How PTSD, Disaster Movies, Drunken Things and Family Transformed Social Work

In his lyrical debut, Danish poet Jonas Poher Rasmussen issues a sharp, emotional reminder that change in the coming year is necessary for social divisions to dissolve and resolutions to be kept.

In the solitude of a book-lined room, the author gives voice to a friend whose relationship with his abusive mother is exemplary in its bitter pain and in its twisted eloquence. Just as the title character did, Poher Rasmussen captures the charismatic and hesitant hope that our close friendships offer, but who know so much about themselves but keep those good intentions at bay for fear of sharing what they know.

“You talked to me a lot when you were 17,” the friend recalls, “About one of your parents being late to work, and how their marriage had led to a divorce, and how you thought that might be because your father always wanted to beat your mother.”

“So what?” says the friend as he awakens to a silent room where he’s still standing alone. “Did you forget? Did you finally express something?”

“No, I still don’t know what the problem is,” he says. “And this silence has made things worse.”

“It’s like an illusion of connection.”

Jonas Poher Rasmussen defines social obligation and solidarity — as well as hopeful rage — as the dynamic between those who survive domestic violence and those who allow it to happen. The author uses the squirming awkwardness of writing between scenes, of draft drafts written at his friend’s request, as the launching point for a powerful, moving novel.

“Someone just walked in, and everyone in the room began turning to see who this person was,” a girl recalls of a her very first day at her first babysitting job, just after what’s called “The Shooting.” A gunshot had just gone off. “And one of the kids played with his fear. His hand was in his pants. And then I was in a pool of blood.”

“We didn’t know exactly what happened or how it had happened, but there were at least four of us hiding on the other side of the room,” she continues. “And then, bang, nothing. I still remember my hands freezing in the heat of the moment and people struggling. The day was amazing.”

As the narrative slowly unspools, Poher Rasmussen approaches the difficulty of working through such a jarring memory with the patience and sympathy of a clinical social worker. Through the reader’s eyes, the narrator of this oddly ordered tale is both self-reflective and engulfed by catharsis.

Still, internal questioning reveals the therapeutic rewards — as well as the downside — of working with that long-forgotten patient.

You know he’s still hurting,” his friend confesses to the reader. “He has this ghost of a family he never knew.”

Like his friend, social security writer Dorsten Lind, the author uses his prose to reveal the difficulties of working with a client who keeps hoping that something will be different.

“My client has been wanting to tell me the story of how she’d been abused all her life,” Lind recalls. “She had been praying for this person for 25 years,”

What begins as a painful recollection of Lind’s own childhood eventually turns into a saga of abuse where he was told to choose between her to use or not to use, from the way she was treated to the way she appeared after her injuries.

Ultimately, like the narrator of this haunting yet uplifting book, he slowly comes to understand that in the meantime, somebody else was using him for his pain.

“I remember the guilt in the end,” Lind says of their last session together. “My client felt it. I felt it. We know that everything we said in that session is against us. That’s the point.”

Lester Holt is the longest-serving anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News. He joined NBC News in 1996 and led the network’s coverage of the Iraq War. Holt also serves as the host of the MSNBC program, “All In with Chris Hayes.”

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