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.
Each week, we will highlight different voices and stories.
“He’s super cute. I love his haircut,” Beth says when you show her Colin’s picture in the junior high yearbook. “What’s he wearing? It’s cool.”
“That’s a Nehru jacket, like the Beatles wear,” you explain.
You are fourteen. Beth is twelve. She’s your new best friend, your only friend since your family moved from San Francisco to Marin. You sit cross-legged on the floor in your bedroom, the yearbook open between you.
“He plays guitar with a band,” you say.
Colin is your pretend boyfriend. You showed Beth his name in your address book and even called his number a few times to prove he was real, exhaling with relief when no one answered.
“Did he sign it?” she asks.
“We weren’t going together yet,” you say, tossing the yearbook onto the frilly canopy bed you got for Christmas.
“At least you had a boyfriend,” she says, with a heavy sigh.
It’s summer 1968. One year after the Summer of Love. Charles Manson, just released from prison, is attracting followers. The Zodiac killer is still working in anonymity. Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin play the Fillmore. Walter Cronkite brings the latest gruesome photographs and death toll from Vietnam into your living room every evening. You watch Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In with your family and wish you looked like Goldie Hawn in a bikini.
Moving presents an opportunity to reinvent yourself. No one knows you were that studious, frizzy-haired girl the boys made fun of. With Beth as your willing sidekick, you comb thrift stores for holey jeans and quirky t-shirts, and you try out new hairstyles, though yours is too curly to do much but part it in the middle and wrangle it into a tight ponytail. You envy Beth’s long, dirty-blonde hair.
You smoke catnip and baked banana peels and pretend to be stoned. When Beth’s older brother shares his weed with you, you don’t have to pretend. You carry sketchpads everywhere, for doodling and writing cryptic poetry. You ride the Greyhound bus into San Francisco and wander the Panhandle and Aquatic Park, joining bongo circles, accepting hugs, joints, and swigs from passing jugs. With Beth’s big, trusting gray eyes as your mirror, you can be anyone, try anything.
Leaving the house one afternoon, Beth in tow, your mom makes a sour face.
“You look so severe with your hair like that, like Grandma Moses,” she says. “When I was your age, I wanted to attract boys, not repel them.”
“She is such a bitch,” Beth mutters.
Beth is still in junior high. You start high school alone, with your new look and anonymity as your armor. You know who you want to be friends with—Judith, a cool girl with long, flowy hair that looks like she never combs it. Surrounded by her posse, she bounces to the street after school where they all climb into her older boyfriend’s pickup. She’s everything you aspire to be, everything you aren’t.
One fall afternoon, you are walking home after school. You plan to hang out at Beth’s house, smoke her brother’s pot, eat toast. You’ve reached the wide shoulder beside the football field when a black Mustang crunches onto the gravel in front of you and stops. The driver leans across the seat and cranks the window down.
“Need a ride?” he asks.
Dark stubble shadows cut cheeks. His hair is long and layered, like a British rock star. The air inside the car is musty with patchouli and pot. There are guitars in the backseat.
“I’m headed up Highway One, to the beach,” he says. “I can give you a lift, if you’re going that way.”
A couple of local bands live on the coast. You connect loose dots—the guitars in the back, his destination, and that he looks the part—and figure that’s where he’s going. You don’t hitchhike alone, but you imagine any other cool girl wouldn’t hesitate. You reach for the handle.
“I live just off the highway, about two miles up. You can drop me at the top of my street.”
“Cool. I’m Dale.”
You tell him your name, hating the sound of it—Dorothy—an old-fashioned, ‘50s housewife kind of name.
Dale occupies the low bucket seat, black corduroy trousers, one knee canted your way, jittering against the gear shift. Your legs look thick and chunky in comparison.
“You play guitar?” you ask.
“Yeah. I write songs, too.”
“Far out.” You said things like that back then, and not in an ironic way.
“For now, I’m just a fucking gofer, hauling and setting up equipment for this band.”
You dig that he doesn’t brag about being in a band or having a record deal. He’s an underdog—talented, unrecognized, under-appreciated—feelings you can relate to.
You can’t wait to tell Beth about this dude.
The road climbs, a series of tight hairpin curves. Nauseous, you crack the window. The car fills with the medicinal, camphor odor of wet eucalyptus.
“My street is around the next bend.” You heft your pack onto your lap. The car crests the hill. “This is it,” you say.
Dale doesn’t slow. He doesn’t pull into the next turnout, or the next. He leans into the curves and grinds through the gears.
“Here is cool, too,” you say, louder this time.
The next street disappears in the rearview mirror. After that it’s open country until the coast. You hug your backpack and study the shoulder. Red dirt. Rocks. Blurred asphalt. You picture yourself opening the door, tumbling onto the road, rolling to safety. You will it to happen but can’t make yourself do it.
“You need to get home?” he says, breaking the silence. “I want to show you something. You cool with that?”
Adrenalin constricts your heart, but maybe you’re overreacting and he isn’t a crazed psycho-killer like on the TV news. Maybe he just wants to hang out with you.
“This band I work for is playing in San Rafael Friday night.”
It’s not exactly an invitation, but why else would he mention it? You wriggle your toes inside your boots. They tingle like tiny needles as the blood begins to flow.
The two-lane highway angles to the right, then hugs the coastline. On your left, beyond the narrow shoulder, the cliffs are sheer. You picture the car careening off the edge, nothing to break its fall until you smash onto the jagged rocks below.
Dale shifts, accelerating and decelerating. You grip the seat. Around the next bend, the Mustang crosses over into the opposite lane. The car is headed straight for the cliff. You open your mouth to scream. The strangled sound you make seems to have come from someone else. You close your eyes and pray to lose consciousness before impact.
The car stops. You open your eyes.
Dale has executed a tight U-turn and slipped into a turnout on the cliff’s edge, its footprint inches longer than the car, which is now perched on a precipice facing south, the cold, gray ocean beyond the passenger door, the highway on his side. You want this to be over, to be in Beth’s kitchen, waiting for the toaster to pop.
Dale clasps you by the neck. His cheeks are abrasive, his mouth insistent. You fight for air. You knew something like this would happen. Maybe you even wanted it. But not like this.
Dale moans. Your legs shake. His grip on your neck tightens. His nails dig into your flesh. You grope for the lock, the handle, then freeze. Beyond the door is the sheer cliff.
Dale grabs you by the hair, pulling it tight so your eyes stretch wide. With his other hand, he undoes his pants. Two rows of buttons and a flop-down front—like Popeye, the Sailor Man—no underwear, nothing to yank or shift. His penis stares up at you from a nest of dark hair.
His fingers press into your windpipe. You open your mouth, gasping for breath. His hands are on your head, pushing, pressing, trapping you there.
“Just do what I say,” he says.
You fight for air, sucking it in through your nose.
When he’s finished, his grip loosens. Gagging, you roll down the window and spit. The ocean below is shrouded in mist.
“Swallow next time,” he says. “That’s pure life force. Best food there is. You shouldn’t waste it.”
You know he’s said it before, that he’s done all of this before. You thought you were prepared for whatever might happen. You wanted a boyfriend. It’s all you and Beth talk about, all you fantasize about. Someone to make you feel special. Someone to be seen with. But this isn’t about you. You were just the girl on the side of the road that afternoon.
He grips your leg, just above the knee.
“Got it?” he says.
He squeezes harder.
“You hear me?”
He pulls back onto the highway. You believe there’s more, that he isn’t done with you. When he swerves off the road and comes to an abrupt stop in another tight turnout, you snatch at the door handle. Before you can leap out, his arm pins you in place like the restraining bar on a Midway ride.
A street sign is visible around the next bend. He’s brought you close to home.
“We cool?” he says, his arm hard beneath your breasts. “Look at me when I’m talking to you. We cool?”
You want him to be ugly now, older, meaner. But he still looks like a dude on an album cover, the kind of guy you should have known would never really be interested in a girl like you.
“Say it,” he says.
“Yeah,” you say.
Dale pops the glove compartment and pulls out a tattered address book and pen.
“Give me your number.”
Later, you will wonder why you gave it to him, why you didn’t make one up. Maybe you were afraid it was a test, that he would have known if you lied and not let you go. Maybe you just couldn’t think that fast. Maybe you wanted him to have it.
You stumble to the top of your street and heave into the gutter. Nothing comes up. Beth is waiting for you, but you can’t face those trusting, inquisitive gray eyes. At home, you stand under the shower until the water runs cold. The phone rings, stops, rings again. It’s Beth. You don’t answer.
You can’t tell her what happened.
You can’t tell anyone.
A week later, you are home alone, waiting for a bowl of macaroni and cheese to cool. The phone rings.
His voice brings it back. Fear. Attraction. Relief it wasn’t worse, that he didn’t hurt you in any way that showed.
“What, you didn’t think I would call?” he asks.
“I don’t know. How’d you know I’d be home?”
It’s an in-service day at the high school, not a holiday. Your sister is at school and your parents at work. You figure Dale must have driven by campus and seen how deserted it was. You picture his well-thumbed address book.
“How many numbers did you call before mine?”
“Why you want to ask a question like that? You alone?”
You give him the street address.
No time to shower. You change your underwear, throw on pants and a t-shirt, struggle with your hair. You are excited, as if this might be an actual date, and ashamed for feeling that way, a queasy stew of emotions that will become your new normal.
Dale doesn’t drive to the coast this time. He doesn’t pretend he has something to show you. He doesn’t say you look nice or that he’s been thinking about you. Within minutes, he pulls off the highway and onto a deserted fire road.
You try to swallow.
“You’ll get used to it,” he says.
In under half an hour, you are home. The cheese on your noodles hasn’t had time to congeal.
Since pre-teen days, you’ve believed that unless you have a guy in your life, someone to hitch your fantasies to, you are adrift. A secret crush at school, even a celebrity, will do. Without a leading man, your daydreams, which are more consuming, more real than life, lack focus.
Colin was one kind of pretend boyfriend. Dale is another. One who calls the house on days when school is out or you fake sick to stay home.
For the next three years, you attach his hard, handsome face to fantasies where you are pretty and popular. In your imagination, he picks you up, impresses your mom, takes you on dates to concerts and nice restaurants. You are thin, wear hip, trendy clothes, and have perfect hair. He takes you backstage to meet the band. The cool kids from school see you together.
Eventually, you tell Beth about Dale. She’s the only person you will ever tell and you don’t tell her much. You don’t tell her you give him blow jobs and that’s all you do, all you will ever do.
You are in your bedroom. Watercolors and ink drawings cover the walls. Batik panels hang from the ceiling. The dresser is cluttered with the crumbling sand candles you and Beth made at Muir Beach.
She asks what he looks like. You wish you had a photograph to show her. You have an idea.
You change into your favorite dress, a filmy lavender mini your mom calls a “real butt scraper.”
“Finally showing off those chorus girl legs,” your mother says, as you pass her on your way out. “Now if you’d just stand up straight and try smiling, you might actually get asked out.”
“Such a bitch,” Beth mutters as the two of you escape the house.
You jab your finger in your open mouth and pretend to vomit.
You walk to the record store in town and flip through stacks of albums from Bay Area bands, studying the photos and the fine print. There’s one postage-stamp-sized photo of a guy who could be Dale. Same shaggy, longish black hair. Same pallid complexion and black leather jacket. And it’s the right band, the one he said he was a roadie with.
“He’s super cute,” Beth says.
Even though you aren’t sure this grainy image on the backside of an album cover is really him, your cheeks flush.
There’s a lot you don’t know about Dale. Beginning with whether that’s really his name and how old he is—some days he seems nineteen or twenty, other days older, much older. You don’t know if he really has anything to do with this band, with any band.
“Think I’ll ever meet him?” Beth asks.
“Maybe,” you say, with a noncommittal shrug.
Dale breaks the pattern. He calls one night when your parents are home, gives you an address and tells you to come over after school the next day. You hope this means your star has risen.
You’ve never seen him naked, only the one part of him. He’s never fumbled with the buttons on your jeans, never even touched your breasts. Aside from rough kissing and his hands on your head, Dale never touches you at all. Maybe you’ll have actual sex. Maybe he’ll see your body. Your big body. Hunching is habitual, a response to having been the tallest kid in your grammar school. You stopped growing after sixth grade, but the belief you are an Amazon—not only tall, but huge—remains.
You remember the first time he called and you wondered how he knew you’d be home. Mystery solved. He lives across the street from the high school.
Dale opens the door.
“Sit,” he says. “I want to play something for you.”
You perch on an armrest while he strums an acoustic guitar. Without the usual script, you don’t know your part. Your mouth is dry. Your hands and feet clumsy.
The front door bangs open. A girl in a tiny dress and high heels stands in the entryway, skinny legs planted apart. She has long, strawberry-blonde hair and a delicate, made-up face. Her gaze darts from him to you.
“Who the fuck is she?” she asks.
Dale keeps strumming.
“I work all day so you can do your music and you pull this shit?” She looks you up and down. You register her quick assessment and dismissal in your gut.
She hikes her dress up, twisting the fabric in her hands. You can see the front door through her thighs.
“You see these bruises? He beats the shit out of me.”
She yanks the dress higher. Her pelvic bones jut out like wings above lace panties. You are huge in comparison.
“This little chick your girlfriend now?”
He smirks, as if the question doesn’t deserve an answer.
“No, I’m not,” you say.
“Then what the fuck are you doing here?” she says.
“Nothing,” you say. “I was just leaving.”
“You don’t have to go.” Dale must mean you, but his eyes are on her. “You got no right to insult my friends. Apologize.”
“Who the fuck is she?”
“I’m nobody,” you say. “I’m not anything.”
Dale doesn’t correct you.
Those bruises taunt you. You’ve seen more of her body than he will ever see of yours. He must care about her for real, enough to hit her, enough that they fight, then make up.
You are just a girl who shows up when he calls.
You are seventeen. You have completed the units required for graduation and will leave home for college soon.
When he picks you up, you clutch your trusty sketchbook. A final effort to assert your individuality, to show, if only to yourself, that you are somebody, a girl who draws and writes, a girl with a future.
It’s different that day. And it isn’t.
He parks. You even get out of the car. Clasping the sketchbook, clinging to that proof of you, you follow him onto a hillside clearing with a view of the valley. Though there’s no basket of goodies or blanket, you can almost pretend you are having a picnic. You sit on the grass. He takes the sketchbook from you, turns a few pages, says it’s cool that you do something like that.
Then he opens his pants.
You are eighteen and away at college. Dale still sometimes calls during breaks. If you’re home to take the call, you see him. During one break, you are hanging out with a friend from high school. You don’t see Beth anymore.
The two of you sit on a bench outside the Baskin Robbins. A black car approaches. Your friend buries her face in your neck. You recognize the car, and Dale.
“Is he gone?” she asks.
“You know that guy?”
“Total asshole,” she says. “He picked me up hitchhiking, then wouldn’t leave me alone.”
“When I wouldn’t have sex with him, he said he’d rent me a house, fill it with clothes and jewelry, silk kimonos and shit.”
“You didn’t consider it?”
“He doesn’t have that kind of money. Even if he did, he said he’d set me up, but then I couldn’t see anyone else.” She throws her head back and laughs. “Me. His devoted concubine. As if. I’d lose my mind.”
“Was he at least cute?”
“Just another loser. I can’t believe anyone would ever fall for his bullshit.”
You don’t see Dale after that. It might have been because of what your friend said, or maybe you aged out and he just stopped calling.
You are in your sixties, haunted by memories of the ’60s. Dreams wake you. You withdraw from your husband. You don’t like to be touched. Turtlenecks, anything close around your throat, causes panic. You are still ashamed of the girl who does what you did. That moment in a black car hugging the rugged coast has a power over you, one you want to unpack, to dismantle so you can tuck the pieces away in some safer corner of your mind and forgive yourself.
You used to believe your experiences weren’t relevant, that they were intrinsic to a specific time and place—the hippie heyday of the San Francisco Bay Area. Current events have proven you wrong. Girls are influenced and affected by the power dynamic between men and women as they mature; little has changed in half a century.
Mothers remain skilled at making their daughters feel inadequate. Predators sense their prey. From fairy tales and love stories girls learn that escape from their incomplete lives will take the form of a handsome stranger. So much hinges on appearance, and few of us grow up to resemble Barbie, a Disney heroine, or a Victoria’s Secret model. The delta between how girls perceive themselves and what they aspire to can seem insurmountable, a cruel toss of the genetic dice.
You haven’t spoken with Beth in close to fifty years. She tried to contact you a few times after high school, but you refused her calls. When you left Marin, you hoped to reinvent yourself, again. To annihilate any trace of teenage you.
Now you need to find her. You imagine that if anyone would understand how you felt, how you too often still feel, it’s her. After a back and forth exchange of messages on Facebook, you arrange to meet for lunch. At first sight, you both burst into tears.
The years fall away. You are fourteen. She is twelve.
“I’m so sorry,” you say, blubbering in the restaurant’s foyer.
“Me, too,” she says, shaking her head.
You might not have recognized her in a crowd, but it’s Beth. Short, cute Beth with the wide-open gray eyes behind thick lenses, a stylish pixie rather than the long, wavy locks you remember.
“But I should have talked to you,” you say. “We should have stayed friends.”
“I don’t blame you. I was an awful person back then,” she says.
You tell Beth about Dale, about the first time and the years after.
“I was raped, too,” she says. “I never told anyone either. I was ashamed. I felt so stupid. I was thirteen.”
Hearing that word used to describe what happened—rape—you breathe easier.
The waitress refills your waters and removes empty plates.
“You were special, one I didn’t want to lose,” Beth says.
“You, too,” you say, though you had lost her.
A few days later, you post a photo of your mother at the Alzheimer’s facility where she’s been for years, smiling from her bench.
Beth, your new Facebook friend, “likes” it with a heart emoji and comments, That brings back memories.
Knowing there is someone out there who remembers how it was, how you were, isn’t the shameful burden you’d always feared. It brings only relief.
You are sixty-five. You’ve made mistakes. And there’s no shame in that.
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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