NDJ:6 Fedwa Malti-Douglas

Time

I am writing the preface and acknowledgments to a forthcoming book, Partisan Sex, that was born of my earlier book, The Starr Disrobed. As I am writing, I insert the place (New York) and the publisher (Columbia University Press) of that earlier work. It is time to add the date of publication for the book. I think about it. I search my brain. The date remains a blank. I do not want to interrupt my writing by crossing the house to my stack room where my books reside merely to derive the date. So I write 1990 with a question mark and the word CHECK, for the year of publication. I finish the text and print it. Then I reread it on paper and mark up the typos. The next stage, the insertion of the corrections, will be done by my husband, Allen, since his computer is newer and has a much larger screen that permits a more detailed look at the words.

In the middle of writing a short essay for an upcoming weekend conference on psychoanalysis and trauma, Allen walks into the room where I am composing my contribution.

“Are you aware?” he asks me “that when you typed the date for the Starr Report book you wrote it as 1990?”

“No,” I answer. I add that I had placed a question mark and the “CHECK” word so that we could verify the date of publication.

“You wrote 1990. The book came out in 2000. I just checked it. That’s ten years too early. Doesn’t that tell you anything?”

“No,” I respond.

I am not actually thinking about the preface and acknowledgments because my mind is embedded in the trauma piece and specifically in how I will insert the famous Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty together again I am wondering how to intellectually weave together the impossibility of putting Humpty Dumpty’s body parts together after his physical fall. Is he still alive? If he is that badly broken into pieces, why the efforts to put him together again — first by the king’s horses (an interesting choice — how can horses possess the ability to perform such an act unless we are in the realm of allegory) and then by the king’s men? What happened to Humpty Dumpty’s mental state? Is the falling apart but a metaphor for another type of fall, perhaps mental? We know nothing here, concerned as we are with the attempt to put him together again. In my contribution, I wanted to relate this

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familiar incident to the sensation of one’s mind falling apart while attempting to deal with multiple traumas, and more importantly how one attempts to put the broken parts of one’s self together again, if that is at all possible.

Here is Allen interrupting me as I was reading and rereading the nursery rhyme. He asks me again:

“You really didn’t realize you had typed in that date?”

I am getting frustrated. My mind is jumping between the broken Humpty Dumpty and my own typographical error.

“No,” I answer again. “I was just typing a date with a question mark because I could not remember the exact year.”

“You read the text over and marked it up, didn’t you?”

“Of course, I did. You know that.”

“You still don’t get it?”

My voice reflects my impatience. “There’s nothing to get.”

“1990,” he repeats, “Think about that.”

I madly try to push Humpty Dumpty out of the way. I concentrate as hard as I can.

“Oh, my God,” I respond. “In 1990, we were still in Texas. It was before coming to Bloomington.”

“That’s right.”

“Oh, my God,” I catch myself repeating. “It was before all the shit happened. Before all the attacks. Before all the threats.”

I was already conscious of the fact that my brain had scrambled time references while it attempted to fight the invasion of the PTSD. Using those four letters to describe the multiple earthquakes that had taken place in my head over the decades always made me feel uneasy, ashamed, guilty. As if I were exploiting my misfortunes. It was an effort for me to remember that I had been buried by an avalanche of examinations and then diagnosed with this four-letter illness by a prominent New York psychiatrist.

I had unconsciously rewritten my own intellectual trajectory with a simple typographical error. I had eliminated from my mind more than ten agonizing years of my life. Where was I during all that time when I was but a shadow of myself? I was mildly aware of sleepwalking through my job. Perhaps it is not accidental that we utter the short phrase “only the shadow knows” when something baffles us or when we would rather not look at reality in the face.

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