Going Home

A bit of flash fiction for you tonight. A few months ago this would have been a dystopian future. Now it’s only a small reach.

Amid the army cots and folding chairs arranged in clumps of four around plus-shaped curtain dividers, Hannah sat disconnected and slack. The shell of the former discount department store she was lost in flickered with aged fluorescent lighting. Almost every cot was full. They hadn’t been several weeks ago when the health emergency was lifted, but that changed quickly

“Mama, when can we go home?” Jonah asked pleadingly.

Actually he’d asked more than once Hannah slowly realized. It occurred to her maybe she’d zoned out again as her son’s voice pulled her briefly into the present.

“I don’t like it here, when can we go hone?” Jonah half asked, half sobbed. His no longer toddler, yet not quite kindergartner’s wide eyes were brimming with tears as he turned up to her.

Hannah looked down at him, stroked the back of his soft brown head, and snuggled him in closer. She made a soothing cooing sound to him as she watched the faceless people in uniforms move among the beds. Watched them move among the possibly infected but not yet dying in this makeshift hospital. Nameless and faceless with their masks and face shields.

Her mind’s eye unwittingly processed the word “home” and turned to the last image of their house as she and her son were being whisked away into an ambulance. Hustled to this holding area until they showed signs of the disease. The disease that had taken her husband literally overnight.

Marc had come home from work tired, bone tired. She assumed it was because he’d been working punishing hours as a result of the pandemic at the grocery store he managed. But soon after he went to bed she knew that wasn’t it. The dry cough, the shuddering chills that shook their whole bed told a different story. By the time she’d gone through several calls to the doctor and then one more for an ambulance, he was unconscious. They arrived too late to save him.

Hanna couldn’t comprehend her loss, much less start to grieve as she didn’t have a moment to think. She and her son were bundled off to here by public health workers since they had been exposed to a “more virulent strain.” Now they were held here to see if they would catch it and die, or join the displaced masses in limbo waiting for the virus to burn itself out.

There was no going back to their home. Only pain and death lived there now. That life her son longed for with his plaintive questions was gone. There would be no more lazy Sunday afternoons on the patio cooking out as a family, there would be no more hurried dinners of blu-box mac-n-cheese where the only worry was Jonah’s bedtime.

She snuggled Jonah closer, as if her embrace could transport them to that distant past of just a few days ago as she murmured soothingly “Soon baby, soon.”

Taking things back

There are many things about being a survivor of childhood trauma that make my life smaller, more complicated, and difficult. Things that are easy for many people without childhood trauma are sometimes beyond my reach. For example, yesterday I had a yogurt as a snack. This happens to be a very scrumptious black cherry Greek style yogurt. The yogurt is tart, the cherries are sweet and still have just a little of the snap left in their skin and flesh that is part of their magic for me. I love cherries. I’ve loved them since I was a child. Loved them in so many ways – fresh, in pie, as a compote, preserves, dried, in yogurt… it’s almost an endless list.

There is one problem with cherries. They can be a massive trigger for me. Even though I enjoyed that yogurt just a few minutes ago, writing this is reminding me too much of what they are connected to in my distant past. I’m hyper aware that a bowl of fresh cherries can leave me reeling for days with anxiety and flashbacks. So I have to limit how often and in what ways I can cherries. It hurts to have to give up something I love because of my trauma, to see my life get a little bit smaller.

I’ve lost something important to me. My life is littered with losses big and small just like the cherries I can so rarely enjoy and even then in such limited ways. It can be a hard and lonely way to live. Sometimes I feel I’ve lost so much, too many things to be able to have a life that’s worth living. Hobbies, family, foods, sounds, childhood memories, smells, and even TV shows have overwhelmed me, and so fallen out of my life because they trigger painful reactions. Each loss making my life a little bit smaller.

One hobby in particular I’ve missed was photography. I had been an avid photographer as a child. I caught the picture bug from my father who was constantly taking photographs in my childhood. He taught me how to use a SLR camera not long after my 8th birthday. After saving from Christmas and my birthday I managed to buy a Minolta SRT201 at the scratch-n-dent outlet of a local discount chain. I experimented and then took a couple of photography classes at a children’s science center in the city. A couple of Christmases later I got a nice telephoto lens. I learned to develop film and make enlargements. I had found a way to capture things in the world that gave me joy. I even took a couple of hundred photos on a trip to Alaska.

I became less serious over time. Going off to college I sold my cherished Minolta and got a pocket automatic camera. Then after starting a family I moved to a slightly better telephoto automatic. Having a child absorbed time and money but I made a switch to a digital automatic. Pictures were a pleasant way to capture the passage of time with a family, they became utilitarian. Cell phone snaps became common, and I took countless pictures of everything.

Then I started to remember. Like the tell-tale heart of Poe, my father’s Nikon I’d inherited when he died tormented me from its drawer in the basement. Instead of being a source of pride that I still knew how to work magic with a manual 35mm camera — not just any camera, but my father’s prized Nikon — it became a source of fear and anxiety. I couldn’t look at it, much less pick it up without a sinking in the stomach, tingling anxiety, and fleeting flashback images at the corners of my mind.

I’d lost real photography. Felt as though it was lost forever to me. My life would get smaller by that bit too. Yet another thing I’d loved was taken from me forever. I was struggling with losing so much of my life to the after effects of trauma.

Then Maxine Waters uttered her now famous phrase “Reclaiming my time!” It spread through memes and popular culture. When it got to my ears, I started to wonder if I could reclaim *my* time, *my* life in some way. Could I take back the things that had been stolen from me so long ago? Was it possible? Did I have to lose these things forever? Could I take back my whole life? Not all at once, but piece by piece?

I was going to try, but where to start? A friend at work and his wife were avid photographers who replaced cameras like the rest of us replace cell phones. He mentioned they had just upgraded, and were going to sell their old DSLRs. It clicked, I’d try to take back photography. It was small enough and peripheral enough to my daily life that it could be consumed in small pieces as I was ready. So I bought one of their cameras at the friend rate, and got a couple of refurbished lenses plus some accessories. I had a kit, I was going to take back photography.

I took a few pictures. It was too much. Back into the closet it went for a while. High on the shelf, packed away for another time. It would come down when it snowed or when there were birds on the feeder. Then back it would go, banished until a holiday, an event, or a particularly gorgeous sunset. Out for a day or two one holiday, it cluttered the coffee table. After clearing the table a week or so later, it ended up in a basket on the shelf beneath that coffee table. It stayed there for months, used occasionally, yet sparingly now that it was more accessible. I was getting used to the sight of it being around. Comfort was growing with its presence.

I needed a headshot for a work event, so I showed my son how to use my camera, in the process rewriting part of my story. I passed down to him something which he would only know as a positive. It would never be fraught and anxiety ridden for him. He snapped a couple of dozen pictures of me and absentmindedly went back to whatever teenagers do with their free time. One of his shots was good enough for my headshot. So, back on the table shelf in the basket went the camera.

Over time, I got desensitized to the metallic click of the shutter, to the look and feel of the camera, to its weight. I no longer had flashbacks when I looked into the lens or felt it in my hand. I found myself looking forward to an opportunity that called for my “real” camera. Now it sits in its bag next to my desk. The flap open and ready to be used on a moments notice, or to be slung over the shoulder for an outing that might yield potential material.

I’ve taken it back. For me. Photography is no longer a negative, but a positive in my life again. I wonder how I can do the same with cherries.

A New Blog

After a fair amount of soul searching (and a communications class), I’ve decided to migrate my old blog from a freebie wordpress.com site to a real wordpress.org site I’ve built and setup myself in the cloud. It was a the first time in a while I’ve been able to use my technical skills at all, and the fact it was to do something for my writing gives me a warm-fuzzy feeling all over. My professional world and my writing world collided for a brief moment, with one making the other much better.

I’ve been bursting with ideas, but slow to get moving on them. My drafts folder is full of pieces I’ve started and not finished, each in a varied state of composition needing work. They run the gamut from a couple of sentences of an idea to an almost complete piece that sits on the balance between being self published here on my blog or getting submitted for more formal publication.

Before getting back to those pieces, and bringing them closer to fruition here or elsewhere, I’d like to share something fitting for a new start — a drawing. There is some back story to this. Several years ago when I started working in earnest with things from my traumatic childhood I started to draw. It began as a simple respite of tactile input, pencil scraping along paper. It quickly became more as images of the past full of joy and terror flowed forth. My subconscious taking form on the page. Memories moving into the world. I moved from pencil to crayon, to marker, to colored pencils, to pastels, then to gel pens experimenting and relishing the feel of implement meeting paper. For 3 years I drew, and colored, and sketched getting better with practice.

One image of a flower showed up over and over again. I came to see it was a form of comfort for some long suffering part of me that wanted our existence to be as happy and simple as the world we drew on sheets of paper in 2nd grade. There are dozens upon dozens of sketches and drawings of a similar flower. Then I mostly stopped my art for a while as my life turned up-side-down. Every now and then a flower sketch would show up in my bullet journal or I’d drag out a sketchpad and color a flower when I felt the need for comfort.

After a few years of keeping a bullet journal on paper, I bought an iPad and went digital using GoodNotes. It works well enough, and I can keep all of my notes with me all the time, not just what fits in the most recent book. Still, flower sketches showed up in my bullet journal in the margins of pages. After a couple of years of missing my coloring and drawing, I noticed a sketch & coloring app for the iPad. It’s given me the ability to creat art wherever I am, but I miss the tactile feel of implement on paper.

The first drawing I did on my iPad marked a new beginning, and it seems fitting to share it here for the new beginning of my blog.

Drawing of a flower in front of mountains