Ellena Savage reads from Blueberries
The boys with callow faces, were they business students? They longed to visit Australia. We swapped email addresses, just as I had swapped them, dropped them, in every city I stepped through. Did anyone ever email? Yes. But only the boys who thought I’d come with them to Corsica.
—The Corsicans were the worst.
It was light, now. I looked across the Tagus at the harsh stare of Jesus, Christ the King, the grand monument, arms outstretched from the mountaintop across the river. Christ the King, installed there by the fascist government, was in no position, I thought, to judge me. The boys promised me breakfast, the best pastel de Belém in Belém. I accepted. I went to say goodbye to my new friend. She told me not to go with them.
—She was right to sense danger.
I’ll go with them, I said. It’s fine. I’m a big girl. The woman with long wavy hair wrote her number on a piece of card that I slipped into a fold in my wallet.
—You didn’t have a phone.
3 February 2017
When I am asked what the first news story I remember was— and because I cannot organise my memories in such a way—I say Princess Di. Other people my age say this, and so it has become my first news memory too. Though it may have to do with the film Amélie, which romanticises the princess-death. The Thredbo disaster was a month earlier, however, and I remember that perfectly. I was nine.
She, the blonde princess, didn’t mean all that much to me, and so in her death I didn’t lose anything personal except perhaps a belief in the myth that blonde princesses live happily ever after. What I gained instead was a sensation of hot metal folding into my body, of boiling black oil spilling out across my arms and face. Unlike the funerals of elderly family members, their peaceful grey bodies packaged smartly in timber boxes, Princess Diana, Lady Die, gave me the flesh knowledge of violent death. A useful memory to hold within your skin, as any one of us might take our last breath in a state of absolute terror.
Today I will call the police. I mean, I will call the ‘tourist police’, who take down tourists’ statements on official stationery and stamp them, so that tourists may claim the value of their stolen purses with their travel insurance companies. When I last came into contact with Lisbon’s tourist police, eleven years ago, I had to wait for an hour against a wall lined with orange plastic chairs— or maybe they were blue?—as an endless parade of dusty-haired English and French couples reported acts of petty theft against them. I was there to report an almost-rape.
—A sexual assault?
An encounter during which my flesh remembered the possibility of a violent death. When my body understood for a second that corpses are dismembered to cover up crimes. By kicking and screaming and running, I had got away from the death, so what was there to report?
Waiting for the tourist police then, eleven years ago, my organs felt heavy from the no-sleep, from the trauma, from the traces of alcohol still left in my blood. But I was chipper and businesslike. I buried my shame deep alongside my fear, and I gave my statement, describing how two young men had conspired to rape me and almost succeeded, but I weaselled my way out by agreeing to other acts of violence, and then by my hysteria, and then by my physical desperation to flee. I was so chipper that, once I’d finished and signed my statement, the tourist policeman wrote his number on a piece of paper and said, ‘I finish at ten—let me take you out and show you the real Lisbon.’
4 February 2017
I didn’t call the tourist police yesterday; today, Saturday, the office is closed. This might have been unconscious, an avoidance.
—Un-pleasure avoidance through pleasure? She wouldn’t go that far.
I’m not in the habit of living by Freud, but I admit that he has given me useful words to sort through my actions. I knew, for example, that I would come to Lisbon to find a copy of the police investigation; I knew that for many months. I knew, too, that I’d be searching for the documents that detail, in some kind of truth of their time, what happened to me eleven years ago. But now that I’m here, I can’t even pick up the phone. I don’t want to know.
—But you do.
—She doesn’t want to know the words she gave that tourist police officer, so revealing will they be of what essence she’s made.
—Were made of then, which makes you now, no threshold between you.
I know what the pleasure principle is: it is not calling up the tourist police when I intend to. It is preserving the self that I am used to living with and going to great lengths to protect it from disruptions. Freud’s exact words won’t assist me here unless I’ve already been living by them.
Instead, I’ve been living with the detritus of pop psychology, like:
+ Strength can be willed.
+ Fear can be conquered.
+ It’s not difficult to be truthful. The idea that ‘confronting demons’ is, firstly, possible, and, secondly, a good idea.
5 February 2017
—One can only conceptualise memory through metaphor. A sieve a warehouse an attic a skeleton a cupboard a filing system a database a basement an encyclopaedia a landscape a dust-bin a grab bag. A tape-recorder. RAM. A cathedral.
—Memory is the scribe of the soul. (Aristotle)
—That’s romantic—ergo, bullshit.
—Memory is a reconstructive process. (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
—Or in the living arena of speech, memory is idiomatic. like an elephant tripping down lane jogging your commit it to a living know it by allow me to refresh your .
—If memory is not a tape recorder starting at zero, then how can a self exist, truly?
—To attach to memory some order, an architecture, helps assuage the sense that one has slipped into a warm pond, only to turn around and find oneself in treacherous waters, far from land.
—Anchor memories to signposts that suggest linear time. How old was I then. What was my mother doing. I was a size eight. Tony Moretti loved me.
—‘My first memory.’
—Is buttressed by recalling it.
—‘My first memory.’ A fiction fixed to the linear self.
—If only to survive the terror of selflessness.
—But I remember mine. My first memory, Paula, another artist at the residency, said. I was three, and I remember thinking, ‘I’m not so young anymore. I’m three.’
—‘Her first memory.’ It was pink pink pink. And red, peach light, close-up mottled black. Eyelids stuck pressed shut pressed against the breast. Vitreous fluid moves against. Breast. The muted sound of booming voices, dense. Everything thick all wet velvet dusky stuck together.
—Time precedes you. A framework for the private self, totally. Alone.
—‘And yet the image we have of ourselves is mediated through the other. Indeed, it is only the other who can see us, as it were, “objectively”.’ (Hans Ruin)
—‘It takes two to witness the unconscious.’ (Freud, via Shoshana Felman)
—Does trauma need a witness? If it does, you’ll need to have this published. Or else you will be your only witness.
6 February 2017 (Absolutely no meaning whatsoever)
Polícia de Segurança Pública. Olá. Hi. Do you speak English? Yes.
I have a strange request. In 2006, I was the victim of a crime in Lisbon, and it went to court, but I had to leave Portugal before I was able to find out what happened, so I’d like to see if I can track down the documents from this time.
Okay, so it was eleven years ago. So the problem is, eleven years later our paper has absolutely no meaning whatsoever.
What…does that mean.
It means the situation was a long time ago and the situation is in the archives; it has been archived for ten years.
Is it possible to access the file from the archives? I don’t intend to pursue the matter at all, I just want to read it.
I can print it for you, but it has absolutely no meaning. If you want, you can send an email to the police. The situation is that we don’t give the police report in email.
Can I come in person? I’m here in Lisbon.
Okay, you can come here. Bring your ID.
7 February 2017 (A bad day)
Sometimes I think it’s possible to live with anything. That we’re wired to survive-survive-survive, to grip onto the gnarliest thread until life is pried from our bones. Other times I think it’s not possible to live at all. Not at all.
—Is that how you preface a flurry of complaints?
—A knuckle clenched in her gut.
After phoning the tourist police, we—Dom and I—walk to a police station near our building. But Dom has the address wrong in his phone and, with no internet, we wander round like puppies, following indecipherable directions given to us by fruiterers. Each time we turn a corner, one of his work boots crunches down on my much smaller foot, by accident.
I explain ‘the situation’ to a group of eight male officers in heavy boots, military haircuts. None of them speak English.
—They sent you home!
—To another station, downtown.
—The sun was miraculous in the sky.
—Tomorrow. Her breasts are heavy today, back aching.
We stop to rest in our room before heading to the other station. Once back at the studio, lethargy takes over. In bed, I listen to an audiobook history of the Salem witch trials. Unbelievable! I think, and then, somewhat believable—the madness of myth and misogyny and violence. I laugh, then, at the absurdity. These girls, swaying and chanting with the viral madness that possessed them. The men’s horror at the collapse of their neutral, natural power.
—The blanket beneath her legs is hot and dry in the sun. Her insides throb, but the blood does not arrive.
The artist residency we are staying at is highly disorganised. We don’t have a stovetop in the studio, we don’t have a key to the communal kitchen downstairs. In the cupboard, there is one butter knife, two bowls, two forks. A chopping board. A micro- wave on the bench. For these first few days, I have cooked pasta in the microwave, then boiled canned tomatoes with a clove of garlic (not recommended).
The air in our room is damp and it smells like the sea.
—You don’t want to read the police report.
—But she is itchy all over. In the legs. Itchy in the shoulder blades.
After building up some guts again, we embark on the second journey downtown. Once there, I explain myself again. The man at the desk prints off the information he finds, the initial report I made in 2006. He sends me to another location, the Polícia Judiciária, an enormous, modern building bustling with detectives who are investigating serious crimes such as attempted rape.
At the Polícia Judiciária I explain to six, seven, eight more people ‘the situation’. Finally, someone seemed to know what I was after. The report. The file. The verdict of the trial that I never found out. I am told to wait.
Dom reaches for my hand and holds it lovingly, devotedly, as every cell in my body buzzes.
‘Don’t,’ I say to Dom, shrugging off his love, trying to settle my hands down. ‘Sorry. Just…frustrated.’
Hundreds of thick-set detectives with charcoal overcoats and leather shoes cut out of the building for their lunch break. The lobby, wide and open as a gallery, is left empty.
Eventually, a middle-aged female detective, Cristina, comes out to explain that I will need to call yet another department. And that there will be a different reference number for my case after all—my name was incorrectly spelled in the initial report.
Back home in bed, bathed in sunlight, I turn the initial police report over in my hands. The names of the accused are written on the initial report. ‘Tomas da Silva’ and ‘Salvator’.
Later, we eat the dreary pasta dinner and I sip my glass of wine too quickly. I pour another. A melodramatic, drunken thought crosses my mind: ‘I’m not safe. I’ve never been safe.’
—Which is probably, technically, true.
8 February 2017 (Are you afraid?)
What does a man become in the eleven years since he threw a girl’s sense of being into chaos? This is the question I effectively ask when I type ‘Tomas da Silva’ into Google. According to my yield, Tomas da Silva is a football hooligan. Tomas da Silva is also a yogi. He is a newlywed. He might be a mathematics professor in a woollen vest. Or a handsome Californian. A Miles Davis fan. An MBA graduate looking for work. A thickset young dad pleased with his brood. A professional soccer player who played for Benfica 1939–42. A helicopter pilot. A sappy boyfriend. A self-promoting guru. A surfer. A guy in aviators you’d avoid at a bar. A priest. A singer in a straw hat, laughing. A supply-chain manager. A teenage boy aware, and proud, of his burly new chest. A hotel manager with a sweet, plump fiancée. An acquisitions manager who has the look of a murderer. A seventeenth-century author of books that I determine are about Portuguese court life.
—Eleven years is a long time.
There is also the leader of ‘People’s Youth’, a right-wing Chris- tian lobby group whose purpose seems only to suppress same-sex marriage and abortion. This Tomas looks so familiar that I swear it is him, until I swear it is not, until I look at his features more closely and remember that dark brown hair, pale skin with spots, a nose on the larger, rounder side, and about this tall, is not enough to go on. And while it might have been droll, or something grimly related to it, in this case I am unable to name a Christian lobbyist a sex offender.
—So you know their names, now, like you never forgot. Or maybe you’re confusing them?
—But Tomas is not the one she is afraid of. You know when life is literary?
—Dreams organised neatly into themes. Memories of childhood retold to fit with object-relation theory.
—Stretch it. And it fits.
Well, the way I remember it,
—Or, you don’t,
Tomas is pale and Salvator is tanned. Tomas is round-nosed, Salvator is pointed. Tomas is soft-willed, Salvator, calculated.
Tomas is a garden-variety coward. Salvator is a literary psychopath.
—A dichotomy assists comprehension.
—For children and their moral equals.
—A dichotomy is usually false.
9 February 2017
On 7 June 2006, my older brother emailed me.
Hey a letter from the portuguese sexual crimes bureau came in today, so I’m emailing to make sure you’re ok?
Yes, I’m fine, I had a scare one night and took it very VERY seriously, and thus put two potential sex criminals in gaol. Well, not in gaol, but they’re going to trial in the next few months. Don’t tell Mum and Dad, they don’t need to worry about anything.
It was a pretty stressful situation, involving multiple trips to the police station and ID line-ups…But it’s all over and despite the fact that it has come down to my word against theirs (and they have lawyers and will actually be present at the trial whereas only my statement will be present), I feel that in some small way, the fact that I followed it through and found them, and their families and friends now know, that a small amount of justice has been served.
Apart from all that, I’m fine and dandy. I’m in Granada now which is very very beautiful. You’d love it.
I mean. Who speaks like that?
—Eighteen-year-old you, is who.
Eighteen-year-old me, who will not let this ruin her trip! Who has exhausted her legal duties and will demand no concern,
—A small amount of justice has been served.
who can absolutely handle trivial things like ID line-ups and slut-shaming lawyers, by herself, in a foreign land,
—Fine and dandy.
whose parents need not be informed lest they ruin her new life, her new life that is, for the first time, her own.
—But it’s all over…
– Ellena Savage, Blueberries (Text Publishing)