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.
Rape of a Goddess
I am a goddess. I want to establish that before I tell this story because the fact that I acknowledge my power is important. With that acknowledgement, my heart feels electrically charged, my diaphragm a hill on fire. I often feel untouchable. But I am not untouchable—you’ll understand that soon enough. Yet, after all that’s happened, I am a goddess still.
I am a salsera, a salsa dancer—or, I was. I can still give a rumba a run for its money, but way back when, I danced as if my life depended on it. It probably did. I danced in salsa exhibitions here and there, but the club scene was my playground, was what lit me up during the long dredge of my meaningless job. Thirty years ago, I was in my early twenties and the salsa-dancing scene in Los Angeles was on fire. I was out at least three nights a week. I’d strut into the club and throw my purse into a booth as soon as I heard a live horn blow. The call of the drum drew me out to be twirled, rocked, dipped—all to come back to perfect step, my perfect rhythm. My boyfriends, whoever they were at the time, would sometimes suggest I not dance too wildly. I’d say “okay” to their face and say, “try and stop me” to myself.
The salsa scene felt safe to me, unlike American dance clubs, which felt predatory. I just wanted to dance. I was not a heavy drinker though I did get tipsy on occasion, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to connect—to the music, to a partner, to the crowd. There was a circle of dancers that made the rounds to clubs during the week. We all knew each other, if only by the frequency with which we saw each other, and I felt comfortable going to clubs alone.
There were always dancers I preferred dancing with more than others. Luis was one of those dancers. He wasn’t a regular like the rest of us. He usually frequented the Columbian-owned clubs, which were popular then. Our nights sometimes came together in a sliver of intersection, and when they did, I was happy to dance with Luis. He was smooth and confident. I loved that in a dancer. After a couple dances one night, he said I should check out one of his clubs. I told him I might.
I went to Luis’s club weeks later. It was homely, like it could have been in the back of someone’s house. To an outsider, this club would have looked run-down and seedy, but the dance floor seemed even and the room was air-conditioned. What caught my attention more was that I knew no one, especially the women. Walking in, I became acutely aware that women dancers were my anchor of comfort. The women at my regular clubs offered me security. If I had connected eyes and established this unspoken spirit of solidarity at Luis’s club, I may have felt more at ease. Instead, these women gave me up-and-down looks and curled their lips and they looked away.
But Luis was there. He and his friends sat around a small wooden table, laughing. He saw me come in and nearly choked on his drink. “Ay, chica!” he said. I was glad to see him because at least he was one hazy point of familiarity. Because I felt abruptly out of place, especially after the unwelcome reception from the women at the bar, I was thankful when he invited me to the table. His friends stared up at me with arched eyebrows and silence, with slight and stupid grins. Only one couple was dancing on the dance floor. I felt a pull between leaving and Luis’s invitation to sit.
The men were drinking shots of Aguardiente and when I sat down on a chair, now inside their circle, I was poured a glass. Aguardiente tastes like black licorice on fire. It went down like quick lava and made my throat and temples light up. After the shot, Luis asked me to dance, and I gladly accepted. The dance floor made me feel more at ease. Luis was his usual self, gliding me around, spinning me here and there, but his focus on me was more intense than when we had danced previously. Between the lack of a crowd and its energy and the unfamiliar surroundings of the dank, dilapidated club, Luis’s focus started to burn like that fucking Aguardiente. I was uncomfortable.
We went back to the table and because I wasn’t feeling the scene, I said, “I think I’m going to go.” Luis said, “No, really?” He held my fingers. I pulled them back. “Have one more drink with me,” he said. One more drink was a definitive exit plan. I sat down. I took the glass and downed another two inches of that clear, terrible drink.
I remember nothing after that.
I have played that moment in my head a thousand times. I’ve thought about that transition from drinking to nothingness and why I can never remember what happened. I still grapple with the fact that time and consciousness were so easily yanked away from me, like I didn’t deserve dominion over either.
I woke up in the back of a van, alone, parked somewhere in LA that I can’t recall now. My head felt like a cinder block. I touched my body, which was fully clothed. My shirt was tucked into my skirt, my belt fastened, underwear on. As I slogged back into full consciousness, I kept feeling my belt. I fingered the edge, the buckle, the hole in which the prong was in. Was that the same way I had put it on? Everything felt so oddly and neatly intact. I propped myself up onto my elbows, head pounding, and stared at the orange carpet of the van, digging at a blank wall that denied me access to my own mind. One hint of recollection came: inside the dark van, Luis on top of me, pressure… and then the memory dissipated like a wisp of smoke. That is the only sliver that ever came to me. To this day, I remember nothing more than that one image.
I don’t even remember how I got into a cab to get home that morning. I do remember being surprised that my vagina felt sore when I climbed into the back seat of the cab. I closed my eyes as my heart lowered into an abyss.
I learned how to be a goddess as a child—though now I would argue that I am inherently one, as are you. But as a child of traumatic circumstances—abuse, drug use, alcoholism, abandonment, poverty—I learned early how to put on armor to protect my golden insides, to keep safe my heart, my mind, my soul. I made them untouchable unless by deliberate invitation. Within this internal childhood hideout, I connected to a universal goddess. By way of that connection, I became a young goddess myself. But what that meant—at a cost to my human self—was that I encapsulated trauma like it wasn’t anything. I convinced myself, as goddesses do, that I was too powerful for the harm that had happened to me to matter. Now, I’m learning that ignoring the impact of those harms can itself be harmful. Even when I hide my pain away, it radiates a low-level hum that eventually I can’t deny.
I stumbled into my apartment, dragging my feet. I untucked my clothes and clawed at the belt to jerk the prong loose. I turned on the shower and looked in the bathroom mirror. I had seven hickeys wrapping around my neck. I stared at the purple, misshapen circles crawling up toward my jawline. I welled up at the evidence of what I couldn’t remember. Tears knocked at my throat and I shoved them down. In the shower, water pummeled the top of my head and ran over my throbbing face, down my bruised neck to my sore vagina. How did I let this happen? This added sting of self-doubt was new. I wondered if I was a fake. How does a goddess not protect herself?
A couple of months later, I saw Luis at a club. He came over to me. He asked me to dance. I blew air through closed teeth and said, “I don’t think so.” He came in close and said, “You seemed to like it fine that night. You liked it so much tú cagaste mi fucking piso.” He smiled and my eyes glazed over as I spiraled back down, grasping at the nothingness of that night. I shit myself? In the van? My guts pounded. “You don’t remember, do you?” he laughed. “Yeah, chica, right on the carpet, you were so into it. I spent fifteen minutes cleaning it up.” He was smearing the secret knowledge of my unconscious self in my face. I reeled at the assumption that I liked sex with him so much that I’d shit myself when in reality my drugged self had no control. As he stood there, smiling, I slid behind my armor. I became lost in my hideout, no longer aware of him. I gave him no tirade, threw no drink in his face. I did not call the police.
I became exhausted from drilling into my dead memory and bludgeoning myself with self-doubt and embarrassment. I buried that night away deep next to the childhood traumas I’d experienced. I returned to my life as it had been before. I told no one about Luis. I didn’t recognize what happened as rape. When, a few years ago, there was a news report of an unconscious high-school girl raped on a pool table, my own story rose up from the depths. I shoved it back down hard. A goddess is not a victim of rape.
I’d encourage any other woman to free her story from where she’s kept it trapped. I would cry for her and rage for her, and I’d praise her bravery. But this is my story, and one that I’ve kept hidden for so long, stuck in the deepest part of my gut like moss-covered rocks. I didn’t want to unearth it. I wanted to leave it free-falling like an anvil on its way to the unreachable ocean’s bottom. And yet, almost thirty-one years later, I’m hauling it in. I’m bringing it up to lay it down here for others who may feel the same, for my goddess comadres who also feel that what happened shouldn’t have happened.
I shared this story for the first time a few weeks ago, with my twenty-three-year-old daughter. My daughters are mirrors of my own power. I knew my oldest could reflect back strength to what felt like dangerous vulnerability as I let the words spill between us. She and I have been bonded ever since her first minutes when we stared at each other in recognition and wonder, her umbilical cord still attached. But when I told the story to my girl—my gorgeous, incredibly strong baby—she in turn told me that her first boyfriend had forced anal sex on her at sixteen as she pled no and cried in pain. The unburdening of her own story unleashed a jagged sadness she did not expect. I hung my head from the heaviness of her words, wondering how I had failed her. Maybe if I had told my story earlier, I thought. I asked her why she hadn’t told me before. She said, “I was ashamed that I let it happen to me. I mean, I’m strong, right?” I should have shown her that bad things happen to the strongest and smartest of women. I should have told her that a goddess is not untouchable.
A goddess has the power to create and destroy. She can destroy what doesn’t serve her, but hopefully not at the expense of her own truth, or the truths of other women. I accepted this tradeoff for too long. Keeping my story buried has not served anyone. Admitting to trauma made me feel weak and burying my pain was the only way I knew how to protect myself. But I understand now that it delayed my own healing. I left other women behind. This is why I now add my story to the avalanche of stories: to take down all existing notions of how we’ve been told to act and be, and to obliterate the language that makes us believe we are broken and no longer divine beings when bad things happen to us. The stories of goddesses will destroy the silence. They will destroy the resistance to use our stories to knit each other together so together we can recognize ourselves as the powerful beings we’ve always been.
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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