The soft white fur of the teddy bear tickled the end of her nose, but she hugged him close, stroked his back, kissed the top of his head and whispered repeatedly, “It’s okay baby, It’s okay, shhhhh, shhhh, it’s okay, I’ve got you. You don’t have to be scared, I’ve got you.” She rocked back and forth on the bed as the springs protested and the bed frame groaned with the movement.
To an outsider, a 45 year old woman sitting rocking a teddy bear in this way would bring eye rolls and whispers, but here in the privacy of her own home, this was far from an unusual sight.
She closed her eyes and fought hard with the panic that coursed through her body, pleading with her to get up and run, to scream and to get as far away from her memory as she could. How do you outrun a memory? You don’t. She learned that early on. No amount of driving, no amount of running or drinking could silence the images that haunted her, instead, she had to sit and face them, fight with them and try to regain her conscious mind.
For now, it was over-ruled. Panic was winning out. She opened her eyes and looked up at the ceiling of her darkened room. Red-Blue-Red-Blue-Red-Blue. The lights flashed in rapid succession. She didn’t know why the police were suddenly swarming her street but she did know that their presence set her teeth on edge and made her feel like a cat trapped in her house. She closed her eyes tight again and reminded herself to deepen her breaths.
She’d heard them coming from far off. She had turned up the volume on her television and had started to hum in an attempt to drown them out. The last one had penetrated her sound shield and she knew they were on her street. As the lights flooded into the front hall, to her horror she realized they were directly in front of her home. Unable to breath, unable to think, she’d risen from her chair and walked toward the front door, she assumes with the full intention of opening the door to peer out but within two feet of the front door, her eyes glued to the sight of the lights, something snapped back like a tumbler falling into place. Horrified she recoiled, turned and ran for the back of her house, away from the lights.
She wanted to keep running, through the back door, over the back fence, away and away and away from the lights, the uniforms – the sirens. She reached out to steady herself on the kitchen counter. Her eyes fell upon her cellular phone and she grabbed at it, flung it open and began to text a message to her husband.
“Sirens. Police. Outside. Lots.” Send. Her mind was not working effectively now. Her breathing was shallow and her muscles tensed. She peered fearfully around the corner toward the front of the house, the hall was still lit with the flickering of emergency lights. She pressed her body against the counter and slowly lowered her frame to a seated position. To witness it, one would think that she was a fugitive attempting to avoid detection from the police. Her hands shook as they held her cell phone, her lifeline.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She searched for that trap door in her mind that would help her to get back to thinking logically but all she could find were images from nightmares. Nightmares she attended to those long days, a lifetime ago when she wore the uniform. She rubbed her temple, hoping the stimulation would help her find her way back out away from the dark corners of her mind. It was no use. She fought valiantly to access that part of her brain that would let her think, instead, her mind showed her shootings, stray bullets penetrating walls, people lying bleeding – the feeling that roared in her guts brought to mind only one word, “unsafe”.
There was a fight going on. The fight was whether to stay or go. Was she safe where she was or should she move? If she moved would she find herself walking on autopilot toward it again? Logic always dictated what to do in these situations, but she couldn’t access it right now, she just could not reason with her own mind.
She jumped as the cell phone came to life in her hands.
“What’s going on? Are you okay?”
Her mind struggled. Yes. No. Yes. No. Arrrrgh, frustration, chaos and more panic. She flung the cell phone to the floor and instantly did not know why. She scrambled across the floor to grab it up again and stabbed at the keypad,
“Cops. 5 Cars. Guns. Lights. Across Street. Can’t think.”
A tiny, weak voice whispered in the darkness of the kitchen, “I’m scared.” and tears began spilling across her cheeks onto the cold tile floor. As most of her mind focused on crying and breathing, another smaller part of her brain was freed up, likely from the release. It said to her, “Upstairs. Safe. Away.”
Again her cell phone sprang to life and she jumped again.
“Hun, do what we practiced, remember? Go to the bedroom, close the curtains, hug your Teddy. You’re safe. You’re okay. Stay away from the windows and stay in the back room. Only answer the door if its the police okay? Call me if they want you to open the door, I’ll walk you through it. You can do this.”
The tears threatened to wash the contact lenses from her eyes but she knew now what she had to do. She’d done it before when the ambulance had come to their street. She knew what to do.
She rose and made her way upstairs, looking only at the floor in front of her and repeating in her mind, “You’re okay, you can do this. You’re okay, you can do this.”
The teddy bear fur tickled her nose. She snuggled him tighter and buried her face into his fur. She spoke into his neck like a scared child, “We don’t remember it, okay Teddy? We’re okay. We don’t have to remember anymore, it’s all gone and we’re okay. We’re going to be okay.” She continued rocking.
Outside car doors slammed and engines came to life, in a matter of minutes all was silent and dark once again.
She stopped rocking and peeked up at the ceiling. A single street lamp left a white stain across the ceiling but it didn’t flash.
She stood, still hugging the plush bear to her chest and peered around the door frame toward the front of the house – she’d forgotten to close the curtains. No flashing greeted her, just the bright light of the street lamp. She cautiously walked toward the front room, and was greeted by a darkened and silent street.
Her knees began to quiver and her body began to shake. She found herself on the floor struggling for breath, staring at the bear that had fallen beneath her. For five whole minutes her body let go of the tension and stress that it had built over the past hour or so. As the shaking stopped, she lowered herself to the floor, gathered the bear once again to her chest, curled up her knees and drifted off to sleep.
“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an agonizing and disabling condition that faces many in our emergency services. Scenes like this play out in homes across this country, safely confined behind closed doors. If your job exposes you to the horrors of humanity, then you are at risk. It is no longer just a part of the job and these once strong and proud people are suffering behind closed doors because of out dated ways of looking at traumatic stress. It is not a mental illness, it is an injury caused by the nature of the work they do to keep us safe. Please support those who may be suffering. Let them know they are not alone and that, in their time of need, we will stand by them because they were there for us.”