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 runs every Tuesday afternoon. Each week we will highlight different voices and stories.
It eats. Has to. Like me, voracious and tactless. Not picky, has favorites. Go-tos on the menu, repeated items on birthdays and Christmas. Food is the savory means to its end. Survival rests on the supply, not the quality—nourishment by surplus, even if it feels like the cupboards are empty.
I live with the monster. It was supposed to live with me, but it seems to own the place. When it first moved in, I locked it in the downstairs closet. It banged until the wood split and the hinges snapped. I carried it on my hip until it had grown enough to walk. Its appetite followed.
It took my chair and sharpened its claws on the fabric. It set fire to my childhood paintings and notebooks. It broke all my pens and, just for fun, drank the ink. It left prints of kisses in black on every wall. I try to go to bed before it can sneak upstairs, but I always find it an hour or two later, crawling under the sheets in the dark, clamping down on my throat.
It leeches. Its teeth are needles and they pry my skin open to drain each limb. Every inhale steals away a veneer of light away from my eyes. Licking my fingers, sitting in my chair, with me in its lap. It’s slimy, like snot. Dark, like tar. Thick folds of gummy mash lid its eyes that are only visible when it tilts its head back to roar in laughter. It steals my laughs from me. It empties the refrigerator and leaves the bathroom unbleached and renders my clothes unwearable.
It suctions to my body, so much that each time I pluck one of its wet tentacles off one part of my body, another has already latched on elsewhere. Sometimes the goo will puddle around my feet and cement me to the floor. A prisoner in the den, a ward in the kitchen, an inmate by the bathtub. Sometimes it hugs me, and I can’t tell it to soften up, that it’s suffocating me. It wouldn’t listen even if I could. It has no ears.
It devours. Of course it does. Monsters consume. My monster is always hungry. It has the compulsion to swallow everything whole. My thoughts slip from my mind and down its throat. My memories churn in its guts. Everything I try to eat falls right through me, as if I am carved open from the neck down. I cannot placate its hunger, and it starts to chew on my toes.
Sometimes it sleeps, and then I can rest. Snores interrupt these brief moments of peace. I think to get something to eat. I’m tired and try to sleep. But I am running, always running, trying to escape the gaping mouth of the monster. And when it locks the door at night, I pray for someone hungrier to come knocking.
I was hungry. There was a kitchen at my school in Calcutta where they brewed tea and stored crackers and biscuits in plastic jars stored high on wooden shelves. One day, I snuck my way in to steal a snack. I imagined myself like a baby blue Krishna, stealing butter from the Gopis. Krishna’s thievery was a form of flirtation, a little boy’s erotic interest in the cow-herding women of his town, before he was older, enlightened, and a true god. I didn’t quite comprehend this aspect of his burglary. I was only thirteen.
When one of the durwans found me, teetering on the edge of a narrow wooden stool, my arms stretched up towards a glass jar filled with square water crackers, a stainless-steel kettle of boiling water in front of my legs, its heat almost burning the thin cotton of my pants, I somehow knew that this man believed that my transgression meant he could transgress proper boundaries as well. There would be a price for keeping my robbery a secret.
He put his hands on my bottom, slowly stroking it, gently at first, but then a forceful rubbing. With each rough stroke, his hands crept towards the crack between my bottom, towards my crotch, as he murmured something about how I looked. My mind reeled while my body remained stiff, precarious, still teetering. He began to tug at my pants as if he was trying to take them off, expose my skin, feel my skin, take advantage of my skin. My heart thumped with ferocity, pushing in and out, creating an outline of its shape against my chest like a figure in a cartoon. But this was not love. I was not swooning. My heartbeat became a rhythm in my ears, a hard beat that vibrated through me as I felt his hand on my ass. It wanted to jump out and breathe air, my skin festering from the burden of the durwan’s touch.
Just as my pants were pulled down to reveal my naked skin, his fingers forcing their way onto and into my privates, we heard someone approaching, the shuffle of two feet on the dusty concrete floor, the sound clearer and clearer as someone approached the entrance to the kitchen. The durwan stepped away from me and removed his hand from my body, hastily pulling my pants up to cover me and his search of my anatomy. He reached for the jar of water crackers, quickly opened the red lid, and removed one perfect square biscuit to place firmly in my small hands. It was a heavy weight, like carrying a stack of bricks in your pocket while you maneuvered your way throughout the earth.
“Ye lo,” he said, as he ushered me out of the kitchen.
I walked out and past the other, older durwan, who was entering the kitchen. He smiled a warm smile. I avoided his gaze and looked down at the floor, slowly moving towards the yellow house that was my school, holding the cracker, the object that I had intended to steal but was now some sort of obscene gift.
I held that cracker for some time. I held it for so long that it became damp from my perspiration, crumbling from my sweat and grip, its once square body no longer whole. I couldn’t feel myself as I quietly walked to the bathroom. I avoided the mirror in front of me and instead, looked at the small bucket that was a trash can filled with napkins and toiletries. I watched myself as I threw the soggy bits of cracker into the bucket and rubbed the flats of my hands, thinking of Lady Macbeth, how our English teacher made us read that scene over and over again in preparation for our O-level exams, out damn spot. My hands felt cracked and dry, aged, as if the pasty remains of the cracker were a poison that had removed all the moisture from me, made me old. I stretched my palms out. A searing pain moved through me. I listened as I let out a small whimper before I turned on the faucet and picked up the flat bar of brown sandalwood soap perfectly housed on the ridge of the sink. I furiously washed my hands, shriveling them into even drier remains.
I journeyed up the wide wooden mahogany staircase, gripping the handrail, its surface smooth against my parched palms. I traveled to my desk for English class and picked up Macbeth to read and interpret that scene once again. What was Lady Macbeth trying to remove? What was I? As I tried to distract myself, my mind moved to the scene in the kitchen, my attempted robbery. I felt shameful, as if I had done something profane. I still felt the weight of the durwan’s hands and this propelled me back into my body, no longer hovering above, no longer an observer. I clutched Macbeth as if I was trying to rip the play apart, tear it into pieces, so I no longer had to decipher the meaning of the words or Lady Macbeth’s actions. I turned a page and stared at the letters, words I could not string together.
I left school that day and carried the actions of the durwan with me, throughout my life, barely whispering what happened to anyone. When I did, it was brushed away, it was something to move on from, to forget.
I know now that my guilt was a common reaction to this kind of violation, to this kind of trauma. Back then, I had to rationalize what happened. How could an adult take an advantage of me, so young? Children always have to negotiate the actions of adults. Adults who are supposed to safeguard the young but instead take advantage of them. My thievery, my suggestive move towards the jar of square water crackers. My bare arms that reached up to steal. At the time, it made sense to blame myself. But he alone held the responsibility, the grotesque desires to violate a young girl and her body. I would never be able to look at that durwan in the face again; my head would always drop down in his presence, my hair shielding my vision. I didn’t want to ever remember what he looked like, what he did. But I do.
She Needs Me
She’s a junior in high school and sits across from the therapist. Her legs cross one way, his the other. She can’t help but notice his are thinner. Doesn’t seem right. Another indicator that something’s wrong. She’s too much and too stupid to belong here, wasting everyone’s time. She asked her mother to find a therapist. Her mother didn’t ask why, and she wouldn’t have answered anyway. She can’t get the secrets out from behind her tongue. She once heard the root of the tongue is as thick as a wrist.
I don’t live inside her anymore. I’m occupying a viewpoint from above. I don’t mind. It’s too upsetting, too volatile inside of her. She’s done everything she can to run me out. She held a gun to my head and said, “Get the fuck out or I’ll pull this trigger.” Mascara runs down her cheeks. A mess. Always a mess. Still, I can’t not listen to her. I’ve always been her servant. If she banishes me, starves me, murders me… I have no choice. In a weak moment, she’d pull the trigger and kill me. I’m not a fool. Right now, it’s safer to live out here.
The initials PhD follow his name. The room is and isn’t comfortable like a living room stuffed full of antiques is and isn’t comfortable. Dark mahogany wood, pink-cushioned seats, and a tufted leather couch. He takes notes as she talks. At the first appointment he asked her if doing so would be okay. How would she know? She said, yes of course. He wears a tie. She wears jeans and a pink fluffy sweater. He’s young but seems old. He’s probably no more than thirty.
She started seeing the therapist after she found herself in her closet. No one in her family, including her parents, had ever seen a therapist. Freshly showered, the girl had been kneeling naked in her closet. She didn’t know for how long. The hems of her dresses brushed against her back and damp hair. She used a black marker to write on her walls like she was twelve again, drawing spirals and needles piercing through blank eyes. She was not twelve.
She wrote: Die. Kill me. Goodbye.
But she couldn’t do it. Kill herself. Maybe that’s why she banished me. I follow through.
Instead she buried her head into the smell of her. Decay, like rotting salad and dirty teeth, even though she was squeaky clean, her hygiene impeccable. She rocked back and forth until her brain went dizzy. She shut her eyes and clenched her teeth to make friction. She wanted to rock her organs out of her mouth. A vomiting. An explosion. It wasn’t enough. She would never be enough.
Later she would put herself together in front of a full-length mirror. Carefully chosen everything and at least an hour on her hair. She couldn’t leave her until she fully disguised the rot.
I heard a shot. One shot followed by many.
I looked down on the ground and there they were. So many bodies. Some on their backs, others on their stomachs and sides. I recognized most of them. They used to live in her, too. I recognized the one who liked to play soccer. She had a strong body. Firm. It took up space. The one who thought she was smart. She was rolled over on her back, eyes closed. When she was alive, she liked to look at the stars or huddle in a library carol with her hood pulled over her head while she wrote stories. Oh, and there’s the one who painted standing up, the one who liked to be in charge, and the one who didn’t care so much what others thought of her. They were dead, too. I wasn’t their biggest fan.
Strange she didn’t kill me.
He asks, “How’re you doing in school?”
“Failing.” she says.”
She bites a hangnail.
Are your classes too hard?
She wants to say more.
“Then why are you failing?”
She shrugs, eyes down. She wishes he would tell her why. She takes the corner of her thumb out of her mouth and notes the hangnail is still there.
She’s pretty. Doesn’t he see how hard she works to have this? This is where her power is.
She can’t do both: Be physically attractive and manage anything else.
I don’t feel sorry for her. I know you’re supposed to have compassion for yourself first in order to be compassionate to others. I’m not even sure I know what compassion feels like. I’ve lived in her for so long. And now she’s kicked me out.
Are we that different, her and I?
Say the word “compassion” and I feel the same thing I feel when holding a rock. Its surface is smooth. It has edges. Like tongue on teeth, I turn it over in my hands. The most satisfying thing to do with a rock is flick it into the glassy face of a pond and watch it skip. My heart beats. Geese fly up and away in V formation. Moving together. Away from the rock-thrower. Moving towards something else. I bet some of those geese don’t get along, yet they stick together. Isn’t that compassion?
In the chair sitting across from his thin legs, she wants to arch her back as if in pain. Ask me something meaningful so I can talk about it, she longs to say, but can’t break past the folds in her throat. Instead she smiles and says everything is fine. She says, I’m not really sure why I’m here. He nods, jots more notes down in his book.
She only saw the therapist a few more times. Therapy wasn’t what she expected. Most of his clients were young. There were blocks put away neatly on a bookshelf next to the stuffed crocodile, and a book on feelings. He never asked her if she was having sex. Never asked if the guy she was having sex with was threatening to drive her off of cliffs when she rode in his van. Never asked, how did it make her feel when, in fits of anger, he told friends that she would suck their dicks later?
She wanted him to ask her if she had ever been sexually assaulted. She hadn’t spoken about it since she was twelve and then only once to the police officers and her parents. That was a disaster. The police officers’ mouths moved up and down as they told her nothing could be done unless she wanted to go down to the station and press charges. Her clothing was torn. Small pebbles lodged in her bloodied hands and knees. Their spit still on her collarbone. It would be her word against the three boys, they said. No one ever asked her about this assault again. She used to fantasize that her six-foot-two father would run into those three boys on the street and beat them up. She knows now how childish this revenge fantasy was.
Four years later and she can’t remember the details. She isn’t even sure it happened. It would be just like her to lie, to make something up so she could justify how damaged she was. A reason to explain why she feels driven to fail out of school, hang out with boys who don’t respect her, and curl up in a closet wishing herself dead. And even if the assault was real, she still can’t get the words to come up. How does she make it all stop?
I watch her. From my vantage point, I can only see so much. I see how she holds herself too stiff. Like every eye is on her. Maybe this is why she keeps looking in mirrors. She can’t relax. Even though she’s embarrassing me with how tense she is, I’m rooting for her to get what she needs. But if she doesn’t know what that is, how can I?
I can see she needs me. I can whisper secrets in her ear. Slide my tongue down her throat and replace her paralyzed one. Give her the push to say something to the therapist.
If I was still inside her, I wouldn’t let her quit.
She’s weak. We’re such a good team together. She needs me.
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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