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.