There’s a puzzle piece that’s been missing from my life, one that I am just now fully understanding. There are some puzzles that you can still see the picture when a piece is missing, but the size of the missing piece determines how much of the picture we are missing.
I think I have been avoiding this one for awhile.
When you go through a traumatic experience as a child your brain doesn’t fully know how to process it. Even when we go through trauma as an adult we struggle with what to do, how to process it, and how to move on with our life.
When I went through mine as a child I was 6.5 years old, in the first grade, and I remember my teachers name was Ms. Tassio. I don’t remember much, but I remember that and I remember her. I remember the house we lived in but only a few memories from being in there.
Today, in my thirties, I have three kids, one who happens to be on the tail end of 6 and it is sometimes when our kids are the age that we were when trauma happened that a repressed trigger will occur in our lives.
I am looking at him, my son, and remembering that was the year I grew up. That was the year I turned 40. That was the year I went from being taken care of to trying to take care of the world. That was the year the world didn’t make sense. That was the year that I learned loss.
In the backseat of my car I hear the fighting and bickering normal for siblings in a car to have. I am hearing, and learning, that the biggest insult my kids can give to each other right now is to say the words “You’re not my best friend anymore”. This is the equivalent of childhood cursing among them. When they say this to each other they will cry as if they were just disowned by their sibling. “I hate you” and “I don’t love you” is what they hear in that moment. It is not what their sibling meant, it is just the sting of how they feel. Abandoned and tossed aside by the family member that loved them.
As I am reflecting on the triggers of being 6 myself today while going through a trauma approach to therapy called EMDR with my therapist, I am having to think of images that connect with words of wisdom, nurturing, safety & protector, and a resembling image of Jesus. I struggle with just these beginning stages, but I think I found the missing piece. I think I figured out the struggle. I think I may have realized the hard truth of why I have repressed so much and grew up having people around me that never even knew this was a part of my story.
The part of my past I want to deny, I almost don’t want to remember, is that I loved my Dad. In fact, I was the oldest, and I think I have never said this out loud until yesterday, but I think he was my best friend.
When I was 6, and my Dad was going through a more difficult time in his life than I will ever fully know, he committed suicide. Today, I don’t believe he did that in his right mind. He was the kindest and greatest man I knew, his arms were where I felt safe. He was a police officer, so getting a hug when he walked in the door from his highway patrol motorcycle was about the safest a 6 year old could feel. We have a police officer that lives across the street from us today and it makes us feel safe, but when I was little, he lived in my house. Nothing could hurt me, because my Dad was about as safe as I could feel, he was my best friend, and I loved him more than I want to remember.
When he died, my soul was crushed, and my 6-year-old brain didn’t understand why he killed himself. Why he chose this. The only thing I understood in that moment was that my best friend, my safety, my protector, a big piece of my heart, said to me “You’re not my best friend anymore”, and he left me…alone. And I was mad at him.
Almost like a kid developing an invisible friend and then learning that it never really existed to begin with. That’s what I did. I didn’t know how to deal with the pain, so I just masked that it was ever real to begin with. Didn’t exist, doesn’t exist. Don’t talk about it. “Conceal, don’t feel.”
But our house was missing a protector. We were missing the safety of the police officers car in our driveway. I was in first grade and somehow, I am not sure when, but I think the day we had the visitation and my little innocent eyes saw my best friends lifeless body lying there in the coffin with his protector cop uniform on, that in that moment, that’s when I became the protector. That’s when I wanted to save the world, or at least take care of the people in my house. That’s when I started putting other people above myself, and that’s also the day I learned that it’s ok to have a lot of friends, but don’t let anyone too close because I get scared their going to leave me too.
Distance is safety. That’s what the 40-year-old me said. The 40-year-old me that walks around with a police uniform on just like my Dad wanting to be for others what he was for me. Why did it take me so long to see this about myself, to learn that about myself, and to figure out that everything the 40-year-old me was saying isn’t true.
I’m not sure what to do with the fact that I found this missing puzzle piece, its been so long I’m not sure what the picture is going to look like when I put the piece in its place on the table. This is still a journey, so I will have to tell you that once I see it. But today, I see the piece, now I have to figure out what to do with it. How to grieve my best friend, how to grieve that he was real, and how to admit that I loved him, and that I still do.