Here I am, trying to gain composure sitting in a car parked in a lot at Lee’s, a produce mart outside Conshohocken, PA. Don’t know how many customers have come and gone, seeing this middle-aged man with eyes closed silently breathing, trying to erase what he did just a few short moments ago. Actually, some 10 minutes have passed since I had “collapsed” from the latest “spike” of uncontrolled adrenalin.
I feel I just went a little “mad.” Shot out of a weapon like a bullet. Wanting to strike the nearest enemy, to do harm, to hurt some one for hurting me. I had driven reckless, tail-gating a guy who did not slow as I tried to merge into traffic as I was leaving a CVS pharmacy. He speeded up. I could have just “eaten” that slight done to me. Brush it off as just an inconsiderate gesture done in an inconsiderate world. But I was stressed-out already, and I made a federal case out of his bad behavior by making mine worse.
The post traumatic stress disorder, a.k.a., “PTSD,” kicked in. I gunned the engine, raced my car to catch up to his vehicle, coming dangerously close to his rear. He was no dummy. He applied his brakes to scare me off. I do it when someone is tailing too close to me. But, I didn’t bite, I sped up, and screeched to halt at the last possible moment, causing heads to turn by pedestrians as well as those in cars at my side and to the rear. It shook him. But not completely.
Both cars started again immediately after the near collision. I tried to see the guy, make out his features, but couldn’t. Must have been in his 20s, no more than 25. I just want to teach him a lesson about rules of the road.
There’s daylight in the passing lane. Now, I’ll slip by him . . .
And cut in front of him . . . not knowing what he may do next, because I can not look at him . . . I have to keep all of my attention on this frenzy driving. Now, I cut in front of the next car, but not as abruptly. He didn’t do anything to me. But here I am endangering everybody . . .
My God, what am I doing? Who the hell am I? What have I become?
Get away; must pull over. But not here, a little further up the road. Lee’s Fresh Produce. Pull in, Michael. Seek refuge. Seek help.
But there is none, really, is there? You’ll have this sickness the rest of your life. You should not drive. Should not deal with stress. Should be put away for your own protection . . . to protect everybody closest to you so that you won’t try to hurt anyone again. Should not have lived to come home from Vietnam. There, you finally said it. Again.
Therapy the next day helps. The psychologist, Dr. Howard Cohen, says there’s been improvement. That I “saw” the hole I had dug and jumped in, but was able to “get out” and look back to know exactly what the “it” was: PTSD. Some veterans believe it is “themselves” causing this bizarre behavior. That the rage they now feel is just part of their makeup. That they’re made this way, and that nothing can help them. They’re wrong, and I hope we can help them. Acknowledging that there is a problem is generally a good first step.
Damn the war. Damn the military. Damn the PTSD.
Please, my United States of America, stop all the fighting, before the fighting stops all of us.