Language as a vector of pain

I recently had someone tell me he disowns me. This struck me as an incongruous turn of phrase since he never owned me to begin with (nor does anyone else for that matter), thereby making disownership a non sequitur, a logical fallacy, a semantic impossibility. The term also has a peculiarly nineteenth century flavour to it, evocative of pistols at thirty paces on the moor at dawn. At any rate, it was a word I had never heard this person utter before now (and I am quite familiar with this person’s utterances). It did not sound at home in his mouth. However, this person had, just one month prior, learned that his only son—a son he has been barred from seeing for the child’s entire life due to custodial wrangling and judicial gamesmanship—had grown up being told that his father disowned him, when in fact very much the opposite was true. And so when this person had occasion to want to inflict the greatest pain he could imagine on someone else, he reached for the sharpest sabre in his collection and slashed it down upon my neck. But since the term had no meaning to me other than the conundrum of logic that it presented, his blow struck me like a pile of dead leaves swept up by a gust of wind. And I stood there wondering how all those leaves got into the kitchen.

Kim Goldberg
July 22, 2014

dead leaves

About Kim Goldberg

Kim Goldberg is a poet, journalist and the author of 8 books of poetry and nonfiction. Latest titles: DEVOLUTION (poems of ecopocalypse), UNDETECTABLE (her Hep C journey in haibun), RED ZONE (poems of homelessness) and RIDE BACKWARDS ON DRAGON: a poet's journey through Liuhebafa. She lives in Nanaimo, BC. Contact:
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2 Responses to Language as a vector of pain

  1. Even the sharpest metaphorical sword cannot hurt you metaphorically or emotionally (as you know) if the person wielding it chose *you* to hurt with it. Not only did this person never own you, he was never your friend. There’s an old saying that I’ll paraphrase here: people turn on those they love, when they need to be cruel, because they know they will be forgiven. I have recently decided that I can’t be on the sharp edge of that sword any longer. I am saddened by it, more sad than I could have believed possible, because now I have no blood-family left except for my daughter Meredith, who could teach your former “friend” a lot of lessons about generosity of spirit, kindness, faith, compassion, love, help, and “ownership — which I think, besides its legal meaning, is mostly about who you can always turn to for all you need”.

    For instance, I turned to Meredith with 4605 unread emails in my inbox, increasing daily because just to open my email has become so *aversive*, and ask her in desperation, “What am I going to *do*?” There was no “You should have…’s ” in her response. Instead,despite being terribly busy with her own job as game designer and her need to write her own books, she immediately sent me a long, careful, detailed email explaining to me what I needed to do and how to do it. Yes, even down to describing internet terms as “clicky boxes” and “the box with the arrow pointing down”. She knows me and my lack of knowledge and doesn’t make fun of it. *She* would never think of my love for her as a reason for slapping a sharp sword across the neck. She’s the kind of person we both need in our lives, not a 100 year old mother with a great aim or a brother who loves you only if he thinks you deserve it, or two sisters who think writers are stupid for choosing a profession where you can’t make their kind of money, and yet would sue me if they thought that any of what I do have could in any way be seen in court as belonging to them. So I now have one blood relative, worth a billion times more than the other four. Value, not quantity.

    I’m lighter now: my inbox is down to 1,533 after less than a week, and I’ve found old emails I should have answered ages ago, and am dealing with them. Kim, I’m lighter also for my choice to keep in close and grateful contact with people like Meredith, and to distance myself (while still being true to my own values) from very close blood-kin who care for me best as a target.

    Brighter, less heavy. I do so wish that for you, dear Kim, however you need to do it.


  2. Randi says:


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