I know you need to hear from me; that’s why I’m writing this. But it is hard, and I don’t even know if I’m sure of what you need me to say. Sometimes, I get almost all the way through the day without consciously thinking about you. Sometimes I even get in the bed before I realize you’ve not altogether left, that you are still there. The world is so loud and it’s not as easy for me to remain unnoticed as it was before, and you…. you are still so quiet. Unchanging, actually. You’re still sitting in the same position, small knees drawn up, small head bent into them. The room you’re in is unchanging, too: pitch black, not even a window. I still don’t get to see your face, but that’s okay: I know who you are.
I realized something important the other day. I was trying to decide when I first noticed your presence. I wanted to know how old I was. At first, I couldn’t remember. At first, I just knew that, for a long time, you weren’t there and then, all of a sudden, you were. I couldn’t understand why you showed up all at once; that seemed out of character for you, so I kept thinking about it. Eventually, I understood. You have been with me a lot longer than I originally thought, haven’t you? The only difference is that, for a long time, I called you Kid, didn’t I, and saw you manifested differently than the little girl you are now. You were the one who came to me in the dreams.
For a long time, you led me through a series of dreams. In the first one, we were happy, and on the beach. We were chasing each other, and all was fine. You wrote something on the sand. In the next one, we were in this dark, large house that seemed like a spooky castle. You led me through the house to a room and when you opened the door to the room, Mama O was sitting behind a desk. I couldn’t believe it. That dream made me sad because, when I left the room, I couldn’t find you. I ran through the castle, calling “Kid!” “Kid!” — but you were nowhere to be found, and I awoke wondering if seeing my beloved Mama O was worth losing you. But those paled in comparison to the final dream in the series: the one where I held you in my arms in that cold, barren room that filled with a water/gas, while an outsider looked in on us, refusing to open the door. That nightmare is crystal clear in my head. I stood in this stark room, filled with ever increasing panic, climbing onto a table, when the water-like gas substance that I knew would kill us began filling the room. Eventually, it reached us, and you slipped out of my arms. I was frantic as I tried to locate you under the water/gas. I was crying. And I kept begging whoever was outside the door to open it, to help you. But he wouldn’t. And I couldn’t find you. Eventually, the water/gas receded, and I was sure that I was going to find you on the floor of the room, once the water was gone. I didn’t understand why it hadn’t drowned me, too. I didn’t understand why it was you. Then the headless man opened the door, which made me sad. Why hadn’t he opened the door when you slipped under the water/gas, and were in trouble? Then, the water/gas was all gone, the room was empty, but your body wasn’t there: it was as if you had just vanished. I knew you’d died, but I didn’t know where your body was. And that ripped my heart to shreds, like it never has been before. I was so devastated when I woke up. Rarely, have I ever felt so guilty. Yet, even though it kept happening over and over again, and I had the dream for years, it was just that: a dream.
Except, now, I don’t think it was.
I had the same exact dream for a few years, and then it just stopped. And in the next memory I can think of after it had stopped, you were here, sitting in the same pitch black room you’re in now, sitting in the same position you are now. I am not capable of analyzing the dream. I don’t want to be the psychologist that makes the extraordinarily sad claim that the Kid that died in the dream was the little girl me, or that, as in the dream, I’m responsible for it, because I didn’t do anything to stop it. I don’t want to think about that, or even suggest that that’s a possibility.
You seem torn right now. I can see your shoulders hunched tighter together, and you’re burying your face deeper in your knees. These things tell me I’m right. Kid, the child in my dreams, was a little boy. He was a beautiful little boy. I loved him, both in and out of dreamland. But he was a little boy, and he talked to me, too. He didn’t just sit in silence, as you do. He played with me. He made me chase him. He wasn’t always so sad: in fact, not until we stood in that stark room and realized the door wasn’t going to open in time to prevent his death was he sad. I don’t know why you appeared to me as Kid first. I don’t know. Maybe I wasn’t old enough. You are clearly me as a little girl, and even if I wanted to, it would be impossible for me to deny that: your mannerisms are too similar to my own, your head is blonde, and I know you. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to handle such a constant, obvious and sad representation of the pain then. Maybe it was the deeply seated feelings of guilt bubbling to the surface, trying to scare me into action: after all, I knew the way out, I knew that one conversation could keep us away from the pain. But I chose to remain quiet. So…. just like I wasn’t able to protect Kid in the dream, in a way, I’m responsible for the death of the little girl Tiffini. Or maybe, because he was often happy and energetic, maybe Kid was the way I could have been, and his death was a result of the pain.
I am forever reading quotes and listening to people tell me to let the past go, you know. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of people who think the grown-up me would rather live in the past that’s full of pain than in the present that’s not. They think I enjoy it. They think I like being in need of rescue. And, I guess, I provide fodder to their ideas, what with the writings and all. They don’t understand that, in order to do that, I’d have to turn my back on you. They don’t understand that I see you, that you’re very real to me, and that the promise I made you is the most serious thing I’ve ever said. In the mornings after, I used to think, “well, it’s over,” and I never spoke of it. It was years before I wrote about it, even in the most vague sense. It took two decades before I voiced it. In a very real sense, I let the past go, again and again and again, at every opportunity where I could have spoke up, but didn’t, I let it go; every morning after when I said, “Well, it’s over”—- as if that meant it was forgotten – I let the past go. I didn’t consciously do it to hurt anyone—least of all you. I didn’t think about you, to be gut-wrenchingly honest. I didn’t know that you could be lost, and I didn’t realize how badly my silence hurt you. I thought that looking forward to the next day was more important than giving you a voice. I thought that maintaining peace was more important than giving you a chance to know real comfort, not the imaginary kind we created. Maybe I hoped that it was also the safer route, as I couldn’t promise a garden of good would spring from the truth. But I know that I let the past go once, and look what happened. I’m a quick learner, it only takes me once to learn something that is of paramount importance so, while I understand that everyone wants me to believe more in the good of tomorrow than I do in the lessons of the past….I find that hard to do.
After all, what if I forget you? Or, what if, I start to think that the loss of you, the little girl Tiffini, is a natural part of growing up; after all, doesn’t everyone lose the child version of her/himself? Wouldn’t that be demeaning or devaluing the significance of what happened? Or, what if “letting go” makes me take for granted things, like time, that I don’t right now? Or, what if, in letting go, I break the promise I made to you—the promise that said I’d never allow you to hurt in silence again? You see, it’s not that I don’t believe in the brightness of tomorrow—I do. But I also know that there’s a little girl, who never got to be a little girl, that’s now trapped, and the only one she can depend on to make sure she’s kept safe is me.
I know you aren’t asking me to do anything. You’re not asking me to hold on, to cling to the past. I know you want me to be happy. The thing is, though… I’m a grown-up; you’re not. It isn’t your job to make me happy. It never really was your responsibility to make the grown-ups in your life happy. Grown-ups, however, are responsible for providing children with the foundations for happiness: peace, stability and security. Since I stayed silent and thus prevented you from receiving those invaluable gifts, it is now my responsibility to make sure you’re left alone, given respite, protected. I don’t have an illusions about you being able to jump and run and laugh with wild abandon; I don’t have a delusion that one day you might even grow up. You can’t. Something changed in every muscle in your body, in every hidden corner of your heart, when the hurt came: sheer terror like that, especially terror that’s unexplained, unexpected and unequaled, doesn’t allow its survivor to return to innocence. I know that. I understand that.
But I love you. And the only thing I know to do that will convince you of that is to ensure that what happened is never forgotten, and that you are given an opportunity to be heard. There are other reasons, very good ones, that encourage my speaking or writing about the past. Some other child’s nightmare could be disrupted because our story wakes up a parent. Or it could tell a hurting survivor she’s not the only one. There are good reasons. But, privately, when I’m alone, I know that the most important reason of all is because I can’t live with the guilt of not salvaging more time for you to heal as a child without doing something. Letting go means giving up, making excuses; telling myself pretty lies so that I can let it rest even though in the meantime, the strong bonds of age and time keep you trapped to your dark corner inside my heart, with you small knees bent up, small head burrowed inside them.
I don’t fully know who you might have been. I don’t fully know what games you might have liked, or what stories you might have written. I don’t know what friends (not teachers) you might have had. I don’t know what dreams you might have dreamed. I don’t know the sound of your carefree, uninhibited laughter. But I know that, once upon a time, you were and had all those things. And I miss them for you. I miss you. And I know that while I might not have started it, my silence contributed to your loss. You make me nervous sometimes, and uneasy. No one likes a visual reminder of guilt. I cannot speak of or to you without instantly crying. It sounds paltry, and I don’t know if you even understand what I’m saying, but I am sorry for not realizing what my silence was doing to you—to us. And I understand that all the positive things I am as a grown-up—mother, teacher, writer, advocate—came at the priceless cost of your childhood.
I just wanted to reassure you that I’m not changing and, even if the world doesn’t see you, I still do. You have not been forgotten. The pain you felt was real and traumatic; more violent for your heart than a war scene, impossible to fathom by merely reading words on paper. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to go anywhere. You are safe. You don’t have to be afraid, not even of me. You can sit there, in the position you find comforting, for however long you need to. You don’t have to smile. You can cry, and you don’t have to do so without making a sound. If this piece of my heart that you’ve claimed as your own for the last six or seven years is comforting to you, then keep it. The grown-up’s life will go on; tomorrow will come, and I may play, smile—I might even laugh. But always know that you’re just a thought away from me, I’ll see you behind a closed eyelid. In short… you matter.