The Precipice of PTSD
Most people don’t understand PTSD, the change that happens within a soldier that just gets back from war. Everyone comes back changed, whether they’d like to admit it or not, some worst than others.
In my case, I was the worst.
Not a day has gone by in these past 13 years that I haven’t thought about Iraq and the messed-up things I saw and did there. I have only recently started moving on with my life with the intent to show America what it’s like to be on the battle front, fighting for our country and our lives only to come home to a never-ending battle.
This scene from the first chapter of my book Combat Medic takes place at the precipice of my PTSD, the worst moment of my life.
” Slamming the door, I locked it and rested my head against the wood frame, trying to regain my thoughts. You’re home…you’re safe.
Sunlight is beaming in through the blinds, making it hard to see. Leaning against the marble counter in the kitchen, I set my keys down before wiping the sweat that wasn’t there from my brow. I wondered, Does it ever stop? My angst was making me feel cold. No…it never will. I stared at the floor. What if I was dead? Would anybody really care? I wouldn’t have to deal with this pain anymore. The thoughts; the nightmares…
My lower back throbbed. I pushed myself up on my hands, thrusting my hips back and forth, waiting for the pain to go away. I closed my eyes, put my head down, and started taking deep breaths, trying to calm down.
Standing up I grabbed a glass of water when a loud bang shook the room. My heart started racing; a chill ran through my body. The hearing in my right ear fell out, leaving a high-pitched ringing in the background. My heart jumped then started beating faster. I closed my eyes and saw flashing lights and heard gunfire – echoes and bangs.
I squatted to the ground behind the counter with my eyes wide open staring at the door. A chill ran through my back, into my heart. My jaw started shaking; teeth chattering like I was stark naked in a blizzard.
Someone kicked down the door dressed in battered, torn clothes with dirty rags covering his face. He ran towards me with an AK-47 rifle pointed at my face, shouting gibberish. I felt a rifle in my hand, the weight of the barrel upon my fingers; but it wasn’t there. I felt naked without a weapon, cold and unsafe.
My heart felt like it was being pulled in four different directions. It thumped, pumping me full of cold blood and adrenaline. My mind raced. What should I do? I smelled gunfire and smoke, but I could see that I was in my apartment. Is this real? The back of my throat was sore; there was a bad, acidic taste in my mouth.
I took in a couple of shallow breaths then jumped up and ran over to the kitchen. I grabbed the handle of my 8-inch chef knife and pulled it from the drawer figuring it would be better to have a weapon in case it wasn’t my imagination. I turned toward the door crouched down, waiting for anything that came through.
A minute slowly passed. “This isn’t real.” I thought out loud, “What am I doing? This is crazy.” At that moment excruciating pain shot from my mid-back down to my left foot. It was like someone had sliced my back in half with a searing hot knife. I tried taking a deep breath in, but stopped short when pain wrapped around my lung.
I dropped the knife. Feeling dizzy and nauseated, I slowly walked over to the bathroom, flipped the light on, and stood over the toilet, holding my stomach and head. I was sweating hard now. The room started spinning as an overwhelming smell of gunpowder filled it.
Images from war started shooting through my mind. In one, I was holding pressure on a wound, trying to stop the bleeding from a severed leg. In another, blood was splattered all over a sand-covered ground. Specialist B pointed to the blood, then over to a building. I raised my weapon as we went in for the kill. The last image was of eyes. A pair of glazed over, hauntingly sky blue eyes. They were staring directly into mine. I stared blankly into the toilet, engulfed in those eyes. The sight of death captivated me. I wanted it; it wanted me. It almost had me.
My focus shifted from his eyes to his head. I started to see blood running down his face as it came into focus. A green aid bandage was wrapped around it, attempting to hold his severed skull together. I looked down and saw blood covering my hands. I knew it wasn’t really there, but it all felt so real.
At that moment I felt numb, emptiness grew inside; my chest slowly became cold. Icy blood pumped through my veins. It felt like I was dying; like life was being drained out of me. I started shaking as a chill crept through me. Death enveloped me, clutching my soul with a wanton lust. My spirit quaked as my heart blackened.
Tears started falling down my cheeks as the visions slowly faded away. I felt like a hollow shell, void of any substance of life. Shaking my head I wiped the tears, but kept crying; unable to stop myself.
I walked to my bedroom, empty except for a small dresser. It’s been 7 months since I moved and still no furniture. Saddened, I closed the door and opened the window. A cool breeze blew through. The sun was bright, warm, and comforting. I took in a couple deep breaths; my jaw still jittered from the flashback as I let it out. My shirt was drenched in sweat.
I opened the drawer of the dresser and grabbed my pipe and weed. I ground some up, put it in the pipe and took a couple of long, slow hits. After about 15 minutes I was fully medicated, seeing everything in a haze. I stared out of the window and looked down at the courtyard. A young couple sat at a table drinking wine; talking… they looked happy. I could see smoke rising from the grill next to them and smelled the scent of barbeque.
Everything I was worrying about started to fade away. The pain in my back turned into a slight annoyance. I smiled a grin ear-to-ear and started beat boxing and singing; doing anything and everything to stop thinking about things – the nightmares from hell that still haunt me.
I poured a glass of cold water from the tap. After slamming a couple, the blue eyes started haunting me again. I felt myself sliding back into the other place when my phone snapped me out of the fall.
I looked at the screen and saw that it was Jessica; I answered annoyingly, “Hello.”
“Hi, what are you doing?”
“Just got home from work,” I said sharply. “Why, what’s up?”
“I don’t know; just seeing what you’re doing. You never call me just to talk,” she said, waiting silently for an answer.
I didn’t know what to say. “Sorry, I’ve just been busy.”
“Working. You know my hours at work.” I got upset. “Is there something you want?”
“Yeah, I was wondering if you would like to come over and eat dinner with me and Aleah tonight and this weekend? You know… have some family time.”
I was torn, feeling deep in my heart like I wanted to. But then I start thinking about what had just happened. The pain, the flashbacks, I was afraid to leave the house. I missed my daughter so much but I couldn’t drive like this. I lied, “I can’t, I have an appointment later today and I have to work this weekend.”
“Really? You told me you were off,” she said angrily.
“Well Mick asked me to work a couple extra shifts and I said yes.” I got upset again. “What do you want me to do about it? I can’t just say ‘No’ now; it’s work.”
“You never want to spend time with us. Aleah is always asking about you. What should I tell her?”
I felt awful. My heart started to burn.
“I’m sorry, Jessica, but I have to work.” I gave in a little, “I can come over after my shift is done. We can eat and play games. You can tell her I have to work and I’ll see her later.”
“Ok. Whatever,” she said.
Then it went silent for a minute.
“How come you don’t love me?”
“I never said I didn’t.”
“Then why did you leave?”
“Because we argue too much.”
“We argue because you don’t even try to listen to anything I have to say and you yell,” she said.
“You do too!” I quickly chimed in. “All you do is yell and I can’t take it. I don’t need people around me yelling all the time. I can’t handle it.”
“If you loved me you would try.”
My gut started hurting. “I do love you, Jessica; I just don’t know what to do.”
“Talk to me.”
Silence fell again, I felt so bad that we couldn’t get along. I do love her, but the arguments and fights, yelling in front of Aleah… it was too much. I don’t want her to think that is how relationships are. She should have a happy life.
“Ok, Sam! Bye!”
“Tell Aleah I’ll call her tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yep, bye.” She hung up, her tone saying all she needed to say.
The room fell quiet. I looked down at the phone and thought of all the good times I’ve had with them. The times I’ve curled over laughing when playing with Aleah. Hearing her laughs echoing throughout the house when I tickled her, I loved it… missed it.
How did I get here in this empty apartment, feeling sad and numb inside? I’ve tried my whole life to feel alive; to feel wanted, to be someone special. I joined the Army because it was where I belonged. Fighting for America, saving lives and making a difference, proving to myself that I could do anything, go anywhere.
Now I’m lost, stuck; sealed away in a cave at the center of a deserted world. I want to feel normal again; feel alive, not numb. My past keeps taking over my mind, flooding it with blood and explosions. I want it to end. I want everything to end.
How did I get here?
It was because of the war. Why did I ever sign up to go in? I don’t want to feel like this anymore; alone, struggling to hold onto reality day in and day out. I want a life worth living.”