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 train car is packed tight as a suitcase on its way back to your Madrid suburb. Separated from friends and mindful of pickpockets, you clutch your purse to your chest, arms crossed over it in an X. You are pressed against other people all around; there are no bars to hold onto as the train lurches into motion but no way to fall anyway. Bodies sway together in quiet over the rumble of the tracks. Something comes into contact with your ass on its downward slope where the cheeks meet, something suspiciously hand-like. At first you attempt to rationalize it—crowded train car—but then you realize you’re making an effort not to touch any asses, aren’t you? Like any conscientious person should.
Yes, you could be decisive. You could push and shove and squeeze your way out of reach.
You are the only girl at the speech and debate club meeting after school. As you watch the practice debate, a boy you’ve never seen before leans over and asks your name. You tell him. A minute later he drops a note in your lap. Folded into sixteenths, spiky freshman-boy handwriting To Natalie, curly fringed edge where he ripped it out of his spiral-bound notebook. What could it say?
You hesitate. You think maybe he’s flirting with you, that he doesn’t sense the age gap, poor sucker. He barely looks old enough for a bar mitzvah, while you are a licensed driver. But in the corner of your eye he whispers and snickers with his buddy. You tuck the note into the pages of your own notebook. Playing it cool, maybe. Self-preservation.
You are at a Halloween party at some guy’s house, dressed as a raven all in black; your friend Kristina is dressed as an angel all in white. It’s mostly college kids. For décor, there’s a dart board and a giant mural made of flattened PBR boxes. A guy in a Joker costume approaches and kisses Kristina’s hand. She laughs nervously. “I’ve never seen this dude before in my life,” she tells you, extricating herself from his grip. But he keeps coming back, pulling her close, disregarding the way she ducks her haloed head and turns her winged shoulders away from his touch.
The commuters around you stand silent and still. You try to ignore the hand-like something but what started out as a light brush now comes to rest on your ass. Maybe it’s just the corner of a briefcase. You switch your hips left and right, and the something follows. You go up on your tiptoes and the something rises with you; you try to crouch but your little column of space only allows a slight bend of the knees, which backfires as you lower yourself right down into the hand and when you straighten your legs it’s still cupping—definitely cupping.
You could uncross your arms and perform a quick backward jab with a sharp elbow. You could leave him wheezing.
You pack up your bag at the end of the debate and cross the hallway to the girls’ bathroom, the note still folded up and tucked inside your notebook, and you don’t open it until you are in a stall with the lock clicked over to Occupied. You almost drop the paper when you lift the final fold: the whole page taken up by an anatomically detailed rendering of an ejaculating penis. Wrinkly scrotum. Corkscrew pubic hair. Circumcised.
At best, you feel mocked; at worst, you feel threatened. Either way, you feel like crying. You rip and rip and rip and rip until all that’s left is a pile of confetti on the tiled floor, scraps too tiny for any forensic team to reassemble.
You think this can’t be happening but it is happening—stroking and squeezing now. You remember your Spanish classes. Déjame en paz: Leave me in peace. That sounds a bit stuffy, you think. This situation calls for something stronger. Your brain keeps coming up with ¡No me toques, asshole!—don’t touch me—which has a certain ring to it, but you should probably swap out “asshole” for a Spanish epithet, like hijo de puta: son of a whore.
Your arms are still crossed over your heart in the sign language for love. You could say something now. Or now. Or now.
A girl in a sexy soldier costume approaches you and Kristina when the Joker goes to get another drink. “Is that Joker guy bothering you, too?” He’s roving around the party hitting on half the girls, who make pointed eye contact with their friends and come up with excuses to rescue each other. Still, the Joker is undeterred. The guys don’t even seem to notice the palpable unease he leaves in his wake. He would dress up as the Joker.
You wait until you’re sure the boy is long gone before you leave the bathroom. The note is in pieces back there on the dirty floor but when you close your eyes during family dinner and in the shower before bed and lying awake in the dark you still see it whole: bulging veins in ballpoint pen, cartoon drops of semen, spiky freshman-boy handwriting: To Natalie.
You stockpile comebacks for the next time this happens. You could say, “Your penis should be so lucky as to come anywhere near me.” You could say, “I hope you’re saving up for that big truck so one day you won’t have to compensate with shitty drawings.” You could say, “If you ever want a girl to touch your dick you should try being less of a cunt.” You could say that, assuming you think of it at the time.
You could spring into action, but it seems awkward, somehow, at this point. He’s been feeling you up for four minutes already and now, what, you’ve suddenly had enough? You try to make eye contact with your nearest friend, a boy named Taylor, but there are several bodies in between the two of you and he is staring straight ahead like everyone else. What would you say, anyway? Hey, I’m being groped? It sounds ridiculous. You feel ridiculous.
Would a tart remark make it worse? Would everyone think you prude, oversensitive, humorless? Like you’ve never seen a dick before? (You haven’t.) Would they say, Jesus, get a grip. Would they high-five the freshman. Sorry, man, what a bitch. Would you still be the one left blushing, ashamed.
Every hair on your body is standing up. You hold onto your purse and the knowledge that this has to be over soon. And it is. The train slows to a stop, the doors open, and the hand releases your ass. You spin around as the crush subsides and you find yourself face to face with the man. He’s middle-aged and just about your height. You make eye contact for the briefest moment, both of you blank, before he slips away into the crowd on the platform.
You reunite with your friends and sit together for the rest of the ride home, but you do not bring up what happened because you are ashamed. You don’t tell anyone at all until a month later when, as you wander through the cobblestoned streets of Segovia, a friend confesses that a man groped her on the metro. Me, too, you gasp, and that’s when you start to heal.
You and Kristina step out to the front porch and the Joker follows. You snap: in a blaze of alcohol-enhanced confidence, you turn on him and declare, “You need to leave her alone. She’s not interested.” To your surprise, your voice rings loud and clear. He stares at you and you glare back in your eyeliner, you fierce raven. For a moment you think he’s going to hit you, but there’s a rush of adrenaline in your chest that doesn’t care. You know every girl there would back you up. Without a word, he retreats inside to bother other girls until, finally, the guys kick him out.
I cringe as I write this, still wishing I had said or done something in eleventh grade and in Madrid. I’m glad I mustered assertiveness at the Halloween party, but I only managed it on Kristina’s behalf. I still don’t know exactly what I should have done at sixteen and nineteen, when I was so young—so alone. I wish I had unlimited attempts to rewind and retry, like a video game, to find a way to come out feeling empowered instead of belittled. It seems like every choice could flop somehow, provoking further humiliation.
The self-consciousness lives inside me still. I worry that this is too trivial to bother writing about. These aren’t the worst things that can happen to someone; these aren’t even the worst things that have happened to me. I’m still ashamed. But there’s another way they could have gone.
Age sixteen: He could leave you alone.
Age nineteen: He could leave you alone.
Age twenty-three: He could leave her alone.
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.
Visit the archives here.