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Silence is a Lonely Country: A Prayer in Twelve Parts

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Sadia Hassan | Longreads | July 2018 | 18 minutes (4,468 words)

I.

On the night of the election, I call my father from the group home I am working in as a residential advisor. Things are eerily silent. No one playing the dozens or making a milkshake way past their bedtime; no one singing at the top of their lungs or crouched behind a fridge ready to jump out and scare the ever-living mess out of me; nobody asking questions about tomorrow, because, of course, nobody believes it will arrive.

At dinner, one of my students wants to know if I voted. I remain aloof.

I watch another student’s hands clench and unclench on the kitchen table.

“Man, if I could vote …

The truth was I could, and I had not. It did not feel like a choice to me. It was a question of degrees and integrity. It was a question of belonging or estrangement; between one drone strike and another genocide. I understood this country could never belong to me, so I did not vote and that night, overcome with the sinking weight of an accumulated shame, I could not catch my breath.

The thoughts ran through my mind: the Muslim ID cards, the internment camps, the CIA black sites, the border, the drones, the undocumented. We will all be [       ].

My father’s voice on the other side of the phone steadies me. I am a river rushing around a single, steady boulder, my father’s voice a buoy. “Aabe macaan,” I begin. “Are you watching the elections?”

“Aabe,” he sighs, the phone shifting awkwardly in his hand. He was clearly in bed.  “We have our children. What can they take from us?”

Even the children, I want to say. Instead, I say nothing.

Baba returns me to my body. When we were kids, he would hold his hands before our faces, slowly folding down each finger until we held his limp-wristed fists faceup in our tiny little hands. We were each of us as vital and necessary to the body of his love as each limb was to his person. Instead of “I love you,” he would say, “You are my two front teeth.” Instead of telling us to shut up, he would ask, “Take a breath.” Perhaps, my father was a poet. For him, the body is the only language that remains after everything falls away.

I put the phone down to get a drink of water. Really, I step away so my father does not hear me cry. I want to take off running.

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