I watched the first two episodes of a British show recently called “The Bletchley Circle”. It’s about four women who were code breakers for British intelligence during world war two who have now blended into civilian life seven years later. One is a stay-at-home mom, another a housewife, another a waitress, the last a librarian. They reunite when they realize they can stop a serial killer with their code breaking skills. They realize, too, that a piece of them has been suffocating all those years. Their minds, their hearts, their spirits, trapped in an ordinary life they weren’t meant for.
They pursue the killer. When the police aren’t very helpful, they take it upon themselves to go undercover. They visit the gruesome crime scenes before calling the police with the location of the body. They set a trap with one of their own as the bait. In the end, they get their man in a dramatic scene where he gets blown away by one of the ladies as he’s about to kill another one.
So, I like it a lot right up until the last ten seconds. I mean, what’s not to like: feisty, intelligent women banding together and protecting their sisters in a man’s world. Well written scenes subtly addressing the alienation of women in modern society and the problem that has no name. Recognition of how common rape and domestic violence are. Entertaining yet socially relevant. I could relate to them too. They knew trauma. They knew aloneness. They had seen the evil of the world, survived it. It made me feel a little less alone. More optimistic maybe. But then came the ending.
The main character is walking home after nearly being killed by a serial killer who rapes his victims after they’re dead. She went willingly to his house because he said if she didn’t, he would kill her children. If she came, he said, he would spare them. She did what we do for our children. She walked into trauma to save them from the evil. And after she nearly died and was saved and the police came in and she processed it all as well as she could with her three friends who’d gone through it with her, who’d saved her, she went home to her husband and kids. She opens the gate of the little picket fence that surorunds her house. She looks in the window at her husband playing with her kids. She’s going to tell him what happened. She’s going to tell him all of it. He doesn’t even know she was a code breaker during the war. He thinks she was a clerical worker. She’s going to tell him now. About the war, about what she and her friends have really been doing when he thinks they’re off gossiping, about the evil she’s seen and known. More than that, she’s going to tell him about the rush of it all. About how powerful she is. She’s stopped a killer. She’s saved countless women. She’s saved her children. She helped defeat the Nazis.
But then she pauses. She looks at them playing happily, blissfully ignorant of it all. She remembers what one of the other women told her. She can’t tell him, she said. She looks at them and she changes her mind. She does what good little trauma survivors do. She swallows it down and hides it away. It’s not enough to have saved so many lives, she must protect them from the knowledge of evil too. To keep them safe in body and mind and spirit.
That’s when they lost me. That’s when my heart sunk and I felt cheated. And I felt pissed.
I wrote in an earlier entry about sin eaters. About swallowing the evil down and keeping it away from the rest of the world. About how I didn’t want to tell anyone about the evil I’ve known because they couldn’t possibly understand. I wanted to be a good little trauma surivor and hold it inside but I can’t. I wanted to be like those war veterans who refuse to tell their families what happened, who maybe don’t even tell them they fought in the war at all. To be like the woman in London who pretened to be a clerical worker turned stay-at-home mom instead of telling her husband who she really was, a warrior. The pain of trauma, the thrill of saving lives.
I haven’t protected my husband from the evil. I have told him all of it in detail. He came to the perpetrator’s trial and saw the graphic pictures of the brutality and perversion. I have told him what he did and how it felt and how it has haunted me. I have been honest about my existential crisis that has started in recent weeks, seven years after the events that changed my life. That changed his. He didn’t even know me then. He was finding Jesus and doing missionary work and writing scripts and raising his beautiful son. It may be harder for him to hear the unholy thoughts I have had lately than the details of the violation.
But I have been brutally honest about those doubts and thoughts and feelings, about the rage I feel for God right now. About my daydreams of violent revenge on my perpetrator which have resurfaced. About how exhausted I am to be seven years out and feeling like I’m back where I started. This is PTSD, I tell him. Why can’t you just get over it, he asks. Why can’t it be over? This is PTSD, I tell him. It will get better, but it will keep coming back. I could go twenty years and be pretty good and then it could come back all over again. And living with that knowdlege in and of itself is cruel enough. We are married for life and so the PTSD is a life sentence for him too.
It is not right to want to violent revenge, he tells me. God calls us to forgive, he reminds me. I said I’d forgiven the perpetrator. I had prayed for him. I had seen him as a poor banished child of Eve. Like a good girl. But I am not a good girl now because I have come to realize I spent all these years being a good girl because I thought maybe if I was good enough, bad things wouldn’t happen to me. I’ve blamed myself all these years because it gave me a sense of control. I realized, really realized, a few weeks ago that it wasn’t my fault. He alone chose to do the things he did. I had no choice. I could not have been so good he wouldn’t have done what he did. I cannot be so good I am safe. And so, I am not going to concentrate my being into being good. I am going to feel the anger I need to feel, I am going to doubt the goodness and power of God as is inevitable with trauma, I am not going to hide from the reality we live in a patriarchy maintained through brutality of body, mind, spirit.
I bring this to him because he’s my husband. I bring it to him first. But I’m not planning to stop there. This is a series of events set in motion in that cold February of 2008. Set in motion by him. I used to think I had such a choice in how I responded to what he did. I used to think I chose to go back to his apartment over and over again because I had made the choice to save my children and to save that little girl. The only choice I had was my body and mind versus my soul. Something would be lost. There was no good choice. I have no good choice now either. Keep it all inside and go on living the nice external life we’ve built up for ourselves or speak the truth and risk losing that external life. Body or soul. Ignore my fellow survivors, the little girls suffering out there, move on and tell myself finding health and happiness is the best revenge. Or be honest.
He’s my husband and my fate is his. His is mine. And God with us. The three of us. And so the three of us have PTSD. The three of us had the good choices taken from us seven years ago on that cold winter day in that motel room in Appalachia.
I will tell my children what happened one day when they are older. It happened to them too. A piece of their mother stolen never to return. A warrior born. I will tell them of the evil in the world and of the not good choices it leaves us. I will tell them I chose my soul over my body and mind. I will tell them he took something from them too. I will tell them the no good choice between body and mind and your soul is at the very core of this fallen world. Because I cannot protect them from the truth of this world but only do my best to prepare them for it. You see, what those good little trauma survivors in the movies don’t know is that you cannot be a good enough girl to keep bad things from happening.
Stop being good and be the warrior you are.