"Like the study of science and art, accounts of historical events can be intrinsically fascinating. But they have a wider significance. I believe that people are better able to chart their life course and make life decisions when they know how others have dealt with pressures and dilemmas---historically, contemporaneously, and in works of art. And only equipped with such understanding can we participate knowledgeably in contemporary discussions (and decisions) about the culpability of various individuals and countries in the Second World War. Only with such understanding can we ponder the responsibilty of human beings everywhere to counter current efforts at genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia to bring the perpetrators to justice."
"...we humans are the kinds of animals who learn chiefly by observing others---what they value, what they spurn, how they conduct themselves from day to day, and especially, what they do when they believe that no one is looking."
----Howard Gardner, from The Disciplined Mind, published in 1999

Monday, October 1, 2007

Why Janey Can't Speak; or, This Is the Picture

Why Janey Can't Speak is, as I'm certain you recognize, a riff on that worn catch-phrase Why Johnny Can't Read: a catch-phrase that has come to be just that, a catch-all-function phrase, one that is as is rhetorical; one that assumes the listener or the reader receives it in the negative. It signals: something is not right here.(Why doesn't she just leave?)
This is the picture.
Any similarity to persons living or dead is entirely intentional.

Hospital photo circa 1992

Janey can't speak because she is coming out of shock, quite literally. She had awoken on the floor in the same place she finally came to rest the night before. So far this morning, she has convinced the person who did this to drive her to the babysitter and drop off the toddler the baby hit her with a hammer, he said as the babysitter peered at her through the windshield of the car and drive her to work. She went into shock before she could assume her place on the line. She got to ride in an ambulance. They cut her clothes from her to assess the extent of her injuries on the way. She's embarrassed by this. They know her husband did this to her. Perhaps that is why they don't also assess her for rape. It's just as well. She would have been even more deeply embarrassed by that.


She's met by a trooper upon her arrival to the ER. He stands over her; he wears his uniform. She's laid out on her gurney, dressed in a paper outfit. He's talking to her about pressing charges.


She's cold. She feels like death, literally; it's hard to concentrate on what he's saying. She's embarrassed to have a man there, a stranger: usually, she is not allowed to speak to anyone. To enforce this, there is no telephone at home; she is watched at work, and at home---even in private moments in the bathroom, to shower, to toilet---and sometimes she is bound. Talking to people has become painful and uncomfortable to her. Remember operant conditioning? She and those rats would have a lot to talk about.

Deep inside her head, at the tail of at what seems a long winding thought, in the deepest part of the nautilus shell that is her skull is it cracked? two young girls snapping gum and bantering back and forth about, of all things, boyfriends---this x-ray tandem-team will direct her to contort in fixed positions, face pressed against the glass, to determine this (it's not) she can hear and see and feel the minutes ticking by, becoming lost: she remembers before being loaded on the gurney that the plant management said they would stall him so that she could somehow get her son and get away. She knows that even if she understood, and had the energy, the force of will to engage with what the trooper was asking---she knew that it would cost time that she could not afford.

Time doesn't pay sometimes.

When you are in these kinds of situations, you are always choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. Your thinking becomes thinking that no one else can quite understand; it becomes response-cost thinking, save for the part about the cost being logically related to the response. You learn sometimes to agree that the sky isn't blue, because, well...it may result in less of a negative situation than insisting that it is.
We'll call that the devil in our two-option menu, as blue is reserved for that deep-blue sea.

So sometimes you decide what you can afford to lose; sometimes, more importantly, you decide what you cannot.

And that, dear reader, is why Janey can't speak.


Janey, of course, is me.


And as I dislike having the above image lingering in my mind, and the entire purpose of this month is to speak about hope and survival, I leave you with a different image:

Neroli, as drawn by Naples Yellow, 2007


And yes, dear reader, it is possible to be that happy.

We who survive are proof positive; you, dear reader, are our witness.

9 comments:

captain corky said...

What an ordeal! Your very courage's for writing about that Neroli. Thank you for opening up and sharing that kind of pain with me.

Diane O'Connor said...

Wow, thank you for helping me to understand why women can't "just leave." I never really got it before.

I have lots of neckties said...

I am so glad for you, my friend, that you and your child are out of that painful, destructive situation. The pleasant young woman with the ready smile that I know today bears little resemblance to the tortured soul in that photograph. This is certainly a testament to your inner strength.

For you I offer this prayer of thanks from the Jewish tradition. It is said by Jews to thank the creator at times when they (or those they love) have made it through difficult experiences. I can't put Hebrew characters into this post, so here is a transliteration:

Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melach ha'olam shehecheyanu v'kiy'manu v'higyanu lazman hazeh.

Roughly translated: Blessed is the lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has supported us, protected us, and allowed us to reach this moment.

I'm very blessed to know you and call you my friend.

min said...

I give you a secret smile of understanding. Flowers that have been trampled sometimes bloom again.

neroli said...

Dear Captain, thank you for your kindness. I'm glad you're here. I'm not so brave. I'm just accepting what and who I am.

Dear Diane, I never understood it either. Every big thing starts out very small: we just don't notice it happen until it's too darn big! Thank you for your kindness.

Dear Neckties, thank you for your generousity. This prayer that you have offered is perfect, and really puts words to what I so often feel and know. I'm so blessed and thankful for that, and for your friendship.

Dear Min, thank you for your kindess: your smiles go a long way! You're right: down doesn't mean out. So things were different than what they were "meant" to be---I like to think it only means that the Good Stuff is just getting started---that moment that Neckties wrote of...!

The Artist formerly Known as Purpleworms (!) said...

Neroli - I have no words for your courage, but I need to embrace you for your bravery. I am glad you are coming to terms with this very difficult issue that plagues so many women. I am sorry there are those who do not understand how it can so slowly and inexorably become that way and want to remind you (as you must know) that we are not to blame for the violence done to us and the control stolen from us so surreptitiously and slowly. We however deserve the credit for finding the strength to protect ourselves and our children since the will has been stripped and weakened by the controlling person that endangers.

neroli said...

Artist, thank you for your compassion and your insight. It has shored me up over the years, and continues to do so, my friend.
I'm a lucky girl, for certain, to have met you.

You're absolutely right: as difficult as it is to describe what it's like to live it, it's even more difficult to describe how it came to be that way. It's a hard thing to do, to understand this; to accept it for what it is and go from there.
It's a challenge I need to address here.

Pelicano said...

Yeah...you get used to just agreeing with the abusing/domineering presence, just to get through. Disagreements are not allowed.

What's really tough is believing other, more-positive realities/versions/perceptions of yourself. When your reality becomes so linked to an abusive person, it's so hard to believe that you are more than this. I can't tell you how important certain friends have been at different points in my life.

neroli said...

Ah, Pel---absolutely!
I'm certain you understand me when I say that for a Very Long While my face in the mirror always looked battered to me.
And that for even a More Long While, I very much lived that old Groucho cliche---I didn't want part of any club that had me as a member.
(Well-schooled by my own personal sensei, X, it was difficult to disengage from the instruction.)
You are absolutely right when you point out that the isolation strengthens this---and that we need to see an outside reflection of ourselves from others to be able to disengage...
Hard to live. Harder to describe.

I'm glad for your reflection, for how you see things: you bring so much light and warmth!
Thank you.