It has been seventeen years, more or less, give and take, since it happened and my life–and my worldview–went through a significant change.
It’s weird how it sneaks up on you when you aren’t expecting it, isn’t it? In the weeks leading up to Memorial Day I am vaguely aware of a sense of unease and discomfort, a feeling like some sort of impending doom is waiting for me just over the horizon. I’ve noticed in recent years that times and date have little meaning to me; at my day job every form I fill out requires a date–month, day, year–over and over again, and this constant use of dates makes them seem to lose their meaning as I write them down, recording them by rote; sometimes glancing up at the display on the telephone mounted on the wall above my working table to remember when my brain seizes up–as it is wont to do from time to time–and the date slips out from my short-term memory and cannot be retrieved by the processor. These meaningless days continue passing, recorded on form after form after form, until one day a date I am recording catches me off guard and I am startled by the rapid passage of time and think something like my God, next week is Paul’s birthday or next week is our anniversary and so forth.
And yet every May, without fail, as I go through the motions of my day to day life and run my errands and put gas in the car and make meals and clean up and work with my clients and try to make it to the gym, I forget about Memorial Day looming in the future, just around the corner, up ahead, waiting to land like a sucker punch in the solar plexus when I am least expecting it to happen. Is it a protective thing, I wonder, my subconscious pushing the memories deep into the darkest corners of my brain, to keep me from reliving some of the darkest hours and days of my life? I’m not sure–and the weird thing is that somehow I am vaguely aware. The memories don’t get pushed back into the cobwebby recesses completely, because I always, inevitably, feel unsettled every May, vaguely off-center, knowing there’s something back there I don’t want to remember, and it makes me tense, stressed, anxious.
And then, between episodes of a show we were streaming (The Drowning, on Acorn or Britbox, I cannot remember which) I got up to make garlic bread as a snack. As I sliced the loaf of French bread to spread the garlic butter paste on to broil in the oven, Paul was telling me about how crowded the Quarter had been on Friday afternoon when he’d gone down there to get his haircut. “It was more crowded than it would usually be before the shutdown,” he said with a shudder, “and all I could think was how awful it seemed.” I agreed with him, expressing that I had little to no desire to ever go out in the Quarter again–while thinking ah yes, you have become the tired old man you always feared you would–when Paul laughed and said, “Well, it’s not like Memorial Day is my favorite time to go out and do anything” and I laughed and kept spreading the paste on the bread as the memories and realizations all came flooding back to me; why I have been so tense and anxious lately; why I was so desperate to get my Xanax prescription refilled (telling myself it was because I needed them to sleep) and WHY I had been unable to sleep in the first place; why there was so much tension and so many knots in my neck, shoulder and back; why I have been unable to focus and why it has felt like I’ve been living under a dark cloud of looming depression for so long.
Memorial Day weekend, 2004, and that horrible phone call that Sunday morning, that Paul was at the emergency room at Charity Hospital and all that ensued from there.
I’ve only written about what happened that weekend once; in the wake of the Pulse massacre, that horrible morning in 2016 when I woke up to the horrible news and sat, glued to my computer screen, refreshing social media and new sites and worrying about my friends and acquaintances in Orlando to check in, so that I would know they were alive. Pulse was horrifying in and of itself, without it being a triggering event for me personally; watching those friends and family outside the bar in the morning hours in Orlando, terrified and wondering if someone they loved, someone they knew had been inside Pulse that night and hadn’t yet heard from, was alive or dead. I’ve never felt that the story of Memorial Day weekend 2004 was mine to tell; as I said to a friend recently, as we talked about the HBO show It’s a Sin and how deeply it affected me, “I’ve never written about my own experiences during that time because I was a survivor and a witness, and to me, writing about it and making money from it seemed wrong to me somehow.” Part of this mentality–which is probably wrong, but I can make a rational case for it from either point of view–comes from being raised to keep personal pain private; I’ve always called it ‘bleeding in public.’ I’ve never wanted to be seen as a victim; I’ve never wanted to publicly dissect my pain for others to see, comment on–especially to belittle or demean.
We survived it, and isn’t that the most important thing?
I’m not sure that I’ve ever really processed it all; dealt with it properly and adequately. I saw a therapist for a few years, and obviously we discussed all of my traumas, all the PTSD from everything I had experienced, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever faced it, dealt with it, handled it. I wrote a short story about it once–“A Streetcar Named Death”–and of course I wrote that blog entry after the Pulse massacre.
But now as I approach sixty–only a few more months–I find myself wondering, about all of the pain and trauma of the past, and whether I have dealt with it in a healthy manner, and if writing about it, which is how I inevitably deal with almost everything, is the way to go with it?
I don’t know. But…I can’t help but feel that I need to; that somehow, despite whatever blowback and snark might come from doing so, that it will finally help me to deal with it and maybe–just maybe–Memorial Day weekend can go back to being what it used to be for me, and I can finally be free from it all.