Under the Sycamore Tree

Lightning over Lake Cayuga, Finger Lakes Region, New York

I’ve reviewed some of my older posts, and I’m surprised.  I’ve written more than I realized about my experiences with human trafficking.  I feel a mix of embarrassment, shame, and disappointment with myself.  Part of me accuses, “Would you at least try to think of other things to talk about?! Come on! Get over it already! Nobody wants to hear about you and your abduction for crying out loud.  So, shut up!”  The embarrassed part of me says, “Oh my goodness…it’s no wonder I refuse to tell people I have a blog.  Once they read this they’ll never invite me over again! Talk about a buzz killer!” The part of me that feels disappointed says, “It’s been twenty years.  This is old news.  I thought I’d be over it by now.”  The gentler part of me wants to speak up, too, but Shame is a bully so she often talks over everyone else in my head.  Is that true for you, too?

I recently went back to therapy, but my reasons were altogether different.  This time it isn’t nearly so intense.  It’s actually sort of pleasant.  BT (Beloved Therapist) is one of the most positive and encouraging women I’ve ever met.  Sitting in her presence for 50 minutes is a privilege.  We are similar in that her mother is Jewish (I’m Jewish patrilineally), and she also holds a Christian faith.  Our spiritual filters, if you will, are quite similar; hence, she understands my language which is endlessly helpful.  I’ve written here before that it is essential that we discover and claim powerful truths when reclaiming our identities during our struggles, whatever those struggles might be.  It doesn’t matter what your struggles are.  It could be some kind of loss, depression, a difficult childhood, low self-esteem, an eating disorder, abuse of some kind; because humanity is plagued by seemingly infinite kinds of suffering, I can’t begin to list the types of suffering a person could endure.  Suffice it to say, powerful truths are necessary when overcoming suffering because, somehow, we usually emerge from our struggles believing lies about ourselves, our past, present, and future, our relationships, and God.  A powerful memory, a healing memory, emerged recently while I was talking with BT.  It has served as a reminder to me that there are greater things at work in our lives than those which would only appear to oppose and harm us.

Two weeks after I returned from Florida (the state to which I was taken by my perpetrator), I had to start my first year of college.  Looking back, this was not ideal, but, for reasons I won’t share, I really had no choice.  So, I packed up my stuff and headed to the Finger Lakes region of central New York wherein a tiny women’s college was nestled.  To me, it was heaven.

Wells College, Aurora, NY

It was a tiny haven with only 500 students.  We had tea with our professors.  Lake Cayuga was just across the main drag that ran through the little village of Aurora.  It was the perfect place to land after a terrible event.  The dean of the college became a friend of mine, helping me get the triage care I needed within a week of my arrival since I didn’t get any before.  It became my safe place.  But, something was wrong.  I had shut down my inner life, and that was something I’d never done before.  If you’ve read any of my other posts, then you know that my life before the abduction was bad.  I had terrible parents who made terrible choices, but I still remained hopeful.  After I returned from Florida, something in me felt dead.  And, I was so incredibly angry at God.

I would not describe myself as religious because my belief in God doesn’t feel like religion to me.  I believe that God is real like I believe that my husband is real.  I’ve been like that since I was very small.  I don’t have a “conversion story” that many people who are faithful have.  There is no “before” and “after”.  There is only an “is”.  To me, God has been my constant companion and friend through everything, but I felt betrayed to my very core when I was kidnapped.  I met some Christian girls at Wells, and they invited me to church one Sunday.  I refused to go.  I wouldn’t step foot in a church.  I threw my Bible across the room one night as I yelled, “Fuck you! You left me to die there! Don’t speak to me because I’m NOT talking to YOU! Leave….me….alone!”

A Courage to Heal support group formed at the college, and I thought it might be helpful if I joined it.  It wasn’t.  In the beginning, everyone went around to share their stories, and they were horrible.  Every single one.  One young woman had grown up having an incestuous relationship with her brother.  Another girl had been date raped, and she was now terrified of males in general.  A few other girls had been sexually abused by their fathers.  It went on and on.  I actually felt pretty good about my experience.  Mine only lasted a week.  These girls endured years of abuse at the hands of close family members! What made it all feel rather incestuous, however, is that most of the girls in this group were having sex with each other.  This changed the group dynamic dramatically.  Suffice it to say, the group stopped being supportive once the first break-up occurred.  I decided to quit.

I sang soprano in our choir, and that year we were singing Mozart’s Requiem–how appropriate.  The campus was buzzing because the men’s choir from Worcester, MA would be joining us for the performances, two to be exact.  There would red-blooded men on our campus! Ode to joy!!!  I recall that it was late autumn on the evening of our first performance.  We sang beautifully together although, in contrast, I was beginning to feel heavy and hollow.  I felt emotionally eviscerated somehow as if a black hole were opening up inside me, and I wasn’t going to be able to escape it.  I was surrounded by revelry, flirting, and incandescence, but I only perceived black and white.  The noise became distant, and I wanted to leave my body.  Suddenly, I saw Carol, one of the girls from the support group.  She had been molested by her brother.  I grabbed onto her arm, asking in a pleading tone, “Tell me, Carol.  Please! Does it get any easier? Does it?” She had been flirting with her girlfriend du jour when I grabbed her, but she suddenly went pale, held my gaze, and said, “No.  It will never get any easier.  How you feel now? This is how you will always feel.”  With that, she looked away, pasted on a smile, and began laughing again, but this time I heard the emptiness in it.

Her words sank into me.  Recall what I said about always being hopeful.  I’m also tenacious.  It is one of my best and worst qualities.  In that moment, I refused to believe what she said.  I left the post-Requiem party and headed outside to have a showdown.  God and I had some unfinished business.  I went to Wells’ beloved Sycamore tree to sit beneath it.  It was silent and dark there.  I could no longer hear the sounds of jubilation, the seductive female giggling, or the baritone male voices.  It was just me, the Sycamore, and, I hoped, God.

The Sycamore Tree at Wells College in winter under which I sat once upon a time...

I sat for a while.  I didn’t know what to say; there was too much to say.  Then, it came down to it.  I thought I might yell out, but the words came out in a teary, choked whisper, “I need your help.  I feel like I’m dying.  Please…come back to me.  Don’t leave me.”  What happened next is not an embellishment nor is it in any way a lie.  It simply is.  Upon the final utterance of my words, the wind began to blow.  In the beginning, it was gentle, but then it became rather fierce.  Suddenly, there was lightning followed by thunder.  And then, I heard it.  A beautiful male tenor voice singing.  It seemed to me that the wind was carrying the voice to me, and I had a strong compulsion to follow it.  It was very dark, and I couldn’t see very well.  I only followed the sound of the song I heard.  The song led me to the single dock that jutted out onto Lake Cayuga.  From the end of the dock I was able to discern a lone male figure standing at the end of the dock.  Singing.  He sang an Italian aria into the night.

The dock at Wells College on Lake Cayuga

I didn’t want to interrupt his song, and he sang so beautifully that I wanted to continue listening, too; so, I quietly sat down at the end of the dock and wept silently.  I don’t know how long he sang, but he eventually stopped, turned, and saw me.  I immediately felt embarrassed, but he smiled.  He approached me, sat down next to me, looked at my face observing my tears, and took my hand in his.  It was then that I saw his face by the light of the moon.  He was beautiful.  He caressed my hand with his thumb as we sat together in silence, but my heart raced.  I didn’t understand what was happening.  Who was this beautiful man with the enchanting voice, and why was he sitting next to me holding my hand? After some time had passed, he finally said, “You know, sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger.  What’s wrong?”  The dam broke.  I started crying again, and I told him everything.  He put his arm around me, wiped the tears from my face, and listened.  He didn’t say a word.  He just looked at me with utter tenderness and let me get it all out–details about the kidnapping that I hadn’t been able to verbalize, how afraid I was all the time, my nightmares, fears that my perp would come back for me again.  Eventually, we walked.  He talked, too, although I can’t recall what he said.  We went back to my room, and he held me for what seemed like hours.  Finally, as we closed our time together, he reached into his pocket to pull out a cassette tape–“I made this tape.  It’s a mix of my favorite songs.  I listen to it when I want to feel better.  It’s yours.”  He kissed me on the cheek and went to whatever room was his for the duration of his stay at our college.  He left the next day with the rest of the men to return to Worcester.  He called me a few times to make sure I was okay, but I never saw him again.

That night under the Sycamore Tree was a turning point for me.  It was the beginning of my healing process.  God showed up.  Actually, I don’t think he ever left me, but when we face such a dramatically powerful struggle we often need a dramatically powerful and triumphant truth to launch us forward.  Whoever that beautiful man was, he was an agent of the Divine that night.  He did everything that God Himself would have done for me, and that restored my hope and reignited the life inside me.  I wasn’t the walking dead any longer.  Sometimes we need the wild wind, the thunder, the lightning, the Italian arias, and the beautiful strangers who minister peace, mercy, and tenderness to us.  That is who God is after all.  That is what overcomes the evil that we face on a daily basis, those inner demons that ride us so hard and mercilessly.  God is here.  He is present.  He is on our side, and he still intervenes into our circumstances, acting on our behalf so that we will overcome in order that we flourish in this life.  That is the powerful truth that was revealed to me that night, and I can return to the Sycamore Tree anytime.  God is always there, and, because he’s infinite and timeless, he’s here, too.

So, to bring this very long post to an end, I declare that there are more powerful truths to be had.  We were not made to be overcome but to overcome, and one way in which we do this is with powerful truths.  For it is indeed the truth that sets us free.

Peace be yours tonight and always.

6 Comments on “Under the Sycamore Tree

  1. “…she suddenly went pale, held my gaze, and said, “No. It will never get any easier. How you feel now? This is how you will always feel.” ”

    I really enjoyed the Jack Nicholson movie “As Good As It Gets”. I found it at once amusing and serious, but there is a scene where after he breaks into the shrinks office and is thrown out into the waiting or “recovery” room where he utters the movies title “What if this is as good as it gets?” Never forgot that line and, and this girls response to your question brings it to mind again. I wonder the same thing on a pretty regular basis, and am not sure yet that I can say with any certainty that this isn’t as good as it is going to be.

  2. I hear you. The tenacity that often keeps me going, at the same time, often has me feeling like a donkey being led forward by a carrot. Then, I ask myself, what would happen if I surrendered to that feeling? That belief that it’s all for naught? That feeling that I’m deceiving myself. There really is no hope, I’ll always be “under it” so why even bother? I can’t do that. That’s despair and desolation, and I won’t go there because I’ve been there. I’ll fight, I’ll struggle, I’ll search for answers, and if I must, I’ll stop walking for a while and camp out on the side of the road until I can continue. But, I refuse to believe that “this”, whatever “this” is, is as good as it’s going to ever be. What would be the point of trying then? And, I don’t direct that at you. I say that in recalling all the times when I had to decide if I was going to continue onward. Was I going to believe Carol? What about every PTSD flashback? My mother? My father? That guy who took me? I may have escaped him, but he knew what college I was going to attend. He sent me a card on my birthday with photographs that he’d taken of me while I was in captivity–really, really bad ones. In the card he said, “Happy Birthday, honey. I’ll always know where to find you. Here’s a little something to remember me by…” Yeah. I don’t know that I could have been convinced that I would ever get over anything at that moment. I was so full of rage and grief and all-encompassing fear. But, I can tell you that I am not that girl today. Those memories don’t hold a lot of power over me any longer. Certain memories do, but that one does not. And, that is true for so many more. They have no power over me. So, I can say with great certainty that this is not as good as it gets although there are times when I do want to walk away from everything. The temptation is there. Why bother? Sometimes the struggle is too much, and I do feel that I’ve suffered and struggled enough. But…on those days I just get comfortable and ride out the storm. There will be another day to fight. There always is. You know what though? I get you. I do because I’ve been there, and I’ll be there again.

    • I have been chewing on what you said about putting to words my own experience. I have decided to give it a go and see where it leads. I am concerned that dwelling too much on this stuff keeps me down, but if I find that to be the case I will stop. I have found a certain liberation in responding to your posts as I dont live in a world where I can be out there with my story. I use a pseudonym on here and am still scared shitless when I let a little piece of the real me out, it will be interesting to see how it feels to really lay it all out there. The Address is http://tiptoeingaroundtheabyss.wordpress.com/

  3. ”That is who God is after all. That is what overcomes the evil that we face on a daily basis, those inner demons that ride us so hard and mercilessly. God is here. He is present. He is on our side, and he still intervenes into our circumstances, acting on our behalf so that we will overcome in order that we flourish in this life. ” – Love these lines 🙂 Thanks for visiting my blog! I’m subscribing, can’t wait to read more 🙂

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