I wrote a thing; a Virginia Woolf inspired thing. It’s for uni, but I’m super happy with how it’s turned out and wanted to share it with some other lovely people. If it’s italicised, then it’s quoted from VW. And it’s semi-autobiographical, but not entirely.
Here’s my attempt at scribing life:
Several violent moments of being, always including a circle of the scene which they cut: and all surrounded by a vast space – that is a rough visual description of childhood – VW.
There is not much I remember, but I remember the violence. The violence itself, and the moments accompanied by violence, and other moments which only solidify in the presence of violence, as if that is the plaster withdrawing the splinter. I remember the sparks of pain, and the curled fists. I remember the blossoms of purple and grey bruises which adorned my arms and thighs, later to be joined by slivers of silver and red, like traces of a map leading nowhere. Surrounding the violence there is only vast space; a sort of visceral blackness, nihilistically disguising any and all other moments of being.
Between the space and the sensation of violence, there are of course images which threaten to throttle me. These images are not clear; more of a reflection, a mirror; as if another being occupied the space of my body and I was the observer looking down upon the scene, ashamed that I had too little courage to intervene at the opportune moment. That looking-glass shame has lasted all my life. It renders me a bystander, even when I am in the prime position to intervene. Much like children at the zoo, I can do nothing but helplessly watch on as events unfold around me, surrounded by a blanket of shame that smothers details into blurred irrelevance.
Apart from the bruises and the blood, I remember very little of my own life. There is mostly only an impenetrable void of subconscious, and the walls I’ve built to prevent memories escaping. This void mostly blurs from existence my childhood, my adolescence, and the beginnings of adulthood. Only particular pieces of the past remain, and for what reason my mind chose to retain them, I cannot say.
I’ve been encouraged to write what I remember, to bind it in a tome and send it out into the world into the open arms and eager eyes of others wanting to pity another human being. I understand the need to make oneself feel better by comparison with another lesser, weaker body; it’s at the core of humanity to seek refuge in another’s undeniable despair. Realistically, one can write anything at all and label it ‘memoir’. Because who would dare question that these events did not happen at all, or if they did, then to someone else? Does it matter if I write another’s story and claim it as my own? Are some of these not implanted memories, embedded into my own mind only after glancing at a photograph of the event? Perhaps these questions are ones of pure irrelevance. This I know: whether my life happened or not, I make it real by putting it into words.
I have never been able to label emotions, or thoughts either for that matter. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that all emotion was left scattered across the linoleum along with my childhood, and the shattering of feelings accompanied the shattering of my soul. I don’t know what happiness feels like. I don’t know what it is to experience. The closest I have ever gotten to such a thing is a sort of sad, lonely contentment. In this, I do not know how far I differ from other people; just that I do.
The night that my feet bled, my brother didn’t come home, and somebody was being attacked in the alley behind my house. I leaned out over the back fence, and cocked my head like the dog that I am (I hope you can appreciate my frail sense of self-deprecating humour in this wordplay – we’re in this together now, you and I). I leaned a little too far, and tumbled into the street – not, rather fortunately, the same street where the fighting was occurring. I don’t know who was winning. Punches were being thrown from all directions by the sound of things and there were several distinct flavours of groaning which leads me to believe it was a tie. Regardless, I did tumble into the street, and I started to run, because a caged animal will always run at the scent of freedom, and I kept on running until I reached the beach, and only then did I realise I was barefoot.
My feet bled into the sand, staining it red, and I watched it bloom, and after I walked home, I found the family sewing kit and a bucket and some ice, and suspended my foot in the cold until I couldn’t feel it anymore. Then, just as I had done on countless jeans and shirts, I carefully threaded a needle, and pretended the skin of my heel was just another item of clothing, except clothes don’t bleed as you patch them up. The line of black cotton turns into a crooked branch as it crosses towards my toes, because my hands shook as I stitched the edges close.
When I think of my brother, I trace that scar. Not because we found him, but because we didn’t. I said I don’t know feelings, but this was one even I could name: it was a feeling of hopeless sadness.
I next felt hopeless-sadness after one of these voids of indeterminable length. I know I was thirteen or so at the time of the first memory, but I cannot begin to guess the age I was when this second memory took place. Fifteen, sixteen, twenty-two? I certainly know which age I was not, but that’s all the indication I have of how this event is located in my life’s temporality.
If the first memory is defined by blood, then this second memory is defined by breath.
Not my breath, as you may have first suspected; but our breaths – the combined mechanics of our breathing. Hers were long and calming, mine were short and gasping; and as we pressed our lips together, I was struck by the music of life in all of its sensuous symphonies. Sound and sight seem to make equal parts of these first impressions: the colour of her minted shirt is as sharp to me as the luscious scrapings of tongues against teeth, and the cackle of cicadas outside the window serenading our virginity from our bodies. Our intertwined forms are foregrounded in this memory, and we roll over one another like playful children, but with deeply adult thoughts suspended between each other. Her face is blurred in this memory, but her taste, her sound; these retain the clarity of the curves a ripple takes across the glossy surface of a lake.
And suddenly, she becomes still. The motion of two lovers ceases, and the ebb and flow of movement is replaced by the haphazard lust of a lone individual – of me. She says, I might be dying, before rolling out from beneath me. She says, my heart wants to stay on earth here with you, but my head can only see the infinite blackness of the background, and refuses to see the stars that light the sky.
She rolls away from me completely then, and a sense of horror held me powerless as she stepped towards the window, threw the curtains back, and gracefully stepped from the house to the ground, where her crumpled body lay until morning, because she looked so beautiful lying there at the intersection of grass and brick path, and I couldn’t bear the burden of moving her.
The night my lover died, my breaths changed, and were never quite the same again. Before, they billowed out of my lungs through my oesophagus and reached freedom at the open orifice of my mouth, tickling the enamel of my teeth before rushing into the world. But now, my breaths remained stuck. They refused to exit my body and blossom out into the universe. They remained short, sharp, and shallow, the same kind of breaths that marked our night together, and they refused to dissipate, just like this memory, and my feelings towards her.
After that, the void recedes, and is slowly replaced by events in my life, but my individual memories remain blurred like smudges across a polaroid, with exceptional moments such as the pair I have written about here at length embedded in a kind of nondescript cotton wool. The moments gain vividness only as I scribe them into existence. I don’t know if these memories are true or false; if they happened, or are a fantasy I constructed for myself for comfort. But this I know, even if this is the only truth in my life, then this can be the truth I live by: I make it real by putting it into words.