Sunday, May 4, 2014

Flash Fiction: PTSD

PROMPT/CHALLENGE SUMMARY: I felt so bad for my back yard when we got that randon April showstorm a few weeks back. It was practically summertime here in Chicagoland the weekend before, and then bam! We got smacked with a random snowstorm. All the little animals that live in the trees behind my house looked so confused. Which got me thinking. . .  I find this weather pretty strange, but it gets explained to me with metreological maps and diagrams of cold fronts and such. No one tells the squirrels about that. No one bothers to give the trees a heads up. When I expressed this concern aloud in front of my family, I got one of those "wow, you're really crazy" looks. Which, in turn, popped this little bit of flash into my head.
(Source: The dark scary place that is my brain.)

"Sometimes I wonder about really strange things," I say to the wall. No matter how many hours I spend in here, it still seems weird not to look at the person I'm talking to. My parents were always very big on eye contact.

I could look at her, of course, but I'd have to lean sideways in my chair and that might make her think I'm interested. Besides, if she wanted me to look at her, she'd have lined the chairs up that way. It's not like they're skewed this way by accident. All the chairs are at odd angles in her office, so no matter where I decide to sit we don't actually have to face each other.

"What do you think is strange about them?" she asks. Her tone tries to say she's just casually curious, but she's always so careful with her words. No confirmation that the things I wonder about are, in fact, strange. Nothing that could be taken to mean maybe she thinks I'm the strange part.

No one who puts that much consideration into their sentence construction is just casually anything.

"I don't know. Just strange things." I shrug. "Things that aren't things normal people wonder about."

There's a nice trigger word for her to latch onto. She's always very interested when I talk about "normal people". What makes them normal? Why do I think that about them? Why don't I think I'm normal?

But she doesn't take the bait. Not completely. "Can you give me an example of something strange you've wondered about recently?"

An example? From inside my brain? No. No way. I'm so not going there. "Um. . . "

I stare hard at the window. The blinds are closed--privacy concerns and all that--so all I can make out is the spiky shadows of the still-bare tree branches.

"Do you think trees can get PTSD?" I ask, letting the first random thought pop out of my mouth.

"PTSD?"

"You know, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?" Of course she knows; she's a shrink.

"And you wonder if trees can develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?" There's just the littlest hint of emphasis on the word 'trees' there, like she can't believe she's about to have to sit through this conversation. A little crack in the fa├žade, a tiny tell.

I'm careful not to let myself smile.

"Sure. From winter weather." I settle back in my chair, comfortable now that I've gotten her good and distracted and gotten us onto a nice safe topic that I'll be able to spin out for the rest of the hour. "I mean, snow pretty much kills them, right? Well," I pause, wishing I hadn't said it like that. Mentioning death is like catnip for shrinks. "Well, not really. Not like a chainsaw or a fire or whatever. But winter's still got to feel pretty shitty, if you're a tree."

"And you feel this might give the trees PTSD?"

"Maybe. I don't know. Like I said, I wonder. By the time spring rolls around, do you think they're just standing there, all stripped down and ragged, breaking apart on the inside every time a cold snap of wind blows by? If they could, would they just be rocking back and forth in the breeze, whimpering, 'ohmygodohmygodohmygodnotmoresnowpleasegodnotmoresnow'? Wishing their branches could bend so they could just curl them up around their trunks and hide from it?"

My old shrink used to take notes all the time. She'd scribble and scribble as I talked, the sounds of the pen scratching on her notepad burrowing into my brain like a thousand tiny needles. This one never takes notes. She must think that'll make this feel more like a conversation and less like legally-mandated torture. Fat chance.

But she's got to keep some kind of records, right? In case I ever go all completely whacko and she has to testify at my commitment hearing or something? Does she just remember it all? Or is there a recorder hidden in here somewhere so she can review it all later? Maybe she even uses one of those medical transcription services that gunk up the job boards.

I get an image in my head of some overworked, underpaid single mom typing all this up later tonight after she gets her kids to stop squalling and go to sleep. "Trees with PTSD? Is this guy for real?"

I keep rambling, thinking of the imaginary transcriptionist and taking her a little further down the rabbit hole. "And it's really got to suck for them, you know, because they live, like, forever. And they've got to know that even if it doesn't snow again today, even if it really is spring now and the cold snap is just one little breeze, it's still coming. Because there's always next winter, you know?"

My eyes skip around the room and I notice a weird water stain on the ceiling. Has that always been there? I can't remember if I've seen it before. Maybe there's a leak in the roof and it'll cave in on us in a few minutes and I'll get out of here early.

"They get a little break, just a couple of months of summer, and then, poof! It's back to fall and cold and dying all over again. Every. Year. I read that trees can live for hundreds of years. Can you imagine? Hundreds of years of dying over and over and over again. Only to know you're going to survive and have to go through it all again."

I realize I'm sitting up in the chair now, leaning forward with my feet braced like I'm about to jump up and start pacing or something. That's no good. I make myself shrug again and flop back. "That's got to suck," I finish off, knowing it sounds a little lame.

"Do you often think about dying?" she asks after a long minute of listening to the hum of nothing.

Shit. That's not how that was supposed to work.

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