I feel as though I have been harping on this. As if it has occupied some unreasonable amount of space in my brain and my body. As if I have to apologize for referencing it, for talking about it, for allowing it to impact the way I do my job and live my life. I would say this is the last time I will bring it up here but I cannot say that for certain because I don’t know when, and if, it might come back to haunt my mind again. Trauma, as it turns out, is a strange and unpredictable thing. It winds its way into and throughout your body, it occupies the smallest crevices in your brain. It shows its face at the strangest times and leaves you standing on the street, silent tears streaming down your face, breathing through your racing heart, wondering why all the jokes you make about it can’t just force it to live in the past where it belongs. It makes you doubt your strength and your ability to will yourself to just move forward and leave that experience in the dust, a small annotation in a long life.
A few weeks ago I was informed by my coworker that the guy who physically assaulted me at work had come into the bar. Entirely unrelatedly, and by no intention of my own, I had spoken with him previously, and extremely briefly, over the phone. He told me he hoped we could move forward and become friends. I chuckled and told him not to be crazy, to take care of himself. I got off the phone and I felt good, in control, strong. I worked a shift behind the very bar where the incident occurred and then the next day I wrote him a letter. I knew he wasn’t going to read it, although I would be pleased if he did. It was just a means for me to tell him what I wanted him to know and to take back a little bit of my own power. The goal was to feel a little less helpless and it seemed like it worked. But then the news. I don’t know exactly how to put into words the feeling I got when I was told he had been in the bar the previous week. My hand immediately shot just above my left eye where there is still a pebble-sized calcification just below the skin that I find myself touching when I get nervous or uncomfortable. I looked at my friend in disbelief. My stomach dropped through the floor. I started sweating. I got the chills. So much for power and control. So much for thinking that a guy with a sizeable rap sheet who would throw a glass at the face of a girl who is half his size and two-thirds his age has even an ounce of self-control, has the capability of making reasonable decisions, gives a shit about his own future and his freedom. Joke’s on me, I guess. Seeing the best in a person is simply not possible when there is nothing good there. But beyond that I realized that I had been operating under the incorrect assumption that I was safe and that I was trusting the word of a man who I honestly believe to be a monster. He told his family he would stay away from the bar and me. He didn’t. And according to security he has tried to come into the bar when I’ve been there. Apparently booze tastes better when you get it from a place where you are unwelcome.
And then there was last night. I met up with a good friend of mine to just, I don’t know, catch-up, unload, destress. We went to our local spot which was oddly busy and, just as we decided to go somewhere better suited to our mood I heard it: violent flesh-on-flesh contact. I grabbed my friend’s arm and just kept saying “oh god, oh god, oh god” until he headed into the mass of people trying to get the man who had struck the bartender out of the room. All of a sudden they were moving towards me. An angry, loud, testosterone-full group of people forcing the guy through the bar and out onto the street. I wedged myself between the bar and a stranger sitting on a barstool. A stranger whose sweatshirt hood I grabbed as I had visions of myself somehow being slammed into the bar or taking an errant elbow to the face. It wasn’t about me, had nothing to do with me, was likely not going to effect me and yet I couldn’t see how something like this couldn’t somehow drag me in. When I knew the coast was clear I fled through the door and leaned against the building, I concentrated on my breathing and willed my heart to just slow the fuck down. I felt weak and powerless. But even more acutely I felt like a self-indulgent asshole as I stood there having a panic attack over someone else’s experience and my proximity to it. Crazy, right?
I guess it’s just a weird thing to realize that sometimes being well-adjusted, self-reflective and emotionally even-keeled is simply not enough. And it’s infuriating to me to acknowledge that another person, a person who I actually don’t even really know and am afraid I might not recognize, has the ability to throw me into a complete and total tailspin in an entirely different neighborhood and in completely different circumstances without even doing anything. His actions didn’t change his psychology but they certainly altered mine. And then it gets me thinking about the trauma that other people deal with on the day-to-day. In the grand scheme of things, what I experienced was small potatoes. People live through wars, through violent attacks of all kinds, through fires, through abuse, through horrific accidents. I imagine those experiences creep up on them, too. Sometimes even randomly, on a Sunday night, in their own backyard. But that’s life, I guess. All we can hope to do is keep pushing forward, realize our feelings and emotions are important and worthwhile, take care of ourselves as best we can and when we can’t, reach out to others to take the pressure off. That’s what friends and family are for and I am eternally grateful for mine.
Here’s to hoping that this is the last post about this bullshit.