Last summer of the Year of the Revolution
The First Unit split into three: the sapphire hearts, the ruby stars, the emerald diamonds; the Second Unit argued about whether sapphires and rubies would join
The Third Unit didn’t care
I was part of the Third Unit,
Yet at the time, I knew nothing
Politics meant nothing to me, and talking heads sounded like voodoo magic gone wrong
It’s not that I didn’t care—I just didn’t know, I just wasn’t aware of my surroundings
All I cared about was my surgery, a little preoccupied, I guess you could say
That summer everything would change
I was born different, and, finally, I would fit in with other kids my age
I couldn’t go away from class because, well, my parents didn’t think that I would fit in
I’d be made fun of, pushed, teased, tricked out of a normal adolescent’s experience
If the surgery went well, they said, I could go with the other students to class
Homeschool would no longer be an option
Okay, I said to them. I can do this, I said.
The surgery experimental and expensive—I was a lucky one, my parents told me
The requirements included connections and being over the age of fifteen—I was that plus an additional four months due to paperwork and payments and under-the-table negotiations
I wasn’t really aware about that either until later
Never before had I been allowed to play with kids my age
Nor had I been allowed really go outside alone without either parent by my side
I could walk fine and learned how to read through hard work, but it had happened through blood, sweat, tears
And learned about all sorts of history
Like pop star music hits and movie quotes and listened to everything I could get my hands on
I wanted to be prepared to fit in as much as the other kids once the surgery happened
One day I heard there would be a live performance of a play I had partly read a few years ago, downtown the night before my surgery
A famous name blurred by, I think it came from the TV, yet I just couldn’t figure out his name
Was it foreign? I hadn’t heard of it before, but I knew that I needed to go see this play, even if I hadn’t completely finished reading it. . . At least I kinda knew what it was about
What if the other students would go to this performance?
I needed to go, to fit in, to be cultured
To hear the words from Mr. K— D——
I wasn’t to go, especially never alone, I was told
It was too dangerous, they claimed
Being alone at that time of night at this time of year was especially unsafe
I would enjoy it more after the surgery, and the family could all go; my parents lovingly informed me that the Glasmere’s party was that evening, couldn’t I remember that, silly me
Because I wasn’t allowed to go outside, I asked if they could pick up some books for me, from the library since we weren’t able to purchase books that weren’t used–too expensive
Especially maps, like of old places and such, at the library nowadays
I had asked the maid to pick up a book about bus maps and descriptions of the city
The maid, in her little distant voice, placed her tiny hands in mine and promised to do so
“Ah vill geet vou deese boooks. Vut vill Ah dhell vour pahrents, vough?”
They would worry, of course, about “reading” so much before surgery and thinking too much and worrying too much about the world instead of focusing on preparing for surgery
I thought she had caught onto my plan
But no worries–I told her that reading helped to distract me and not to bother my parents with the silly things I wanted to read from the special library collection
Feeling those pages were liberation in my hands, freedom for my heart
Hours were spent in my room, hiding these treasure troves under my pillows
Pouring my soul into my liberty, my social salvation
The last performance of the show was the night before my surgery
My parents, fortunately, were to be guests elsewhere and asked,
“Are you sure you can be alone for a night without us both by your side”–they feared my fate without knowing my schemes
My dreams of running away were a silent whisper in my mind
The car was ready, the dinner prepared beforehand, and all was set according to plan
Kisses were shared, good-byes were said
Off they dashed into the world as I was left to remain alone in my room
But I had planned every moment as to not to be missed
As soon as I could no longer hear the car’s vroooooooom, I began my journey, which started in the opposite direction
I would turn three lefts at the corner, then one right at the last
The bus would arrived every ten minutes
Right on time
People chattered around me, their voices blending and blurring together as we collectively scrambled onto the steps
My careful steps were guided and safe
As I took my seat on my first bus ride alone
The bus stopped right in front of the theatre so I waited patiently, listening for The Charleston’s Theatre to ring through the air
Stepped off, found the line, bought my ticket, through the doors, showed my seat
All happened without a problem to bog mind, to distract my clarity
My stomach fluttered and quivering thoughts trembled in my mind of being caught in my act of escape
But no one mumbled in my ear to leave, and no one grabbed my arm in accusation
I merely sat in my seat when the curtains rustled
Voices of a chorus of men and women rung in my ears
Sweet, odd music–melodiously sad and melancholy–echoed through the theatre
Describing the fate of the hero at stake
He would do despicable things, but why would he do those acts?
Someone muttered behind me on my right how this was suppose to be Director Kaffkav’s best work yet
Another person on my left perhaps two rows back sighed and muttered about the beauty of the costumes, while the person beside me turned to me, her voice creaking like a frog’s old croak, saying how shocked she was that the staging was so bare
I said nothing, focusing on the lyrical words the performers spoke
These actors could play their voices as if they were instruments
Gentle yet strong; sometimes passionate but controlled
My favorite voice to listen to was the main actor, Gulioni Voce
His voice rung like sturdy, silver bells through the hall
Surprised—no ringing tinge of Italian when he spoke English translation of this Greek tragedy
My blood curled when I heard the prophet’s prophecy
My hair stood on end when Voce’s chilling cry sounded when he found the body of his role’s wife
My stomach churned when the despair of his voice sounded as he gouged out his eyes
The woman next to me muttered how startling the gold the pins looked in contrast to the black set that enshrined the actor
No man, no woman, no one is fortunate
Until they are dead
The echoes of those words chilled me to my very core
Even after the play ended
And the audience clapped
Those words resonated, as if bouncing back and forth inside my empty mind
All the way home
As I sat silently on the bus ride home, unable to look out the window and see the actors exiting the theatre to sign autographs or the audience’s plastered smiles or to see the red carpet rolled out, like blood spilling into the flowing waters of the Nile
I wanted to be Moses of the Old Testament—let my people go, let my Oedipus go
To the pharaoh of Egypt, to the writer of the Greek tragedy
Oedipus would never have done that, would never have gouged out his eyes, no matter how terrible the crime—sight was a gift from god, and no one should take that away
Sighing, I leaned my head to the left, resting my head against the hard rail, but I just couldn’t believe that the writer would or could ever write something as terrible as that
I guess I should have finished reading the play before I went to go see it live
That way I wouldn’t have been so surprised by the ending
I didn’t know—I didn’t know that would end that way
My head suddenly jerked forward, mid-thought
A screech of the breaks sounded, and I couldn’t feel the bus moving anymore
Why had we stopped?
The bus was silent, so I guess I was the last one, although the ride had not been very long, and a voice sprung to life, I guess it sounded like it was coming out of little, square box near my right ear
“All passengers off, please. Now, please. Ma’am, that would be you.”
But it was early
This wasn’t my stop. I was waiting for number 520, not 430
None of my protests helped
The bus driver escorted me down the steps.
Apparently, this bus stopped at number 430 after 10:00 p.m.
No, it wouldn’t go any further
Yes, yes, yes. Cut through the park, honey. You can use your cane to follow the fence rails. On the other side of the park, yes, yes, bus 520, that’s right, will be the bus stop you need.
His words still echo in my ears: yes, yes, yes . . .
His job was done. He wanted me off. He wanted to go home
But so did I.
So I did the only thing I could do—I started my journey across the park
Although my life is in constant darkness, I learned to be able to feel darkness, or heavy darkness, I guess you could call it
Of course, it was dark outside, but the shrouded trees felt like a blasphemous shrine, like the ones Catholics use, or maybe not, I read about it once in a book
Like dark magic or Satan worship or something I can’t quite remember the name of, you know, how certain words like that can just leave your brain in a moment
The park, I was completely unfamiliar with
The path, it was unknown
The fence, it rambled tap, tap, tap as my cane hit each bar as I walked
Alone, utterly alone, and lost—the fence ended, and I was left at a fork in the park’s pathway
As far as I could tell, at this point in time, no one was around me
Alone, utterly alone, and lost
“Hey, tootsie. You a red or a blue? You sure as hell better not be one of ’em greens’.”
A voice erupted behind me—I dropped my cane
“Who said that?” I mumbled under my breath. No one answered. Then I said it again, louder. Then again, even louder. The fourth time I said it, my voice came out in a shuddering scream.
But nobody answered my query
Yet I could hear, like bats flapping their wings in a cave, several bodies begin swish, swish with their clothing, you know how it rubs against your legs, and they came, circling me, and I didn’t know which way to turn, you know when you feel disoriented and don’t know right form left or up or down
I think I tripped, maybe over my cane I had dropped and tried desperately to feel out with my feet, but maybe it was one of the boys he started jeering near my ear and my heart jumped and a stumbled over a root or something or maybe it was a foot, I really don’t know
“I don’t see no red or no greenie or no even blue mark on ’er. What’d’e do?” The voice whined, like a sick dog in the heat.
“No mark means no side, right’e’o?” Another voice jumped out across the other side.
“No. What are you saying. No mark means ain’t mean no side. No mark means she one- ’em, don’t cha ’member, you’d be shitin’, fools. She one ’em. She a thirdy. She bets she’s one ’em purdy, thirdy, uppedys.”
The voice lurked like seeping black spit bursting from a tar pit
Then I felt a kick, and I was already on the ground, but my face landed in the gritty sand, and the sand rubbed my face raw, and he kicked again and then I felt more feet kicking me and a rumbling chant emerged in the back throttle of their voices “dirty thirdy, dirty thirdy” because I was part of the Third Unit
They did not hear my cries, and the more I said, the more they hurt me, and finally, someone kicked me in the mouth, and I felt warm blood spurt out on my face as two or three guys grabbed my legs and dragged me, like a dead, worthless deer you move out of the road, to a nearby tree, I guess more hidden from the path, even though I scratched and clawed and tried to scream but someone gagged me and someone grabbed my head and someone tied a hard cloth across my mouth
Hot, weathered rope burned across my hands and as they tied me to the tree like a wounded puppy being punished, and they tore my pretty white tights as they ripped and tore with their fingers and whatever they could grab and they hurt me, deeper, deeper, inside, they tore and I tried to fight I did, but I grew tired and melted and hurt as they climbed, as if conquered, on top of me, one, two, three, four, five. . .
They climbed on top of me and tried to climb me like a tree, each digging, tearing into my aching, bleeding body
The stabbing thrusts and jabs began to slow, tears and blood stained my face, and the mutterings “dirty thirdy,” after they threw something at my face and spat on my mangled flesh, began to fade in the cooling evening of the darkness
I had never felt darkness as I did that night
Salty, painful tears sprawled down from my silent eyes as I wished in the fragrantless stillness that I had never disobeyed my parent’s advice, that I had stayed home, that I had never gone outside alone
Because I never, ever in my life had felt alone as I did in this moment
I was left on the ground, like a tied up calf about to be sacrificed on an alter
When a voice emerged across my left side, I jolted and convulsed, but a hushing sound. . .
A girl’s hand touched my face as she loosened my gag, and I could feel another boy’s hands as he cut the ties from my hands
“Why’re ya oot ’night? Don’t cha know. . . ’night were da raids? Ya don’t have yar star or emerald on?”
“Oh, oh, oh, oh, Emelily. . . she one a ’em. Can’t cha see? She’d be a thirdy!”
I breathed in and out and tried to calm myself. My aching back made it difficult to sit up, but my mouth and hands were free.
“Yes, I’m from the third district,” I whispered. “But I’m blind. Do you see my cane? Please, please hand that to me. Yes, that’s it, yes. Please, can you help me get home?”
The young boy and girl were silent for a moment.
“Please,” I begged in my quietest tone. “I don’t care what side you’re on. And you shouldn’t care what side I’m on. We’re the same, can’t you see that? I know I can’t see, but you two are good, aren’t you?”
The two sat in silence for a few more moments. The girl then decided that her brother and she would help me home. But we would have to be fast. I realize now that they could have been killed if they were seen helping me. I pray to God that they weren’t.
When I told the little boy and girl my address, the little girl pinned a star to my chest. I was now one of them.
The little boy with soft, gentle hands delicately held my hand, and the girl, several inches taller than the other child, carefully wrapped her arms around me to give me support
We walked as quickly as I was able to, given that, although nothing felt broken, my back hurt to move or to be touched, and my ankle was twisted
The three of us, creatures lurking through the night, hide in the shadows and behind trees, avoiding other groups storming through the park, attacking passerbys, and those muffled screams sent shivers through my body
No police sirens were heard—no justice would be served this night
The attackers were the judges, their parents the jury, these two children, my saviors
The girl whispered in my ear when we had exited the park. My home was just a block or two away from the park. The streets were hushed, the houses silent.
No cars zoomed by in a rush to make curfew, and I knew my parents would not be home for hours still.
The Third District went to sleep at 8 p.m. during the workdays, unless it was a Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday or Saturday or Sunday, because the Third District never worked—of course, unless you counted shuffling cards and enjoying hors d’oeuvres
The little boy and girl helped me enter the back gate of the house, holding my broken body somehow with their unexplainable strength
My bedroom was on the first floor of the flat, the window on the side, and I had left the screen down on purpose so I could sneak in after the play had finished
I whispered good-bye to the children, but I couldn’t tell if they had already scrambled away, back to the park to save other strangers like they had saved me
I closed the window and locked it
After I felt my way to the door and opened the bathroom door, I turned the water on and stepped in while pulling my filthy clothes off; while the water ran, I scrubbed the mix of blood and dirt off.
I was glad I couldn’t look in the mirror. Never before had I felt such shame, such guilt.
I let the water run. I just sat, empty and hollow and naked, in the bare tub.
“Oh, Julia! You are up! Did you hear the news? Last night, the Ruby stars, that’s what they’re calling them now, they attacked several people in the park last night. Your father and I will need to move soon. That nonsense! So close to our flat! It’s unheard of. Those people. . . well, indeed, they’ve never ventured so close to the Third Unit before in all my life. Can you hear that, Julia! Never before have I ever seen this trag—”
“Nor have I, mother. I have never seen before, you know that,” I interrupted.
My mother paused. I could hear her shuffling papers, and something was sizzling on the stove. She knew I wasn’t suppose to eat breakfast. But there she was, making eggs or bacons or toast for me, and I wasn’t suppose to eat.
“Oh, Julia! Don’t be so sensitive. You know today you will be able to see! Your surgery is
just in a few hours! I know I should have stayed home last night. Oh, you know. To be with you. I should have known you’d be more nervous than you’ve been letting on. But that party, oh the dresses and the food, it was all just so divine.”
“No, what? What’s wrong now?” My mother’s tone pinched and twisted like knives stabbing me in my throbbing lower back.
“I’m not going. I can’t go today. I’ve decided I don’t wan the surgery.”
My mother’s voice shook, “And when was this decided? It’s already been paid for. The arrangements are made, Julia. Don’t be silly, Julia. You’re being selfish, Julia. You’re just sacred, that’s normal, it’s perfectly normal, in fact, but think how long you’ve been waiting for this, Julia. You’ve always wanted this.”
She had no clue. She had no clue what had happened to me. She was blissfully unaware. She was just as blind as I was. She couldn’t see her own daughter.
I didn’t answer her. I just walked into my room. Shame burned in my face, but I locked the door because I couldn’t bear to hear her any more. I couldn’t listen to the words she would ask if she saw the tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t bear the shame any longer. I turned the lock on the door and that was that.
I would not go to the surgery—it didn’t matter how long my mother begged, encouraged, threatened, yelled, cried.
I didn’t open my door, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think, but all I knew was that I would never ever see the world that had done this to me. Nor could I ever see the faces of my parents if they ever learned what had happen to me, that I had disobeyed them, that I had
I have just hid in my room, writing my experience in poetry (I do have a computer and taught myself how to type), right now as I do, I know that it’s not very good, and sometimes I forget commas and periods and misspel words and maybe the grammar are sometimes wrong, and that there’s no rhyme scheme, no great story, no great tragic hero, yet it feels like a Greek tragedy to me, and my lines ramble on and on just as my thoughts do
This is my story, my experience. I will read and reread it from beginning to end. No man, no woman, no one—not even this young, naïve blind girl—are fortunate until they are dead
I am Oedipus. I am blind.
~ Some Explanation:
Entrepó, as used here in the title, in Greek means to turn to confusion, to put to shame, or to recoil in shame. Recently, I read in the news about a horrific event that happened; a man raped a blind woman. I wanted to analyze the idea of reader’s response in this story/poem (is it arrogant to make up the term “storem”?) set in the unspecified future (perhaps something like this could happen even tomorrow) set in a revolutionary and restless time with a young, blind girl, who is a reader of the special library’s books written in brail. Sometime, not mentioned here in the story, this blind girl read Oedipus.
How would a blind reader respond to the text and then a performance of that the Greek tragedy, Oedipus? Oedipus is a complicated play, and I am not sure if this play would fit into the requirements of Johnson’s intense morality, even though Oedipus is punished severely at the end. Perhaps the Greek tragedy, following the Horacian principles, does entertain, by shocking readers, and instructs, by showing readers what not to do.
Yet this young girl does not know how to respond to the play. The audience members are supposed to represent various interpretive communities, such as what Fish proposes, shown here through their (undeniably rude) running commentary throughout the play; the audience each has his or her own bias, yet this does assist the blind girl in shaping her perspective, since she selects which comments she values, which is revealed in this story through what comments she remembers and writes down.
Even though the girl can hear the audience’s responses, the blind girl still does not know how to respond to her experience. Yes, she read the play. Yes, she watched the play. But her underlying question is why anyone would ever make themselves blind—removing one’s sight, when receiving sight is the very thing she has longed for her entire life.
It is not until the unexpected happens that the blind girl’s perspective changes: the bus stops, she becomes lost, she is attacked and maliciously raped by a gang. The naïve girl is not completely aware of what has happened, but she knows it is something so serious and terrible that she cannot tell her parents. She feels like she has ignored her parents’ counsel (she was not to leave home), just as Oedipus ignored the prophecy of Tiresias. As a result, the blind girl feels inexorable shame, just as Oedipus felt shame.
Rather than plunging long, golden pins into her eyes as Oedipus does, the blind girl refuses to have the surgery performed to restore her eyesight, choosing a life of darkness to never see the light of the world where people did these terrible things to her. She opts to read from the safety of her home and in the darkness of never seeing the shame in her parents eyes as reflect in the shame of her own heart.
One claim Iser makes is that every time the reader reads a text, there is the possibility of discovering new perspectives from each reader. Yet, because of this traumatic experience, the blind girl continues to read and reread the play. Now, she is caught in a trap, like a mouse caught in a spinning wheel. I would like to believe that my character will one day, hopefully soon, reach out for help.
Although her relationship with her parents is strained, perhaps she will confess what has happened to the maid or to some other trusted adult. Just as sharing stories with other readers brings out different perspectives, I believe that through telling her rape story to others, she will gain new perspectives as people tell their stories, or their perspectives, to her.
Before she is able to share her story with others, she feels like she must write down her story, in poetic form, because that’s what the great Greek tragedians did. By writing her story, she shares it, even if it is only with herself. Her writing is full of errors, but it is supposed to be flawed.
Please leave any comments or questions below!!! 🙂