I chose the best seat in the house, the chair closest to the exit, my back to the door. Facing the women walking in for the first time would only mirror the fear in my own eyes. Trying to look comfortable as if this was an everyday occurrence, I alternated between keeping my hands folded in my lap and placing my arms on the armrest of the chair. Nothing felt natural- how could it? Who would want to be here?
Every minute or so the other members of the troupe began to enter. They would quickly scan the room, decide where to sit, (as if it made a difference) and take their seats. But it made a difference to me.
A tall attractive woman with long cork screw ringlets of silvery blonde hair falling down upon her shoulders was the first to arrive. She took the seat directly opposite from me next to the white board, close to the front windows. In one seamless motion she placed her pocketbook on the floor beside her and slipped her denim jacket off her shoulders and onto the back of the chair. A beautifully crafted shining silver cross was hanging from her neck on a simple chain and was long enough to reach her cleavage. It complimented the blue workshirt and jeans she was wearing. A glimpse of a nervous smile aimed in my direction crossed her lips. Crossing her legs and folding her arms she alternately glanced out the window and stared down at the floor.
The next woman to arrive selected the seat next to mine. I glanced over but there was no eye contact, no acknowledgement, no sign of her wanting to engage in any communication whatsoever. I felt her withdrawing into herself. She sat tightly, dressed in an expensive black pin striped business suit, clutching a small brief case in her lap, as if there were top secret documents inside. Her brown hair was cut stylishly short and matched the sharp features of her face.
A fourth woman entered who was friendly and perky. So unlike the rest of us in the room. Her backpack with books spilling out, and an Ipod speaker wire hanging out of one of the sleeves of her army fatigue jacket and pants, screamed “student”. I wondered at first why she was so happy and bubbly and then I realized that it is nothing like happiness. She was nervous and ready to jump out of her skin. The only sound in the room was the student rummaging through her backpack, trying to settle in. I pray she doesn’t sit in the chair next to mine…I don’t do “perky” very well, especially not today.
But of course she did. Plopping down in her chair she rattles off in one run on sentence, “I was worried about being late but I guess I’m not how many others do you think there will be do you think we’ll get some sort of break do they have coffee or anything……..”. I shrug my shoulders and mouth the words, “don’t know,” and let it go at that. She continues to talk non stop to the others and the rest of the empty chairs.I know I’m supposed to be kind and compassionate, but I’ve got one woman on one side of me that seems that she would rather not exist at all and probably wishes that the ground would open up and swallow her whole right here and now, like the rest of us probably feel and on the other side of me I have a Chatty Kathy who won’t shutup. I can only imagine what they must think of me, an overweight 58 year old woman with Harry Potter glasses, kahki pants, white tee shirt with a striped button down collar shirt over it. Yeh, I really look comfortable and natural sitting here, like it’s something I do everyday. I am scared to fucking death. What the fuck AM I doing in this renovated firehouse. This has to be some kind of cosmic karma joke- some parallel universe bullshit! My incestuous brother spent 25 years of his life in a firehouse under the guise of saving lives and putting out fires. How many lives did he actually torch and burn? Mine for one. Now I’m sitting in a firehouse trying to save my own life- what’s left of it- trying to get ahead of the wildfires.
The fifth woman that entered almost seemed to slither in. She was tiny, petite, and wearing all black. Black coat, black pants, black shirt, but moved as smooth as glass. She didn’t take her coat off, as if she might not stay. Her eyes stared downcast, looking neither left nor right.
Finally the last woman of the group entered mumbling and apologizing to herself or anyone else that could hear her, “car trouble, …kids got out of school late, couldn’t get a ride,” and she takes a seat. She’s a red haired woman with short curly hair wearing a school crossing guard uniform. She seemed almost embarrassed to be one of the last women to enter.I feel as though we’re all in an elevator without the distracting Muzak playing, making the silence even more awkward. People are looking every which way except at each other. Everyone seems to be on their own private island, myself included. It’s a mystery to me how we’re supposed to bond and work together as a group. No one wants to be here. No one wants to choose this path. But this is reality, their reality, my reality. I’ve lived my life up to this point in isolation, fear and silence. But I am sick and tired of it all. What other choices are left?
The door opened and at last TGD, the Ring Master entered the room, along with her assistant, The Ringer. The Ringer is a tall thin beautiful woman with long curly hair, the kind of hair that would “kink up” on a humid day. The Ringer took one of the last seats left, while TGD stands between the white board and the last empty chair. The group turned its silent attention towards the Ring Master in Center Ring.
TGD stand about 5’7 and is stunning to look at. Everything about her exudes confidence, strength, compassion, gentleness and sensuality. There is a fluidity about her appearance and movement. She has a distinguishable, lovely and soft Israelie accent that leaves you remembering words she uses with certain inflections. Her eyes seem to peer through your heart with the understanding of whatever trauma has made it’s way into your soul.
Her shoulder length sable brown hair is soft and wavy and occasionally you can see her tucking the hair behind her ears, a gentle nuance, as if making sure there are no blind spots to impair her vision of her patients or the facts. She listens hard.
Her clothes are tailored but feminine, and had a subtle elegance. That night she is wearing a silk blouse with no sleeves, that showed her finely toned arms. Her brown flared pants were belted with a beautifully hand crafted silver belt wrapped around her waist. Adorning her graceful neck and delicate wrists are perfectly designed jewelry complimenting her entire appearance.
She is simply beautiful.
“Good evening everyone," TGD began, "and welcome to the Post Traumatic Stress Center 16 week group therapy session. We are so glad you could make it. I know you must all be very nervous. Some of you have been involved with some kind of group before and some have not. The one thing all of you have in common here today is that you have all experienced trauma on many different levels and we will work together to identify and discuss the effects that the perpetrator and the trauma have had in your life, your relationships, and your self esteem. Most importantly we will learn that silence is the power of the perpetrator and that knocking down that wall of silence defeats the perpetrator.
The 16 week course is divided into three sections. Before each section I will hand out a worksheet so you may look at it and work on it at home. I will give a brief 10 to 15 minute talk along with writing the topics on the board to discuss that week and then we, as a group discuss openly what those specific effects have to do with our trauma.
But today we begin by going around the room. I will please ask you to intoduce yourself. Silence is the power of the perpetrator and as long as we are silent we are under the influence of the perpetrator. So I ask you as you introduce yourself, please share with us your trauma and what brought you here to this point in your life.”I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who’s heart sank with these words. Shit. How am I going to do this without crying. Judging from the looks on the faces of the others, I’m not alone.
TGD took her seat and spoke to the tall blonde to her left on the opposite side of the white board. “Monica, would you please begin”?
The stories began. The room is quiet except for the almost silent weeping and gasps of others in the circle. Stories so horrifying, that you almost can’t imagine them as you hear the detailed memories of the survivors. Stories that will never leave my mind or any of the others. Your imagination can’t compare with the heinous crimes these women have endured.
The scary part is that in the telling, there is no drama, almost no emotion.
Just a monotone recounting that took away childhoods, took lives, took dreams and turned them into living nightmares. Stories that have played over and over in our heads until it was memorized as a student’s lesson in text book. No text book cases here.
The day the perpetrator entered our lives is the day we died inside.
It levels you like a building set up for implosion, all caused by someone else.
Each story from every woman is burned in my memory forever. The telling of the sexual assaults, the beatings, the neglect, the suicides, the rapes, the self mutiliation, the addictions, whether it be substance or liquor or food almost sets the circle on fire.
But TGD is here, in this firehouse to put the fires out.