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.
I’ve googled how to have a panic attack. Lying on my back, I don’t touch his elbow or calf or night sweat. I place one hand over my heart and the other on my stomach. Muscular breaths filtering sound, pulse filling my open hands. Palms are bowls for heat. Don’t let the pulse go. Don’t let blood into his dreams.
Earlier that day, I met up with my sister and we looked at art. I told my boyfriend I was going to the museum alone, the way he prefers me. Googled am I a victim? Wrote No, I don’t fucking want you to touch me in my journal while I looked at Louise Bourgeois’s sculpture, The Nest, an eerily large spider giving birth to another spider giving birth to another spider and so on, stacking the bodies in a reverse triangle. Bourgeois said that her spiders represent both predators and protectors. I’m drawn to the predator. With art, we are often attracted to that which disgusts us. Aversive emotions intoxicate, like watching a horror film.
My sister’s eyes are a blue hour. I looked right into them when I lied as I do each time we cross the bridge to meet, and said, “Life is great.” I’m happy, so happy. Cohabitation is hard, sure, but life is about adapting. Womanhood is about adapting. Living with a man was never designed for our comfort, anyway. Ha-ha.
It’s my responsibility to take responsibility. It’s my responsibility I’m in a relationship I don’t want to be in. It’s my responsibility I stare at the ceiling for hours after he’s fallen asleep and pretend tomorrow will be different. It’s my responsibility I pretend. It’s my responsibility I called a hotline, was told I should reach out to family, and hung up wounded by the conversation. It’s my responsibility I don’t want family or friends to know I’ve failed myself so deeply. It’s my responsibility I feel alone.
I’ve googled how to know if you’re in an abusive relationship. That’s when I found the hotline phone number. I told the tired voice what he’s like, and she didn’t seem impressed. I wrote down what the fuck is wrong with me as I looked at Claire Falkenstien’s Moon II. Burnt metals crunched into an oblong mass, bony wires overlapping into net, attempting to contain the heavier pieces within. It reminded me of a tumor, not the moon. I’ve never seen anything look so much like a lie.
I’ve had two black eyes. In middle school, when I was accidentally hit in the face with a frisbee at close range. The second time because I was cruel and fragile. He’d locked himself in the bathroom. I imagine that he had made a smiley face with the pills on the cool tile. “You’re killing me,” he said. “You made me do it.” Good. Good. Good. Good. I wanted to build a monument with the word. I had never felt so strong, so free, so vindictive.
In my journal, I wrote none of it is real—one day I’ll make sure of that. I was looking at Ruth Asawa’s Untitled (S. 114 Hanging, Six-Lobed Continuous Form within a Form with One Suspended and Two Tied Spheres). Asawa’s sculpture appears as its description details, suggesting an inability to name a thing. I’ve always loved untitled works for the simultaneity of their infinite and finite qualities. The description doesn’t tell you the material used to create the forms: delicate woven wire. Silken chainmail. Transparent, floating sculptures, like thoughts or figures in fog. When I looked at this sculpture, I didn’t see any part of myself. I saw what I wished I could be.
The panic attack is passing. Storms pass—this is what I’ve told myself about being afraid. About my living situation. It will dissipate into thin air. The sun will emerge, unbruised. At the museum, my sister told me she’s moving to New York. She had only ever been a hop, skip, and a jump. Now that she’s leaving, it will all be true. If I don’t have her to lie to about my happiness, then the only person I’m pretending for is the person I fear.
We ended the day with Richard Serra’s Sequence. She said, “I’ll miss us.” The mammoth steel sculpture occupying an entire room. From above, it appeared like two hearts of a rose beside one another. We winded our way inward. Oxidized steel in earthy orange, rough to the fingertips like granite. Serra was part of the process movement. The product wasn’t the point, rather the gathering of materials. The making. My sister and I are part of the making, walking toward its heart. Instead of a sequence, which suggests chronology, which suggests cause and effect, I felt as if I were in the center of a maze much larger than the sculpture, larger than the room, or the museum, larger than San Francisco. As has been true for too long, I enjoyed feeling lost, feeling hidden. Inside the sculpture’s walls, nothing else was happening.
In the future, on the night before she leaves, we’ll get a motel near the airport. Breakfast for dinner at a Denny’s. We’ll stay up all night. I’ll cross my fingers that it’s not real. But in the morning, she’ll board the plane. She’ll be exuberant and electric with happiness. Other passengers will smile at her because she won’t be able to stop smiling.
It won’t even be 10 a.m. when I return to the apartment. My boyfriend will offer to take me to the movies to help ease the sadness. I’ll google how to not feel so sad. I’ll google whether telling him that I love him when I don’t means I’m the abusive one. I’ll google other apartments to move into, but the prices will overwhelm me. I’ll google therapists, but the insurance information will overwhelm me. I’ll google depression, and giving up, and how to be more motivated, and how to have hard conversations. I’ll ask, What do I deserve? Google, what do I deserve? What am I good for?
I’ll go months more without telling her or anyone the truth. More shoving and ugly insults and blackmail. Google won’t tell me that it’s okay to be angry. I’ll keep reading about getting help, but will be too ashamed to get it. I won’t find the answers in other people, on the internet, in books, in art. I won’t find the answers because I won’t believe I deserve them. Over and over and over, I’ll return to this: it’s my responsibility he hit me. It’s my responsibility I scream at him. It’s my responsibility we share a bed.
Palms sink into my chest, into my stomach. In shallow sleep, I touch my heart. I squeeze it gently. It’s rubbery. I can feel the effort.
Years later, I’m visiting my sister and we take a train upstate. We visit Dia Beacon, a contemporary art museum. The compound is ripe with immersive sculpture. We walk into a cavernous room which houses three Serra sculptures. These differ from Sequence; the petals are separated to create three separate circles with gaps. Instead of walking inward, we walk through the round figures, one by one, weaving interior with exterior as if our bodies are a needle and our path is the thread. When I google Richard Serra, I learn that physical awareness in time and space inspired his work.
I like to make meaning. To make meaning helps. I’m far from that apartment and that man. I’ve erected years between then and now. But once you’ve gathered anger, it becomes a part. It remains a piece. As I’m standing beside, walking around, looking up or down, I see someone’s process. The heat, sweat, muscle. The scale; the form. The ideas which shaped each twisted element—how each moment, something is taken away, something is added. Physicality intrinsic to experience. Physicality immortalized when nothing is permanent.
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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