Trauma Doesn’t Have a Timeline

My first memory isn’t of snuggles and the unmistakable scent of Mom. I don’t remember vague warblings of lullabies. Later, in my early childhood years, I can recall playing with friends at daycare, frozen yogurt with my mother, and the first days of kindergarten.

December 18 is my Cali-versary, as I call it. The day I hopped on a plane in 2014 in subzero weather. The early morning flight wasn’t delayed, but waiting in line for takeoff felt like my Groundhog’s Day moment that would loop forever, this half-lit sprawl of ice and snow outside my window against an equally gray sky, without beginning or end.

When we were finally airborne, the heart-tickling sensation of ascension felt different. It wasn’t a mix of altitude changes and pressure; I wasn’t pressed into my seat the same way.

I felt weightless. I was leaving something behind. Not my friends or the love and memories we shared, not the storage unit full of stuff what I didn’t then know I’d never see again, not even my beloved dog who temporarily stayed with my sister while I awaited his transportation. Those were intangible and something I could still take with me even in their absence. Well alive and beloved.

It would take me years to put it into words. For a long time, I described my last years in Minnesota as this knowingness I would die, something invisible was suffocating me. The last couple sessions with my therapist in the month leading up to my depature kept rolling around in my head, a puzzle I had to figure out–what did she mean by borderline personality disorder? She had to be mistaken. Was that me? I didn’t know. I had the symptoms and behavior, the comfort of finally fitting into a box, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t have answers.

When I was 30, I finally learned to put that overwhelming feeling of doom into words: suicidal. I was suicidal in Minnesota. My home state was going to kill me if I stayed another minute. When I told others about how I felt I was dying, a fish suffocating on the frozen beaches in the land of ten thousand lakes, I never shared the visions I couldn’t shake of my remains scattered across the newest stretch of 35W, with the Spoonbridge and Cherry in the background. I couldn’t connect the two ideas.

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I have always feared silence in communication. If someone doesn’t communicate with me, that means I have done something wrong, and the punishment is silence. The lesson is that I am unlovable and do not deserve even the respect of understanding what I did wrong. Discarded. These fears consume me and to this day I will say I shudder at the idea of being trapped in a burning house, but abandonment stops my blood cold.

Once, when I was a baby, I was hungry in the middle of the night. I awoke, concerned about the bright lights in the room. My confusion and needs were communicated in the only way a baby knows how–tears and wails.

I remember the bellows and growls I was met with, my father’s eyes glaring, and his raised hand held over me. My skin burned, raw and rubbed dry from the force of friction he leveled over my body, every inch he could reach–as a one-year-old, that is: all of it.

And I remember the cold silence as I sniffled in the dark moments later, the bed cast in blue and gray light from the movie on the TV screen. My father lay next to me, silent, his back to me and fully covered under the blankets. He never answered further cries. This would become his norm, his method of the torturous “cry it out” method of training children: stone cold silence, even when I could feel the heat of his burning rage.

That is my earliest memory. It was 30 years ago.

My father died some 23 years later, strangled by metastasized lung cancer. I left Minnesota almost four years ago. I haven’t seen anyone on that side of the family in eight years or better. And only now, at 31 years of age, am I finally putting together some of those pieces of the mystery, solving the puzzle so I can finally move on and heal. It is only one part of my story, but it is crucial. There is no justice to be had but my own peace.

And for as striking as my memory is, when I learned my parent would not care for me unconditionally, it’s just a few seconds. Just bits here and there. I am too young to have remembered every second of the ordeal, but I remember enough, and I know it was not the only time it happened. And that echo affects things I do today–navigating relationships, learning communication at all levels, deciphering the shade of the lenses through which I see the world.

I can’t imagine how much more Christine Blasey Ford remembers of what Kavanaugh did to her, the emotional and mental torture, the confusion of grasping one’s basic identity at her age at the time. Kavanaugh has the convenience of not remembering, of having support that he did the right thing–and Ford is being vilified for something she had no control over, no say in happening to her or anything thereafter. She is taking action on the one thing she can do–heal. Seek justice.

Like grief, like death and taxes, like the mountains–trauma can change and shift, but it affects everything around its triggering event and they are immovable. We study things millions of years old and wonder how they affect our lives today: 35 years is nothing in the history of the universe, and it is everything for a mere human’s life and psyche who has to endure it for half of their span.

I support Christine Blasey Ford. Trauma doesn’t have a timeline. It does not expire.

 

 

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