Trauma (present tense)


child in vest
me, younger


I’ve been thinking about the hippocampus lately. I did a web search and found Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s tesimony. I’m pasting it below.

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” Ford says, her voice cracking. “The uproarious laughter between the two. They’re having fun at my expense.”

“You’ve never forgotten them laughing at you,” Leahy says.

“They were laughing with each other,” Ford replies.

“And you were the object of the laughter?” Leahy asks.

“I was underneath one of them, while the two laughed,” Ford says.

In an essay I wrote about my childhood sexual abuse, as I shaped and shaped the narrative, it became clear that most of the piece should be told in the present tense. I did this to replicate how trauma works in the memory.

The brain stem, the so-called lizard brain—the part of the brain that registers trauma—has no sense of time. The lizard-brain is the part that keeps us alive, eliciting a fight, flight, or freeze response. Because of the lack of time involved with the lizard brain, when long-ago trauma is triggered, it is remembered outside of time. The sensation is as if it is happening now.

Dr. Ford was questioned 36 years after she claims to have been assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh, but on September 27, 2018, when questioned, she says, “They’re having fun at my expense.”

Present tense.

A grammatical slip. But also true.

Because that’s how it feels.

A thing that won’t happen again (two essays published in two weeks!)

Blue heron on Ellis Pond

All I can conjure to write is the cliche about raining and pouring, but I’ll spare you that. Another essay I wrote went live today on the Jaded Ibis Productions blog, Bleed. (You can read the essay here. And the essay at the Manifest-Station is here.) I’m so grateful to be able to share these fragilities with others. Sending my personal essays into the world is wholly new for me, and my baby legs are tottery. I’ve been inspired by the brave writing of people around me, including Rachel McKibbens, Taylor Mali, and Tara Hardy, the awesome poets I wrote about in the essay. Witnessing their courage, I awaken my own. My hope is that if I act brave, others will, too. And the world will become more whole.

Although many things distract me from knowing that it’s really this simple, lately I keep circling back to the core: For me, the whole point of doing this work (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, anything) is to connect with our shared humanity. That’s it. There are tools for this work (the craft) and plenty of folderol but really, it’s about finding and seeing the spark that lives in each of us.

(On Saturday night, I was with a group of others at Ellis Pond in Yellow Springs.  A blue heron stood on spindle legs in the water, undisturbed by our gathering. Calmly teaching us about how to live.)