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I've washed up on desert island sand
with only a few things in a satchel, and this game to keep me busy.
"the one most valuable thing, what would it be?"

Intelligence is handy, no doubt, just like a Swiss Army Knife.
But put to the test it's usually insufficient in the real world.
Too small, too dull, falls from fumbling hands in a pinch.
A false security, Guaranteed to be lost when really needed.

Health? Tenuous at best.
Doctors' throwing educated guesses at me in little pills like a game of darts.
Besides, my Every Single Cell is re-made by every 7th year, a brand new me.
Just a reflection of DNA, choices, and environment,
health's appearance is up to daily fate.

Faith? in what, exactly, this book? I know I'm lost.
My Creator feeds me or breaks me whether I will or not.
by definition Greater than me, whatever name or persona that would be.
How can I constrain Him or Her to a pronoun, into my own limits, to keep
a tiny symbol stamped in metal, an impossible shield.
In other words, faith in my Savior comes with breath.

Memory? small fading pictures, receipts of illusions cluttering the present.
And anyway, friends to share them hopped a different boat, swam to other islands.
Perhaps a set of footprints will lead to Saturday, but for now its just me.

Anything left?
Looking in the empty satchel,
then fingers checking the corners,
I find a little gem:

Whimsy
Not big enough for confounding hubris,
too small to burden seriousness,
it's bright enough to light hope's path,
and light enough for awe.
Creative thinking in a pickle,
like wishing for three more wishes;
Whimsy is a smile or even a laugh,
compassion hand-in-hand with gratitude
and acceptance comes along too.

I'll keep this.


(chapters in the book:)

Part 1- Match Girl
1.  Disabled Veteran, Traumatic Brain Injury
2.  the Best of Them
3.  Incriminating Proof

Part 2- Assembling the Pieces
4.  Presence of Mind, Awareness
5.  the Facade
6.  Presence of Mind, Knowledge and Coping Skills
7.  The Art
8.  Two Wheels
9.  the Value of Scrap Mettle
10.  Brain Injury Still Feels Like

Part 3-  Taming the Sun
11.  Presence of Mind, Acceptance
12.  Finding my Soulmate
13.  Finding Home
14.  ***, PTSD
15.  Between Horizon and the Sky
There is no need to dwell on the exterior cliche of an injured soldier, the propaganda is superficial. Civilians have only plastic green men, heavy dusty movie set costumes, and Army-of-One heroes to populate stereotypes. Keep your images larger than life, no use touching up a paint-by-number. Mine was banal, foolish, and 19; enough said.

One fence is the fraternity itself, the next is brain injury. No other way to understand but be there. A Solid-American-Made-Dashboard cracked my forehead at 45mph.
Crumpling into the footwell,
unaware that the flatbed's rear bumper
was smashing thru the passenger windshield above me
the frame stopped just shy of decapitating my luckily unoccupied seat.
Our vehicle's monstrous hood had attempted to murderously bury us under,
but the axle stopped momentum's fate and ended the carnage under dark iron.
Shards of my identity joined the slow, pulverized, airborn chaos.
Back, Deep, Gone.

Unconsciousness is the brain's frantic attempt to re-wire neurons, jury rig broken connections, the doctor's desperate attempt to re-attach, stand back and say, good enough. Essential systems limply functioned, but unessential ones were ditched. Years later a military doctor diagnosed an eventual triage: Hypothalimus disconnected from the Pituitary Gland, Executive Function damaged, long pathways for emotional regulation interrupted.

I woke up still kinda bleeding, crusty blood in my hair, a line of frankenstein stitches wandering across my forehead.   My sense of self had literally dissolved into morning dust floating in a sterile hospital sunbeam.  My name was down the hall, words and the desire to speak were on a different floor.  Life became me and also a separate me under constant renovation, a wrecking ball on one half, scaffolding and raw 2x4's the other.

Waking up in the hospital, I realized I needed help to get the blood cleaned up.   A nurse came in, largely glared at me in disregard, and quickly left… for an hour.   She returned and brusquely dropped a useless ace comb and gauze on the blanket over my feet and abandoned me again.  This was my introduction to the shame of a VA hospital.  I minced my way to the bathroom, objectively examined my face in the mirror with shocking stitches above one swollen eye.  Gingerly rinsing my hair, the water ran pink in white porcelain.  I remembered the sound in my skull between my ears when a doctor scraped a metal tool across my skull, cleaning debris before stitching.  I recalled that in the ER I was asking Is he ok, repeating it like a broken record, knowing I should stop but I couldn’t.  There was also perhaps a joke about an Excedrin headache.

It was morning, and since there was no such thing as time or purpose or feelings anymore, I wandered to the hall with my only companion, the IV pole. One side was a wall of windows, and I was, what, 10 or 12 stories up from the streets of a much larger city than where I crashed.  The hall was warm and sunny.  I wheeled my companion to a blocky square vinyl chair to sit next to a pay phone.  I didn’t have any thoughts at all, or care about it.   After about an hour my first name floated up from the void, then with some effort my last name.  It took the rest of the morning to remember I had a brother.  After lunch we resumed our post, and I spent the afternoon in concentration piecing together his phone number.  God had pushed the reset button.

Thirty years ago the doctors didn't understand head injuries; they only recognized the physical symptoms. At first there was good reason to be permanently admitted to the hospital.  My blood pressure was unstable, sometimes so low that drawing blood for tests caused my veins to collapse even with baby needles.  My thyroid had shut down completely, only jump-started again with six months of Synthroid.  I had to learn to live with crashing blood sugar and fluctuating appetite.  For years afterwards, any stress would cause arrhythmias, my heart filling and skipping out of sync, blood pressure popping my skull.  Will the clock stop this time?  

There is always at least one momentous event in every person’s life that becomes punctuation, before and after.  The other side of Before the accident truly was a different me.  I have a vague recollection of who that person may have been, and occasionally get reminders.   Before, I was getting recruiting letters from Ivy League colleges and MIT, a high school senior at sixteen.  After, I couldn’t balance a checkbook or even care about a savings account in the first place.  Before, I had aced the military entrance exam only missing one question, even including the speed math section.  They told me I could chose any rating I wanted, so I chose Air Traffic Control.  Twenty years later, I thumbed through old high school yearbooks at a reunion.   I saw a picture of me in the Shakespeare Club, not recalling what that could have been about.   On finding a picture of me in the Ski Club I thought, Wow, I guess I know how to ski.   A yellowed small-town newspaper article noted I was one of two National Merit Scholars; and in another there’s a mention of a part in the High School Musical.  

This side of After, I kept mixing right with left, was dyslexic with numbers, and occasionally stuttered with word soup.  Focus became separated from willpower, concentration was like herding cats.  The world had become intense.

(chapter 1 continues in memoir)
A bicycle is the most efficient transportation machine.  A little input and I’m gliding, moving a useful measurable distance but more than that. I like going fast enough so the wind in my ears is louder than my thoughts.  On a tough day I like riding until I can be grateful again; sometimes that takes a couple hours but every ride is a good ride.

My youth’s independence was a banana seat Huffy pulled from an under-appreciated pile of rust in the back of St. Vincent’s Thrift Shop.  No school bus meant riding to school, the first 45 minutes of every day in all weather. Afternoons were exploring detours; summers were expeditions to the city limits, sometimes beyond.  I needed an upgrade for high school; I found a spotless antique 3 speed Raleigh, the cultural English workhorse collecting dust in an unlikely garage for $50.

I kept it through two foster homes. The first one kept me busy with farm chores, but the second was back in town. There, I had the bike back, and as an aside, they had a phenomenally sophisticated wall sized sound system: reel-to-reel and amazing headphones. I would forget myself in records: Sgt. Peppers, Genesis, Yes, etc, and another favorite. Just a guitar and piano instrumental album with a simple melody called Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter. Something about that one song in particular I heard faint glimmerings of contentment that was denied to me.  I would replay it to cling to this hint of a simple happiness I didn’t understand; that if it was in the song, it was somewhere deep in me.
Without a car for 10 years, one used 10-speed or another got me to various eccentric jobs.  

Fast forward to the life-changer, after a divorce. Needing to reconnect with myself, I searched for a decent bike. I found it hanging dusty in the back of a cluttered boutique shop smelling of tire rubber, quiet with racers’ confidence. They had a Lemond thoroughbred on consignment, assembled custom 5 years earlier to race. It was slightly outdated, but a dent on the top tube put it out to pasture. It was steel though, so rideable enough for me.  My entire $300 savings and it was mine. Then I discovered the special pedals needed special shoes, so another month saving for those.  I wasn’t going to wear those silly spiderman outfits, until I started to ride more than 10 miles and my **** demanded it.  And those pockets in the back of the shirt were handy.  I met a friend who taught me how to draft: my skinny wheel a few inches behind the bike in front at 20 mph, to save precious energy in the slipstream. Truly dangerous, vulnerable, and effectively blinded; but he pointed at the ground with various hand signals to warn of upcoming road hazards. I was touched by this wordless language of trust and camaraderie. This innate concern is essential to the sport, even among competitors, so it seems to attract quality people I liked.  My new life expanded with friends.

I discovered biking exercise could stabilize the life-long effects of brain injury, lost some weight, grew stronger, and started setting goals.  First longer group rides, then a century (100 miles in one ride), then mountain biking: epic fun in nature, unadulterated happiness.  Then novice racing, then the next category up with a team, then a triathlon.  It became an admitted obsession but I won a pair of socks or bike parts every now and then.  Eventually tattooed two bike chains around my ankle, one twisted and the other broken.  I loved the lifestyle, and had truly reinvented and rediscovered myself.

A 500 mile ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles with fellow wounded veterans helped dissipate the old shame from the military.  I had joined the ride to raise money for a good cause.  I respected the program and knew personally that cycling had changed my life.  They turned out to be inspiring, helping me more than I could have helped them.  Some had only just started riding a bike for only a few weeks, some were amputees fit with special-made adapters on regular bikes, some had no legs using hand cycles.  They all joined on to the task of riding 500 miles. No one whined, and helping each other finish the day was the only goal.  While riding with them, I began to open up about my experience.  I found a few others who also had TBI, and we could laugh about similar mishaps.  The other veterans didn’t judge me about anything, like when I was injured, the nature of my disability, how much I did or didn’t accomplish. I had signed up just like them, had to recover back to a functioning life just like them.  It was the first time in my life that whole chapter in my life was accepted; I wasn't odd, and they helped close the shame on that old chapter.  (Thank you, R2R.)  The next year I took a 1500 mile self-supported bike trip through western mountain ranges with my husband and soulmate, whom I had met mt. biking.

There was one late Spring day, finally warm after a long winter, when I just wanted to ride for a few hours by myself.  No speedometer or training intervals, just enjoy the park road winding under the trees. I had downloaded some new music on the IPod, a sampler from the library.  I felt happy.  Life is Good.  Rounding a bend by the river, coasting through sunbeams sparkling the park’s peaceful road, my earphones unexpectedly played Bricklayer’s Beautiful Daughter.  I hadn’t heard that simple guitar tune in three decades.  My God, time suddenly disappeared.  I was right back in the forgotten foster home, listening for the faint silver threads of the contentment I was feeling at this very moment on the bike.  The full force of this sudden connection, the wholeness of the life and unity of myself in one epiphany, brought me to tears. I found myself pouring my heart into praying hang in there, girl, hang in there, you’ll find it and I felt my younger self hearing echoes of birds singing in new green leaves.
Rewind this memoir back to my first foster home.   I’m reclining on the couch in the living room watching Superman, a whatever's-on-tv-saturday-afternoon-movie.   "Give A Little Bit" played from the soundtrack.  The Supertramp song reached out from the screen and into my own complicated teen-aged life.  Oh the words of that song blindsided me, hit me hard in the chest with a sad yearning, an emotion I had ignored forever like that elephant in the room too big to push out the door.  Because life was so hard, too hard, and lonely on and on, and the world gives only just enough that you keep breathing, but you wonder why.  Yes, please  someone  give just a little....
But at the time I hadn't known anything else and I just stuffed that overwhelming sad lonely feeling.  Too much need wears out a welcome in someone else's home.  It seemed most everyone else had family, security, some money for perhaps things like a pair of cleats to run in school track if you have the desire. Its called belonging or opportunity and I was acutely aware I wouldn't have it.

Fast forward 25 years; business for my glass art studio is rewarding.  I live in Cleveland, or what I called Purgatory.  I like the city though; I think the motto should be "Its Not That Bad."  A tough steel town, unpretentious to a fault, tenacious, it inspired the Clean Water Act because the river was so polluted it   caught   on   fire.  People who live there just don't quit, except that the biggest export is young people. The streets are eerily empty, the quiet steel mills are epic sculptures of rust.  But its not that bad.  Now they make a tasty beer called Burning River.  Sometimes they gamble on unconventional ideas because they've reached the end of status-quo.  One can even surf there, when the wind blows a Nor'easter in the fall, just before the lake freezes. The wave break is nicknamed "Sewer Pipe"; one can imagine why.

I biked with a club there; cycling part of my life-blood.  Life was pretty good, blessed with measures of contentment and happiness and family, even through so many challenges.  Except I'm stuck pedaling a trainer in the basement most of the long winter.  It was during an endless, gray February that I was inspired by an idea: a Velodrome.  Its one of those banked tracks people in America only see during the Olympics.  Cover it, and people could have a bicycle park all year-round with palm trees in the winter, in Cleveland.  Its a blast of a sport with serious American heritage.  A velodrome is a place where all a kid has to do is show up and with enough heart he or she can make it to the Olympics.  They wouldn't need money, just 100% heart.  It would be the kind of opportunity I didn't have when I was a kid.

So I decided to take on the responsibility to build one... not to be afraid of the price tag, or how to do it, or let a label like "disabled veteran with a head injury" daunt me.  I figured my role was to get the project started and motivate others to do other parts.  I decided not to discuss my shortcomings, introduce myself with that label, or use it as a disclaimer.   As many times as I wished I had a chalkboard sign around my neck saying, Please excuse the mess, I had to tell myself it was not an excuse.
There would need to be many others; but the fact that I knew only a dozen people on the planet didn't stop me either.  Two people inspired me.  Kyle MacDonald had a dream to barter a paper clip for something better, trading that for something else, anything else, until he had a house.  I thought I could start with an old laptop, a couple thousand dollars, and my idea. I'd work to leverage each bit of progress, not knowing what they were yet.  Thats how anything gets done, right?  Erik Weihenmayer is a blind alpine mountain climber, conquering even Everest.  He didn’t let anyone convince him what he couldn’t do, and didn’t let impairments keep him from his goal.  He didn't let blindness, the fact that he couldn't see the top as well as others, make the goal any less enjoyable for himself.  Also, there’s no way he could have done it without help.

There are no business plans for a Velodrome or someone else would have built more of them already.  I'm good at figuring things out, what with having to relearn things all the time.  I don't quit because that has never seemed to be an option.  Resourcefulness is my middle name, having to put my life back together every year or so.  Certainly the project was eccentric but as an artist I've never really cared about what others thought.  I certainly didn't have a reputation for sanity to maintain.  Professionally, I’ve had experience with so many factors of development: from paperwork at the back end as a Project Assistant, to designing it as a Mechanical Drafter, to constructing it as a Steel Detailer.  I understood this project.

Every time I discovered something needed to be done, I'd figure out how to do it.  I took an online tutorial and put together a website, attended communication seminars for better speaking skills, learned how to recruit a Board of Directors, took classes for fundraising, won a few grants, and started a non-profit.  I had to buy a couple of suits for meetings.  I kept hoping someone who knew what they were doing would take over, but that never seemed to materialize.  What I thought would be a few months turned into several hard years of work, learning new things on the fly like politics, business etiquette, computer programs, how to understand and write financials and business plans for stadiums.

It felt like cramming for finals, taking exams for classes I never attended.  I didn’t just burn my candle on both ends, I was torching it in the middle too.  Every challenge I had ever gone through seemed like it was a preparation for this one.  Many times I wondered if it was all for nothing; so many dead ends and frustrations and years where the project was barely on life-support.  Mistakes and wrong turns making people mad, losing faith in me.  Would it ever really happen?  I kept imagining what my bike wheels would look like under my handlebars as if I was ridiing on the track, listening to the same particular songs on my ipod for motivation.

A small tangent here, a digression back to the fifth grade and my favorite teacher.  He was about as tall as his students.  Mr.A (our nickname for Mr. Anderson) was a barrel-chested little person but I didn't notice it till years later because he was so cool.  He was the first teacher, the first person actually, who encouraged me to be myself.  I was a little kid, a couple years advanced and bright enough to be skipped again.  Tthat would have been ridiculous since I was already too small.  I would get my work done early in class, and he would let me spend time doing whatever, encouraging my creativity.  I distinctly remember making little scale models of parks out of construction paper.  I would start by making a rectangular tray, and then fill it in with ponds, benches, and oval or figure-8 tracks for bicycles, elevated roller-coaster paths for walking.  It was my way of creating a whimsical place that felt good in my difficult life.  No lie, I was building bicycle tracks when I was 9.  That memory faded away until I was several years into the actual Velodrome project, trying create a light-hearted park on the edge of a ghetto.  This was my life's ultimate Art Project; made with wood, steel, and tenacity.  It made me wonder about a life's purpose... still just a what if... but cruel if there wasn't anything to it.

There is a necessary role for the dreamer.  Visionaries help to break status quo, introduce new solutions.  Sorting through the banal with unique perspective, the random is reassembled into intriguing newness.  What is creative nature?  Is it obsession to improve things, the need for approval, resourcefulness within limits, or perspective outside boundaries?   Is it tenacity to the point of obsession, focus to the point of selfishness?  

Thankfully, a few devoted people did take over after a few years and worked hard to raise the serious money.  In 2012, Phase 1 of the Cleveland Velodrome opened to the public.  Presently they are raising funds for Phase 2 to cover it.   By chance I was there the day the track was finished and got a chance to ride it.  All I wanted to do was one thing: listen to those songs on my ipod and see my wheels under the handlebars on the track... in reality.  I didn't want to race or be recognized at some celebration.  I just wanted to ride a few laps, happy just to have a role in building it.  In less than a year there are already training programs, youth cycling classes, and teams competing.  Through community grants and volunteers, its all free to anyone under 18.  

Not to be forgotten, some thanks should go to one supportive teacher who helped a scrappy kid dream.    Schools measure math and science so valuable, for good reason.  But this favors one brain’s side of thinking.  Initiating and working for the construction of an urban renewal project and improving a neighborhood is traceable to the exact same idea assembled with clumsy school scissors, white glue, and construction paper, during 5th grade free time.

I can't wait to hear the news of some tough kid from East Cleveland getting to the Olympics.
musings of a kook surfer
(kook: 1. Dork. 2. A new or inexperienced surfer. 3. Someone who says they surf but they can't.(waxboy)

Logic and Perspective  (a poem)

Quantum Imagination Rules.
What-Ifs equal What-Is
in this, a shared creation.

If         we are surrounded by what we can see,
            what we see is what we are;
Then   matter is perception of resistance,
            time is the persistence of opposites,
And    space is an Electric Universe;
            not lonely nuclear fires,
            but Twin Ribbons of infinite energy
            traveling through plasma that unites all.

The Earth
        a wonder of positive and negative,
        not solid,
        is the infinite slowed into harmony.
The Sun
        a focus of resistance,
        not burning out,
        Burns In.

No small coincidence that
equals means is
You Are and
You See so
I am and
                  
You are, you see, the I Am
...


No Chance for Chance  (a poem)

What is Serendipity?
Seen miraculous,
Some thing done there,
Something done.

What isn't Serendipity?
The unseen miraculous.
What miracles undone,
in time
in time,
as it never happened.

Everything?
Nothing?

It cannot be a good thing-
Fortunate for you is
lost fortune for who...
Self-fulfilling for Jungian prophecy
or prophecy fulfilled for Schrodinger's Cat.

It cannot be a bad thing-
In agreement
with yes...
Self-fulfilling for Jungian prophecy
or prophecy fulfilled for Schrodinger's Cat.

I think,
so I think I am caught between
a wave and a particle.

….

Between Worlds

Never turn your back on the ocean – the mantra of the surfer in my thoughts as I continuously scan the horizon.  There is just enough time to position for a wave; decide to paddle left or right or quickly further out to avoid the random pummel of a looming larger wave.  Between sets, the water gently bobs me floating half submerged.  Staring introspectively at the water, I am learning to interpret ribbons of upward-turning sparkles in the distance.

Dawn is an hour away; visibility is dim but gradually lifting.  Morning’s light is so flat and the water’s glassy surface so smooth that anticipating incoming waves becomes almost a matter of intuition.  The illusion of separateness from creation is breaking down.  The water is almost chilly, but still comforting. I forgo a rash-guard; the subsequent chest irritation from surfboard wax is a small exchange to feel immersed in the ocean.  The bay feels intimate yet expansive with only two other meditative surfers in the distance. Turtles swirl the water, heads straining up for a peek and a breath.  Sometimes they turn their shells so their fins feel the air; they keep three of us wanna-be-ocean-dwellers company.

Yesterday a southern Kona wind brings volcanic-smog from Kīlauea.   Vog is high in CO2 and fumes, giving sensitive people muddle-headedness, lethargy, and sore throat-  a reminder this is Pele's paradise.  This muting velvet feels almost smothering to the horizon.  Is it fog?  Yet a glance behind verifies the ***** of Mt. Haleakala is visible, from the shore to the cloud blanketing the world above the 10,000' peak.   Hale means "house" and the rest can mean either "of the sun", or "of a special raspberry-like flower". Either way the mountain was pulled from the ocean by Maui while he was roping the sun from the sky.  Usually, from this place in the sea, sunrise begins with a torch-like beacon of illuminated mist right over the peak, flaming brighter in the turquoise sky just as the sun coronas into a brilliant gold spotlight over the bay.  Yet this morning waiting for dawn, islands, water, and sky are all various shades of hushed mainland gray.

Half submerged and floating quietly, my back is to the mountain and I face the close but unusually shrouded island Kaho'olawe. It was callously blasted to a streaked surface of wind-blown dust by a military just for "training".  Recently reclaimed for pono, it represents the hope of nurturing a senselessly abused, irrevocably lost paradise. To my right is far-off Lana'i; to my left is Molokini, the sharp half rim of an ancient crater barely rising above the water's surface.

The world suddenly wakes, shedding gray. The sky's far reaching dome overhead intensifies, glowing in layers of rose, red, fuschia. The atmosphere I’m breathing becomes thickly permeated with color, as if one could breath lavendar-orange.

What planet am I on?

It feels so foreign, time stops.  The two other surfers are still as well, dwarfed by distance, and I am alone. Tiny in this red expanse, I become quietly centered.   I turn to see Haleakala where the sun is yet to rise, awed to distraction, forgetting incoming swells.  A bright sun smoked crimson is hidden behind the peak, shining horizontally through what I imagine to be some opening at the horizon.  Illuminated ridged undersides of the high clouds are streaked neon red to half the sky.  The atmosphere is hushed over the still water, the tangible copper light presses down, infuses everything.  It feels disarming yet comforting and surreal, floating surrendered to this other-world light; sky to water, horizon to vast horizon, the calm apocalypse the turtles and Kaho'olawe have been praying for.
May 2013 · 1.2k
Chapter 13: Finding Home
we've met before

We took some time off work, to meet for lunch. A flight of stairs down from the sidewalk.  A basement
coffee/book shop with ubiquitous old-Seattle esprit.  Our easy conversation passed hours like minutes.

No, we met first on the sidewalk. I thought it was you because you were standing, waiting, looking at your
phone, wearing a *(why are they all?)
oversized firefighter's jacket.  A man in uniform.

Actually, we met online.  I was curious, checking out the site.  Only one guy caught my interest, you
emailed me first.

But I think we've met before.  When I first saw your eyes, I recognized you from when we were infinite.
I saw the deepest, clearest water and peace, a glimpse of life in love and summer sun.

...


The picture on the cover

4 dates since we met, 9 days on the calendar, each one a surprise.
a coffee date, mt biking, (you rented the best bike for me)
***** shooting (oh, you loved the sight of me with a gun)
visiting your dad discussing books and gardens, then a surprised brother;
God, you knew the best food for dinner tucked into small funky streets.

Then today, a hike. A firehouse lookout at 10,000'- scrambling boulders, a skinny precarious
ladder to the top.  The view is epic, cliffs fours sides, miniaturized trees way down,
sun rays to this warm spot on the wrap-around porch for lunch, tucked out of the wind.
The sandwich you made just right.  You had me at avocado.

Thin air and a delicious little bottle of sake from a wooden box-cup made us giddy,
trying to figure out that Japanese label, some cartoon figure of a victorious mean Samarai?
So we named it Kick-*** Sake, and I took a picture.
Then you asked me to marry you.
And I said yes.

...

She knew

A black plastic nametag with white letters,
slightly off-white and not-so-flat from a trip or two through a bachelor's dryer.
I remove it from the bottom of the washer, lightly ******* the engraving,
and ask what's your middle name, this letter T?

From the kitchen you say, my grandmother named me,
with a private grin.
She might have been kinda drunk.
Walking behind me, your caramel-rich low voice in my ear,
TsuneoKawehiwehiokekuwahiwionouaioku'uhome.
(saying with careful pronunciation)
Tsu-nay-o-Ka-vay-hee-vay-hee-oh-kay-ku-va-hee-vee-­on-oh-vay-ee-o-ku-u-**-may
and I was just sent

No, she wasn't drunk, she knew exactly what she meant.
Kapunawahine, holding her little mo'opuna kane,
sensed your father was restless with rock fever.
He would be moving away to the mainland with you soon, so she says to you,
*This land of water and special rainforest trees of the mountains, Hawaii, is always beloved home.
May 2013 · 28.9k
Chapter 14: WTF, PTSD
In between   (a poem)
.
my mind struggles against its own illusion
nightmare tumbles out into still morning
light is heavy,
a fog of echoes...
and I am caught
.
day dreams the sunlight
dreams light the day
and I am caught in between
mourning echoes...
like a stillborn ghost
who can't take a breath in the present

….
  
I live on a tropical island and just want to go surfing with my husband, but the nausea in the early morning as I try to eat  breakfast and drive with him to the beach is so uncomfortable.  Day after day it makes even surfing a chore, and I consider not going anymore.  Background anxiety and unreasonable irritation interferes with our marriage, frustrates him enough to want me out.  

For me, a trip to the grocery store or meeting a group of people awakens the same dreadful fear as rockclimbing a cliff. Perspective has been lost in the extremes.  I try to gain some control over this hindering nuisance, seeking situations that bring the same surges of adrenaline so I can learn to master it.  If I can just push past the avoidance that would keep me inside doing nothing, if I can just ignore the feeling I want to throw up, if I can just get out there, I am rewarded with life’s potential beauty eventually.  Many days I do enjoy the thrill of mountain biking or connection with nature when surfing, but there are too many days of internal struggle that reduce what should be enjoyable to a relentless chore of wrestling inner demons.

The VA offers a few sessions of marriage counseling, and the doctor begins to explain PTSD.  ***, I’ve learned to cope with an unreliable brain, but now there’s this?  From what I understand (and that’s just me, an amateur philosopher) Sometimes the brain is so traumatized, that the memory is literally sealed off, encapsulated, protecting it from changing.  If later something happens that is similar, the brain triggers avoidance responses as a take-no-chances survival mechanism.  Literally the brain is protecting one’s self from one’s self.  This all-or-nothing strategy works fending off potential dinosaur attacks, but in our complex society, these automatic avoidance behaviors complicate functioning and well being.  Life becomes an attitude of constant reaction instead of motivated intention.

The website for the National center for PTSD says.  “After a trauma or life-threatening event, it is common to have reactions such as upsetting memories of the event, increased jumpiness, or trouble sleeping. If these reactions do not go away or if they get worse, you may have Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.”  

“Common reactions to trauma are:
• Fear or anxiety: In moments of danger, our bodies prepare to fight our enemy, flee the situation, or freeze in the hope that the danger will move past us. But those feelings of alertness may stay even after the danger has passed. You may:feel tense or afraid, be agitated and jumpy, feel on alert.  
• Sadness or depression: Sadness after a trauma may come from a sense of loss---of a loved one, of trust in the world, faith, or a previous way of life. You may:have crying spells, lose interest in things you used to enjoy, want to be alone all the time, feel tired, empty, and numb.  
• Guilt and shame: You may feel guilty that you did not do more to prevent the trauma. You may feel ashamed because during the trauma you acted in ways that you would not otherwise have done. You may:feel responsible for what happened, feel guilty because others were injured or killed and you survived.  
• Anger and irritability: Anger may result from feeling you have been unfairly treated. Anger can make you feel irritated and cause you to be easily set off. You may:lash out at your partner or spouse, have less patience with your children, overreact to small misunderstandings.  
• Behavior changes: You may act in unhealthy ways. You may:drink, use drugs, or smoke too much, drive aggressively, neglect your health, avoid certain people or situations.”   It lists four main symptoms: reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind of the event, feeling numb, and feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal)”

Four words strung together: Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  They’ve become a tired cliché, exhausted from the endless threat of random cruelty camouflaged in banality, weary of the weight shouldering back the wall that separates death and gore from the living.  Living was a reflex beyond willpower and devoid of choice. Control was self-deception.  The mind was so preoccupied with A: survival, B: sanity, in that order.  Rest was a cruel illusion.  The tank was drained, no room for emotions ditched.  Empathy took too much effort, fear was greedy.  Hopefully they can be remembered and found on the other side, if there is one.  Sleep deprived cells were left hyper-alert from the imminent, shot up and addicted to adrenaline.  Living was Fate and Chance, and meant leaving that time and place sealed in forgetfulness.  

Now PTSD is a worn out acronym, a cold shadow of what it feels like.  I try to think of something more personal that can describe the way it randomly visits me, now resigned to its familiar unwelcome influence.  It steals through my brain, flying ahead of me with its own agenda of protecting sabotage.  Its like the Guardian Trickster of Native American legend.  Its an archetype but real enough to make mistakes: Chulyen, the black raven.

A decade after the ER, contentment is found in a garden of slow tranquility as a butterfly interrupts a sunbeam.  My heart fills with bittersweet as I’ve finally found something I love and want to keep.  Just then Chulyen’s grasping black claws clamp my heart with painful arrhythmia and it fills to burst, tripping in panic trying to recover its pace.  The sudden pain drops me to my knees, in the dirt between fragrant lavender and cherry tomatoes.  Pain stops breath and time and makes me remember the ER, when my heart rebelled its ordained purpose for a week.  I had tried to throw my bitter life back in God’s face but He didn’t take it.  Now that I have peace and a life that I treasure, He’s taking it now.  The price for my mistake is due.  It was all just borrowed time and I’m still so young, my children just babies.  God with a flick of cruelty reminds me not to put faith in the tangible, especially when its treasured.  The sharp claws finally relent and I can breathe, looking up with a gasp and the Raven takes flight overhead leaving a shadow.  Bright noon warmth, unusually heavy and foreboding, seems to say ‘there will come a time when you will not welcome the sun.’   Doctors run an EKG and diagnose ‘stress’.

The bird perches on my shoulder two more decades later, always seeing death just over there.  So I sit on the porch just a little longer and check my list again, delaying the unavoidable racing heart and rush of tension when I fix the motorcycle helmet strap under my chin.  I know all those stupid drivers have my life in their cell-phone distracted hands and hope my husband knows how much I love him, and my daughters too.  

Chulyen wakes me at 3:00 am when autumn’s wind aggravates the trees.  His rustle of black feathers outside unsettles summer’s calm night.  He brings an end-of-the-world portent that hints this peace is just temporary, borrowed.  Tribulation will return.

Ravens are attracted to bright shiny things.  Chulyen steals off with treasures like intention, and contentment.  I don’t realize they are missing until occasionally I find myself truly living in the moment.  I guess that is another reason why I crave adventure, for those instants and epiphanies that snap me out of that long term modis operandi of reacting, instead of being.  The daily list of ‘I must, or I should’ can for a brief while become ‘I want’  and I am free.

My companion the black bird perches relaxed in the desert on the gatepost of a memory.  A bullet-scarred paint-faded sign dangles by one corner from rusty barbed wire:
    No Trespassing    
    That Means You
I have a haunted idea what's behind the fence.  Chulyen implies the memory with a simple mistaken sound:
a Harley in the distance is for a second the agitating echo of a helicopter...
or those were the very same words they said when...
or I hear a few jangling clinks of forks in our warm kitchen...
hinting a cold cafeteria at 5:00 am smelling of fake eggs and industrial maple flavored corn syrup,
and everything else that happened that day...
My cells recollect, brace with the addictive rush of adrenaline.  But the raven denies access to the memory, distracting with discomfort.  I trip and I fall hard into the gritty dirt of irritation at the person who unknowingly reminded me.  Anxiety floods in along with fatigue of the helplessness of it all, back then and still now.  I can't go further.  Chulyen’s tricking deception says Leave This Memory, you never wanted to come back.
But I already knew from just recognizing the bird patiently sitting there a sentinal,
recalling every other time he tricked me with nausea and depression.
I tried to tell myself again that behind that gate,
the past has dried up from neglect.
Disintegrated into dust,
Blown away,
doesn't
exist.



After everything else, how to work through this?  The VA gave me a manual, a crudely printed set of worksheets with a government-looking blue cover page:  Cognitive Processing Therapy.
“In normal recovery from PTSD symptioms, intrusion, thoughts, and emotions decrease over time and no longer trigger each other.  However, in those who don’t recover, the vivid images, negative thoughts, and strong emotions lead to escape and avoidance.  Avoidance prevents the processing of the trauma that is needed for recovery and works only temporarily.  The ultimate goal is acceptance.  
There may be “stuck points”, conflicting beliefs or strong negative beliefs that create additional unpleasant emotions and unhealthy behavior.  For example, a prior belief may have been “ I am able to protect myself in dangerous situations.”  But after being harmed during military service, a conflicting belief surfaces, “I was harmed during service, and I am to blame.”  If one is ‘stuck’ here, it may take some time until one is able to get feelings out about the trauma, because one is processing a number of rationales.  “I deserved it because…” , or “I misinterpreted what happened, I acted inappropriately, I must be crazy…”  The goal is to change the prior belief to one that does not hinder acceptance.  For example, “I may not be able to protect myself in all situations.”

(chapter continues with recovery methods)

— The End —