By K. Hecht, P. Berman, & A. Hosack,
I don’t like this. I know I must be safe, but ….. I need to scream! Why isn’t any sound coming out!
It was the day of her party. Ms. Alexandra and others would be arriving at 3 p.m. To build excitement and surprise for Claire and Davy, the Carsons sent them off to the park at 1 p.m. so they wouldn’t know what food was being made or how the house was being decorated. Claire and Davy were told when they came back into the house they were to come to the back door, ring the bell and wait. Mr. And Mrs. Carson answered the bell almost immediately, deftly pulled a black knit hat down over each of their heads covering their eyes and led them in the house. They were carefully escorted up the stairs and into their room by two hands holding onto their waists and guiding them.
Davy was giggling the whole time. It was such spooky fun to have a hat down pulled over his eyes. He especially loved it when he got picked up and carried, upside down, up the stairs. Claire heard him laughing and tried to laugh too. She just couldn’t. The sudden darkness had terrified her. Even though she knew they wouldn’t stop her from pulling the hat off, it would spoil their fun, so she didn’t try. They had no idea that rather than enjoying herself, it brought back horrible flashbacks for Claire to have hands on her body forcing her to move forward into darkness.
I’m safe. It’s a game. I hate this. How can I be terrified of people I love!
They had stopped moving. Mr. Carson dragged the hats off their eyes – they were safe in their room. He and Mrs. Carson rushed out and shut the door saying, “Now don’t come out till we call you that everything is ready!” “Isn’t this fun mommy?” Davy shrieked as he ran around the room so full of excitement that he literally collided with a dresser and fell on his butt. Davy was so startled that he didn’t even have time to cry before Claire had picked him up and began changing his dirty park clothes for the clean party clothes that Mrs. Carson had laid on the beds.
Davy stroked his mommy’s face and realized she wasn’t smiling. “Aren’t I being a good boy mommy?”
He wasn’t smiling anymore. He looked anxious. Claire forced herself to concentrate on his voice as he talked. Claire literally shook her head a few times. She was not in the basement. Her skin wasn’t melting away under her dad’s lit cigarette. She was in her room. She was safe. Davy was in front of her, looking sad. She forced a smile on her face. “No, No, my silly one. You are the most wonderful little boy in the world, and I love dressing you up in my favorite color blue!” Davy sighed softly as she took his dirty t-shirt off and put on the sky-blue shirt that was on the bed. The moment she had finished the last button, Davy was running around the room again asking one question after another about what food might be downstairs waiting to be gobbled up. “Hurry up mommy, change your blouse. I am so hungry for cake mommy.”
If only I could feel happy like that. This party is for me. Everyone will expect me to be happy. Why can’t I be happy?
As Claire finished closing the last button, Davy began to drag her around in a circle saying, “we match mommy we match.” Davy’s sweet voice had brought her fully back from her daymare. She was in her room – not in a basement. She was living with the Carsons – not her parents. Claire had never told them about her many nights in a smoky black basement, unable to see a thing. How could they know that covering her eyes would bring horrible memories flooding back to her? They must never know.
Mrs. Carson knocked on the door and called out,” Everything is ready for you now. Come on down stairs!” Davy grabbed Claire’s hand and pulled her out the door. If she hadn’t pulled back, they might have gone tumbling down the stairs in his rush to check for cake. He looked up at her and said, “I love you so much mommy. The cake is really all for you, but I know you will share. You are so good at sharing!” Claire smiled back at Davy and they started down the stairs.
I must be doing some things right. Davy was a good listener at the park and look how happy he is now! He is more than happy; he is exuberant!
Exuberant was a new word she had just learned from her daily feeling chart assignment. Claire was to review her list of feeling words three times a day. Then, she was to note in her log book what bodily sensations she could feel now and then try to pick the feeling word that might best fit these “internal” body feelings. After the first three days of assignments, Claire had already noticed that Davy had different smiles and different ways of holding his body if he was a little “happy” if he was very happy or “elated” or if he was so happy, he looked like he might pee his pants – “exuberant”.
How did she feel? As she walked down the stairs, she felt her stomach was tight like a rock. She was having trouble getting her legs to step down the staircase smoothly. Her skin felt clammy. Claire decided she felt “scared”. She was more than “anxious” but no longer “terrified” because she could see where she was going and knew she was safe.
As they turned to go into the living room, Claire and Davy saw the Carsons, Ms. Alexandra, and their neighbors from across the street. They were all clapping and shouting out, “congratulations Claire!” Everyone who cared about her, were in this room right now. They were all smiling. Claire suddenly lost all signs of fear. She began to smile. Davy looked like he was peeing his pants as he jumped up and down shouting, “Mommy look, the table is covered with presents!”
For a moment, Claire felt the smiles and the presents fill her up. For a while, she didn’t feel like a waste of space.
Consider reading more about the impact of trauma on children, and how to help people recover from trauma at: www.acesconnection.org