The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the tag “PTSD”

Another Vivid Dream, This Time, Mine



The other night at four a.m.,  I awakened from a dream so vivid,  that even after I’d gotten up and gone to the bathroom, and crawled back into bed, I felt myself still in that dream reality. Even now, I can close my eyes and be there again.  Normally, for me,  dreams evaporate quickly upon awakening unless I write them down or tell them to my husband. But not this one.  It’s as if it actually happened.  And dreams usually have that fuzzy quality to them.  Not this one.

The entire thing unfolded from my perspective, viewed through my eyes, with me  feeling the feelings, but it wasn’t actually me.

I am in my apartment in dreamland (which is nothing like my actual apartment.)   In the dream, it was also about four a.m.  I am sleeping I think on a pull-out sofa because I’m close to the door. I hear something outside in the hallway. I look through the keyhole.  My neighbor, a  young man —  younger than me by at least a decade or two —  is sitting with his back against the wall,  caddy-corner to my entrance.  His knees are drawn up to his chest, his arms are wrapped around his legs, his face is resting between his knees. He is absolutely still.

He often goes out in the evenings and comes home late, having partied himself into oblivion.  Tonight, he’s either drunk or high.  I can’t quite tell.  I’m getting no emotional reading from him. He seems completely inert.

He is a veteran and he suffers from PTSD.  In the time that we’ve been neighbors,   I have been kind to him. Occasionally we have had some serious conversations about a variety of things,  but I would not say we are friends. We hardly have anything in common.

He says nothing.  Doesn’t move.  But I know he wants  me to open my door so he can cry on my shoulder, otherwise why would he be sitting there?   But it’s the middle of the night.  I am not his therapist.  His problems are way above my pay grade.  I don’t know how to help him or that I even could. I feel compassion for him but he’s my neighbor,  a virtual stranger.  I am not willing let him become accustomed to leaning on me emotionally.  He’s not my patient, not my child, not my family member.  He needs professional help which I cannot provide.

Through the door, I speak to him sternly but kindly.  “Go home.  It’s late.”

Eventually I hear him shuffling off to his apartment, which is diagonally across from mine.  There are  just two apartments on the landing with a staircase up the middle.

I go back to bed, waiting for the click of his door but I don’t hear it.  I return to the key hole and look again. It’s hard to see his door from mine as the staircase is in the way, but I can see him leaning, with his head against his own door,  standing only from inertia,  not moving. I really do not want to get involved with him now but I cannot let him stand there all night.  I just want him to go into his own apartment and sleep it off.

I open my door and go over to him. He is almost in a fugue state. Barely there.  “Give me your key” I say, and he does.  I open the door for him and push him inside towards his couch.  “Sleep.  You will feel better in the morning.”    I’m doing the bare minimum to keep him safe, without getting sucked into one of his crying jags.   It’s the middle of the night!  I’m not on call! This is not my job.

I close the door after him and go back to  my apartment,  any vague sense of responsibility  assuaged.  I’m just dozing off when I hear his door open again.  I look out through the peep hole and I see him leaving. He is wearing rubber gloves and carrying what appears to be cleaning supplies.  This makes no sense to me.

I am afraid he’s going to get into trouble out there in his condition.  Even for him,  his behavior this evening has been bizarre.

I call the police. Tell them what’s happened.  I ask them to go find him before he hurts himself or someone else. They ask me for the make of his car.  I tell him I have no idea.  I’ve seen him in it a few times; it’s a nondescript midsize vehicle.  I can’t give them any more than that.  They seem to be blowing me off.  I get angry and ask them if they can’t look up the vehicle based on his name and address.  I am seriously concerned that he’s going to do something bad.  While I do not feel  personally responsible for him,  I cannot ignore this.  If he caused an accident or got himself into serious trouble,  I would feel guilty.

The dream ended there, with me trying to get the police to go after him.  But because it was so vivid,  it was  easy to put myself back into the reality of it.  I reran the whole thing in my head a couple of times, trying to determine if there was any meaning to this.   Later,  somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, I understand what had actually happened:  He had already killed somebody earlier in the evening and he was going back out to attempt to cover his tracks and/or hide the evidence.   This explained his strange impenetrable mood, his total lack of affect.   That night, he had finally hit bottom, and there would be no climbing back out of it.



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The Veteran


Matt (I have the impression that he was a big, buff guy)

I knew it was going to be over soon when I started getting the night terrors. Everything spooked me…every creak of a floorboard; a branch blowing against a window. When a plane flew low over the neighborhood, I’d start shaking and sometimes couldn’t stop for hours.

During the day, I went to the Center, where there were other guys like me. We joked around, played cards, told jokes. Smoked a lot of cigarettes  Held it together in front of the others with the one gram of pride we had left. But when I went home alone to my small room over an old lady’s garage, that’s when the fear started to come back. Too jumpy to sit still, sometimes I’d work out until I dropped from exhaustion.

In the beginning, with a little luck and a pill, I could sleep through the night. Towards the end, nothing helped me stay asleep. Through it all, I was terrorized by memories of the things I’d seen and the things I’d done.

I always had more questions for myself, but no matter how many I asked and answered, I never came to a satisfactory enough conclusion that allowed me to resolve things and make peace with myself. My thoughts were haunted by a million “what ifs”, all of them in the past and thus unalterable.

Regret, guilt and terror. These were all I was capable of feeling.  When I first returned,  I thought my emotions would eventually normalize and I’d go back to the way I used to be. But I was permanently damaged. Eventually I came to understand that some things change us so cataclysmically that the core is literally ripped from our soul. There is only one way to reunite them: death.

This dawned upon me slowly. For a while, I was in denial. I told myself I would get better — I’d just have to work harder. Ultimately, though, I recognized there would never be healing for me. This was my only option. Eventually, I would have to do it.

I walked around like an oozing sore, pustulating with malignancy and anger, infecting those around me. I was angry that killing myself was my only choice. I was angry that at 24, I was in this position. I should have had a long, happy life ahead of me; a wife and kids. Instead, I was just a husk of a human being. Killing myself wasn’t really going to destroy anything that wasn’t already completely destroyed.

After I realized that this would be my inevitable end,  I still managed to hang on for another year. In that time, I turned over every rock in my soul,   looking for progress, looking for a reason to hope. Under everything there was nothing but dust.

There are those who say suicide is the coward’s way out, but that one act took more courage than anything I’d ever done before in my life.

I thought about it seriously for a few weeks, wondering how I would go about it. I didn’t want to leave a mess upstairs for the old lady. She’d been nice to me. It didn’t want her to be traumatized by finding my body. I didn’t want anyone to have to find my body or clean up after me. I just wanted to be gone, quickly, quietly, painlessly and with the least amount of fuss.

One night, I packed up my things in a bag, left whatever money I had out on the bed for the landlady to find, and walked out to a place I knew would work. I threw the bag off the bridge first, then followed it into the dark icy water below.  Nobody saw me fall. The current was swift. I was out to sea before anyone missed me.

I didn’t leave a note. No one would bother to look for me. They’d all assume I’d just left town.  If anyone did eventually figure out what happened, they would know the reason why.

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