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Heidi
January 28th, 2018 by Dr Karma

I don’t remember my father punching my mother when she told him she was leaving, that she would not be cheated on again. I don’t remember her fleeing into the night, with me and ten dollars in coins.

I don’t remember being told that my father had died, though they must have told me, several times, for it to just seem like it was always known.

I don’t remember moving in with my grandparents, when I was two, when my mom couldn’t take care of me.

I do remember being taken back by my mother when I was five and hating it. And getting slapped for comparing myself to Heidi, in the middle part of the book, when she is taken from the mountain, from the safety of her gruff grandfather’s love.

I don’t remember each drunken argument between my mother and step-father. The most memorable ones were whenever we had to evacuate during a hurricane. Them and me and my little brother and two Great Danes in a van, with them always screaming at each other, threatening divorce.

I remember the time I had to ask why her windshield was cracked and her explaining that her husband had done it, jealous that she’d stayed too long at a female friend’s house.

I seem to remember each of the many times I was left at school, alone, wondering when my unemployed step-father was going to finally remember to pick me up.

I remember being told about strangers and about what they wanted to do to me.

And then night after night in a lifetime of insomnia.

And feeling a bit safer if I slept with a sheet on, even though it was too hot, because I hoped if a man ever broke in, he wouldn’t realize I was a girl and would leave me alone.

I vividly remember being a little girl and answering the phone and a man pretended to be doing a survey. It was only at the very end of the call that I realized he was masturbating.

I remember all the times my step-father locked me out of the house when I was out on dates, because he forgot I was gone. Or that I existed. Or something.

I remember my mother and step-father explaining that police were going to be staking out our house one night because a man had been overheard a bar saying he was going to break in, to rob us, to murder us in our sleep.

I remember being told that they caught him.

I remember all of the times I almost died because I couldn’t breathe. How I gasped for air between each word. Every winter. Several times. When I was with my grandparents, I was hospitalized several times. But away from the metaphorical mountain, I had to make do with the now off the market primatene mist. I slept with it in my right hand.

I remember lying there, day after day, barely breathing, and knocking my knees together. Bruising my knees. My mother would put pillow between them, which my knees would then deform with the knocking. I couldn’t stop.

I remember being relieved when she finally left my step-father, but then her explaining that she had only married him to give me a father and then prostituted herself to stay with him for me and how I should be grateful.

I remember her moving in with her new boyfriend when I said he was another abuser and when he said she had to choose between us.

I remember being somewhat relieved because my boyfriend was better about getting me to school on time than she was.

I remember her boyfriend attacking me.

I remember being bereft when my boyfriend–whom I thought I would marry–left me two weeks before I gave birth to our child, three weeks before I was eighteen.

 

People are talking about the NPR story about how childhood trauma correlates–strongly–with illness–cancer, asthma, chronic pain.

But I remember my doctor explaining it to me years ago, as I tried to understand how I can be so sick. So sick. All the time. And how my PTSD doctor confirmed it.

I remember explaining to my at-risk students that I am a chronic worrier because my childhood was chaotic–how my coping mechanism is to worry all the time, to try to understand what could go wrong, to script a solution, to futilely attempt to control the chaos.

I remember my students thanking me, saying they understood now why they can’t sleep, why their stomachs hurt all the time.

When Heidi was taken from the mountain into civilization, she became ill–so ill she almost died.

Not all Heidis make it back to the mountain.

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