‘Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all’
– Emily Dickinson
Are you tired?
It is tiring living in Kenya.
I don’t want to list the ways, because this piece is not about that.
This piece is me tracing pain.
I want to lick your wounds.
I want to taste your hurt (maybe it’ll help me forget my own).
I want to run my fingertips across your scars and ask you how you got them.
A new scar is forming on my knee. The dark scab has just fallen off to expose a splotch of tender new skin, which will ripen and join a tapestry of scars. You could map my childhood on those two pointy bits of body.
The time I jumped too far and smashed my knee against the edge of the chair that I’d tied the elastics to.
The time I tumbled down the ice after climbing to Point Lenana, narrowly missing a crevice and almost hurtling into the belly of Mt. Kenya.
The time I leaped out of the window of a car that looked like it was about to explode into flames.
When I was a little girl, I would give my scars names and create shapes out of the mosaic of shades, the way you do with clouds in the sky. Then I would invent stories. On my body, I wore whole worlds formed out of my pain.
I was the child that was always falling down. The child who perpetually had blood streaming down her legs. The child who was always being yelled at for being careless, for not navigating the world in a way that kept her body intact. So I convinced myself that I must avoid being in pain. Or showing pain. Because your pain is your fault.
But I am in pain.
Even though there’s so much joy and beauty in Kenya, there’s still a lot of pain.
For the most part, I ignore my pain, I show it only to those I love. If you ask me how I am, I’ll tell you I’m fine. And I am. And I’m also not. Mostly I’m reminded that I’m not fine when I sniff a bender on its way. I’ve learned for myself that there’s no way to avoid a bender. Even if I shoo it away, it will just come at me with a heightened intensity that leaves me clutching my ankles, cheek pasted against the cold floor, trying to breathe. There’s no pattern. I don’t know if there’s a trigger or even a reason. What I do know is during the bender, it feels like I’m finally exhaling all the breath I’ve held in my lungs for too long. And it feels exhilarating to unclench. To just be broken me. Nothing else.
So I plan for it. I clear my schedule, leave my car behind and look for somewhere safe, somewhere I can be whatever I need to be in that moment.
Two weeks ago, I could smell it coming.
I needed to let Kenya slide off my shoulders for a few hours. To exhale and fill my lungs with new air. So I went to a friend’s house. A place where my body, mind, and heart were protected. A place we could speak our truths, fears, vulnerabilities and they’d be kept safe in this home. A place I could just feel good. Just. Feel. Good.
I removed my shoes. The hours fell away. The light changed. Batteries died. There was music. Batteries recharged. We talked. I think we laughed. I can’t really remember. We ordered food and forgot to eat. I took off my jewelry. I drank more than my body remembered how to handle. Did we turn the lights on? More people came. And finally, I felt ready to say goodbye to the bender. I knew it was time to leave.
Carefully, I climbed down the stairs, but just as I got to the bottom, I missed the last step and fell down, scraping my knee. Immediately I shot up. As a child who was always falling down, I’ve learned how to pick myself up quickly, maybe even gracefully, before my underwear is exposed and everyone laughs.
As the blood trickled down my shin, the words ‘I’m ok’ automatically slipped off my tongue. Because even with my mind muffled, my body remembered that it’s not okay to be not okay. That to be not okay is to place a burden on the one witnessing your not okayness. And that is not okay.
The next morning I woke up with a dull ache on my knee where the angry, congealed blood had hardened and cracked. It was a reminder that you can’t really escape your pain. Even when you bind up its limbs and tape its mouth shut, it still finds its way back to your throat. I thought about covering up my knees, wearing something long so I could hide what had happened. It feels almost shameful for a grown woman to walk around revealing the scabs on her knees, exposing her lack of composure. But I realized I no longer care about protecting that farce. So I chose the shortest dress I could find. It was blue and lacy. And I walked out of the door wearing the scabs on my knees.
Let the world see my pain.
Photo Credit: Irfan Kassam