I stepped out into the cold January air, the first real 5 degree-wind blowing-makes your face hurt winter day of the year. It was Martin Luther king day. The kids were off school and we’d gone to visit my parents for the day. I took Soldier Boy, The Ax, Princess and Our New Baby. Poobah and Tree stayed behind to work on the house. It was a nice day, admiring the newly remodeled kitchen my mother finally had after dreaming of it for forty years and getting to meet my sister’s new boyfriend, the chef. I caught them up on all the goings on at our house and my mother shared the latest from the various relatives. We talked politics a bit (Go Bernie! was the consensus). My mom offered me a nice crockpot too big for her empty nest and a Keurig the wrong color for her new kitchen, both of which I excitedly accepted. She told me to go through the old board games because they were throwing out whatever I didn’t want. I scored some Gumby Colorforms (remember those?), VCR Clue II, and Go For It, my favorite 1980s board game centered on accumulating red convertibles, hot tubs, and ski chalets: the good life, eighties style.
Our afternoon was wrapping up. The kids were getting cranky and it was time for us to go. So I gathered up an armful of the dusty board games and headed out to my car. And as I stepped out of my parents newly remade kitchen onto the familiar patio, the bitter cold air hit my face and suddenly I was in Erie.
Erie. January 2008. Class just let out and we’re walking to his apartment through the snow. The crunchy kind with a thin layer of ice on top that your foot catches on for a moment before sinking in. They say the Inuits have a hundred different words for snow, don’t they? (I don’t know if it’s true but it’s what they say anyway) I could not normally tell you much about what kind of snow there was on any particular day of my life years ago. I am not an Inuit of old, surviving in the Arctic north. Snow is not something of great importance to me. But those days, those memories, are not normal memories. They are not stored in the circuitry of my brain as normal memories are. And I am not now remembering that day. I am reliving it. I am there.
We are walking to his apartment to study and eat lunch. And maybe when we’re done he’ll rape me too. My stomach is in a knot. My chest is aching. My limbs are heavy and slightly numb. Not from the cold but from The Ordeal. My head is there but not there. How do you force yourself to walk to a violent sadist’s apartment? You will it. It is survival, moral spiritual survival. Protecting the young. You must. And so you do. Your will tells your legs to move and they do. They feel heavy and numb like they don’t belong to you but rather someone else. Because they must. For surely you would never go with this man so seemingly cooperative. Surely this isn’t happening. But it is.
I am afraid of what he will do when we get there. I am more afraid of the plans he has for his other victims, that I won’t find a way to stop him. He makes my whole being nauseous. Not just my stomach but my muscles and my head and my skin. My myocytes and epithelial cells. My heart and my spirit. Helpless. I am helpless with him. If I cannot stop what he has planned then I’m hopeless too. Powerless. Utterly alone in the universe. That is how it is in his apartment. Just me and him. Only one soul in the room. Mine. And he is trying to take it from me. His apartment has become the whole universe. At once a vast expanse and a vacuum. Just me and him. Nothing else, no one else.
I make him lunch and he talks about nutrition and he talks his madness all over me, coating me in its sticky thick tack. Cortisol is coursing through me. My pulse is quick. I am hypervigilent. I must be able to detect any changes to his mood so I can prepare for what’s next. The worst thing is to be caught off guard. Defenseless. I must cut the apples just so, but I must pay attention to the nuance of his speech: the tone of his voice, the rate, the cadence, the choice of words. His body language too. The way he carries himself, the tone of his muscles, the subtle change of expression on his face. He is a sociopath so he rarely shows anger. It is not so simple as that.
The irony of this is that he has brainwashed me into believing he can read me so easily, that he is always watching me and can tell when I’m lying and what I’m really thinking. He tells me he has researched it all thoroughly, how to tell if someone is lying. The direction their eyes move when answering questions, the rate their heart beats, the tone of their muscles. (But he really was terrible at it. I fooled him. He went down. He lost his life as he knew it. Why? Because he wasn’t hypervigilent. Why? Because he wasn’t afraid. He was arrogant. My fear saved me really. And allowed me to stop him. It saved my life and my soul.)
It pressed this moment into my memory too. This moment I am reliving now eight years later. In an instant. Yes all of this comes and passes in just a few seconds. And then just as suddenly I am back in 2016 packing up my car, hurrying to get back to Our New Baby before he starts fussing in his car seat.
I’m free of my prison. I have been PTSD free for a year now. I have my moments. I have my hours. But I am no longer trapped inside. I am free and I can now appreciate the fear for what it did for me then. It saved my soul. It stopped a sadist. And now I am free to live the good life, 2016 style.