AN ACADEMIC MILIEU
The Life Flight helicopter flew towards Legacy Emmanuel Medical Center, east of the Willamette River. Rotor blades sliced the air with a thump, thump, thump. Aboard was a mountaineer rescued from a crevasse on Mt. Hood, the tallest peak in Oregon. The critically injured patient suffered from hypothermia and multiple fractures. While they hovered above the rooftop heliport preparing to land, few pedestrians paid any attention.
West of the river tall buildings constituted the major hub of the city of Portland. Cars crawled slowly through stop and go intersections. People scurried like ants on sidewalks and across streets in the foot-travel friendly downtown. The Cultural District, heart of the metropolis, encompassed the Art Museum, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and other performing spaces. The South Park Blocks, a row of groomed garden plots surrounding historical bronze statues, stretched past those landmarks to the campus of Portland State University.
The first warm day of April, office workers reveled in the sun’s rays eating lunch under a cobalt blue sky. It had been a long and dreary winter with prolonged bouts of rain. Purple, yellow and blue pansies bloomed beside the lengthy lawns of Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
Katie MacKenzie occupied a bench off the riverside path near one of the fountains. Cascading water usually uplifted her spirit but she brooded in a daze. Kayakers paddled by in the river taking advantage of the change in weather. The girl’s red-rimmed, dark-shadowed eyes stared unseeing into the distance. The majestic image of Mt. Hood, a blur. The whir of bike chains barely registered as cyclists pedaled past.
Dull strawberry-blonde strands lay limp, framing a pale, gaunt face. Having barely eaten for three days, her long-sleeved shirt accentuated bony shoulders. The belt through her Jean loops sported a new hole. Clothed in unwashed, wrinkled garments, eyelids drooping, her features resembled a Halloween skeleton. Katie was a mere shell of her former carefree, ebullient self.
Three affluent women in their fifties, carrying Nordstrom bags, strolled past, high heels clicking on the pavement. Their lighthearted conversation in sharp contrast to Katie’s forlorn state. One of the trio having noticed her, stopped. “Wait up, girls.” She strode back to the bench, fished five dollars out of an enormous purse and placed it in Katie’s hand. “Here---buy something to eat, Dear”. Then scurried to rejoin her friends.
The charitable action shattered Katie’s despondency. Offended, she stared at the bills and rose in outrage, shaking her fist. “Do I look like a homeless person to you?” Grandma MacKenzie’s words, Is that any way for a young lady to act? popped into her mind. Humbled, Katie viewed herself with fresh eyes: bare feet in flip flops, ripped jeans---a current fashion statement, and finally her rumpled shirt. . . Well--maybe--it was an honest mistake.
“Come on, Jodi. That’s the thanks you get for trying to do something nice,” one of her benefactor’s companions said. The three strutted off in a huff.
Humiliated, Katie slinked back to campus. She had traipsed to the waterfront to gain afresh perspective on her despair. As a child, sitting by a stream never failed to console and provide insight about a troubling situation.
She was grieving the loss of her virginity at the hands of an admired English Professor. Under false pretense, he had lured her to his office to discuss a paper she submitted, praising her adept use of language. “You have a promising career ahead as a journalist, Katie.” He offered a celebratory glass of wine. Her ego puffed up with flowing words of adulation, she dismissed a mushrooming uneasiness, accepting the glass on faith. . .
With no memory of the apparent rape, Katie awakened to his rant of young women dressing suggestively, what is a warm blooded man to do? Emerging from a foggy state, she found it difficult to comprehend her nakedness. He let her go with the admonition, “If you tell, no one will believe you.”
Her stomach clenched at the vivid recollection while she traversed the grounds of Portland State University towards Peabody Hall. She could still smell the musk from his body. Rage bubbled from deep within. Katie was angry over the loss of her honor. With mounting determination she vowed to fight society’s current unfairness toward women. Righteous energy surged through her veins. She crumpled the bills in her hand.
Outside the high-rise dorm, a timid voice pleaded, “Have you got spare change?” Gazing down Katie saw a homeless teenage girl sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against the building with thin hand outstretched. Slim hope registered in her eyes, a tattered knapsack beside her. Smitten, Katie dropped the balled money into the girl’s palm. Gray eyes met hers with unabashed gratitude.
She entered Peabody Hall, walked to the bank of elevators and pushed the button to summon one down. While waiting she pondered, What occurred in that girl’s life that she’s homeless? The doors of one elevator opened. She stepped aboard and rode the conveyance to the ninth floor. She moved down the hallway past other student rooms until she came to hers. Katie unlocked her door to find the suite she shared with Linda Franklin, empty. Jumbled blankets and sheets lay thrown aside on her bed. My God. I spent how many days curled up in that bed? Blamed myself for what happened? Questioned whether I encouraged him in any way? I don’t even dress provocatively.
Katie marched straightway into the bathroom to shower the guilt, shame and grime away. She put on a red T-shirt with bold PSU letters and a pair of skinny jeans. Her hair brushed to its normal glossy bounce, she rode an elevator downstairs to the dining room. Stomach rumbling its urgency, she grabbed a tray and joined the cafeteria queue to satisfy it.
A tall charismatic figure, Dr. Clayton Rogers paced back and forth in LLBean leather moccasins before an amphitheater filled with mesmerized students. Wearing a purple dress-shirt untucked over jeans, he read from an open book in the voice of its author. A masterful actor, the entire class was hinged on every word. Honey-wheat hair curled over his ear lobes. The thirty-five year old professor’s dimples, enhanced when smiling, caused many female students to swoon. His voice tempered with the allure of honey, Katie watched his performance with disgust.
The lecture over, Katie strode down the aisle boldly towards the professor, engaged in conversation with an attractive girl, striking his arm to get his undivided attention.
“What the---?” yelped Rogers. Whirling to confront and rebuke the offender, instinctively raising both arms to repel another attack, his jaw dropped upon seeing Katie.
The student backed away, mouth open in disbelief.
“I will expose you!” Katie yelled. Furious. Red-faced. Trembling with loss of constraint. Although short in stature, her feistiness could get her in trouble at times.
The violent interaction caught the attention of lingering students in the room. They turned to see what the commotion was about.
Suddenly aware that she had overstepped her bounds, Katie stormed from the premises, embarrassed by their stares.
Benjamin Worthington, in yellow college sweatshirt and jeans, heard the outburst just as he was leaving the amphitheater. He knew that voice. It belonged to his girlfriend, Katie, whom he had been dating for the past year. He turned in time to see her dash up the aisle, so furious he imagined steam coming out of her nose. She ran through the opposite exit doors and bounded down the corridor. “Katie. Wait!” He sprinted after her, catching up at the bottom of the granite steps outside.
Ben grasped her arm to prevent her running away. “Katie. Please.” He begged. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
She swung to face him, tears in her eyes. Only five feet tall, she craned her neck to read his face. Whatever she perceived, made her shudder. “I can’t Ben---can’t right now.” She broke free. “I’m sorry. I . . .”
He stood frozen, feeling impotent, watching her flee across the spacious lawn towards the Administration Building.