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.
When Water Can’t Put It Out
This house is falling down. Flecks of paint drop from the wall. White crumbs in the carpet. It isn’t crack, I tell myself, don’t dig around in the carpet. Chrissy is next to me, tying off, tapping the needle to her inner arm. She’s a hooker. Skinny with bleached out hair. I’m jealous of how pretty she looks, so vulnerable, wiry, like she could easily break yet she keeps going, sucking dick for cash or crack or cocaine to spike in a vein. She has seizures all the time and the men revive her. They need their pretty white girl, high in demand. I can still feel what one of them did to me. He is in the next room. My hands shake. My lips peel. Everything in this place is cracked.
“Here,” she says, extending an arm awash with purple and black hues. Her fingers hold a syringe loaded with clear liquid and a drop of red. “It’s all I have left. My blood’s in it, but you can have it.” I take it from her and do it, without thinking, without caring. The cocaine lifts me up to somewhere other than this place but only for a second. I miss heroin. Heroin is like sleeping.
At the house he took me to, brown and red leaves blow across the driveway. I remember the leaves. It must have been fall, but I don’t know what month. I know the street the house was on, but not the exact house. I don’t know what day of the week it was. But I remember his face. His face is the image that grips me as I walk into Walmart, twelve or thirteen years later. The fluorescent lights burn down on me and strangers mill around. I hear feet shuffling across a dirty floor. The store shakes back and forth, heat pulses my skin, and my breath leaves me, drifts into the air, up to the lights, and then slams back into my body. His face hovers in mirrors and glass without invitation.
I’m in my mid-thirties now. I tell the therapist, “I was raped. I think. Maybe.” The office is gray. The walls, the chairs, the carpet, my skin. I’m being recorded. She is a PhD student and her superior must have access to her sessions. I like her. We talk. She doesn’t judge or maybe she does but hides it well. I tell her about being afraid of the dark. I tell her about my fantasies while pumping gas.
He walks by.
Turn the pump on, flick the wrist
Douse him with gasoline
Light a match
set him on fire
let the motherfucker burn
I jump toward him like the slayer like the one girl in all the world who can defeat the rapists
My feet crack his jaw
Break his arm as he flips to the ground
Douse him with gasoline
Watch him burn
Seven years sober and I am in college. I sit with my good friend, Annie, in the quad. The sun shines across the concrete. She tells me about Catherine Millet. Millet had gang bangs and wrote a book about it. She said it was like bringing God a glass of water. We like that. We let it sit and mold in our thoughts. Neither of us is quite sure what it means.
Later that night, I have sex with my boyfriend. Half way through, my mind jerks and I see frames of that day. Torso. Towel. Penis. I close my eyes and shake my head. I want to have sex right. I want to be able to be intimate with the man I love. I want that day out of me. A knife that can slice into just the right tender part and gouge it out of me. I open my eyes and look at my lover. I tell myself, I’m bringing God a glass of water.
“I am afraid,” I tell the therapist.
“You have RTS.” Rape Trauma Syndrome. It is post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by being raped. I have the classic symptoms but all I see is me, naked in that room. My clothes are on the dirty floor where crackheads pick at the carpet and try to smoke sheetrock and boogers and whatever else is stuck in the rug. That can’t be me. Lopsided boobs and her gut pokes over her granny panties. She smiles—all geeked out, not there, somewhere else. I want to scream at her to put on her fucking clothes and cover that disgusting body. Crack isn’t worth your dignity, you stupid whore. But she knows that. I know that. We know that. Later, she said no. That makes it rape, right?
He has taken me to another location. I mean, he gave me crack, so obviously I’m his property now. Isn’t that how it works? They passed me around like a sack of potatoes. A burlap sack. It rubs red and burns. But now it’s just me and him.
The rickety TV is playing porn. Cocks pounding ass and then the cum shot. The woman on TV dutifully licks it up and will take whatever drop he gives. He orders me on the bed. He orders my clothes off.
I’m naked on the bed. I feel small. Tiny. The drugs have worn off. I haven’t slept in two days. He crawls on.
My hand hits his torso. My hand. My voice, No. I say it more than once. My face is wet. He reaches under the mattress for a weapon. What will it be? A gun? A knife? I don’t know. I can’t know. No, no, no. And I surrender.
If I were Buffy, from my favorite show, I could kick him across the room. His body would fly through the wall, bones would break on plaster. I stare at the circular light cover, dead bugs between glass and bulb. If it were the sun then his body would turn to ash. If only I were Buffy.
He drives me back to the crack house. Chrissy pulls me into the back room, away from him. I’ve been missing for three days. My family is looking for me.
My therapist has me do narrative therapy. I have to write a timeline of the events.
- Cokehead Mick and I decide to go to the casinos in Tunica to get wasted on free drinks before I have to return the truck to my dad.
- We somehow end up on Echols street with a six pack and a hundred bucks.
- This was a small pit stop before the casinos.
- We smoke crack
- Men think they can touch me
- Mick leaves because the money is gone. He leaves me there alone.
I don’t like to think of the rest.
He, the other he—the evil he—makes me leave with him, in my father’s truck. Later, my mother tells me that my brother Joey sat in his squad car on that street. Waited to see me come out of the house. We must have just missed each other.
It’s not just at the gas pump
Walking to my car—day or night
At red lights
Unlocking my front door
In my own driveway
It’s not just him but any man that lurks
Any shadowy figure
and I am ready to drive thumbs
into eyeballs and crack bone
stake through the heart
make the monsters ash
Crack is coke and baking soda. Add water and use a penny to soak it up. Cocaine dissolves in water. Add tip of syringe to soak up.
Heroin in water needs a little heat to mix. Dip the needle in.
God is always in the water.
On a beach in Pensacola with a crazy man. Two years after the main event. Drug-addled. No more money. Nowhere left to go. Just what’s left of the high inside me. The man is wanted by the police in Memphis. I may be, too. I walk out into the ocean. The waves rocking me. Fully clothed. (I go back to here over and over again. The walk into the sea when I didn’t want to leave.) I feel God in the pull of the tide. He tugs hard. The blue water. The white foam of surf. It would be okay if I drowned now.
When I am six years sober, I run into Cokehead Mick at a bookstore. His face twitches from Bell’s Palsy. He looks fifty but is only forty. He says Chrissy died. He says she was the woman shot in the head in the parking lot of Spin Street, the music shop. I search and search the internet and cannot find this.
The last time I saw her, she was plump and her hair was short. Acne stuck to the side of her chin. We were back on Echols. She was out on bail. “Why did you come back,” I asked. She just looked at me, her eyes asking me the same. I wondered what it was like to be her, seizing in bath tubs, a different man every night. I never went all the way down into it like she did—prostitute, a pimp whirling her in and out of motel rooms. Maybe, she didn’t have a cop brother or a mom to call to come and get her. We were the same, but different.
I call my mom from a dope dealer’s cell phone. I walk to the corner of Elliston and Getwell. It’s dark and cold. I cross over an overpass with a drop into a ditch on either side. The sewer water looks pretty in the moonlight. My mother pulls up. We don’t talk the whole way home.
I walk through the kitchen.
“I was raped.”
“What do you mean raped?” She doesn’t believe me. I don’t answer her. I don’t know what I mean. It’s a good question.
I crawl into her bed. I want to sleep. She gets in next to me. I hear him outside. I hear them outside. All of the men. They are right outside the bedroom window. Their voices. Talking. Plotting. I still feel him. Someone is next to me.
“Mom, is that you?”
“Yes, it’s me.”
A few minutes pass.
“Mom, is that you?”
The next day I steal her credit cards. I hole up in a hotel and poke holes in my arm until they are sticky and raw. I want to die but I live. I live and heroin takes over. Numbs the pain. Softens the edges. The warmth of the womb I was spit from.
I watch the episode where Spike tries to rape Buffy. She is injured. She runs bath water and checks her bruises beneath her robe. Spike comes in and overpowers her. Overpowers Buffy, the chosen one, the one who beat a Hellgod into a bloody pulp, the one who kicked her boyfriend into the gates of hell to save the world, the one who monsters have nightmares about. I wait for the kick that sends Spike into bathroom tiles and breaks him in to tiny little pieces, followed by the snapping of wood into his chest, and poof all that’s left is ashes. It doesn’t happen. Buffy only gets in a weak kick that is strong enough to snap Spike back into reality. Buffy cries on the floor next to the tub with the water still running. Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, doesn’t know what women want after all.
Years later, Joey tells me that my dad sat in the squad car, too. He wanted to bang on doors and shake me out of the house but my brother wouldn’t let him for fear of what could be waiting on the other side.
I never told him what happened that day and I never will.
I go to Oxford to see Annie, my friend from undergrad, give a poetry reading. We have graduated—she is at Ole Miss for grad school. I introduce her. I tell the crowd that she is my best friend, the only one who gets me. Annie smiles and makes her way to the podium. She is tall and thin with long blond hair. For a minute, I imagine she is Chrissy, that Chrissy made it out alive. The bruises are healed and the acne has cleared. The men are now ghosts who we no longer let haunt us. But she isn’t Chrissy. I may never know what happened to her.
Annie starts reading. I listen intently. Her words are magical salve for girl wounds. She says the line, “the only god that matters is in every cup of water.” My breath leaves me for a moment.
In the final episode of Buffy, she yet again saves the world. But she doesn’t do this by herself. I say my power, should be our power. Willow does a spell to turn all the potential slayers into slayers. Girls all over the world become slayers. Buffy isn’t alone anymore. She isn’t the only one who can walk in the night. She isn’t the only one with super strength. This moment makes me long, long for power, long to be able to defend myself, long to be the one of many that the nightmares fear. Any girl who could have the power, will have the power.
In the last scene of the episode, Buffy stands with her friends at the edge of the precipice, the crater that was once Sunnydale. The final shot is a close up on Buffy as Faith says, “Yeah, you’re not the one and only…” A slight smile crosses Buffy’s face. She is free. She is free because all the girls share her power. She is free because all the girls are free.
Slayers, every one of us.
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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