ENOUGH: To Be Believed

By

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.

***

Narrated by Ronald Reagan
Genevieve Tyrrell

In a smooth, lowered voice, Lyons name-dropped in the tone of a phone sex operator, pointing out pictures on his wall, and even the framed artwork I sent him. He smiled in photographs with Doris Day, Marilyn Monroe, Joan Crawford, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and even former presidents. He had been a decent-looking man fifty years ago, but he could still rock a dark gray suit and tie. At delighted memories, his voice became almost song-like, as if calling a puppy. He locked his arms around me and tried to stick his tongue down my throat.

Moments earlier I was honored to pull through the gates of Paramount Pictures. I was twenty-two. I’d never been on a studio lot.

The man in the booth asked to see my driver’s license, found my name on the list to see Producer J.C. Lyons, and handed over my visitor’s pass. He smiled. Even men in booths respected the industry and stood in awe of it—a shared enthusiasm, for old Hollywood and the continuing reign of cinema—from the walls and gates, to the sign itself, down to cityscape sets used over the span of many decades of filmmaking, and 1930s and ‘40s buildings overseeing the lot like wise old men or gods.

I hadn’t anticipated that Lyons would have the entire floor to himself, his assistant at the far end of a hallway. We walked through one door, closed it behind us, and then walked through another door and closed that behind us, all alone.

Let’s be honest: I wanted a job. Anything to do with film. I showed Lyons my art portfolio and photographs of my family and myself, just for conversation’s sake. I thought that was schmoozing. I thought I was building a work relationship.

But now I can’t get him off me. For an eighty-five-year-old man he seems as strong as someone a third of his age. I point to a picture of Elvis behind Lyons and yell, “Look! It’s Elvis!” And he falls for it, releasing his grip enough for me to jump back, but I’m so naïve and polite, I don’t know to leave right away.

He tells me that we can have sex on his desk and glides his hand across. I say that wouldn’t be a good idea, but we get into a discussion about how even though he’s eighty-five he can still show me a good time. I realize I must take the direct route.

“Look, though I’m flattered, I wouldn’t care if you were twenty-five years old, and the richest man in the world. The way you came onto me just now was completely not classy. There’s no way I’d ever have sex with you on your desk. I’m just not that kind of girl.”

“Fine!” Lyons’s voice grows gravelly and loud. “I’m completely turned off now!”

“Good, that’s sorta the point,” I mumble. Fear sweeps across me. Did I just piss off someone important in Hollywood? Am I now getting kicked out of his office? What about my career? My awkward attempts to correct the situation cloud the room. I stumble through “I don’t mean to offend” and “I hope we can get pass this” statements. My head is spinning. And then—

Lyons says he’d like to show me a film. I’m stunned but relieved that the awkward moment has passed with an abrupt plot twist. I have no idea how to handle this situation. I’m in over my head. I agree to the film.

He sits me down on his chocolate leather couch and pops in a VHS tape hooked to a clunky monitor.

Ronald Reagan appears on-screen at his desk in the oval office, folding his hands and grinning. The camera slowly zooms in as he says, “Hello there, I’m Ronald Reagan and I’d like to tell you a little bit about my good friend, J.C. Lyons…”

What. The. Fuck.

Documentary footage reveals Lyons with Reagan, with other friends, waving for flashing cameras, other times walking through Paramount. Lyons beams, pointing at the screen when he appears. “I’m one of a few people that’s sat in the president’s chair.” Reagan was his best friend while they climbed the ladder in Hollywood.

Lyons pulls the old stretch-turns-to-arm-around-the-shoulder move.

I blurt out, “Gosh, it’s gotten so late and I have things I need to get done.” His mood changes again. He sighs and gathers up his things. He asks me to walk down with him to his car. He was supposed to show me around the lot. I oblige, still hopeful not to piss off such an influential man.

Inside the elevator, Lyons grabs the handle bar behind him and looks over at me, smirking. For a moment, his voice turns smooth again.

“I guess you’re not an elevator kind of girl, huh?” Lyons says.

“Nope,” I answer with nervous laughter.

Ford “gave” him a silver remake of a classic Thunderbird, and we eye its shiny curves, its circular back windows. Lyons hugs me one last time, pulling back just enough to look deep into my eyes and say, “Oh sweetheart, the things I could have done for you.”

I can’t speak.

“You’ve got a day pass. You’re welcome to walk around if you want.”

I watch him get in his car and drive off.

My legs take me somewhere. The sun is setting. I wander until I reach New York City set, vacant and fake.

All quiet.

I walk down the city street and take in the history, lonely, confused, and yet still excited by film. I pray to God and all the Hollywood ghosts that I haven’t just made a terrible mistake. For years, I’ll wonder if sex is the answer—if putting out is what women have to do to work their way up the ladder in the film industry.

*

On Forgetting and Believing
Annalise Mabe

At fifteen, I worked at a mom-and-pop ice cream shop scooping homemade ice cream into cake cones and dipping waffled cones into melted chocolate. My manager, Mike, was in his forties and was often stoned, trudging in and out of the walk-in freezer in a coat and thick boots. He also wielded a chainsaw on the daily, making poorly crafted ice sculptures out front on the hot sidewalk.

Inside he’d tell us girls: “Go wipe that table down,” even if it appeared to be clean. In the store’s windows, we could see his reflection, his eyes, focusing in on our bodies bent over, leaning to reach the edge of the table.

One day, it was just Mike and me. He wanted to show me how to wrap our homemade brownies in cellophane—as if this was some complicated task that needed specific instruction. He peeled out the stretchy plastic and plopped a brownie down, beginning to wrap it.

“So, do you think you’ll ever have kids?” he asked me.

I knew he had two adopted daughters, but I wondered what prompted the question.

“I don’t know,” I said. I remember thinking, I’m only fifteen.

Mike continued to fold the cellophane over the brownie.

“Well, you don’t wanna get all torn up down there,” he said, ambling back to make another batch of ice cream.

Later, when carpooling to school with my neighbor, I mentioned the comment to my neighbor’s mom. I was mortified—embarrassed that anyone would think of that part of my body. It was easier, in this case, to tell someone’s else’s mother than to even think of telling my own. The shame surrounding my body, these unmentioned parts, these places we don’t talk about, swallowed me. But, my mother found out anyway when word traveled through the grape vine, and she reported it to the police who “took it down,” but did little else. I was embarrassed now, too, that the police were being called. My mother made me promise to quit the next day, and so I did, explaining to Kathy, my manager in her thirties, what happened and what Mike said.

“That’s just Mike,” Kathy told me, shrugging, wide-eyed. “That’s just how he is.”

I looked at Kathy, even then, at fifteen and was taken aback. Surprised at how her betrayal seemed to hurt more than Mike’s words themselves.

 

Perhaps I cannot recall all the instances of abuse and assault. It’s quite possible, in fact, I know it is, that I am leaving some of them out, not purposefully, but because they have been buried deep down, because I never want to look at them again.

In Paul Ricoeur’s Memory, History, Forgetting, he writes that forgetting “is experienced as an attack on the reliability of memory. A weakness, a lacuna… Forgetting indeed remains the disturbing threat that lurks in the background of the phenomenology of memory and the epistemology of history.” I wonder, though, why our forgetting renders us powerless. I wonder why our words can’t be taken as truth, and I want to know, to unearth the origin story of the unreliable woman narrator, because I am thinking now that she is a myth.

 

At fifteen, and at all the other ages, all the other times, I wanted to be believed. To be taken seriously—not shrugged off or simply “taken down” for “record.” At fifteen, I needed to be believed.

There are many reasons why we don’t believe women and survivors. The brain doesn’t like to do more work than it needs to. It likes its easy boxes for categorization. It likes to sort things, to save energy for more important processes. Done, we say, wiping our hands clean. Moving on. In Just World theory, it’s the idea that karma exists, that people get what they deserve—that fairness exists, and bad things don’t happen to good people. If they do, that person must have done something to deserve it. And there is fear in believing. Because if we truly believe that any person can be led to a bed by a friend, by a family member, can be touched when they do not want to be touched, then we must also believe that this could happen to someone we know, that this could happen to us.

Yet believing is necessary. We can’t live in denial. Humans are capable of terrible things. We can’t ignore the reality of the world we live in, where things are not always fair or just, and where sometimes, bad things do happen to good people for no reason at all. We must work to understand that when a person is inconsistent in the retelling of their story, that doesn’t mean they are lying—they may be in fight or flight or freeze where shock sets in, where perception is fragmented. We must understand that the body and the mind are complicated, and that sometimes, people simply do what they must to survive.

*

The Four Things (That Don’t Absolve You)
Heidi Fettig Parton

I drank gallons of coffee in 1997, back when I worked as an associate attorney in a mid-sized town, located somewhere in middle America. I’d start my day with coffee prepared by an early arriving office assistant on the firm’s Bunn-O-Matic, kept in a small break room in the basement of the firm. I’d take out the artificial cinnamon-flavored creamer that I kept in the fridge and stir it into my mug of coffee until the coffee turned a light tan.

Coffee in hand, I’d wander down the hall to Jason’s office with the stacks of case files that had been laid out on my desk by my legal assistant that morning. Our files came to us on a rotating basis. During my first few months at the firm, Jason was to guide me in the steps taken with my collection of files on a given day. Once in Jason’s office, I’d sit in a stiff-backed wooden chair across the desk from Jason’s own swiveling office chair.

“Good God,” Jason would say, while I grabbed a handful of cinnamon Hot Tamale candies from a mug on the edge of his desk. “How you can eat those so early in the morning?”

“I have many talents,” I’d tell Jason. Did this statement approach flirting, I’d wonder later, when looking back on those mornings.

Jason had only been practicing at the firm a year longer than me, but because the partners were busy, they assigned Jason the job of mentoring me—the first female attorney they’d ever hired.

During my interview, the previous winter, my car got stuck in the foot of snow that fell during the course of my interview. The firm’s four male partners stood behind my Honda Accord and pushed me out from the curb; pushed until I found momentum. I took it as an omen: this was the kind of firm where the partners would have my back.

I’m guessing those same partners never knew that, on the rare occasion Jason visited my office, he’d hover over my framed Order of the Coif certificate, showing I’d graduated at the top of my law school class, before observing that he thought I suffered poor self-esteem. I’m also guessing the partners had never driven to a legal training with Jason or witnessed how Jason, upon arriving in a parking garage, would keep the key in the ignition and continue the Wagner opera that had been playing, locking the car doors until the song concluded. I highly doubt Jason ever grabbed a partner’s wrist—forcing him to his knees—while they were walking down the hall late in the evening—saying, with a laugh, that he’d only been demonstrating his Judo abilities.

I didn’t tell the partners these things. Yes, Jason’s behavior seemed odd, even eccentric, but people have their idiosyncrasies, I told myself. I worried too that I was, in part, to blame for Jason’s behavior, that I had encouraged him somehow. Like that day he told me not to step behind his desk in my dusty blue suit—my favorite suit. Jason said something about how the suit matched my eyes. I didn’t step behind his desk but I continued to wear my blue suit. Perhaps I even enjoyed the thought of my suit tormenting him; in some odd way, it felt like the only piece of control I had back then.

It was dark when I left the law office that year. Every single evening it was dark, even in the summer. The firm wanted all of my hours to be billable hours. The legal assistants never stayed late; their cars pulled out of the parking lot by 6 p.m. I am assuming, therefore, Jason never had occasion to tell them he was trained to kill. That’s what he told me, late on an October night when a high wind swung through bare tree branches and an appellate brief still needed editing.

I imagine the partners might not have believed me if I’d told them what happened one Saturday morning on a blustery November day when I thought I was alone at the firm and stood in a windowless supply room, photocopying sections of statutes needed to support an appellate brief. I didn’t hear the door upstairs open over the sound of the photocopier. When I saw Jason standing at the entrance to the closet-like room, I jumped. He entered swiftly, shutting the door behind him.

I can only assume Jason’s pants were already unzipped when he entered the room so that when he took my wrists to force me down to my knees, a Judo move no doubt, he could, with very little effort, send his hardened cock deep into my surprised expression. With just a few hard thrusts, Jason ejaculated his load down the back of my throat. I was still choking on his salty mucus spray as he exited the room.

From down on my knees, I could hear these four things: the blood pounding in my ears; Jason washing himself in the bathroom; the ticking of the clock behind my head; and the gurgling of the Bunn-O-Matic, signaling that the pot of coffee I’d made when I’d arrived that morning was ready to drink. I was still on my knees when Jason exited the bathroom and, from the doorway of the supply room, said,  “We’ll have to keep our distance now. You have to stay away from me.”

Two weeks later, I heard that he and his wife were expecting their second child.

 

There are four things I want you to know from “the before” of that law firm year:

1) Not long after I started working at the firm, Jason told me, unsolicited and unprovoked, that he could never cheat on his spouse.

2) My husband’s family became temporarily homeless, due to extensive flooding that spring near their home. Jason’s wife dropped off home cooked meals to help me feed the throngs staying with us for a few weeks.

3) Over a shared lunch, Jason asked if I knew what “our song” would be, if we had one. I didn’t. U2’s “With or Without You,” he told me. Only later, I’d realize he’d ruined the song for me.

4) I wrote Jason a poem four months before he did this thing to me. At the time, I thought he was the only one looking out for me at the firm where I worked seventy-five or more hours per week. Only later, I’d read about Stockholm Syndrome.

 

After a month of sleeping in our guest bedroom, I finally told my husband about what had taken place a month earlier. Neither of us—both attorneys—could name this victimization. I told him we might as well divorce because I no longer knew how to do anything but write legal briefs; I’d become a ghost mother to our two kids. We would divorce, four years later.

It took me fifteen years to stop blaming myself for what happened that day in the copy room next to the Bunn-O-Matic.

It took fifteen years before I could call it rape.

Two months after the rape, after my doctor placed me on Prozac to control my panic attacks and my husband was trying to find a higher paying job in a nearby metropolitan area—Jason came up behind me while I was photocopying case law in the upstairs copy room, the one with a window. Inches from my right ear, he said, “I hope you don’t jump off a bridge” before exiting the room. The lights coming in through the darkened window blurred sideways. The paper in my hand shook. I walked out into the cold night without my jacket.

I don’t suspect the partners ever knew what kind of a man Jason was and I never told them. What I did tell them, the following February, was that I would be leaving the firm because my husband had been offered a fantastic job in “the city.” The founding partner responded: That’s what you get for hiring a woman. That statement still reverberates off an echo chamber inside my head.

After leaving the firm, I never returned to practicing law. That’s what you get. Perhaps Jason—who’s been voted a super attorney in our state—won. That’s what you get. Or the founding partner, perhaps—he became a judge. That’s what you get.

I, on the other hand, I survived.

*

Alone Enough
Jodi Shepherd

He couldn’t have done that. He had a daughter my age. He didn’t remember.

Night shift. Alone. Not alone. Alone in the dock office. Dock worker loading trucks. Sorting factory on the other side of wall. Alone enough.

Pulled up in a sports car. Drunk.

He enters the office. I stand. He lifts his shirt. Presses me against the wall. He is big. Sweaty. Smelled like liquor. He knew what I wanted. He had seen me watching him all summer. He stumbles. I move toward the door. He blocks me.

He hears people on the other side of the door.

Pulls out his wallet. Scribbles his number on a dollar. Throws it at me. Leaves.

I try to do paperwork. Can’t focus. Go out on dock. Dock worker—male, kind—knows something is wrong. Takes me to floor manager.

I tell her. She says people make fun of her for being overweight. They call her “wide load.”

Dock worker finds out. He is outraged. He knows what to say.

I go home. It is early. 6 a.m. I am home for the summer after college. I wake up my mom. She is not quite awake. “You wear tight shirts,” my mother says.

A meeting with him and HR. He works for the buyer. Company doesn’t know what to do. He isn’t allowed on the dock at the same time as me. Coworkers must accommodate. Everyone knows.

I see him on the dock.

He looks scared.

I am scared.

Dear twenty-two-year-old self: call 911. There is a drunk driver in a sports car. They can arrest him for that.

***

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 is 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.