By P. Berman, A. Hosack & K. Hecht
How can I describe it? The way the pain felt blended into my body? The pain felt separate from the bruises and abrasions on my skin. Can I pull my torn pieces together?
Claire was remembering the first time Larry had hurt her, really hurt her. She wasn’t writing anything. Somehow just thinking about writing it, made her feel the pain again. Her belief in Larry as her perfect protector had literally been beaten out of her head. It started at lunch. He had been late meeting her and when he showed up, she had freaked out. She had run up to him in front of all the lunch crowd asking him nonstop questions. She had been so worried he mouth had gone a mile a minute. Was he alright? Where had he been? Did he need something? Larry had roughly shoved her away. Glaring, he told her to stop trying to control him.
Scarlet faced, and trembling Claire had rushed out of the cafeteria and gone to hide in a bathroom stall. She sat on the toilet and held her head in her hands trying to calm herself down. Her trembling hadn’t ended until she had already missed one class. All she could think of was that Larry was mad at her. Really mad and it was all her fault. If she lost her first and only love it would be all her fault. She finally got her courage and snuck out of the building. She hoped and feared he would be waiting for her in their special place.
Larry was there! But he was pacing back and forth in a rage. She hid behind a tree and watched him. Should she try to apologize? Should she stay away? Something about the way his body looked as he was walking filled her with fear; he was so angry. But maybe she could fix it? Should she try? For what seemed like an endless amount of time, she watched him from behind a tree. Suddenly, he looked her way- did he see her? She froze, hugging the tree, burying her face against it.
Larry was on her in a moment. He grabbed the hair at the back of her head and yanked her away from the tree. He accused her of spying on him, of wanting to suck away any air he tried to breathe. Since she loved the tree so much, he told her she could eat it. With that, he had slammed her head over and over into the tree trunk until blood was pouring down her face, then he suddenly let go of her hair and she dropped to the ground. Without a backward look, he stalked off deeper into the woods.
Your head can’t still hurt. It was long ago. Don’t run away, face it, write it down.
Claire began to write. She felt it was like she was up in the clouds looking down at herself. She could see herself like a lump at the base of the tree- bleeding, not making a sound. She remembered how much her head was hurting and how the blood was saturating the dirt around her. She hadn’t made any attempt to wipe the blood off her face. She was letting herself disappear into the base of the tree.
Stand up Claire, walk back to school. Get on the bus. Do something. Don’t just take it. Don’t just lay there.
The Claire in the clouds was trying to encourage her other self, but it wasn’t working. The Claire in the dirt didn’t know how to take action to solve a problem; that Claire only knew how to react to what others did to her. As she wrote, part of Claire realized how much she had learned about people, since that terrible day in the woods. Larry had shown her that day, that he was dangerous but all she had done was to try and placate him- to be his perfect victim so he wouldn’t leave her. All her gut instincts had told her to cling to him, to beg him for forgiveness- not run away; even though he had left her bleeding in the woods.
Would I run away now? I do cling to the Carsons and to Davy; does this show the same desperation?
Claire had been so deeply lonely before Larry entered her life. She didn’t want to be lonely again. She wanted to believe she had learned how to help herself. She wanted to believe that she loved the Carsons for who they were, but she worried that she was clinging to them- just like she had clung to Larry- to avoid feeling alone.
Research summarized by Hawkley and Cacioppo (2010) found that 15-30% of the population in the USA reported chronic loneliness. These authors investigated loneliness under the theory that for people like Claire, social isolation meant feeling unsafe and led to constantly searching the world for signs of threat. This state of constant “vigilance” could explain Claire’s difficulty controlling her thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
To read more about this research, and possible ways to help chronically lonely people read:
Are you feeling socially isolated? Consider if taking a personal advocacy step might help. Push yourself to say hello to someone new to begin getting comfortable reaching out.