Apparently we humans have a special trick. We store trauma in our bodies and brains. This is a wonderful tool to keep us from getting hurt in the same ways over and over again. Stick your tongue on a frozen metal pole and I doubt you will ever do it again. Lean against a hot stove and get painfully burned? Once is enough, thank you. But some traumatic events get stored and we conveniently, for self-preservation reasons, forget all about them. We just lock them away in an iron chest in our psyche and pretend they never happened. I had a memory from over 40 years ago which was stored so deeply inside of my brain that when it resurfaced I was caught completely unaware and scared myself and everyone else around me when it bubbled malevolently to the surface.
The other day my cats were outside batting something around that was mostly white streaked with red. I started screaming like a maniac. "Help!!! Somebody do something.The bunnies! The cats are killing the bunnies!!!" I wailed. I was physically paralyzed; I felt as if I was made from stone and could not move at all. I could only open my mouth and scream. I just stood there in front of the window howling in distress. My children were freaked out, as was my husband who ran outside and snatched whatever it was away from my sweet little felines. It turned out to be a white plastic bag with "Have a Nice Day" written on it in large red type. "Nice day" my ass. I was shaking and crying. What the holy hell had just happened to me? After I had calmed down my husband asked me what had caused my hysteria; we don't even have a bunny, and even if we did my reaction was dramatically intense. I had to dig deep down into my subconscious to figure out what had triggered that reaction. What trauma had the sight of those red and white colors against the green of our lawn released from my past?
Finally I located it. A warm late-spring day over 40 years ago. An event that I had buried so deeply I had not thought of for decades. I had to search for it deep in my subconscious where I finally spied it and dragged it, kicking and screaming, to the surface. I was in 4th grade at soccer practice in a park, very close to my home. We usually practiced at the school fields but they were under some sort of renovation so we were re-routed to another field in a public park. The park was lovely, with wide open spaces, an honest to God babbling brook, and several old majestic swaying weeping willows. During warm-up we were practicing passes and my friend Lisa kicked the ball a bit wide and high so I had to run and chase it down. The ball went outside of our boundaries and as I chased it closer to the road that runs adjacent to the field I spied a very large pile of something white and red, tinged in what looked like grey fluff. The ball came to a halt right in front of the mound and as I scooped up the ball it became visually clear to me what the mound was. It was a pile of mutilated animals. White bloody fur, what looked like hundreds of paws, intestines and guts writhing throughout, little blood soaked fluffy tails but oddly enough no heads. Just hacked up animal parts. I was 10 at the time and compared to me the pile was enormous. I stood there staring, in shock, praying I was imagining this until Lisa yelled to me, "HEY! what are you doing? Bring the ball back!" I turned my back on the bloody scene and ran to the coach. "Uhm…Mr. Stevens” I whispered, “there’s a big pile of chopped up somethings over there." He glared down at me and barked "What?" I pointed and he stomped over, mad at the interruption. Kids being kids, we all ran after him. Arriving at the bloody mess I could see that even he was shocked. On closer inspection it seems that a dump truck had backed up, released its foul contents, and departed. This was the late 1970s so there was no way to make a call. "That looks like rabbits" he declared. Then he just turned on his heel, scooped up his child and said "okay kids, practice is over, go home". So everyone did. Except for me. I stayed there staring. Horrified but riveted. After a bit I ran to my house, desperate to tell someone about what I had seen. Unfortunately no one was at home but I already had a good idea of what I had witnessed. Recently I had read, unbeknownst to my parents, Helter Skelter, the seminal book about Charles Manson and his heinous crimes, published in the mid-seventies. I had read all about Charlie and his followers, their worship of Satan, and their animal and then eventual human sacrifices. So I knew that what I had seen was most likely part of some sort of satanic ritual. I was ten years old at the time and I had not been aware that we lived in a neighborhood with a robust Satan-worshipping population. Could that really be happening? In Scarsdale? In the 70s? Of course that could be happening, and I was pretty sure that I had just witnessed the gruesome evidence.
Thankfully I'm still friends with several people from my elementary school. I called one of them that day, asking her if she remembered the sight of all those bunnies. She paused for quite a while on the other end of the line and then said, as if she too had buried that vision deep down in her subconscious "Oh my God. Yes. YES!!! The rabbits! That was FUCKED UP!" and then we laughed about being raised in the 70s where 20 kids could witness a pile of mutilated animals and it was never discussed again. An age where kids disappeared on their bicycles for entire days, leaving their parents alone to do whatever it was that parents did in the 70s. That certainly did not include discussing traumatic events with your children. It was more like Lord of the Flies with dinner at the end of the day which was fine with me as I was pretty much left alone. My friend and I discussed numbers. Was it 30 rabbits? 50 rabbits? It was hard to tell as all the heads were missing. We could not remember so we called another friend who had been there. "Hundreds" she said. "There were hundreds of them."
That memory was trapped in there for over 4 decades and then erupted, scaring the bejesus out of my family and me. I'm sort of afraid of what else is lying in wait there, buried under a thick convenient layer of denial and avoidance. Friends of mine in recovery go to "trauma workshops" and I always scoffed at that idea. “Why bother" was my thinking. “Let sleeping dogs (or mutilated rabbits in my case) lie.” But now I see the wisdom of that. It was no fun having that trapped traumatic memory come barreling to the surface in that way. I was left shaken for over an hour. Thank goodness I could call my friends and discuss it. That helped. But I also know that there is trauma that I experienced when I was all alone as a child and there is no one I can call to laugh with about it. That is the trauma that I need to go in search of. I need to go in there and power wash the dark recesses of my mind. That can be scary. Drugs and alcohol helped enormously. They placed a nice soft goose feather duvet of not giving a shit over everything in my subconscious, until they didn't. Until they stopped working and I saw that not only was the trauma still there but now I was addicted to drugs and alcohol as well. There was work to be done.
So now I'm in recovery. For some inexplicable reason I thought that giving up the booze and "dry goods" (pills, coke, devils lettuce, etc.) would be the solution to my psychological woes. I had come to the mistaken conclusion in addiction that drugs and alcohol were the cause of my deep-seated distress. Alas they were not. They were merely tools I was using to avoid old trauma. But I don't have go it alone. I can go in there, into the hidden rooms and trapped trauma in my mind and body with a therapist, A.A. group members, meditation, even yoga. These old traumas can make me behave today in a way that I find alarming, confusing, demoralizing. I don't want to act today based on trauma that has been locked up in the closets of my mind for decades.
The day after "bunnygate" (as my elementary school chums and I have recently christened it) I went to the park with my friend Kevin to show him the horrifying sight. I had a schoolgirl crush on Kevin that year and I thought that maybe showing him the mutilated bunnies might win his heart for good. But it was gone. Someone must have called the town or the police to have it removed, leaving nothing but a large round blood-stained muddy patch with bits of fluff and fur and innards still stuck in it. At least that patch was there so Kevin did not doubt me. We stared at it for a while and then went to play on the swings at our school where I forgot all about the rabbits, for over 4 decades, until I saw my cats playing with that bag.
And the rabbits? What happened to them? At the next soccer practice Mr. Stevens said he thought that maybe they had come from a medical testing lab while I secretly told my teammates about satanic animal sacrifice which I assured them was a much more likely scenario. But after that it was never, ever, mentioned again.
So that is the work. Going deep but not alone. In the company of others this excavation of old trapped trauma, although scary, can also be interesting, illuminating, freeing. So the next time my cats are caught playing with a plastic bag I will stand a chance of not becoming hysterical at the sight. As I've learned in A.A. "if it's hysterical, it's historical." I can watch my reactions now and if they seem intense or overwrought it's usually a sign that there is something lurking deep within that needs a nice airing out - so that it no longer holds any sway over me. It's a bad habit I'm trying to break, reacting to present day events with decades old trauma. I think I’m finally up for the challenge, so let the games begin.
No rabbits were harmed in the writing of this piece.