would you like that?”
Picking my phone up again, I typed out a single word that I had been trying to get answered for years. No one knew the damn answer but hopefully Jay could at least answer it for this situation.
She went to the couch by the far wall and patted the spot beside her.
I moved from the hard chair and joined her.
Jay turned toward me, giving me her full attention. “I know you’ve had it hard and are trying to make a life for yourself. I’m not even going to pretend to know what you’re going through but I’m offering to help in any way I can. That’s what we do for everyone who comes here. We don’t close our doors on anyone. Even when it’s someone who just needs to get away because the demons in their head are too loud. You don’t have to have experienced recent trauma for us to take you in. It could be a childhood experience or a current experience. It doesn’t matter. Our doors are always open. As you know, we have quite a bit of trained staff who deal with all sorts of mental health conditions, trauma, PTSD, and more. Now that The Dove Project has gotten quite successful, we’re able to get doctors, therapists, psychiatrists and everything else that we require to help those who need us, but some of our residents still need to find their voice, or may want to learn a new skill while they are here. For this reason, the other owners and I have sat down and would like you to be part of the staff here. Offering ASL would be a wonderful addition to the team, and you are the only person we feel is right for the job.”
I tilted my head, searching her face for any indication that she was lying. I had learned over the last few years how to read people. That was what happened when you had nothing else to do and had to remain silent instead. You kept quiet, listened, and watched. Everything.
“You’re probably wondering why we want to hire you.” Jay laughed lightly. “In addition to your knowledge of ASL, you’re young and I think you can relate more to the other survivors here. They’ll see that there is a chance for a normal life. All of you are strong.” Her voice cracked, her eyes welling.
A part of me wanted to reach out and console her but I didn’t know how. My emotions were locked up tight. I wasn’t even sure when the last time was that I cried. And laughing? That was almost non-existent anymore.
Thank you, I signed.
Jay smiled. You’re welcome.
My lips twitched, a tiny smile forming on my face at the fact that she had been trying to learn ASL.
While we filled out the paperwork, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn’t been introduced to The Dove Project. It was owned by Jay and her friends. They started the company years ago after they had worked with their husbands and brought down a human trafficking ring. I didn’t know their individual stories, but I did know that they all experienced their own personal trauma. Some more than others. I could see it in their eyes and the eyes of their husbands. They tried masking their pain with whatever vice they could and even though it had been a long time, it was still there. It would always be there.
I was thankful the center had grown as much as it had and that I was handed information for the center from the social worker at the hospital. I couldn’t stay in that city. I couldn’t even stay in that state. When I first wrote down my need to leave, my social worker did her research and returned with the information on The Dove Project. I agreed that it was the place for me and she set it up.
I wasn’t sure what would have happened to me if that raid had never occurred at the brothel. The only thing I currently knew, as safe as I thought I was, someone was likely looking for me. Maybe someone would always be looking for me.
I also knew that one day, the monsters would come. Whether it be the ones in my head or the ones lurking in the dark corners of my room. It was only a matter of time before they came to collect. I just didn’t know who would be first.
The ones in my head.