Memories Shared With The Moon

In Personalhistory, Season 2 by Shelly Grace

Scene 1:

Men are like wolves, they enjoy the night and prey on the weak

The moon begs them to stop howling at it, feels a false praise 

As it tries to light the way home for people like me 

For gentle people, who forget stars are dead

Who live in the moment, and try to forget the ones that felt like death 

Where home becomes past, housing safety, a memory 

“I’m sorry,” I say to my friend Halle, knowing that these words fall short, that these words had fallen short for me before. 

When someone is assaulted all languages fail, I know this is why we have rage, to take space when language isn’t enough. Halle’s daughter, Nicky, will never trust like she did again, will feel panic in strange vehicles, will carry this story and trauma around with her for the rest of her life. 

I tell Halle what helps women like Nicky, what helps them get through the trauma. How she will have to learn to take transit and Ubers again, and how the night eventually becomes less scary. I give her Becky’s number, my lawyer friend, and we look up previous cases of Uber sexual assaults. I am now to pick up Nicky, after school and soccer practice while Halle is working nights. 

I wonder now if I lied telling her it would be okay. I am here sobbing, imagining how scared she must have been, a watercolour haunted night that she will carry forever.

Getting this news while my Isobel is out with friends is like rubbing dirt in the wound. I call her and send a text. 

Hey Izzy, give me a call when  you want to come home

Just like me she flip-flops her preferred method of communication and hates voicemails.

It’s too loud mom, everything okay?

No, nothing is okay 

When I found out I was pregnant with Izzy I thought about the world I was bringing her into, that she would carry the cross of being both Black and woman, but I hoped and prayed it would be better and she would avoid the underbelly that is humanity and this world. 

I will pick you up tonight, just call me when you are ready 

My phone chimes with her  reply:

Don’t worry mom i’ll grab an uber, it’ll be late, don’t stay up!

There is no way my baby is taking an uber today. I know she is drinking, I know she said she wouldn’t be, but I know my baby.

Not debatable Izzy, I will explain later. 

I grab my keys, hit the McDonalds near the clubbing district and sit in the car eating food, waiting for Izzy to be ready to come home. 

Funny the 180 that life gives. It seems like just yesterday I was hunting for late-night McDonalds at 3:30 am after a night of clubbing; all foods taste better when you’re exhausted and drunk. 

Now I watch all these beautiful young women walking around, and my heart sinks knowing the numbers and the reality. I wish I could drive all of them home, and keep them safe. I wonder how many of the other cars parked on the side of the streets are parents like me, just wanting to make sure their babies-turned-adults are okay. I remember my mom saying that once you have kids you never sleep properly again, that you always worry, I didn’t believe her. 

Scene 2:

I believe in therapy and that everyone could benefit from it. I have tried to normalize it for Izzy growing up, so she knows it is okay to feel and heal. My parents weren’t into therapy, it wasn’t frowned upon, it was just seen as a very dramatic last step. I ended up in therapy as a last step and I only wished I had gone sooner. I didn’t need to struggle with my anxiety and depression the way I did for so long. 

Izzy and I have been doing bi-weekly therapy appointments together since Izzy was 8, followed by some self-care of our own. Sometimes we go for massages, to the movies, shopping or get food after. I am a huge sucker for massages but Izzy is much more into choosing a new nail design. 

Sometimes I worry I spoil her too much, but I was always honest about the price of things and how to budget and such. On the tough therapy days, sometimes we’d go home and order in, and tough days happen, being a single mom with a daughter who is just as hard headed as myself proves difficult. I have tried to get Izzy to do her own appointments as she is older now, but she says she prefers it to be a group activity, I am happy she feels safe enough to share, feel and heal around me

This week I think we may be dining in, I have been extra protective since I heard about Nicky’s assault and Nicky has been at the house most days. I know Izzy loves Nicky like family, but we aren’t great at sharing space or each other, we have our own little world with the two of us most of the time. 

Nicky isn’t ready to talk about it. Halle has taken her to therapy and Nicky just cries the whole hour. When I am on Nicky duty I let her know I am here for her, I pick her up from practice and school early so she doesn’t have to wait, I cook her favourite foods, and let her command the tv. 

I think maybe I raised Izzy to be too brave, she is continuing life as normal as I force her to check in and allow me to drive her everywhere. She drew the line at sharing her location with me, reminding me that at 19 she is an adult, and should be able to have some freedom. I’ve been sleeping even less than usual. 

The therapist checks in on Izzy first and Izzy reports to her she is feeling suffocated. 

I toss the word “protected” into the conversation. Izzy goes on to explain all the ways I am suffocating her, and the therapist looks at me and asks why I have always trusted Izzy in the past. This isn’t about Izzy though, it is about these monstrous men. 

I explain to the therapist what happened to Nicky, and the therapist listens quietly. As I speak, my heart feels like it is having a heart attack, and my whole body is shutting down. 

“How could they do that to me?” I finish, crying. 

When I raise my head from my hands both the therapist and Izzy are staring at me.

Izzy is crying looking at me, “Mom, who did what to you?”

I realize now that at the end of explaining, I had said ‘me’, and ‘they’. Images of a van full of men replace the room in front of me. Hands reaching towards me, I see blurred highway signs. I hear an echo of a crying and pleading voice in my head; it’s not Nickys though, and not Izzy’s, it’s mine, and I’m praying quietly. 

I rub my eyes and open them to see the therapist staring at me, she breaks contact to write down something. I turn to Izzy with her big, beautiful, confused eyes. Although I have always taught Izzy to feel, I still avoid crying near her, I try to always allow her to remain in her daughter role.

“No one baby, I meant to Nicky.” I say to Izzy, trying to swallow the lump in my throat for my daughter. 

“Shelly, I think we should discuss this soon in a one-on-one, I have time tomorrow, and we can pick up the group session next weekend.” Suggests our therapist. I agree, anything to get out of this room and this moment.

I make an appointment for tomorrow, Izzy and I drive home in silence and order some Thai food. Izzy was supposed to go out but she cancelled her plans. I fall asleep on the couch during a binge session of one of our favourite shows, Seinfeld. 

Izzy kisses my forehead goodnight and says “It’ll be okay.” I try my best to believe her. 

Tonight though, we are safe.

I get up and check that every single door is locked, add a Ring video doorbell and additional cameras to my Amazon cart and press buy.

Scene 3: 

They drag you into the night 

Remind you that things that sparkle in the night are dead

But are worth staring at 

10 eyes on you, yours held in watercolour 

You become a storm in the night 

A thunderous woman 

They didn’t forecast this 

And they toss you aside

I’m feeling like I am reliving the same day. I return to the therapy office just the next day, I even grab the same Starbucks drink, a chai latte with almond milk, and lucky enough my parking spot from yesterday is still available. Parking in this city is terrible and lord knows if the spot is too right I’m heading to a garage away from people judging my poor parallel parking skills. 

Walking into the office, I feel that weird lump in my throat from yesterday return and heat burning my cheeks. There must be something wrong with this chai, my stomach is twisting too. Thank goodness the next hour will be spent sitting!

“Shelly, come on in.” My therapist calls from the doorway into her office. 

I feel like therapists take a smiling course because she has such a perfectly measured smiler; It’s warm but not pushy, almost like she is giving people permission to feel what they feel. I try to mirror her smile back, but my lips stay closed. 

“How was your evening?” She is always direct, specific. ‘How are you’ is too open-ended to start a session. She lets the silence between her asking and me replying sit in the air heavy and awkward. Silence to me is often the loudest of noises. 

“Quiet” I answer. 

Satisfied with my answer she moves on. “Yesterday you said how could the men have done that to you, Shelly did something happen?” 

Silence fills the room, the echo of the city below humming. I fight the watercolour image of faceless men trying to cloud my vision.

“No… not to me.” I answer. I hear the same strange prayer I did yesterday. 

“I think something did happen Shelly,  I want you to know that in this room right now you are safe. Are you relating to Nicky’s experience?”

More silence, it’s the loudest silence I have heard, the silence vibrates around me and steals my air. Suddenly I am back in my first apartment, sitting against the wall facing the door and window, in complete silence. My heartbeat and breathing are out of sync, slicing through the quiet.

I hear a car horn blare outside and suddenly I am in the back seat of a van, home and safety slipping away from me. I plead with the men to let me go. As they laugh at me, I try to note the highway signs, west of home, one of their hands on my leg, my bad leg; even if I get out I can’t run. 

I start screaming. My dad always said scream, become a nuisance, get someone’s attention. I’m worried now that I am screaming so much that when we are near people I won’t have any sound left. I will have to. I start smashing my hand on the side window, my vision completely blurred with tears.

“Shelly you are safe, you are here with me.” My therapist says and I realize I am screaming. “Did you see something?”

I take the next few minutes explaining what I saw and felt.

“Shelly, you were kidnapped,” She says it so simply, but how could something like that feel so distant, like a different lifeline or a different body even. 

How could I not remember that? 

“Memory manipulation and self-preservation.” She seems to reply to my thoughts. “When a person goes through trauma like this, Shelly, they almost have to rewire their brain to feel safe enough to go about the day to day. I believe instead of that path, you pushed the event from your memory completely, for self-preservation. You  manipulated your memory to get through the days.”

Scene 4:

And somehow you make it home

But both safety and memory

have decided to move

They say life is about the moments that take your breath away, no

They say life is about the moments you’ll never forget, no

Life is a sum of everything 

But the good parts, the moments you don’t want to forget, are the reasons for tomorrows

After the therapy appointment, in which my therapist uncovered a whole trauma in my life that I had somehow forgotten about, I just got in the car and sat there. I was kidnapped, how could I forget that? What else did I push from my memory? 

My therapist had given me some things to research about memory manipulation. I used a huge chunk of my data plan watching videos on the subject on my phone.  Memory is malleable and aside from trauma is affected by so many things such as preferences, emotions and more. 

The more I research malleable memory the more I wonder how much memories can be trusted. Surely the mind must remember certain things perfectly, I must have some perfect memories, like Izzy’s first steps; or do all memories change or become watercolour over time? I have forgotten my grandma’s laugh for years now, maybe the memory is still somewhere in my mind just floating around, unattached. 

The scariest thing the internet teaches me is that memories and such can pass to your kin. As a black woman, I know about intergenerational trauma but I guess I thought I was exempt from passing my trauma to Izzy without really messing up to do so. Blood memory is present in animals and is believed to exist in humans as well. How do animals know migration routes right after birth? What may I have passed to Izzy just by birthing her? 

The wild thing is that it doesn’t stop at memories and knowledge, it extends to the physical. A woman had a bike accident and received a scar on her left eyebrow, and when she gave birth her daughter was born with the same mark on her left eyebrow! My poor Izzy, what may she be pained with that’s my trauma to deal with?

Although memories are malleable they can often be retrieved. My therapist had mentioned this too and asked me to think about this. I know that if my body had worked so hard to erase it, it must’ve been terrible. 

This is a memory I do not want to retrieve, the watercolour version is enough. I don’t have to remember it fully to heal, to grow. 

Scene 5: 

I arrive home a few hours later and Izzy has assumed her improper role of parent, sitting at the kitchen island, drinking tea and impatiently waiting for me.

“Mom! You are home! Are you okay?” She crosses the room quickly and pulls me in for a hug. 

I hug Izzy back and whisper sorry to her for making her worry about me, for everything I may have passed along to her just because I am her momma. We spend the next hour or so on the couch talking about my therapy visit, and the research I did and will continue to do. 

“Mom, no wonder you have been so protective, I shouldn’t have given you a hard time, I didn’t know”. 

“I didn’t know either baby, just know I love you” I reply, squeezing her hand. “I never ever want anything bad to happen to you, but I need you to know that if it does you will get through it, and I will be right here with you. Through the good, the bad and the ugly, baby. Don’t hide from things like I did.” 

“Ok, mom, I’ll try.” Izzy responds. I wonder if she has already hidden from things, I wonder if one day she will have memories resurface like mine did. This is why I tell her my next steps and any  other options available, so that if she finds herself in a similar position, she knows what to do, and she won’t be as scared as I feel.

Scene 6:

I begin journaling. I journal what I remember of that night; it comes out as a poem:

Men are like wolves, they enjoy the night and prey on the weak

The moon begs them to stop howling at it, feels a false praise 

As it tries to light the way home for people like me 

For gentle people, who forget stars are dead

Who live in the moment, and try to forget the ones that felt like death 

Where home becomes past, housing safety, a memory 

They drag you into the night 

Remind you that things that sparkle in the night are dead

But are worth staring at 

10 eyes on you, yours held in watercolour 

You become a storm in the night 

A thunderous woman 

They didn’t forecast this 

And they toss you aside

And somehow you make it home

But both safety and memory

have decided to move

They say life is about the moments that take your breath away, no

They say life is about the moments you’ll never forget, no

Life is a sum of everything 

But the good parts, the moments you don’t want to forget, are the reasons for tomorrows