A man is kneeling on his patio with a bucket of soapy water set down beside him.
He takes a deep breath and sighs hard, his cheeks puffing out with the force. Then he begins.
He plunges a hard-bristled brush into the bucket, pulling it out quickly to slop some of the water onto the patio stones. He scours the stones with the brush for a minute, inspects the results, and then repeats the process. Methodically. Mechanically. Plunge. Slop. Scour. Inspect.
An hour passes. When the stains appear to be lifted, he hoses the stones down, watching the pinky brown froth run onto the grass and disappear.
It obviously took a lot more effort because the blood had dried. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it when it was fresh.
When he is finished, he empties the bucket onto the grass and rinses it. Then he goes inside, wraps himself tightly in an old, thin blanket, and steps gingerly into his bathtub, making sure his socked feet don’t slip. He eases himself down until he is fully reclined, and then curls up into a tight ball.
He will stay like this for many hours in the dark, shaking and crying, waiting for the images to stop.
This is all he knows to do when the images come. It works for him, as best as it can. His occupation is not a progressive one, and the stigma associated with the PTSD symptoms that come with the job encourage employees to suffer in silence.
Instead of reaching out for help, they each find their own ways of coping.
For this man, his way of coping is by using his bathtub as a makeshift womb.
The images are brutal and unrelenting. Blood, gore, violence. All of them memories that are frozen in time and space, locked within his tortured psyche. And he can’t control what sets them off.
This particular episode was triggered several nights prior, when he heard a strange voice yelling Fire outside his bedroom window, and came running to find a skinny young woman in a crumpled heap on his patio, her broken, bleeding face pressed hard into the stones.
Sixteen years from now, I will spend nine straight hours trying to convince this man – by that time a dear friend, bonded by trauma – to relinquish the noose he has tied to the back of his bathroom door. I will beg him to let me save his life, while he begs me to help him die. He will eventually give me the rope, but not until after he pulls me into a bear hug and whispers angrily, “Don’t ever come here again.”
I will leave from the same patio door that he ran through all those years ago to come to my aid. Both of our faces will be wet with tears and ruddy from yelling desperately at each other.
Today, however, sitting in my hospital bed, I have no idea who this man in the bathtub is. And even if I did, I wouldn’t have cared how my actions had impacted him.
Today, I am trying to digest the news that the surgeon has just dropped in my lap like a fucking bomb.