ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women, trans, and nonbinary people that engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
The series runs weekly, most often on Tuesday afternoons. Each week, we will highlight different voices and stories.
Body of Water
Girl stands at edge of shore. Imagines gliding into water. The touch of ocean like a hand, a hand tracing her silhouette and unraveling the lace of her spine, filaments of her limbs, sinew and bone until she is open and porous. Until ocean streams in. Until there is nothing but heartbeat between her and sea. Until the sea is a heartbeat, she is a heartbeat and nothing will ever keep them apart ever again. And yet.
Girl stands upon shore. Hesitates. Imagines what it would feel like—what would it feel like? She waits, waits—wants.
I was nineteen when I first touched myself. Slid my fingers down my red cotton pajama pants, but did not know where to place them. Fingers stuttered about, poked at my body, sought a magic button which promised pleasure. Orgasm, orgasm, orgasm—what’s wrong with you? I worried someone watched me. I worried I was strange and weird and bad and someone would walk in, see this and know.
I could not make myself come so I gave up, ashamed and embarrassed. I was embarrassed because I had touched myself, admitted desire—as if it was something shameful. But also, because I was not good enough at touching myself.
At night I imagine my body is an ocean. This soothes me. I am tired of having an outline. A boundary. In bed at night I become an expanse of blue, a basin of moonlight.
I know this is fantasy—I try to escape my skin. Yet I seek it, too. At night I wonder if I could find sanctity within.
I picture myself disintegrating to water. Eyelashes, nails, eyebrows—the few freckles which adorn my breasts, arms, legs—leaving my body like dandelion wisps in the wind until only a stem remains. Until I am a stem.
The first boy to touch me did not ask. I did not want him to touch me.
The first time this boy touched me we were watching a movie. He climbed across the couch towards me, climbed around me, straddled my body. I asked what he was doing. “Nothing.” I felt a throbbing, a pulsing against me. Between his legs. Somewhere near my upper thigh. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know.
The second time this boy touched me, I remember the weight of his body on mine. I remember the wetness of his mouth. Scratch of striped pullover, red and black, and mud-colored cargo pants, the kind that zip off at the knee. It may have lasted ten minutes. It may have been an hour. I don’t know. He kept saying just kiss me, just kiss me, just kiss me; one kiss and I’ll leave. Over and over again. Again and again. His body pressing into mine. My body a stone falling deeper and deeper into darkness.
I was eleven, and the boy was two years older. He came into my room unannounced, while I lay in bed, and climbed on top of me. His body pressing into mine. My body a stone. Darkness. I did not have the right words to say no. I was silent. Stone. Darkness. My floor messy. Clothing strewn about, pink and red underwear peeking from beneath the bed. At the time this embarrassed me more than the urgency—one kiss, one kiss, one kiss—of his touch. I did not want him to see my underwear scattered across the floor, my nylon tights, or my training bras. This felt too intimate, too personal.
I was wearing only a t-shirt. I remember clutching at my duvet—its multicolor cats shimmying across a blue landscape. Orange tabby cats, Seussian reds and yellows and blues leaping and swirling.
I did not want to stand up, run, get out of bed, because then this boy would see me.
He lay on top of me and he forced me to kiss him. He didn’t rape me. It went no further than lips and the full weight of his body pressing into mine. Stone. Darkness. This was my first experience with a boy’s touch. It is no wonder that today touch feels so unsafe.
Afterward, I ran to the garage and sobbed for an hour. Afterward, I did not know what to do with my stone body.
Water is powerful in Judaism. As a Jew living on the coastal territories of the Lekwungen and WSÁNEĆ Peoples on Vancouver Island, I grew up believing in water. In Jewish tradition, at the beginning of the new year, Rosh Hashanah, we go to the water to cast off the past year and its transgressions. This is called tashlich: to cast away. We stand at the edge of shore and throw breadcrumbs into the sea. Through ritual, we cleanse.
At the edge of Dallas Road, my toes cradle pebbles, and my body turns in-between. Gulls shriek, the breeze hums, and I am pulled towards coastline. As the air curls around me, I feel something akin to prayer. Make me clean I beg, throw a breadcrumb into the sea. Unravel my body and open me to sea.
And yet, I am suspicious of the word clean. What does it mean to be clean? No, clean is not what I want. What I want is to undo this armor. To loosen and soften and bloom until something else—someone else—might be welcomed in.
When boys touch me on land I recoil into myself. Stone. Darkness. I am eleven again. I am afraid. I describe this to a counselor and all I say over and over is that everything is black. I am a pit and I am falling into a pit. It’s all darkness.
A boy kissed me in an Oldsmobile once, a boy I was best friends with. I was eighteen and felt weird because even though I had kissed boys, I hadn’t kissed a lot. Or enough. Or passionately. So, I asked this boy if he would kiss me and he said yes. I giggled but it wasn’t funny. He touched me kindly. Palm tracing face, cheek. I wanted to curl up deep within myself. I wanted to remove my face from my body so that no one would see me. So I would not see myself.
There was longing in his eyes. My eyes were afraid. All I wanted was to feel normal. Loved. Seen. To stop being the girl who hated touch. To stop living in fear of touch. But I did not want his longing.
Yet I felt so bad for denying him—my best friend—complete access that I tugged off my jumper and let him stare at the skin of my breasts, the tawny scales of my bra, embroidered in golden flowers. The way a single freckle peeked from above the lace.
After, I told this story at parties as a cute coming-of-age-tale: Girl Practices Sultry Sensuous Kissing with BFF. But it isn’t funny. This person was wonderful, lovely even, and I wanted to open the car door and sprint as far away as I could. I remember thinking what is wrong with you, what is wrong with you—there is something wrong with you. Years later, when I tell my counselor, she says: sexual assault, trauma, post-traumatic stress.
The ocean leaves, sweeps back in swift eddies and waves, returns to its source. Comes back, only to rush away. Over and over. The girl watches transfixed the movement of water. Oh to be a wave! Oh to be an ocean! She darts towards the rippling line of white; here where sea foam collects and concentrates and her toes make grooves in the sand. They disappear and form, constellate the beach. Yet so fast the script of body is washed out to sea. No trace. Just her shadow in the sand.
She weaves across the shoreline. Closer, closer—away! Closer, closer—away! She tests and tests; how close can she go before she is caught? Away, away, away! And yet the ocean calls, and yet she pulls back. And yet and yet and yet—
Girl and sea thread crablike through pebbles. Which one calls forth? Which one turns? The ocean cries come, come. Soft, no, no, no. And sullen the sea sweeps towards its origin. As if disappointed. As if rushing back, back, back. As if asking: What is the source? And where? Tell me. As if.
At nineteen I tell my counselor that desire is the ultimate imposition. Let me explain. I have a hard time feeling. I speak, analyze, write, but I’m not sure I feel. What does sadness feel like in the body? Or happiness? It’s as if I read my feelings after the fact; my body sends a report to my mind which I then interpret, map, decode, and file away. I don’t want to read the report. I want to be the body which feels the thing. I am unsure of desire, of my capacity for it, as if it were something I could chart—typical. I ache to feel desirous of others. I worry I will never feel this. Will never feel so strongly that I must impose on another. And if I never impose, if I never speak my desire, how will I ever love? Be loved?
It has taken me years to understand what happened. That it was traumatic. That I was not, am not, just fine. I spend countless hours scrolling through Psych Central, WebMD, forums on trauma. Finally, I find this: “Dissociation is defined as the disruption of the normal integration of experience. That is, elements of experience (behavior, emotion, sensation, knowledge, and meaning) that would normally be held together in awareness, are fragmented, or split apart in order to prevent the person from being overwhelmed.” I have begun to understand why I have a hard time feeling. Trauma simultaneously jolts you out of the body, an act of self-preservation, and forces you into it (just kiss me, just kiss me; one kiss and I’ll leave).
I was sexually assaulted when I was eleven.
It has taken me far too long to put these words together into a sentence. It has taken me far too long to say this sentence aloud. Still, I am nervous. Because it was a friend, because it was not rape, because I was “safe” at home, because we were children, because because because because—shit! when will I let myself feel? I don’t know how to claim my pain. Whether I am allowed to say I was sexually assaulted. Whether I should tell others. Whether it could have affected me so much—maybe you’re broken and bad and wrong and that’s why you dislike touch.
I read definitions of sexual assault and try to parse through the legal jargon. Try to understand it. Categorize and systematize it. Reduce it to numbers, graphs, statistics—I try not to feel.
Today what I grieve most is that I will never know what it might’ve been like to have a positive first sexual experience—this assault will always be what I knew first. As a teenager, when we talked about our first kisses, I didn’t know what to say. I will never know what my life might’ve been like had it not happened. If touch would’ve been more easily desired—I think so. And yet, at the same time, I can never know definitively how this assault has affected me. If I am the way I am because of it. If some things are just me. The ambiguity is hard.
One day I tell a friend. He says, Fuck, I’m so sorry. That’s awful. I reply, It wasn’t that bad. It’s not like I was raped.
And while this is true, I wonder, will I ever feel my own pain?
Step closer, murmurs the sea. Girl rolls her jeans to the hollow of her knees, exposes white and a fine layer of hair. Grease dots her calves from the bike ride here, past the art gallery, along Moss street, until the edge of Dallas Road where beyond, the ocean sprawls out like a sheet of parchment unfurling. Winged like a bird. Here at water’s edge, girl wonders if her body could be vast like the sea.
She dips a toe in. Ice cold. Thinks of the bodies of water that have held her before. Sea to sea to sea to sea. She unrolls her jeans, tugs them off, and strips down to a black bra with white flowers. The flowers frame her nipples. She leaves the pile of clothes on the shore and walks towards the edge.
At nineteen I begin to learn of my body. What it likes. What it does not. It takes a long time for me to feel okay with my own touch. I feel strange, as if performing for some unseen audience. I don’t know how to touch myself for my own pleasure. How to revel in my skin, awake to my own softness and warmth.
Instead, I know what I see in the movies—the dramatic exclamations of pleasure. The contorted faces. The wet skin, closed eyes. When I touch myself, I touch as if others are watching because I do not know how to be alone with my body. To take solace in this solitude.
Yet as the months pass, I bring my hands to my body with a willful persistence. I conjure transformation, prayer. Sing to my skin and bones. Sing to my breasts, the ripple and curve of my labia, wave of waist on bedsheet. I have faith that one day this will feel good, and one day I will feel good. And, slowly, it does. I do.
These nights with my hands on my body—kneecap, thigh, the dip of my waist, vulva, vagina, clitoris—I feel, I feel, I feel. I touch myself until I am wet, bite my lip, hold my breath. Until there is nothing in my head. Until everything is my body and my body is everything. Until I am sacred.
Powerful, I touch myself with gratitude, Look at what you can do! Look at your legs, your hands, your fingers and marvel at this pleasure. Marvel at the softness of your body. Look at you!
Masturbation is an act of control: I will touch myself and I will come. But it is also an act of surrender.
I want to be this way with others. I want to melt and swoon and swan with others. I want, I want, I want—I know how to want more of myself (orgasm, orgasm, orgasm—what’s wrong with you?) but I do not know how to want more of others.
That’s a lie. The truth is that I’m afraid to want more of others. If I were to admit my want, I would be forced to admit my need—that I need others. And to admit this is to admit that I cannot survive on my own.
(I cannot survive on my own.)
The collective body inhales. Her toes in water and sand, her body in sky, here she is a part of the ecosystem. The ocean in her. The sea is a heartbeat she is a heartbeat and together they beat like waves on rock on shore.
She thinks she could follow the sea to its source. Where is the origin? Step in. Her toes tingle, her shoulders blush with the heat of midday sun. The body is the source. She walks till the sea eats at her ankles, knees, pelvis—wanting more of her, more more more it murmurs. She likes this feeling of want. Being wanted. Step forward, step back. She dances towards and away. Trusts her body to lead at its own pace. The sea licks and touches, makes the contours of her body known, only to withdraw as she melts. Girl blurs to salt.
She knows water cannot erase, only ease—but oh how it can ease. And maybe erasure isn’t the point.
Girl tastes the ocean only to unravel; she is the source, sea is the source.
Know this: when you turn twenty you will lie in a bed—a bed no longer in your parents’ house—and you will tug your shorts to your ankles and night after night you will bring your fingers to your vulva, vagina, labia, clitoris. Pleasure. Prayer. Skin and bones softening, softening—soft. Marvel at this sweetness.
At twenty-one you will sit in a room with your therapist of two years, and for one of the first times in your life, you will let someone watch you cry.
At twenty-one you will go home with a girl, a girl who is your friend, and you will share a bed, and you will let her hold you for many hours. You will feel her body slipping into yours, your outlines blurring to darkness. Twin vines in the night, as you fold into each other. At twenty-one you will crave touch with a ferocity you cannot recognize.
At twenty-one you are ten years older than the eleven-year-old child who wanted to say no but couldn’t. You hold her within you. You give her love. You touch yourself until the feeling of his hands on your body loosens. Until the fist of that first touch releases its grip from your pulse. You let that girl grieve. And you grieve that little girl. You tell her it’s all okay. It’s all going to be okay.
A woman walks to the ocean every day. Steps into water. Waves tickle her skin. Salt. The scree of gulls and the hum of breeze. Like a skein of yarn she unravels—look! you can see her melting. She is the single freckle on her lover’s nose.
She dives and cuts through the surface of sea like a blade. Emerge. Submerge. Emerge. Over and over until she tires. Laughs sweetly to the sea. Soft, she floats on her back. Her thighs and calves glitter in the sunlight; curls turn to kelp. Here she is safe. Now she is safe. In this blue, her body is an expanse. She is the source, she is the source.
At twenty-one a woman enters the sea only to speak:
Come, touch me.
Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.
ENOUGH is a Rumpus original series devoted to creating a dedicated space for work by women, trans, and nonbinary 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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