A Story About the Body
after Robert Haas
Sailboats sleep in Salem harbor, the view from my office. That and shops with periwinkle siding. Did you know that the meaning of Salem is “peace”? It’s a Friday afternoon and I’m speaking with a shelter guest. She is special because her baby son was born while she lived in the shelter. The shelter’s a different building than my office. I can’t say where that is or share her name. I’m still new and don’t know how I feel about heading a domestic violence center. I got this job in part because I said aloud, “I am a child of abuse.” My family lived in the Johnston house for 13 years, and its phone dialed 9-1-1 three times. The one time I dialed, the skirmish was already over, three of us tumbling together to the landing of the stairs. Now the woman, who walked to my office wheeling her baby in a stroller, comes to the story she wants to tell me. This is not that story, but she says, “My child is a child of rape.” She doesn’t mean stranger-rape, she means her own husband.
When someone says a thing like this to you, the hot water drains from your skull. Have you ever noticed the level of water in a pitcher sinks as the ice inside it melts? This is like that, but faster. Below your head, the feelings have a brief storm, which feels like a bucket of ice water too, thrown at your digestive system. What’s left is the hormone that makes your limbs shake. You maintain eye contact. Maybe because you think yourself strong. Maybe because of the bruises after the stairway landing. Maybe you want to look down very badly. But notice this is all about what’s happening in you. Your flesh, your chest. Nobody’s thought to ask the woman about what happens to her body, in this moment and before. The baby wakes from its nap in the stroller and fusses. The fussing, for a minute, becomes a cry.
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Photo by Olivia Watson /Flickr