“Close your eyes and tell me when you’re ready to begin.”
I say ok, close my eyes, and the film starts again.
I’m watching myself. She’s there too, standing where she always does; who she is doesn’t matter, their faces are all the same. She turns to the left, and I take another picture. I am asking questions as I take photographs with my phone, but I don’t hear what I’m saying. I can only see my same actions, over and over and over again. I cannot see my face.
*tap* *tap* *tap* *tap*
She tells me about what happened to her. She tells me the same story I have heard from countless women just like her. I cannot hear her speaking, but I can feel the weight of thousands of words spoken by dozens and dozens of people. I watch myself hide behind the phone taking pictures, hoping my face doesn’t betray my empathy, my shock, all of the emotions coursing through my body wanting to scream out that I am in way above my head. I feel the need to control, but all I see is myself taking more pictures. She lifts her shirt to show another bruise. I get closer to get a better shot.
*tap* *tap* *tap* *tap*
She sits back down in the chair. So many have sat in that chair. Stalin said one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic; I can only say that one sad story is horrible, and that a library of them only brutalizes the soul. The film blurs for a moment as she changes into someone else for just a second, a single frame spliced into the reel. It’s jarring, and it pulls my chair closer towards the screen. I ask more questions I do not remember but feel, while I sit and watch. Another splice. Another inch closer towards the screen and the fourth wall.
He stops tapping on my knees, “Ari come out of the film, open your eyes.”
I hear his voice like an usher asking me to leave the theater, but something makes my mind ignore him. I’m glued to the scene, to the emotions flooding into me as I delve deeper into this archetypal memory from an archive of similar stories. I feel the hand starting to grab my chest, wrap its fingers around my heart and squeeze. I’m starting to forget that this is a film and that I’m in my social worker’s office doing this exercise.
“Ari, Ari, come out of it open your eyes.”
The theater is slipping away and I’m walking into the film. I’m getting sucked in again. I can feel the rage of helplessness washing over me again. I’m fighting to open my eyes, tears starting to pool at the corners of my eyes, but the anger is keeping them locked shut. I am locked in this forced recollection, my imagined self is getting dragged into the scene. I am becoming my memory again. I am losing it again. I am losing control. I am becoming me. I can start to feel the chair turn into the one I once sat in. She is in front of me.
I open my eyes, but I don’t see where I am. The social workers are in my office, and she is sitting next to them. I cannot tell if I am still watching the film or not. I cannot tell if this is my memory or reality. I cannot tell the difference between the two. Is any of this real, am I still watching the film, or did I disappear in the ether between this world and the one in my head?
“Ari where are you?”
I look around the room and I see the social worker’s decorations and I wonder why they are in my office. I feel like I am neither awake or asleep. For a moment, things almost become black. I don’t know where I am.
“Ari where are you?”
“I…I’m in your office”
“What day is it?”
I check my watch and say, “Monday.”
We run through the secular and Hebrew months, and I am starting to come back to reality. Whatever self I created to watch that film is almost entirely back in my head. She is gone too, banished back to my nightmares and to those moments when someone’s face on the street changes to hers.
They say this is going to help, but that it’s going to get worse until it finally turns for the better. All I know is that last night was the same as the one before: unable to sleep, mind raving, and waking up at 4 am from another nightmare and gasping for air like I’m suffocating.
Three months of this all and I can function, but I’m still living one day at a time. I guess that’s an improvement from not wanting the morning to come, but I’m getting tired of living stuck in this series of sessions and days that blend together and have nothing to differentiate one from the other. People ask me what I do for a living, and I give the half-truth of that I’m between things. The reality is that I live for these sessions. Everything is all too often a blur. I can still feel the cheap cloth of the hospital clothes on my skin, but I’m so far removed from those days and those people.
This is my life. Sessions. Session after session. I just want to live, but she and all of the others keep me up too late at night. My mind won’t stop, no matter how many times I beg and plead just for a little sleep each night.
The next session is next week, same time, same people. I’ll see them all again.