Less than one month before I got married, I was working my regular shift at work –– a thankless job as a troubleshooter for a well-known regional restaurant in the Southeast, when I realized, despite years of self-deception, that I really wasn’t doing “better.”
For the most part, after I got home from Afghanistan, I was aware that things were different, but to me, it was normal. When I walk into a restaurant, I automatically select the booth or table that gives me an unobstructed view of the areas of entrance and egress, is dimly lit, and is away from the windows. To me, this act is as natural as breathing. My wife is well aware of this fact, and in addition, she knows that sitting anywhere else isn’t going to go well. I learned that it was best for me to avoid certain sounds and certain smells; the sound of a car backfiring or children yelling will reduce me to a quivering mess in microseconds. My wife knows not to curl her hair with the curling iron turned up too high, because of my reaction to the smell of burning hair.
It was the evening of July 4th, and I was working the window at my restaurant when the first set of fireworks went off next door. For whatever reason, it had never dawned on me that my job next to one of the largest fireworks stores in the state would bring me into close contact with fireworks going off on national holidays. When the first rocket (or whatever the fuck it was) got launched, my startle response was massive. I spend the next five hours flinching like a lunatic a couple of times every minute.
After five hours, I was so on edge that it defies description. Hyper-vigilance doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. I thought we had a pretty good relationship with the folks that worked next door at the fireworks stand, so I called them and (I thought) very politely asked that they let me know before they set off anything large, explaining that I had spent a lot of time deployed while in the Army, and that the whistling sound that the big ones made on the way up sounded a hell of a lot like incoming artillery fire. The manager, or desk-boy, or complete moron that I talked to kindly assured me that he’d let me know.
So I left the office, walked back to the drive-thru window and almost immediately had to take an order. With the order placed, I went about my normal routine of getting the order packed, cash taken, and change given.
The next 12 minutes or so are a complete blank; the blank ends with me being wrestled to the ground by seven sheriff’s deputies.
Apparently, as two of my employees would later tell me, the guys outside the fireworks store, upon getting word that there was a combat veteran next door who wasn’t a fan of their display, thought it would be a brilliant fucking idea to lob a very large firework directly over my drive-thru window. I was told that when the firework exploded (less than eight feet from my head), I immediately dropped to the floor face first, slammed both of my hands over my ears, and crossed my ankles. The two drunken redneck assholes placing their order at the front counter had the distinct misfortune of choosing that moment to laugh at me.
Let me reiterate that statement: the two assholes thought it was funny that the guy in the drive-thru was having a flashback to combat in Afghanistan (among other places).
To attempt to make a long story shorter, I wound up attacking the two guys at the front counter and the cops got called and things just spiraled out of control. In some ways, things have gotten better in the two-and-a-half years since then, and in some ways they’ve gotten worse. I haven’t had any more flashbacks, which is a good thing, but I haven’t been anywhere near fireworks since then, either.
I can’t just walk directly into a building –– I have to walk a full circuit around the outside first to make sure that the perimeter is secure. On those infrequent occasions when my wife and I are out at a restaurant to eat, we sit in the back, far away from the windows, and as deep in the shadows as we can. I simply cannot leave my house without a pistol and at least two spare magazines (three is better, four is ideal).
So my wife has convinced me to start going to the local Veteran’s Center to see what kind of “help” they can give me for PTSD. Frankly, given the fact that the Veteran’s Administration makes its living by shitting on veterans, I don’t want a damn thing to do with them. But, I love my wife, so I’ll go…kicking and screaming the whole way.
I tell you all of this because it means that the tone of this blog is going to change a wee bit over the next couple of months. I may seem angrier and post less about theology.
Stick with me. We’ll return to our usual programming shortly…