Archive for January, 2011

Remembering Trauma

January 10, 2011

It wasn’t until the 10 PM news that certain April 10 that it hit me. The opening shot was the stairwell at work. A familiar sight: the stairway that I walked two to twelve times daily — except for those little paper markers so out of place. On TV the policeman being interviewed on the stairs chuckled as he said it was the first time he’d been glad to be short – all the bullets hit the wall above his head. Then my tears finally started. I had experienced an at-work shooting. The sight of all those little paper markers identifying bullet casings finally made it real.

It wasn’t real when I heard the first shots; I rationalized that it must be the backfire from a passing car engine. It wasn’t real when I heard loud voices down the hall in a language I didn’t recognize – two men yelling in extreme agitation. It wasn’t real when I heard the spray of bullets in the stairwell. Incredibly, it wasn’t real as I sat huddled in the residential building behind the office, waiting to be interviewed by the police.

Shock was the protection that guarded the psyche and let me go through the motions without the emotion. Woodenly, at the end of the police interview that day, I hugged other workers, all glad to be alive, and then drove home. I waited for the 10 PM news, to see how the story would be treated by the local press.

Was it like that today for people who shopped at the Oracle Road Safeway in Tucson? Did they watch woodenly as bright blood upset the tranquility of a perfect sunny Saturday morning? Did the sound of sirens and the sight of rescue helicopters taking away the injured bring them to reality? Or did they hold it in, in shock, until they saw it on the news?

In counseling, we say that any new trauma brings back the memory of all old traumas. It explains the mystery of why, as I worked with young women through the years who placed their babies for adoption, more often than not their mothers were the ones who wept. The grandmothers’ tears were built on the foundation of their losses; their daughters were just beginning to rack up their count. Tonight I think of all those not-as-young women, and wonder at the years’ stack of their losses. And their tears.