Monday, 7 February 2011


I wrote this in 1986. When I insisted on working in this direction, I was treated as an anosognostic borderline psychotic in the mental help services, and it is only recently that I've realized how rare it seems to be to own responsibility for having suppressed the vulnerable child one used to be.  

I see a child. A war-torn child who has survived torture and betrayal. It does not show, but I see it in the hand I'm holding ... a shiver, as if she wants to escape. I feel waves of suspicion and need. What she wants, most of all, is to trust someone. She has always been betrayed.

I am sitting with my back to a tree. She is standing in front of me.

Part of her is far, far away, in a place where no one can reach her. The part she hides in order to survive.

A part of her longs to sit in my lap and give in to the need for love. But she knows that she cannot trust me. I have betrayed her earlier, and I can betray her again.

She does not run away. She cannot. She is me.

"I love trees," I say to her. "Trees never change. If you chop down a tree, the stump will remain for a long, long time. Trees and mountains just are there, they never harm us."

She nods. Silently.

"I have harmed you. I know that now. I did not want to, it was not my intention, but I have harmed you. I cannot ask your forgiveness - that would be to cheapen your hurts and my responsibility for them. I can only say that I see you. I feel your pain. I see the scars you have kept hidden for such a long time. I see what I have done, and I take the responsibility for it, and when I do that, I can see your strength and your courage.

She turns away. "I am nothing."

"You always thought that you were cowardly. So did I. But consider what you have survived. Torturers know that the best way of breaking parents is to hurt them while their children are looking on. Or hurt the children while the parents are looking on. Children need their parents, the child's existence is dependant on parents and other reliable adults. To be helpless and be hurt by the people we need is the worst thing that can happen to a child."

She sits down beside me, carefully, ready to flee. "I was scared all the time."

"Yes, you were scared. And you had good reason to be scared. But you did not give up. And what are people who do not give up, even if they're scared?"

"Stubborn? Brave?" A shadow of a smile. "I am brave."

"You are very brave."

"I am brave. But I get scared when I say that."

"So do I. Remember that you are me. I have been escaping from you all my adult life, but we belong together, you and I. Your pain is my pain, your loneliness is my loneliness, your grief is my grief."

She shakes her head. "This is wrong. You are never scared. You can do anything. I'm a failure."

"No. I have tried to lose you, forget you, lock you up the dark cellars of my mind, but that is impossible. We are the same person. We are one."

"But why did you, whom I needed to trust more than anyone, betray me? Do you know what is the very, very worst thing? To be invisible. Untouchable. To scream as loudly as I can ... into nothing.

Now I'm the one who wants to look away, but I force myself to look at her. "Do you remember all that stuff about 'chin up and keep smiling, they didn't mean to hurt you, don't think about it and it'll go away, children forget so easily, it's all my fault...?' I really believed it. I really believed that if I stopped thinking about you, you would just fade away and disappear".

A fierce grin. "But I didn't."

"No, you didn't. And I'm glad you didn't, for you are my core. I have met many people who have managed to shut away the hurting child inside, and there is something missing in them. Thank you for refusing to be shut away. What does that make you?"

"Rude? Pushy? Do you really mean it? Can I say ... persevering?"

"You are a brave and persevering child. And much more than that. And I love you.."

"Is that possible?"

"Yes. I love you. There has been a wall of guilt between you and my love for you. Now I know that the only thing that can crumble that wall, is responsibility. I have to own what I have done to you. See how much I have hurt you. Not hide between a wall of explanations and logic. I have been afraid of you, I have tried to escape from you. What does that make me?"


"That's right. I am weak. And I am not going to ask you to forgive me or trust me or anything. I am not going to promise never to hurt you. But I am going to see you. Hear you. Experience what you have experienced."

"Do you promise never to shut me away in the cellar again?"

"I think I have to promise something else: If something happens that makes me shut you away, I'm going to tell you. Then you'll know that it's not your fault. Then we can continue later."

"It is so painful. I have lived this. It hurts to be made invisible by someone who is just going to hear about it."

"It is painful. It is very painful. And you are very brave."

"I am brave. I thought I was a coward, but I am brave. I also thought I was sinful and bad. Please don't laugh ... that hurts so terribly. Why do you laugh and make fun of us?"

"I think we laugh to make children invisible. We make fun of the things we are trying to escape from. And we make fun of the things we don't understand. You are really quite improbable ... you have survived."

"Yes, I have survived. And I know what I want you to do for me: Listen to me. Believe what I say. Do something about it. Show me that I can trust you."

(c) 1986, Ingrid Johanne Vaalund

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