Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

My whole face scrunches up like I'm looking at something in a horror movie

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | January 04, 2008 8:45 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: childhood development, incest, lgbt youth, Margaret Randall, queer youth, sexual abuse

Maybe I should add some red cabbage to the collard greens, that's what I'm thinking -- there's an old red cabbage at the bottom of this drawer, let me see if it's still okay. I pick it up in the bag, it looks fine until I notice this white mold crawling out of it like claws and then my chest is locked, shoulders up high and tense, throat pulled tight and I'm shaking. The sound is a vibrating in my throat, oohhuhuhuhuh kind of like a ghost in a movie except it's me.

I put the bag with the cabbage on the counter, but then I have to take it out right away to the trash -- I look again and the same thing with my body, what is it about this mold? I almost want to save the cabbage so I can investigate this feeling, but it's mold I can't save mold. Even now while thinking it, I'm getting that same feeling in my chest. A while back, I read this book by Margaret Randall where she talks about her phobia of mushrooms, and how she eventually realizes that's where she's stored her memories of her father sexually abusing her.

Like once when adzuki beans got stuck in this drain with big holes that I had in an old apartment and I totally panicked, had to throw the drain out I was so disgusted -- something about being trapped and cut up. Or, more clearly, with this knife that I kept thinking about when I first started to remember I was sexually abused, when I went to that house that last time before the 11 year gap I tried to pick up the knife but my hand would start shaking and I couldn't, finally I succeeded in wrapping it in newspaper. Then I kept it under my bed for years and even moved it from apartment to apartment until I realized I was still scared of it, scared that somehow I would accidentally chop off a finger or even my neck or poke out one of my eyes. Sometimes I could see my father with a knife over my body I'm on top of a bar counter fireplace and he cuts me open like a chicken. The way memory is stored sometimes in ways that can't be literal. It's hard not to get caught up in delineating the shape of events, the shape I'll never know even if I can never let go of trying. I want to make something illogical into an orderly timeline of events that I can struggle to understand. Unfortunately memory doesn't work that way, at least not my memory -- in some ways my father did chop off my neck because I never learned how to breathe always throat pulled tight, shoulders high and tense I learned not to shake to hold everything still when everything wouldn't hold.

Sometimes I still thought maybe he would protect me from the vibrating of my throat, the knife everything he stabbed into me, for years I could only chop vegetables with a tiny little knife no bigger than the one you'd use to butter bread. Even if I was chopping a whole cabbage. But I don't know where the mold comes in, thinking about it now my whole face scrunches up like I'm looking at something in a horror movie. I never could watch horror movies, I was always scared enough. Still I can't look at gore, bloody images stay inside my head like a slideshow with flashing lights illuminating my eyes frozen between images.


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Oh Shit.
I don't use words like that, except on very special occasions. Like this.

Vent away. Talking helps. Know that you're not alone. You have my e-mail if you need it, and I'll give you my phone number.

I'm so sorry this happened to you - I've seen and heard, far, far, far too much of this stuff on TS and IS support fora. You're not alone, and you don't have to deal with this alone either.

Oh yes, healing is possible. Inevitable once you start letting it out like this. Can't say it will be pain-free though. You have friends here and elsewhere to help you through it though.

Hugs, and tears, Zoe

Thanks for sharing this, Mattilda.

That is interesting about memory - I think we (I don't know what "we") have a propensity to try and make events linear so that they're understandable, as if that would change the way we experience them.

The way that the mind works is still one of science's biggest mysteries. Memories, phobias, even fondness for certain types of people or objects - all float freely through our subconscious with little regard for our reality our ideas of "past" or "present."

Thanks to all of your for such lovely, supportive messages. Zoe, you're right, indeed, that it won't be pain free -- I've been dealing with these memories for almost 15 years now, oh no! But I do find that I understand more about myself and the ways in which I can stay present and still challenge the world in as many ways as possible...

Alex, you're so right about the drive to make memories linear even if we didn't experience them that way.

And, Bil, you're certainly right about "past" and "present" -- where am I, again?

Love --
mattilda