ENOUGH: America’s Wholly Visible Underbelly

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ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women and non-binary people that engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence.

The series will run every Tuesday afternoon. Each week we will highlight different voices and stories.

***

Collegial Indecency: Sexual Assault in the Ivory Tower
Ada Cheng

I should have screamed and yelled, pushed him away, or kicked him, but I didn’t. I did say no. Over and over again. Politely and respectfully.

It was sometime in fall 2010. He was a colleague of mine in the department at the university where I was a faculty member. I often stopped by his office to chat. We talked about everything, just like two friends would do. When he first joined the program, he was still married. He got divorced a year later. Once he started dating, we commiserated over our dating experiences and the people with whom we were involved. Our interactions extended from the office, to lunch and dinner at restaurants, and to parties at his place. I saw him as a close colleague and as a close friend.

He invited me to his place to watch a movie one night. It was just the two of us. I can’t remember the specific movie we were watching, but I am certain it was something serious and thoughtful. He was sitting on a separate chair, and I was leaning against one side of the couch. Half way through the movie, he moved over to the couch. He sat down and laid his head on my lap. He grabbed my hand to touch his face. I was rather surprised by his action. I immediately withdrew my hand because I didn’t want to give him mixed messages. I didn’t push him away and stand up because that would have been too strong of a rejection. I asked him if there was anything we should talk about. I wanted to talk about the whole incident like mature adults.

The fact that I withdrew my hand didn’t deter him. He continued to lay his head on my lap until the movie was over. After the movie ended, I stood up. He put his hands on my shoulders and started to undress me. I immediately said to him, as I struggled to keep my dress on, “No. No. Stop. That is not a good idea.” He didn’t stop. He tried to pull my dress down and off me. I continued to say “no” and struggled to pull my dress back on. After a few minutes of pushing down and pulling up, the dress was on the ground. He then proceeded to take my underwear off. I told him to stop and held his hands tightly. We struggled and he managed to get my underwear off. After I was completely naked, he grabbed my hand and led me to his bedroom as I said no. He put me on his bed as I continued to object. Once on his bed, he wanted me to lay back. I said “no” while trying to push his hands away. He pushed his figures inside my vagina. That was when I pulled his fingers out, sat up, jumped off the bed, and said “no” loudly. I told him I had to leave. I went to the living room and put on my dress. I left and walked out to the street. I was very confused. I couldn’t make sense of the incident. The next day and days after that, we both acted as if nothing had happened. I never stopped by his office again.

A week after the encounter, I told a close colleague in my department about what happened. He looked me straight in the eye and said: “Why are you taking this so lightly? This is rape. Do you not see it? He should have stopped the first time you said no. This is rape.” His comments threw me off guard. I hadn’t seen it as rape until that moment. There was no consent, and there was a clear violation. The fact that I was so desensitized to my own bodily violation troubled me more than the violation itself.

The truth is my experience is not unusual. Many women have trouble defining what happens to them as sexual assault. The stories our society validates are precise and clear-cut. On the part of the perpetrator, there is brute force involved, by a stranger, in the bush, and in the dark. On the part of the victim, there is yelling, screaming, and fighting him/them off. Yet sexual assaults often take place in contexts where the victim and the perpetrator have established relationships, and where coercion and pressure rather than physical force predominate. The nature of our relationship with the perpetrator shapes the way we react to the sequence of events. Yes, I could have simply kicked him and told him to fuck off. Yet my first response was to handle the situation without humiliating or embarrassing him because we had a friendship. I wanted him to have a dignified way out, but he took the dignified way out as permission to continue his sexual advance. He wouldn’t have taken a physical possession from me if I objected the first, or the second, or even the third, time. What made my body different from a physical possession?

My colleague left the department a year after the incident. We never discussed what transpired between us. I didn’t know how to. Being a so-called expert on issues of gender and sexuality, I felt very embarrassed by my own inability to see clearly what happened to me.

I know this much though. As women, we are conditioned to handle troubling incidents politely and respectfully. We are then taught to feel guilty and fault ourselves for not being assertive or confrontational when in danger. We are made to feel that we “consent” to and are thus complicit in the violence against us. It is this feeling of complicity that blinds us, and shames us. Nothing justifies the actions he took after I said “no” the first time. I could not have prevented him from doing what he wanted to do that night.

*

Women at Work (Letter to Myself at Twenty-Six)
Sejal Shah

I remember a professor telling me what happened was a secret. He blocked the door when I came in for our conference. Where’s my hug? he said. Where’s my kiss?

Last week something in me broke; I scrolled through the stories and comments for hours—wrecked and reeling. Across several articles, the New York Times detailed Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior toward women in the film industry. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t eat. I texted my therapist. She said, It’s like after Trump was elected. PTSD for women from things long ago.

I was twenty-six, already struggling with depression. He was attractive and had presence. If he had been a different sort of professor, I might have harbored a harmless crush. He was a Famous Male Novelist. My university paid him a full salary to teach one class a year. When I said something to him later about reporting him, he said that it was, in his era, understood to be a perk of the job. Relationships with students. He was right. They weren’t going to fire him to keep me.

The New York Times reports brought it all back to me. I hadn’t known how to talk about or to give these experiences voice.

In the comments on the initial October 5th article, one reader wrote:

Every single woman I know has been subjected to her own Harvey Weinstein. Or two. Or ten. We all spend so much time crafting behavioral workarounds to avoid, downplay, and minimize the harassment while simultaneously having our advancement rest in the hands of those from whom we’re having to creatively protect ourselves. It’s exhausting…

I mean, the time. The time I spent trying to “craft behavioral workarounds.” I took other people’s classes. I took his workshop only when I felt safe enough to do so—a year and a half after the initial proposition. How much time and energy did I spend trying to figure out how I could take his class and learn from him, get my degree, and get out the door? This is also violence against women.

Even the letter of recommendation. I had to go to his house to get it. He dictated. I typed. I had him sign the form. He reached out to touch my arm. He said, Where’s my hug. Did I have to copy his signature in later? Did I have to forge it? He could not be bothered to do what other professors do—type and send his own letters. Be bothered. Go out of his way. Do his job.

A few years later, I was awarded a fellowship and visiting assistant professorship in part because of the weight of that recommendation. The hiring committee was impressed that Famous Male Novelist had been my professor in graduate school. He had propositioned me when I sought him out for advice. He was married, with children my age. I had been thinking about leaving graduate school. As a writer of color, I had been feeling alienated in our MFA program. He placed his hand on my knee. He informed me he had a room available at the boutique hotel downtown.

Another reader, also responding to the initial October 5th New York Times article, wrote:

I know this man. He is my former boss who sent me sexy emails before we had texts. He is the disgraced senator from my state in the Pacific Northwest and the psychologist who was supposed to be helping me at a critical time. He is the father of a friend of a friend who tried often to corner me in any available room. He is the business man who groped me on a city street in full view of strangers after he ‘gallantly’ caught me when I tripped. This man is my husband’s golf buddy who quietly commented on my physical charms when my husband was out of earshot. Women all know this man. He is everywhere.

Why did no one tell me? This is the first question that went through my mind. Why did no one say anything? I knew I could not have been the only one.

I didn’t want to write this. I never wanted to write this. I wanted him to be my teacher, a real mentor. I wanted to know that I was a good writer, that I was worth something.

I am forty-five years old this week. I can’t go back and save myself at twenty-six. But I can save someone else. I can let her know she’s not alone. It wasn’t her. And I can tell my twenty-six-year-old-self, I’m standing up for you now. You did the best you could. It was not your fault.

I don’t want to protect him. I no longer need his help. (Do I? I’m still asking myself. He’s a Famous Male Novelist. Who am I?) He’s no longer teaching, but maybe one of his former students will read this. And she will know it was not just her. The other women speaking out, the legions of women who added their stories in the comments: your words helped me. That is worth something. We are worth something.

My husband recently asked me, as I’ve been sending out my manuscripts, querying presses and agents, Who would you want to blurb your book? And I said, Oh, that’s a fun question. I’ve never thought about it. I made a list. Toward the end, Famous Male Novelist was on it, too. And my husband said, Why would you do that? Why would you want his name on your book? It’s your book.

Because I made it through that. I survived. He owes me that. (Would I even ask him?)

But I owe it to myself to write this first.

*

Lap Trap
Tabitha Blankebiller

“I wanna sit on your lap.”

I didn’t say no; I said “WHAT?”—loudly, muffled only by the man’s torso as it pressed against my face, his butt planting into my lap as I sat at my desk at Renegade Brewery in Portland, Oregon. The man was a visiting sales representative from a beer distributor that was touring through the company headquarters, just as I’d seen probably a dozen other groups pass through in my month-long tenure at the company. He sat on me as I leaned as far away from his body as possible, gobbling up the inch or so a standard-issue office chair affords a woman to get her face and breasts away from a man who has decided it is appropriate to use her as a lounge.

The tour guide, one of our sales force employees, continued to introduce this area of the building. “This is where our marketing and social media departments work,” he said, going over a brief rundown of our latest initiatives. Maybe two or three minutes, ticking for an eternity while I was frozen, as pinned and trapped as a human being can be. Eventually he stood up without a word, perhaps a subtle chuckle, as the tour moved on from my office to the warehouse below.

My hands and knees shook while I searched the cubicle-less, open office floor for any pair of coworker’s eyes to meet mine, to mouth “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?” to. To approach our boss Dave, a man I’d known from a previous company, and arrange this guy’s swift ejection from our building.

All heads were down.

“Did anyone see that?” I called out across the rows of desks. “He sat in my lap.”

“Don’t make a scene,” said my supervisor next to me. She was a woman a few years older than I was, with an extra month of tenure under her belt. “He’s Southern.”

If my supervisor didn’t have my back, I knew no one would. Renegade didn’t have an HR department—they considered them “un-Renegade” and put a sign on the downstairs bathroom christening the toilet their “HR DEPT.” The concept that “you’re Renegade or you’re not” and “if you don’t like it, leave” was an ad nauseam theme drilled into us during training. I thought I could handle the brash attitude and executive demands. I’d worked for shitty, demanding, monumentally dumb men before. I could handle stupidity and high stress. It was my specialty. What I couldn’t handle was being an actual object to feed the unique power fetishes of visiting men.

That week, I walked out of Renegade. I told Dave that I wouldn’t work for a frat house, as he half-listened, replying to emails on his phone while we stood in the parking lot. A toxic work environment can poison anyone, even your “allies.”

“Good luck,” he told me.

I was lucky. I was privileged to have other connections in Portland, and I could walk into an alternate job the next day. Unlike most women on that office floor, scarcely out of their college dorm rooms, at the advanced age of twenty-nine, I was on the senior level of their scale. Thinking of the brilliant, career-dreaming, achingly young girls up in that open office made me ill. But at the same time, I had zero power to save them.

In the three years since, when I’ve told this story, I’m consistently met with disbelief, but also an afterthought. “Well it is the beer industry,” people say—and by “people” I mean 93% men—“what did you expect?”

What I expect is, when I am hired to do a job at a company, I will not be objectified. I will be there every day to do job, and my advancement or failure will be quantified on the quality at which I perform that function. I will not be stripped of my voice, or my means of retaliation against such behavior. Whether I’m working at a brewery or an insurance agency or a sex shop, I will not be prey. I will not be an amusement. Boys will be boys. Breweries will be breweries. Cousins of the same strain of apathy, the maggots feasting on America’s wholly visible underbelly.

*

All Their Lines Look Alike
after Thomas Sayers Ellis
Niki Herd

All their tiny GI Joes
_____All their clubs for boys
All their locker room daps & Greek signs
_____All their pencils straight & sharp
All their lines look alike
_____All their stand up lives
All their protests against the man:
_____the white man, the greedy man, the man
_____with his foot on the neck of another man
All their lines look alike
_____All their backs like fancy books
_____bound by thin spines
All their lines look alike
_____All their degrees & pedigrees
_____ground glass for teeth
All their five-fingered hands &
_____salivating mouths
All their goody Woodys
_____All their lines look alike
All their menfolk on the lookout
_____silent like spies
All their get offs & pay offs
_____All their excuses & blame
All their she wanted it   she dressed for it
_____she drank for it   I mean damn
_____ wasn’t she born for it?
All their as the father of a girl blah, blah, blah
_____All their orchestrations of shame
All their lines look alike
_____All their allies the same
All their mothers & their indignant rage
_____their pleas to Allah or God or Yahweh
All their boys will be boys
_____All their f*&$% clichés
All their silences   All the silencing
_____All their lines look alike
_____their type set in brown, black & white

*

For a Price
Trish Parker-Knight

When he stood and walked around me to close the door of the office, I didn’t turn around. Like a good girl, I sat in the wooden chair that faced his desk, hands folded, and waited. On the shelves behind the massive oak desk, one befitting the Assistant Director of Financial Aid at a prestigious university, I saw two photos. The wedding photo. The smiling little girl standing at ocean’s edge. Draped over that photo was a necklace made of elbow macaroni. Each noodle had been colored in magic marker. Red. Green. Yellow. Orange.

October 1983, was not kind to nineteen-year-old me. For my sophomore year, I had transferred to be nearer to home, from Boston University to a small school on the coast. I was lonely and trying to fit in. I lived not in one of the partying beach houses but in the attic room of a home owned by an eighty-three-year-old woman, Mrs. Morris. I took the campus bus to school each day and struck up conversations with potential friends. Girls who looked nice, girls who smiled at me. I hoped every day that one of them would stick.

Four weeks into a friendless fall semester, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

On a windy, sunshiny Tuesday, I found myself in the Office of Financial Aid, asking for more money. Despite my very best effort not to, I cried. I cried as I told the dark-haired man in a navy jacket and red tie that my mother couldn’t work while she was having chemo. I cried as I said that my parents had better things to think about now than my tuition payments. I used the sleeve of my wool sweater to wipe the wet from my cheeks.

When he stood to close the door, I was thankful that he was respecting my privacy. I pulled in a breath and waited for him to round the desk so we could finish the conversation.

He did not return to his seat.

A hand on either of my shoulders. At first, he held them still. Then he pressed in with his fingers and thumbs before he started massaging my back. I was stiff. Silent. Frozen. I fixed my eyes on the hand-crafted necklace whose colors mirrored the leaves on the trees outside.

“Poor baby,” he said. His hands moved toward my bare neck and I felt the tips of his fingers against my skin. The cold metal of his wedding ring.

Thirty-five years later, I remember the smell of his breath when he leaned into my ear and whispered, “I think I can do something for you.” His lips brushed my hair. He’d had cold cuts and onion for lunch. I was sure of it.

Frozen.

Then, a knock on the door. As suddenly as his hands had landed on my body, they were gone.

“I need a signature before I leave,” the secretary said. The smiling woman who had greeted me in the outer office.

He cleared his throat. “We were just finishing up.” I took this as my cue to stand. I hurried past them, eyes downcast. He called after, “We’ll get back to you.”

Two days later, stuck to the door of my room, was a note in Mrs. Morris’s shaky cursive. It said, “Call financial aid.” I dialed the phone on the nightstand, shaking with hope and anticipation and with trepidation. I wanted the money. I did not want to have to talk to him again.

The secretary put me on hold, and then returned to announce that I would be receiving an additional $500 loan. It wasn’t what I had hoped for, but it was better than nothing.

“You’ll have to drop by and sign the paperwork,” she said. I was silent. She continued. “We open at 9 a.m. He goes out for lunch between noon and one. I usually eat at my desk. You can stop by then if it’s your only opportunity.” I thanked her. The next day I had class at noon. I decided I would skip it.

I never saw that man again. When I signed the papers, I noticed that the secretary was as reluctant to make eye contact with me as I was with her.

Soon after, my mother died. I finished my degree at a state school. For years, I haven’t thought about it. But when the news broke about Harvey Weinstein, and the hashtags from victims of sexual assault began appearing on my news feed, my time in that room was the first thing I thought of.

“Why did you never tell me?” my husband asked.

I thought for a moment. “Because,” I said, “I was ashamed.” He looked at me. I could tell he was confused. So was I.

“Was that the only time?’ he said.

“Oh, no. No. There’ve been catcalls. I had a drunk boss who insisted I sit on his lap at the Christmas party.” I paused. “I said no.”

“But this one stuck with you?”

I nodded. It did. When the memory came back, I thought about my feelings of shame. I wanted to go back and hug that nineteen-year-old. I wanted to take her face in my hands and tell her, “You had no reason to feel shame. He should have been ashamed. You were asking for help. He was in a position of power. And he chose to use that power to try and leverage some sick sexual conquest.”

I wonder about the secretary who liberated me. I know the well-timed knock was no accident. How many girls did she save? How many was she not able to rescue?

And I think about this man’s daughter. The innocent girl who made a macaroni necklace would be approaching forty. Did she ever find herself seated across from a man in a power position, only to have him force himself upon her?

Did she ever discover the truth about her father?

*

An Education
C. Wheeler, MD

When I was in medical school, male faculty often told us how much the medical education environment had improved for women. Even so, it hadn’t gotten better enough to keep us safe. Our class was split down the middle, with equal numbers of male and female students. Still, female faculty were in the minority by far, and the institutional culture was very male. As undergraduate students in the sciences, most of us women had already experienced sexual harassment. We weren’t surprised to find higher-level medical education permeated by a similar “man’s world” ethos. Hollywood makes a lot of money on medical dramedies where sexual talk and touch between nurses, students, residents, and faculty is always entirely pleasant, mutually desired and consensual. My experiences tell a different story.

We learned from nurses and upperclass(wo)men that any complaints we made would likely have no effect. They whispered to us about which upperclassmen, male residents, and faculty to avoid. They also warned us which parts of the school and hospital to never enter alone, especially at night. They urged us to take a self-defense for women class where attack prevention and escape skills were taught then practiced with police trainers. These measures saved me more than once. Even so, here are some of the incidents I witnessed.

I was expected to listen as a male faculty regaled the male medical students on the benefits of a career in gynecology because, “you get to look at and finger pussy all day every day.” On a different team, the women were expected to watch while each male teammate and our male faculty posed for photos with a lifelike but oversized wax penis stuck out of his fly. These photos were spliced together into a lineup and displayed in our conference room. For years, this photo was marveled over and pointed out to men touring as prospective students, residents, or faculty. The same group played pornographic videos during team lunches because “you gals need an education.”

Males in medicine were not allowed to perform a female exam without a female family member, student or nurse present to chaperone. Many times, I was required to delay my own work to chaperone an exam for a male faculty or colleague. However, I was ignored when I complained that a male patient started masturbating while I was conducting his medical history and physical exam. Instead of being provided an appropriate chaperone, I was instructed to, “grow up and go do your job.”

We were often expected to share the on-call bedrooms of our supervisors regardless of whether they were male or female. Many of us avoided this by staying too busy on the wards all night to ever see the inside of those threatening spaces. Occasionally, we slept in a lockable office or took turns keeping watch while the other caught a nap in an empty patient room.

These instances do not include the many times we were subjected to male faculty, residents, and students doing the following: accusing us of wasting time, money and space in medical school when there were better ways to catch a rich husband; using perverse gestures and sexualized monikers; telling innumerable lewd jokes and sexually explicit stories; continually grilling us about our sexual experiences, preferences, and desires; explicitly propositioning us; mocking and threatening us with retaliation if we objected to their inappropriate behavior.

Not all the men in medical education displayed these behaviors. Many were kind, even sympathetic, but they were also unable or unwilling to challenge those who behaved improperly. I’m not sure if these ineffectual men were overtly bullied or if they succumbed to the insidious cultural forces that have many men—and women—convinced these are “harmless locker room antics.”

Nonetheless, I learned quickly to limit my life in an attempt to stay safe, to keep my head down, and to join the chorus of women whispering cautions about who, what, and where to avoid. After I left medical training, it took over a decade before I was able to identify these behaviors as sexual harassment. By then, illness had ended my medical career. I was living in another city when a friend confided in me. She had entered medical education after working in a field where inappropriate behavior was not tolerated. She told me about an incident involving a male medical faculty member. Others witnessed the incident but told her to keep quiet for fear of reprisal. Despite her fear, she lodged a complaint with administration. I hope her courage helped other women speak up and begin to change the culture.

Her sense of betrayal and outrage woke me up. I finally acknowledged my own experiences. I am grateful for her, and for all the women who warned us with whispers. Still, I have rarely ever found the courage to speak about any of this. I wonder how many predators my silence protected and how many women those predators, and the ethos they fostered, have harmed.

*

Private Matters
Laurie Jean Cannady

The Army’s Advanced Individual Training (AIT) was nothing short of physical and mental agony, but Drill Sergeant—or Granddaddy Burnett as he ordered us to call him—made the 0500 formations and the hours of classroom instruction bearable. Without him, we were orphans, parented by an Army that referred to us as Government Issue (GI). With him, constantly reminding us he was more granddaddy than drill sergeant, that space of transition felt like home.

For me, his encouragement and praise felt better than home. If I did a more than adequate job calling cadences, I’d hear, “That’s my Granddaughter Carter,” from the tail end of formation. If our platoon had the cleanest latrines, he’d lavish us with compliments, “Go on, privates. You make Granddaddy Burnett proud.” When we’d pass an ate-up unit during early morning marches, Granddaddy Burnett would yell, “Look at those tore-up-from-the-floor-up rejects. Aren’t you happy Granddaddy won’t let you all be that ate-up?” He’d then turn toward us with his toothy smile, welcoming us into the joke, a luxury most privates never experienced in AIT.

Granddaddy Burnett broke all drill sergeant protocol when it came to our platoon family. In less than two weeks, I cherished him as the doting father I’d never had and worked to curry his favor by being a squared-away soldier. That’s why my threat to kick Private Lynch’s ass for telling me to get into formation, while I was talking to a cute solider, had troubled me so. With that altercation, Drill Sergeant had seen me in my original state: belligerent, angry, untamable. I feared meeting the old me would prompt him to reject the new me, the squad leader, he had put so much faith in.

Two days after my argument with Lynch, I passed Granddaddy Burnett in the hall.

“Can I see you for a minute, Carter?”

“Of course, Granddaddy,” I said as I walked into his office.

“Sit down, Private,” he said with pained expression, as he closed the door behind him. “Make yourself comfortable.”

I situated myself on the side of the chair closest to the window as Granddaddy Burnett, so large in stature and spirit, towered, even as he leaned against his desk.

“Carter, now I want to tell you something I heard and I want you to know I’m not gonna get mad. I just gotta see if it’s true.”

“Sure, Granddaddy Burnett,” I replied. “Whatever I can do to help.”

For a moment, I feared Lynch had manufactured lies about me, even though I’d been on my best behavior. So, I prepared my rebuttal as Granddaddy Burnett revealed the matter.

“Carter, somebody told me you like me.”

I gasped, immediately filled with fear, certain such a rumor would wound Granddaddy Burnett beyond repair. With no planned rebuttal for that accusation, I spoke fast, hoping words could erase such blasphemy from his mind.

“Drill Sergeant, I’m sorry. I would never,” I began, but he clipped my sentence short.

“It’s okay, Carter,” he said, with a grin that replaced his pained countenance. “I like you, too.”

My mouth could not move. My voice no longer worked. Granddaddy Burnett had morphed from the nurturing, protective father I’d adopted into past men, father-figures, eager to collect what I’d never intended to give. My argument with Lynch, the fear I would muck up before the end of phase, all those worries seemed immature, like I’d aged around them.

Drill Sergeant shifted his weight, moved toward me, leaving behind the desk on which he leaned.

“Can you give Granddaddy a kiss?” he asked, as he bent toward me, his eyes closed, mine open, absorbing a world altered—even as I remained tacked to it.

I couldn’t look in his face, for the tears threatening release would surely have leapt from my eyes.

“I’m sorry, Drill Sergeant,” I stammered, “but I’m not a fast girl. I have to be in a relationship before I kiss someone.”

I didn’t know where those words came from. I’d always considered myself a whore, at least for men I was attracted to, but Drill Sergeant didn’t know that. For all he knew, I was still a virgin. But he must have seen whore written all over me, my walk, my talk. That had to have been why he’d chosen me, because he could smell where I’d been and where I’d be willing to go. My scent made me more ashamed of myself than Drill Sergeant Burnett.

“I’m not that kind of girl, Drill Sergeant,” I repeated.

“No worries, Private,” he said with his toothy smile. “I like ’em like that.”

He likes ’em like that? What did that mean? He likes them saying “no?” He likes them saying “yes” when they really mean “no?” He likes them any way they come, no matter what they say? And who is “they?”  Did that mean Granddaddy Burnett had done this to other daughter-granddaughter-soldiers before?

I remember not saying “no” when he asked if I liked him. I remember his voice deeper, his words slower, his face closer as he said he would be assign me to fireguard in three nights, with a soldier who knew not to tell. I would begin fireguard with the solider as scheduled, but at 0200 hours, I would excuse myself, make my way across the street to the captain’s office where the lights would be off. The office would look empty, but he would be waiting for me. “Don’t be afraid because of the darkness,” he said. “I will be there.”

I couldn’t tell him I was afraid because he would be there.

I returned to my room, fretting the new role I’d been given. Before that moment in Drill Sergeant’s office, I was a soldier, a squad leader, one of Granddaddy Burnett’s soldier-children. But time spent in his office, alone, had altered him and me and no matter how I tried, I could no longer fit into the role I had once filled.

***

Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.

***

ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for work by women and non-binary people that engages with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence. We believe that while this subject matter is especially timely now, it also timeless. We want to make sure that this conversation doesn’t stop—not until our laws and societal norms reflect real change.

We received over four hundred submissions to our initial call and will not be accepting additional pieces at this time. We may reopen for submissions at a future date. We also must acknowledge that the submissions we received overwhelmingly came from white, heterosexual women. While we are actively assessing how we can do better in our next call for submissions, we also believe this points to systemic inequalities that need to be addressed: who has access to healthcare and to therapy, who has been taught to speak up and who has been taught to be silent.

Many names appearing in these stories have been changed.

Visit the archives here.