Rose knew that, despite the fact that hitchhiking is an effective means of getting where you are going on a limited budget, it is dangerous. Circumstances in the place where she had been living for the previous several months had deteriorated. Means of distracting herself from the hunger she felt to be reunited with a man thousands of miles away were getting harder to find. The 1960s had been a time of upheaval, a time when children had turned against their parents and parents against their children. Rose steeled herself against the pain she knew she was causing her birth family by her departure. This was not the first departure from the family she seemed to keep coming back to during her tumultuous late teens and early twenties. In the Spring of 1971, Rose is not quite 23 years old.
Wind-tossed blond hair bouncing with her steps, Rose jogs toward a car that has stopped.
Bert, on a business trip from the north side of San Diego, was driving on old Highway 395, then a two-lane road, when he saw a young woman standing by the road with her thumb out. “Where are you going?” he asks, his head out the window. A former marine, Bert’s once well-toned physique has grown a few extra pounds lately, but still possesses a formidable strength. His short brown hair is kept neatly in place with a light dressing of oil, hairline receding just a bit at the temples.
“As far east as you are going.”
“That would be Phoenix. Get in!”
“That would be very helpful, thanks!”
Burt’s dark sedan is configured with an empty cargo bay in the rear. Burt picks up a clipboard from the passenger’s seat and lays it down on the cargo bay behind him. Rose removes her guitar back-pack, opens the door and sits down with the guitar in front of her like a shield. Wearing bell bottom jeans, a light-weight sweater, and sandals, she has a light-weight jacket and a pair of socks packed for cooler weather.
“What’s a pretty young thing like you doing out here hitch-hiking?” Bert fixes her in an intense look that Rose hopes is more paternal than predatory.
“I like to travel.” The need of Rose’s body to be back in the arms of the man she calls her husband eclipses any love of traveling, but why tell intimate secrets to a stranger?
“Well I don’t,” grumps Bert. “My boss sent me on an errand.”
“I appreciate you stopping for me.”
“Happy to have the company.”
“Sorry, I’m not really much of conversationalist.”
“That’s all right.”
Rose is not happy with her life. She is not happy with the person she has become. She is an easy mark, a loose woman, a slut. Sometimes she says, “No,” but not often enough. She needs one strong man in her life to fulfill her physical needs and to set firm limits on her activities with other men. Then she can respect herself.
She had that with Derek. Why did she leave? Oh yes, he was accused of statutory rape, then his mother bought the ticket and put Rose on the bus to Oceanside. Why did she agree to go? She couldn’t remember. Was she upset about the young girl? No that wasn’t it. Had Derek beaten her up badly? That hadn’t happened in awhile. She had been assured that the separation would be temporary. She couldn’t remember why she had agreed to even a temporary separation.
She had asked Brother John with the Jesus People, “Should I go back to my husband?” She had not informed him that it was a common law marriage. She hadn’t told him that her husband cheats on her, beats her, doesn’t work, drinks and uses drugs. Brother John told her, “Yes, the Lord sanctified marriage, go back to your husband.” She had started off once before, turning back after being raped twice. That could happen again. Would she stay on the path this time even if it went through hell? “Yes,” she thought to herself, “I will.”
“You don’t talk much, do you?” Bert was smiling.
“People say I’m the quiet type.”
They traveled on through afternoon and evening. Rose nodded off to sleep. When she opened her eyes she saw a narrow sandy road being lit in the headlights with cacti on either side.
“Is this the road to Phoenix?”
“Let’s have sex!” Now it was unmistakable. Bert was a predator.
“I don’t want to have sex!” Rose was indignant.
“I don’t think you have a choice!”
“Let me out!” Rose opened the door preparing to exit the moving car.
Bert grabbed Rose’s arm. “Just relax and you won’t get hurt. We’ll get this out of the way and we can both get where we are going.” He pulled off the road, and stopped the car, still holding Rose’s arm.
“Close the door and get out on my side!”
One thing Rose thought she had learned about rape is that the rape is mandatory, but a beating is optional. Once while she and Derek were still living in Pasadena, Rose had returned home after being raped with severely blackened eyes, a bloody nose and other bruises, when Derel had decided to try her talents at prostitution. After that, fortunately, it was evident that Rose’s talents at office work were much more dependable. But that experience, Rose knew that it was pointless and painful to resist a rapist. It is nice to be able to choose whom to have sex with and whom not to. But really, she had not been making very good choices in that department anyway. So here she was with no choice in the matter. She closed the door on her side, then climbed over the gearshift and under the steering wheel to exit after Bert who still had ahold of her arm.
“Thank you, Baby.” He hugged her, she tried to gently pull away.
“Don’t you like having sex with women your own age who are willing?”
Bert kissed her neck. “You’re the one available now!”
“I’m not available!”
“There’s nothing you can do but surrender!” He was holding, kissing and fondling.
“I have to pee!” Bert released her. She walked a short distance away and peed. Rose pulled up her pants as she stood up from a squat. In the instant it took to look around calculating the probability of getting away and surviving in the harsh Arizona desert by herself, Bert was beside her, guiding her toward the car.
As dangerous as being lost alone in the desert might be, the alternative was far from safe.
“Could we talk for just a minute? I might be able to enjoy you if I thought you cared something about me. I don’t even know your name.”
Bert stopped pushing her toward the car and relaxed his grip on her somewhat. “I’m Bert.”
“I’m Rose. It is hard being forced, but if I could take a good look at you and decide I wanted you, it would be much more pleasant for me. What about you? Do you get off on force and violence, or would you like to make love?”
“Well, all right, I see what you mean. Take a look then.” Bert let go of Rose and took a stop back. The stars overhead illuminated a strong man, not particularly in touch with his feminine side.
“You know Bert, for me sex is a calculated risk. I calculate the odds of finding lasting happiness against the risk of disease, pregnancy, physical and emotional harm. If I fall for you, then we go our separate ways, that is going to hurt. But I won’t fall for you. I’ll just enjoy you this one time, then it’s over.”
Rose does not know if Bert is a psychopath, but the callous disregard he displays toward her needs and feelings is an indicator. It is clear he has the potential for being dangerous. If he thinks she might be able to successfully prosecute him for rape he may want to be sure that she is permanently silenced. Let him believe it is consensual. I value my life more than I value the ability to prosecute him in the future!
“In order to do this I have to love you. Tell me something lovable about you.”
Bert finishes up, then fastens his fly and turns around. “I’ll make you feel like a woman.”
A cheap pick-up line maybe, but it was also a positive affirmation. Rose was grasping at straws. Say something, anything to help me feel better about this! She knew she was going to have submit to him anyway.
“All right I’ll take that.”
Rose and Bert embrace and kiss.
The next morning Rose is out on Route 66 headed for Albuquerque. As she stands there hitch-hiking she is taking inventory: No bruises, no wounds, kind of a sore butt from the hard surface of the cargo bay. Kind of a creepy, dirty feeling.
Rose is jogging toward a van that has stopped.