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.
We were trapped, so we were free to have fun. The valedictorian had collected the car keys and locked the gates and within hours everyone was throwing up over balconies.
I was trying to get drunk but it wouldn’t take, so instead I sat on a couch and smoked cigarettes and feigned the party spirit. On the way to the party, I had stopped my car to help an injured duckling in the road. Standing on the yellow line, reaching toward it, I watched a car smash what was left of the half-broken thing into bones and feathers. Inhaling smoke, I thought of the bird, still scattered across the road.
On my fifth cigarette, I left the sweaty crowd and found my boyfriend pressed against a girl behind the house. He waited for me to finish yelling, to move to stoic tears, and then led me through the parked cars in the sick humid mist. Inexplicably, I was barefoot, everything sharp and wet underneath me.
And then we were on the floor of his family’s minivan and I could feel the years of dirt within the carpet sticking to my skin as I said words and kicked at his shadow. He moved like someone who couldn’t hear me. I didn’t recognize my own voice, as if it was coming from outside the car, muffled in the party’s sounds. He let me keep my bra on, a kindness. The pressure against my wrists came as a slow surprise. I saw my arm get loose, rush toward him heavy and light. He brought it back to join the other, to atrophy under his weight.
In silence, drops of water slid into each other along the car’s window, and his soft mouth came at mine saying I love you I love you I love you.
Death-Drop to Safety
A while back, I saw this article circulating on social media: “Female dragonflies fake sudden death to avoid male advances.”
Swift iridescent wings coming to an abrupt stop. Buzzing bodies gone silent. Death drop to survive.
The party was an all-ages foam party. Looking back, I imagine “all ages” actually meant sixteen and over, but I was not sixteen. Machines piled mountains of foam onto the dance floor. Shimmering bubbles floated up higher and higher.
I was at the party with one of my best friends, A, and her family. Her uncle was DJing, so it didn’t matter that at thirteen, we were slightly underage for this underage party. While A’s family settled into the safety of foamless tables in the outskirts, we disappeared into the soapy abyss.
I happily launched myself into a cloud of freedom. No matter that my inexpertly applied eyeliner was not waterproof. Never mind the over-gelled curls forged from frizzy waves would poof the second water touched my hair. I didn’t care. I was thrilled, and I couldn’t believe my luck to be out doing something fun for once.
We danced around, swaying our hips and sing-shouting lyrics at one another. We laughed loudly, but it was hardly audible over the music blaring from the speakers. We made our way around the room until we found what felt like the perfect spot, seemingly out of A’s family’s supervision. Our dancing then was a bit more loose, a bit more free. Soon some guys crept up, emerging from the foam. I felt large hands loosely around my hips, and a taller, muscular body pressed against mine. I glanced back and caught a quick glimpse at a face certainly old enough to be at the party.
At first, I was excited about this attention. The bass of the music thudded as loudly as my heart was pumping. If I could shout a warning to my younger self, I would, but she probably wouldn’t have heard me over the music. I was drunk on the attention. The song ended, and we kept dancing. His hands on my hips now held on much tighter as he pulled me closer. The music slowed so our hips slowed. My friend smirked at me, and I laughed and kept dancing, raising my eyebrows and smirking right back at her. She had also started to dance with some guy, but she was keeping her partner at a distance. I wondered if I should follow her lead, but I liked the feeling of this tall muscular body against mine, and I liked the song. So, I made no effort to put distance between us. But as the song continued, those muscular arms began to feel like restraints.
The hands ran down my waist and gripped my hips too tightly, pulling me uncomfortably close. He grabbed at my skirt, and I wished it was just one or two inches longer because it was riding up. Not wanting to end the dancing, embarrassed to give away my discomfort, I grabbed his hands and held them away from my body while I kept swaying my hips, as if that was a cool dance move. My signature step. It wasn’t. But the hands kept making their way back. Foam began stinging my eyes, or was it the eyeliner? The hands crept down past my hips and now they held onto my thighs. I looked up, and I couldn’t spot my friend.
I froze. Where had she gone? The hands, reached around my thighs. Concealed under a cloud of foam, the hands crept further. I should have worn some shorts under this skirt, I thought to myself. I made no effort to move, paralyzed because I did’nt know what to do. I wanted to keep dancing, but I didn’t want this. I even thought maybe the hands could keep touching me, but not like this. This was too much. I wondered if there was any way I could get the hands to stop, but still keep the attention of this guy. Maybe I could just get the hands to slow down. As the hands fumbled around, pushing my underwear to the side, I felt embarrassed, because just as I was resolving to exit the situation, the hands kind of felt good. Maybe I wouldn’t stop the hands after all? The hands were rubbing me and I felt overwhelmed and embarrassed. But no. No. No. I didn’t want this. I didn’t even know these hands. Whose hands were they? His muscular arm was holding me in place, and foam enveloped us in an increasingly opaque cloud. As the music tempo picked up, I saw my way out: I’d dance just a little harder, a little wilder, and break away. My plan wasn’t as effective as I thought. The hands still held me close, and without warning the hands slipped a finger inside me. The angle was awkward, and I was shocked that this stranger so easily had entered my body.
There was no more thinking or plan-making. All that time I had been worried about how I’d manage to coolly, casually draw a boundary. But in the moment that the foreign hand entered me, I stopped thinking and fell to the ground. I pretended to slip, and once safely on the floor and away from the hands, I crawled away through the foam. Dancing feet stepped on my fingers, but I did not get up until I was on the other side of the dance floor. I emerged cartoonishly, peeking out from the foam, and scanned the room for my friend. I made my way towards the DJ booth.
The rest of the night was uneventful. I said nothing about the hands. It’s not that I was scared to say something; it just didn’t really feel like anything worth mentioning. I would go years, over a decade, without thinking much of it. It was just a night of dancing. In fact, even one night sitting with friends, sharing stories of men being creeps, men being violent, men being scary, the hands won’t register as a relevant experience to retell. After all, there are just so many stories…
Not until I see the headline—“Dragonflies pretend to die, just to escape men”—do I really give the hands serious thought. A man overstepping, a man violating my body, felt so commonplace that it never registered as violence. Now, I want to find my younger self and tell her someone touching you without permission is wrong. I want to tell her she could have said no. There was no need to wonder if it was okay to say no, or how the refusal would be received. I want to tell her the hands belonged to a person, to a man who should have known better.
I want to tell my younger self she did not have to endure what boys and men did just to preserve her small attempts at freedom from her a strict home. I want to tell my parents that as locked up as they kept me, the world still took its toll as it does on so many girls. I want to tell them it’s not their fault either.
Mostly, though, I want to tell my younger self it’s okay that I didn’t have the know-how to get myself out then. I was a dragonfly. And I’m still here.
Hips and breasts gave us bull’s-eyes. Boys snickered when we passed, trying to hide in slouch and shuffle. They lobbed wordrocks that made us cry in bathrooms, made me long for the straight lines I’d lost.
When I was ten, my dad took me to a convention in Toronto: wax museums and a fancy hotel and a party in a real ballroom. “It’s getting late, go upstairs,” he said eventually. “I’ll be there soon.” I was watching TV when Jack, my dad’s friend who was old like a grandpa and always nice to me, knocked on the door. “My dad’s not here,” I told him, and he walked in anyway. I sat frozen on the end of one bed while he kicked off his shoes and laid down on the other. “You should wear pink.” He was looking at me funny and slowly swirling ice cubes in a glass. “You’d look really good in pink.” I prayed for my dad. He came and saw about Jack.
When I was eleven, Mr. Warren called me in from the playground at recess. He didn’t call anyone else. I followed him back to the classroom, and Mr. Meers was there, too. I thought I was in trouble and hovered in the doorway. They waved me in: “Come here, come here.” Mr. Warren took my hand, raised my arm, told me to spin, slowly. I did, blood roaring in my ears. Mr. Meers watched. They looked at each other and looked at me again and gave me a heart-shaped candy and sent me back outside. The candy said KISS ME.
When I was thirteen, I got in a car with a boy named Brian. He said I was pretty. He took me to his apartment and my stomach lurched then because boys didn’t have apartments and I thought maybe he isn’t a boy and I asked him. “I’m twenty-three,” he answered, his smile a gleaming oil slick. He pressed me to his kitchen counter and kissed me, my first kiss, his tongue a darting fish in my mouth. I backed away. “Grow up,” he said. I ran.
When I was fifteen, my boyfriend Chris asked me to the big dance. Afterward, all the boys took their dates to parties. Chris took me to a dirt road. I fought and fought until my beautiful red velvet dress ripped almost in two, right down the back along the zipper. I held it to myself and crept into my dark house and stuffed the dress in the back of my closet and wondered how I’d explain if I ever had to.
Girls talked. We told our stories while we hung around parking lots trying cigarettes, imprinting their ends with too-thick, brick-colored lipstick applied with unpracticed hands. We were victims and teases and sluts, depending. It seemed like a choice, but not ours. We all had the same stories. We got away or we didn’t. We understood that “girl” meant having to try.
Emma Faesi Hudelson
Just give it a taste, sugar. My teeth clenched. My shoulders hunched. I thought about opening the door and running, but I had no idea what neighborhood he’d parked us into, no clue how to get home. After midnight. No cell phone. Drunk. I was a sixteen-year-old girl stuck in a car with a full-grown man large enough to choke me with one hand. I’d met him at a party. He was supposed to buy me weed. I liked weed. It made my body buzz, and my body was the one thing I thought I could control in a world that spun too fast for my teenage brain. I didn’t know much, but I knew how to handle the effect my curves had on men. I liked their eyes darting to my chest when I walked by, their hands shifting their belts when I slipped my tongue between my lips to taste the power my body gave me. Do it. Or I’ll leave you here. A lot worse’ll happen to you in this neighborhood at this time of night. My eyes dragged from his unzipped lap to the white of his eyes, and he reached up, pressed my neck, and pulled me down. Too scared to struggle, I opened my mouth, closed my eyes, and felt the most private part of this man’s body enter the throat that makes my voice. The mouth that smiles, frowns, laughs, and sighs. The place from which I might say Yes, No, and, Help, though that night, in that car, I said nothing. His hand kept pressing the back of my head, forcing it down, up, down. I’d felt skin against my tongue before, but never against my will. It tasted like gym socks. Sour. Wrong. After a minute with him in my mouth, I sat up, gagging, wanting to be anywhere else, doing anything else. Girl, come finish me off. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t speak. Fine. I’ll do it myself. But you have to watch. I stared while he palmed himself, finished, wiped his hand on his pants. Before dropping me off at a 7-11, he tossed me a dime-bag of shitty weed. Don’t tell. I’ll find you if you do. I slammed the door on his last syllable. As I stood in the parking lot, tears blooming behind my eyes, the wet asphalt reflected orange and green, orange and green. I licked my lips. They were dry. Did I still taste power? If so, the flavor had changed. I walked to the payphone, picked up its thick black receiver, clinked in a quarter. The dial tone blipped, hummed. I pressed buttons, listened to ringing while words rose in my throat, ready to break the dam of my tongue, ready to rip through the silence of him in my mouth, ready to harness my voice.
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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