“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop when ever you want. you can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
It’s been decades since I began my struggles with depression, anxiety, dissociative patterns, self-blame, guilt, abandonment, learning problems, sexual relationships, and fear; all symptoms of childhood physical and sexual abuse. And now, several years later, I’ve reached a place much better than before.
I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with dissociative features. While PTSD receives an abundance of media coverage, dissociative features requires an explanation. Dissociative features include loss of memory, detachment and feeling as if one is outside one’s body. Add repressed memories to the mix and we have confusion, loneliness, and isolation. No recognizable warning, just relentless and continuous attacks meant to make death more attractive than life.
There were choices to be made. (1) Determine if I preferred to tough it out or reach out for help. (2) Acknowledge the fact that I couldn’t do this on my own. (3) Hire a mental health professional to be the captain of my ship. (4) Recognize the determination and strength that will be required. (5) Don’t give up. (6) Determine if I needed short-term or long-term therapy. (7) Decide whether to take medication designed to trick the neurons in my brain.
For me, the decision to reach out was easy. I had lost my identity and questioned my sanity. The fear and confusion from horrific dreams made it obvious that I needed help. That’s when I chose Olivia Jennings to be my therapist. She pledged to support me throughout the duration of my therapy. Together, we created a bond that has lasted for decades. And I currently take medication to treat depression and anxiety, and to trick the neurons into believing that I’m in control of my shit.
DNA and life’s experiences — nature and nurture — determined the development of my cognitive and emotional functions. Since I was physically and sexually abused, my emotional development was frozen in time and lacked any maturation. In other words, my inner child remained the same throughout my pre-therapy years. It was Olivia’s job to help heal my inner child and allow me to grow; a process that addressed past, present, and future behaviors.
I’m reminded of a day-care facility that was located across the street from my office. Each day one of the teachers took the children for a walk. Each child was connected to the teacher by a walking rope. It could be one or many children attached to the single rope. That’s the image I see when I think about Olivia leading my inner child through the healing process.
The journey began in my imaginary laboratory — Olivia’s office — where we studied my behavior — past, present, and future — and improved my quality of life. This was where the magic occurred.
My condition required more than a quick fix or a bandage on an open wound. It required time. The insurance coverage was running out and I was deep into therapy. This was when I chose between short-term and long-term therapy. While I had weeks of insurance coverage, it didn’t cover the time needed to address my problems. The logic for long-term therapy was based on the fact that I had more problems to be addressed. I needed more time. Thankfully, my income made it possible for me to continue. It’s sad that one’s salary determines the level of mental health care. If I had gone with short-term therapy, I would not be the man I am today.
So, the big question: Was my journey worth the effort, tears, time, pain, and money? For me, the answer is obvious — yes, yes, yes…
I still remember the day I returned home after cataract surgery. I removed my sunglasses and stared at a pear-tree full of white blossoms that stood in front of our red-brick house. The shapes and colors appeared as three-dimensional figures, and the intense hues and minute details struck me as being unlike anything I had seen before. It was miraculous.
But it pales in comparison to the day when I began to feel; not the superficial, trivial, and insignificant emotions I had experience throughout my life. No, I’m referring to the new-found feelings that rushed through my body and woke my soul. Some emotions were joyful, sad, and others were indifferent. The miracle was not in the type of emotion, it was the ability to feel in a potent and unique manner. Unleashing my ability to feel emotions in a nonjudgmental way changed my life; a time when light overcame darkness.
I encourage victims to use their past abuse as a springboard for a better life. While the journey is more challenging than anything I had ever faced, the rewards were life changing. If there are secrets for recovery, they are simple and doable — find a therapist with the knowledge and love needed to complete the journey. And put in the effort because your life depends on it.
The growth of an abuse victim into an abuse survivor can be difficult to explain. Each time I search for the magical words, I come back to the birth of the butterfly as a metaphor for the transformation of an abuse victim into a survivor. It is truly magnificent.
The Birth of a Butterfly
The butterfly. The symbol of transformation, new beginnings, and the embodiment of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Few creatures on this earth can evoke such a strong sense of wonder in human beings like the butterfly. Secluded within its chrysalis, the butterfly hides itself from the world, swathed in the secrets of the universe as it grows, changes, until the moment it emerges to make the world more beautiful, one butterfly at a time.
“Any fool can be happy. It takes a man with real heart to make beauty out of the stuff that makes us weep. Clive Barker *** “Larry, you have so many wonderful qualities,” Olivia said. “You are a very honest and compassionate man. Tell me what you were like while growing up on the farm. Tell me about that little boy, your inner child.”
I reacted quickly. “I was disgusting, dirty, old ragged clothes. A weakling. I should have stopped Ben.”
I was speechless. Olivia leaned back in her chair and watched in silence. Several seconds passed as I felt ashamed. “I can’t believe I just said those things about myself.”
“Maybe you hold your inner child responsible for the abuse. That is a common reaction among abuse victims. But you were too small to stop your brother, who was six years older and much larger than you. There was nothing you could have done to stop him. Reach out and hold the hand of your inner child. Let him feel your love.” Olivia reached over and held my hand.
That exchange between Olivia and myself, which will be etched in my mind forever, occurred well into therapy. It was my first exposure to the idea of our inner child, an image I recognized but didn’t fully appreciate. There’s a belief held in the mental health community that each of us carries a child that resides deep within our bodies. The child, who represents our childhood, is as we were many years ago. If our child was the beneficiary of a wholesome childhood, then the positive influence will be experienced in our adult life. If, on the other hand, the child was abused, then the adult will take on the symptoms of an abused child: lack of trust, inability to experience intimacy, low self-esteem. Only when we heal the inner child can we expect the adult to be free of our traumatic past.
Olivia suggested that I write a letter to my inner child. After a few attempts I told her that I couldn’t come up with anything, and the subject was dropped. Months later, Olivia renewed her request and once again, I was faced with the uncomfortable task of communicating with my inner child. After much thought, I came to the conclusion that if I wrote in the third person, I would put some distance between myself and my inner child, making the effort manageable. What evolved was a story loaded with truth but camouflaged in the form of a fairy tale.
The boy with the bent neck and a dog whose tail wouldn’t wag.
It’s the story that’s best told around the campfire under stars and a full moon, and the distant sound of whip-poor-wills. The story originated, or so I’m told, when man first experienced the emotional pain of life and began the struggle to liberate himself from the misery of unhappiness. Some of the details may have changed over time but the meaning of the story remains the same.
There was a middle-aged man who, when viewed according to modern standards, lived a successful life, enjoying the material things needed to be happy. Still, relentless pain dwelled below the layer of his skin and bones. This pain was so great that he searched the countryside looking for the secret to happiness. He came upon a woman who he found unfamiliar but alluring. There was a quiet peace about her. Upon questioning, she told him that true happiness could be found at a Buddhist monastery located in a remote part of Colorado. The monastery was occupied by a group of monks led by Father Ramero, a man wise beyond his years. As an initial test of resolve, anyone seeking Father Ramero’s help had to make the twenty-five mile trip on foot over rugged terrain leading to the monastery on the mountaintop.
Without hesitation, the man who we will call Larry, took the woman’s advice. Two days and two nights into Larry’s journey, he reached a small monastery with walls of reddish sandstone that blended into the mountainside. Surrounding the buildings were gardens filled with lush vegetation, donkeys, rabbits, dogs, cows, and several men dressed in brown robes with sandals strapped to their feet.
Under a large tree sat Father Ramero, a lean man built like a long-distance runner with a freshly shaved head, who seemed to be in deep thought as his mind visited another time and place.
As Larry moved forward, Father Ramero opened his eyes and a slight smile quickly grew on his face. “Welcome, Larry. I’ve been expecting you. Come, sit, and tell me of your pain.”
Larry told Father Ramero about the sadness of his life and about a childhood squandered away by physical and sexual abuse. “Let us sit together and find the source of your pain,” Father Ramero said. “Meditate and let the secrets of your life come forward.” They sat for two-hours without speaking. Larry opened his eyes. He felt sadness but didn’t know why. He looked at Father Ramero and was shocked to see teardrops running down his face. The front of his robe was wet. Clearly upset by his experience, Father Ramero spoke, “I saw the boy with the bent neck and a dog whose tail wouldn’t wag. Larry, your child is in a great deal of pain. You have neglected his needs, and only when you learn to love him will you have true happiness. Sit with your child, learn to know him, learn to love him. You’re welcome to stay with us while you begin your journey.”
Except for the brief moments needed to eat bread and fruit, and drink some water, Larry spent all his waking time sitting or walking in meditation while his energy was focused on the child within. Silence was only interrupted by the occasional words of encouragement from Father Ramero.
It soon became obvious why Father Ramero had been so upset when they first sat together. Larry discovered his child, a little boy some seven years of age, dressed in scuffed shoes, a faded flannel shirt that hung lower on the left side because the buttons and holes were unmatched, and a cap made of brown vinyl, cracked and peeled from the summer sun. The boy’s necked pointed downward at a forty-five-degree angle. The boy had no reason to lift his head. In time, atrophy froze the muscles of his neck. No matter how hard he tried, the child could not move his neck. Leaning against the child’s leg was a grief-struck dog that continually looked up at the boy’s face. Like the boy’s neck, the dog’s tail could not move. This was a dog whose tail wouldn’t wag.
During meditation, Larry envisioned getting on the floor, looking up at the boy, and trying to make eye contact. Only after hours of struggle did they look at each other, but only as strangers. Larry went to Father Ramero and shared his disappointment and concern about the lack of any noticeable progress.
Father Ramero looked deeply into Larry’s soul. “Larry, do you love your little boy?” Silence followed.
“I’m not sure. I know that I should. But I never thought about him before. I tried to forget him. He represented everything sad and evil about my childhood. If I get too close to him, will I feel his pain? I don’t know if I could handle it.”
Father Ramero put his arms around Larry. With some hesitation, Larry put his arms around the Father. “Larry, let’s hold on to each other for a while. I want you to feel the love I have for you. There’s nothing dangerous or abusive about my feelings of love for you. I expect nothing in return. It’s my hope and expectation that you will view my feelings of love as the presence of God. Nothing else could be so wonderful.”
They embraced for a very long time. Finally, the Father asked Larry if he trusted him, and Larry responded by saying yes. “I love you.”
“And I love you,” Father Ramero answered. “Your child cannot heal without your love. Yes, you will feel his pain, but nothing of value ever comes easily. Go and be with your child.”
Larry, focused and committed, would face the demons that ruled his boy, the boy with the bent neck and a dog whose tail wouldn’t wag. The two of them, Larry and his boy, began by holding hands and becoming familiar with the touch of their skin. The similarity in appearance was unfamiliar; Larry was looking at himself, a young boy living in the past, while the boy was looking at Larry, the older man living in the present day.
For the longest time, Larry apologized to the boy for his neglectful ways. He wanted to make things right. But not until Larry asked the boy to tell him about his past, about the abuse he endured, did the boy begin to speak. The boy told of a life with an older brother who beat him, raped him, and when finished, walked away with evil in his eyes. He told of being held by his ankles, dangled out the window of the hayloft, and warned that he would be dropped if he revealed such horrors. He told of a life with a father who, because of his own misery, chose to neglect him, but did give him one week of love in the summer of 1949. He told of a father who, when he divorced his wife, kept his older son and sent Larry to live with his mother. There was a car wreck in which the hood decapitated his father and crushed the head of his brother. There was a mother who denied him of a childhood and expected him to take care of her needs, those of a divorced young woman who craved the physical love of a man. The boy’s emotional pain felt like raw flesh burning in the summer sun. That’s what his inner child said.
As the boy told his story, the tear lines running from the dog’s eyes to his nose became wet from a steady flow of tears. Moved by the story, Larry picked up the little boy and his dog, placed both on his lap and held them for hours. Tears that began flowing down Larry’s face dropped onto the little boy and his dog. Something magical happened. The boy’s neck began to move. The boy looked up at Larry and said, “I love you.”
“And I love you,” Larry said. As their faces took on a smile, the dog’s tail began to wag. Gone was the boy with the bent neck and a dog whose tail wouldn’t wag.
*** I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.
Robin Williams, John Beluski, Chris Farley, Freddie Prinze: all funny men who chose to die. Robin was my favorite. His improvisational skills had no boundaries, as he hurled funny lines fast and furious, seemingly from a place where few have ventured. These comedians, ambassadors of humor, sang lyrics meant to tickle your soul, while suffering an inner dissonance that challenged their ability to get out of bed. They lacked any resolution to that harmonic pedal-point of misery, a can’t-move sadness that creates the illusion that death is more attractive than life. They call it depression.
Depression can be caused by many things — genetic makeup, physical and sexual abuse, conflict, death or loss, physical or emotional pain, reaction to medication, to name a few — causing a chemical imbalance in the brain. The misfiring of a handful of neurons can bring you to your knees. When information is transferred from one neuron to another, the gap between the terminals and nearby neurons is filled by chemical substances called neurotransmitters, which fire across the space, sending signals to other neurons. At times, brain activity might resemble a well-lit midway at a county fair, with hundreds of rides and booths operating simultaneously.
Medication and psycho-therapy are the preferred treatments for depression. Medication controls the level of neurotransmitters that flow from one neuron to another. This is done by “tricking” the neurons into changing their actions based on the assumption that they have received an increased or decreased level of neurotransmitters. Certain medications force the release of the neurotransmitter, causing an exaggerated effect, while some medications increase neurotransmitters known to slow down or reduce the production of other neurotransmitters. Some medications block the release of neurotransmitters completely. Medications can be a godsend, but the side effects can be intolerable for certain individuals. Maybe the newfound drug will work, and then, without warning, cause the individual to curl into a fetal position and wait for the pain to pass, or choose to die. The next drug will bring them peace, it certainly will. Perhaps….
Psycho-therapy is the art of understanding and creating strategies to deal with the tormented soul. Reliving the physical and sexual abuse was my journey. In the process, I became desensitized to the emotional trauma, leaving me with a soft melodic hum that I hear each day, warning me if depression is on its way. Some people check the weather each day, I check the forecast for depression. Is it going to be a cloudy or sunny day?
Hey funny man, where does the humor come from? How can you suffer through such sadness, spout jokes and act crazy all at the same time? For me and my fellow comedians, it’s quite clear. Psychologists call it coping mechanism. Coping is a method of dealing with the misery. Maybe you learn techniques from your therapist, perhaps the medication, or some self-imposed means — drugs, alcohol, meditation, compartmentalization of memories, dissociation. And yes, we can’t forget “humor.”
I remember a certain day when I was barely fifteen. It was a time when Johnny Carson was the funny man of late-night television. Sitting in the isolation of my home, the idea entered my mind that I could become the next Johnny Carson. I seemed to have a talent for saying “witty” things, acting crazy, and making my friends laugh. Then, I added alcohol and hours of practice on my trumpet to form my identity. If I had not become Steve — the boozer, funny man and trumpet player — perhaps I would have died.
If my misery ever became too much for me to handle, I had my ace in the hole. Death was a way out, an escape-hatch of sorts. During childhood, throughout my teenage years, and well into adulthood, my imaginary conversations with God were direct, “Keep sending the misery,” I challenged. “I’ll deal with what I can, but if it ever becomes too much I’ll end my life.” Surprisingly, this gave me the element of control that I needed. I had a way out, and I was in control. Hey, funny man, that’s pretty cool.
Decades later, I retired from playing the trumpet, became a social drinker, but I’m still considered a funny, crazy man. I asked my therapist if my humor was annoying, and whether I should refrain from being “funny.” She asked me to imagine myself without the humor, and whether I liked that person. I quickly came to the conclusion that the imagined person was boring and without feelings. She smiled, followed by a few silent seconds. “Hey funny man,” she said. “I like who you are.”
I know why some comedians appear to be so funny. For many, it’s how they cover up their misery. I’m not surprised that so many have committed suicide. Perhaps their misery was greater than mine. Maybe I was just one of the lucky ones. Or perhaps my therapist saved my life.
Another part of my manuscript to be assembled at a later date. *** Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering. has a meaning. Viktor Frankl ***
Not only does it reside in the darkness of night; the underbelly of a rotting rat; or the heart of a seven-year-old boy, it’s everywhere. A formidable enemy, I might add, that doesn’t need a space to be present. Sometimes referred to as extreme sadness, downheartedness, melancholy, but more often than not, we call it depression. While we can’t see depression, we certainly feel this inanimate object unrecognizable as a living being. It looks like air, but feels heavy, like a cloud of tears.
In my mind, that’s where it resides if I don’t run it away. My mother referred to depression as having a bad case of the “nerves.” “I’m having trouble with my nerves today,” she often said.
To talk about depression by itself, is leaving out part of the equation — trauma causes depression that demands a coping mechanism to survive. In years past, I was unaware that trauma was the cause of my unhappiness. For me, it was simple. When I felt down, alcohol made me feel better, allowing my mind to embrace a happy place, or a place where I could wallow in my misery.
Now, as an adult and well into therapy, I’ve identified my trauma and know when the depression is about to appear. While it’s invisible, I feel an imaginary, dark-cloud moving my way. As with any storm, that’s a signal to take cover.
Throughout society we’ve seen a caravan of famous people who committed suicide. National media suggests that the victims were addicted to drugs. While that might be true, we need to examine what caused their drug addiction. It could have been the sweetness of a joint, the glow from heroin, a chemical imbalance in our brain, an escape from the trauma induced depression, or the use of drugs to reach higher levels of creativity.
The recent death of American actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, brought admirers to their knees, and gave reason to reflect on his magic. Hoffman was possibly the greatest actor of our generation. Each time I’ve viewed one of his performances, I came away with a clearer vision of life. His creativity was never in question, and the mastery of his craft was always on display. Now, we are left with his work to examine, enjoy, and yes, even taste the power and sweetness of its nectar.
Mr. Hoffman, tell me your secrets, from where does your magic come? Creativity and technique determine one’s artistry. Of the two, creativity can seem elusive, leaving us to lurch for fire-flies in the night. Other times, creativity seems to swallow us whole; oh, such a glorious feeling, as if we are falling in love. Where did Hoffman find his magic? Were they random thoughts, these bits of creativity, ideas that blossomed at will; possibly rare like a whip-poor-will’s call at morning’s first light? Or were they biological, originating from a handful of neurons located in his brain? Was his creativity there for the taking or did it sometimes appear in private moments or in the night when the soul longs to be fed. And who can deny that Philip Seymour Hoffman was a hungry man.
Viewed from above, the human brain appears as the two halves of a walnut — two similar, convoluted, rounded halves connected in the center by a thick nerve cable composed of millions of fibers that cross-connect the two halves, which are called the left and the right hemispheres. The left half of the brain controls the right side of the body, the right hemisphere controls the left It could be said that we have two brains in one, each able to operate independently or together as one.
Kay Redfield Jamison, author of “Touched With Fire: Manic-Depression Illness and the Artistic Temperament,” writes about the connection between mental illness and the artistic mind. While some might doubt whether a mental illness has creative advantages, Jamison makes a strong case from her study of numerous artists — poets, musicians, writers, painters — who suffered from depression. Ancient Greeks believed in the link between creativity and madness. The Renaissance thinkers held a slightly different view. They believed that total madness prevented the artist from using his abilities, but that the sane melancholic could find a path for artistic achievement. By the eighteenth century, balance and rational thought trumped the previously held beliefs that inspiration and emotions were the primary entrance to genius. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reflected a moderation of earlier views due in part to the influence of academic psychology and psychiatry. Extreme madness lacked the sustained discipline and balance needed to reach great heights. Still, melancholy associated with mental illness, combined with one’s talents, produced extraordinary works.
As writers, we must find the gems of creativity that reside somewhere in the grayness of our brain, and then we develop them. Philip Seymour Hoffman did. From desperation, perhaps, or just plain curiosity, artists sometimes turn to drugs to find that special place that legend describes; a place without emotional boundaries where we seemingly float in complete ecstasy. But we all know the problems with prolonged drug use. We might die or exceed the “recommended” dosage and simply lose control of the mechanics needed to perform.
Is there another way to reach our creativity? I believe there is, and I promise, you won’t die. Watch a young child’s reaction to music. They dance around, bend and twist, laugh and giggle, and soak up the magic in the air. They are creative. Now fast forward to a later time when the aging process brings on restrictions, inhibitions, stiffness, and a concern for what others might say about our behavior. Find the child within; learn to dance in the clouds.
My path to creativity was not predetermined. It came from my struggles as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I was in a bad state of mind but had a therapist who literally saved my life. Through her help, meditation, and self-exploration, I began what I later believed to be a spiritual path. My life changed, not instantaneously, but slow and steady. I learned to feel, to trust, and ultimately, to love; accompanied by an openness to see the previously unseen, and an ability to be nonjudgmental. I found the “sweet part of the bat,” where I hit home runs whenever I chose. Creativity is there for the taking. Ask and you shall receive.
The second step is to develop our technique. The better command of our medium, the more success in communicating with our creativity. The artist writes, practices, or paints every day. It’s such a rush when it all comes together; maybe a sentence or two, a phrase, chapter, or possibly a book. Take what you get and savior the taste. Remember the process and how it felt. Next time will be easier.
a brick of a man nose smeared cauliflower ears rugby forward
pictures memories like a cluster bomb destroying shards of a broken life
she looked at him and did the only thing she knew to do
she held him while he cried *** While memories are our most treasured asset, our footprints in the snow, we are stretched as humans to fully understand its mysteries. A simple explanation defines memory as the capacity to store and retrieve information. Some psychologist believe that memory works like a pen and a notebook. For a brief time, before the ink is dry, it’s possible to smudge what’s written. While some deem memories to be fixed, others claim the brain is not static nor etched in stone. Any recollections, they say, can be influenced by outside forces, leaving the possibility of minute changes. Science is even wrestling with the idea that traumatic memories can be totally erased from the brain. Whether that is good or bad is debatable and will be discussed at the end of this book.
While science moves forward and disagreements continue, imagination will lead the way. Writers of fiction continue to broaden the boundaries of truth, allowing us to explore the mysteries of the human brain. It is their imaginations that motivate, in part, future discoveries in the scientific community. What has become real, was yesterday’s fairy tales.
It was an earlier time, late nineteenth or early twentieth century, perhaps, when three learned men. — Hermann Sorgel, Daniel Thrope, and Major Barclay — gathered in an English pub. They had entered a day-long Shakespearean conference in London, listening to lectures on the works of William Shakespeare and experiencing a lively discussion on the structure and theme of their favorite sonnet. What better place to finish the day. A bar lined one wall, smoke-stained fireplace stood against another, and several like-minded patrons circled small wooden tables separated just enough for an intimate conversation. The cigars were strong that night, and the dark, warm beer was smooth and plentiful.
The major abruptly changed the conversation when he pointed to a beggar standing outside. “Islamic legend has it,” he said, “that King Solomon owned a ring that allowed him to understand the language of the birds. And a particular beggar, so the story goes, somehow came into possession of the ring. Of course the ring was beyond any imaginable value and, as a result, could not be sold. Legend has it that the beggar died in one of the courtyards of the mosque of Wazir Khan, in Lahore.”
Sorgel jokingly added that the ring was surely lost, like all magical thingamajigs. Or maybe some chap has it, he said with a chuckle, and can’t make out what they’re saying because of all the racket.
Thorpe weighed in. “It is not a parable. Or if it is, it is still a true story. There are certain things that have a price so high that they can never be sold.” Thorpe went mute and stared at the floor. He seemed to regret having spoken at all.
The darkening of Thorpe’s mood and the lateness of the evening moved the major to call it a night. Thorpe and Sorgel soon followed suit and returned to their hotel. Thorpe then invited Sorgel to his room to continue their conversation. It was there in the privacy of Thorpe’s room, that he asked Sorgel if he would like to own King Solomon’s ring. “That’s a metaphor, of course, but the thing the metaphor strands for is every bit as wondrous as the ring. Shakespeare’s Memory, from his youngest boyhood days to early April 1616 — I offer to you.” Sorgel fell silent as he struggled to find a word.
Thorpe continued. “I’m not an impostor. I’m not insane. I beg you to suspend judgment until you hear me out. I was a military physician. I was in a field hospital when a soldier who had been shot twice was about to die. What he told me might sound quite startling, but strange things are the norm in times of war. The soldier, Adam Clay, offered me Shakespeare’s Memory, and then, in the final minutes to his life, he struggled to explain the singular condition of the gift. “The one who offers the gift must offer it aloud, and the one who is to receive it must accept it the same way. The man who gives it loses it forever,” he said to me.
“And you now possess Shakespeare’s Memory?” Sorgel asked.
“I’m now in possession of two memories — Shakespeare’s and my own. They seem to merge, or maybe I should say that two memories possess me.”
I’ve searched the words of Shakespeare for years, Sorgel thought. What better gift than to know the inner workings of Shakespeare’s mind, and maybe touch his soul. “Yes,” Sorgel declared with an assertive tone. “I accept Shakespeare’s memory.”
Shakespeare’s Memory is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. While the work is fiction, Borges’ insights into memory are both precise and profound, and as real as life itself. Borges leads us through a maze of discoveries as bits and pieces and chunks of memory begin to unfold.
Sorgel recalled Thrope’s words. “It will emerge in dreams, or when you awake, when you turn the pages of a book, or turn a corner. Don’t be impatient. Don’t invent recollections. As I gradually forget, you will remember.”
Sorgel’s sleepless nights were mixed with the fear that it was a hoax, or possibly an illusion, and the longing hope that he might in some way become Shakespeare. Memories began to return as visual images and then auditory, sounds that issued from him when Sorgel sang a melody he had never heard before. In a few days, Sorgel’s speech took on the r’s and open vowels of the sixteenth century. He began to sound like Shakespeare.
Memory was not the stretch of rolling hills with green meadows and natural springs that Sorgel had hoped for. It was a mountain range with beautiful and, at the same time, terrifying peaks, frigid temperatures, and the threatening crevasse just around the corner. Some memories were shadowy, and some were so traumatic that they were hidden forever. Sorgel enjoyed the happiness of the moment, and then his mood darkened from an unwanted memory.
At first, Sorgel’s and Shakespeare’s Memories were separate and easily distinguishable from each other. Then they began to mix, and finally Shakespeare’s Memory overpowered his own, causing Sorgel to question his sanity and wonder how little time was left before he was no longer the man he once knew.
It became clear that Sorgel had no choice but to give Shakespeare’s Memory away. He dialed telephone numbers at random. At first they were met with skepticism and then an abrupt hang-up. “Do you want “Shakespeare’s Memory?” And to Sorgel’s surprise, the voice answered, “I will take that risk. I accept “Shakespeare’s Memory.”
Shakespeare’s Memory was transferred a little at a time, and it was irregular at best. But years later, some residue still remained. “I am not a man among men,” Sorgel wrote. “In my waking hours I am Professor Emeritus Hermann Sorgel. I putter about the card catalog and compose erudite trivialities, but at dawn I sometimes know that the person dreaming is that other man. Every so often in the evening I am unsettled by small, fleeting memories that are perhaps authentic.”
While Shakespeare’s Memory is a work of fiction, it does open the mind to the beauty and complexity of the human brain and serves as a prelude to the story you are about to read. Memories serve as a witness to our struggles and desires for a satisfying life. Too often, though, they record the unimaginable that can break a man’s soul.
Hold fast to dreams Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow.
I’ve never been so relieved, and at the same time void of all feelings, when I left my mother’s house on that stone-cold October day. I began my two-hour drive to my home in Alto Pass, Iowa. The radio was off. Had my body wrapped in a cocoon of silence. Only the faint sounds of rolling tires and an air leak that whistled around the window’s edge could be heard. Without warning, my body shook as tears ran down my face and a layer of sweat covered my body. The front window was down; cold air blew across my face; and my hands gripped the steering wheel that directed me to the side of the road. The image of my dad was reduced to a mound of rubble. My persona, my existence, had developed in large part by the man I imagined to be my father.
The windows were down as the cars raced by, and my cries emulated through the air like the wailing of a wounded animal. These were unfamiliar emotions for me, the man who never cried.
My trip home demanded all of my strength and determination to complete. I instantly recalled the effort I needed when I ran the final 6-miles of a marathon in freezing rain. It was so cold that I prayed for a race-stopping injury so I could stop. My prayers went unanswered.
I drove in the slower lane while gripping the steering wheel hard. The car moved from 30 mph to 50 and accelerated to 70, 80, and even 90 mph. Getting home in the fastest time possible was the prevailing logic. Only thoughts of reaching the safety of my home pulled me through the final miles.
There, just ahead and at the end of the twisting driveway was my home. I clicked the remote, watched the garage door open, and brought the car to a halt. My hands shook as I removed the keys and walked into the house. PJ, my dog, jumped up and down in her predictable manner; my wife embraced me; and the “bet-you-can’t-make-me-cry man broke into tears. Apparently my complexion had turned a chalky-white color, causing my wife to help me down the hallway to the bedroom and into our bed.
I tried to explain what had happened in Orlen. “My mother told me that my brother used to beat me, and my dad didn’t love me, not even a little. “My explanation was brief, to the point, and intermingled with emotional bursts of crying.
Fortunately it was Sunday, giving me a full day before I had to go to work. I had planned on running a half-marathon road race with some of my running friends. But my energy and desire to run a race disappeared as depression took hold. I called my friends and told them that I was sick and unable to run. It was obvious that my life would never be the same. How could my relationship with my dad have been so different from what I had imagined, I thought? And who am I?
Monday came and the confusion had not disappeared. I focused on my morning appointments while storing my emotions in some imaginary mental compartment where others would never see. Between appointments, I swallowed hard hoping to keep the emotions from erupting like day-old vomit. Keeping my office door closed and not engaging with co-workers were my primary concerns.
It was early afternoon when it became clear: I needed to talk with someone, perhaps a psychologist. But lessons from my childhood troubled me. Deal with your own problems. Don’t hang out your dirty laundry. Forget about bad things and they will go away. Seeing a psychologist was a sign of weakness. But I had no choice. My life was beginning to unravel.
I decided to call Dr. Martha Wright, a psychologist and good friend of mine. Perhaps she could help me.
“Hey, Martha. This is Steve calling.”
“Hey to you, Steve. What’s up?”
Small talk preceded a brief summary of my problem. “Martha, I need your help. I have a problem.” My desperation must have seemed obvious.
“Steve, what’s bothering you?” She spoke with the soothing voice of someone who cared.
“Some things happened this weekend which I don’t understand. I don’t know where to begin. I think I might need your professional help.”
“Steve, I can talk to you as a friend, but not as a psychologist.” She went on to explain that since we were friends, a conflict of interest would prevent her from seeing me as a client. “Why don’t you come over and tell me what happened? Then, if you need, I could recommend someone for you to talk with.” Although my mind was so confused, her words were comforting. We ended our conversation by agreeing to meet on Tuesday at 4:00 pm.
That sounded good, I thought. Surely I can make it for another twenty-four hours. I’ll just keep myself busy and watch a lot of mindless television shows. I can do this.
The hours moved slower than anticipated. I was now sitting in Dr. Wright’s office with her Golden Retriever sitting on the floor next to me. Petting her dog calmed my anxiety. The office was quiet with soft colors and comfortable furniture, creating a peaceful environment. I began to recount the conversation with my mother, trying to explain the shock and confusion of her words and how my reality was broken and how I questioned who I was.
“Steve, that must have been very upsetting for you. It sounds like someone dropped a bomb on your life.
“Yes, that’s a good description. But I don’t understand what it means or why I’m so upset.”
“I think you need to talk with someone who will help you sort through all of this.” I sat quietly while Martha considered the possibilities. “It’s important to find the right match. Would you prefer talking with a man?”
My reaction was swift. “No, I don’t want to talk with a man. I couldn’t do that.” My quick response surprised me, and I didn’t know why. “I think I would feel more comfortable talking with a woman.”
“Olivia, yes. Olivia Jennings, PhD is the one. She would be a perfect fit for you.” Olivia was the director of the counseling center at Southern Illinois University and Cindy’s mentor while she completed the doctoral program at the university. “Let me call her and see if she is taking new clients.” An appointment was arranged for Wednesday at 4:00 pm. After talking with Cindy, my concerns about sharing information with a psychologist were dampened.
Wednesday came, possibly the most important day of my life. I parked two blocks from Olivia’s office. What would people think if they saw their financial planner’s car parked at a shrink’s office. I stepped from my car, leaned my head downward and to the side, trying to blend into the landscape as I walked to her office. I entered the waiting room and buried my head into a magazine, hoping that one of my clients would not appear. Olivia Jennings arrived and introduced herself. The two of us entered her office.
This is not what I expected, I thought. Maybe I’ve watched too many movies where the therapist’s darkened office had a leather couch, overstuffed chair, and a large desk with a single lamp bent over an open file. The client would be stretched out on the couch while the therapist, with yellow pad and fancy pen, worked her mental magic. Instead, I sat on a small navy-blue loveseat while Olivia sat facing me in a matching chair. To my right was a small table that held a lamp and an extra-large box of tissue. Next to the table was a small trash can overflowing with used tissues causing me to wonder what troublesome problems were discussed in this room.
“Steve, tell me why you wanted to see me.” Olivia watched my every move. If I crossed my legs, rubbed my arm, talked fast or slow or looked nervous she noticed. I have to admit that I was there with a degree of apprehension. But her attention was not unsettling. She performed an emotional scan in the comfort of her office. That’s how I felt.
“Well, I guess I should give you some background information. I have few memories of the first eight-years of my life, which were spent on a farm with my mother, father, and a brother who was six-years older than me. I just know that my parents got a divorce when I was almost eight and I was sent away to live with my mother and grandparents in Louisville. As a child, I occasionally asked about my father: what was he like; what did he talk about; did he have a sense of humor; looking for any clue that might give me some information about my father. But each time I asked, my mother shared nothing. She just cried. I soon stopped asking. Last week all of that changed. She told me things that I never knew.” Looking back, I realize that I never asked about my brother.
Olivia continued to ask questions. “Tell me what your mother said.”
I twisted in my chair while searching for the right words, the uncomfortable words: how I fell apart while driving home, and how I’d never broken down during my entire life. After I recounted the story as best I could, Olivia leaned forward, held my hand while looking very concerned.
“Steve, you’ve experienced the resurfacing of some traumatic memories which were triggered by comments that your mother made. At the moment, things may seem very confusing. But in time it will begin to make sense.” She paused. “I promise that everything will be okay and that I’ll be here to support you. I would like for you to come back next week at the same time. In the meantime, keep a written journal of your thoughts for the week.” I felt good about my first session with Olivia. There is something, perhaps unexplainable, that happens instantaneously between a client and a therapist when they are a good match.
That night, after dinner, I was exhausted and needed to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night a dream filled with detailed images and sexual suggestions were accompanied by my erection. It was like a mental video showing two people having sexual intercourse. But this was different. It was a penis moving in and out of something devoid of pubic hair. As I tried to make it out, I abruptly woke, confused and dismayed by what I had seen. While Olivia instructed me to maintain a journal of my feelings, that was not going to happen. No way. There’s no way that I could tell Olivia about this. I quickly dismissed any significance of the dream and returned to a deep sleep.
Thursday. My wife and I had made plans for a weekend trip to visit our older daughter and her family in Wisconsin. We would leave on Friday afternoon and return on Monday. Nothing unusual had happened on Thursday, leaving me to wonder if the turmoil had passed; maybe all of the confusion would leave; and maybe I didn’t need to see a psychologist.
That evening I relaxed, watched some television, and retired around 10:30 pm. Well into the night, I returned to the dream I had experienced the night a penis was moving in and out of something devoid of pubic hair. But unlike before, this dream took on a whole new
dimension. It was accompanied by the new sensation of my anus in an open position. I suddenly woke. It’s my brother, Ben. Oh my God, it’s Ben.
My body was covered in sweat, yet cold and unable to stand. I slid out of bed onto the floor, turned, and grabbed hold of the mattress while I rolled back and forth from the hyperventilating motion. I crawled to the bathroom and hugged the stool, feeling my body expel what seemed like poison. Dry heaves followed, strains of saliva dripped into a pool of colored water. I rested my head on the toilet seat. There was no doubt. Ben had raped me.
Not knowing what to expect, I lay on the tiled bathroom floor with my arms wrapped around the stool. Was there anymore to come? Time passed; minutes, hours, I was uncertain. Eventually I returned to my bed waiting for morning to come.
Friday. What does it all mean? Something happened to my mind which I didn’t have control over. Will it happen again? If more comes out, will I be able to handle it? Should I go to Wisconsin as planned? Should I leave my house? I later believed that what happened that night might have been worse than the actual rape. Victims of traumatic experiences are partially protected by their own brain. The remarkable organ that it is, helps the victim dissociate from the experience, making it possible to survive. Maybe the brain doesn’t protect the victim from horrific dreams. Perhaps the dreams were worse than the countless times I actually suffered such abuse as a child.
The next morning I collected my thoughts and went to work before any co-workers would arrive. I needed to call Olivia, but it has to be a private call. Olivia appeared to be the type of person who would be in her office earlier than most. As soon as the clock reached 8:00 am, I made the call.One ring, two rings, someone answered and transferred my call to Olivia. Thank God, Olivia is there.
“Olivia, this is Steve. I’m sorry to bother you but I need your help.”
“Tell me what happened.”
“I had a dream last night. It was sexual. Ben raped me.”
“Oh Steve, I’m so sorry. That must have been awful for you.” Her compassion and concern were unlike anything I had felt before. While it was an unfamiliar feeling, it was good.
I explained how we had planned on traveling to Wisconsin to visit our daughter and her family for the weekend. But I didn’t know what might surface in my brain and if it was safe for me to leave town.
“Go ahead and make the trip. It’ll be good for you to get away and enjoy the company of your family. Don’t think about the dreams. You’ve buried memories for more than 40-years. A few more days shouldn’t make a difference. When you return, we will discuss it in the safety of my office.”
I took her advice and made the trip as planned, concentrating on my family while visiting my favorite bookstores. If a hint of something uncomfortable began to appear, I quickly directed it to the mental compartment in my brain, stored away for another day. When we returned to Alto Pass, I wondered how my appointment with Olivia would go.
“How are you feeling? How was your trip to Wisconsin?”
“I feel well. I must have sounded awful when I called you last Friday. But now everything is okay.”
“That’s good. I’m glad you’re feeling better. Tell me about the dream you experienced.”
I should have known that she was not going to let me slip by without going over the dream. But will it feel the same? Maybe the dream was a once in a lifetime experience, one that I will never experience again.
As I described the dream, trying to visualize the whole thing in my mind, the nausea returned and the muscles in my stomach cramped hard. Olivia pushed the trash can next to me.
“Go ahead and use it if you need to. You can do anything in front of me. This is your safe place.”
I began to shake and dry heave into the can. My stomach cramped hard causing my saliva to expel into the can followed by me leaning back into my chair.
Olivia looked at me in that caring way. Her concern was strong. “You have some terrible memories that need to be addressed. We’ll move slowly. Too many memories at one time could be overwhelming, making it difficult to perform your day-to-day tasks. Imagine taking an onion and gradually peeling away one layer at a time. That’s what we’ll do. We will work on the difficult parts when you’re in the safety of my office, making certain you’re put back together and feeling better before you leave. Steve you can trust me.”
Trauma is a vampire, but light, as any student of folklore or Freud knows, will kill it. The problem is, when the shell-shocked try to exhume their memories — to bring them into the light — the result can be a death struggle so fierce they may fear it’s them, not the suckling pain that’s about to die.
Katherine Russell Rich
A chilly fall day in southern Iowa. Colored foliage covered the ground like the hues in my mother’s patchwork quilts. I arrived at her home, a small two-bedroom house appropriately located in a low to middle-income community known as Orlen, Iowa. Farming and a job at the World Color Press (WCP) supported a substantial number of residents living in Orlen. While most jobs at WCP provided a livable wage for its employees, supporting a family of four was a stretch. The factory printed comic books, magazines, brochures, newspaper inserts and was located in Newberry, Iowa some twenty-five miles north of my mother’s house. If you wanted to see a movie or visit a shopping center, Newberry was the place to go. And if you traveled one-hundred miles north to Dumont, Iowa you could even see an indoor, shopping mall. While one-thousand residents were a collection of hardworking, honest people, it was a typical small town where hidden secrets sometimes challenged your soul.
I arrived at her house and was greeted by the usual, “Hi, how are you doing? The weather has changed. You’ll need a jacket if you’re going outside.” There was no hugging or kissing in my childhood family; a family that practiced social distancing but didn’t wear a mask. Perhaps we were preparing for an incoming virus.
Inside the house was a wooden, quilt-making frame standing in a corner. The frame resembled a set of parallel bars that a miniature gymnast might have used. It was common-place for my mother, grandmother, and four church-ladies to sit around the frame while quilting, talking, and sharing the latest gossip. The finished quilts were then passed on to the church for fund-raising purposes.
Weeks earlier, my mother told me about her decision to have cataract surgery on her left eye. She asked if I would transport her to and from the hospital and spend the night at her house. It was decided that I would arrive at her house around 6:00 am, have her at the hospital by 8:00 am, spend the night, and head home on the following day. It was a commitment that I didn’t embrace, and I didn’t know why. For some reason, I didn’t feel the closeness that is expected between a boy and his mother. I always performed my sonly duties with a degree of detachment similar to a janitor mopping the floor at the end of a long day.
We returned from the early morning surgery and settled in. The surgery had gone well, and the doctor was pleased with the outcome. My mother seemed to be in good spirits as I stood in the kitchen unpacking sacks of food from Martin’s grocery store when I overheard a string of telephone calls.
“Hello,” my mother answered. “We just returned from the hospital. Surgery was fine. Yes, that’s right. Larry came up early this morning and will be spending the night.” Each call required a summary of the ordeal, including tales of the drafty hospital gown, the surgery, hospital food, and finally, to Dr Bucannon who was “such a nice man.”
My mother was short in stature but long in stories. “Did I tell you about George?” she asked as she sought my attention. George, her next-door neighbor for the past twenty-years, was a medium-built seventy-year-old man who always wore khaki pants with a matching shirt and a brown, Kirby feed-store cap. Except for his wife and horse, George was a loner.
“George’s got cancer real bad. They can’t perform surgery. He’s got a bad heart. Most of the people can’t get along with him, but he treats me right. He even starts my lawn mower. I don’t have the strength to pull the rope.” She paused and chuckled. “I swear he must look out his window just waiting for me to mow. Then he comes out and talks my arm off. I’ll never forget the time he told me about the four rules he lives by.”
“Oh, what was that?” I asked with a bit of curiosity.
“Well, let me make sure I’ve got this straight.” She continued to chuckle.
“George said that he didn’t run around with other women, he didn’t drink, he didn’t go to funerals, and he didn’t go to church.” We laughed trying to decide if each rule was equally important or if each was listed in some thought-out order.
I sat at the table and suggested that we eat something. We were having fried chicken, potato soup, green beans, hot rolls, and fresh fruit salad with a dab of whipped cream on top. No sooner had we begun when Reverend Robbins called.
“Yes, I feel pretty good. But I don’t feel perfect. It was quite an ordeal you know. And it was hard on my nerves. Yes, Larry is here. You should see the meal he fixed…” She talked about the crisp chicken, the creamy potato soup, and how the whipped cream was low fat. She neglected to mention that I had purchased everything ready-made from Martin’s and served everything on a paper plate. She most likely wanted her friends to believe that I had gone through a lot of work for my mother.
We moved into the living room where I quickly grabbed the La-Z-Boy recliner that had been my grandfather’s favorite chair. I remember him sitting in that chair with his left hand holding an empty pork n bean can that held his tobacco juice. His right-hand held a small transistor radio broadcasting the latest St. Louis Cardinal’s baseball game with an ear-piece stuck into his left ear. And at the same time, his right ear listened to the TV blasting out the latest episode of Perry Mason. If the game became overly exciting, he might miss the can, leaving some tobacco juice on the chair. Those were the few times when my grandmother aired her dissatisfaction. Despite any shortcomings he might have acquired, I called him Pop after my dad and brother were killed in a car wreck when I was 7. While he was a man of few words, I loved him.
My mother had a large, gauze patch over her left eye as she sat in her favorite chair. She was surrounded by everything that she might need on a typical day: knitting needles with various colors of yarn were on her left side flanked by the latest copy of Country Woman and a book of circle-the-word puzzles. To her right on the end table was a lamp, TV guide, remote control, cordless phone, and on the lower shelf rested her Bible with pages folded to mark her favorite scriptures.
She seemed to be more engaged in conversation than usual. Her speech was faster with little regard for the words that surfaced. Perhaps it was because of the medication administered to her during the eye surgery performed this morning. She began talking about the weather, a favorite pastime for the elderly in Orlen, and asked if I remembered the hard winters in central Iowa where I had spent the first seven-years of my life living on a farm with my father, mother, and a brother named Ben. Since she had never talked about those years, her question startled me.
After my dad and brother had died in a car wreck, my curiosity was strong. I had asked her to share memories of my dad. But each inquiring moment was met with a brief crying spell followed by a change of topics. It only took a few attempts before I lost hope and concluded that I would never know my dad. That’s when I began imagining what my dad might have said, how he carried himself when he walked across the bean field, and if he was really as strong as my uncle said. When coming in contact with a man of admirable qualities, I assumed that he was like my dad. Yes, that’s what my dad was like, I thought. The man became my make-believe dad.
Mr. Jones was my music teacher when I played the trumpet in the grade-school band. He had all of the qualities expected in my make-believe dad; kindness, understanding, and he always heaped praise on my musical abilities when I completed three-lessons and he assigned one. For three-years he was my imaginary dad. But then he moved on to a bigger school and better pay. He never told me why he was leaving. He just disappeared. I never talked to or about him until a year later when my mother walked into my bedroom on that cold, winter morning to share the latest news.
“Mr. Jones is dead. They said he had been drinking and drove his car into a telephone poll. He was killed immediately, probably didn’t feel a thing. I heard he and his wife were having problems. He was drinking a lot and probably drove his car into the telephone poll on purpose.”
My reaction was a mere one-syllable word, “Oh.”
“Do you want to go to his funeral?”
I reminded my mother that I don’t remember those times when our family lived on a small farm close to Delton, Illinois some 150 miles north-west of Orlen. “I don’t remember my brother showing me how to throw a curve ball; how to side into second base; how to tie a square knot; or how to put a worm on a fishing hook. While I do remember a couple of things about my dad, I don’t recall the hard winters on the farm.”
My mother paused with a startled look on her face. “You don’t remember anything about your dad or Ben? Well, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprise. I’ve read where sometimes people can’t remember bad things that happened to them. When I think about all of the times your brother used to beat you, I can understand why you would want to forget it.”
“What are you talking about?” I leaned forward in my chair.
“Your brother used to cut switches from the grove of Hickory trees that stood just north of the farmhouse. He’d beat you until he left those big bloody welts all over your body.”
“After all of these years, you’re telling me that my brother used to be beat me?” I studied her earlier remarks with the belief that big brothers beat up little brothers and that was normal.
“Well, if he was so bad, why didn’t you stop him?”
While I felt like I just called her bluff with my last question, she hurled back another surprise. “Well, when I tried, he’d beat me too. Sometimes he’d hit me in the stomach with his fists.”
Each challenge drew a response worse than before. “If he was so bad, why didn’t dad stop him?” Now I’m showing her how ridiculous her accusations sound.
Her face turned cold as she starred into the floor. “I told your dad what was going on. Lots of times, I had you undress so he could see all of those marks on your body. But he didn’t care about you, not a bit. Your dad didn’t love you.”
For the moment I was unable to speak. My mother had rolled an emotional grenade on the gray carpet stretched out across the living room floor, spinning and coming to a stop at my feet. I mentally threw my body on top of the grenade, hoping to stop the pain that twisted and churned in my charred body.
My voice trembled. “Are you telling me that dad didn’t love me?”
“Oh, he probably loved you. He must’ve. He just didn’t want to be around you. I mean he didn’t have time for you.” She was doing a poor job of reeling in her claims, even raising the pitch of her voice in a slightly humorous way. “Everybody said your dad and Ben were as close as a tick on a hound dog. Yes, Ben was his favorite.”
We both sat in silence while starring at the television. I craved more information. “Did you ever have a good relationship with dad?”
“Oh yes. The first few years were great. We worked hard on the farm but always found time for Saturday night dances at Farmer City. Of course there were times when your dad drank too much and I certainly didn’t approve of that. Sometimes we’d play cards with Uncle John and Aunt Sarah. I liked them a lot. Yes, things were pretty good then.”
“Well, what happened? What changed?”
Looking up and off to the side she drew memories out of thin air. “I guess it was shortly after you were born. You were nine-and-a half pounds and caused me some problems. I ended up having some female stuff that later required surgery. With me weighing only ninety-five pounds you were a bit much for me. At first, I had to bring in some help to take care of you. I remember sitting on the couch as you scooted across the floor and ended up at my feet. You reminded me of a baby bird with his mouth open wide, wings flapping about and crying to be held. I was just too weak to lift you. Yes, I guess that’s when your dad and I grew apart. He began going to town each night, drinking and looking for other women. And there were the problems between you and Ben.”
“What kind of problems are you talking about?”
“Well, when you were four, your brother bothered you at night. He wouldn’t let you sleep. So, your dad said that Ben would sleep with him and I would sleep with you. That’s the way it was for the final four years of our marriage. But it wasn’t my idea,” she said as she raised her voice. “It was your dad’s.”
“So you’re telling me that we slept together from the time I was four until the divorce, and then when we moved to Orlen we slept together until I was 11?”
“During those days it was okay for parents to sleep with their kids. I guess it’s different nowadays.”
She began to tire. Her uncovered eye began to fill with tears. I couldn’t help but wonder if crying might be detrimental to her other eye, and I didn’t want any problems that might delay my departure in the morning. I changed the subject by asking if it was time for the evening news. She nodded yes and the two of us starred at the television set.
After the news ended, we went to our separate beds for the night. The next morning we drove to Orlen’s cafe. Men circled several tables, talked politics and the weather, drank black coffee, and took deep pulls from their cigarettes. Two couples occupied separate tables: one with a child and one without. My mother and I ate one of our morning favorites — biscuits and gravy. Few words were spoken, certainly nothing of value, and the food was bland. I held the words from last night’s conversation deep down into my stomach, hoping to finish breakfast without vomiting on the floor.
This is a work of nonfiction that has taken me twenty-five years to write. To the reader, that might sound a bit farfetched. Normally, it takes me one to two years to complete a manuscript worthy of publication. But this time was different. The time required to complete this manuscript was due to public doubts and my struggle to deal with the truthfulness of memories that visited me in the middle of the night. Some memories generated depression and anxiety, while the worst ones left me hugging my bathroom stool while expelling vomit throughout the night. Who would believe such a tale, and more importantly, how could I determine fact from fiction? As the author, it is not my job to convince you that I am a victim of childhood physical and sexual abuse. But I can share my journey, leaving you to draw your own conclusions.
Because of the severity of my struggle, I went from short-term to long-term therapy with an exceptional therapist and a host of individuals who became my support group. Together, they were a non-judgmental team that helped me through the most challenging time of my life. My educational background initiated my investigation into the alleged perpetrators, family history, repressed memories, cognitive and emotional studies of the brain, and the combination of psychological and spiritual growth.
Do I still have the residue carried by a victim of physical and sexual abuse? Of course I do. But the occasional skirmish with depression and anxiety is now controlled by coping skills, medication, and the availability of a support system.
While the struggle was exhausting, I am thankful for who I have become. To experience the depth of feelings, whether they be happy or sad, is remarkable. And to experience love is a gift from God.
I have changed the names and locations in my story for liability purposes. While every word in my story is based on what I believe to be true, I recognize the possibility of a minor discrepancy in human recall. It is my hope that fellow survivors of physical and sexual abuse will benefit from my sharing and become stronger and wiser in the process.
I should have known on that sultry summer day in 1950, when my 5-year old naked body was laid out over a bale of hay, that this was not normal. I should have known… But when four country boys hunger for adventure or accept the latest dare, the unspeakable becomes quite normal. Being the youngest and smallest of the lot, I was the focus of their curious ways.
Decades later, when my mind crumbled– a piece here, a piece there — I learned that survival depended on my brain’s ability to compartmentalize daily interactions whether they be good, bad, or indifferent. My mind was like a spec-house, a collection of rooms painted in a lifeless, stark-white color, and forbidden rooms with concrete walls, floors and ceilings that held secrets never meant to be revealed. Let them out and you die. That’s when I learned that the trips to the barn were far from ordinary; “dark secrets” remained hidden from my conscious thoughts; and my inner feelings were shallow and unavailable. Those secrets lay dormant in the deepest part of my mind for over four decades.
I remember the day as though it was yesterday. I had just turned 50 and was prepared to run in a half-marathon race. Having turned 50 placed me in the beginning of a new age group providing a better chance of winning a trophy. I was part of a running group that hit the local running circuit and the annual St. Louis marathon and the half-marathon in Chicago. In addition to our daily runs, we ran 10 miles on Saturdays followed by our weekly trip to Mary Lou’s known for her famous biscuits and gravy. At 5 feet 8 inches, weighing in at 150 pounds, I was built to run. The “runner’s high” and the camaraderie with my running friends encouraged me to log in several miles per week. While I was an average to good runner, I pretended to be an elite runner. I was at the top of my game.
I was a self-employed, certified financial planner in southern Illinois, held a Bachelor and Master’s degree in music, an MFA in creative writing from Goucher College, and had taught music at Southern Illinois University for 5 years. Although I was not rich, I was comfortable. My wife and I had two wonderful daughters who were the loves of our life, and yes, we had a great dog named PJ.
While life seemed good, a new, unexpected trauma chiseled an opening into a horde of traumatic memories previously untapped. The memories, a psychologist would later say, were stored in my amygdala located in the temporal lobe. After processing, the memories moved into the hypothalamus where they resided untouched by any outside source. It was there where they could propagate unsettled emotions, create a trauma-induced disorder or steer me into the decisive escape — suicide.
This is my journey from the depths of hell to a better place, a place where feelings became real, intense, and moving like the cleansing of a summer rain, the beauty of a rock-filled, flower-garden, and the new-found power of intimacy. Whatever the emotions, whether they be happy or sad, they grabbed me hard. The choice became obvious — live or die.
Wanted to bring everyone up-to-date on the progress of Jovon Scott’s latest book, “The Black River,” and how we’re developing an audience for his writing. As you might know, the publishing business is difficult and getting potential readers to open your book takes some effort. It’s not always the best books that are read, it’s the one that grabs the reader’s attention. Marketing is needed to sell any book — the great ones and the not so great. The fact that the author, Jovon Scott, is incarcerated increases the difficulty of selling his book.
So, what are we doing and how can you help if you choose to do so. For the past two weeks I have been marketing on facebook and have reached 40,000 people with 1,000 people deciding to read the ad. So far we have received 12 book reviews on amazon with 11 receiving 5 stars and 1 receiving 3 stars. It would be helpful if you could post a favorable review on amazon. In order to do so, you need to have an amazon account. In a week or two we will be running some advertisements through the publisher who will focus on different types of social media.
So, how can the average person help without spending their own money. Every time you see a posting on social media, like it and share it. If everyone does this, the postings grow quickly. Telling your friends about the book and fellow-members of clubs that you belong to. If you have a copy of the book, tell your friends about it, but “don’t” loan your book to them. Each person needs to buy their own.
Scott creates a fantasy world of privilege, beautiful women, sex and drugs that calls the reader in for a wild ride. In a trauma-based story with sensual twists and turns, he writes intensely and beautifully from the mind of a gorgeously damaged female. Hard to put down and keeps you guessing until the end. Good read. Amy Somers, LPCC, MFA
Jovon Scott does a remarkable job writing a story bursting with clues that hook the reader from the beginning to the end. “The Black River” is loaded with suspense and excitement, allowing the reader to wonder what comes next. But once the reader begins the story, there is no turning back. A real page burner. Kelvin Taylor, Producer/Director
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