I finally decided there was no point in delaying the inevitable, and forced myself to spit it out, “When I was ten years old he molested me. There wasn’t penetration or anything like that, but there was a lot of rubbing and touching, and he said things to me; made promises about visiting me during the night. That’s when my relationship with him ended. I’ve dreamed about him periodically throughout the years, but it seems like I dream more these days than I ever have before. I hate that he’s wormed his way into my dreams, but I can’t seem to stop him. My dreams should belong to me, not to him. It’s bad enough that he destroyed my childhood, but now he’s managed to creep back into my life and steal any hope for a good night’s sleep.” I paused, and took a couple of big breaths so I could calm down; I didn’t want to get emotional. “Nothing bad has happened in the dreams yet, but I know it will eventually. Every night it’s like I can feel the pressure building, and the anticipation twists up my insides like a rubber band. It hurts; I feel actual pain in my sleep. All he’s done so far is to invite me into his room. I’m at one end of the hall, and he’s at the other, standing in his bedroom doorway beckoning to me. I don’t want to go to him, but it’s like my feet have a mind of their own, and they take me down the hall no matter how hard I try to stop. I always wake up right before I’m close enough for him to reach out and touch me. I wake up sweating, and my skin is crawling because I can’t help imagining the feel of those dry brownish claws touching my skin.”
Angela was watching me; evaluating me. I could feel it even though I wasn’t looking at her. I could feel her eyes on me. When I finally worked up the nerve to look at her, she gave me an encouraging smile. There was no judgement in her gaze, only understanding and compassion. It gave me the courage to continue.
“I woke up around 3:00 this morning, with my heart pounding and I remembered something I hadn’t thought about in years. On the day of my high school graduation, my dad insisted that we go by my grandfather’s house, so he could see me in my cap and gown. Apparently, he was too “sick,”’ I gave her the air quotes sign, “to attend the ceremony. I knew perfectly well that “sick” meant he was either too drunk or too hungover, or had the shakes so badly that he wasn’t fit to be seen in public. Honestly, I was relieved he wouldn’t be coming to see me walk. The last thing I wanted was for my friends to see him and I sure as hell didn’t want his face to be a permanent part of my graduation memory. So, being asked to go to his house for a few minutes was a compromise I was willing to make. I hadn’t set foot in that man’s house since I was fifteen, and the only reason I agreed to go then was because it was Christmas and the whole family would be there. My dad would have wanted an explanation if I backed out. But I stuck to my dad’s side like glue that day; I made sure I was never alone with my grandfather.” I stopped. “I’m sorry, that’s probably more information than you really need. I’ll try not to go off on any more tangents.”
Angela waved her hand, “No, no it’s fine, just tell your story in whatever way works best for you. Let me worry about what’s important and what isn’t. The truth is, this early in your analysis, everything is important. I want to get to know you; please continue with your dream.”
I shrugged, if she wanted to hear it all, then so be it. “The minute we crossed the doorstep I was bombarded by a flood of ugly memories. My chest felt like there was a steel band across it and someone was tightening it. The air had a poisonous kind of smell; I was struggling to breathe. My dad smiled at me, completely oblivious to the turmoil going on inside my body. I could see he was excited to share my special day with his father. The small hallway stretched into eternity as we made our way to his bedroom. It was like looking down the hallway in the Queen Mary.”
I smiled in apology, “Sorry, another tangent. But the hallways in the Queen Mary go on forever. They look like they stretch on and on until they get smaller. That’s what the hallway in my dream felt like. My dad went right in, but I stayed at the threshold, my feet practically rooted to the floor. The odor was the first thing to hit me. The smell of his booze and cigarettes, and his unwashed body overwhelmed me. The room started swimming when I took my first step. I’m amazed I didn’t fall down. I could hear the thud of horses’ hooves pounding in my ears, and even though I knew it wasn’t real, I was still fighting to keep a grip on reality. It seemed to take forever, but I finally reached my father’s side. My grandfather reached out with one of his crippled hands and touched me. He had these long, brown nails, and they brushed against the back of my hand. It sent a chill across my shoulders and down my back. It felt like I was being caressed by a rattlesnake.”
Something primal had awakened in the back of my brain, uncurling its dark scaly body and causing an almost uncontrollable fight or flight response. Bile rose in the back of my throat and threatened to spill into my mouth as I struggled to remain calm. A constant trembling coursed through my body, my knees almost knocking together. But I had no idea how to articulate those feelings to her.
“My dad did all the talking for the few minutes we were there. It’s a good thing he didn’t expect me to make a big speech about the hopes and dreams I had for my future. I don’t think I could have formed a coherent sentence if you paid me a million dollars. He had me sit on the bed next to his father, so he could take a picture of the two of us together. Me in my royal blue cap and gown, and him in his saggy, old white undershirt with the stains on the front. Yeah, that was a keeper alright.” I couldn’t help the sarcasm that practically dripped off my words.
“Every inch of my skin crawled when he put his arm around me and pulled me up against his side for the picture. I could smell a faint odor of urine coming off him and it made my stomach do somersaults. My dad had to have known there was something wrong with me; that there was something wrong with him. I’ve seen that picture, and the expression on my face is not a happy one.”
I was losing the battle to control my emotions, and turned away from her, instead directing my question to the birds living in blissful ignorance on the other side of the glass, “How could he not have noticed that I’d suddenly become a mute. Couldn’t he see…” I stopped, swallowed the emotion, then looked directly at Angela before repeating my question, “How could he not have known?” I swiped angry tears from my cheeks; surprised to find them there. I hadn’t been aware I was crying. No wonder she kept the Kleenex right next to the couch. I pulled a couple of tissues from the handy box and wiped my eyes and nose. Apparently, I was pretty pissed at my dad. I hadn’t realized it until that moment. I stared down at my lap and watched my fingers as they tore the tissues into tiny pieces.
Angela rose from her chair and made two cups of tea while she gave me time to regain my composure. She handed a mug to me before taking her seat. She blew across the top of her cup to cool it, “As I’m sure you know, the sense of smell is a formidable memory trigger. It has the power to unearth the memories we convince ourselves are dead and buried. It’s obvious that for you, the smells ignited a firestorm of terror in your mind. Your body had a visceral reaction to a situation which was out of your control. It’s a very common occurrence, especially for children in cases of sexual abuse. I know it doesn’t make your experiences feel any less painful, but your body’s response is typical of what I would expect to see in any young person dealing with this type of situation.”
“I want you to understand that just because you’re physically an adult, it doesn’t mean those emotional scars are gone. You have done an admirable job of not letting it stop you from becoming a responsible, contributing member of society. That’s wonderful; good for you. But that wounded little girl still lives inside of you. She’s the one you’re here for. She’s the one having the nightmares and the one we need to help. By doing so, you’ll be helped as well. Does that make sense?”
I nodded; it made perfect sense to me. I wrapped my chilled fingers around the mug of tea, welcoming the warmth bleeding through the ceramic. I blew on it, then took a cautious sip, immediately recognizing the taste of chamomile, and spearmint, but there was something else I couldn’t identify. I held the cup up and lifted a questioning eyebrow.
“It’s Sleepytime. It has chamomile, spearmint, lemongrass, blackberry leaves, orange blossoms and a few other ingredients I can’t remember off the top of my head. It’s one of my favorites because it has a natural calming effect. You might want to pick some up at the grocery store on your way home. Get the Sleepytime extra; it also has valerian in it, so it will help you sleep.”
“I will, thank you.” I leaned back into the couch cushions and closed my eyes, holding the steaming cup under my nose and inhaling the earthy fragrance. It really did have a calming effect. But then again, maybe I was just super sleepy, and I was simply enjoying the feeling of closing my eyes. Either way, it was nice. We finished our tea in silence.
Angela set her empty cup on the side table and picked up her pad and pencil again. “I think I can help you Chelle. You’re carrying around a tremendous amount of emotional pain. I believe you would get a great deal of benefit from regular sessions. I’d like to see you for an hour once a week if you think that will work for you. Are you open to scheduling another appointment?”
I thought about it briefly, then agreed. It was a good decision on my part. Angela and I eventually became very good friends. She understands me.