CW: discussions of parental abuse, mentions of injury
i. dear father I am constantly nit-picking. Every little fault in the stitching I pick with my nails till it falls apart, the fabric. It has become a habit I’ve performed since understanding the surface is not what is beneath. Eyelids fall shut upon what they can’t see. I find myself disappointed in those eyes which have turned away, blind, purposeful, or just ignorant. A picture of a bad daughter is a portraiture of me. Isn’t that right, Father? But don’t you think the same can be said about you, a terrible father? Discrepancies between your words and strangers’, and the lines of sight they spared on our fabrics of figure—somehow these lines pile, streaking vision; a miscalculated patchwork. Doesn’t matter if it is as explicit as shaming your children in a public area, in front of their friends and their friends’ parents, doesn’t matter if we try to suppress our cries under our hands or if you might have noticed tears--you won’t look. My therapist tells me that I can’t expect people to peel away layers I have sewn with practiced expertise. You’ve been doing this your whole life, haven’t you? she asks, to prove her point. But you know, I say bitterly, if more people had noticed years ago, we wouldn’t have suffocated in this forced silence. As if it is some violent cycle of nature that must happen; a spider catching a butterfly in its silk strings—our friends, our family continue pruning their bushes pretending they didn’t see. You pretend nothing ever happened. Ignoring abuse is abuse. Like leaving a garment that has torn, expecting it to fix itself. If left to its own devices, it would only rend apart, become irreparable. In my poems you are transmuted into water—the ocean that erodes an amateurish drawing etched into the sand, a glass of water I ordered at a diner when I was bullied by the price list, rain that presses our roof to collapse; triggers of trauma I find in the world within five centimetres of space, or occasionally, less, from my skin. My life has been organised into a stitchwork. You might have noticed in the beginning. What are children but the work which their parents basted with needle, thread? I remember my art teacher saying that your work reflects your mind. Disquieted is yours, and it shows in how I have grown. I can’t write an exhaustive list of all the things you have done to us in the past. Those memories are blurred and dotted in pinpricks of light; there wasn’t one that could sharpen into relief, in which I could find closure to the question why? Rather, these are closeted effects of what has occurred, the damage that has been done. Often, one can’t see it, just as you can’t see what is inside a groomed house until you come in. One of the deepest things impacted is intimacy, comfort; a layered lace thing. The slightest press of a clear nail can fray the fabric of it all, and the loneliness afterwards is like being naked.
ii. dear me Sometimes, the world feels murky down here, where we are. We can’t even see our reflection without wincing. We grow accustomed to the bags beneath our eyes. When we wash our hands, we can’t discern where they are, brown colour blurred by light-refracted blue. Shadow and light grow attached to water. This shadow represents the madness in our head, from pinprick dormancy to occasional anxiety attacks that bite our bones and wind a dark song in our head. Our tears disguise themselves as an afternoon shower. But there are minutes and places where thousands of smaller moments spent together with mum and our younger siblings have accumulated. I know we can’t swim, but try swimming to that place and time. Light has breached the night surface, rippling above our frozen eyes, and we are awash in warmth we have never really felt until we had frozen over.
iii. dear mum Our intimacy has been unravelled to a single thread, a dripping line of water tracing down bathroom tiles towards a drain—gone. We hold tight on handheld bidet, listening to the rhythm of us pissing, to the lull of leaking pipes, to the bedroom door that could any minute open and crack wide the dark sea-glass of emotions you've bottled inside. A jarring slam would encase the upstairs space, I imagine. We would clench the trigger of the bidet tighter; another line of water gurgles at its mouth, which we're forcing to ooze sound out of, but to silence as much as we can because we can't stand the noise of domesticity. I still love you. That, I don't know if you know. But I keep finding fraying stitches to unpick. An inner madness has started to swirl, swishing against internal contents of self-pitying glands, intestinal resentment towards not-that-dead ghosts, a bottomless stomach of guilt. This loss of intimacy, of love, removes my sense of space, consequently, of self. Gravity no longer becomes a certainty that roots my feet. Cardinal needles lie snapped at every direction pointing at nowhere. This fragility that walks like thin-glass feet ambles across a tightrope taut with words. If I say sorry, if I say anything with a tone blowing in the wrong direction, this balance tips under its breath, falls, crashes. You call me to the bedroom, sit me down across you, and begin to talk. I’m disappointed, you say, in plural you—in the man you’re in love with, in my brother and sister, in me. What if this second marriage turns into a wreck as the last one did? You ask no one in particular. What if he disappoints me? In this double circulation, scarlet figure eights, of fear of disappointment pumping throughout the body, keep at it. I fear marriage for the same reason you do. Expectations are a fuel for hate. I call him, in hopes of clearing this out. Part of the problem is miscommunication. In text, emotions become disfigured to fit the shape of letters and numbers. On the screen, it befits the flat medium we receive this message on. Through spoken language, all of that, first, smoothens the raw edges you assumed of the text; second, sharpens as unsaid words tumble out with the honest tone of a voice. Hope is not a fickle thing, not a self-devouring candle, no matter what anyone says. It stays in the dark, a burning lamp that burns for no one until it is sought, until it is needed. You and I found a connection. A tether is still extended, a bright thread, lying motionless on the ground between us. We're just waiting for the other to tug at one end. Today, you were too broken to be the one to tug. I don't unpick it. I was at the fray of being unravelled, too. We cried, together, six inches apart between hills and slopes of blankets. A fever beats behind your forehead, behind your red ears, at the base of your neck. My grey sleeve damp with unbidden tears and snot. I hate crying in front of you. I hate making you worry. I hate disappointing you. We stay that way. Every time I emerge from the room to fetch you a glass of water or refill the tissue box, I shift into a person of bright smiles, fooling my brother but not my sister, and we pretend all is okay. When I climb back into bed with you, listening to the voice you have stifled for far too long to appease others’ expectations, we recount the years, rehash memories, repair the damage we have made out of a mess of stitches. You say you can never leave me—it's a wonder, you say—maybe—maybe—maybe...it's because what you’ve done in the past to me. By the time you had my brother and sister you had regained composure. Mama, remember—I say, fumbling to undo a knot in my throat—please, remember, that I have always forgiven you, over and over again. You will never be alone. Remember. I say this in my language, my mother tongue, mine. I feel diasporic despite being in my home country. Slowly, in this bustling city of mirrors and of shifting cultures, the youth is steeped in the white broth of Western. With Javanese, my mother’s mother tongue, I am passive at best, guessing each meaning at worst. My tongue folds awkwardly around my Indonesian words; I end up feeling it—its curves and punctum—and realise we have pretty words. English is a switchblade I keep flicking open and cutting myself on. Blood drips and seeps into the floor. I want to erase this knowledge from my mind, wipe it at the corners till I arrive at a clean slate. I want to start over and raise my love for those three languages in parallel. I want to start loving you properly. In love, ironically, I compare it to something watery—as my sexuality is fluid, as light escapes a clenched fist, as falling in love doesn’t feel like falling, rather like ankles slowly steeped in a flood from outside into home via osmosis—to light. In my notebook, I wrote: “This spent light that does not tire… / Listen– / Stop, aren’t you tired? / Branching, cutting up heart in measured manner, light trickles fast. / It flows and floods; what is this feeling? of / I am underwater in light. / A drop, it scatters.” In the metaphors I have assigned to my father, I scooped up a dripping cupful of perhaps identity, perhaps salvation and healing—of perhaps; kaleidoscopic and tinged with blue. You have never stopped loving me, even with all these scars bandaged under our shirts and skin. All this time, eyelids have fallen shut upon what they can't see.
Fairuza Hanun [she/her] is an asexual Indonesian creative writing student, writer, editor, and translator. Her works can be seen or are forthcoming in Surj Magazine, AZE Journal, and, abundantly, on Instagram @writtenbyfai. She co-founded IWEC Academy for the Literary Arts. She loves J-tracks, contemporary & speculative literature, & animated psychological shows. Her art appreciation is on Twitter @fairuzahhan.