Trauma Doesn’t Tell Time

The time has come for bifocals. There’s really nothing remarkable about this in and of itself. Most of us find ourselves here sometime during our fifth decade on the planet. But for me it’s complicated.

imageI have amblyopia–more commonly known as a lazy eye. Simply stated, my left eye does not work. This also is not, in isolation, a major deal. These days it is usually discovered in infancy and corrected by preschool –the perfect window of opportunity for training an eye that can, but inexplicably won’t see.

For me, the discovery came at the tail end of kindergarten  and the window was only left cracked. But try they must and a series of interventions were launched. Unfortunately, this process happened to directly coincide with the breakdown of my parents’ marriage.

It started with a patch over my good eye to force the bad one into action. In an instant my vision went from 20/20 to 20/200–legally blind. My mother was home less and less and nobody would tell me why.

About this time, my mother decided to cut my thick wavy hair short resulting in a perpetually disheveled look. Corrective lenses with a frosted lense and then a red colored plastic film were added to the regimin. I was told daily that I was ugly and people would stop and stare. I couldn’t see.  My parents were fighting bitterly.

My left eye began to weaken and cross under the strain and corrective surgery was scheduled. I was dropped at the hospital the night before and left alone. It was a different time when it hadn’t yet occured to the medical profession that children might recover better if they felt safe and supported. I was afraid and alone. Then I was sick and in pain.

I returned to school bandaged. I was scolded for removing the bandaging and showing my curious classmates my gorey eye. I was disgusting. I was a problem. I didn’t see my mother for days or maybe it was weeks at a time.

I removed the patch every chance I got. I wanted to see clearly.  I was considered oppositional. A strange woman moved into our house. I didn’t know where my mother was. Then my sister was gone too. Nobody would aswer my questions. I couldn’t see. I was terrified.

Then I lost it. One day in class, I had taken off my patch again and the teacher directed me to the hall for a scolding. She attempted to put a new patch on me and I blew. I fought her off with every ounce of strength my little 7-year-old body could summon. I screamed, I kicked, and I clawed. She had to call in reinforcements to control me.

I was angry, scared, and invisible. I was desperate for a modicum of control as my universe crumbled around me.

Soon after, my mother gathered her forces and absconded with me and my older brother, but not before the other woman lunged at her with a pair of scissors. Perhaps it’s fortunate that my eye was patched  and my memories of the incident are blurry.

Suffice to say the divorce proceedings were handled with something less than sensitive maturity. But this is not a blog about my parents’ divorce. Not really. Nor is it a blog about my vision.

This is a blog about trauma. This is about how it creeps into you in complicated ways and never goes away. We can bury it, integrate it, face it or try to forget it, but it’s always there. Forty years later, the thought of  visiting an eye doctor is sending me into a panic.

Forty. Fucking. Years.

Two unrelated traumatic events have become irreversibly intertwined and each a trigger for the other. Revisiting the pain has been paralyzing.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not walking around every day under the weight of any of this…. usually. About fourth grade, my vision was declared as good as it’s gonna get (which although improved to 20/40 in my left eye it was functionally unchanged because although the eye could now see it still wouldn’t)  and further interventions were abandoned.

By then the divorce was final and both of my parents had remarried. Their rage had quieted or at least they’d gotten better about concealing it.

Other than when I caught balls with my face courtesy of my faulty depth perception or I saw a picture of myself with my left eye looking not quite right, I haven’t given much thought to my vision, the process to improve it, or my parent’s divorce until very recently.

I’ve been surprised by how powerful the pain still is and how easily It found its way to the surface as the realization set in that the over the counter cheater glasses I’ve come to depend on aren’t cutting it anymore. Trauma is a twisted bitch who jacks reasonable processing and I am again an alternatingly ugly and invisible little girl terrified of losing her mother.

As I’ve been reduced to tears on many occasions over the past few days as this post was taking shape in my mind, I’ve had cause to consider what my adopted kids are silently enduring only a couple of years out from the depths of hell.

Their traumas are fresh, tremendous, recurring, and embeded in triggers none of us recognizes. It could be the scent of a candle that was burning when they witnessed or experienced violence. It could be the television show that blared in the background when they felt fear. It could be a holiday when festivities erupted into conflict. It could be a sight, a smell, a sound. It could be anything that sends them back and makes that buried pain vital and present.

Complicated by the fact that so much of their trauma occurred pre-verbally, they may never be able to attach words to their feelings. Their demons will always lurk in the dark places of their minds waiting to catch a ride to the surface on an unsuspecting trigger. This will never look reasonable to anyone around them and they are going to have to work harder than most to be the masters of their own minds.

And I know I need to set the example. I’m going to leave this mess in the sun a little longer and bleach out some of its vigor, then I’m going to fold it up neatly and put it away. I’m going to surf the Internet in search of beautiful, mature women wearing glasses. I’m going to laugh out loud that my kids will never again get to make fun of me frantically searching for my cheaters resting a top my head. Then I’m going to make the appointment.