Bernadette Nadeau and Olivia Wells share a very special bond. Placed in the same cot at birth by the Nuns of Hotel Dieu of St. Joseph Hospital, the babies forged this bond almost from the first moments they drew breath. The Nuns developed this habit of cot sharing to comfort otherwise bereft infants during the 10-day, rigidly enforced confinement period designed to offer rest to new mothers. The happy accident of living next door to one another in their Windsor working class neighbourhood ensured that the babies’ bond deepened as they grew older.
When the narrative begins in 2010 in Toronto, Olivia and Bernadette have been best friends for fifty-five years. An experience of unspeakable violence when they were sixteen – experienced directly by Bernadette and vicariously by Olivia – has oriented them to craft lives of safety and vigilance. Living together throughout their student years and now as professional women, their shared readiness for the worst becomes super-charged when they learn that a crime identical to Bernadette’s primary experience has occurred in their adopted city of Toronto.
And so The Kinder Sadist begins.
Author’s Note: It is never entirely safe to read about trauma, even in fiction, especially when we have our own unhealed emotional wounds and their inevitable sensory reactivities prowling around in our viscera, memory, and imagination. To be safe while reading, please use your own self-regulation techniques, such as EFT, contact with floor and chair, and conscious breathing. Remind yourself often that this is a work of my imagination. This specific story did not happen to me or to anyone I know. The whole fluttered into my mind in bits and pieces, as a consequence of my ongoing work with my own early trauma and with the healing journeys undertaken by many of my EFT clients.
I have found that one of the safest ways to explore potentially triggering stories is to read them with friends. If you can form an informal book group with people you love and trust, your reading community will provide a safety valve for otherwise volatile energies that can turn inward, against the self, and outward, against others. Over the course of my life, I have found that time and again community support is the key to healing trauma, whether from childhood or stemming from events in the present or recent past.
I call The Kinder Sadist a New Paradigm Novel because, rather than focus on the customary themes of violence and rescue by a single hero or team of heroes, this story is about how victims of violence heal, not all at once, but over time, sometimes consciously, often unconsciously, because of compulsions doing their very best to support healing. And so this is a story of stop-and-start healing, of regression, and of leaps forward not always initiated by outside guides and always by the resourcefulness of the women themselves.
Supported by one another and by a community of friends, Bernadette and Olivia must revisit the early horror they experienced separately and together if they are to find the strength to face the many revelations a recent crime brings to light. While each woman in her own way has created an enviable life, at the same time, each suffers the terrifying drag of unhealed trauma which she does her best to hide, even from herself. The present, catalyzing crime, while initially opening their partially healed wounds, also galvanizes them to increase their resourcefulness in their search for new sources of healing.
Because the emphasis is on healing, and because there are no knights in shining armour or hard drinking gumshoes saving the day, the women themselves work through the sticky residue of their earlier trauma. While they initially participate in this new healing cycle because they must, eventually, they choose to deepen their experience of healing, understanding at last that this is the only path leading beyond safety to experiences even more desirable: adventure and even joy.
The secondary story unfolding beneath the women’s narrative is the story of the kinder sadist, a description used by young women in Windsor, Ontario, in the sixties when reporting rapes at the hands of two men. Several rape victims described how one of these men did his best to make them comfortable before the horror began. The novel’s primary narrative explores how we heal after the worst has happened; the secondary narrative explores what can happen when trauma is left unhealed, especially in young, vulnerable children. While no simple answers are found, in life and in this novel, each storyline affords the time and space to contemplate our own wounds, the wounds of those we love, and how we may support the healing process and its long and generous arc.