By P. Berman & K. Hecht, & A. Hosack
I like this. Could my life always be like this? Could I just stay here and never leave?
Larry wanted to stay at the monastery. Later this morning, Larry was going to meet with the Abbot for the first time. He was going to ask for permission to stay – he feared he be told he had to go. What did he have to offer the monks anyway? Larry was pacing around, doing nothing useful with his time when Ted arrived. Thankfully, Ted had asked him for help working on the bus; Larry knew, even if Ted didn’t, that this bus needed a major overhaul at a body shop and soon. However, he would do his best to help.
Larry always felt less edgy when he was helping Ted. While not much of a talker, Ted would periodically ask Larry’s opinion about something or ask for a tool that he couldn’t reach; they spent most of the time in companionable silence. On the farm, working with his father had always been an emotionally and physically grueling experience. Things never went smoothly. Tools always got broken. Blows for doing things wrong were constant.
To survive his family life, Larry had needed to be hypervigilant, always looking for warning signs that he needed to either escape or defend himself. In prison, he’d always been on the losing side of a fight until Martin got him accepted into the gang. However, being part of the gang didn’t bring him the kind of peace of mind that these monks seemed to find in each other’s society. Life with the gang had been full of warning signs that mistakes weren’t tolerated. Larry saw many other men being beaten up or locked away and there was always this silence, this coercive control that involved no more than brief eye contact or small hand gestures that let Larry know violence was always just beneath the surface.
These past few weeks have been different. Ted never swore at him or threatened him with violence; He actually seemed to like having Larry around. Sometimes when they were working, Ted would tell Larry stories about his childhood. These were hard stories for Larry to understand. Ted appeared to have had parents like the fake ones in Christmas movies; the kind of parents who were always saying they loved him. Ted talked casually of how much they had even helped him succeed in school.
Could Ted be making the stories up? Was Ted saying these things just to impress Larry?
Everyone in his Ted’s family had been proud when he volunteered for military service. But, with each tour of duty, Ted had felt more and more withdrawn from the life he had grown up with. He had systematically pulled further and further away from a world that now had too much noise in it. They weren’t happy family noises anymore; something or other was always triggering memories of his deployments overseas and he couldn’t bear it.
Larry would have envied Ted’s family life if he had believed half of the stories he was told. Larry wondered if Ted was trying to convince himself that these lies were true. Afterall, if his childhood had been so great, why did he jump at every sudden noise and lose all the color in his face when the bus backfired? Larry hadn’t come to any conclusions about these stories, but still, he enjoyed hearing about them for some reason.
Everything went smoothly this morning; the bus was working again. Ted and Larry went into the kitchen and washed up in the sink. A few minutes later, one of the monks came to escort Larry to his meeting with the Abbot. The calmness of being with Ted disappeared. Larry was led by one of the monks to a small room he’d never seen before. It barely had any further in it beside the desk. Larry didn’t know if he should sit down in the chair opposite the desk or not. Before he could ask the monk, the door was already closed behind him. Larry paced back and forth for a while.
I’m such an idiot. I don’t even know if I should sit down. The Abbot will never consider letting me stay here.
Larry didn’t know what the Abbot looked like. When Larry arrived, that fateful night driving the bus, the Abbot had been traveling. He hadn’t arrived back at the monastery until yesterday. Larry had begun to sweat. He kept drying his hands on his pants. Larry didn’t know why he was so nervous. All the monks had been very kind to him. There was no reason for him to expect the abbot to immediately kick him out.
Larry didn’t recognize his longing to have a home. He didn’t recognize how much he had come to value how kindly the monks treated him. Before Larry could work himself up further, the door opened again. A short elderly man came slowly in.
Larry was surprised. The Abbot was wearing the same simple robes as all the other monks; the priest at his church had dressed much more richly. The abbot’s face was covered in the fine lines of advanced age. He smiled gently at Larry and said, “Good afternoon, my son. I understand that you need to contact your parole officer right away.” Larry turned white; how did the abbot know already? “You look confused; I am sorry if no one told you before. The priest of your church called me when you were on your way here on the bus. He explained all the conditions of your parole to me. You need to call this number tomorrow. It is the phone number of the adult parole office in Cincinnati.” Larry turned bright red with embarrassment, “you know about who I am yet…you still let me come here?”
“Of course, my son. This place will be a refuge for you as long as you need one.” Larry had heard nothing but good news, but he felt in shock. He didn’t know what to think. How unexpected this all was. He should be feeling relieved. It was all just happening too fast for him to adjust. His probation crisis solved? This easily?
Nothing in Larry’s life had been easy before. He has gone from living in an environment where the people around him posed dangers to his very survival to being surrounded by strangers who were always offering him help. Larry didn’t know what he could and could not believe anymore.
Why is Larry unable to trust anyone or anything around him?
Larry experienced trauma throughout his development and it literally changed how he understands the world around him. Ted had a healthy start to life but was traumatized repeatedly as an adult; this led his brain to adjust to this new, dangerous reality. Both Larry and Ted have become hypervigilant to warning signs of danger.
To understand the brain mechanisms behind this hypervigilance go to: https://vimeo.com/100518405