[Disclaimer: wrote this over a month ago; hard time letting it out; too intimate, you know? Had to wait along time with this stuff deep inside me. But balls are moving; time is healing; the drama is dated; the issues are not; updates to follow.]
I walked into the house this Friday afternoon from work and my daughter greeted me at the door unusually subdued. I had been so paranoid about her behavior lately, but this Friday afternoon I was feeling so good I had not predicated anything untoward. Immediately I was tense, “damn, just when I let my guard down”.
“I’m sorry.” She began. Then ushered me to my room. The door was closed.
“It’s my fucking computer, I’m gonna open this door and see it lying in pieces. God help me. I even hesitated: “What Vannesa?! And why are we even in this area?”
She took me in, and the room looked fine:
“Sorry that I cooked today.” She looked up at me with big sheepish eyes.
She is not allowed to use the stove. My relief was so great I had to bite my tongue to hold it in and positively reinforce my daughter’s confession…by being stern and questioning. Apparently Anna, the housekeeper, had refused to cook early enough for her tastes, so Ms V took it upon herself to warm her lunch. “When she was finished with her work.”
That was the part that got me; how is she finished with her at-home school work before lunch, when it is supposed to keep her occupied till I get home at 4?
“What do you mean you were ‘finished’? How could you be ‘finished’?!
“I meant my morning work!”
“What ‘morning work’?? Since when do you have ‘morning work’??
So far I was only feigning sternness and was more playing logic games with her responses (something you will often find yourself doing with a precocious nine year old, whether you want to or not). Apparently, my hand gestures had given me away:
We broke through our cultural bridge and fell into a pool of laughter. The innocent absurdity of such a moment was lost on neither of us.....
Much later she sat at the dinner table writing sentences as punishment for being caught cheating during our card game. In that car-crash-slow-motion-breakdown that has become all too familiar in our house, I brought dinner to the table to find she had been writing in teeny, tiny illegible letters and was pouting and angry. A discussion ensued about what exactly had caused this punishment and where her anger should appropriately lie. Somewhere there the car flipped and my little one was in my arms, keening and fighting me, and I just kept holding her and saying, in a quiet steady voice:
“Stop it; you have to stop it; just speak to me; you have to stop fighting; this isn’t you; just speak to me…: and so forth.
I could not believe how quickly I had lost control of the situation; control of my child, and I think I just held on to the body as if that might help me hold on to the girl. But she was gone; way gone; and the keening and mewling with no words wouldn’t stop; and she started to look around in desperation-“Is she really frightened of me right now? Am I being frightening?” But there was no one to ask, not even her. And then within the sounds came, “maaaaammmmmmmy”
And that’s when I let go. Whatever point I was trying to make, what ever objective I was trying to reach, I had failed and things were crossing a threshold I could not allow.
She stumbled off to her bedroom a few steps away, and fell to her bed still mewling, and mewling, and mewling-
[aside: as I write this I strangely think back to when my one year old puppy gave birth to a still born pup in the back room of our compound, with only me to watch over her. I laid some newspapers down and tried to make her comfortable while I bore witness to something I had never been exposed to and had no idea how to handle. When the stillborn was out, my puppy just kept licking it, trying to bring it to life, looking desperately up at me and mewling, mewling, mewling.]
I sat there, my body literally shaking with the force of my little girl and wondered if I had overreacted, if I was in the wrong, if this all could have been prevented. But there was a calmness in me that appeased those questions; I had not been angry, I had been scared; something was off, terribly off, and everything in me knew it.
I could see into the room, and I could see the edge of her bed, so I just stared at where the ends of her legs, and her insanely long feet (she’s gonna be six foot, that one) were. I wanted to call out to her, but my mother’s voice in my mind, “just let her be”, stopped me. For once, I agreed. In the case that I had somehow misguidedly caused a trauma to my child, and she was, in fact, lying there terrified by me, the only thing I could do was let her be, she would be feeling trapped as it was.
Shortly thereafter, the cries stopped. A strange thing happened: She sat up in bed and leaned past the door, her finger thrust deep inside her mouth, and looked at me….as if she was very confused. She lay back down; I kept eating; I could see her playing with her legs; a doll; rolling about in her bed quietly. She got up and looked out her window, sat on her bed and started playing with a pair of doll scissors, trying to cut her towel. I stared: 'was this about to start up all over again? Would I have to think about sharp objects and pills laying around for my nine year old child?'
She felt me looking at her, looked up….and smiled with her eyes in that shy way when she thinks I might still be upset with her from the day before, but she really hopes I’m not. Her eyes were all puffy from crying.
“You’re dinner is very cold.”
She jumped up and came and settled down to her meal of now congealed pasta and fried fish. I was already full and felt I had some phone calls to make. I was feeling un-tethered; I needed to connect to something sane. No one picked up.
I went back to the living room to give my quiet presence, in case absence signified anger. I was still not angry, and I was beyond scared. There was no panic in me, but perhaps a slight premonition. As I sat there listening to her eat behind me, the radio on in the background, I thought of the moment when I would have to explain to her teachers that my child may have behavioral issues we had not previously been aware of. I tried to think of how to describe it in a nutshell: “It is as if she has three different brains, a sixteen year old, a nine year old, and a three year old. No, I know,” I reassured my invisible audience, “that might be the way to describe any nine year old girl; in fact, anything I would try to describe would sound normal.” I thought back to how many hours of discussion it took my mother to understand I was not just snapping at Vannesa without reason, I had reached a threshold of desperation very few others would have been able to reach without doing a lot worse. “With Vannesa, you have to see it to understand….she just snaps.”
Dinner was over, and Ms V carried her plates to the kitchen with-seriously?-a bounce to her step; she was miming the lyrics to the song on the radio (“Summer, summer, summertiiiime…”) as she emptied her food into the garbage, put away her leftovers and washed her dishes. The only thing to remind me that I had not lost my mind and it was perhaps now about an hour since she laying in her bed in the throes of an emotional fit, were her still puffy, squinty eyes. Otherwise, I was watching a well behaved, happily satiated nine year old.
She came back to the living room and hesitated, looking around at the windows and doors, and me. “was she still scared? Wanting someone to come rescue her?” but she didn’t seem scared, she seemed lost, and looking to me for rescue.
“Yes? Do you have something to say?” She shook her head. “Do you need something?” She tugged at her shirt and kept looking around trying to pinpoint something. And I thought, “she’s just come back; she has no idea where she’s been”. But of course I thought I was being dramatic. I turned off the radio, told her she looked like she needed me for something but that I could not read her mind so she would have to communicate. She came closer to me (with Ms V that speaks volumes) and said she didn’t know what her mind said.
“I just feel dizzy, and I don’t know, like my body hurts.”
“Vannesa come here.” She came and stood over me. “Who am ?”
“Do you feel safe with me?” she nodded.
“Would your mama ever hurt you?” She shook her head.
“Do you remember what happened over there?” I gestured to the dining room table. She looked…
I couldn’t tell if she was grinning in sheepish shame, but as the conversation continued and her denials continued, I swear she looked like I must look when meeting up with someone who has recently seen me after too much to drink. Like, I want to act like I do remember, but I also really don’t and I’m curious to get the details. That’s how she looked-curious.
And so it goes. The last thing she remembered, and vaguely at that, was writing sentences after cheating at cards. And then she found herself in her bed. I remembered the look of surprise or confusion when she sat up and peered at me. Something in me clicked. No panic, no fear, just a click of a steel lock as it unlocks into a vault of knowing: the yawning, the mental withdrawal, the never remembering what she had just done, the once upon a times that only verged on the unthinkable…The door was unlocked.
I told her what had happened and explained why her body hurt. She was so….she said,
“Wow! That must have been hard, sorry mama for your suffering.” And I almost lost it, and I wanted to lose it because, Lord FUCKING knows I reveal my trauma in delayed response and I am damn scared of when this will hit me.
She admitted there were times when she was somewhere and didn’t know how she got there. (Fuckfuckfuck. I am really hearing this. This is what I’m hearing) I honestly explained the complexities of the mind-sometimes after being very scared at some point-and how it protects the person, but reassured her this was not necessarily the case with her, only that the mind was complicated.
She went to bathe and found me afterwards, curled up on my bed, clutching a silent phone. No one picked up. She looked…sympathetic, more so than I’ve ever seen her before.
“So….how are you?” She asked, her freshly scrubbed body wrapped tightly in my Indian print house robe.
She glanced around then fell into the scoop of my body I didn’t even know was there; I curled reflexively around her until I felt her fit perfectly and knew, it would always be there waiting, whenever she would need to fall.....