I read a book today that included a character with PTSD which made me feel . . .things. Not that feeling is bad. Even when you are re-experiencing being locked away (seriously, why do so many people lock kids inside of dark places?), it is still good to know that you are not the only one.
I rarely meet other people like me. People who have been crumpled and stretched out so many times that there are rips in the fabric, and the original writing on the pages has been smeared too badly to read. Perhaps it's because we don't make friends all that easily. Sometimes, even when I amidst a crowd of friends, I feel like I am wearing whiteface in the middle of a KKK cross burning. One slip of the tongue, and the pain will begin.
Or maybe we are simply too good at hiding. The night my aunt's neighbor touched me and made me touch him, kiss him at the barbeque, I ran and hid so far under the bed that I was invisible. I remember how the dust bunnies scampered with my slow inhale and exhale. I remember trying to breathe around the tight itch in my lungs, trying not to sneeze so he couldn't find me again. It took hours for the adults to discover my refuge, and when they dragged me out, I told what happened. This man, the one at the barbeque, had never said "don't tell," so I told. And Daddy was so angry. At me. Daddy said I was "telling stories" because I wanted attention. Daddy said it never happened. Daddy said I should apologize to the man because I was a liar. Daddy said it could never have happened as I said it did because he had been there. He had been there and he would always protect me, so any lack of vigilance, any molestation had to be my fault or my fantasy. Daddy said. And I believed him. And I got better at hiding.
Or maybe we simply have all lost our voices. I do that sometimes. I become unable to speak. I can't talk or tell which is, perhaps, for the best. On the worst days, I can't even be enough of a human to type words on a page. It may well be the legacy left by my across the street neighbor who, when I was 5 used, to press his meaty hand to my mouth, smooshing my nose into my face until I could barely breathe. He liked silence. While he touched me. And after, when the tears fell. He touched his daughter too, Cindy to my Cynthia. I didn't know the word "nonverbal" back then, but she couldn't talk. She just made noises that people ignored. They called her "retard" and hated it when she screamed. I know he touched her until her breasts came in, and then they were gone. Or maybe it was me or my family. I don't know. I have too many holes in my memory to reconstruct things. I just remember that one day it stopped. Of course, my breasts developed when I was 7, so maybe that explains the end of my friendship with Cindy.
Or maybe, and this is the worst one, it is because there are so few of us left.
I was 7, not yet 8, when I first started thinking about killing myself. I read almost every book in our school library and trust me when I say to you that there were no manuals for that sort of thing nor were adults generally keen to instruct you in the ways of self-extinction. I was almost 9 when I made my first serious attempt. By this time, my family and I had moved to Germany, and we were living in an isolated house on the side of a mountain. We were safer there because daddy was rarely home, but when he was there, we all had to be very careful. No sudden or loud noises. No laughing. No chewing too loudly. No eating everything on your plate, and no leaving food behind. Try to be good. Try to be invisible. Invisible is good. I was the bad one, the one who caused the fights. I couldn't seem to stop singing, or talking, or laughing. I was curious about too many things and talked back too much. I was odd. Too grown up.
One day, I found a book under my parents' bed called "The Joy of Sex." It seemed a funny place for a book, so I retrieved it, and my sister and I spent hours looking at the funny pictures. Then, daddy came home. He somehow noticed that we had the book, and the yelling started. Mommy tried to protect us, but she wasn't supposed to talk back. That was against the rules. You were supposed to let them hurt you, but she pushed us behind her. He hit her, like he had done a thousand times before, only this time there was blood. She made us all run upstairs to the bedroom, their bedroom, which still had a lock. We got up the stairs moments before him, and huddled together in the middle of the bed while my father pounded like the big bad wolf demanding to be let in. We thought he would get tired and then leave to find whiskey or women somewhere, but, for some reason, this time was different. He kicked the door so hard that he splintered the wood and came in. Mommy had her whole body curled around us, but I knew that I had to do something. So, I disentangled, got up, stood there, in front of the door, between my father and my dear ones. I stood there, silent, watching, waiting. Waiting for him to kill me. Knowing that I would do anything to protect my mother and my sister. He just stared at me, eyes keliedoscoping with madness, anger, and hatred. I waited. And then, all of a sudden, he bellowed at me that I had made him break the door, and that we were going to have to pay to replace it. Then he was gone. Mama fell asleep cuddling the baby, and I went off to my book to find another book to read. I remember feeling ashamed of myself for causing such a ruckus. I remember thinking that it would be best for all parties if I simply didn't exist anymore.
It was some days later when I worked out a way to die. The house that we were renting was at least 800 years old, younger than our town, but only by 100 years or so. Parts of it looked like an old barn, and one of those parts, my favorite place to disappear and hide, was our attic. It must have once been a place where people lived because the space was tall enough for me to stand up in in places. I loved the rough, damp stone of the walls, but my favorite part of the room was the beams that criss crossed the ceiling leaving v shaped nooks where they approached the wall. I liked to hide books there or things I found on my expeditions -- a clump of wool from a sheep, flowers that wilted and faded, birds' nest, and even a bit of rope left behind by the farmer who pastured his cows in our meadow. I had been choked before (by hands, not rope), and one day, either I read it or figured it out, I realized that I could tie the rope around the beams and, if I put the rope around my neck just right, I could jump and make myself die.
So, after school a few days after the door breaking, I kissed my mum and my sister and went up to the attic and took the rope in my hands. It was an old musty rope, smelling slightly of animal sweat and vegetable rot. I was too short to reach the rafter by myself, but we had boxes stored in the attic, and I stacked them so that I could climb up. Tying the knot was difficult too, but after a bit of practice, I tied a good and sturdy one. I pulled the rope up and over my head, pressing my body low against the rough wood of the rafter, and then I simply rolled/slid off to the side. The pain was blinding, and I wasn't conscious for long. My fingers had a mind of their own, tugging at the rope, fingernails breaking, my body at war with my plan for peace. And then it was dark.
I don't know how much time passed between the dark and the grey when I finally opened my eyes, but my eyes did open, and I was still there. Much of the time after that is hazy for me. I remember wearing turtle necks to hide the welts on my neck. I remember feeling wrong in my body like I did after someone touched me. I remember feeling as though something in my throat was broken and being unable to talk. I remember no one noticing my silence. I remember feeling like a failure because I was still alive.
So, these are the film reels on repeat that leave us with shaking hands. These are the kinds of memories which leave us incapable of sharing and mingling. And those voices from the past, some of which we have incorporated into our own psyches, the ones that tell us how the world works, the ones that make us doubt that our own stories are real, those voices sing us our lullabies as we try to fall asleep.