Underneath the kitchen table

One of my first memories is looking up at the underside of the kitchen table. I know every white painted corner, every piece of metal and bolt by heart. The legs of the table are like guardian pillars, marking the entrance to my kingdom. If I sit very still and keep quiet, I am safe here. If I almost don’t breathe. At some point later during my childhood, my mother sold the table and bought a new one. I cried and screamed but she could not understand that she’d cast out a faithful protector.  

I loved tables. Especially tables with long cloths that rested on the floor. Eventually I understood that ”underneath a table” is an obvious hiding spot. I upped my game by seeking refuge behind sofas, curtains, overlooked corners and once or twice beneath the dirty clothes in a laundry basket. 

Whenever my mother brought me to visit our relatives, the first thing I would do was to scan their homes for possible hiding places. Lots of tall legs in trousers and dark crinkled skirts walking by. Older kids jumping on the couch and running through the rooms. I’d follow my mother around like a shadow. In these memories, I’m not thinking about what could happen if I got separated from her. I just know that terrible things happen whenever someone takes me away from her. I have another memory, of my mother carrying me against her shoulder. I look out at the world and feel safe because she holds me, but anxious because she’ll leave me on the floor or in the arms of someone. She says she’ll carry me forever and never leave me. She breaks her word over and over and over. 

Fast forward forty years. I sit on a pillow on the floor, in a corner of the room under a blanket. No matter where I am in our house, whatever the season, I always hide under a blanket. I sit curled up, breathing silently and shallowly. I cannot stand to be present so I almost always read a book or watch a movie. This is how I’ve coped with daily life – all my life. Of course, I’ve had to go to school and later to work. But when I move I shut off. I can’t feel my body, and barely any emotions. My mind is foggy – I’m not here, I just want to roll into a ball and sleep, somewhere hidden. I have a terrified baby inside me. I am the terrified baby.

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