I’d tied two people down to the floor, or someone else had. They were alive, and I was whipping a grappling hook into their faces. Its sharp metal points caught with a sure, soft thump in one face, and then I pulled it back and repeatedly cast it into the other until nothing was left but wet, hamburgery meat.
When I told Nico about this, he said simply, “Which two people?”
He was lying on his back in bed next to me, shoulders loose and wide. I pictured his perfect little organs in his torso, open to attack. He saw the envy in my face when I looked over and whispered, “I can’t do that.” In my terrible sleep, I’d bolted my arms across my chest. My hands remained locked onto my sides, reinforcing my skeleton.
When Nico rolled over on top of me, I didn’t loosen my grip. He took my right wrist and pulled my arm back to my side, and panic rushed through my rib cage.
Danger, my body screamed, and my eyes welled up. Dangerdangerdanger.
Protect the midline. The skin that holds everything precious inside there is too delicate to do it alone.
My mind, knowing there was no danger here, repeated this knowledge as a mantra, chastising my body as usual. That internal disconnect, or the additional alarm when Nico took my other wrist and pressed that arm gently to my side, too, proved too much. I dissociated.
My mind refused to agree with my body on where I was. I tried to force it to.
You are in a bed in Guadeloupe.
No. I’m not.
That looks like it’s true, but I can’t actually feel it.
My arms became numb below the elbows.
A therapist would probably not recommend Nico’s forcibly if very lovingly undoing a trauma patient’s contraction. When I contracted like this on the table, Denise often had me contract more, contract all the way, hold every muscle in my body tight with teeth gritted and braced until I felt like I was ready to let it go. That way, I was in control. I was empowered to pick the moment that I would release and she would start pushing on me from the side, shaking it out. But Nico wasn’t a therapist. He was a guy who woke up next to a girl he loved whose nervous system didn’t work normally and did the best he could.
What he did next actually was something my therapist did—he stroked my arms, toward my hands, toward the place that’d turned from weight-carrying blood and muscle to nothing but static. Eventually I relaxed. Then I sobbed profusely. When I started, Nico said matter-of-factly, “Yes,” as though it was a thing that had been certain and necessary. Holding me, he encouraged me to stick with it, let it through. This was something therapists did, too. Stay with the sensations, Denise always said. If you can.
But the last thing I wanted was for my boyfriend to become my professional caretaker.
This trip was three weeks long. There was no sucking it up and hemming it in for that duration. It was too long to remain in a jet-lagged, sex-dizzy, touristic-drinking haze. Also, from now on, as far as Nico was concerned, the stakes were higher. Before, he’d been my fabulous if improbable hot young French boyfriend, who was to some extent a fantasy. Now he was moving into my house. It was likely this was lighting up a bunch of issues. Divorce. Fear. Potential for failure. Vulnerability, uncertainty, unreliability. The timing wasn’t ideal, but I didn’t want to lose him. If I did and ever managed to find another person I loved that much, I would have to confront the issues then, anyway.