Jani Bell (Seaver, Graham) Mace

by Julia Lee Barclay-Morton

(excerpt from The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani)

She only has a foggy memory, it is true, but she does remember that he hit her. She remembers the feeling of his knuckles on her eye - her glass falling - the sound of ice scattering and glass shattering. She fell backwards and yes, once again, down the stairs. He is right about that. But the punch is what pushed her. Did they argue about Malcolm X, was it that? She thinks maybe it was. She was upset that he had been shot and her husband told her he was a dangerous man and she said “No, honey. You are a dangerous man,” and he thought she was joking so he tried to bring her to him and she spit at him and then -

 

But when he leaves, she says nothing. She has nothing left. She tries not to take so many pills, so she can study, but sometimes she still takes too many. She knows only that she did not fall on her own. That is not true.

But she cannot say it. Her mouth hurts. Her head hurts. Her teeth hurt. Her ribs hurt. She feels tears - not of pain but of shame - coming down her cheek. She doesn’t know whose tears they are, perhaps someone else’s? She is not here anymore. She is simply not here.

She wants to go to class. There is some small part of her that remembers she has a goal. That remembers that she can get this degree, that she is so close, that the degree means freedom. Some part of me is still here, yes.

I want to-

No, she can’t get up. She can’t.

 

I can.

 

No, she can’t. She’s gone. It’s over. You’ve lost.

No, I haven’t.

Yes, she has. She just sits there and lies back into the puke-green sofa. She closes her eyes and lets the pill take away her pain. She lets-

No. No, I don’t. I throw up the pill. Yes. My body. It throws up the pill. And I am in pain. Lots of motherfucking pain. But I am alive. The door is right there in front of me. I can just pick myself up. I can. And-

No. Not today. Today she does not move. She cannot bear the thought of exposing herself to the humiliation of all those young people seeing her like this. It is too much shame. She is the fighter at college. She is the person she wants to be when she is there. This sad body, this pathetic victim, is not who she wants to be. She will not contaminate that place with this self. She will not.

But I-

Shhhhhhhhh. It’s OK. She is simply tired. She can rest now. She can-

 

 

 

                                                                                             November 5, 1964

                                                                                             Towson State Community Room

 

The coffee is atrocious, the light bulb is bare, the seat is uncomfortable, and the person speaking is spouting nonsense. She is telling the saddest, most pathetic story I have ever heard about her husband the alcoholic, and how she has learned to love herself despite him beating her and the kids up, but that that is because he has a disease, so she doesn’t judge, and that she can keep her serenity regardless.

I came here to learn how to leave Earl not to accept him. I’m only here because Jan said maybe I could find help here. I don’t need to hear from another punching bag that I’m supposed to accept being a punching bag.

When she is done with her sorry tale everyone applauds. Before that, many of the women - and they are all women - we are a sad, pathetic lot aren’t we? - were nodding.

 

I raise my hand. No one pays any attention, and they keep nattering on about this nonsense about awareness acceptance and action and loving yourself before someone can love you, until I can’t take it anymore. I stand up and say, “You are all delusional! These men are horrid! We need to kick them out. I came here for help, not to be told to stay with the sick bastard.”

No one says anything. They look at me smiling mildly, some coolly. An old woman across the room says “Keep coming back, dear.” And I want to smack her.

Instead, I sit back down and start inexplicably crying. A woman named Doris hands me a tissue and rubs my back. She says very gently, “We don’t know what’s right for anyone, so we accept everyone’s actions.” I want to say something to her, something witty, caustic and clever, but I can’t. I sense these women - even though I hate them  - have something I don’t. I can’t tell you what it is, I don’t know what it is. I just know I don’t have it.

The meeting continues, and at the end they all stand up and pray, which is just too much for me to bear. I quietly take my leave. I see Doris looking at me, as if to say - it’s OK, you can stay - but I can’t. I can’t stay. I’m afraid of what will happen to me if I stay. I can’t afford to be this gentle, this serene. That word, serenity, they said it over and over. It makes my skin crawl.

They have something I don’t, but I’m afraid I’d have to join a cult to get it, and I can’t do that. I can’t. I gave up on the idea of God a long time ago, and I’m not bringing him back now. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.  I don’t know what the answer is, but this ain’t it.

There is one thing they said though that I liked, and that was something about keeping the focus on yourself. That I can use.  No one else can save me. God knows.

                                              February 22, 1965

                                                                                            The Alameda

                                                                                            Baltimore

 

 

 

She sits. She cannot stand. She has seen herself in the mirror and her eye is bruised. She was meant to go to class today, but she cannot bear the embarrassment - to argue against Freudianism with the young professor while her eye is turning a deeper purple-red. Her husband has gotten sloppy and forgotten to not let his violence show. She barely remembers the moment. He was in a blackout and remembers nothing. He has left for another engineering project and feels no guilt or remorse. He says she’s making it up. That she fell down the stairs herself, as drunk as she was, as drunk as she always is. How can he be to blame for her klutziness?