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.
he never let me do anything. screamed at me when i got too close. i wore bruises like bracelets and kept my head down, gold hair fanning over me, a shield from his purpled fist.
when he went away, i felt nothing. i felt everything. i clung to those marks, the discolored skin, tried to remember how it felt before.
you didn’t know me then, but you do now. i used to be afraid to fuck; i used to think he’d go looking, that he’d kill me if i let someone else stretch me out. now i don’t care. let him come.
i swallow you because i want to, your blue-green eyes to my face before you push me down again. it’s funny how i learned to enjoy what hurt me. funny isn’t the right word. he wouldn’t let me cry, told me i was too smart for that, told me i knew it wouldn’t help. he did things i wouldn’t have dreamed of doing till he left. when he left, i wanted them.
he wouldn’t let me try the white up my nose like velvet snow, but you did. you took me there, you and i and lines and his face melting between the first and last taste of dust. i’ve been trying to describe cocaine in poetry. i’ve been trying to describe abuse as romance. i’ve been trying to lie, but i’m tired. sometimes, i don’t think there are any words left. sometimes, i think the distance just won’t come, that each memory will stay pressed to the windshield of my mind, and that each taste of sun is nothing but a bright cloud pretending. sometimes i think i’ll be writing the same poem forever, until my fingers fall and my knuckles bleed and i can’t remember what happened anymore.
you don’t want to hurt me, not really. but with your eyes you tell me you’re weak, and you’re hard, and you hit me and fuck me and slap me, and i beg you to because that’s how he did it, that’s just how he did it, and it’s almost like he’s here, and i’m not sure if this is how i want it or just how i know it, and i’m not sure if my teeth are still in my mouth or if they’ve been knocked out, and i’m not sure if i’m drunk or high or both, and i tell you i’ll remember this in the morning but we both know i won’t; you pretend that i will because that makes it okay, and you hit and you scratch and you pull me apart, and i don’t say the safe word because he never gave me one, and then the high’s all gone and you’ve cum and i’m shaking on the bed with blue-tinged chest skin and the sun is rising and i don’t remember how i got here, but i think i wanted it.
There is blood leaking from my left cheek. Fluorescent lights overtake the pungent scene while I stare expressionless, watching the monotone rhythm of each drop hitting my new pair of Converse sneakers.
Someone on the bus is saying my name.
I do not know how to look up anymore.
Someone on the bus is asking if I’m okay.
The way the words hit me and slide down and stick to the blood on the floor. Breathing.
Slow. Inhale, exhale. Counting. One— Two— Good job. One— Two— Good job. The oxygen fills my nostrils; I can feel each molecule as it enters, the horrendous sting, placing me in my body momentarily. Each deep breath fills the holes he left in me. Each pull as the bus turns another corner. My rib cage was first, on the left side. Sharp. Bus takes a sharp right. Then it was my neck.
Bus stops to let passengers off.
My thighs as he pulled my jeans off.
Bus starts again.
My chest as he pushed me back down.
Bus turns left towards my stop.
My arms as he kept me pinned down.
Bus stops. I stand up.
My legs move. I float. The sensation of the world catapulting forward.
The blood dripping.
Just need to hobble down the steps. Each sting pressing, mesmerizing.
My name repeated.
Arms grabbing after me
Words aimlessly sliding down, attaching to the fragments of my hair.
No one follows me. The doors close behind me. The bus stop is vacant. Sounds of gears shifting, visions of lights in the distance, and blood. Blood on my shoes. Blood on my face. Blood dripping down my legs.
How did he know my name before this? How did he know to force it down my throat? Repeating each vowel as if he owned it.
Will it ever stop? The pulsing. The bruising. I slip off my sneakers, pushing the February air onto my exposed toes. Tying a perfect knot, I fling them up over the power line and watch as they miss, disappearing into the dark woods behind the yellow street lights.
There is a taste of iron. There is a resilience in aching muscles. There is a dire need for my bed. There is a forgetfulness.
What day is it?
What just happened?
Is anyone home?
The aftermath. Forgetting to eat. Sitting on the bathroom floors for hours, trying to hold onto each detail. Playing the scenes over in a sadistic game of power. If I rip the wound open repeatedly, will it go away on its own? Sitting through class writing his name over and over again in my journal. Carving out the letters, a personal voodoo doll. Sharper the pen, deeper the stain.
The hours pass. The bathtub only feels safe if I keep my clothes on. Turning the water hotter. Tightening my sweater.
Thinking about Coca Cola, and how she slid out of the room. How she shot him a look. How she said she’d be right back.
“Just gonna get a can of Coke, want anything?” Smirk. Him and I alone.
The words lift, twist, slice.
The lock clicks behind her.
The way doors close, the way he stood behind me, the moments slipping away as I searched aimlessly through the room.
“I’m not kidding, how do I unlock this door? PLEASE LET ME OUT.”
She sits on the other side of the door, listening. He places his hand on my side.
He slides his fingers down my jeans.
He giggles at each attempt I make to free myself.
I heard the house empty. I heard him say my name over and over again. I heard the white noise. The stinging silence of levees breaking.
Opening my eyes as my mother drove me steadily to the abortion clinic, parting my lips while my sisters wiped the hair from my face. Walking free of him. Fighting for the chance to live a life where his genetics won’t haunt me. Fighting to live.
The taste of Oreos with a heating pad pressed to my abdomen while The Sandlot played in the background. My mother, out of her room, holding onto me while I tried to pee through the
The days became months. The healing ripped through the core. The blood became monumental. The deliverance of my life, fractured; my wings thawed. I sucked away at sugary cookies. I pulled my running shoes on. I chased him on the paved highways, insisting each corner I turned, he’d be standing there, ready for a second round. I would run through him. I would push him into the Puget Sound. I wouldn’t cower. I wouldn’t go limp. He would not be able to hold me down.
Running until the distance outnumbered my age, the fourteen miles felt like a milestone. My radius from home grew wider, my muscles tighter. Wearing out my sister’s old sneakers, letting my heart rate spell out anxieties. Would I ever forget the weight of the death he forced inside of me?
The King of South Baltimore
The doctor takes out my teeth on the veranda. You’re rotting from the inside, he says, and I try to bite down on his fingers. I forget my new hollowness. He calls it phantom limb syndrome. I imagine I’m a phantom when he puts his hands through me. I walk through walls. I forget my own voice. I hide in the cornfield; he comes with his flashlight. Every time he finds me, there is less of me to find.
When the harvest settles in Maryland, the king sleeps in a tent by the harbor for weeks. He haunts South Baltimore with his band of wild boys, searching for another mother. He feels safe there, behind the dirty moat, camped out below an overpass. His kingdom is made of tarp-tents and frescos of blue graffiti. The city sings in sirens and switchblades and he drinks moonshine from a plastic chalice. His scepter is a Colt Anaconda; he crushes Xanax bars with the butt of the gun. His rusted boat bobs below the wheel of Atlantic stars, and I think he is almost alive again.
Every time the king comes home, we make each other sicker. We are malignant and we like it: he paints quarantine on the door. When the doctor comes to see us, he takes another tooth. What I mean to say is, he breaks my jaw with his fist. I’d cut out my tongue before I told them where to find him. He prints blue love letters all across my back. This hurts me more than it hurts you. The king sees this, says nothing. He doesn’t know what love is either.
The doctor watches me with eyes that change colors. He’s a real holy-roller, despite the record, malpractice, the history of violence. They don’t know him like I do. He listens to my confessions and assigns my daily penance: God is in the blue capsules, the ones you cut, don’t crush. He says, I hear your prayers before God does. I used to have faith. I can still see its shape in the night, like the outlines of my body beneath the threadbare sheets. He stitches my shadow to the soles of my feet so I won’t lose myself again. They bleed, and I laugh.
We’re on 33rd Street—something strange happened here. The lost boy and I played games in the alley behind a church that christened us trespassers. He hid from me in the alley; I spied his shoe-buckle grin in the darkness. I dropped the pills in the gutter. He caught me in a Chinese finger trap and laughed.
My mother is the Queen of Catoctin. While the king is on the run in the city, she lets the corn go fallow, the smooth shallots die. The tomatoes deflate on the vine, turn brown; they rot from the inside, too. She was never good with living things. But I am rooted to this garden of the dead, like language and God and the vegetables she starves.
The queen does not cook or clean or sew or take her tea with anything but a shot of Makers and a bump of good China girl. What I mean to say is, she has her hands around my throat. I came out naked, half-ghost; she prayed I was a nightmare. Now, she throws knives at the king. I scream regicide, and she laughs.
The king tries to wade through the moat to escape her. He forgets his own hollowness; his phantom limbs fail him, made heavy by the deep, black tar of the harbor. I’ve heard that a person drowning will drown the one who tries to save him. I reach for his hand through the dark blue whelm and he pulls me under.
The doctor comes to my room at night. He is disappointed in me. I flushed the pills, gave up the gun. I’ve broken the rules. He only wants what’s best for me. I think he’s the monster made up in my head. The broken tooth turning my soft gums yellow. The viper with fangs like love. The man in black with the Meinkampf look.
The lost boy steers a ship full of wind through the sky outside my window. The doctor draws the curtain. I bury my head while he buries the syringe, but I am not asleep and this is not Neverland.
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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