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 Night in July
When I was a teenager, I was locked out of my apartment. Not locked, exactly.
It was the most humid hot July night I will always remember. I came home from work and the door wouldn’t open. The door had bloated from the heat and humidity. Sealed it shut. I waited for my roommate and it was already two in the morning. I walked to the coffee shop hoping she was out on a date and would be back by the time I returned. No luck. A well-dressed man walked up to me while I was sitting on the front doorstep and started talking to me. I was so exhausted my instincts were off. He asked me if I wanted to go for a drink with him. I told him I was waiting for my roommate, that my door was jammed. He offered to try to unjam it for me. I was desperate and nodded. He turned the doorknob and banged his body against the door three times before it finally opened. I thanked him and he asked if he could have a glass of water. Before I could answer, he lifted me up, slamming the door behind me, dragging me into my roommate’s bedroom. I started screaming as his fist made a noose around my neck, trapping my screams in my throat. Those screams are still there. He tore off my clothes.
“You scream again, I’ll kill you. I have a knife, I have a gun.”
That’s when the sick smile appeared across his face as he tore into my body, ripping me apart, for the next four hours.
When he was done, I begged him to leave, my roommate would be home any minute. I swore I wouldn’t tell anyone. He didn’t leave. He wanted to chat. He told me he had just gotten out of prison and hadn’t had sex with a woman in years. Blood was pouring from me which he finally noticed.
“I’m sorry I took your virginity.”
He didn’t take my virginity. He took my whole life. I was worse than dead. I was now a vile vessel of his violence. I wanted to jump out of my skin, peel it away. How could I escape my own body? How could I remove every inch that he touched? Impossible. In a minute, he changed my DNA. The mapping of my brain was forever repaved. Don’t feel. Block it out. This didn’t happen. Don’t look there. Road blocks everywhere.
I finally convinced him to leave. He swore he would come back and kill me and my roommate if I told the police. I double-bolted the door behind him but he never left. Not really.
I touched the raised white cocoon of a scar where all the unbearable memories were stored. But there was wisdom in the scars. Messages in a tiny bottle of terror wrapped in skin. Floating endlessly. Seemed to have its own heartbeat. The messages needed to be delivered.
Clammy hands on pearl skin,
You became beautiful when he shattered the shell,
Fumbling nails crack veins along your hips.
“Sorry, you’re not shiny to catch and break?
To multiply the light in shards,
Faceting mazes to entertain myself?
Baby, keep your lips swollen until stars leak out,
That sparkle isn’t spit, that red not brush burns;
You made your own skin crumble when you told me no.
You wrap the rope and spread your ankles into strangers,
Peeled orange skin leaves loose strings,
You have been ripe for so long,
How could I wait one more second for you to wake up?”
Call It by Its Name
The two-year anniversary is approaching. And I still shower out of a sink on most days unless my brother is home or it’s the daytime. I still see that arm, its hand prying for my ankle every time I look at my bedroom window, even though I have moved since the incident. No. Attack. No. Not that either. Because though there are things that aren’t named in this world, there are things that do indeed have a name and yet we refuse to name them.
What happened to me was clearly a rape attempt.
Rape. Attempt. Call it by its first and last name.
It was 2015. A Friday morning just before Halloween. I’m living on the first floor of a private three-family home. Indian summer hadn’t left New York, and it was still humid most nights. Hence, I still had my AC unit installed in my bedroom window, which faced the back driveway, at street level. A backyard that anyone could access, including this faceless arm. It had ripped my AC halfway out of the window frame and the abuser attached to it was blindly reaching for what he probably hoped was my hair. Though my bed faced the door, I always slept facing the window. I liked the AC air breathing on me. I also like the moon when its full. But here he was. This beast in a heather grey sweatshirt—shocked that my head wasn’t there—grabbed my ankle instead and proceeded to anchor himself with it as he tried to make his way in with the intention of getting on top of me. I screamed, shrieked, cursed in what felt like every language on earth, and shook my ankle so much that I strained it. Even my spine remembers all too well how I shuddered in disgust when my eyes caught sight of that note. You see, he kept coming back for more. Three times to be exact. The second time, he left a note saying how he “would love to know what I tasted like.” It was left under my pillow when I left the window slightly open while I cooked a pungent meal in my kitchen. The third time, I caught him loitering in the back driveway. By then, I had sensor lights installed and got a clear glimpse of his face. And he saw that I saw him.
Cowards love the dark.
He never came again, but the trauma was too real to let me sleep at night. Even my gait had changed, in my own home. Something as simple as going to the bathroom or grabbing a snack from the fridge was impossible. I was granite. I moved into the living room indefinitely and slept on my leather couch, rosary clutched around my knuckles, chef’s knife under my pillow. The slightest noise required an explanation and the lack of one dragged me to my wit’s end. Months passed. The holidays were long over and yet the Christmas lights were still up in my living room. It was February. I will never look at Christmas lights the same way again.
There is a new nightmare everyday—just in a different setting. It’s a castle-like beach house surrounded by gates with snow outside in a dream where my mother paid a visit. It’s a window in a dark room. Or it’s my new bedroom in a completely different neighborhood in a four-story building. My mom came out of a room in that beach house panting running away from the intruder. I woke up reciting the Hail Mary out loud. My fear was so palpable that it conjured up the dead, making them afraid, too.
Fear is a powerful warlock. The scenery has changed, but the trauma lingers. The bathroom in my new apartment has a window facing a roof, one that is a shared with another building. I barely know the neighbors that live in my own building. That arm is there. Another day, another wash rag soaked in the sink with Dr. Bronner’s soap. There are days I don’t bathe at all. The sounds, if unaccounted for, are him. I’m on the second floor now. But I stare at the fire escape every night. You just never know. I don’t sleep with a knife anymore. And yet even in the small victories, I still scream defeat. I’m still angry. I want to slit throats, guts, faces, dicks, hands.
I think, no more AC units on a first floor. I think, longer skirts. Looser pants. Shorter hair. Less makeup. Smile. Don’t smile. Say thank you. Reject unsolicited advances politely. Ignore. Don’t ignore. Take one for the team. You’re lucky he didn’t take you. I’m lucky that I wasn’t raped.
Your uncle installed the sensor lights in the backyard. He molested you when you were fifteen and gave you porn, but you liked it, right? And look, he came back to help you. He obviously cares. As if I have to pay back the debt of my very existence. I’m already a vulnerable target simply by way of being a living, breathing, shitting woman.
I saw that arm. That hand that grabbed my ankle as I slept with my purring cats in a warm bed.
Longer skirts. Looser pants. Hair cut short. Less makeup. Smile. Don’t smile. Say thank you. Reject unsolicited advances politely. Ignore. Don’t ignore. Take one for the team. And when it happens, call it everything but.
On October 30, 2015, a man attempted to rape me.
And for the first time, I have just called what he did to me by its name.
—after The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch
The girl is thirteen when she opens the art book one afternoon
_______in the Oakland Public Library. She is aware
______________that her ears are burning, freshly pierced with pearls
that very morning at Samuel’s Jewelers on Broadway.
_______The silver-haired gentleman himself had punched the earrings
______________into her lobes, a sharp prick
on the left, on the right, only a little blood.
_______He held the mirror to her face, and she tipped
______________her head slowly side to side
turning over the possibility of beauty.
But now she is sitting in the hard oak chair of the library,
_______opening the art book, flipping through pages, idly curious,
______________touching her ears now and again, the soft seed pearls.
She admires Michelangelo’s David, the rust-colored bison of Lascaux,
_______the opulent odalisques, Matisse’s blue cutouts. The library’s clock
______________is ticking, the book’s cellophane jacket crinkles,
she’s almost done looking, but wait, on this page, 329, she stops
_______at the pale, halved torso in the center of the panel of Hell,
______________riveted by the man’s white blank face, woe and pain in his stare.
_______And now she is aware of being uncomfortable in the hard
______________oak chair, its edges cutting into her thighs. A plate with bagpipes
balances on his head. The man’s eyes look directly out at her—
How did I come to this?
Inside his body, where his lungs should be,
_______there are people doing business at a red table.
______________What is it they want from him, these strangers he can’t even see?
She asks the question for him because now she’s there,
_______in the picture, remembering herself
______________bent in half, she had tried to look behind,
but the man, not the man in the picture, but another,
_______had pushed her face to the ground, her elbows and knees
______________crushed into gravel. What was he doing, this grownup
behind her, putting things inside her—rocks, perhaps stones,
_______maybe pebbles, some dirt—she could only imagine.
______________And as she was ripping in two, she began to count:
rocks, stones, dirt, one, two, three—and in no time at all
_______she’d built a boat and set sail crossing the sea,
______________and Alice and Henry, her two cats, came with her,
and all together that made three, and she was three,
_______and this, this, this, she sang to herself,
______________is what happens to you when you turn three.
O yes, she knows the distress of the man in the picture—the painter himself
_______and the caption says. Now, a series of doors is opening and shutting
______________inside her. She is becoming aware that the painting,
that all art in fact, is a mirror—her face, his face, the look they share
_______spanning centuries. She fingers the pearls in her ears,
______________stares at the picture a few minutes more. The clock ticks.
The girl steps out onto the sidewalk, pulls up her kneehighs. Traffic rushes by
_______on the boulevard, honking. Streetlights sputter on. The world spins
______________on its axis—a war rages in the jungles across the Pacific.
In Berkeley students are rioting. On the other side of the bay
_______the Weathermen are building bombs. Tonight her mother works late
______________at the hospital, her father drunk in a bar.
Henry died of distemper, but Alice, crippled by the same disease,
_______is still alive, sleeping now, curled on her pillow,
______________waiting for her to come home.
FIHANKRA________This Safe Compound House
I should have said something—more than
he’ll stop when Maa Naa told me her brother
would climb on her, in the night;
the room lit by the cleanness of his eyes
and the smell of guilt staining her nose
through the darkness. He forgot kinship
and redrew blood lines. It was my guilt perhaps
that made me admit that my body
also accused his hands of a similar sin. Perhaps
her defense for his disease ate at her gums,
left holes in her throat.
I should have asked,
I am asking now: Maa Naa
were you afraid?
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.