She was talking in a softer voice. And she had leaned forward towards me. By then I was staring at the floor, breathing heavier, letting the tears find their own path. She kept going ‘Ben, this is the sadness that you have to feel, and to get to know. It’s ok.’
My mind was jumping from childhood images, to recent events, to hopes, and then into the overwhelming void of all of our fears and horrors. It was an overload of such harrowing proportions that I stopped being able to see anything in the beige room clearly. Only the sound of her soft voice encouraging me, telling me I was ok, kept me free from disassociating into that secret place I’d found when I was little. I used to be able to choose the entrance point, the length of stay, and the depth, but now I’m sucked inside without a choice. I could feel the unseen hands on my shoulders. She kept talking. I guessed she knew what was going on.
After a while I looked at her. She was flushed pink in her thin face, unsettled, it seemed like what I had said and how I’d reacted had resonated with her. ‘Can you hug anything when you get home…a teddy, pillow? I know it sounds stupid, but try.’
I nodded my head but had no intention of following her advice. I glanced at her again, she seemed sad too. I thought of how stupid I looked – tears still wet on my face, trying to breath calmly – and apologised. Most people do when they’ve come out of a crying fit in front of another person. I guess it’s because we all know how it feels to see somebody in distress. Watching someone cry is difficult viewing.
I drove home feeling emptier than normal. I pushed the accelerator down harder than usual, drove fast and careless, skidding the car around tight corners. I was trying to get out of the fug, just to feel something. I made a vague plan to hurt myself when I got back.
When I finally came home I locked the back door behind me. I was heading for the kitchen and the knife drawer. That’s when I saw it, looking at me from a shelf. Just as I’d left it. Old as me, nose squashed from all the hours and days and years of being held tightly in times of trouble. Keeper of all my childhood, comforter, the only friend I’d had in dark times, now just an old bear sitting in my little old house gathering dust, kind of forgotten.
I walked over to it, laughing at my own stupidity, then picked him up and held him like I did when I was just a blonde-haired boy who never knew if he’d die tomorrow. I hadn’t hugged that bear for thirty years. He knew what to do, he didn’t ask me anything, didn’t judge, just quietly listened. I forgot about the knife and put him back down on an armchair. He still worked.