From one of the world’s foremost experts on terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder, comes an intimate and astonishingly frank examination of her own rape at 15, the life of her rapist, and how both shaped her life and work.
Jessica Stern is one of the world’s foremost experts on terrorism and post-traumatic stress disorder. She has interviewed some of the most feared terrorists in their own camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She has worked with the National Security Council and the FBI as an expert on what extreme trauma can do to a person, be they friend or foe. By her own admission, she feels no fear in these terrifying scenarios.
On a fall night in Concord, a quiet Massachusetts suburb, in 1973, Jessica was 15. She and her sister were at doing their homework after ballet class when a serial rapist, Dennis Meggs, entered their bedroom and sexually assaulted the girls for over an hour. When he left them alone, they tried to call for help, but he had cut the phone line. They walked to Friendly’s to call their babysitter from a payphone. She did not believe the girls until she saw them. Their mother was dead, and their father was on a business trip to Europe with his new wife from which he did not return for three days after hearing the news. The girls wrote their statements for the police in their best cursive hand.
Following the example of her family, her father the Holocaust survivor and her abusive grandfather, Jessica denied the pain of her experience. She kept striving to be good. Her academic and writing career took off at a supersonic speed, but her personal life stalled. She miscarried twelve times, and her marriage dissolved once she finally gave birth to a son. Until a friend’s request forced her to sit down with her police file in 2006, she had disassociated from most of the details of the attack and its aftermath.
But, when she did review the file, something clicked in the mind of this world-class social scientist. She had to know the truth and could deny her feelings no longer. She began an investigation, with the help of a devoted police lietenant and her new husband, to find the truth about Dennis Meggs, the town of Concord, her own family, and her own mind. The results are astonishing.
In her own words, “Nabokov once said, “Life is pain,” a riff on the Buddhist notion that to live is to crave and to crave is to feel pain. To live in this world involves pain. Had I not been catapulted, in that one hour, half-way to death, and therefore closer to enlightenment? In death we no longer feel human cravings, no longer feel human pain. I was now half way there. I was prepared to be quiet. I have been quiet, and I have listened all my life. But now, I will finally speak.”