It’s Saturday morning and I have come downstairs to begin an essay, but no luck. Between the top of the stairs and the bottom I forgot what I was going to write about. It’s like that these days: my memory eludes me. Deb tells me that my memory problems can be attributed to brain damage done by the seizure I experienced earlier this year. When I write to my neurologist to ask whether my brain will heal from the damage done by the seizure, he tells me there’s no way to know. It frightens me – the idea that I might spend my last days in a kind of isolation – confined to my own body, trapped in a mind that simply won’t function as it should.

It seems to me that my whole life has been about memory. When I was a child I experienced great physical and emotional trauma. The way I dealt with that was by committing every piece of the trauma to memory and then telling it to a therapist when I was an adult. Telling it brought relief and a simple sense that I was not alone in the world, that someone else knew about my life, about me, about the real me inside and out. The telling gave me a sense that I was no longer alone, that there was love in the world that I could experience.

It’s like that with trauma: the moment of injury is experienced alone, but the re-experiencing of it doesn’t have to be. When I was a child, my abuser threatened me, told me that if I uttered even one word about what he was doing to me he would kill me and the person I told. Though I was certain that death was preferable to what I was experiencing, I feared causing the death of someone else; I didn’t tell. As an adult looking back, I understand that telling would have been the best thing to do. These days, I think frequently about children whose lives are being forever altered by abuse and I wonder what can be done to let them know that telling would not hurt either them or the people they tell.

I know that there are campaigns designed to reach out to children, to let them know that telling might inspire others to help them heal. I’m not sure whether the children who need to hear that message actually do. They are likely to be isolated by their abusers; if my own experience is any indication of what they are experiencing, they are likely to be alone and afraid to reach out.

It is at this moment in the writing that I begin to feel compelled to move toward a conclusion, a reaching back to tie up loose ends. That’s the best way to end a piece of writing, isn’t it? However, It seems impossible to conclude the experience of childhood trauma. Trauma continues to reside in the mind, in the body, and in the spirit. It holds us like an angry parent attempting to restrain a recalcitrant child. I am not that recalcitrant child, though: I am an adult whose life should be about the motion out toward the world, toward the future.

5 thoughts on “More About Memory
  1. Michelle,
    While I was teaching after Athens, I told my classes about my friend who produced beautiful and polished writing, even on first drafts. That was you I was talking about. Your writing is still so beautiful, thoughtful and polished. Know that. And it moves me with each reading of a new blog post that you present. Thank you for continuing to write.

  2. Thank you, Peggy. I miss you and I hope that you are well and happy. Drop me an email sometime to let me know how you are.

  3. “It frightens me – the idea that I might spend my last days in a kind of isolation – confined to my own body, trapped in a mind that simply won’t function as it should.” Michelle, you describe exactly what I fear for my mother with her Alzheimer’s. I can’t stand that it will take away her memories of who she is and what she has lived. That seems like the ultimate betrayal. I love your courage and strength in not only facing your own fears but sharing them with us. You are telling us what happened like you told that counselor what happened and you are giving light and love to yourself — and to us — by so doing. I love you.

  4. Dear Michelle,

    One thing which might be said about the abuse that you suffered as a child is that it is a major part of what makes you , you. Your determination to escape this early abuse gave you the powerful skill you have to express yourself, and teach the rest of us about what can happen to a child without others noticing.


  5. Oh my! I am so lucky to have such wonderful and loving friends in my life. Whatever happens to me physically and mentally, I know that I will always have your love and support. That sustains me. I only hope that I can give that back to you all someday. Love you!

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