ENOUGH: This Letter Isn’t for You

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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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This Letter Isn’t for You
Erin Arata

This letter isn’t for you.

This isn’t for Put out or get out.

This isn’t for expensive birthday gifts with puppet strings attached.

This isn’t for silence, the screaming, trembling kind of silence, when we know we should speak but don’t or can’t, or do but say the wrong words.

This isn’t for the first boy to ask me to the movies, who said, after, You’re not ready to have a boyfriend when what he meant was You’re not ready to sleep with me.

This isn’t for a year later, when I met you, and you decided I was ready after all, once I’d said no so many ways there were none left to make you believe me. This isn’t for the parts of me that started to believe you instead, about what was normal, about what was wrong with me, about what I was, about what I should be. This isn’t for the back row of the movie theater or what you did to me there. This isn’t for the bathroom stall I sat in after or the plastic bag I vomited into in the backseat of your mother’s car. This isn’t for the way you laughed when I said I felt nauseous or your eyes in the rear-view when I started choking: I didn’t think you were serious.

This isn’t for advice from my best friends, parroted back and forth when we were fifteen and didn’t know everything we had wasn’t all we had to give: You can’t expect a guy to stick around if you don’t give him a reason. This isn’t for finish lines drawn just to keep us running, to keep us racing, for the sake of winning, for the sake of not being last. This isn’t for the medals we showed off because we thought we were supposed to be proud of them. This isn’t for envy and anger painted onto people I loved because they didn’t understand, because I didn’t understand, because I thought I was supposed to love you more.

This isn’t for the choices I make because I’m afraid, and because they’re easy.

This isn’t for the hours I spend asking if I deserve to feel the way I feel, if what happened to me was what it felt like. Was it rape if he used words first? If we were sixteen? If he said he loved me? Was it rape if by the time it came to that, he didn’t have to hold me down?

This isn’t for the fact that I can’t say your name to my mother, like you’re some kind of monster I’ll speak back to life. This isn’t for my mother’s fears, so much like mine, that she could’ve done better, that this is all because of her.

This isn’t for the voice that haunts her car radio, makes her spin the dial like a broken bottle because of what that voice’s owner did to her best friend, backstage, before she was old enough to drive. This isn’t for the story I’ve learned not to share because the answer is always the same.

This isn’t for the stories that tell me I’m not the only one. One is enough.

This isn’t for people who think I am worth less than my body, that my body and I have no value beyond the wars waged in defense of, in spite of, our skin. This isn’t for anyone who thinks my body’s responses mean more than my words. This isn’t for the hatred I feel for my body for speaking first, for making you think I wasn’t serious, for saying, Yes, while I was saying, No.

This isn’t for the fingers that wrapped themselves around my choices and left prints to pollute my reasons. This isn’t for the times I wonder if I can trust my body, trust myself with it, because you taught me not to trust what I didn’t want, and I taught myself not to trust what I did. This isn’t for the babbling, broken parts of me I see sidelong because I can’t bear to meet their eyes. This isn’t for the parts you’ll never see because your memory is bigger than you are and still has its hands on me.

This letter isn’t for you. You don’t get a letter.

You get two and a half years: the year I didn’t know anything was wrong and the year after, when I knew you were hurting me but thought this made us even, because I’d hurt you, too, like not loving you enough was the equivalent of rewriting my existence, putting words in my mouth, breaking apart my body and choices until I didn’t know what was mine. You scraped your knee tripping over me and thought that made it okay for you to slash me with your claws, shredding what I could’ve done and known and been. You get months of forced giggles and tight hugs, where clenched muscles were less about keeping you close and more about keeping myself together. You get to be the paper cuts I used to distract myself while the real wound festered.

You get to keep your name and other words that still make me flinch. You get to be the speaker of the words I used as comfort when it occurred to me I’m sorry for what I did to you meant there was something for you to be sorry for. You get the last words I said to you, I don’t hate you, and maybe you get something I don’t: to know if they’re true.

You get the good memories I have but have no use for, at least until I know what to do with them. You get to be smiling in the clearest memory I have of us: me, in your swimming pool, just starting to sink beneath the water; you, still standing, holding me up with your hands. You get to ripple as you look down at me from the surface. You get the part of me still waiting to come up for air.

You get to be the monster in every story I write, even the ones that aren’t about you. You get to be the voice in my head that asks, How long will you keep doing this? when I reply, Until it stops hurting. You get to be an echo of a memory. Untethered. Disembodied. Maybe you get to know how that feels.

You get the nights I feel you in my room, in my bed, in the people I ask to share it. Your ghost gets to listen when they ask, Why are you crying? and I ask, Why won’t it stop hurting? Why didn’t you ask? Why didn’t you care? Why didn’t you listen?

You get what happened to you and us and me, and I get to wonder what that made me and what it makes me now, and who I am if you’re not here to tell me. I get to wonder if I could’ve been normal, if not for your normal, if not for everyone else’s. I could’ve been different. I could’ve been okay. I could’ve. I could’ve. I could’ve. You get to live with that because I have to.

You raped me. I don’t know if that makes you a bad person. I know that what raped me was more than a person. It was the idea that my body isn’t mine if I choose not to use it the way someone, anyone, wants me to. That my body and I are not more and less than each other. That my body is not mine, and I am not my body’s, no matter what it says and how I choose to reply.  That we are not us. That I am not me. That I am not mine.

You never really got to know me. Maybe now you will.

But this letter isn’t for you.

This is for everyone who asks, Is this okay? and doesn’t take no as a challenge. 

This is for quiet typing in dark rooms, attention held over coffee shop tables and basement couches, freely given with no expectation.

This is for words, lyrical and lethal, the kind that sob and soothe and sharpen, when we know we have to speak and don’t know what to say but try.

This is for the last boy to ask me to the movies, who doesn’t mind waiting while I make up my mind.

This is for my best friends, the kids we were, the women we became, all the things I wanted to say and the ways I say them now. This is for faith and forgiveness painted onto people I never stopped loving. Because we are worth more than they told us, and now we understand.

This is for the choices I make because I’m afraid, and because they’re hard.

This is for everyone brave enough to stand up, confront, wait for returned calls, for test results, for trials, for suits and senior pictures, for publication dates and press photos. This is for everyone waiting for verdicts, for judgments, for apologies—even when they’ll never come. This is for everyone waiting for an explanation.

This is for everyone who just needs someone to believe them. This is for everyone who just wants to feel safe again. This is for everyone who just wants to be asked if they’re okay. This is for everyone who does not stand up, confront, or wait. Sometimes, it is brave enough just to keep breathing.

This is for my mother and the fire she gives me to keep the monsters at bay. This is for all the ways I am better, all the things I am strong enough to do, because of her.

This is for the biggest family this only child has ever had and the chorus we create to conquer the quiet. Our melodies are not the same, but we spin poetry from the same pain and we sing with the same voices.

This is for the stories that tell me I am not alone.

This is for everyone who listens and says, I’m sorry, who says, It’s not your fault, who says, I love you, just I love you, not but or in spite of. This is for everyone who listens and says, I understand. This is for everyone who listens and doesn’t understand but listens anyway. This is for everyone who listens.

This is for my fractures, fault lines, and jagged edges. This is for the splinters that have become part of my reflection and refuse to be smoothed. This is for skin that scrapes and scabs and scars and sheds, until it is different. Until it is new.

This is for my body, which forgives me my hate and reminds me we are one. We are barbed wire and blood, we are sinew and silver. We are broken and beautiful. We are, we are, we are.

This letter is for them—I am forever theirs.

And, most importantly, I am mine.

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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.

Visit the archives here.