The worst thing in the world is being powerless to watching someone crumble in front of you. I know this. I’ve been on both sides, too many times – both the witness and the crumbler. It leaves me in a strange place of freezing when I watch someone crumble past a certain point, because I’m terrified of history repeating itself and me still being unable to stop it…and so when I crumble past a certain point, I can feel how powerless I might be as a witness. My perceived powerlessness, empathising with myself on the other side, leaves me very stuck. I crumble but also have the memories of watching someone crumble, and so emotionally I’m simultaneously in both places, and then my head goes BANG. Very frustrated and in battle with myself, very powerless, and yet not powerless, and with frankly a little too much empathy to think straight and no energy to be both roles. Normally I can disentangle empathy with reasoning to at least let me think. When you’re both the crumbler and the witness, that’s no longer possible. Mind. Fuck . All it does is speed up the crumbling, and yet I can watch myself objectively and feel the same rising cold panic in my throat, the same sensation that my arms aren’t long enough to reach over fast enough and catch the girl breaking in front of me… I literally can see myself, like I’m standing next to myself, and I’m just frozen. And the self that I’m watching just looks at me with sad eyes that say there’s nothing you can do. Please let me go. Why do you want me to live in this pain?
The answer is I don’t. Just as I didn’t with her, years ago. The expression in her eyes froze me, and the expression in my own eyes now freezes me. I repeat to myself the same thing I said to her years ago, “no of course I don’t, but I want to hope the pain will lessen one day…” Holly had looked at me with dead eyes and said “can you promise me that will happen. Really?” I had faltered. I wanted to be able to promise her that. I want to be able to promise myself that. I can’t. So myself is asking me that question, when I look at myself in the mirror, myself is asking “so? what’s your suggestion? How much longer do you think I can carry on in this, because frankly I was finished weeks ago.” And what can I say? I’m powerless to watching myself fall, as I was with her, and I’m simultaneously watching myself be powerless, and crumbling in a pit of despair and loneliness with that. I let Holly go, not quite believing that she would go through with it a few weeks later. I denied that it would happen. Am I there again, but with myself? Can that happen?!
It’s a strange place to be. Really it is. It’s also exhausting.
And I’m consumed with this feeling that nobody can hear me. Which, I will admit, is weird. My friends have heroically put up with me being in a monster mood pretty much non-stop since Summer. What don’t I think they hear? My grief? No I think they hear that. My loneliness? They definitely hear that. I see their eyes…they look how mine looked years ago, as I watched Holly fade before me. They know I’m lonely even though that loneliness makes no sense. What don’t I think they can hear? My suicidal feelings? I think they hear them too – as much of those feelings that I’m open about anyway.
So what then?
I don’t know. I’m just in the last couple of hours in this almost frenzy state of nobody can hear me. Some of it is remembered though. My baby might still be here if people had heard my cries for help years ago, but nobody heard. Over and over I go through the memories, to try and see if I cried for help properly. I did. I really did and nobody heard me. And then frenzy point hit a few days before I lost her, when some part of me had registered something awful was planned, even if I didn’t know what. The overwhelming panic and despair that nobody could hear me had pretty much finished me before she was even gone. I felt like I could have stood in the middle of school and screamed my head off for hours, and nobody would have noticed. I even tried this. Throwing extreme tantrums in classes (bearing in mind I was more often the quiet one at the back just getting on with my work). I’d throw things at the teachers. Scream abuse at the students- hoping the teachers would hear these foul phrases and wonder where on earth I’d heard them in the first place. I stopped eating – completely. One teacher tried to make me and I threw the food at her and told her to eat it instead. I didn’t wash. I swore, screamed, kicked things, ripped up the detention letters (the detentions never happened, in the end). I set fire to my tie. I refused to tuck my shirt in (the school were/are RIGID with this rule). I beat up myself and had one fight with another student as well. I was a nightmare student, for 5 days of the year, completely out of the blue. And nobody paid one blind bit of notice. Or if they did, they just went to my grandmother and reported my ‘bad’ behaviour. Nobody asked what was wrong. Nobody asked why I was suddenly playing up so awfully. Nobody heard my screams. At all. My cries for help couldn’t have been any louder. But nobody heard me.
And then I lost her.
So I guess some of it is that. Maybe a lot of it is that. I don’t know. I’m drowning in so much it’s hard to disentangle the proportions. But some of it will be that.
But some of it….is the difference between screams and whispers…
I hated it when the abusers in the ring would tie me to a bed in one room, and then leave me to go into the room next door. Why? Because it meant I was tied up and forced to hear them torturing another child, and being utterly powerless to do anything. There is no sound more unbearable or deeply harrowing than the *scream* of a young child being tortured so brutally. Hearing a scream choke a child is just…well there’s no words really. Their screams haunt me. I fought so violently with the ties on my wrists and legs but more often than not they wouldn’t budge, and I’d just exhaust myself. That powerlessness…I dunno…there’s something immensely profound about that level of powerlessness. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world, I reckon. Watching or hearing something beyond horrific happen right in front of your eyes and knowing there’s fuck all you can do to stop it.
A few times, if they untied me afterwards, I’d creep into the room next door, and find the barely conscious child. It frightens me more now, the fact the sight of a tortured child didn’t shock me. Not really. I felt deep sadness whenever I saw a child in that state, but never ‘oh my god’ or just deep shock. It was just such a norm. I knew the drill – 1) check they’re still breathing and heart rate is steady 2) check wounds and work out if any are bleeding too heavily 3) put any dislocated joints back in place 4) get them somewhere ‘safe’ and clean their wounds up. simple. But it should never have been that simple.
But this is where the difference between screams and whispers come in. Their screams hurt me. Hurt me. That wasn’t the children hurting me, that was the abusers. Their screams belonged to the abusers, in a sense. Their screams were directly because of the pain being inflicted by the abusers. Mostly their screams were beyond their control, a different type of powerlessness, their own body screaming in pain as well as their mind. Their screams were forced out of them by their abusers. Their screams meant something, they meant pain and fear. More pain and more fear.
They also meant we knew the child was still alive. And that the child knew he/she was alive. Our screams were as much our saviour as our enemy. Screams exhausted us but also we knew if we had the energy to scream, then we had the energy to breathe. Screams meant we were alive and were going to live. In that respect, hearing children’s screams hurt me…but also reassured me. It was if I could hear the men doing stuff (thumping, sound of electric drill, laughing, etc) and I couldn’t hear the child, that I’d really lose the plot. Had the child briefly lost consciousness, was the child simply too weak to scream, was the child even still alive? Screams were our best method of communication bar rhythm.
Whispers are something else entirely. You have to listen closely for whispers and they’re almost always after the abusers have left, and if the child doesn’t feel they have much strength left but want to say something to a safe person, such as myself. If they could speak when I went to them, that meant they were okay. If they could only whisper, that was more heartbreaking. That meant they doubted their own capability to survive this episode. And god only knows how many whispers I didn’t get to hear. How many final messages or actually how many messages that they believed to be their final, but in actual fact didn’t turn out to be. Often these whispers would simply be begging for comfort or some sign of compassion and love; even at a tiny age they knew that they wanted their final memories to be of kindness, not torture. But sometimes they had little messages, little things they’d heard and managed to pick up on whilst being tortured, the brave soldiers had managed to keep listening even through that level of pain. They knew they were too weak to keep fighting in the war but they had messages they wanted to pass on. Our whispers were purely our own. Our screams were our own but forced by the abusers. Our whispers were our sincere pleas for help or love or provision of vital information. Our screams were signs of our life but also of our excruciating pain.
So maybe… I’m scared nobody can hear me because I’m scared nobody can hear my screams. That includes myself. Because really, I’m not screaming. I haven’t the energy to scream.
I am however, whispering.
Maybe I need to be less panicked about people not hearing my screams, which are my own but forced by the abusers and are only a symbol of my life and simultaneous pain…. and instead I need to try and hope that people will hear my whispers, in whatever form they show themselves – eyes, music, touch, actual whispers, etc – because my whispers were and always will be purely my own pure methods of communication.