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Authors: Camilla Grebe,Åsa Träff

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BOOK: Some Kind of Peace
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It seems so idyllic.

But something is out of place.

In the neatly raked gravel parking area is a dazzlingly clean black Jeep. The paint of the Jeep reflects a clematis with large pure white blossoms climbing up a knotted old apple tree. Someone is lying under the low trunk and crooked branches of the tree.

A young woman, a girl.

She is curled up in the grass like a bird, her red hair covered by a thin film of dew. Her slender, pale arms are thrown out along her sides, her palms turned upward in a gesture of resignation. The blood that has seeped from her body is congealed in reddish-brown patches on her jeans and in the grass. Her open eyes seem to be inspecting the crown of the apple tree.

Up there, in the branches, there are small green apples. There are many: The tree will bear plenty of fruit in just a few months. Above the apple tree the swifts and gulls fly unaffected—what do they care about a dead human child?

Under the body, the smallest inhabitants of the garden have already discovered what no person has yet seen. A small black beetle creeps between the waistband and the cold, pale skin in search of something edible; flies have set up camp in the lush red forest of hair; and microscopic creatures are moving slowly but steadily deeper and deeper into the windings of the ear.

In a little while, the inhabitants of the house will wake up and look for the girl. When they don’t find her, they will search for her in the garden, where they will see her in the grass under the tree, her eyes gazing toward the sky.

They will shake her as if trying to wake her from a deep sleep, and when that doesn’t work, one of them will slap her hard across the cheek, staining her face red with her own uncoagulated blood on his hand.

They will take her in their arms and slowly rock her back and forth. One of them will whisper something in her ear, while the other one buries his face in her hair.

•  •  •

Later, the men who never knew her, who don’t even know her name, will come to get her. They will put their calloused hands around her slender, rigid wrists and ankles and lift her effortlessly onto a cold stretcher, cover her with plastic, and drive her far, far from home.

She will be placed on a metal table, alongside the surgical instruments that will open her up and—hopefully—solve the mystery, explain the unexplainable, restore balance. Bring clarity to something no one understands.

Create closure and perhaps peace as well.

Some kind of peace.

AUGUST

Date: August 14
Time: 3:00 p.m
.
Place: Green Room, the practice
Patient: Sara Matteus

“So, how’s your summer been?”

“Is it okay if I smoke?”

“Sure.”

Sara roots around in her camouflage-pattern cloth bag and pulls out a red pack of Prince cigarettes and a lighter. With chapped, trembling fingers she lights a cigarette and takes two deep puffs before she fixes her gaze on me. She inspects me awhile in silence before blowing out a cloud of smoke between us—a carcinogenic smoke screen—which for a moment conceals her heavily mascaraed eyes. There is something demonstrative about the gesture, something both playful and provocative that makes me decide not to release her gaze.

“Well?” Sara says slowly.

“Summer?”

“Oh, right. Summer. It was good. I worked at that bar in Gamla Stan, you know, by Järntorget.”

“I know. How have you been feeling?”

“Good, really good. Just great. No problems.”

Sara falls silent and looks at me with an inscrutable expression. She is twenty-five but doesn’t look a day over seventeen. Bleached-blond hair in various shades of white and butter-yellow curls down her slender shoulders, forming tangled ringlets along the way. Ringlets. She twists them with her fingers when she gets bored and sometimes slides them in and out of her mouth as she bites or chews on them. When she’s not chewing on her hair, she smokes. She seems to always have a cigarette ready in her chapped fingers.

“No anxiety?”

“Nah. Well, maybe a
little
… at times. I mean, Midsummer and that kind of shit. Doesn’t everybody get anxiety then? Who doesn’t get anxious at Midsummer?”

She looks searchingly at me in silence. A smile plays at the edge of her mouth before she continues.

“You can bet your ass I get anxious.”

“And what did you do?”

“Nothing,” says Sara, looking at me through the cigarette smoke with an empty stare. She seems strangely indifferent in the face of the emotions of anxiety and estrangement triggered, she claims, by the Midsummer celebrations.

“You didn’t cut yourself?”

“Nah… Well, just a
little
. On my arms, that is. Just my arms. Had to, couldn’t put up with the Midsummer thing otherwise. But. Not much. I promised you that I wouldn’t cut myself anymore. I always keep my promises, really. Especially when I promise
you
something.”

I notice Sara hiding her forearms in a presumably unconscious gesture.

“How many times did you cut yourself?”

“What do you mean? Like, how many cuts?”

“No,
on how many occasions
?”

“Ahh, a few. A couple, maybe three times during the summer. I can’t remember…”

Sara’s voice trails off and she puts out the cigarette in the blue flower vase that I had put on the coffee table in an attempt to make the room more inviting. I must be the only psychologist in Sweden who allows a patient to smoke, but Sara gets so restless otherwise, it’s almost impossible to carry on a conversation with her.

“Sara, this is important. I want you to return to those occasions when you cut yourself. Try to remember what happened, what it was that triggered the feelings that made you do it.”

“Uh…”

“Start with the first time. Take your time. When was it? Start by telling me when it happened.”

“Must have been Midsummer Eve. At the Midsummer celebration, that is. I already said that!”

“What did you do that night? I mean, beforehand?”

“I went to see my mom. It was just her and me. She had made some food and stuff. And she bought wine.”

“So you weren’t at a Midsummer party?”

“Nah, that was more like a, what’s it called… a metaphor. A metaphor for how fucked-up Midsummer is. Everyone’s so happy. You have to socialize with your family and be happy. It’s somehow so… forced.”

“So the two of you weren’t happy?”

Sara sits quietly for a long time without speaking and for once holds her hands calmly in her lap while she thinks. The only sound in the room is the humming of the video camera as it records our conversation. She sighs deeply, and when she starts talking again, I can sense her irritation despite the calm, expectant tone of voice.

“Nah, but I’m sure you get that. I really don’t understand where this is supposed to lead. I’ve talked about my old lady at least a
thousand
times. You
know
she’s a drunk.
Hello
, do I have to write it down for you? It was like it always was. Everything was going to be so nice… and then… she just drank, and then she started bawling. You know that’s how she gets when she drinks. Sad and… like… She’s, like, sorry. Like she regrets everything. Like I should sit there and forgive her because she hasn’t been a good mother. Do you think I should forgive her?”

“What do you think?”

“Nah, I don’t think so. I think it’s unforgivable, what she did to me.”

“So what did you do?”

Sara shrugs, and I can tell by her posture that she no longer wants to talk about either her mom or herself. Her voice has become shrill, and pink patches are spreading on her neck like spilled wine on a tablecloth.

“I split. I can’t stand it when she’s bawling.”

“And then?”

Sara squirms and lights yet another cigarette.

“Home, I went home.”

“And?”

“But you
KNOW
what happened then. It’s the old bag’s fault. It’s like I can’t… can’t breathe when I’ve been there.”

Now Sara is getting angry. That’s good. I’ll try to hold on to that feeling. When Sara is angry, the truth often comes out. The protective shield of self-manipulation disappears, replaced by the raw honesty of someone who doesn’t have much to lose, who doesn’t care what you think of her.

“You cut yourself?”

“Damn straight I
cut
myself.”

“Tell me more.” I say.

“But,
seriously
, you
know
what happened.”

“This is important, Sara.”

“I cut myself on the arm. Satisfied now?”

“Sara… listen to me! What you’re describing, what you’re feeling, it’s completely understandable. It’s Midsummer, you see your mom, she is drunk and asks you for forgiveness, this stirs up a lot of emotions. Can you see that?”

Sara looks down at her fingers, closely studying every fingernail. She nods, as if to confirm that she too thinks that maybe her emotions and reactions are understandable.

“The problem is that when you start feeling anxious, you want to cut yourself, which is not a good solution, especially not in the long run.”

Sara nods again. She knows that the cutting, the drinking, the impulsive sexual relationships provide relief only for the moment, and that the self-loathing and pain come back with redoubled force. Her desperate attempts to try to keep the anxiety at bay only seem to increase it.

“Did you try to do what we talked about before? You know, trying to put up with the anxiety. In itself, anxiety is never dangerous. It just feels that way. That’s what you have to work with, putting up with that feeling. Just for a while, because then it passes.”

“I know.”

“And the other times?”

“What other times?”

“That you cut yourself.”

She sighs and looks pointedly out the window. Fury has partly been replaced by fatigue in her voice.

“Oh, yeah. One time I was drunk, so that doesn’t really count. I’m not really myself then. It was at a party in Haninge, with a guy from work.”

“Did anything in particular happen at the party that triggered those emotions?”

Sara shrugs and drops yet another cigarette butt in the vase with my by now nicotine-poisoned flowers.

“Try. Sara, this is important. And you have to help. I know it’s hard.”

“There was a guy there…”

“And?”

“And, he was a little like Göran.”

“Your foster dad?”

“Yeah.” Sara nods. “He touched me like Göran. Suddenly… you know I don’t like thinking about that stuff, and when he started groping me, grabbing me with his icky hands, it all just came back. I pushed him hard, right into a table. He was really loaded, so he fell down and cut his eyebrow.”

“What happened then?”

“Well, he got really mad. Started yelling and chasing me around.”

Sara suddenly looks exhausted and strangely small in her chair.

“Listen, it wasn’t really as bad as it sounds. He was loaded, did I already say that? He couldn’t get ahold of me. I went home.”

“And?”

“And then I did it,
okay
? Can we talk about
something else
now?”

“Try to describe how you felt just before you cut yourself.”

“What I
felt
then? HEL-LO, you KNOW how I felt. Like I was about to fall
apart
. I thought about that disgusting guy and about his icky groping and about Göran, and then it felt like I was going to fall apart, or that I couldn’t get any air. And then I did it, and then it felt better. I felt, like, cleaner. And calm. I could sleep. Okay? Can we talk about something else now? I’ve got to go soon anyway. I have an interview for an internship. Can we talk next time instead?”

“Until then I want you to do the homework we talked about, Sara.”

“Sure. So I can leave now?”

“Go ahead. See you next week.”

•  •  •

I turn off the video camera and sink back in my chair. As always after my sessions with Sara, I feel drained. It’s not just due to all the awful things she tells me, it’s also because I have to be on my guard the whole time—being Sara’s therapist is like walking a tightrope.

Her background is unfortunately not all that unusual. She grew up in a seemingly normal middle-class home in Vällingby, the youngest of three siblings. The only thing that was abnormal in her family situation was that her mother had problems with alcohol, but she could still function well socially. Sara always says that she even benefited from her mother’s drinking at times, when she was younger. Her mother kept silent at the parent-teacher meetings, for example, aware that she would expose herself as an alcoholic the moment she opened her mouth. She was always wasted when Sara came home, never questioned where she had been, why she came home in the middle of the night, or now and then where she got her new clothes—clothes her parents hadn’t bought for her.

From an early age, Sara had difficulties concentrating and problems in school. In third grade she set fire to the curtains in the gym with a lighter she had swiped from the PE teacher (who would always sneak a smoke in the locker room while the kids jogged around the schoolyard, lap after lap in the fall rain). In middle school she rode in a police car for the first time after she was caught shoplifting at the Konsum supermarket. She started seeing older guys and paired up with Steffe, who was eighteen when she was thirteen. She got pregnant and had an abortion.

BOOK: Some Kind of Peace
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