I was 19 years old, barely out of high school, and trauma had eaten away at my psyche like burning frostbite.
Colorado to Alaska, Alaska to Iowa. Iowa to Montana, Montana to Colorado, Colorado to Iowa. Wherever he went, my dog, Abraxas, and I followed. In January 1970, Tom was talking about traveling to Alaska to work on the pipeline instead of enrolling in the spring semester at the Colorado State College, where we had met.
We went on the hare-brained adventure, driving the Alaska Highway with a friend. Kenny had a 1965 Ford F250 pickup truck with a baby blue chassis and a white roof and skirting. The men intended to get work and get rich working on the trans-Alaskan pipeline. I don’t remember making plans so much as simply agreeing to go along, being certain that the man I thought I loved would take care of me.
I was 19 years old, barely out of high school, and trauma had eaten away at my psyche like burning frostbite. What I had endured up to this point was beyond what my brain could process. I was exhausted from trying to make sense of things, and I passively decided to turn my will over to Tom and let him make the decisions because I couldn’t. I was easily triggered and once I was triggered or in a flashback, I found it very hard to regulate my emotions. Trying to make rational decisions was about as effective as that frostbite victim with three fingers trying to insert a tiny screw into a delicate item.
Experts say that safety is a core issue for survivors of CPTSD
Of course, we didn’t know about PTSD or Complex PTSD (CPTSD) at that time. Research about CPTSD was a long way off. Judith Herman didn’t even coin the term until 1992.
Experts say that safety is a core issue for survivors of CPTSD. Safety means feeling secure, and that risk, danger, or injury is reduced from occurring. Safety exists not only in the physical sense, but also includes feeling safe emotionally, mentally, and psychologically. I can say without hyperbole that I had never experienced a day of safety up until this point.
I thought Tom was my safety, and I couldn’t stand the thought of him leaving me.
He was older. He was so smart. He had wealthy parents who worshipped him. He loved me. I could trust that what he said was true. He said there were great jobs in Alaska, so we threw things into bags and loaded Kenny’s pickup. I didn’t want to be in college, anyway, and I sure as hell didn’t want to live in the same town as my father and stepmother.
America was in chaos between the many protests against the Vietnam War, the protests by marginalized people who sought social justice, and the conservative backlash against the tumultuous 1960s.
Let me on that truck.
From the perch of the Ford’s blue and black plaid upholstered cab, we picked up the Alaska Highway outside of Dawson Creek, British Columbia. Winding and rolling through the wilderness, Tom and Kenny took turns driving and shifting the four gears on the column. Although I was perfectly capable of driving a stick shift, “The Little Lady” was not allowed to drive the big boy truck.
Winter is the best time to travel the two-lane Alaskan Highway. Canada still had permafrost, and we bounced over chuckholes, loose gravel, and frost heaves relatively easily. The last 33-mile-long passage was the dirt Yukon Trail that wound through rustic, wild country. Thousands of acres of evergreens. Old buildings that looked like they belonged on a Western movie set. Tiny towns growing more rural and Northern. Hard-drinking, funky taverns with ungulate antennaed heads staring lugubriously from walls. Scruffy bearded men gaped at me as though I were some kind of confection ready to be consumed.
We snaked through the wilderness. On our stops for gas in northern Canada, we started to see a stomach remedy similar to Alta Seltzer being sold under the name Madelon Bromo. We couldn’t help but notice this product, as the spelling of my name is unique. Tom thought that a Canadian stomach product with my unusual spelling was incredibly funny and something to tease me about. Thus, I became known as Madelon Bromo. At first, I thought it was funny, too. But after days of being called Madelon Bromo, I asked Tom to stop because it hurt my feelings.
“Oh,” out came the falsetto voice. “Little Madelon has her feelings hurt. Oh, that’s so sad about her feelings (His voice went up at least two octaves and dripped with contempt on that last word, as though feelings were something so dirty the word could hardly be spoken.).” He spoke with a combination of superiority and disgust. I kept a blank face, but my insides were twisted in intense shame. I never said another word about mocking nicknames. It was easier to let him pick away at my minuscule self-esteem. I quickly learned that expressing my emotions or needs just made me a bigger target. Well, that was the way I grew up. I did whatever I thought I had to do to stay some kind of safe.
The farther north we drove, the meaner Tom got. Sandwiched between two big men, I fought off panic and flashbacks and was fully aware of my helplessness in this untenable situation. This started out as a fun adventure. I quickly came to realize that my life was in the hands of two hefty men I hardly knew. Rolling through the extreme northwest corner of Canada, we passed Grey Mountain southeast of Whitehorse, Canada. As we drove into Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory, we decided to stock up on some groceries. I knew how to do this, so I started loading basics into the grocery cart. The selection was poor, but I purchased what I could and brought it back to the pickup.
“This is what you call butter?” sneered Tom as he picked up the sticks of margarine, his mustached lips curled in disgust. I looked at him in confusion. “Ummm. Isn’t that butter?”
“No, Madelon. Read the label. This is not butter. It’s margarine. Marg. Are. In.” He then superciliously began reading off the ingredients: “vegetable oil blend, water and whey, artificial flavoring, beta carotene, citric acid, diglycerides, monoglycerides, salt, soy lecithin, and vitamin A palmitate. Does that sound like butter to you? For fuck sake, it’s not even food. Why would you want to eat this?”
“I don’t know. It’s what my family always bought. And it’s a whole lot cheaper than real butter.”
For god’s sake, man, just let it drop.
I have to wonder now where Tom got his information about the vast money to be made in Alaska, as we traveled there in 1970. It wasn’t as though one could hop on the Internet and get the scoop. I have just recently learned that the construction of the Trans-Alaskan pipeline took place between 1975 and 1979. I guess that answers my questions about why he never got any work in Alaska.
Gardening grandma riddled with radical biophilia in the nice Midwest. Animism. Permaculture. Social Justice. Beauty. Dogs. Photography. Retired Writer-Editor working to raise awareness of child abuse, child neglect, and CPTSD.
I am writing my memoir.