Jane Driskell Fairchild: My life as a survivor of date rape

  • Fairchild

  • "The Last Laugh: Making Sense of it All" by Jane Driskell Fairchild.

  • Jane Driskell Fairchild at her junior prom more than 50 years ago.

For the Monitor
Published: 4/12/2017 12:28:45 AM

In conjunction with National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I will present a program and read from my recently released memoir, The Last Laugh: Making Sense of It All, at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on Thursday.

Each year during the month of April, concerned groups and individuals join together to highlight the issue of sexual violence through education and awareness efforts.

Although the media frequently reports of shocking sexual assaults on college campuses, in the military, in the workplace and even with popular celebrities, public outrage soon fades in the fast-moving news cycle. Victims are rarely heard from again, and the lifelong aftermath of their trauma is seldom revealed.

In my memoir, I describe my life as a sexual assault survivor. Date-raped at my junior prom at age 17 – more than 50 years ago – I became pregnant and was forced to marry my attacker to save my family’s reputation. When I divorced him after seven years of escalating abuse and violence, I set about raising my two children as a single mom when it was not an acceptable lifestyle for young women.

In order to care for my children and create a successful life for myself, I realized I had to complete my education, and I doggedly set about doing so. I graduated from New Hampshire Technical Institute to become a registered nurse and later received a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from UNH. Although my childhood dream of attending medical school was shattered when I became pregnant, I graduated from Boston University Law School and pursued a 20-year career as a health law attorney.

The book is written in two parts. Part 1 is titled “The Event” and describes the date rape, my shock in realizing I was pregnant, my fear in revealing it to my family, the years of my life as a teenager with an infant and my brutal marriage, which caused me to endure the depths of depression. Part II, titled “The Aftermath,” tells of my frightening divorce, the humiliation of living on welfare while I completed nursing school, coming of age during the Vietnam War era, and my struggles to create a stable and secure place in the world.

The program at Gibson’s on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. will include a discussion of sexual assault, the obstacles victims face and why prevention seems so difficult to achieve even today.

I will read excerpts from The Last Laugh, and the book will be available for sale and signing.

The Last Laugh

(The following is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Last Laugh: Making Sense of it All by Jane Driskell Fairchild.)

On prom night, Rich brought me an orchid for my corsage. An orchid! It lay delicately in a tiny glass vase in a droplet of water to keep it fresh, waiting to be pinned to my shoulder. No girl at my high school had ever received an orchid corsage, I was sure! Rich was smartly dressed in a new suit and narrow tie, the sweet scent of Old Spice on his cheeks and down his neck.

He opened the passenger door into his gleaming new black MG, canvas convertible top down, and leather seats lovingly polished. He gently took my gloved hand as I stepped in. My smiling parents waved goodbye from the doorway.

The hall at the Illinois State Fairgrounds had been transformed into a spring wonderland of artificial flowers and yellow, tulle bows for the prom. A live band played hit songs like “Dedicated to the One I Love” as we entered. I quickly scanned the crowd to find my clique of friends, and we joined them as I glanced sideways at the other girls’ dresses. Was mine as pretty as theirs? Did my hair look okay?

We danced a couple of slow dances and then drifted over to the photographer where couples were crowded, waiting to memorialize the moment in front of his wrought-iron arbor covered with fake flowers. Rich pulled out a ten and bought a print in a white cardboard frame for me. He was so sweet! There we were – a smiling, innocent-looking girl with a purple orchid pinned to her white, chiffon prom dress, beside a serious, older boy wearing a dark suit, his arm wrapped tightly around her waist.

“Isn”’t this beautiful?” I asked when I noticed his face looking somber. He shrugged and walked away, hands in his pockets and feet shuffling. When he returned just a minute later, he put his face near my ear and nuzzled me with his warm breath. This was a new sensation, pleasant and stimulating. Then he began to seem a little nervous, agitated perhaps. “Are you having fun?” I questioned.

My experience with boys was limited, so I wasn’t sure how they thought or how I should interact with them sometimes. Although we had been together several months, our level of conversation had been superficial.

He shook his head no, took my elbow, and guided me toward the door. It was time to leave, he said. I didn’t want to go – this was fun for me – but he was bored with sixteen- and seventeen-year-old-girl chatter. Reluctantly, I said good-bye to my friends, even though we’’d only been there an hour. We went outside and pulled up the canvas top of the MG since a light spring rain had begun to fall. We drove off toward his house rather than the after-prom party. He said he needed to pick up something he had forgotten. A surprise for me, he whispered in my ear!

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