My brother frustrates me.
In response to my nagging, frantic, persistent questions, he responds with “fine, just fine.” I feel as though he’s holding back. I want him to tell me how he “really feels.” I want him to translate feelings into language. To become eloquent about “his situation.” I want to believe—as smiling TV talk show hosts have taught me— that anything and everything can and should be said.
But we are not seated on a couch in front of a studio audience. And the scene of trauma is more inchoate than my desires will admit.
Amidst the production of eloquently written narratives about the now, the incessant and necessary historical production of how we came to be here, I want to reserve a space for what eludes us. I want to set a place at the table for the specter who may never show up and who may never leave. I want the awkwardness of an empty seat at a dinner party, the full plate of uneaten food, dutifully served.
I wonder if my desire to feel uncomfortable is a form of diasporic guilt. My brother wants the world to be “fine,” believes if he says it is it will be, perhaps in a throwback to the witchdoctors said to be in our family line. I want to probe the scab, to memorize its edges, to take impressions, create a sculpture: Scab of Trauma.
I am trained, after all, to use language as a way to probe gaps and silences, listen for the unheard and the lost.
Dare I confess I have been unable to write?
Even as I press for narratives and read others’ narratives, even as I react with rage, amusement, and irritation at international stories that “get it wrong or right,” even as I want to mark my distance from the madness, my engagement with the madness, my participation in the madness, my desire for the madness, my madness in the madness. I have been unable to write.
Like my brother, I am unable to create a coherent narrative. Someone burnt the paper. Someone else stole the ink. And the desk has bloodstains on it.
I don’t remember the alphabet. I no longer remember language. I can only use sacred words in a profane way.
I have forgotten how to think. I doubt feelings exist in language. Everything is going to be all right.
Perhaps my brother has it right. Perhaps he has found the only way to continue. At least one way to survive.
Fine. Just fine.