Wednesday, March 21, 2012

She Suffers

Girl suffers.

It hurts Girl every day, haunts her nightmares and waking dreams, makes her curl up under the covers and try to rock herself to sleep. Girl stays up at night and cries about it. When asked, Girl can’t say why; she can’t say anything. Maybe it’s the pain that renders her mute, or the muteness that causes her pain. She forgets which came first now.

The silence started long ago. Girl traces it back through history in her mind. She knows what she’ll see; she’s done this many times before. The history of the world begins to play, like a reel movie, in her head. At first, she sees only darkness, but then Girl sees God creating the world: light and dark, heaven and earth. Then, people.

The story that hurts Girl begins now, with Lilith, the real first woman, made of the same clay as Adam. Girl sees God shape the two bodies and breathe life into their souls, watches the two frolic in the grasses of Eden, avoiding that tree in the middle. Girl has seen this often enough to know when Adam will half-attack Lilith with lust, but she still hates seeing him above her, hates hearing Lilith cry out in God’s name. Girl mostly hates knowing that Lilith is silenced by history, her true story forgotten, blamed for her own near-rape. What hurts most is that she knows that Lilith was abandoned by her own sex, women turned against her by superstitious men.

Generations are born and die, from Eve’s children to the Matriarchs. These women hurt and heal Girl at the same time, show her that women can be strong but so very weak, all at the same time.

From the inside of Potiphar’s palace Girl sees his wife, Zuleikha, the woman who was stripped of her own name, sit and cry. Potiphar was a physical and emotional eunuch, unable to love Zuleikha, unable to fulfill her bodily needs. Joseph was a young, beautiful boy who fell in love with his mistress, paid attention to her, gave her emotional support, made her feel loved. She thought he wanted more. He did; they were in bed together when he changed his mind. Girl knows Zuleikha is angry and hurt, feels abandoned and used, wants to wound Joseph as much as he wounded her. The irony of the fact that Lilith and Zuleikha are so similar, yet such opposites - hushed near-rape versus publicized non-rape - is not lost on Girl.

The Jews are enslaved in Egypt for centuries, then they are freed; they receive the Torah on a mountain in the wilderness, wander for forty years, and enter the land their foreparents were promised, Israel. After centuries of peace, the Jews split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah.

Girl then observes Jezebel, the Phoenician princess married to Ahab, a king of Israel. It interests Girl that jezebel is now synonymous with whore, but the woman never was one; despite an arranged marriage, she loved her husband, to the point that she got him the field he wanted even though it meant committing murder. Ahab deferred to his wife’s intelligence, but never loved her. Girl watched her unsuccessfully try to “improve” herself for his sake: she danced with brides to keep herself young and lithe, wore make up every day. Even when men were coming to kill her, she patiently applied her face paints. She knew she was going to die, and she wanted to do it in style.

The Jews of Israel are exiled, and so are the Jews of Judah, their Temple destroyed by the Babylonians. All they want to do is return to their homeland.

Vashti was the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar and the daughter of Belshazzar, two evil men who kept the Jews in exile. Girl knows Vashti was not like them. She too felt like a stranger in a strange strange land, taken from her home in Babylon and forced into marriage to Ahasuerus, a Persian nobody who became king through luck and her lineage. She hated this man who usurped her throne, who treated her like he was better than she was. Vashti wouldn’t take that. He would make a party for the men of Persia? She would make one for the women, in his private chambers, no less. He got drunk and wanted her to dance naked for his friends? He could wait forever for that to happen. Girl loves Vashti’s rebellion, but hates Ahasuerus’s reaction: executing the upstart wife.

Girl stops watching after Vashti; she’s seen enough for now. She thinks about the four women whose lives she witnessed. Lilith, Zuleikha, Jezebel, Vashti. Some famous, some obscure, all strong, even if they didn’t realize it. Their stories were handed down from generation to generation, but reinterpreted over time. So the four women haunt her, telling Girl that she must tell their stories, telling her that she cannot let them be forgotten.

But Girl can’t speak. She will suffer until she can.