ENOUGH: The Mark Thing
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.
The Mark Thing
I met with Sandra late one night in 2013 at a chichi bar in San Francisco. I am not chichi, so I couldn’t tell you the name, or the location, but it had drapes, and was definitely chichi. I hadn’t seen her in several years, not since we were back in our Midwest hometown of Kansas City at another not-so-chichi bar and I apologized profusely for punching her in the face in a hay field when we were in high school. More on that in a minute, but by this time in 2013, she’d forgiven me, presumably, since she wanted to meet when she heard I would be in San Francisco.
I knew from Facebook that she was gorgeous and successful and cultured and lovely and very chichi. She’d moved out to LA after college and had traveled around doing videography for several serious places including Vogue. She’d married a European and had seen the world. She commuted to Manhattan. I’d moved to Seattle several years ago and just had my second baby. My marriage was, let’s say, troublesome. In the years prior, I’d sued my employer for sexual harassment, causing a mini identity-crisis and a major career shift. I was in San Francisco meeting with my newest employer. I was taking on the role as editor and social media manager for a small mom blog. I was my toddler’s crayon drawings; she was a Renoir. I was appropriately two sheets to the wind when I met her on a Tuesday night.
When you’re sitting across from someone who knows where you come from, and you are both nowhere near where you came from, things get said. Things about other people, mostly. We drank some more. In fact, we shut down the chichi place and ended up God knows where, a hotel bar I think, which is the worst place to be drunk, late, midweek. We compared notes on the boys we’d liked way back when. I apologized, again, maybe three or four more times, for punching her in the face. You see, I punched her in the face over a boy. He’s a current prison inmate, so not even a good boy, but that boy liked her, and he also liked sleeping with me, and so one night, drunk on keg beer in a hay field, I punched her in the face about it. It was not my finest hour. But once we got past that, again, we got onto talking about another boy from our youth. His name was Mark.
Mark was my friend. Mark and I had been good friends. I was probably one of the only girls he’d ever considered a “friend” and that is saying a lot. Mark was a star baseball player. He had a big mouth full of hate and never hesitated to cut anyone down. I remember being scared he would use that mouth to hurt me one day. Mark was muscular, good looking, with dark brown hair and a smile that could make you doubt yourself. He was popular and a lot of girls liked him. Mark was the ultimate bro. And I spoke bro. I became very good at all dialects of bro. So, Mark and I were friends, and when he got a girl unexpectedly pregnant when we were twenty-three, I showed up at his house with a pinstriped onesie that read “Little Slugger” to congratulate him on his new family. I remember him standing there in the driveway as we said goodbye. He was embarrassed that he’d gotten a girl pregnant. He didn’t want to be a father yet. I assured him that it would be okay. He’d be a great dad.
Sandra said Mark raped her and her friends. Well, I guess he raped some of her friends. The other ones, including Sandra, he just coerced into blowjobs. I said, “Yeah, wouldn’t surprise me.” And then suddenly, that last martini worked its strange alchemy and I said, “Wait, come to think of it, Mark locked me in a bathroom and made me give him a blowjob, too. Weird? Can’t believe I forgot about that.” And with that strange mixture of alcohol, and two people far away from their hometowns, the pins started to fall. Holy shit. Mark was a rapist. Mark was my friend.
The night went on and Sandra and I got drunker and talked about a whole bunch of other people. I probably confessed that my marriage was shitty, that I didn’t know what I was doing at my new job, that I wanted to be a writer, that I was really, really scared, and so on.
When I got back home to Seattle I couldn’t stop thinking about this “Mark thing,” as I’d come to call it. Somewhere around 2011 I’d come out as a self-proclaimed “writer” on Facebook. The nerve! The naiveté! But writing things on the Internet is what lead to that editor job so I guess it kind of worked. But in those months of sharing writing online, Mark read my essays. One day he asked for my home address over Facebook. He said he wanted to send me a gift. Sure. Who doesn’t like gifts? From friends?
His gift was a letter with two books. I read the letter to see if I could find evidence of the apparent serial rapist he’d once been. It was three-pages, handwritten about how he was sure he’d found the one and only truest Truth in life (with a capital T) and that Truth was Jesus Christ. He wrote about a vague “low point” when he was “questioning reality” and how he’d discovered all by himself that there was only one Truth to ever exist and he knew it. He was saved. To him, it was the most obvious thing in the whole world, he literally wrote, just like 2+2=4. The two books he sent were Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, and More Than a Carpenter, by Josh and Sean McDowell.
I responded with a brief thank you. I’d been grappling with faith since I was young porn enthusiast in elementary school; nothing my friend Mark from high school had to say was going to be very persuasive.
In the months that followed, Mark began posting homophobic and racist things online, so I unfriended him. Plus, I knew what he’d done to Sandra, and others—I saw it in her eyes—and I’d also remembered what he’d done to me. I wanted him out of my sight forever.
And then I went to my twentieth high school reunion in 2016. Why does anyone go to those? I wasn’t anybody important. I was, by then, a divorced single mom of two who overshared on the Internet for mom blogs. I had nothing to boast about. I went because I like a good party, and there were people I wanted to see, and I was alone, so fuck it. But, I didn’t want to see Mark. After successfully dodging him most of the night in a complicated and spread-out venue, he found me. It was near the end of the event, and I was not exactly sober. I was talking to Kelly from my eighth-grade gym class when he tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and my legit first thought was, Holy hell, not now, don’t you see I’m talking to Kelly from gym class?
I managed to maintain the slim grasp of composure the Manhattans had not afforded me for three minutes. Mark began by telling me that even though he had a vasectomy many years ago, he’d had a new baby, a daughter. His first child had been a son, and as that son was unexpected, he never wanted another. My legit first thought was, I’ll be damned. God really does have a sense of humor. He showed me a picture from his phone of an adorable baby girl. Then he launched into the most maddening subtext of my life.
“I know why I was such a jerk to girls in high school.” (He was talking about the incident with me, and we both knew it. I could see it in his eyes.)
“Really.” I said, gritting my teeth. “Why’s that?”
“Because of porn. All the porn got into my head and I thought that’s what it was supposed to be like. God has shown me that was wrong, and now that I have a daughter, I see.”
My legit first thought now was, Holy shit. That’s the most honest thing this dude has ever said in his life.
I’d been thinking a lot about porn at the time. I was writing a memoir, and within it was an essay about how I handmade a Playboy Bunny costume when I was nine and wore it for Halloween. I’d been trying to understand why I’d wanted to do that, and realized that I used to enjoy looking at my dad’s porn magazines. I’d been thinking about what effect those images had on me, and the choices I’d go on to make in my life regarding men, women and sex. I’d recently finished reading a book, The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure, which helped me understand pornography in the larger context of culture. I didn’t think all porn was all bad. But there was certainly bad porn, and I assumed this was what Mark was talking about.
I thought there was an opening for understanding in this moment of porn truth. But I was mistaken because thirty seconds later I started to explain how not all porn is bad, only the porn that is misogynistic, and Mark says, “What’s ‘misogynistic?’ You’re going to have to speak English.” Within two minutes I was wishing his son gay and he was calling me a bitch. I suppose it was because he was in possession of the One Truth, and I was not.
Sandra still struggles with the “Mark thing.” We talk every now and again, mostly through Facebook and articles, and I get a strong sense that she needs to tell her story. She’s almost bursting with her desire to do so in the articles we both like and comment on about the 2016 election and the sexism surrounding Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But, selfishly, I just want to forget about the “Mark thing,” along with all the Marks from my past life. Now I see how I contributed to this messed-up narrative. I spoke bro fluently. I took the time to learn their language, bought them baby gifts, punched girls in the face because of them, and then I married one, and I felt no small amount of shame about that. Talking about Mark just made me think of all the ways I’d been wrong and never wanted to be again. Especially now that Trump is President, a situation I know I contributed to over the thirty-nine years I voted as a Republican.
Now it is 2017. Mark is still getting away with his bro talk, maybe more now than ever, and among his Facebook “likes” is Breitbart.
I’m on Facebook after the NFL #takeaknee situation and I see a meme from an old high school friend which encapsulates how I feel. It reads, “I don’t want a country where everyone is forced to stand for the national anthem. I want a country where everyone wants to.” Yes, I think, that is true. I “like” the post. The next thing I do is unfortunate. I scroll down the comments and I see “my friend” Mark. He responds, “Anyone with a brain stands.” And from there it unravels into chaos. One man points out the racism in the lyrics of the national anthem and Mark fires back, “Your bald head is racist.” This man says that Mark’s statements make him a moron, and Mark doubles down immediately by typing, “Grow your hair out (if possible) so you don’t offend any of your fellow liberals.” Other people get involved, and everyone’s firing off comments about racism, stupidity, and male pattern baldness. At that moment, God moves through me.
Fifteen comments deep into this thread, I type the non-sequitur, “Mark locked me in a bathroom when I was fifteen and wouldn’t let me leave until I gave him a blowjob. He said he was my friend.”
It is silent for four long minutes.
Mark responds in a predictable fashion. First, he calls me a liar and says I’m not good looking enough to sexually assault. The maddening subtext is that if I were attractive, I’d have been in trouble.
Two minutes later I respond with: “Wait for it… Wait for it…”
I message Sandra: “NOW! Now is your moment. Go to this thread, scroll down, say what you have to say about Mark now!” And then I add, “But no emotion! Just statements!”
I realize I’m editing her confession preemptively, but I can’t help it. I’ve been writing for a while now and I have learned that you must sound a certain way as a woman online to be believed if you accuse a man of anything. And part of that is not coming off as angry or emotional.
She does not keep emotion or anger out of it—and I can’t blame her. She responds within seven minutes. “Shannon is not a liar. You did the same to me in a bedroom. I believe on more than one occasion. In fact, I can’t note a single girl whose first encounter with you wasn’t forced on her.” Then I swear I could hear a thousand gasps from the ether as I type the most devastating line of my writing career.
All mayhem breaks lose again. Mark calls us both liars and “loony feminists” and says we’re both too ugly to rape. No one jumps in. But, I’d find out later that everyone was watching.
Mark reports me to Facebook for “bullying.” My first thought was, Ha. That is the most ironic thing all year and Donald Trump is President. Then, the next day, the news hits that the ninety-one-year-old founder of the iconic media empire, Playboy, Hugh Hefner, has died. As I’m pondering the timing of this, one of Mark’s buddies is stalking me online. He quotes obscure essays I’ve written from over two years ago. He even quotes the one I wrote about being a nine-year-old porn enthusiast and Halloween Playboy Bunny and he wonders how I can be a feminist and support porn and then he links to an article about God and porn. A few hours later, my phone rings from an unknown Texas number. As soon as he says, “Hi Shannon, it’s Nick A–,” I make an involuntary sound of displeasure and I hang up. It was one of Mark’s buddies from high school. This boy stood next to Mark at our twentieth high school reunion and called me a bitch.
So, here we are. It’s 2017, Donald Trump is President, Hugh Hefner is dead, Harvey Weinstein has been publicly crucified, women are talking about it, but as women on the Internet we still must be careful when making ourselves heard lest our motives are questioned. Meanwhile, unrepentant rapists and homophobic bros bully people in the shadow of another media empire called Breitbart.
I said I did it for Sandra. I said that I typed what I typed and set her up because I wanted to give her a voice—I owed her that much—along with the means to virtually punch this boy in the face. When I happened to stumble across a moment in which I knew my friend Mark would hang himself with bro rope, I let him. The post was shared by thousands of regional feminists and business owners. They all know Mark’s name and history, and Sandra is incredibly relieved. She’d prayed for this moment to come, and in its aftermath, she burned a small bushel of sage from the “finest witches in Los Angeles.” That night, on my little back porch in Seattle, I took my small tin can of expired sage spice out of the cabinet and poured some into a plastic bottle cap. I burned it in solidarity with Sandra, and all women.
But I’m telling you right now: I don’t think I did it for her, or for them. I think I finally did it for me.
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.
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