Someone’s anonymous report, my enduring trauma
Content warning: This story contains passive reference to suicide and graphically depicts assault by police.
Scene: Bothell. A small city just outside Seattle, Washington.
Narration: In the Fall of 2019, I was a student at Cascadia College in Bothell, Washington. Cascadia shares its campus with the much larger and more renowned University of Washington.
I was in my element though.
Scene: The author, Wilma, is a young Trans woman in college who wears a black pea coat and has long, dark hair. Wilma is walking with a group of her friends on campus. She looks happy.
Narration: I met my first gay and Trans colleagues. I made one of my best friends.
Scene: A sketch contrasting Wilma’s drab, provincial style with her friends and classmates, who have fancier clothing and accessories.
Narration: Most of them were comfortably middle-class, from Snohomish and King County. I was not. I was from Centralia, and my father made sure I didn’t forget it. He said everyone would know I was a country bumpkin.
Scene: A classroom full of students sitting at their desks, varyingly interested or half-engaged. Wilma looks around nervously.
Narration: For my final in Political Science, we were assigned a group presentation, “The ABC’s of Politics.”
I was put with two guys I hardly knew…
Scene: Wilma is working studiously at her desk while her partners are goofing around.
Narration: Within the first week, I grew worried. Nobody was working on the project but me. One waited until the MORNING BEFORE.
Narration: Then, to make matters worse, I got sick.
Scene: Wilma lies in bed at home with a thermometer in her mouth.
Scene: The day of the presentation. Wilma is back in class, summoning her courage to present in front of the class with her group.
Narration: I’ve had a cold for several days. I try to tell myself I’d done the best I could, maybe things will work out?
Scene: Wilma is looking askance at her partners, who are unprepared.
Narration: But, I’d seen the others’ work, and had little hope.
Scene: The presentation. One of her partners is up first. He points to a poster, which features a photo of Ben Shapiro. The poster says, “What is socialism, according to Ben Shapiro.”
Narration: They cite increasingly sketchy sources.
I am, by now, very scared…
I felt dread settling in.
Scene: Wilma is now presenting. She is trying to stay composed, but a tear falls down her cheek.
Narration: So I started sniffling in the middle of my presentation.
Scene: Wilma runs out of the classroom.
Narration: I finished my part, introduced my partner, and ran out of the classroom in tears.
Scene: The computer lab. Wilma is hunched over at a desk, crying. Other students are staring at her.
Narration: I was overcome with frustration. I thought I was going to fail.
Scene: A desktop calendar.
Narration: My big cry happened on a Thursday. I had Fridays and the weekend off.
Narration: The next Monday, I arrive at school, and for once I’m not running late…
Scene: Wilma is walking to class by herself.
Scene: A crowded hallway. A white man with a shaved head, dressed in a polo shirt and jeans, confronts Wilma by the entrance of her classroom.
Narration: I am confronted by a plainclothes cop at the door of my classroom. A white guy in a polo shirt and jeans.
“Excuse me, are you Wilma?” the cop says.
Narration: As soon as I admitted to being Wilma, I am corralled by two other cops into a small alcove off the hall. They come from behind, spawning like video game monsters.
Scene: Cops surround Wilma in the hallway.
Scene: The cops accost Wilma.
Narration: The cops say they just want to ask me a few questions. I have no clue what is happening.
Scene: One of the cops grabs Wilma’s arm.
Narration: They begin to pat me down.
“What’s going on? I didn’t do anything!”
Scene: Wilma watches as the other students continue to walk by, seeming not to notice her.
Narration: I try drawing attention in hopes that others would see.
But nobody came.
Narration: I am detained in a conference room while they search my backpack. They never mention any warrant.
Scene: An empty conference room. The cops, gazing suspiciously at Wilma, dump her backpack’s contents onto a table. The items that fall out: some books, some makeup, keys, and a dangerous little teddy bear.
Narration: Apparently, they had gotten the tip on Thursday. Somebody reported that I was carrying a gun. My mind flashed back to the presentation.
Scene: Flashback to the presentation. Wilma scans the room from the front of the class. Most of the students don’t seem to be paying attention.
Scene: Back in the conference room where Wilma is being detained.
Narration: I deny ever carrying a weapon, let alone having one on my person.
Scene: The cops appear flummoxed, apologizing to Wilma without sincerity.
Narration: They try to play off what a great shock this is, and pretend to be my friends.
Scene: Closeup of Wilma’s face, thinking.
Narration: Cops are supposed to arrest criminals. They must think I’m bad.
“We must respond to every threat,” they insist. No matter how unreal,
… or imagined.
Scene: Wilma is walking out of the conference room.
Narration: I am released after forty minutes of questioning. I was kept in the dark about what they were doing until finally, they tell me not to come back to class that day.
Scene: Wilma is on the phone with her stepmom, who appears furious.
Narration: I immediately call my stepmother, who at the time was an academic advisor at a nearby college. She informs me that what happened was illegal.
Scene: Flashback to Wilma being assaulted by the police in a crowded hallway. Other students are gathered around, pointing, gossiping.
Narration: I should have been intercepted somewhere else, not in front of so many people in a crowded hallway. And the evidence wasn’t substantial enough to warrant such a response.
I hadn’t made a threat.
I hadn’t made a suicide attempt.
The only thing I had done, in hindsight, was cry.
Scene: Wilma is at a meeting with her college counselor.
Narration: My counselor at the college just shrugged and told me that their hands were tied. After all, they have to respond to every threat in this post-Columbine age.
What that threat was, I don’t know.
Scene: Wilma is talking with her Political Science professor. The professor’s face is neither warm nor friendly, but guarded and suspicious.
Narration: My only comfort is that I passed Political Science. Speaking with my professor the next day, she told me that she understood; she acknowledged that I’d done my best, and I would be awarded full credit for my part.
Scene: Wilma is walking away from campus, alone.
Narration: But I lost a great deal of respect for my college after that. I don’t know whether one of my classmates was concerned, or if it was my instructor, or if one of my project partners reported me out of spite.
Maybe they were angry that they got low grades for the assignment.
Scene: Wilma, looking out onto a vast, unfriendly world.
Narration: All I knew was that as an Autistic person, I could be a target. I am very extroverted but socially inept. I’m also Trans.
I’ve always been an outsider.
Editors’ note: Wilma is a pseudonym requested by the author, whose pen name is Roxanne Fleetwood. She is a former student at Cascadia College. She was 22 years old at the time of this incident, and currently lives outside Seattle in a hundred-year-old cabin. Her hobbies include writing, trains, and maintaining older cars.