I’d heard others talk about post-traumatic stress, but I have never crossed the battle lines of combat in Iraq. Perhaps as survivors we are always minimizing our experiences. There is always someone who had it worse.
But I can’t deny the moment, twenty-four years ago as a 21-year-old, when I stepped off a curb in the parking lot of my grocery store and had a flashback from childhood of violence that was thick and dangerous. Right there on the spot, the memory assaulted my senses and I was oblivious to my surroundings.
The memory was such a terrifying one I pushed it back into the dark unknown. That year, other flashbacks came and I was transformed to a little girl cowering in fear, reliving moments as though they were today.
So when I began writing in my late 30’s, I thought I’d dealt with it and that my childhood was finally buried and gone. But writing changed something. I began to write for that little girl I once was. All of a sudden she stood up and asked to be seen.
I saw her with expectant eyes waiting for me to finally acknowledge her. And I was speechless. What do you tell a child who is busy surviving? What do you tell a girl whom you thought was gone?
You tell her story.
She was ready and I guess that meant I had to be ready too.
But nothing could prepare me for the journey. Her story seemed safer behind closed doors, just as it did when she was younger. No book or 12-step program could walk me through the process. I felt every terrifying step. After waiting so long in the dark, the light on that part of me seemed awfully bright.
Yet, there she was on the page in all her glory, and I had to finally face her. It was time for her to speak, for once. And I didn’t give a fig this time about tattle-telling as I held her hand and comforted her. I hugged her and gave her a squeeze of the shoulders. It’s safe now.
I sat beside her under the big oak, let her tell me happened, and I wrote. I poured out words never knowing how much it would change both of us.
I quickly found the “publish” button, but the thought of sharing her words haunted me at night. Cold freak-outs, night time sweats and countless “What have I done’s?” Nightmares of people reading her story terrorized me. So much so, that I rushed head long in a frantic rush to re-read her words. I feared sounding like a loon splaying open her guts to vultures— blood and gore and ugly stuff smattered all over the web.
Then after fumbling with the mouse and computer, which of course took eons to boot up, I finally scrambled to the page. It was much worse in my head than on “paper.”
That little girl is much braver than I am. She prods me to keep telling her story. She’s a trooper, just the way I remember her.
In time, her story was told long enough she grew up before my eyes. Just like that. She smiled big with a suitcase in one hand and a wave with the other, her creamy arms revealed under her orange sleeveless dress. She was finally moving out and stood taller than me now.
Writing does that if we let it. It makes us stand taller.
Healing is first for the writer and then for the reader. Hidden things are submerged until words rescue them from a dark ravine. Authors are healed and delivered by their own hands.
There’s no CAT scan or blood work for what writing does. It is pure marvel and mystery. And the author who owns their story does not need science to make sense of it.
I think of writing as a type of magic which is part slight of hand, part illusion. The magician helps his assistant into the box, locks her in, head hanging out one side, feet the other. He takes a saber-tooth saw and cuts her in two as the audience gasps. He shows the box split in complete halves, even as he is swinging one half with wiggly feet off to the side. The horror registers on the audience with hands to their mouths, unblinking eyes wide as apples.
A naïve audience is unaware of a magician’s secret, but no one is complaining. Our fascination lies in the unexplained and incredible. We only know how there were two halves before he reunites them together, unlocks the assistant, and a whole woman rises out of the box.
Writing is a lot like the magician’s trick. We are awed as we watch the magic happen. Amazement bewilders us because what just happened? From our own words. We look to the tall man sitting next to us, even as we tried to keep our arms from rubbing this stranger in the audience, and whisper, “Did you just see that?”
Words can be a slight of hand making us whole. Trust the magic. We don’t need to know the secrets to be amazed.
Image © Coka – Fotolia.com