Life in a pressure cooker

Friday is a holiday, but I don’t really get a lot of free time, because there are students who want to come to my house and get help with their maths. Some students ask and then don’t come. Other students come without asking. Only a few actually ask and then show up. But they start up at 9:30 and continue until maybe 11, then start again around 2 and keep me busy until after 6 pm. It’s not a lot of them—just a steady trickle.

So that is how I spend most of the day.

Between things, though, I do manage to process something. It has been nibbling at my brain for a while, and I wish I knew how I got where I am now, because I think the process is important. I think talking about the process is a part of what I have to share with others.

Anyway, the thought it gets to is that not only do I have a longer future in my mind now—which has been on my mind the past few days—but other people do too. And the change in time-frame changes the decision-making tree for me in ways I don’t really know about yet. I just know that this will happen. Other people’s longer futures adds to that change in my mind.

And somehow it reminds me of the decisions I made with Nata, of our whole relationship, because our relationship was centered squarely in the context of a trauma bond. It was totally oriented towards coping with the real possibility of death on the immediate horizon. We had a very intense romantic relationship when we were very young despite the reasons it might be unwise to do that because one or both of us seemed very likely to die at any moment.

On Wednesday, I had an idea about how students approach learning mathematics here in Country X and I thought I would see if I were correct by interviewing a few students and I asked C about it. She’s thoughtful and she speaks English nicely so that I can understand it and she was never my student and so represents a kind of untainted perspective. After her exam, I did that. I asked her in the morning if she would help me and she came in the afternoon to talk to me.

I took her outside to talk under one of them metal canopies and I sat on one bench and she sat on the one in front of that. I asked her questions and she answered them, and it was very quiet sitting there with her. When I was finished and thought I understood, I went inside and brought out pancakes wrapped up in a piece of paper that I had kept aside from pancakes I had made for the staff in the morning.

She wouldn’t take it. She said first, “You should eat, Ma’am.” And I told her I had. She said this two or three or even four times and I answered in the same way. She told me directly, “No, Ma’am.”

“You don’t like them?”

“I like, but…”

And she turned away, as if to leave.

“C.” I used my teacher, stern voice. But I thought she was going to really refuse. Instead, she turned back and said, “Okay, Ma’am.” She took them, very carefully, with both hands the way she is supposed to, but I couldn’t really see her expression, or I wasn’t present enough to see it. Her friends were walking by at about that point. I thought she would share them with them. They said something or other, and then she walked quickly away in the other direction towards her classroom.

I watched her walk away from me. She tucked the pancakes into her National Dress top—the way she pins it, you can tuck things into as if it is one big pocket. But it didn’t really fit, so she took it out again.

And I saw a few minutes later as I wandered uneasily around campus that she had gone to her books to hide them among them.

It worried me, as if I had unwittingly given her a secret to keep, and the idea of that secret troubled me the rest of the day, but I couldn’t really get my head around it.

I kept thinking, unsettlingly, of what would happen if there were something inappropriate between us. I mean, what would I do if I were placed in a position where suddenly there was some kind of intense physical attraction between us? I suppose because of this sense of having a sense of a secret. It’s obvious what I would do—at least to me—but to some emotional part of me, it is maybe less obvious. It was like I needed to roll the tape on that one to be sure of how it would all go down.

The rolling of the tape disturbed many of the little parts, who are appalled at the idea of having any kind of sexual relationship to any degree at all with anyone, and it appalled other parts who could not imagine hurting C. But the tape seemed to need to roll, and so I let it.

I think I understand now why this had to be done, but it is now the evening of the next day. It took an awfully long time.

The tape is rolling because I’m thinking over this idea of foreshortened futures. It is very clear in my mind that anything like that would hurt C, that she is a jumble of confused emotions about many things and those jumbled emotions need a chance to be gently unsorted without the complication of someone in a position of power creating emotions in her that would multiply the jumble exponentially.

And I was like C. When I was not quite 12 and embarking on a sexual and romantic relationship with Nata, I was the same kind of jumble, one that needed time to be gently unsorted, only I fell asleep in the arms of a girl I was forced to abuse and forced to have sex with. I fell in love with a girl I deeply admired, that had some degree of power over me, and that I had an intense trauma bond with. We pursued that relationship because we had foreshortened futures. There was no chance for anything to gently sort itself out. She was going to die, or I was going to die, or we both were going to die. In the end, she died, but it could have been either one of us. So we went for it, when under other circumstances, we might not have. We might not have fallen in love, we might have waited, we might have made a lot of other choices than the ones we made. But we made the ones we did because we lived inside a pressure cooker.

I don’t anymore. C never has.

C can grow up in a way that I never had the chance to. I think I’m looking at that, and I am seeing the difference. I am seeing my adolescence in a pressure cooker and her considerably more normal one, and I am seeing how different they are. There are so many tremendous decisions she is safe from. Compared to how I was, she is just so safe.

And I am safe from them too.


2 thoughts on “Life in a pressure cooker

  1. Cat's Meow June 27, 2015 / 12:19 pm

    This post, more than many, really points out to me that you have the same need to understand things as best as possible, as I do. I know that for me, there is a sense of safety in having things ‘make sense’, even if it is an awful sort of sense.

    My therapist suspects that it was the way that I coped when I was young- trying to make sense of things. I seem to remember it as, if I understood what was happening, I had a chance of helping myself, or at least I was less likely to make it worse. Not understanding felt too vulnerable, too dangerous.

    I have had to learn to lose the almost panicked quality to my need to understand, so I can learn better what it is that I really need in order to heal. I’m not going to die, if I don’t understand what is going on in a particular memory. Unlike you, from the perspective of now, I realize that it is unlikely that I ever was in real danger of being killed. My grandfather was too careful to never cause enough damage- I think to avoid detection. I clearly believed that I was in danger of being killed, though. And from the memories, he set things up so that I would have that fear.

    Repeatedly being in a situation when you think that you might die is way too much for a child. It forces the child to try to be more than a child, even though she only has the brain development to be a child. You and Nata were forced into adult type sexuality as children. You were constantly aware of how fragile life was. You found in each other someone else to love and be loved by, someone to help make life worth living, even precious; you brought out the best in each other, gave each other strength, created bubbles of joy in such a bleak environment. Yes, if you hadn’t been forced into the stable of a homicidal mobster as a child, you probably wouldn’t have been the spiritual equivalent of married and then widowed by age 13, because you would have been able to find enough safety, security, and affection by more ‘normal’ means to deal with the challenges in your life.

    Thank goodness C is able to be more of a normal teen. Thank goodness you are no longer under the sort of threat that requires such extreme adaptations to current circumstances. I am so sorry that you still have to deal with the internalized trauma, brought into the here and now, where it finally is safe enough to deal with.

    • Ashana M June 27, 2015 / 1:40 pm

      Thank you so much for understanding.

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