Body Electric | Spring 2017 Body Electric | Spring 2016 - Page 6

Hand-Holding

he speculum causes very little physical pain

in a healthy woman. It may feel strange,

cold, or uncomfortable, but painful is not

really an accurate descriptor. I am sitting in a gynecologist’s office with a young, physically healthy woman, holding her hand while the doctor inserts the speculum. Her therapist asked me to accompany her, because she needs additional support at this type of doctor’s appointment. I know the reason for this, and as I sit here and hold her hand, while she winces in pain, I try to only think about how, really, the speculum causes very little physical pain.

I repeat to myself, almost as a refrain: It’s nothing more than a cold, metal instrument. The lines in the young woman’s face are pulled taught with the tension of pain, and her eyes, those eyes, they are wide open. Afraid. I know why she is afraid. Her medical forensic exam tells me. Her lawyers tell me. Her therapist tells me. They have trained me and I am skilled: I explain, with enviable intellectual grace, that she was raped and left in a dark cell filled with excrement. But when I look at those eyes and feel the grip of her palm in this clean gynecologist’s office with its sterilized instruments, her slow, shaky, dark fear places its little fingers around my lungs. These fingers are cold and childlike; they know not what they do. I run from them, towards the warmer bones interlaced with mine as she lays on the pink table, legs spread apart as they were the last time a person touched her in that place.

I stare at her hand instead of her face, finding solace in the contrast of deep, dark, dorsal and lighter ventral surface. Ventral is a spatial word--one for the location of her palm relative to a crisp plane of section: Her palm is smooth. Her scars are elsewhere—in her forensic exam we count them. We count knife wounds, cuts from kneeling on glass. Someone else should be holding her hand, really. Mine shakes.

Her name is Grace. She is a survivor of rape, of political torture. There are thousands of women like her who come to the United States every year, seeking protection. You hear about them on the news. There are more. And you do not usually hear about them. Even if you hear their stories, you may not listen to their stories. Reading a scar is not the same as reading about scars.

Six months earlier we were sitting in a different room together. They tell us their stories here, and we check boxes next to little statements. If the individual does not meet the criteria that the US deems sufficient to label an experience torture, we don’t accept them as a client. We can’t give them our free legal representation, medical care, and psychotherapy. Grace’s case turns out to be very clear-cut, though, which we are always happy to hear (we can help someone), and sickly so, because if we can help someone it means another person was tortured.

I reach out to shake her hand, the same introduction used for any new person who crosses paths with mine, because I needed reminding. They remember that they are not their torture, but part of me tries not to. The torture histories are more digestible this way. I swallow them whole without ever tasting them. Forgive me for this, but I am scared. And after months of equating people with facts, it is getting harder for me to tell which side of the prison cell door I am on. In one of my dreams I stand outside Grace’s cell and take notes on the rape as it occurs, a kind of play-by-play. My eyes open in bed while she is screaming. I do not go back to sleep that night, opening my window instead to listen to the cicadas.

She talks about sitting in the hospital bed after she escaped, or was released. Her family came to visit and her Mom informed her, as she surveyed the growing purple sun encircling her eye, and the freshly made burn marks, that she is no longer her daughter.

She shows no anger. She looks down slightly, her long, black eyelashes fluttering. “Maybe…” Silence. Dust floats carefully through the window light, curving past our downcast eyes, below her jaw line, coming to rest on her hands, now clasped. “Maybe there is something I can do to make them love me again.” Her tone is calm, even, kind. I sit there, I hear the words, but my hand doesn’t know how to write the words. Everything else, everything else can be translated to the page, marked in sequence. I don’t know where to put this. I look at the bullet points on my paper, each listing, listening to a different aspect of the torture. There is plenty of space between them, and lines at the end. Multiple lines. I pick up my pen two, three times, and put it back down. This must be no more than a recording, a repetition of her words.

First Place:

Rachel Asher

Class of 2018

6 Body Electric / Spring 2016

The following piece is a work of fiction that may contain triggering or sensitive material.

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