I have been reading (re-reading), Latifa al Zayyat’s The Search: Personal Papers; a fragmented autobiography spanning decades of her life. The book comprises a series of false starts; sections that are left unfinished and unresolved, up until the last (completed) chapter that recounts her imprisonment under Sadat in the early 1970’s. Her unfinished sections mark moments in her life unsettled and silenced by trauma; bereavement, her first imprisonment, marriage and divorce, Each of these silences are then picked up as the loose threads of her story that are finally incorporated in the prison narrative of her final chapter.
I revisited The Search because recently I’ve been trying to come to terms with and break a silence I have kept for the past five months since Leslie died. For five months I have scarcely left my home, except to walk the dogs or buy groceries. I have scarcely spoken to another human being, but especially have not spoken to my family or my friends who knew me before Leslie died. And the longer it continues, the harder it gets to make that first gesture of contact. I do not talk. I do not write. I just drift in silence from one day to the next. I feel like three-quarters of who I am has been gouged out of me, and what is left is this muted shrieking that I dare not let out for fear it will swallow me completely.
I miss Leslie so much and I want to talk about her, because it’s Leslie that sticks in my throat; along with my grief. My grief is not so hard to explain, really. My sister suddenly fell sick and died. I am angry, shocked, sad, confused, guilty, in denial and I want her back. That is grief in a nutshell. I want to talk about Leslie, but I do not know to whom, and it does not help that I’ve erected this imaginary wall between myself and my family. I think I have it in my head that they (particularly my mother, step mother and Leslie’s husband) have their own grief to contend with and for me to talk about mine feels somewhat self-indulgent. Then, there’s the guilt I feel over my months of silence….
Today I Skyped with my son, Ian, for the first time in months. I was nervous about it, but it was alright. I think (I’m pretty sure) he understood how losing her has affected me. I promised him I’d call his brothers, and I will. Still, I struggle with reaching out, but I’ll try to push that anxiety aside and get on with it. I think the time has come to bring down my wall and reconnect with my tribe. This silence does me no favours.
On a more positive note, I am taking steps to care better for myself. I’ve sworn off sugar, caffeine, cigarettes and various other evils — all of which I’ve done to ridiculous excess since Leslie died. It dawned on me that destroying my body won’t bring her back to me, though it might hasten my joining her. Instead I think it better to try to get stronger despite the grief, think of her, remember her and of course, talk about her. I’ll probably be doing a lot of that.