The Waiting Room
By Kathleen Gunderman
I wake up slowly to the sounds of moans and crying. I am reluctant to open my eyes. I don’t know where I am or what has happened, but I know something bad has happened. Did I get blown up by a roadside bomb? Did I get shot? Am I dying? The anguished crying finally makes me open my eyes into a slit. Through a haze that slowly clears I see a young girl sitting hunched over in a fetal position. Her thin arms encircle her legs and her head is resting on her knees. I can see her shoulders shaking and her breath is coming in heaves. I crawl over to her and put my hand gently on her back. She recoils from my touch and scuttles crablike away from me with terror in her eyes.
“It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you,”I assure her. I sit down across from her and quietly wait for her to calm down. Her breath is shallow and quick and I am afraid she is going to hyperventilate. Her greenish brown eyes are ringed in white as she looks at me with terror. I think back on my military medical training and I give her a smile and start to talk to her in a soft voice.
“Breathe slowly, Honey. Breathe with me–in, out, in, out. That’s it. Just take deep, slow breaths with me.” I exaggerate my breathing so she can see and hopefully mimic me. Gradually I can see her start to relax a little. Her small, clenched hands start to lose the whiteness that stands out on her knuckles. Her shoulders begin to unbunch from her neck. Although her eyes still look at me with fear they no longer have the deer in the headlight look. She watches me intently a few moments before looking down towards the bare floor and taking a deep, ragged breath. Her body seems to sag and she slowly raises her head and looks fearfully at me, unshed tears glistening on her lashes.
“Please don’t touch me. Please don’t hurt me,” she says in a small wounded voice.
“I won’t hurt you and I won’t touch you again. I promise.”
Everything in my being wants to embrace this wounded child but I know I must not. Obviously, someone has hurt her badly and I don’t want to increase her fear. She is too fragile.
I take a few minutes to look around the room. It is bare and roundish, seemingly devoid of any windows or doors. How can this be? How did we get in here? There must be a secret opening that I can’t see. Looking up I see only a hole in the ceiling that seems to have a flickering light emanating from it. It seems to have an electric short as the flashes of light are erratic. It gives the room a dim light that casts eerie shadows. Reluctant to startle the girl with any sudden movements, I slowly rotate my head to the right and to the left. I jump as I see there is someone else in the room. It is a young woman who is watching me with cynical brown eyes. She is twisting a lock of her blonde hair around her index finger as she sits with her back to the wall.
“Where are we?” I ask in bewilderment.
She stares at me a moment before she speaks. Finally, she says, “I don’t know. But it’s a bitch.”
“How long have you been here? How did you get here?”
She sighs and says “The girl was here when I got here. She doesn’t talk much so I don’t know how long she’s been here, but it’s a long time, I think. I’ve been here a long time, too. There’s no way to tell how long. As for how I got here I just woke up in here like you did.”
I shake my head confusedly. “But surely you have some idea who put us in here? What do they look like? Why have they put us in here?”
“I don’t know what they look like. I’ve never seen anyone and I don’t know why we are here.”
I am starting to get angry. “Well, surely you’ve seen them. They have to bring you food and water. Nobody would just keep us in here for no reason.”
She shrugs her shoulders and sits up straighter and says angrily, “Listen, I have never eaten or drank a thing since I’ve been here. I’ve never seen anyone. I don’t know why we’re here and I don’t really care anymore. All I know is that I want to be left alone.” Tears spring into her eyes and she quickly looks away from me.
“B—but, we have to eat? This makes no sense.” My mind is whirling as I try to process this information. Am I losing my mind? Is this a dream or a hallucination? I take several deep breaths and assess the situation. I know I am in the military. Okay, that’s a place to start. The most logical explanation is that I am having a dream. No, it just doesn’t feel like a dream. It feel’s real. I pinch myself hard and it hurts. Rubbing the red mark on my arm I look around the room again. It seems to be a round ball with a flattened floor. No windows, no doors–an impossible room. My next best scenario is that I am unconscious. Yes, that has to be it. Something has happened to me. I’ve been hurt in some way. I take my thoughts back but I can’t pinpoint any one event that happened. Whatever happened, it must have been sudden because I can’t remember much of anything before I woke up in here. But why are this child and woman in here, too? It just doesn’t make sense. I can’t think any more. It makes my head hurt. Maybe if I sleep I’ll wake up and everything will be clearer. I curl up on the floor with my head cradled on my arm and allow my eyelids to close out the anemic yellow light.
Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong!
“What the hell?” I am jerked out of a deep sleep by a loud banging noise like a giant pendulum hitting a cast iron bell, bouncing from one side of the room to the other. It is terrifying and I put my hands over my ears, but I can still hear the child screaming. She looks like someone who is being electrocuted. Her muscles are contracted and twitching. Her eyes are bulging from their sockets and her hands are clenched so tightly I can see blood dripping onto to floor. The woman is frozen in horror with her back pressed against the wall.
“What’s happening?” I shout at her over the deafening cacophony.
She is shaking her head back and forth and doesn’t seem to hear me. I grab her by the shoulders and shake her, screaming in her face. “What is it? What’s happening?” She seems to be in shock and I slap her face. Her head stops shaking and she looks at me with naked fear on her face. “What is it?” I ask again. Tears are streaming down her face and she screams, “I don’t know! I don’t know!”
“You’ve never heard this?” She shakes her head again and collapses to the floor, curling into a ball.
I turn my attention back to the child whose screaming is tearing through me like a knife. I start toward her but stop as I see her terror increase. A feeling of helplessness comes over me. I don’t know what to do. As I watch her my jaw drops as I see her start to rise toward the ceiling. I can’t believe what I am seeing! Her screams are now one continuing howl and her body is contorting as she slowly rises up. I run towards her and grab her around her kicking legs. I can feel a powerful force pulling her through my arms. I hold on tighter but her body seems to stretch like chewing gum and as she reaches the ceiling her head disappears through the hole and her screams become muted, which is even more horrifying. I can’t hold her and the rest of her body is quickly sucked through the hole with a sickening wet sound followed by the quick snap of an electric spark.
I fall to my knees, my eyes riveted to the hole. The banging abruptly stops and the sudden silence is so palpable I scream. “What the hell is going on?” I put my face in my hands and begin to sob. “No, no, no, no….”
I wake to find I am still lying on the floor. My face feels tight and I reach a trembling hand to my cheek to feel dried tears on my face. I don’t know how long I have been asleep. Time seems to have no meaning in this hellhole. I am numb. I can’t feel anything anymore. I just want it all to go away. I can make no sense of what I’ve seen. It has to be a dream. It HAS to!
I look over at the woman. She is sitting with her back to the wall, her hands resting on the floor by her sides. She is looking at me, but her face is blank and I’m not sure see actually sees me. She, too, has rivulets of tears down her face.
“It was a dream, wasn’t it?” I ask her. The little girl…?” I can’t even bring words to mind to describe what I saw.
“No, it wasn’t a dream, she says in a flat dispassionate tone. I’ve been here for a long, long time. I’ve never seen or heard anything like that. I’ll miss her,” she says with a catch in her voice as fresh tears brim over and slide down her cheeks. “She was so scared. She told me one time her uncle had done things to her. She wouldn’t tell me what he did, just that he hurt her. She blamed herself. She said if she had been a good girl this wouldn’t have happened. She didn’t stop it so she knew she was bad. But that wasn’t true, was it?” she asks at me in despair. “I tried to tell her that, but she wouldn’t or couldn’t believe it. Oh, God, I feel so tired.”
“I’m tired, too,” I say. What happened can’t happen, but it did. Dear God, have we been abducted by aliens? Is it possible? I just can’t believe that, but I don’t even know how to explain the little girl going through that hole in the ceiling.
With a shudder I look up and see the hole is pulsating with garish light like an electric eel. I move closer to the woman and put my back to the wall trying to distance myself from that hellish, snapping beam of light.
“That noise – what could that have been? It was deafening. All I could think of, and I know this sounds crazy, is that we had been abducted by aliens and put into here to be tortured. I can’t make sense of any of this.
The woman wiped tears from her cheek with the back of her hand. “I’ve never heard it before but it was the worst thing I’ve ever heard. It terrified me. But I think I know where we are. It isn’t aliens. We’re in hell. This must be hell.”
Hell. Yes, this place is hellish, but–the child. Surely a child wouldn’t be in hell? I shake my head. I can’t think straight. My brain doesn’t seem to be functioning properly. All I want to do is sleep. I shake myself and try to focus. I look at my companion. “What did you do before you came here? What’s your name?”
“I don’t know my name. I remember being beaten by someone and then being raped. I don’t remember anything but that and I can’t talk about it, so don’t ask.”
“But, surely you remember your na….?” I stop as I realize I don’t know my name either. All I remember is being in the military. I remember hearing staccato bursts of gunfire and the shrill screaming of incoming rockets. I remember being afraid-–a lot, but I don’t remember anything else. Not even my name, I think, wonderingly. Maybe I am dead, but was I so bad I deserve to be in hell? I don’t think I was. I can’t think anymore. I am too tired. I am just going to sleep and I hope I will stay asleep a long time.
“No! No! No!” The screams of the woman wake me and the banging is back with renewed vigor. The metallic clangs echo deafeningly in the confined space. I have tried to remain in control through this whole ordeal, but now the screams are tearing painfully from my throat. I can’t stand it anymore. I am suddenly filled with a blinding rage. A mist of red descends upon me and I start flailing and hitting blindly into the air, screaming obscenities. I want to hurt someone! I want to kill someone! Kill it! Kill it! Stop! Stop! Stop!”
I keep punching my invisible enemy until I fall exhausted to the floor where I start to sob uncontrollably. Why, why, is all I can say? The incessant banging is driving my already fragile mind mad.
“Oh, no! Help me! Help me?” I look up and see the woman. She is being pulled to her feet and her hands are scrabbling in vain to find something to hold onto. She is being pulled up like a puppet on a string until her toes are just barely touching the floor. She is babbling hysterically and I leap to grab her. I wrap my arms and legs around her and scream, “I’m not letting you go. I WON’T let you go.” I am desperate to keep her with me. I cannot face being in this hellhole alone.
Her head is now at the hole in the ceiling and I can hear the bones in her head crunch as they are being crushed. She starts to scream–raw, primal screams that tear through my soul. I renew my grip but she seems to become nebulous in my arms, disappearing through my fingers like smoke and I fall to the floor, my hands still grasping for substance. She is gone with only a static flickering to mark her passing. She is gone. I sob and I feel so totally alone and helpless. Why is this happening? I just can’t take anymore. I just can’t.
I awake to the knowledge that I am dead. I know it with every fiber of my being. This room with no ingress and egress is some kind of holding area–a waiting room. I know, too, I am going to be pulled through the hole in the ceiling. I am calm now. I am ready to go. I can’t stand to be in this barren room with only my own tortured thoughts for company. My ears strain for noise and I feel like someone who is waiting for a phone call from a reluctant lover. “Ring. Please ring.” But the silence denies my pleas.
I awake from a fitful sleep filled with monsters and despair to the long-awaited banging, clanging noise. It is tolling for me and I stand and walk to the center of the room. I look up and I can feel a slow, but steady pull. I close my eyes and lift my arms to welcome the force that is lifting me up. I feel my feet being lifted off the floor until only my toes are touching. I can feel my muscles straining, straining until I can feel them begin to tear. My joints snap as they are dislocated from their sockets. I didn’t want to scream but I can’t help it. It hurts so badly. The pain is unimaginable. I can feel my body elongating and the electric charge above me is increasing with frightening intensity. Oh, it hurts, it hurts! I can’t take it any longer. Hurry death! Hurry! Just stop this pain. I can feel my head hit the ceiling and I panic because I know this is going to be beyond anything I have ever endured.
My skull starts to crumble and it sounds like someone walking on gravel. My body feels light now, but the pain that I thought couldn’t get any worse only intensifies into a never ending thread of agony. I must be going to hell and this unspeakable horror must be my punishment. “Oh, God, what did I do to deserve this?” I can feel my body shifting and morphing as it moves through the hole into a narrow tunnel. Electric charges are shooting through my body and I am quivering with suffering. I am almost all the way into the tunnel and the pain is lessening as my body no longer seems to be a corporeal being. The banging has been replaced with the whir of electricity and as the last of my body passes through the hole the force flings me at light speed through a snapping, popping, curving tube and I can see a bright light ahead of me. The light becomes all I can see and it welcomes me. Like looking into the sun, I feel warmth on my face and I am gently deposited into another room, similar, but larger than the room I have left, amorphous, ringed in mist. I look around the space that is bathed in a white, glowing light. I am not afraid anymore. The pain is gone and I feel peaceful. Yes, I am dead, but I am glad to be dead. I welcome it. This isn’t hell, its heaven.
My fear and helplessness are gone, replaced by strength and a sense of calm. I am happy to realize that the child and woman have gone on before me to their well-deserved peace. Maybe I’ll see them again and we can get to know each other without the traumas that caused us so much pain for so long. Yes! I can see them smiling at me from the mist ahead and laughing, I run into their open arms, leaving the waiting room behind.
“So how are you feeling?
I take off my headphones, take a deep breath and tell my therapist “I’m tired. I’m very tired.”
My therapist nods. “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a very effective, but exhausting form of therapy because your brain is working very hard to bring trauma from your limbic system where it is stored to your cerebral cortex where it can be rationally processed.“
“When I first started EMDR I never knew I would have so much physical and mental pain. This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life but I can’t believe all those memories don’t hold the pain they once did. I feel free for the first time in my life. And I can’t believe it happened so fast. It’s like therapy at warp speed!”
Smiling, my therapist says, “Yes, the use of bilateral stimulation such as eye movement or, in your case, tones, creates neural paths that allow those traumatic memories to travel from the emotional to the rational parts of your brain. It is particularly effective for people like you who have multiple traumas to deal with.”
“Well, I can’t thank you enough. I don’t feel weighted down by my experiences anymore. I feel reborn and I can’t wait to see what my life will be like without all this emotional baggage.”
“I want you to call me if need me. You’ve worked very hard today and you really need to use your coping skills to help you with any residual emotions that may come up. Now, if you’ll just step out into the waiting room, I’ll schedule you an appointment for next week.
For more information on EMDR visit www.emdr.com
Copyright © 2015 Kathleen Gunderman