Blanket & Spleen (Part 1) by lisa gill
It had been sunny the day before when the man on Mass. Ave threw the blanket over my head.
A blue eclipse.
He threw the blanket over my head, shoved me against the wall, shoved his knee between my legs, shoved his knee into my crotch, shoved his tongue into my mouth.
And that was that.
Everything went dark and I wondered why he’d been carrying the blanket anyway.
I heard running and pulled the blanket off my head and saw people everywhere, going every direction and they were looking at me, blocking my view of where he might have went and they just walked, but looking, when they passed me, looking back over their shoulders.
I picked the blanket off the ground and started folding it, like it belonged to me, like what they’d seen, if they’d seen anything, had been nothing but an exchange of goods.
And it was a good blanket.
Why the light hadn’t come through. ”
–excerpt from the short story “French” by lg***
I flashback to blankets.
I was eighteen and in my first year of college when a blanket was thrown over my head. At twenty-two, I first tried to grapple with what happened in words. I chose fiction. (Shortly after, within a year, domestic violence sent me straight back to poetry and what had sustained me through childhood.)
At the time, writing a short story was a wise selection. For the blanket incident, fiction allowed me to change the name of the victim, change the city, add a big wide open sky over the woman’s head instead of the claustrophobic low ceiling of a dorm hallway. In turn, the larger arc of story let me begin to deal with other traumas also, what I perceived as the general onslaught of culturally-condoned misogynies and violences. I was also able to begin tracing a portion of the aftermath.
What was most important when I was writing the story was that fiction let me make all the witnesses anonymous.
For years what haunted me about this incident was that people I knew had seen my humiliation. In the non-fictionalized reality, two friends were walking with me. They were walking with me and they were also walking with the other man, a man I’d never met before, a man who was in for the weekend from Chicago, a gang member who was there to deal drugs, a man who soon would opt to casually assault me. Other students were wandering up and down the long corridor. I don’t know how many people saw what happened. (I do know this happened at a small liberal arts college Obama spoke at not too long ago. My mom texted me that the president was speaking where I began college, and my only question was, “Why?”)
At the very least, everyone in that trafficked hallway filled with students doing the “class-is-over-for-the-day-so-let’s-begin-the-evening’s-drinking-and-drugging” saw me overpowered; they saw the fast silhouetted version of what was happening to me under the blanket; they saw the man emerge from under the blanket while I was still in the throes of wool; they watched me somehow get the tangled mess off my head and emerge disoriented, dilated pupils shrieking at the fluorescent light; and, all those people in the hallway, including my two close friends, heard the man who assaulted me laugh and return to the conversation he’d interrupted as if nothing had happened.
And everyone–and this is something I perceived also–witnessed my two closest (and male) friends do nothing during the attack. And after that, they then witnessed my friends say nothing, but instead merely query me with their faces, asking if I was ok sans speech, to which I shrugged and tried to shake it off.
Finally, everyone in the hallway watched all four of us, my two friends, the stranger from Chicago, and myself, continue walking down the hall. The only perceivable change was my walking position: I stayed back a bit and to the edge, watching, trying to keep distance.
I didn’t really need to do that. The man had already gotten what I might now refer to as his “power jollies.” For him, the incident was over. And on an otherwise at-risk-of-running-dry campus, he was easily and swiftly onto bigger and better deals. For the rest of the night, his tongue was used only to secure money from students purchasing drugs, instead of securing space in my mouth or memory.
I wasn’t one of his clients and I certainly wasn’t onto bigger and better. Perhaps someone I encountered later in the night noticed how disoriented I was, how wild-eyed, how I shook and had a bit of a stutter when I tried to answer the kinds of questions that arise in small talk, standard social gatherings.
As for that blanket? It stayed over my head for a quarter century.
I begin to peek out from under it.
Today’s BLOG NOTES:
Very likely this essay installment will be edited again shortly. And again after that.
And for sure, later today or early tomorrow, you can expect a blog post celebrating the fact that slam in albuquerque is about to come of legal drinking age: 21 years of scorecards! Matthew John Conley is going to contribute some writing for that and we’ll double-duty honor the first winner ever of an ABQ poetry slam, Trinidad Sanchez Jr., author of Why Am I So Brown?
In a few days, as soon as I’m ready, you’ll get the next installment of Blanket & Spleen, and likely more MRI images. (These I believe are from my 2011 scans.)
And within a couple weeks, LPG is gonna offer another blog installment from Virginia Hampton, now back in Belize. This one is an honest doozy on why she writes (and performs) and begins in Albuquerque. We slated it to be simultaneously co-published as part of Jennifer Simpson’s online magazine “I Write Because…” (which is always taking submissions too.)
***The excerpt up top comes from a short story I wrote called “French,” which was first published as street art, in a collaged installation behind wired-on red curtains. The chapters took a mile to read on Central Avenue in Albuquerque. Friends helped with the middle of the night install. We ran an ad in the back of the Alibi (perhaps then Nu City) to advertise the installation. Later, I read the story at a memorable bookstore (living batch?) while my mother wept in the front row for the whole thirty-minute reading. How it all kind of goes and goes, evolving….
(Doctors since 1990 have said my writing is diagnosable and I think they are right, even though they’ve historically done nothing but bungle my diagnoses. That part too, the interpretation, is an art doctors and writers –and critics– have to learn, even with our own work, with our own bodies…)
That’s it for now. I swim my way to the zendo… lg