past the shattered door
If you're unlucky enough to have an event that can engender PTSD - in my case the events surrounding my brain tumor diagnosis in 2005 - then I am so sorry. You'll work for years - running, meditating, therapy - to modify, mollify, blunt, ignore all subsequent manifestations but the event has such force and power that all your improvements and updates will just be blown into the wind, plywood to a hurricane, bandages to an amputation. Rising in different forms: depression, anxiety, panic attack. Sometimes a combination. Beware triggers they say. For me trigger is not being able to get in touch w/ M, who in more than one way is my lifeline and conduit to outside world. Due to recent iphone update which rendered cellular function kaput M's phone was working intermittently and so we jerry-rigged a fix for but the fix kept not holding. Sunday night she went to reading and was out late and I couldn't get in touch w/ her b/c of this issue with phone. She couldn't receive calls/texts or make them. N was running fever and suddenly out of medicine so my original impetus was innocent enough: ask her to pick up medicine on way home. But it just so happens that sick kids is another sort of ptsd trigger for me (something or other about the betrayal of the body, of the inability of us to rely on anything b/c we're just one event away from a shitstorm) and lo and behold, after trying several times to call and text her, it began: slow implosions, getting faster, getting closer with each passing minute. An interior dialog of panic/don't panic, while a series of dark looping images whirled by. The don't panic voice was akin to a stewardess telling everyone to stay calm when we can all just look out the window to clearly see imminent fire, explosion, oblivion b/c this plane is going down. I absolutely right-now had to get in touch with her. I knew she was at after-party at some place so I tried getting a hold of the people she might be with. No dice. I texted a couple individuals. Nothing. It began rising up from the floor, this blackness, encircling my stomach, my heart and lungs. I looked up our car insurance so I'd have the license plate and VIN number to tell the police when they came. Headlights flashed by on the trash can on the street. Just the passing bus. I began checking alerts on my phone, seeing if there was anything horrific-fireball-on-the-interstate wise. I began thinking when/how to tell the kids. When/how to tell her mother. Text from a friend dinged in: they saw her leave an hour ago w/ K.The clouds parted and Oh sweet Jesus, thank fucking god. I called K, no answer. Texted K, no answer. FB messaged K, nothing. And just like that all the light quickly vanished. Breathe. Deep Breath. Breathe. Deep Breath. Somewhere inside I knew I was overreacting. We'll laugh about this in a couple days. How ridiculous I was that night. Ha ha! I tried to keep coming back to Occam's Razor: she and K probably went for drinks and got to talking. But then the alternate timelines came roaring in and they were equally plausible razors: she gave K a ride home and perished on the way/perished on the way back/lost control of the car in the industrial part of town w/ no one around but skeevy meth-heads and her phone isn't working, oh god. it's fucking midnight. Red alert. urgent. I couldn't just stand there waiting in my pajamas. I put on pants. I went out into the front yard, looking up and down the street, looking for light, listening for engines, heart pounding, throat constricting. Text from friend dinged in: have you heard from M yet? let us know when she's home. Great, now they're worried too dumbass. I went back inside and, feeling at absolute loss and b/c I couldn't just stand in the kitchen hyperventilating or picturing the next morning when I'd tell the kids, went down to my office, sat down at the keyboard and started writing an email to her with trembly fingers, partly to document what I was feeling and give form to it, and partly to say goodbye. We had just had our first solo night together in 7 years the night previous and had an amazing time (drinks/movie/live music/pinball/no kids/laying in bed reading the sunday ny times!) and the screenwriter in me couldn't help but see that narratively this would be them moment in the movie that it would all end due to unseen, dark forces. Element of surprise. Let your characters think they're safe. Of course, this is it. This is how it ends.
Is it possible that this whole time that I've held the brain tumor and all that surrounded it in the rearview mirror, as something in the past that I was done with, not knowing that it still enveloped me? That it gave me just enough wiggle room to allow me to think I was free? Does the attendant insecurity, negative self-feelings and corollary emotions which I've just long presumed lay within me actually have their sources at the point of impact? And isn't this a freeing thought in some regard? That the reasons I still feel myself wrestling with these forces across the years owes nothing to my own limitations and everything to the sheer force of the event. The running, the breathing, the meditating, the therapy, the too-many-beers - all just shape-shifting bandages for my amputated limb. Should I just let go entirely, submitting in whole to these forces? So much effort would be instantly alleviated if I'd just accept that: You don't have the upper hand here.
I was on the third sentence of the goodbye email when lights came through the window. A car in the driveway. I stood to look out the window. It was M. locking the car and beeping the alarm and striding across the grass oblivious, like a normal person home after a night out. It was getting close to 1 AM. I walked upstairs and cracked a beer to help me calm down before catching her up on the events of the last couple hours.