Writings

Living with the memories

The memories are flames that lick the edges of my life, always anxious to burn me once again. They are always there and always exhausting. I want to cry. I’m angry. I’m tired. Some days, nothing makes them go away. A touch, a smell, anything that triggers the memories can ruin my day.

Today is not my Saturday to work, but I must go anyway. The city is hosting its annual Easter egg hunt and a story has to be done. I’ve been told to get extra pictures for another story on all the hunts coming up next weekend.

As I walk outside, a cold, brisk wind slaps me in the face. Paul gives me a kiss goodbye and I start to prepare myself as I walk the twelve steps to my Toyota Yaris.

The memories are always there. They try to flood in each time I get into a car. Each time, I have to push them to the farthest reaches of my mind. It’s not a good idea for them to be there when driving a 2,315 pound vehicle. There are days when fighting them is so intense, I have no idea how I’ve arrived at my destination. Today, is not one of those days. I haven’t had one since I was finally able to “tell” Karl to fuck off.

I park my car at the Allen C. Landers Soccer Field Complex. The lot is half full. I zip up my jacket, grab my gear and head out onto the field. Several people say hello. They all know my name. I recognize a few faces, but not their names. I am busy telling myself to stay focused and don’t step on any of the plastic eggs being placed around the field. I am still pushing the memories to the back of my mind. I’m only semi-successful.

I interview the person I needed to and let him get back to work. It wasn’t my best interview. I’m having a hard time focusing today. There are ten minutes before the Easter egg hunt begins. Ten minutes for my mind to distract me. Ten minutes to keep memories and flashbacks from taking control.

I pull out my phone and look at a text conversation with my friend from the night before. She understands my recent struggles. I scroll back up to two comforting messages.

“I don’t think anyone is ever going to completely understand the pain you are constantly in. It would probably blow their fucking minds apart.

“It comes down to how strong you are. We both tend to think we’re really weak people, but we’re actually strong. We didn’t let it destroy us.”

The wind whips at my ears. I have a hat. I never remember to wear it. I stare a the messages until the announcement on the loudspeaker begins. The children are let onto the field, which has been divided up into age ranges. I decide to stick with the two to three year olds. They are slow. Their parents often need to point out the next egg for them. I can get the pictures I need.

The hunt begins. I snap a few general shots and look around to see what kid to focus on. There are so many options. I kneel down as a wave of tiny children come toward me. I decide to stay in place until it passes me, but turn side-to-side trying to capture moments.

The wave passes me. I get up and quickly walk past everyone to catch more children in my lens. In less than three minutes, 8,000 plastic eggs filled with candy and chocolate are collected.

I need names. In a sea of children, I have to find them and their parents. I ask permission to use their picture in the paper. I’m rarely told no.

The noise of the hunt is over. People are leaving. I begin to walk back to my car. The volunteers thank me for coming. I say, “you’re welcome.” I never know what to say even though I hear that comment often.

I open the driver’s side door to the Yaris and place my camera bag on the seat. I carefully put my Canon 70D back into the bag and place the bag onto the floor of passenger seat. I start to get into the car.

I momentarily stop thinking. The things Karl did to me in his car tries to enter my mind. “Not today, motherfucker,” I say.

I close the door and watch a mother and her daughter eat candy in their car. A small dog yips in between them, wagging its tail profusely. The little girl pets the dog.

My left foot pushes the clutch in while my right hand turns the key and starts the engine. I shift into reverse. My mind is occupied with how much distance I need to back out, how far away the pickup is and whether I can make it. I slowly lift the clutch and edge my way backward. The pickup passes. An SUV is enough distance away that I can make it. I take my place in line as everyone heads away from the soccer complex and toward their destination.

As I drive down 5th Avenue in a long train of vehicles, I can yell at him. Even though Karl is probably dead and I am no longer eight years old, I can tell him how he ruined my life.

I am nearly to work before I realize I didn’t speed until I got to 1st Avenue and the road was clear. I’ve spent the time keeping my mind occupied to keep the intrusive thoughts at bay.

The Star-Herald is silent. It’s the only thing I like about having to work on a Saturday. The lights are off. The dim glow from my monitor is all I need. Today, I can sit at my desk and not be hypervigilant. No one will walk by my desk and slap me on the head or across my back, grab my shoulders, or shake my chair. I can concentrate on the work that needs to be done.

I check the “news” email and forward press releases and information to the right reporter. Once that is done, I check my email and begin writing my story.

It’s hard to focus. It’s been a problem all week. The memories are winning this round. Sitting at my desk isn’t helping. I go to the vending machine, insert a cruddy dollar bill, and press A0. A small bag of Ruffles Cheddar and Sour Cream flavored potato chips fall. The bag opens easily enough. I concentrate on the taste and texture. I look at how much flavoring coats each chip.

A few minutes later, I begin typing my story. It’s 281 words. I feel it’s not long enough, but I was told to keep it short. It’s going “inside,” not on the front page.

I move to Candice’s desk at the copy desk so I can use Adobe Photoshop and Bridge. Jeff arrives soon after. He’s working the copy desk alone today. We chat as I sift through the 197 photographs on my SD card. I pull out 40 for a photo gallery and narrow down six good ones for Jeff to pick through for the story. I crop the six and write the cutlines. I process the rest through Bridge for the gallery before shutting down the computer and returning to my desk.

I attach the photos to the story and move it out of my queue and into the Inside queue. It’s just after 2 p.m.

I drive north on Broadway. Near Bluffs Middle School, two teens are walking and laughing. The sun is beginning to shine. The wind has stopped blowing. I shift into third gear and take the corner at 27th a little faster than usual. A man in a white van in front of me is driving too slow, so I cut through the parking lot, around the gas station and Auto Zone and turn right onto Avenue B.

By the time I get to the light at the intersection with Highway 26, I see the white van turn onto Avenue B. He waited for the light to turn green.

At home, I stare at my computer screen for an hour and a half. I’m supposed to be reworking a freelance piece. I have been doing it. It’s just been all in my head. My hands are on the keyboard, but have yet to type a word.

My mind shifted and I did not keep up. It was reworking my story to keep a flashback away. The communication between brain and fingers didn’t work. I sigh, stand up, and walk away. It’s not getting done today.

From out of nowhere, the tears start falling and I don’t know why. Except I kind of do and I’ve been fighting it since the moment I became conscious this morning. I compose myself and start a conversation with Paul.

We have a discussion about the Algerian War for Independence. Channel 4 in the U.K., has produced a five-part series about it. I have access to the series and we agree to spend Sunday watching it. I don’t know much about Algeria other than this war gave them their independence from France. Saturday was also the 100th anniversary of the Amritsar massacre. Channel 4 has a show on that we will watch that, too.

Jeff calls me at 8:52 p.m. I moved my notes from my Easter egg hunt story at the zoo for next week to Inside instead of the egg hunt from today. It’s a stupid mistake that, on any other day, I would not make. It’s not a big deal to Jeff. He swaps the two files. For me, it’s a sign that all is not well.

I end the day in the same manner I have for the last 23 years. I give Paul a kiss and an overly long hug. Then, I do what I’ve done for 43 years. I climb into bed, close my eyes and make up stories in my mind until I drift off to sleep to keep the memories at bay.

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4 Comments

  1. Dalene

    Awesome piece. Made me cry.

  2. Leslie jordan

    😰💕

  3. Brandon Nelson

    Thank you for sharing this. This has to be difficult to write about, but i wanted to say that these accounts of your experience are so helpful to those of us who wish to better understand.

    • Irene

      Thanks, Brandon. They aren’t always easy to write. Before I started doing this, I thought long and hard about how exposed I would be, but felt the need to share so that others may gain some insight and knowledge that they may never otherwise obtain. I am glad you have been able to understand a little better by reading my words.

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