*** For those existing post trauma there is so much talk surrounding the seemingly elusive concept of post traumatic growth. Although defined, it’s stages outlined rigidly, it is noted time and again that to truly realize post traumatic growth, one must be years post trauma and only see it in retrospect. For this author it brings to mind the question, is it truly impossible to see how you are evolving after trauma, especially when self awareness is key to symptom management? ****
“Hey, it’s me again, I know I said I’d give you some space on this, but…..Jay, look, we’ve got a deadline coming up and, well, I just don’t know if I’m going to be able to give you another extension on this. I’ve gotta move soon….well, it was a big chunk of cash to invest and….okay, I’ll say it in a message for you, Helen’s got another book deal and it seems like it’s gonna be on time, so we’ve got to get in under deadline if we’re gonna make it to publishing. (Long pause and a sigh). Call me back okay? This is my third message. Okay, thanks, call me.”
Jay hit play again and listened to his agent’s voice speak once more. His chest was filled with a sudden choking dread. Four years after returning from the hell hole he called Afghanistan. Four years after beginning his solo journey through hell – the deadline was looming. He’d made a book deal shortly after his diagnosis, figured he wasn’t sleeping and his VA psychiatrist had suggested he write about his time over there to help him deal with the after effects, even encouraged him to sign the deal – four years and all he had to show for it were four spiral notebooks filled with graphic, painful stories that he did not want to put on anyone else.
He glanced at his notebooks on the desk. There was dust on the top cover. He hadn’t written a word in over two years. Two hefty extensions using the excuse that his treatment was interfering with his ability to think. It wasn’t the treatment or the medications. Each time he looked at those books and was reminded of the scenes forever playing out on each ruled sheet of paper, his stomach began to shake, his mind began to quiver and he felt lightheaded. He avoided them like the plague, on his truly bad days he even avoided coming into this room because he feared that somehow they’d open up and suck him back down into the blackness that was war.
No. Nope, he wasn’t going to do it. He could not submit his work to the editors, there was no way he could let that particular demon make it’s way out into society. He had three months – two if he wanted a couple of edits done beforehand, he’d just have to start again and hope it was enough. Pray it was enough because Lord help him, he didn’t have the financial resources to pay back the $5000 advance he’d received. He took a deep breath, went down to the garage, jumped on his bike and made his way to the local store.
Bramville was the little back-wood whisper of a town he and his wife had moved to after he was unceremoniously discharged a year and a half after returning home from his second tour. No longer able to cover the cost of their urban mortgage, they now lived in a 1, 1/2 storey cottage on about 6 acres of land and Jay did the occasional brake job or oil change for the locals out of his garage. It was peaceful out here, everyone knew everyone and the coffee shop/diner was where town folk gathered to share their exploits, or, rather, the exploits of others. He knew they whispered about him, he could see them stare from the window on those rare times he’d pass by. He was sure by now that they knew he saw a psychiatrist once a month at the VA in Middleborough. One thing they knew for sure, he wasn’t big into socializing. His nearest neighbor was a half a mile away and sometimes stopped in to see how the “townies” were making out, a nice enough fellow for sure, but just the same, Jay and Sharon preferred their struggles be their own.
“Mr. Williams! Boy, I sure haven’t seen you out this way in months, so nice to see ya again! I hope you two are gettin’ on okay out on the old Simpson place, y’know, you and that wife of yours ought ta drop in for a coffee at Clara’s sometime soon, we’d love to have ya.” Audrey, the cashier at Sam’s Convenience and Grocery, had greeted him with almost the exact same words each time he’d come in for the past two years. The small towners could not wrap their heads around his need for privacy and the “secretive” way they lived out there on Catchman’s lane. Jay quickly grabbed up four more spiral notebooks, a package of simple bic pens, a Mountain Dew and a package of Doritos. “Uhh, yeah, we don’t have much time on our hands, Sharon working in the city and all…” His discomfort punched at his guts, he shifted his weight from foot to foot, his mind feeling the interior contours of the store, subconsciously watching the door and the hallway leading toward the back of the building while simultaneously walking the aisles. His ears were alert to every sound, a fan running above, country music on a radio somewhere behind the counter on low volume, a dripping pipe behind the slushie machine.
“Oh hun, you studyin’? I can give you those two fer a buck if ya like?” she leaned forward and in a half whisper said, “Sam only gets ’em cause he says his daughter is some kinda genius in school, she’s fillin’ up her notebooks so fast, he figured it’d be easier to stock em’ rather than drive to the Walmart in Stewart’s Landing. If ya ask me, that girl is two shots short of a buck if you know what I mean.” He didn’t know what she meant and the ensuing confusion trying to figure it out caused him to lose count of the change in his hand. As he stopped, took a breath and began to count out his change again, the screen door suddenly screeched open. He wheeled around in a half crouch at the sudden noise and his change flew through the air.
“Oh My Goodness, Mr. Williams!” Audrey squealed, “Oh I’ve been meaning to get Sam to fix that darn screen door, so sorry it’s got you all jumpy.” She came around the counter to help him pick his change off the floor. He paid her and made a quick exit, noting the sour look on the face of the weathered farmer who’d come in. “Jumpy guy, ain’t he?” He said as he watched Jay hop on his bike and begin heading north. “Oh come now, Carl, you just give him a break, you know he’s been in the war. Such a shame, so young.” They watched him disappear down main street.
For the next thirty days and nights Jay filled the pages of his new notebooks. Sharon begged him to sleep, afraid he’d slip out of his remission and back into a PTSD laden hell, but he insisted on writing into the wee hours of daybreak. He did not want another failure in his life, he didn’t think he could take another hit to his psyche like that. On the thirty first day she put her foot down. He was exhausted, the dark circles under his eyes spoke an all too familiar story and his increasing agitation, quickness to anger and incessantly tapping foot told her it was time for a break – deadline or not. She called work, booked off sick and then called Jay’s agent to scream at him, “I can get you your money back, just give me about a year! I will not lose my husband again, do you hear me!? I lost him once, I won’t lose him again!” With that she slammed the phone down and began to sob remembering those early days when he’d pin her to the bed not knowing who she was and lost in another world. She couldn’t go through that again.
She pulled herself together, took a deep breath and went into the study. She took her husband by the hands, looked deep into his tired eyes and said, “I won’t lose you again, Jay. In sickness and in health, remember? You have to sleep now, we’ll go to see Dr, McKay in the morning, I’ll call him once your down.”
“I can’t lose again, Shar, do you get that?” his eyes filled with tears. “I promised him a book. I took money. I gave my word. What is my word worth anymore if I quit? I can’t keep quitting. I’m not a quitter.” He wrapped his arms around her waist and began sobbing into her sweater. She caressed the top of his head, wanting to scream at him to smarten up, to tell him he can’t see how much he’s hurting himself, but instead she held him and whispered, “You have to sleep, you know you’re pushing too hard. You know it’s not good to keep doing that.”
He did. He knew. It was right there in his mind, clear as day. Sleep. Calm. No Stress. Exercise. Meditate. Self Monitor. He’d shut his internal monitor off. His jaw was locked down tight, an early warning signal he’d seen so many times in the past three years. Hell, he’d written those very words only two days ago on the lined pages of his green notebook. He knew what he had to do, first he had to sleep, then he had to put the notebooks aside – again – and then, he had to start all over, calming his body, his mind and working back toward functioning again. He hoped he could get there before the end of his remaining two months.
Over the next few weeks Jay practiced his daily maintenance regimen, his psychiatrist had given him medication to help with his sleep which he took only sparingly and he climbed slowly back again toward the land of the living. He saw his deadline looming near and he decided that he would send his unfinished manuscript in as is. It wasn’t the perfection that he’d hoped for, editing it was a dream that he just could not achieve at this point and no, it wasn’t the book they’d asked for but he repeated the serenity prayer to himself and accepted what he could not change. At this stage of the game he would settle for submitting before a deadline, and that would have to be celebration enough for him.
Three weeks past his deadline, the phone rang. Jay and Sharon sat on the front porch in their sweats facing one another, hands up, palms pressed together, eyes closed. With each deep inhalation their bellies pushed outward, stretching the abdominal muscles and with each slow exhalation, tension flowed from their bodies and its energy dissolved into the air around them. They sat in mindful meditation with one another, no intrusions, no external influences, just the two of them, being, together.
“Jay? Are you there? If you’re there, pick up. (pause) Okay, I guess you’re not there. I know it wasn’t what we agreed on, the pages you sent me? But I took them to Ralph anyway and I wasn’t sure if he was going to like it, you know I told you Ralph is a hard old dog, he likes his pain and suffering stories, but….ah, crap, how do I say this? He thinks your words can help others like you. (pause, then enthusiastically) You’re going to publishing buddy! I’ve got an editor going over it for you, you don’t need to worry, you just keep working on getting you better okay? Okay, we’ll talk soon, your check is in the mail and oh yeah, look, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but buddy, you’re my hero. I mean it. Okay, take care of yourself. Congratulations!”
**** Author’s note: there will be no edit of this piece, as I sit here realizing it’s 430am and I need to get sleep, lest the demons of PTSD wrestle my mind away. (yawn) I hope you enjoyed, I would appreciate any feedback you may have. ****