LOSING IT

Hillya Mooney's voice on the telephone, so chipper, so sweetly cadenced, gave no hint of the story she would finally tell.

"You wrote about me in your column," said Hillya, pausing to allow words of acknowledgment to float back to her on the line.

But I could not place her name and mumbled just enough to cover my forgetfulness.

"I was the woman Sidney Timberlake raped . . ."
Oh, God, yes. As the shock of recognition ebbed, Hillya continued.
"I think I understand what drove Sidney to rape me. Would you be interested in hearing about it?"
Over a period of several months, Hillya Mooney offered a frank look into the brutal events that changed her life.

Despite 23 years in a cynical business nothing prepared me for Hillya Mooney. She showed up at the newspaper dressed in clothes purchased for nickels at the local thrift shops. But her garments were quality apparel cast off by women who'd moved on to more current fashions. Only the gaucho hat that she routinely topped herself with hinted at eccentricity. But the notion that this remarkable lady was simply quirky was ultimately misleading. Before Hillya Mooney was finished, I would be shamed by my own words and find myself at a loss to explain why her life is threadbare.

Hillya Mooney's insight into why Sidney Timberlake raped her springs from the collapse she suffered after the attack, and it is her new identity that emerged after the rape that is so unsettling.

The victim began to live the life of her predator.
As a direct result of the rape, Hillya Mooney lost her job, lost her home, lost her furniture, lost her clothing. And this was not the end of it. The lady lost her very identity. Hillya Mooney lost everything.

For the past three years, Hillya Mooney has wandered the streets of Phoenix. She has lived in a fantasy world. She has lived in the National Guard Armory and slept on a pallet. She has lived in shelters for transients.

Hillya Mooney became, like Sidney Timberlake, homeless.
She walked the same alleyways, was fed out of the same soup kitchens and was surrounded by the same bums who populated Sidney Timberlake's world. For three years, she walked so many miles in Sidney Timberlake's shoes.

Hillya Mooney thinks she understands what drove Sidney Timberlake to rape.
"How many Sidneys would have been prevented," wonders Hillya, "if the homeless weren't made to feel completely worthless and invisible?"
When Hillya Mooney says the homeless are driven to acts of desperation, who are we not to listen?

@rule:
@body:Paul Wiggs is stunned to hear that for the last three years Hillya Mooney has been a homeless person. In fact, he cannot get over it.

"She was so bright, vivacious."
In 1990, the year of the rape, Wiggs was the executive director of economic development and marketing for Arizona Public Service Company.

"We were just getting ready to open up business in Mexico with one of that country's utilities. We decided we needed an eight-to-ten-week course in conversational Spanish. Hillya taught that class at 7:30 a.m. once a week. She was very knowledgeable, a real encourager. It was obvious that she was turned on by teaching. We had requests from people outside the company to sit in on the class because she was so very much alive."
Hillya Mooney is a child of the gentlest Southern traditions. The daughter of Baptist missionaries, she arrived in Phoenix in 1987 wearing a single strand of pearls, ruffles and white gloves. Literally. Her trunk was filled with long dresses.

"The ladies here were a shock compared to the conforming women of the South," said Hillya. "There is a Southern appropriateness that accompanies the hospitality. People did not necessarily buy into that in Phoenix. For women, there were a lot more opportunities. And everything was so wonderfully different. I remember watching the pollen count on the weather and thinking, 'Isn't that lovely?' And the mountains reminded me of Mexico."
It was quite a change from Louisiana, where she was raised and educated.
Hillya's social graces, even today, are scented with the flirtatious airs that suggest corsages pressed into family Bibles and faded newspaper clippings of society lunches. She is genteel. Though she spent 20 years as a legal secretary at two of New Orleans' most prominent law firms, she hasn't a single rude joke about attorneys.

"Lawyers have such wonderful teeth, don't you think?" she offers as her only observation upon her legal work in the Crescent City.

Though her age is sprinkled liberally throughout the court record, she simply will not allow that modest number to pass her lips. Nosy journalists are not permitted to discuss such an indelicate topic; they may look the data up if they must.

A precocious child who studied French upon her father's knee at the age of 3, she attended universities on scholarships, taking master's degrees in romance languages and Spanish. Hillya was also sheltered.

"I was raised by church people in that little bubble of magic where people are nice," said Hillya. "My grandparents turned down the radio to eliminate the beer commercials."
As she describes growing up, Hillya's eyes talk, too. They glitter above her cheekbones as she sweeps from one gilded memory to another, ever widening the chasm between a childhood of fundamental goodness and her rape, a distance so geologically vast that it gives me vertigo when I meet Hillya for the first time, and listen as she becomes a person who is real to me and not merely the statistic in the police report I summarized three years ago.

Hillya's life in Phoenix revolved around her language skills as she taught Spanish to the public defenders, the county attorney and a number of silk-stocking law firms downtown. She was also a part-time instructor in the junior college system.

Her world of books and comforters was ripped apart on September 19, 1990, at approximately 10:30 p.m.

"I had just finished teaching my late-night Spanish class at Rio Salado Community College," said Hillya. "I had the TV tuned to one of the religious shows and I fell asleep on the loveseat in my house clothes.

"I woke up with this man choking me and screaming like some kind of beast. He was using Spanish words like 'seĀ¤orita' and I'm frantically thinking, 'Which student did I give a bad grade to? Who is this person?' My mind was just racing.

"I felt light as a toothpick and was being flung side to side. I could hear a police helicopter hovering over my roof, which was very strange."
She learned later that the police presence was not a coincidence.
Sidney Timberlake had just raped an elderly neighbor of Mooney's and fractured the victim's skull during the attack. The old woman dialed 911 as Timberlake fled through nearby backyards and into Hillya's residence.

"He's speaking in broken Spanish, telling me 'Keep quiet. I'll kill you if you don't keep quiet.'

"I wrestled with him. He had on gloves, and he kept trying to cover my face and eyes. I was worried he'd gouge an eye out. I kept trying to keep him off me with my feet. That's when he pulled out a screwdriver from his boot and slashed my throat."
Though the wound was superficial, it intensified Hillya's sense of peril.
"I was praying silently," recalled Hillya. "Nothing happened. There was no answer from God, which startled me."
Timberlake continued to be aggressive.
"He took off his gloves to lift my housedress, and I kept pulling my dress down," said Hillya. "He asked me, 'Why do you keep doing that?' and I answered him, 'That's what ladies do.'"
Timberlake managed to complete the rape. Hillya stepped back and viewed the assault almost as an outsider. This survival technique gives her story a certain arm's-length quality in the retelling.

"Then I started praying out loud over him and he got off of me. I said the name of Jesus to this man and I told him, 'You will be all right.'

"This is going to sound weird. Maybe this is a trauma thing. I believe I saw Jesus standing in the air.

"Sidney sat on the floor, smoking a cigarette. I saw Jesus' lips moving, but I couldn't hear what Jesus said. It was because Jesus was talking to Sidney."
By the time he crashed into Mooney's home, Timberlake was linked to nearly a dozen rapes. The precise number remains unclear because the police suspect that some of his elderly victims never reported the assault.

With Hillya he confronted a woman who was trying to forgive him before their racing hearts had stopped pounding.

"This person was clearly frightened to death," recalled Hillya.
"I said to him, 'Obviously, you do not know Jesus.'"
Timberlake responded that he did not believe in God.

"'Everyone feels like that at sometime,' I said. 'Things happen that don't seem right, but there are great things that happen too, out of the blue, that you don't cause to happen.'

"I talked to him about different things in my life that I thought were angelic intervention."
Hillya even joked with Timberlake.
"I talked to him about moving into the house two or three months earlier and how there were still a lot of things that needed fixing. I needed a handyman, but all you brought was a single screwdriver."
Though she'd been raped, Hillya Mooney refused to be dominated. She asserted control, after her fashion. She insisted that Timberlake recognize his own humanity and hers as well.

"Even though he was choking me, he was clearly terrified. Just absolutely frantic. The thing that impressed me was the drastic change in his behavior from being this wild animal into this very quiet person. I told him God was still working for him, doing things for him."
After several hours, Sidney drifted into a stupor. When he nodded off, Hillya fled to a neighbor's home and called the police, who arrived to find the rapist gone.

Rushed to the same hospital where Timberlake's first victim from that night's sexual assaults was being treated, Hillya found herself part of an investigation.

Hillya speaks today with admiration for the work of the Phoenix Police Department, particularly Detective Marco Ling, but she also shudders at the memory of the questions.

"The very night of the rape they needed to know every detail: the number of men in my life; the number of men who'd been in my home; if they fingerprinted the whole house, how many prints of men would they find?

"They wanted to know his romantic style. They wanted to know if he was the kind of person that fondled you.

"They said all of this information would be held in the strictest confidence. This did not happen to be the truth."
Within 48 hours, the police had traced fingerprints found at the crime scene to bunk number 52, Sidney Timberlake's bed, at the CASS homeless shelter at Ninth Avenue and Madison.

Timberlake, who'd already skipped the state, was a suspect in a series of savage rapes in which all the victims, except Hillya, were women between the ages of 63 and 90.

A sexual assault supplement prepared by detectives quoted an acquaintance of Timberlake, ". . . Sidney was saying he had committed the rapes out of revenge . . ."

What possible vengeance could a young man be seeking against elderly women?
@rule:
@body:Part of Hillya's difficulties are rooted in her reluctance to accept counseling, an attitude that sprang, full blown, the night of the assault.

"There was this volunteer from CASA [Center Against Sexual Assault] who came to the hospital and she was like, 'Oh, you poor thing. I won't leave you.'

"And I felt, 'Won't you please just get out of the room. I do not want to deal with this right now.'"
For those who met Hillya in the coming years the question would eventually become not when would Hillya Mooney deal with the rape but, rather, would she ever confront the issue.

"One of the counselors I spoke with wanted to know how I dealt with the rage. Her daughter had been raped and left stark naked in the desert. The girl's now an alcoholic who just wanders aimlessly. The mother decided to become a counselor. I was surprised by the number of people affected by rape and destroyed by the anger. You could see that in the faces of the elderly women who were videotaped for Timberlake's trial. I do not have hate or anger. Mostly I feel pity over the absence of a spiritual aspect to their lives."
Hillya's sorrow was always channeled toward others. And right from the start, she found plenty of other people in need of her pity.

"I called a friend from the hospital to pick me up, but he just did not want to get involved. This was a religious person. He had studied to be a Jesuit and then dropped out before taking final vows. I told him I prayed for Sidney and his response was: 'That guy's a psycho. Have you lost your mind?'"
When she got back home, some neighbors were sympathetic, but others questioned Hillya. Some even blamed her.

"'Why didn't I have a gun or knife,' they wondered. There were one or two women who insisted to me, and never relinquished their insistence, that I must have known the man. He knew me. I knew him. Why else would he be in my house? It didn't matter what I said."
Speculation that Hillya had not been a victim at all but instead a willing sexual conquest of Sidney's was fueled when Timberlake's attorney filed papers informing the court that "consent" would be part of his defense.

Police sources call this legal strategy obscene, pointing out physical evidence proved that Timberlake forced his way into Hillya's home.

I sit listening to her, amazed that none of these appalling responses from her friends, neighbors, even Timberlake's lawyer, infuriates Hillya. She is not even upset. She explains to me that her composure in the face of such seething insults to the spirit by--in her own words--"these poor people," is the result of her Christian values.

And this, I believe, is part of the problem.
Hillya's piety is troubling. Though she has talked with passion about Jesus Christ, I later learn from others that Hillya often wore a yarmulke to services in a Catholic shelter where she eventually resided. Subsequently, a staff member at Jewish Family Services tells me that she was informed by Hillya that Mooney left the Catholic shelter when the staff there interfered with her Judaism.

This isn't necessarily surprising.
When she had a vision of Jesus in the middle of her own rape, but could not hear her Christ offer a single, soul-soothing word of salvation, I wasn't startled to discover that this woman of deep reverence moved beyond the narrowly defined borders of Baptist theology.

But Hillya's pantheism is the skeletal framework of her homelesssness, because Mooney's gods have shriveled the flesh-restoring power of outrage. She does not have the bitterness of gall for motivation; she has faith.

Nonetheless, Hillya is so aware and vital and normal during her repeated visits that I remain mystified: How did this worshipful lady move from the classrooms to the streets?

If Hillya Mooney was incapable of unleashing her anger at Sidney Timberlake, she was also no longer able to cope with life itself.

The most serious shredding began in her home.
Hillya Mooney moved into her house during the city's hottest summer on record. When the thermometer hit 122 degrees, planes were actually grounded at Sky Harbor Airport, unable to lift off in the desert's blast furnace thermals. Hillya's air conditioning broke down, igniting a dispute with the landlord that pre-dated the rape.

But after the assault, Hillya Mooney's life unraveled in such a way that she was no longer capable of negotiating the relatively simple dispute.

On the day she was scheduled to appear in small-claims court to settle the conflict over her rent, Hillya Mooney was subpoenaed to appear in Superior Court on the rape trial.

Instead of using her training as a legal secretary to resolve this scheduling impasse, she ignored the justice-court proceeding and found herself evicted and facing an order of seizure of all her household goods.

When Hillya Mooney attempted to stop the constable from carting off all her earthly possessions, she was promptly arrested and thrown into a holding tank with prostitutes.

Hillya felt she could handle the rape, but this was too much. Faced with the unthinkable, she fell back upon her upbringing to explain her circumstances. "We are not jail people," said Hillya. "I have relatives who are judges."

When she emerged from her cell, the county attorney put her up at the downtown Y. She found it impossible to focus upon her classes, to make the necessary bus connections to reach her students.

"The location of the Y is not very safe," explains Hillya. "I was not familiar with that kind of street life. It wasn't the nicest clientele: people down on their luck, people who were drunks. There was no way I could teach at night and take the bus back to that neighborhood. It was very difficult to continue teaching."
Hillya's recollection is only an approximation. In fact, the downtown Y is one of the few places in the Valley that is convenient to bus service. The larger truth is that she was shaken to her core with the suspicion that she'd been robbed of her dignity by Timberlake and that her students suspected the truth.

In a more candid moment she says, "I didn't want people to know I'd been the victim of a serial rapist."

Hillya did find a single sympathetic ear that she felt comfortable in confiding to in the early part of the crisis.

The person who understood what Hillya was going through was Helene Abrams.
As juvenile chief for the Maricopa County Public Defenders Office, Abrams had initiated a class, taught by Hillya, to acquaint her staff with conversational Spanish.

"The class began before the rape. Shortly into the teaching, we became friends. I, too, am a rape victim. I understood the range of emotions she was going through. We talked about it quite a bit, the survivor's experience. Hillya finished the class and all of us went out to a Mexican restaurant and ordered in Spanish. She did a great job, but we couldn't have her back because of the conflict of interest.

"Our office represented Sidney Timberlake."
And so Hillya Mooney found herself alone.
Hillya's home was gone and she now spent disquieting evenings sitting on the edge of a strange bed in the YWCA. After 44 years of travel and accumulation, every stick of furniture and every black-and-white photograph from her childhood was under a sheriff's padlock. Her employment as a teacher was over.

Hillya Mooney's grip on reality was reduced to a single, slender thread that was too delicate to support the weight of her dilemma: She believed that if she did not confront the rape, she could ignore it; if she ignored it, she could not be labeled a rape victim.

Her grasp loosened, however, when others went about their jobs, insisting that Hillya Mooney play her role in the rape drama. Two events in quick succession pushed her over the edge.

The prosecutor, in what Hillya describes as an attempt to secure her cooperation as a witness, showed her pictures of the bludgeoned faces of Timberlake's other victims. Hillya could no more face their rapes any more than she could confront her own.

"Bill Clayton was an excellent prosecutor," said Hillya. "He just didn't know me as a person. The women in those pictures had the appearance of someone's grandmother who'd been terribly beaten. I understood the legal purpose, but it was so dehumanizing. The county attorney and the police did not want us to communicate or know who the other victims were. It was like not being able to talk to your support group. The first photo was the only one I really looked at. The woman's face was all bashed in and red with blood. It looked like someone had hit her with a pipe or stomped on her with boots. I glanced away from the other photos."
Hillya was quickly jolted again by press coverage.
"I was at a bus stop and someone was reading your newspaper, Mr. Lacey. I looked and saw a picture of Sidney in your column. I couldn't believe it. The police had been so reassuring, told me the system was on my side. Everything would be kept confidential. Well nothing was confidential. It was all there in your column, Mr. Lacey. All my students would know. There was no personal self that I could keep behind the walls. I was devastated."
Every reporter should have the opportunity to look into the eyes of a victim when words like this are finally uttered.

But this is not an article about journalistic anguish, it is the story of Hillya Mooney, who saw quite clearly what was happening and then took the pieces of her soul and vanished.

Hillya moved to the small rural community of Surprise, Arizona. She was now wearing a crude wig to disguise herself. It was during this period that a social worker informed Hillya, to her consternation, that she was homeless.

Hillya was shocked. She actually believed that she had pulled her respectability over her shattered spirit just as she had pulled her house dress over her knees. The futility of these gestures simply escaped her.

"They told me I needed food stamps and said I could end up a bag lady. That knocked me off my feet. I began to wonder: 'Who am I? What's going on?' I forgot about eating. I wanted to get out of my involvement with the police, the county attorney. I was trying to deep-six the entire thing, but it wouldn't go away. I told myself that Surprise was a beautiful, glamorous resort. But it was a momentary dream inside the nightmare. I was totally disconnected. I felt as if I was pretending to be another person. It was an out-of-body experience. I felt responsible for defending the women who'd been bludgeoned, but I didn't want to feel all those things the other women felt. My feet were stuck in tar. I would not be able to just sit on the sidelines and be an observer.

"I kept thinking to myself, 'Oh, please, don't pull me back into it. Please.'"
In Surprise, Hillya met a man who offered her the use of his trailer in the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Happy Trails Mobile Home Park while he was away in Alaska. She accepted gratefully.

But her benefactor returned early from his trip, drank heavily and offered an observation: "You're a woman. I'm a man. So what's the problem?"

"I told him it was against my religion.
"He responded like I was some kind of misfit. Not modern. Not with it. He wasn't angry or abusive, Just resentful. He tried to avoid me. I tried to avoid him. The trailer wasn't big enough for that. Every time I would try to be a normal person, it would not work. It's like dancing with someone and you are out of synch. I tried to have a fluffy life. People would ask, 'What's with the wig?' I moved to another neighborhood and nothing went away."
With sexual pressure mounting in her hideaway, Hillya ended her six-month stay in Surprise and moved back to Phoenix, taking up winter residence with other homeless transients in the National Guard Armory.

No longer shocked at being included in the homeless census, Hillya recognized her bunk mates for who they were, yet she invented a perspective for herself that was part whimsy, part catharsis.

"I was surrounded by mentally ill women who sat up all night long, rocking themselves and jabbering away. One woman wrapped herself in plastic from head to toe. Charlotte was afraid she'd get germs. Two older women, they must have been 65, used to be prostitutes and they still were. They wore long black hair wigs.

"I saw all these people who had taken on this horrible existence and accepted it. I refused. People lost everything and then they lost their minds. I decided not to do that. I decided the National Guard Armory was the summer camp I never had as a kid. I really had a great time."
Hillya spent a little over a month on a pallet with an army blanket inside the National Guard Armory before moving into the Andre House, a transient shelter run by the Catholic Church.

In August of 1992, she transferred to a bankrupt motel on Van Buren, formerly the Sands, that had been converted to a homeless depot.

Called the New Day Center, the shelter was administered by the United Methodist Outreach Ministry (UMOM).

"I thought it was paradise," said Hillya.
Every morning she would catch a bus and ride downtown with a donated ticket.
"I would go to the Hyatt and read the newspaper like a normal person. I would window-shop at Ortega's and look at Indian jewelry I liked. I went into boutiques and looked at clothes as if I was going to buy something. I used the hotel rest rooms. Homeless people don't have access to water. I had a pair of inexpensive pearl earrings. I was still dainty."
Her appearance was important to Hillya: "Mascara meant you existed."
When Hillya found herself acting more normally she began to watch how others conducted themselves, looking for clues.

"I started going to Saint Mary's Church. The first mass is at 9:30. I had a need to make myself more real, a need to speak to people. I always spoke to the bus driver, the concierge at the hotel. I would observe how people shook hands at church. It was always so calm and peaceful in the church. There was none of the anger and hostility that surrounds the homeless. There would be fairs downtown. I never had money to buy food, but I'd always go to see how people acted. I dropped into Phoenix College where I'd taught. I'd practice on a piano, play Rachmaninoff, Chopin."
Hillya's excursions came to an end every day when the sun went down and she was thrust back into the violent world of the homeless.

"The Andre House is in the toughest part of town. There were gunshots all the time. There would be so many gunshots on weekends that stray bullets ricocheted through the house. We moved beds away from the outside walls. I saw a man killed at University Park."
Events at UMOM were only slightly less threatening.
"I was actually frightened to death. It was a large campus of mostly men with a lot of drug use and rowdiness. With the alcoholism you'd see a lot of broken furniture. People didn't remember their violence. It was nuts. Pregnant women would climb the fences to get drugs. Men were always fighting. They'd fight over generic cigarettes. It took nothing to ignite most of these people. The black men frightened me, maybe because of Sidney. The language and conduct wasn't just vulgar, it was violent."
Hillya Mooney decided to do something. She opened up a coffee service.
"I saw that people milled around as if they were in a stupor. A lot of people were depressed all the time. I got a coffee pot that made a 100 cups. They gave me the TV room. It had a single couch." Hillya was trying to copy a normal citizen's reality.

"I did the coffee service because I thought people needed to bond. I'd look around in the morning and think, 'This is what life is supposed to be like. You have coffee. You read the newspaper.' People started to talk amongst one another. You could feel the level of tension ease."
Then Hillya started a library for the homeless. It began when people dropped off magazines in the coffee room and expanded quickly with Hillya rounding up books from churches and other donors. She attempted to set up a reading program for the children.

Hillya Mooney is enormously proud of the coffee service and library because she thinks those amenities reminded the homeless that they are not animals.

"When people can talk like normal human beings and realize their similarities, it lifts their morale."
While the library and coffee service represented personal triumphs for Hillya, her relationships with the people who ran the shelter were a setback.

Hillya was evicted.
"She violated the rules you agree to abide by," said Jacki Taylor, UMOM's executive director. "I don't want to box people in, but this is not a single-residency occupancy. You are required to room with another person. We turn ten singles and 15 to 20 families away daily. By virtue of the space she was taking up, she wanted to live alone."
Hillya denies this. She says that often when couples arrived at UMOM the women stayed in her room.

"The husbands would come by and ask if they could use the room. You know. What was I supposed to do, sit in a tree? So I created a guest room on the balcony. I moved my Queen Anne chair out onto the balcony and dropped quilts and mattresses around. This clearly was not what UMOM had in mind. I was encouraging connubial bliss."
Jacki Taylor acknowledges that Hillya did a fine job with the coffee service and library but says Hillya also took over in a way that was inappropriate. Jacki Taylor says people like Hillya Mooney don't fit in at a large facility like New Day where more than 350 people are present at any one time.

"People like Hillya need an affordable place to live," explains Taylor. "If Hillya had her own room and did not have to abide by someone else's rules, I think Hillya could function beautifully. She just marches to a different drummer.

"Every time we tried to give her a sense of meaning it got twisted, blown out of proportion. Whenever we asked her to do something that she didn't want to do, she took us to court."
Which is true.
Hillya used her legal training to get three separate court injunctions against UMOM administrators, forbidding them from taking her possessions.

Shelter administrators bring a sense of order and routine to the transients' world of chaos. This administrative routine does not normally include injunctions filed by the homeless.

"I had lots of possessions, lots of clothes and some furniture in my room."
Hillya would climb into Dumpsters to salvage chairs and comb through second hand stores to purchase outfits with the change she received in her exchange of food stamps.

"The director even commented once that I had almost as much clothing as she did. They don't like the homeless to have lots of things. It makes life complicated, they would prefer that everything you own fit into a single handbag so that you can be easily moved."
While the theatrics of Hillya's courtroom injunctions were a distinct pain in the ass to UMOM's administrators, I think it's a cause for celebration that Hillya is finally fighting back.

In October, Hillya Mooney was officially evicted from the homeless shelter.
With the money from a one-time disability check, Hillya Mooney purchased a single month's stay in her own apartment off McDowell. From this precarious nest, she speculates about why Sidney Timberlake raped her and the other women.

"You really have no idea how much rage and anger exist inside the homeless. Of course they are angry. This isn't what life is supposed to be like, is it? All of the shelters turn you out onto the street at dawn because you're supposed to be looking for work. These people are drug addicts, drunks, people from shattered homes, the mentally ill, people fresh out of prison. These people aren't going to find jobs. They are forced out onto the street, flushed out like trash at sunup. You feel like you're in a penal colony. Administrators felt if people were hanging out in the library or drinking coffee, they weren't looking for work. This ignores the reality that a lot of people are crushed on the inside."
Hillya Mooney knows something about Sidney Timberlake's background. His case fills four large folders in the basement file room of Superior Court. The record shows that Timberlake was sentenced in a plea agreement to 28 years in prison with no chance for parole. His presentence report is studded with paper clips left by Hillya who has read and reread Timberlake's history as told by Sidney himself.

This man's hatred of women began decades before his homelessness.
The oldest of seven boys, he never knew his father. His mother turned him over to an "aunt" who was, in fact, a prostitute. She began by performing oral sex upon him, graduating to full intercourse. By the time he was 10, she was selling Sidney to friends of hers. At the age of 13, Timberlake was pimping for women. As an adult, he was addicted to cocaine and heroin.

When Timberlake lived in a homeless shelter, it is Hillya's feeling that he needed more than a job; in fact, he had employment at the very time he was committing the rapes.

"Homeless rage happens when you don't feel bound to humanity. You feel there is no place for you. The human touch is what's missing. Food and shelter are not enough. That's like throwing someone a life preserver but not reeling them in. We need the human touch. That's what the coffee service and library were all about. To wake up and have your coffee, read your newspaper, helps you realize you're human.

"When people don't respond to someone else's pain, that's what causes the rage. Do you really think anyone ever responded to Sidney Timberlake?

"I cared about people before, but I care more now. When I see the news, it's no longer someone 'out there.' It's all of us."
@rule:
@body:Following the rape and nearly three years of homelessness, Hillya Mooney has been unable to take a single step toward secure employment.

Her apartment costs $210 a month and she has no money. She has spent December without heat and is recovering from the flu. A Thanksgiving turkey went uncooked when the landlord was unable to repair a broken gas line.

Hillya inquired about substitute teaching at the grade school across from her apartment but was told she'd need $50 for fingerprints and a teaching certificate. She'd already spent what little cash she had for a few pieces of furniture.

Still, the sound of the children playing during recess tugs at her and kindles memories.

"On Memorial Day weekend, I organized a big picnic for all the kids in the shelter. I found an eight-piece salsa band and Circle K donated all kinds of food. Shamrock kicked in hundreds of ice cream cups and I got the American Legion to donate flags. The local manager of Kentucky Fried Chicken gave the children buckets of food and Saint Mary's Food Bank brought over candies. We just stuffed ourselves like little piggies. We danced, we put down blankets and quilts and played games with all the children. It was so much fun."
Hillya Mooney, without spending a dime, can organize a festival for society's busted angels that would make Fellini blush. But she cannot get organized enough to support herself.

On Christmas Eve, Hillya Mooney left a message on my voice mail. Her Feliz Navidad began in Spanish with an accent so sweetly tuned that it lathered the ear in aural gel. In English, she continued her holiday greeting for me and my family with words so gracious that it was easy to imagine she'd forgiven me the anguish I unwittingly caused her with my column three years ago.

And I have no doubt that when Hillya reads parts of this piece and feels pain, she will find it in her heart to forgive me, again.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but isn't the larger question: How do the rest of us absolve ourselves?

Three years ago, I wrote a series of columns on the homeless with the idea that their problems could not be confined to the transient ghetto on Ninth Avenue and Madison.

Hillya Mooney, a teacher living in a nice neighborhood far from the shelters, became exhibit one when she was raped by a homeless man. I wrote about her, and then I forgot about her.

Though Hillya Mooney has lived Jesus' teachings on Christian charity, it has not been enough to ease her back into the world the rest of us inhabit, a world she once knew so well.

Is this acceptable to you?
After she was raped, Hillya Mooney was handled by police officers, nurses, doctors, journalists, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, friends and neighbors. She moved from small homeless shelters to large transient dormitories. Case workers, social workers, human resources personnel, intake managers, counselors, psychologists--they all met her. Jewish, Methodist and Catholic relief societies all processed Hillya Mooney. No one saved her.

Do you think it is Hillya's fault that, in her darkest moments, she was not rational enough to ask for more help?

Hillya is better today, no thanks to us, but she is not well. And yet hers has never been an insoluble situation.

I think it is plain enough that if we cannot reach out to the Hillya Mooneys with a saving clasp, we will never take the steps to prevent the Sidney Timberlakes.

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...