Nanoseconds passed. But it seemed like an eternity of hell in my soul. And then I felt their arms around me, sandwiched safely between Howard and Alice.
“What happened, Trudy? What did you remember?” they ask.
I tried to explain, but it tumbled out, awkwardly. Broken. Making no sense. Bits and pieces of lost memories, like little pieces of my heart that needed to, somehow, be glued back together. Is it just a nightmare? Will I wake up? Momentarily the shock created a barrier between my real world and my mental world.
I had too much tea for supper but I thought about the stairs, about being in the bathroom alone, and I couldn’t do it. You better if you don’t want to do some mopping in front of these kind new friends. That’s a motivational thought.
I excused myself, steeling myself against the terror. One step at a time I willed myself to climb those stairs. I arrived, closed the door, and locked it firmly. The window haunted me. Am I really alone? I could feel them… they were there, and I didn’t even know who, or what they were. They had returned from childhood to haunt me, the shadowless beings that always chased me.
Darkness gathered around my heart, foreboding.
I didn’t bother to take the time to dry my hands before I opened the door, and peeked out. No one. I bolted for the stairs, flying down them three at a time. Noisily. Forget covering up this hell. I’m not okay. I’m a wreck.
I dropped onto the couch, between Howard and Alice, trembling. I started laughing. It was another survival thing I did. I felt so foolish, juvenile, fighting childhood fears. Trudy, pull yourself together. The lecture fell flat.
“I was terrified,” I said. “Really terrified. Almost like someone was following me. I know how dumb that is but I’m really scared.”
Alice, calm and composed, and very tender said, “Trudy, while you went upstairs, Howard and I talked. If it’s okay with you, I’ll stay here tonight. It’s probably not good for you to be alone tonight.”
“Ohhhh… Thank you! I really don’t want to be alone!” I could not imagine trying to care for an elderly man in the night. It was all too overwhelming.
We talked a while longer, and then Howard returned home to their six children, and Alice stayed with me.
I made sure that the Colonel, as I often called him, had everything he needed before we went to bed. Alice shared my room, my bed. Even the thought of being alone in a room, in the dark, traumatized me.
After chatting with Alice a few more minutes, I fell asleep more easily than I expected, but sleep was restless, broken. No dreams or nightmares, really, just startled to wakefulness, again and again. Every time I woke up, there was Alice, awake.
At around 3:00am a loud thud awakened both Alice and me. We flew out of bed to see what had caused it. Outside my door, George lay on a crumpled heap. He had collapsed, for no apparent reason, on his way back to bed from the bathroom—something that had never happened before. And, of all nights, it had to happen when I was already on edge.
Alice helped me walk George back to bed, and returned to bed, while I checked him to make sure all was well.
“Who was that nice chap that helped you get me back to bed?” he asked.
“That’s my friend Alice. She decided to stay the night,” I said, tucking him back in and turning out his lights.
“Thank her for me,” he said. “It’s good she was here to help.”
Back in bed I thanked Alice for being such a helpful ‘chap’. We talked and laughed, de-stressing from the adrenaline rush.
In the morning I made alternative arrangements for George’s care for a few days. Alice had invited me to stay with their family, to work through the emotional aftermath.
It was the best thing for me, to be surrounded by children who accepted without judgement, who loved unconditionally. Their youngest son was not quite two, and loved attention. I could have stood in one spot, all day long, tossing him in the air and catching him, without him ever tiring of the game. Between him, a nine-year-old, an 11-yr-old and three teenagers, there was plenty of action.
When we sat down to dinner that evening, Howard welcomed me before prayer. Before starting dinner, the family sang ‘Because He Lives’, a song I had loved in my childhood and teens. We got to the chorus and I tried bravely to sing the words, “because He lives, I can face tomorrow, because He lives, all fear is gone…” But I choked up. I knew it was true. I knew that He was my only hope, but I didn’t feel confident that I could do it.
A tear spilled over in spite of my best efforts. I pushed my chair away from the table and fled. I couldn’t do it. It was too painful. Too raw. How was I to sit at the table, singing cheerfully, surrounded by ‘the perfect family’? I didn’t fit. Didn’t belong. Couldn’t identify. I was broken. They were whole. I was empty and stripped. They were full and together.
I curled up on Cindy’s bed sobbing. Embarrassed. How would I face them again? I couldn’t go back up. I would wait patiently until dinner ended, and then I would try again to blend in.
A hand rested on my shoulder, “What happened Trudy?” Alice had come down to make sure I was okay. I tried to explain.
“Trudy, at our house it’s okay to cry,” she said.
That thought sank in slowly. Emotions? Okay? Accepted? Not shamed? I couldn’t imagine a home where tears were welcomed. Where people were loved when they were down, even encouraged. But she sounded convincing.
“Why don’t you come upstairs again and have dinner?” she said.
“Won’t the children wonder why I ran away?”
“I don’t think they’ll worry about it too much,” Alice said.
I walked upstairs with bloodshot eyes, sat down at the table as though nothing had happened. We talked and laughed again.
It was going to be okay. I was going to be okay.
© Trudy Metzger
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