Scratched sunglasses shielded my eyes as I drove down the highway. My heart was filled with a sense of optimism as the grand jury date was only five days away and the monster from my childhood would finally be brought to justice.
As I neared the exit, I called home and checked the messages on our answering machine. The first was a doctor’s appointment for the kids. The second was a hang-up. And then the third “Hello Laura. This is Karen from the prosecutors’ office. We have decided not to proceed. Please call me at your earliest convenience.”
I cried out in anguish, “No no no no!” My body suddenly felt strangely contorted and hazy colors seemed to swirl around my head. Feeling betrayed yet again, I repeatedly pounded the dashboard. The prosecutor, with his pressed suits and perfectly parted hair, had professed in a political sound bite that my abuser was a “serial rapist who belonged behind bars”.
My car came to an abrupt stop in the parking lot. I shoved the gear into park, kicked the door open, and stumbled out of the car to belligerent beeping; an alert that the keys were still in the ignition. “Fu#k my life”, I declared. Taking the tiled stairs two at a time to my therapist’s office, I felt an immediate rush of breathless adrenaline. His assistant rushed out and reprimanded me to have a seat in the waiting area. “No!” I shouted, as I pushed his office door open and dove under his desk.
With my arms locked tightly around my knees, I rocked back and forth and rambled on about the ones who had let me down. My fingers tugged and twisted a stray strand of hair from my ponytail. Overwhelmed with anxiety and fear, I heard my voice say, “The monster was right. He said no one would ever believe me.”
Dr. Frazier knelt in his no-iron khakis, slowly extended his hand, and calmly pleaded with me to come out. “Don’t fu#king touch me. No one can ever touch me again”, I shouted. Instead, I chose to remain safe in the makeshift shelter. In between my rhythmic head butts into the steel back desk, I overheard him say, “I believe she is only a danger to herself.” As I peeked out from under the desk, I clung to his hand. With a heavy heart, I managed to mutter “please tell them I tried. I am too tired to keep fighting.” The “them” were my 3 boys under the age of 5.
The transportation in route was a blur. Boarded up buildings and Crayola colored houses alongside the highway reeled by in a film-like haze. My eyes, burdened from the weight of the day, finally shut. However, sleep escaped me.
My husband parked in front of a rusted white steel sign marked “Patients Only” and we entered through the door labeled “Admissions”. The hallway stretched narrow and dim with a few plaques, pictures, and community postings.
Overcome by exhaustion, I collapsed in the chrome-handled vinyl chair. With my head tilted against the wall, a nurse gently touched my shoulder and guided me to a patient intake room. Faded yellow paint, a scale in the corner, brochures detailing various illnesses in slots on the wall, blood pressure cuff hanging, and a small stainless-steel sink. “Name, age, birthdate,” she asked. The easy questions which I felt competent to answer.
With a normal temperature and an acceptable blood pressure, I shuffled my blue cloth slipper feet to my assigned room and slumped down onto the firm mattress with the bleach-scented white sheets. Although my eyes felt drained and painfully dry, I managed to weep again.
Eventually, my husband returned with my pillow from home, a picture of the children, and my favorite lavender robe. I noticed the belt on my robe was missing and he informed me the staff removed it per facility rules and patient safety. He reassured me that our sons were fine and with my parents. I released a deep sigh.
Then, like a timbered tree, my left ear crashed down onto his shoulder. “Please take me home”, I pleaded. To which he firmly replied, “I can’t. You know it’s up to you.” The doctor had informed us during my intake process that to meet approval for discharge, I must convince a panel of medical professionals that I would do no harm to myself, nor to my beloved children. With a kiss on the forehead, he squeezed my hand and promised to see me tomorrow.
The sound of his footsteps in the hallway was replaced with a deep rumble from my belly. The whole-wheat toast from breakfast, which seemed like days ago, had long been digested and the magical pink pills the nurse had given me provided some much-needed peace. With my feet dangled from the side of the bed, I chuckled and thought, “I suppose there is no room service in the psych ward”.
Rooting for you, Laura. Your pieces are so raw and so well written and I can’t help but think that they will reach somebody who needs your words as encouragement that they, too, can crawl, swim, stumble through the muck and reach the other side, wiser for wear.
Because the only way forward is through the muck.
Charlotte thank you for your kind words and support of both me and my work. Muck is a good word, right? Because at some point or another, we all do get a little mucked up! Like many, I have been stretched, pulled, pushed and twirled around. And good Lord, some of it has been difficult, some of it has been fun. But I’m still standing! Grateful.
Laura, once again you have taken me back to a place in my past. It was huge building with bars on the windows and my father and I were there to visit my mother for the first time after she drove her car off a cliff. I think I was 9ish, so it didn’t strike me how she felt – I just knew how I felt. As I look back, I wish I could talk with her about that time.Your words help me think beyond myself.
Oh Laura. After reading Laura Staley’s piece I noticed her comment referring to this one so I came over to read your words.
I believe you. I see you. And I am proud of you.
Some people have similar tragic experiences and never find a way out. I’m 36 and have lost more friends than I can count on my fingers to drugs. Most of them had tragic life experiences. But they just couldn’t wrap their minds around how to escape.
I’m so honored to be a part of this community. A community where you feel safe enough to bare these parts of your soul. A community that allows you to process and maybe even release a little bit of the trauma that you’ve endured.
Thank you for sharing this story. Reading it made me a more empathetic human. And it also gave me a window into your darkest place. And as I’m sure you know, sometimes our darkest places end up bringing us to the other side, which is surrounded by a little more peace and light.
The trauma never goes away. Our bodies have a way of keeping score. But you are a living example of courage, strength, and grit.
JoAnna, thank you so much for your supportive, kind words. I believe because I have walked, and sometimes crawled, through the darkness, the lightness in my life seems so much brighter and sweeter. Fortunately, I have learned and work on everyday! to focus on the really good things in my life and in this world. My newfound writing family in BizCatalyst is certainly a big part of the positive and now that includes my newfound sisterhood with you! Thanks again JoAnna.