Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It's what I don't remember

Post-traumatic stress disorder: An anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma.

Dissociation: Partial or complete disruption of the normal integration of a person’s conscious or psychological functioning. Dissociation can be a response to trauma …[it] allows the mind to distance itself from experiences that are too much for the psyche to process at that time.

These are the words that define my childhood.
These are two of the obstacles that challenge me because of my childhood.
These are two definitions that explain so much and so little at the same time.

Memories. So subjective.
Multiple witnesses to the same event can remember entirely different things.

What I remember, what I know, is looking down a long hallway. It is night, I am in my nightgown, and I am alone in the dark hallway. On one side of the hall, a little behind me is my sisters’ bedroom, the door is open and the lights are out. On the other side of the hall a little ahead of me is my brother’s room, the door closed. I don’t see either room though; I am looking down the hall into the living room.

The light is on. I can see the side of the console TV, an end table with a lamp on it, part of the couch, and my father beating my mother. I don’t hear a thing. No sound at all. I am shaking; I don’t know what to do. Of course at 4 years old there is really nothing I can do. I realize I am crying, I don’t hear that either but that is because I am not making a sound, just quietly crying. He stops hitting her; and starts choking her. Her arm flails and knocks the lamp off the table. I hear the glass break.

The next thing I remember is being in bed with my sister 13 year old sister CAS, pressed up against her back, shaking from all the adrenaline pumping through my little body. That is all I remember of that night. I don’t remember the police coming; I don’t remember my father being arrested.

Years later I am talking to CAS about that night. Her memory is different than mine. I am surprised she has a memory at all; I thought she slept through it.

She is standing in the same dark hallway; she sees the same room I do, the same furniture, the same violence. The noise brought her from her bed, but she doesn’t remember me standing there though clearly she is behind me. She sees dad choking mom. She sees mom’s hand knock the lamp over. Then she screams. She realizes immediately that this was a mistake and runs and gets back in bed. Alone. Our mom comes in and tells her “Your father wants to see you.” CAS goes into the living room and my father tells her “You wanted to see this, now watch.” He then starts hitting mom again. CAS remembers the police coming, she remembers dad being arrested.

So what I remembered, what I had know, is not entirely complete, or correct. I was not against CAS’s back like I remember, but by 9 year old sister TJS’. This is a shock to me. For some reason more shocking than not remembering CAS being in the hall or screaming. It shocks me because I do remember being in her bed, underneath the covers, face against her back, trembling. But now I remember the wall behind my back as well. And I am on my right side. And this is not possible in CAS’ bed. If I am on my right side with a wall behind me than I am on the other side of the room; in the other bed, against TJS’s back. I remember it so clearly now. CAS' memory has triggered mine.

However to this day, I do not remember CAS being in the hallway or her scream. It must have been that scream that got me out of the hall. I do not remember mom coming in the bedroom even though I was there. No, I still don’t remember any of it, even after hearing about it. No triggering for them. Those memories must have never made it to my psyche.

Memory is funny, it can protect you; ironically by making you forget.


  1. You know,our family put the dis in dysfunctional. How did we turn out as well as we did?

  2. Therapy. ;0)

    The spelling thing still eludes us though.
    No d-i-s in dysfunctional. :0D

  3. I still remember your Mother but by the time you moved on Lafayette you Dad wasn't there. I remember she was a very strong willed Woman and she made me laugh. I now understand some of the things from our childhood also. You are still one of the funniest women I know.

  4. @ ahutton61- Thank you A. :0) My dad left in '65 so was long gone by Lafayette. Crazy how all the stuff clicks together as you grow up.