ENOUGH: Doors

By

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.

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Doors
Leanne Phillips

When I was seventeen, a door saved me. It saved me from the anger of the boyfriend who had become my abuser, and it saved me from my own. It was a locked door. Deadbolted, solid. It held against the pounding of his fists, the rattling of the brass doorknob, his threats, yelled through thick wood. He was an inch away, maybe two.

It was cold that day. When I heard his heavy footsteps coming up the cement outer stairs of our apartment building, I was home alone, sitting cross-legged on the ’70s-burnt-orange-shag-carpet, close to the wall heater. My back was curved against the wall, my hair was pulled to one side, and I was reading ’Salem’s Lot. The book lay open on the floor in front of me. I was engrossed in the scene: A young boy, Mark, is lying in his bed late at night when a vampire comes for him. The vampire is young, too—he used to be Mark’s best friend. He floats outside Mark’s second story bedroom window. “Let me in, Mark. […] Mark, let me in! […] Mark! Open the window!” He coaxes at first, then begs, then hisses. But he doesn’t force the window—the monster has to be let in.

The boyfriend who had become my abuser came for me in broad daylight while my mother was at work. He coaxed at first. Then he begged. Then he grew furious at being ignored. “Open the door. Open the door, woman. Open the door, woman.” His voice grew louder and more impatient. He wanted me to let him in. He wanted me to let him in so that he could kill me like he’d warned he would do if I broke up with him. That day, I couldn’t see a future that didn’t include him terrorizing me or me dying.

At seventeen, a door saved me. It saved me from my ex-boyfriend, and it saved me from myself. It saved me from destroying my own life by ending his, or by trying to and failing. It bought me time. Time to tamp down my anger and my fear. Time to think about risks and consequences. Time to think about right and wrong. For a moment, the door kept me from him as much as it kept him from me. I put my mother’s handgun back in her nightstand drawer and cowered in the hallway, waiting for him to give up and go away, praying the door would continue to hold. Praying he wouldn’t try the sliding window just to the left of him. Knowing that, eventually, he would.

My rage was a silent rage. I’d learned early on to bottle my anger, to deep-freeze it, to keep it cold. Never to let my anger get hot and roil. I stuffed my anger at the man who raped me when I was fourteen, another man who tried to drag me off a low-traffic road and into the bushes when I was nineteen, another man who strangled me until I lost consciousness when I was twenty. I kept quiet, because I’d learned that using my voice only brought accusations—why had I skipped school? Had I been drinking? Why hadn’t I been more careful? What was I doing walking home alone at 4 a.m.? I pushed down my anger, too, at those who didn’t believe me, and that was everyone. It was my friends, my family, even the female deputy district attorney who investigated my rape four years after the fact. (Why didn’t you tell your parents? Why didn’t you report it to the police? Why do you still live in this town? If I’d been raped here, I would have moved away.) I disallowed my anger because I was afraid of what I would become if I did not.

I stuffed my anger at the men who reduced me, hit me, hurt me. The man who said it was my problem when I told him I was pregnant with our child. Another man who backed me up against a bathroom wall, put his hands around my throat, and tried to kill me. Another man who brought a gun to my apartment with the intention of killing us both, but who thought better of it and left, closing the door behind him.

Over the years, I also denied my anger at the diabetes that took my mother, slowly, and the lung cancer that took my father quickly. At the meth addiction that took my brother from us over the course of thirty-some years.

Two weeks after my mother died, my then-husband asked me when I was going to get over it. “It’s depressing to be around,” he said. He meant, of course, that I was depressing to be around. I succumbed to him and negated my own grief. The secret is that I will never be over it, but I have learned to smile and to be pleasant, because my anger doesn’t make for proper party conversation.

Anger isn’t ladylike. Anger isn’t attractive. Anger in a woman isn’t civilized. Anger is something men are allowed to feel, supposed to feel, even required to feel. An angry man is a warrior. There is honor in a man’s anger. There is no honor in mine.

Anger unexpressed is still anger, I am learning. I have read that anger is fear turned outward, and depression is anger turned inward. I wonder what happens when our fear is not allowed to become anger, or when our real and righteous anger instead becomes fear. We turn our fear inward, too, I think. We women turn everything in upon ourselves. It isn’t acceptable for a woman to be angry at someone else, but it’s okay for a woman to be angry with herself. That is what I have become, a solid block of cold self-hatred. My frozen anger expands, like an iceberg, taking up more space inside me than it should. More space than it seems possible for my body to contain.

I think about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. In 2018, when Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to the United States Supreme Court, Dr. Ford came forward to testify about a secret she’d carried for thirty-six years. In 1982, when she was fifteen, Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. I wonder how much anger must have turned to fear for her to decide to build two front doors on her house, which she testified she had done. Two front doors, one an alternate route of escape. How much anger did she have to submerge to appear before a nation, nearly broken, knowing we wouldn’t listen, knowing we would only break her further, but deciding she had to speak anyway. And how much more anger did she have to deny to continue to love a father who betrayed her. A father who subjected her to yet another news cycle after Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court when he apologized to his golf buddies for his daughter’s accusation. A father who valued his golf-course relationships over his own precious little girl. A father who apologized that his daughter’s anger had positioned itself between a man and his ambitions.

Today, we don’t have the luxury of only being angry about our own lives, our own little injustices. We have to be angry on behalf of others, too. About the mistreatment of human beings at our southern border. About our ignorant, racist, misogynistic ex-president. About Black men and women and children being murdered by those who are sworn to protect and to serve them. About those who value unfettered gun ownership over our children’s lives. We all have to be angry on behalf of those who are too disenfranchised or too afraid to be angry for themselves.

We have to be angry about judges who hand down slaps on the wrist to rapists whose lives, they say, would be ruined otherwise. They do so without regard for the already ruined lives of the women who were raped. We have to be angry about the old white men who want to legislate our bodies and the bodies of our daughters and our granddaughters and our unborn great-granddaughters. Angry that, on a Saturday morning, instead of sitting on our front porches, drinking coffee and listening to bird sounds, instead of eating pancakes with our families, instead of going to the beach or throwing a clay pot or hiking in Montaña de Oro, we have to get dressed and don pink hats or paint Black Lives Matter signs and march and protest and march again to try to convince some that others matter. We’re not angry about doing these things; we are angry that our world is in such a place that we are not allowed to live in peace, to quietly pursue happiness, because there are too many who twist that right into something ugly, who refuse to accept the heavy obligation we owe one another as human beings, and who jealously guard unearned privilege at the expense of the very lives of others.

I am sixty years old now, and the anger, so much anger, no longer fits in the small space of my body. The once-frozen anger is melting. I can feel it giving way, becoming liquid, alive, simmering. I feel it churning inside me, bubbling out my ears, seething out my eyes, spilling out of my mouth at the most inopportune moments.

My rage is ready for anyone at any time. I allow a little of it to spill out in order to make room for more. I yell at the man who is trying to hard-sell me a water filtration system—when I say no, thank you, and he patronizingly insists that I just don’t know what pure water tastes like. I blow up at the man who sees a copy of Rebecca Solnit’s book Men Explain Things to Me on my desk and proceeds to mansplain mansplaining to me. I rail against the fact that Tom Cruise keeps getting older while his leading ladies do not age—they are frozen in time, trapped in amber, a twenty-one-year age difference at my last count.

Lately, for the sake of my blood pressure, I make it a point to watch more movies written by and made by women. Thank you Mindy Kaling, Greta Gerwig, Ava DuVernay. Thank you, Adrienne Shelly.

And now, I am angry again.

An over-tanned and weathered old man sitting two bar stools down from me is flirting heavily with the twenty-something bartender. As she walks away, he says to his buddy, “The thought of dating a woman my age grosses me out.” Over the lip of my bottled beer, I assure him that the thought of dating him grosses women his age and the twenty-something bartender out, too, then I take a drink. I can’t keep my mouth shut these days.

I recently read that, on the current trajectory, it will take another one hundred and thirty-five years for women to achieve equality. This makes me angry, too, and I wonder if even that estimate is optimistic, because it seems to me we are losing ground. Thank you, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for being angry enough for us all for as long as you could.

As I write this, I am feeling preemptive anger that some who read it will think me bitter, jealous, vindictive, because that’s what women who allow themselves to voice their anger are called. We are a world of women scorned. Women have bottled their anger for centuries. But it can’t stay bottled forever. It bubbles to the surface at some point, then erupts. We start voicing it, we stop giving a fuck and go off the rails and outwardly we appear to have gone mad. If I’d lived in sixteenth-century Europe, I think, I’d have been burned alive as a witch by now.

When I was seventeen, a door saved me. A door and the old woman who lived downstairs, an old woman who invited me for coffee once in a while, who taught me how to make sun tea. An old woman named Elizabeth, who wore her hair in a long, white braid that reached down her back. An old woman whose own anger burned and bubbled, who called the police, but then, too angry to wait for them, came outside, yelling at the top of her lungs, and chased my abuser away. Afraid, I watched from an upstairs window. She was gloriously unafraid. Maybe she’d been afraid in the past, but that day, she was too angry to be afraid. That day, she opened her front door and let the full force of her rage spill out and all over him like an ocean. That day, her uncorked rage saved my life.

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Rumpus original logo art by Luna Adler.

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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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