I lost the earring last week. The twins wanted to take it with them to class, and there is a way to tuck it into my sleeve so that I can feel it later without anyone realizing I’m obsessively carrying around a broken bit of plastic. But it carries with it the danger of getting lost that way. And I probably wouldn’t have lost it, but I had a lunch meeting with my department which ran ten minutes into my class because Country X-ers don’t really have a sense of urgency about time. So I was tucking the earring into my sleeve hurriedly as people were leaving my desk where we had gathered, and I did not do it very carefully.
It became part of a larger problem later one evening when I also disabled my touchpad without having any idea how I had done it or had to fix it and so there was also no songs and no contact with the outside world. And all systems just really broke down.
What I hadn’t realized is there are many things Ruthie will happily hold onto. Sammy liked the earring because its sparkle reminded him that Nata was a “sparkle” and therefore dead and safe. But Ruthie just likes holding things.
The earring worked really well because of the texture—it had various raised parts and a rough plastic bit in the center and I suspect the texture resembled Nata’s cross in some way, which also had a stone and raised bits around the edges.
It seems to me, when I was small, I reached up and clutched onto things when Nata held me. I held her cross, or a button, or a bit of fabric, or a tank top strap. I mean whatever was there that a hand could latch onto, I think I held onto. Today, when I was stuck in the black hole, without thinking about it, I reached up with my left hand and held onto my own bra strap. Oh, much better. That was much better. It helps to hold something.
And now I have looked through some old buttons and found an acceptable one for Baby Ruthie (who says she doesn’t know where Hannah is anymore) and now she’s very happy.
It’s made me realize a few things. Most of us do feel comforted by bits of our childhoods—we don’t even always realize they are from our childhoods. They just feel comforting. But it’s different for me. It’s weird. Because my childhood is new to me. The most horrific bits are new and the good bits are new to me too. So the things I am doing that remind me of my childhood are all things I’m doing for the first time.
So I have a pillowcase all in bright colours—pink, turquoise, tangerine. They are Nata colours. They are the colours she liked. And so I keep that pillowcase out all the time. I don’t change it. It gets washed and dried and put back on the same pillow. It’s weird as an adult to have a special pillowcase, but it’s not really that weird to have something in colours that remind you of your childhood which you find comforting.
That’s one thing.
The other thing is that the things that comfort me have to be LOUD. The comfort needs to be very strong, because I’m dissociated. Stuff doesn’t get through to me. The bad stuff is hazy. So is the good stuff. And the distress is also very intense, so the comfort for it needs to be intense too.
And much of me is not grown up. There are these developmental stages the parts haven’t gone through. Being able to grasp abstractions are among them, and so the comfort needs to be real. It needs to be sensory—a smell or a texture or a visual. Not something imagined, but something real.
However, this isn’t necessarily what life will always be like for me. I’m not always going to need to do these idiosyncratic things from my childhood to try to comfort myself. The dissociation is going to fade, the trauma reactions are going to get less intense, the parts are going to grow up and integrate. What will remain of how I comfort myself is going to start seeming a bit more average and my life is going to be less focused on calling up the past.
At the same time, I can’t just withdraw them because I think it’s time I grew up—and it’s tempting to do that. It’s tempting to say to myself, “Now, I ought to just be able to imagine comfort. I ought to be able to just have a happy memory. I ought to be able to tell myself I am safe.”
Not true. Ruthie can’t. She is a baby, and she has only just sorted out that Nata is not going to come make her pancakes when she doesn’t feel well because Nata is dead, and dead means your body stops working permanently. It is not just something that happens until someone comes along and makes it work again. Dead is forever.
She cannot just imagine holding onto Nata’s shirt button. She needs to hold the button. She cannot abstract. Eventually, this will happen, but not today.