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.
A little over a decade ago, something happened to me. I’ve tried to understand it, collected assessments from my friends and guys I’ve dated. Some of them say it was date rape, no question. Some say not. What everyone agrees on is that it was predatory, and that I was victimized. But for all the discussions I’ve had about it, all the thoughts I’ve gathered around it, I still can’t quite put a name to it. I couldn’t back then, either, so I kept quiet.
Here’s the story: I was wasted at a college party. An acquaintance, a drug dealer, gave me a tab of ecstasy. “Free,” he said, waving away my money. “A gift.” I happily took the tablet, drank some more, and then had sex with one of the dealer’s friends on the upstairs couch. After, I stood in the kitchen with a group of guys, naked from the waist up and smoking a cigarette. I was the only female in the house. Still drunk and off my gourd on ecstasy, I was dazzled when the cherry of my cigarette fell onto my arm. I left it there, staring and smiling at the glowing chunk of red tobacco until the owner of the house, the dealer, swatted it off my arm and made someone drive me home. That, of all things, was how he knew I was too wasted to be there. Or maybe I’d simply served my purpose, and could be sent home.
I found out later that the man I’d had sex with, the dealer’s friend, had paid for my ecstasy tab and asked the dealer to give it to me as if it were free. And that’s where the story goes gray. Before I knew that he’d done so, I was okay with the way the night had gone. I’d made all those choices myself, had taken the drug of my own free will. But after I learned the truth, it all felt wrong. But it also felt really, really gray, too. Was it wrong? Was it something worse than a drunk hook-up with a stranger at a party? I didn’t know.
A few weeks later, I told a guy I was dating the whole story. He got angry, very angry, and encouraged me to file a police report. It was rape, he said, no two ways about it. I wasn’t sure what to call what had happened, but I filed the report anyway. In the quiet room at the jail, the police watched me tell my story, their faces inscrutable. I felt like a squawking attention-seeker making a big deal of nothing. And what could they do anyway, charge him with something? What?
There is no name for what happened to me. There is no checklist with little boxes to tick off: ten ticks in the left category means you’re a victim, ten in the right means you’re not. All I had was the facts, as I knew them, and a whole lot of self-doubt. A whole lot of gray.
I was living with my dad at the time, and a few days after I filed the police report I came home to a message from the police. This wasn’t wildly out of the ordinary; in high school I was a truant—I got busted for underage drinking, unpaid parking tickets, all of that. When my dad delivered the message that the police had called and they needed to talk to about something private, it was with a “what did you do?” kind of tone. I considered lying, brushing him off, but he wasn’t having it. I was living in his house, after all. I told him what happened. I used the most benign adjectives and sparest details possible. I can’t describe his face except to say that he looked profoundly sad, scared, hurt, and angry, all at once. He also looked confused. Like maybe he was wondering the same thing I was wondering: Was this something? Or had I done it all myself, and now I was making a big noise about nothing?
“Well then,” he said. “You better call them back.”
I agreed, knowing that I never would. Never, because I was afraid that when I did talk to them, they would tell me that what happened to me was not worth reporting. Never, because I was afraid they would tell me it was, and then what? I dropped it. I preferred not to know, preferred to stay in the gray.
Looking back, it’s clear that the whole thing was orchestrated by the man on the couch and the dealer. Practiced even, like a little dance. Crafted to be nebulous. Built to inspire doubt. Predatory—my friends were right about that. I wish I’d have been bolder back when it happened. I wish I’d have taken a stronger stand, used a louder voice. Instead, I stared deep into the yawning expanse of gray area between rape and not-rape and found a billion reasons to excuse what happened, to brush it off. I found a thousand pounds of doubt, and so I used no voice at all. I silenced myself, just like the man on the couch wanted. Just like he’d planned. So, victimized, yeah. I guess my friends are right about that, too.
After meeting on Tinder and talking via text, Mark and I had hung out in person a handful of times. There weren’t exactly fireworks, but we had a chemistry that we both wanted to explore. I could tell we were alike—both driven and dedicated to our missions—he as a comedian and me as a business owner. I liked that we shared public speaking and contract negotiation tips. He asked me how he might market an upcoming show, and I asked him about the secret to engaging audience members. We were in different fields of work, but both the CEOs of our respective careers.
We had our first argument on our third date after I went to a comedy show he hosted. We sat in a bar in the East Village debating the female voice in comedy. “It’s who puts in the work. Women have as much opportunity as men in this world,” he said. Our night ended when he told me he thought my opinions were inflexible, and too loud, which wasn’t a surprise based on his argument. I hopped in a cab with the expectation that we’d never see each other again.
The next day, Mark texted an apology and asked if we could have a redo. I was still annoyed, but we chalked it up to a few too many drinks, and I said yes. A fight so early on just made me think, I’m up for a challenge.
On our “redo” date later that night, we were both gentler with our words as we sipped wine on my rooftop. After a couple of hours, I invited Mark inside. We spent some time sitting on my couch talking, touching, and kissing. I wasn’t surprised when he asked if we could make our way to my bed. I was game.
Sex with someone for the first time can be awkward, exciting, or both as you navigate each other’s bodies for the first time. This was mostly awkward.
When it was over, Mark spooned me and wrapped one of his legs around my body. I laid there for the requisite after-sex cuddle. When I had more than enough skin-to-skin time, I told Mark I was going to get some water. I needed a few minutes to myself. But that’s not what Mark had in mind. He laughed and said, “No, you’re staying here” and got on top of me. At first, I was merely annoyed, but after a few seconds of trying to free myself, I realized he was using real force to keep me in place. He planted unwanted kisses all over my body as I fought to get free. How did we get here? I wondered.
The next fifteen minutes felt like hours as I struggled to get out of my own bed while Mark laughed and pinned me down. He positioned himself on top of me again, with all of his weight. “Get off of me; I’m serious,” I said I don’t know how many times because I was at a loss for any other words.
Finally, I found my way out from underneath his body and pulled my wrists from the grip of his hands. I stood at my kitchen sink and could hear him chuckling from the other room. I felt trapped, like a prisoner in my own home. When Mark made his way to the kitchen I saw him open his bag, take out a case for his contacts and pop a contact out of his left eye. He had no idea. He thought he was staying the night.
I was scared to say the words. I didn’t know if he would take them seriously. “Mark, I need you to leave my apartment.” I could see he was hurt and confused, even though it was so clear to me what had just happened. I heard myself say, “I just need to be alone. Don’t take it personally.” Inside, I shuddered at my own words. I minimized the situation to get him to leave without a fight, but it was personal.
In the days that followed I shared what had happened with a few friends. I found myself saying things like, “He didn’t know what he was doing,” and, “He thought he was just being playful and funny.” I continued to minimize the situation, even though what he’d done had been incredibly disrespectful, triggering, and a scary violation. I thought back to the moment and how he’d laughed. He thought it was funny. He didn’t understand that permitting him to touch my body once didn’t mean he had an ongoing pass.
When it comes to boundaries and our bodies, women negotiate a minefield. We’re so used to daily assaults—ignoring a stranger on the street who tells us to smile, brushing off an unwanted touch on the subway, or reminding a male coworker that they need permission to be in our space. When these things happen they hardly register. But all these moments matter.
After I kicked Mark out of my apartment, I didn’t hear from him again. Though I certainly didn’t want to contact him, I began to see my silence as part of the problem. I decided to write about the entire experience—I wrote down every word we both said, every feeling I felt when he held me down, and the way the experience stuck with me after. I sent this to Mark, asking that he not contact me again, only that he needed to know: it wasn’t funny.
Home for the Holidays
I’m going to drink Budweiser
Even though Budweiser
Is directly linked to me
And trauma from this time
That I sat in a Tahoe SUV
Outside of my father’s duplex
& let a big, senior football player
finger my dry pussy because it was
his birthday & I was alone with him
& I could tell that he wanted to
then I crawled back
into my room on the concrete
too drunk to walk
I can’t tell people about this
Because it is why I have an implicit
Distrust of men who are built like him
And anyway, no one would understand
Unless they were in the Tahoe
And they were as trashed as me
And they were also fourteen
Or fifteen I don’t know
When the fuck is Teo’s birthday
What the fuck is Teo’s sign
I don’t think I ever told
My dad about it
So when he wants to shoot
Fireworks off with Teo’s family
I oblige & I watch them
As they shoot of fireworks
& I don’t drink the Budweiser
I just smoke cigarettes
& maybe I also drink liquor
I don’t really do either
I rarely make it home
The Walls We Build
It was late spring of 1993. My friend and I were at the baseball fields, where we spent dozens of our early teenage evenings, watching games, seeing friends, being kids. We were fourteen. Eighth grade was ending; high school was next. I guess we felt adventurous. A car pulled up and some kids from school were heading to a place, about an hour out of town. Did we want to join?
A few lying, quarter-paid phone calls to our parents, and we got in the car.
The guys made screwdrivers in Big Gulp cups. My friend and I shared one but soon, very soon—because it was my first drink—the room got blurry. I remember getting up to pee and that was the first time he touched me—a kid I had a bad feeling about, a kid I’d said out loud that I did not like. I didn’t trust his shit-eating grin, the one plastered all over his face in every memory I can recall. But his hands were on me, and I was stumble-drunk already.
And that is where my memory ends.
Did I walk down the hall with him? Did I go to the bathroom? Did he carry me or trick me or did I just walk into that bedroom with him?
I blacked out. Minutes are lost, tens of minutes perhaps, but I came to: naked, in a room I’d never seen before. Wearing only my socks because he did not need full access to my feet, only the rest of me. I came to in the middle of sex acts I’d never conceived of before.
I’d barely kissed a boy.
I realized what was happening and immediately squirmed and said no, no, no, how many times? I was drunk, out of my mind, and the thing that makes me squint in horror still to this day is that I giggled. That’s the complicated thing about unwanted sex acts: they are still sex acts, meant to pleasure. That giggle erupted out of me unwillingly—there wasn’t anything funny or pleasurable underway, but I giggled and then went back to my no, no, no. I squirmed and pleaded into an empty, dark abyss while he raped me with his hands and his mouth.
Then he got up and disappeared down the hall. He returned wearing only a condom as I lay there in that single bed, wearing only a sheet and my socks and my tear-stained face. I saw what he intended to do next, and still, I didn’t get up, couldn’t get up, too drunk and naked and mortified.
Another kid came up the hallway, from the living room, where he must have been with my friend. What were they doing out there? Why didn’t they stop him before? Did she think I wanted this? The guys whispered, and then they went outside. It was over. Sort of.
My friend came in and we hugged and sobbed and she apologized.
And then we never spoke of it again.
I spent years thinking, “I was almost raped.” Almost. Lucky me. And then the UN changed their definition of rape. I don’t have to say “almost” anymore.
For years, I didn’t have any words—not the right ones, anyway—so I told no one, said nothing, thought “almost” and shuddered, blinked, hid it all way. I’d say, “something happened when I was fourteen…” and I’d trail off into silence.
But one horrid night wasn’t the end of it. Word traveled fast, and it seemed every kid at school sneered and looked at me differently. Even my friends smirked and shook their heads and giggled. Wow, Jenni Jacquot was kinda quiet, kinda shy, kinda straightedge, but sorta pretty, sorta popular… But she fucked that guy? She fucked him? They weren’t even talking on the phone! He wasn’t her boyfriend! And she fucked him? Huh.
I knew the truth, how I squirmed and said no, how I cried, but still I absorbed every ounce of their judgment, stuffed my shame and my horror deep down inside of me.
I told no one. Not my parents. Not my friends. Not the male teacher who pulled a group of sneering boys into his classroom and looked back at me with a smile I will always remember: You little slut, he seemed to say with a familiar shit-eating grin. I’ve heard about you.
What would anyone have said? You were fourteen and black-out drunk? Well, little girl, sometimes we reap what we sow.
Indeed. We do. We have reaped and sown a culture in which women and girls are at once hailed for their beauty, their smiles, their bodies, their sex that sells cars and hamburgers and calendars.
Pretty girl, smile for me. Pretty little princess. Pretty, pretty, pretty.
But not too pretty! What were you wearing? Are you sure you didn’t want it? You lied to your parents? And you got black-out drunk? With boys? You must have wanted it. Maybe you kind of liked it but now you’re sorry? Now you regret it? What were you wearing when you went to that baseball game?
This is what we have reaped and sown: a culture in which I knew, at age fourteen, that no one would believe me. I messed up. I lied. I got drunk. Wasn’t it my fault? I knew that nothing good would come from speaking up. So, I buried the incident and built internal walls strong enough to hold my shame.
Now, twenty-four years later, the world is changing.
Now, I have a daughter of my own.
Now, I have the courage of a woman who is no longer ashamed.
I built up walls.
Now I am here with a torch and a can of gasoline, and I am ready to burn them down.
Still Living, Aloud
I was nineteen. It started during my freshman year orientation week at college, and lasted all that first semester. I later found out that most college sexual assaults happen from August through November.
I talked to my parents almost every day that year, and I never let down my guard, never hurt them with the truth. I would be gone, away, into myself; he would be frustrated and stop to ask me, with either zero self-awareness or complete depravity, to act like I was into it, into him.
I didn’t say much to anyone. I smoked a lot of cigarettes that winter, wandering around in circles in the painful, windy Boston darkness. I had nowhere to go but I didn’t want to be in my triple dorm room. He knew where I lived, and I wanted to stop pretending to my roommates that I was okay with leaving with him when I heard that knock on my door.
I had been struggling with my words, with my voice, with syntax and language. And my accent, so choppy and coarse. I didn’t want to give everyone an opportunity to mark me as foreign, to ask me where I was from, to always see me that way. I was formulating my new voice, but it almost died along with me that year. We stayed quiet.
He told me later that he had first come up to speak to me, when I was sitting alone reading in the dining hall, because I was Asian. He had a handwritten list of experiences he wanted to pursue in college—having sex with girls of different races was one of them. He was white and from the white suburbs, and women of color were not individuals, just a box to check off on his scrap of paper. Having found out I was only half-Asian after he raped me, he was uncertain if I counted.
I told him all those months that what he was doing to me was violent, was wrong, was killing me. He told me no, no, no, no, no, no, and I stopped trying to be heard.
I’m twenty-six now, and I’ve told. I’ve told my parents, my friends, my therapist, the Internet. I’m living through this and I see you. I hear you.
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.
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