By Chediac Higashi
Mnemophobia: The fear of memories
Alice swam out of sleep. That’s what it felt like when she was hangover, swimming. The sharp smell of vomit and urine hit the back of her throat, where it seemed to settle right into the walls. The urge to throw up came immediately and she got up as quickly as she could to find a receptacle. She could throw up in bed, if she wanted, evidently, she had done so in the night, but now that she was up, social protocol dictated that she finds a toilet, or a bucket, or something. Alice barely made it to the toilet bowl. As she watched her mistakes from the previous night coat the ceramics, it occurred to her how much cleaning she would have to do.
Alice was lanky. Her frame could definitely take more weight, and it was evident that it had at some point. Her fingers were long and skinny, the gap in between her thighs was a little too much, her breasts once full, looked awkward on her chest. The parts of her that were once fleshy were now empty pockets of skin. She stood in front of her mirror, taking stock, looking for any marks that the previous night may have left. As a masculine presenting woman, her clothes hid the war she was waging on her body well, but the mirror told the harsh truth.
Alice lived in a servant’s quarter in Umoja, she could afford to live better. As a matter of fact, she could afford to live in the main house. However, she preferred to live in the smaller house. She wanted to see every corner of her space, she felt safer when she could see the whole house. Her anxiety would not let her abide by negative spaces. Alice cleaned her house like her mother taught her, throwing open the windows and letting the air in. She looked at the bed and realised that the sheets would have to go, they were ruined. It was highly probable that the mattress would have to go as well. As she scrubbed the toilet bowl, the memories she tried so hard to suppress came back to her.
Though the night was long gone, the memories were vivid, like it happened the day before. That’s the thing about bad memories, they seldom lose their clarity. The two of them had been out drinking in town, like they did every Friday. Samantha liked to go out, if there was money to be spent, it would be on alcohol. Alice, on the other hand, was more conservative and did not really enjoy the night life, it was noisy and disorderly and Alice never felt safe. Women are never safe. Lesbians are never safe. Around midnight, Alice started asking to go home, she had had enough. Samantha had drank enough beers to be disorderly and Alice knew she was about two tequila shots away from getting unbearable. It always amazed Alice how fast Samantha got drunk. Samantha was a stout woman well over one hundred kilos, however, she carried her weight well and looked killer in the black dress she was wearing. Alice continued to ask her girlfriend if they could leave, tugging on her shirt, trying to bribe her with promises of sex. And then out of the blue, it happened.
Samantha slapped her.
The house was done, clean. The fresh air from the open windows and door had replaced the stale air in the room. Alice loved the daylight, you could see everything in the daylight. As she stood outside cleaning her mop and bucket at the tap, the maid from the main house came out, and stood at the door, looking down at her. Pamela, the maid, had a look of contempt on her face, her strong Christian beliefs mixed with her African traditionalist values, made it easy for her to look at Alice like that. Alice stood up and looked at Pamela expectantly, no words were exchanged but the question, ‘what do you want?’ was implied. Pamela, wordlessly handed Alice a white envelope, turned around and closed the door.
Alice did not have to open the envelope to know what was contained therein. She had already started looking for another house, her drunken late nights had not gone unnoticed. She appreciated Mr. and Mrs. Karanja for putting up with it for this long, considering they had what was considered ‘A Good Christian Family’. Alice threw the letter on the bed and got into the shower. As the hot water washed off the sins of the night before, her hand wandered to the scar on her chest. It was as if the scar was a switch, her mind went back to the day she got the scar, the day she knew her girlfriend was homicidal.
It was almost a year after the slap. Samantha’s physical abuse had become established in their relationship. Alice wanted to leave, but, how could she?
Love is a weird thing.
The pain and betrayal were mostly forgotten in nights of intense passion. When Samantha had her tongue inside her lover, all anger and resentment faded away. She arched her back and let the rage go into the dark as the orgasms spread through her body. That day, they lay in bed, naked, enjoying the warmth from the sunlight coming in through the window. Alice lay in Samantha’s arms, going through Instagram. Samantha’s steady breathing made Alice believe she was asleep. Alice liked her ex-girlfriends picture, absentmindedly and not really looking at the picture, and moved on. Samantha’s breathing changed slightly, Alice did not notice. Alice didn’t really think anything of it when Samantha got out of bed, ‘probably going to pee’, she thought, she even swatted Samantha’s little bum as she passed. She did, however, notice when Samantha was gone for an unusually long time. She called out for her woman, and got no reply. She got out of bed, to find her. The duo lived in a maisonette and whereas the rest of the house had large windows, the stairwell was poorly lit.
Alice skipped down the stairs, calling for Samantha. She started getting worried that something had happened to her. It happened when she got to the bottom of the stairs. Samantha stepped out from the side of the stairs, and let out a guttural scream. Alice saw the flash of the steel and felt a streak of heat across her chest. It all happened so fast, Alice didn’t really compute what had happened until she saw there was a knife in Samantha’s hand. The knife had blood. She thought to herself, ‘where did Sam get a bloody knife? OMG, is she hurt?’ Samantha was yelling at her, but Alice couldn’t focus. Why couldn’t she focus? And then the pain registered, with the pain came the realisation of what had happened. Alice looked down at her chest and saw a sheet of blood slide down her stomach. She looked up at Samantha who was now at the end of a dark tunnel. Alice heard ‘I knew you were still fuckin that bitch!’ and then, nothing.
Alice came out from the memory, as if from a dream, the bathroom was full of steam, and she was propped up in an awkward position on the floor. She crawled to the room and used the bed to help her get to her feet. She couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten, she needed to eat, that was evident. Alice got dressed in a hurry, she was already late for work, and she needed to stop and get something to eat. She had spent the morning remembering and it had started taking its toll on her. She already began to feel the need for a beer in the back of her mind. She fought the urge but she knew she would succumb eventually. It was the only thing that kept the demons at bay, anti-anxiety drugs by day, and alcohol by night.
After the cut, Alice stayed for two more years before she left. There was no great event that acted as a catalysis. Alice just woke up one day and the one thing that was keeping her in that house had left her. She turned over to look at her girlfriend and felt nothing. There was no hate, there was no love, there was nothing. It got to the point where Samantha would threaten her with murder if she left. Staying in the relationship was in of itself an act of self-preservation. She had been pushed down the stairs, she had been tied up, she had been punched, she had been through it all, but she was still here. Alice got up and helped her girlfriend get ready for work like she did every morning and saw Samantha on her way. Once Samantha was out the door and Alice was sure she was not coming back, Alice went upstairs, packed a bag, and walked out the door of their shared house one last time.
Alice locked the door to her servant’s quarter with half a smile and walked to the gate. The memories had begun to swirl early today, Alice knew she would need a drink earlier than five P.M. As she walked through the gate, two children rushed passed screaming and laughing. Alice froze.
This piece forms part of the #QueeringTheCloak series which is part of a larger project exploring sexual, emotional and physical violence in queer women spaces on the continent. The project seeks to essentially ‘pull back the cloak’ on shame and silence around this violence.
For all the articles and pieces on #QueeringTheCloak click here.
Here is an article 11 Signs You Are being Gaslight in a relationship and another 10 things the author learned from someone using gaslighting as an abuse tactic. For more on supporting people here is a piece on supporting someone in abusive relationship and also a piece where the woman says At least she didn’t hit me”. There is also a piece by a woman who writes a letter to her ex abuser’s new girlfriend. There is also this piece that gives some advice 6 ways to support a survivor of woman on woman sexual violence. There is also this piece about tackling abuse in feminist spaces.
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