Held Ransom No More
Considering Place, Memory, and My Willingness to Boldly Go Forth
by Ethan Klee, Unspoken Voices Contributor
Recently I did something I didn’t think I would ever do, or rather, didn’t think I could ever do.
In May I moved to the town I grew up in.
This town is mostly the same — it is me that is completely different. I am reminded of how much I’ve grown, which is not surprising since I was 10 when I moved two and a half hours away, but nostalgia has the funny effect of changing our perspective. In the last few weeks I have eaten at childhood restaurants, trudged old paths my grandmother and I would walk on, biked the lake circuits my mom and I would visit nearly every day, and relived and recounted a host of great memories that I had nearly forgotten.
Then there are the memories I haven’t forgotten and can’t forget.
When I was 4, my father pulled the car over and told us there was someone else, and he walked away from my mother, leaving her in a state of consternation. Two months later my father pulled the car up the driveway and I screamed, spitting on him and pushing him down, locking myself in the bathroom screaming until my lungs betrayed me and I passed out. At 5, my father pulled away from the apartment in the car, saying he would be right back and his girlfriend might be home before he was. Six hours later I was still home alone, thinking of ways I could defend myself because I heard footsteps that weren’t yours — how do I still remember your footsteps? Four more hours later I was still home alone, awake, scared, and lonely. That was the first time in my life I had to be responsible for myself because I had school in just three hours.
As I write this, it’s 3 a.m., and I finally realize why staying up late in college caused me so much anxiety—nostalgia creates new perspectives.
At 7, I started having feelings for other boys. Girls would tell me they had puppy-crushes on me and tried to steal kisses under the bleachers or on the playground, but I knew that I would much rather share those “young-in-love” moments with the other boys in my class. Six months later my mother asked me if I knew how to spell “penis” because I had spelled it incorrectly on our home computer’s search engine. Four months later, the birds and the bees talk my mother juxtaposed skillfully over that moment echoed emptily through my ears as I laid in bed and someone started kissing my neck.
Minutes later I decided I should pretend to be asleep. Hours later I was lying there, crying, stifling agony. Hours later I couldn’t move, that talk and its meaninglessness to what just happened screaming inside. Hours later, I went to school. That fateful day at school I asked my second grade teacher at private school to save me in the eyes of the lord, a baptist belief. I didn’t tell my teacher why, but after the prayer she ecstatically took me around the school telling the other teachers how proud she was that I took Jesus as my savior. That is, until she saw my first grade teacher who told her I was saved the year before as well.
I spent the rest of the day in detention for “abusing the integrity of the lord.” What about my integrity? I ended up going to the nurse, telling her I threw up and calling my mom to pick me up, all the time painting on a face of childhood exuberance that would stay on well into my college years. I didn’t yet know this exact situation would repeat itself so often.
All of these visions aren’t just afterthoughts, they are flashbacks. This is all that rang like a shotgun fire through my head as I drove past the duplex — the last house my father lived in before he was arrested.
Two years ago I started therapy on my own accord for something completely different than these issues that I had been pushing down and away for so long. After review, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with PTSD. Whenever I recounted any story about a man in power in my life, I tensed up and tears started pouring from my eyes. When I told her the stories about my dad and about my rape stories, I couldn’t stop laughing, but my body wouldn’t move.
Emotional misattribution (reacting outwardly with the wrong emotion to what is actually being felt inside), is my main symptom, one of the most common for those with PTSD along with flashbacks and social isolation. I don’t often have real flash-backs; the first time I had consensual sex with a man, the first time I planned on proposing to one, the first time I went to a gay club being a few exceptions.
A definite lasting effect was left in the wake of my father’s actions. I cannot see the end of the ripples in my life his actions made, which is a terrifying thought that haunts me often. Who knows what the future may hold and how the rocks he dropped in the lake of my brain will develop. A storm? A calm? A catastrophe? The anticipation and fear can become unbearable. But a life filled with fear of the future as dictated by the past means a present not worth living.
I will continue to live in this town with all of its memories, good and bad. I will continue to remember things that I may not want to. I will continue to make new memories in this town. I will continue. I refuse to be held ransom by my nostalgia.