I get into the lift and press the red emergency button. As the lift goes up, a little girl of about seven gets in. The girl looks up at me and notices that I seem sad.
'What's wrong, Kara?'
she asks in her innocent little voice. I sigh deeply and stare ahead: 'Oh, it's all so confused,' I say. 'I feel so alone sometimes, and it seems like no one really understands how I feel.'
The girl asks: 'Alone, but why?'
There is a moment of silence, the girl doesn't move a muscle and just listens to me.
'I understand that this will be my life now. Myself as the only good friend, the only one I could trust, with whom I could laugh and who could help me through my worries. And why? Because I am the only one who has gone through what I went through. I alone know what it is really like. People came and said: 'I can understand, Kara. I can totally empathise with what you've been through.' No. You can't, because you didn't sit where I sat. You weren't there, you just heard this and then created a vision for yourself.' I feel tears welling up in my eyes and continue: 'Sometimes I feel so confused and sad. Then people tell me to forget about it.'
I take a deep breath and said: 'But how can I just forget? How? I can't control that myself. I have to understand before I can forget, but of course they don't understand.'
The girl nodded understandingly and said: 'But Kara, sometimes it's also good to try to let go and just let it go. Otherwise you keep thinking about the same thing all the time and then you stay in this same cycle.'
I process for a moment what she just said. And then I continue: 'I feel like I'm stuck in a maze of emotions and I don't know how to get out. I don't want to be alone with my thoughts anymore. I want to talk about it, express it and try to make sense of it. But it feels like no one really wants to listen to it. Like it's too painful or uncomfortable to talk about it. But I can't shut up. I can't pretend everything is okay while feeling lost and unsure. Maybe you'll listen, maybe you won't. But I have to tell you this, I have to try to process it. I hope you understand where I'm coming from and what it's like for me.'
The girl said, 'I hope you know you are not alone in this maze and that there might be a way out, no matter how difficult it seems.'
I smile and sit down on the floor of the lift. 'What's your name?' I ask afterwards.
'Kara.' said the girl and she sits down opposite me. 'I am you. Fifteen years ago, you looked like this.'
I laughed and said, 'Did I really have those high ponytails? I just can't remember. I can't actually remember anything nice from my childhood, because there was almost nothing nice.'
The girl then said, 'Can you remember that day when you fell off the swing and scraped your knees?'
I thought deeply as the girl continued:
* * *
I am swinging on the wooden swing my eldest brother attached to the apple tree. I am swinging very high because I want to touch the sun. So I swing my feet as hard as I can and I almost touch the sun. A bit harder still... and then. Bam!
The swing breaks and I fall down on the ground, scraping my knees ugly. I started crying hard as I start to see the blood and the wounds start to burn. Gerald who is busy reading a psychology book for the next day hears me and runs towards me quickly. He lifts me up and brings me inside.
'Hush Kara,' he says and gently tends to my wounds. I don't even notice that he has put alcohol on them. After he puts a plaster on it he says:
'Kaar, would you like an ice cream?'
I smile and nod. Then I put my arms around his neck as he lifts me he walks to the freezer. I hold him so tightly because I know he is never going to let me down. He is always going to be there for me like an umbrella in the rain and a fur coat in the cold. We eat an ice cream and laugh.
After a while, mother arrives: 'What's going on here?" she asks when all she sees are ice cubes on the ground. Gerald and I burst out laughing harder and later mother does too. She gives Gerald a firm hug and me a kiss on my cheek.
I am so happy because I feel surrounded by my family and the people who are always going to be there for me.
* * *
'You are strong and especially brave that you did not give up. I'm glad you spoke to me, now I'm not as scared as before. I am very grateful to you, Kara. I will always think of you.' My younger seven-year-old self smiles at me.
* * *
Suddenly, smoke enters my room from the window.
My room has thieves' iron so I cannot run away. But this also ensured that now I couldn't see where the smoke was coming from. It doesn't matter much I think and I lie down on my bed. And I stare at the ceiling, smelling old paraffin. I almost dozed off when I hear someone say from a loudspeaker:
'Kara Sandalwood you will be evacuated shortly because the building is on fire. Please stay calm and quiet.'
'The building is on fire?' I asked myself, How could that have happened? Then what will happen now? Am I going to die now? Is this the end of Kara Sandelwood? Are all my problems finally going to disappear? Do I really want this? Now I'm never going to be able to understand properly, why everything went the way it did. Wait! This can't be the end! 'Help!'
I shout, banging on my room door. The fire has spread faster than I thought. From a small flame, it has spread incredibly fast from one of the shelves on the wall to the curtains and bedding. The room begins to fill with smoke as the flames of the fire swirl around it. The heat from the fire and the smoke make it difficult for me to breathe. I cough and my throat begins to burn. I press myself against the door and try to open it, but it is locked.
The fire crackles and crackles, making it difficult for me to hear my own thoughts. My heart pounds in my chest as I keep banging on the door. I feel helpless and panicked. I start coughing and coughing even worse as I keep banging on the door. The smoke makes it harder and harder to breathe. I slump down against the door as I try to understand what is happening. I realise that this could be the end and my life could be over. The thought that I am stuck here and will die drives me crazy. The smoke fills my lungs completely and I can't get any more oxygen.
* * *
I wake up in a strange bed and a strange house.
'Am I not dead?' I ask myself 'Or is this what heaven looks like? Am I in the unconscious? Have all problems disappeared?' A woman about thirty-seven years old enters my room, she is not the lady from the hospital.
'Hello Kara' she said kindly, 'did you sleep well?'
'How do you know my name? And where am I?" I ask desperately.
She remains calm and composed and says: 'Kara, I'm Evie. You were unconscious for three days because of the thick smoke. '
'That doesn't say who you are.'
'I'm your new therapist, Evelyn Harlow. I'm going to try to help you if you want me to, of course. You're going to talk and I'm going to listen, just listen.'
* * *
The therapist listens intently to my story and nods understandingly.
"It's very understandable that you feel this way, Kara. What you went through is traumatic and it is important that you are given space to process and understand it. I can help you learn how to deal with these emotions and thoughts."
I sigh deeply and finally feel heard and understood.
"But how can I ever let go and process this?" I ask. "It feels so overwhelming and I don't know where to start."
The therapist smiles encouragingly.
"It's okay to feel overwhelmed, Kara. Processing trauma is not an easy task and it will take time. But we can work together to discover what steps you can take to move forward."
She explains that trauma often leads to changes in our nervous system, which can make us hyperalert and stressed.
"But there are ways to reduce these reactions and help your body relax," she says. "We can do exercises to regulate your breathing and calm your nervous system so that you can cope better with stressful situations."
The therapist also recommends working on building a support network.
"It is important to have people around you who are willing to listen to you and support you," she says. "This can be family or friends, but also peers who have had similar experiences."
I nod, happy with the suggestions and perspective the therapist offers me. It feels like a path is finally opening up for me to start healing and processing my trauma.
"Thank you," I say with a sincere smile. "I think I am finally ready to work on this."
* * *
The little seven-year-old girl stands in the doorway of the lift. She smiles at me and says, "Thank you for helping me Kara. I needed it.' I smile back at her.
* * *
'Kara are you ready?" asks Evelyn to me. I wave at my seven-year-old self for a second and say, 'Yes. I'm ready to let go of everything.'
- To be continued