Flashbacks

Evenings have been difficult the last two nights. I find myself in a gritting-my-teeth kind of attitude, where I make dinner, wash dishes, and get to bed as quickly as I can, because it seems like there’s no real way to make it better.

It turns out the trigger is the knife. I am making dinner and cutting vegetables, and the knife scares me. It might be worse now because one of the things I picked up in the Capital City was a sharp knife. Actually two. The one I used for my first two years here was a tiny little serrated thing that might be suitable for cutting up a tender steak. It was good for cutting tomatoes, I guess. Anyway, the knife is not larger, but it is sharper. It seems to call up memories of my dad (pretending to) cut me in pieces. So it’s hard.

Dark seems to trigger the same thing—maybe lots of bad things. That doesn’t help either.

Then I go to bed. I am scared of bed too. Bedtime has been a trigger for a long time. It has eased, but it began to emerge a few nights ago that actually bed is terrifying. Bed is where we got raped a lot of the time.

Oh, yeah.

We want our mommy or Nata or C or whoever might make us feel better because we are scared. Then other stuff upsets us. Nata is dead. We don’t know where C is: maybe she’s lost her pieces somewhere, who knows. Maybe she hates us. Maybe whatever.

So it’s hard. I can calm down and I can sleep, but I’m not really dealing with all of this. I’m too tired at bedtime. I just try to keep breathing so that I eventually sleep.

One thing on my mind lately is something I read in a Holly von Gulden article. Attachment is a sensory experience, not a cognitive one. That is why talk therapy does not help. Well, I think learning to regulate emotions is a sensory experience too. I think anyone who has been chronically abused is going to have trouble with self-regulation, because usually there wasn’t a “good enough” parent somewhere to help with that. There might have been a non-abusive parent on the scene somewhere, but severe, ongoing abuse doesn’t happen if there are enough functional people in the family to protect and support the child. What you probably have instead is a parent who scares you into suppressing the expression of your emotions, at least some of the time. Which is another way of saying you learn to dissociate them.

I am maybe fortunate in that there were all these attachment figures. They didn’t have the power to protect me, but they were there to help me learn to regulate my emotions. The problem is that they died mostly. In a few cases, they moved away—I think Aisha and Aliya both moved away. That’s why packing scares the shit out of me. And maybe that was this morning’s problem. I helped someone move.

Anyway, digression aside, I have this advantage where there was something sensory in my past to help me with self-regulation. There were people I really did feel safe with. I just had to cope with grief enough to use those sensory experiences to help me.

If you don’t have those safe attachment figures, I think you do have to be your own attachment figure. You have to be the person who knows how to help you calm down and can provide soothing when you need it. You have to kind of jump from being a child with no “good enough” parent to being your own “good enough” parent with nothing in between and limited role models. Maybe only shitty role models. Maybe the adult in your head only knows how to criticize and how to shame you into behaving. Which does nothing to help with calming down.

I have been thinking that having parts is, to a degree, the result of growing up having flashbacks. Oddly—it seems odd to me—we think about how we, as adults, are going to handle our flashbacks, but no one seems to be interested that you grew up as someone who always had them. I mean, if you were abused when you were 3 years old, you have been having flashbacks since you were three. You did not suddenly begin having them as an adult. You sat at the lunch tables in preschool, perhaps, and the kid next to you chewed with his mouth open, and you were flooded with shame for no reason you could discern or with tactile memories of having been sexually abused. At the very least, these experiences were connected to events that no one wanted to acknowledge and seemed to have not really happened—only you remembered them. It was all very unclear. This did not seem to happen to anyone else. No wonder it all went into different kinds of “not-me” boxes. How else do you make sense of being flooded by these overwhelming, emotional intrusions into your ordinary day? How else do you contain them, so that you don’t hit the kid with the bad table manners or burst into tears or hide under the table? None of which will endear you to teachers or help you make friends.

And the only way to cope with flashbacks is to regulate. It’s the only way to go on with life so that your cognition isn’t distorted and the only way to integrate the memories into a coherent whole so that they stop intruding as mysterious bits of horror.

I was thinking about this and also thinking about how I think it once seemed to me that I would eventually discover that the person I felt myself to be during the flashbacks was “the real me.” I mean, I feel worthless in some of them. I think I expected to discover, deep down, that is my real feeling about myself. And it isn’t.

Flashbacks are not you, just as one reader commented that feelings are not you. Flashbacks are memories of you during a particular event. It is how you felt and thought in that moment, or in those types of moments. It is not you drilling down into your authentic self. It is something that happened to you, and it is a record of how you thought and felt and reacted to that event. In a lot of cases, it is remarkably similar to how anyone might feel in that same situation. It is not necessarily that revealing of your personality, the way something more neutral might be. We all have different tastes and preferences, different temperaments. We respond differently to the same kinds of music, to the same foods. But when we feel we might die, most of us feel scared. It isn’t revealing of who you are.

So I was thinking about my memories of being sexually abused—mainly, by my dad, but I expect being trafficked was merely an extension of this. There is a dominant feeling of worthlessness. I think, actually, a part of that sense of worthlessness is really powerlessness. I felt powerless to help my friends. The feeling is one of complete defeat. Because my dad abused me in the midst of death, the two are connected: his sexual abuse and my failure to reconstruct their dead bodies. But it’s also this feeling that I had no rights at all. I had no right to my own body. Beyond just not being able to choose my own actions, I could not choose the physical sensations I was having. It is like being forced to eat when you are not hungry or you are full. The level of powerlessness is tremendous.

It began to dawn on me that this right is something everyone has. Adult women, who might choose to have sex, also get to choose not to have it. They get to choose not to have it with the same partners they sometimes do choose to have sex with. There I was, a child too young to even know how to choose, and it was thrust upon me. It was thrust upon me by someone a young person would be biologically programed not to want to be sexual with: we do not feel sexual desire for people we have grown up in very close contact with (a problem for the kibbutzes). And at an age when my brain had not started producing the hormone that makes you feel sexual desire.

And I did not have that right. Within my family, that right was taken away from me, that right to my own body, to have some control over the sensations I was having or what was going on inside me. It’s not so much that the sexual abuse hurt me and scared me—although it did—but it completely assaulted my basic physical autonomy, my right to control my own body.

The worthlessness is not me, but it is how total assault on your very fundamental right to physical autonomy feels. I understand why it always makes me want to be dead. How much better to be the pieces of bodies lying around, who went through my dad’s table saw and did not have to feel anything. Because losing all right to your body and being assaulted by sensations you do not choose and cannot control or regulate is torture. It really is torture. The Geneva Convention forbids it.

The worthlessness is not me. It is not some core attitude toward myself. It is part of something that happened, and it is something I keep remembering as a part of flashbacks I have, but it is not some core truth about myself I have to face.

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Not worried

I woke up feeling behind glass, vaguely anxious. Anxiety, for me, is rarely truly anxiety. It is terror I am keeping at arms’ length. The hard part about this is that, of course, I want to know what the problem is. I want to solve it, but everything is behind glass and I don’t know. I can cast about in my head for things that could be the cause, but I have found this scares me. It’s as though there is the real problem, which I can’t identify, and—oh, shit—there are all of these other problems I hadn’t even thought to worry about yet.

So I don’t do that.

The saw has stopped for now. The house next door is almost finished: They are nailing on the tin roof. The sad part about this is the beautiful view I had from that side of the house is completely shut out. I just see house. It used to be beautiful in the morning from the bathroom. I would look out the window—brushing my teeth or washing my hands or whatever–and see lights spangled across the hillside in the dark mornings. That’s gone now.

Instead of the saw, there is a backhoe further down the street, its engine whirring. It starts up around 6:30 am or so. It doesn’t sound like a saw, but I think any humming, whirring, machine sound is enough to trigger the memories. This is why I knew I had to deal with the saw. Y-town is exploding. I am going to hear somebody building something somewhere until the day I leave this town. And since Country X has not discovered the sawmill or the stone cutting shop, I am going to hear every sound associated with building a structure right here. This is the cost of development.

Anyway, I made coffee and generally cleaned up a bit in the kitchen.(Something smells in there. The drain is highly suspect.) Still feeling anxious. Still not knowing why. I have some thoughts about flashbacks, about feeling worthless in them, and that seems to help. Afterwards though, they seem to melt away. I forget all about them.

But C’s phone rings. I called her mid-morning—what the hell, why not….and it rings. It has been switched off for a week. I wasn’t exactly worried, but I don’t think it made me feel more relaxed. The fear this morning seems to be about something else. But I don’t know exactly.

I did not tell you I saw her family yesterday. They were moving the rest of their possessions out of their old house. I helped them move some of the furniture. The neighbour ladies all helped and a couple of young men—I don’t think dad was there. Maybe he didn’t come, or maybe he was going to get the truck.

C was not there. I suppose she is still with her aunt. I saw her siblings, but I did not see her.

It gave me this feeling, the feeling that she really is safe. I don’t think I was consciously aware in my mind that I had a specific job to do. There was a specific problem she needed help with and that was to be allowed to attend boarding school next year instead of living with her parents. I don’t think I was aware that, because her parents argue and then change their minds about her future, I never felt this was done. Even though I talked to her mom about it and she agreed. Even though I talked to her stepdad about it and, according to C, he agreed. There were still opportunities for them to fight and change their minds again. There were still moments when they could use C as the object through which to play out the accumulated resentments in their marriage. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Through this process, I have realized you can shut down your awareness of an emotion. You can avoid thinking about whatever sensory memories come to mind. But you cannot control the way they distort your cognition. To get your cognition balanced again, you have to actually be able to regulate those emotions. There is no other way.

If you are scared, you will be hypervigilant. You will note all the possible sources of threat. Your awareness of the world around you will be shaped by threat-tinted glasses, and this creates the uncomfortable experience of paranoia. This will make it harder for you to trust others—after all, everything they do is being filtered through this lens of searching for threat. When possible, you will interpret their behaviour as threatening. There usually is something innocuous that can be read that way.

You might then be overly aggressive, or you might be compliant, or you might just try very hard to control. In C’s case, it usually made me try to control. Mostly, I kept this hidden from her. She didn’t realize I felt that way, but I did and I did not always like it.

It gave me a sense that I needed to know where she was all the time and to monitor at least distantly her online activity. It created this compulsion towards what felt like surveillance. Parents actually do what I did. I wasn’t grossly out of line. But I still didn’t like it.

What happened somehow is the deadline I had created in my mind for problems to arise passed. It passed, I got this kind of indirect information that she is better at attending to her own needs than I thought (and maybe she has more confidence at doing it now), and now her phone is on so she is not trapped or helpless in any sense. The outside world is there when she wants it. And I feel so completely different now. I feel a difference I had not expected to feel.

It had really seemed, for the longest time, that I was worrying to worry. Once one mini-crisis had passed, I found a new one. And maybe I will do that again. At the moment, however, it feels different. Just different.

I feel as though the job I had in front of me has been completed and my work is done. I succeeded. I do not think I have ever in my life really had that sense, deep down, of work actually being finished or of success ever having been obtained. There was always the other shoe to worry about. I could worry about the other shoe now and, yet, I feel like, “Nah, it ain’t gonna drop.” I am not telling myself not to worry. I feel like not worrying. When I start to worry again—and I do, out of habit—I don’t feel like following through with it. I have that sense of, “Why bother?” about it. I just don’t want to worry.

 

Safe

The thing is that I think C is safe. This isn’t an entirely a logical conclusion. It’s a gut-level kind of feeling. There is some logic involved, but it’s tenuous. I wouldn’t put money on that line of logic, let alone someone’s welfare. But it does feel that way. It feels to me she is safe.

The logic begins with the idea that she is not in touch with friends or with me, and that means her lack of contact has nothing to do with me. It is entirely a C-thing, to find herself in a different setting and totally remove herself from the old one. It means she is probably busy managing the attachments in front of her, rather than reaching for ones that feel more distant. If she were in a crisis, she would be reaching. That is Piece A. Piece B is that she posted pictures after football camp ended that were taken in a place not on the way to anywhere that would be logical for her to go. Unless she were going to visit her aunt in Big Southern City whom she really wants to see. Her parents weren’t going to allow her to go, but if she managed to get there, then she is more clever than I thought at getting her needs met. And they are needs. This aunt is someone she feels very close to and very loved by. The aunt is an important attachment figure.

Piece C and D are connected: on the one hand, her parents were supposed to come and collect their belongings from their old house by now. I don’t know if they came or not but C was supposed to arrive here and meet them. The thing is she is not here. I had an idea that if a problem were to arise, it would be when the family was reunited, when the parents were together and C was with them, and they had an opportunity to argue about her and to take revenge by depriving her of something she really wants, which is to study in Y-town. She has not come. Therefore, the moment when crisis might have been likely to arise never happened. C told me she was not coming to Y-town until February 11th. Her mom said C was coming January 24th or 25th. I thought C lied to me, but I think now she was merely relating the plan she was working on independently. I think she did it. I think she managed to avoid meeting her step-dad and managed to avoid the point when a conflict in the family might be more likely.

I don’t know where she is—with her aunt, or with her grandparents in her village. I have no idea. But I do not think she is in the city where her stepdad was transferred. If she were, she would have located a phone (her own is still switched off) and found a way to complain about it to someone I know. And somehow I think the point when that might have happened has past. I think it won’t happen.

Anyway, that is the logic. As I said, the feeling is not about the logic really. It’s a felt sense. She is safe. I believe she is safe.

Perhaps this comes partly from realizing what my own priorities were: I wanted her here. I wanted her in a boarding school, where there would be time set aside specifically for study although I know students can still manage to waste it. I wanted her within my reach, so that I can give extra help, because she is so far behind she will need it. I wanted her away from whatever problems there are at home. I care about her as a whole person and as someone with largely unmet developmental needs. But I wanted her here at our high school. And I think I did that. I think I helped her with what she needed help with and asked for help with and I think I did the thing I could do that would give her a chance at life.

When I came back from the Capitol City and realized I cannot meet her developmental needs—I cannot really parent her—I think I started to feel all might be lost. But I was doing that patching gaps thing. What ought a mom to do? She has said I am her mom, like real mom, and she cannot hurt me. It is my option where to keep her. Minus the spelling errors, that is a quote from her in one of our chats. What did she need from me?

I don’t know, but she needed me to stand up for her, and I did. Diplomatically, carefully, more in actions than in words. Maybe that is what she needed. At any rate, I think it gave her a confidence to stand up for herself. I remember her excitement after I talked to her dad and then he spoke to her about it: he gave her a choice, and she chose to stay here. She related to me his response to everything I have told her. She did not tell me she told him these things, but she must have. She must have told him I am promising all these things for her future.

He said he would pay for private school for her if she did not get a place in Class 11. Well, I suppose my generosity shamed him into saying that, but it’s a good thing. It means she won’t see herself as someone likely to only complete until Class 10—she is not a strong student and may not win herself a coveted 11th grade slot. It means even if the money is not really there later, the promise that she will be allowed to go has been made and the money can come from somewhere else.

She gives me a great deal of joy—I struggled so much with that joy when it first began to make itself felt. How can I feel joy in being alive when everyone else died? But more than my joy, I wanted this particular situation for her where I felt she would be safe. And I think I did that.

Frame

I feel exhausted. I slept nearly 12 hours last night, following a mid-morning nap yesterday, and I am still completely dragged out. It’s 10 now—I woke up a little before seven. I could go back to sleep.

I think I have done some good work. I’m tired now because I worked hard. It’s not over yet, but I got somewhere. I made some kind of progress I might not lose even when other stresses arise.

I have been getting perspective on some things. One of them is that I have lived for a long time like someone trying to patch the great gaping holes in my personality via what might be normal or average or expected of me in that situation. In the mom/daughter situation with C, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to behave based on how a mom might normally behave or be expected to behave.

This isn’t because my real desires might not be acceptable, but because it was impossible to unravel what they might be. There was not really any frame. I was meeting myself for the first time. I didn’t know. Meanwhile, I made do with what someone else might want or think. It kind of worked. Sometimes. Not that well though.

This patching up of holes in oneself makes authenticity impossible. Some feelings and urges are amplified by trauma connections. Some are totally numbed for the same reason. Some are drowned out by the intensity of other things connected to trauma.

And there is also no frame, no inner landscape of previous experiences through which to aid in interpreting raw emotions. The current frame, the “adult,” was formed around only those feelings that were not connected in some way to trauma memories. In my case, that doesn’t leave much. Other feelings were ignored for a long time.

I keep trying to go back and “reframe” the recent past—the last six months or so—in order to have a better basis for life when it picks back up again in a more normal. I am trying to deal with some of the trauma from the distant past still, but also trying to create an internal landscape for myself. For a long time, there were so many feelings I just denied or left alone as things I could never decipher. Then there were the parts: there was this kind of fictional frame to place my feelings within so that I had some context, even if it wasn’t quite an accurate context. Now, I’m trying to pull things together. It’s hard. Cognitively, it is hard. That’s why I am so tired.

Part of this perspective is reflecting on C, how I got to this place with her, what really happened in my head, because how I understand our relationship as it was first forming was entirely through parts. I was just trying to keep it together and maintain some semblance of normalcy while I had these feelings I could not make sense of and that connected intimately to trauma. What I could not acknowledge—cognitively, but not emotionally—was the personal attachment that developed. There is a barrier inside, a kind of emotional wall that is there when I am with students. There are other students I am close to, but the wall remains. There is a sense of a professional relationship that I do not drop. And with C I did. Completely.

Why? I have been wondering that.

Well, because she asked me to. I don’t drop the wall with students and they do not ask me to. She asked me to and I had to decide whether that would be acceptable or not. Which led to all kinds of confusing moments with parts, Mishka who wanted to sit in her lap. (Yes, I have a personal feeling for her. I want to touch her.) Somebody else who wanted to marry her. (Yes, we need to have a formal, permanent relationship that is publicly recognized.) Someone else who kept re-enacting that moment with Ksymcia where she gave us a medal to protect us. (Yes, I feel protectively towards her.)

She didn’t ask me to drop the teacher-student wall directly, but indirectly she did. She asked for my help repeatedly in, first, veiled ways and later in urgent, obvious ways. I don’t think she, at first, had a great deal of personal feeling personal feelings. Just she looked around for safe people and saw me, and she began to put her problems before me, as kids who need help will.

I seems to me that two things happened in her life mostly outside of my conscious understanding of things then, but they are very clear now. First, IT Ma’am had given her this support and encouragement and gave her this hope life her life could somehow be different. A crack opened up somewhere between laundry and “I am stupid and bad and lazy.” (C’s words, not mine.) Then her stepdad left the family, and she began to see that life away from him might be different too. She began to see getting away from him as a goal. I don’t really know what he is like, but what C has told me is that if she lives with her parents, they fight. It seems to me that C may just be a source of tension in her parents’ marriage, and it leaves her with constant, painful conflict to manage. Boarding school began to look very promising. But then IT Ma’am—her source of encouragement and confidence—left her.

It was around that moment when we connected: after IT Ma’am had left and shortly before C’s dad left, probably about when the shit was really hitting the fan at home. (Her dad’s departure was a punishment, but I didn’t know that then. He had embezzled public money to cover drinking and gambling debts.) C told me first she wanted to go to a nearby boarding school after midterm, because she doesn’t get study time here. She just works. Then, maybe a week later, she said she wouldn’t go, because if she stayed here I would help her. There was this whole implication: I am building my hopes for a future around you. I am depending on you. Don’t leave me.

This whole time, I was trying to cope with memories of dead bodies, of deaths. I touched her and thought “She’s warm. She is not a corpse.” I was trying to juggle that.

Then we had two weeks holiday. I taught C for a while, until the students began to gossip about her and she began to avoid me. I knew how upset she was about IT Ma’am’s departure. I could see it. I knew the feeling of abandonment was very deep for her, and I knew her attachment sense was all disarranged. After midterm, I helped them stay in touch, which put C in contact with online predators as well. I felt then how much I wanted to protect her. This was personal—I had that sense. I couldn’t acknowledge it, but I had it. Mishka kept on talking about marriage and wanting to sit in her lap. What I was trying to understand, though, was how this was no longer a student-teacher relationship. I had crossed a line into a personal relationship with C. It needed to be formalized. I needed to adopt her. Everyone needed to know I had adopted her, because the line had been crossed and the students could all see it. I finally grasped that.

But what I wasn’t quite ready for was how much more I needed to go beyond that line. If I wanted to protect her, I needed to help her with her situation for next year. I needed to persuade her parents to allow me to take care of her. It wasn’t that easy of a decision to make, to get that involved in a child’s life, a child I may not even know that thoroughly. The parts were fading into the background by then. I was trying to understand the situation as the “adult.” The adult was trying to sort through a trauma-connected wish to protect and the sense of having a personal relationship, both of which felt “not-me” even though I knew they were “me.”

And then there were the fears of abandonment I knew C has, even though she may have gotten close to me without any expectation of anything permanent developing—just a temporary, urgent need for help with a situation. There were all these demands from my conscience: I can’t get involved in a child’s life and then walk out of it again. C may not have that expectation of me, but I do. Kids are not starfish to throw back into the sea or toys to play with.

I got involved in a personal relationship with C because she asked. She came to me with those big eyes of hers and said, “Will you help me?” But she needed help beyond the bounds of a professional relationship. And I said, “Yes, I can do that. I think that will be okay.”

Then I loved her.

I think that is what happened.

Off

I said there were two things. This is the second one.

C’s phone is switched off. I don’t think I mentioned that. This has been the fourth day now. She does not respond to me, but I still call her. Sometimes I text, but mostly I call. I don’t know that she really notices this. Lots of people call her and she doesn’t respond to them. Her history of missed calls is sometimes quite lengthy. Then TW, her teammate, tells me she is in what we can call Football Town. It’s possible I was supposed to know this, and did not quite understand my jumbled exchanges with both C and with C’s mom. It means I don’t really know where C is. TW says C is not in Y-Town, as was the original plan. They are neighbours, and C’s family needs to move their things out of their old house still, so probably TW would know if C had come.

It freaks me out not to know where she is. That sense of no “there there” is intensely triggering for me. The night before, I had a terrible nightmare that she was going to live with her parents next year instead of studying here and it was really awful. I could not calm down for a long time. It was like she was going to die.

This morning, I woke up anxious in the small hours again—2 or 3. My brain did anxious-y things. It tried to reason in this clunky, detail-oriented way that’s kind of maddening in the middle of the night when you want to sleep. In the end, I did sleep, but when I woke up after daylight, I still felt anxious. All flat and dissociated and anxious. Not nice.

No “there there” has to do with my dad and murders and dead bodies. I know this, but it doesn’t always help to know it. Sometimes it makes no difference in the calming down process to be more self-aware. I still refuse to calm down. I still don’t know how to calm down.

But I worked at it and maybe in the end got there.

The thing I hadn’t realized was it is everything together. It is the absence of my friends—their sense of being “missing” because I cannot find all their body parts. It is the horror of being surrounded by bits of a human being. And it is my dad’s sexual abuse.

He took girls to his workshop, did terrible things to their bodies, and then sexually abused me their among their body parts. It’s shattering. Completely shattering.

What is even more shattering for me to realize is that he created sexual pleasure for me. I had to be an enthusiastic partner—my life clearly depended on it. I mean, these girls were murdered. It wasn’t a stretch to think that he could do that to me. But he also made an effort at it. I wasn’t just faking it.

The horrible thing about it is that it suggests he had some capacity to care. He cared how my body felt to me. He cared enough to note my sexual response to him, to adjust what he did to create a stronger response in me, but he did not care beyond that. It was this very narrow stripe of paying attention to me and responding to me. My general emotional state—horrified, afraid, disgusted, grief-stricken—was not of interest. Nor was my overall, long-term well-being.

It’s devastating. He could care. But he didn’t. He cared when it allowed him to pursue his own desires, but not in other contexts. To explain that better, it’s like I had assumed he was simply missing some capacity to care, like having no electricity. But he was not entirely without it. It’s more like he flipped a switch off.

Out of touch

There are two things that happen in my mind, two streams. They seem to connect to each other. In the end, everything does. But they aren’t connected in a causal way exactly. They are connected tangentially.

One of them is that I have been chatting online with students quite a bit this week. I am a passive participant in this: “Good evening, ma’am” they say and the exchange starts up. Some of them were in my Class 5 last year or in my Class 6 the year before. They want to say something to me because I was their teacher.

But some of them are C’s friends. They were friendly towards me before she ever said anything to me, but they know me better now because of her. They talk to me about C. that is the point of connection. Is she with you? One of them asks. Another friend I reach out to—she was in my Class 6 last year. I have started to worry about library books I loaned to C. Where are they? One of them she lent to this girl. Maybe she has all three. As soon as the library book situation is settled, she asks about C.

What comes out of it is that C is not really in touch with her friends either. She is not in touch with me, and she is not really in touch with her friends. The first girl, the one who assumes she must be staying with me, is her neighbour and I think they are quite good friends. This girl has no idea where C is. It strikes me as odd. C left Y-town three weeks ago, and her friend left maybe two weeks before that. It means, probably, they have not really been in touch for three weeks, maybe five weeks. And yet C’s friend is in touch with other friends and wants to chat with me. Being out of touch is not a teenage thing. It’s a C thing.

The other friend of C’s, a football teammate, knows that C stayed behind in the city where the football camp was held and is staying with an aunt. Or was staying there. But she seems to have not heard from her since. That was a week ago, and again it seems strange to me.

What it also reveals is C’s lack of contact with me concerns her friends. They feel something is wrong. She is neglecting me. The first one, D, says, “But what about you?” As in, what about your feelings? She seems to think C ought to be with me. The teammate, TW, asks if I am meeting C. I ponder this for a minute and decide she must mean chatting online. I say no. “Why?” “She doesn’t respond to me.” “Wait, ma’am. Tell her to respond.” I don’t say I have told her this and it doesn’t make any difference. I suppose neither of them know we had a disaster of an argument right before C left, or that I think C might have mixed feelings for me, but it seems to put something into perspective, maybe something that was there before, but not in such sharp relief.

C’s attitude is always that she should not be with me, that if people see us together, they will make negative comments about her. At some point, this was probably true, but it seems like she can’t grasp this other piece. I have told her this, but I think it doesn’t register for her: people now expect her to be with me, and if she isn’t they will make negative comments about that. I think she actually feels this inside: she feels she is neglecting me and not listening to me and not living up to expectations. I think that is how she genuinely feels. But it seems to me she cannot grasp that other people feel the same way she does about it.

The problem for me is this frightens me. I am not particularly bothered by Country X village-style gossip, but I don’t like anyone saying negative things about her. I don’t want anyone to judge her. She is not bad. She is just mixed up, and she has too many people to please. It brings out my wish to protect her, and that is hard on me, because then I feel angry. Anger is hard.

But it makes me think about her perspective—maybe not her conscious perspective, but the one driving her behaviour even when she is not aware of it. Most people here think well of me. I don’t drink. I don’t date. I do my job the best I can. I seem to really care about students. That is what on the outside. Maybe it is also on the inside, but on the outside I am just a very decent person. What C sees of herself may not be so positive. She may see instead her failures, the hard shell of shallow relationships. She may be thinking what people will say about her amounts to the idea that I love her, but she does not deserve to be loved. The comments she fears are about wanting to be above her station in a sense and to aspiring to something she should not have.

Squishy

I feel today like someone recovering from a long illness who needs to be treated gently, not overstimulated or placed under too much stress. It’s an odd feeling.

I seem to be coming to grips with the sexual abuse, or some aspect of it anyway. I want to explain it, but it’s not clear. In the process of trying to sound clear, I may lose what is real about it. I may invent a clarity that doesn’t exist. Here goes….

Lately, I have struggled a lot with suicidal feelings, with a general sense of hating myself, with worthlessness. It’s hard to deal with, but it’s also hard not to deal with it in the usual way, which is to push it away. But it’s scary. It’s all the more scary, because there is this idea from popular culture maybe, or perhaps from my years of psychodynamic therapy or too much Freud, that at some point I will drill down into myself and find some kind of authenticity. And maybe this is it. Maybe what seems like it could be just a profound shame is my “real” feelings about myself. What would I do if that were the case? It’s awful to contemplate. But it keeps coming up. It’s triggered by all manner of things. Actions that feel mistakes, the saw, survivor guilt….

In the night, maybe it was morning already, a little part pops up and is feeling this intensely, this terrible feeling of self-hatred. She says something about being “squishy.” She hates herself because she is squishy. She doesn’t want to be squishy. I try to get back sleep (and do), but later it figures in.

What’s happening to me is just a feeling state. The sense of worthlessness, the self-hatred. It’s just an emotional state. It’s something that I felt in a broad range of situations that were terrible. Human tissues are “squishy.” Bodies are “squishy” when you are being sexually abused. I think the emotion is again something completely disorganized. It is not clearly disgust or fear or rage, but everything mixed together. I was very little when these things began to happen to me, and this feeling is something fossilized from that time. It is the toddler having a meltdown, pounding her tiny fists on the floor, not clearly angry at any one thing, but simply overwhelmed. But the thing prompting it is the squishy feeling of terrible things happening to me.