Bruises: A Litany

by Guest Contributor Fiqah, originally published at Possum Stew

*Trigger Warning*

I don’t know how to tell you this. There’s so much I can’t say.

I didn’t want to write this ever. I wanted to forget today even happened at all. I wanted to continue on with my shit today and ignore the incident guiding my fingertips in a furious, staccato blur across my keyboard right now. I wanted, for just one day (please God please God please please ANY listening God) to Live My Life. Without bullshitting myself with this little daily meditation for guarding the hope that lives in my heart.

But some days, dear reader, I’m weak. And I. Just. Can’t. I’m not Atlas. I’m just Fiqah. My shoulders are really about to give out.

I don’t know how to tell you this. There’s so much I can’t say.

Maybe I should just tell you what happened.

This afternoon, I decided to do a few loads of laundry. After throwing a few lighter necessities into my laundry bag, I headed to my elevator bank, stopping for a moment to be grateful that I live in a building with three elevators. (This is something anybody who has ever lived in a New York City walk-up does after they move into a building with an elevator, by the way, especially when doing errands.) I pressed the call button and waited for the middle elevator to descend from the floors above. When the doors opened, I was pleasantly startled to see one of my neighbors standing there.

“Oh! Hello, how are you?” I chirped, a smile of greeting on my face.

My neighbor, a stunning older Latina woman with pale golden skin, high cheekbones and a riot of sandy curls, nodded curtly to me. I was taken aback: typically, my neighbor greets me with her own dazzling smile in return, warmly, with sustained eye contact. She’s usually TOO nice with her hello, in the overly-solicitous manner that lighter-skinned women of color greet darker-skinned ones, in that way that says, “Please don’t hate me on sight. I’m not a stuck-up bitch. I’m not looking down on you. I’m your sister, too.” (I think this is part of why I like her; having been on the giving and receiving end of this dynamic at different points in my life, I understand. It’s hard to explain to anyone who isn’t a Black woman.) Slightly put-out, I settled slightly behind her into the opposite corner of the elevator, wondering what had crawled up HER butt and died.

That’s when I saw it.

A puffy lump of crescent-shaped malevolence, a horrible visual cacophony of purples, reds and smudgy black. It peeked out from under the Chanel aviators she wore, razzing any onlookers, marring her beauty. My eyes widened as I looked at the rest of her face: her bottom lip, slightly split, appeared mostly-healed. It tightened as she drew herself up to her full height, stiffened her spine, and patently ignored me, exhaling loudly, as if I had asked the question that resounded so loudly in that tiny space. “What the FUCK are YOU lookin’ at, bitch?!” her posture screamed.

My eyes, dazed, floated to her shoulders, rounding in towards her chest, protecting her heart. “I know what you see,” they whispered. I looked away, focused on the door until we reached the lobby. She got out first, high heels clipping a sassy echo in the hallway that defied judgments levied against the walker. I remained, dazed and frozen: I had forgotten why I had come downstairs. The door closed, while I stood there, trying to remember where I was going. On my back, my bag slipped a little, nudging me back to reality. I pressed the “Door Open” button and stepped out, heading towards the cool quiet of the empty laundry room.

As I loaded my clothes into the super washer, my thoughts swirled madly in my head. Unbidden memories of things long (and best) forgotten sprang forth as I watched my clothes whip themselves into sudsy purity. I had felt this way before. I knew this feeling well. Bearing mute witness to horror, and feeling powerless to stop it.

I don’t know how to tell you this. There’s so much I can’t say
.

It was spring of 1986, a weekend afternoon.

I was eight years old, and my little brother was six.

My mother was working, rounding out her usual 60 hour week at IBM, while one of her friends baby-sat for us. This particular friend was the owner of a lovely three-bedroom home in a quiet suburban enclave that seemed superior to our neighborhood in every way. The lawns were green and meticulously-kept, and every house in the cul-de-sac boasted pristine, glistening backyard pools. Being a fledgling swimmer, I was especially in love with the pool, which was enclosed by a screened deck, and overlooked a canal that often hosted blue herons as well as the rare sunning alligator. Better than all that, a friend of mine from class lived two houses down, so I had someone to play with when we visited. (This particular playmate was White, and apparently her parents had discouraged her from having me over…but wouldn’t tell her why. In a move of teenage rebellion and sibling solidarity, her older sister made it a point to hang out with us, make Jiffy Pop, watch movies, and invite me to their pool.) It was a Good, Safe Place. Even now, I smile wryly at this notion. No place was ever truly Good. No space was ever really Safe. But I needed to believe this. I needed to believe something. My innocence, murdered but not completely dead, in its death throes, wanted so badly to live.

I don’t know how to tell you this. There’s so much I can’t say.

On this otherwise unremarkable day, my little brother and I had just enjoyed a swim in the pool, and were now scouting the neighborhood for other kids. Our curiosity brought us to a loud fight on the other side of the neatly-trimmed bushes separating my mother’s friend’s house from her next door neighbor’s. A man’s voice, deep, loud and menacing, reached us.

“LEAVE the FUCKING dirt ALONE, Alice!” he said, his voice loud, but his emphasis and tone measured. Shocked, we both stopped mid-creep. My little brother’s eyes were saucers of anxious curiosity as he rounded the bushes.

“LEAVE IT ALONE!” the man roared, as something metal hit the cemented driveway. I heard the sickening sound of flesh connecting with flesh as my brother ducked back around the bushes.

“What happened?’ I asked him, quietly. I knew.

“She put the shovel down, and he picked it up and threw it, ” he said. “Then he hit her.” He paused, his face baffled. “She did what he told her. Why he hit her?”

I recognized the voice: this was the same man who, weeks before, had attempted to coax me and my friend from class away from our hopscotch game and into his home with promises of chocolate ice cream, chocolate cake and cable TV. All this while his eyes hungrily devoured our eight-year-old frames. (I will say here that the unsafest thing in this world to be is a Pretty Little Black Girl, something that – unfortunately – by the time I was eight, I knew.) I remember coldly informing this man that my friend already had cable and probably ice cream, so NO THANK YOU, as I pulled her away into the safety of her home.

I didn’t say that to my brother. I didn’t tell anybody. But I knew why he had hit her.

“Because he’s an asshole,” I said. My brother giggled nervously at my fearless cussing, but also because what he saw in this Perfect Place had terrified us both.

My neighbor’s partner is a tall, broad, gorgeous dark-skinned Black man. They have been together for a while. If he is indeed responsible, I doubt this is the first time. I know that I will not report this to the police. I know that so many elements of this situation fit neatly into a racist narrative. I know that I alone cannot save my neighbor. I know that my neighbor would fiercely reject any attempts I made to discuss this directly. I know that more than a little vitriol would be thrown my way (i.e., “Do you even HAVE a man? Then don’t tell me how to deal with mine!”). I meant it when I said that I didn’t want to write about this. There has been so much buzz about this lately because of recent pop star events (I’m not recounting them here). I really don’t want to add to the huge body of online work that is discussing this right now. Everything I have to say, anything I have to say, has been said. And better. Scroll down a little and take a look at my Elizabeth Mendez Berry links. SHE did this brilliantly. I cannot. Frankly, it’s too close. And while there are ways and methods to help survivors of straight-on domestic abuse, there are fewer options for those of us who have been merely “grazed” – no matter how ruthlessly or repeatedly – by the violent arm of the patriarchy. In so many ways, we are on our own.

I don’t know how to tell you this. There’s so much I can’t say.

My clothes are clean, and now, so is my conscience. I have compiled a list in a document of hotlines, orgs and associations for victims of domestic violence. I’m going to print them and post them in the lobby and on the bulletin board. I may even make copies of “Love Hurts” and leave a stack downstairs by the mailboxes. I’m not sure how effective any of this will be. I’m not even sure the building management will let me do any of it. But I have to try. Because Doing Nothing in the face of this kind of evil amounts to collusion. I remember reading an article for a class on religion about the nature of evil. The summation: “It exists to make us despair and turn away from God.” That is evil. That is it’s purpose. Whether it is a fist, or a gun, or a war, or a a rape, or a murder. Evil exists to make us despair. So in order to combat it and keep evil from winning, one must battle despair. With a smile. With a joke. With a kind word or gesture. With wit, hope, determination and resilience. With a preachy blog.

Keep fighting.