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Knitting Fiction

Dumbo's Magic Feather

Published on: May 4, 2023

Pete does not hesitate. Even as Dr. Waldt is motioning him toward the couch on the far side of his consultation room, Pete is already in motion. He leaves Dr. Waldt’s words, “Please, have a seat, Pete.” drifting behind him. Three long strides and Pete has crossed the room and is leaning toward the raven print hanging on the wall behind the couch.

     “I’ve been thinking about the jewel, Doc. It is the earth—the whole entire world. So it’s gotta be big and heavy. It looks solid and heavy, don’t you think?”

     “How do you mean ‘solid’?”

     “Well like, look at the raven’s claws . . . . are they claws? Do ravens have claws or feet? I guess I’ll call them feet. They look more like feet than claws.”

     “Okay, what do the raven’s feet tell you about the jewel being solid?”

     “Well I mean, his nails are not going into the jewel. They are not embedded, so the jewel must be solid, right? Otherwise his nails would sink in.”

     “Yes, that does make sense to me.”

     “He has only three toes, and they are skinny little toes, and he is holding on to the whole world with those three skinny little toes.”

     “He actually also has an opposable toe that is hidden behind the world.”

     “So he has hold of it with three little toes and a third tow in the back. Even adding the thumb-toe, he does not have much of a grip. And he’s just got it balanced on a branch up in a tree. It’s all very precarious and he is holding on with a ‘wing and a prayer’. That’s what Grandma would say, ‘Holding on with a wing and a prayer.’” With that Pete turns and sits down on the couch. Dr. Waldt sits down in his rocker across from Pete. Sisyphus and the yellow pad are already placed atop the laptop on Waldt’s side table. 

     “Looks like you’ll be taking some notes today,” Pete said.”

     “Perhaps, but first let me ask how you are doing.”

     Pete is sitting on the couch with his two palms placed flat on his thighs. He looks at the psychoanalyst for a few moments, then abruptly leans forward, looks down at his feet, moves about two inches to the right on the couch so that he can place his two feet inside the carpet’s squares. How did I get into the room. I probably stepped on a shitload of lines. Who cares? In this cosmos what possible difference does it make? Who the fuck even cares?

     “I’m still kind of a wreck, Doc. Thanks for calling me back the other day. It helped talking to you. For awhile there I did not know what was going on with me.” 

     “Let’s talk about what happened.”

     “That night, after our last session. What day was that? Monday. Yeah, Monday. Anyway that night I told Cindy about the scars. She was pretty upset. I was pretty upset. She held me. We were holding each other. Then she said something about Jason.” Pete makes his hands into fists, and begins rocking back and forth and pounding his fists together. His lips are quivering. His cheeks are blowing in and out with each puff of air. 

     “Pete you are hyperventilating. Let’s take a minute. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Do you hear me, Pete?”

     “Yeah Doc I hear you.”

     “Okay in through your nose . . . . out through your mouth.” Dr. Waldt is speaking in a slow, quiet tone with long latencies between each sentence. “Again. In through your nose. Now out through your mouth. One more time. In through your nose. Out through your mouth. Okay, that’s better. Sometimes a person just has to take a minute and breathe.”

     “Yeah that’s better. I’m okay. I thought I was going to pass out there for a minute.”

     “You’re pumping a lot of adrenaline. If you lose your breath again, we’ll just focus on slowing it down for a minute. Are you ready to tell me about Jason?”

     Pete has stopped rocking, but he keeps his fists pressed tight together. The muscles in his forearms and wrists visibly bulge and quiver with the effort. “Jason is the son of our friends, Keven and Nancy. He just turned four. Jason is four years old. With this Pete begins to rock and fist pound again.”

     "Yes, I see,” Dr. Waldt says. “Jason is the same age as you were when your mother burned you. Imagining Jason being hurt brings it home. Makes it real. Just how young and innocent a four year old is.”

     “Doc I would kill anyone who did that to Jason,” Pete’s speaking through gritted teeth. “I’m not talking I’d be angry enough to kill. I mean I would kill. I will kill anyone who hurts Jason.” Pete’s voice is hoarse, and now down to a whisper. “I would kill anyone who did that to Jason.”

     “What’s the feeling you have when you even think about Jason being tortured?”

     “I’m just so angry. It makes me so, so mad. Am I going crazy, Doc? I feel crazy-mad.”

     “That’s a normal feeling, Pete. You care for Jason and want to protect him. He needs protection. Anger is the feeling of protection. Anger fuels the power of protection. I’m a person who knows crazy, and let me assure you, feeling angry right now is not crazy. It’s not only normal; it is necessary. Anger is a necessary phase of healing. You don’t need to worry about getting stuck in anger. You will not have to live your life in anger. But you are angry now.”

     “I am. I am angry that happened to me. Jason has his parents to protect him. He has me and Cindy. His big sister. His grandparents. He has a boat-load of people. Grandma would say he has a village. He has a village of people. Where was my village? Where was my village when I needed them?”

     “You were not protected.”

     “Hell no. First of all. What the fuck! Did no one notice that my mother had become some sort of different person? Some sort of zombie-person? My dad noticed. He left his zombie-bitch of a wife. But he did not take me with him. He left his little boy behind. He left me alone with her.”

     “Your father abandoned you. It seems your mother also abandoned you. Not in the same way as your father. She left you by becoming a different person. But the outcome was the same. You were abandoned by both your parents.”

     Pete unfists his hands, places them on his thighs and braces himself into a rigid posture. “I can’t find my mother, she’s dead. But like you said last time, it is possible to find my father. I’m going to find him. Cindy and I talked about it last night.  She is into all this family tree stuff and she is going to help me find him. When I do I’m going to have me some answers.”

     “I support your idea of finding your father. And about your mother—although she has died, there may be ways to learn more about her. To better understand her. But that’s not now. That is for later.”

     “You said this is a phase for me, right? All this anger. I’ll get over it.” 

     “You will. But first, to get to the other side of it, one must go through it. And that’s what you are doing. You buried your trauma deep. That’s what you had to do to survive. Now has come the time for you to dig it up. But like any big excavation job you need the right tools.”

     “Tools?”

     “Yes, for example the breathing tool we just used to help you calm down and stop the panic attack. And the tool we used Monday night to help you get grounded. Remember how you placed your two feet firmly on the floor? And then you used your senses to help orient yourself?  By using grounding techniques you were able to bring yourself out of the flashback into the here and now. You were no longer the four year old, helpless and afraid. You became the man grown, in his own bedroom, with his wife.”

     “Yes, that helped. We had you on speaker so that Cindy heard it too.”

     “That’s good because then she can coach you if you forget how to ground yourself. You are gaining the skills to bring yourself out of memories and into the real world as it is today.”

     “This is a real thing, Doc? Other people have gone through this? This does not mean I’m going crazy? I’m going to be okay, right?”

     “Yes, this is a real thing, Pete. It’s called PTSD. I’m sure you have probably seen movies or read books about it. In movies and books they show the drama, but don’t often show people moving through it. But people do move through it. They get to the other side.”

     “Are you sure, Doc? Are you sure it’s PTSD. All this anger? Are you sure I’m not to go crazy like my mother did. Or that I will actually kill someone? Maybe I’m becoming a schizophrenic or something like that?”

     “Do you have any plans to kill someone?"
     “No.”

     “Do you have any specific person in mind to kill?”

     “No. But what if something comes up. Like maybe—heaven forbid—but maybe someone hurts Cindy or Jason? Will I kill that person?”

     “Have you ever hurt anyone in the past? Or maybe lost your temper and threatened someone?”

     “No, but I have never felt this angry before either Doc.”

     “Okay, you tell me you are worried about your anger. I take your fears seriously. Remember we talked about the toolbox you’ll need to handle PTSD? We’ll add anger management skills to that toolbox. Plus there are medications that might help with strong emotions like anger.”

     “I’d like to do this without meds.”

     “I’m not thinking about a med you would take every day. It would be the sort of med you would take only if you need it. Like say you become very angry and are not able to calm yourself down. A pill like that can be like Dumbo’s magic feather.”

     “Dumbo’s magic feather?”

     “Yes Dumbo is an old Walt Disney cartoon movie. If you have not seen it, you might not want to watch it right now.”

     “I have seen it. I watched it with Jason. The movie should be banned.”

     “The scene where Dumbo is taken from his mother?”

     “They ought to erase it off the internet and burn all the copies”

     “Hmm maybe later we will talk about you rewatching the movie. It’ll be interesting what you make of it in a few months. But for now, the scene I am referring to is when the crows give Dumbo a magic feather and tell him that if he holds it, he can fly. He believes them and he does fly. This pill will be like that for you. Because you have confidence that you have the calming-feather you won’t need to use it because you will calm yourself down. Some people carry it around and never actually use it.”

     “Well I guess that will be okay.”

     “But actually I’d like you to try taking one before you really need it. Sometimes people get worried about taking a medication. So just try taking it so you won’t worry about how the pill will effect you. So you know you won’t get hives or something. Maybe take it in the evening, because it might make you tired or sleepy. For that reason you ought not fire up the chain saw after you take it. No driving, operating dangerous equipment. And absolutely no alcohol with it.”

     “Yeah, I can do that. I don’t really drink anyway. I’ll just take it and do housework. I like to clean in the evenings. It helps me relax.”

     “Sounds like a plan. Now let’s rehearse your tool box, the breathing, grounding and anger skills. I’ll make some notes to cue your memory in case you need to use these tools before our next meeting.”

     “In a way all of these tools are like Dumbo’s magic feather.”

     “I never thought of it that way. Yes, I agree. Given the right tools and proper state of mind we can all fly.” 

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