Trauma: a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems usually for a long time
We were lying down in bed as we had done countless times. It was our last night together. I could see the snow slowly falling over the balcony and the fog filling all the empty spaces.
Words do not come easily to me. I am no public speaker. I think in text… My head works like a typewriter machine. That night was no exception; I was having problems verbalizing my feelings.
He turned to me and said, “I am really going to miss you… It is the first time we will be apart for so long… But we will make it work.” I stayed silent and motionless. “It will only be for a little while. I am nervous about going back to Saudi Arabia. I haven’t lived there for so long,” he continued. I remained in my uneasiness.
He knew I was not doing well. We had been together for a long time, and he had seen me at my best and also at my worst. In the previous days he had watched me quietly accept the fact that he was leaving, while managing the logistics of the move. I had packed some of his boxes, stored some of his items in my parent’s basement, booked plane tickets, planned farewell parties, arranged for all his Canadian documents to be sent to my address, etc, etc, etc.
He softly ran his fingers through my hair and kissed my forehead. That last gesture made me break down in tears. He hugged me in an attempt to stay strong. “What worries you? It will be fine. I will come back during the summer to see you. And maybe before you start school you can meet me somewhere, maybe Jordan, maybe Qatar, InshaAllah?” I unsuccessfully tried to suppress the tears.
There was something wrong… It was not the goodbye… we had been apart several times. In fact, a year after we started dating he was transferred to a university across the country. Even though we initially did not know if the relationship would survive, we consistently saw each other several times a year. This time there was something else that I could not properly name. It was an omniscient feeling.
He kept talking… he mumbled several options and plans for the upcoming months… he assured me that we would get married within a year or so… He kept filling the silence as if he feared it. After a while, he finally stayed quiet. He held me tighter. “I have a feeling that I will never see you again…” The words that came out of my mouth resonated all over the room. He quickly brushed them away. “Of course you will. This is just temporary. It is a step towards fulfilling our plans.”
And despite my five seconds of wisdom, I convinced myself that I had no reason to doubt his promises.
When I heard the news of his passing, I knew that my life had changed forever. Yet, no one really tells you what that looks like. Even less, what that feels like. A year and a half later I cannot fully describe the process, yet.
Some days it was like silent destruction, and I could feel the pieces of my life falling apart one by one. It started with his passing and my inability to partake in the rituals. It continued with my refusal to let this “event” change what I thought was the course of my life. It was latter visible when, after a two-week seclusion period, I returned to daily life just to realize that I felt empty. And it stills remains through the backwash of his departure.
Trauma is not a word I have ever wanted to use to describe my situation. It makes it sound serious. Disabling. Medicalizing. Perhaps those are my own assumptions. After all, I am surrounded by a context that uses “trauma” as a medical term that often refers to visible “conditions” of brokenness. There is also the element of time… trauma speaks to prolonged periods of time. If I ever spoke of trauma, the daily effects of such experience would continue to shadow me for an undetermined amount of time.
His presence followed me for about six months. I could “feel” him sitting in my kitchen table while I made breakfast every morning. I would walk down dark and sketchy alleys just to find myself surprisingly safe and comforted. I imagined that my phone vibrated every couple of hours every day for a few months… After all, since his move to Saudi Arabia, he literally lived in my phone.
Three months after his passing, I sat down with the university’s therapist. I could perceive her attempts to read me. I have never thought of myself as someone hard to read, but apparently she was having trouble assessing me. We went through the routine questions of what happened?, how long ago?, who were you with?, what is your support system like?. Then, she inevitably asked, “how does that make you feel?”
Nothing. I felt nothing. I was, for the most part, functional but numb. However, I could sense him in the room.
“You must feel something,” she said. She impatiently looked at me. “It is okay to feel what you are feeling,” she continued. But I was feeling nothing, just sensing a presence in the most comforting ways.
I never really told anyone… I was afraid it would sound like I was planning the remake of Sixth Sense, but the reality of things is that, for many months, I walked in and out of my house feeling his caring presence, as if he was worried about me. Is that something you tell a therapist?
The therapist concluded in her evaluation that I was still “under the shock of a traumatic experience.” I got a copy of her evaluation in the mail along with a list of those people in my university who had received a copy as well. Trauma would from then on describe me.
I resisted the label. I fought the association with mayhem. And in an attempt to “normalize” the process, I let the numbness take over… until now.
To be continued…