When a mother loses her child every other weekend to the man who abused her

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Caleb and I are driving from Morgantown to Parkersburg in West Virginia to see his parents. “Can we stop for a bathroom break?” I ask.

He pulls into a 7–Eleven. “Welcome to the Ritchie County Mall,” he says.

“The what?” I asked.

“The Ritchie County Mall. We call it that because there’s nothing else in Ritchie County,” he says. I laugh. No one can make me laugh like Caleb.

I look back at Reed in his car seat. He smiles, his Curious George stuffed toy gripped in his arms. Reed has always been a happy travel companion — rarely fussy…

Abuse, Art, and, Alchemy

Illustration: Louisa Bertman

My new therapist asks me why I’m seeing her.
“Because I have PTSD, and I want to be normal again,” I say.
She asks what the symptoms of my PTSD are.
She asks how often I have nightmares.
“Every night.”
She asks what other symptoms I have.
“Do you think you stay awake because you are afraid to fall asleep?” she asks.
She asks what else.
She asks how often I’m disassociated.
“Almost all of the time.”
“Are you disassociated now?”
“Yes,” I say.

Kelly Sundberg

Kelly Sundberg’s memoir Goodbye, Sweet Girl was published by HarperCollins in 2018. She is currently working on a collection of lyric essays about PTSD.

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