Trauma

Trying to explain what my trauma is like, and how it affects me, feels like trying to explain why my heartbeats, or how two clouds overlap in the sky. It feels beyond me and also to close to me to see. It is something that I cannot articulate but will try all my life to put into words, because these words call me home to myself, and may just call someone else home to herself.

There is the afterglow of intercourse, the nourishment of conversation, the clinking of wine glasses, and the smooth texture of soft cheese. Then there is laughter from the gut, there is the satisfaction of a job well done, there is the exhaustion that comes after a long, full day.

There is all of that, but only until the wire is tripped. It’s unspeakably wonderful until

the damn wire is tripped and there I am inside of the worst memory I have only I’m not there

I’m still in the moment I was in when the wire tripped, but now the moment has the memory superimposed over it like words stamped across

a poster with a photo as the background. My reality becomes the background and

the memory is the words that traipse across, obscuring

any real view of the photograph itself.

The tripwire could be a word (mine or someone else’s), a thought, the recollection of a memory (perhaps brought on by a building, or driving down a certain street, or hearing a certain stringing of words on the radio). It could be the harmless lack of a response to a message I send, it could be a

breakup. Once it is tripped, I am stuck. There isn’t texture, there’s no glow inside, I’m not sure I even have a body. 

No one has seen me, no one ever will. I may never feel anything positive again, and I am utterly, truly alone. I am utterly at the memory’s mercy, anyone it says

that I am with no hopes of being

anyone–or anything–else, ever. Existence becomes static rather than dynamic because

I am triggered. Memory clouds my vision. Was there ever a clear photograph behind the words or has it always been these blocky, irritating words that obscure anything beautiful.

The words aren’t right. The essence of trauma eludes me, even now, as it has me wrapped inside its’ talons. Mercy is that every time I trip the wire is another chance

to put into words this ruthless phenomenon that I and so many others experience daily, weekly, maybe foreverly (I don’t know):

trauma. It is ours, though, and we carry it courageously forward.

The Cloth I’m Cut From (Part 2)

The job I currently hold is at a truly lovely private school on the wealthier side of town, that the children of (almost entirely) wealthy families attend. It’s a great place, & I am thrilled to be employed there. One of the many benefits of this school is a gourmet dining service which sources much of the food locally & is allergy-friendly (meaning a variety of foods free from common allergens are offered & ingredients are listed plainy). So, fridays are pizza day at this school. Always have been, probably always will be. In years before, the school has sold Little Caesar’s cheap, low-quality, crowd-pleasing pizzas as a fundraiser. Now, however, the school buys & re-sells pizzas made by the on-campus dining service. Last week during a study hall in my classroom, a student named Jackson (who delights in playing the role of class clown) wrote a complaint about the pizza on my whiteboard: “[Dining service] pizza is like eating cardboard with ketchup & goat cheese.”

I chuckled, but after three weeks of overhearing students lamenting the pizza, & hearing about a LEGIT PETITION that the students had drafted & collected signatures on (more than 100! These kids need to be in politics, no?!), I could no longer resist the urge to share my opinion on the matter.

“I will spend this weekend crying every tear for the poor students of this school who are forced to eat gourmet pizza.”

I observed them as they read what I had written. Their facial expressions were priceless, a mixture of taken aback &: oh my word, she totally has a point.

I told this story to my dear friend Meghan & she was quick to point out how beneficial my ability to share “realness” with others can be.

Her words were something along the lines of: you make other people feel like it’s okay to be uncomfortable, to acknowledge how absurd life is sometimes. You help people see how off their perspective is without making them feel bad about it.

My other best friend, Emily, is a woman of few words. When I sent her a picture of the white board her response was succinct: Everyone needs your realness.

(Side note: I wish phenomenally encouraging friends like this on every human. They are the biggest blessing of my life, hands down.)

I think that the ability to turn every (perceived) bump in life’s road into an opportunity to know oneself better is an innate human quality. But on my good days, I can access that power better than folks who are Cut from a Different Cloth.

Last night I went to an art exhibit at a gallery down the road from my home. I pontificated to my partner about my (perceived) inability to make friends at such social events, but my desire to keep showing up anyway (I’m fairly certain that only people who are cut from the same cloth as I would complain on the way to an event that they had suggested attending). Three minutes after we entered the bustling space (having snagged snacks, of course), I was engaged in conversation with someone I thought I had recognized, but don’t actually know. It was uncomfortable for me, the whole conversation, yet so lovely. The man was shifting from one foot to the other, lags in the chat between us brought me (and probably him) bouts of panic, but we made it through, & I walked away feeling the glow that follows the creation of new connection. The conversation was another chance for me to learn that my lack of self confidence is almost ALWAYS grounded in unreliable feelings rather than reality. That moment of coming back to reality is part of what I like most about the particular shape of my personality. I laugh at myself & internally celebrate returning home to reality, again.

 

I’m writing this series about what it is like to be in my skin, because I see what is lacking (another superpower ;)) in lots of the texts about folks like myself.

Humans are glorious.

I am no exception.

Neither are you.

This Twilight

 

For the first time since we all found out that the man whom everyone should have known was a pedophile, is in fact a pedophile, I am allowing myself to be true to my memories. He was, of all the wealthy white men in the community where I spent my adolescence, one of the nicest.

When I first heard I guess my memories were buried deep & the shock of considering the abuse from the victim’s perspective kept me from remembering what I do, in fact, remember. The man was mildly interested in my life, far more interested in the lives of the teenage boys in my peer group, but never unkind to me. I remember that he was fun to be around, for the most part, & eccentric. One time when we were on a “mission trip” to Jamaica a little deaf girl was prancing about in front of him, mouthing words to an unknown song or the storyline to a drama played out in her head. Her flip-flopped feet kicked up dust in front of his perch on a concrete curb. Eventually he sat up, brushed off his bum, and said, clipping the end of each word, “this girl is beginning to annoy me.”

I don’t know why but that memory has surfaced & resurfaced in my mind since we heard the news of the sexual (I’m not sure exactly what they are) charges against him. Some part of me wants all my memories to serve as road signs that point to his perversion. I think it might be my ego, striving to reduce him to a sin, an other, rather than a complex human. But that memory is simple, clear, & could have been anyone. Plus, when I look through the photos from that trip, I see him there, talking to a chicken (Henrietta) with a bad leg in one image, holding a large insect & smiling in another.

I went to Jamaica three times as a teenager & each time was enlightening, & impacted me emotionally & spiritually. The second time I went there was a young boy named Ramoye with whom I formed a relationship (children with open hearts can form bonds surprisingly quickly–especially with adults–or almost adults, as I was–whose hearts are equally open). He was probably 11, with a broad nose, heavy brow, &, at the time I was there, a deep scar on his forehead. Just the look of him told me he was one of those beautiful boys who has yet maintained the emotions that society will soon convince him to bury & numb: compassion, shame, surprise, empathy, happiness, etc. (the full spectrum of human experience which males are not socially allowed to display, at least not publicly, after a certain age). We spent hours together, silently, as he was hard of hearing (if not deaf–I can’t remember which). We communicated via wordless yells, chalk drawings, & verbal cues. Our bond was sweet, deep, as were many of the bonds that I formed with students each time I went there (we visited the same school for deaf children 2 consecutive Januarys, & then returned two years after, for another week trip).

The last day of my second trip to Jamaica, those bonds felt like grappling hooks in my heart. I felt that there was more to learn, more connection to feel, more hugs & laughter to share. I was devastated that I had to leave.

The man who we now know is a pedophile–a man who has destroyed years of boys’ lives with exposure to unspeakable inappropriate things, creating wounds of festering shame & pain in them–was the last adult to linger with me near the children before we left. His wife wasn’t far ahead. The bus full of the other white travelers was at the top of the hill that separated the school facilities from the visitor’s quarters. I imagine them all watching me make my way up that hill, my eyes noticeably red. Halfway up I remembered Ramoye, the boy with the scar, & turned around to find him. I hadn’t said goodbye.

There in the school courtyard, he was perched on a metal step, his legs wide, his elbows on his knees, head hung low, great tears falling into the dust. I don’t remember now what I signed or maybe said to him. I’m sure it was “good bye”, “I love you”, “I’ll miss you”, or some combination. We embraced & I ran up the hill behind the man whom we now know has done unspeakable things to young boys.

When I boarded the bus, no one said anything. I felt embarassed by my emotion, but also proud. Proud that my heart was alive. Proud that I felt seen by these children & that they felt seen by me. I felt the treasure of connection in my heart & did not take it for granted.

I remember that the man looked at me & said something truly empathetic. I think it was, “Oh, Lydia,” with a sad face. I can’t remember exactly, yet I knew it was sincere. He acknowledged my emotion, which is more than anyone else did, then, or numerous other times when feelings poured down my cheeks around that group of people. It made me feel connected.

A red-headed man from this same group of people once gave me a warm embrace, the hearty, Santa Claus-esque kind, when I was feeling sad about leaving the children there in Jamaica. That is a sweet memory for me, even though I do not speak to that man or his family anymore. Those gestures of support shown toward me were few & far between. The man on the bus that day, the man we all now know is a pedophile who had lied to his community to cover up his pedophilia for decades, showed me compassion in a way that made me feel just as connected as the hug from the red-headed man had. They were both genuine beacons of support & acknowledgement. Both meant a lot to me.

I miss the children from Jamaica, but I do not wonder about their lives so much as I wonder about the swirl of good & evil that can exist in a man. I wonder whether anyone is all the way bad, or all the way good. I wonder if we have all been victims & abusers, or if abusers are a certain group of people that should be kept away from society’s children. I wonder how long it takes a child who has been abused to become the abuser. I wonder if anything can ever undo the evil that a man can do inside of one life.

We all seem to have darkness & light inside of us.

Isn’t it a breathtaking responsibility to live in this twilight?

 

Tapa(s) That Mountain

 

Climbing Pinnacle Mountain today was difficult. Stomach problems made it painful internally but it was not even an *Arkansas* hot day. There was a breeze that accompanied me as I wheezed, heaved, & groaned my way up the East Summit.

Damn, I love that mountain.

Every bit of the experience was familiar to me (though I did not used to be this challenged on the way up…). The contours on boulders smoothed by hundreds of feet scaling them each week, the canopy of leaves overhead, the friendly faces who greet & cheer you on as you ascend & they descend the steep trail. I adore the crags on either side of the worn path. I love the coolness afforded by the vines and greenery all around. I love the feeling of my chest rising & falling at the summit as I gaze for miles & miles, soaking in the sherbet sunrise. I hear firecrackers, set off not far away & roll my eyes.

God, I love this place.

This walk triggers a plethora of memories. When I was a child the mountain seemed so long, the trek lest arduous but definitely more lengthy. During high school for a time I climbed the mountain weekly with a fierce group of young women. We explored the crags & swung off tree branches. It got easier for us every week, but never lost its’ lustrous challenge, it never stopped reminding us of the warrior-women within. None of us spoke out loud of how powerful it showed us to be, this weekly strength practice–we were taught to be docile & dainty–but I know we all felt it. And secretly shared it. If the other girls do not remember, then I will be guardian and remember-er, and secret keeper of these memories.

In yogic philosophy  there is an idea called “tapas”. According to Deborah Adele, Tapas is the fiery determined effort we can make to offer ourselves up to transformation, by way of strength training, meditation, or any other focused practice. Tapas is discipline, it is taking the difficult action because in your gut you know it is the right action. Tapas is the courage to step into the fire for the sake of being purified.

Pinnacle Mountain has been a place where I have cultivated Tapas. That summit has been & was again tonight the altar where I offer myself to God, to transformation, to my higher, truer, better self.

I love it. Oh, I love it very much.

Here’s to more cardio & less carbs.

Feel the holy burn, friends!

 

Lydia Nomad

Transitions

It is ironic that I like driving alone in my truck. Even a short jaunt from place to place on a sunny afternoon brings me immense happiness. The irony is in the fact that while I adore these physical transitions I struggle with the emotions of life’s most basic transitions. Changes weigh heavily on my heart. Season leaves behind season, years peel away to reveal new decades. I often feel stuck in remembrance, unwilling to let the precious past go.

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.~Psalm 126:5&6

I’ll never sit at Grandma’s side, chatting about nothing and about life in pain while we watch the brass pendulum tick the hours by. It hurts that I can’t call her on Fridays anymore and that my phone is slowly erasing all the saved voicemails she left. I treasure these glimpses into a time before her final transition.
My composition instructor who so challenged, bored, inspired, and fascinated me (depending on the day) will not teach me anymore. My heart is tender as I walk amongst classmates down the gray hall. I hear him enthusiastically yelling even now, “Do something worth writing about!” and I am thankful.
I won’t see Tori again. A friend as constant as the sunrise won’t stand next to me in the pool again. She won’t cut the cake at my wedding. She is gone. We won’t talk about our lives or cry over movies together because that time has reached its end. Suddenly, her color in my rainbow is gone, and the childish era when our lives overlapped has passed. A painful wound is left.
Such great, somber hope fills the void.
Spending time on behalf of the outcasts, and using my voice to speak for those without voices, yields less of a paycheck than one might think. How to cling less tightly to earthly security, its a dear lesson to learn. With God’s help, I will rely on Him more fully in time.
Growing into my personal beliefs instead of foolishly adopting those of my culture, another lesson. I am holding more loosely to ideals with which I have been indoctrinated and suspending life long biases in pursuit of personal faith in the better Way, the real Truth, and the abundant Life. There is a Guide who knows the best way. Jesus is my Rabbi, also my Friend. To Him I owe a loyalty greater than I owe to family, country, or friends.
Learning to joyfully count the cost and give it all up for the sake of my King.
Aching as time continually changes the landscape of my life.
Rejoicing in new lives, new days, and memories that speak: I am not home yet.

I drive my truck and I love it, from place to place.

Be to me a rock of refuge to which I may continually come~Psalm 71:31

Hearing, I forget; seeing, I remember; writing, I understand.~Chinese Proverb