I stuff down the cookies as if the faster I eat the more I can distance myself from the misery that has bubbled to the surface.
“Write about it,” my psychologist suggests as she ushers me out of the door, our session having run past the allotted time.
I told her about the weekend I went missing. Forty-five years later, and much of it still traumatic. It’s the first time I’ve disclosed anything but vague references to her. I knew it was time. Ever since Christine Blasey Ford’s trial by patriarchy, it has been rising up in me, threatening my equilibrium. And then I crashed – physically, energetically, and emotionally – the day before my appointment.
“Anything coming up for you?” she asked cautiously, after having remarked on my apparent fatigue. I’d previously been having some dreams that alluded to abuse.
“Yes!” And the details rose, like a ribbon of acid, crossing an arid, unrelenting desert. She got me a glass of water and then made notes.
“So, he was a very organized psychopath,” she concluded.
“Well, I wasn’t the first according to the police.”
I couldn’t remember all the details, knew there were holes in my story, but the memories that remained were vivid.
“That’s typical of memory,” she said kindly. “Actually, you remembered quite a bit. Normally, it’s the moments in which the victim thought their life was in peril that stand out the most.”
“There were many of those,” I try to laugh, make light of it, but it gets caught in my throat and comes out as a sob.
“For eight to ten hours, you were held by this man, powerless to save yourself, in threat of death. It was a traumatic experience.”
She puts it in such simple, clear-cut terms that calm the emotional vortex.
“So the police knew about this man, but didn’t do anything about it?”
“No. They said I could press charges but I wouldn’t win. I’d been drinking underage, and I was wearing a halter top and tight jeans.”
“That has nothing to do with it! If he’d stabbed you none of that would have been a consideration.”
I know what she means. I’d been over this before in my own mind many times.
“It bothers me that I didn’t press charges,” I tell her. “I didn’t stop him. He would have done it again.”
“Survivor’s guilt,” she offers softly. “I can tell you as someone who has been involved in many of these cases over the years, that the police were negligent in their investigation, and you could not have made a difference. Sadly, it’s not much different today.”
There had been no rape kit done, no trip to the hospital. They just put a very traumatized kid back on the bus to her parents. Told my parents I’d spent the night with a man, as if I’d gone voluntarily.
My mother didn’t talk to me for some time afterwards, and my father called me a “whore” then slammed the car door. It wasn’t spoken of again as long as lived under their roof.
“The other thing that’s bothering me,” I start to tell her but it gets caught. She waits.
“I had a good friend at the time; someone I was very close to. After this happened, he asked me out, and I….I couldn’t let myself…I said no…”
“It was the shame. Your father sealed that for you. You felt like damaged goods.”
“Always. I’ve always felt like damaged goods. It’s coloured all the choices I’ve made in my life. I dream about the friend often… feel bad that I hurt him…have regrets….It’s like I couldn’t allow myself to be happy….”
Our time is up and I leave the office still teary-eyed and raw. Ric doesn’t ask how the session went; he can tell it was painful.
“You just want to go home?” he asks kindly.
I do. I am exhausted on every level. I feel battered, as if I’ve been through it all again.
At home, I sit with a tub of chocolate ice cream and read blog posts hoping for a distraction to take the edge off, and that’s when I come across these words:
– Hélène Vaillant
And Hélène’s words reach through the ethers and take me by the hand, and I am so grateful for this world that brings us into each other’s lives, despite the distances. The words wrap around me and remind me that this revelation, this time of disclosure, and the ensuing discomfort are just labour pains. I am ready to “embrace new understanding.”
(Hélène’s original poem is here. Every week, I challenge my readers and myself to focus on some aspect of life that contributes (potentially) to our understanding and growth. This week’s challenge is distance.)