I’m ok, I’m ok

Many years ago, I considered training as a drama therapist. I was particularly inspired by a woman who counseled abused children and used play therapy to help them work through their experiences. In a workshop, we tried out one of her exercises.

First, we had to draw a monster and describe its features. Mine had an extremely large head and a small, weak body. It was red and slightly satanic. This turned out to be a great metaphor for many of my fears—scary, but with little real power. Then we had to kill the monster. The assaults were fascinating; everyone killed in their own style. I hid behind a chair, then ran out and stabbed my monster with a dagger and ran back behind the chair. It was amazingly cathartic. I want to do it again.

I’m occasionally haunted by the monster of past humiliations. Growing up I would suffer flashbacks of events in which I would feel excruciatingly embarrassed. Now such moments only cause minor derailment, but the early memories still retain their power:

• Age 12, I get the bus home from school and the accordion-style doors sweep open. In my impatience to get off I step too close to the doors and my foot is trapped under the door. The bus driver yells at me in front of everyone. Twenty-six years later I have to write about it in a blog.

• I’m 7 and my dad sends me in to the newsagent’s to buy sweets as a reward for good behavior. I want my favorite Munchies. Toffee and crunchy biscuit inside a chocolate coating. The shopkeeper starts asking me strange questions. Munchies? What do you want Munchies for? He looks at me sternly. I’ve never had to account for my candy purchases before. He finally realizes I want Munchies, and I finally realize he thought I was a pyromaniac schoolgirl trying to buy matches. But the joy of the Munchies is gone. And it’s underscored by the fact that it is my quiet, posh voice – our class difference – that caused the misunderstanding.

• Every summer three or four families spend a couple of weeks in Abersoch, Wales, at The Warren. It’s a children’s paradise where we get to stay in trailers and play on the beach and order knickerbocker glories. Never mind that my friends’ father is a sadistic bully and my parents’ marriage is on the rocks. One day, a terrible row ensues. I don’t understand what’s happening but the sadist’s nasty wife is sweeping me and her children into a car and driving us back to where we’re staying, complaining about my “bloody mother ruining everything.” I’m in tears and I later come to understand it’s something to do with my mother’s affair, which seems to have exploded into public view at the beach. I experience it as entirely my fault. My seven-year-old friends turn out to be astoundingly mature and empathic.

• The teacher needs to leave her class of nine-year-olds alone and puts me in charge. I am a good and conscientious child. As instructed, I write the name of a fellow student who talks on the blackboard. But when Miss Gavin returns, I am talking to another child. She remarks on my hypocrisy. I have failed her and myself. This is the elementary school equivalent of being elected to public office and being distracted by an intern.

• At 14, I start navigating the new landscape of divorced parents. My mother behaves badly and uses any opportunities to manipulate and punish my father. One Friday evening he comes to collect me from the downtown apartment where we’re living, but my mother has decided he’s late and therefore uncaring. I’ve already gotten into the passenger seat but she drags me out in the middle of the high street screaming at my father. I’m so devastated I block out the memory for several years.

There. I’ve publicly aired my most humiliating moments in the hope of exorcism. And doing it on a blog and under a pseudonym feels like running right back behind that chair once more.

4 responses to “I’m ok, I’m ok”

  1. stella — that summer vacation story left a knot in my stomach all day. oy.

  2. PB says:

    Every now and then one of these types of flashes come to mind–and I am always surprised by how physical, nearly cellular the memory is. The stomach rolls, my breathing alters, it is as if the embarassment happened minutes and not years ago. What is so briliant about your post is that it captures that some of these moments are huge and life changing and some are a stuck foot, seemingly small and yet they stay with us as indelibly as monuments. Whatever intensity we experience in that present is like a emotional snapshot that shuffles forward when we least expect. You have me thinking about the possibility of tempering their power.

  3. PB says:

    case in point . . . trying to be all cool and spelling “brilliant” wrong.

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