My family paid in full. A blood red pick up slammed into our van at 100 km/h. I don't remember the sights but I remember the smell. Fuel and metal ablaze from momentum and impact. Acrid poison brushed the air with blinding black. The metal that I thought was invincible in my child's mind crumpled like tissue paper, taking my mother without her protest...well, none beyond desperately pressing her hands against the passenger side window less than a moment before the front grill of the truck was pressing against it too. The collapsing of our van's metal frame found me only milliseconds after it found my mom. My skull was crushed, and the skin on the left side of my scalp was lapped off by the horror and the tongues of flame. I don't remember her, or anything else, at all anymore. Even when pictures are shown to me, it's like someone else. The doctor told me I have “dissociated from the memory of my mother. This is normal when someone has been in a traumatic incident.”
I hate the lingo.
“You're a hero” they chant so I don't have to feel the emotional pain. It's considered good etiquette to call someone a hero when they've been a victim. I'm encouraged to remember.
I prefer to forget.
I do remember the ambulance though; paramedics rushed to me, attaching wires and hoses. They looked me in the eye and with desperate speed picked me up off the ground. I had been ejected from the van and found the asphalt four metres away. I tried to move but my left side was motionless and I couldn't choke out my demands to see my dad. The grey snow and slush was absorbing the blood I was losing. The ER doctor said if it wasn't for the cold I would be dead.
I miss summer.
I spent a lot of time in the hospital past that. My brain injury has prevented me from remembering how long. A haze followed and white walls and white men with white masks trying this drug and that therapy. I survived. “Psychosis diagnosis from post traumatic stress disorder”, the doctor told my Dad without looking at me.
The rhyme made me laugh when I first heard it.
My dad sighed heavily and put his face into both palms, shaking his head as if he were saying “no” to some absurd commentary. The doctor shuffled his papers, made fake thinking noises and cleared his throat as if it were a labour to read the chart. As if he couldn't understand the words he saw scrawled in their ridiculous foreign cursive.
I've come to learn that the doctor really doesn't know anything. He's outside the nightmare. I nod my head and say, “I want to get better” with the slow slur I am trying to get used to. I fill my prescriptions then throw the stapled bag with into the garbage can outside of the drug store. The one against the wall papered with with smiling people plastered on it. These drugs must be great if everyone is so happy about being here. My cognitive behavioural specialist says I should be grounded and focus on the positives in my life. She says I'll be trapped in that terrible moment every time I let my thoughts wander back there. That's the nature of trauma. You re-experience it just by thinking it, it's worse if you see or hear it (the local news sucks), and God help you if it were to happen to you again.
It wasn't bad there at the hospital though. People would come to see me. Flowers and food would come in tidal waves that would crash against the walls and furniture in my hospital room. People wished me well. Police and paramedics would come to my bed, calling me hero (good etiquette), telling me how “strong” I was to have survived.
It was a few weeks before the specialist showed me what they had done. Skin was grafted to my head to remind people there was a scalp here. My hair was defined by an uneven line slithering its way from front to back, bald on one side and oddly combed on the other. I couldn't see from my left eye. It was gone. My arm was movable but weak and without fine muscle movement. I could barely stand its weight. My ribs were full of metal now. I was twelve and I couldn't stand my life anymore. I was a strong hero that cheated death like strong heroes do.
I wish I had died.
“I am alive now.”, I chant the script my counselor wants to hear. I know just what to say, and to smile. Open body language and confident speech albeit difficult to understand while I slur and list to my left side. I do my best to keep saliva from spilling out the corner of my false smile. I'm not made for these offices and waiting rooms. I should be posted in front of a TV to play war games, or taking vanity selfies to share with friends, or stealing alcohol from mom and dad to drink secretly with a girlfriend. I should be crashing my own car and worried about mom and dad finding out. I should be full of angst over the prom and what girl I won't be going with. I shouldn't be asking about pain management and if my “ocular prosthesis”, my glass fucking eye, will be convincing.
I tried suicide. I seriously did try. My “self injurious behaviours” began almost as soon as I got home. I wanted to climb back into that collision as fast and as hard as that pick up found our van. I wanted that truck to slam into me. I would throw myself down the stairs in an attempt to remember the pain. I tossed and tumbled, breaking healed bones and laying in a pool of blood. Not enough though, despite the lack of wet snow and frozen asphalt at the bottom of the stairs. I did hope to die, but not enough for a quick solution.
The ambulance was a relief. The paramedics were quiet unlike they were at the accident. They would watch their monitors and IV drips. No judgments (good etiquette). Cold help.
I would just return to the hospital where I learned about restraints just before my fourteenth birthday. Pain would bring me into the moment again. Give me an odd clarity. I hated it so much. I needed it to remember. As incidents of “S.I.B.s” continued, the parade of community visitors faded until no one would visit except those obligated. They would leave, promptly, when visitor hours had expired.
I loved it here. Ignored and sustained. Safe. School was wrecking ball for this refuge. School was a horror worse than any trauma I had experienced.
I would rather take the stairs.
There were two kinds of people: those who stared and those who ignored. I preferred ignorance. I didn't want to be seen. Being seen meant being a target. Being seen meant being pushed into a locker; the slamming noise still rings in my ear. Metal on metal. I immediately covered my ears and started crying. This brought the laughter of the group of kid in clothes I saw in commercials. I tried to tell them that this wasn't funny but this only served to antagonize them. PTSD is a bitch.
“Minor niner” they chanted with false slurs as I picked up my things and reeled away from them. I was reminded of what laying on that asphalt with too quiet sirens in the distance was like. This became the norm and I couldn't help my reaction. The horror was right there every time I heard the sound.
Remember what I said about trauma?
The pain didn't bother me. The sound. The horror. How do you explain that just the sound causes your body to tense and your breathing to change to desperate shallow gasps? That this sound was the last memory I have associated with the death of my mother.
I developed an interest in death extending beyond achieving it. I could dispense it – death begets death. I can't kill myself but someone will. I could be some headline on “Twitter” to put on the public pedestal for a week with pathetic hashtags for arm chair heroes. Some facebook celebration with bright ribbons and a feeling like the evil is gone for good. I won't tell them I hope that happens too.
The internet is my looking glass I step through and disassociate with the horror. I found people like me bawling and balling their fists. Arming themselves. I have found instructions for “extreme attention seeking behaviour” (Doctor lingo, gotta love it). Metal, nails, match heads, gun powder. How to get a firearm, how to get the bullets, maps, and blueprints, how public schools conduct evacuations. I would arm my mind with the knowledge and imagine who would be laughing when they saw me powerful and untouchable.
Getting the gun was easy. It was for sale, I thought myself lucky. One message and my disability cheque found a box at my door. My Dad handed it to me with an ignorant smile. I smiled back as brightly as I could with the metal they had put into my jaw. I was happy. He went to work for the night and so did I.
Building the bomb was more difficult. I didn't realize the difficulty in trying to build it with my arm the way it was. Tools were hard to use. Instructions I found required the use of two hands, depth perception would be helpful too, and a brain that doesn't produce migraines during times of concentration could have made the process easier. I took apart the fireworks my dad hid. Loud sounds, particularly explosions, would cause bad reactions in me. He loved me. I'd only be hearing this once though so I wasn't overly worried if it would cause problems for me. It took me a couple hours but I got the explosives into messy pieces and filled the pipe with the things I needed.
I hated the smell of it. Acrid poison comes to mind. It reminded me of my mom's last seconds. Reminded me that I was already dead. Another anxiety attack found me at 100 km/h, slamming me into wreckage.
It was so difficult to assemble. I obsessed over its weight and smell. I obsessed over its power to take the people I needed it to. I wondered if it would help them join the status updates about the “waste of young life”. They were a waste of young life and I needed everyone to know it. I wondered if it would deliver my message loud enough. I wondered if this would help others into the ranks of the freaks so the would know what I knew.
I pulled a knife for from the kitchen butchers block. I laid it on my bed with the gun and the bomb. All of them seemed terribly inanimate, like they weren't dangerous enough. I put the gun in my mouth to feel the fear. The knife to my wrists, faking cutting motions. I had the thought that using these things now could save me some time. Instead I shoved them into the vent after removing the register. I had a moment of irony in hiding the things that would be so public so soon.
I returned to the horror unarmed. I lost my nerve and actually feared the weapons that I thought would save me. School was the usual until classes were over. I was slammed into the lockers particularly hard and had the usual reaction. They picked me up though and did it again and again. Each time the sound put me back into the van.
They guided me outside, arms around my shoulder pretending that they were helping me out. Like they cared. Teachers smiled at us and congratulated the boys on including me with a fading voice as they took me away. Out the back doors I went and quickly found the cold pavement. It was poorly shoveled and the shuffling steps of apathetic students made the snow into grey, dirty slush. I'd been there before. His fist collided with my face again and again. That red pick up found me each time his fist did. A traumatized person needs to avoid re exposure to the traumatizing event. I was birthed in the fire again. The fire, and the blood, and the bone, and the fear, and the hate.
When he'd finally laughed enough he told me to make sure I forgot about this. The thing about PTSD is you never forget a bloody disaster. Every time he pounded his rich kid ring into my jaw, my swollen eye socket, my already broken nose, he put his friends name on another bullet. He sharpened my knife. He cut an inch off my fuse. I began laughing and insisting that he had better kill me. They laughed harder. He told me with that false slur that they couldn't make me look any worse. That a freak can't change.
The paramedics took me away in the usual fashion. The only sounds on the ride to my refuge were the blaring sirens and rattling of the strange devices that surrounded me. They applied bandages without looking. They said I was lucky I was already blind on that side. I saw everything so clearly.
My room was a prison this time. I ached to get to my house and find my arms. I was frothing at the mouth with rabid hate and a terrible concussion that was causing seizures. I strained and writhed in my hospital restraints. My father slept in the chair in the corner of my room. He was exhausted. He couldn't do this and I couldn't see him like this. If he were the family dog I would have him put down. I wondered if I asked him, if he would understand what I was going to do.
I wondered if he could help me. He loved me. I wondered if he could stop me. I let my dislocated jaw heal instead hoping that if he saw me the way I was before I returned to the horror, if in someway he would heal too. I hadn't seen my Dad since the collision anyway. He died when he saw Mom laying quiet in the ground. He never goes there. He just looks at me with his sad tired eyes hidden under his defeated brow ridge. The weight of my broken body was placed squarely on his sore back.
The school, after learning of my beating, planned a “pay it forward day”. Students were to do something nice for someone and then pay it forward to someone else. A Mickey Mouse effort at charitable action. I thought about the ridiculous fund raiser that would be sponsored after my moment of glory. They would convince themselves of how safe they are. Candle light vigils. Anti-Bullying Day. #helpafriend. #antibullying. #idontgiveashitaboutretards. Churches and Mosques and Synagogues, preaching the bullshit of children being raised with love and compassion. I would open this discussion with a smoking gun, a bloody blade, and a blast mark combined with a beautiful red misting of the fucker who didn't finish the job like I asked him to. I knew this would be the perfect day for me. I had something important to pay forward. #debt2pay.
That morning I was chipper and happy. My dad having just returned from work commented that he hadn't see me smile like this for years. I told him I was happy to be going back to school and I would try my best to have a good day. He hugged me without noticing the .38 snub nose tucked into my pants, without feeling the oblong danger of the pipe bomb I kept in the pocket of my pull over hoodie, without understanding that the butcher knife from the knife block was absent.
On the bus I sat on the seat over the wheel well. I feared someone would sit with me. I could feel the the discomfort of my weapons pressed against me. I didn't expect them to feel so cold against my skin. I would be sharing this with those who asked for it soon enough. The world passed by the window. I looked for pick ups.
Instead of feeling like the victim trapped in the vehicle, I was the driver of the red pick up barreling toward a destined target with people raising their hands in front of me moments before I delivered them. I felt more alive then I had been in a very long time. I could swear I remembered my mothers smiling face looking back at me moments before her debt was incurred on me and my dad. The debt we paid and paid and paid again.
I stepped off the bus and looked around. I could see them in their standard circle. Laughing. The stares and ignorance followed. I began pacing toward them, confidence building in each step. I approached them with a broad smile, walking taller than I had in a very long time. I reached back to handle the grip of my knife. It felt warm now and comfortable in my cool steady palm. I would be painting the snow today. I was jarred suddenly, which caused me to release my grip. A girl who I had seen many times before had wrapped her arms around my arms, her small hands landing firmly on my back in an embrace. She pressed her head into my chest. With a toothy grin and teenage carelessness she looked up and me and loosened her grip. I loosened mine to. She squeezed again exaggerating a “mmMMmmmmMM ahhhh!” sound then “OK! I was nice to you and now you have to pay it forward!”
I glared hard at the boy who smashed his red pickup fists into my face so many times. My blood pact with the owner of the hands that dislocated my jaw and the smile that dislocated my life needed to be honoured.
She turned and gave them the middle finger “You can be someone else today.”, she said as she looked me in the eye, not smiling, not frowning.
She picked a bit of lint off my coat, and waved even though she was only a foot in front of me. She turned on her heel and sauntered back to her group of girls who were looking at me. I couldn't help but think that there were more than just those who stare and those who ignore. It was far too simple now.
I processed the strangeness of this. So many were staring, but I was noticing that there were many who were just contently onlooking. The group of girls waved again, and as I looked around, there were many others who did the same. A few said “hi” and “glad you're ok” as they passed by on their way into what I had beheld for so long as my living nightmare. My weapons felt so heavy, and again like so many weeks previous, so useless. I had been completely disarmed. I just walked home later that day. I needed to get my meds to throw out anyway. I disposed of my arms in the same garbage I would leave my medication.
She paid my debt in full.