She Needed To Know
by Chris de Serres
I sat at the booth at the end so I could see everyone. The ground outside was piled with wet brown leaves, with more leaves drifting downward. The sun’s rays filtered in through the windows. It was a glorious day sandwiched between all the usual gray clouds and drizzling rain that seemed to carry over.
I didn’t know what she looked like. She came into the windowed doors and turned slightly as if having second thoughts. Then our eyes locked and and she came over. I could tell that she had been up last night. The slightly bruised look under the eyes. The scraggly hair haphazardly draped in a bun.
She started to cry. No words yet. I passed over the napkin dispenser. I wasn’t ready to say anything. So I just looked at her empathetically. Waiting for her.
Two days ago some memories had flooded her mind. Body memories. Of her father. He had done something to her. It happened early in childhood. Probably before she was old enough to form concrete, visual memories as we know them. Her body remembered. It had sent out confusing pulses of recognition.
It explained so much. The alcohol and drug abuse. The erratic, sexualized behavior so early in life. It was overwhelming.
She knew she needed counseling. So she searched online, but couldn’t get past all the names and specialties and phone numbers and telling so many strangers something she didn’t quite understand herself.
She was cut off from her family. How could she confide in her siblings? They would reject her, not believe her, ridicule her. They would defend their father. They would call her crazy.
She said the word crazy many times. She was damaged goods. She asked for it. She was fundamentally broken. That’s why he abused her. She was the only one. Her entire lifetime she was alone.
I remembered the first time I told my wife about my abuse. She told me two things that changed me.
It was not your fault.
I believe you.
You always remember the first time someone says this to you.
I looked her in the eyes.
“There’s something I need you to hear. This was not your fault. You were a child.”
She took in a deep breathe then shuddered forward onto the table.
“Thank you. No one has ever told me that before.”
“When you tell me this happened to you. It’s confusing and you may not remember the details, but I believe it happened and I believe you.”
Her body convulsed and she covered her face. She was crying but there was life in her now. We talked about finding the right therapist and about figuring out what she really needed in this moment. Mostly I just listened.
“Just remember, you are in control of your story. You control who you share this with and when. You had no control over what happened to you, but you do have control now.”
We shared this little kernel of a beginning. Then we parted.
I thought about my father in the hospital. He will die. I can’t prevent it. There are some things I can do.