Five Feet

December 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Jacqueline Austin

Girl’s Eye (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately, I’d been treated badly as a child by parents who had been driven mad by war.  The result was a body, my body, which was at once desensitized and hypersensitive.

None of my senses agreed about the nature or placement of things in the world.  Together, they gave an untrustworthy depiction of reality.  My ears placed, say, a purring cat, farther away than did my eyes, and the cat might look bigger or smaller than it might feel, were I to hold it.  I’d known this for a long time, but still it was a shock when one of my doctors, an osteopath, noted during my fifth or sixth treatment, that my senses were always acutely trained on an area five feet in front of my body.

When he told me this, his hands were on my head, as gentle as ever.  But my body clenched as though he had hit me.  And I saw it, the door to my room when I was a child, opening, with a sound of terror coming in.

I realized that if I were to go this way–and I couldn’t avoid it—that my body would not lie.  The physical traces of my history would be obvious and public.  I would have no privacy.  I would have to tell my doctor about my father.

A history of child abuse is a very complex thing, even when the person who holds the history, is long past resentment.  I didn’t love my father any less than you love yours.   But perhaps this isn’t true, exactly.  Maybe this yearning that if it were only so, if one, if I, had been properly reared, if things were right, if my body hadn’t been cursed by a mortal man, then I might relax into a feeling that unrequited love, my love for my father, doesn’t have to be more loving than your requited, sated, love, for yours.  When I grew up, I grew up too fast and moved on too soon, and I lived forever after in a miasma of doubt and longing.

So while I could see in memory a door opening and an angry father coming in, and I could feel myself flying through the air, and I could posit, though not remember, the actual moment of impact, this was all with the double consciousness that to the self that should have been, that nothing like this ever could have happened.

All through this, my doctor’s hands were gently probing the quarter to half inch deep dent, a few inches long, and about an inch wide, in the right side of my skull.  “When did it happen?” he asked.

“Age ten?  No, nine,” I said as if in a dream.

“You must have had quite a concussion.”

“I don’t remember,” I said, flushing from my knees to my skull.

His hand stopped moving and we sat there quietly.

My twin sister would tell me I’d been unconscious for quite a time, after I hit the wall, that the concussion was severe, that my father cried with guilt before he quickly forgot having done such a thing (and forgot to mark that he should not do it again), that our closet door was completely splintered, and that the five feet in front of my body into which my senses were trained, was that most fearful distance from my childhood bed, to the door of our childhood bedroom.  She would feel as guilty for having seen it, as he did, for having done it.

I went home from the doctor’s with a raging headache, one which would last two years.

There were other causes of my vision problem as well, catalysts which had set off dysfunctions both earlier and later, but this one, in the bone, was the first we found.  Before I could correct my vision, I would have to recognize my proprioception.  I would often wish to turn back and forget the whole endeavor.  But it turned out to be a one way street; the Rube Goldberg-like compensatory mechanism, once broken, proved to be impossible to restore.

Copyright 2011 by Jacqueline Austin.  From Vision, a book in progress.  All rights reserved.  


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