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.
My hands trembled as I grabbed a cigarette from a worn pack of Marlboros. I leaned against the house, cool to the touch, once a warm and inviting home, now its charm chipped away. My bruised lips quivered as I blew a smoke ring in the air, imaging a noose around his neck. My blackened eyes pricked with tears.
Carlos had shoved me in the hall closet, right after he punched me in the face. “Don’t even think about leaving either. I’ll hunt you down.”
He was angry because I wouldn’t allow his mistress in our house. Mary had knocked on the door and demanded to see my husband. Carlos was on the phone, in the bathroom, at the time. I blocked Mary, but she shoved me out of the way, and stormed upstairs, calling out his name.
He left with her. And she wasn’t the first of his many girlfriends.
The week before, I discovered a hotel receipt in the pocket of his jeans. We hadn’t gone there together. It was under a woman named Julie. Her phone number was listed, and I called it.
The woman had the nerve to laugh at me. She said, “I can’t help it if you can’t hold onto your man.”
When I called Carlos at work, he denied it at first, until I told him I’d talked to Julie. I hung up on him. He came all the way home, just to slap me for hanging up on him.
Months ago, I had fired the babysitter. I came home from work and found her kissing my husband. Vanessa was only fourteen and a neighbor girl. I didn’t blame her. Carlos was an adult. He’d taken advantage of her. They’d both ignored our baby crying upstairs. Vanessa was the least of my problems. I found out Carlos had gotten a fifteen-year-old girl pregnant. He had met her at a club. Carlos told me he wanted another baby, a boy. I had a girl. I was trying to finish nursing school and worked full time. I wasn’t ready to have another baby.
Carlos was always on the phone with some girl. If I said anything, I got smacked around. My father hated him, but it was because Carlos was part black. Dad didn’t know about the beatings. I was afraid to tell him. They might kill each other, and I also didn’t want to hear Dad say, I told you blacks weren’t any good. I’d heard enough of my father’s racist remarks growing up.
Carlos had long since scared all my friends away. I didn’t know where to turn for help. I knew I couldn’t stay with him any longer. My neighbor, Debra, watched my daughter for me when I was at work, but her house would be the first place Carlos looked for us. I felt trapped.
I snubbed my cigarette out and walked back inside the house. Sometimes miracles come when you least expect them. My sister-in-law had spent the night and had heard everything. Tasha said to me, “You’re coming with me. Pack your things.”
Tasha took my daughter and I to her friend’s home. “Stay here for a while. He won’t know where you are, and it will drive him crazy.”
The next day, I called my mom and told her what happened. She told me Carlos had parked in her driveway all night, with a baseball bat in his hands, waiting for me. I knew I couldn’t go home or to my parents’ house. I couldn’t stay with Tasha’s friend forever. What could I do?
I took a bus to my in-laws and informed them of the circumstances.
My father-in-law said, “No man should hit a woman. It ain’t right.”
I left my baby with my in-laws and went to work. Carlos was waiting for me at the hospital, and grabbed me as soon as I walked through the doors, pinning my arms behind me. I called out for help, but everyone ignored my pleas. He kicked the back of my legs and pounded my back with his fists, then shoved me outside.
“I’ll lose my job, if I don’t show up,” I said. He allowed me a phone call. My supervisor wasn’t happy that I hadn’t made it in.
“Where were you?” Carlos demanded. “I told you not to leave.”
“You don’t care about me. You’d rather be with someone else!” I shouted.
“Keep your voice down. Everyone doesn’t need to know our business.”
“Don’t tell me what to do. I’m not a child. Let go of me. You’re bruising my arms.”
Carlos pushed me forward. “Go home to your mommy and daddy then. Don’t think about keeping my kid away from me though. I got plans for her.”
“What plans?” I asked.
“I’ll put her on the street to make me some money.” Carlos smirked.
“You’re sick. You’d put your own flesh and blood on the street? What is wrong with you? That will never happen.”
“Watch me. If you take her away, she’ll hate you. And, she’ll always remind you of me.” Carlos cackled.
I filed for divorce the next day and moved into my parent’s house. I had Mom drive me to my house to pick up my daughter’s crib and some glassware I’d left behind. I knew Carlos was at school, so I was surprised to see the door open. Carlos’s pregnant girlfriend stood inside the living room.
“Get out! This is my house,” I shouted.
“Carlos said I could have the crib,” she said.
I looked at it and realized Carlos had broken the crib in one of his fits. I grabbed the playpen instead. My fancy glasses were broken in pieces on the kitchen floor. I shook my head and stormed outside.
Carlos pulled up as I was telling Mom about the situation. He tried to snatch the baby from my arms, but Mom slapped him. He stood glaring at her, but he didn’t hit her back. We left.
At the divorce proceedings, he showed up and demanded visitation rights. The judge allowed it, with limitations. I approved it only with his parents present. He didn’t like this restriction and tried to get me to change my mind. He claimed he still loved me, and we could work something out.
One weekend, my in-laws watched my daughter when I went out with some friends. Carlos took our daughter to Portland, by train, without my permission. His parents thought I had given him consent. I worried the whole time she was gone. Would I ever see her again? A week later, he returned her to my parents’ house.
My grandmother started falling down a lot and moved into my parent’s house. I moved into her house. One of my mother’s friends lived across the street and babysat for me.
One day, I got a call at work that Carlos threatened to bomb the babysitter’s house if he couldn’t see his kid. I called my dad and he drove over with his gun in his pocket. Carlos ran off. I don’t know how he found out where we lived.
Another time, he broke into my grandmother’s house. I had stayed home from work because my daughter was running a fever. I yelled at him, “Get out or I’ll call the cops.” I picked up the phone.
“You wouldn’t dare,” he said.
I called 911. He threw the butter dish at me and butter was everywhere from the ceiling to the floor. He slapped, kicked, and smacked me around. I fought back, but he was stronger and heavier. I had bruises all over me. The police pounded on the door and I ran to open it.
Carlos lied to the police and told them we were married and had a fight.
One of the police officers said to me, “Lady, you need to get your act together.”
“We’re divorced. He doesn’t belong here,” I said.
“Then get a restraining order.” They walked out.
I was furious. They didn’t do anything to help me. Carlos smiled, and left on his own. I sought a lawyer for a restraining order. He took pictures of my bruises.
The judge granted the restraining order. Carlos couldn’t be within fifty feet of me.
Months went by without issue, and I began to believe I was safe. My father wanted to sell Grandma’s house so he could place her in a nursing home. I had to move. I found an apartment not far from work. It was within walking distance to a couple of parks, too. My daughter stayed with my parents while I worked. On my days off, we’d go to the park. One day, I was picking up my mail and looked behind me. Carlos was standing there.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I was visiting a friend. I had no idea you lived here,” he said.
I didn’t believe him. I found another apartment a few miles away, and we moved. I’d hired a young girl to babysit for me. My daughter was five now. I’d taught her how to use the phone and she memorized my mother’s number. I got a call at work from my mom. The babysitter had left my daughter by herself while she went to the beauty parlor. I fired the girl. I ran into an old friend downtown. She was pregnant and needed some extra cash. I hired Bambi to watch my daughter. I thought things were looking up for me. My daughter and I made friends in the neighborhood. Everyone looked out for each other’s kids. I even met a nice man.
I went out to breakfast with my boyfriend. When I got back, Carlos sat in my living room with Bambi. He was the father of her child.
“I’m calling the cops. You’re not suppose to be near me.” I picked up the phone and Carlos slapped me hard. “Get out of here!” I yelled.
Bambi and Carlos left together. My boyfriend was afraid to be around me because of Carlos, and so we broke up.
My sister arranged a blind date for me for my birthday. We went dancing and we hit it off. I was upfront about my past problems. After a year of dating, we decided to move in together. Bill watched my daughter while I worked the night shift. During the day, she went to school while I slept. We’d lived in our rental house for a year when owner decided to sell the house. We moved to another rental house.
To my surprise, I received a phone call from Carlos. “How did you get this number?”
“Easy. I have friends in the court system that looked you up for me. I want to see my kid.”
“You only want to see her to get back at me. It’s been a few years. Why now?”
“Father’s Day is coming up and I deserve to see her. I know where you live. I’ll get her one way or another.”
“I have a gun and a dog. Stay away.” I hung up on him. I cringed thinking of possible consequences. Did he really know where I lived?
Years passed without any contact from Carlos. On my daughter’s eighteenth birthday, he visited my mother and left a note for me with her. He wanted to see our daughter. In the back of my mind, I could hear him threaten to put her out on the street to work for him. My daughter wanted to see him, but she was also scared. I suggested she meet him in a public place with her cousin. There would be witnesses if Carlos tried anything. She came home later, angry and disgusted. He’d told her our marriage problems were all my fault and that he’d never hit me. My daughter remembered the day he slapped me in front of her and told him so.
After that, we didn’t hear from him until his mother died. My daughter and I went to the funeral. Carlos asked for my forgiveness and I gave it. We were older now, and I was married to Bill. My daughter visited her father occasionally, until he smacked her. She refused to see him after that. I thought he had changed with time, but I was wrong. He had several children by different women and had abused most of them.
Recently, Carlos passed away alone in his apartment. Next to him, they found a picture of me and a note stating that I was his only love. He had a funny way of showing it. A part of me was sad, but another part of me was relieved. I was finally free.
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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