There is a certain way the light is changed from summer. Lower. The sky is clear and blue and crisp. The air cooler, absent humidity, the nights chilly. All the windows and doors are open. The tape begins.
As I dress for church I feel it start, but I push the feeling back down. I get into the car, I drive, feeling it come up my spine. I arrive at church and settle into the worship ritual I know so well. My mind wanders to thinking of a walk after church, which day – today or that day – I am uncertain, and there it is again in my head pounding to get out. The harder I fight it the more unbearable the sensation. My heart begins to race to match the pounding. My mind recognizes I have been here before. Triggered by the light and the weather, and the sameness of the sequence of the day, the sameness of this ritual; I cannot escape it and finally give in and let it play. It envelops me and takes me away from the peaceful state I manage to find myself in more and more these days and takes me back.
By the end of the service I am so unnerved I can barely function but I make myself engage as I go to the parish hall for coffee. That day is relived over and over again. Eating the food. The people. The conversations. My minds races backwards to the haziness of being in the ER, in and out of consciousness, doctors questioning have I eaten, what, how long ago; as they prepared me for emergency surgery and I know I have eaten but don’t know what or when or even what time it is or where I am or why I am here. The ER scene chatters in my head like it is now, and I can’t focus on my conversation with church members as they fade to the background. I become overwhelmed and have to leave the parish hall.
I know I cannot go home, that I must change the sequence to stop this. Even so, visiting a friend our light conversation belies my heart beating to a rhythm of the anxiety the spectacular fall-like weather has created and in it this reliving. I am far more quiet than usual. Respite my friend provides is temporary and I stare at the sky, am lost in it, transported to that day, over and over and over in my mind.
Later in a torrent of emotion, a cataclysmic meltdown of nuclear proportions, my son’s pain comes bursting forth, falling out over both of us as we struggle to keep from being buried. I silently admonish myself for not heeding my friend’s warning to watch him closely and be mindful of his emotional needs while addressing his sister’s. He is in the height of hormones, the insecurity of adolescence, amidst unspeakable loss, finding his way without the benefit of a male anchor, a role model, a good cop when I must be the bad cop. He is a boy maturing in a female household where his mother is no longer enough, a household without a father. I observe perhaps to a boy a father of any sort is better than no father at all.
His sister watches and seems afraid of his anger, his screaming, and finally his crying. She leaves us, silently exiting, slipping away invisibly as she learned over the years of living in abuse. My son and I remain trying to find a neutral place.
It is creeping in towards all of us, gathering force like a storm, the inescapable day when everything changed in an instant. It is unstoppable and failure to acknowledge it does not relieve its existence. Somewhere deep, on an unconscious level, the weather changes alert us…remember what happened.
I must be strong, rock solid, steady for them as my private world teeters back and forth. One day I feel like I’m making great strides, another I am unable to accomplish any but basic tasks of daily living. This is our life. This is what intimate violence has left us. The shooting has become the center. Everything before that day moved inward towards it, everything now moves out from it, but the center still remains.
That I could wave a magic wand so no other child, no other person, no other family has to wade through this; that I could change the world. Oh, if only I could. I would start by saying hear my story so it does not become yours.
“Our ongoing survival requires relentless attention.” Laurence Gonzales, Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience