Body Electric | Spring 2017 Body Electric | Spring 2016 - Page 7

But these words are a mesh; they are grafting a vessel in me that I didn’t know was bleeding. My cells, they reform around the mesh, encircling their fragile arms around curvilinear letters. I am in her hospital bed, and it is my mom standing over me. Her eyes rest on the purple sun around my eye, and then drift away from me, disgusted. Get me out of this room. I don’t want to be in the bed with this woman, I don’t want it to be me in the bed, and my mom looking at me. I remind myself that when they told their stories, boundaries between self and other often became blurred in this way. I remind myself of this and tried to breathe.

She loves someone, another woman. She loves someone. She was tortured for this, and abandoned. Her mother looked at her little girl, beaten, stripped of everything that is human about any of us, because that is what torture does; it systematically dehumanizes, and says “You are not mine anymore.” She left her isolated in that hospital bed shaking underneath the sheets, their fibers coarse on the raw skin of her bottom. I see this sweet little girl, Mommy’s little girl, who Mommy thought was sweet before Mommy knew she was gay, and I want to do everything for her that she failed to do.

One time I almost committed a federal offense on Grace’s behalf (apparently opening those postal service mailboxes on street corners is very frowned upon). I stood outside sweating, gesticulating to the mailman, committing HIPPA violations left and right about how I checked the wrong box on the I-589 application for asylum, and now the narrative will be discordant with the box. The mailman had dark circles under his sallow blue eyes, which were light, amused even. He knelt down to unlock the mailbox, brushing my hand lightly as he gave me the envelope.

I walked inside, reminding myself to change the entry in the database. At the Hoskins Institute for Survivors of Torture, where I work as a case manager, we list types of torture quite specifically with their subtypes. We must keep them organized:

Asphyxiation: multiple types

Death Threats: multiple types (threat to self, threat to family, etc)

Electrocution

Rape

Psychological: multiple types

Burning

Forced Positions: standing, hanging in various stretched positions

Sensory Stress: forced staring at intense light, etc

Sensory Deprivation: Solitary confinement, lack of exposure to light, etc.

They do not specify a distinction between vaginal and anal rape here. They should. Every time I look down at this list before an interview it makes me angry. I start creating these sub-categories, rape-vaginal and rape-anal. These things are not the same for everyone. They do not mean the same things to everyone. To some, anal rape is more shameful, so shameful that a woman can barely look at herself in the mirror for a year afterwards. Did the database authors forget to write about that? Did they forget to scrawl out in big, red lipstick letters on a mirror, that many cultures lead women to believe they are disgusting and to blame for anal rape? Neither does the database make note of the feelings associated with the various torture methods. Asphyxiation. What are the feelings of asphyxiation? Panic, I would at least imagine. But I haven’t experienced it, and they have, and it’s not my place to ask them if those words are sufficient. You never probe a survivor about anything, especially their torture. If they want to tell you about it, they will. And it will burn you.

And this is for the best, because something like that should burn you. It should scorch your eyes. It should torch straight down to the sap of your bones and leave you shaking. It should give you nightmares about militiamen with guns when your imagination never conceived of such things before. It should make you have to turn off a Hollywood film with a cartoonish scene of an old man being tortured in a hanging cage. It should do this, but that doesn’t mean you are ok with it. You want it to go away. They want it to go away too, more than you do, and now you both want it to go away. Well isn’t that a sticky situation.

I often wondered how I could be of any help when this is the case. No one wants to see, not me, not them, not anyone else who works there. So we all scurry around and do our work, blind as bats, day by day. Maybe if we don’t open our eyes it won’t be there, we think, and it will leave us alone.

No. Those dark faces, dark nights, and the screaming, and the scar wrapped around her ankle, like a little kid’s hand-made bracelet: You don’t lose these things. That dark drips its way smoothly, slowly like clockwork. It’s a part of your bones before you know it, the spongy part like I said, the marrow, and then it never leaves. It is the mind’s aftermath, and the tattered eye inside, quickly scanning and frantically hunting for any signs of movement in the prison cell, the prison guard’s voice, the acrid smell of urine, feces, and human decay. There is a corpse next to me. I am there. But no, she was there. You were never there (I was never there). She hides in the corner away from the urine, legs collapsed, voice hoarse, bottom sore. She cried before, but had stopped crying now. They tell her they will teach her not to be “gay.” I thought about how I had never cared about gay rights before.

“Rachel.” Grace is starting to sit up now on the exam table, looking at me with a concerned expression. “I said your name once, you didn’t hear.”

“Oh. Sorry about that, Grace.” I am not sure what else to say. At least my hand is not shaking, but maybe that’s just because she is holding it.

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