The Electrical Department
I walk through the hardware store innocently enough gathering stuff for the latest round of fix-it projects on my new home. In the background I’m grappling with life direction yet again, this latest round of doubt in my own usefulness spurred by an external catalyst that came very suddenly out of left field. Quickly I find myself tightening my chest, thoughts racing there in the middle of the familiar store full of helpful people. I pause to watch this internal show and I realize I am consumed by a flashback from decades ago when someone turned on me viciously, this flashback feeling every bit like the original, out of nowhere annihilation.
I keep moving down my list: a dimmer switch, a metal watering can, maybe some purple pansies for the garden. Mundane items keep me in the here and now, reminding me that other time occurred long ago and not yesterday. Then I notice something else. As the initial lightning bolt settles out of my body, I now feel a strong urge to physically and emotionally contract from the whole universe. Suddenly, the helpful store full of helpful people feels profoundly unsafe. Where will the next bolt come from? The helpful guy in the garden department who found an assembled barbecue for me because a boxed one wouldn’t fit in the back of my compact SUV. The woman in the electrical department helping me choose from the hundreds of dimmer switches all neatly displayed in their little boxes. Nope. They are good.
When I realize I want to pull every part of me in out of sight like a turtle taking refuse inside her heavily armored shell, I recognize this is the first time I have caught this elusive moment. I recognize this lifelong way I learn to protect myself from my father’s regular blasts out of nowhere. I always knew they were coming and I never, ever knew when. Fast forward a few hours from now to how things would go if I were to stay contracted. I would fear that my dearest friend, constant as the sun rising, might disappear without a trace, leaving me all alone in this world full of invisible thunderstorms. I would start questioning why I ever moved into this home that I love dearly. I might descend for hours into the zombie land of computer solitaire while waiting for this internal storm to pass, the storm that is filled with the belief that no one in this world could possibly be safe. Inside the contraction is a sense of feeling trapped and stuck with no way out.
Instead this time here in the brightly lit hardware store, I catch the impulse to contract, pull in, and withdraw from this here and now not at all dangerous time and place. Instead this time I recognize the profound vulnerability I feel and name it to myself as I stand there with my unfinished list. The guy in the hardware aisle asks me if he can help me find something. I want to ask him to help me find myself. Perhaps I just did.