Nails in the Tree: A Reflection on Trauma

Sylvan Park, Scarborough

I want to heal from the damage caused by two nails that have pierced me. Over the years, they have twisted themselves into cracked pockets of bark, digging in, holding fast to their reluctant host.

“Brace yourself,” well-wishers advise. “Just grab those rusty bastards by the bent heads and rip them out. Then you’ll be free!” It is easy for others to say this, for they perceive the nails as separate and distinct from my flesh. They judge me for cleaving to familiar cruelties, the very devices that undermine my stability. However, these well-meaning friends haven’t experienced the worst legacy of violence, how it seeps into the body, infiltrating its cells and poisoning trust.

I miss the clarity of rage that met the shock of the first hammer blow and the next and the next. As each nail bit closer to the core in widening rings of pain, the idea that I had “asked for it” never crossed my mind. But I was young and did not anticipate how quickly righteous anger cools to self-doubt. Matching pain to resigned silence is a mistake that re-makes itself.

The man who held the hammer is long dead, but the nails he selected still insinuate, still ache. The memories sink more and more severely into my limbs each season, and their sharp points have come to seem as normal as shame. Although he never explained why he chose me to be punished, he was careful to convince me I deserved it. That way, I continue to self-crucify as he intended, a sadistic immortality.

The two nails drive his name deeper with every splash of rain on metal, every ice-storm that conducts cold into my veins. Yet without this Frankenstein map of ancient injuries, who am I? If I deny the splinters that have shaped me, how can I muster the audacity to be whole?

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