I’m on my bed. On my mattress. My memory foam mattress with the tangerine colored sheets. It’s been six months, my mattress and me and it still smells kinda new. Chemical. Though only when you lie on your stomach, face directly pressed into the memory foam.
Since I’m on my back, instead of smelling the memory foam, I see the squares on my ceiling. I can see where they are flush and where they’re not and I wonder who put them there. Some cobwebs I need to take care of, too.
I don’t know if it’s the memory foam, but there is this one tiny little memory, a memory I’ve put aside for forty years, that popped back into my head earlier today. Maybe triggered by all the memory searching I’ve been doing recently. Not that I’m in an overall bad shape, but you know, we all have our baggage and there’s times you just have to deal with it. And I have finally found a somewhat healthy way to do just that.
My memory goes something like this (the bits in italics are the things I actually do remember, though very very diffusely cause it was, well, forty years ago, the normal print is what my parents have told me about the incident when I asked about it):
When I was six weeks old, I „started“ daycare. Back in the day, maternity leave was only six weeks and my mom had to go back to work cause we needed her income. The daycare center where I went to took care of children all ages, ranging from six week-old infants to twelve year-old schoolkids.
Once a week, they took us to this public gym and pool to get some excercise. One day after swimming lessons, when I was two (and a half), they forgot me in the locker room. I should say „she“ because it was the kindergarten teacher’s responsibility to make sure all kids were there, but I was two-and-a-half, and I felt like the entire group had abandoned me. Where they were before, suddenly there was no one. There was only this giant, dark and endless hallway, and I was alone.
I don’t remember actual facts, but I do remember the fear I felt. The naked fear, the crippling, paralyzing fear, because I was so little and the one person supposed to look after me, as well as the other kids, they had completely overlooked me. Like I wasn’t there. Like I didn’t exist.
Somehow I must have made it back, cause, well, I’m sitting here today. But according to what my parents related back to me (cause they weren’t there when it happened, either), I found my way back. Devastated and severely traumatized, but in one piece.
And now, this last fragment that popped into my head, comes into play.
I did find my way back. I entered the daycare center through the back door, where the nursery was and walked through the hallway leading to where my toddler group was. Before I got to my group, however, I walked by the other group’s room. Everyone was loud and running around, twenty, thirty kids per group maybe and no one saw me, crying so hard that I couldn’t even speak — which makes me wonder, at two-and-a-half years old, yeah, you can talk, but can you actually build phrases long enough to express how you feel? How afraid you are because they left you behind? I don’t think so. I walked over to the second room where my group was. I cried and cried and no one noticed. I was two years old, devastated and very afraid and — no one noticed.
At some point, someone did notice, and this is where my memory fades. My mother tells me that everyone was really upset and that the kindergarten teacher was fired. My dad on the other hand says she only got a warning. Weirdly, when I was a schoolkid, I do remember that an ambulance came one day and took the kindergarten teacher away. That was the first time I heard the expression „smoker’s leg“ which I didn’t understand back then, but do now. My parents also tell me that said kindergarten teacher was a known alcoholic.
I know I can’t change the past. What’s done is done. But it helps to know that the cause of my irrational adult fears (some fears are justified, most of them aren’t) are pretty likely to be found in what happened back then. The cause is my sense of basic trust that was destroyed by a chain-smoking alcoholic.
My parents are awesome, by the way. They answer all the questions that I have, although they can’t really tell me anything cause they weren’t there, either. But it helps to learn that they were really upset and really worried about me back in the day. They tell me I had a hard time falling asleep and was troubled by nightmares for months. Maybe, if I’d had therapy back in the day I wouldn’t be writing this, but coulda, shoulda, woulda doesn’t help. I’m tackling it now. I thought I had tackled it all these last years — I didn’t even know that happened to me until my mom mentioned it five, six years ago — but I hadn’t found the right way.
What is the right way?
For me, it’s trying to accept what I felt, to let go of the feeling and as a last step, to forgive the kindergarten teacher.
In order to accept (and thus validate) the fear that I felt (and still remember feeling when I think about it) I am re-visiting my child-self as an adult (yeah, yeah, I know how this sounds but y’all can shut the fuck up cause it actually helps me). I let myself cry, I hug myself and hold myself really tight (cause I think no one did that back then) and I let it all out. My adult self is screaming at the kindergarten teacher while holding my little self. And then I comfort myself and validate the feeling cause it’s normal to be scared shitless when you’re two and you’re left behind. IT. IS. NORMAL. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE ASHAMED.
And after some time, the crying stops and I can breathe again. And in my head, I take my little self by the hand, not letting go. I take a long hard look at the kindergarten teacher. I begin to see the sad person behind her drinking and smoking shell. I begin to feel a little sad for her. In the picture of this article (which was taken after the incident, I’m pretty sure) I’m sitting on her lap. Something about this picture tells me, this woman felt really really horrible about what she did. Can’t really put my finger on it.
One thing I can hardly stand seeing, however, is the portrait they took of me that same day, It is the saddest picture of me ever taken:
So, back to the movie in my head; I take the sad child by the hand, take a long, hard look at the woman who forgot me and made me sad, and with my other hand, I reach out, give her a flower and say: „I forgive you.“
It doesn’t completely work, yet. But it helps. It helps so much. I’m doing it again and again, like a visual mantra thing.
And next time I feel rushed or in a hurry, I will be a little bit more relaxed and a little less afraid to be left behind. And the day after that, even less. And the week after that, even less. Until I reach the forgiveness stage.
Because there is nothing so liberating as forgiving and ultimately letting go.
In case someone is wondering why I’m writing this in English, well, first: because I can 😀 and second: the foreign language makes it easier for me to keep a certain emotional distance while writing. Or maybe I just enjoy writing in English.