Trauma is the language I speak best. I didn’t know any of its vocabulary when my son came to me three and a half years ago. He spoke to me in his language, and I spoke to him in mine. His words sounded like the words of an Amharic native speaker learning English, but they were really the words of a child fluent in trauma. I spoke back to him in English, thinking my job was to teach him my language. But really, my job was to learn his.
We talked at cross purposes because I took his words at face value, thinking he meant what he said. But trauma is a language designed to deceive, to distract, to hide. He uses words to cover up the pain. There are no words for his kind of pain anyway.
Now that I’m fluent in trauma, I translate. All of the angry words that try to push me away tell me a very different story now. This is what I hear when my son talks to me: I’m scared. I hurt so much I want to die. I don’t know if I can trust again. I don’t know if I can let you love me. I don’t know if I can bear to love you.
He has never said any of these words to me. But these are the words I hear every day.
We sit together for long silent minutes as I translate and then translate again. He uses silence as a weapon, and he’s quick to suspect I’m using it too.
“Aren’t you going to say anything? You’re making me mad!”
My brain works slow, I tell him. He doesn’t understand that I’m translating his trauma into a language I can understand, and then I am translating my response back into a language he can understand.
I only get so many words with him. There are only so many he will listen to, only so many he can hear before the noise in his head gets too loud. I sometimes lose him before I’ve even gotten one sentence out of my mouth. He plugs his ears, he walks away. He refuses to hear me. And so I choose very carefully. I have to find the right words.
I’ve learned that silence is better than the wrong words.
The wrong words send him spiraling away from me. The right ones slowly bring him back to earth.
The right words aren’t always gentle or soothing. Sometimes they’re fierce and outrageous. Sometimes they’re sung at him in opera. Sometimes they’re whispered so softly I don’t know if he even hears them. Always, always, they are words of love.
He speaks trauma to me, and I speak healing back to him.
Slice of Life is a meme hosted at Two Writing Teachers. The inspiration for this post came from Kelly Wickham’s I Speak Girl. I discovered Kelly’s blog this morning when I was searching for something to slice about and reading a few slices to get inspired and maybe find a topic. Julianne wrote a great piece, 5 Things I Should Have Said at Work, partly inspired by Kelly’s Things I Said at Work Today. So thanks, Kelly and Julianne!