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.
What I Remember / What I Don’t Remember
I stumble from my one-person tent to the toilet in the cottage, my head ringing. Elbows on my knees, I gaze at the loop of flared jeans around my ankles. Something’s not right. I blink. Where’s my underwear? Gravel fills my stomach and I want to toss it up.
Making my way through the carnival of tents that litter the lawn, I find my own and peer inside. Next to my sleeping bag, my underwear is wadded up like a discarded bubble gum wrapper. I hug my stomach. What happened last night?
I don’t remember anything past early evening drinks and flashes of a vivid sex dream. The physical sensations were so real that I cringe. Maybe it wasn’t a dream?
The blond and I met the day before, sharing a carpool from Ottawa where he engaged me in a political discussion, his nasal, know-it-all tone trying and failing to impress me, a journalism major. His cheeks burned as he craned his neck in the passenger seat, my backseat responses swatting away his pithy attempts to interest me until finally he quieted.
I find him on the cottage porch. My stare burns into his blue eyes, and I grip the white railing until my fingers blend into the smooth, painted wood.
“What happened last night?” I ask him, my voice firm.
With a steady tone, he looks me in the eye and says, “We started having sex last night. But then we decided to stop.”
“Funny.” My eyes narrowed. “I have no memory of that. If I was that drunk, how could I consent to having sex, let alone decide to stop?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know. I was drunk, too. You’re just going to have to trust me.”
The current in my belly swirls, and the swaying sugar maples panorama around me. Later, a friend points out that one of us clearly remembers what happened. One of us doesn’t.
My friend Chris had invited me on this weekend getaway, the lone familiar face in a group of twenty or so in Quebec cottage country. We’d met at our university’s newly formed Cannabis Club, sitting for hours at tables full of pamphlets and a mostly empty sign-up sheet. I’d hung out at his place a few times, and he invited my friends and me to parties. When I dyed my hair purple, Chris said with a laugh, “Now you look like a pothead.” Even though I’d been crusading for legalization since twelfth grade, it wasn’t until second-year university, a few months earlier, that I inhaled. I found the communal tendency of potheads—always wanting to share—charming.
That first night at the cottage, Chris seemed to look at me differently in the moonlight. Our voices echoed as we meandered down a dirt road, twilight refracting through a thicket of trees, and I wondered if this was why he’d asked me to join him this weekend. His black eyes crinkled when he gazed at me, gentle and kind, giving me his undivided attention and focus. When we returned to the others, settling into the ring of beach chairs around the campfire, my heart felt light.
A shared joint passed around like a ritual, empty beer cans tossed aside like a warning.
“You had sex with him?” Chris says the next morning, his voice ringing out amidst the sharp angles of his tent. Sitting up in his sleeping bag, he leans away from me. I’ve come to share my suspicions about my balled-up underwear.
I hiss, “I did not have sex with him. I think he’s an idiot and I tried to avoid him. I don’t remember anything, but I know I wouldn’t have consented to sex. Definitely not with him!”
Chris glares at the crinkled folds of his sleeping bag, arms tight around his middle. Jealous, I realize later.
I still don’t remember anything, but my stomach clenches. In my mind, I see a still-frame of the top of my tent from the night before. I don’t sense anyone else there with me. Did I wake up for a second? Was the snapshot “when we decided to stop”? I imagine the blond got scared, or wised up and ran away. First, he’d reassembled my outfit as I slept but my panties were hidden by the dark. Had the blond sought me out to make one last political argument, one I wouldn’t be able to dispute?
A door without a lock, a zipper without a key, a mind without a memory. Why can’t I remember? Later, I think perhaps my mind is shrouding the incident with a protective film I don’t want removed.
On the two-hour drive home, Chris grips the steering wheel and grumbles, “I was having a really good weekend until all this.” His jaw is set and he scrutinizes the highway. My mouth is dry as I watch the trees blur by. Yeah, me too.
I’d spent the afternoon shaded among the woods near the cottage while the others swam in the river, splashing and laughing. Swaying branches shielded me from view as my fingers became windshield wipers for my cheeks. I talked to another woman who said the same thing happened to her last night, too, but she didn’t know who it had been. Finally, I asked Chris to take me home a day early, but he refused. I begged, “I was raped last night, Chris. Please take me home. I have no other way back. You’re the only person I know here.” Finally, he relented.
Once home, my mind swirls with questions and implications. Maybe in my drunken and stoned stupor I did consent but don’t remember? How does that work?
Soon I sit in a cold metal chair in a small office at a nearby hospital. The rape counselor asks, “What does your body say?”
“What do you mean?” I frown.
“Listen to your body. How does it feel? It knows what happened.”
I take a shuddering breath, pause, and then my gaze drops to the floor. My body feels like alarm bells have been clanging for hours, and I’m only tuning in now.
“My body feels like it’s been violated.” My tone is strong, clear. I look her in the eye. She nods, expression soft.
My shoulders shake, tears drip, and bricks of muscle soften just a little, red dust scattering to wind.
How to make a rape kit:
- Behind a thin curtain, squat over a piece of blank paper. With shaking hands, comb your pubic hair onto the glaring white expanse and watch the golden-brown curls fall. You spy no blond.
- Sit on a hard, plastic seat until the HIV and STI results come back. Exhale when the rape crisis counselor tells you they’re negative.
- When she says the date rape drug test was also negative, frown and stretch your lips into a thin, white line. Then why can’t you remember?
- Save $60 since you qualify for a free shot to protect against hepatitis B!
- Refuse to let go of your favorite blue jeans with multi-colored patches until the counselor promises you’ll get them and your cornflower-blue underwear back afterward.
“The idea of rape as ‘the man waiting in the bushes’ is a myth,” the counselor tells me. “Most assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows. In your case, the violation is clear. According to Canadian law, an intoxicated person can’t give consent.”
“You don’t have to report the incident,” she says a few hours later, after everything is boxed up and the tests are finished. Her brown eyes are kind. “Most of the women I talk to don’t want to go through with a trial, which often becomes a second trauma.”
I shake my head. “No, I want people to know,” I tell her. I don’t want to be another unreported statistic. I want my experience to be known, heard, seen—and someday, read.
My mom often told me growing up, “If you ever get raped, you be sure to go to the police. You’re protecting the next woman. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to. You do it for her. Otherwise, he’ll keep hurting women.” I was also a fiery campus activist and felt compelled to speak out about homophobia, sexism, and any kind of injustice.
I send a long email describing the experience to my closest friends and my favorite email list, asking whether they thought it was rape. I also phone my father. Only a few men, including my dad, respond poorly. “Why are you telling me?” he blurts. We hang up, and I bawl and fume while I pace my empty apartment. I want to tell him, “I don’t know! Something happened to me, and I thought you should know!”
Prompted by my stepmother, my dad calls back an hour later to apologize. This time, he listens while I sob.
Police come and go. “You have to press charges,” an officer insists when I shake my head. I want my experience to be recorded for statistical reasons, but I’ve decided I don’t want to go through a second trauma. Officers question how I can be so sure I didn’t consent if I can’t remember anything. They emphasize this is a clear-cut case of he said/she said. In a trial, I know I won’t win.
“Now that you’ve made the report, it’s in our hands,” the officer continues, his voice gruff. “We can force you to testify. You can’t just report a crime and not take it any further. It doesn’t work that way.” My chest fills with hot lava. I can’t breathe.
Enraged, I call the station and demand to speak to their superior, then I file an official complaint about officers forcing a rape victim to do anything, including going through with a trial, that she doesn’t expressly consent to. Otherwise, how are they going to get more victims to come forward?
Their supervisor apologizes and assigns me another officer. He listens more than he talks and seems to hear what I’m saying. After the investigation is over, he returns my panties and patched bell-bottomed pants, even though, I learn, evidence in the rape kit isn’t supposed to be removed. But I’ve told him being physically violated is bad enough. Why should I lose my favorite jeans, too?
A week after returning from the cottage, I call Chris. He tells me the two officers I dislike have questioned him. They’ve also made jokes about their visit to my basement apartment, insulting my askew Ani DiFranco posters.
“What happened that night?” I ask. “From your point of view. I want to know.”
Chris describes the night from the beginning.
“You mean those weren’t dreams?” I sputter, hands shaking.
All week I’ve been having vivid dreams from the night of the rape: Inside the cottage near the fireplace, telling Chris I was nervous the blond was watching me. Begging Chris to walk me to my tent in case the blond followed. Chris rolling his eyes but humoring his drunk friend. Stumbling between shadowy tents, hanging onto Chris’s arm, as he gently guides me to my own.
Chris verifies these were not dreams.
“I basically told you what was about to happen!” My voice shakes, volume rising. “How could you witness all that and still not believe me the next day? And you made such a big deal of driving me home!”
At first, Chris stammers defenses, but as I continue to detail how deeply he hurt me and what a good friend should have done, he breaks down into choking sobs.
The next day, the doorbell rings but I find the stoop empty. A slim envelope with my name in Chris’s neat handwriting leans against the screen door. Raising an eyebrow, I open it and find a poem full of rhyming couplets and remorse saying he believes me now, and he apologizes for not being a friend when I needed him the most.
Before I leave the province and then the country, I run into Chris occasionally. His dark eyes light up and we reminisce like old times, but we part quickly. Some bridges can never again be crossed.
I won’t understand why it takes a decade before I trust a man enough to have intercourse again until I have a series of vivid dreams where romantic fantasies culminate in painful confrontations. The nightmares connect the rape to my lack of twenty-something dating and the too-intense crushes that make me stammer and clam up in front of the objects of my desire. It won’t be until much later when I realize the betrayal of a good friend hurt me, too. My feelings of safety in sexual situations were eroded, but I also felt uncomfortable in friendships with men. How can I trust? Naked with a man. How can I protect myself? Exposed heart beating fast, friendships blooming and then bursting.
Even before the rape, male friends had broken my trust. In junior high, a guy friend tried to claim my first kiss in shop class but I pushed him away. Then, at our lockers, he bent down and stole a smooch on my B-cup breast. At a junior high dance, a circle of girls and I shook our booties to the rhythm of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” and a hand squeezed my buttocks. I spun, enraged, and shouted, “Fuck you!” A different boy—my on-again, off-again crush—chuckled, his brown eyes alight. A university study night turned sexual, but nothing my friend did aroused me. “Sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong. Mind if I pull out my toys?” I asked him. “Those always work.” His glower lasted into the next day, when he told me, “If you ever tell our friends what happened, you’ll be sorry. Don’t test me. I’ll make you pay.”
I never see my rapist again, but I hear about him, how he swore to the police it was consensual, how he said I’d said yes, how he said we were both drunk. How his ex-girlfriend was mad at me for sleeping with him. How his friends hated me for making such a big deal of one drunken night. When I hear this, I spew defenses, but over time I realize these accusations are relatively easy to ignore. His friends don’t go to my school, and they don’t know me.
I’m grateful to have quickly forgotten his name. There are some things I don’t want to remember. What’s the point? I don’t want to be able to look him up on social media and find out what he’s doing now, to find him on the path to becoming a Supreme Court justice or slapped on the wrist for some petty crime like the rape of a woman who once felt safe.
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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