It was almost always scary when Lucy’s daddy came to visit her mama. But when his eyes were red and he smelled funny and talked loud, that’s when there was real trouble. Sometimes he hit mama or threw things. Sometimes the police came; big men with guns and loud voices. They were scary too. They came last night. The lights from their cars reflected on the ceiling of the apartment, red, blue, red, blue. There was red on the walls too, and red where daddy was lying on the floor. Mama knelt next to him, rocking back and forth, crying and crying. Big sister, Brandy, was in the other room, hiding under the bed.
But there’s nothing Lucy can do. Lucy is only 1 year old.
Almost 20 years ago, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk of the Harvard Medical School proposed that “the body keeps the score” to describe how trauma creates changes in the brain’s wiring, leading to difficulties in identifying and talking about experiences. When infants like Lucy experience terrifying events, traumatic memories are stored in what neuroscientists call implicit memory, sometimes referred to as “body memory” which is different than explicit or “conscious memory.” There is no language involved in implicit memory, only sights, sounds, smells, touch, images that can later on trigger intense fear in certain situations or environments that are reminiscent of earlier trauma.