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Edited by Gillie Bolton University of Sheffield, Sheffield
All the time touch, chaotic touch, unspoken and untutored sense. Touch happening every day in every room fingers in arseholes probing feeling for the lump in the gut nervous student about to put his hand on or in that soft hidden mound kindly male hand on the back of the child's head touch that he will treasure all his life and reenact one day in remembrance of that gift. gift of trust that you put your finger in my mouth and I do not bite it trust that the finger tips know pass their knowing to what is learned in the arid lab know also what has not been written but know just know in their own right as the masseur's hands know to move this way and that never arrive or leave the body without warning He touched them and they were healed.
Holding and soothing the anxious baby directing the healing movement through the arms and hands and the grandmother and I talking engaging our brains only when I become aware that in fact she is staring at the baby she is becoming aware of the baby's steady gaze I am wrapping him in peace she is becoming the baby and then we are all three in one embrace rocking and touching the sweet smell sound of the baby and we are healed as the poison in this moment at least drains away.
This building this touchstone this rough and ready family provider time absorber touching into our lives and touching out into others abuser too and abused. container of our highest ideals and our most treacherous poison as the ancient snake recalls to us its ability to kill or cure and we caress the treacherous pelt so smooth so fine so seductive of our search for purity for bright health for reason for efficiency. from the steaming pit the mess of sweat and shit bare feet cut on hidden flints and over the entrance written in writhing script the ancient words Know Thyself know my poison and my remedy know the knowledge of the finger tips do no knowing harm.
Microwaved potato and cheap tea. Liquorice Allsorts with Peg. Abe goes out for chocolate On a cold winter's day
At four. Remember the day We shared a red pepper In the group? An exotic treasure To some.
There's a deep well in the deepest forest Where I know not black or white. I am still; No ripple; so still My breath I live in the house on the hill I work, drink, die. What forest? What well? What silent ripple. I hate sunny horizons, The market place. I hate the glimpse Of dark forest trees On the edge of my dreams. I HATE that child Hiding in the dark well. Mardy sniveller Filthy little rat. If I stay quiet In my freezing pit It will all happen In the house on the hill, To the hating woman With her fears and disgust. I am forgotten, lost; mute With my yogic breath. But I know swift survival– Grab, run, swig. Draw down stuff to my nest. I'm a magpie, an imp; A breaker, a poker, a tickler. By these things you know me. Look and I shrivel, Touch and I'm gone. Dare join me–I'll trance you; But tell me Where is the sun?
Chris said, “He sits there, monumentally depressed, suicidal, not speaking, but every time he moves his leather jacket creaks.”
She said, “There's something unbelievably sexual about it.”
She said, “I bumped into the family in town and instead of being his doctor, I went all silly and girly as though I had something to hide and his bloody jacket was squeaking.”
I never noticed a thing. Then I forgot.
At the end of our first session, a couple of months later, I stood up to open the door and a sudden storm of creaking leather rushed into my awareness. Sexy? More like a mild form of a nail on a blackboard.
Then I forgot. From time to time over the next few months the jacket would make itself evident again and I tried to see what had caught Chris, but to no avail.
We worked hard. The marriage ended, the feared and longed for voluntary redundancy was accomplished, the university place at the the age of 45 confirmed.
Last day. We stood to say goodbye. He didn't shake my hand. We made a step towards the brief hug, the mutual squeeze on the upper arm. He said, “I'd like to take you in my arms.” It was too late to do anything else. He held me like a man holds a woman and, understanding at last, I rested my cheek on the familiar jacket.
Sudden sweet smell of death In the waiting room. Who?
Frederick Nenner Director, Social Work Services, Lutheran Medical Center, New York
Nellie won't be home for supper tonight. She died today. Her mother knows about it so she won't be worried. Instead, her heart is broken now and forever, because each day will be another day that her Nellie will not be in it.
Nine years old Nellie was on her way to school. There were only two streets to cross and she had promised her mother that she would be careful.
She had the light, he had the light. Like her mother had told her do, Nellie looked both ways. Like the driver had been taught, he looked both ways. What she didn't do was look behind when she left the curb. What he didn't do was look down from the cab of the truck when he made the right turn. He heard something but made nothing of it. After all, how much noise can a small nine year old make when she's hit by tons of metal.
The trauma doctors spent more than an hour with Nellie. She was all but dead when the ambulance brought her in but they had to try, she was so young. Each physician had been exquisitely prepared through years of training to keep people alive when terrible events happened. All were unprepared when outcomes were poor, even when the outcome had little to do with them and all to do with what brought the patient to them in the first place. One after the other, all in green scrubs, they leave in silence.
Everyone in the hospital knows the terrible thing that has happened to this child. Only Mon Chow, Nellie's mother, who speaks only Chinese and is new to this country, has yet to be told. She is at work in a factory and the police go to bring her to us.
Nellie had left this life for more than three hours before Mon Chow knew her child never made it to school. By the time she arrives at the hospital she knew something serious had happened. It was for us to tell her that her child was dead.
We have all lost a child; we feel helpless and desperately need to feel better. And one of us speaks the words to this mother that we are all saying to ourselves. “Is there anything, anything that we can do? Just tell us, let us know.” She wraps herself in her own arms, the left across her chest, the right holding onto her shoulder, face buried in the crook of her elbow. She rocks slowly back and forth, uttering a low and continuous moan. And, in her silence, we hear Mon Chow's answer; “My daughter, my Se Chen, my Nellie, I want my baby back. I Want My Baby Back! Give Me Back My Baby!”
How she knew to come I do not know. She left Nellie's classmates to be here with this child who will never know she came. Pamela Wong, young contained, speaks English with an accent. She lets us know she speaks the family's dialect. We take her to Mon Chow. They have never met and yet they have always known each other. “I am Nellie's teacher. I am here.” There is no touching, no move to be close. Only a quiet: a calm, a presence. We bring her a chair. She sits next to the grieving mother. It is through her that we talk and it is through her silence that we learn that the comfort we can give is in being, not in saying, except when there is no choice.
“You know this was a terrible accident. Nellie is still here. She will look the way you remember her. We had to put a tube in her mouth to help her breathe and now we have to keep this tube in for the Medical Examiner. We need you to let us know this child is Nellie. We can show you a picture, or, we can bring you to her”.
The teacher speaks to mother and then to us. “Not now. She cannot do this. She is not ready.”
“And you? Then police tell us you can make the identification.” No words are spoken only the nod of her head.
A small room, a lifeless form on a gurney, completely covered with a sheet. The nurse folds it back, exposing Nellie's head cradled in white. The only sign of what has happened is the tube in her mouth where the respirator was connected. We are all here in this little room with this little child who lies motionless, the teacher, principal, police sergeant and us. We ask the question that must be answered, even though the answer is known. “Is this Nellie?” The principal answers with her tears, the teacher with a nod. The policeman writes in his black report book, “Pamela Wong, teacher of deceased, identification 11:15AM.”
“The eyes, they are open.” Pamela says. “There is a belief that this is a very bad thing. The soul is talking to us, letting us know that there was much suffering here. If Nellie's mother knows about this belief, it will be very hard for her.” The nurse reaches for gloves knowing the answer before asking the question. “Should we close her eyes?” Again, a nod. The nurse gently closes the lids but they do not stay shut. Pamela Wong, standing next to Se Chen, places her hand on the child's forehead, moving it slowly down, closing the eyes, leaving her hand in place. “Se Chen, you can be at peace now. There is no longer anything to fear. There will be no more pain. You are safe now. It is time to close your eyes. Close your eyes for you, close your eyes for your mother. Be at peace, Se Chen. Go on your journey to peace.” Her calm and steady hand moves with the rhythm of her words, giving comfort to this child. If only she can hear it, feel it. “Sleep Se Chen, sleep.”
It is time to go. Our place is no longer with this child, it is with this child's grieving mother. This morning she sent her Se Chen to school, now her child is in a white tiled room with all but her face covered by a sheet. Five hours have passed between then and now. She is ready to see her child and begin to say goodbye.
Helen Drucquer is a Practice Psychotherapist at the Fox Hill Medical Centre, 363 Halifax Road, Sheffield, S6 1AF. Frederick Nenner is Director, Social Work Services, Lutheran Medical Center, Brooklyn, New York 11220-2574, United States. Gillie Bolton, Editor of Opening the word hoard, is Writer and Research Fellow in Medical Humanites, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, Institute of General Practice and Primary Care, Community Sciences Centre, Northern General Hospital, Sheffield S5 7AU.