By Trina Moyles
“You should write about it,” said Joanne.
The walls of her large counseling room were painted buttercup yellow and the corners stuffed with gigantic corduroy beanbag chairs. Joanne’s voice was soft and perky. She always made me feel like a kindergarten student and I liked it that way. If I had met her in the streets, out of context, I would’ve thought her to be a hippie. Someone whom you’d forgive of her airy fairy ways because of old age. It was hard to imagine Joanne working with sex offenders. Would she tell them the same thing?
Write about it.
The truth was I had tried to write about it. Many times. I had all the journals filled with a few sentences or a paragraph that usually said something like this:
An old story that starts the same as the rest.
I liked to cram the words together to hide the meaning, hoping it would give me time to hand it over to a reader and by the time she realized what she was about to read, I’d already have a good thirty-second head start running away.
I wanted to write about it, but I was too terrified to put myself inside the details.
Or I was too self-loathing to allow myself to get into the details because my story wasn’t so awful, not like, say, the stories of other women I had met. Why should I be complaining about a story like mine? I was pushed down and scraped my knee. Those women were pushed down and broke their legs, fractured their pelvises, even their bones split open and the marrow of who they were was washed away.
But I threw away the journals with the stories that died in childbirth because their covers were too bright, too flashy, too presumptuous and I felt they shouldn’t contain a story so ugly. Those journals were like expensive homes in the suburbs.
So I switched to writing half-eaten sentences in old university notebooks on lined paper with metal rings but then I realized those ones were so easy to erase in an instant. Ripping the paper from their metal bones felt so good. I tore out more pages than I wrote.
Poetry became a good way to obscure what happened. Instead of writing about me, I wrote about a woman from my home-town who’s teenage son had died years ago and she was still spotted by her neighbors, walking the length of the riverbank, holding a stuffed animal in her arms and searching the piles of stones and driftwood for his body, though he hadn’t drowned in the river, he had been hit in the back of a head by a drunkard.
I wrote dark sonnets instead of my story because a rule of fourteen lines felt like a safe place for hiding inside. I wrote those sonnets at unpredictable moments, on the backs of receipts, or napkins, or scratched into my memory as I pretended to be somewhere visiting with someone and nodding my head to something. When I stitched them together, they didn’t resemble my story – not the version people knew – and that felt somehow satisfying. I was tired of repeating that story to people who meant well but were only digging at a scabby wound whenever they asked.
Poetry was the perfect front.
No one read poetry in my hometown, anyways.
I had wanted to recite some to the dental hygienist who had burst into the room as I was tilted back in the dental chair, my mouth pulled apart with metal, hooked and the cavity inside dry and brittle as a leaf. Maybe she had read my name on the chart outside, maybe my story was somehow related to her story, anyways, for some reason she felt compelled to push into the room and say how sorry she was for me, and me, her captive audience could only nod and sound out an animal response.
“Uhhh guhh” I said to her, though I wanted to say:
May the sun never go down, may the light never leach from these summer skies.
How she would’ve responded with a polite nod as if she understood, which she didn’t understand, not at all, and nor any other person who felt the need to be nice and approach me in the streets and croon, “Oh, I heard what happened to you, and I’m so sorry.”
It was better that I was sleeping alone on those nights because they were dark, a new category of dark, that I wouldn’t have been able to explain to anyone else.
These days, I am afraid of what’s on the other side of light: the memory of light
stripped from me. His dead weight hand across my eyes, nose, his power dangling
I realized that too well one night, after mistaking the footsteps of my cat down the hallway for an intruder and dialing 911 and apologizing to the smirking police officer whom I bothered and I swear was looking at my tits from beneath my pajama top.
I remember lightning. The geese scattering, my breath
a cracked lake. The switchblade certainty of how I would take it:
Obedience, I fired quick.
Remembering my story made me act fast.
‘Trigger reactions’ was what Joanne called my episodes of throwing a pizza in the face of some half-drunk guy who made a comment about gang-banging a girl, or finding a blood blister on my foot and going to Emergency demanding they remove the cancerous mole, or screaming at some poor Nigerian guy to let me out of the back of his taxi.
My story became many broken sonnets that had piled up in the cellar like soft forgotten potatoes, and shot forth tangled sprouts that searched, confused, for light.
Knowing how we need the light,
knowing what I’d give for it.
Trina Moyles is a Canadian freelance writer and photographer currently living in southwestern Uganda. She writes about the collision of culture, community development, politics and creative sustainable living on her personal blog The Bean Tree - www.thebeantree.org.