Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Updated Trauma Patient's Story: Four Years Later

She thought she’d forgotten it. Of course, just the thought that she’d forgotten it meant that she hadn’t. The fake pleasure of not thinking about something doesn’t actually bring any real comfort. The centipedes in her stomach didn’t stop their hourly trek around her insides and her lungs didn’t fill any easier. But there was a certain fog in her head, letting her pretend that it had never happened and that she’s fine. If it happened to come to mind she would put it out of her mind, one way or another. As long as she didn’t have to think about it and acknowledge the bugs in her stomach and the guilty shame haunting her head.

But being in the psych ward really makes her think, especially when a psychologist sits down and starts asking her about her life. He pulls at the strings until she unravels and the story is out. She’s never told a soul before and reliving the moment makes it seem so much realer than she remembers. Will the doctor be mad at her? Tell her all the things she’s done wrong? But as she finishes her story, she frowns a little, ending with a quiet, “I guess it wasn’t my fault after all.”

No, the psychologist answers. Not at all. I’m glad you can see that. He tells her to think about it more and not be afraid of thinking about it. She promises she will.

Later on she sits in the dayroom, watching her fellow patients and dutifully thinking about that night. It’s hard to remember the details and it’s even harder to confront the emotions that come with them.

Confusion, worry, fear, disgust, shame, guilt, terror.

It was almost pleasant, feeling hands slide up her calves, then back down, then back up, then back down. But behind the pleasure is confusion: something is not right. Those hands are not supposed to be there, and she really doesn’t think she likes it anymore. The hands slide higher up her thighs and she starts to get a little worried about what is happening, but she can’t open her eyes to look around.

The warmth of the hands seep through her jeans as they go all the way back down her legs, then all the way back up. They skim her hips and go up her sides, then all the way back down. Back up, back down. She settles into the discomfort of the dream, feeling helpless to escape and not knowing what to do. Her own hands won’t respond to push the stranger away.

At some point the hands go to other places and fear starts to take hold. Her sweater isn’t thick enough to hide her breasts and she cringes in her sleep, trying to twist away but finding it alarmingly difficult to move. The hands go back to her ankles, then go back up. This time they find the space between her thighs and she instinctively closes her legs tightly, whimpering. She desperately tries to wake up, desperately tries to convince herself that she is still asleep.

Someone is telling her to wake up. Yes, yes, I want to wake up. I want this to have been a dream. She finally gets her eyes open and look up to see him looking at her worriedly. She asks how long she was asleep. He says he didn’t even know she was. This scares her for some reason.

She wants to tell her boyfriend what happened and why she is worried. But she feels dirty and guilty and ashamed. What if he is mad at her for letting someone else touch her? Because she did let him. She should’ve been able to stop him, to realize what was happening, to wake up. Her already weak self-esteem and strong self-hate die and blossom in kind. How could she have let it happen? She decides to never tell a soul and locks the memory up inside.

Back in the psych ward the memory has been unlocked. She is finding it hard to breathe and the centipedes in her stomach are running rampant as if trying to escape. She can’t handle the people around her and she can’t handle the feeling of those hands and the overwhelming sense that she’d never been asleep. She finds the nurse.

The psychologist tells her to write an unsent letter to the man who touched her, to confront her own feelings about what happened. She does so after a day of telling herself that she is brave. In her letter, she tells the man that she cannot feel guilty anymore and refuses to blame herself for what happened. She says that she will never let him touch her again in any way, casual or otherwise. She will stand up for herself and say no. She will be brave. She later reads the letter to her psychologist and says she is going to tell her boyfriend about what happened. The psychologist approves.

She is still scared, but she is determined to be brave. The memory is unlocked and dealt with, out in the open for a trusted few to understand. She will no longer let her fear and self-loathing consume and limit her. Instead, she will be brave, raise her head, and walk on.

Years pass, and she is still scared and still trying to be brave. She still remembers, still ducks instinctively when she sees a shock of white-blond hair. She scans every face in the room just to be sure. The nightmares are still there. The paranoia has become a way of life for her, such that it doesn't even feel like paranoia. It just is. She still feels guilty, still feels ashamed, still feels like a dirty slut.

Yes, she will be brave. She has been brave. She is brave.

If only she didn't have to be brave just to exist.

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