No idea

So the weird thing about the particular spot I’m in is that I am not really sure who I will be in the future. I am in process. At the same time, I also have this strong internal drive towards planning. It could just be an innate character trait. Maybe I like to plan. It’s possible. It’s possible I might start to see many things about my personality emerge in the near and not-so-near future. Or maybe it’s something about the particular things I think I might lie to do. They seem to involve planning to me. Certain life events don’t happen by accident.

You don’t, for instance, end up in Country X by accident. That took planning. You don’t stay there on a long-term basis by accident either. It’s fairly difficult. And it takes a long time.

Also, I am 42. Retirement is not beyond the range of my ability to grasp of the future.

I ponder this and come up against that sense that I am completely insane. It doesn’t help that much that I can’t still really cope with my feelings for C. I think of her and there is such a rush of something or other inside me—longing? I am not sure—and I don’t know what it is. I usually end up shutting it down before anything gets sorted out. I can’t stand it for long enough to work through whatever it is or to accept it as being my own feeling.

So then I don’t know what to make of it.

But it seems like what I really need to do at the moment is keep doors open. I need to know enough that I can think how to make the things I might want possible inn case it turns out I do want them. And also I should know enough that I am not throwing my all into doing something that simply cannot happen.

That makes sense, doesn’t it?

It does, I think. It gives me this little inkling of who I might be. A planner. Deliberate. Purposeful….

Oh, but then C came running across the old assembly ground with her math paper to show me and I fell I love.

Not quite.

And I have no idea again. At all.

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Sideways

I am not adventurous.

One thing I have realized about having a trauma past is that, although it is not “incurable” (if you will bear with me), it is more chronic than acute. While you are working at whatever you have to work at to make things better, you have to live with it. And the time you have to live with it is really indeterminate. I mean, I keep landing in a place that I don’t recognize—there’s growth, in other words—and yet there is still trauma to deal with. I can’t say how long that has been going on, because I am not sure when I figured out how to kind of “do it.” I don’t know when I started doing something that worked instead of floundering around. And does the floundering count? I am not sure.

My point is just that I have learned over the years or decade or whatever it has been that it helps a lot if I don’t do much that is new. Life is unpredictable enough when little stuff sets off a whole train of hypervigilance I may or may not be able to get off of.

So I am not adventurous. New things are very rarely worth the effort. But doing the same thing again and again that I liked before. Well, that puts some sparkle into my life. I don’t know what my personality would be like minus the trauma, but as a coping strategy, predictability and routine work really, really well for me.

And this always sets me up for massive wtf moments here in Country X. Because the people who come here are adventurous. People who know me who interact with me over the fact of my coming here believe I am adventurous too. I was talking to someone yesterday who assumed I was sort of a wanderer type because I had traveled to India.

No, in fact. I am not. Quite the opposite. I run back to Y-town as quickly as possible because I like to be “home.” But what feels like home to me is different than one might expect.

The disjunction between expectation and my own internal experience makes me feel crazy on quite a regular basis.

I have been talking to other Westerners quite a lot these days. I suppose that has set this off. The fun part of this (pardon my sarcasm) is this gets routed through other experiences of feeling crazy. Like shit my dad did. So the feeling of “crazy” is not this little blip it might otherwise be.

But interacting with them has made me aware of our different experiences of Country X. There is overlap, of course. One man—unable to renew his visa for year #4 that I could never decipher—seemed to mainly be in love with the natural landscape and the opportunity for solitude. It made me aware that, for me, the attachment has to do with people. It is the specific people of my little Y-town world that make it for me. It is VP Ma’am and Maths Ma’am and C and the old people at the Holy Site who greet me that most do it for me.

I think there were enough little triggers of “safety” that I calmed down enough to form relationships. I am not really sure what those triggers were. But this is a part of acceptance for me, I think.

What triggers “safe” for the middle-class white child I would have been had my parents not been utterly whacked-out crazy is just not what triggers “safe” for me. Because I grew up in a different world.

I keep reminding myself of this and not quite believing it. Or maybe it just seems too frighteningly unsustainable. It seems to drag me off the path of what any kind of “reasonable” life might be. I don’t even know why I think that. I am not sure why it matters.

But I do need to work it out, because the plan I have for myself is to stay in Country X, make sure C turns out okay, try to help out a bit with the educational system if I can, and drink tea. Lots of it.

Luck

I have realized recently—or this has been the thought, anyway—that I grew up totally dysregulated emotionally. I mean, I was constantly way, way, way overstimulated. My nervous system was screaming all the time, and I had no help with any of it. It might have been difficult to deal with daily life as a child with no help learning to cope with feelings and life generally, but I had hell to contend with. Denial was really the only way to cope. Denial and selective attention: as in, that upsets me. I think I won’t notice it. I’ll try not to think about it. I’ll try not to pay any attention to anything that has anything to do with it. If the signals that I am noticing it become too intense to disregard, I will at the very least pretend it is happening to someone else.

Because there was so much trauma and it was so ongoing, the reminders of the trauma were omnipresent. I mean, cold is a reminder, gum-chewing is a trauma. I could never calm down. And important relationships were intimately connected to trauma. There was so much I could just not acknowledge—nearly everything—and also continue to get through the day. That’s how I’ve ended up like this.

At the moment, I seem to be stuck. I miss C a lot. I can’t seem to work through that. I mean, there is a moment when a feeling moves from over-intense and too much and then moves to something kind of normal and workable. And I miss her like knives stabbing me in the stomach. It doesn’t seem to shift. There doesn’t immediately seem to be unprocessed trauma causing this, although it is unprocessed trauma that does this—that keeps things “stuck” in this way. It is not that I am also missing Nata or missing someone else from the past. I have worked through those feelings, it seems to me.

I think there is something else, something more removed from it and less obvious. I suppose I can use the time I am here—with nothing much but shopping to do—to try to sort it out.

I am just so lucky to have her. I think that is where the stuck-ness starts. I cannot process the wonder at this. I don’t know why. I circle back to it again and again. Maybe because actually I am not lucky. I am extraordinarily unlucky. If I were lucky, I would have been surrounded by people like C from the day I was born. I feel lucky to have one person in my life I really, deeply care about, who feels worth my care as a human being—there might be others, but I am saying I would feel lucky even if she were the only decent person I knew—because my life has been completely upside down. And one good person is a surprise to me.

I suppose that’s where I am stuck. I am not lucky. I am one of the most unlucky people left alive and standing. But it does not feel that way to me.

Past and present

Today might be a slow day. Let’s see.

I need to do some shopping. It’s not particularly urgent, as I could not get a bus ticket back to Y-town until the 2nd of January. I wish it weren’t like that, but that’s how it is. Anyway, it leaves me with four days to buy some clothes (if I feel like it) and shoes (probably wise) and sheets for C and maybe a suitcase.

C does not answer her phone these days, nor does she text back when I send her texts. This is not that unusual, and it drives me nuts, but I have no control over it either. I don’t really know why she does this. Her mother gets angry at her for talking on the phone, or C thinks she will get angry. I know this is true, because I have called, heard shouting, and been abruptly hung up on. C talks on the phone a lot in the kitchen when she is making dinner. There is no reason C can’t call me back instead of her friends. I have no idea why she doesn’t, except maybe she is caught up talking to boys and forgets all about me. Or she looks at the phone, thinks, “What will I say to ma’am?” and doesn’t dial the number in the end. Or, she thinks my care is a kind of illusion that will break if she leans on it too hard. I don’t really know.

Periodically, I feel worried that I have not heard from her for 2 days, despite my insistent calls and some demanding texts. But I talked to her sister yesterday. C was at football practice. Her sister didn’t know when C would return. Anyway, C wasn’t dead. And she does seem to alert me to crises now, even if it is indirectly. Will you recharge me? Will you talk to my dad? Silence = calm. Maybe. It seems that way now. So I am not panicking.

I have been thinking about the days when we first began to have a more personal relationship. I think I understand the dynamic now. I mean, as an integrated person, I think I know what happened between us: what I felt, what I responded to, what she felt, what she responded to. The revision is important because at the time, everything was filtered through the lenses of parts. The links to the past were louder and more difficult to process than the present, and so actually it was the past that got processed, but not necessarily the present.

The day I noticed her—it was Social Forestry Day—I noticed her because she noticed me.

I was wearing a new National Dress outfit, a nice broach. I looked pretty, I think. Or at least different. And I walked quickly past her to the toilet, and she was taken by surprise, both because I came upon her suddenly when she was standing there idly, not expecting anyone to walk by really, and because I looked different. I have been wearing the same three outfits to school for more than a year and suddenly I was in different clothes, nice clothes. This National Dress someone wove by hand and the weaver did a nice job with it and the National Dress is really quite beautiful, if simple in design. And so C saw me. She saw me in that way you see someone who has been until that moment sort of furniture to you. This is not really unusual. It happens all the time. I tell a kid he should be listening during assembly or I spell a word or I help during an exam, and suddenly I am a human being. I have moved from background to foreground. There is a personal connection. The relationship changes after that. It did in this case.

I walked by, and C saw me and she bowed very prettily and said good morning, and I saw her back. I felt worried because she seemed overly startled to see me—like too compliant. I may not have needed to worry, but that is how I felt at that moment.

The next day, I began to talk to her, and what hadn’t crossed my mind is that she was thrilled. She was thrilled at my attention and she responded to it. When I asked her to bring her math work to check and she kept forgetting it until I wrote on her hand, and then she did remember it and came running to show it to me, she was responding to that feeling of being noticed and of mattering to someone and also to a sense of excitement about a new person and a new relationship. I like you. Please like me.

I think it was, in a way, like having a crush for her. Those days after her exams, when she seemed to be mooning about waiting for me, I think she was.

I don’t know how she stepped out from behind the glass—there are a lot of students who really like me. Not all of them do, but there are a handful of students who just really, really do. But I think I only half see this, or I see it as only they like my attention. They are kids and they want to be valued by someone, and I value them. I don’t see it as actually liking me. I mean, just as I do with the kids who can’t stand me, I don’t take it personally. They are kids. A lot of what is going on in their heads has nothing to do with me.

Maybe it was just a more intense feeling from her. C feels very intensely. Anyway, she did. I felt it, and I had to process almost every connection I had that was related in any way to the trauma in my past. Most of my attention ended up there—on the past—even while I was trying to maintain my sanity in interacting with her.

But I think it was something like a mad crush she had on me. That part I didn’t quite see. I mean, I didn’t see that she really, really liked me. I never think about kids that way. I think about what they need.

I didn’t see it, because that feeling of being liked due to a feeling of real connection—not because I wore the appropriate mask, but because of who I am naturally—that I can’t see. It hurts too much.

Assorted sparkles

I am in the Capitol City now. It takes two days by bus to get here. Two days of 14 hours driving. Well, 12 hours driving and probably 2 hours of miscellaneous stops to use the great Country X toilet and eat stuff.

I am sore.

Lucky for me, I had a great seat in the front (#2. If you are ever in Country X and are prone to motion sickness, book early and get seat #2. Or #1. You can see out.)

I am not really sure how to catch you up. Was it an eventful few days since I last wrote? Probably not. But now that I have time to sit still, I realize it is full of sparkles. Should I tell a coherent story, or just the sparkles?

But maybe the sparkles don’t make sense outside the story. Maybe the story is almost sparkle

C spent Christmas Eve at my house. I went around 5 to pick her up from her house. Walking down the road toward the bazaar, where I live, she suddenly seemed to remember how to chatter and she began to tell me about the meaning of prayer flags. Then someone walked by, asked her something, and she forgot to finish what she saying. I lost the thread. I figured she lost the thread too. I learned about Country X hell, but I still don’t know what prayer flags really mean.

She spent most of the evening on the phone with boys. Four of them, I think. One potential boyfriend (He asked her out. She isn’t sure.) Three friends. I did not tell her they probably wish for more. That’s not really a sparkle. It’s just what happened. C was in my house. She sat in a corner of my bedroom and talked on the phone. There was, I guess, a feeling of “fine” about it. It’s hard to explain the fine. Maybe like she wasn’t in “ma’am’s” house. She was in my house. I mean, that is what just-turned-14-year-old girls do.

We got dinner out. She was not afraid to be with me, the way she might have been even a week ago. She wanted chow mein, but she got mo-mos instead. And I made her wait an unreasonably time because I wanted roti. Then we went back to my house and we ate. She confessed she hates my cooking (not in those terms). It is like what her step-dad makes when he cooks. I was not surprised.

Then she slept in my bed with me. Or rather, she talked to the not-boyfriend while I fell asleep. It was wonderful to have her there with me. She is there, with me. She is absolutely, completely safe. I can hear her breathing, and I know she is alive and sleeping.

Towards morning—I woke up at midnight and after that did not sleep very soundly, as happens to me sometimes, when there is a lot to process (people can be safe now)—she curled up close to me and put her head on my chest. I stroked her hair and she moved away again. I wondered if any part of her unconscious knew what she had done. C never touches me. She bends her head so that I can kiss the top of her head, but she does not touch me. If I hug her, she stands there, sometimes stiffly and sometimes softly.

I made pancakes in the morning while she slept—she asked the night before about the ingredients, as if wondering aloud if I had them in the house. Then I rather rudely woke her up by yanking off the covers. We ate. I let her try a piece of dark chocolate she didn’t like. I let her unwrap her present. Then I walked her home. It was 9 by then, and she was worried that her mom would be angry. Her mom had said to “come fast.”

So I went to where mom was weaving and apologized. I said, “C told me she had work at home, but I wouldn’t allow her to go.”

When I came back an hour or two later with presents for the rest of the kids (I hadn’t been able to get one for her brother the day before), I asked C quietly if she gotten scolded.

No.

Anyway, the kids opened their presents. The class 6 girl played with the blocks I gave to her one-year-old brother. Her 7-year-old sister took the jumprope I gave to the Class 6 child and went outside to play with it. So everyone was happy.

Her mom sent the Class 6 girl upstairs for a rachu her neighbours were selling, saying Madam brought Christmas presents for all the kids, but we have nothing for her. C told me to leave it and her mom would do the fringe for me.

So when I came in the evening again, that is what C was doing. Watching TV and slowly doing what has to be done to the fringe to make it look nice. (I watched. I have no clue how to do it still.)

I stayed until 8, when she begged me for the third time to leave. She was scared I wouldn’t get home safely.

I hugged her and went. She said, “When you leave Y-town, call me.” I said I would send a text, since the bus was leaving at 6 am.

***Interlude***

There are more sparkles, but it is bedtime now.

I am in the Capitol City and C is not answering the phone tonight, but I feel almost certain that she is not dead.

 

 

The same hands

I guess I’ll write through this. Maybe it will help.

I didn’t know I was hurting so much. Last week, I seemed so able to cope and to function. My mind was on getting through the milestones and the place that grief holds during them and I did it. I got through it. I think I got through it rather well.

This morning, I am not able to cope. I’m skating along the edge of “I’m worthless.” It’s not so bad. I mean, it’s not a nice feeling, but I have firmly in my mind that I need my feelings. Something magical happens that allows the trauma to become manageable if I can deal with the feelings enough to connect them to everything they are connected to. So I do that. I hold that feeling for a while. I let my mind wander through all the things that make me feel worthless. I don’t bludgeon myself with them. I am not beating myself up over these things. I am just drifting, in a slow way, at a rate I can cope with.

I end up at two places—not surprisingly. I end up at one place in the distant past and one place in the recent past.

I held C last night, very hard. She was in one of the bedrooms—who knows if this is the one where she normally sleeps or not. There are two bedrooms in the house, very small ones. Enough room for a twin-sized bed and a bit of floor and a cupboard or two, some shelves or something. There are four kids. C’s family has a lot of stuff.

Anyway, two bedrooms, two beds that aren’t particularly large—but less narrow than mine is—two parents and four kids.

I had given C earrings. They finally arrived in the mail yesterday—two days late for her birthday. Anyway, I had hoped. Not gotten.

The evening before, she was sleeping when I came in. I wasn’t going to wake her. Then her sister began shouting in a kind of sing-song voice, “Wake up! Madam is here.” Something like that. So Madam went into the bedroom and woke her up.

C thought I was her younger sister. I put my hand under the blanket and stroked her hair, touched her hands. She complained it was cold. She used bad words in her own language. She tossed and turned. Finally, she sat up in a very confused way, wiped drool away from her mouth, and gathered her phone from under the blanket. She wanted me to go away. “I want to sleep. My whole body is paining.”

“But your birthday present came.” And I gave it to her. She opened up the box and looked.

“Do you like them?”

She wobbled her head.

She asked for a recharge then for her phone and handed me money, which I took without thinking. I don’t normally take money from her. Why should I? She lay down again and cuddled under the blankets. I got up and switched out the light and then sat down again next to her. She didn’t seem to be sleeping yet. I didn’t hear sleeping breathing. I just sat there, one arm behind her head. After a few minutes, I stroked her hair and this seemed to wake her up again.

“You are sitting there, ma’am?”

“Yes.”

“How long are you going to stay?”

“Until you fall asleep.”

This seems to have been where she asked for the recharge. I guess I have gotten the narrative wrong. Then she told me to leave the room. “If mom sees you sitting like this, she will scold me.”

True enough. So I left. I got the recharge. I fell asleep at 7 pm. That was the night before last.

Yesterday, she came home from football practice around four or so. There was a party to attend in the evening—she wanted to go. Her friend prevailed upon her to ask her mom. I observed this and got some pointers. I never push C to do anything. Apparently, if you do, she will eventually comply, but she is scared to ask her mom anything. C was instructed to scrub the laundry before going. And to be home at 8.

So, at some point, I told C I wanted to see the earrings on her. She gives an excuse about the games coordinator not allowing it, then scampers off to scrub laundry. After the laundry, I try again, “I don’t mean all the time, C. I meant I want to see you try them one time to see how they look.” She giggles in an embarrassed way and then finds them to put on. She has something else to do and scampers off again.

“Go look at them.” There is a full-length mirror in the bedroom. “They look so pretty on you.” And she smiles just a little—she really doesn’t smile around me anymore. I hadn’t noticed this until her friend made her smile earlier in the evening and suddenly her eyes sparkled. I don’t know where the sparkle went. It disappeared some days ago. Maybe weeks ago.

I had meant to talk to her about my going to the Capitol City. Someone asked me about it yesterday and C and I had been talking about her fears about my leaving, and it connected in my head in terror of leaving her. I asked her again if she wanted to go.

“Mom is saying….”

“What do you want?”

“Mom is saying…”

It takes a while to get past this reasoning and there is a miscommunication in between, but I get out of her she wants to pack up the house before her dad comes. She takes ownership of it. She says, “I want to…”

So that’s fine then. She is choosing to stay.

It’s about then that I hug her. She is reaching to put something away then and I hold her. I hold her very hard, so hard she makes a noise.

I’m aware later that that particular moment of my life is cordoned off. I stepped away from it and dissociated. I said in some silent, unconscious way, “That is not me,” and removed myself from its sense of reality.

In the morning, I suppose I began to wonder why that happened. What was it about that moment that made me step away from it? I suppose that is what has troubled me all morning. That’s why I keep thinking about feeling worthless.

I suffocated Annousha. I know that I did. I remember it. I had a clue about this during class when the idea suddenly popped into my head that I have killed someone and then a clear memory of it a few weeks. I know my dad must have made me, or I understood even if he didn’t tell me directly that I needed to do it. I am not a Mary Bell, so damaged I can kill a toddler and show no remorse until I am grown and healed and released into society again. I couldn’t do that on my own. My dad made me.

I held C with the same hands that killed someone. How can I? How can I touch anyone?

They know best

Writing anything feels like such a struggle. I don’t know why. It’s been like that all week.

I meander this morning some more, but it is headbreaking. The last time I wrote something—was it yesterday?—it wasn’t headbreaking. Perhaps I couldn’t handle it all.

I’m thinking I still don’t know who I am. I cannot look back at the past and say inside there was really this person inside me and this is the real reason I made that choice. Actually, I have no idea.

Specifically, I have no idea how I started to feel so much for C or why I am telling her now I won’t ever leave her. I don’t know if this is because of trauma or if it is my real personality showing through. I think I am scared to care so much.

There is, of course, my sensible side telling me this is not sensible. You cannot change your whole life’s plan because you think a child needs you. Well, what was I planning on doing anyway? But really that’s not the main thing.

I think there’s something in there about worth and value. If I think she needs me, then I have something to offer. I have value and worth. How can I? I am remembering the different rocks. How can I be the person who can lift a rock?

It sets of a whole set of associations about worthlessness. I realize the abuse I suffered felt personal. It felt intended to destroy me. I think now, from an adult perspective, that it wasn’t personal. I just had parents who didn’t give a shit. I got picked, maybe arbitrarily, to get a worse share of it. But that might have been for any reason or no reason. I have blue eyes, or I am smaller, or I was born last, or I had more self-control and broke later. It felt intended to destroy me because it was destroying me. I was a child. My skills in reasoning were not profound. If it feels that way, it must be that way. It was destroying me. It broke apart my personality. That’s really the damage. It’s not all the pain necessarily, it’s this aberration in my development. I could not cope with the pain well enough to do anything else. I mean, nothing was left over for creating a coherent social self. I could manage, at best, a patchwork.

It feels to me, thinking from the perspective of that childhood worthlessness that whoever is inside me must be bad. I mean, it’s not a particular quality, it’s not the person I might experience myself to be. I don’t even know who I might be. It is whoever I am. Whoever I am must be worthless and terrible, because they want to kill it.

There are all these specifics that can be added onto that. I did this wrong. I feel guilty about that thing. I am ashamed of this quality. This particular kind of abuse made me feel dirty. But the core of it is something else.

The core of it is this: I must be the wrongness. I must need to be destroyed. Because that’s what the grownups are doing. That’s what my parents are doing. And they are my parents. They know best.