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.
If No One’s There to Hear It
I walked to the bathroom to pee, and I could feel the scummy residue, evidence I had been wearing a condom the night before. I couldn’t remember putting the condom on, or who I’d put it on for. I turned on the shower and undressed myself, wondering who had undressed me last night.
I stepped under the water and closed my eyes. Exhausted, heavy, and broken, I sat down in the bathtub, not caring how filthy it was. The tub was grimy, but I was grimier. I wrapped my arms around my knees and pulled them into my body, staring at the drain as the water rained down, washing away the stranger’s fingerprints, removing the evidence from my body.
I closed my eyes and tried to remember him. Even just a glimpse of his face would help. I hoped he was my age or close to it. I hoped he was handsome. I hoped he’d at least flirted with me first. Maybe he’d complimented and courted me before he’d contorted me into positions I never wanted to be in.
The water droplets beat on the ceramic tub like a drum. The song of the shower was hypnotic, and I rocked back and forth to its rhythm.
Behind my closed eyelids, I saw his hand touching my leg. His fingers sliding back and forth along the seam of my skinny jeans. I saw us both from afar, as if viewing the situation from the bartender’s gaze. Empty shot glasses scattered along the wooden bar. He asks for another round, and I tell him I’ve had more than enough, but he insists, and if not here then we will have one at his apartment on the Upper West Side. I tell him I’m not interested in going home with him.
The rest of the night was a blur. I only had brief images of me stumbling, of holding onto the nearest thing that could keep me from falling over. I was too intoxicated to know that the cab he put me in would take me to his apartment and not mine. I knew I’d never said yes, and I was even certain I’d said no, but that raises the age-old question: If a tree falls in a forest, and no one’s there to hear it, did it make a sound?
I did my best to forget about that night. Suppression was easier than confession, and I was sure silence was the key to moving forward.
The next evening, I crawled out onto my fire escape for a cigarette and cracked open a bottle of Brooklyn Lager. He was turning my dreams into nightmares, and I figured if I inhaled enough tobacco it would be like dropping a smoke bomb into my brain, and he would have no other choice but to flee.
I inhaled and exhaled, practicing the art of blowing smoke rings. I watched a ring expand until it disappeared, and then I noticed the man across the street. Not the same man from the night before, but he looked just as sinister as he stumbled across York Avenue, approaching my fire escape. I did my best to ignore him until he was standing directly below, staring up at me.
“Hi there,” he said.
My shaking hand lifted my cigarette to my mouth, and I inhaled, ignoring him. He remained where he was, staggering left and right.
“Can I come up?” he asked.
I couldn’t stop myself. I lurched forward, my face placed between the bars of my fire escape as if I was an angry prisoner, staring down at him.
“Excuse me?” I yelled through the rusted metallic bars that scraped my palms as I grasped them.
“Do you want me to come up?” he asked again.
“You need to walk away right now,” I said. I tried my best to suppress the anger that wanted to jump out of my throat. My roommates were asleep.
“Come on, baby,” he said. “I can make you feel real good.”
I smashed my cigarette into the ashtray and stood up, leaning over the railing of my fire escape, beer in hand.
“Get the fuck away from me!” I screamed. “Get the fuck away, you fucking weirdo!”
“Come on, don’t be like that,” he said. “How much? I have cash. Lots of cash.”
I took the deepest breath I’d ever taken, filling my lungs until they nearly burst. I tried to remember that he was a wasted mess of a person, but all I could envision were glimpses of his imagination. Me buzzing him into my building, him climbing my spiral staircase, him knocking on my door, him groping me and touching me and throwing a hundred dollars onto my bed, him thinking my body was up for the highest bidder.
I stared down at the man and I felt my hand ascend, raising the beer bottle high above my head. I watched as my hand launch it at his feet, and I watched as the bottle exploded into a hundred pieces on the concrete. Each shard screamed, “I said no.”
Later that year, I found myself on the fire escape again. It was a Saturday, and the bar below my apartment was known for hosting college parties for students from an out-of-state college who took obnoxious party buses into Manhattan for the fifty-dollar open bar that their wealthy parents paid for, their green tequila puke seeping over the sidewalk into the street through the night.
After watching hours of what would have made for amazing reality television, my street was quiet but also in desperate need of a cleaning. The only sign of life was the fifty-something-year-old man who stood in the doorway of the building next door, smoking a cigarette. I looked down at him while I smoked my own.
The stillness of the street was interrupted when a blonde girl stumbled out of the bar.
“Are you sure?” she asked the bouncers, slurring her consonants. Her voice had a Southern twang. “Are you sure my girl’s not in there?”
“There is not a single person left in the bar,” one of the bouncers told her. “We checked everywhere. You’re the last one.”
The blonde girl stumbled over to the curb of the street and sat down. She ruffled through her handbag and pulled out her phone, scrolling through her contacts as the LED light illuminated her red, drowsy eyes. Something about her was fascinating to me. Not her fabulous dress or her impeccable beauty. It was something familiar and innocent. Her naivety was like an aura around her, and it made me recall my own first nights out in the city when I’d had nothing to guide me home except for my iPhone’s Maps app.
I soon realized I wasn’t the only one watching her. I looked over at the man with the graying hair. He was now standing up, tall and husky. I wanted to chalk it up to paranoia, but something about him reminded me of the man who’d stood below my fire escape earlier that year. He was eying her like a panther, ready to strike when its prey was least expecting it.
She stood up and balanced herself in her stilettos. She placed her phone in her bag and began walking down York Avenue. To no one’s surprise, the man began following her.
As quickly as I could, I jumped back into my bedroom, crammed my feet into my Doc Martens, and ran out of my front door. I stampeded down my building’s staircase and flew out of its main entrance. I looked left and saw that the blonde girl was a block away, and the man was trailing half a block behind her. I sprinted past the man and then slowed down as I approached the girl.
She didn’t notice the man, but she definitely noticed me. She tried her best to conceal her fear as she turned her head, looking over her shoulder, but she quickly looked forward, walking a half-step faster than she had been before.
I felt terrible. I didn’t mean to frighten her.
“Excuse me,” I said as I closed the distance between us. “I’m really sorry. I promise I’m not a weirdo.”
She didn’t turn around. I didn’t know what to say to break the ice. To let her know I was different than the men she feared.
“My name’s Brandon,” I said, trying to sound as friendly as possible. “I know this is probably weird, but I was smoking on my fire escape, and I saw that a really creepy dude was following you home, so I ran downstairs to come tell you. He’s about a block behind us now.”
She stopped dead in her tracks. She looked at me, assessing, and she glanced backwards and saw the man.
“Holy Christ, he looks like a murderer,” she said, and she began speed-walking forward.
I stood still, unsure if she wanted me to follow.
She looked back. “What are you doing? Walk with me!”
I caught up to her and we continued down York Avenue.
“My name’s Sadie,” she said.
“I’m so sorry. I really hope I didn’t freak you out.” I said. “I just saw that dude watching you, and I really wanted to make sure you got home safely. I know how it is to be new here.”
“How did you know I’m new?”
“It was just a guess.”
She turned left onto 79th Street, and I followed suit. We hurried past a few stoops until we reached hers. We stopped in front of her building, and she finally looked at me. Her eyes scanned over me, head to toe, and all of a sudden she lurched forward and wrapped her arms around me.
“Oh my Lord,” she said, her head smooshed against my chest. “Thank you so much. My parents are going to flip when they hear about this. They told me, ‘Sadie, be careful, no one in that city is going to be your friend,’ and look at you. Look what you did for me.”
“It’s no big deal,” I said as she disentangled herself from me.
She crossed her arms and looked at me.
“Thank you,” she said one more time. “I’m going to head up now.”
“You’re welcome,” I said, and that was the last time I ever saw her.
I began my walk home, the man nowhere to be seen.
As I walked, images filled my mind. The man from the bar. The man who stood below my fire escape. The man who wanted to follow Sadie home. There was nothing we could do about these men.
At least for the night, Sadie was safe, and that gave something back to me that wasn’t tangible. Something that was stolen from me, and was almost stolen from Sadie.
When I reached my apartment door, his face suddenly flooded my mind. The sick man from the bar.
I turned the shower on and undressed myself. I no longer had to wonder who had undressed me that night at after the bar. I could see him clearly now. I stepped under the water and closed my eyes. I still felt exhausted, heavy, and broken. I tried to wash away the stranger’s fingerprints once more, all these months later, but I knew they’d always be there, like tattoos that only I could see.
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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