CHAPTER 16: THE TIN MAN

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I sat on the cool cement step, the sunny day dimmed grey by visions of tunnels with no doors, no way out. Wherever I went, whatever I did, the feelings of death, loss, and emptiness floated about and around me, a cloud of grief without exit. It was the only way. I tried others. I cried, but not much. Not enough for Raymond or the Dad I’d lost thirty years before him.

The warning had come several weeks beforehand; he wouldn’t leave without doing it properly.

Raymond explained, “We will be moving soon, to Louisiana.”

Somewhere in the blur that followed, I also heard him say, “Some folks have been coming for as long as I’ve practiced.”

The implication of imagine how hard it will be on them attempted to soften the blow, but my heart, needing resuscitation, only heard, “We’ve become friends. It will be hard to leave them.”

“What about me?” I screamed silently, and, “Your clients shouldn’t be friends. If they’ve been coming that long, you’re not doing your job, and neither are they,” also left unsaid. Anger strummed below, pounding at my chest, little fists wanting out. It took an igloo of solid ice to keep it in. Bleeding raw emotions simmered, permanently unexpressed; if allowed voice there’d be no end to the screeching, “Why do you keep fucking me?” to him, to abusive brothers, to the universe.

We discussed other therapists if the need arose, five or six he’d known professionally.

“Which one would you suggest?” I asked.

Hesitating, as if finding that question difficult, he finally said, “Maybe Matt.”

Some security crept in with the referral.

Before the end of the session, he said, “Come back. You need closure,” acutely aware of how I escaped by withdrawing. He sensed my emotions better than I did.

If he hadn’t said that, I wouldn’t have, but I returned, still tethered to him with some trust left. It’s good I did—it helped, but not much.

He read the handwritten note I offered to him that last day.  

3/18/95

Dear Raymond, 

Closure?

Will it help to express my feelings? Why should I share my feelings with the one who is hurting me so? Will the pain stop? It comes in waves, rolling over, on and through me. I weep. I am losing a father, again. My friends left to live in Texas. It did not hurt like this. I try to make sense of it. You are not my friend, father, brother, NOTHING, yet you have been all those and more: mentor, teacher, guide, but I pay you to see me. Our relationship is strictly professional. Why does it hurt? 

You have touched places secret inside, you feel my feelings. I have felt intimate with you but you are paid to do it. So why the PAIN, the loss? 

Reminders of you, shadows everywhere, my journal, my tape, my pine cones, nuts, my attempts at growth and stretching… 

Cause me pain.

Knowing you’re there, even if I wasn’t seeing you, was a comfort. You open me so I can feel, then squash your foot inside my chest. 

                                                                                                                       the Tin Man 

He did all the talking. “I learned a lot from you,” he said, along with so much more my frozen senses couldn’t take in.

I sat there as usual, but nothing was the same. As he talked, my eyes looked around at what I’d grown to love and find comfort from, feeling it already gone, lost, just an outline of what had been, colorless, lackluster, like a movie scene fading out.

He gave me a hefty prescription of Xanax, explaining how it can be written to last a long time, probably realizing I’d go to someone new only out of desperation. It would take a lot before getting to that point. The recommendations printed on letter paper stamped with his name were securely tucked away at home.

The little white pills were a poor substitute for the man who taught me I could love. They lasted well over a year, closer to two, about as long as it took to get over his leaving. I had lost a father again, but no tears flowed, not at first. Emotions, hard to reach anyway, became inaccessible, hidden under many layers like a Russian nesting doll. Raymond had found a way to open each one, finally discovering the heart at the center, all of it: good, bad, and indifferent. It didn’t matter to him; he accepted the entirety and helped me to do the same.

By the door, he hugged me, but my hands, stiff as my heart, stayed on the ends of my arms by my side. I stood there straight and cold. I didn’t reciprocate. I couldn’t, mummies can’t move their arms and mine were wrapped just as snugly by frigid powerlessness. No brewing Tana leaves guided me out of the office that day. I don’t know what did, but something made my body move, walk out the door, start the car, and drive away.

On the edge of panic, I asked Samuel, “What will I do?”

I still had the second year of nursing school to finish, how would I do it without him? In my mind, Scarlett O’Hara’s rendition, “If you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?” mimicked my own desolation.

“You’ll be okay,” Samuel said.

But after that last session, the expression “the world caved in” happened in real life. The tunnel vision of loss darkened everything. Who was the crazy woman who looked at my horse Misty, and pony Tony, and thought, “Hey, I’ll sell them. I don’t want to ride anymore.”

I contacted the horse farm where I had purchased Misty. The first buyer the woman located wanted Tony. “He’d be a sturdy little wagon puller, and the guy wants to train him,” she said.

I imagined the new owner twitching Shane’s sweet Shetland pony with a long crop, stinging him unnecessarily, hurting him. When the truck pulled away, so did my ripped-out heart. Misty chased the trailer as she screamed for her barn-mate and companion, racing back and forth along the pasture line near the road. I stood there, horror- struck, like an additional fence post, staring, not expecting the wild reaction. But I should have, I wished I had, because if I’d put one moment of thought into it, I never would have done it.

The next trailer came soon after; they were gone. We went camping as usual for our annual July vacation to the Adirondacks, the whole family. It must have been a trying week for Samuel. The normal reaction would be to cry but Ice Mountain didn’t melt. I couldn’t think or talk about anything else besides what I’d done, obsessing over it, blasting myself repeatedly for yet another mistake, another failure. My stomach had a gnome inside scraping paint off its walls. What had I done, why? Raymond’s leaving wasn’t enough? I had to, what, punish myself more? For what, because I’m such a loser that everyone leaves me? I said these things to myself, my only enemy. The empty barn mirrored my heart. The devastation after my father’s death, the chaos, the loss, the rape, repeated again now as if pain were all I had or wanted. It was too much.

I called the woman running the stable, “I want my horse and pony back,” I requested quietly. “I made a mistake.”

Sorrow, remorse, despair, all the feelings bubbling unfelt after Raymond left popped open, the unoccupied barn the shroud to mourn under.

There was silence, then, “Well, the pony has been sold, it’d be hard to get him back. I think I have a buyer for Misty but she’s still here. I’d have to charge you for boarding though,” she said, all business.

Relief flooded in along with the blood which seemed to have stopped flowing. “Okay,” I answered with no hesitation, hardly letting her finish the sentence in case she changed her mind. Misty was delivered the next day. I felt giddy with relief tempered only by Tony’s absence. Though Shane never rode anymore, Tony had become family. The other side of the little barn remained empty for almost two years, about the same amount of time it took to finish grieving Raymond.

Finally ready to move on, I decided Tony’s stall needed filling. The paper advertised baby Nubian goats. Nubian goats have ears like bunnies that lie flat and long, hanging down past their chin and jawbone. We all piled in the car to see the goats. “Billy,” my imaginative name for our new pet, came home with us riding in the back seat with the boys.

We put a bright blue dog collar around his neck that he quickly grew out of. Baby Billy poured sunshine into that small dark stall of the barn and the dry, crackly, barren room in my heart; it took that long to really smile again, a genuine smile, with warm, honest joy behind it. 

CHAPTER 15: RAYMOND

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I had it all worked out. Raymond sat opposite me, his gaze unblinking. I felt like a bug pinned to cardboard, wriggling, but sure of my ability to intelligently represent what “life as Patricia” was. Though he smiled, exuding warmth, something else filled in the lines of the smile, something I wouldn’t run from.

With unflappable courtesy, he began our first session. “Tell me about yourself,” he said, the grey-blue eyes focused. He had no notepad.

I jumped right in, ready to describe all of me in one sentence. “I’m an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, I attend Overeater’s Anonymous, and I’m a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse,” reducing myself to a bunch of abbreviations, ACOA, OA, and SCSA. A slight smirk lifted the edges of his smile, almost imperceptibly, yet I caught it because I had learned to study faces at an early age. He tried to put me at ease, but I looked beyond him to the door, an escape route.

Later, nearing the end of our time, he narrated a story, the first of many that captivated me. “My wife and I like to hike the Adirondacks. We backpacked into a favorite park carrying all supplies following a well-marked trail. But this time we veered off, taking one unmarked. The tangled thicket opened up to waterfalls splashing into a deep pool. We stripped off our clothes, swam, and then sunned afterwards on the rocks,” he watched me with riveting clarity.

Picturing him skinny-dipping naked reduced the godlike entity slightly. Still, the pedestal he perched upon soared through the stratosphere. But I had something to chew on. Like a cow with cud, enjoying the taste of sweet grass over and over. Take a different path.

We continued to chat till the time was up and he seemed satisfied. Then he said, “Okay, let’s get to work.”

I thought that was an odd thing to end with, but also encouraging. He took this seriously, he took me seriously.

The next week, Raymond said, “I’d like to prescribe Prozac. There aren’t any side effects,” he added quickly because my face must have registered shock. “It will help.”

I filled the prescription reluctantly, taking it for about a month, pissed off at the liar who said there weren’t side effects because changes took place in my body I couldn’t put my finger on. I wanted off and he didn’t fight me.

I tapered off, glad to be rid of it. Eventually, in nursing school, I learned that Prozac has many common side effects, like most drugs, and some that can be serious, even life-threatening. But it has been around a long time and serious side effects are rare. I didn’t know that then. I felt lied to and cheated, but couldn’t simply say, “You lied to me. There are side effects!” But my body language belied the nice, pleasing persona I attempted to put forth. It trumpeted resistance, bellowed rigidity, erect and wooden as the chair legs.

Uptight already, I became tighter, my muscles taut like coiled springs. Anger bubbled below with no way out. Why couldn’t I complain about something so minor? I had no voice, just buried feelings.

One day I arrived in a navy blue sweatshirt Mom had crafted with fabric balloons on it. He gentlemanly closed the door, noting every detail.

After we sat, exchanging a few words, he began, “Some of your parts are like balloons on your sweatshirt, larger, predominant and to the forefront. But there are other parts, like the ones in the background…”

I was quiet as usual, fascinated by his stories, soaking up every word, hope fluttering up through a crack in the darkness like a sunbeam.

We worked so fast my head spun. By fall he had me dreaming of who and what I could be, hairdresser or nurse? After explaining the pay for both, nursing won, enticed solely on the fatter paycheck, not the wish to heal the sick and wounded. I registered immediately for a few courses, one of which would complete the long lost Associates Degree dangling unfinished from almost twenty years before. There was a lengthy waiting list for entrance into the nursing program. The college looked at current curriculum to determine if one had the ability to complete its rigorous training.

I took Chemistry, a prerequisite. I had managed a final grade of forty in high school but dove in with zest this time around. One day the professor became livid; no one had answered a question correctly. He slammed the door, threw a pencil at the girl who had disgusted him, then turned towards me and through clamped teeth managed, “Patricia?”

I answered correctly. He seemed almost pleased and continued the lecture.

I discussed, or rather complained to Raymond about the incident, “He closed the door, told us we were all stupid and threw a pencil at a girl!”

Raymond inquired, “What is his name?”

“Dr. Payne,” I answered. We both snickered. Hard to believe, but perfect. And just as hard for me to believe as the knowledge that I, who had flunked three courses in tenth grade and took summer courses to catch up, was now being singled out to answer a question no one else could.

I earned A‟s in almost every course and the Dean’s List included my name a few times. All because Raymond had dared suggest one facet of my worth: intelligence, scholastic achievement the proof.

The work over the next four years was intense. Before coming to therapy, I’d gained back much of the weight lost after surgery. 

One day he asked, “Why are you fat?” Who was so dense, rude, and insensitive enough to ask that? I didn’t have an answer, just looked back mutely while my raised hackles created a hurricane in the room.

His inquiry hurt exquisitely, enough to do something about it. Humiliated into action, I joined a gym and Weight Watchers, dropping the excess pounds again. As weight disappeared, so did some self-hatred.

The beast of resistance was attacked on every front. His next objective would clear out the negative.

“I would like you take one half hour each day and make it your time. Create on the outside what you feel inside,” he said.

It took a while for me to understand what he was asking for, but over the next few weeks and months, I worked diligently.

A hunk of clay left over from pottery class became the first sculpture. It erupted from gut to hands, as I worked the clay a serpent formed, hideous and frightening. Alone in the house at the kitchen table, the room reeled. Though unsteady, my hands kept on as the second head of the snake appeared. I trapped the unholy anomaly in a cardboard box, fearing the rattling of its tail, or the bite of its fangs. The next form that appeared under my hands in clay was an oversized, ugly, bumpy penis, which also went quickly into the box.

After lighting a candle every morning after the bus left with Shane, the ritual half hour began. I drew page after page of how my tummy felt, hellish black swirls emanating outwards like volcanic explosions, splashed with watercolors and acrylics of red, red, red, the blood splatter of rage. Black also dominated, with pictures depicting gory ghoul hands reaching up for me. Other illustrations included my stick figure separated from the group, cheeks scarlet with shame. After piling in the fury and terror, I painted the cardboard box black, hoping the fermented rot in my belly was out of me. It was a start.

In the closet nearby, I felt afraid, imagining that shit inside slithering out. I asked Raymond if he would keep it for me rather than have it sit in my closet. It was his idea to have a ceremonial fire on his property in the spring during one of our sessions, and I readily agreed. Burning that vile box would be cleansing, and I looked forward to it. The contents of the box felt so real, and so scary, that even far away at Raymond’s house, I had nightmarish snapshots of the box’s contents creeping out for him too. But the thick-coated, pendulous penis, exposed when I was just a young girl, came only for me, so I reassured myself he’d be safe from it. 

Raymond never saw what was in the box. Spring came and we carried it out back behind his barn and lit it. 

He said, “Do you want to say anything?”

I shook my head no as we watched it burn. Then thinking I ought to cough something up, I squeezed out, “It’s as good as Dulcolax.”

He chuckled. Having managed the first semester of nursing school, I knew Dulcolax to be an effective laxative. I wished he’d seen some of the pieces. Though horrible creatures, they were surprisingly well done, but once I’d put them in the box, they stayed there. I didn’t look at them again, go near them, or touch the box till our ceremonial march to the fire pit.

Maybe ridding unwelcome spirits is as easy as lighting a match. But the beast of rage in my heart was extraordinary, so writhing and undulating that it encroached on all other feelings, even the physical ability to breath. Raymond tried to help with my high anxiety right from the beginning. At one session he handed me a paper he wrote covering the subject of diaphragmatic breathing.

Instantly noting suspicion, he questioned, “You don’t believe in such a thing?”

I didn’t. How could there such be a word as “diaphragmatic”? Did he make it up? I just looked at him, again unable to vocalize disagreement.

My inability to trust was, as always, paramount, its periscope of suspicion constantly scanning for threats. Mistrust had become a fervent religion. It’s not a religion that allows freedom. Locked up tightly, I was unable to feel my own center, a place guarded as if life depended on it. Breaking into a sealed, guarded vault would be easier than finding my heart.

But eventually he found a way through.

I devoted time each day to slow down my breathing and visualize soothing nature trails, listening to the meditation tape Raymond had recorded during a session. His voice, silky smooth like Dan’s had been, led me to gentle streams and quiet falls trickling over rocks, then a barebacked horse ride along a sun-dappled forest path.

And then there was that nut in my pocket. I paid ninety dollars for someone to tell me to rub my thumb over something smooth in my pocket when I felt stressed. I thought him loony for suggesting such a dumb, insubstantial little thing, but did it anyway. By the sidewalk in town, chestnuts had fallen. I gathered a basketful and always kept one in a pocket. Anything was better than taking that awful Prozac.

Then he said, “I’d like you try writing without stopping. Don’t stop to think, punctuate, or check spelling. Don’t stop at all, just keep going. It’s called “free association.”

I looked at him, perplexed. Another stupid idea. Journaling was one thing, but this? My disloyal head nodded agreeably though, as if attached to someone else’s body. I tried it at home, hating it even more than I thought I would. He read the letter handed over during the next visit after sitting down. I wrote out very courteously, sweetly really, how his idea of “free association” didn’t work too well.

“Ah, free ass,” he said, looking up at me, that smirk on his face again.

What the heck was he talking about, free ass? I had merely abbreviated “association.” I didn’t mean anything by it.

Or did I?

He went on unperturbed, “You didn’t find it helpful?” 

His tranquil smile both threatened and annoyed me. I squirmed in the chair, beginning to sweat as he waited for an answer. He wasn’t getting one. The struggle to disagree, or vocalize any feeling, was a lifelong endeavor. But he torpedoed past defenses others did not, doing so with precision. I was found out, with nowhere to hide or run from those gazing glittering eyes.

Through many starts and stops, I did make it through nursing school. I returned and re-bought the heavy massive books many times, once quitting for an entire year, once for three days. The lead nurse instructor showed great tolerance, allowing reentrance twice. The fear took its toll. Because of long ago trauma—untreated post- traumatic stress—any additional stress would shoot out chemicals designed to prepare the body for imminent danger. “Lions, tigers, and bears‟ were around every corner. Anyone standing nearby worried me. What were they talking about? I was sure it was me, even if I didn’t know them. Every human posed a threat. What would they do to me? How would they hurt me? What would they take from me? The more intelligent a person, the more threatening they were.

My immune system couldn’t take the constant beatings. I developed phobias of elevators and flying and had my first, and so far last, panic attack. It occurred after quitting the first time. The world crashed in. Suffocated by failure, I grasped at any lifeline. Shane, only twelve, got off the bus. My distress at the darkness drowning me pulled him into the fight for my life.

“Go outside, Mom” he said, knowing how I loved the outdoors.

I gasped for air outside too as he followed, worried.

I called Raymond, desperate for relief, crying, and tried to relay what was happening. “I feel like I can’t breathe, like I’m dying!”

He calmly replied, “Allow the feeling in.”

It wasn’t the first time I thought he didn’t understand. During our next meeting he prescribed Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, but had to persuade me to use it. I resisted taking in foreign objects and never really took enough the way it was prescribed. But just having it with me at all times after that first panic attack was the panacea I needed to prevent another one, a kind of security blanket. That and the fact that finally I succeeded and graduated.

But by that time, Raymond had gone.

SPEEDING PAST ‘NOW’

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Too often while performing daily tasks my mind speeds past the task to the end before arriving. What about ‘now’, I come back to the moment, and see my hand reach for the coffee beans, freshly ground, pouring them into the press pot, smelling the rich aroma.

Even now, years later, after so much meditation, my poor mind wants to move ahead of me. The moment of living is now. I see my hand, and all parts of me are there in that moment. And these are the moments that make up my life, not the destination, but the journey of each moment upon the next. So much beauty in each one, even the painful ones.

SEX, TOUCH & LOVE

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Sex is a topic I steer away from. Sex? Yuck. Yet I find myself leaving comments on sites, almost like a confession. So even this last dirty secret isn’t a secret, and if dirty, it lay at the hands of my brothers; not mine.

I left this comment with Amy Jo, a very brave, honest, open blogger:

My young body wasn’t left to develop sexuality naturally, with an innocent kiss, then on down the line, each touch associated with a peer my own age and reciprocal, associating touch with love or liking someone. My body learned arousal during the course of being attacked. Though I fought at first, (and not everybody does, it’s still an attack) fighting made it much, much worse, as if I’d die from suffocation. So I feigned sleep, hating every second. Just be done with it. During the course of the ‘attack’, my body betrayed me but all the rest of me, mind, spirit and soul, despised what he was doing and was sickened and disgusted by him, and that thing hanging between his legs.

My body became aroused by certain touch despite my revulsion, especially in my breast area, though I didn’t have breasts yet. I hate what they did to me, taking away the natural progression of sexuality, where I could be with a partner and love the feeling of being touched, of being loved and making love. The idea of being forced, held down, and raped has always been associated with sexual touch. It’s how it was introduced, and the associations made were beyond my control.

So I learned to find arousal by going with that. My husband loves me, but instead of responding with his loving touch that I assume most people would naturally do, I could only respond by imagining being forced. Until I came up with a solution or an idea that allowed me to use the associations my body had learned- love and force-, sex was cold and uncomfortable. I didn’t like it at all. Yuck. The only part I liked was cuddling afterwards.

I refused to have that taken from me too. I came up with a fantasy that I was drugged. And though being cajoled, manipulated and taken sexually against my will, the drug allowed me to respond. I think I was brilliant at doing this.

My guess is that others touched inappropriately in childhood, also had their sexuality hampered, that it matured differently than what the natural progression would have been. What was taken is irreplaceable. Too much was stolen. Yet the human spirit persists, and I found a way to enjoy the basic right of touch and intimacy despite what they did.