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.
What Happens to Girls When They Are Raped as Children
Jeannine Hall Gailey
They learn to shut up about it. They learn that to tell even one trusted adult will end in betrayal, sadness, neglect. They sew up that sadness. They learn that even at six, in tomboy clothes, they are too sexy. That they are a temptation. That they are a box of chocolates everyone wants to eat.
They learn when they start dating to wear high necklines, lower skirts, to “keep their knees closed.” To not wear too much lipstick. They shouldn’t act like they want anything. They learn that dating frat boys will automatically bring more rape. They stay in church choirs, in their girls’ sports teams, around theater boys, anywhere that feels safe.
They will learn lessons from comic books—that female superheroes end up in wheelchairs, end up in refrigerators, end up depowered and left for dead. It’s much better to be the supervillain.
When they grow up, they will want to protect all the other children. They will try to volunteer. They will give up from too much sadness, from the inability to do enough. They will see so many sad girls with too much hair in the face. They will trace the edges of their sad poems. No one believes them. You remember how that was.
They will grow up and become strippers. They will grow up and marry too young. They will grow up and get pregnant. They will grow up and work the PTA and become congresswomen, church pastors, people in charge. They become poets, songwriters, actors. But they worry. That they will never enjoy sex as much as other women. That Cosmopolitan is just never going to give them the advice they need. They still worry about wearing too much lipstick. They worry about their own children. They worry about their voices. Will they ever carry enough? They will never stop being a little bit the small girl in the basement, alone.
curious george said,
“good night, moon”
(the lights were out)
papa bear got into
no one was asking
“have you seen my duckling?”
(i felt like the ugly one
sure that was why
no one came looking)
‘why are you my mother?’
(couldn’t god see i needed more
one who had time for me
one who could be enough
one not spread as thin
as the oxygen i feel
so guilty breathing?)
i was one of those three little pigs
trying to outsmart
the big bad wolf
determined to overcome me
old mother hubbard’s
clifford (the big red dog)
came to me for his bone
as if i were a doghouse
made himself right at home
didn’t notice didn’t care
he was violating fire code
shooting. off. fireworks.
and my brain
exploding into nothingness
like chicken little
my sky came falling
I wake up in the middle of the night I leave my door open and the hall light on because I am afraid of the dark and the long bright hallway reminds me that it is safe outside somewhere there is a lighthouse keeper watching over me someone else must be in the house someone who doesn’t know that I need lights on to sleep tight and if the hallway goes black the switch on my body turns to on and I all see are glass eyeballs lined up on the wall staring at me wanting me to wake them up but I have nothing to give them no magic potion to make the plastic dolls real people I get out of bed walk down to the end of the hallway where my playroom is and to the right is my mother’s room that is dark and heavy and the door is closed most of the time except tonight it is open just a crack just enough for her to hear my feet creak on the floorboards I try sneaking into my room to play a game of Chutes and Ladders but she hears me and calls my name Marnie why are you awake Marnie get in here I walk inside the room with its king-size bed pressed against the wall and on the opposite side is a large window looking out onto our backyard where the crab apples fall off their branches and rot on the ground inside my mother’s room there are thick green and gray drapes with trees crawling up the ceiling trees that remind me of walking too far into the forest when the sun falls behind the other side of the earth and the world seems to end it is too dark to turn back now too dark to stay so I am here in her forest and she is sitting naked on the edge of the king behind her copper head I see a man’s body the shape of his back is like a misplaced comma I start to backspace backspace I’m telling myself to go to my room escape when she asks me if I’ve felt myself down there I don’t know what that means except it’s a private part that I don’t touch and wonder why she’s asking me there are pill bottles on her nightstand and the old man is snoring what if he has no clothes on either I just had a bad dream is all, I say to her and she says the bed is big enough for three it’s a king she pats the fitted sheet pulled so tightly around the mattress it must be suffocating like tying a plastic bag over your head I try to leave but she won’t let me go I feel awkward crawling into the king with a stranger in the middle and my mother doesn’t move over so I curl up into a ball next to but as far away from him my body is hanging off the edge he is not snoring anymore I see his eyes they are not glass eyes like my dolls but he is like them he is awake he is staring at me he wants to play I don’t remember everything I remember that my mother is smoking her cigarettes in bed and that the house could go up in flames I remember that something happens in the king bed the night the man pretends to sleep in between us something between her and him and me there are no more commas just one long terrible sentence I cry when I think about it I don’t use question marks because I don’t want to know the answers that they both touched me where my mother asked me if I felt myself but all I remember is lights off and I black out as the bed burns from her embers where is the light switch the wall the door where is my lighthouse keeper I am swallowed up in the king I am burning in the king something happened with the king and the queen something happened something happened I don’t have enough words for spaces and pauses and an end I have glass eyes and real eyes and pills and cigarettes and naked bodies I am little I am just a girl that something happened to I get lost in the dark forest I fall off the other side of the earth I am never the same girl again.
We were never friends. The first day I moved into my new house at nine years old, my friend Jenn and I set up a lemonade stand using a discarded refrigerator box. Erin was our one and only customer.
My first impression of Erin was that she came barreling down the street at us and hit our makeshift stand full force. Jenn and I both toppled over, and although dazed, we were fine. Jenn starting yelling at Erin immediately. I couldn’t follow suit. Jenn was my old friend from my old neighborhood and I needed new friends here. Erin was just goofing around.
Not too long after that, Jenn was gone and I was alone and friendless, waiting for school to start. Erin lived down the street and invited me over. Her parents weren’t home and we played some twisted version of “house” in her basement. It was like no other version of “house” I’d ever played. Erin played the role of the father, which boiled down to her screaming at me to clean, and then yelling obscenities I’d never dreamed of when I didn’t do it right. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t, because I had a friend.
After all the cleaning was done, I got to lay down on the couch as a reward. Erin softened. She began stroking my hair and touching my arms. She told me she was sorry. She kissed me all over my face. I was frozen; I was terrified. She touched my legs and put her hand on my vagina over my clothes. Cold needles pierced my entire body as if a spiked vice was enveloping all of me.
Erin’s mother came back home then, and we both jumped up. I didn’t look at her. I ran up the stairs and out the front door. When I got home, my mom called from the living room and asked if I’d had a good time.
“Yes!” My voice was choked with tears and I hoped she didn’t notice. I hid in my room the rest of the day. I never told anyone what happened.
Erin became vicious after that. She bullied me for a weight problem I didn’t really have at that point, but her ability to get other kids to tease me as well led me to believe I was a veritable elephant.
I did gain weight after that, and I entered my new school as a shy shadow of my former self. I was teased incessantly and I fell apart in a way that I have still not recovered from, thirty years later. I have never been able to stand up to her.
I haven’t seen her in person in over ten years. She sent me a friend request a couple years ago, and I accepted it. I can’t even stand up to her online. She is my abuser, and a giant scar that is manifested in my extra weight. We are friends online, but we are not friends. We were never friends.
2 Corinthians 65:14
His side of the story is that there was touching, sure, but his intentions were simply misunderstood. As an Italian-American, culturally he’s prone to showing physical affection to his flock. Including four-year-old girls. By sticking his hands down my underwear, the front and the back, at a Christmas party inside my family’s home.
The archdiocese sent him to several rounds of treatment, including inpatient rehabilitation for wayward priests, over this cultural misunderstanding.
Thirty years passed, then the archdiocese named a building after him, a church hall presented as a wedding venue. Its slogan, “Where memories are made.”
For about sixteen hundred dollars, at the hall named after a child molester, a newlywed couple may boogie down with four hundred and ninety friends to celebrate their holy heterosexual matrimony. Specifically, the hall is for heterosexual couples. Even if we wanted to, my wife and I couldn’t rent the hall to gather our people—our families, our friends, the gender-benders with buzz cuts and wing-tips and wives—to slow-dance the night away to k.d. lang—even if otherwise we fulfilled the contract and followed the facility rules.
The facility-use policy appeared online shortly after I dispatched my sister to make faux arrangements for a wedding reception with her fake life-partner Jennifer. Not the lesbian wedding, just the after-party. My sister emailed the church office manager and called several times after her emails went unreturned. Then the policy appeared online underneath the user reviews. (Both of which rated the hall with five stars, one with the title “AWESOME.”)
Somebody used a highlighter to emphasize certain sentences in the policy. The facility “may be used by persons so long as the use is consistent with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. (2 Corinthians 65:14).” So, this probably means no lovebird lesbians allowed.
I looked up 2 Corinthians 65:14 because I was curious whether this cited Bible selection defined the Roman Catholic faith or if the Bible itself specifies how to deal with secular use of hallowed facilities and sacred spaces.
Pasting this specific verse into a search engine wasn’t so simple, as it doesn’t actually exist. Not even the Protestants recognize this passage. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops suggested the problem is that 2 Corinthians contains only thirteen chapters, not sixty-five—rendering it a nonsensical citation.
To be fair, 2 Corinthians 65:14 could be a typo. As precedent for failure to copyedit their website text, the hall’s pricing list allows five cases of wine, so long as the bottle size doesn’t exceed .750 milliliters. (For reference, one teaspoon is five whole milliliters.)
The hall charges a six-dollar corking fee, which makes me want to write jokes about when Jesus and his mom attended the Wedding at Cana and Jesus converted water into wine, did the venue charge Jesus a corking fee?
For a $250 cleaning fee, at midnight the heterosexual couple can gather their belongings and leave without a care about dumping the half-filled cups or sorting out recycling versus trash. Incidentally, the weekly bulletin calls for volunteers to work the weddings, cleaning and bartending, pouring wine and such.
(Is the church’s capitalist venture, profiting from unpaid labor, consistent with 2 Corinthians 65:14?)
From the pictures posted on the website, the dance floor is constructed from blond narrow wood resembling a bowling lane. The walls are simple, decorated only with windows and fire extinguishers—no statues of crucified bodies to turn one’s appetite away from wedding cake. The windows are tall and the carpet inconspicuous. It’s a humble ambiance that someone like Jesus might enjoy—the austere social-justice Jesus, not the bejeweled and super-judgmental Jesus.
Where memories are made. My body, my sacred space, remembers the priest. An accidental touch, because sometimes my wife forgets, because the abuse isn’t just under the surface in every sexual encounter for her like it is for me. A borderline tickle in the wrong place converts pleasure into nausea.
Upon the priest’s return from his inpatient treatment in the land of wayward priests, he threatened to sue my family for defamation of character. Go ahead, my parents said, because we’re telling the truth.
Given that the treatment apparently worked and this priest clearly reformed, the archdiocese then assigned him to a parish in a sequestered rural town. To his credit, nobody has reported an incident of misunderstood child molestation since.
In present day, the priest is still alive. He has an email address and a Facebook page. His home address is published online. During a trip back, when my sister and I drove by his house, two white Buicks were parked in his driveway—a big one and a little one. I hope he’s not demented. May he retain the wherewithal to still drive one or both of those white Buicks. Because I want him to feel whatever it is he’s going to feel when he hears that I’ve hired a lawyer, that I’m going to make a stink about this venue named after him.
I identify as Catholic only in the family culture sense, and I don’t know that I believe in a Heaven or Hell or any kind of celestial judicial system. But since he’s a priest, I assume he believes in God. And that priest knows that he slid his hand down my underwear, and kept it there. Even as I pushed against his hairy forearm. And it was no accident, no Italian-American cultural misunderstanding. He can lie all he wants, but he knows the truth. So does his God. Let him wrestle with that internal conflict.
As I pursue accountability with the archdiocese, I have no interest in attempting to defrock an elderly priest. But I don’t want some half-baked apology from him about how what I think happened has impacted my life. All I want, really—and I suspect I’ll never get it—is for the priest to just tell the truth, to just say yes, he molested me, and he did it on purpose.
When Monsters Unmask Themselves
Susanna Vander Vorste
From kindergarten until second grade, I spent countless afternoons after school watching Scooby-Doo. I savored the adventures of the Scooby gang—their hijinks, sleuthing skills, and zany antics—and often bounded in the door of my family’s small apartment and headed straight for the small television set in my room. No matter what supernatural creature popped up in the episode, I found myself eager to see the group crack the case and unmask the latest villain. Time and time again, the teens exposed technicolor monsters’ true selves: everyday people scaring others to get their way, stopped only by pesky kids and a Great Dane.
Though the paranormal premise always caught my attention, it was the reveal of the empty hoax, the bad guy’s failure, that put a smile on my face. After all, in the world of Scooby-Doo, no one ended up truly hurt. Once the police showed up to cart the villain off to jail, whatever damage occurred was fixed, all the previous danger gone. At eight years old, violence and crime were the made-up stuff of mystery cartoons.
Tip-toeing around my alcoholic father’s volatile moods, however, was the reality that my mother and I constantly faced. Whenever possible, she brought me along to her clients’ homes she cleaned for money, determined to limit my time alone with him as much as she could. In many ways, the necessity of sitting still for hours under strict orders not to disturb anything around me largely fed into my love for Scooby-Doo. The sound of my mother running her Rainbow vacuum or scrubbing tile floors with bristle brushes faded farther and farther into the background with every “Jinkies!” Velma exclaimed or “Zoinks!” Shaggy uttered. Each time they figured out the culprit’s scheme, I marveled over how all the clues came together perfectly.
Being around my father, though, was a mystery I could never get right. If he asked me to grab him soda from the fridge, I used the wrong cup. If he got my mother a tinfoil roasting pan for Christmas, I unwrapped a Black Hills Gold tennis bracelet. When he left beer cans strewn around, we said nothing. But if I left out a toy, he screamed about it for an hour and then threw it away. Whenever I felt tempted to complain, I remembered the sharp slap of his hand.
This is why, on a rare day left alone with him, when my father’s voice boomed, “Snooky! Come here,” I frowned but obeyed. I shuffled down our linoleum hallway in socked feet to our living room. There, my father’s bare torso greeted me from his position on the floor on his hands and knees, his muscles flexed.
“We’re going to exercise. Like on the tape,” he told me and patted the floor under him.
When I glanced at the television screen, my shoulders tensed into a knot. I saw naked women on the screen. A short-haired blonde with pink nipples repeatedly opened and shut her legs as she put her fingers in her private place. Inside myself, I heard one thing: no.
Frightened, I did the one thing I could think to do. I ran. Back to my bedroom, slamming its door, turning its lock as fast as possible. With my back pressed against the wood, I blocked out the sounds of shattering glass with my tears. I waited, frozen, in this spot until my mother came home from her house-cleaning shift, until she told me that my father left for the bar, until I crawled in her lap and whispered in her ear what he did. Some part of me held my breath until she snuck us away to a women’s shelter, and the packed suitcases in the back of our blue GEO made it clear we would never go back.
I recognize now the many ways in which my father tried to prepare me ahead of time. He offered to help me take baths while my mother gently chided, “She’s way too old for that! Our Suzie girl’s past the rubber ducky phase,” and reminded him, “She knows how to use Care Bear shampoo herself.” Threatening spankings, he pressured me to change out of clothes I muddied at recess in front of him. Right before, he hid tape recorders he bought from Walmart all around the apartment. He wanted to catch every word I might say to my mother. As an adult, I can finally read the clues.
Before that day with the tape, I considered my father mean. At times, I thought him weird. As a child, the “icky” video tape he showed me beyond caused me to feel intensely uncomfortable because I knew the private spots on peoples’ bodies were meant for private. My childlike impulse to share anything scary with my mother—whether he wanted me to or not, whether he caught it on his tape recorder or not—protected me.
Ever since, I have lived with the knowledge that, though he never molested me, never actually even physically touched me that day, my father intended to break my soul. My mind is certain. This was his scheme. And mine is the rare case in which a man like my father didn’t achieve his goal. It cannot equate to the trauma of those who have survived sexual assault. It does not seek to. Rather, it leaves my eyes open to the awful and real violence enacted on women.
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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