Enough: My Claim


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.



My Claim

Katie Bannon

1. Your smell is what I remember most. Earthy cologne. Sour musk of cheap beer. Panic swells my chest, bitters my tongue when you waft from strangers. A decade has passed since I saw you. I find you everywhere. At the gym, you clench a weight’s cool steel, lips tight with exertion. Sitting in my classroom, you tousle your hair. My mouth goes dry. In bed, you slip under the sheets, my husband’s touch passing from just right to all wrong in an instant. Scarred into memory is the first time you looked at me. That feeling. Like your gaze was a key unlocking the womanhood inside me. As if your hunger made me real. 

2. My first crush was at 10. My little girl self: slim limbs, round glasses, eyes dark as a bruise. Ryan streaked his hair caramel blond. He wore a gold chain I imagined pinching between my fingers. His smile made my face itch. One day into us dating, he confronted me in the schoolyard. “I know what you did,” he said. I froze, guilt clicking into its well-worn grooves. What I believed, even then: something disgusting inhabited my body. Its wrongness was a secret I tried desperately to keep. Ryan leaned in. “You humped him,” he hissed, pointing to another boy. I had no idea what it meant to hump someone, and could only think of the back of a camel. I knew not to ask him what he meant. I did not doubt his accusation.

3. How long does it take a girl to become a slut? To realize that her body, this body that snuggles in her mother’s arms, moves across monkey bars, sinks into the earth to dig up meaty slugs, is on borrowed time? When is the vessel of the self no longer her own? For me it was at 10. That’s when I started learning my body was my fault. Incidentally, this would work out well for you. 

4. When I was 15, a man approached me in a hotel lobby. His smell also punctures my memory. Aftershave. Rubbing alcohol. White stubble climbed his jawline. Amber liquid sloshed in his glass, dribbling down the sides. He wet his lips. “What’s a beautiful girl like you doing by herself?” Maybe my mother was checking us into the hotel, or blowing her nose in the bathroom, or ordering a glass of Merlot at the bar, but she wasn’t there. His eyes latched onto my chest. I wore a dress that hugged my blooming curves (girlhood had vanished without me noticing). I could have told him the truth, that my mother and I were seeing Wicked together, that we’d spend the night drinking in the neon lights and getting the lyrics wrong again and again. Instead, I stayed silent. That’s what he wanted anyway, to talk at me until my head was pregnant with his words: beautiful; sexy; god, that body. “I’ll be in Room 202 if you want to hang out.” He stumbled onto the elevator, flashing a smirk as the doors slid closed. My mother appeared. I walked beside her to the theater, buzzing with a thrill I didn’t know to call fear.

5. The rape dreams started when I was a teenager. They were all soundless sensation: the crush of a stranger’s body, my wrenched-open jaw emitting a silent scream. When I startled awake, cold sweat drenched my sheets. Dreaming something so nakedly shameful felt like another defect to hide. I forced the dreams from my mind, terrified they’d leave a mark others could see. An oozing stain, spreading across my skin.

6. In high school, my friend’s partner touched her breasts. I pictured the empty classroom, his too-big hand penetrating the dark. “You don’t have to let him do that,” I told her, heart racing. She looked stung. “I wanted him to,” she said. Watching classmates date each other knotted my stomach. My own budding desire felt like a rabid animal. Sickly. Untamable. I hid beneath oversized sweaters, channeling a puritanism so fierce a friend joked I’d faint if he ever tried to kiss me. I was 18 years old. I’d been touching myself for the past three years, cumming hard and fast to PG-13 movies emanating a dim light from my computer screen. I still didn’t understand sex could be consensual. That, in fact, “sex” is only consensual. The rest is violence.

7. Halloween night, you spotted me at a bar. Like all my memories of freshman college parties, this one’s shrouded in smoke. A soupy swirl of bodies jolts the scene to life. I wore a black dress and a plastic tiara, my hair suspended in an updo. “You’re a princess, baby,” you said, face inches from my own. Collecting me in your arms, you swayed us to the music. “No,” I corrected you, “I’m Audrey Hepburn.” You laughed, as if it didn’t matter, because it didn’t. What mattered was I was eight drinks deep, what mattered was my limp body against yours, what mattered was you were a white man at an elite college and I was a drunk woman who wouldn’t remember your face, or your name, or, for months, that I’d never said yes. Scratch that. What mattered: I had two X chromosomes. You had one. 

8. You must already know I avoid taxis now. After we met, I had to take a cab to PTSD therapy. The driver screamed at me when we arrived, unconvinced by my explanation that I’d already paid online. I called my mother as he raged, begging her to save me, though I couldn’t say from what. She didn’t know that a year earlier you’d followed me out of a Halloween party and into the passenger’s seat of a cab. Your tongue entered my throat. Your fingers fumbled with my underwear. Sharp jabs exploded inside me, pain I wouldn’t feel until morning. This is what my first kiss looked like. What it will always look like.

9. Would you still have done it if you’d known? Known that minutes of forced fingering would lead to years of forced forgetting? In my mind, you are stunned. Not at your actions, but at the way I’ve overreacted. Let me be honest: I’ll never be as angry at you as I am at myself. Let me be more honest: Sometimes I’m angry you didn’t rape me. Wouldn’t my suffering make more sense if it were rape, a violation that “counts,” the kind they have kits for and CSI episodes about and that my grandparents warned me of before my solo trip to Europe?

10. Did I just say I wish I’d been raped? 

11. What I mean is I wish my story were simple. Rape, of course, is anything but. Still, I can’t stop searching for a different narrative to explain what happened. Why do I keep imagining worse ways to hurt? 

12. I’m leaving out the part where you might have tried to rape me. Walking on campus after the cab ride (We held hands. Do you know what I’d give to forget that detail?), I was shocked to see my dorm, though you’d been leading me there all along. “This is where I live,” I said. “I know,” you said. Your smile made me more afraid than I’d ever been. The dam inside my body broke. I shook with sobs; the world’s wobbly lines solidified. “Go,” I choked. “Just go.” Head cocked, you considered your options. Forcing me through the door would be easy. You could drag me across the threshold. Lock us in a bathroom stall. Muffle my screams with the heel of your hand. There were bushes, too. More than once I’d seen naked people entwined behind them, caught glimpses of flesh between branches. You didn’t move. “I’m not leaving without a kiss goodnight,” you said. I grabbed your waist and pulled you toward me. You held me against the door. For the only time that night, I kissed you back.

13. Eight years later, a woman named Christine Blasey Ford testified at Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. I’d never seen anyone look so tired. Before telling the story of how the man who would soon occupy the highest court in the most powerful country in the world shoved her into a bedroom, pinned her to a bed, grinded against her inert body, and attempted to rape her, Christine made a single request: “I anticipate needing some caffeine if that’s available.” She said this quietly, as if afraid to ask for too much. The night of Brett’s attack, Christine wore a one-piece swimsuit under her clothing. It was perhaps the most important ordinary decision she ever made. Brett tried, but couldn’t undress her. As she spoke, I felt his fingers on my own skin, the imprints of rage. Your rage. 

14. What if I told you that while you touched me, I blushed at the fullness of my pubic hair? That part of me worried I wasn’t sexy enough to be assaulted by you?

15. Assault. A word I would not use until a year after the fact. It came to me while reading a friend’s account of meeting a man overseas. She’d been intoxicated, unable to give consent or resist his advances. Recognition lit up my synapses. How cruel to be a woman, possessing the capacity to feel bone-deep compassion for another, without extending that to ourselves. 

16. Another moment of recognition: Christine fearing she’d die after Brett clapped a hand over her mouth. I experienced the same fear when you stood outside my dorm, your smile unbroken by my sobs, by my begging. I believed in that moment you were capable of anything. “It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me,” Christine said. She was careful to emphasize the word accidentally, as if it were outrageous to think he might have wanted to kill her. That one act of violence could beget another. 

17. The morning after we met, I told lies. A drunken hook-up in a cab, I said to friends. How bad-ass was that? We joked that I’d write a letter to the cab driver, apologizing for being a slut. I reached for this story like a life raft, gulping my friends’ laughter like oxygen. But trauma renders us physically unable to forget. Our neurons encode the memory of danger, readying us for future attacks. By the following summer, my body had come unglued. Flashbacks struck without warning, leaving me huddled in the stairwell of a library, at the back of my closet pounding the air with clenched fists, no spilling out my lips like blood from a wound.

18. You’ll probably never read this. It’s possible you’ve forgotten about me, our encounter subsumed by all the other smoke-shrouded nights. Even if you do remember, punching holes in my story wouldn’t be difficult. I have no memory of saying no that night. Maybe that’s the only evidence you need. What a powerful privilege, the ability to construct a story allowing you to forget. You can cloak yourself in misogynistic narratives, the bedrocks of culture for millennia, so familiar they smack of truth, even to me.

19. Today, the feeling of your probing fingers is an echo, fading with each reverberation. Still, I can’t exile you completely. No words I say to you or anyone else would capture what happened as precisely as the tug under my ribs when I catch your scent. Maybe this is my one claim: I carry the truth in my body. My mind may cling to lies, twisting facts into the shape of my guilt. But my body screams violation.

20. What a fucking terrible claim to have. I hold onto it with both hands



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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