Prologue: What's Important?

My life began in an alcohol-saturated womb. I was born blue and with my right foot turned inward. The blue needed warmth — the doctors chose an incubator. My foot needed either a half body cast or a daily massage — my mother, a stranger to touch, chose the cast. Within two weeks she was so overwhelmed by motherhood that she called her mother begging for a nanny to deliver my care. It set a theme for my early life. Cold needing warmth and touch.

By the time I was two and a half my parents had divorced and I would spend the remainder of my young life as an only child with a single, depressed, severely alcoholic mother. The stories are horrific, as you can imagine, and too much to tell here. But I can say that while growing up Catholic in the 50's in an upper middle class area, there was a code of silence that surrounded every family. Whatever happened inside never was told on the outside. I didn't find out until many years after graduation that some of my closest friends from high school had alcoholic parents. We each carried shame and scores of secrets about which we were forbidden to speak. It would have been a 'sin' against the family to let an outsider in on what was really happening behind closed doors. The pain stayed inside. [more]

Chapter Five: Creating Exact Moments of Healing

I was in a supermarket and I remember a black boy around age seven, trying to get a bottle of soda off the shelf. He dropped it and it exploded all over the floor. Eyes of terror looked up at me. I, at 22 years old, stood frozen. I couldn’t move, I didn’t move. And it wasn’t that I didn’t care. I just didn’t do anything. Now when I remember that moment–I didn’t make it my business. I maintained the boundary that you’re not my responsibility even though my heart goes out to you. When I remember this moment, I wish I could go back to the supermarket in that exact moment, and help him, kneel down at eye level and tell him it’s fine—that I’ve done that too, and then help him negotiate with the supermarket manager. Show him how to do that. Give him money if they were holding him accountable. I learned from that moment, and I would never do it again.

Why does the moment with that beautiful child repeat itself in my memory? Because we locked eyes? I can’t say for sure. I see those little brown eyes and worry about what I taught him. How could I have not helped him? For me it could have been a moment of satisfaction when I contributed something significant to another person; when I met the moment head on with full capacity to provide. Instead, I merged with the trauma response and got paralyzed, making my exit instead of my entrance. It was, and still is, indigestible to my system. He asked for help through his eyes and I’m afraid that his memory will be my back walking away in his moment of need. [more]