I AM THE CENTRAL PARK JOGGER, A Story of Hope and Possibility
BY TRISHA MEILI (b. 1961)
After 14 years, Trisha Meili, the Central Park Jogger, is sharing her story of survival and recovery
By Bella English, Globe Staff, 4/16/2003
TAMFORD, Conn. - The petite woman stands at the front of the Holiday Inn ballroom, dressed in a mint-green sweater with a clingy black skirt, tights, and pumps. Freshwater pearls are at her throat and on her wrist. She taps a small gong, signaling silence.
''Breathe in: I am a flower. Breathe out: I am reflecting truth. Breathe in: I am alive. Breathe out: I smile to myself.'' Her voice is quiet but authoritative, and as she speaks the crowd of 300 is utterly silent, many of them with closed eyes and raised faces.
The gong tinkles again. ''Thank you,'' says the woman in green. ''I feel a little bit calmer.''
So here she is, after 14 years of carefully guarded anonymity, leading a group of strangers in a breathing exercise before she launches into a speech. The woman known around the world as t he Central Park Jogger has cast off her cloak and reemerged as Trisha Meili. No longer a single, young, investment banker living on Manhattan's Upper East Side, Meili is a middle-aged married woman living in Connecticut. Those long nightly runs she used to take are a thing of the past; now she goes out with her husband once, maybe twice, a week. She's slower but thankful for the ability to run, rickety gait or not.
The infamous case came to symbolize everything that was wrong with New York in the 1980s: a city awash in wanton, random attacks and beset by racial polarization. People everywhere were fascinated and appalled by the story of the young woman who went out for a run and ended up raped, sodomized, and beaten beyond recognition. The fact that the victim was white and the suspects were black and Hispanic, 14 to 16 years old, fueled racial flames.
Flowers, cards, holy water, and healing oils poured in to Metropolitan Hospital and her Salomon Brothers office from all over the world. Frank Sinatra sent 18 red roses.
Trisha Meili's journey from comatose victim to determined survivor is chronicled in her new book, ''I Am the Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility.'' Her speech in Stamford, sponsored by the Sexual Assault Crisis Center of lower Fairfield County, is her first public forum.
She begins it pretty much the same way she begins her book: ''On April 19, 1989, I was raped, beaten, and left for dead. As a result, I had a traumatic brain injury. My eye was crushed. I lost 80 percent of my blood and was in a coma for 12 days.'' Her matter-of-fact tone belies the horror of what happened.
It was 14 years ago this week that Meili, then 28, pulled on a long-sleeved white T-shirt and black running tights, laced up her Asics, put on her headphones, and left her apartment for a 5-mile run. It was 9 p.m., and her usual route took her into the park at East 84th Street, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Later, she would remember nothing of the night.
She writes: ''It is astonishing that the Jogger is alive. She is in deep shock, her blood pressure so low that the ER staff are unable to get an accurate reading. Her body temperature is eighty-five degrees, and she is unable to breathe on her own.... Last rites are administered. The woman is bleeding from five deep cuts across her forehead and scalp; patients who lose this much blood are generally dead. Her skull has been fractured, and her eye will later have to be put back in its place. There is extreme swelling of the brain caused by the blows to the head.''
Part of Meili's book is told in the third person. That's because, she says, she doesn't remember what happened during the attack and for nearly six weeks after. ''I didn't feel comfortable saying `I,' because I had no memory of it,'' she says in the hotel after her speech. To reconstruct the event, she interviewed several major players, including the doctors who treated her, her personal nurse, prosecutors, and police officers.
Once the crowd has dispersed, Meili's husband, Jim Schwarz, goes out to stretch his legs - after a brief nuzzling session with her. Even the bodyguard, who's packing a gun, leaves. (She doesn't travel with a guard; the rape crisis center hired him because her speech had been widely publicized.)
She is prettier than the photo on the book jacket. Her hazel eyes are wide and expressive; her perfect smile would delight any dentist. There's a scar below her left eye, which doctors think was smashed with a brick. She raises her frosted blond bangs to reveal another scar, on her forehead. Then there's the surgical scar that runs across her scalp from ear to ear. She had been beaten beyond recognition, and when her brother first saw her in the hospital, he said: ''This is not Trisha.''
In the speech, the book, and the interview, Meili answers The Question: Why did you, a woman, go running alone in Central Park at night? She understands the question, but it still irritates her. ''It blames the victim,'' she says.
Her explanation: She worked 12 hours a day, fast-tracking at Salomon Brothers, and could run only at night. She had her own rules: She would not go into the northern reaches of the park, never past 102 d Street, and she wouldn't run around the reservoir. And if anything were to happen, she reasoned: ''I can outrun him.'' In the book, youthful arrogance is expressed: ''It was my park ... it was my city. I was indestructible, omnipotent. Comfortable. I could run and run and nothing and no one could harm me.''
In person, she notes, a bit defensively, that ''there were other runners in the park that night.'' In fact, a mob of 40 Harlem teenagers went ''wilding'' in Central Park that night, assaulting, robbing, and harassing joggers, bikers, and others. The five who were found guilty in her case saw their convictions overturned last winter after a new suspect confessed that he had acted alone.
Meili would rather focus on being a survivor, not a victim. But the two are inseparable in her life. The Wellesley graduate who has two master's degrees from Yale now has memory and word-retrieval problems, which are evident during both the speech and the interview.
Speaking of yoga, she tells the crowd, '' It's a wonderful ... I can't think of the word.'' Pause. ''Discipline.'' Balance is also problematic: During the speech, she knocks over a glass of water. She feels a certain heaviness in her legs, and she loses focus if too much is going on at once. Her sense of smell is shot. She sometimes finds her favorite TV show, ''The West Wing,'' hard to follow.
The assault cured Meili of one unhealthy secret she had harbored since high school: anorexia. That, along with a compulsive need to exercise, she believes, was her way of rebelling against being the compliant daughter of a loving but controlling mother. The anorexia disappeared after the attack. ''My body went through hell, and I knew I had to treat it right to help it heal,'' she says. ''From that point on, I had a healthier attitude about food.'' Still, at 5-feet-5 and 110 pounds, she's a size 4.
Doctors tell her it's lucky she has no memory of the attack, rape, and sodomy, and she agrees. ''It probably kept me sane,'' she writes. ''On the other hand, it troubles me not to know what happened.'' She could never identify her attackers, though the five teenagers were convicted based on their own confessions, which they later claimed were coerced. Those convictions were vacated after an imprisoned murderer and serial rapist, Matias Reyes, confessed and was linked to the crime by DNA evidence. Reyes, who is already serving a life sentence, cannot be tried in the case because the statute of limitations has expired.
Still, a special panel found that the five original suspects had ''most likely'' participated in the attack. Meanwhile, they are suing prosecutors and the police department for $50 million.
Meili says Reyes's confession was a shock. ''The fact that he said he did it alone left me speechless. I had seen these guys on videotape saying they had done it. It was confusing. What if they shouldn't have gone to prison?''
Her doctor has told her that her injuries were too serious to have been inflicted by one attacker. She has long given up trying to figure out what happened that night. ''I'm never going to know, and I had to deal with that way back then,'' she says.
But she does remember the trials, which occurred in 1990. Despite the reservations of her family and doctors, she took the witness stand. She felt there were crucial questions only she could answer: when and where she ran in Central Park, and the consequences of her injuries. She never felt rancor toward the defendants as individuals, she says, but did want them to take responsibility for the actions to which they had confessed.
The person in the courtroom she felt the most rage toward was a defense attorney. He questioned her about her sex life and tried to make it appear as if her then-boyfriend could have been the attacker - what Meili calls in her book ''the slut factor and the boyfriend theory.'' She now understands, she says, why some rape survivors choose not to press charges. She also tells the rape crisis group: ''I am very much a believer that rape victims should not be identified unless they decide to. It's such a different crime.''
In her book, Meili writes of intimate relations with her boyfriend after she recovered. ''This is a question many people want to know; how a rape survivor faces that question of having sex or making love again,'' she says. She laughs. ''The worst part was having my father read it.'' (Her mother died in 2001.)
After months in a rehabilitation center, relearning how to walk, talk, dress, and feed herself, Meili returned to Salomon Brothers. In 1995, she completed the New York City Marathon in ''4 hours, 30 minutes, and 1 second.'' She was accompanied by a guide from the Achilles Foundation, a nonprofit that works with disabled athletes. Today, she serves as its New York chairman.
At mile 16, another volunteer guide joined them: Schwarz, a business consultant she had been dating. The next year, they were married. ''I loved her big heart,'' says Schwarz, 46. ''She's just got such strength and warmth. And she's pretty cute, too.'' The two run together. He can run faster, but she can run farther, he says.
The two are childless by choice. ''Jim and I talked a lot about it,'' she says. ''We got married later in life and wanted to focus on us and our relationship.''
In 1998, Meili left Salomon Brothers, yearning to do something different with her life. She was already on the boards of Achilles and the Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention program at Mount Sinai Hospital. She volunteered with the homeless and shook down her wealthy business contacts for worthy causes. She joined the board of Gaylord Hospital in Connecticut, where she had spent months in rehab. She took a job running a nonprofit dealing with housing issues.
But since the attack, she had become interested in the mind/body connection and healing and had attended a number of workshops. So she resigned from her job and cast about for a way to relate her story to others who needed help. In May 2001, she spoke at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston with Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the UMass Medical Center. She was billed simply as a ''TBI'': someone with a traumatic brain injury. A man in a wheelchair, who had been in a coma for more than three months, told her she was his inspiration. ''You give me great hope,'' he told her. ''It can be done. I can beat this.''
They were the words she needed to hear. ''I realized I could make a difference in the lives of others, just as others had made a difference in my recovery,'' she writes. She began her book shortly after.
At 28, she never meant to capture the public's attention. At 42, she has stepped back into the spotlight. ''I feel my values haven't changed, but what I value has,'' she says. Her body, for one: no more starving or obsessive exercise. Her career: ''I don't want to work 100 hours a week.'' And balance: Physically she has lost some of this, but emotionally she has gained. ''I value a balance, those things around me that mean so much and I know so well can be gone in a second.''
''I think before, I had something of a plan,'' she says. ''I don't have that agenda now. It's just: Let's see what the universe has in store for me, and be open for it.''
This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 4/16/2003.
14 Years After Being Savagely Attacked, the Central Park Jogger Shares Her Story
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 14, 2003; Page C01
People have this very proprietary feeling about her. The makeup artist at the "Today" show says how wonderful it is to see her looking so well. Al Roker, passing in the hallway, enfolds her in a sudden hug. A crew member sees her walk by, clasps her hand and says, "God bless you." She's never met any of them before, yet they all feel they know her, that they helped urge her on and are therefore allowed to cheer her victory even though, until now, they didn't know her name.
Her name is Trisha Meili. Simply to print those words, to hear them on television and see them on the cover of her new book, is a seismic thing. If she'd died after being attacked, as her doctors warned she very well might, her name would have appeared in every newspaper and newscast. But because she'd been not only beaten into a coma, but also raped, the press preserved her anonymity, as it typically does for victims of sexual assault. For 14 years, through her arduous recovery from grave injuries, her testimony at two trials, her return to work and retreat from the media spotlight, she was simply called the Central Park jogger.
The people close to her, so long accustomed to guarding her privacy, feel an odd twinge when they hear her identified. And there was "some hand-wringing," a friend says, by family members who wondered why she'd want to go public now, at age 42. Didn't she want to live a normal life?
Meili herself is braced for the possibility that some unpleasantness could materialize. "What if someone comes up who doesn't have that loving concern?" she wonders. "Someone who says, 'What the hell are you doing? You're just trying to get publicity! What were you doing running in the park at night anyway?' " She's trying to prepare herself.
But so far, it's been a lovefest, long delayed. "There's something about this story that has touched people in a very personal way," Meili says. "They'll stop me and say, 'I just want you to know I prayed for you.' 'I'm glad to see you doing well.' It's such a heartwarming thing for me." And it persuades her that she's made the right decision, that finally reclaiming her name and telling her story might help other people with severe brain injuries, other women who were raped.
"It's been a wonderful progression to watch," Linda Fairstein, former chief of the Manhattan district attorney's sex crimes unit, says of Meili's progress and her growing openness. Fairstein oversaw the prosecution of Meili's alleged assailants in 1990 and has since worked with her in a local program for sexual assault victims.
"I've seen thousands of women recover from this trauma, but what I say means nothing compared to hearing it from Trisha," Fairstein says. "When I see her running again, I'm a tough old prosecutor, but it brings tears to my eyes."
A Good Face on Things
Meili does look terrific, even with more makeup slathered on her thin face than she prefers, courtesy of NBC. Feathery streaked-blond hair hides nearly all the scars from her multiple skull fractures; her enormous eyes betray no hint of the surgical skill required to reconstruct the once-shattered socket on the left. A slight indentation remains on that cheek, but most of her remaining deficits (a word she dislikes: "Why is everybody worried about what I can't do?") are invisible. She's lost her sense of smell, for instance, and, when she's fatigued, experiences double vision in one eye; trouble with balance sometimes throws her gait off.
Her style is cheery, relentlessly upbeat, but she's conscious of working hard to focus her thoughts, to sharpen her memory; before her "Today" interview with Katie Couric, she sat alone with a sheaf of notes, prepping. Her husband, Jim Schwarz, accompanying her on her promotional rounds, sits in on this interview in her publisher's office after the show, and not only to lend moral support. She sometimes has to fumble for a fact or word, though the effort is more evident to her than to a listener, and "he remembers things."
Some memories, however, can't be retrieved. Meili (pronounced MY-lee) has never been able to recall what happened on the night of April 19, 1989, or indeed for weeks thereafter, and her medical team tells her she never will.
Plenty of other people remember, though. The attacks on Meili and on seven other people in Central Park that night followed a series of high-profile crimes in 1980s New York, several with sickening racial elements. The city itself felt divided and besieged, and this latest horror, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo said, brought "the ultimate shriek of alarm."
The location itself helped fuel international attention; the same incidents, had they taken place in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, wouldn't have carried such resonance. So did all the subsequent discussion of "wilding," a coinage used to described throngs of teenagers descending on random passersby, beating up and ripping off cyclists and dog-walkers and workers, apparently mostly for excitement and group validation. The class and racial undertones were evident: The jogger was 28, a white Salomon Bros. investment banker with degrees from Wellesley and Yale; those accused of attacking her were black high school kids from Harlem who seemed, in videotaped confessions, not remorseful but matter-of-fact, sometimes even jocular.
The brutality of the attack also contributed to the city's collective shudder. The jogger had not only been raped but cut and beaten so severely that she lost 75 to 80 percent of the blood in her body. Her head, smashed with a brick or pipe, swelled until she was nearly unrecognizable to friends arriving at Metropolitan Hospital to identify her. The damage to her brain seemed to preclude a return to normal cognitive functioning. "This neuro specialist was called in and told her family it would be better if Trisha died, because if she lived she'd be a vegetable," recalls Ardith Eicher, a close friend since they were freshmen at Wellesley. "It was very grim."
Beyond the hospital where Meili lay comatose for 12 days, she was both heralded as a scrappy heroine who refused to die, and criticized for taking a foolhardy risk. The police were praised for quick arrests and also condemned for racism. Ugly charges and countercharges continued for weeks, picked up again during two trials the following year that convicted five teenagers in the attack, and then abated as they were sent to prison and the jogger went about her long process of recovery.
Suddenly last year, as Meili was working on "I Am the Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility" (it appeared in bookstores last week), the dreadful case erupted all over again. Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and rapist serving a long prison sentence, claimed he alone had raped and beaten the jogger, and DNA tests showed that his was the previously unidentified semen found on her clothing and in her body. "I was a monster," Reyes said.
After months of investigation, the district attorney asked a court to overturn the five men's convictions. Now 28 to 30 years old, having already served terms ranging from seven to 13 years, they've had their names cleared -- and their lawyers recently announced that they will each sue prosecutors and the police department for $50 million.
There are times when Meili wishes she could bring some clarity to all this. "I want to be able to say, look, this is what happened," she says. That she can't produces "a feeling of helplessness."
On the one hand, Reyes says he acted alone; on the other, her doctors are convinced that her extensive injuries resulted from multiple assailants. And yes, the judge vacated five men's convictions because the new evidence would have affected their trials, but no, he didn't say they were innocent. A panel commissioned by the city police concluded in January that "the most likely scenario" was that the five had indeed participated in her attack. If the young men were innocent, then their convictions only add to the tragedy that night, she believes.
"It's very, very murky and I don't know what the truth is; I'm never going to know," Meili says. "I have to be able to be at peace with that."
But she also thinks that not knowing, "having no memory of that trauma . . . is a blessing." Through her work with sexual assault victims, she's spoken with many other women who were raped and remember it all too vividly. "I see how devastating that is," she says. "I can't imagine what it would be like to have gone through that and to constantly have it on your mind." Unlike many survivors, "I don't have nightmares," she says. "I don't have flashbacks."
Which left her free to concentrate, when she left the hospital after nearly two months for a rehab center in Connecticut, on getting better. She calls the process "a rebirth" because, like a small child, she had to learn all over again to walk, to button a shirt, to add and subtract.
Things That Matter
The same competitive drive that had propelled her through elite schools and to high-powered Salomon Bros. proved critical at Gaylord Hospital. She arrived in a wheelchair, able to hold a lucid conversation but not able to remember what she'd read in a book as soon as she turned to the next page. But she was fiercely focused.
"I don't know how or why, but I never said, 'Why did I go running? Why did that happen to me? If only.' I didn't do that to myself," she says. She concentrated on minor milestones, like being able to use tweezers to move metal pegs from one part of a drilled wooden board to another -- and moving more pegs than she had two days before. "You go in such small stages," she acknowledges. "But I'd see progress and for me that was very therapeutic."
A bad day was being told to draw the face of a clock and not remembering whether it was the long hand or the short one that indicated the hour. A good day was the first time she could apply mascara, a sign of improved manual dexterity.
Maybe the best day was a summer Saturday when she joined members of the Achilles Track Club, an organization for disabled runners, in the Gaylord parking lot. "One man was in a wheelchair. One had spina bifida and was on crutches. . . . I remember thinking, if they can do this with their challenges, I can do it, too." So she ran -- just a quarter-mile loop around the lot, unsteadily and at a pace that made her wonder if what she was doing was more like fast walking -- but she completed the loop. "Look what I can do and how good it feels," she remembers exulting. "I had the sense 'It's going to get better.' "
Can anybody so devastated really be this ceaselessly positive? The only anger Meili seems to allow herself is aimed, first, at a defense attorney whose cross-examination seemed to brand her as promiscuous, and second, at people who still ask why she was running at night in the park. (Her book discloses that she'd had anorexia since high school, and links her running to the compulsion to control her weight. But she's also quick to point out that rape happens at all places and times.)
Even close friends say that yes, this is a person who insists on seeing a half-full glass. "I never saw a time where she was angry or why-me," says Ardith Eicher. If Meili ever yielded to despair or rage, "it was in very, very private moments."
The bulk of her recovery, a continuing process, took place in five months. She left Gaylord and returned to work at Salomon, though in administrative jobs that left her somewhat restive.
She testified twice at trials where courtroom artists sketched a woman in a purple suit and a blurred-out face. "It takes tremendous guts to do it," says Fairstein. But prosecutors "felt it critical that the jury see and hear from Trisha." As a witness, Meili was "enormously intelligent, very measured, no hysterics," Fairstein says. "People empathized with her."
Two years after her attack, she visited friends in southern New Jersey, and went for a run. "She went off like she'd never been injured," her startled host Bob Herber recalls. A couple of years later, she ran the New York City Marathon in a very respectable 4 1/2 hours.
And she married Jim Schwarz, a sales consultant whom she met through Eicher, on a Connecticut beach on a glorious fall afternoon in 1996, a joyful day.
Yet as the years passed, Meili says, she began to feel unfulfilled at Salomon Bros., overwhelmed at a subsequent job heading a nonprofit housing group, more inclined toward using her own experiences. A few tentative speaking engagements before sympathetic groups, sometimes still without using her name, had touched her listeners.
Along with the thousands of letters and gifts and prayerful messages the Central Park jogger had received during her years of nameless fame, she'd gotten a stack of offers from publishers. Perhaps it was time to respond. "She said she'd been thinking for a long time, three or four years, that she wanted to tell people, and New Yorkers in particular, that she'd survived and survived very well," says Joni Evans, the literary agent Meili met. "She thought she owed an accounting, and a thank-you."
When Evans began talking to publishers, some offered to buy a book whose author remained anonymous. Meili "thought, 'No, it's time to stand up,' " her agent reports. "She was sort of ready to come out. She was hidden for so many years."
The Long Run
This is a different Trisha Meili from the driven young woman who went for her nightly run in 1989, and not only because, as she writes in her book, "mentally, I will never be the same as I was before." She's also more inclined to follow her own inclinations. Sharing her saga, traveling to promote the book (she comes to Olsson's at 12th and F streets in Northwest Washington on Tuesday), putting her name and face before the public despite her family's trepidations, "this was Trisha listening to herself," Eicher says.
Other audiences might want to hear her speak, Meili thinks. She could talk to people in rehab and their families, to doctors and therapists. She could talk to rape survivors and their counselors, perhaps to college students and corporations. She has a gospel of sorts to spread, about the effect the mind can have on even a broken body.
"I watched my body transformed, and I thought, 'There's something else going on, some other force, some other power,' " she explains. Not a religious person, she doesn't invoke God, but she does have faith and thinks she may be able to inspire faith in others. They tell her so. They say that seeing her walk into an auditorium makes them think that maybe they can abandon their wheelchairs, too; that hearing about how she recovered from a sexual assault means that they can also survive and one day tell their own stories.
"Now that I've gained more confidence in myself, let me tell you about me," she wants to say to people. "This journey, this process of healing, I don't think it's unique. Other people can do it, too."
I AM THE CENTRAL PARK JOGGER
A Story of Hope and Possibility.
By Trisha Meili.
257 pp. New York: Scribner. $25.
Some books can, in fact, be judged by their covers. In the case of ''I Am the Central Park Jogger,'' almost everything most readers will want to know is on the front jacket: the title itself, simple and direct; a photograph of the author, smiling and well; and, of course, her name, Trisha Meili.
As long as she remained anonymous, the Central Park jogger was a character in one of New York's countless cautionary tales -- dangerous New York, polarized New York, a place where a young white woman running in the park could be attacked by a gang of black kids. Trisha Meili's version of this story is incomplete, partly by design and partly by necessity. Meili does not remember anything about being beaten, raped and left for dead in Central Park on the night of April 19, 1989; her last memory is turning down a dinner invitation from a friend at 5 o'clock. This lapse is a blessing, she realizes, because ''I don't carry with me the horror and the humiliation of the event.'' Besides, for her the event is less important than her reaction to it. Her book ''is about something I did, not what was done to me,'' she writes. ''It is about the capacity of the human body and spirit to heal.''
Leave it to the newspaper columnists -- several of whom she quotes, nonjudgmentally -- to plumb the legal, social or political implications of her story. When Matias Reyes, already in prison for rape and murder, confessed last year to attacking her, causing the state to vacate the convictions of the five young men charged in her case, she was ''stunned'' but undeterred: ''These developments have not changed my purpose in writing this book.'' Her detachment is evident from the book's first chapter, in which she narrates the night of her attack and its immediate aftermath in the third person. The furious public debate that surrounded her case is noted almost without comment. Only rarely does she venture an opinion, and then it is often unremarkable, as when she writes that ''one of the saddest aspects of the trials was that it was so quickly turned into a racial conflict.''
''I Am the Central Park Jogger'' is a very personal book. Told without anger or resentment, it will comfort and inspire anyone who has suffered a horrible trauma -- and many who haven't. Whether Meili's conclusions about the mind-body connection, her rapture on learning how to eat a raisin ''with awareness,'' are helpful or embarrassing is beside the point. They are both. And even if they are mostly the latter, the mere fact that she is here to write them is remarkable.
For those uninterested in such lessons, the book has some small revelations and fascinating details. During Meili's six-week stay in Metropolitan Hospital, four of the suspects' families sent her flowers. (The tabloids always mentioned the 18 roses sent by Frank Sinatra.) She received thousands of letters of support; one man who wrote to ask ''how dare you go into the park at night'' wrote back a few days later to apologize. She composed a letter to the editor of The New York Times in 1994, thanking people for their support, but never sent it. She has thrown away the first book she read after her attack, a milestone in her recovery, and can no longer even remember what it was. Her psychiatrist was encouraged, just weeks after the attack, when Meili discussed her favorite philosophers, but at the time she hadn't read any philosophy, and today has no memory of the conversation.
Much as readers might want to know more about any of this -- or about how Meili feels about what she has come to symbolize -- they won't find it here. Part of the reason this event captured so much attention, besides the fact that it happened in the media capital of the world, is that the story of the Central Park jogger could be adduced by any side in a continuing debate about race, class and justice in America. While ''I Am the Central Park Jogger'' may not participate in that debate, it contributes to it.
Michael Newman is a staff editor for The Times's Op-Ed page.
She was so badly beaten, the priest administered last rites
Stephen Robinson reviews I Am the Central Park Jogger by Trisha Meili
This is a memoir of one of the most infamous sexual assaults in history written by the victim, who has absolutely no recollection of the incident itself. So Trisha Meili, in unveiling herself as the Central Park jogger, writes of the attack dispassionately, piecing the narrative together from police and press accounts.
She was a 28-year-old yuppie on the fast track at Salomon Brothers when, during an evening jog in April 1989, she was "bludgeoned, raped, sodomised, and beaten so savagely that doctors despaired for her life". Meili maintains that sense of distance as she describes her arrival at hospital, where last rites are administered, noting that "her skull has been fractured, and her eye will later have to be put back in its place".
A gang of black and Hispanic youths had gone on a "wilding" spree of robbery and assault across the park that spring evening, and when Meili was later discovered close to death in a ravine, it was assumed she had fallen victim to them. After vigorous interrogation by the police, the youths offered confessions, though the statements were contradictory and there was no forensic evidence linking any of the suspects to the assault.
The case of the Central Park jogger achieved notoriety because it came to symbolise Manhattan in the 1980s, when the gilded world of young high-achievers was occasionally invaded by the feral children of New York's housing projects.
To add another strange layer to the story, just as Meili took the decision to reveal herself as the rape victim and sat down to write this book last year, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and serial rapist turned born-again Christian, confessed that he carried out the attack alone. His confession, supported by the presence of his DNA, destroyed the case against the youths, and their convictions had to be set aside.
In many ways, this legal sidebar is as troubling as the assault, but Meili does not dwell on it. To her credit, she had resisted any temptation she might have felt during the trial to pretend she remembered events which would have supported the case against the suspects, so she is blameless in the miscarriage of justice.
This is principally an account of her fight back from the scars and brain damage she suffered in the frenzied assault, which left her in a coma and then unable to talk or walk. She recalls a session of physiotherapy in a swimming pool when her leg brushed against a young intern named Eric and she "experienced a shock of sexual attraction". She concludes sadly that it was unlikely to be reciprocated, given that "I was still pretty much bald, my head a mass of scars, my eye socket covered with a patch… my face more Picasso than Renoir".
Her memoir is infused with a characteristic American mix of optimism and modish spirituality. Male colleagues at Salomon Brothers were "unfailingly courteous and kind, reinforcing my belief that men were not rapists". One admires her courage in recovery and her insistence on returning to work, but the book loses direction when she leaves banking to embrace the world of self-help motivation.
She meets her husband Jim when he is in town attending a seminar entitled "Awakening the Healer Within", and so the narrative heads towards its predictable conclusion. For Meili, the "healing process" continues, and though she notes that slight but lasting brain damage means she struggles to follow an episode of The West Wing, it has at least led her to her spiritual husband and "the capacity to be generous and to love".
Trisha Meili's courage in rebuilding her life is immense, but one cannot help thinking that a happier ending would have found her on the executive floor at Salomon Brothers rather than starring in a series of motivational seminars.
‘I am the Central Park Jogger’
14 years later, woman at center of famous case reveals herself
April 6 — So much has been written about the crime, but the public still knows little about the woman called the Central Park Jogger. Now she is breaking her silence. Read an excerpt from her book below.
PREFACE: “I’M OKAY”
Shortly after 9 p.m. on April 19, 1989, a young woman, out for her run in New York’s Central Park, was bludgeoned, raped, sodomized, and beaten so savagely that doctors despaired for her life and a horrified nation cried out in pain and outrage.
I am that woman, until now known only as the Central Park Jogger, and this is my story.
FROM CHAPTER ONE: “WILDING”
At 5 P.M. on the day of the assault, I turned down a dinner invitation from a friend because I had too much work to do at the office. This was not unusual. At age twenty-eight, I was on the fast track at Salomon Brothers, one of the top-tier investment banks on Wall Street, and often worked late; it was one way to stay on the track.
Before I left the office, Pat Garrett, a colleague of mine who worked in the adjoining cubicle, asked my advice about a new stereo system. Three months earlier I had moved into a building on East 83rd Street and had bought a hi-fi that I had described to Pat as ideal for a smallish New York apartment.
"Why not come over and take a look at it?" I suggested.
"Sure," he said, delighted. We had become good friends at Salomon, though our romantic attachments lay elsewhere.
"Come around ten. That'll give me time to go for a run before you get there."
There was no chance I'd forgo the run. I was obsessed with exercise and had run marathons in Boston and many 10K races in New York City. Since I normally arrived at work at seven-thirty, running in the morning would have meant getting up too early. Besides, a night jog was a fine way to relieve the stress of the day. I varied my route occasionally, as the mood struck me, but often, after entering Central Park on 84th Street, would turn north to the 102nd Street crossdrive. At night, this area of the park was secluded and dimly lit, but the only concession I made to its potential danger was to go there at the beginning of my run, rather than later at night. That friends had warned me about running alone at all at night may have goaded me to continue. I had been running there for two and a half years without their advice, and I didn't need it now. Like many young people, I felt invincible. Nothing would happen to me. I can be determined, defiant, headstrong - and maybe there were deeper issues that drove me to take the risk.
"Great," Pat said. "I'll be there at ten."
And while I remember the five-o'clock call, I don't remember the conversation with Pat; I've reconstructed it here after later talks with him. Indeed, the dinner invitation is my last memory of anything - words, events, people, actions, touch, sights, pain, pleasure, emotions; anything- until nearly six weeks later.
Just before nine that night, a group of more than thirty teenagers gather on 110th Street, the northern end of Central Park, for a night of "wilding" - senseless violence performed because it's "fun and something to do." They throw rocks and bottles at cars entering the park; punch, kick, and knock down a Hispanic man, drag him nearly unconscious into the bushes, pour beer over him, and steal his food. They decide not to attack a couple walking along the path because the two are on a date, but do go after a couple on a tandem bicycle, who manage to elude them. They split into smaller groups, then come together, then split again, like dancers in a sinister ballet. In all, eight are assaulted, including a forty-year-old teacher and ex-marine named John Loughlin, whom they beat unconscious.
Reports from that time allege that between eight and fifteen of them spot a young woman jogging alone along the 102nd Street crossdrive. There they tackle her, punch her, and hit her with a sharp object. Soon they drag her down into a ravine where one of the teenagers rips off her jogging pants. The woman is in excellent condition, and she kicks and scratches at them, screaming wildly; it is difficult to pin down her arms and legs. Finally, she is hit in the left side of the face with a brick or rock. Her eye socket shatters and she stops fighting and screaming.
By this time, John Loughlin, having regained consciousness, has been found by the police and reported his assault. He is taken to a hospital. The cops, now aware of the attacks from reports by some of the victims, have fanned out, looking for the assailants. The park goes quiet.
Three and a half hours later, two policeman, Robert Calaman and Joseph Walsh, sitting in an unmarked car at the 102nd Street crossdrive, are approached by two Latino men, shouting excitedly about a man in the woods who has been beaten and tied up. The policemen drive closer to investigate. Walsh gets out of the car and sees a body in the mud off the pavement, lying faceup and thrashing violently.
The men were wrong. It is the body of a woman. Naked except for her bra, which has been pushed above her breasts; her running shirt has been used to gag her and tie her hands in a praying position in front of her face. Walsh tells her he's a policeman.
"Who did this to you?" he asks. "Can you speak to me?"
There is no response. She is bleeding profusely. One of her eyes is puffed out, almost closed. The policemen call an ambulance. EMTs arrive. She is taken to Metropolitan Hospital, known for its acute-trauma care, and rushed to the emergency room. She is met by Dr. Isaac Sapozhnikov, attending physician in the ER, who instantly calls Dr. Robert S. Kurtz, director of Surgical Intensive Care, at his home. Dr. Kurtz issues instructions for the immediate care the Jogger needs and comes in early that morning. He will supervise her treatment for the seven weeks she is at Metropolitan.
It is astonishing that the Jogger is alive. She is in deep shock, her blood pressure so low that the ER staff are unable to get an accurate reading. Her body temperature is eighty-five degrees, and she is unable to breathe on her own. A technician stands by her side to pump oxygen down a tube in her throat. Last rites are administered.
The woman is bleeding from five deep cuts across her forehead and scalp; patients who lose this much blood are generally dead. Her skull has been fractured, and her eye will later have to be put back in its place. When it comes time for surgery, Kurtz will be surrounded by a crackerjack team: two plastic surgeons, an expert on severe injuries to the eye; an ear, nose, and throat specialist. But for now, he - and Dr. Sapozhnikov before him - has only the emergency room staff to assist him.
The victim's arms and legs are flailing violently, the aftereffects of massive brain damage, and that night have had to be tied to the gurney since there are not enough night nurses to monitor her constantly. The jerking and thrashing mean that both halves of her brain have lost their ability to control the movement of her extremities, to say nothing of her ability to think or feel. Many will stand by her bed in coming days and interpret this as the Jogger still fighting for her life.
There is extreme swelling of the brain caused by the blows to the head. The probable result is intellectual, physical, and emotional incapacity, if not death. Permanent brain damage seems inevitable.
As promised, Pat gets to Trisha's apartment building at ten. He rings up. No answer. Funny, he thinks, she must still be in the shower. He waits, rings again. When there's no response, he goes to a phone booth at the corner and calls her. He gets her machine. "Hi, I'm not able to answer the phone right now, but if you'll leave your name and number..."
"Trisha, where are you? It's the story of my life, women always standing me up," he jokes. "I'm going home. Hope everything's okay." A tendril of worry takes root, grows. How could she have forgotten that they were supposed to meet? He calls Trisha's former boyfriend, Paul Raphael, since Paul and Trisha often ran together. Paul doesn't know where she is either. Pat considers calling the police, but doesn't, thinking they'd laugh at him. It's a regret he carries to this day.
Trisha is usually the first one in the office, so when Pat gets in around eight the next morning and doesn't see her, the alarm bell rings more loudly in his brain. He asks Joanne, Trisha's secretary, if she might be traveling. No, Joanne answers. His concern mounts.
Meanwhile, Peter Vermylen, a more senior member of Salomon's Energy and Chemicals Group, and one of the people who has strongly warned Trisha against running in the park at night, is driving from his home in New Jersey to the PATH train that will take him to New York City. On the way, he listens to a radio report so disturbing that when he gets to the parking lot, he stays in his car until it finishes. A young woman has been attacked in Central Park, and he knows that Trisha jogs there almost every night.
He reaches Salomon Brothers and looks toward Trisha's desk. It is empty. She usually gets in before he does, he thinks. He asks Joanne if she has heard from Trisha. She says no. He asks her to call Trisha's apartment. No answer. Deeply worried now, he decides to contact the police, and after a couple of unproductive calls he reaches the precinct where a group of detectives have been assigned to the case. He tells the detective who answers the phone that he might know the victim and gives him Trisha's name, age, occupation. The detective describes the victim's hair as curly and medium brown, and Peter feels reassured: Trisha's is dirty blond and straight. But then the detective asks if the woman wears a "distinctive piece of jewelry." Peter puts his hand over the mouthpiece and asks Joanne about it. She describes it to him - it is a gold ring shaped into a bow - and he passes the information to the detective. "It's her," the detective says, and Peter hears him call to his colleagues, "We've got her. She's an investment banker." He asks Peter additional questions, but Peter can't talk. He's gasping for breath.
He calls Terry Connelly in Administration with the news. The detectives want someone from the firm to go to the hospital to identify the victim, and Peter volunteers for the job. No, Terry says, he'll go himself, along with a close friend of Trisha's, Pat Garrett. Peter tells him about the ring.
Pat and Terry go together to Metropolitan Hospital. They're stopped by a security guard in the lobby. The place is a madhouse. Cops are everywhere. Reporters clamor for access and information.
"No one's allowed up," the guard tells them.
"But I'm here to identify her," Pat insists.
"We'll show you a picture."
It's impossible to identify the woman in the picture; her face is unrecognizable. Pat insists on seeing Trisha in person. His reason tells him the woman in the photograph with her battered body, swollen face, and puffy eyes is Trisha. But emotionally, he's not prepared to say, "Yeah, that's her."
Reluctantly, a policeman escorts the two men upstairs. There is a guard outside Trisha's door, and a small group of doctors and nurses whispering nearby. Otherwise, silence. Pat opens the door, looks down at the figure on the bed. The woman's head is covered by bandages. Her face is so badly beaten and swollen it looks like some grotesque Halloween mask, barely human. Pat can't believe that the body before him is alive. He's still not positive it is his dear friend who is lying in front of him. A policeman enters, shows him the ring the victim wore - and Pat's heart breaks. It is a little golden bow.
Pat calls the office to ask Joanne for numbers from Trisha's Rolodex and embarks on one of the most difficult jobs he's ever had to do: he must break the news to Trisha's family.
The cops have been busy. Acting on tips and interviews, they have soon winnowed out suspects from the group allegedly in the park, among them Steve Lopez, fifteen; Antron McCray, fifteen; Raymond Santana, fourteen; Yusef Salaam, fifteen; Kevin Richardson, fourteen; and Kharey Wise, sixteen. They are black and Hispanic. Some live in Schomburg Plaza, a government-subsidized housing development directly north of Central Park, others in the Taft Houses project on Madison Avenue. Most are from two-parent, blue-collar environments. Nothing in their outward circumstances would mark them as capable of this violence. When two are put into Rikers Island prison, they are beaten by other inmates furious at the nature of their alleged crime.
On April 20, Elizabeth Lederer, one of New York's top prosecutors and a renowned trial attorney, is assigned to the Jogger case by Linda Fairstein, head of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit; it has been put in Fairstein's department because technically this is a sex crime, not yet a homicide. Lederer, already alerted that she will be the lead prosecutor in the case, goes to the 20th Precinct on West 82nd Street at 8 P.M. The investigation has been moved here from the much smaller Central Park station house, where some of the teens were initially taken and interrogated by detectives for hours. Primed by the police, Lederer spends the rest of the night of the twentieth and day of the twenty-first getting on videotape most of the suspects' individual responses to her questions about the attack. The parents of some are there for the questioning, as is usually required for suspects under the age of sixteen, since otherwise what they say may not be admissible as evidence in a trial.
Some of the teenagers are arrogant and hostile; some are more subdued. Some admit to being part of the group who assailed the jogger; one - Wise - tells Lederer "this is my first rape." Later, confessions will be recanted and the defense will argue that they were coerced. Though divergent in many respects, and though no clear physical evidence links the teens to the crime, the stories have enough similarities in their details to convince Lederer they are true. At the same time they point blame in so many different directions that she knows the task of putting together a solid, irrefutable scenario of the events of April 19 to present to a jury will be Herculean.
The media goes into a frenzy.
New York City in 1989, as New York Times columnist Bob Herbert later
describes it, is "a city soaked in the blood of crime victims. Rapists, muggers,
and other violent criminals seemed to roam the city at will....Someone was
murdered every four or five hours." The "Jogger case" speaks to the city's worst
fears, its deepest divisions, and indeed the nation's fears and divisions. The
major national stories that have occupied the press - the spread of the spill of
oil from the Exxon Valdes, the closing arguments in the Iran/contra
trial, the scandal involving House Speaker Jim Wright - are pushed to the