Then it was quiet. And dark. Darkness. For the first time darkness. I didn’t mind that. It was comforting, almost. Like the womb. The aloneness was okay, too. I was used to it. I cried, not from fear or loneliness, but as an experiment. And the arms came and the arms held me, and there was a voice, and I liked the voice.
It took a while for her to emerge into my consciousness in full shape. At first she was just the arms and the voice, and something else, soft and cushiony. Sometimes, other arms held me, but mostly hers. His voice was there, too, but not so often with the arms. Sometimes the world rocked, and his voice rocked with it. Soft and deep and flowing. I liked it, when the voice did that. Safe. A different kind of sleep than the other.
Safe. But not entirely. They came and went. The voices. The arms. Still, there was the aloneness. The not-quite-sure-ness. Is this my place? Do I belong here? I wanted to stay, so I made myself as quiet and still as I could. Freeze. Invisible. Lizard stillness.
In me, there was a tight, silvery pain. It resided in my stomach, mostly, in those early years, and sometimes, also in the spot between the shoulder blades on my back. Eyes wide. Shallow breath. Eventually, it came up through me in the night, and out through the scream of my mouth. And she would come to me. She had a body and name now. Mommy. Just a dream, she would say, and rub my back. Then she would go away.
In the day time it was with me, too. It was the bears that lived in closet, and more bears in the basement. It welled up in me when the girl across the street yelled that I was no longer her friend, or when his voice not-singing spoke sternly and I heard this: wrong, bad, wrong, bad, me, bad. Welcome? Maybe not.
The time between awake and sleep was the worst. Wild animals surrounded my bed, and even crept beneath the sheets. I curled my legs up to my chest, but I knew they were down there beneath my feet, always, with sharp teeth, waiting.
I grew, and over the years I became less conscious of it. The animals retreated, and I retreated, too, or escaped. Flee. Fly away into fantasy. Daydream girl. The mind learned to dance away. Eventually there were books. Solid rooms that welcomed me. Flee. Into books. To the spot on the end of the couch. Sit very still. Freeze. Don’t cause trouble. You can stay. You may be loved. Safe here. Quiet. Invisible. Good.
Do you think I have escaped it now that I am grown? No, it is here still. It is in my shoulders now, and in my jaw, and the teeth I grind at night. Tarnished now, and so familiar I almost cannot name it. Oh this, yes, I have always had it. Do you have one, too?