The other day I had to pay a visit to a travel clinic for immunizations. (Good news … I now have lifetime protection against yellow fever.) I’ve never needed a travel clinic before, so when I made the appointment I discovered that the clinic happened to be in the same building as the office of a specialist I see every year. I didn’t give it any other thought except to appreciate that I knew where the office was, which was a relief because I am geographically challenged and often have trouble navigating from Point A to Point B. It was always Ben’s job to get us where we were going.
I arrived on time for my immunizations (a miracle), had four needles jammed in my arm and then walked out of the building whistling a jaunty tune as I made my way back to my car. (OK … I can’t whistle, but you get the picture. Everything was fine in my life at that particular moment.)
But as I crossed the parking lot a memory suddenly jumped out of nowhere and hit me like a ton of bricks. It literally stopped me in my tracks.
It wasn’t so much the exact memory in the video that punched me in the face, but rather it was the memory of what came immediately after I filmed Ben that day.
Just a few brief moments after Ben declared himself “The Shit,” the two of us walked into room 302 where we were promptly informed that in fact the cancer had indeed moved into Ben’s bones and spread to his lungs.
Ben wrote about that visit in this blog post. As always, he downplayed the news and forged ahead.
I do not remember leaving the office that day on April 22nd, 2015, but I do remember what happened immediately afterwards. I remember turning the key in the ignition and thinking about how odd it was to just hear news like that and then drive home as though it were just another day. I remember beginning to drive out of the parking space when Ben suddenly burst into tears. He sobbed. His whole body shook. He was scared and he was caught off guard by his own emotion.
I remember feeling momentarily confused. Ben didn’t get scared. Ben was The Titan. Ben handled things. Ben coped. Ben made lemonade out of lemons. Ben always knew what to do. Ben led the way. But now My Ben was scared and oh my God how it hurt to watch. It physically hurt me like a knife being jammed into my stomach and then savagely turned sideways before being yanked back out, like you might see in the movies.
Back to 2017. As I walked out of the travel immunization office I made a discovery. I discovered that without even thinking about it or knowing it’s coming, I can still physically feel the pain of moments like that. I don’t even have to be consciously thinking of a memory….it can just come barging in through my thoughts uninvited, whether I want it to or not. In that moment I felt exactly the same as I felt 22 months ago as I watched Ben sob. I did not just recall how I felt. I felt it all over again. It hurt so badly that my knees shook as I tried to climb back into the same vehicle, in the same parking lot, without My Ben. And I wondered again, for the zillionth time, “How can this be?”
On April 22, 2015 as I watched Ben shake and cry, I felt helpless. I felt scared. I felt that there was no way to comfort him because no matter what I said or did it wasn’t going to change a thing. Ben would never know how our story would play out over the years. Ben was going to die.
On January 25, 2017, I managed to force myself to stay standing, climb into the car and take a few deep breaths. And then I cried.
As I drove home I was acutely aware of all those people out there with PTSD who talk about how much their nightmares hurt them. How much it affects their lives because the pain is as real today as it was in the actual moment.
Now I know.