Tobi wondered what time it was. She dared not move from her seat to ask. She had already learned the painful lesson that getting up and speaking were not options and that if she had a need, she was to sit quietly and wait for it to pass. No one cared about her needs here. There was no mother to stroke her hair if she had a nightmare, no father to make her feel protected. Tobi had always been shy, but the cruelty of this place had morphed her simple shyness into complete introversion during her short time on the property. She was told that she deserved to be cast off and that she and the other children here must be purged of their deviant tendencies if there was to be any hope at all of their reintegration and proper functioning in any capacity in the world. Sleep deprivation and manual labor tired them of any fight they might have in them to question why the weight of circumstances beyond their control was heaped so forcefully onto their already frail shoulders.
Hour after hour, Tobi and the others were forced to gather in groups and regurgitate their most painful experiences for all to hear. Many of these gatherings took place late in the evening and lasted well into the morning hours. Exhausted and swollen from tears of humiliation and the trauma of reliving their darkest memories, most of the children would slip into self-soothing behaviors. As with her dissociation in the labyrinth, Tobi saw these groups as a bystander observing the scene. She watched herself staring blankly at the others while they rocked, removed entire sections of their own hair one strand at a time, compulsively raked their fingernails over their skin until several layers were missing, and even sucked their thumbs like infants.
When it came Tobi’s turn to speak, she watched her mouth move and heard only white noise alternating with the sound of boots walking slowly over shards of glass. Her own words were an anaesthetic that was applied one syllable at a time. This anaesthetic was her saviour when the memories were intolerable. She saw herself gently smoothing her fingers over her pale skin as she shared with the others as though she had in fact extracted numbing balm and was administering it patiently, lovingly.
To be continued…