The Nature of Trauma

Someone told me an analogy for trauma once. Imagine you have a large box with a hole cut into it so you can reach your hand in. Inside this box is a ball bouncing around. At first the ball is large and you can’t help but hitting it when you stick your hand in. Eventually, the ball shrinks and shrinks and shrinks but it never goes away and you never know when it will strike your hand. That is how trauma is.

The other day I was sitting in my study (I call the den/family room a study because I deserve a room in my house to call a study) reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and a character, Midori, mentioned how she visited her father in the hospital four days a week and her sister visited the other three. Her father had brain cancer and couldn’t say or do much. Visiting was sitting there doing mostly nothing while waiting for the end. This triggered memories in me. It brought back in full force the trauma of the boys’ NICU stay.

It was like that little bouncing ball had struck me and this time it hit hard. Perhaps it is because Norwegian Wood is a book about traumatized people. Here is Watanabe whose best friend killed himself when he was 17 and his friend’s girlfriend is now the woman he loves but he can’t be with her because her trauma took her to a sanatarium and the death of her boyfriend at 17 was compounded by the fact she discovered her sister’s body when she was younger after she had hung herself. It is a book of trauma compounded by trauma and how tragedy builds on tragedy and we can never get out of the way of life.

Sitting there reading about extended hospital stays I recalled our extended hospital stay. Not many people know what it is like to visit a hospital for more than 100 days in a row. Not many people know what it is like for your children to be born and carted down a hallway to an intensive care unit because they were not ready for this world. Not many people know what it is like to not be able to hold or even touch your child when they first enter to world. Not many people know what it is to stand in front of their isolette with tears dripping off your chin asking your newborns to fight, to live. Not many people know these things, but I know them all and I never know when or where they will find me.

Where was I now?
Gripping the receiver, I raised my head and turned to see what lay beyond the telephone booth. Where was I now? I had no idea. No idea at all. Where was this place? All that flashed into my eyes were the countless shapes of people walking by to nowhere. Again and again, I called out for Midori from the dead center of this place that was no place.

Norwegian Wood–Haruki Murakami

That is how Norwegian Wood finishes. With Watanabe being struck by all his trauma trying to reach out to the only living friend he has left. Noako, the girlfriend of his dead best friend with the sister that died of suicide, hung herself just as it looked like she was getting better. Watanabe promised he’d wait for her but couldn’t and ended up in love with Midori. There is a lot of depth to all these characters and they all have their own relationship with trauma and death. Midori, herself, lost both her parents in quick succession to brain cancer.

I think back to that time. When the trauma was being experienced. I think about how during the first couple weeks people were so kind. They asked how we were doing, how the boys were, the brought us food, and sent us gifts. Then time went by. Not even much time. Less than a month and people we thought were there for us told us we were selfish. Told us that everyone has problems in their lives and our problems are no bigger than anyone else’s. Think of that for a second. How many people go to the hospital for over 100 consecutive days and spend two to three or more hours there a day? We wanted to be with our children and our children could not be home because home would kill them. Is that selfish? Is that a problem on par with everyone else’s?

Then another month past and our world was forever altered. We let the people that wanted to walk out of our lives go, we care nothing for them, and we strengthened the relationships with those that stood by us. Those that couldn’t possibly understand what our lives were like but were understanding anyway. The world for those three months was very much, “countless shapes of people walking by to nowhere.”

Here is Watanabe seeing off the last remnant of his dead best friend’s dead girlfriend whom he loved. Here is Watanabe saying goodbye to Naoko’s roommate from the sanatarium after they spent an emotional night together. Here is Watanabe reaching out to his last connection to the realm of the living and trying to maintain a hold there before his trauma overwhelms him as well and he welcomes death.

Our boys have walked with death. They were ushered into this world with the reaper watching over them. Lurking in case they slipped and fell to him. They fought and the doctors and nurses worked round the clock so that they are home now. They are two months from being two years old. They are all caught up physically to term 22 month olds and nearly their in other aspects as well. All that look upon us see healthy normal toddlers.

We went hiking the other day and the boys were the life of the party saying hi and bye to every person that passed and howling at every dog. They got so many smiles and compliments. No one can look at us and see our past. They cannot look at us and see the 100 consecutive days we visited the hospital. No one can look at us and see the nights we cried ourselves to sleep worried our children wouldn’t see tomorrow. Trauma is a scar on the soul and while it cannot be seen it can never be covered up with make-up or long sleeves. It is that bouncing ball inside a box. Sure, it will shrink with time but it never goes away and you never know when it will strike.

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