The Love That Split the World (7 page)

BOOK: The Love That Split the World
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“So there are more than just the ones I’ve seen?” I stammer. “What are they? Ghosts?”

She laughs and splays her hands out. “Oh God, we’re so far from knowing that.”

“Well, have you seen any of them?” I ask. “Do you know Grandmother?”

“No,” Dr. Chan replies. “But I saw Others, when I was a kid. The black orb you described? That’s very common for people like us, Natalie. I’ve been calling that orb ‘the Opening.’ I think that’s sort of what it is: the beginning of the encounters with the Others. I can call it whatever I want, because no one else wants to touch this kind of stuff. Not in my field, at least.
Anyway, there’s the Opening, and then there’s what I call the Closing. The equal and opposite event.”

“So it will stop?”

She tips her head back and forth. “For me, yes. For you? No idea. The research is all so new. I hate to think how long I’ll be dead by the time anyone figures this stuff out. But . . . well, you’ve described some very unique things.” She leans forward, elbows on her knees, and drums her nail-bitten fingers against her mouth. “Okay, so typically people who have these encounters are sensitive types—they tend to be somewhere between INFJ and ENFJ.”

“I’m not tracking,” I say.

“They’re different personality types,” she explains. “The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator—have you taken it before? Do you know where you fall on the spectrum?”

“My mom’s obsessed with that kind of stuff, and I try to avoid anything she might someday use to psychoanalyze me over breakfast.”

She waves a hand flippantly. “The
I
stands for introvert, someone who gets energized by alone time. Its counterpart is
E
, extrovert, a person who gets energy from being around people. The
N
stands for intuition, meaning you take your cues from internal sensations or sudden knowledge rather than concrete, observable facts. The
F
, feeling, indicates people who tend to make decisions based on emotion rather than thought. It’s an important trait, but so is the
J
, which stands for judging. A person who’s judging prefers to know what to expect at all times, to work with a schedule or outline or checklist, to make plans ahead of time rather than going with the flow.

“The combination of intuition, feeling, and judging creates people who are sensitive yet structured. They prefer boundaries and expectations, which is rarer for the intuitive, feeling type. It’s an odd mix of personality traits in and of itself, but then you throw in a little trauma, and bam! You’ve got someone with a disposition toward creative symbolic modes of thinking—e.g., vivid dreaming—and somewhat unique stress triggers and responses. Usually these responses manifest as nothing but brief flashes. Usually, but not with you. In other words, you’re super open, Natalie Cleary. You’re like the goddamn Florence Walmart on Black Friday.”

“Open to what?” I say.

“That’s the question you and I are going to try to answer. So this Grandmother person told you to come to me—any idea why?”

“I was hoping you would know,” I say. “I figured maybe . . . she’d come to you too, that she knew you’d be able to help me bring her back.
Can
you?”

“Probably not,” she says. “In fact, that last visit may have been your Closing.”

“Then what about what happened at school and at the football stadium—when everyone disappeared?”

She tilts her head back and forth again like she’s weighing a few internal arguments. “Okay, second theory: Your Closing happens in three months. Grandmother knows that something will happen, possibly within that time frame or possibly not, but you only have three months left to gather information and prepare.”

“So you think she’s sending me these visions?” I shake my
head. “Why not just
tell
me what’s going on?”

“Who knows? But look at every single religion in this world: They leave room for visions and prophecies when, presumably, their deities could make things a hell of a lot easier.”

“Listen, Dr. Chan,” I say. “I appreciate your theories, but I really think the best thing would be to get Grandmother back. She can explain everything.”

She nods fervently. “Call me Alice, and believe me, I’d love to. So let’s think about this. You did EMDR. Tell me a little bit about that—what was the memory you used?”

I feel suddenly naked, if not totally transparent, as I grudgingly launch into the story. “My birth mother showed up when I was three,” I tell her. “I was sitting on my mom’s bed while she was in the bathroom, drying her hair, and I heard the doorbell ring. I went downstairs and opened the door, and a woman leaned down and held her hand out to me.” The memory’s foggy, even now. I can’t even see my birth mother’s face, just a blur where it should be. “She asked if I wanted to go for a walk. I said yes. So we went down the sidewalk.”

I remember asking,
What’s your name?

She smiled and said,
You can always call me Ishki
.

Ishki.
I whispered it once aloud. We didn’t talk any more; we just were. I wonder if some part of me understood who she was. If I knew even then, years before Grandmother came, years before I’d pore over the Internet for clues about my past and find that word associated with at least two different tribes, that
ishki
means
mother
.

“According to the reports, we walked for twenty minutes. By the time I returned, after she pointed me back toward my
house and got into her car a few blocks away, there was a swarm of police cars with flashing blue and red lights crowded in and around my driveway.” I was afraid—terrified, actually. “And when I ran down the street to meet my mom, she was crying.” I felt so ashamed, so utterly guilty for scaring her like that. She scooped me up and held me tight, whispering,
Baby, baby, I was so scared she was going to take you.

Before the therapy I hated to think about that memory. It made my stomach tense and my skin crawl. Whenever my mind wandered toward it, I distracted myself.

Alice looks up from her furious scribbling. “So how did the process itself go?”

“The therapist made me choose a negative self-belief, something that might explain why Grandmother had showed up.”
I’m not wanted. I don’t belong.
I didn’t bother telling Dr. Langdon I didn’t really believe those things. Counseling always went better if I nodded my head a lot. Back then, I’d thought she was a total hack. “Then she made me choose a positive self-belief to replace it with. She made me sit on the couch, and she sat across from me. She moved two fingers in front of my face, side to side, up and down. She said I didn’t need to understand it—I just needed to let my eyes follow her fingers all the way to my right peripheral, left peripheral, up and down, without moving my head.

“While her fingers moved, she asked me questions. About the negative self-belief, the positive self-belief, other things like that. I answered her, repeated after her when she told me to”—feeling incredibly stupid the whole time—“and when she was done, she told me to go back to that memory, and
feel
it fully. Before we’d started,
she’d asked me to score how anxious the memory made me feel. I’d said a seven out of ten. After the process, I said five.” I’d surprised myself. “Then she sat forward and repeated the process again. The fingers, the questions, the scoring. We did it three times, and when she asked me to go back to that memory the last time, I told her, honestly, I only felt about a one on the anxiety scale.”

Recalling it now, it sounded like hocus-pocus. And yet, afterward, Grandmother, the man in the green jacket, all the flickers in my bedroom had been shut out for nearly three years. And, still, when I think about that memory—no anxiety. “I don’t know how, but it worked.”

Alice’s eyes glitter with excitement. She leans forward, touching the back of her head. “There’s a part of the brain called the amygdala. It stores things that you’re unable to process—like trauma. Before we’re eight years old, our minds have very few cognitive processing skills. So everything we’re unable to work through at that young age gets stored up in the amygdala, as general associations or a roughly pieced-together idea of cause and effect—a warning for future events. When we dream, our eye movements signal to the amygdala that it’s time to work through that backlog.

“Now, the emotions and sensations of an event are stored almost exactly as they were experienced. Strangely, the same chemicals that imprint them on the amygdala can actually impede the formation of memory in the hippocampus. You might have no conscious recollection of what happened, but that won’t stop it from messing with your brain. When those stored connections are triggered, you revert to the childlike mentality in which you first experienced them. That’s essentially what a panic
attack is—
the full experience of fear without the tools to reason through it.

“EMDR allows you to access those connections while you’re awake. The eye movement triggers the amygdala, while the questions trigger the memory. It allows your adult self to have a conversation, of sorts, with your child self. You explain things to your child self so that the unhealthy thought pattern, or cause-effect association, can be corrected.”

“But why
that
memory? I mean, nothing happened. I took a walk.”

“The separation of an infant from a parent can be traumatizing, in and of itself, even if you continue receiving the appropriate love and care from a new relationship. During infancy, all we know are our biological mothers. They’re our entire world, our whole sense of stability.”

Alice’s gaze makes me feel like I’m being X-rayed. I sometimes think the whole world knows my history, and I’m the only one who can’t see it.

I sometimes think they all know, and all I’ll ever get is what Mom told me, a logistical play-by-play of how the adoption went: She and Dad tried to get pregnant for a long time. Once, they thought they had. She miscarried; they were heartbroken.

Down in Alabama, on a reservation, an eighteen-year-old girl found out she was pregnant. Before anyone noticed her growing baby bump, she ran away, up to Kentucky, where her boyfriend’s family lived.

Meanwhile, Mom and Dad got a call from a friend of a friend, who’d gotten a call from a friend of a friend, whose nephew’s girlfriend was having a baby.

That baby was me.

Did they want her, the friend of a friend wanted to know.

They needed time to think about it, Mom said.

They had ten days and not one more, the friend of a friend said. The mother-to-be, my
ishki
, didn’t want her baby to grow up on the reservation. She’d never been happy there, had very little money, no real hope for a career, and an abusive father she didn’t want anywhere near her baby, near
me
. But she needed to find me a family soon, or she would have to take me back to the reservation with her.

Mom and Dad always say they were never terrified to take me; they were terrified to lose me—they thought that logic showed my
ishki
wasn’t sure, that she was ready to change her mind.

When Mom and Dad spoke to their lawyer, he brought up the Indian Child Welfare Act, a protective measure put into place in the 1970s, in response to the nearly one-third of all Native children who were being forcibly removed from their homes and put into non-Native boarding schools and foster homes. To protect babies like me and parents like my biological ones from being coerced into adopting to non-Native families, the act added a few extra hoops to the adoption process, one being that I couldn’t be adopted within the first ten days of my life.

Ten days during which my birth mother looked at me, rocked me, maybe even whispered or sang to me, and held fast to her decision to give me away. I wonder if in that time she ever stopped to think that people could be unhappy, lonely, weary anywhere; that in a town like Union, there would still be parents who hit their kids and kids who stared up at the night sky,
whispering that they’d like a better life, a gentler place. Did she ever,
in those ten days, want to be the one to soften the world for me?

Mom and Dad’s lawyer was unconcerned by the rest of the ICWA’s stipulations—Alabama was apparently notoriously unfriendly toward the act, and my biological mother’s extended trip to Kentucky was just one more way to ensure Alabama’s courts saw me as
not Indian enough
to fall into the category of
all Indian children,
to which ICWA was supposed to apply.

I knew she could never regret me, but Mom always told me that last part with guilt in her eyes, like she was pretty sure she’d done something wrong by adopting me, by playing into a system that made exceptions for people like her and Dad.

If at any point in the first two years my birth mother
had
changed her mind about the adoption and could prove she’d been under duress when she’d decided to give me up, legally the state was supposed to rescind the adoption. After Ishki’s neighborhood walk with me, Mom was terrified Ishki was going to try to regain custody, though of course by then the two years were up.

And it’s not like I wanted to leave my family—I never did. But sometimes, after that walk, I used to lie awake and cry, because it hurt so bad that Mom had thought my birth mother wanted me back, and it hurt so bad when it turned out she didn’t.

Even if I wouldn’t have wanted to go with her. She should have wanted me to.

Funny thing about belonging to two worlds: Sometimes you feel like you belong in zero.

“An EMDR therapist might say these manifestations are a coping mechanism,” Alice says, pulling me back to the office. “You needed a continuation of your original world—a time
when there was stability with your biological mother—so your
mind created one. When you’re under duress and returning to a precognitive state, Grandmother resurfaces. An EMDR therapist might think your dream states are triggering suppressed memories, which were in turn triggering a PTSD response. A hallucination.”

“Well, what would
you
say is happening?”

She grins. “
I’d
say it’s pretty hard to prove whether something’s real or a hallucination.”

BOOK: The Love That Split the World
4.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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