A Fateful Decision – from “Shadow in the Mirror”

Many moments in my life confused me, more than I can count. I wondered why I existed, why God never rescued me. Yet whenever I reflected back on that vision, it strengthened me.

Even though life trampled my dreams to become a famous dancer, I practiced alone. I had to—dancing was my oxygen. I devoted countless hours in front of my mirror perfecting each new fad. Once again dance whisked me away into blissful places.

Things radically changed after Mom bought me my first training bra. My inattentive father noticed my developing body. His pride wouldn’t allow for a daughter who wasn’t a virgin, so he imposed tight restrictions on me. Daddy ended all after-school activities, limited playtime outside, and made me account for every minute.

Too late, Daddy. Your daughter was no longer a virgin—John took care of that. Not that it mattered, all that interested you was your public façade.

Then I met Louie. His black wavy hair, penetrating ebony eyes, and charismatic personality made him one of the most popular boys at school. And he liked me! I found myself falling head over heels for Louie and schemed to figure out ways to be with him—all during the time John was raping me. And it was odd how Louie looked so similar to my mother’s lover, Danny, the very affair that got me into the situation with John.

I told Mom I had drama practices until seven p.m. a few nights a week. Instead, Louie and I shared chocolate milkshakes together in a booth at Johnny’s Cozy Corner. Louie’s home life mirrored mine, and we clicked. Those days always ended with a passionate kiss that kept him in the center of the dream world I created to cope with my life.

The happiness on my face raised Mom’s suspicions about my late school hours, and she called the principal’s office. Of course there were no play rehearsals. She remained oddly silent about my lie until she drove by Johnny’s early one afternoon and spotted me holding hands with Louie. I was also skipping school. She pulled the car over and shouted, “Nancy Jean Walker, get into the car! Did you really think you’d get away with this forever?”

Mortified, I walked toward her and sat in the car. She slapped me across the face. Louie must have seen this, though I didn’t look back at him. I was grounded through the entire summer.

Then my parents made a fateful decision my sophomore year—a domino I didn’t see coming. They enrolled me into what they believed to be the more controlled environment of a Catholic high school, assuming I’d be safer from getting into trouble with boys. In September 1966, at Mater Dei, I sat in a classroom filled with strangers and a nun who did not hesitate to swat students’ hands with her ruler.

It was difficult to adjust to my new surroundings—new school, new classmates, new teachers. The girls treated me especially mean since I was the new girl in school. Many of the boys pursued me persistently. It all made me sad and uncomfortable.

The nasty name-calling began after a jock named Joe pinned me against the wall and kissed me against my will. I shoved him. My classmates walked right past us, snickering and muttering under their breath. Joe flicked my breast.

“Get your hands off me.” I elbowed him and he backed off, mumbling a threat

“Oh, really, slut? No girl says no to me.”

I don’t know why a boy I didn’t know chose to target me, except that in my old high school rumors about me spread because of John. Perhaps those rumors had followed me to Mater Dei.

The pressure became too much, so I tuned him and my classmates out of my mind. I had developed an uncanny ability to remove myself mentally from anything that caused me distress. Besides, the upcoming Snowball Dance taking place in the dungeon (what we called the school basement) captured my attention. I had to attend that dance.

I asked Mom if I could go. I was a beguiling dancer and kept up with all the latest crazes. Surely this would impress my new classmates. Good dancers were always popular. Mom didn’t answer me for the entire day.

After dinner I helped Mom with the dishes, then without thinking and before she said yes or no, I blurted out, “Mom, can I ride home with Sheila and her brother Tom? He’s twenty-one.” I was fifteen, after all, and other teens drove or rode in cars with one another. I’d be embarrassed if my mother picked me up after the party.

“Honey, I haven’t even said you could go yet.” Then she said yes!

“I’ll allow you to ride home with Sheila, but you’re not to get into that boy’s car if he’s been drinking. Is that understood?” she said. “You’re to call me to come get you.” I was elated.

The anticipated Friday arrived. It was a dress-down day at school, no dowdy uniform. Decked out in my favorite multicolored tent dress and green suede loafers, I posed in front of my mirror. I looked cool. My dress flared when I spun, perfect for dancing.


Feet tapping restlessly under my desk, I waited for eighth period to end. Finally, at two-thirty the school bell rang. I bounded downstairs to the basement.

The dungeon quickly filled with students. For the next three hours, I was in heaven, sipping Coca-Cola, and sharing a bag of Fritos with my best friend, Sheila. The Beatles Twist and Shout blasted from the stereo making me fidgety. I grabbed Sheila’s hand.

“Come on, let’s dance!” I squealed as I pulled her onto the dance floor. We laughed together as we twisted to the rhythm of the beat.

Gloating, I fantasized that all eyes were on me. What fun it was to be around the in crowd, even if they disregarded me. Five o’clock came much too quickly—time for the party to end.

Tom pulled up to the front door. When Sheila opened the passenger side, I saw a Budweiser bottle in the drink holder.

I looked at Sheila. “I can’t go home with you now. Tom’s been drinking. My mom will punish me if she finds out.”

“I’m not drunk,” Tom said. “Honest. Come on. I’ll get you home safely.”

Trying to be responsible, I declined. Tom and Sheila tried to talk me out of my decision, but I feared Mom more than not having a ride home. I roamed around the lot and flagged cars. Each one I asked waved me off. “Sorry, you live too far away.” I knocked on the convent door, but no one answered.

I headed towards the highway, where I knew I’d find a phone booth. A few dimly lit streetlights. A long-winding, gloomy road. I lived forty-five minutes by bus from the school. A two-hour walk. I needed to preserve Mom’s trust. If I didn’t call her soon, she’d be furious with me.