Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Intimate Violence: Words in My Toe

I promised myself I would blog daily this month. So here I am at 36 minutes to midnight finally starting this post. It was partly because the children wanted two different things for dinner and I wanted a third, and it was partly because we moved to a new apartment a month ago and I still have not hung pictures (so I hung a few today). But it was partly because I am struggling to voice my thoughts this month as I consider intimate violence and the way it has touched my life and those I love.

It takes a long time to tell this story. There are so many things to consider. To whom does one tell such a story? Who has ears to hear? Who will be worthy of this story (or these stories, for there are many). Sometimes I have lost those who have known my stories, and then I have to consider to whom I will re-tell these stories, because I cannot bear to move in this world without people who know and love my stories. 

Words do not always obey, either, they are tricky. Sometimes the stories vomit themselves out onto paper or into a room with company. Other times, when it matters deeply, the words stay stubbornly hidden, deep in one's flesh. Sometimes, when I am deeply distressed, I have terrible pain in my left big toe. I think that's where one of my stories resides, furthest from my mind which might be able to untangle its terrible knot. It is difficult to ignore pain in my toe. So perhaps it has simply gone where it knows it will catch my attention. Words, stories, trickster memories, called up in a moment by the smell of a classmate, or the casual words of a doctor, "Lie back now, this won't hurt."

Words fail me at times. And when they do, it reminds me of my sister, Ekwefi, written so eloquently by Chinua Achebe... (1)
     ...the storm burst. Okonkwo, who had been walking about aimlessly in his compound in suppressed anger, suddenly found an outlet.
     "Who killed this banana tree?" he asked.
     A hush fell on the compound immediately.
     "Who killed this tree? Or are you all deaf and dumb?"
     As a matter of fact the tree was very much alive. Okonkwo's second wife had merely cut a few leaves off it to wrap some food, and she said so. Without further argument Okonkwo gave her a sound beating and left her and her only daughter weeping. Neither of the other wives dared to interfere beyond an occasional and tentative, "It is enough, Okonkwo," pleaded from a reasonable distance.
     His anger thus satisfied, Okonkwo decided to go out hunting. He had an old rusty gun made by a clever blacksmith who had come to live in Umuofia long ago. But although Okonkwo was a great man whose prowess was universally acknowledged, he was not a hunter. In fact he had not killed a rat with his gun. And so when he called Ikemefuna to fetch his gun, the wife who had just been beaten murmured something about guns that never shot. Unfortunately for her, Okonkwo heard it and ran madly into his room for the loaded gun, ran out again and aimed at her as she clambered over the dwarf wall of the barn. He pressed the trigger and there was a loud report accompanied by the wail of his wives and children. He threw down the gun and jumped into the barn, and there lay the woman, very much shaken and frightened but quite unhurt. He heaved a heavy sigh and went away with the gun... 
<At a festival a time later> 
     "I did not know it was you," Ekwefi said to the woman who had stood shoulder to shoulder with her since the beginning of the matches.
     "I do not blame you," said the woman. "I have never seen such a large crowd of people. Is it true that Okonkwo nearly killed you with his gun?"
     "It is true indeed, my dear friend. I cannot yet find a mouth with which to tell the story."
I cannot yet find a mouth with which to tell the story. My sister, Ekwefi! Time and again I find myself without a mouth, without words, and so without story. And the whole of it, the context, the man, the sisters who stood by as witness/complicit, the reasons it all came about, and the reasons I couldn't leave it/him/her, the children who bound me (including that girlchild I was), and the knowledge that there was no place to go, all of that pooled together, wordless, without a mouth, knotted tightly into my left big toe, which hurt when I walked, when I sat, when I slept. Across an ocean, through time, transcending culture, Ekwefi's words came through the imagination and pen of a man. And her words loosened the knot until my own words came:

Once when I was small,
I stumbled home 
broken and bruised and weeping.
It was not the first time nor the last.

At a moment, 
perfectly balanced 
between him and home,
I stopped and began to laugh.
At that moment, perfectly balanced,
I perceived with my six-year-old mind that I could think.

A space big enough for me, 
but too small for him,
opened in my body and I crawled in.
I stayed there for twenty years
until I was sure he was gone.
Sometime later,
when it had been silent for many years,
I stood in the doorway.
Two men told me they
had read of such things that happen to women
they said they were sorry.

Sometime after that,
another well-read man sat at my table and
I spoke my pain.
He gripped my hand and whispered, “I’m sorry”
he touched my face.
Healing comes in unexpected ways.

Learn to read. (2)

(1) Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (New York: Anchor Books, 1994), 38-39, 48.
(2) Kathryn Mulligan, "Reverie" (2008)


  1. "I cannot bear to move in this world without people who know [and maybe even will learn to love] my stories..." but where are those people? because I cannot bear much more alone, any more loneliness.

  2. We're around, love, hold on a bit. Let us see how we might come together.

  3. Sometimes I wonder at my own stories. Thanks Katie.

  4. Beautiful. (and sad.)

    and your toe? fascinating, and lyrical.

    I am babbling b/c it is late on a very long day. But this was a beautiful post.



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