Trigger Warnings: Graphic Violence & Sexual Content
I was “triggered” watching some comedy show last night. My boyfriend said one moment we were sitting and laughing and suddenly, I just kind of stopped.
It’s hard to explain but somewhere, something, on the screen during the course of our Netflixing last night, caused me…to stop.
To stop and remember…
He said I stopped breathing. I stopped moving. Stopped blinking. My eyes went glassy and my skin was cold and clammy like a doll; staring at nothing.
Normally I don’t have problems with being triggered. I don’t really like that word because it’s become kind of a catchphrase. When people say “triggered” online, they’re usually referring to a screaming match. A viral video. If you get triggered, you become a meme. The internet ruins everything.
This wasn’t like that. I didn’t react by screaming or throwing anything. The trigger was a teddy bear and I just stopped…
I finally remembered…
Remembered a memory I didn’t know I’d had.
I had a babysitter when I was younger. I was seven. She was sixteen, maybe seventeen, and lived up the street at the end of the cul-de-sac. Her name was Shelby and she liked to wear a lot of black. Painted her nails black, in fact. She let me chew bubble gum when Mom and Dad wouldn’t. As long as I didn’t tell them she did. She always smelled like Juicy Fruit.
“I like being here,” she remarked aloud as she thumbed through a book as I watched cartoons.
“How come?” I asked.
“This house has so much energy.”
“What?” As a kid, I thought that was a weird thing for someone to say, so I asked: “Like lights and stuff?”
She laughed. I thought she was pretty when she laughed; her dimples showing, nostrils flaring. It was a puppy-love crush. I don’t really go for girls now.
My name is Dallas but everyone has called me Tex or Texas since I was a baby, “Well Tex,” she said, “something happened here and…um…if you have a special gift and you listen closely, you can feel the energy.”
“Do you have a special gift?”
“I don’t think I do. I’ve never felt any sound.”
She laughed again, snorting this time. “Strangely, it’s kind of like that. Feeling a sound instead of hearing it. It’s very hard to describe.” She took something out of her bag. A bookmark? It was strange. A plastic heart with a little hole in the middle of it. I’d never seen a bookmark like that. It was neat, but weird too. “Half hour till bedtime, so after this one’s done you better run upstairs, get in your jammies and brush your teeth or the Cavity Enemies will get you.”
“Cavity Enemies aren’t real. No monsters are real.”
“Oh? Are you sure?”
That night I remember laying in bed, listening to the calming breeze as it denuded the tree in the yard of its leaves and all of the nighttime creatures sang the things that nighttime creatures sing.
As I drifted off to sleep, I decided I didn’t feel any extra “feelings” about the sounds. I decided I wasn’t gifted like Shelby.
I saw Shelby later that week. Mom was on-call at the hospital. I could hear her apologizing for the late notice downstairs.
“DALLAS! SHELBY’S HERE.”
I scampered down the steps as fast as my little legs would carry me and hugged Shelby around her waist. I must have surprised her because she dropped her book and the little plastic bookmark fell out and thumped across the carpet.
I remember my mother picking it up by the hole like it was going to bite her. It was more teardrop shaped than a heart.
Hesitantly she handed it back, “Shelby,” she began, “can I ask you not to bring this here again?”
Shelby looked confused.
“When I was a kid, my sister had one of these boards and we played with it and some very bad things happened and I don’t want anything to happen to my little Tex.” Mom ruffled my hair.
Shelby’s dimples were showing, a hesitant smile on her lips, “I would never bring the board here Miss Clark. I just use the thingy for a bookmark.”
“It’s called a planchette. Even still, what you put out is what comes back in and I don’t want you to trigger anything bad, okay?” Mom smiled and grabbed her purse and keys, “His father’s still going to be out of town for a few more days so I may have to call you again, so if you still need more time for your school project we can work it out. When your classmates get here, you can order a pizza. I left $15 on the counter.” Mom turned to me then with kisses and don’t-stay-up-too-lates and listen-to-Shelbies.
Shelby was on the phone most of the night, around 8:30, as she put me to bed, her eyes lit up. “I almost forgot!” she declared, running down the stairs and returning with her school bag.
“What did you forget?”
“I brought you something.”
“What did you bring me?”
“Well, I found him when I was cleaning my room. I thought that you might like him.”
She pulled a teddy bear from the bag. She’d said he was seven years old, just like me, but she took good care of him so he still looked pretty new.
“This,” she said, “is Gund.” She smiled and her dimples shone, “That’s his name but that’s also who made him. His name is on the tag so you don’t forget. She showed me the little red and white tag sewn onto his tail. This is the best kind of bear you can get.”
“But you can’t give me your bear because then you won’t have one.”
“I’m too old for a bear silly,” she said. “Listen you have to go to sleep now so when the girls get here, we can work on our project.” And she gave me a wink.
The doorbell rang and she told me: “stay in bed.” Told me: “Goodnight Tex.”
I woke up. It didn’t feel like much later but I woke up.
I woke up because Gund was moving.
He was alive. Gund was moving; he wasn’t supposed to do that.
I didn’t like it. At all.
I screamed and ran downstairs, only slowing at the bottom, my screams falling quiet as the dead. There was a smash like breaking glass upstairs and I held my breath.
The whole house was dark. Except for the kitchen which lay ahead, awash in living light; illuminated by the flickering glow of candles.
There was something in the air and I understood what Shelby meant by feeling a sound. There was a humming that vibrated through the air and the walls and the floor. It vibrated throughout the house. Throughout every furnishing and picture; the clock on the wall. It vibrated through me, my skin prickling with gooseflesh.
I followed the sound and the feeling of that hum and the candlelight.
Shelby and two of her friends were in the kitchen. The pizza she had ordered, box half open, sat on the counter. The three girls, eyelids half open, sat on the floor. They sat inside a circle made of salt. I saw as I rushed towards her they had a gameboard and the bookmark thing between them. Had mom called it a pamphlet? Their strange chant crescendoed and the hum in the air grew.
“Shelby, Shelby!” I whispered urgently, but she did not hear me so I got closer. I grabbed her and shook. “Shelby! I woke up. Gund is alive! He’s real! His hands! He wouldn’t stop moving! He was–was moving around and–he–”
“You broke the goddamn circle you stupid kid.” One of Shelby’s friends was yelling at me. She was really mad. That’s when the bookmark-thing started spinning on the board. Around and around. Slowly gaining speed. Nobody was moving it and nobody noticed it…nobody but me.
I started crying.
“Shut the fuck up, kid.”
I did shut the fuck up, but not because she told me to. It was because the humming had grown to a roar and the three of them were not sitting and chanting anymore.
It was Gund. And a stuffed Tiger. And the rest of the stuffed bears and toys as they lumbered clumsily down the stairs they were making the most awful animal noise. Prehistoric monstrous roars. Their plastic eyes were wild and some had panes of broken glass, shiny mirror slices in their hands. All of my toys were coming down, but at the front was Gund. He’d found my mother’s gun. Shelby told me to run.
So I ran.
They didn’t find me for a day and a half. They found the girls much sooner. A gruesome tea party with cups that were smashed and plates that were shattered. Shards of glass everywhere. On the counters. On the floors. In their eyes. Their throats.
Shelby’s heart was cut out and set on the last unbroken plate in the kitchen which was set before Gund, next to his gun. He sat at the head of all in attendance; perched on top of the cardboard Ouija box like a dais. The teddy bears and corpses arranged in a semicircle facing him. The corpses with gashes in their cheeks, extending their smiles red with faux happiness.
That’s why I’m here. I remember now.
After they found me they brought me here. Every time they talk about letting me out, I do something to remind them I need to stay. This place is safe. I’d forgotten why, but I knew that there was some shadow that lingered out there in the world outside. They think I’m dangerous, but mostly to myself.
I’ve been here for almost 10 years. The facility is nice. It’s an all boys place; kind of like a hospital. It’s not as bad as you probably think or see on TV. We have internet and Netflix, just like anybody. I have a boyfriend and we take matching meds. We get to wear matching pajamas. Everyone here has to wear them.
Shelby didn’t listen to what mother said. They played that game Shelby lied about bringing. Mom said those boards make bad things happen. Puts spirits where they don’t belong. She visits a lot. She’s the only one that ever believed when I said what happened. The police didn’t. They asked me lots of questions.
They found me in the woods, at the edge of the lake in a catatonic state a day and a half after the babysitter died. I was trying to hide. Sitting in the tall grass with my knees pulled up to my chest and eyes like glass that gazed like they’d found another corpse. Gazed like those girls. A corpse staring out at the water. A thousand yard stare, they call it. I was not moving. They thought I was also dead, but I was breathing. Just taking tiny breaths.
Tiny breaths and staying still because I could still feel the sounds of their screams.
The orderlies came and led me to bed. Jack told me all about it this morning. Asked me what happened and I couldn’t tell him until after the nurse came and said: “Tex, it’s time for your meds.”
The man on the show, the cartoon, made me remember. He was holding a bear.
He held it in his hand. He sat casually with an open legged gait on the edge of a desk. He asked the kids a question but Jack says I heard it backwards.
Jack says the TV said: “Show me on the bear where the man hurt you.”
But that was not what I heard. Not what I felt.
The guy in the show was touching it–touching it the bad way.
It was supposed to be funny…but I stopped laughing because I guess that was my trigger.
The bear and the bad touch.
I wanted to show those girls what happened. Show him he was moving. Tell on him. Tell on Gund for what he was doing. How, with his tiny little fuzzy Gund hands, he was touching me. As I slept. I could feel his fuzzy nubs rooting around where nobody else was supposed to be. That’s why I woke up. And he was smiling. And mom said nobody was supposed to touch me there. And I ran downstairs. And I broke the circle and screamed and screamed. And I ran.
I’m getting confused again.
How can I do what Jack says if he says I heard it backwards? How can I show him?
How can I show you?
How can you see what fingered it’s way into my brain? Does it live in my skull now? Live there forever? Hiding ‘till remembered. That’s the place. My head always aches because that’s the place. It’s in my brain, folded away.
I didn’t hear the actual words but I can still feel the sound of what I thought I heard. I just have to wait on the meds to work. Just wait on the meds, until they work all the way, those words will echo in my head…
Show me where the bear hurt you.
Show me where the bear hurt you.
Show me where…
Show me where…