Enough: Returning to the Wreck


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.


I’m twenty-five. I’m at the gynecologist for the first time in two years. Split legs, thin blue gown. Lights buzzing a familiar hum.

The doctor has kind eyes, large hands that hover over the lower half of my body like sparrows around rotting nectar. Blue rubber gloves.

Where are you from? She tries to make small talk, head bobbing up and down from between my legs. I think of my mother.

In my hands, a crumpled piece of notebook paper: questions my therapist had me write down in advance. Something about the lasting effects of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. Scar Tissue. Blockage. Infertility?


I hold my breath, suck in my tummy. Inhale, 

Exhale: even here, with a stale odor staining the air and women with bursting bellies drifting by, I’m hyper-conscious of my body’s own untamed elements:

wobbly jellyfish thighs, the seven pounds I gained in the past six months (but this is a good thing, right?), the weight of me against metal bed, white legs like white ceiling like goosebumps, tiny hairs suspended in static white waves, chilled blue veins under fluorescent lights (illusions of bruises)   rancid trapped moisture   and   dark spaces vacuumed of                  breath

Exhale                         inhale                          exhale  inhale exhale              inhale!    Exhale!Inhale!Exhale! Inhale!exhale!inhaleexhaleinhaexhinexhahahahahhhhh

A masked woman with deep eyes,
cerulean-cloaked, swooping.
A distant memory of dense woods, birds of prey,
a rush of blood up the spine, thin blue gloves on thin blue flesh—

I’m sweating on a metal bed.
I’m watching my body opening, hovering over the belly,
dark brown eyes, white light—

I’m inside the belly.
The belly is a cave and walls are layered in carvings:
shhhh    bitch    nascent    disquiet    stay    no    still            
The belly is a cave and pedestrians move through, silent and stoic, running their fingers over the ancient etchings. Rows of faceless men.
Scar tissue in the cervix. Blockages in the fallopian tubes.

I’m outside the belly looking in:
red earth    dead skin    ash and rust
deposits of toxic waste
poisoned ejaculate, oozing like bubbling brine in the ovaries, uterus
Draining pink to grey
I’m peering into the belly, watching
breathing things becoming breathless—
My mother’s glossy eyes,
blue babies with withered feet the size of pecans
fossilized inside embryonic sacks.
My mother driving too fast,
undulating road, hot dented tar, a hollow whistle
Nothing will ever grow here 

Faceless men move through me, touching and groping and grasping.
I recognize them only by the textures of their hands:
Hands of the first boy, fumbling awkwardly from mismatched sheets in a dorm somewhere in Northeast Ohio.
Leathery baseball mitt hands of the pre-med student who recited scientific facts about the female orgasm before very mechanically going down on me.
Hands of men whose names I forgot.
Calloused hands, the grasping hands—
Hands before, the hands after
Hands that held me        hold me       down that night
Hands hidden in drunk lost those nights, after
Hands of the first man I loved, after

The hands that planted disease

How did it grow? 
How did it take so long to notice? 

I’m thinking about the process of leaving the body.


I’m barely twenty-one. It’s late summer. I’m driving back to college, from North Carolina to Ohio, flecks of sand still hidden in my scalp. Bruise on upper thigh the beginning of a sunset. Window cracked, familiar hum.

The road wavers and flattens, weaves into more roads: veins and arteries, cousins of cousins of cousins. Marshes melt to cornfields. Swamps dry to puddles. The sky holds its breath, swells black and blue. I wait for a storm. The storm doesn’t come.

I’m barefoot in a car with one side mirror. Home retreats into the backdrop, along with indigo clouds, tobacco fields, my father’s house, my mother’s hum—blue sheets and little boats. Home retreats and everything’s nascent; both alive and lifeless, both barren and in motion. I tell myself I won’t look back.

I’m thinking about the process of leaving the body.


I’m barely twenty-one. I wear neon orange Doc Martens, listen to old Ani Difranco albums on repeat, buy pink boxing gloves off the internet and smile while making flippant castration jokes. I’m slowly losing my appetite. I don’t notice. I numb the emptiness in my belly with sweet drinks with names like bad pick-up lines. Pink Kitty. Lemon Drop. Sex on the Beach. All saccharine with bitter aftertastes.


I’m twenty-one and I don’t know the difference between strength and power.


The first person I tell of the night on the boat is the person who taught me how to write, how to convert murky gut feelings into stories. He’s a young professor with dark brown eyes and a brow that furrows into deep canyons—the type of person who listens with his whole face.

Something bad happened, I say. I still don’t have all the words.


It’s late August, and I’m sitting on a picnic table, across from the professor who taught me how to tell stories. I tell him about the Fourth of July.

We sit in a suspended silence. Lake Erie winds swallowed. Deep breath. Him, looking at me for a yawning second, in something that could be tenderness.

You have to write this, he says.


So I write. I write frying grease and little boats and a buff surfer guy with shaggy hair. I write roadmaps, my mother in a car with a cracked window, the grooves in ceilings of claustrophobic houses, homes. I write my way back to the Fourth of July. It’s all disjointed, I tell the professor with the dark brown eyes, like my mind is Swiss cheese. He tells me to write around the moments: write the gaps and they will fill themselves in. I write blue sheets and cheap cologne and salt and white wrists. How bruised skin in the moonlight looks like the purple underbellies of jellyfish.

I write so these things won’t lodge to my gut and stick there. I write around the gut; the gut is filling with a muffled tenderness, and something in me knows not to prod. I write these things until they retreat, become shorelines from ships lost at sea. I write like I’m watching the story projected in front of me:

Giggly blonde girl goes out on boat with boy who is the archetype of Boy. Broad shoulders. Chain smoker. Football fanatic. Celtic armband tattoo. Little morning shadow on upper lip.
Can you guess what happens next?

Boy wants girl for his trophy shelf. Girl later discovers that the shelf is full of trophies. Young blond giggly girls lured into boats and bedrooms and backs of cars.

Stupid girl! Of course there are more.

Boy gives girl Bud Light and more Bud Light and some noxious sweet shit in Dixie Cups. Fireworks shatter the sky. Beer cans get swallowed by inky sea. Little boat docks, little people stumble out.
Now do you see where this is going?

Drunk girl fumbles to open window of locked car [deleted footage] and drunk girl is in Boy’s bedroom
Boy on girl on blue sheets
girl struggling against weight of Boy

Girl overpowered. Surrendered girl. Drowned girl—

Dumb giggly girl! Silly pretty girl! Why did you give him your keys? You know what archetype of Boy does to young blond girls like you!

I write until the story stops existing inside me, dislodges from visceral memory. Til I can hold it in my hands and not in my bones.

(Six months later, a therapist will explain dissociation to me:

The state of becoming split from oneself, like watching your own body from afar)


You have to write this. 

Each week, I hand in a chapter to the professor with the dark brown eyes. I imagine I’m lifting the chapters from shelves under my skin and placing them in a safety vault—a box at the back of some secure dark room. He’s the trustee.


I’m thinking about how disease still festers, even when detached from the body.


Each week, the professor with the dark brown eyes returns a chapter with red lines scrawled through the margins. Checkmarks to indicate approval. Brackets to indicate where to cut superfluous words. He writes comments between sentences, speaks of my words in beautifully inexact language—

disquiet       restorative       nonlinear     sensuous       urgent 

Pink Kitty. Lemon Drop. Sex on the Beach.

When we get to the chapter about my childhood home, he suggests we meet to review the pages in the little yellow house on the periphery of campus, home to the college writing department. It is 7PM, a Wednesday. The building is dark and empty. We talk about the textures in the ceilings of homes we once inhabited.

You have to write this.

He tells me I need to write because I need to heal—

To write is to tell is to reclaim is to restore.

He tells me he wants to be a part of my writing process, my healing process:

I can help you tell the story.

When we get to the chapter about the light on the threshold of my grandmother’s house, I tell him about my fear that I’ve contracted a disease from the man with the shaggy blond hair. That something from him is still in me. It’s a vague feeling—a distant soreness around my pelvis. The professor with the dark brown eyes looks at me, long and steady, in the dim room of the yellow house on the outskirts of campus. After silence, he tells me about his sister, who died from HIV. She was raped.

Girl overpowered. Surrendered girl. Drowned girl. 


It’s five months after the Fourth of July and the professor with the dark brown eyes is driving with me off campus. We’re going to get tested for HIV, the two of us. He says it’s something he does every year, ceremoniously, to honor his sister’s memory. He says knowing my status will help me heal. Knowing my status, coupled with the act of writing the story.

We sit together in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood in Elyria, Ohio. A town of boarded windows and gaunt sidewalks. Lights buzzing. Lysol and linoleum.

A woman with blue rubber gloves takes us to the back one by one, swabs the insides of our mouths.

On the drive back, our blood confirmed clean, the professor with the dark brown eyes tells me he’s been weighing the possibility of our starting an affair. Outside the car, snow is falling, silent as a scream muted into a pillow.

I don’t know that what’s growing inside me is not in the blood but in the gut.

Dumb giggly girl! Silly pretty girl! 


I’m thinking about the process of leaving the body.

I’m thinking about the professor with the dark brown eyes. I’m thinking about me, in the kitchen of the professor with dark brown eyes, after dark, mid-December. Leaning against the stove. Rosemary withered on windowsill. Outside, snow layering. My stomach aching with something that, for flash, I mistake for desire. Skin buzzing. The professor with the dark brown eyes leaning in, hard cock pressed against me—

mouth to mouth                      hip to hip

untainted blood pulsing

Red pen scrawled across loose pages.

Red pen circling evocative detail, sensuous detail.

Red pen bracketing off words.

Red pen writing unwriting rewriting stories. Turning memory to myth.

I’m thinking about the process of leaving the body.

I’m thinking about how people become ghosts.

I’m thinking about me, leaving the kitchen of the professor with dark brown eyes. Trudging to the library through ghastly bright snow. Spreading red ink marked papers across a cubicle. Trying to write through buzzing blood, layers of red ink—to finish the story he drew out of my bones.


I handed the story in the next day, to the professor with the dark brown eyes, whose hard cock I had, just the night before, felt pressed against me. I titled it The Story of the Wreck after a stanza in my favorite poem, Diving into the Wreck, by Adrienne Rich. A poem I had first analyzed with him freshman year. The door to his office in the upstairs of the little yellow house slightly ajar. Another giggling young blond poet waiting outside (Stupid girl! Of course there are more!)—

The thing I came for
The wreck and not the story of the wreck 
The thing itself and not the myth
The drowned face always staring
Towards the Sun

We talked about what he called Adrienne Rich’s articulations of power; him coaxing me with carefully-worded prompts. What does she mean when she describes the space underwater as defined by “threadbare disaster?” What does it mean to face the wreck? We talked about sea as primal force; beautiful and volatile and dangerous. Shipwreck as old decay, what he called the woundedness each of us carries below. How is agency articulated here? What does it mean to assert self against unfettered force, assert body against undertow? In the wake of disaster, what is power? We talked about sea as masculine, diver as feminine. Girl pushing back. Girl empowered. Girl un-swallowed.

That same day, in his office, the professor with the dark brown eyes also spoke to me about my mother. About a poem I had written about my mother. The first thing I’d ever written about my mother. I only remember a few words:

Mother lost herself   poured    ripened      swelled flooded 
They parted her     dove in.  

How you sat by the window, mother    watching yourself 
Watching the moon wane    til it dangled in the sky    a  gutted silver fish 

I remember how the professor with the dark brown eyes looked at me, silent for a pentameter or two, before speaking: Have you ever really thought about the meaning of the phrase “to be beside oneself?” 

I shook my head. He told me about how the word “trauma” originally comes from the Greek word meaning “wound” or “rupture.” Did you know this? Both essentially mean “that which is beyond words—“that which places us beside ourselves, beyond subjectivity and speech…” 

What does Rich mean when she says the words are purposes/ the words are maps?

What does it mean to face the wreck?

How is language restorative? How can words mend wounds? 


He said: You have to write this


The summer after I graduate from college, I re-read Diving into The Wreck and realize that for years, I’ve been focusing on the wrong parts—

the story 
the myth 
The drowned—


I’m thinking about the process of leaving the body.

I’m twenty-two. It’s six months after I handed in The Story of the Wreck to the professor with the dark brown eyes. Five months after he stopped looking me in the eye.

Disease is festering inside me, spreading into my cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes. I don’t know this yet.

(Dumb girl! How foolish to equate telling with healing)

I feel it in my belly as a dull throb, a ringing absence—

(Silly girl! You should know by now:

To tell is to distance, to heal is to dive—)


I don’t think about why I can only keep down bland foods. Annie’s mac-and-cheese. Gummy worms. Those microwavable pockets with the gooey yellow filling. I don’t stop to think about why I get nauseous at the thought of filling myself with anything more substantial.

I drink to fill my hunger—Malibu. Melon Bacardi. Sweet rum.


I’m thinking about the professor with the dark brown eyes, six weeks after the Fourth of July, looking at me unwavering, telling me: Write this—

The pages of the story, extracted from my skin, withering away in some cold, empty room.


I’m thinking about red ink marked pages.

I’m thinking about his hard cock, pressed against me.

I’m thinking about how rape sits in the bones even when the story of rape gets lost.


How did I not notice the ache growing?


I’m thinking about how stories get lost, both inside and outside of the body—

The thing I came for
The wreck and not the story of the wreck

I’m thinking about how the professor with the dark brown eyes never returned The Story of the Wreck, how in the months after the night in his kitchen, the ringing absence in my gut swelled; how the story became swallowed inside the space he once occupied—

The drowned face always staring 
Towards the sun…

What happens when the gut deceives?


I’m thinking about the process of leaving the body.

It’s a month after my college graduation, two months after my college graduation, six months after my college graduation.

I’m drifting between bars and clubs. Floating. Dissolving into alcohol and the hands of men who won’t meet my eyes: the CEO from the networking event; the reformed ex-felon who buys me whiskey sours and speaks of newfound faith; the dark brown eyes of the nameless guitar player, some familiar undertow…

Sex on the beach. Pink Kitty. Lemon Drop.

I’m drifting through alcohol and red ink markings, semi-familiar spaces. I am fading in and out of flesh. Becoming disembodied.

Swallowed girl. Reaching girl. Drowned girl. Ghost girl. I’m shedding weight, hollowing my gut. When I stand naked in front of the bathroom mirror, I can count ribs denting bluish flesh. Sometimes, for a gasp of a second, I feel the ache in my stomach pulsing, sharp as a sunburn—


I’m twenty-two, living in DC—a city of sharp angles and men with weak handshakes.

I’m drifting through bars and dim rooms and fluorescent buildings.

Hands keep tracing over me, over and over me.

I let them touch me, these nameless men, but I never let them enter me. I’m afraid if they do, they might prod too close to the vague ache growing in my gut, the woundedness down below—

The thing I came for
The wreck and not the story of the wreck


I’m thinking about the process of leaving the body. How I stopped being able to sit with myself. How, whenever I found myself dwelling too deeply in the gut, I would redirect my thoughts to things outside:

The stories on the front pages of the newspapers. How long it might take for the snow to melt. If ghosts exist in modern buildings. How grooves plaster ceilings look like topographical maps.


Three months after I move to DC, a therapist tells me to start writing daily journal entries under the caption I Will Let My Body Speak. I mostly write about the row of barren cherry trees that shade the pathway of the reflecting pool I walk by every day on my way home from work. How their branches remind me of bones.

I write fragments: bones and trees and bones, until the ache in my belly quiets, maybe disquiets; becomes placid, but not still.


I’m thinking about the process of leaving the body.

I’m thinking about red pens and scar tissue,

Hard cock

Shaggy hair

White wrists

Dark brown eyes

Stupid blond girl 

Hands tracing over me, over and over me—

Soft hands

Calloused hands

Cotton ball hands

Tree-bark hands

Hands that evoke other hands that evoke

Grasping hands

Waiting hands

Hands that pretend to be tender,

Hands that turn cold mid-touch

Hands that don’t hide their intentions

Blue-gloved hands.

(I’m thinking about the process of leaving the body)

A pain like fireworks shooting up through my pelvis—

A flinch, the anticipation of pain

A throbbing memory of a pain,

A phantom memory. A phantom pain.

              I’m thinking about how it is that people become ghosts

              I’m crying on a metal bed

              blue glove grazing inner thigh—

              blue gloves diving; down; in; under; primal vessel; subterranean decay; scar tissue on
              ovaries; threadbare disaster; the belly; the underbelly; the wreck

              A porchlight, a fluorescent light,

              Squinting into a fluorescent light, knuckles white—

              The gynecologist pulls away, gentle. Peels off blue rubber gloves.

              Are you ok, she says

              What did you see, I say

              You’re ok, she says. Smiles.

              I’m thinking about ghosts, my skin, how to rid skin of ghosts.

              I am thinking about what it means to return to the body.

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.

Many names appearing in these stories have been changed.

Visit the archives here.

Sarah Cheshire is a poet, essayist, hybrid writer, and creative collaborator based in Alabama. Her work can be found in Scalawag, River Teeth, Creative Nonfiction, and Brevity, among others. Author of the award-winning chapbook "Unravelings" (Etchings Press), she is an outspoken advocate against sexual misconduct in academia and beyond—and for better support structures for survivors. This piece received AWP’s 2018 Kurt Brown Prize in Creative Nonfiction. More from this author →