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Erica Trabold




Notes on Handedness

When you are the child of two left-handed people, you become aware of the ways you are different. The differences emerge slowly, like road signs scattered in memory—a foreign, yet familiar language. Left is the kind of word you almost know. You are constantly rolling your tongue over its shape. But your left-handed parents have had a lifetime to perfect their stances and pick their seats at the table without bumping elbows, to fumble with keyrings and drag pens across paper without leaving a smear. Your parents have adapted, learned to live with ease. So good is their disguise, it will shock you to learn of their suffering.



You remember combing your hair to the front of your face and guessing at the middle, wet clumps of deep brown obscuring your reflection, tickling your eyelashes and cheekbones. After every bath, you pulled the pink comb from crown to nose. You were lax about shampoo, but not about conditioner, and not about the straight precision of that part. Once after a swim, a lifeguard stopped in the locker room to watch you comb your hair. She said she had never seen anyone do it that way, it made no sense. And you wondered how many things you learned to do backwards because your mother showed you how. Comb in her left hand, facing you.


*


As a child, you liked to hold onto things: kittens, crayons, the bottoms of ladies’ long skirts. You didn’t like to share. Your father understood your need to own, your need to hold, so he simply changed your grip. He did it on purpose, taking small objects from your left hand and placing them in your right. He guided you, his clumsier fingers clasped loosely around your own. With subtlety, your father engineered it. He taught you to hold everything—cookie or toy block, pink giraffe fork—correctly, to hold it right.


*


Handedness is the myth of the father, the story he likes to tell. His story assumes we are the way we are, both daughters right-handed, because that’s how he made us. Surely, he made us. But every part? What I suppose I may be asking is: Which hand might you have chosen, might you choose now, for yourself?


*


God made the world with his right hand, according to the literature. Or at least, that’s where he sat his son? He made the world, the right-handed world, in seven days. Everything was right with the world until it wasn’t.


*


The ratio is three to one—geneticists say two left-handed parents will produce right-handed children most of the time. The right hand dominates, a fact that predates history. A smudge or scratch, a pile of bone fragments, what’s left of the record may be little, but you can read it in the right light. The way the deltoid muscle attaches to the clavicle, the length of a 1.5 million-year-old ulna bone, a monkey skull shattered with a club—the artifacts suggest humans have always used their right hands more often than not. Look at the handprints on the walls of dark European caves, the broken rows of teeth worn less on the left side of the jaw. Look at your shoulders, lop-sided, more robust on the right, so strong from repetitive motion, from where you used to throw your spear.


*


Even her sewing scissors were made for a left-handed person. Perhaps the difficulty of using them built character, imbuing you with the kind of strength-through-experience most lefties acquire just by living. You were making a pillow. At sewing class, you held the scissors upside down and, later, repeated the motion at home, where you made one set of pajamas, your sister’s Christmas present. The sewing machine, however, could not be flipped, the head and arm and cabinet fixed things. Though the earliest inventors were lefties themselves, they made sewing machines to suit the world and, thus, their fortunes. Your mother learned to sew, like she learned to do so many things, right hand faux-dominant. That’s the hardship you never had to carry. You could set the scissors down and borrow a better pair. But at some point, you just knew. Your parents were right—the world was made for you.


*


I am thinking about my sister, her hands.


*


I think it was the son of God that said if someone strikes you on the right cheek, offer your left cheek, too?


*


I am thinking about my deltoid muscles and my ulna bones, which I would guess are stronger on the right side of my body.


*


I want to tell a story about my sister.




I want to tell a story about my sister and a skull she intended to smash.



Was it her right hand or her left?

Which of my ears was ringing after the blow?


*


When the church doors flooded open, the organist played on. In the music of the exit, your sister reached for a man’s hand. She didn’t look up, just waved five fingers above her head in some act of ascension. Your sister wanted to be held, and she thought the hand she reached for belonged to your father. Quickly, she realized no. This was just some dude in a suit with brown hair and glasses who may have looked like your father from the periphery, but something was off. Something wasn’t right. Maybe his palm didn’t have enough callouses, or had too many, or my god his hand felt cold, or its roughness was startling against her skin. After two or three steps, a second of pause, your sister looked up and screamed. Everyone else—your parents, the man, you—found her mistake funny, even cute. But your sister felt the opposite. You could see the hot white terror through the anger, the explosion, her shame-filled tears.


*


The same year your sister’s engagement fell through, your mother found a ring outside her car door, a princess-cut diamond. No one had reported a missing ring, the gas station attendant said. Your mother made signs. No one called back. So, she got the band sized. She has been wearing someone else’s wedding ring for years. No one needs to know, she told you at the end of that summer. I’m telling people it was an anniversary gift from your father.


*


Consider the way words move across the page. Even your sentences branch right—first a subject, then action. Then, see yourself pile detail after detail after detail onto the bulkiest side of the core. Left to right—it’s the way so many of us learn to write, which is to say think. In English. In Spanish. In Russian. In Greek, the characters shift into familiar troughs.


*


She kept the bridal set as a kind of deposit, nonrefundable—the decision (and the man) should pay. But even at a discount, she had trouble selling the rings. She asked you to post an identical ad far away in the city where you lived. You duplicated her words, the photos of rings on the table, the same dining room table you grew up in front of, facing each other at every meal. The diamonds sparkled underneath the chandelier. No one called.


*


In Hebrew and Urdu, in Arabic and Aramaic, in dozens of languages, find the patterns engraved in your bones subverted—sentences developing the other way around, always from right to left.


*


In Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters are pliable, flexible like Tetris blocks. Fashion them top to bottom or left to right on the page—the decision yours.


*


Of course, of course, of course, you learned a long time ago not to say what you would have done differently. You can’t revise gospel without smite.


*


I want to tell a story about what happened, which was our lives.


*


I want to tell a story about what didn’t. 


*


I didn’t


*


I went to the clinic instead. She got you good, the doctor said, peering into my skull through the ear canal, all my darkness, with a scope.


*


I want to tell a story, but I’m afraid its repetition will solidify something oppositional and untrue.


*


Because, my god, aren’t you angry, too?[i]



[i] Source text: “A Few Final Thoughts”




Erica Trabold is author of Five Plots, winner of the inaugural Deborah Tall Lyric Essay Book Prize and a 2019 Nebraska Book Award. Her work appears in Literary Hub, The Rumpus, Passages North, The Collagist, Essay Daily, and elsewhere. She is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Sweet Briar College in central Virginia.









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