ENOUGH: Original Fiction: Tom’s Photos

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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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Original Fiction: Tom’s Photos
Amanda Lewan

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen him. It must have been three or four years ago. They’d once done a great job staying in touch. Of all her friends from college who moved away, Tom was the one who called her most often and made sure to see her during holiday breaks. Now, with kids, her schedule had gotten more complex and she had less time to see any friends, let alone her old friend Tom. He was driving down from New York to visit family when he called.

She put away all of the kids’ things so he wouldn’t have to walk over their belongings. When the doorbell rang, she was surprised. She opened the door and found the same tall man she was best friends with in college standing there. They hugged. Nothing seemed different, though a few grey hairs whispered toward the front of his head now. She had a few of her own dangling through her bangs.

“It’s great to see you. Where are the kids?”

“Jacklyn is napping. Dennis is out at the neighbors’,” she said. “I might actually have a quiet hour at the house.”

He took off his jacket and shoes which were dusted with snow.

“Where’s Bill?”

“He’s working today.”

“When does he get off?”

“Not until Christmas Eve.”

“That’s so late,” he said. “This house is beautiful.”

She walked him through the large living and dining rooms, wide open spaces for strolling. The windows were big and bright above the dark hardwood floor. She had decorated the house together with her husband, a task that had taken more than a couple years to finish. As she walked she saw her home come together and felt a warm feeling flush over her cheeks. They sat down to the lunch she’d prepared.

“Work’s good?”

“It is now. I just got a new position.”

“And the girlfriend?”

“She’s great. I think she’s going to the be the one.”

“I had a feeling. You never told me how you met her.”

“Just through work.”

“When was that moment when you knew?”

“I was always attracted to her. There was one night we were all at a concert and we sat together,” he said. “That night I think I knew. I came home feeling it.”

It was easy to forget that her life had not always been this way, simple and spread out on display for anyone passing through. She had once dated Tom’s closest friend, Michael, and they’d all thought the two would get married. It didn’t work out. She remembered when Tom called her after the breakup. He spent over an hour on the phone asking her to make it work with Michael. She couldn’t marry the man she had dated for four years, and she hadn’t realized this until they moved home together after college, got their first jobs, and discovered that the they wanted to live two very different lives. The split was painful but Tom did not abandon her. He called her almost every month, an anchor to her life while she drifted alone, closed off from the world. She was grateful he took the time to make those monthly calls.

“I saw Michael’s married now.”

“He’s happy,” Tom said.

“Good. I’m glad.”

“It took him years to get over you.”

“He was so depressed after college. He didn’t know what he wanted to do, and so he refused to do anything,” she said. “I tried so hard to help him. I guess he had to learn to help himself without me.”

Though it was years ago, the pain of that breakup was easily accessed, the entire life she’d had with Michael reviewed. She’d thought she’d be in the wedding gown next to him, not that other woman he did marry. He’d always wanted her to wear more makeup, to dress up more—to be someone that she was not. Sometimes, she wondered what life might have been like had she stayed with him. They were friends on Facebook; she saw the pictures of his wedding day that happened without her. Technology made it so easy to peer into the past, to slip it on like an old but familiar garment.

She thought she heard her two-year-old stirring from her nap. She felt a sudden need to go to her daughter, to leave Tom there alone. She cleaned up the plates from their lunch and excused herself, but upstairs she found Jacklyn was asleep. Perhaps it had been her imagination. She always feared one of her children would wake and cause some sort of damage when she wasn’t watching. She feared she wouldn’t be able to protect her children as a mother should. When she came back down, Tom was standing by the front window.

“Do you want to watch something?” he asked, gesturing at the television in the living room.

“No, I should get back to preparing for Christmas. I have so much to do.”

They talked a while longer, catching up on where the rest of their college group had landed in life. When she walked Tom to his car, she was glad he was leaving but felt guilty for this feeling. She had dinner to make, and shopping to finish tonight when her husband got back from the office and took his turn watching the kids. As she walked toward the kitchen to clean up, she noticed Tom had left behind an envelope. A holiday card, she thought, and set it aside for later.

She stayed up late that next night wrapping the last of the presents and preparing the house for Christmas morning. When she walked back into the kitchen to shut off the lights, she remembered the envelope from Tom she’d tucked away. She opened it and found a pile of old photos, a dozen or so from their college days. There were some of her ex, Michael. Were these Tom’s photos? Michael had loved to take photos, though he never did much with his artful eye. She smiled as she looked through the images, remembering. But the last image was one she had never seen before; it was a photograph of her, wearing a grey robe that peeled back at the top and draped over her body. Was she sleeping? Her eyes were slits that appeared almost open. Her hair looked tousled. A strange feeling came over her. Her eyes began to water as she stared at herself. She did not recognize the woman in the photo. She stuffed the pictures back inside their envelope and walked up the stairs to her bedroom.

 

She woke with a clearer understanding of what trouble her about that picture: the robe. She had never owned a robe in her life. The robe wasn’t hers and she didn’t know who it might have belonged to, but she did know the feeling of its fabric on her body. She wondered who would’ve taken such an embarrassing and intimate photo.

She looked at the photo once more in the kitchen before breaking the eggs open, before slicing the potatoes then and stirring her family awake for breakfast. On the back was a note scribbled in ink: A night you never remembered. She felt raw as her mind worked to recover the memory of her body draped in the robe.

The kids ran down the stairs with excitement. Her husband trailed sleepily behind them. She forced herself to act comfortable as he touched her waist and kissed her cheek, to act as though nothing unusual had happened. She’d finished the eggs and the toast and set out the fruit in a bowl. While her husband began serving the kids, she hid the photo at the back of a nearby drawer and sat down for breakfast. Shame swam through her body and burnt through to her skin. She couldn’t feel this right now. She had to put on a smile and enjoy Christmas morning with her kids.

Later that night, when the kids were playing with their new toys and her husband sat watching a movie in the living room, she retrieved the photo and took it up into her office. What did she remember about that night?  She’d been very drunk and had passed out, but she knew she didn’t pass out alone. Someone had touched her, had forced her to move her legs open. She’d felt the hand on her thigh, the hand covering her mouth as she began to push away. She’d felt the soft robe placed on her body.

She remembered the morning after. She remembered waking up in the apartment, the robe sagging around her, a soft and strange feeling. She remembered feeling sore and finding a small bruise on her inner thigh. Tom and Michael lived together in that apartment, but when she woke Tom wasn’t there. Michael, her boyfriend, was asleep in his bed. She remembered rolling off the edge of the futon and vomiting on herself, then walking to the bathroom and falling down to the floor. She’d known something wasn’t right, but she couldn’t say what. A pounding surged through her head, and she found herself in Michael’s room putting on a shirt and shorts, throwing the robe to the farthest corner.

Over dinner with Michael that evening, she’d been ready to talk about what happened.

“I have to ask you something,” she said.

“Yes?”

“Was that your robe I was wearing last night?”

“I don’t know, Tom’s or mine. Why?”

“I can’t remember who put it on me.”

“You probably did.”

“No, I’m certain it was someone else.”

“You were really out of it last night, weren’t you, babe?”

“When did you go to bed?”

“I don’t know. Maybe one or two in the morning.”

“Why didn’t you wait for me?”

Michael looked at her. He disliked it when she drank too much but didn’t want to start a fight.

“You wanted to hang out, and you started to fight with me.”

“I know.”

“You insisted you’d come back down the hall. You must have passed out on your own,” he said.

She thought it was best to drop it, then, but now, all these years later, she knew it must have been Tom or Michael who took the photo. One of these two men had covered her with the robe and had violated her when she was drunk and half-asleep. She’d trusted them both with her life, but one of them had taken this picture and written the words on the back as if to brag about his betrayal. She felt fury beginning to grow beneath the shame, but the shame was still there.

After that night, she began to pull herself away from Michael. Her trust had been folded over, forgotten. Now, ten years later, she feared that it wasn’t her ex who had been the perpetrator. Maybe it had been Tom. Tom who insisted on staying in touch. Tom who always remembered to call.

 

The next morning, her husband took the kids out to breakfast. She called Tom.

“Hello,” he said. “Merry Christmas.”

“Tom, you left something here.”

“What did I forget?”

“You left an envelope here.”

“Those photos from school?”

“Yes. Did you take these photos?”

“No, I think Michael did.”

“Where did you find them?”

“I was cleaning out a bunch of old college stuff, was going to throw them away, but thought you might like them.”

“There’s this one photo… It’s me, in a robe. I look like I’m passed out.”

“What?”

“I’m wearing a robe, and I’m passed out.”

“You must’ve been drunk. Michael probably meant it as a joke. He always hated it when you drank and stayed out.”

“It looks different than Michael’s photos.”

“We all played pranks when we drank too much. It’s probably left over from one of those nights,” he said. “Is that all you wanted?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve got to go,” he said. “Have a good New Year, too.”

She felt rushed off the phone by Tom. She couldn’t bear to look at the photo anymore. She slipped it into its own separate envelope, apart from the happier images, as if she could still choose what she wanted to see and hold as memory.

 

Almost a week had gone by since she’d received the photos from Tom. Her husband could tell that something was bothering her, but she hadn’t shared it with him yet. She had one more person to call: Michael. They hadn’t spoken in years. She’d broken his heart and he hated her for it. They’d see each other briefly in passing at weddings and events, but she made sure to stay as far away as possible. Still, she needed to know if he took the photo.

“Michael, it’s me. I have a question to ask you about Tom. Sorry, but it’s important,” she said to his voicemail. “Please call me back.”

At the end of the day she received a text asking if it was okay to call now. This was like Michael, shy and stalling the conversation. She responded and he called within minutes.

“Hey, look, thank you for calling me back.”

“Hey.”

“I just have a question I need to ask.”

“Go ahead.”

“Tom came by to visit and he had this pile of photos from college. They all looked like you might have taken them, all except one.”

“Okay?”

“It’s a photo of me with a robe on and I’m lying on the futon. I look really drunk and passed out. I don’t look good.”

“You called me to talk about some drunk photo?”

“Michael. Something happened that night.”

“I don’t remember this photo. Do you want to send me a copy?”

“No. I don’t.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Michael, something happened that night.”

“Between us?”

“Someone violated me that night.”

“What are you talking about? If you were in our apartment, I’m sure I was there and that nothing happened.”

“Then why was I sleeping on the futon?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you fell asleep.”

“I always slept in your bed.”

“That’s true.”

“Do you remember ever putting a robe on me?”

“I don’t know. I suppose I would put a robe, a blanket, anything over you to take care of you.”

“Did you own a robe?”

“I think that Tom had one.”

“Michael, I need to know.”

“This makes no sense. Calling me up to talk about some old photo of you drunk. You always drank too much and now it’s like you’re blaming me for some stupid photo.”

“Michael, I need to know. Did you own a robe?”

“I think that Tom had a robe and we both used it,” he said. “You’re overreacting, and I don’t have time for this.”

“I never told you. I never told you because I was so drunk and thought you’d be angry with me, or worse, that you would hate me for it. Someone put their hands on me while I was passed out on that futon. Someone left me with bruises, and I think I blamed you then, but I don’t know who did it.”

“Bruises?”

“I woke up that next morning in the robe. I’d never worn that robe before that night, and I’d never felt so sick from drinking before, either.”

“Someone hurt you?’

“It had to be you or Tom.”

“I can’t believe this. You call me after all of these years. You don’t even look at me when we see each other, and now you accuse me of something like this? I loved you. I would never have done that to you. I think you’re confused and need to let it go.”

He hung up on her, and she didn’t blame him. It would take time for her news to sink in. He’d grow angry as he sat with it, or worse—he might never believe her. She went into the bathroom and turned on the bathtub faucet to mute the sound of her tears, in case her family returned home. She turned the photo over in her hand.  What evidence did she have other than this image? A night you never remembered. The words were like a taunt, a bully shouting at her over the fence through the yard of years forgotten. She stopped herself before dropping the image down into the toilet. She stopped herself before giving it up. It was one night that could not be placed back into storage now. If it was all she had, then she’d let this photo be the only evidence she needed.

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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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