ENOUGH: To Keep Myself Alive

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.

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Missed Connections
Brittney Knight

Nov 14 Sudley Road – w4m (Manassas, VA)

I saw you on Sudley Road, after I passed you maybe I cut you off on the road in your white van. I remember the ladders, their splotches of paint, bungee-corded at the tops, like my father’s, summers spent watching him push the metal ladders onto the racks of his white van, identical to yours. We met when we stopped at a light, the one that intersects Lowes and Sudley Road. At 6 a.m., I chewed at my fingernails as I thought about the college composition class I had to teach in just thirty minutes. I wondered if they would understand the mini-lesson on finding sources or if they were prepared for their research paper. I didn’t think about you until you knocked on my window. For a moment, I hesitated. I wondered if I should turn my head and roll down my window. I didn’t know you. I knew stories of road rage, assault, and as a woman, I wondered if you would use your strength. But then I thought you maybe wanted to tell me about a flat tire or a loose gas cap. I rolled down my window, less than halfway, hoping for the best but expecting the worse. I glanced at you, tall and wearing painter’s white. You looked at me and I averted my eyes. No one was around but us, the roads quiet in the early morning dawn. The sun filled the sky with warm hues of orange and yellow. I could feel your presence as you began to speak, berating me for the fact I cut you off. You told me that I should be more aware of how vans work. They are heavy in the back. It’s filled with supplies. I just can’t stop at a drop of a dime. My eyes remained forward, breathing in the seconds. I wondered why the light was taking so long and why there weren’t other cars around. Were there any, the fear trained my eyes forward but maybe there was another car, watching this encounter. I hoped you would retreat to your van. I wanted this moment to end.

What if there was another car? In the lane in which you stood? Would you still have gotten out of your van? Came up to my window and knocked against the glass? Stared at me with such intensity? Or would you have stayed in your car? Would you have yelled through your glass? Is there any satisfaction in yelling at no audience? I often get angry at drivers, the red in my face, my husband on the phone with me, accustomed to the random yelling on my end. I understand road rage, the festering irritation of the inability to control what’s around you. I understand the fear of the inability to control what’s around you.

I wonder what others thought, if they were there, if they saw you step out of your car. Did they think you were crazy? Did they think you had a point? Of course, they couldn’t understand your point. No one was around us when I clicked on my blinker and moved into your lane. The only witnesses are you and I. But the point remains, when we pulled up to that light, no one would have known I merged over too quickly or maybe with just enough time . Maybe they thought you wanted to tell me about a gas cap, a tire low on air, an exhaust that blew out too much smoke. Or maybe they understood the burning desire to get in the face of someone who cut them off. Maybe they knew what it was like when they were cut off, the need to return the anger like the time when I first started driving with my mom and I had to get into the middle lane and I cut someone off, almost hitting my rear bumper into their front, and how they raced over into another lane only to cut me off again, slowing purposely so I almost hit their car, and my mom yelled some obscenities and I asked her why would anyone do that, especially with their kid in their car?

You kept talking at me. I wanted to roll up the window completely. I gestured towards it, my fingers hovering over the automatic switch. I loosened my foot on the break, rolling my car an inch up closer to the line. I looked forward, unwilling to look back at you. If I turned to face you, would you become kinder or would it make you angrier? Would you hurt me? I nodded as you talked, hoping that it would let you know I got the point. Don’t cut you off. What if you crashed into me? Did I cut you off? If I did, did it matter?

What if I did cut you off? Would that change how I perceived the encounter? Would I not grip the steering wheel, hoping the light turned green, my own knuckles turning white? Could I understand your need to get out of your car and berate me, to inform me of the structure of your van? To tell me that I could have caused an accident? Would I smile at you and agree? Yes, I cut you off. I’m sorry for the inconvenience. It wasn’t my intention. Is that what you wanted? For me to acknowledgement my wrongdoing? Did you get annoyed with my soft okays and nods? What did you want me to do? The overwhelming fear vibrated against my skull and I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment, willing you away, hoping when I opened them you would be gone, and yet there you were. Your voice piercing through me and maybe I am overreacting but all I could picture were the news articles. The ones where women were beaten with brute force for simply cutting someone off. And I recalled a time in my psych class where we examined how people lose their minds, get to the point of murder, get to the point of killing, and on that first day, as I sat in the first row, looking up at my instructor with eyes filled with excitement, she told us about how we have this issue with shrugging off someone who cuts us off because we take it personally and she then recounted a story where she cut off a driver because the lane ended and she had to merge over and how he got so mad that he got out of his car, in the middle of traffic, and went to her open window and punched her in the face. Have I ever felt so angry that I wanted to yell at someone when they cut me off? Not in the traditional, yell-at-your-windshield-question-their-ability-to-drive, wondering-how-they-have-a-license kind of way, but to get out of my car, to physically leave my space, the metal doors for protection (against accidents, not fists), and get them to notice me, hear me? Was the prospect of proving your point, educating me, worth the fear painted across my face satisfactory? I couldn’t know.

What if I didn’t cut you off? What if your van had plenty of room to stop? Clearly you had some room, as you didn’t collide into the back of my lime-green hatchback, fling me forward into the steering wheel, into the dashboard. Can I understand your desire to continue to inform me of the issues I could have, would have caused, as I avoided looking at you again, hoping the light would change, hoping I could escape, hoping you wouldn’t hurt me? I want to understand. I want to grasp the overwhelming need to berate me like a child, as if I need reminding how cars worked, how slowing down can cause the trajectory of accidents. As if a horn, the one you pressed hard, wasn’t enough to let me know, Hey that’s not cool. Sometimes, when people cut me off, I yell. I yell obscenities, angry, but often, I don’t honk my horn. I reserve the horn for those moments when I think a car won’t stop and it will collide into my side. This irritates my husband. He asks me why I don’t use my horn more; he often drives with his hand hovering over the hub of the steering wheel, ready to honk when someone does something to piss him off.

Did I remind you of your daughter? I could hear the tone in your voice change in demeanor as I nodded, hesitation in my eyes. I think you understood that I felt uncomfortable, unsure, scared. But it wasn’t enough to stop you from finishing, to make sure I understood that I could have caused an accident. I could have hurt someone. You could have hurt someone. And after what felt like minutes ticking away, you finally went back to your van. I could feel my chest expand from the tight ball that formed. Then, the light changed, a bright green. I slipped my foot onto the gas pedal and I pulled away fast, away from your van, from the confrontation, from the fear.

Did you ever tell anyone about this encounter? Did it leave any sort of impact? Probably not. You probably drove off, unware that I was hoping you didn’t follow me. You probably went to work, felt secure, that you had done the right thing. I wouldn’t be a danger to society anymore. You gave the information I needed to do better. You had wiped your hands cleaned of any responsibility. I haven’t told anyone about this encounter, because it’s overwhelmingly conflicting. I haven’t told anyone about this encounter, because it meant nothing to me. Sometimes, I wonder about this encounter, in the space outside my car. I think about the anger that filled your breath, the need to educate me, to inform me, to correct me. I think about how I shrunk down in my seat, wishing for a way to disappear. I think that maybe in part I am embarrassed. If I cut you off, if I almost caused an accident, guilt plunges through my blood, a reminder that I am responsible for lives around me that I never realized before. The remorse, the worry, the fear, that maybe I could kill someone, I could harm someone, I could damage a life. Did you think about those concerns as you opened your door to get out? Did you think about the responsibility now beholden to you for my life, for my choices? Did you want to alleviate any hard feelings for you? Did you think for a moment, that while you felt better, you left me feeling unsafe, unsure, unaware?

*

Riding in Cars with Men I Don’t Know
Britt Julious

I took a car.

And where did I go? To a roundtable for users who have made more than the usual amount of rides using Lyft, a ride-sharing service.

“Congratulations on being one of our most prominent and highest ranked users!’ the email said. They told me the CEO of Lyft would be in town next week and would like to meet with me and a couple of other users to talk about my experiences. “You’ll get lunch,” they said.

I spent the morning in a nondescript building on Michigan Avenue downtown, talking about my experiences riding a car driven by someone I don’t know. A Lyft sign taped to a glass door of an office greeted us. I sat in a room of mostly prickly businessmen complaining about the influx of “non-American drivers” now on the app.

How did I get here?

 

Two years ago, the idea of accepting a car ride from a stranger seemed unlikely, even stupid. How many times had I taken cabs and had less-than-wonderful experiences?

I am thinking about the time I took a cab home at 3 a.m. to my parents’ house in Oak Park. I usually stayed with my sister or with a friend who lived in the city, but that night I wanted to go home and be in my bed, to not have to wake up to back pain and the long train ride back to the suburbs. And so I took a cab and we rushed down the expressway.

“Wouldn’t it be funny,” the cab driver remarked, “if I just locked you in this car?” He laughed for a full minute. I said nothing at first, looking down at my phone. The cell battery was dead.

“Excuse me?!” I finally shouted.

“I mean if I wanted to, I could lock this car and do whatever I wanted to you,” he said.

I grabbed for the door handle but saw it was locked, and, of course, we were racing down the expressway at night. Where could I go? Outside my dirty window, I saw the ever-present destruction of the West Side I called home during childhood. Decrepit buildings passed by in a flash, remnants of the riots from decades before my birth. Everything looked the same.

I thought, Here is where my night ends.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” I asked him.

“Oh calm down,” he laughed. “I’m just joking.” I must have missed the joke.

And there was the time a cab driver ignored instructions. We missed my exit from the expressway, and the next exit was closed, and the next one, too. We rode and rode past my parents’ home and instead, drove toward an abandoned factory in the suburbs.

The driver locked the doors, and told me to stop crying. He said, “This is all your fault.” I kept telling him what to do. Driving was his job. I was the passenger. How I got to where I needed to go was his decision. “You women always think you know everything,” he added.

I said no words, just kicked and screamed and hollered from the back seat. I think the driver expected placidity, but instead he got righteous fury, the fight or flight response I’d come to know intimately.

Nothing happened.

“It was just a misunderstanding,” he said, and I suppose that’s true. But I wondered whether he saw and heard and understood my panicked kicking at his back window. Had he felt my punches toward the back of his head? Had the sting of my slap against the side of his face registered?

“I just got a little lost,” he told me while driving back the five miles we’d gone past my parents’ home. As we finally crossed the border into my hometown, I lied. “Here’s my place,” I said and got out. It was another ten-minute walk to my parents’ home. Still, I felt safer alone in the streets.

 

At the roundtable were ten businessmen, an elderly woman who could no longer drive a car, and me—a relatively healthy, physically active young woman. I began to listen to their stories.

“I used to only use Lyft,” one guy began, “but now I use a mix of Lyft and Uber because, you know, sometimes those Lyft cars? They’re just not as clean or as nice as Uber cars. And you know, if I’m trying to show a sweet sexy thing a good time and hopefully get her to come back to my place and… you know… I want to make sure that we are not in a Nissan or whatever. I want to make sure that we’re riding in the best kind of car.”

“Yeah,” another guy said. “It’s a crapshoot. It could be a nice Mercedes or it could be some junker.”

“So you’re concerned that you can no longer take women out on dates?” the CEO asked.

“Yeah. I mean, that’s my biggest concern,” the first man added. “Women are particular.”

 

A year before and to the day, I rode the blue line back to the West Side of Chicago from where my hairstylist has worked for the fifteen years I’d been seeing her. That weekend, I would be attending a wedding of a college friend. I no longer spoke to this friend, but because I love weddings more than most things in the world, I wanted to be there.

Women are particular.

I kept thinking about what the man at the meeting had said. Are women particular, or are women human? Are women particular, or are women logical? Are women particular, or do women remember?

 

A year before to the day, I took the blue line back to the West Side of Chicago, and a man assaulted me. We were alone on the train. It was early afternoon. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. It was the first day of summer weather following a long, torturous, depressing winter. It was the beginning and the end and the beginning again.

He held me down. He waited. He looked me in the eye. He said nothing. It could have been worse. I’ve heard of worse. I’ve experienced worse.

I chased him through the train. I took his photo. I cried. I asked for help, with his semen drying on my thighs.

I claimed space throughout the train, walking back and forth with no means of stopping the propulsion of my body. I grabbed at anything and everything I could find: the seats, the poles, the windows.

I am a woman, and because I am a woman, I try not to take up space. I try to go from start to finish as quickly as possible, to stay invisible during the in-between. There is no room to settle.

On that day, I was pushed into the smallest corner possible, publicly, violently.

I screamed.

 

I began using Lyft. Uber, too. But Lyft was my favorite. There were more women drivers on Lyft at the time, making me feel comfortable. It reminded me of being with my mother or my two neighbors who lived on the floors below me, older women in their forties and fifties. They protected me. They asked questions of the men—my boyfriends—who stopped by my apartment. They texted me to see if I’d made it home at night. They brought me cookies. They were busybodies, and they made me feel safe.

It was a good feeling.

I used Lyft to go to work, to go out at night, and primarily, I used it to go home to the West Side I had always known, the home I had struggled to get to now, again and again, riding in cars belonging to people I did not know. Those trips by car might not have been the best, but they were better than the alternative. You can’t erase the past.

 

Women are particular, he said and a part of me—a younger part of me, a stronger part of me—wanted to refute his statements. Your generalizations are weak, sir. Your beliefs stem from assumptions.

Maybe the women he dated were not turned off by the cars they rode in, but instead were turned off by the company.

Instead, I nodded my head and said, “Yeah, women are particular.”

It’s true.

We are.

We have to be.

At the end of the roundtable, after reviewing issues of cleanliness and timeliness, asking about thee frustrations and joys of the service they offered, they said we were free to go.

“Here’s a box of donuts. And a code for two free rides,” an assistant to the CEO said. “It’s for current users.”

“Use it on a night out!” another Lyft employee said, looking at me.

“Use it to take your girl out on the town,” another employee said to the businessman from earlier. “Use it however you want.”

And how would I use mine? How I’ve always used car rides: to keep myself alive.

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ENOUGH is a Rumpus original 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. You can submit to ENOUGH here.

Many names appearing in these stories have been changed.

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