Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Smell Of Canvas

(I’m working on a book of essays and the tentative title is “Triggered.” The following is an excerpt from the opening piece)

It’s a perfect word to describe my life for the last two years. A minefield of triggers, some so benign, like the kids pulling the cords of a hammock, strung tight, a makeshift bass, it’s hard to imagine they create the need to run.

My father had an old washtub turned upside down, with a long two by four from which a string was pulled tight back to the washtub. It was his bass.

My kids are giggling, my wife showing them how the sounds can change, and I’m in the basement of my childhood home, standing on the tub, pulling the string. Two years ago, I couldn’t stop the flood of images that would drag me to a dark place, where I couldn’t breathe.

Where my fears were tightly wound around my throat, keeping me from screaming.

Now I simply leave the sound, walk into the house, and mentally pinch myself. I am here. Not there. It’s okay. I listen to my kids’ voices. My father is far far away and I am the grown up now.

It will never happen again.

The funny thing about these triggers is that you cannot reason with them. You cannot hold your hand up and say, stop. No more. Some hold more power than others. The musty smell of canvas brings an involuntary wave of nausea so great I fight not to vomit. I am in the tent, the suffocating tent, with my father. We’re on the camping trip, where we drove over a stream of flooding water to pitch the moldy piece of army surplus with it’s wooden sticks fastened with flimsy metal joints. I can feel something in my hands, not completely clear; my hand remembers what my mind has tried to bleach clean.

I stay clear of canvas.

I’m better now at recognizing the moment of contact with a trigger. A touch, a smell, a sound can suddenly set off a rush of anxiety so great I want to run to the corner and put my hands over my head.

As effective a dodge from the onslaught of images as it was in the elementary classroom of my youth from a nuclear attack.


Blogger Nulaanne said...

I am so sorry that you had that happen to you. I am sorry that trauma like that happenes to anyone.

We all have our triggers, mine are not as easy to spot as smells, or noises.

6:58 PM  
Blogger MLC said...

That's a powerful piece of writing - mine was my cousin. Too many of us suffered.


10:28 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Those things should never happen to anyone. Please, please keep your shrink up to date, even if you get a rash on your finger. I'm pretty sure there is no "ought" with things like this. No schedules when (a) ought to be over with then (b) then (c). Just a guess: nobody likes thinking of other people as a support system. And when they go away briefly it hurts and you want to tough it out? Was it really a good idea to work on this when everybody's away?

So many people care about you so much. You bring so much beauty to the world out of your joy and living every day and even your pain. Write when you want about what you want and what you need to. And remember, you are at best an amateur shrink.

Please know we care and we don't want a damn thing from you.

3:30 AM  
Anonymous donald said...

you have a great support system, so when one of the triggers kicks in, pinch yourself and remember we are all here for you, at ANY time.

the lobsters have been ordered. see you this afternoon.

7:52 AM  
Blogger Sue J said...

Again with the lobsters, Donald. Why must you torment me so?

Sara, as others have said, very powerful piece. As someone who is extremely grateful not to have had an experience like yours, I do unfortunately experience the triggers when they sneak up on my partner. I respect all who fight against those sneak attacks every day.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Courtney said...

can i reserve a copy now?

12:10 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

oh, sue... the lobsters are here and ready.

I've run to Donald's house for power and a flush toilet.


3:10 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

and you gave me another chapter, Sue.

I often forget how hard this is on Jeanine because I'm in a place I can't see.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Sue J said...

Hey -- I'll take a small percentage of that big fat royalty check you get for the book.

That, or one of those lobsters ....

8:58 PM  
Anonymous donald said...

oh, so that is all i am for you, a place to plug in, a place to sit AND flush, and an outlet for lobsters!! and i thought i was so much more! LOL

sorry sue, we wolfed down all the lobsters! yum yum!!

10:15 AM  
Blogger Suzy said...

I don't even like lobster but your making me hungry. I am just trying to keep some of my triggers from blowing my head off.
I miss my sara she will be home saturday. She faced one of her biggest fears this week and seemed to beat it down some. Thanks again your the best. Enjoy your Lobster and Loving family to the max.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

funny, suzy, one of my chapter titles is, how to blow your head off and not make a mess.

because we dream of it every day, don't we?

7:21 PM  
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10:30 PM  

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