ENOUGH: Thawing a Dream


ENOUGH is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women, trans, and nonbinary people who engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence.


Thawing a Dream
Pamela Delupio

You can’t write when you’re frozen. You really want to. Your laptop is right there, on the leaning desk with the broken chair three feet to the right of your bed. Your craft books and notepads are sitting across from you, on the white IKEA bookshelf splattered with coffee stains from when he threw the cup in his last fit of rage. Yet you remain sitting on the bed, breathing and hoping your breaths aren’t loud enough for him to hear in the next room. One sound can set him off. So, you stay; you just stare at your bookcase, frozen.


One slow afternoon in the spring of 2008, he walked into the TGI Friday’s bar you worked at for early happy hour at 3 p.m., with a kind smile and stories to tell.

“What’ll it be?” was always your opening line.

“What’s on special?” Cheeky he was, but you liked that.

So, you pour him a beer. You could be cheeky, too. Because you were alone, and he was your only patron at the time, you figured you’d just stay and talk a while. He seemed to savor that stale beer like it was the best drink he’d ever had.

“Good, huh?” He wasn’t really your type, but you always were a flirt.

“I just got home,” he said with a heavy sigh. “So yeah, really good.”

“From where?”

“West Africa.” That caught your attention. “I spent two years working there after graduating from Berkeley. Got home last week and applied to be a substitute teacher until I figure out what to do next.”

“Teaching what?”

“History and art.” He didn’t grimace when he answered which meant he taught what he loved. That made him more attractive to you. How perfect that his passions aligned with yours: art, education, travel. He was well educated and worldly. You feel the saying “a fool in love” was written just for you.

It happened fast. You can’t even remember when you started spending your nights at his place. He always became sad every time you wanted to leave. You felt guilty for wanting to spend the night in your own bed. You cared so much that you didn’t want to disappoint him, not even when he wanted you to move in together after only two weeks of dating.

You’d never lived with a boyfriend before and there was something in you that hesitated. You felt it. But he was so sweet and caring and wanted to dote on you. You felt guilty. Again.

“Am I so bad a boyfriend?” he asked. “Do you not love me?”


When he showed up to Girls’ Night Out, you tried to push past the embarrassment with your best friend, even though he made it awkward for the two of you to talk. You tuck away the protest in the back of your mind when he says you should want to only be with him. All the time. Stay silent, don’t make waves. You’re supposed to fall in love, get married, and have kids. He did dote on you. All he wanted in return was your attention.

You have a day off work? Those days were spent with him.

If he was invited somewhere, you went with him.

That writing conference you want to attend? It fell on the same weekend as his friend’s wedding.

That creative writing course you wanted to take for the summer? If you did that then you couldn’t take that vacation he planned.

You shook off the discomfort that the relationship was moving too fast. It all sounded rational enough when he explained it. Love meant making sacrifices sometimes, and they didn’t seem like big ones at the time. So, you complied. After all, everything he did was for you. Right?


Then, one day, he shattered his heel and couldn’t go to work for six weeks while he recovered. You became the breadwinner, and there was a part of you that relished that. No matter how hard you worked, taking on extra shifts at the bar to pay the bills, the exhaustion didn’t dull your pride. He had cared for you; now you cared for him. This was a partnership.

He recovered. Physically. But he never did go back to work. At first, you didn’t want to say anything out of guilt. He had taken care of you for the past year, so you kept providing a while longer. Yet somehow, the bills were piling up. The more shifts you worked, the faster your money seemed to disappear. You’d come home exhausted and when you awoke the next morning, the tips you earned last night were no longer in your wallet. You didn’t want to have an awkward confrontation. So, you just took on more and more extra shifts.

“Why do you work so much?” He glared at you at 4 a.m., when you were just getting home from another long night. “I’ve been waiting for you all night.”

“You texted me to pick you up some Jack in the Box.” You held out the greasy paper bag, but he didn’t take it. He continued to glare.

“You get off at 3 am.” His voice was low, like he was accusing you of something.

“It was a really hard shift,” you finally say after a long, eerie silence. “I just stayed to have one beer with my coworkers.”

“All your coworkers are men.” He took the fast-food bag then, and he hurled it against the wall behind you.

“What kind of girlfriend doesn’t hurry home to her boyfriend?” The reverberating pitch of his voice alarmed you. “You knew I was waiting for you!”

What would he do if you yelled back? What would he do if you walked away? You didn’t want to find out. That was the first night you froze.


When he yelled, you retreated to the back of your mind where you kept your dream: writing. You’ve loved stories your whole life. You want to tell your own. Epic adventures of magical lands and strong female characters, of Filipino culture and finding your identity.

But you also want love. Growing up, you watched your parents take strolls along the beach together and bring each other breakfast in bed. You want a love as strong as theirs. You relish reading romance that blooms in dark times. It gives you hope.


Through all the studies and stories read, you’ve learned that there are two inevitable responses in the face of danger: fight or flight. But your instinct was to freeze. FREEZE. Stay where you are, be quiet, don’t make a move. Where did this instinct come from—school? Does it stem from your previous experiences? Or from something even earlier?


“Your friends are a bad influence!” A glass shattered against the wall.

“You shouldn’t even have male friends!” A lamp was knocked to the ground.

“Why do you wear so much makeup to work?” A chair was hurled across the room.

“That skirt is too short!” Your ears rang, your hands shook. The air was so thick with his rage you couldn’t breathe.

You wish you could take your mind to fantastical worlds full of warrior princesses and love that could save the world. You wish you could be anywhere but here. But you chose to be here. You sacrificed your writing. Love is sacrifice, right? You’re strong, you can endure. Smile on the outside. Don’t ever show your pain.

You just wish you had your stories.


When you search within yourself for the source of that instinct to freeze, you reach back to the very beginning. As Filipino immigrants living in the United States, there was this perceived rule that you need to figure out how to belong. That was the American dream. You needed to work hard and create a life for yourself, and you needed to assimilate to do so. You learn from your family’s strength and sacrifices. Your parents left everything they knew to move to a country where they barely knew the language in the hope of providing you with the opportunity to be whatever you wanted to be. Growing up with that knowledge, you wanted to make them proud.

You are their dream.


Mom was your idol, your rock. She was strong, confident, beautiful. She was all of 5’5” and yet she was larger than life. Her smile was wide and encompassed most of her round cherub-like face. Her laughter was loud and infectious, and she could speak to anyone in the room as if they were her best friend even if she’d only just met them.

You never once heard her complain. She worked days as an accountant in a drug store and nights at a telephone call center, yet she still read your favorite Berenstain Bears books every night. She did all this after winning a painful battle with breast cancer; after a mastectomy and months of chemotherapy. The doctors told you she was in the clear after ten years in remission. The doctors shouldn’t have said that though because it took thirteen years for the cancer to return. But that rock still refused to crumble.

You watched her fight. Again. Treatment after treatment, she came home with a smile. She kept working. For a while. She refused to complain, all the way up to the end. Because she loved you, because you were her dream, she never let you see her pain. She kept it in, she kept it frozen. You were in awe of that silent strength.

So, is that where your instinct came from? Perhaps.

She lost that second fight, but her silent strength lived on in your mind.


To achieve the typical American dream as a Filipino living in the diaspora, you have to assimilate from the moment you step foot off the plane. You force yourself to succeed in this country: learn the language, work hard, don’t complain, just fit in. Your parents were counting on you to be American and they looked to you for strength. You don’t want to be the one to ruin their dream. So, you get straight As, you major in medicine. A grateful child is an obedient one. There are expectations. You do it. You don’t even know who you are as your own person, if not an extension of your family. That was love, right? That was strength. You don’t fight your parents or the society you wish to live in. Flight is not an option. You grin and bear your hardships for the people you love.

You do not give up.


You did not give up on him.

“Maybe therapy would help?” You were out of options and really needed something to change.

“Therapy is for wimps and psychos.” His lips curled in disgust. You felt the argument building.

“Maybe I should give you some space to let you figure it all out yourself then.” It had been over a year, and at that point you were so frozen you were numb. It was either push or perish.

He must have felt that push, because he pushed back.

Your heart hammered in your chest as you watched him bend down and pull two rifles from underneath the bed. How long had they been there?

“They’re loaded.” His voice was a monotone as he confirmed it.

Freeze. This was it. It was time to perish. But he pointed both barrels at his chest instead.

“If you leave, I’ll do it.” His voice still held no emotion, just fact. “It’ll be your fault.”

You can’t write when you’re frozen.

You can’t dream when you’re just trying to survive.

You can’t be the reason someone dies.


You start to speak less and work on autopilot. When you asked what he wanted for dinner, the response came with an aggravated growl, at best. When you asked how he spent his day, the response could be a fury of accusations, threats, or, at worst, it would end with you cowering beside broken furniture.

It was better to be frozen than black and blue.

Another year. Nothing changed. Now you were beyond frozen; you were decaying. You had no stories, you had no strength.

You were already gone.


You wish you could say you decided to leave because you knew you deserved better. But in the end, you finally left because he stepped over the line when it came to your love for your mother. You wanted to do a three-day breast cancer walk in honor of your mom—Mom!—the face of true love and strength.

You waited for it, you wanted it even. You wanted him to refuse to let you leave. You knew that he would forbid you as if you were his child or his property. Because denying you your mom was the fuel to reignite the fire—you wanted to hear him say “no.”

It took a village to save your life. Nowhere in the stories you read did it say you will need to reach out and actually allow people to help you. It took your mother to give you a reason. It took your best friend driving to your apartment while he was running errands and steal you away. It took your father agreeing to let you live with him for protection. It took your boss banning him from your job site. It took the police and a court order to restrain him from stalking you. It took three years. Even now, a decade later, you worry that he’s still out there.

You finally took that seminar. You finally attended that conference. You found friends who are also writers and believe in your stories. You cheer each other on. It took three harrowing years but gradually, you thawed. You begin to write again, slowly, testing your skills. You learn to unfreeze, move, and keep moving. It was telling your own story that rekindled you, saved you.

Your parents showed you an example of strength as immigrants trying to succeed in a society that didn’t believe you belong. But you had to learn your own strength. It’s why you write stories now of those strong warrior princesses who can fall in love while saving the world. You want others to know what you didn’t: You might freeze, but all the strength and love you desired and searched for your entire life was inside of you all along.

So, you keep on writing. You keep thawing. You are your own American dream.


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 who engage 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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