PTSD
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PTSD

 Samuel Kauer
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 Samuel Kauer
PTSD
by Samuel Kauer  FollowFollow
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My name is Samuel Kauer, and I'm a writer who also happens to be a veteran.
PTSD
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THE FIRST TIME IT HAPPENED, I was buying ramen in the grocery store at two in the morning. I remember every detail. It wasn’t like a witness in a police station trying to describe what happened, the officer sitting at the desk, fingers on the keyboard and eyes locked on the screen, trying to get the event straight for the record, asking about details like, “What color was the truck,” and, “What street did the truck turn down after it struck Sally,” while Sally’s friend Janet is sitting in metal fold- out chair, her mind spinning in her head like a globe her teacher had in the second grade, the seas and mountains blending together and all Janet can say is, “It happened so fast. I don’t know. It just happened so fast.”
I had a second-by-second record of a twenty minute period, like a news crew was in my head with a camera aimed at every sense so they could play it back in slow motion, starting with the second I raised my hand to pull down a red and yellow, beef-flavored ramen package. When I uncurled my fingers to wrap around the ramen, I froze. My organs went nuclear. The AC made the hairs on my arms stand on end. I checked my peripheries to make sure the aisle was clear of enemies. I made a checklist of everything I had on my person. I wasn’t wearing my belt, and the only other things I had was a set of keys and my wallet. I could throw either of them at any threat, and while the threat was involuntarily raising its arms to bat away the keys or wallet I could punch the threat in the throat, the drawback being I would have to neutralize the threat, since abandoning my keys meant I couldn’t get into my car and abandoning my wallet meant losing my credit card, driver’s license, military ID, twenty bucks, and several coupons. The information on driver’s license was out of date, so if the threat used it to try and find me it would lead to my parents’ house. Since they lived an hour and a half away, I could call them so they could prepare for the incoming threat, but the situation wasn’t ideal.
I needed to move. I thought, 'If I stand here in the middle of an empty aisle with one hand by a pack of beef ramen, someone is going to get suspicious. They might realize who I am.'  Which is an odd thing to think. I could have thought, 'Man, I must look weird,' or 'What will people think?'  No, I was thinking, 'I’ll blow my cover. My enemies will find me. They’ll see right through my civilian attire.'  I forced myself to grab the pack of ramen, then selected more and put them in my basket. My joints were full of sludge, I had to relearn how to move. 'How do I swing my arms so I look natural?  If I grab too many ramen packs, will I draw unnecessary attention to myself?  What if I grab too few?  Can I force the hairs on my arm lay down?'  

Picture the last time you walked somewhere. Were you watching the ground the whole time?  Did you pick a square inch on the floor and line it up with the center of your foot before you stepped, making sure it was firmly planted before taking another step?  Were you keeping track of the movement of your toes?  Were you calculating the effect the wind would have on your walking speed?  
That’s what I was doing.
I went through the checkout line, keeping an eye on the clerk, a fifty year old woman with glasses. She had a lot of space to keep firearms behind the counter. I went to the parking lot, walking down the middle of the lane and listening for footsteps so I wasn’t ambushed, and got into my car, feeling safer (the little red Escort was both an escape and a weapon), thanking God I hadn’t been environmentally concerned that night. My apartment was only a mile away, and I usually didn’t buy much, so sometimes I walked.  I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like that moonless night walking past the woods (there was a forest sanctuary on one side of the road) where anything could be hiding, up to and including snipers and bears.  

It took me hours to get to sleep that night. I took deep breaths and drank a glass of milk, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone with a knife might be in the hallway or behind the couch. The next morning I made coffee and decided to chalk the whole thing up to a glitch in my brain’s software, something that just happened and wouldn’t happen again, but days later the feeling I might be going crazy still clung to the edges of my thoughts, so I sat down in my living room with my cat and ran through the seconds between when I froze and when I reached the car. I searched through my memory like I was watching a movie in slow motion, looking for an image in the background that I might have noticed subconsciously, but I couldn’t think of anything out of the ordinary (except for my brain), so I thought about what happened just prior to the event.
There had been a man in the next aisle, standing on the other side of the ramen and directly across the shelves from me. His cell phone rang. He picked up. He spoke Arabic. I even remembered him saying yellah at one point, which translates as hurry, and la la la la la la, which translates as no no no no no no.  He spoke Arabic, and I started looking for somebody to disarm.
I looked at the cat on my lap.
“Fuck... I have PTSD.”

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a form of anxiety disorder that occurs after the subject has been through a psychologically traumatic event. The event is usually something that threatens the subject’s physical or mental sense of security. Although there are recorded accounts throughout history of soldiers having psychological issues after wars or battles, especially during WWII, when it was called “exhaustion” or “shell shock”, PTSD wasn’t commonly recognized until after the Vietnam War, when modern psychology met hundreds of soldiers who couldn’t function in normal society after they finished their tours.  
When I was a kid my history teachers summarized it, saying, “Many of the soldiers had problems adjusting when they returned home,” and “They had something called the ‘three hundred yard stare.’  They looked like they were gazing into the distance, even if there was a wall right in front of them.”   That was it. They had “problems.”  Hundreds of soldiers developed an anxiety disorder, one that could affect them for the rest of their lives, and this was all summed up as “problems.” There are inklings about it when WWII shows on the History channel interview war veterans. Men with nothing but three white hairs left on their heads and hickory canes drop hints like, “I had to run uphill. I could hear bullets whistling in the air above my head. The battle lasted twenty minutes. I’ve had nightmares ever since.”  

For PTSD, all I had to do was hop onto Wikipedia.org. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the site, but I find it makes a spring board to dive into guided pools of thought. But this time, Wikipedia lead me directly to my issue: hypervigilance. It’s a state where the senses go into overdrive, picking up everything they can from their environment specifically for the purpose of locating and neutralizing enemies.
That’s what happened to me. I noticed goose bumps from the AC unit for the first time. My abnormally poor sense of smell grew keen and picked up wafts of soap from the floor. I mentally mapped out the store, paying special attention to escape routes and how many enemies I would have to fight my way through. I made a detailed list of every knife I had back at my apartment. I couldn't focus on anything relevant, like picking out and paying for ramen.
But the PTSD wasn’t a huge issue in my life. I only entered into my hyper vigilant state when I heard someone speaking Arabic, and in the middle of Wisconsin that wasn’t a major concern. It was only the language that set me off. I could see hijabs or burkas, I could speak with Iraqis and Saudis with thick accents, and I was fine. Every now and then, I would walk past someone speaking Arabic on my way to campus, but it wasn’t hard to deal with after I knew what was happening. I detoured to a longer way to the classroom, waiting for my heart rate to slow and my mind to stop looking for enemies, or I walked into class early, sat down, and wrote notes to myself about how no one was trying to kill me. The state passed, and I went about my day as usual.  
I figured my PTSD would clear up by itself.

I looked up from her thin, pink lips to the smatter of freckles on her nose to her eyes, light blue, vibrant, and realized that was the best place to shoot her. The problem was that I wasn’t allowed to carry a pistol on campus. The only things I had were a couple dull pencils sitting on my desk, but they would work fine. A drill sergeant told me the eyes are windows to the soul because there’s nothing between the cornea and the frontal lobe to stop an object that was either sharp or fast, but the object didn’t have to be a whole lot of either to go through an eye, which was mostly juice.  
The girl, one of my students, had approached me after class to ask for clarification on an essay. That’s how much I heard before I entered into my hyper vigilant state. She wouldn’t stop asking questions and smiling. I don’t know why she kept smiling. Maybe she wanted me to lower my guard so she could go in for the kill. I tried to answer her questions as best and as briefly as I could without allowing any opportunities for her to stab me, but I wasn’t sure exactly what she was asking, so I guessed. I talked about the paper in general and hoped she would go away. She started smiling less and looked confused, like she wasn’t sure if I had answered her questions or not, or if I had given her the answers but she didn’t understand them.  
I used my peripherals to watch the shoulders under her pink tank top. I knew if she tried to pull out a knife, I would see it coming as long as I was looking at them. I would rather have been looking at her hips or chest. My high school soccer coach used to say, “Watch the hips, watch the hips. An opponent can fake you out if you’re watching their shoulders, but they can’t fake hips.”  When my unit was in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, training to go overseas, we took a hand-to-hand combat course with the dual purposes of refreshing what we had learned in basic training and teaching us more advanced techniques, like how to disarm or kill someone with a two foot long piece of rope. During the course, I thought, 'If someone is trying to kill me, I’m not going to look around for the nearest piece of rope. I’m in the army. If I don’t have a gun, or at least a knife, something has gone terribly wrong, and maybe I deserve what I get.'  
The instructors of the course were black belts of various disciplines, and said things like, “Don’t look your enemies in the eye. Watch their silhouettes. You need to know what the whole person is doing, not where they’re looking.”   The instructors told us an enemy can pull a weapon, point, and shoot before we had time to react if we weren’t being careful, but I didn’t want to give away the fact I was watching my student. I wanted to keep the element of surprise. So I watched her shoulders. I figured if she didn’t have martial arts or military training, she couldn’t pull a sneak attack on me. Besides that, the last thing I needed to be doing was staring at a student’s tits or hips, especially when she was right in front of me and asking me questions.
Eventually, she left. The rest of the students filed out while I kept one hand on my desk, right next to the pencils, so I could defend myself if I needed to, but I didn’t pick them up: it would look obvious. I realized there was a student out in the hallway, Pouya, who was on his cellphone and speaking Arabic. He wasn’t close or loud, so I was surprised I could hear it at all, but it was my trigger and had been loud enough for me to pick up on it, at least subconsciously. When Pouya saw the rest of the students were gone, he left. Then I was alone, free to hold pencils in my hands like they were knives, and start to calm myself down. I whispered to myself, “You’re armed, and your enemies are gone. You can breath.”

Pouya helped me start to conquer the PTSD, and he did this without ever being aware I had it. I’ve been tempted to track him down at times and say, “You smoothed a mental disorder of mine. You missed your calling as a psychologist,” unless he was a psychologist (I forget his major), and if so instead I would say, “It was in the stars, Pouya. Like Luke Skywalker on the path to saving the galaxy from the evil Empire, psychology was your destiny. You cure disorders just by being in the room.”  
The whole thing would be less amazing if he had stayed in my class, but a few days before the two week drop deadline, he approached me and told me I wouldn’t be seeing him anymore, he had taken too many credits and had to quit one of his classes, and my class was the class. He was polite about it, apologetic without being weird or embarrassed. I reminded him that English 101 was a required course, he would have to take it eventually, and it might be better to drop a class that was an elective. He said he knew, but all his courses were either general degree requirements or required for his major, it was unavoidable, and this class was the one that made the most sense to drop, given his schedule. He said he thought he should tell me so I didn’t wonder about him attendance-wise, and he wanted me to know he had nothing against me personally. I was flattered; I appreciate when people don’t hate me on a personal level, but I didn’t want Pouya to drop. He did all the work, participated, and showed up early. Sometimes I looked for a pencil to stab him with, but his essays were enjoyable to read. Most of my students wrote essays that made me want to stab my own eyes out. Whether it was myself or someone else, Pouya only made me think about mutilation as much as any other student, but at least he showed up on time.  

The fact that Pouya spoke Arabic but was born in America, and had a Minnesota accent, might have mattered. He walked into the hallway and called up his parents, speaking in Arabic, after most classes during the two weeks he was my student, but he always turned and said good day to me when he left class or when we passed in the hallway. He switched seamlessly from fluent Arabic to English, and I got the feeling sometimes he cut himself off in the middle of a phrase or word to say goodbye to me. I tried my best to be pleasant and hide the fact I was trying not to put him in a choke hold on the way to my office. I thought of the walk there as a tactical retreat. I locked the door, closed the blinds, and concentrated on my breathing until I stopped thinking about snipers.  
Pouya speaking Arabic set off my trigger, but his voice was outside the norm for me. In Kuwait, we were warned against making friends with the locals or trusting anyone that wasn’t American military. At the front gate of the base I was on, where we searched cars for bombs, there were two Egyptian workers I saw regularly. They were friendly, and we joked with each other. I would check the doors and glove compartment for bombs and weapons, and while the other soldiers were going through the trunk or using a mirror to check for anything hidden on the underside of the car, I would walk over to the Egyptians standing to the side, smile broadly, and ask, “Sirs, do you have any bombs in your vehicle?”  The first couple times I did this, they panicked, putting their hands in the air and saying, “Lalalalalalala. No bombs. We’re friends.”  I’d smile. After a while they recognized me and started joking around. I’d ask about bombs, and the short Egyptian would say, “I don’t know if there are bombs. You look. That’s your job. You tell me if there are bombs.”  The tall Egyptian would say, “Yes, small bomb. Like this,” and hold his hand out to show me the size and shape. When I asked, “Sir, where are you hiding the bomb,” he would say, “I don’t know. Small bomb. You find. Small bomb. Like this,” and he would hold his hand out again.
Whenever the Egyptians were cleared and let onto base to do their jobs, other soldiers came up to me to remind me we couldn’t be friends with anyone. Terrorists would sign up for jobs on base, befriend soldiers, act like real pleasant guys, and when someone let their guard down: boom. I told the other soldiers I had the same training they did, and I hadn’t forgotten. I told myself I could joke with the Egyptians about bombs, but while I did I kept an extra foot of space between us and talked to them only after they had been searched for concealed weapons. I could be civil, even to potential enemies.  
But Pouya was as trusted an American as the soldiers I worked with (he was arguably more American than some of the soldiers I worked with, since some of the soldiers were from Texas, which is kind of its own thing with its own language and customs). He spoke Arabic, but there were plenty of soldiers that spoke a second language, and some of them were even fluent. He was born and raised in the suburbs of the Midwest, not the deserts of the Middle East.
A paper Pouya turned in was still in my stack to grade after he dropped my class. He wrote about how his parents had immigrated to America and had problems learning English, though they tried, and it was difficult for Pouya, because his parents leaned on him to help them become a part of American culture while his friends asked him about his foreign ancestry. He was born American, but grew up being considered a foreigner by both his parents and his peers. He had problems of his own, I felt for the guy, and felt guilty that I wanted to pull out a knife every time he was around.
It was a weird coincidence that Pouya and I continued to run into each other over the course of the semester. It was weird for two reasons. The first was, after he dropped my class, our schedules had nothing in common with each other. My schedule wasn’t consistent. Sometimes I ate lunch at the student union, sometimes I walked back to my apartment for lunch, which was in the opposite direction of the student union, and sometimes I forgot to eat lunch until dinner, but no matter what I did I kept seeing him.
I tend to be in deep thought when I’m walking around. As such, I’m oblivious to everything outside of which direction I’m traveling. I’d get done on campus and think, “Time to go home.”  I’d start walking and zone out until I arrived at my apartment. Sometimes the journey between campus and my apartment is one big blank spot in my memory. I’ve had to explain to some of my friends that if they didn’t wave and shout my name, I might walk right past them, not because I was ignoring them but because I had no idea they were next to me. This is all compounded by the fact that I procrastinate on making appointments with my eye doctor. The prescription for my glasses is always out of date, and I literally can’t see people.  
This means that Pouya gets all the credit for the fact that I know we kept running into each other. He said hello and waved every time he saw me, sometimes shouting across the packed student union at lunchtime to get my attention. Sometimes we had small, polite conversations, but we usually did little more than wave. The only thing that mattered was that I kept running into him.
We ran into each other sometimes at Blockbuster. I would see him with two or three friends. They would be in the dollar section, renting cheesy horror flicks. They spoke to each other in Arabic, but I’d overhear them saying things like “Stephen King,” “Jason Vorhees,” or “Elm Street.”  It was weird to hear them transition so effortlessly between the two languages. Pouya would see me and say hi and tell them I was his English teacher, although that was only kind of true. The more I saw of him, the more he, and everything he did, registered as normal in my mind, until there came a time when I was walking with a friend across campus. She turned to me and said, “Hey, you were in Kuwait, weren’t you?  Were those two guys we just passed speaking Arabic?”  I said, “I didn’t notice.”  

I thought I was cured, until a day when I went to a restaurant with my older brother, Tim, and my sister-in-law, Jen. Jen was a high school teacher. She chaperoned a dance which had been girls-only in order to cater to girls from conservative Muslim families who had to cover their faces or hair in public and weren’t allowed to dance with or in front of boys. Although the dance was designed with Muslim girls in mind, all girls were invited. The dance was catered by a girl’s father, who owned a Mediterranean restaurant and was willing to provide food for the dance free of charge, since he was elated Americans were accepting his culture and religion in a post-9-11 world.
Jen appreciated the dad’s willingness to give freely of his own time and money, and said the food was fantastic. This was especially significant since Jen is picky about food. She calls herself a vegetarian, but she’s a vegetarian by default more than by philosophy; if someone asks about her vegetarianism, she will talk about not wanting to be a part of animal cruelty, but those who know her better find out she hates the taste and texture of nearly everything edible, and her diet consists mostly of cereal and macaroni (and it has to be Kraft macaroni, she can’t stand any other brand). If you ask Tim about her diet, he will admit he has caught her eating fish.
When I got to town, Jen wanted us to go to the Mediterranean restaurant that the dad owned. She liked the food he had catered, so she figured she might be able to find something on the menu she could order. It sounded good to me. I had never been to a Mediterranean restaurant. When I hear the word “Mediterranean,” I think about southern Europe, forgetting that Africa and the Middle East border the Mediterranean Sea, and I didn’t read into the fact that the restaurant owner was Muslim, and maybe Arab. I don’t know that it would have mattered if I had thought of any of that. I wasn’t thinking about my PTSD. It was cured.
Eating at the restaurant was nothing like County Market, where I had my first experience with hypervigilance. At County Market, I clicked on like a light, but had no idea what flipped the switch. At the restaurant, I knew how PTSD related to me, and my symptoms gradually built as the environment changed.
We beat the dinner rush, so the only other customers were a couple white women, and most of the wait staff was hidden in back somewhere. There were a couple TV's tuned to the news, but I didn’t pay attention to them. Tim and I looked at the buffet while Jen scanned the menu,  searching for something she could tolerate, hoping she could find something she recognized from the dance. Tim and I decided the buffet looked tempting, despite the fact we couldn’t figure out what most of the food was; one doesn’t have to be able to identify food to know it looks tasty. I had little experience with local cuisine when I was overseas. Everyone ate at the dining facility on base, which served mostly traditional American food with only hints the ingredients weren’t from America; things tasted off, unauthentic, but not in any way I could identify. There were exceptions to American cuisine, like when the cooks served everyone half of what I think was a quail, and when we had fish from the Persian Gulf, but mostly we ate things like casseroles, mashed potatoes, hot dogs, and omelets. Most of what I knew of the local food was from when I was in guard shacks with Kuwaiti soldiers and their lunch sacks, which means my experience was purely visual.
The food itself didn’t do anything to me, but I recognized the smell. Arab food has a particular scent. The smell clung to Kuwaiti soldiers and wafted from groups of local workers on a lunch break, from the strong teas that were traditional. The smell was a permanent fixture in the guard shacks that we shared with the Kuwaiti military, but the small buffet wasn’t much of a concern.
We were about halfway through our meals in the restaurant when the dinner rush hit. The restaurant was one large room without any partitions, so we could see everything. The two white women left when they finished their meal, and the tables and booths filled up with Arabs and Somalis. Most of the women wore traditional Muslim attire. Half the tables were speaking Arabic, and the other half had strong accents. Although the volume was turned off, I noticed the TV's were tuned to a foreign news channel, and all the writing was in the Arabic script. As the waiters served everyone their meals, the room filled with the smells of tea and Arab food.
My symptoms kicked in one by one. I noticed the Arabic language being spoken at one table, then noticed more and more tables speaking it, until I was trying to keep track of every table and what they were speaking. My heart rate elevated. I saw a waiter bring a man a plate with a steak and steak knives on it, then I paid attention to all the cutlery in the room, trying to decide which families had the most weapons at their tables while I considered ordering the steak or flagging down a waiter and telling him something on my plate was too tough to cut with my butter knife, but I didn’t, because I thought having a knife would identify me as a threat. I started to sweat, and my brain was processing so much information it barely had energy to devote to the process of eating my food. I tried to make my movements look natural, to hide my shaking hands and the way I gripped my fork like I was devouring an enemy. I kept reminding myself to breath, and I only managed to convince myself to take air into my lungs by telling myself I wasn’t going to be able to run or fight if I was out of breath, and I couldn’t identify enemies if I was unconscious.
I was embarrassed. I was trying to identify enemy threats in a restaurant in a suburb of the Twin Cities, treating harmless, innocent American families like they might try to harm me. I didn’t want to make Tim and Jen look bad, like they were eating with a crazy dude that might stab someone with a butter knife if they made any sudden movements. I could leave the restaurant and the town and never come back, but Jen knew the owner and his daughter and her friends, there could be permanent consequences. At one point, I sat up to go back to the buffet line, and when I turned around there was an olive-skinned man standing right in front of me. I froze, trying to hold in my eyes so they didn’t bug out. He smiled, said, “Excuse me” in a polite and unaccented voice, and skirted around me. I was glad I decided to leave my plate at the table and get a new one. I probably wouldn’t have tried to bludgeon the poor guy with the plate, but I might have held it up and used it as a shield, which would have been weird enough.
When we finished our meals and went to pay the check, I stood with my back facing a wall so no one could sneak up on me. I didn’t have to remind myself to breathe on the car ride home, but I didn’t settle down until I was in the basement of Tim and Jen’s townhouse and Tim and I were playing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game he had purchased with Playstation points.

Dad talks about what his friends were like after they got home from Vietnam. He had one friend, Roy, that lived just down the road from our farm that belly-flopped onto the ground every time he heard a loud noise. Back in those days, jets from an air force base used to fly straight over our farm, we assumed on a training mission, and everyone down the road could hear them. They flew over our farm almost every day, and every time they did Roy dove onto the ground, no matter where he was or what he was doing; in the bathroom brushing his teeth, in the living room watching TV, walking down the gravel driveway to fetch the mail. If he was outside and saw the jets coming overhead, he sat on the ground and waited for the engine sound that lagged behind them.
It wasn’t just the jets. Roy couldn’t listen to the TV too loudly. He couldn’t go hunting, because gunshots in the distance would send him into the leaves or snow. If something fell from off the top of a bookshelf or someone stomped on a spider, Roy went face first onto the floor, and once he got rug burn on his nose. It was years before he could go to the lake on the Fourth of July to watch the fireworks. Everyone thought it was weird at first. It became funny after he explained it to everyone. People would see if they could punch the wall hard enough to make him belly-flop, and sometimes he would, even if he saw them doing it. After a while, it became sad in an everyday sort of way, like a sibling having to watch their epileptic brother but unable to do anything but turn up the volume on the radio until it passes. Slowly, Roy regained his composure. When he heard gunshots in the woods, he spread his arms and bent his knees, ready to jump, but managed to restrain himself. In the bathroom, he dropped his toothbrush but held onto the sink to keep himself upright. Years passed, until one day when Dad was standing with Roy in a field when the jets fly overhead, and he didn’t flinch, but admitted, “I still want to jump. I’ll always want to jump.”  
It was easy for Roy’s friends to understand his problem. He was in a country where the only way to stay alive was to duck, to dive, to develop reflexes that would go off before the conscious mind could make a decision to react. I envy his symptoms. I can only imagine how embarrassing they were, but he could walk into an Asian buffet without having to think twice. If someone dropped a pan and he flopped onto the ground, the embarrassment would only last a moment. There was no guilt he had to deal with later. He could listen to two people speaking Vietnamese without reaching for the spot on his belt where he used to carry his pistol. He didn’t go through the rest of his life wishing that carrying a hunting knife in public wasn’t taboo.

If I’m honest with myself, I haven’t felt safe since I got back from Kuwait. I’m exposed here, unarmed. When I was on duty, I wore a Kevlar helmet, a body vest, an M9 pistol with a fifteen round clip in the weapon and an extra clip on my belt, a total of thirty rounds, and an M16 with one clip in the weapon and two more in an ammo bag, a total of ninety rounds. When we were in our guard towers, we had M240Bravo crew-served assault weapons with two hundred rounds of belt ammunition. We drove around in up-armored Humvees with bulletproof glass and M240Bravos mounted in the turrets on the roof. When my half of the unit, the night shift, was done for the day, I took off my armor, turned in my weapons, and went to sleep in the middle of a military base guarded by the other half of the unit.
When I was in grade school, I spent all day in class with bullies. I didn’t know when they were going to pick on me, what they would do, or if I was even a target that day. I was alone, I didn’t have a gang to back me up. I knew the teachers were powerless, they had lawsuits to worry about. When I went home, I had a live-in bully; my older brother, and he knew better than to do anything when my parents were around. I was defenseless against people that were bigger and older than me. In Kuwait, I was armed to the teeth. Even if I ran into a large enemy force, I could defend myself, I could attack, I could call the army on the radio. The marines were just a couple buildings down, the navy was in shouting distance.
The most important things were the walls: hundreds of feet of fences designed to stop semi-trucks and stone walls with pock marks where they had taken enemy fire during the Iraqi invasion. The pock marks were encouraging, visible proof bullets could take pieces out of the walls, but couldn’t make it all the way through. There was a regularly patrolled perimeter, and people and vehicles could only get onto base through checkpoints where everyone was ID'ed and searched. There was the base, there was everything outside of it, and the two were kept separate. There was no confusion about where one ended and the other began.
I thought I had conquered my PTSD, I was past it, it wasn’t something I was going to have to worry about in the future. After the incident in the Mediterranean restaurant, I had to consider the possibility that what I had was permanent, and though it might be buried over time, it might forever be a part of my personality. The experience I had in Kuwait was never going to go away, I would never move past it, not completely. When I am eighty and being interviewed by a reporter from the History Channel about my experience in the Middle East, I will tell him I don’t want to stab people anymore, but I still miss my knife.  
I don’t carry a knife, no matter how much I want to. I don’t know that I would stab someone, but I wouldn’t have to. Drawing a knife on someone is enough to get me in trouble. I’m unarmed, and I’m not fighting anyone. If I have enemies, they are peers and coworkers I’m in professional or personal competition with, but if we come to blows, it will be metaphorically. If I get into serious issues at work, my bosses could fire me, but they wouldn’t fire at me.
I’m never going to have the clarity I had when I knew where to stand, what my weapons were, and which way to point them. It was a time when I knew what I was fighting for, and who I was fighting. My subconscious will never stop looking for threats. I’m going to spend the rest of my life wondering what I’m struggling against.

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