I was craving a smoke. That was the only thing pulsing through my brain; I just had to have a smoke….but I was in the midst of another breakdown as I paced back and forth across my livingroom. My mouth was moving, I could hear someone talking. Was it me? It sounded so far away. Someone cried out in pain – same voice. I could feel my hands come up to both sides of my head as if holding it together in an effort to stop it from exploding. My wife would say that I was in a ranting rage again, I sometimes got those, reliving things that happened “over there”, pacing and losing touch with what was real around me. Yep, she’d say that – if she was still here.
You gotta hand it to her though, she toughed it out from the start but three years of madness and my stubborn attitude did nothing to make life easier on her. I love you. I need you. I hate you. I need quiet. I need away from you. Just stop following me. I don’t want to talk. You’re better without me. Don’t abandon me.
Nagging me. Nagging, nagging, nagging. “Just go to the VA, tell them what’s happening. You need to talk to someone about this, I can’t help you anymore…I can’t hide you anymore.” Those were her last words to me as she left. I was numb. I didn’t care. In fact, I said to myself that I’d be fine without her. What was she to me anymore? I was numb to her. We hardly spoke, I didn’t want to tell her the stuff running through my head – it was my stuff, my fault, things I did. I had to live with that. She didn’t need to live with that. Gotta hand it to her though, she toughed it out.
Crowds. There were always crowds. Shouting. Moving. Screams. Anger. So many voices. So many dangers. Sirens to take care of theirs. Shouting. Jostling. Arms. Legs. Blood. Explosions rattling you inside your own skin. Danger. Danger. Danger. Everywhere you look, it’s all danger. No where is safe. You are not safe.
Pacing. Pacing. Pacing. Rambling voice. “Go away!” “Just LEAVE ME ALONE!!” Mumbles. Cries. Trying to stop it from showing itself to me again and again and again. Head pressing against a wall. Sobs. I feel like a child. I can barely hold up my own head. I have no control over this. I have no power. Chest is so tight. Head is so tight. I’m trying. I’m trying. Why does this not work? Why can’t I control my own head?? Why am I sobbing like a stupid kid!? Am I five years old again? I’m a man. I’m a GROWN MAN!
There’s noises outside. I can’t look. I have to concentrate. I have to stop this movie in my head. God, I need a smoke. Where is that pack? What was I doing? Shit, here it comes again. Grabbing my head again. I just want to breathe. I just want to be normal again. Grrrrrr. Bending forward, moaning, groaning. I just want it to stop. Stop for good. I just need it to stop bothering me.
I tried. I did. I went…to the VA. They gave me meds. Made me feel like a zombie. Made it harder to clear my head. Made it harder to fight. I asked for more, something else, it wasn’t working. Sat down with “the doc”, she said she wasn’t a doc, who cares, she’s a doc, head shrink in my book. She said I had to “break it” and “ground myself”. Easier said than done lady, you give this a try. What did she say to do? Shit, I wish I could hear her fucking voice right now. She has this weird, calming voice. Makes me feel like a kid, safe in my mom’s arms. I hate feeling like a kid. But I hate feeling like a scared kid more.
Cold. Cold. She said get something cold. I don’t want to move my eyes too much. It’s hard to keep that balance. I start to get the upper hand and then I move my eyes, I lose my concentration and I can’t push it away anymore. I feel like a wave washes over me and I’m tumbling headlong in the surf. Cold? Cold. I’m supposed to get something cold. Water? Ice? Where am I? My body is moving on its own. My legs are just trying to take me away from the stuff my head is showing me.
Someone’s outside. I’m opening the door. Why am I opening the door? I can’t even fucking breathe, why am I going out there?? Help! Someone please help me stop this! I just want to breathe. I just want to sleep. I just want to see anything but this. No more please, brain, please just give me back my control.
“STOP WHERE YOU ARE!” Who is that? Is that a cop? Why are the cops here? I’m blubbering. I can hear it. Incoherent. I probably look drunk to them. Hell, I probably look insane to them. Psycho covered in snot, groaning and screaming, holding my head. Owwwwww. I hit myself with something. What the fuck is this in my hand? Ohhhhh Shit!
It looks like a pistol. It just looks like one. I can’t make a word. I can’t even do anything but groan. Hey! Can you hear me? I just wanted a smoke. There’s been a misunderstanding. It’s not a gun. It’s a lighter. It’s for my smokes!
“SIR, ON YOUR KNEES!”, “PUT THE GUN DOWN!” They’re all shouting at the same time. Too many voices. I’m in danger. I’m in DANGER!! Help me, someone. I can’t talk. I can’t tell them. I can’t breathe. I can’t feel my face. I can’t feel my hands. I’m in a tunnel. I’m trapped here. My mind feels split in half. I can see the grass. Am I still moving forward? What the hell am I doing? I have to stop. I have to listen to them. They don’t know what’s going on. They’re scared of me.
Loud female scream. There’s chaos. I want to run. I want to get away. I don’t like screams. I don’t like them. “Let. Me. GO!!!” I see her break through their ranks. She’s running full stride. She’s crying. In my head she’s an angel. She’s floating toward me in slow motion, graceful, beautiful. I will feel safe again. “He has PTSD!!! What the hell is wrong with you people!!”
“PUT THE GUN DOWN, PUT THE GUN DOWN!!!”
She’s grabbing me. I’m falling to my knees. Ginny. Gin. You’re here. You came back. I need you. I need you. She throws my lighter away and presses her face to mine. “I’m here. I’m here, baby. Breathe. Just Breathe okay? I’ve got you. I’ve got you. You’re here with me. You’re safe. I’m here.” She’s all I see. I feel stronger. There is nothing else, just her. She’s beautiful. Her blue eyes stained with tears. She’s pulling on my fingers. I can feel it. I can feel it. My fingers are tingling but I can feel it. She’s tapping her forehead to mine. I can feel it now. I can feel it.
“G-g-g-g-gi-“ I try to form the word. My vocal cords are starting to relax. “You’re okay. You’re here with me, okay? You’re here. You’re home. You’re safe.” I can breathe. Doc says breathe deep, how can you breathe deep when you’re lungs are out of your control? Ugggh. So good to breathe. Tap. Tap. Tap against my forehead. It’s a pattern. My mind focuses on it. Pattern. Three taps. Pause. Three taps. Pause. Single tap. Single tap. She’s gotten good at this over the years. It’s our thing. It helps me. Deep breath. Let it out slow. Move my fingers. Feel them move. The grass is wet against my knees. Didn’t realize I was getting wet. Blink my eyes. SEE HER. She’s not hazy. It’s her. She’s real. Tap. Tap. Tap.
Someone moves closer. She growls, “Step back. Give us some space.” I can hear them. “Ma’am, let us in there.” She pulls away from me, “You step back! You hear me, YOU-STEP-BACK! My husband is a veteran. I know how to do this.” Sergeant, “Fall back, leave them be guys. Just give her a minute to work.” Another voice, “It’s a lighter Sarge. A cigarette lighter.” They’re still far away but they sound real enough. I hesitate afraid. I blink my eyes again and again. My breathing is slowing down, almost normal now. The pain is receding from my head. The tightness shrinking away. I whisper, “Gin.” “It’s me babe, it’s me.” She whispers back. My voice is still hoarse. She’s rubbing my arms now, shaking my muscles loose. She sits back away from me. I look at her, seeing her fully for the first time now. My brain feels slow. I whisper hoarsely,
“Gin, what are you doing here?”
She laughs as the tears begin to spill down her cheeks.