The Things They Don’t Tell You About After

Author’s Warning: This is a purge, and thus a trigger minefield. Primary trigger being implied childhood sexual assault. I’d advise simply ignoring the below piece, and moving on with your day/evening.

 

 

 

You’ll stop being able to look at pictures of your grand-

mother’s face as you age; unable to stomach the way

her nose morphs into his, eyes stare wide and full of

mirth above a mouth that curves too closely into his

when she smiles, when she frowns, when she raises

her eyebrows a little too highly, when she exists;

 

Your hand will feel too heavy on your thigh, too warm,

too loaded, too much like a weight you cannot escape—

that feeling will stay no matter where you rest your hand:

lazily across your belly while you try to fall asleep; lightly

upon your knee as you accidentally drape your limbs hap-

hazardly; too tightly around your wrist even though your

fingers are wrapped so loosely there you can see the fine

hairs of your arms, soft, and present, and unaffected;

 

You’ll be afraid to fall asleep too freely in your own bed,

never spread-eagled, never spread eagle, and on your back;

 

You will become a liar, and everything you do, and say after

will feel like a lie; intricately crafted lines as you give up on

honesty and learn how to deflect ‘harmless’ questions of

first kisses, first touches, first…?

 

You will become a liar, and everything you do, and say after

will feel like a lie as you stumble through the narrative of

perfect daughter, perfect child, perfectly untouched virginal

whole, even though you feel less than perfect, less than new,

different, nothing like the others with their shiny eyes, and

their light smiles and their lack of self-consciousness?

 

You will become a liar, such an excellent one that it will take

you years to sort through what you feel, how you feel, when

you feel, if you even actually feel;

 

You will lie so well, that you think everyone believes you,

that it will come as an utter shock when your father says

you changed, grew to always hold yourself so stiff and rigid

when he tried to touch you, when he hugged you; lie so well

it will come as an utter shock when your boyfriend confesses

that he’s never tried to kiss you because you’ve always seemed

so terrified at the prospect; terrified? you’ll wonder, because

you’ve never felt remotely afraid of him, always felt so safe.

 

You will lose the definition of self-preservation, realise too

late that something is broken, malfunctioning somewhere

when you forget to be afraid, forget to flinch when you’re

cornered walking home one night, trapped between a metal

wall and hapless boys? men? laughing and high;

 

You will lose the definition of self-preservation, forget to be

afraid as you first see them on the opposite side of the street,

forget to be afraid as they cross the intersection, cross the

empty street, on a silent night, forget to be afraid as the oddly

sweet fragrance of weed hits your nostrils, and you find humour

in the possibility that all your mother’s warnings, and your friends’

fears, and your boyfriend’s inarticulate anger at the way you always

conveniently forget that you should be afraid of nights, of dark-

ness, culminates in you unconsciously making yourself smaller,

watching the gap of your escape route narrow while your brain

notes that the latino boy of the group is ‘cute’ (later you will crack

jokes with your friends about the banality of the thought and

how out of place it felt as the boys stopped trying to talk to you;

as you slipped through the crack of your escape route, shoulder

scraping metal, and they kept walking, kept laughing, ‘high’,

and care-free, innocent; as it hits you that you’re broken, that you

were unafraid, and disaffected, somehow less innocent than they are;

so full of knowledge of the ways of the world that you forgot to even

tremble at the possibilities of its dangers);

 

You will lose the definition of self-preservation because some-

where along the way, you forgot there was anything to preserve,

to be afraid of, to be afraid for, to lose your breath over; because

somewhere along the way, you forgot how to feel the terror,

forgot all the nightmares of screaming but having no voice for

anyone to hear you; because somewhere, along the way, you

forgot there was anything worth preserving;

 

You will become a walking paradox; an oxymoron; craving

closeness but disliking touch; waking up in sheets soaked

in urine, at sixteen, at seventeen, at nineteen, when all the books

say bedwetting is stemmed in fear but you do not recall waking in fear,

only in humiliation, in anger, in frustration, at the knowledge that

most of your cousins, outgrew this at four, at five, while you continued

to wake them at twelve, and thirteen to change the sheets of the

beds you sometimes shared.

 

You will learn to unlove your favourite cousin, the boy

who was the first person you truly learned to love, re-

discovered how to be affectionate for, how to hug, and

squeeze and tease; as you mature, as it begins to take root,

you will stop looking at him the same way, cringe at how

closely his mannerisms, his eyes, the quirk of his mouth,

have come to resemble his even though he is not his son;

 

One day, it will hit you, overwhelm you, steal a year from your

life because every day is not enough apparently, and you will

slip, fall into trying to remember while you try to forget what

already makes it difficult to close your eyes, you will lose your-

self, forget how to speak, forget how to make words force their

way past your throat, feel so angry you want the flames in your

eyes to be mirrored in three dimensional hues and a heat that

matches all the dark things in you that scream rage rage rage;

 

It will hit you; settle in your flesh like the perversion settled in

your mind; like the worry you carried within you that maybe

you might be capable of doing what he did, the worry that may-

be you should touch your cousins as rarely as possible so that

you don’t become him, don’t become a thief stealing firsts, or

certainties, or ease, or dreams, or the comfort of touch;

 

It will settle in your flesh like the perversion in your mind, until

you look at yourself in the mirror, and begin to admit every time

you were ever afraid, everything you were ever afraid of; until

you learn to tremble when you discover that you aren’t simply

broken, you’re breakable; until you lie in your bed spread-eagled

on your back more often, spread eagle on your back, in your

underwear only, because you didn’t lose everything, only some

things;

 

After, you will lie in your bed, spread eagle, on your back, in only

your underwear, with your hand resting against your bare stomach

as you remind yourself not to concentrate too hard on the weight

of your hand, or its warmth, or the fact that it sometimes feels

foreign; you’ll roll over and stretch, wriggle around comfortably

in your bed, and think about how far you’ve come; how you’re

no longer the little girl who wouldn’t even look at herself naked

in the mirror; how you’re no longer as self-conscious, or anxious,

voice caught up in your throat behind a tongue that won’t move;

how okay you are most days, okay with imperfection; with not

being whole or new or shiny; how you can say the words now,

call it what it was.

 

K.N.O.W.

2.22.2017. 20:10 hrs – 22: 53 hrs.

Aleppo’s Child.

“Aleppo is a place where the children have stopped crying,” he says,

And in the stillness of your dust-covered features, tiny hands streaked

in a whiteness that should have been flour sneaking there from your

mother’s hands as she gently reprimands you for your foray into her jifna,

I see only what he has chosen not to say—

‘Aleppo is a place where the children have stopped crying out;

A place where they have learned that there is no one to hear their cry;

no one who will help.’

‘Aleppo is a place where the tears bring with them breathlessness;

A mother’s incomplete gasps as she clutches at her womb,

Ignores the painful yawning in empty cavity, while her lips form a name,

Breathes it like a raspy, perverse lullaby, until it can finally escape the par-

alysis of her weighted tongue.’

Dear Child-Who-No-Longer-Cries,

I have learned your name is Ayah:

‘Wonderful’, ‘Verse’, ‘Miracle’.

‘A sign from God’.

Was it a miracle when they pulled you from the broken walls of your home?

In your name I hear the voices of your parents,

The lilting tones of hushed gratitude, novel awe, rising around you;

Surely they did not think it would come to mean ‘child who has survived

where many did not’; ‘child who sits in chaos, with eyes that speak a language

they should not yet understand’; ‘child who rests like a misplaced dua search-

ing for spires of now-broken minarets that once guided it upward,

upward on the arms of communal supplication; communal supplic-

ation replaced with communal wailing’?

They say, ‘Aleppo is a place where the children no longer cry.’

But in their solemn nod to the unspoken gravity of your loss,

They have forgotten to mention that adolescent boys clutching

dead babies to their chests,

Now cry in place of young children whose cheeks are more

blood-stained than tear-stained;

They make no mention of little boys whose bodies nestle face down on shores

that have turned their faces away,

Content to think only of children who lie warm, and flush-cheeked, with mildly

sweaty hair as precious breaths flutter the edges of familiar pillow-cases.

“Aleppo is a place where the children have stopped crying.”

‘And why not?’ I ask, when they have learned to sleep silent:

small figures shaking to the hum of a keening whistle before

the clap-boom-rattle of a bomb’s indiscriminate landing chooses

the corner of a house a mother has tucked one child into,

partitioning the others as carefully as her hoarded rice grains so she

will not lose them all in one go;

‘Why not?’ you ask, with eyes that have forgotten how to expect

good, safe, unthreatening silence; as the sound of fathers digging bare-

handed, and bleeding, replaces the shuffle of footsteps

in hospitals which too have fallen.

K.N.O.W. Wednesday, January 25, 2017. 02:24 hrs-03:33 hrs.

Author’s note: That line has been plaguing me ever since I first heard it, and although it has taken me months to attempt this, I finally did allow myself to write it. I can only imagine how much more we shall need the pen in the months moving forward.

Return [It].

I feel the echo, of an echo, of an echo;

the hollow plop of a coin hitting water.

 

I have never learnt to reconcile myself with this aspect

of losing you–

the dimming of colour, the absence of everything, and nothing,

even as a loose abstraction of myself grows closer to

all the others who must now become the sum of these parts.

 

I do not understand this thing;

this feeling; or rather its lack:

I am only capable of seeing it in the near terrible, hysterical

unravelling I offer to others–

an unchecked giving as the unleashing of words,

a stream sourced through a dam cracked in too many places;

I see it in the empty way I fall asleep;

eyes shut,

body tensed in a tranquillity it pretends to feel,

while I remember the fullness, the sheer unfurling comfort

of formerly falling asleep to you:

the feeling of your t-shirt against my face, the pleasure of my

limbs stretched out languidly,

chest and stomach discovering the welcome stability of your own.

 

I have not learned to reconcile myself with this:

wanting us, but no longer wanting you,

even as my eyes linger on faces that remind me of yours,

hovering above necks like yours,

with the exposed, and nervous shift of an Adam’s apple,

the quick swallow of vulnerable things–

dead spirits, so very alive, they cause my throat to tighten,

and my thoughts to

stumble,

stutter,

stop.

before memories less kind step in.

 

You have been a part of me for so long, that I have forgotten how to live

without the intensity of feeling too much

even when the only reassurance I had of my love was my need to stay;

even when I doubted that my love for you had truly survived

the uneven tension of your unwitting abandonments

(how were you always so much more sure of my love than I?)

 

I would simply like it to stop:

this feeling of disconnectedness

as my heart tries to recall that other things made it happy,

made it feel,

made my teeth ache with anguish,

or the muscles of my always too-tense, too self-conscious body

liquefy with the sweetness of my contentment.

 

Whatever you have taken with you,

or whatever I have given you that now makes it all pale

as everything rings with a falseness that almost resembles futility,

I ask that you return it.

Please?

I dislike the ghosts of dead things.

 

K.N.O.W. Monday, January 23, 2017. 01:10 – 02:33 hrs.