The next time I see a cheerful facebook meme about how we should “put the past behind us” I think I may just need to throw something breakable.
It snowed today. No big deal, right? Except, perhaps, for the fact that this has been the longest winter in human history. That aside, so what? It snowed. I lost power (when you have a well, that means you’ve lost water – when you have horses, that matters). I lost phone, internet, and any other connection to the world outside the farm. So, what? I’ll tell you what.
It happened last week too. The 35-mph winds lashed at the dozens of oak trees in the yard for more than 10 hours. The snow blew sideways. Three trees fell across my driveway. No power, phone, internet, or any way to get in or out. There’s a generator, but unless you’re a 200 lb man, the cord is too difficult to pull. The horses, already hock-deep in mud, were frantic. I was alone. I was responsible.
The vet came this morning. The vet came while it was still beautiful outside, the trees heavy with snow. Captain bashed his head on something last weekend, and the cut under his eye has become infected. The vet said that he hit his face hard enough to splinter off a piece of bone, which is now trying to work its way to the surface, though the pus and goo. When Steve is here, (he travels a lot on business) it’s all we can do to manage cleaning the wound together. Captain is not particularly interested in having an infected wound debrided.
The vet said it needs attention twice a day. An hour later, Steve left for an 11:30 flight. I’m responsible.
Here’s the thing: My nervous system doesn’t know the difference between a snow storm and the impossible situation of being eight years old and “responsible” for my mother’s sanity. This is the nature of PTSD. A similar situation “triggers” something, and your body and mind respond in a way that was never resolved, even if the current situation is not really threatening. And there’s not much you can do about it, as much as you might want to.
I vividly remember my father telling me to “DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT!” when mother was screaming in a ball on her bed. He’d go to the garage. She screamed until the walls shook. She cried, she raved, she rasped obscenities and recipes for suicide. She railed that I was the cause of the extremity of her misery, and screeched through the alcohol that if I could just be good enough, or even just a little better than I was, that all of this would be over and she would be ok. But, sadly, she was never ok. And I, of course, was never quite good enough.
I remember the one and only time that there was ever any validation of this madness from my father. Once, when I went out to the garage to tell him that I thought she was going to be ok, he looked at me and said, “Aren’t you the lucky one. Someday, you will leave. I’m stuck here with her forever.” He never said anything like that again.
So, it snowed today. It’s just a little snow. Right? But, all my system knows is that I’m alone. I’m alone, and the health and safety of the horses is in my hands. Figuring out what to do with the generator and the electrical system in the house is in my hands. As you might imagine, I am the most responsible person on earth. But, I don’t know how to make it stop snowing. I don’t know anything about generators. And what if…
It all seems so silly, doesn’t it? How the jaw tightens, the shoulders freeze, the stomach becomes a knot of anxiety. It seems so foolish to perch stiffly in the chair in the kitchen for hours on end, watching the jays and the squirrels compete for seeds at the feeder, staring, growing more rigid by the moment, breath coming shallow and quick. So silly. And yet, I have no more control over it than a combat veteran does when a car backfires suddenly, or a crowd at the mall stands just a little… too… close.
I become like my tree in the pasture, the one that calls to me somehow. Rigid, pretty and bright, covered with ice and braced for the storm. It does look lovely, doesn’t it?
All photographs copyright Zen Doe
Tell you what – you “get over” your past. I’ll be here doing my best to get through the afternoon, being optimistic and bright.
The power came back on just before supper time. At the same moment, the sun came out and the temperature rose a degree or two. I went out to feed the horses and tend to Captain’s wound. He wouldn’t let me near it.
I stood for a while in the evening sun, watching the snow fall from that tree in soggy clumps. I breathed, I sighed with relief. It’s over. Again. For today.