Really, I have been thinking mostly these days about what it feels like to touch a dead body, and the profound difference between a dead body and a living one. Even an unconscious person does not feel dead—at least it has not in my experience.
That seems to be a very significant part of the trauma that I couldn’t process—how Laila’s body felt when I touched the dismembered bits of it, how Nata felt after she breathed her last breath.
This seems to be the experience that C triggers, because she resembles the girl who picked me up and carried me away from Laila’s body. The dead body and the living body were juxtaposed in my mind in this very jarring and intense way, and I was only five or six: grappling with how this happens to a body, grappling with why someone would want to do that, grappling with the immense mystery of death itself.
C looks like a girl I know is dead—I don’t know that I saw that girl’s dead body, but I do know she is dead—and yet C is alive. I know she is alive in a different way because she brings out the parts that were intimately acquainted with death. The day I began to think about this, I touched her. I didn’t mean to. I did it, and then I realized what I had done and wondered if I had crossed a line, if I had done something I might do to any student at my school, or if checking for signs of death had made me behave in a way that was inappropriate. I put a hand on her back as she was standing next to me, talking to a small child who had just vomited. And so the parts that know death well could feel that she was alive. I think touching her made me realize that it is not everyone who has died. There are some people who are still alive.
And it also evokes the moment of Nata’s death, because it is like a very loud echo of Laila’s death. In the mornings, for a while, I end up reliving that very strongly. I relive holding Nata and pleading with her not to die, not to leave me, and I relive the feeling of to die with her—of wanting to be with her so badly, I wanted to go with her into death.
At the same time, I also know that is not allowed. At a very deep level, I know it is not. I am not allowed to. It is closely connected to memories of the freezer. I cannot die, otherwise Nata will cry, and I do not want her to cry. Nata wants me alive, and I must must wanting must follow that instruction.
Three of the parts that emerged recently all connect around this issue of life and death. Mishka knows we cannot die: he has kept all of us safely alive for more than 35 years, despite deep wishes to the contrary. The other two parts are closely connected to seeing Laila’s body.