I am in an odd place at the moment. I went to see C in the afternoon. I left my house around quarter after 1 and arrived at her school at right around 2. She wanted cake and momos and pancakes. She has asked for pancakes 3 times in the last 7 days, so I know that is actually what she really wanted, but I went searching around for momos and cake as well and didn’t find them. Oh, and junk food, but that is easy. Junk food is everywhere.
It was the most settled I have felt preparing to go up that I have ever felt and I enjoyed the search for cake. I enjoyed, really, the whole process. I had to get a new gas cylinder in order to make pancakes, and I had arranged to borrow someone’s gas ID book yesterday. (You need one. At the time everyone was applying for them, I didn’t know I would be staying so long, and I didn’t get one. Now I have no idea how to obtain one. It remains a problem for another day.) I arranged for a lift with a friend to the petrol station where you can also switch out the empty gas cylinder for a new one. So I did the laundry and cleaned my house and bought vegetables and junk food and then went with my friend to get gas. Following that, I made pancakes. Finally, I embarked on my fruitless momo and cake search.
As I said, I enjoyed all of that. I had a sense of being close to C while I did that, and also a sense of aliveness and joy, as though I had this little, lively person with me reminding me to do things like look for cake. Alone, these things are just a chore for me, but with her in my mind I had a sense of the fun of doing something different.
Then I went up. I walked nearly the entire way with Class 5 students, one of whom was my student last year for the whole year and the others were students of mine for a month or two before a new teacher came and lightened my teaching load. So it made for a pleasant walk. I can’t remember what we talked about—favourite colours and things like that, I guess.
Sometime in the morning, C also sent a text to me, asking for me to bring her phone to her. I sent back that we would talk about her phone when I got there. After that, I expected to see an angry C when I arrived, but it wasn’t like that.
She was getting ready to take a bath when I came, but her cousin was there and scolded her that I was there—this time, I was back to being “Madam,” but her cousin was in my maths club in Class 8, so I don’t mind if I am still her teacher for her. Anyway, I told C to eat and she did. She shared her pancakes with her cousin and one other friend and saved the rest of them for another friend. We sat for a while and eventually she asked me if I brought her phone.
I said I hadn’t, and that I was going to keep it for one month, until May 10th. She asked if she could have it next weekend. I asked the reason. She hedged, saying something that didn’t mean anything. I said, “You need to explain properly so that I can understand.” Then she came out with real reason: She wants to take pictures. It’s Teacher’s Day next Monday and there will a whole day full of activities she wants to capture in pictures. So I understood that, and it’s not as though I had told her ahead of time that the consequence for misusing her phone would be losing phone privileges. If I had told her ahead about consequences, then this would be a teachable moment, where she could consider why she might want to think ahead about something. But I hadn’t. I hadn’t felt I had a solid enough relationship to talk to her about consequences. I wanted to, but it seemed like an exercise in futility: imposing consequences really takes the cooperation of the person being punished and I didn’t feel like I would get it. I felt I would just get fear.
Anyway, I thought that and said yes. I said she could have it that weekend and on Monday to take pictures and she said she would send it back down with a friend—the same friend she sent it with when everything happened.
I told her then I was concerned having her phone all the time would interfere with her concentration. Friends would call and disturb her when she was trying to study. It’s a temptation, and so on. I said I thought of letting her have her phone on weekends only. Of course, that’s when the whole issue of meeting the boy came up, so I’m placing her in the same position of having contact at her fingertips during the very time when other kids are most likely to be messing around, but I also feel she might be in a better place now, a more stable place and be able to cope with what comes up. I think the structure we have right now is working, and it’s keeping her more settled on weekends, when she is most likely to feel lonely and forgotten about because she has unstructured time: I am seeing her on Friday evenings and on Sunday afternoons, so she is getting this sandwich of what I hope is real connection around that difficult time period. It’s possible that my idea is not a good one, but I feel like she has to have some freedom and there has to be some trust in the relationship. Otherwise, she is not going to be able to grow up. She is going to keep getting starved for individuation.
Regardless, I said that, and I asked if she understood. She said she did. I am not really sure who I had during this conversation. She seemed vulnerable with me and maybe sad. Writing this, I have an idea that distantly in her mind she might have had the idea that someone cared enough to set boundaries for her. Someone cared enough to be thoughtful and to consider the pros and cons of an action that involved her and didn’t simply punish her or indulge her on a whim. I was glad, though, we could have this conversation about giving the phone back earlier and she could see negotiation is possible and she can put forth her needs and desires and not be rejected or punished for having them, but have her feelings taken into account in a thoughtful way. I was really very glad about that.
A while after that, she went to take a bath. Then “her brother” called some other person’s phone and she took the call outside. Then some other students came to me with math questions and C went to eat watermelon I had brought with some other friends nearby. Finally, she came back and started changing clothes. Her cousin explained what they were getting ready for, but I didn’t get it and it didn’t really matter. I wrote a note to C and handed it to her. She tucked it into one of her books. After a minute, C said, “You want to go?”
It was maybe a few minutes before then that I realized I had become very dissociated. I felt like I wasn’t me at all and that nothing was real, and I realize it was getting to me, either to be with her or to leave her. Maybe both. I just noted it and was aware of it.
I said something about she had something to do now. I made her walk out with me. It was clear she was edging into Detached Mode as we walked out together. At the gate to the hostel, we parted. I was going to walk down the hill and was going to walk up, so I said goodbye to her there. I said, “I love you,” and I hugged her and she said, “Okay, go now.” I thought about how much this was hurting her.
Walking down the hill, I began to worry whether she was drinking—I saw one of her friends with a beer can badly concealed in something black I couldn’t see clearly. Then I realized what was happening to me. I don’t know whether C will develop a drinking problem this year or not, but I was thinking about it at that particular moment because I was leaving C and it was triggering massive fear which I wasn’t regulating, and it was manifesting itself as paranoia. I stopped thinking about it and shifted my attention to the walk.
It was a nice walk down. For a few hours after I reached my house, I felt more grounded and calm and inside my own body than I have in a long time. Being with C, I had felt a lot of warmth for her. I think I usually have that warmth and shut it down. I think it’s too painful to feel it, and I was in less pain this time, and could feel it. I think that is why later I felt more grounded. The warmth gave me a wonderful feeling of connection and it was like food for my heart. I felt full afterwards.
Later, it dissipated—I began to cycle through all the stages I go through with separation again, the longing and fear and shame and anger and despair. Then a friend came—I was expecting her. She wanted my help. I came out of it and felt a bit more settled again. It might have triggered me that after I leave I have been sending C texts via a friend, and usually the Vulnerable Child keeps the connection for a while. I get a few texts later, and this time I sent one and there was silence.
It struck me later, as I thought about this as a trigger, that the reasons I supplied in my own mind were either innocuous (maybe she hadn’t seen her friend, maybe she felt reassured enough not to need to reach for me) or worried (maybe she was struggling too much to reach out for me), but they weren’t the ones I would have thought in regard to my parents. I didn’t think it was because she didn’t really care about me or that the connection would be severed, and it again made me sad. C is 14 and a teenager. She is not mature. She has disordered attachment. She can’t regulate her emotions well. And yet I feel a trust for her that middle-aged people responsible for my welfare couldn’t make me feel for them. I felt they forgot me when I wasn’t there. I felt I couldn’t believe what they said to me. They said they loved me and I didn’t believe them. I don’t expect C to take care of me, but I trust that the care is in her heart, and I really believe it is there all the time, even when she is flooded with all kinds of emotions. I know when she is angry, she really wants to hurt me, and she does say things to hurt me, but I know if she tried she could probably actually hurt me. It made me really sad to think of that.
I had this other idea that I miss her. I miss the sweet texts she has been sending me when I leave her, and I need to be able to validate that in order to cope with the feelings. I need to tell myself it is okay to miss someone. I guess that is the next item on the agenda.
Then also I was thinking about what might have been going through C’s mind—things I hadn’t been conscious of in the moment, but occurred to me later. I told her, kind of in every way possible, that she is wanted. She wanted to take a bath when I came, and her cousin scolded her so she didn’t, and I told her it was okay. She could go. She was going to sit on her friend’s bed instead of her own—where I was sitting—and I insisted she sit with me. My gestures to her the whole time were very open and inviting. I touched her a lot, and I think for someone who feels shame about herself and her own body, that can have a meaning. When someone touches you in a gentle way, as I was doing, I think it can feel that your body is okay. It isn’t dirty or shameful. I was telling her too—we were talking about dance, that she isn’t dancing this year at all—and I said whenever I see the students at our school dancing, I really miss her. I listened to what she had to say about her phone. I elicited her reasoning for wanting the phone and was open to what she said. Then I left her a note that said everything about her is okay, and I love her for the person she really is.
I asked her cousin if C had talked to her parents at all. She hadn’t thought so. I am visiting C twice a week, and walking up a steep hill or down the same hill in pouring rain or paying a taxi 150 in local currency (which is not cheap, actually) and her parents haven’t contacted her. It has to be incredibly painful to feel that you can be wanted, but your parents in particular for their own reasons don’t want you. It has to be terribly painful to start to see that it isn’t you—it’s your parents. The grief must be tremendous.
Those are my thoughts. Now I am going to sleep.