The Noise of the Unsaid
by Amna Iqbal
Trigger warning: The article contains interviews with anonymous victims of child sexual abuse, framed by the writer’s own story following her previous article on being raped.
I was about eleven when my mother asked me in hushed whispers if what my little brother said was true He had seen a man slip his hand down my shirt. I didn’t know how to talk about what I didn’t understand and I was ashamed and angry. So my brother did the talking. With innocence, he described how a man — hired by my family to teach us how to chant the divine verses – had abused me.
It happened during a lesson. I was focused on reciting an alien language when a clammy hand touched my breast. I jumped, instinctively biting his hand and tearing off a clump of his beard. He screamed and told me I was possessed. Then he walked off leaving me with the remnants of facial hair And my demons.
“It’s not true, is it?” asked my Mother. Seeing the fear and shame in her eyes was too much. “It’s not true”, I lied, to stop feeling like I was suddenly naked. The candy pink walls of my room imprisoned everything that remained unsaid.
I had written a first person account of being a rape survivor. After it was finally published, I realized I had unlocked a portal of imprisoned stories: overwhelming, horrifying demons that haunted so many people around me. My abuser was wrong I am not possessed. I thank the writer Neil Gaiman for helping me understand I am one of
‘the dispossessed …those who have fallen through the cracks’.
I have spoken to others who have been abused, those who have yet to find the release from where acceptance is claimed. There are no happy endings and clean resolutions for fractured bodies and souls, but letting the cracks show will make life with the noise of demons easier to bear. These stories are part of a city that functions with its innate dysfunction. Karachi, my hometown, is the bearer of horrors. It is also, in so many ways, a reflection of the resilience that structures the stories. Karachi is a city that refuses to give up.
1. I Was Made To Give Him Blowjobs
S* was angry. The kind of anger that festers like gangrene. Yet she held on to her fury. She sat across me and declared that she was a victim. She refused to be positive, refused to associate herself with survivors. She was still battling with her demons. Her war was far from over.
‘I don’t know how it started. He was always there, watching. Until one day I was asked to take my clothes off
He’s my mother’s brother, but I can’t bear the thought of him, I disassociated in any way.’
I had nothing to say. Her story was absurd
‘Obviously it wasn’t as bad as your experience’ she told me.
Each one of us carried our own private hells within. The torment was incomparable.
‘I don’t remember when and how it started, I just know I grew up thinking it happened to everyone. Even if it was something I hated, it was my normal.’
We were discussing the pros and cons of being in a nudist colony when R* listed the trauma of an employee in her house watching her everyday as she showeredas a con. She shrugged it off, throwing in the details here and there as she drove on.She stopped looking at herself for a few years,
‘I just can’t decide if violating a twelve-year-old’s private space is okay or not. It wasn’t nice to feel threatened every time I took off my clothes.’
She missed her turn and drove onto a street that neither of us knew existed before. We were both so lost.
When J* decided to tell me about his stepfather I was a bitapprehensive. He works as a speech therapist for children with special needs. He has the rare ability to not look like an idiot when communicating with children. I asked him if he thought I would lack empathy, because he is a guy. Later I discovered that anal rape of a six-year-old is beyond gendered spaces.
‘I have to begin to make sense of the violation of trust, the idea of being robbed of my childhood home as a safe place, in order to get to the physical.’
‘When I think about it now, it’s as if I am standing outside a boy’s bedroom window and watching’
I ask him if he wants to step in and stop what’s happening.
‘No. There is a vacuum where pain, horror and anger should be. Nothing compels me to go in and beat the man my mother trusted her child with.’
‘I know I probably come across as a text book case study of child abuse — blocking out my own emotions, channelling them here.’
He laughed and turned back to the kid tugging at his shirt. I told him that the wisdom he possessed, both his broken and functioning selves, warrants a separate book.
‘I’m twenty-eight. I can’t articulate beyond what I told you. The book will be as empty as the man who stands outside the window and feels nothing’
I was ten when I got my period. The pain and the sight of blood triggered something. I saw myself under a man trying to push himself inside me. Before that I was too ashamed to even peek behind a dark curtain because I was convinced I had imagined the whole thing. The reality of pain and blood was a sign of another reality.
When I started transcribing these stories I assumed it would be easy. After I ‘came out’ as a rape victim, the reactions started to pour in. From being asked if I had lost all sense of shame and propriety, to a colleague coming up to me and shaking my hand for being brave enough to talk about what most people won’t. I was humbled, overwhelmed and stunned by what I had set in motion. I was one of the dispossessed, those who are alone because parts of us are missing, yet share fractured memories with other people.
Most of the people I talked to could not piece together their abuse in a clear and linear way. Their minds protected what their bodies had gone through. As I went along listening to people fighting, surviving, breaking down, living, giving up, I realized how the structure of our DNA is so similar. I used the horror of rape, abuse and violation as fuel to ignore my demons. I arrived at a place where I fought with myself for a space that only belonged to my grief. I used my broken parts to construct a self that functioned like a Rubik’s cube. It reshaped into something unsolvable at the first sign of danger.
The extremes of violence and violation we survived turned us into hunted animals. But we were strong enough to claw for life.
S* and I realized that neither can piece together our stories in a linear way. We don’t have the luxury. Our fractured memories have made our minds into a puzzle, there are pieces missing, pieces that don’t fit.
A* was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder after she passed out the day her boyfriend proposed to her. He had crept up behind her and put his hands on her eyes to give her a ring. She stopped breathing before she passed out. In her early thirties she is in CBT that helps her explain the anxiety after abuse that occurred nearly twenty-one years ago.
A man took her to the neighbourhood park and put his hands over her eyes as he made her fondle him.
‘I was made to give him blowjobs.’
2. After Abuse
There are so many untold stories. The solid walls, coloured and fixed every time a fractured memory starts to come up for air, die out because the rooms are perfectly cemented. What is beginning to chip away however is the silence; the language that was missing is slowly coming together. It is basic in its expression, almost childlike. What adds nuance is the ability to express emotions. And there is a vast spectrum of anger, grief, acceptance and, even, humour about abuse! What takes away from the purity of this language is the stage whispers. They were hushed once, now they have a theatrical quality.
I hope my story will help clear the murky darkness of what remains unsaid and silence the noise heard after abuse.
Amna Iqbal works as a Visual Journalist at The Express Tribune in Karachi, Pakistan. As she tried to do away with labels of class, sects, religion and gender, she has landed in an undefined space where she is making her way around falling off severe hand-me-down templates of dos and don’t s. Her work today encompasses her creative practice as a designer, writer, a journalist and a woman in a state of constant discomfort. Website: Off The Grid @amna_iqb