January 29, 2018

today's episode: lille is a stalker

"I can't do the YMCA."
Lille is a stalker.   Pediatric psych analysts would say she falls into the “rejected stalker” category.   She isn’t allowed to actually stalk, so she sits on the area rug and plays with some toys and action figures and a Barbie doll that’s missing an arm, and imagines she is powerful and can exert her will.

She travels to distant cities and countries and hides in the bushes across the street from Her house, and pretends her View Master is a pair of binoculars that can penetrate walls and let her watch everything going on inside.  She is very careful to never be seen.  She knows she could be in big trouble if she’s caught.

She calls the phone number at the house on her Fisher Price phone and waits until She answers and says, “Hello?”  Then she hangs up quickly and smiles because she got to hear Her voice.  She waits a few minutes and then does it again.

Sometimes, she finds paper and crayons and writes Her a letter, and asks for a stamp and puts it in the mailbox.  But they are never answered.  A nameless, faceless adult takes the letter out of the box after Lille has gone to bed that night.  Lille doesn’t understand why She doesn’t write her back with words of open arms and loving welcome.  Lille doesn’t know what stalking is or how uncomfortable it would make Her feel. 

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I do not meet a single criterion for any form of dissociative disorder.  But my mind has a fracture, a canyon-fissure that runs the full length of its landscape, stark against the smaller fractures that all human minds collect over a lifetime.  There are bridges across it, and I am always reinforcing the bridges.  It would be so easy to fall in.  It's happened before.  It’s a pretty deep crack.

Therapists say Lille is “stuck” there. 

When Lille was in sixth grade, she fell in love with her teacher.  Lille was plain, unpopular, a social outcast, a nerd.  But the teacher was lovely, and kind, and treated Lille like she was special to her.  Lille would stare at her when she was supposed to be working her math problems, and her heart would pound with a child's love, and with being loved. The teacher would look up and smile back.

"Unhealthy attachment" was foreign to Lille.  She was eleven.  She only knew that there was one thing in the whole world that made her happy.  So when the teacher quit her job at the end of the school year, and Lille was never going to see her again, the fracture in her mind began to form.  It was small at first, and it should have become her first Grief and stayed small, sealed and bound by tears and time and healing.  But the teacher saw Lille crying on her last day, and had unwise mercy on her, and gave Lille a sticky note with her address and phone number on it.  Lille didn’t have to grieve or let go.  She clutched the yellow note that tethered her to the teacher.  The crack lengthened and widened, and Lille fell in.  She stayed there.

She stayed there for two years.  The steep walls were all she could see.

Lille’s letters were always answered.  She got postcards and letters and pictures from the teacher, and wrote back, and eagerly waited for the mail each day.  Sometimes Lille got a phone call, and once, the teacher even came to visit.  She stopped thinking about other things and only thought about the teacher, and when a letter from the teacher would come, and how beautiful the teacher was, and how much she wanted to hear the teacher’s voice, and how much she longed for the teacher to love her and mother her. 

The teacher didn’t know any of this.  Lille didn’t tell her.  She didn't tell anyone.

And Lille became acquainted with depression, and the cycle of joy and bliss when a letter came, then dejection when the high wore off and a reply to her next letter didn’t come in the mail, day after day.  Lille needed more.  She had a real phone, and she began calling the teacher’s phone number and listening to her say, “Hello?” and then hanging up quickly, so that the six seconds would not pass and the call would not show up on the Southern Bell long-distance phone bill.  If it did, her real mother would be furious.  She couldn’t call the teacher, but she could hear the beautiful “hello” over and over again.  Every day.  For months and months.  A brief moment of happiness, then a plunge into darkness.  Call again.  High.  Wait.  Plunge again, a little further down.

When Lille's depression deepened until it hurt worse than the pain of the cycle, she confessed to the teacher about the phone calls and hang-ups, the darkness, the thoughts about death and the feelings of love that she could not control.  She told her about living in the fracture for two years.  She asked for help, because she could not fix it herself.

The teacher was angry and hurt.  She had been in fear because of the calls and hang-ups.  She had had her phone line tapped by the phone company to find out who it was, but they could never catch the caller because the caller hung up too quickly.  She was hurt because a little girl she was fond of was a stalker.  She came to visit Lille again, and this time, she told Lille she was angry and that Lille was nobody to her, not special, just some student, just some kid, and that Lille was not allowed to ever call her or write to her again.  Then the teacher got up and left the room, and did not look back.

Lille blacked out.

*********

I can see clearly across the landscape.  In a certain light, you can almost not see the crack stretching across.

These days, the teacher would be a bright, enjoyable co-worker who would nevertheless have some habits and quirks that would get on my nerves.  She and I, we're human beings.  I hold appropriate remorse for the pain and frustration I caused, and I also see the parts that were not the fault of a child, the parts that were due to a first year teacher's inexperience and poor judgment.  Victim and perpetrator have merged into a healthy tolerance of ambivalence and shades of grey. 

But there is not enough fill material to even begin to smooth the fracture in my mind and replenish what was lost.  I spent far too much time during a critical developmental stage wearing and widening its length.  I still have rare but vivid dreams, just before my alarm goes off, of reconciliation bountiful enough to fill it all in.  We pat it down firmly with our shovels and wipe our brows and call it a day.

Once, in my 30s, I entered the fracture because Lille went online and learned that She lived just a few miles from a friend in a distant town.  I let myself be pulled in behind her, and from within the myopia of close walls, it suddenly seemed perfectly reasonable to phone my old teacher up and ask for a talk in a coffee shop somewhere, as I'd have accommodations.  Lille held on to my sweater sleeve and said she knew it would be different now.  And I dialed the number and listened to the rings, and the "Hello?"  I spoke, but it was Lille's voice that came out.  And predictably, I got the same response she had gotten all those years ago:  No, don't call me, leave me alone.  I am not willing to speak to you.  I heard myself acquiesce politely and end the call.  I looked up and down the length of the fracture, stretching as far as the eye could see, and saw an infinite puzzle in which I got smaller and smaller as I peered into the three-dimensional distance, an eternity of tiny, immutable replicas.  My lungs felt leaden.  My limbs were weak.  I drove home, but not safely.  It took weeks to climb out after that, and it strengthened my resolve:  Lille would never have control again.  I had to be responsible for her.  


Sometimes I wonder if bi-polar disorder can begin with conditioning, a pattern of ups and downs sustained over time, or the introduction of trauma.  It doesn't run in my family.  And the fracture runs straight through the addiction centers in my brain, so the hit-deprivation-hit cycle of that part of prepubescent childhood only augmented the effects of an enduring disease process.  


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In today's episode, Lille sneaks and uses the Internet and learns that She has moved again, to a different city, and has retired.  She uses the action figures to make up a story where One-Armed Barbie and She-Ra go to a restaurant near Her new home, and Moondancer Pony and G.I. Joe happen to come in, and they all suddenly look up and notice each other from across the restaurant, which serves barbecue today, and they reconnect and Moondancer sees that One-Armed Barbie is actually a good person and says okay and lets her write crayon letters and dial her Fisher Price phone again.  All she wants.





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