By Christine C Heuner
At June’s daycare, which ran for twenty-one years without a license, she had up to eighteen kids in and out of her Cape Cod each day. She had three cohorts: the elementary- and middle-schoolers who took the morning bus from her house, the all-day infants and toddlers, and the after-schoolers, mostly a repeat of the morning crew. The older kids that she’d raised before they cut their teeth came to visit on days off of school. These she put on snack, diaper, or nap-time duty.
The twins, Ski and Dylan from PA, visited often. One day, just weeks before their fifteenth birthday, Ski took two girls, ages three and four, in the bedroom for a nap and did what he did to them while Dylan, pretending not to know, shut the door and walked away.
The older girl would absorb that memory of blue sheets, a picture of balloons on the opposite wall, the boy’s fingers where they should not be. She remembered looking at that picture, but what she felt sealed itself like a stitched wound.
At age fourteen, when the wound throbbed, splitting the stitches, she would tell a counselor and, eventually, her parents. This would be after taking a razor to her arms, drinking to forget.
She found the boys on Facebook: Ski a firefighter, Dylan a photographer; a haze of smoke blurred his face. The girl, innocent enough to believe in the justice of divine recompense, expected the boy who touched her to be in prison. The one who walked away: homeless or a drug addict. Better: both. Her counselor told her to believe the boys carried their cruelty like a tumor, its poison gathering, growing in metastatic fury.
On Instagram, the girl discovered her companion on that day. Now thirteen and a cheerleader, she gathered with her friends in uniform clusters or lacquered herself with makeup in selfies. Girls who wore makeup weren’t afraid of crying it off, wouldn’t think of hiding out in bathrooms during lunch, unable to face the loud, mindless chatter, the prank videos circulating the table. The girls who flipped their bodies, gathered in synchronized geometry to cheering crowds led carefree lives, unaware of those who hid, haunted, in shadows. Nightmares did not shake these girls awake with sweaty fists.
The girl’s counselor told her we can’t know how people absorb trauma. It’s important not to blame ourselves. She did the right thing by getting help. But the girl knew that even help did not preclude the poison you drank to curse your enemy. Still, he could thrive, tumorless, unscathed.
The girl would learn, later, when she counseled those on her couches, even cheerleaders, that trauma could rip inside you holes you could not fill, not with bottle, needle, razor, pill, smoke, blackjack, flesh, or food. You could not forgive if you could not forget; the hole grew and, with it, the need to fill a hunger.
Though cursed with memory, the girl learned that acceptance is an action word. The past, its claws in her, did not stop her from reaching out a hand to the cursed, the damned, the blissfully ignorant who slept full nights swept clean of dreams.