What Memory Hurts

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“Close your eyes, September, and let us return to the dream.”

The young woman lay back and did as she was told with fingers laced resting on her stomach. The therapist, too, became relaxed and settled herself in the overstuffed leather chair across from the couch where the girl reclined. She directed the girl by asking questions.

“Where are you now?”

“In my secret place.”

“That means you are hiding, doesn’t it?”

Shyly, the woman replied, “Yes.”

“Why are you hiding?”

“Because dinner got spilled on the ceiling and I had to go to my secret place.”

“You mean your parents had another fight?”


“So you ran away.”


“And exactly where was this secret place?”

“In their bedroom behind the cabinet with the big mirror.”

“They never knew you were there?”

“Nah, un-uh.”

“And what would happen after they had a fight?”

“They would make up. In bed, they made up and had sex.”

“Which you frequently watched.”

“Un-hunh. Yah.”

“What was your father’s name?”


“No, I mean his first name?”

“Daddy. That’s what I always call him.”

“And what did he call you?”

A shy smile spread over the girl’s face as she replied, “He’d say, ‘Hello my little butterfly look alike. How is my princess?’”

“He called you his princess. What about your mother? Did she treat you with the same love and affection as your father did?”

The girl screwed up her face before she replied. “No. She was always hitting me, saying I chipped the dishes when I washed them. Or making me clean my room or take out the garbage. She was mean.”

The psychiatrist waited for the girl to elaborate. When nothing was forthcoming, she prodded. The object was to elicit references to the patient’s past life and any events that might affect the present. From there, corrections could be made.

“Can you tell me what you are wearing, how you feel, what you see?”

The girl described a cute blue dress with crenulations and a matching blue bow in her hair.

“Wait a minute, September. Last session, didn’t you tell me that was what you wore to your fourth birthday party? The blue dress and blue bow?”

The woman made a face like she was surprised and said, “Well, yes. I guess I did. Maybe I’m wearing the same dress only it’s not my birthday,” she said with almost too much enthusiasm.

“You said you were not in school yet when you first wore the dress. Now you’re in first grade. That would make you six years old at least, not four. Wouldn’t you have outgrown that dress by now?”

The patient responded to this impeccable logic by saying, “Uh, well, I guess I should say I’m wearing another blue dress, a different one just like the one I wore at my party.”

After a few seconds of note taking, the psychiatrist said, “Continue.”

“Well, I’m perfectly safe in my secret place, I am always safe there. It takes a long time for them to come upstairs and make up, but that’s what they always do. I fell asleep for a while and then I heard their bed squeaking and I knew what they were doing. Usually they come in and wake me because they are still arguing, Daddy mostly saying, ‘Please, please, please, honey I’m sorry,’ and Mommy finally kisses him and they fall back on the bed and I watch as they start doing it.”

Silence. The doctor held her pen positioned to continue writing, but the girl said nothing until prodded. “And then what happened?”

“Daddy moved out.”

“Your parents were divorced when you were six. You told me that last session.”

The young woman smiled broadly saying, “And I got a whole new bunch of brothers when Daddy remarried.”

“You were an only child until age seven, is that correct?”

“Yes. Um-hunh.”

“At that time your father remarried and his new wife had three children of her own, all boys, is that correct?”

“Yes. Um-hunh.”

“They ranged in age from nine to twelve, am I right?”

“Yes. Um-hunh.”

“So they were older than you.”

“Yes. Um-hunh.”

“You stayed with them over summer vacations. Is that right?”

“Yes. Um-hunh.”

“Tell me what that was like.”

“Oh, I had a lot of fun playing cowboys and Red Rover and riding bicycles. I learned a lot from them. Hal and I are still good friends. Manny and David are married. They have their own families now so I don’t see them much anymore. But when we were kids, it was great fun.”

“Where, what city was that?”

“Outside Seattle. They moved from Southern California to the Seattle area after Daddy married Kathy. I stayed with Mommy and we lived in Long Beach with Jenkins. ”

“Who was Jenkins?”

“That’s the name of my brothers’ real father. Jenkins was married to Kathy before Daddy married her. Jenkins never exactly lived with Mommy and me, not officially. But he did come by a lot and sometimes he stayed over.”

“He stayed over night?”

“Yes. Um-hunh. With Mommy.”

“In your mother’s bed?”

“Yes. Um-hunh.”

The psychiatrist’s pen rode the note pad like a seismograph in an earthquake. She flipped pages and kept the pad on her knee as her notes became more detailed. She made an abbreviated list of the woman’s statements and put numbers next to them.

“Did you also watch from your secret place when they made love, this Jenkins and your mother?”

“Yes. Um-hunh.”

This was where care had to be taken in phrasing the questions. A patient in such a state was vulnerable to suggestive influences. The psychiatrist said, “So you lived in the same house with your mother and her boy friend, is that correct?”

“Sometimes he lived there, yes.”

“Did this Jenkins ever act inappropriately toward you?”

“Yes. Um-hunh.”

“He did? How?”

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