The Night I Ruined New Years Eve
“What were you thinking when designed it this way?” my boss asked me the other day. His meaning was simple and innocent, with no hidden messages, he simply wanted to know my thought process behind a design. Unbeknownst to him, as soon as those words were out of him mouth, entering my ear canal, my entire body tensed up and I went on the defensive, preparing myself for attack. My heart rate increased, palms got sweaty and a slight buzzing sound seemed to permeate everything.
“What were you thinking?” are four words, when put together become a trigger. Suddenly I am 11 years old, sitting in a kitchen chair with a man screaming at me. “What were you thinking?!” Over and over again. I have retreated into myself, willing the moment to end while he stands above me, yelling, his face contorted into monstrosity. As I stare at him, his face starts to grow and twist, contort and shrink. The same thing used to happen when my mom would yell at me. At one point in his long and angry tirade he grabs some cold water and throws it at me. Soaking my cloths. His wife E. stands aside, watching, never saying anything, never stepping in. “What were you thinking? What were you thinking?” The four words I remember most vividly from the whole ordeal.
Rewind a few minutes and you get a young girl excited to be spending her first New Year’s Eve with her new family. The adoption is not final yet, but the date is fast approaching. She is about to leave the house with her new Mom and Dad to go to the grocery store to pick up cheese for a fondue, which she has never had before. She is so excited, she opens the door to the porch and steps out, before the interior door closes she opens up the door to the outside. Suddenly she is being thrown into a chair in the kitchen. Her new father is screaming at her. His face pushed up close to hers. Yelling and yelling. Angry.
She broke a rule. Never open the outside door until the inside door is closed. They have cats and do not want them to get out. How could she have forgotten? Stupid. What was she thinking?
After the tirade, after the yelling and screaming and thrown water she is told that they are still going to the store. She is not given the opportunity to change her clothing. She walks out to the porch, waiting to open the outside door. She follows her new parents to the car, shivering because the water has started to turn to ice on her clothing. She is instructed to say nothing when they go to the store. He new father does not speak to her, will not look at her, her new mother is silent but she gives sympathetic looks.
As they walk through the brightly lit store filled with families, mother and children, fathers, old people and young, she wants to scream out. She wants to ask someone to take her home. She wants to be saved. Instead, she walked unseen, unnoticed through the store with her new family. They buy the cheese and leave. Darkness, unhappiness, pain filling her with every step back to the car. She knows that when they get home, the pretence of normalcy will end and she will suffer more punishment.
When they get home she is banished into the cold unfinished basement. Still in her wet clothing she huddles on the one small rug by the washer, wondering what will happen next, tears silently falling down her cheeks.
She hears the basement door open and steps as someone walks down. While she watches, her new father pulls a table and chair together and puts a block of cheese on it. His back to her he demands she sit in the chair. “You are going to eat all of this cheese. Right now.” She looks at the cheese through blurry wet eyes, then back to him, his face ugly and contorted. “You will eat it or I am going to pull your tongue out with these.” he says quietly and he shows her a pair of pliers.
Sniffling, she picks up the big block of cheese and starts to eat. He stands in front of her, holding the pliers, watching. She starts to wretch and he yells “Eat it all or I will rip your tongue out! Every single bit. Eat it!” Somehow she manages to eat the whole block, occasionally she wretches, almost losing it but somehow she manages to keep it down. She stares at the wrench while she forces the cheese down her throat.
When she is done, he picks up the plate, turns around and walks back up the stairs. He flips the light switch and leaves her sitting in the dark. After a while, when she is sure he will not come back, she gets up and walks back over to the rug by the washer. She folds herself up as small as she can and cries herself to sleep on the floor.
The next morning, E comes down the stairs carrying a laundry basket. She sees her and says, “You’re still here? You could have gone up anytime.”
Later, E tells her that her new father is going to pretend that he does not have a daughter for a while. At night he plays music really loud while she is trying to sleep. He ignores her, does not talk to her.
What were you thinking?
Everyday I struggle in some way with the past. I try to beat back all of these bloody triggers. The thing is, the world does not know or care why you behave a certain way or say certain things. You have to function. Or you don’t. My boss does not know why I respond negatively to certain things and it is my responsibility to make sure my internal mess does not affect those around me. It is a daily struggle and I am filled with so much guilt because I am not a better person. I am not cooler. I am to emotional. But lets face it, I am lucky I can dress myself in the morning!