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Freda Epum




There is nothing more revolutionary but to see the sick and love the sick, to feel the wound and be aware of its existence and what feeds it and to love others as strong as your infection. No longer repressed one is open to Love, to the giving process that is encounter. There is no longer the mask of productivity, of functionality, all that’s left are the fragile open fissures of chronic suffering.

I have seen no more radical love than a society that takes one wound and more and heals itself back from the infection with its own language of compassion and understanding and acceptance. These tools were never given to the sick in great abundance; we had to fashion them by their own rules, create their own supply.


Do not deny my wounds for I can feel them. Do not tolerate them. Do not make isolated institutionalized space for them. Do not offer me bandages, whose price demands the further cutting of my flesh, mind, soul. I am a multitude of wounds. A flesh-eating wound. And I fester. Etched into the background of history, still festering. My sores are unbearable but even worse make you uncomfortable because they are different than your own.


Or you wear a mask that sanitizes you, a coating to replace skin, ease denial. So many of you have masks now that to see a wound as deviance, an unexpected poison you never thought within the realm of your eternal reality. So, you feed it and give it a name, many names. Surnames are all symptoms, part of a family of disorders, diseases, syndromes, illnesses—handicaps you call them. Dis/abilities, a term derived from one’s inability to function in a world that gives value to production—to exertion, energy, efficiency.


I am not a machine. I am not fit for human consumption. Even if I tell you I do my best, well my best was never the same as yours. It never quite met the designated criteria.


I was never given these white masks that sustain you. I do not want one. I will not create one. I just don’t understand them. I am learning to nurse myself. I am trying to be my own caretaker, because I was never meant to survive here.


Why do you want me so bad when I speak of my horror as a flesh-eating monster? What do you gain from governing my survival? I wonder as I move through a cycle of cages, each designed to change the form of my wounds but not to erase them.


I call to demand, wish, pray that we drop these masks that shield us, because I cannot be the only one. I need that radical love, where you touch my brown skin the way you hold a baby’s hand for the first time, the way you latch onto a stuffed animal.


Encounter me like your first true love, hold me like I smell familiar, like the scent of the only flower found during the apocalypse. This is the apocalypse; we are all zombies, each infected. Why do we run? Love me openly, broken bones or bedridden, debilitated by anxiety or losing touch with reality.


I will rest. And you will rest. And I will have energy when I am ready to deal with the world again. And we will be together, both festering and healing because that is now the only way we know how to live.

Segment on the in workings of a first-generation girl


This morning I am in my apartment, not the tiny studio apartment, but the much larger one bedroom in Ohio. I am just a placeholder here, splaying out and living before the original occupant returns. I feel as though I have arrived, as though maybe I am now what they call a responsible adult. I question if this is what I will ever be. Here on this loveseat, (a chocolate brown plush material with what I hope is an unrecognizable stain), I am reminded of a conversation I had with Carrie about the Fulbright awards and how I would like to do research in Nigeria. I am writing about my family, and I am acknowledging the space, the gap in understanding that will always exist for me, the questioning I will forever engage in while trying to discover who I might have been in Jos or Lagos or Nsukka, if my father would no longer giggle (though let’s be honest he never giggles, he roars) when I pronounce common words or phrases incorrectly. I decide that a nine month stay in Nigeria is what will connect myself to another version of me. I get lost in computer tabs on the matter.


Suddenly, that light bulb shit goes off in my head. Not the good kind of light bulb shit where you have an awe-inspiring idea that you seek to tell the world, or your best friend, or your boyfriend, or really whoever will listen, but the light bulb shit where you are reminded of your conditions, your limitations. Those circumstances that you constantly have to consider though forget that they are a part of you because most people don’t need to contemplate such matters, but you are not most people. That kind of shit. This kind of shit:


Recent findings revealed that primary health care workers have very poor knowledge of mental disorders and virtually no mental health services are provided at the primary health care facilities studied. The mental health services offered at the private general practice and government owned hospitals seem to be the only hope for the minority of the populace. However, the level of capability and effectiveness in delivering these services is an area yet to be investigated. Judging by the level of mental health training received by primary health care workers (mainly from undergraduate schools), tied with deeply seated negative attitudes and superstitious beliefs on mental disorders, mental health services offered to the populace at the primary care level is likely to be minimal.


And then my heart sinks and I scramble for ideas like, “Maybe I’ll just get an advance on my medication?” For nine months? Unlikely. “Maybe I’ll find a doctor or a therapist in Lagos?” From this information, unlikely. “Maybe I’ll taper off. I’ll be fine.” Unlikely. I think of synonyms for unlikely: rare, out of the ordinary, unheard-of, inconceivable. I think of how my body is inconceivable. I think of how my Western brain and all its imbalances are seemingly absurd, conjured through superstitious beliefs, like the Nollywood movies my parents watch where the main character throws boiling water or other substances on witches to curse and ward them away from the general population. I think of how I am out of place. A no-place, a no-where.

    Odejide, O. and Morakinyo, J. (2003, October 2). Mental Health and Primary Care in



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Freda Epum is a Nigerian-American writer and artist from Tucson, AZ. She makes work about black bodies, displacement, dis/abilities, and longing. Her work has been published or is forthcoming from Bending Genres, Cosmonauts Avenue, Heavy Feather Review, and Rogue Agent. She is a Voices of Our Nation/VONA fellow and is currently working on crafting experimental vignettes of prose and poetry for a memoir about depression. She is a creative writing MFA candidate at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.


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