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By Andrew Tan Delli Cicchi
*”Collective Voice of the Voiceless”: Campus Violence, Resistance, and Strategies for Survival Forum Contribution*
This piece is written for #WeAreHereDuke, a campus-wide activism campaign against gender violence at Duke University. The week culminated with a performance of monologues written from personal experiences and transcriptions of interviews.
It is a November day and the wind is living hard against its bends. Flight, knuckling the fine pale bones of sunlight, the wet spear of a passing car. She is sitting on the pavement. It is cold, and I am leaning against the wall. All I can offer her is my silence.
It happened. It happened to her.
On a Friday night. It happened like it always happens, like some dominant trait down the lines of generations, something hereditary, something like tradition; party, beer, darkness, quiet and brutal violence, recoil, shock, shame. Now silence, a whole fist of it.
Last year, my father buried the cat and told me that I was strong. I told him that I was getting older.
And this is the way you tend to get older as a man. You get strong; you get tough. You take the blows of the world on the chin. You breathe through pain and you swallow words, all within yourself. I have blocked myself out of feeling for so long, because to feel is to allow yourself to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable is to allow yourself to be hurt. It is better to be a man and not feel because then nothing can hurt you. When you occupy this zone, you are never losing. Man, you are strong, deserving and immortal. You think you feel no pain but you do, and you realize you’ve been feeling it all along.
And right now I am feeling.
We are on the street, silent. She is silent and she is strong and seeing, always seeing, cannot stop seeing it.
I want to take her eyes, rip them out of her head so that she cannot see backwards. Make it my pain, only my pain, but this is always hers.
I tell her that she is — and she doesn’t let me finish, says to me that she is nothing but stone.
I want to tell her that it will be okay, but I cannot guarantee that kind of assurance. I am just silent and helpless.
Isn’t this the pain of it all? That this is deficit which cannot be remedied, a pain that has a chronology but no rhyme or reason, anger that has no conclusion. A void to which truly, now, no words can be said. A loss which cannot be healed, by me at least, and all this analytical philosophy, science of psychology, two thousand years in the making, cannot answer this simple question of why this pattern of suffering continues to happen.
We look around and say to ourselves: we are not violent, we do not rape, we do not assault. This is not a problem of ours. We are not bad men; therefore, we are good men. And this is the standard of a good man these days, silence and inaction. It is the bare minimum of not causing harm. We can convince ourselves that we are irrelevant to the issue and so it can be irrelevant to us. We are useless as we are benign, in the path of least resistance, while the human cost is being paid and being paid and being paid.
My sister had a quote on her wall that said that our lives began to end when we remained silent about the things that matter. Silence is what I do to live, what I do to be me. What we do to be men. Where we approximate to, to allow ourselves to be strong. The stubborn pulping of the heart which receives, used to receive, now never receives. Satellites of human worth asymptotic, toxic, and alien in our quietness. We warp ourselves too much in this language of being men, in this comfortable fraternity of stoicism. Our legacy is compliance. This is the strength, the smallest of us.
This is the silence. It is our privilege. What we do to be, and what she does to recover. To just go on.
We are in the street on a November day both trading silence. It is like nothing is cloven, nothing bitter or ever lost. These things happen, and I am just silent.
Andrew Tan-Delli Cicchi is a sophomore at Duke University studying Literature and Documentary Studies with a thematic focus on gender and identity issues. He is a writer from New Zealand, born in Singapore, working primarily in the genres of poetry and non-fiction documentary.