Shahd Alshammari


There is a difference between the way you walk and the way I place my feet slowly, carefully, in front of me. I have to pause and think about it. Sometimes, my feet won't budge. I stare at them, confused –and I wonder if you can see my frustration. After all, you just met me, and you don't know me. It's all wrong, this geographical glitch.

I have been home for years while you were gone. April, May, June. Two bodies living worlds apart, but you have walked down the same street I struggled to cross. You haven't seen the way I button my shirt. Or unbutton them, the buttons threatening to win. You haven't noticed that my voice cracks as I struggle to get the cotton balls out. Speech is not the interior monologue I construct as a writer.It's the words that sputter out – naked, at your feet. I try to tell you that words fail me as much as I have failed them. They used to be my haven, my home, but the day my tongue got tongue-tied (literally), was the day the doctors told me I should use a marker and a board to speak. It would take time to get my mouth to open again, to stretch and lift and close, to roll words off my tongue as smoothly as everyone else does. Every writer loves their words, but what happens when I can't say them?

Type, type, text. On the sixth of the sixth of that year, you read me and I found a way to tell you the stories I carried.

And when you saw my library, the books that had saved me, you opened our favorite book, the one with the Arab writer who struggled to fight cancer. She didn't make it, but you tell me that the journey into the self was excruciating and that the body housed her until it exiled her. I think about minds and bodies and mindbodies and whether we talk too much theory and forget about touch.

Months later, I trace your name on my book, the way you wrote it for me. I want to learn the shape of your writing, the way the letters string themselves together to hold up my name. Holding me up, aligning my spine, and I think about how easy life would be if your pen could take the pain away. To take the pain away is to acknowledge its magnitude and I don't think I want to tell you about it. If I show you, would you fear about the daunting future? Would your eyes cease to pine for me, grasp me?

Your mouth has all the answers to the questions I am afraid to ask. Your voice carries the notes to my future novel and I wonder if you would buy it. Not everyone reads Disability literature. Not everyone wants to. I still don't know whether disability as metaphor works. I don't know whether we all hold 'dual citizenship' as Sontag writes "Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick."2

But I do know I want us to have a home, one citizenship, and I want the borders to melt away as you reach for me across continents. We see in each other the m(o)ther, the (o)ther, and the ot (her). OT. Occupational therapy, the desire to recreate, rebuild. Rebirth happens every time we touch, even when I can't tell whether it was you who has ignited the goosebumps onto my skin. I don't feel it. Numbness creeps up today but I see the pattern changing. You were here.


1. Jisim is Body in Arabic, Jismain is two bodies.

2. Illness as Metaphor


Shahd Alshammari is Assistant Professor of Literature. Her collection of stories Notes on the Flesh deals with disability in the Middle East. She is currently working on a novel.