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.
The Telling of It
This is what I remember.
A door closes and I do not know why. It is the door to his office. His office door is often closed, but never with me on this side of it. The inside. I am not to be inside his office alone.
I am not in his office alone.
My toes squish in the caramel carpet. Water drips onto my shoulders. Fat droplets roll down my back and arms. I jerk a corner of my Eeyore towel up to squeeze at my sopping hair. My hair will never be this long again. I will never let my hair be this long again.
Before he closed the door, I could hear my sister and our cousin splashing and squealing. Shrieks and shouts ricocheting off of tile and stucco.
He opens the tall cabinet behind his desk and crystal cups chime against each other. Fairy bells. He pours amber alcohol into glasses my sister desperately wants to use for a princess party. They glitter in the Florida sun. Perfectly sized for tea-party portions of lemonade and sparkling grape juice.
I can’t stop worrying about the pool water dripping off of me and onto the carpet. Dripping off of me and onto the old loveseat with its leather—toffee-colored and butter-soft.
Every piece of furniture in here is older than I am. Everything in this room is older than I am. Even the alcohol.
A triptych of photographs of me, age three, hangs over the loveseat. Black and white. My blonde hair clipped off of my face with a barrette. Wearing a woolen kilt, a Peter Pan collar, Swiss dot tights. Sitting, looking toward an unseen window. Standing, hand on my cocked hip. Bent double, clutching my belly in riotous laughter. The triptych was a birthday gift from my father to my grandfather. To my father’s father.
Opposite the triptych, near his desk and the cabinet with the crystal, law degrees and certificates and stamped, embossed letters of honor and recognition mosaic the wall in their gold leaf frames. Pictures of him with local politicians. Pictures of him on big boats, deep sea fishing. Pictures of him shaking hands with other men who look like him.
Tribal masks break up the mosaic. Abstract giraffes and cheetahs and lions and elephants and monkeys and other unreadable beasts. He and his wife collect them when they travel. She wants to see every continent. She has a list. She has a map. A trip every year. A new mask every year.
He offers me a sip of the liquid in the crystal cup. I gag.
This is what I remember. Scotch burning my nose and throat. Worry over water stains on carpet and couch. Empty eye holes watching from the wall.
In the last twenty-seven years of my memory, he is entirely his body. All wrinkled and age-spotted skin. Too soft, like the leather of his loveseat. He is all hands and lap and chuckling and other noises I do not want to know the sound of. He is headless like the horseman that scares my sister every Halloween. Face in shadow. Only slashes of sunlight reflecting off of bifocals floating in specks and motes above his neck. White where his eyes should be.
The world tilts wrong and I do not know why.
This is what I do not remember: his face.
You are attending a party with friends. It is your first college party. They are your closest friends, and also you have known each other for not quite two months. There exists a strange, leapfrog intimacy between you all. You know what brands of underwear they prefer, they know the way you grunt in your sleep when you have been awake for more than thirty-six hours. None of you know the name of anyone else’s mother. You all know of the party you are attending, but none of you know anyone who is throwing the party you are attending. Inevitably, you lose track of each other and you care and you worry. But, you do not leave your conversation with the girl in the kitty-cat ears to track the others down.
And then you have also lost the girl in the kitty-cat ears. You are holding up the wall that is holding up the staircase of this house. You know from television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek that college parties are supposed to take place in creaky old farmhouses where every closet has a mattress shoved inside of it and all of the furniture has been inherited from previous inhabitants or scavenged from the trash or passed down by a roommate’s brother’s roommate’s older sister, and also you didn’t think that college parties actually took place in creaky old farmhouses like this one where all of the art is made by its inhabitants and their girlfriends or rescued from the dumpsters behind bars.
You do not know the boy who is suddenly talking at you. You cannot decipher the color of his eyes in the blinking Christmas tree lights woven through the bannister and stapled around the ceiling. Now blue. Now green. Now red. You suspect they are black or no color at all and also the silver pewter of Dungeons & Dragons miniatures, of tumbled hematite bought from a mall kiosk, of mercury chased around the lab table in AP Chemistry.
This is what I remember.
My hair—soaking snakes hanging in my eyes—smells of chlorine. A wet, chemical tang and, underneath, the minerality of water from a hose. Water from the ground. But this is Florida—the fancy part—and I am pretty sure they do not get their water from the ground. Actually, without the oceanic Lake Michigan nearby, I do not know where their water comes from. It just appears.
A faint whiff of fabric softener—manufactured lavender and false powder—drifts up from the corner of my Eeyore swim towel when I crush it tight in my fist. The fake lavender and fake powder tangle with old leather. There is sweaty old leather everywhere. The loveseat. His desk chair. The pad on top of his desk. The mat that protects the carpet from the wheels of his desk chair.
There is old wood everywhere. Citrus and wax and the dull scent of dead trees. Old paper—brittle and yellow—filed carefully away in old wood cabinets.
Nesting dolls of dead smells.
And then there is the Scotch. Smells I do not have the words for yet. Smells I will learn to identify as peat and malt and rye. Smells I already know. Alcohol, somehow wet and dry at the same time. Smoke. More dead wood.
This is what I remember. His skin smell. Minerals with a chemical tang. Sweaty. Dull. Brittle and yellow. Dry and then wet. Sticky smoke. Dead wood.
This is what I do not remember: what the world smelled like before he closed the door.
This is what I remember.
His wife seemed kind then. A children’s librarian before marrying him. A storyteller. She traveled the area, telling tales at grade schools and libraries and community centers. She always had books for us and puppets and dolls and fancy sets of stationery with our initials printed across the top.
Once the door closes, I worry that his wife will be angry with me. I worry she will find out and hate me for it. I worry she will stop telling me stories, stop finding books she thinks I might like. I worry she will love my sister more. I worry she will hate us both, my sister stained by her connection to me. I worry she will tell my parents. I fear she will tell my mother.
The fear begins when the door closes. It breaks off not long after. It picks up again once the door reopens. There is a gap in the fear.
There is a gap in everything.
This is what I remember. Worrying about his wife, who was not my grandmother, finding out about the closed door.
This is what I do not remember: wondering if she already knew.
That came later.
The boy who is talking at you hands you a red plastic cup. He is bringing you the Diet Coke you told him you wanted. You do not know how many red plastic cups he hands you, but you know he hands you more than two. The first red plastic cup he hands you, the first Diet Coke, tastes salty. The boy who is talking at you tells you they are doing tequila shots in the kitchen. Lime. Salt. The whole nine yards. They probably got some salt in your Diet Coke. This seems unlikely, and also you accept it as likely enough while you look over his shoulder for the girl in the kitty-cat ears and pretend to listen to whatever he’s saying about whatever they’re doing in the kitchen. You hope she didn’t leave. You don’t remember her name. After he hands you the second red plastic cup you don’t care about the girl in the kitty-cat ears. You search for your very closest friends that you’ve known for not quite two months. Your head twists back and forth, and also your head doesn’t move an inch while your eyes flit and flicker around the room, scanning for a familiar face. Any familiar face.
You are climbing the stairs. Or, you are being helped up the stairs by the boy who is talking at you. Or, you are being dragged up the stairs by the boy who is talking at you. He is laughing. Other boys ranged along the staircase are laughing back at him. You tell him you want to go back downstairs. You tell him you need to find your friends, that you are worried about your friends. You tell him you have a boyfriend. You tell him your boyfriend is at the party and is probably looking for you. You tell him you have your period. You mumble without saying anything intelligible at all.
The policeman wants to help you, and also you shouldn’t have taken a shower. And also you shouldn’t have waited to come to the station. And also you shouldn’t have let your drink out of your sight. And also you shouldn’t have gone to a party with people you didn’t know. And also a city girl like you should’ve known better. He wants to help you, but you don’t remember. You don’t remember which friends you went to the party with. You don’t remember climbing the stairs. You don’t remember lying down. You don’t remember when the room started spinning. You don’t remember where you put your coat. You don’t remember if you wore a coat. You don’t remember. You don’t remember. You don’t want to remember. You don’t remember.
You stop going to class.
You drop out the following semester.
This is what I remember.
The inside of my mouth is washed in chlorine pool water. My sister and cousin and I would dive deep—mouths open—and then surface, spitting water as high into the air as possible while striking ridiculous and unbalanced poses. Playing fountains. Playing dolphins. Playing mermaids.
I lick my lips and taste salt from sweat. It tastes different than salt from tears, though I do not really know this yet. Over the next week, I will become adept at separating sweat from tears with only my tongue. Over the next twenty-seven years, my palate will grow so keen that I will be able to distinguish terrified tears from pained tears from silent tears from panicked tears from shameful tears from humiliated tears from guilt-ridden tears from confused tears from tears of denial from enraged tears from depressed tears from anguished tears from tears of self-hatred from tears of loss from resigned tears from empty tears from tears of repeating the same patterns over and over with no end in sight.
I will become a sommelier of saline.
But right now I only taste the unidentified salt on my lips and, underneath that, the remnants of watermelon lip gloss. The bitter metals of fear and adrenaline cling to the backs of my teeth. The Scotch burns my tongue. I can feel its heat trickling down my throat. Numbing my lips and tongue and mouth. Numbing my throat. Preparing.
This is what I remember. The crystal cup is not as smooth as it looks. Its lip is rough on my lip. My sister would be so disappointed.
This is what I try not to remember: the taste of salt not my own.
I am cold. I am shivering. I am ringing. I am stiff. I am frozen. I am numb. I am tingling. I am buzzing. I am trembling.
I cannot feel my body. I do not want to feel my body. I do not want this body. This is not my body.
This is not me. This is not my life. I do not want this life. This is not me.
I am not there. I am gone.
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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