I’m at the library. It’s a February morning. The weather is strange. It was raining but faded to a cloudy windy day. There are patches of blue sky coming through, but ever so slightly that you know they won’t stay. It’s windy, very windy. You can hear the wind, smacking against the building. And for some reason, it reminds me of October…
I’m sure we all know how Nostalgia works. You get a whiff of a smell, hear a specific sound, taste something you haven’t in a while, and it somehow reminds you so much of a specific time, you almost feel as if you’re right there again. That’s what I have right now. Nostalgia to October. But not a recent October, a childhood October. I feel like I am six maybe seven years old. It’s the afternoon after the school day, but still light out. If I had to give you a reference for this specific feeling, picture getting off the bus after a day spent at the Fall Scholastic Book Fair in Second Grade. Baller feeling, I know. I feel were now on the same page.
I’m not sure where everyone else was, but I was home with Kenny. Given he was probably 12 or 13 at the time, maybe he was watching me for my Mom. She would tend to do this from time to time. Kenny’s birthday was in October. Maybe that’s why he enjoyed Halloween movies so much, or maybe it was just that he was a creepy little kid. I’m not too sure.
My mom was an extremely laisse faire parent. Don’t get me wrong, she was a very protective and nurturing mother, but she was also a hippie and had four kids running around, so the rules were basically, don’t kill each other and remember to turn the oven off. I can’t remember her ever making me feel that I couldn’t watch R rated Halloween movies but I’m sure it was somehow implied. You know that little voice inside of us saying, maybe were not supposed to do that? Well mine was more so like, what were the other kids in my classes allowed to do? And no one was watching R rated Halloween movies. But I had a cool big brother who was on occasion responsible for me until Mom got home, and he usually spent most of that time, trying to set his farts on fire…
So of course, Kenny put on all the Halloween movies and said, “come watch them with me”. I typically don’t have an opinion towards horror movies. The current ones being made are so far-fetched it’s hard to take them seriously. However, I’m also not a psycho so I don’t overly enjoy them either. But I can tell you for damn sure, at six years old, I was not a fucking fan. So, for no reason other than appearing cool to my older brother, I watched. There I was with my eyes squinted the whole time, trying to blur my vision. I can’t remember exactly how the rest of the night went. I’m sure Kenny changed the channel as he saw my mom’s car pull in the driveway and I pretended everything was fine…as I bled from my eyeballs.
I lied awake all night, too traumatized to look anywhere but the wall my body was slammed against as a way to comfort myself. I was probably also crying as my sister was probably sitting up in bed talking gibberish, since she was a chronic sleepwalker as a child and a horrifying one at that. It was never just your typical move things in the fridge or sleeping in the hallway. That bitch would straight up exorcist style sit up and stare directly at me, not responding to anything I was saying. I would just have to roll back over and prepare for her to strangle me in my sleep. Anyway, I eventually awoke the next morning, went to school, and once again was the coolest kid in class for having seen an R rated movie. Eventually, after what was probably months, I was no longer scared to fall asleep.
There is no big story here, no punchline, just a memory. Just a memory of Kenny. He is no longer on that table in the morgue. He is on the couch, alive, and fun, and once again making his little sister feel cool enough to sit with the big kids.
The thing with trauma is, it becomes a part of us. Forever. You never lose those moments. The moments we wish we could unsee, unhear, un-feel. The moments that stop our entire existence and forever change it. Hearing my mom’s voice crack as she cried, “Kenny was killed in a car accident”. My brain registering the word, “killed”, over and over again. The moment I walked into the Nassau County Medical Examiner’s office, and it became shockingly real, seeing my brother lying on a steel table with a thin sheet over his body. The moment I walked in and saw my biggest nightmare in real life, as I approached his casket. Those moments are with me every second of everyday. We try to forget them but we can’t. They are a part of us. They have their own residence in our brain. And for a while they feel like our whole brain. Like no other thoughts exists except the bad ones.
But one day, the wind hits our ears a certain way, or the garlic cooking on the stove runs through your nose a little differently, or we find the old sweatshirt we’ve been looking for and the smell on it takes us somewhere. Somewhere else. And somehow, they’re here. Alive, reminding us of a time we laughed or we cried. But they are here. They are no longer on the table, or in the casket. We remember them here and we feel good for a few moments.
This will not stay. I can tell you that. It can fade as fast as it comes. But every time this happens, our brain remembers something new. In times of Blunt Force Trauma like losing a loved one unexpectedly, our brain shuts down. Almost like unplugging your desktop without backing up the files. The bad memories are fresh and new, so they take a seat in the front row. Our brain also has this neat way of protecting itself. It knows it never wants to feel something like that trauma again, so it stays in it. It sounds weird, I know, but its’s pretty interesting. For a while it doesn’t let you remember the good times, because when we remember the good times, were reminded of the pain that they left. Our brain wants to protect us, so it makes us remember that this is real. It shows us the table and the casket over and over until we can accept it. Sometimes our brain wins too much and keeps us in the dark place for too long. But, our brains are very cool and also want us to be happy, so there are these other areas of the brain that have those files with the laughs, and the cries, and once in a while one walks up to the stage and takes a seat up front.
It’s a balancing act. You will never lose sight of those horrifying memories. They are a part of you now. They will pop into your brain 30 years from now at random. But you’ll be able to replace it with one of the happy moments a little faster this time.
There is no timeline, there are no steps. We are all reprogramming at our own pace. Those moments can be crippling, and we may feel stuck sometimes for days, maybe even weeks, but every once in a while, you’ll find your October afternoon on a February morning.