There was an earthquake last night: It wasn’t very strong. It must have been far away from us. Looking at the USGS site, I don’t think it was even in a neighbouring country. But it was very, very sustained. It might have been as long as a full 30 seconds. Earthquakes usually seem to last forever, but a four second earthquake is probably more average.
There happened to be a girl in my house from Class 8, and she was really frightened. I was on alert, but not frightened. Nothing was falling or breaking. There were no earthquake kinds of noises—no sounds of the ground moving or anything. No windows rattling. So I felt the house would probably not collapse on us, which would be my worry. But there was no way to reach C, and she must have been very frightened by it, just as this other girl was. It felt terrible to have no way to reach her.
I don’t think I slept well after that, but I can’t remember. I did wake up sometime later—I had a fever by then—and I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t look at the clock, but it seemed like I was basically awake forever after that. I began to realize it was Natalia’s birthday. I had been so wrapped up in C’s crisis, that I hadn’t really had a chance to let that register. I have also wondered how much of what I remember or seem to remember is even true. I realized it was her birthday, and I began to cry and to miss her.
Yes, I suppose she existed: I miss her.
My memory of her is so weighed down with grief not just for her but for all the reasons she was even a part of my life. If my parents had cared for me, I wouldn’t have been trafficked. I wouldn’t have known other girls who were trafficked. I cannot remember Natalia without also thinking about my parents and their colossal failure towards me.
A lot of what I seem to be doing right now, generally, is handling that grief. Behind the shame is grief. If I feel worthless, it is because I was not valued. I might have been valued as something instrumental, but not as a child with needs and feelings and an inner life. My engagement with C really brings this home to me and I think when I see her, that is the experience and the insight I always have to try to handle in some way—and that I usually can’t quite do. When I see her, I am nearly always slightly dissociated. I leave her with fragmented, dream-like impressions of what happened, as if I was not entirely there, and I think I was not entirely there. I am not as shut down, perhaps, as I used to be, but I am shutting down.
If she is not worthless to me, then I ought to have not been worthless to my own parents. There is a clear parallel between us. I was as troubled as she is. I had as much potential as she does. I ought not to be worth less than she is. There is also the feeling I have when I am with her of being someone who is valued. She does not know how to have relationships, and so that value does not always come out in clear ways, but there is an implicit way I feel it. Even in very strained, upsetting experiences when she is strongly pushing me away, I feel that. I feel that she is locked into trying to stay with me, even while she is also pushing me away, because she values that connection with me so profoundly. There are times when she takes a widgety approach to dealing with me (Recharge me plz), and there is that flash of memory from the past of having been a widget to my parents, but I can feel a difference. With C, it’s coming from a place of fear and distrust: she cannot show her vulnerability. She needs care. She is dependent on others to meet her needs, because she is a child. At the same time, it has never been safe for her to be dependent or for her to be vulnerable. Her vulnerability has never consistently been met with acceptance and soothing. It has been met with indifference or irritation or punishment or exploitation. It makes sense to me that she cannot display it.
I cannot make sense of my parents’ widgety approach to me. I cannot. There is something deeply natural and human about responding to a child’s needs by taking care of that child, and I don’t know why my parents didn’t have that. My father was a murderer. He was sociopathic, but it still seems unfathomable to me that he had so little empathy for me as to expose me to his abuse of the corpses. I cannot even fathom his sexual abuse of me. How do you use your own child sexually because you can without any thought or feeling for how the child is being catastrophically traumatized by it? I don’t think its possible for him to have not known. How is it he did not care?
How is it my mother exploited my sister and I to meet her own attachment needs but failed to meet ours when she was the adult and we were the children? I really, absolutely do not know. It is as though we were her own bad mother, although we were the children, and we activated all of her own anger and shame at having been abused and neglected herself. And maybe she had so little compassion for her own self as a child that she had no compassion for us. I don’t know. I do not think I will ever understand it.
But what I am left with is just a lot of grief. Because I am starting to realize I feel worthless because I was worthless to my parents. A part of the shame I feel is abandonment. I felt abandoned by my parents when they did not protect me from their own abuse and that of others. I felt abandoned by society as a whole. And it didn’t have to be like that. It could have been different, and it wasn’t.