A novelist who has been targeted by one of New Zealand’s worst sex offenders. Warning: sensitive content
In Stockholm in mid-2020, considering returning to Aotearoa, the very first thing I did was google if **** was still in jail. **** being the serial rapist and the murderer who targeted me.
Let’s not print his name. This is not his story. It’s hardly my story. It is more the story of women and all these micro-aggressions and macro-aggressions that can still animate us today.
Let’s go back. It’s 1995. Young women, say, 18, move out and share ruined villas or converted commercial spaces in a dance called flatting.
Usually the most drama happens around the housework, the boys, the behavior: Where’s the Draino – someone’s hair clogged the shower? Who rudely asked people to watch Blade Runner at 2 a.m.? Don’t invite this loser for sex! Okay, if you have to, here are some condoms, don’t fuck hard. Don’t invite that idiot to our party. Okay, you did, at least give him the box of crap wine not the precious Lindauer that we emptied the flat account to get. Did you break the bathroom sink at SPQR bonking?
We would do anything to protect each other and hold each other accountable. We lifted each other up.
I had been in a few apartments before Wallace Street, Herne Bay, the 1910s bungalow where **** broke the metal bathroom lock and sneaked in. Driving us away.
He hadn’t come in and out in seconds. he lingered
Wallace Street was different: grown-up compared to my first apartment (a converted public office at Three Lamps where cockroaches would scurry, the boorish guys threw three-day parties, and I had to kick hikes out of my room when I got home. House) . On Wallace Street, I rubbed shoulders with two incredibly smart and sassy women I met in college. We have worked hard. Unframed art adorned our walls, not the posters. We had a weekly box of fruit and veg.
December 1995 was hot. Our landlady pledged to have her driveway redone – garish brick tiles the color of sunburnt white girls. Back-breaking work. We had no idea that **** was taking jobs like this to assess potential victims.
On Christmas Eve I was up the street on Islington Street. Dinner with a friend, with my sister who was staying with me. âStay too! You can have the sofa. “No, it’s okay, it’s a 10 minute walk from the house.” My roommate, Jessica, got a strangely similar offer after attending midnight mass on the North Shore with a friend. “You can sleep at your place or I can drive you home now.” Jessica chose the elevator to go home. She had plans for Christmas Day.
My third roommate, Helen, was in India for three weeks with her boyfriend. “Be careful, honey!” we told her before she left. âIndia may be shady! We couldn’t imagine Herne Bay so shady.
I returned home around 11 p.m. in Jervois. A high and solid presence followed my steps. I passed the BP station, crossed the road. He continued. I passed the keys to my house through my fingers and kept staring at him sideways, until I reached Wallace Street and refused. Fewer street lights. Glances over my shoulder … The tall guy who was crawling in my footsteps was gone. He didn’t follow me down my street. He didn’t need it. He knew our address. He knew our alley. He knew who was sleeping in which room. He knew Helen was away and he hoped I was home alone that night.
He broke in between 1 a.m. and dawn. The lock on the bathroom window slipped onto the floor; Metal 2 cm thick broken like a triangle. Telephone cord next to my bed cut. My bag tipped over at the end of my bed while I was sleeping. Sifted through. Notched phone card. Species caught. Olympus camera stolen from my dresser – the only thing I had of value.
In the hallway, the phone cord that snuck into Jessica’s room also cut. Stereo lifted and Helen’s entire CD collection. He hadn’t come in and out in seconds. He lingered. Left the front door ajar. To let in the cold. To leave us in shock.
The shock, however, over time turns into a lot. There’s the initial shock – Christmas Day of tears and the call of the police who come and take the fingerprints on the window sills and everything in between, examine the vegetation outside the bathroom window. bath for shoe prints.
There is the fact of not wanting to sleep in your house anymore so wander off to a friend’s house – Jessica carrying the hard drive of her PC as the only copy of my thesis. There’s the vodka you drink at Christmas while you cry all day and explain it to people over the phone and cry again.
Then there are the wobbly months when Jessica and I struggle to get along – struggle with everything. I receive all possible extensions for my thesis. I go out late. Then later. I can’t sleep in my bed anymore. The walls move on me. We are leaving Wallace Street in March. Something grabbed us at that point. Before we even learned that it was **** who robbed us.
A detective calls and you are shown a series of guys to identify the guy you saw on Jervois Road sneaking past the BP
Falling asleep becomes a whole. If I don’t reach the state of falling exhausted in my bed – if I just try to lie there – I have panic attacks where my limbs look like elephantine mittens, huge and useless, my breathing becomes heavy. harder and harder and all the air seems to be siphoned off by the eye of a needle, like I don’t deserve this air. I feel like I will never chick down to life size.
Then there’s Helen making some really cool super sleuths – at Takapuna flea markets, she sees her entire CD collection and stereo, calls the police with a description. Another tall, solid guy. does this help? Waiting to hear if that helps.
Yes it does. There’s a phone call from a detective – maybe April – and he gives you a map and mentions Operation Harvey and you’re shown a bunch of guys to identify the guy you saw on Jervois Road sneaking up. in front of the BP. You choose number 8. We don’t tell you anything more.
At the end of May, you are told that the burglar and guy number 8 are ****. The shock is therefore everywhere – it comes back to you with icy claws. Telephone cords cut. The broken lock. Realizing how close Jessica or I were to falling victim to #toomany. Twiging how he locked up our place.
But we can help build the case to swallow the asshole, put him aside. Helen is testifying in court – at that point I parted ways for a 24/7 job in South East Asia. She tells me that **** appears with ankles and wrists handcuffed, armed police in court, in case someone tries to get him out during the trial.
Shock is a tidal wave that arose after Christmas Eve 1995 – it took us far, far away. Jessica, Helen and I all left New Zealand within a few months or at the latest in 1999, and neither of us returned. Until I come back. Googling first.
The thing is with the **** thing: it’s something hardly anyone knows about me. Almost attacked by “one of the worst”, a ruthless and violent monster who would have ruined my life. Yes almost. Nothing to write home about. And in fact, I downplayed it enormously because a dusty letter from my father halfway around the world said, “What do New Zealand police expect from you in this?” Not to testify, I hope. But that’s how your confidence in men dies, how your trust fades. It’s your tendency to drink more than you should, your tendency to make rash decisions.
So, the exit? I wrote a hallucination from a novel the year after **** targeted my apartment. It was alive but without intrigue. Nothing happened because so much had happened that I couldn’t articulate anything. I worked on it stubbornly, never recognizing what was bubbling underneath, until early 2021 when I said it out loud in a writing class: This is a woman whose trauma causes her to flee her bed to stay safe by staying. Outside. All. Night.
Now that made sense. I could add a few murders (no women, no woman is hurt in my novel – only men), add a pair of altered but determined amateur sleuths, reverse the script to focus on the agency and the property of women. Recast the rapist. He cannot be fully explained. It is not worth your time.
Does this story still make sense?
See, I hate to raise my hand and say anything about ****. The many, too many women who suffered from his attacks are the voices that should be heard, not his, not mine. I only took my own shock and my own trauma and turned it into what we had before it happened – back to the drama we should have been able to keep: who broke the sink, who has drank the last Lindauer, who blocked the shower with their long hair.
Polaroid Nights by Lizzie Harwood (The Cuba Press, $ 37), winner of the first NZSA Laura Solomon Cuba Press Prize, is available at bookstores nationwide.