Slowly, Jeremy Brown is coming back to the house. She loved it before. It was her little retreat, an old beige country house with wide plank floors and a living room fireplace in a neighborhood of young families at the edge of the Hudson.
When she is here, the lights stay on, in and out, front and back. The slightest night noises keep her up. Usually, she leaves. Everyone says that's perfectly understandable, especially with Reginald McFadden still in the news.And there he was, in the news again, when Brown came back to the house Wednesday after a lunch meeting at the Rockland Family Shelter. She was in a good mood after offering to help raise money for the shelter, which runs a rape crisis center.
Then the call came from her lawyer. McFadden had pleaded guilty to murdering Margaret Kierer, a 78-year-old Long Island resident who was attacked leaving a train station after a night at the opera.
Kierer was killed six days after McFadden burst into Brown's house in the middle of an ordinary evening. "She was so innocent," Brown said. "And I felt a special connection to her. And it's exactly a year ago that she was killed."
It was one of the most depressing days Brown has had since last month, when McFadden was convicted of raping and beating and robbing her.
When the week started, she was on top of the world. Tuesday, Cardinal John O'Connor was giving a Right to Life award to Robert P. Casey, the former governor of Pennsylvania. Brown wrote an editorial - her first - for Monday's Daily News, reminding the world that Casey had commuted McFadden's life sentence for a 1969 murder. McFadden had then tortured her and murdered at least two others, so wasn't the cardinal's award a bit ironic?
"I ruined their day," she said. "Just what I wanted."
Most days, she's too busy to linger over what happened. She has been in huge demand since she went public and told McFadden to go to hell at the end of the trial.
There are the requests for interviews, of course, and offers for book deals, movie deals, speaking engagements. Letters and calls come in from all over the country. People tell her she is very strong and how does she do it?
Wednesday afternoon, as she walked home from Main Street, a woman she didn't know introduced herself as a neighbor and thanked her for her courage.
"It's been lovely," Brown said. "But I need to figure out how to go on. Do I need to address change in legislation? Do I need to write more about my feelings? Do I need to counsel rape victims?"
She is the do-gooder sort. She was working at a treatment program for alcoholics at Phelps Memorial Hospital in Ossining before McFadden's random terror struck her down. McFadden, she said, had told her that her "humanitarian" job persuaded him to spare her life after hours of beating and raping her.
She had moved from West Nyack, where she lived while she was married and raising two children, to South Nyack, three years ago. "I had this serene, cozy little groove," she said.
She had painstakingly decorated her house with antique pine furniture and hand-hooked rugs. "I used to be so fussy about every hooked rug," she said.
And she met a man, John Wolanski, who turned her head. They are the kind of couple you see holding hands at movie theaters and laughing across a restaurant table. "He's much younger than I am," Brown said. Though at 56, she looks 10 years younger.
Her boyfriend, who runs a grocery store and deli in West Nyack, says what happened to her is about the worst thing that has ever happened in these parts. "Now, every day, I seem to see more violence against women in the news," Wolanski said. "Just today, there was a rape in Chestnut Ridge."
Brown thinks she might move to a place where there is no yard for a Reginald McFadden to sneak around in and peek through her window. "Maybe a condo or town house," she said. "Then I realize I can't afford to move," she said. "I'm not working."
She has managed to stay in the house all night perhaps a dozen times over the year. But it hardly seems worth the lack of sleep. "I've been living out of a suitcase for a year," she said. Sometimes, she stays with a friend, sometimes with a relative.
The other night, she was alone and heard noises. She called the police. "They came in a flash."
Wednesday night, she was all jumbled over McFadden's guilty plea. He still faces trial for another murder and is a suspect in yet another. At her trial, he not only swore he was innocent, he played his own lawyer and cross-examined her for two days. "I felt like I had been violated one more time because he tortured me for two days in that court," Brown said.
She wasn't about to stay in the house that night. But she planned on getting back early in the morning to get ready for a slew of meetings - with a book publisher, the Rockland Family Shelter and so on - throughout the day.