ENOUGH: A Bonfire of Blossoms, A Pile of Ash


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.


After She Spoke
Alison Townsend

(After the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings and testimonies, September 2018)

A woman is speaking, her voice shaky, but clear, her hand raised. She is telling the truth.

A woman is telling her story of what happened—how a boy forced her down on a bed in a locked room and lay on top of her, his hips grinding into hers, her whole life broken into, never the same.

The woman tells this story to (mostly) old white men too cowardly to ask questions themselves.

The woman says she is “terrified,” but walks memory’s dark hall in public because her assailant is now a nominee to the highest court in the land and speaking out is the right thing to do.

The woman describes how the boy put his hand over her mouth, says it was hard to breathe, that she was afraid he “might inadvertently kill me.”

A woman is speaking, her voice shaky, but clear.

You are not her, but another woman watching in solidarity, the hearing streaming live on your laptop, hundreds of miles away, your husband sitting beside you.

You are not this woman, but as she speaks, a shaking begins under your skin.

A door opens in your chest and you fall into your parents’ house, the rose-patterned wallpaper in the front hall blooming behind your back as your older stepbrother pins you up against it hard, his hips grinding, his mouth suctioned tight over yours. Until it is difficult to breathe, and you stop feeling pleased this brother-who-isn’t-your-brother likes you, and are frightened. Until your stepmother appears on the stairs and screams, “What are you doing? Leave her alone,” shoving her favorite boy—this Jim Morrison look-alike in his leather jacket and chaps, who can do no wrong—away from you with both hands.

It is the only time she ever saves you. She’s not there when he pulls you into his lap, says you remind him of a cat or a fox, something silky, sly, crafty, something that put a spell on him, the fault yours, not his.

You are thirteen and know nothing of magic, only the growing pains in your long thin legs, and how not to think about what just happened, folding thoughts of it up (the way the woman says she did) inside a small sandalwood box with a lock, jerking away the next time he grabs your arm.

A woman is speaking, her voice shaky, but clear.

Because nothing really happened, did it? It wasn’t really that bad, was it? This brother who wasn’t your brother—this drunk, this drug addict who finally succeeded in killing himself at fifty, a cocktail of cocaine and Jack Daniels at his side, air-brushed by death into someone better than he ever was—charming, seductive, a “person with problems,” but never a brute or a bully or a would-be rapist.

A woman is speaking, her voice shaky, but clear.

Years later, even you will be too kind, minimizing things, putting what happened in a poem in your book, but glossing it over, prettying it up with description, calling it “red petals pressed in the family bible.” Though what he did was real, marking you, laying down a path in your body other boys at parties and dances in high school and college would follow. It is what you knew and have always remembered, the shaking loud inside you, then and now.

As you remember that rose-patterned wallpaper—how it bloomed behind you, how your hands felt, splayed out against it in that beautiful, colonial house, where the scent of Lemon Pledge and traces of your father’s pipe smoke floated in the air, everything crisp and clear as it is this late September day.

A woman is speaking, her voice shaky, but clear.

As you sit here, listening and watching, while the woman speaks, her hand raised, pledging her truth. And yours, the words to say it alive in your mouth—a bonfire of blossoms, a pile of ash—nothing remotely pretty about them.


on the day of Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing I pass a man on Nassau
Jody Chan

whose egg-yellow beard triggers memories of a different man

from a catalogue of paper-hued men who have sashayed into

me without permission & for the next few days my mind

kites away from my body from social media from the news

look I am not afraid of being gone I am only afraid of going

there until you ease me back to earth on a thread straining

with the tremulous offer of time to talk & I say yes though

there is nothing to say except that you have witnessed the rest

of me so well I thought we might calm my heart’s erratic

pendulum simply by being in your garden with its musty

stillness its bounty of tomatoes spilling cavalierly out onto

the walkway despite the chilly swell of late September

alongside last week’s autumnal thunderstorms & I thought

we might glean some advice from these tomatoes after all

how many times have we too had to survive something nearly

intolerable not long ago you notched a months-long ear

infection while mediating your father’s divorce & not

long ago I told no one about wanting to die but you

so I gift you gluten-free brownies & Chani’s latest readings

& cartons of blueberries from the corner grocer & hope

you can accept this kindness even if it feels too much

like kindness see everything I have ever given to you I gave

because I needed it too & I am closest to being as brave

as a tomato on nights like this with you & me full

on berries & the small scribble of your son asleep upstairs

& I wish for our friendship to only ever inhabit the tenderest

of endings like a sentence without a period or the kind of night

where I bid you goodbye & promise I will see you tomorrow


The Night of the Gun (I Don’t Remember)
Judith Sornberger

I remember how Christine Blasey Ford leaned into the microphone each time she said “I don’t remember” as she testified during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing to confirm Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Despite being visibly nervous, Ford was deliberate and clear in her answers. She seemed to be working hard to give the committee what she could even though doing so was painful. I couldn’t understand why I was shaking as I witnessed her testimony, why my throat ached as though it was closing. I am, after all, one of the lucky two out of three women who have never been sexually attacked. So why this strong reaction?

Just a few days later, during a campaign speech, Donald Trump poked fun at Dr. Ford’s testimony: “‘What date did this happen?’ ‘I don’t remember,’ he mimicked. ‘Where was the party?’ ‘I don’t remember.’”

“I don’t remember. I don’t remember. I don’t remember,” he mocked. The crowd roared in approval, apparently believing that Ford’s inability to recall such details from over three decades ago discounted her testimony entirely and made suspect her one-hundred percent certainty that it was, indeed, Kavanaugh who had attacked her.

Why did each “I don’t remember” Trump sneered feel like a stab in my own gut? Possibly because I’d had my own experience with trauma and memory block.

Forty years ago, the husband I’d left a few weeks earlier drove over a curb just blocks from his office and was stopped by police who arrested him for possession with intent to deliver thousands of phenobarbital capsules. Because he was a first-time offender who was also an attorney—a public defender who served on the Pretrial Diversion Board in our county—he was granted Pretrial Diversion, meaning that he would not stand trial or be convicted of the felony. Instead he would face other consequences, including a six-week stint in a chemical dependency unit in another city.

During his residency, a social worker contacted me to ask if I would travel there for “family counseling” with my ex, whom I shall refer to here as Russ. I said we were no longer a family, but she insisted that Russ would be profoundly helped by my participation. He was the father of my four-year-old twin sons, and if I could help him—despite our differences—I decided I should. Do I remember the date? No. Do I remember the therapist’s name? No. Do I remember what I was wearing? No.

I do recall the therapist asking me to tell Russ how his alcoholism and drug addiction (the latter of which he’d successfully hidden from me, even though I learned that day that he’d been shooting morphine in our home’s only bathroom) had affected me and our sons. I recall saying that he’d been very distant, emotionally unavailable to us. “Anything else?” she prodded. Well, there was that day he was incapacitated—slurring his speech, stumbling around, and urinating on the bathroom floor. I’d stayed home from work, fearing a stroke or brain tumor, yet he had refused to let me take him to the emergency room, even though I sobbed and begged him to go. (Do I remember the date? No.) And there was the time he left some pills sitting on a dresser and one of our young sons popped them in his mouth and had to have his stomach pumped, but, at the time, I hadn’t realized they were illicit drugs. (Do I remember that date? No.)

“Can you think of any other examples?” No, not really.

“How about the time I held a loaded gun to your head?” Russ chimed in.

I felt as though I’d been pulled under, propelled down a dark tunnel at a nauseating speed to a night when we’d come home from a party. Russ was drunk, and our twin infants were sleeping in the next room. We were arguing—yelling, probably—and, no, I don’t remember about what. Nor do I remember who babysat the twins that night or how the sitter got home. In fact, until Russ made this comment, I had completely forgotten the incident.

I am sitting on the foot of our bed, hearing the drawer of his nightstand slide open behind me, and then feeling cold metal jabbed into my temple. I’m terrified, wondering what will happen to my babies if he kills me. My heart is pounding in my throat. I can’t scream. I have no voice.

Until that moment I hadn’t known there was a loaded gun—or any gun—in my home.

What happened after that?

I don’t remember.

Nor do I remember what was said or done in the therapy session after Russ’s admission. He must have apologized. Did I accept his apology? I don’t remember. As I drove the hour back home, tears streaming down my cheeks, I asked myself how I had forgotten Russ holding a loaded gun to my head.


When we’d met, Russ was an up-and-coming young attorney, and I was a twenty-year-old supporting myself with clerical work and taking as many college classes each semester as I could afford. Russ wanted us to marry and have a baby as soon as possible. The plan was that I would go back to school full-time after “the baby” was born. But unbeknownst to us, I was carrying twins. (These were, after all, the pre-ultrasound days.) The twins were premature and, at first, not expected to live. When they did come home, several weeks later, they were tiny and fragile and needed feeding every two to three hours. Most days I didn’t change out of my nightgown after Russ left for work. After I’d changed one baby’s diaper and fed him for an hour, the next baby would wake crying. And so on, all day. They were on several medications, and I lived in fear of giving one baby double the medication and the other baby none. So I kept a chart. There was no way I was going back to school anytime soon. Even if we could afford a sitter for two babies, I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing what I did all day for any amount of money.

Had I let myself remember that night of the gun, as I have come to think of it, I would have had to leave Russ. But how could I have left? Where would my babies and I go, and how could I support us on a secretary’s salary? I couldn’t even have paid for infant daycare on such a pittance. His not going to trial for drug-dealing proved that he belonged to a powerful fraternity and that, in a divorce, he would come out ahead. Anyway, the boys needed a father, didn’t they? And he really did love me, didn’t he?

So I forgot. It was not a conscious decision. I don’t know how I managed to suppress the memory. How long did that pistol at my temple stay lodged in my mind before it dropped deep into the dark of my subconscious? Was it gone the next morning? The next week? The next month? I don’t remember.

I am certain I have spent many more hours asking myself questions about that night and my non-memory of it than the FBI was allowed to spend on their so-called investigation into Dr. Ford’s accusations concerning the night Brett Kavanaugh attacked her. As I watched Dr. Ford during the hearing, admitting to not recalling some details, I felt my throat constricting as it did the night Russ held the gun to my head, knowing how convenient these memory lapses would be in dismissing her testimony. Even though any sensible person would realize that most of the significant things that happen in our lives (barring weddings, births, and deaths) occur on dates we don’t remember. Who remembers the calendar date of their first kiss? Or the date they knew for certain that someone they loved had betrayed them? It is the moment itself—joyous or full of anguish—that lingers in the memory, not the surrounding details.

Dr. Ford’s memory of that horrifying night, and the cruel laughter of the two young men who tormented her, has plagued her for decades. In some ways, I was rather lucky in forgetting my night of terror, at least temporarily. Once it was forced out of hibernation, I had already left Russ and found ways to support myself and my sons, however humbly. One thing I will never forget, however, is how trauma can block memory. It erased the memory of my life being threatened. No wonder my throat felt like it was closing when Dr. Ford spoke of Kavanaugh’s hand over her mouth as he ground his hips into her. My body was remembering its own trauma, its own silencing.


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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