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 Men Who Never Break Rules
He picked me because I was on crutches. Sometimes I tell this story with only two details and that’s one of them. It’s my answer to the drunk-shamers. I say, it’s not great to get drunk but sometimes you do, kind of like it’s not great to break your leg but sometimes you do.
If there’s a lion in the grass, it’s not your fault.
I broke my left tibia playing tennis in college. Maybe that part is my fault. I loved tennis too much to stop, even when my leg was screaming at me. I played tennis until I couldn’t walk. It was October in New England and I was new to everything, freshly eighteen.
It was a senior on the ground floor of my dorm, the one who did it. He picked me because I was on crutches. He sat me on his futon and I thought we were going to make out. Maybe fall in love. Then he took my crutches to the farthest corner of the room.
He said I wouldn’t need them.
He washed his face and came toward me gleaming and grinning. Water dripped off his chin. He didn’t dry off and that seemed strange. He said, “I always wash my face before I do this.”
He showed me how strong the muscles in his thumb pads were. He said he gave great massages. I still thought something fun was about to happen and murmured something polite.
He put his hands on my shoulders, my back, my waist, and by that I mean he screwed his thumbs into my bones. I screeched and squirmed.
He said, “I like to make a woman yelp.”
I kept thinking, “Maybe this is how grown-ups do it. Why am I not enjoying myself?”
He dug those strong thumbs into me.
I screamed. “I’m in pain,” I said, thinking an explanation would help redirect him.
I seemed to frustrate him. He slammed my head against the futon frame. He picked me up by my hair and slammed my head again.
My hair was coming out in wads.
He said, “Note to self: next time pick a girl with stronger hair.”
It went on for seven hours because, he said, he was a Buddhist and Buddhists don’t believe in reaching destinations.
He didn’t penetrate me. I didn’t know why. He beat me up. I didn’t know why.
I must have said out loud, “Shouldn’t I be orgasming?” I might have even masturbated for a minute. He turned that around on me later, said he couldn’t have assaulted me because I wanted to orgasm.
He scratched me and bit me and bruised me.
I kept thinking it was salvageable. I kept thinking it was awkward sex. For years I’d been waiting to grow up and get sexual. I whiled away my high school years dreaming steamy dreams.
I didn’t grasp the thing about the lion.
I wanted him to hurry up and orgasm and fall asleep. I wanted to crawl away. I mean, I wanted to run away, but with the broken tibia I’d have to crawl. I kept thinking about the deadbolt in his door, hoping it was the quiet kind. That’s another reason I believed it couldn’t be assault. It couldn’t be assault if you wanted him to orgasm, even if you wanted him to orgasm so you could escape.
It couldn’t be assault if you looked back on the Buddhist business and laughed.
It couldn’t be assault, I thought, but my roommate told me to report him. I followed the instructions in the Student Handbook. I told a school authority.
He said, “That’s awful. Who did this?”
I named the name.
He said, “Oh yeah, him. He’s just like that.”
When I tell the story with two details, that’s the other one. It’s the special detail for people who ask why women don’t report. I did report, I say, and my school already knew about him. “Oh yeah, him. He’s just like that.” That’s what my school said to me.
It took five weeks for the bruises and bite marks and bald patches to heal.
It took me five years to stop blaming myself.
Then I spent two years seething and fearful.
An expert told me my timeline was typical. She also told me the broken bone thing is common. Predators love broken bones.
Years later, I met a man. A different man who shared the name.
I liked this man before I met him, when I saw him across a crowded room. We introduced ourselves and I didn’t care about the name.
I noticed and loved his self-control, the way he did his chores, the way his female friends engaged with him. I air-guitared Led Zeppelin and I saw the love light in his eyes. We had my first ever emotionally safe sex. I pronounced his name with no thought about the other man who shared that name. We married. We made babies. I felt strong and smart and funny and safe and free.
Safe and free— how foolish was I?
A few months ago my assault came roaring back at me, bright and frightening. I was sitting on a playground bench. I became again the college girl who looked away from the bruises on my own body, who fixed my hair to hide the bald patches, who feared my own dorm lobby, who scanned the cafeteria before swiping my meal card, who huddled on the far side of my friend’s mini-fridge when the man with the name came pounding on her door because he was mad I had tattled after I had masturbated and yelped and had not been raped. I’d forgotten every one of those details until Brett Kavanaugh came along.
In one sentence, Kavanaugh explained that autumn night to me. He was a mirror reflecting the college senior with the name. I recognized him by the thousand indescribable details by which we recognize any ordinary thing. He said, “I did not have sexual intercourse or anything close to sexual intercourse in high school or for many years thereafter.”
Now I understand. I’m no fool. If rape means penetration, stop short of penetration. Just like the Buddhist. If a man follows that rule, a woman’s anger is out of bounds.
My husband, the man with the name, wants our daughters to use proper form at the piano. That’s his worry. He talks it over with me, doesn’t want the kids to practice bad habits.
I look at my girls, so authentic and unbroken, and I feel myself waiting, waiting for some Kavanaugh to strike, to take his opportunity on them.
My husband doesn’t know my worry, this waiting. The precious fragile treasure of confidence our daughters have— it’s something I don’t remember in myself, something he’s never been without. He knows it so well he doesn’t see it. I know it so little it’s all I see. I listen to him fret about the fingering and I plan for the day I tell them about rape. Now I can also tell them about not-rape, and all those not-rapists who will defend themselves by saying they never broke a rule.
The Rules of Devil’s Triangle
The rules of Devil’s Triangle are: there are three players. Two know the truth and one is too drunk to remember. As you watch them go around the board, who you root for says more about you than it does about them.
Every time a white man gets red-faced and screams, we drink.
Every time a woman apologizes, or pulls the mic close to her and perches her body so that her terrified voice can be amplified for the benefit of men, we drink.
If you remember that these same senators did this same shit to Anita Hill when you were thirteen years old and that it was the first time you really understood the nature of power, you drink.
The rules of Devil’s Triangle are: if you think sexual assault only happens to liberal women in short skirts who probably wanted to have sex or they wouldn’t dress so sexy, you drink.
If you are concerned about alleged transgender rapists in women’s bathrooms but not on the Supreme Court, you drink.
If you can’t understand why women are so angry but you think it has something to with Hillary, and why the hell does it take these people thirty-five years to report a crime? and don’t they care that it could ruin a man’s reputation, you drink.
The rules of Devil’s Triangle are: the Brett Kavanaughs of today make the rulebook for the Brock Turners of tomorrow while you stand on the sidelines, waiting for your chance to cheer.
The rules are you roll the dice. If you tell someone, they might ignore you. Or, you might find yourself whispering in front of millions that you wish you could be more helpful.
The rules are that even women—even women you love—will judge you, will ask what kind of fifteen-year-old you were, and how many drinks did you have, and what was the nature of the penetration?
The rules are: you’re fucked no matter what you do. No matter what you don’t do.
The rules aren’t fair. If you’re looking for fairness, you drink.
If you’re looking for justice, you drink.
The Rules of Devil’s Triangle are that if you are a white man and you swear to God in a court of law, other white men will believe you and that’s the only group that matters.
The Rules of Devil’s Triangle are two men fuck the same woman and don’t make eye contact.
Or eleven men fuck the same woman with a female prosecutor between them.
The Rules of Devil’s Triangle are that two men beat one woman.
That I look at my beautiful spunky tween daughter and wonder how the world will break her.
That sometimes I take shit away from my son to make him cry, and I don’t give it back. Just for an excuse to hug him and tell him to be gentle.
The Rules of Devil’s Triangle are…
The Rules of Devil’s Triangle are…
You look at me
when I’m talking to you.
Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.
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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