F and I walked into Finsbury Park that day and saw most of the park cordoned off with police tape, but before we could say anything more than what the fuck, before I could feel anything more than the instinctive hostility to all the policemen wandering around the park, we noticed one of F’s (white, female) coworkers walking toward us. Saying, “Heeey.”
This coworker, J, also lived in Finsbury Park, two streets away from the council estate across the giant Catholic church where F. and I live, or lived, before we moved to southeast London, where we live now. We’d been living two streets away from her for an entire year, but this was the first time we’d ever run into each other. I never saw her on Stroud Green or Tollington Park or Seven Sisters, where I bought unripe papaya, plantain, kamote, fermented shrimp paste, bags of chickpea flour, and rice from the M.A.H. Brothers cash-and-carry. I never saw her in our local pub, though it’s more likely she frequents the pub we hate and never go to, the one with the stunningly beautiful three-story garden, where Daniel Radcliffe apparently once shot a music video, and where young white professionals who typically commute into the area—the same ones I only ever see shopping at the local Sainsburys or Tesco, frequenting the new French and Italian pastry shops, cafés and restaurants, drinking coffee at the places Time Out has suggested one can get a good New Zealand flat white—would stare at F and me like we were aliens. Which, I suppose, we were. Are.
In what used to be our local, the young Irish guy who worked behind the bar most days, upon finding out that F and I love both hip-hop and football, reacted with unholy glee and approval, and subsequently wouldn’t stop talking to us about either Manchester United games or DJ Yoda gigs in London. Sometimes we were too tired to have that conversation, though: young white boys who love hip-hop (with older white men, the relevant music genre is typically jazz or soul) can be exhausting, that obsession with acquiring and protecting a particular commoditized form of racialized/urbanized “authenticity.” So when we were too tired to engage, we’d end up not going to the pub at all. F and I have our own version of embarrassed politeness, which is distinct, I think, from the English strain of it, ours being motivated by a different kind of shame than the English kind, which to my observation is mostly about being ashamed—but not really ashamed, or held accountable in any real way to material inequality and exploitation—of being middle-class. I suppose that really, neither of these behaviors come from shame, but rather from something more like self-consciousness, sheepishness, reluctance, or avoidance.
Shame is something else. Shame is my mother losing all of her teeth as a teenager and having to wear dentures most of her adult life, because when she was growing up, her older sister (beloved, beautiful, charmingly irresponsible, sole recipient of their mother’s love and praise) had a prominent gold tooth, which my mother coveted and saw as the only way to entice her mother to love her in a more equitable fashion and to access some material form of wealth at her tender age. This was before she would move to the States at twenty, and work sixteen hours a day in order to send her eldest daughter to increasingly more expensive Catholic schools in a desperate attempt to engineer some kind of middle-class princess out of the poor, provincial scraps from which she knew herself to be made.
So my mother saved up what little pocket money she had. (This part of the story has always seemed rife with ugly secrets to me, for I don’t believe my mother was given pocket money as a child. From what pocket? She mainly worked on her tenant-farmer family’s fields in the Philippines until she was sixteen or so, so what would she have had to do in order to make this money?) She then went to a dentist in their town and had a gold tooth put in, for what, to her, must have been an extravagant sum of money. But the job was badly done, and all of my mother’s front teeth—all of her teeth except her back molars—rotted, then fell out.
As I child I watched my relatively young mother carefully pull out her dentures each night to brush and rinse them. I remember being fascinated, admiring of her dentures, in love with her altered face, suddenly vulnerable, undone, at once much younger and much older. In the bathroom I always lingered to watch her rituals, watch her hold the dentures up, brush each tooth individually. After brushing her back molars, she always rinsed and reapplied a new portion of toothpaste to her brush before cleaning the dentures, as if not wanting to contaminate the dentures with her own bacteria—as if the dentures themselves belonged to a another body, a separate regime of hygiene and immunity, at once intimate and alien. I always wanted to touch the dentures with tenderness—the lifelike pink plastic gums, the straight teeth—if only because really I wanted to touch her with tenderness. My mother never wanted me to touch them.
Later, I began to think of this as my introduction to the science-fiction genre, to the cyborgian. I already knew we were synthetic, because we were colonial subjects. Genocide and colonization always produce synthetic selfhoods; this is the material reality of what it is, for a culture to be erased, and then reprogrammed. But watching my mother with her dentures really brought it home. The natural, or organic, was an illusion, a privilege that people with money could protect themselves within, could keep only for themselves. There was much more truth—indeed, more reality—in what my mother had done, had had done to her, and what that meant for her body, her life. It’s in this sense that I often feel that the most realist mode for an immigrant is science-fiction. For this, I know now, is also science-fiction: the worlding of your body as hyper-meaningful to the point of allegory. The story of my mother’s teeth had a context, which is to say, a politics. How she felt about herself, how she lived inside her body, was also a history of the world.
Later, the dentist who took her money and her teeth and her legibility of her own beauty moved to California. In fact, cruelty of cruelties, he and his family moved to our town. They opened up a dental practice next to Gold Ribbon, the Filipino bakery where we bought pan de sal every week. In the car, my mother would stare up at the sign in front of their clinic. Sometimes ranting about how they were crooks, how she should file a lawsuit against them (she never did), how they destroyed her teeth, her life. Sometimes she would just look, saying nothing, there being nothing, really, to say.
We never went into the clinic. I don’t think we ever saw or met those people. But we knew that the place was a crime scene. Criminal, that the people who had disfigured my mother were able to live and prosper. That this family, already wealthy and well protected in the Philippines, could also be wealthy and well protected in our town in California, was an injustice on the scale of Greek tragedy. I think that after that, my mother must have realized that immigration wasn’t, exactly, the kind of rebirth, self-reinvention she must have imagined when she moved to Tennessee at twenty, in 1972. Iniquity was a persistent ghost; it haunted. It always knew how to follow you home.
Then, when I was in high school, my mother took a trip to the Philippines and came back with ceramic teeth, fixed into her gums. No more dentures, she said, showing me. I asked her how she did it. It was some mixture of concrete and ceramic. She told me to tap the teeth, to pull at them. They were fixed in her mouth. After that, she spent a long time smiling at her own face in the mirror; though it wasn’t quite a smile, but a performance of a smile, a function of a smile, the most efficient way to display what she had done, what she had had done, what she had managed to recuperate. Mouth full of concrete, ceramic. The expression, if not happy, then—satisfied. Relieved.
That is shame.
It’s not akin, at all, really, to the kind of alternation between reserve and permissiveness that F and I find ourselves engaged in when people are friendly to us while at the same time regarding us as foreign curiosities, specimens in the latest Great Exhibition. Neither of us is English or British, and so we have to find some way to tolerate it when people in our adopted country look upon us as novelties, want to tell us things, want us to enrich their lives, want to bond with us over American hip-hop or German engineering or the latest craze for Asian (what does this ever mean?) street food.
My mother’s particular kind of class-immigrant shame and permissiveness is the kind that ultimately isolates itself from other forms of shame and permissiveness, in that it’s the kind of shame that comes from having always already been isolated from other forms of humanity. The desire for any form of humanity is what motivates it—humanity in this case being an entirely class-determined, racialized, gendered category. It’s only people who have this kind of humanity who can talk about everyone being the same quod everyone being human: we all bleed red, our souls have no color or class or gender, etc.
But what any marginalized person knows is that there exist in this world humanities which know themselves to be more human than others and can protect themselves as such. Orwell knew about it—about all animals being equal, but some animals being equal than others. There were more equal humanities, which someone like my mother could destroy her whole body trying to acquire. And middle-class people (or anyone with cultural and intellectual capital, which is itself an elevated class, regardless of financial stability or material possessions, no matter how vigorously a supposedly starving radical leftist artist whose polite bourgeois parents have summer houses will try to tell you otherwise, as they have tried to tell me)—these people will laugh—and have laughed—at people like my mother. Great writers and artists will write great books, devote lovely paintings, to making fun of—making moral spectacles of—people like my mother, about why their petty desperations and dirty little incoherences make them touching, good material for a class-shaming fable, perhaps, but ultimately conniving, unpleasant to be around, tacky, grotesque. This compared to the full splendor of soulful nobility as displayed by the heroic (nearly always royal or royal-aspirational) protagonists we’re meant to love, identify with, want to become. We’re meant to love, and want to become, knights, not peasants.
And I too have loved, and wanted to become the knight, and not the peasant. But as I get older, I know more who I am and where I’m from, despite all my mother’s efforts (and successes) to erase those origins and the way they would forever inform our lives, our loves, how we thought of ourselves as humans, how others thought of us as less than human. I know now that I’m not, will never be, the knight or lady of the tale.
So in Finsbury Park, near the basketball courts, F’s coworker, J came to greet us. Being a saleswoman, she has a way of speaking almost entirely in bright corporate jargon, even when she’s talking about the weather. You always feel she’s trying to convince you to buy something, even if it’s the blue of the sky. The blue of the sky is hers to sell to you.
She said to us, “You missed the stabbing!” Cheerily, breezily, as if saying, “You missed a minor celebrity sighting.”
“What?!” F and I both said. J seemed very pleased to be able to relay this story to newcomers, to relieve us of the shackles of our innocence. “Yeah, I’ve just been—holding this guy’s guts in—?”
She was smiling as she said it, and I’m sure she thought this smile was meant to be ironic, a kind of facial commentary on the monstrous surreality of the situation she had found herself in, but the smile didn’t appear to be ironic at all, certainly not a commentary on the surreality of the event, the surreality of one’s encounter with bare violence. The smile was a smile. She looked—energized. Invigorated. The smile was a smile.
“Wait, wait, what happened?” either F or I said, or we both said at the same time.
By this time J’s boyfriend (white Italian) and friend (white woman, English) got up from the place where they’d been uneasily lounging on the grass, to stand behind J. We made polite greetings, shook hands. F and I had met the Italian boyfriend before. The last time we saw him, he seemed wearied by England, by its weathers and mores, by the vicious commercial optimism (an Anglo-American thing) of his girlfriend. He rode a Vespa, talked a lot about FC Milan. On this day he was dressed for the Alberto Moravio novel or Antonioni film he would have preferred to be in. Chic European skinny cool: skinny black jeans, skinny white button-up shirt, black Ray-Bans, cool cultured detachment from everything.
I remember the English girl was a typically lovely English rose of a beauty, had a very typically lovely English rose of a name, something like Mirabella or Arabella or Georgina. I always think of the Filipino counterpart to those English names—different from the traditional Spanish names—which always seem to me an approximation of those imagined and coveted white lovelinesses. All the Rechelles, Charmaines, Antoinettes, Jocelyns, Delias, Annabelles, Camilles in my family. Even Elaine is a very English name. A very English Filipino name—and most of the Elaine Castillos I’ve found on the internet are Filipinas. English first name, Spanish last name, brown body: synthetic.
J said that the guy had been on his bike, that either he had run into these young dudes, or they had run into him, and either the guy on the bike had pushed him, or they were trying to steal his bag and he fought back, and then the young dudes stabbed him.
And nobody did anything! J cried, comfortably outraged. The park was full of people, and nobody did anything!
She seemed exceedingly proud of this fact, proud that she and the boyfriend were the only ones who “acted,” who rushed in to help and held the guy’s guts with their bare hands, the first ones who called the police. She sounded so proud of it that I think she would have been disappointed if it had gone otherwise, if other people had helped, become active. She was very proud to have been the hero of the tale. I realize only now that some people enjoy bemoaning the ugliness and dullness of the world, because it permits them to feel like the only beautiful and sensitive thing in it; they enjoy bemoaning the cowardice and inaction of the world, because it permits them to feel like the only brave person who ever existed. This, as if bravery itself weren’t a privilege of those who take for granted that their increased visibility and ethical interventions in the world won’t end up backfiring on them, because of what they look like, where they come from, because of the extremely high-risk practice of believing in the world—as if there were only one, when it comes down to our experiences. As if the world you want to believe in always believes in you the same way.
J said was that the guy who had gotten stabbed was so terribly nice, overly nice about the whole thing. That he kept saying, “Oh, it’s because they don’t have male role models, they don’t have father figures.” To which J raised her eyebrow, shook her head. She told us she said to him, “No, mate, come on, don’t make excuses.”
“As I was holding his guts in!” she said again. This was like punctuation for her, this phrase.
I wanted desperately to ask more questions, more specific questions, which is to say, I wanted to ask: what was the race and class of everyone involved, both the person stabbed and the people who stabbed him. I wanted to know what everyone was wearing. I wanted to know what their voices sounded like when they spoke, when they yelled, when they were defending themselves or attacking someone else. I wanted to know in what neighborhoods they lived, what neighborhoods they grew up in. If the neighborhood they lived in was still the neighborhood they grew up in, or if they had been priced out of it by middle-class white settlers looking for a vibrant area, an up-and-coming neighborhood with a bit of edge—this “edge” being of course, racialized, but only insofar as the racialized other can serve as dark backdrop against which the privileged may amuse themselves, as a garish buffet open for mass consumption, to which the enthusiasm for all things Latin-American currently sweeping London and the rest of the UK can attest.
As an advertisement asked me recently, “Have you added a little Mexican to your life lately?” The “little Mexican” here serves as both the dash of “spice” that a controlled consumerist encounter with the ethnic other can add to one’s life and as an oblique reference to the stereotypically “little Mexican” body. Whenever I hear these advertisements, I can’t help but think of the way the genocidal U.S. colonial project in the Philippines relied on identifying and disciplining Filipino subjects as “little brown brothers,” “little brown monkeys.” We’re there to be added to a life, a meal; there to enliven and enrich its possibilities. What that does to our lives and possibilities is, it seems, beside the point.
There in the park, I wanted to ask, “What did all of their parents do? Where were all of their parents from? Where were their dead buried, scattered, lost? Were their dead buried, scattered, lost near them? How high was the probability that they would be buried, scattered or lost in the same place? Could they even name that place at all?”
But I was the only person of color in this group of polite white people, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to ask these questions. More than that: I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get an answer. They wouldn’t understand the questions—or rather, they would pretend not to understand the questions. They would be outraged by the very notion of being asked such questions. Maybe they would even say something like, “I didn’t notice.”
Now the English rose spoke up. “And the police!” she said.
She launched into a rant about the neglect and incompetence and brazen carelessness of the police officers who were then wandering around the park, waiting to take people’s statements. “They weren’t doing anything at all,” she fumed. They’d just cordoned off the area, but they weren’t doing anything of real use or value. And they were taking forever to take everyone’s statements, making people wait around for ages until they could be free to go! They claimed they were waiting for more reinforcements (difficult to ascertain whether or not this was her word or their word, reinforcements) to help with the statement-taking. “But,” she pointed out, “look!” They were mostly standing around or strolling around, looking preoccupied and intimidating—with what, exactly, remained a mystery.
The English rose went on to describe one policeman, who in her earshot had been complaining to a colleague that he would now lose a bet he had placed. Apparently he had an ongoing wager with another cop that there would be a stabbing in Harringey borough this weekend, not Islington. Now he was out twenty quid.
The English rose would have clutched her pearls, I think, if she had been wearing pearls; surely an ancestor of hers once wore, and clutched, pearls. “Scum!” she declared, as if she was the first person ever to realize this about the police force.
I didn’t know how to respond to this particular form of white bourgeois civil disappointment, this only partial dropping of the veil. I think this woman was disappointed because the police had been—crass? She was scandalized, because they so brazenly and vulgarly showed the ways in which they made games of the lives and deaths of the people they were meant to serve. At this time, it was just going around the national news circuits that the Metropolitan police had spied on the family of Stephen Lawrence in a search for any discrediting information that would help sabotage and delegitimize the legal proceedings surrounding the trial of Lawrence’s racist white mob of murderers. It was difficult to conceive of the luxury it must have required, in order to be so freshly disappointed by the police in this way, to be alive in 2013 and feel this kind of supremely limited, protected form of disapproval. It had no greater weight or anger to it than when polite adults are angry at young kids who listen to music too loudly on the tube; it was a civilized disapproval, a disapproval that believed in the inherent and universal humanity of social structures, took for granted that those structures were designed to protect, respect, and serve everyone, took for granted that “everyone” didn’t only mean people who looked like and lived like them.
I had to stop and wonder at this disapproval, like a curious foreigner might wonder at a particularly lovely bit of carving in a cathedral or civil building, quaint and old and alien and nothing to do with her, or only to do with her in the sense that its opulence was paid for by the exploitation of people like her or indeed her own people.
“It’s a shame,” the English rose said. “You know, it was a lovely day, I was just lying here thinking, It’s so nice here, why don’t I ever come down to Finsbury Park more often? And then—” She gestured with her hands, a kind of indicative shrug, which we were all meant to understand. It was meant to say, “I thought this area was a bit dodgy but on the up. I came here for the first time today, and at first was under the impression that it was nicer—more civilized—than I had believed and was prepared to change my mind. But now I know my initial misgivings were correct after all. I thought this place was nice, but now that I know someone got stabbed here, I just can’t think it’s nice anymore.”
I asked her where she lived, but now I can’t remember her answer. I think it was somewhere near Hampstead, or maybe it was Primrose Hill, something like that, one of those wealthy North London suburbs. The first time I ever went to places like those was because two of our Greek friends had a car and wanted to go out around there, have drinks, eat food. F and I never know what to do when fellow immigrant friends of ours want to go somewhere like that in North London. We always end up weakly agreeing to tourism in wealthy green zone areas that none of us could ever afford to live in, not that we would be welcome even if we could.
I do understand the reason, though, behind all this class tourism. Growing up, my mom, too, always wanted to go shopping at Stanford Shopping Center, at the luxury department stores like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus located in the wealthy white enclaves of Palo Alto and Los Altos, flush both with old money and new dotcom wealth. Never the sweatshop chain stores in the strip malls and shopping centers closer to where we lived in the south Bay Area, home to comparatively poorer southeast Asian and Latino communities. When I briefly lived in San Francisco, she loved to come visit me and take us to the Louis Vuitton store, the Chanel store. She rarely bought anything—she generally bought her Coco Mademoiselle perfume and bags at outlet malls, heavily discounted—but she always took pleasure in just being in the stores themselves. Looking at bags, playing the role of the client.
The only times she ever bought something were when white saleswomen would behave snobbily or suspiciously toward her. Then she had to buy tons of cosmetics and accessories she didn’t really want or need, just to prove that she could. That she had the money. The fact that she didn’t, always, have the money, or that in order to pay for whatever she bought she would have to work overtime, was beside the point. The point was pride, which was a degraded scrap form of humanity. Of being just as human as anyone else, when the barometer of humanity was almost always how much money you had and what you could afford to spend it on.
Once, we were in the Chanel store in San Francisco. The saleswoman during this visit was Filipina, as eventually, the saleswomen in most of these stores—in San Francisco, at least—became Filipina. Sometimes the colonial subject knows best how to sell the luxury arts of Europe, since they’ve often internalized the mythical allure of those arts more deeply than anyone. My mother was looking at a handbag. The saleswoman pointed to it, then said to me, “You like the handbags, darling?”
I said, “I’m not a Chanel person.”
The saleswoman laughed and said, “You say that now! Everyone’s a Chanel girl, you’ll see.”
I shook my head, annoyed. “Not me, never,” I said.
My mother was already pushing the handbag away from her, making a great show of shrugging and saying it was too small for her, or not quite up to her exacting standards. Saying, “Maybe next time.” She took a lot of pleasure in rejecting the trappings of the wealthy when she wanted to. This was also the pleasure of class transcendence, or its illusions: she liked, sometimes, to outsnob the snobs. To be too good for Chanel. That she was always too good for Chanel, even when she had nothing, didn’t really occur to her.
“Where do you live?” the English rose asked us, finally. F and I said we lived in Finsbury Park, but we were about to move to southeast London.
The English rose looked like she wanted to clutch her imaginary pearls again. “Eeeuuugh, south London,” she said, shaking her head. She leaned in to whisper, very loudly, visibly enjoying having to be the bearer of bad news, “North London’s much, much better.”
I said, “Oh, do you know south London, well?”
She laughed a little and said, “Oh, well, admittedly, I don’t know it that well.”
I could feel my mother in me, that hostile recuperative desire to out snob the snobs. I made a show of great derisive laughter and said, “It’s a peculiar thing, isn’t it? People from North London are always telling us how awful they think the south is, then you ask them what they know about it, and invariably the answer is almost nothing!”
Then I laughed again, even more derisively, if that was possible, very civilized and bitchy. I took a lot of pleasure in it, in how much pain it gave me.
The English rose bristled, hurried to say, “Oh, no, actually, now that I think of it, I have a lot of friends who live in Battersea [full of white, wealthy professionals], Balham [full of white, wealthy professionals], Clapham [full of white, wealthy professionals]. And actually now that I think of it, I even work in south London!”
J interjected, “Well yeah, but that’s more central London really, isn’t it? Where you work.”
“No, no, not at all,” the English rose protested, shaking her head firmly now. She never said where she worked, but if it was a place in south London that’s really more like central London, I assume it was around London Bridge or thereabouts.
The turn here was really extraordinary, I thought. At first she didn’t know south London at all, and then, in actual fact, she knew (wealthy, gentrified) south London very well, and even worked there? How did she forget that she worked in the very place that she claimed to both dislike and not know?
The English rose finished shaking her head, looking very troubled and defensive and firm. She wanted me to know that she knew south London. It was very important that I realize that her prejudices about south London came from an authentic, verified place of knowledge and experience. Once again I found myself marveling at the luxury of being able to partake in these kinds of cognitive dissidences, these knowledges and unknowledges. How south London could be exclusive to Battersea-Balham-Clapham for someone. What you could forget you knew. What you could remain ignorant of even while you lived and worked in the center of it.
But lately I find this is what nearly every conversation I have about south London with someone from north London consists of: you always get the feeling that they still want to scribble HIC SUNT LEONES and HIC SUNT DRACONES all over your neighborhood—all over you. They’re the mapmakers, the travelers, the humans. You’re the lion. You’re the dragon.
There are conventions around writing and writing pedagogy that have been in popular circulation for years, such that when you think about how to write or why you write, these conventions often flutter around the edge of your consciousness, even if you explicitly position yourself as a radical/subversive/outsider writer. “Write what you know.” Or “Show, don’t tell.” But when I think of the kind of writing practices and pedagogy I need and look for and want to circulate, I often think that I would have wanted to hear something different as a young reader whose white schoolteachers never believed that she read the books she read (such that I started inventing “appropriate” young adult books and writing fake book reports about them, which were unanimously believed, as opposed to my previous truthful book reports about Beckett or whatever). As a young writer whose white teachers always disdained and delegitimized the things she wrote (much too long, too detailed, not detailed enough, prove you know these words, did you really write this?).
Back then, I would have wanted to hear something more like “Write what you don’t know about what you know.” Write what you haven’t been allowed to know, or call knowledge, about what you supposedly know and feel and live. Show what you can’t bear to tell. Tell what you can’t bear to show. Show that which exceeds your ability to tell it. Tell that which exceeds your ability to show it. Sometimes I can write about a wound, but the idea of showing it to my mother—saying, “This is where it happened”—is completely unthinkable. Sometimes I can only show a scene in a written passage, which, if asked to describe in conversation, I would never find the words or ways to articulate.
The idea of integration in all things is of course romantic, but ultimately the ways we—I—survive are not primarily romantic. We compartmentalize because we know we’re not safe everywhere. Most places are only safe for certain parts of us—these are often the same places that’ll deny we ever had a reason to feel unsafe, erased, othered.
We’re so erased… I mean, you know this, it’s like, if you’re a person of color, if you’re a woman, if you’re from a poor family, if you’re from a rural family, if you’re from like a family who work like dogs and never got any respect or share of the profits, you know that 99% of your stories ain’t been told. In any fuckin’ medium. And yet we still have to be taught to look and to tell our stories. For many of us, that’s something that we have to, like, stumble our way through. You know, despite the utter absence of us, it’s still an internal revolution to say, Wait a minute. We are not only, like, worthy of great art, but the source of great art. For many of us, it takes a lot of work to get there.
When I think about writing, I think mostly about silences, erasures, pockets of inarticulacy. Most of us are not, in fact, storytellers—or at least, we’re not only storytellers. My parents were storytellers, I think. They were immigrants who used stories to make sense of their obliterated diasporic lives, and most of those stories were incomplete or revisionist or elaborated to the point of mythology. But if I’m ever to be a storyteller, it’ll have to be in relation to also being a silence-teller, a silence-reader.
“Write what you know”? But even knowing what you know—not repressing it or having it repressed for you by dominant culture’s macro- and microviolences—is a miracle, and a privilege. Most of my family history is entirely based on not knowing what they know, not being allowed to know or remember what they knew, what they still, in secret, know. So is most of history, full stop. Knowing what you know, knowing that there are knowledges which are not counted as knowledges—this is really the beginning of what we might call an ethics of decolonial writing.
What I’m interested in is: How do you write what you weren’t allowed to know about what you know? How do you write what nobody wants to know about what you know? And especially, how do you write what nobody wants you to know about what you know?
A policewoman approached J, the Italian boyfriend, and the English rose. She said she would be returning soon, to finally take their statements. They all seemed hugely relieved at the interruption, eager to give their statements at last. They were worried that now that so much time had passed—an hour, maybe two—maybe they wouldn’t remember what happened anymore, maybe they wouldn’t be able to discern between what they witnessed, and what they conjectured, what other people said, what they believed. They were worried, very, very worried, about the authenticity of their statements. The accuracy of their memories. And what all this had to do with the truth. With the task of bearing witness.
“Now I’m not sure I know what exactly happened,” J confided to me, still smiling. It was the first thing any of them had said yet that I didn’t immediately doubt.
Rumpus original art by Liam Golden.