Angelica Zollo is a writer, producer, director and musician. She grew up in London, England and is a graduate of The Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU. Trauma is a Time Machine, her debut feature film as writer-director, is in select theaters through Vertical Entertainment from September 20. Zollo recently won Best Director of a feature film at the 2018 Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, and Best Independent Feature at the 2018 Taormina Film Festival.
It might not look like what you think. It may not be a heavy creation of metal and wires, or made of cardboard and hangers. It might not have a furry face or be as tall as the sky.
This monster is not the one that you were frightened about when you were small. This monster can have the face of someone you know, someone you trust, even someone that you love. Instead of a monster hiding in the cupboard or under your bed, it lives under the covers, on a chair, a couch or a bed, in a bedroom, or a dark room or park you cannot be sure where. Or maybe not even in a room at all. The monster does not disappear when you switch the light on. It doesn’t leave when you grow from child into adult. It can appear at any age, in front of anyone with any kind of body, with any kind of face. The monster can show its face at any time, in any place. We can’t prepare for the when, the where or the why.
I may have dreamed of time machines, but did not know that my brain, my heart and my body would be building its very own. I wouldn’t have to find the parts and wire them up; they were all inside of me already.
Just like when you hear a song that transports you back to a place, the experience of an assault can lead you down a lane of memory that you do not always want to follow. I still have some of these songs. Some I had to stop singing. Some I had to close my ears to when they came on at a party or on the radio. Hearing them makes you feel like you are shoved into a dark room without a flashlight or into a battlefield without any armor. The sinking feeling in your throat and in your belly makes you feel homesick for the time before, the time before when you sang those songs loud and proud and had them on repeat. What we don’t know yet is, one day when they same songs play, they will take on new meanings. We can have them be part of our story. It won’t just belong to our past, but to our present.
The time machine is powerful and it is painful. It doesn’t always have your safety in mind. It can bring us to dangerous places and show us feelings we didn’t know we could feel, disgust at our voices, our reflections and ourselves. It can make us not trust our own feelings or intuitions. It can drown us out with the beeping and buzzing of its buttons and push us down with all its mighty machinery.
When one experiences trauma the entire nervous system changes. Every signal, every reaction shifts. Some of us can fight, some of us cannot. Each event is different, but we all are the same, forever linked together on one piece of long, thick thread. We can look over and see ourselves in every link and hope the others see us.
The fear, the shock, the pain does not end just by surviving what happens to us in that moment, it continues long after, and the fear doesn’t just come from our attacker, from the person that violated us. The fear can come when we step outside into the street at night or daylight. We are always looking behind and all around us.
Shame. Shame is not just something that we carry, but something that carries on around us. This can come from the most unexpected of places, from people we thought we knew, people we thought we trusted or even from strangers. At the beginning each one of these comments are sharp daggers, but as we live on, this pain takes on numbness.
It takes a little longer for your brain and your heart and your body to find each other again. Once they do, you do not know what to do next. Do I tell someone, and if so, who, what will I say, how do I explain, how do I describe something that is still cut up in pieces in front of me scattered all around me like crusty fallen petals from dying flowers? But those are beautiful. This is not beautiful. This is haunted and this is dangerous.
No matter how many times this happens to each of us, the nightmare of not being believed does not die.
The why. Along with that question, comes other questions, questions that you will ask yourself and questions that others will throw on you, like cold water. After a while you won’t feel the cold at all, it will just dry deeper. You expect all of this.
Some time will pass, then more, and then a lot, and it will still live there, becoming more a part of you. Living with it, really living with it, as you are past just surviving moment to moment by now, you will find something. You could call it hope, or you could call it strength, another layer of resilience.
You now have the power to take ownership of the time machine that you build, and maybe with time you can store it away when you need to. You now can make peace with the monster that has broken your heart, and let it go back to its own home. You will never be able to completely forget its face or switch off the machine entirely. Something was taken away from you, but now you can start to try and take it back. Even just a bit of it. Because with that bit you can begin to build yourself back.
I believe in monsters because I have fought them, I fight them everyday. I believe in time machines because I have built and lived in one of my own. But believing in myself is harder and a challenge that will be the task of a lifetime. But I know I can believe because I am not the only one who is part of the fight. If only more people would believe.