I forgot that today was a holiday. There’s nobody around me to celebrate it with. So I was dumbly going out my front door to run over to the post office to check my mail (too small a town for door delivery). I opened my solid wood inner door, reached for the knob of my outer security door (wrought iron bars with steel mesh) and turned it.
Because the holes in the mesh are quite small and have been painted several times, with the way the sun was hitting it I couldn’t see outside except to notice from where I stood on the inside heading out that there seemed to be a new and additional CURVED piece of rod visible at the height of the knob.
It wasn’t until I had the door opened about six inches that the loops of a large snake with diamond patterns on its back came into my view as it enclosed my outer door knob completely with its wrapped body as it slid itself across, up and down my screen door!
Not a reasonable thought in my head as I stepped backwards and slammed shut my wooden door without shutting the outer door, reaching into my pocket for my cell phone. My friend, no doubt alarmed by my alarm, told me to call the sheriff’s office. I did. Waiting for the deputy to arrive I watched with prehistoric revulsion from my picture window as the snake undulated its way all over that door. It began to drop itself through the air and I knew it would be on the ground and gone before help arrived.
In my state of alarm I didn’t see its head or its tail clearly. I did see it taking off in a straight line across my yard (after it obviously negotiated the five steps that lead up to my front door). I watched it crossing the road. I now gingerly stepped from my door and kept my distance so I could see where the snake was once the deputy arrived.
This man didn’t like snakes any more than I do, but he relaxed when he spotted the narrow rather than arrowhead shaped head – and eventually saw the tail that he already knew would not have rattles.
I only felt very mildly stupid.
Growing up in Alaska where there are no snakes, I will NEVER respond to them like a south-of-the-snake line native. The deputy assured me I could “leave now and have a nice day” while he and his soon to appear buddy would snare the snake and relocate it. I didn’t watch.
I am STILL not OK – many hours and much reasoning later. My body, having spent 18 years living in an extremely abusive home, does not tolerate a full-blown stress response well. Not well at all. But the warning to watch ALL OF THE time for hazardous creatures came with today’s experience at the same time the reminder came that my nervous system and stress response system had to develop from infancy with a super overload that means today that trauma affects me differently than it does ‘ordinary’ people.
Which brings me to the second experience of my day I wish to write about. I am getting to know my neighbor L, a woman I liked and trusted instantly from the moment I met her. L grew up in a stable and loving home and did not suffer from abuse or trauma. I can tell that about her – really just read it in her body language. Her easy smile, her natural confidence that shows in her relaxed movements — she just feels HEALTHY to me.
Today when I stopped by to tell her about the snake that came a’knocking (L HATES snakes and has a true phobia about them) we ended up visiting for quite awhile. L lost her husband of 25 years to cancer less than a year ago, and as L talked about how she relies on prayer to help ease her through the most difficult year – one holiday, one birthday, one anniversary – at a time she placed both of her palms on top of one another right in the center of her chest.
“Sometimes the ugly feeling builds up right here.”
I asked L how she handles that feeling, and if the prayer helps it go away.
“Oh,” she said, “Sometimes I have to really cry and when I do then this ugly feeling goes away.”
L had also told me about a friend of hers whose husband died, too. L asked her how long she had cried after his death. “For a year,” the friend told her. “I cried and I cried so hard I thought I would never stop, but I’m finally getting a little bit better now.”
Sometime when I am visiting with L I want to remember to ask her again about her friend – most particularly about what L knows about her friend’s early infant-childhood years. It would not surprise me one bit to learn that this woman did not have the kind, loving and good childhood that L had. In fact, just from the description about these two women crying I would be most surprised if the friend HAD a happy childhood.
L described to me something I will never be able to experience. She described her feeling of deep sadness and grief as “this ugly feeling” that is obviously (to me) not a feeling that L has experienced as a chronic state of her life. In fact I doubt it showed up at all until her tragic loss. Crying is SUPPOSED to make what really IS an ugly feeling go away.
Now, for L’s friend the crying seems to have gone on a long long time and did not make the “ugly feeling go away” after a reasonable period of crying. L can cry, the ugly feeling leaves her shortly and she can go about her day still missing her loved husband — but NOT captured in the essence of her being by “this ugly feeling.”
Perhaps this is true for other severe (especially when it starts in infancy) abuse survivors as it is true for me. Such stress and such sadness built themselves into my growing little body that “this ugly feeling” became my normal state. It’s at the center of my nervous system where peace and calm is supposed to be (as the ‘set point’ for homeostatic equilibrium of the stress response and nervous system).
L and I have very differently-developed bodies – I know this now – so as she describes her ability to cry a cry and have “the ugly feeling” vanish from the center of her chest, and as she tells me about her friend who cried continually for a year I know where I fit in along this continuum – and I know why.