The Alphabet Stories: Vulnerable
Story by Liane Carter
Illustration by E.J. Klepinger
Ben let go of his sister’s hand. She jumped back in the armchair, hugging her hand to her chest like he’d burned her.
“Amanda,” Jon said. “What are you feeling right now?”
She pursed her lips, shook her head.
Ben frowned, shot a glance at Edward who shrugged. Ben turned back to Amanda.
“Amanda, what did I say wrong?”
His sister dipped her chin, refusing to look at him or answer him.
Ben’s heart raced. He’d hurt his sister. He knew it. No matter what they said he knew it. He had the power to hurt people. What had he done? She was grown up now, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. He had to get out of here before he did anything else.
Jon pushed his glasses up his nose and turned to Ben.
“Ben, how many sessions have we had together now?”
Ben looked at his sister - who had started rocking back and forth - struggling to take his eyes from her.
“Uh, I don’t know. Lots.”
“So you know me enough to trust me, right?”
“Of course. You know I do but-”
“And you’ve discovered the courage in vulnerability? In truth?”
Ben fidgeted. “Ye -es. Why?”
“Tell me, why did you let go of Amanda’s hand?”
Ben upturned his palm and stared at it.
“I hurt her with it? I told you people aren’t safe around me.”
Jon shook his head. Edward, sitting beside him on the sofa, reached out to Ben. Ben scooted away, now scared to touch anyone he loved. He hadn’t seen his sister since she was small and this was why: he needed to keep her safe.
“What did we go over in the last few sessions, Ben?” Jon said.
Ben started to shake. He needed to get out of here before he hurt them all.
“What? I’ve got to go.”
“What did we go over in the last few sessions, Ben? What did we practice again and again?” Jon said.
“Um, um, to monitor my state, to do the longer exhale.”
“Yes, and then?”
“Stick to the facts not the false memory train.”
“Good,” Jon said.
“So what are you feeling?”
“Anxious. My heart hurts and so does my head.”
“Good. Breathe and sit with those feelings.”
“I can’t. I-”
“Yes, you can, Ben. You’ve already shown me you can multiple times. Focus on me. Breathe with me. Mirror my breath.”
Ben narrowed his eyes at Jon, didn’t dare look at his sister. The pain rose in his chest and head like they’d burst and then, after a minute, they began to recede. Jon kept him copying the long exhale and the shorter inhale for a few minutes more.
“So,” Jon said. “Are you ready to relay the facts?”
Ben spoke without thinking.
“I took Amanda’s hand and said I was happy she was my sister and then she let go.” He stopped and shook his head. “No. I let go. I let go and then, after that, she jumped back.”
“Exactly. Why did you let go of Amanda’s hand, Ben?”
“Because my back hurt leaning across the table, and she had to lean forward too to reach me over your giant coffee table.”
Amanda raised her head and looked at him.
Jon turned to Amanda.
“Amanda,” he said. “Are you willing to share what happened for you?”
She flushed and nodded.
“I thought … I felt, I felt held for the first time - maybe in my life. And then, he let go of my hand and it was just like when I was small, like all my life: I felt abandoned, like … I don’t matter.”
Ben cupped his hands over his nose and mouth, tears sprang to his eyes as he saw tears running down his sister’s cheeks. He could feel her pain piercing his own heart.
Edward stood up.
“Amanda,” he said, and gestured to the sofa. “Would you like to come and sit next to your brother?”
She looked at Ben. He nodded, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.
“Please,” he said.
She stood up and sat beside him on the sofa.
“Amanda,” Ben said, looking into her eyes.
“Ye - es?” She gulped.
“I’d like to hug you if that is okay with you.”
She started crying again and nodded.
He pulled her into a hug and she clung to him, shaking in his arms.
Ben spoke into her hair.
“You are going to be the one who ends this hug, okay? I’m not going to pull away.”
She nodded into his shoulder.
“And, if you are happy to, I want this to be the first of a lifetime of hugs between us. But you’ll always be the one who pulls away, so you control it. If I forget, it will be your job to remind me to get straight back into our hug until you’ve had your hugful, okay?”
She nodded and hugged him harder. He hugged her right back.