By A. Hosack, P. Berman & K. Hecht
Claire would have married me if I had asked. I wanted her but not marriage! Will I lose her?
Larry was thinking hard as he walked towards the library. He had prided himself on always taking charge- being a real man. He had never let Claire take charge. He had only really listened to her talking when they were laying together after sex. She had always said she loved him. He had never said he loved her. He just said she was his and that had always satisfied her. Now, he wondered if he had made a huge mistake.
Claire and Davy were his lifeline. But he was in prison and they were out there living without him- Claire said nothing in her letters about missing him. Larry’s steps slowed as he got closer to the library door. His legs were feeling heavier and heavier for some reason. The door was open, and the lights were bright and shining into the corridor. Why was it so hard for him to walk towards that light? He stood quietly in the dark dank corridor wondering if he should turn back.
Larry didn’t know anyone who went to the library. He was angry that he didn’t know what to do. He wanted to just blame Claire, Davy, the world, and just turn around. But, something inside him yearned to stay connected with them, somehow – they were the only family he had.
It was a better world inside the library. It was so bright. Larry could almost imagine he was back in high school. Just like at school, there were these wooden tables and chairs surrounded by book shelves. The whole library had this old forgotten look. “Can I help you?” Larry flinched as he heard someone speak to him from around the corner. He turned abruptly and saw the man who was talking. It was just some old prisoner, calling himself the library assistant. Nothing was wrong. He wasn’t in danger. He still felt his heart pounding.
Just relax. We are the only ones here. I can defend myself against this old guy if I need to.
The old guy spoke again, “is there something specific you want?” Larry found it hard to get his mouth to move but he replied, “Is there anything about marriage in here?” The library assistant began walking away with a small hand wave; Larry figured he was to follow him. The guy pulled out a blue book and handed it to Larry; Larry wanted to thank the guy for the help but couldn’t get his mouth to say it.
Larry went back to the middle of the room and sat in a wooden chair at a small table. He opened the book and starred for a while at the first chapter. It was hard going because it was full of words Larry didn’t know. This was exactly why he was so relieved to get out of school! He wasn’t expected to read anymore.
As Larry struggled through the pages, he learned that new couples were supposed to think about what they had learned about marriage growing up. The book said your past could influence your future without you really knowing. It said that a couple considering marriage should share their family stories and try to understand what it had taught them about marriage. This was supposed to help them understand each other better.
Larry and Claire had kind of done this type of sharing. She knew about his nightmares; he knew about hers. They had seen each other’s burns and scars when they had sex. Sometimes they had shared what made them. But this book seemed to be saying they should have talked about what getting the bruises and scars meant to them not just what caused them. Somehow this would help them not jump to conclusions and misunderstand each other. Larry wasn’t sure this made any sense.
Larry couldn’t remember a time when he had seen his parents just talking about anything. The book mentioned stuff like talking about religious beliefs. What a joke! The only religious words spoken in his house were embedded in swear words. Other examples were talking about things they enjoyed doing like walking in the woods. Larry tried, but he couldn’t remember watching his mom or dad do anything they seemed to enjoy. When they drank, they just sat drinking on the couch until they passed out.
Talking? In Larry’s house everything seemed to be yelling or dead silence. His dad would walk into the house, shout orders at his mom. If need be, he would hit his mom a few times to get her to hurry up. His mom seemed to avoid his dad if she could. Was his mom as afraid of his dad as he was? The book talked about understanding how his parents related to each other because this was probably how Larry was relating to Claire.
Larry slammed the book shut and jumped up out of the chair; it fell over with a crash. He felt intensely furious and couldn’t sit still. He began pacing around the room. He hated the very thought of his dad. He hadn’t seen him in years; but the man still preyed on him in his dreams.
Have I turned into my dad? Is it possible? Could Davy be having nightmares about me? Could Claire!
Larry was behaving like his dad. He yelled at Claire and hit her if she didn’t do what he wanted. He hit Davy. Larry didn’t know any different way to behave. He grew up in an isolated area. He didn’t go to a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple where he learned about moral beliefs. He didn’t participate in any school or community sports where he learned about good sportsmanship or how to work as part of a team. School could have been his lifeline out of a violent life but none of the adults in school seemed to recognize he needed their help.
Larry is beginning to think about having a different type of life. However, he has been deeply influenced by his traumatic past. While reading books is helpful, it is likely he will need professional help to move forward out of the violent lifestyle he learned growing up. A treatment that has been found effective for reducing trauma systems is called Prolonged Exposure Therapy for PTSD. A book that describes this treatment is:
Foa E. B., Hembree E. A., Rothbaum B. O. (2007). Prolonged Exposure Therapy for PTSD: Emotional Processing of Traumatic Experiences. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.