On Monday, C is scared of me again. The first time she sees me in this morning, she is coming out from behind the trees and she sees me before it registers to me that it is her, and she looks at me in that way you do if you have just made a mistake. She is with two of her friends, and her friends talk to me and she stands a little ways down the path as we talk, as if she does not feel part of the conversation and wants to leave. She stands very stiffly, and I finally turn to her and say, “You are looking very worried. Why are you worried?” But she just says, “No.” And then we go on our separate ways.
I see her after her exam also, and it is the same thing, only in that case she didn’t see me coming and nearly walked in front of me—you are not supposed to walk in front of teachers. So then I at least understand what happened. I ask her about her exam. She thinks she did very well. And she starts to look a little less scared, only very, very shy and her eyes begin to shine as she speaks to me.
There is no playing that day. There are no beautiful smiles, and I feel that something is wrong.
It is very triggering to me that she feels scared. I know this. If she feels scared, I want to protect her, and it recalls all the other times in my life a young girl has been frightened and I wanted to protect her only in those situations I couldn’t and sometimes they died. So it is very, very hard for me, and gives me all kinds of material to sort through later.
This doesn’t happen with anyone else, because none of the other students are afraid of me. They might nearly walk in front of me—just as she did—but they will stick their tongue out in embarrassment and smile and all will be well. They don’t look at me like I’m going to hit them.
So I am lucky in that way. It’s a trigger, but I don’t have to deal with it every day.
There are two parts to deal with, as there are always are. There is the present and there is the past. C is scared because there is something wrong in the present, but I am scared because there was something wrong in the past, and I need to understand both of them. No one will die now if I can’t sort through the present, but it’s better for me if I can understand and navigate my life.
In the present, it has occurred to me that usually students stand out to me because there is something wrong in their lives. There is this chance resemblance that C has to my childhood friends who died, but that is probably only one piece of it. Very often, I will find myself thinking this child or that child needs a little extra attention and then later I will find out their father is incarcerated or someone has made two calls to social services about abuse in their family so far or the child is in care. It is not unusual for this to happen for me. And this is in the back of my mind about C, that she has this chance resemblance and it makes me feel safe, so the walls come down a little with her that don’t with other students and it also means the parts want to check and make sure she’s still alive all the time, but there may also be something wrong in her life.
I also have in my mind that C always sees things. A child fainted behind her in assembly a few weeks ago. The child’s friend did not notice. The captain standing near the child did not notice, but C heard and turned around and searched in the rows for where the child had fallen and then ran to him. I did not see the child fall either. I saw C turn to find the child. And this happens quite regularly. Not the fainting, but C coming to the rescue. That is hypervigilance. It might be. C is alert in a way that teenage girls maybe ought not to be. She ought to be quite a lot more self-focused, and more oblivious to her surroundings. That would be more developmentally normal. It seems that way to me.
And then it seems every few weeks, C gets scared of me all over again. She will see me suddenly and look guilty for no reason whatsoever or for a very minor reason and then sometimes she stays scared after that when nothing is wrong, and what I wonder is if there is someone in her life who is very unpredictable, who gets very angry over very small things and she has to watch her step very carefully around this person. I wonder if at home she is walking on eggshells. She is keeping her small brothers and sisters safe and she is alert to signs that someone is in a mood—when she is scared of me, it is the days when I am in a mood, I have too many trauma things playing out in my head and I am feeling upset. I wonder if she is always watching that unpredictable someone in her life because they might lose their temper at the smallest thing when they are in a mood.
That is the present. I don’t know any of these things. I just wonder them.
There is one more thing in the present, but it is tied up very closely with the past.
So the past is partly if she looks afraid I am triggered into thinking she is really in danger. I am triggered into wanting to protect her. The girls I knew as a child really were in danger, and I desperately wanted to protect them from it and couldn’t. It was a very helpless feeling. It echoes the present in that I cannot act to protect C either. She is not really in danger, so I can’t do anything.
The other piece of the present is that I am becoming aware of a feeling inside me that I would call love. It is a very warm affection and it makes me feel protective, and I think it is love. I think I love C.
This is terrifying to me. Deeply terrifying.
A part came out last night. She said maybe it would break C if I love her.
I remember my friends when I was small and our love for each other—that love broke us apart inside. It saved us—it saved me—but it also broke us apart. We had to watch each other suffer—we had to cause each other’s suffering—and the fact that we cared deeply about each other made it torture. If we didn’t care, it wouldn’t have hurt. We would have been alone in our own suffering, but we wouldn’t have suffered when the other suffered. But we did care, and it was terrible.
My friends loved me and I couldn’t help but love them back, and my love for them broke me inside. It broke me to watch them suffer and it broke me that they died. It broke me apart so deeply and so completely that I didn’t want to live after that, and some part of me doesn’t want to love anyone again either, in any capacity or to any extent.
So there is a very real fear for me about this, that I will hurt C by loving her—she will end up loving me back, and then when I die, it will break her. And I will break too. I will watch her suffer and it will break me because I love her.
Of course, I am not going to suffer and neither of us will be tortured. No one is going to torture C. No one is going to torture me, and whatever problems we face, the suffering will not be so great that it breaks either of us apart inside to watch that suffering. It will not break us apart inside to care.
It’s so hard to believe this though. It is all parts of me ever knew, intense suffering and then death. All parts of me have ever known is that when you care, you enter into the unimaginable suffering of the other. It seems impossible that this would not happen. When you care, you enter into the suffering of others, but the people in my life are no longer suffering so much. There is—there might be—something profoundly wrong in C’s family. She might be suffering, but it is a suffering it would not break me to enter into. It is nothing like watching someone die. It is nothing like watching someone repeatedly raped. It is nothing like having to rape your best friend. It is ordinary suffering, and when your parent is like that—unpredictable, angry—it is terrible. It is terrible because they are your parent and because you are a child and you aren’t prepared to deal with that. It might be breaking C. But it would not break me.