I went to C’s hostel. The girls were allowed to come down today, but the timing of it had changed. They were allowed only two hours. I learned this only after waiting for C and then walking around the bazaar wondering if any of the girls had come down. The boy’s warden happened to be on my street, so I asked him about it. I looked for a taxi then to go up and meet C—it was just time for them to leave and I thought she only has a short period of time. I want to spend some time with her, and I want her to be able to meet her relatives if that is what she feels like doing. Well, there weren’t any today. There is an archery tournament someplace and everybody is there, it seems. I began walking up, only to get a ride shortly after starting out. So that was nice.

By then it was 1:30 or so. We met a taxi driver selling butter and cheese and my lift pondered these purchases for a while. Then we went up again. I tried not to let my mind get out of control, waiting. Of course, if I am meeting C, there will be insanity waiting to rise to the surface. I realize now I can’t shove it down anymore, but I can modulate it, and that helps it from getting to the melting point where I can’t calm down again.

I got to the hostel and asked after C. No one was quite sure where she was. She had gone to a restaurant, someone said. Some of the girls had left the hostel. She might have gone also. I am always idiotically amazed at this. I somehow expect everyone to know precisely where she is at all times. It’s like I think she’s a toddler and there’s an unfenced pool. Obviously, we must know where the toddler is at all times. It’s only sensible.

Anyway, she was sitting on her bed with her cousin and a couple of other friends. I hugged her and she hugged me back—a side hug. They are usually side hugs. I am not sure why. I haven’t always given her side hugs. It might be her choice to do it this way. It’s less overwhelming.

She talked to her friends for maybe an hour, and I sat there, mostly watching her face and trying to follow the conversation. I don’t know that I caught most of it. It sounded like gossip. Not vicious gossip. Just gossip.

She seemed happy. Stable and happy, so I was interested in that, wondering if she actually is stable right now, or if she is merely covering over the wounds. It’s so nice to see her that way, I think a part of me feels terrified it can’t be true. I think a part of me can’t believe it’s possible. Partly, I would imagine it seems unbelievable because that would be something I had a hand in—it wouldn’t be entirely my doing, but I would have played some role in her getting there. I am sending her pancakes 3 or 4 times a week—on days when I think she might be feeling particularly needy and I am sending her a letter every day. Sometimes the letters are unique and sometimes they are replays of the same old thing: I love you, we are connected, I didn’t leave you. I am here.

Anyway, I left and began to think about what happened, and the interaction. It’s hard still for me to be completely present or process in real time what is going on with C. it is so intense for me to be there. I had this other stuff going on also, the remnants of my own reactions to her, some of them trauma-related: distrust, shame, sadness, washes of warmth. The usual “I just got connection and now I feel like a maniac” stuff.

I eventually kind of settled and I really began to think about what I saw and who I saw and whether C was okay, because that’s my feedback. There isn’t any other feedback except her reactions to me when I meet her. She isn’t reaching for me impulsively and dysregulating herself anymore. Whether this is because she feels less vulnerable and can control that impulse or whether she feels afraid to even reach for me, I don’t know. I can’t assign any definite meaning to it, so all I have is her reaction to seeing me to tell me if I am basically acting in a helpful way or not.

So I began to really try to get inside the dominant mode she seemed to be in. It wasn’t a mode I immediately recognized. It wasn’t the vulnerable child who seems sad and scared and sits close to me and automatically prompts cuddling out of me. It wasn’t angry child, who starts fussing that she doesn’t have any pens and seems like she needs a bouncer or something to calm down in. I began to realize I had seen it before. It was a mode that feels vaguely sexual to me, although I am not sure why. It’s sort of more feminine and demure: a softer, higher voice, something about the eyes that is sort of lowered—not exactly batting eyelashes, but kind of like that. Bits of other modes crept out, but this one seemed to be there through most of the conversation.

As I began to settle, I could imagine it better. I started to be able to recognize it. I remember it from other situations. The Tuesday before midterm break, C was like that. She used to be like that at school sometimes. I remember her fleeing from me, and going to hide in front of her classroom, which was locked. She was kind of crouching/leaning/sitting against the locked door when I found her—I was never sure what to do when she fled, but I generally went after her. I kind of default to an assumption of fear on C’s part, rather than a wish for independence. Who knows, but anyway we still have a relationship. I remember I went and knelt next to her, and put a hand on her leg. She hadn’t finished her National Language homework. The thing is, she had fled, but I felt in her body a pleasure that I had come. A shyness, but also a relief. That’s how it felt as I sat there on the bed today. A shyness as well as a pleasure.

As I remembered these moments of being with C in this mode I realized what she actually most reminds me of is my old 17-year-old cat back in the States before I had to put her to sleep. She reminds me of that cat at the times when she wanted my attention. I didn’t really know cats had such complex emotions, but the feeling I get is so much the same when I try to imagine how each of them might feel. My cat had these really big, blue eyes. They were not naturally that big. She widened them to look more appealing. After living together for more than a decade, my other cat started to get big eyes too. Also, if the cats were sick, their eyes shrunk down to normal size again. It was part of how I could tell they were not well.

So C lowered her eyes and spoke in a more traditionally feminine way than, say, the Teen would to make herself more appealing, and she also felt some degree of pleasure and comfort in my presence. She didn’t talk to me very much, but I am sure her reaction was about my watching her face. There is an intensity to my gaze, I know. It is partly about needing to concentrate in order to catch any part of the language. Her reaction was, actually, like another child part. There is something vaguely sexual to me about it—probably because she is a sexual being. Feminized behaviours end up looking like sexual behaviours. But I think her behaviour is coming from a young child self. It reads to me as being about six years old, even though coming from a 14-year-old it feels ever-so-slightly flirtatious.

There is a different child self she has who has more confidence about being wanted and desired. She asks for momos and junk food and money. She doesn’t expect to be rejected. She seems younger than the shy child. The innocent child (she seems innocent, totally oblivious to the possibility that other people could be busy, or just not approve of her, but not out of malice or selfishness) seems like a toddler—somewhere between 1 and 3.

The hard part for me is this disbelief that C could want me. I can deal with the relationship if I see it as providing a service. I know I have all this trauma-stuff that gets stirred up by it, and it makes me feel needy. Which is okay with me, as long as me and the neediness stay in touch and things don’t get externalized or enacted. But it’s easier for me to cope with the relationship if I see myself as an object, and if I think of C responding to me only in terms of my capacity to take care of her needs. However, the second child wants me to like her. She isn’t lowering her eyes and looking demure for the sake of her friends, I don’t think. She likes me and wants me to like her.

The thing about C is that she knows me. She isn’t like a student who might see me on a frustrated day or a day I lose my temper, but has never seen me totally lose my mind. They have never seen the tenderest and neediest parts of my heart. C has. If she wants me, then it is as me. It’s not about wanting a particular mode or mask. It feels like that anyway. It feels like she knows me enough to be wanting my authentic self.

It seems impossible. It seems impossible also to be effective and to think that I am not essentially doomed in the most important endeavours of my life—and C is one of those.

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