It’s cold, she thought, trampling the fallen leaves underfoot, I’m freezing and I don’t know how much more small talk I can make. She followed the two children, who were half running, half tripping down the forest trail. Adam’s mom was behind her in real hiking boots; she’d worn only her sneakers. Watching the kids’ carefree jumbling over branches and rocks, she called ahead, “Slow down, Anna, there are too many tree roots; I don’t want you to get hurt.” They reached the river bed which was dry during the crisp autumn. The kids took off to climb over the rocks and find treasures- acorns, usually, sometimes a smooth pebble.
The two mothers situated themselves next to a large boulder, where they could rest for a bit but still see the children. “My problem with Ben,” Adam’s mom picked up, “is that he’s not consistent. One day, it’s like a boot camp and the next day, he’s trying to be Adam’s best friend.” “I know what you mean” the other woman replied; what she said aloud was a mask for what she thought- my problem is this depression, it’s eating at me, and it hurts. Anna had found a caterpillar and the kids were chatting excitedly.
Then, it happened. There was a dog barking; the pitch of the dog’s bark and something about the cool breeze and the hard rocks underfoot, it set her off. She inhaled sharply, her eyes focused on what anyone else would think was a riverbed rock. She didn’t see the rock; she saw herself, shoved down onto the back of a car seat. A man, on top of her, threatening her into silence. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. The man had a lighter, it was very hot; he began to light it-
“Mama!” Anna yelled, running over with some sort of treasure sheltered in her palm. And as quickly as she had fallen into her nightmare, she was back. She blinked her eyes a few times, trying to clear her vision, took a deep breath. She was used to this, she slowed her breathing, touched a tree, reminded herself where she was. “What is it?” she asked, trying to smile. Her daughter opened her hands to show off another caterpillar. “Why don’t we go find a nice green leaf to be his home?” she suggested. And they were off again exploring, as she struggled to fit back into the normal day she had planned.
This is what it’s like just about every day for moms who are rape victims, a small sound or faint smell sends them back. Sometimes she can stop it- by breathing deeply, focusing on her surroundings, talking. Other times, she doesn’t have time to think, it just happens, taking her away. She knows she needs help, but doesn’t want to seem weak, to let anyone think she might be anything less than a good mom. And she is a good mom, her daughter’s smile tells her so.