ENOUGH: You Are Not Forgiven

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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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The Hamburglar
Mindy Haskins Rogers

MacDonald’s Hamburglar embodied my childhood terrors. Not the boyish, puppet version of later years, or the animated one, but the original, live action character from 1970s TV commercials—a squat, white guy with a black mask and thinning gray hair, clad in prison stripes. In some scenes he flung open his cape to reveal a T-shirt with “Lone Jogger” printed on it. He was a stealthy thief with grabby hands and an insatiable hunger. He haunted me, peeking from behind sofas and doors, so only I could see. He lurked in crevices, swelling to fill the space of adult omissions, of carnal knowledge hinted at but never told. The Hamburglar couldn’t help himself; his lust was leviathan, and nobody blamed him for taking what he could, without asking. It was his nature, and wasn’t he mischievous?

Without vigilance, he might take me. He might take me even if I was vigilant.

The first time I was catcalled, I was eleven—larval. My hips had grown round and high, outpacing the buds of new breasts. I ran home to my mother, shaking as I told her through tears what had happened.

“What did you think it meant?” she asked.

“I thought they wanted to kill me,” I said. She didn’t answer.

Later, a man pulled a U-turn to talk to me as I walked on the sidewalk near my house. “There’s a beautiful woman,” he said. I wore a new play suit—shorts and a tank top with straps tied in bows over my shoulders. The white terrycloth was patterned with pastel diaper pins, and I had decorated my hair with matching ribbons. It was the era of Love’s Babysoft, of “You’ve come a long way, baby.” I swelled with pleasure at this appreciation of my efforts, though confused at being dubbed “woman.”

Men had declared my childhood over.

The Hamburglar was everywhere. I felt him, in the hands of the “uncle” who brought gifts and held me too close, who put me on his knee and playfully spanked my round, childish buttocks through a thin nightgown while my mother watched. I saw him in the silhouette of the man masturbating in the trees at the edge of the park where I lay in the grass, reading my book. He peered through the viewfinder of the man who followed me throughout adolescence, taking pictures of my girlfriends and me without asking. I sensed him in the tent the night I camped with a friend in her driveway, and a hand slid under the covers onto my abdomen, searching. I screamed until our parents came, and then the police, and I described the flash of jeans and white T-shirt I’d seen stealing away as my friend’s father stood behind everyone, in jeans and a white T-shirt, saying nothing. “It must have been some neighborhood kid,” one of the officers said, and they all agreed, though we had heard the rumors.

“He abuses his oldest daughter,” my mother always said, tsk-tsking.

I knew then that telling was useless. All the men in the world couldn’t stop the Hamburglar, or wouldn’t, because stopping him would have meant admitting his actions were not uncontrollable or acceptable or mischievous or cute. Stopping him would have terminated their own license to behave criminally. The Hamburglar wore a mask, but its purpose was never to obscure his identity—instead, it signaled his ubiquity. He could be any man.

We used to buy our Levis unwashed, cardboard stiff, then launder them until they shrank to fit, but suddenly my father got angry when mine fit too close. He scolded me in a gruff voice and inside, I shrank. I had done something bad, but I didn’t know what. I changed before leaving for school, but the sting of my father’s rebuke stayed with me.

As I grew, filling my clothes in new ways, my body no longer belonged to me—it became public domain. It might measure up or it might not, but it would be measured—especially by men, who looked me over and checked my face only to see if it pleased them, discounting the person behind the eyes.

“Can I buy you a drink, if you’re old enough?”

I was sixteen, in a drug store, and a white-haired man leaned around the aisle, peeking between shelves to talk to me. The drinking age was eighteen. I didn’t want a drink.

Eventually, men no longer bothered to sneak—they felt entitled. From the boy who lost his temper when I wouldn’t kiss him, then backed into the car behind us—“see what you made me do?”—to the men who didn’t listen when I said no, everybody was angry when I didn’t give them what they wanted.

The Hamburglar was everywhere, and he didn’t like no.

“No” is what I told the guy I went on a date with, just once, because I thought he was hot. He’d been coming into the restaurant where I worked almost every day. He brought me to a party where I knew nobody and barely talked to me. I was nineteen, but I didn’t have a car, or a license, so he drove me home, too. Then he wouldn’t leave. “No,” I said, “I am not going to have sex with you, I don’t want to have sex with you.” But he kept pulling at me, ignoring my words, until he took what he wanted. It was the late 1980s, and I was terrified of HIV. I convinced him to wear a condom, and because of that, I felt complicit.

When he came back two nights later, he didn’t knock—I heard the door catching on its latch as he tried to open it. “I’m not alone,” I said, calling through the locked door. I never stayed alone after that. I wasn’t foolish enough to let the Hamburglar strike twice.

He left, but he didn’t leave me, entirely. A week later I started to itch, and when I reached into my underwear I pulled out a tiny, six-legged insect that looked like a crab. Parasites crawled over my skin and through my hair. One way or another, my body was food. In a panic, I shaved myself.

Pregnant women who want to know the sex of their baby are advised to search the ultrasound for a turtle or a hamburger. The turtle, long neck protruding from its round shell, indicates a boy. The hamburger means a girl. Our plump outer labia form the “bun” around the smaller inner lips, the “meat.” In the days after my rape, I hated the nakedness of my vulva. My hair, the mark of my maturity, had been stripped from me along with my agency. Years later, when a girlfriend spoke about her Brazilian wax and how pretty it looked, I cringed as I remembered my humiliation at being razed, infantilized by bareness.

I learned to be always on guard, ready to fend off unwanted hands—or worse. Even when the Hamburglar didn’t get what he wanted, he robbed me of peace, of the right to be open and receptive, of the right to move through the world without constant vigilance. I lived as most women do—wary of dark streets at night, of isolated restrooms, of meetings with strangers, of meeting eyes.

I adopted the practice of shouting, “Don’t touch me!” in response to unwelcome contact—ass-grabbing, tongue thrusting, and unsolicited backrubs from strange men in public places. I suffered the insults that ensued: “crazy bitch” and “stupid cunt” and “bitch who doesn’t put out.” “Are you a lesbian or something?” and “Shut up, you’re a woman!”

The Hamburglar did not like having his rights questioned. But I wouldn’t shut up.

“You never told me that one,” my husband said, years later, as I concluded another story of an unwanted touch from a man. A wet mouth, an unexpected tongue from a boyfriend’s buddy.

“How could I possibly tell you all the times some guy has put his mouth or hands or penis on me, uninvited? It would take a lifetime.” Back when we were getting to know each other, he had asked permission—to touch me, to kiss me, to access my body in any way. “Who taught you that?’ I’d asked.

“Nobody. I just knew.”

At my eighteen-week ultrasound, we watched as the sonographer slid the wand over the slick mound of my belly, marking and measuring, taking notes. With awe and fear we stared at our baby, a silvery outline in a sea of black. Head, toes, fingers—was everything okay? Perfect. Did we want to know the sex? Sure. Hamburger or turtle, they said. I held my breath as the sonographer pointed to a small oval with a head peeking out. A turtle. I exhaled slowly. I knew what to teach a girl—all the things she would need to know to protect herself in a world where she is treated like prey, like something to be consumed. But a boy? Those lessons would have to be different.

 

There’s One in Every Family
Gray Torres

Dear XXXX,

I accept that you will never get better.

I think people should know better than to fuck with children. I don’t think there needs to be a book called “101 Guaranteed Ways to Crack Open a Child.” But, I think for some people that’s the only way they would understand not to pull apart kids for fun.

One of my earliest memories is as an infant: she puts me down and walks away; I start crying; figures gather but none of them smell right. Until one of them does. He tells me that before I could speak I was very attached to her and always chose to keep her company. My first word was “no.”

I accept that you have hurt me in ways that make me cry in public bathrooms and scream at people I care about.

From the ages of four to nineteen she yanked on all parts of me. The last time she molested me I was watching television in a shirt and sweatpants when she came up to me grabbed my breasts and relayed commentary. I didn’t hear what she said, I just remember the sly smile she had as she held my breasts in her hands groping and staring like she was looking for something. She laughed when I backed away, swatted at her hands. It made me want to pull off pieces of myself. To take away the feelings of her hands on my skin.

I accept that I am responsible for my own healing.

I told her that I didn’t like how she touched me. She pinned me to my bed, grabbing at my breasts, hard. Told me that she “owned me” so she could touch me anyway she pleased. I clenched one fist and shot it at her chest. She folded inwards on to the floor and started crying. I can still remember him screaming at me through the phone. “So what? She had heart stents. You could have killed her!” She never touched me like that again.

I accept that I do not need your validation.

I have been thinking a lot about how forgiveness is packaged. This pretty gift I’m supposed to give myself that inevitably lifts the blame off the asshat that did me wrong. And I just feel the need to say that I do not believe in forgiveness. I believe in radical acceptance. I do not believe that my anger is a poison I’m drinking.

I accept that you, too, are an old wound, opened and reopened.

My anger is a reminder of why I cannot trust her. People have painted anger as a twenty-four-hour, seven-day-a-week emotion that makes us bitter and crusty. As if it settles into the lines of our faces and scares off potential happiness. I don’t have the energy to be angry at someone all day. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, my anger has been twisted, rejected, and willfully misunderstood. Everyone seemed to have demands from me. They called these demands “advice.” Have I welcomed Jesus into my heart? Once, but it didn’t really help. Have I tried exercise? Yes, and it was fun until it wasn’t. Have I been to counseling? Of course.

The problem is not my anger. My problem is that seeking justice would put several people in jeopardy. My problem is caretakers doing nothing about it. These issues helped to create trauma.

I accept that I have hurt you to try to “even the score.”

The problem with trauma is that it freezes the person in a particular time frame. When I am having flashbacks, when I feel angry, I’m not a twenty-something; I am whatever age at which I was violated. I am a kindergartener. I am twelve. I am right out of high school. There is no amount of forgiveness that stops nausea and cold sweats. When a large portion of your childhood is spent having pain denied, having anger denied, being told that complete honesty would ruin the integrity of the family.

I accept my flashbacks.

I accept my nightmares.

Names and smells are waves. They come down, hard. Bodies and blood smashing into the shore. A wall of hands, smudging my glasses into frosted glass or pulling my head from my body. Just mouth teeth and fists. It says, “Remember the time you were raped?” I say, “Which time?” It says, “All of them.” It just keeps sneaking up on me. A warm soft hand that reaches from the middle of my back cradling my head and rocking it then smashing it down on the floor.

The return of the word.

No.

Incest is never a problem if no one says anything. If we can keep eye contact. It’s never a big deal as long as we can still sit in folding chairs at barbeques, sweaty and drunk. It’s okay to whisper about the people it happened to. Everybody loves secrets. Every body has secrets. There’s no discussion about losing jobs, gaining voice, or nodding out on the couch and falling on the floor. It’s very easy to think that shoving down the truth and ignoring it will help. Lying to yourself becomes a lot of work. I learned to cater my healing to my needs.

I accept that I’m leaving you to your own suffering so that I may suffer less.

Audre Lorde asks, “What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?” I try to stuff her pain into mine. If I can carry what she’s done to me then maybe I can carry her. If I can wash the blood off her hands maybe the cuts will stop hurting. I cannot save her. Nothing I do can push her into my womb. I do not want to save her.

I accept that this shame was never mine.

I accept that you are not forgiven.

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Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.

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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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