On a cold day in December, almost five years ago, the man I was dating decided that if I wouldn't stay with him, I didn't deserve to live. We were together in his car, and it was snowing. The road was icy. He was driving - and he was screaming - he was pounding on the window, the dash, the wheel. He started hitting me, shouting that I needed to die, that we both should die, and that he would never let me go. He swerved across two lanes of traffic, in front of a loaded log-truck and onto the shoulder. He was aiming the car for the guard rail. There was a steep bank on the other side of it and who knows what at the bottom.
Time went crazy about then. I still remember it as though I was floating outside my own body, watching myself grab for the wheel and struggle to hold the car on the shoulder. Everything was too slow and too bright even though the air was grey and snow was wild on either side - the snow was outside the car and the snow was inside the car and everything was frozen; our bodies, the car, the blood running from my lip, even the sound of his scream. I was frozen - and that moment lasted forever. It was forever. It is still happening, right now, somewhere deep inside my mind. Somehow, somewhere, I am still struggling for the wheel as we speed into the snowstorm and all the sound is dead, my ears are full of cotton, and I don't want to die.
Everything snapped back into place. The car jolted over the rumble strip and back into the lane. The log-truck blasted past us and he started to yell again, calling me names, saying he wouldn't let me go. He would never let me go. He gripped my left arm at the wrist and I could feel the bones grinding together under the pressure. I asked him to please just take us home, just let us get home safe and then we could talk. Several times during the drive he threatened to kill me, to kill us both. He swerved into the paths of other vehicles, swerved onto the shoulder, and ran two red-lights. But he got us home. He jerked me out of the car and pulled me into the house. That was around three pm. It would be almost twelve hours before I was able to get away. Those twelve hours were a nightmare in themselves, but I did escape. I didn't die, even though I thought I would.
I am here, I am mostly whole. I made it through that awful time and I have worked hard to heal and to move on. For the most part, I have moved on. But every now and then, something happens to trigger those memories. This weekend, it was being in the passenger seat of a car moving through grey, blowing snow. The road was white and the air was alive with motion and for just a moment time stopped - everything was silent and cold and I was frozen in the midst of a struggle for my life. The flashback was so strong that I could taste blood and feel the stinging cuts where my lips had been crushed against my teeth. I could feel the iron grip of his hand on my wrist. And then a phone rang, and the person I was with was talking to his cousin about every-day things, and I was back. Warm air filtered in from the heater and the snow was just snow. There was no danger, no reason to be afraid.
It is so hard to explain to people what PTSD is like - how it can take control of your body and take you back to the worst moments of your life whether you want to dwell on them or not. After an episode it is hard to concentrate, hard to feel anything except those stupid, old, intrusive feelings that you thought you'd already dealt with years ago. You think it is over. But it isn't over, with PTSD it's never over. It's right there, lurking in the dark, in the snow, in the careless actions or words of people who don't understand what triggers are.
Last night I dreamed that I had moved into a nice new home, and I was walking through the rooms, marveling at the space and light, all the little touches that were so welcoming and lovely. I turned a corner and saw the back door, and realized it wasn't locked. It was cracked open. A cold draft poured in through the gap and I knew with dreadful certainty that he was there, in my house, even though I couldn't see him. He was there, waiting for me.
I don't believe that my abuser will come back and try to hurt me again, at least, not most of the time. And when I do believe it, I believe that I am capable of defending myself, of saving myself. I do not live in fear. But there are times when I feel as though I am standing on the edge of deep waters, and at any minute the ground might give way beneath my feet. I might find myself fighting for control of the car, standing in the kitchen with a knife pressed against my throat, or being pinned on the couch while hard fists impact my skull with jarring white-hot pain. PTSD is like deep waters. Deep, dark waters, waiting for you to fall in, waiting to pull you down. But I am learning to tread water, learning to swim. I won't give up, and I refuse to drown.