Tales from a traumatized lifeguard
“Move, get out of the way, we’ll take over CPR now” The paramedic commanded as I was pulled away by a police officer. He brought me over near one of the trash cans in the rec center where I worked. He was asking me questions though I couldn’t hear what he said, so instinctively I took off my gloves the way we had practiced in the lifeguarding course. I looked over to my two bosses and I watched Luke punch Jason and storm away, that seemed odd but I can barely even remember it long enough to focus on it. Jason walked over to me and guided me to his office, I felt like a sheep being herded through the crowds of people that gathered as the paramedics continued CPR.
His office was loud, inside were three more police officers, the fire chief, and a paramedic. I did not notice what they were discussing as I sat down in the corner. No one was speaking to me, I was just there, reflecting on what had happened.
I remember being tugged from the lifeguard shack by a lady who works at the front desk. She had told me someone was unconscious and rushed me to the chair where the man lay. It was Jesse, a regular. His usually smiling face was now lifeless. A man in an obnoxiously striped shirt was yanking him from the chair and letting him fall on the floor, looking back it’s funny what your mind remembers during trauma. I sprinted back to grab the OSB which contained many life saving tools when I remembered what OSB stood for. It was our ‘Oh shit bag’ and I thought to myself Oh shit. I returned, slid on my gloves and started CPR. For 15 minutes I continued doing rounds of 30 compressions and 2 breaths. I believe someone had said the ambulance was stuck behind a train and that’s why I had been doing this for so long. I remember screaming at the air for someone to call 911 again, too much crucial time has passed.
Jason’s office went quiet, they were all staring at me as if I was crazy. Not one of them had a single ounce of empathy on their faces. It was then I realized I was projecting my thoughts for them all to hear. I could not bear the way they were looking at me so I focused on the calendar hanging on the bulletin board and went back to my thoughts. I felt more alone than ever. I wondered what was happening to Jesse right now. I did not know if I could or should get up, so I sat there and waited for someone to open the door. Eventually a woman walked in and I gazed outside to see the paramedics were still there. They seemed to be getting some sort of suction device ready. Meanwhile another device that looked like two plastic boards connected with thick bungee cords was actively compressing his chest in rounds of 3. The door closed, and once again I went back to my thoughts, surrounded by people but feeling very deserted.
In the Complex
I've isolated myself
only in awareness
of the Otherness felt
in heightened alertness
that we are not Ourself,
each now looking out
thru different window,
alone despite the crowd
no matter Our size...
a one thing at a time.
...so, will it be us, or I?
Despite a Crowd of People challenge @Raynstar
You were there. And then you were gone. At 18. Who goes at 18? If you could, then I could. And so could everyone else. Not that. Think of anything but that. Think of nothing.
My feet carry me down familiar paths, to familiar buildings, full of familiar strangers. In a lecture hall of 300 people, I sit alone. Eyes burning from a night spent crying. Numb. Numb is better. You used to sit here next to me. But now you are gone and I, alone, notice. I alone. All alone.
All around me students talk and laugh. They rummage through bags searching for pens and paper. They seek out seats near outlets. They carry on with the mundane routines of daily life as if you aren’t gone. But you are. And I, alone, notice.
The professor drones on. Students listen with rapt attention, but I don’t notice. All this used to mean everything. Now it is nothing. The world imploded and everyone carries on like today is the same as yesterday. But yesterday you were here and now there is just an empty seat beside me. An emptiness inside me. And I. Alone. Notice.
At my very lowest I was musing the following poem to life in a crowd of friends meeting for a birthday party a few years back. This is only part of the poem but it immediately came to mind when I read this challenge.
When you lose your dignity,
the world does not know
and does not care.
Because you are alone in this part of hell.
Where others also dwell.
But it wouldn’t be true hell
if you knew
you weren’t alone,
now would it?
Despite The Crowd
"No emotional honesty."
"Oh, that's a thing?"
"You've explained what happened and what you did, but I have no idea how you feel. Go over the event again. This time, I'll hold my hand up, you'll pause and I'll ask you questions."
Must we? What time is it? This session is interminable! "As you wish."
The sun was setting. It was easy to think about the day of the murder mystery party. Through the venetian blinds at the therapist's office, I could see slivers of the changing sky. He keeps the lights low. Our faces are partly covered with shadow. The furniture makes for the most comfortable mini living room. Anyone could fall asleep here.
I let that deep sigh escape. Now he knows that I'm frustrated. Damn!
"We were busy, Najuma and I, with preparations for the party. The theme was 1920s Chicago. I was in charge of the menu and the serving crew, kitchen help, waiters, clean-up."
That fucking hand.
"While you were running around for the party, was it stressful?"
If he continues to interrupt, I'll never get the fuck out of here. "No."
Did he read my sarcasm?
"I had volunteered to help because I thought that it would give me a chance to get to know Najuma better. See her in a different light apart from the church that we attended."
"You've been dating Najuma now for how long?"
More fucking interruptions.
"I told you before, she and I are not dating exclusively. We're building a friendship. Remember, she has an eleven year old daughter. I want to approach slowly. Get to know her and, if things look promising, slowly include the daughter in whatever may be next.
I'm never going to get through the story if you keep interrupting. Can I continue? By the way, I'm currently annoyed. In case you didn't catch that."
More scribblings on his notepad. I'd like to take that notepad and shove it up your ass, but society would frown.
"I'll skip to the end."
"If you must."
"Even though I knew everyone at the party and that none of those people were there to hurt me, all I could think about is me, the eleven year old, at the center of the living room, naked, surrounded by the five perpetrators as they kicked, punched, scratched, bit at me. I felt as if I was suffocating. I stepped out onto the balcony for some fresh air, but that made me think about the time I escaped from the apartment and climbed to the roof. It was Winter, I was naked, the wind was raging, ice was cutting at my body and I climbed to the edge to commit suicide-"
"Clearly you didn't or you wouldn't be talking to me. Right now, what are you feeling?"
"Like attacking you."
"Why? It wasn't me that was hurting you."
"But it's you that is forcing me to relive the past."
"What are you feeling? Describe it to me. You're trembling. What's that about? Are you afraid?"
"The trembling is me fighting myself from leaping off the couch and slamming my fist to your face until you're unrecognizable."
"You're breathing has sped up. Let's pause and take a deep breath."
Fuck you, you son-of-a-bitch! FUCK YOU!!
"Good. Another. In. Hold it. Out. Tell me, how do you feel?"
"Back when I was eleven, I'm imagining that I felt confused. Why would they do that to me? Why would anyone want to hurt a child?"
"What do you feel right now?"
"Like hunting them down. Like torturing them. Like killing them."
"That's what you want to do, but what do you feel?"
"You're trembling again. Deep breath."
"The day of the murder mystery party, a friend noticed that I was trembling. As we stood by the elevator, waiting to go downstairs to get more supplies for the party, I took a deep breath and, after I calmed down, I thanked him for pointing it out to me.
I've come to realize that I can sit in Madison Square Garden within the thousands of people that came to see Prince and the Musicology performance, but I can't be in a small venue, surrounded by people where it's standing room only. At the stadium, it's organized chaos. Everyone has an assigned seat. At the party, it was a small living room, everyone was weaving in and out. No real control. It sent me for a spin."
"You were triggered. You did alot of work today. How will you reward yourself?"
"A hot fudge sundae. And no murder."
A constant state
I do not consider myself to be a reclusive person, but I have a hard time feeling connected with others. I am an ambivert, so I feel energetic whether I am among friends and family or tucked away by myself. Despite this, I still find myself feeling lonely. Among my loved ones, there is a flicker of fear that my own feelings are not reciprocate, or that their feelings are pretentious. When I am alone near groups of others, I envy the connections they have. Their families are closer than mine. Their partners show more passion. Their friends seem closer than I am with mine. I attempt to replicate these behaviors in my own life, but it only serves to make me more isolated. If it doesn't work, I feel like I failed to please them. If it does, I feel like they only care about this false version of me. When I force myself to stop and think, I realize that I only feel alone because I am too afraid to belong to someone, whether romantically or not. I do not trust that I am worth loving. I self-sabotage without realizing, and wake up knowing that everyone I had has left. That's the way it's always been. Lately, I've felt close to more people than ever before. I'm starting to believe that I am really loved, and the isolated feeling I've always had is slowly fading away. But the fear of loneliness lays just behind my waking thoughts, and I worry it may come to claim me again one day.
When I was in college, I visited New York City for the second time in my life. The first time was with an aunt, an uncle and a couple of cousins, and we did the tourist thing. (One of the dumbest things I ever did, was when we were coming down the elevator from the world trade center, I decided not to pop my ears to see what the experience would be like. When I got to the ground floor, the experience was painful, muffly sounding, and ultimately regrettable.) So this time around in the big apple I was an untethered college student of drinking age, but with no monetary surplus. I was there for a journalism conference; the 101 dalmatians live action remake. Disney was paying for everything so my broke ass survived on room service, the gift basket contents, and the mini bar. When I took a walk outside of the hotel, I went to FAO Schwarz, and then sat down outside of Radio City Music Hall. For a few minutes I watched hundreds of people go by and I became intensely sad. My soft pretzel lost all its flavor. Maybe it was my Midwestern Ohio sensibilities, perhaps it was because I was alone there, but I got the feeling that if I sat outside Radio City Music Hall every single day at the same time every day, I would never see the same person twice. And that depressed me to my core. I think everyone feels a kinship with New York City based on how many movies we’ve seen filmed there or stretching back further in our cellular DNA there’s still some recognition of taking that boat to Ellis island and trying to find one’s fortune and safety in the New World. For me, New York is a nice place to visit, but I don’t think I could ever live there. Millions of people, lonely as hell.
I am drowning, I am water.
There were men. Lots and lots of men. Men who hit, and screamed, and rolled their eyes, and disappeared. I was there too. I was hitting and screaming and crying and begging the men to stay and pushing everyone else away to make sure they had a nice clear space to kill me.
I liked when they hit because I knew it was coming.
I liked when they screamed because I knew why they did it.
I knew I could do A and receive B.
I knew why it hurt.
I knew why the lump in my throat wouldn't go away.
I knew if I gave myself to them the abuse that followed would be my own doing.
I knew I could control them.
I knew they were there because I put them there and that I was the only one who could make them leave.
They are gone now. What I knew was a lie. I don't know anything now. Everything is nebulous and grey and I know its better now but what if it isn't? What if it is but it isn't supposed to be?
I am waking up every morning and going to breakfast with a group of people who I love and who love me but their love feels far away. I am coming back home and kissing my beautiful girlfriend and I love her and she loves me but she doesn't hurt me and I don't know how to love her without hating her because I don't know how to love without pain, without the hitting, without the screaming, without the venom.
I am surrounded by love, in and out of me, I am sinking to the bottom of a pool and I am gasping for air but the air is too clean. There is no smoke, no fire, no sharpness to the breaths I am trying to take - and it feels good. It feels so good. It feels so good that I don't believe it exists.
Love flows in and out and the part of me that clings to what I knew is dying, and as it dies it screams that this is not permanent. It is not what I need. It is not what I deserve. It is a farce, and one day the crowd of people that are pouring cups of water into the pool I am drowning in will get tired, and leave, and I will have drank the pool dry, and I will be lying on the bottom, on the cold wet stone and wondering how I got here, and how to get back to where I was, and slowly the smoke will come back, the breathing will hurt again, I will press hard on the old bruises to remind myself that I am alive.
The crowd is here with their arms open wide and I cannot touch them because I know it will feel so good but one day it will end and I will die from the pain of that ending.
The devil I knew - the one that took the shape of a man in boxers screaming at me, of a man on top of me hitting me and calling it love, of a man in shorts and a t-shirt who sees me across the room and shakes his head just enough to tell me not to go to him because when we are around other people I do not exist - is the devil that will hurt me just enough to feel alive.
The devil I don't know - the one that takes the shape of a beautiful girl with hot pink hair, of a best friend, of the breakfast table and chairs filled with people who want me to accept their love the way they accept mine, of tenderness, of a kiss goodnight, of holding hands, of "this is my girlfriend" - could hurt me past the point of no return.
The devil I know is one man with many faces who knows how to hold me over the edge of the cliff and says to me "I could push you. I could kill you. I could break every bone in your body and laugh while I am doing it but I won't and that's how you know I love you."
The devil I don't is a crowd of people who pull me back from the edge, hold me close, and say in unison "We love you. This is love. This love is here and it will always be here. Love is not what you thought it was. It is not pain or suffering. It is tenderness and kindness."
The second devil is scary and real so instead of letting it take me and heal me I sit by myself in this crowd of lovers and wait for them to disappear and for my old devil to come find me and tell me "I told you so."
I’m the one being sectioned. I called the behavioral health number and said come get me.
I walked up and handed the officer my cigarettes and he held it while another one frisked me near the entrance to my apartment complex and they formed a phalanx around me till the Cataldo came and got me.
A Black woman walked by and checked in on me and said “ya’ll having a party and you didn’t invite me” and it was the kindest thing a stranger could do for me in that moment but I said “you can hang around if you want” to defuse tension and cause that is how I talk and then locked up in McClean I often thought of my poor word choice, my poor life choices, et. cetera.
I wasn’t alone in a crowd there, cause a stranger stopped by but I was alone physically with only Dr. Solomon who taught me about choice on the line and God above when I walked into the Atlantic and was baby fragments mm abptized
turn autocorrect into hooked on phonics like I was schooled in Ebonics but I digress, to address the prompt; distressing as it was to walk into the sea surrounded by disconnected people all near me who could sea and hear the silent tears streaming down my face as I thought of Rumi and enlarging my soul and the gospel about the house not being big enough and the possibility of escape to oppose a sea of troubles and to take arms against them when it gets to be too much to take and then I thought of a feeling that wasn’t fake and I stepped into the sea inside and died easily to be reborn sea breezily.
I felt alone then but I clearly wasn’t.
And when I die alone or I die alone in a crowd of people I won’t be alone and it ain’t because I’ll have a loved one or the doctor on the phone or by my side but because we are never really alone on this ride.