trauma is a teacher
fired from catholic boarding school
its leather bound ruler raps your knuckles
“pay attention!” it barks
“the world will not rest for you, lazy girl!”
“the world is cruel and cold, a demon
waiting to eat you alive.
you will not survive
with your head
stuck in the
she was right.
a sprint to catch up with the rest of the class,
sweat dripping from an unwashed tracksuit
laces dragging in the muddy field
trauma waits to tweet its whistle
and call out your foul plays.
“you’re behind! always behind!”
slinging dodgeballs at your
unguarded face and knees
“catch up or die,
old high school lovers
their apartments on the edge of town,
with their partners and their cats and
a degree in their back pocket.
“they made it,” she hisses.
“and what of you?"
trauma is a teacher.
you learn its ticks and likes.
underneath the habit and shroud
it dons leather and chains,
heavy masks and latex suits,
accentuating skinny limbs
you’ll never possess again,
a golden apple on its desk
unpolished and mealy
beneath its paint.
trauma makes you judge your work,
your loved ones,
your peers, and
your place among them,
always in question
“what makes you think you belong with them?”
“what makes you think it won’t happen again?”
befriend potential murderers.
make sweet love to your rapist.
let your friends attack you.
let your family leave you.
they were never there
not at all
if trauma is a teacher
recovery is the textbook,
worn out on the shelf, pages tattered.
the lesson plan pulled from six editions ago,
cruel antiquated practice makes you its lab monkey,
a dog writhing on electrocuting floorboards
when the door just needs a simple push.
learned helplessness, psych 101,
the only class i didn’t need to
study hard to pass.
trauma drags you by your matted fur to some safe place,
to hide your shame and lick your wounds until they scab,
then tears them open once again
to teach you not to trust a thing,
not even your very own skin.
she rings the church bells
calls you home from work
to reflect and remember,
to pray for your sins
and your future.
you stare at the books on the shelf,
lost in the library, seeking.
you need to know why your brain is on fire.
you need to know what can put it back out.
wet blankets and vodka won’t work.
carving your flesh doesn’t help
and makes bad water cooler small talk
at your office job you despise.
staring blankly at screens works for a moment,
a blissful second,
until trauma catches you being Unproductive
and breaks welts on your neck to chastise you.
“sloth is a sin,” she hisses.
you find recovery on that shelf,
but it’s far out of your price range.
you reach to put it back
leave it for the sinless
the ones who have earned it —
and before you can blink,
you’re shoving it in your backpack,
you’re sprinting from the store
you have broken the laws of the universe
not to mention the barnes and noble
you begin to read again.
you remember strength in your limbs.
you remember the taste of butter.
you remember love and clean air.
you remember joy.
with every page Trauma quiets,
never silent, quite, but dulled.
somewhere behind your headphones and your focus
she shrieks and slaps her desk, stamps her booted feet,
a child in adult skin just like you.
in your tired eyes and weak moments you still see her sometimes.
she whispers all the secret thoughts of everyone who’s wronged you.
“come back to me,” she coos. “i made you stronger, i made you whole.”
trauma is a teacher
in the same way a hurricane is.
it teaches you pain and loss —
and the wellspring of humanity it beckons.
teams sweeping aside the wreckage and building upon the fresh earth.
families gathering in support of their neighbors,
searching for the missing, cooking for the hungry,
nursing each other back to health as one whole.
you learn to assemble your rescue team.
you learn red flags from abuse.
you learn to say “no” louder.
you learn what hurts and how badly.
you learn what it is to be alive.
but you must also learn
when you are done learning,
and when the bell has rung
you may excuse yourself.