Even as a child, I was already obsessed with my childhood. As I grew older, so did my interest, and whenever I told my mother about my frequent thoughts on the events that happened and why they did, she told me: “Don’t dig too deep in that stuff. What has happened, happened.” She urged me to look ahead because there, in the future, everything was possible. The future like a soft rain of opportunity waiting to happen. Her picture was clear: what lay ahead was beautiful and still unwritten, and the things behind us were stale and of no interest. Then my mother died, and I went to therapy to detangle my childhood, but I know what she would have said: “Don’t dig too deep in that stuff.”
It was an interesting form of therapy, known as EMDR, and the idea was to access your memory bank of trauma while under partial hypnosis. You sort through trauma after trauma until you find the original trauma, the Trauma of Traumas. And then you stay there and don’t leave the site until it feels un-dramatic. I went through countless memories that fall, together with my psychotherapist James, an American who had taken a Swedish wife and settled in Stockholm. Some of the memories I had carried with me for as long as I could remember, others were new to me. I didn’t know that those things had happened to me. Sometimes lengthy episodes, other times nothing but snippets, mini-traumas throughout life.
I’m seven years old and one summer’s night I step on a frog out on the dark lawn. Its innards seep up in between my toes.
I’m three years old. It’s morning and mom and dad are laying in bed, only just woken up. They call out for a kiss. I crawl up into their bed, first kissing my mother and then kissing my father. When I’m done, I wipe my mouth. My dad confronts me, holding my arm in a firm grip: “Do you think kissing your mom and dad is gross?”
I’m nine years old and visiting my grandma who wonders about the “indian burn” which she heard kids are doing these days. I explain that you grab the lower arm of your mate and twist your hands in different directions, until a burning sensation occurs. Whereupon grandma rolls up the sleeve on her thin silk blouse and offers me her arm. “Show me”, she says, and I twist. Grandma has eczema and there is blood, a lot of blood. Grandma screams, mother screams, everyone rummages through drawers to find the first aid kit. I’m left paralyzed in the kitchen, grandma’s blood running along my arms.
I attended my meetings week after week, and one day we made it all the way through to a memory that I’d been carrying with me forever, but had never been aware of. It had always been there, but I hadn’t had the courage to put it into words. I had reached the Trauma of Traumas.
We’re three brothers sitting in the back of the car, Mom and Dad in the front. Our beloved old car, the blue Volvo 240 combi. Always with a scent of cigarettes, mother’s red Marlboro’s and father’s Bellman Siesta, veils of smoke meandering throughout the car. One time my mother’s cigarette burnt a small black hole in the ceiling. Dad has not yet discovered the hole, and we children have an agreement with Mom not to tell. But the hole carries the promise of a big fight to come. We kids are quarrelling about something and Dad loses his temper. He tells us that if we continue fighting he’ll throw us out and we’ll have to walk home by ourselves. We continue fighting and suddenly Dad slam the breaks, we aren’t wearing seatbelts and our heads slam into the seats in front of us. We look at each other, my older brother and I. Dad exits the car and opens the door on my side. He pulls me out and carries me over his shoulder. I can see that we are in a field, it is cold out, frost covering the field, the sun is hanging low. Dad carries me a couple of steps and then puts me down against the frozen mud. He tells me to stay there and then turns back towards the car. I realize that I’ll die if I am left all alone on this field. I slink back into the car. Dad comes to my door again. The memory freezes; I can only see in snapshots. The image of my tiny white hands frantically trying to hold on to the neck rest as my father once again pulls me out of the car. This time he throws me to the ground harder, I fall badly and injure my leg. I can’t get up. I watch Dad return to the car. He closes the door and they leave.
That is the Trauma of Traumas, because it’s the first time I was faced with the realization that I’m worthless. I’m not worthy of love, and I will die on this field, and it’s only right. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.
My therapist and I returned to that field week after week. I walked around there, and the most peculiar thing happened. The memory changed shape, constantly assuming different forms. I discovered new things every time. I thought of my mother again, who said what has happened, happened. I saw that she was not only wrong, but that the relationship between these events and my memory was the opposite of her statement. What has happened remains fluid, changeable. The past lives, and perhaps our power lies in how we interpret it, if we can make ourselves glance in that direction every now and then. The future seems more and more cemented in place to me, determined by things that have already happened to us. The path is already decided, we can only go to where it wants us to go.