Trauma Is a Series of Small Deaths

Recovery is a chance at resurrection

Nikki Kay
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readJun 15, 2023

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Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

Trigger warning: child sexual abuse, child abuse

Act I

The sunlight is beginning to filter in through the curtains. I twist and turn on the cot, curling my knees toward my chest. I pull on either side of the itchy blanket so I can feel its pressure around me, holding me tight. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Eunice, my 70-year-old babysitter, who exists in my memory only as a perpetual sneer, looms in the dark doorway.

I was trying to be quiet, but now that I’ve been found out, my weeping intensifies. “I just keep thinking…about forever…and I’m scared,” I gulp out between sobs. “Well, shut up about it. I’m trying to sleep.” Eunice stomps back toward her bedroom.

Grandpa White is dead. He’s somewhere — or nowhere. I don’t know. My parents’ explanations confused me. Fear makes a well in my belly and panic sets my skin on fire. My head feels like it will break in two from the hugeness of the unanswered questions swirling inside it. But I don’t dare make another sound. I lie, unmoving. I stare at the ceiling, letting the tears pool in my ears, until it’s time for me to get on the bus to kindergarten. When I get up, there is less of me than before.

The me who could depend on grownups to soothe my fears. Time of Death: Winter, 1987.

It’s only first recess, but the sun is bright and hot in the sky. I’ve had my eye on the domed jungle gym ever since Dad drove me past my new school for the first time. I can’t wait to try it. I dash from the school’s door to the play structure and start climbing, cheeks swelling in an unabashed smile. My shaggy hair falls into my face as I place my feet firmly on each tube, pushing myself up. My shorts ride up between my thighs as I climb, but I don’t notice.

Some older boys sit at the top, legs dangling down. “Hey, Fatty,” one of them says. “Nice butt,” chuckles the other. I’m halfway to them before I realize they’re talking to me. Their cackles follow behind me as I jump down, landing with a grunt, and run to the swings. My eyes sting with tears I will not let fall.

The me who could exist in a body for its own sake and not the pleasure or judgment of someone else. Laid…

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Nikki Kay
Human Parts

Words everywhere. Fiction, poetry, personal essays about parenting, mental health, and the intersection of the two. messymind.substack.com