The Sun Never Rises: Chapter Twenty-Two
Can You Imagine?
The more I read about PTSD the more I realize just how many people potentially suffer from it. There is a very real chance I do as well, and I somehow managed to suppress its effect for all these years…but perhaps not. I mention it only because PTSD is much more common than you might suspect. It literally affects millions in the United States alone, some severely, some in lesser degrees. Perhaps some of you know of someone, or you yourself suffer from it.
If you do suffer from it, you have my sympathies and my blessings. If you know someone who has it, please, practice compassion and empathy.
And so we move on to Chapter Twenty-Two . . . thank you!
I found her on a park bench at Green Lake on a brilliant day in Seattle. Lovers walked along the pathway, hand-in-hand. Children whooped and hollered, playing tag, tossing Frisbees, and loving the hell out of life.
She was simply sitting, looking out at the water, unaware of life going on around her.
Katie had disappeared after breakfast. She wasn’t scheduled to work that day but still, for her to just go off without saying anything, it was strange at the very least. When she hadn’t returned to my folks’ home after two hours, I went searching for her.
And there she was!
I sat down next to her. She didn’t acknowledge my arrival, just kept looking out at the water, deep in her own thoughts . . . deep, I suspected, in her own past.
Five minutes, ten, she reached out and held my hand, gentle at first but then with increasing fervor, a life-line keeping her from the edge.
“I don’t know how strange this is going to sound, Max, but let me say it, okay? It sounds pretty damned strange in my head, unspoken, so I can just imagine . . .
“The thing is, God help me, there are days when I miss the old life, you know?” I nodded. “There are days, Max, when I miss the routine, walking the streets, picking up Johns, giving them pleasure, all the time disconnecting from it all, floating above it all, looking down on the sweating bodies and knowing that just for one moment I owned their souls. I miss talking to the other girls, miss bullshitting about this and that, hell, and this will really sound sick, I even miss being hassled by the cops.
“And I wake up some mornings, like today, and I look out at people living their Leave It to Beaver lives, and I think ‘what in the hell am I doing? Who am I kidding?’ you know? This isn’t me, Max, and yet I want it with every fiber of my being.”
I put my arm around her, held on tight, just about the only thing I could think of doing that seemed safe at that moment.
I had to say something, right? There’s only so much you can communicate through touch.
“I was over in the Sandbox for two tours. There were times, Katie, of unbelievable boredom, just listening to the wind blow, and trying to stay warm at night on sentry duty. People don’t think it gets cold in the desert but man, I gotta tell ya, it gets colder than a brass monkey’s balls out there in the sand.
“But then there are other times when bullets are buzzing overhead, and you have your cheek pushed into the sand, just hoping you survive it all, and your blood pumping and you about to lose control of your bowels, and you wonder what the hell you’re doing in that hellhole. What is it all for? Love of country? Bullshit! Freedom? That was the furthest thing from my mind at that time. Family? I never once gave a thought to my family during those firefights, Katie. The only thing I thought about, and my buddies confirmed it, was staying alive and watching the backs of my platoon. That’s it, total focus on protecting yourself and your fellow soldiers.
“And then it’s back to the boredom, and then the killing, and the boredom, and when it was all over, when the last body bag had been zipped and I was back in the States, safe and sound, I woke up and I missed it, and I laughed the first time I realized it, then it scared the shit out of me, and now today I just realize that’s the way it is. I don’t know the whys. I just know it’s real.”
She squeezed my hand, stood, and tugged.
“Let’s walk the lake,” and she led me down the path, kids still whooping and hollering, lovers still loving, life doing what life does with us just observers.
“Will there ever be a place for us in this world, Max? Will we ever wake up one morning and really believe it’s possible for us to consider all of this normal? Right now I don’t, Max. Don’t get me wrong, I love you, and your family couldn’t be more caring and accepting, but I just have these long periods where I feel it’s all a joke and I need to return to the life I’m familiar with, the life that didn’t seem like a threat, you know? And we talk about marriage and it scares the hell out of me, and the thought of maybe having a kid? What kind of cruel joke would that be, you and me bringing a child into the world with two totally screwed parents?”
Right then a little girl, not much older than six or seven, ran over to us, stopped in front of us on the path, and looked up at us both.
“Will you play tag with me?” she asked, mainly to Katie, me just watching it all transpire, wondering where this wrinkle would take us. Surprisingly, Katie let go of my hand, took the little girl’s hand, and out on the grass they went, Katie taking a few steps away from the girl, telling her to catch her, the little girl chasing and laughing, tagging Katie, roles reversed, their laughter like soothing music on a troubling day, the world suddenly compressed, nobody else at the lake, just Katie and that little girl, me watching . . . me hoping . . . me praying… and Katie’s red hair flowing behind her as she ran, like some wild horse galloping across the arroyo, a thing of beauty, a wild, majestic thing no saddle should ever touch.
And then that little girl’s mother calling her, the game ending, and Katie fighting back the dark clouds as the child ran off to continue her life.
No End to This Trail
I joined her on the grass, watching the little girl run, leap into her mother’s arms, both laughing, and Katie took my hand once again.
“I see a little girl like that and I wonder if she has a father, or a stepfather, who molests her. I wonder if her life is going to be torn to shit like mine was, and there are days, Max, when I wonder those things about every damned kid I see. And you and I talk about marriage, and kids, and happily ever after, and I really wonder if that’s all just a bullshit story made up by Disney. Is it really possible, Max?”
But she really didn’t expect an answer. Good thing, because I didn’t have one.
2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)