— Trigger Warning —
This week I was talking to my friend about how gendered our concepts of violence and assault are, the idea that men face violence too is always added as an afterthought (followed by guilt because our images of violence are still crowded by men as the perpetrators), when suddenly the conversation turned to ‘reclaiming’, as is the new trend in any anti-oppression discourse. She knows about the assault she too has faced similar violence, if not that invasive. She read Alice Walker a month ago and since then is obsessed with ‘talking back from the body’ and re-affirming her space. She is convinced writing about her own past, or speaking about it is going to help her; so she encourages me to do the same. While I understand the kind sentiment which brings such talk forward and I envy her confidence in this ‘talking back’ to spaces and people who have done wrong by her, most times when I try to do this ‘talking back’ all I get are blanks. I’m often left uncomfortable, raw and angry when this offensive, ever elusive ‘space’ keeps on fleeting away. At times like these, Emily Dickinson comes out of her place on my bookshelves to help me. She writes, “From Blank to Blank/—A Threadless Way/I pushed Mechanic feet—/To stop—or perish—or advance—/Alike indifferent” and for a while I forget the sense of disappointment. Then shadows come out, bringing with them the empty pages of my journal that cannot contain murky memories.
So much is invested in keeping thoughts of the assault, of other cultural discrepancies at bay that this unraveling is too tempting a concept, I’ll confess. Seems like a magic trick, that once I will my mind to unwind, suddenly that image is washed away, and that song doesn’t remind me of past horrors. I wish it were this easy, then I’d be able to enjoy Marge Piercy’s ‘Rape Poem‘ again, I wouldn’t shudder this time as I read it. The truth is, ‘reclaiming’ anything takes a certain amount of privilege and power; speaking the right words or sounding the correct soothing syllables doesn’t always help. One day with my friend’s encouragement I wrote a poem about the whole episode; while words and meanings twisted and uncoiled in fury, one thing that I couldn’t shake off was how the whole poem seemed like someone else wrote it about me though I was using the first person persona. The body in question wasn’t mine, the things that happened weren’t my story and the sense of relief that washed over me as I penned –what I still consider the most difficult thing I ever wrote — the assault wasn’t a feeling associated with closure. The sense of re-connecting with my body that was supposed to wash over me didn’t tide over, in fact I looked at the cold clinical language and wondered if anyone even thought in this manner. Another time I read a few memoirs by survivors of abuse and assault and I couldn’t stop feeling jealous; these writers weren’t at par with themselves, they were comfortable in their skin despite how brutal their histories were. Out of sheer curiosity if nothing else, I wonder what happens when the body ‘talks back to you’? While today I am comfortable and even confident in my body, I don’t see the scars left over as a reason to mourn the loss of ‘what used to be’, I do wonder how can this sentiment be stretched further to the point where I can loom somewhere above my own self and proclaim that I ‘take back’ my body or the memory. And even after this happens, what guarantee that I even want that ‘reclaimed’ bit of me, for now that little bit has mutated and changed so far beyond recognition that the pieces that come back may not even seem like something that was mine.
Then another problem pokes its head up: why are we so obsessed with ‘closure’, with wiping spaces off of their inscribed meanings, we even go and re-inscribe the tabula rasa and somehow this act is supposed to finish the chapter in neat tidy lines? There are a lot of people like my friend who need this ending to be able to move forward and I completely support her in this expression. But staying between neat tidy lines leaves me claustrophobic as always, it never gets me anywhere, let alone ‘forward’. I’ve tried imagining a space where things don’t trigger me anymore, because I don’t want them to or tried to imagine that people don’t really probe into my body as they walk past. Some days I buy the lie, most days I don’t and the empty page mocks my absence. A few times I read memoirs of assault survivors and I felt jealous how they had somehow attained that last plane, where the episode they spoke of could be now spoken of as a performance. You would see their point of view, play it in your head and watch it unfurl against your eyes and then after a few designated pages, it comes to a close. The performance halts, the authors slip back into their respective shoes at the end of the book in the ‘biography’ section and once again ‘reclaiming assault’ sounds like a title of an extremely twisted fable. I try this performance in my head, on cue the words tumble out but the voice isn’t mine; when I take a break to see what I’ve just written as always I become conscious of the distance and the door slams shut again. It took me a while to see I was trying to re-possess a memory and an incident that wasn’t mine to begin with. The nature of my assault was such, the whole episode makes sense — the remotest sense — when seen from the perpetrator’s point of view only: what he did and how he did it, while my body and memory are lodged somewhere in the middle.
Re-possession doesn’t interest me, closure seems like a myth and a tool to have victims firmly stuck to their perpetrator’s actions and re-claiming isn’t my privilege to debate over. After a long time these blanks don’t seem offensive or oppressive places. They’re unlined spaces where I am allowed to be.