She lives behind a blue door decorated with a lace curtain embroidered with white roses.
The door remains closed. The blinds on her windows are shut.
Desiree Washington stays with her mother in a cramped, upstairs apartment in a working-class neighborhood in East Providence, R.I. Once, she and her family owned a cozy, ranch-style home with a swimming pool and a deck in a small town south of Providence. Washington was the darling of Coventry High School, the girl voted the friendliest and most talkative in her senior class.
That was before Mike Tyson. Before the rape.
Since then, the 22-year-old former beauty queen’s life has been in turmoil.
“Now when we meet as a family, she smiles, but it does not reach her eyes,” a relative recently said. “It’s like there’s this mask and underneath there’s just hurt.”
Tyson was released from an Indiana prison Saturday after serving three years of a 10-year sentence. He climbed into a black stretch limo with boxing promoter Don King and drove into a gilded future. On Thursday, the 28-year-old ex-heavyweight champion announced that he will resume his career with fights on the Showtime cable network and that he has an agreement with the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It has been estimated that his first fight could earn him $50 million.
His victim, who is pursuing a civil lawsuit against Tyson seeking unspecified damages from the attack, has lost her childhood home. Her life, friends say, was shattered by her encounter with Tyson at Indianapolis’ Canterbury Hotel nearly four years ago. Her parents separated; the pressure contributed to the breakup of their marriage. They sold their home.
And today, Washington, who once sought the spotlight, remains secluded with her mother in the upstairs apartment in a commercial district of cheap restaurants and hardware stores.
In the mornings, friends say, Washington boards a city bus and rides 20 minutes across town to Providence College. She is a senior psychology major and is expected to graduate with her class in May.
That alone is an accomplishment for the onetime Miss Black Rhode Island. Because since that early morning in July, 1991, when Tyson forced himself on her in his hotel room--No. 606--there have been so many problems.
“For nearly four years she has attempted to pick up the pieces of her life and move on,” said Washington’s Boston-based attorney, Michael Weisman. “This has not been easy to do. The trauma of the rape has had a profound and lasting impact on her life.”
A few months before going to Indianapolis for the Miss Black America beauty pageant, Washington had attended her high school prom. Everyone there expected she would go on to be an attorney or politician. Her ambition was to be the first black female President. But asked what she would be doing in 10 years, Washington gave a simple answer in her high school yearbook: “Smiling and laughing.”
“Dez was one of the most popular kids in school. She knew everybody and was always at the center of attention,” said Alyce Pagliarini, a childhood friend. “She was a joiner. A real people person. Then she came back from the pageant and just cut herself off from everybody.”
Washington worked as a cashier at Kmart that summer between high school and college. Before going to the pageant, she always seemed bubbly and bright, a colleague said. But she returned with a depressed, somber outlook.
“She became withdrawn,” said the colleague, who asked not to be identified. “She used a different name on her name tag, but that didn’t help. People knew who she was.”
Friends said Washington was embarrassed by what they call “her ordeal,” and did not feel comfortable talking about it.
“She called me one night and said, ‘Something bad happened,’ ” Pagliarini recently recalled. “I asked her what, but she said, ‘I can’t tell you.’
“ ‘Why can’t you tell me,’ I said. I mean, we went to Girl Scouts together. She said, ‘Because it has to do with someone famous.’ I said ‘Yeah, right.’ ”
At Tyson’s trial, the 5-foot-3, 111-pound Washington described the confrontation with the 5-foot-10, 250-pound boxer with a history of brutality toward women.
“I tried to punch him, but it was like hitting a wall,” Washington testified. “I said, ‘Get off! Get off me!’ The next thing I knew, he slammed me on the bed.
“I was begging him, ‘Please, I have a future ahead of me. . . . Please, I don’t need a baby. . . . Please, I’m going to college,” her testimony continued. “He said, ‘So, we have a baby,’ and jammed himself inside me. I felt like someone was ripping me apart.”
At the end of the summer, Washington moved onto the cloistered campus of red-brick buildings at Providence College and lost touch with most of her high school friends. As she began to recover, the aspiring attorney was learning her own lessons about the law in an Indianapolis courtroom. When she came back from the trial, her classmates tried not to talk with her about the rape and the college worked to protect her from unwanted publicity.
“In place of what has been me for 18 years is a cold and empty feeling. I can’t comment on what my future will be,” Washington wrote in a statement read at Tyson’s sentencing in March, 1992. “I can only say that each day after being raped has been a struggle to learn and to trust again, to smile the way I did, to find the Desiree Lynn Washington who was stolen from me and those who love me on July 19, 1991.”
The rape was particularly hard on her family. She testified that the reason she went out with Tyson at 1:30 a.m. after meeting him at a pageant dance rehearsal that afternoon was because her father was a big Tyson fan. The pain of the rape was brought into the house on a pine-tree-lined street of Coventry. It helped tear the family apart.
Donald and Mary Belle Silva Washington raised three children. There was Desiree’s older brother, Don Jr., and an adopted daughter. Washington was 10 years old when her parents adopted Dorrae in 1984. Her new sister was three years younger than Desiree and tried to follow in her big sister’s footsteps. When she graduated from Coventry, Washington jokingly pledged in her yearbook to bequeath “to my sis, all of my homework.”
They were a happy family and their home was a pleasant place. “Her mother was a wonderful person. She’d cook us snacks, sit down and enjoy a chat with us,” Washington’s friend Nikki Walshe said recently. But after the rape, neighbor Joyce Gamble told a British newspaper reporter, “everything changed.”
In May, 1992, shortly after Tyson was sentenced, Mary Washington wanted to end her 17-year marriage. The divorce papers cite irreconcilable differences that “have led to the irremediable breakdown of the marriage.” They also say that Mary Washington had quit her job as a personnel manager and was undergoing counseling and receiving state disability “due to depression and stress.” The divorce was final by the end of the year.
During this time, Desiree Washington stayed in the dorms at Providence College. Her mother had moved and taken her birth name, and her father and sister lived in Coventry. They planned to sell the house after Dorrae graduated from high school. But the pressure didn’t let up.
It increased when a former boyfriend gave an affidavit claiming that Washington once falsely said that he had raped her after they had consensual sex when she was 16 years old, accusations Desiree Washington denied. Last year Donald Washington sold the house, quit his job as a bookkeeper at the Days Inn in nearby Cranston and quickly left town with Dorrae.
“The kids at school wouldn’t leave Dorrae alone,” said Steve Bardi, one of her friends. “Some of them kept telling her that her sister had asked for what she got. There were others who wanted to put a Mike Tyson Punch-out Nintendo game in her mailbox with a threatening note. It was cruel.”
The day before she moved, Bardi said, Dorrae was crying and telling her friends, “My father just can’t take it anymore.”
Her family splintered and her reputation damaged, Washington moved off campus to live with her mother last year. She has had one serious boyfriend since the rape, a friend said, but that relationship ended soon after she visited the boy’s family.
It’s clear to her high school friends that Washington is not the old Desiree. Pagliarini recalled the last time she saw Washington. She ran into her at the Rhode Island Mall and called out, “Dez!” Pagliarini was excited. But Washington turned and looked around nervously, as if she was afraid someone might recognize her.
They gossiped and caught up a bit. Still, it was not like before. “I was thinking, ‘Poor girl,’ ” Pagliarini said. “ ‘She can’t even go to the mall anymore.’ ”