This post contains references to child sexual abuse. Please read with caution.
“The nanny must have been on time today,” Bea says, laughing as I walk into her office at ten till eight.
I smile, “She was early. I’m not sure what happened.”
“You look extra pretty, dressed up today. Are you doing something special after this?” Bea says as I take my coat off and sit down.
“No,” I’m puzzled. I haven’t done anything different than normal. Same makeup- concealer, tinted moisturizer, mascara, a light neutral eyeshadow…oh. I know. “It’s because I straightened my hair. That always makes me look more put together for some reason. I straightened it on Saturday, I just haven’t washed it yet.” I think about going into my lecture on how most of us wash our hair far too frequently, but I don’t. Bea doesn’t need me to teach her about hair. I straightened my hair to see how long it actually was– and it’s long, halfway down my back.
“You’re wearing color, too.” Bea notes.
I look down. Right. “Yeah….I really, really need to do laundry.” The orange sweater I’m wearing is a far cry from my usual grays, blacks, creams, blues and dark greens. Orange is one of my most favorite colors, but when your hair is a particular shade of orange (some may say dark strawberry blonde, or copper, or apricot), you don’t get a chance to wear a lot of colors. To top it off, I have a red head’s natural pinkish red skin tone, so there really aren’t a lot of colors I can wear and look right in.
“It looks nice on you.” The compliment hangs in the air, and I shrug it off, mumbling thank you and that I really can’t wear orange.
Bea turns in her seat, crosses her legs. “So how was everyone this weekend?” Kat’s Friday session was rough on Kat and I. Bea ended up emailing me to check on us later that day because she could see I was struggling and getting triggered easily and Kat was melting down and struggling over things, too. It wasn’t a great combo. Thankfully, Hubby was home from work early all weekend, and Kat and I actually had a pretty good time together; maybe even fixing some of our relationship.
“Ah, well. It was okay. There were definite rough points. Kat is still so sad about Cooper. And she’s struggling…..I don’t know. The new kitten helps a lot. Cadence really seems to calm her and soothe her when they cuddle, and even being able to play with the kitten, and help take care of it by feeding her and cleaning the litter box….it’s good.”
“Pets can be such a blessing, and really a comfort. It’s good for Kat to help take care of Cadence, too.” Bea says, and then she turns the conversation to me. “And how about you? Have you been more in the present this weekend, or still in the past? Have things felt any easier?”
I don’t answer right away. I want so badly to say yes, to say that they are so much better, so much easier, that everything is okay. But it’s not. So I don’t say anything because I can’t give the “right” answer.
Bea looks at me, questioningly, and finally I say, “I want to say it’s okay, better, fine, everything is okay now. It’s not.”
Understanding crosses her face. It makes sense to her now, why a seemingly simple question has thrown me into silence. “That’s all right. It’s okay to not be okay sometimes.”
I nod. I feel really young. Isn’t that a lesson I should have been taught ages ago? Why haven’t I learned that yet? It’s okay to not be okay. I really wish I could just believe that.
We sit quietly for a while, Bea asking questions periodically, and talking once in a while, but mainly quiet. I end up curled into myself with my head down, and buried like I do when I can’t face anyone, or anything, most of all the memories of my childhood.
“I know I don’t know exactly what happened. But even without knowing that, I can tell you, that little girl isn’t to blame. You were alone, your mom in the hospital, you needed comfort, that was all. The little girl didn’t want anything but comfort.” Bea finally brings the issue up, touching on the memory that is haunting me.
I shake my head at her. She doesn’t know. “I’m afraid to talk about this….”
She sounds sympathetic when she says, “Yes, it can feel scary. Is the fear in the idea of speaking the words out loud makes it more real?”
I’m afraid because I think if people knew the truth they would hate me, leave me. But I can’t say that. I won’t ever tell her I’m afraid she is going to leave me. That would mean admitting that I am attached to her, and I won’t do that, either. “I’m afraid to not talk about it…..”
“That’s a hard place to be.” I risk looking up at her, and she looks so understanding, maybe upset for me, like she gets it, but she’s somehow separate, too; strong and okay, stable. “Could you talk about the feelings? How you feel about yourself?”
I feel frozen. Talk about how I feel about me? I don’t want anyone to know how I really feel about myself. “Me then?” I’m stalling, trying to differentiate between me then and me now. I’ve worked so hard at building this facade of a girl who likes herself. I won’t talk about me now.
“Yes, how do you feel about you then?” Bea sounds encouraging.
Ashamed. Disgusted. I can’t say those, though. “I’m mad at myself.” I say. I don’t like mad, but for some reason, being mad at myself is completely acceptable to me.
“Mmm-hmmm. Mad at yourself. Do you feel mad at the little girl, or is the little girl mad?”
I look up at Bea, confused. I don’t get what she is asking. I’m mad at me. I did a bad thing, I should have known better, I messed up. I am mad at myself. Moreover, I’m really ashamed, but that is never, ever to be admitted out loud. I might break in pieces if I do.
“Some people feel mad at the little girl for what she did because now they have all these feelings and this mess and confusion to deal with now.”
I shake my head. I guess that means the mad is from the little girl, because that’s not how I feel. I hate myself for what being bad, I hate myself for what I’ve done. I’m ashamed and disgusted and confused.
“Okay, so maybe the little girl is the part that is mad, maybe she is the part that is what you are feeling. That’s where all the confusion is coming from. Why are you mad at yourself?” Bea asks me.
I don’t answer right away. To answer would be to explain what I did. Looking down at the floor, I say, “Because of what I did.”
“It’s really not separated then. If you could view this with your adult brain, you would be able to see this was nothing you did, nothing at all.” Bea sighs, not frustrated, sad. She’s sad for me. “If you came to me now, and you had some something you felt guilty and bad about as an adult, I would help you work through it. I suppose I need to treat this the same way for now, because you can’t see a difference in this. We’ll work through this.”
I don’t know what to say. I feel a little relieved. She sounds so sure that this can be worked through. I don’t see how. I’m sitting with my head down on my knees, legs pulled to my chest, my arms wrapped around them. I’m as curled into a ball as I can be. “I…I…I….” Each word is a struggle to get out. It’s a fight to try to even tell Bea one part of what I did. Let alone the whole of it. I can’t get my words out.
“This is really hard,” Bea tells me. I can hear in her voice that she knows how hard it is.
With a lot of pauses, and struggles, I manage to say, “I climbed in his lap. I kissed him.” It hurts to say the words out loud. The moment I say them, I’m terrified. Bea is going to leave. She’s going to kick me out of her office. I’m so dissociated, I don’t hear what Bea actually says. I can’t bear to hear her say that she hates me.
“Alice. Is this what you think you did to cause what happened with the tights?” Bea’s voice finally breaks through to me. She’s not saying she hates me. She’s not telling me to leave.
I nod. I can’t speak right now. I’m back there.
“Where did you go?” Bea asks me.
“There…..I was crying. I was just crying.” I’m aware enough to know that I didn’t answer her question exactly, I know I’m not making a lot of sense. This whole memory is confusing. It’s more confusing because I feel very small right now, not like an adult at all, but like a little girl who is alone and scared.
“You were crying after? At your house?” Poor Bea. She is left trying to understand, to make sense of my crazy, and somehow she still sounds patient and kind and like everything is okay.
“No. No. At their house. Before.” I sigh. I suddenly want her to know, to understand. “I was in the living room reading my book. I was crying. My Dad and Mr. Smith had gone. They were running an errand or something. They left. They just left. Mrs. Smith was in the kitchen. My brother and Jackie were watching tv. I was crying.”
“Do you know why you were crying?”
“I missed my mom.” The tears start now, in present time, and the pain of missing her and worrying for her and the guilt at making her sick all rush back. “I want my mom. I can’t be in the kitchen, she should be in the kitchen and I should be in the kitchen but instead I’m alone. I couldn’t be in the kitchen with Mrs. Smith.” I sob.
“No, no you couldn’t. That would have felt wrong, with your mom not there, to be in the place where your mom should be. Of course you couldn’t be in the kitchen.” Bea speaks soothingly, calming me.
I sniffle. “He came in and checked on me. He asked what was wrong.” I go silent again. I can see, and feel myself climbing onto his lap.
“What did you say?”
“I said I missed my mom. He sat down next to me.” I pause. I’m lost again.
Bea breaks into my thoughts, brings me back to the present. “What did he say?”
“That she loved me and missed me and wouldn’t have left if she wasn’t sick. And the doctors are good and will make her better.”
Bea sighs; a sigh that says she is maybe annoyed with him. “He really said the right things. He talked to you, when no one else would. He was there, supporting you, comforting you.”
“I’m crying, I climb in his lap.” I start crying again.
“Is that what you think you did to instigate this?” She asks me. I nod my head. “You were a little girl. You should have been able to climb in someone’s lap for comfort and expect safety. I think you were hoping it would be safe. Like your play, no secrets, no scary things. You would have been able to climb into your Dad or your uncle’s laps and expect safety and comfort, right?”
I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t really remember climbing into anyone’s lap, not my Dad’s, for sure. My family wasn’t exactly cuddly. “Maybe. Yes, I guess so.”
“You didn’t do anything that any other nine year old wouldn’t have done. You were upset, you wanted comforting. We talk about attachment, it’s almost like you had a very disorganized attachment with Kenny. He was comforting and kind sometimes, and then he took advantage and hurt you. That’s so confusing. No wonder you are confused.”
I shake my head. She’s wrong. I did not behave like any other nine year old. “After I calmed down. I kissed him.”
Bea doesn’t say anything for a minute. “That goes back to the grooming, he had been manipulating you, sexually abusing you for years at this point. You reacted almost in a way he had trained you to react.”
“I was stupid. I’m stupid.” I’m crying, sniffling, the tears falling off and on, and I’m not bothering to catch them. My face is hidden anyway.
“No. I don’t see you as stupid. Then or now. I think you were scared and alone, but also strong and brave. I think you are strong and brave now, to confront these things and to try to work through them. You are very strong.”
“I don’t feel strong right now.”
“I don’t imagine you do. But I know you are strong. Look at everything you survived. So many people choose not to confront these things. You are brave.” Bea is adamant, she believes this deep down. Maybe I will let her believe it for both of us, until I can believe it for myself.
I stop and think about what happened next. I’m not sure I can tell her. I’m scared. It’s no worse than anything else I’ve said, not really, but the words are scary to me.
Bea interrupts my thoughts, asking, “What did he do when you kissed him?”
“I don’t remember. I don’t know. There’s a blank spot……I just really have no idea.” I’m upset. I hate blank spaces, I hate not knowing.
“It’s okay. It’s not surprising there would be some blank spaces.”
“The next thing…he moved my hand.” My voice is tiny, I am barely speaking.
“He what?” Bea didn’t hear me, my voice was too quiet.
I have to work up courage to speak again, the first time was hard enough. Now that I’ve said it once, though, I have frustration over not being heard on my side. This time, I speak loud enough for her to hear me. “He moved my hand.”
Bea waits for me to say more, but when I don’t, she fills in the blank. “To his private parts?”
My face feels hot. I hate this. “Yes. And he says ‘look what you did now’.” I’m far away again, my voice sounds hollow as I speak, and I’m not aware of Bea, or her office. I feel blurry.
I know Bea says something, but what I’m not sure. I can’t focus on her words, or what she is saying. I’m stuck back in my fear, and I feel sick. I don’t know how long I’m this dissociated. Eventually, Bea’s voice breaks through. “I think you are really far away right now. You don’t have to be so far away. Let’s try to come back, even just a little bit, okay? Can you listen to my voice? Maybe hear the clock? Feel the couch under you? Open your eyes if you can. Even if you can only look at the floor, try and open your eyes.”
I’m surprised to realize that my eyes are shut. I would have said they were open. Huh. I open them, look at the wood floor, the purple blanket covering the couch. I’m not feeling my body, but I can hear the clock and see the floor. I’m back, or at least, I’m somewhat back. “I’m here,” I tell Bea.
“Good. That’s good. Do you know where his mom was during this?”
“The kitchen?” It’s a guess, an assumption. “I don’t really know. I found her to ask to go home, to change. She was in the kitchen. She didn’t let me go home by myself. That was so stupid of me. What was I thinking?” I shake my head, disgusted with my stupidity.
“You were sad, and missing your mom, and this confusing situation happened with Kenny. What do you think you were thinking? Do you remember?” Bea seems to have a theory of what I was thinking, but she wants me to tell her, I guess.
“I wanted to go home. I just wanted to go home.” My voice cracks, and I’m crying again.
“Of course you wanted to go home. You were in a house that wasn’t yours, left alone with him, no one to really comfort you. You missed your mom, you were sad and worried for her and afraid you had made her sick. You were lonely. And then this confusing situation happens with Kenny. Who wouldn’t want to go home?” Bea asks me. She is so sure, so positive I behaved normally. I wish I could believe her.
I want to tell Bea that I should have known better. I don’t though. I just shake my head, and cry.
“I think this might be a good place to stop. I know we didn’t get to any of the scary stuff, but there’s time for that later. I want us to have lots of time to bring you back, get you really grounded. I want you to be able to enjoy the holidays.”
We talk about normal everyday things. We talk about Christmas, and our plans for the holiday, and things we still have left to do. We talk about Kat and how she has been doing, and whether or not we should bring the new kitten with us to my parent’s. I ask her several times if she thinks I’m awful, and each time she tells me “Not in the least. There is not one awful thing about you.” Bea tells me again how brave and strong she thinks I am, and all the reasons why. I shake my head at her.
Eventually, I’m calmed and grounded and okay. We say good bye and Merry Christmas, and I head out the door. Bea stops me. “I want you to really enjoy Christmas, okay? But if you need me, you can email me, okay? That’s okay to do. You are so brave to be facing these scary things, and I know how hard it is. So email me if you need to. You aren’t alone anymore.”
“Thank you,” I tell her, and as I head down the stairs and out the door, she calls after me one last time, “Merry Christmas!”