on thursday afternoon i was in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. as i reached for my corn flakes, a little girl popped out from behind a large display next to me and screamed “BOO!!!!” a few seconds later her brother jumped out behind her yelling “GOTCHA!!!!” it turns out that their mother was right behind me and they were waiting to surprise her. they collapsed into a pile of giggles, their mom praising them for being so well-hidden.
i wheeled my cart over to the next aisle and cried, silently, next to cans of peas and carrots. frozen, fists clenched, hot tears streaming down my face, adrenaline pumping through my veins. i wanted to scream at the mother – don’t you know it’s not funny to surprise people? i wanted to tell her – i’ve suffered from ptsd and surprises are a trigger for me. but her kids were just having fun and she didn’t know my story.
she didn’t know how, as a teenager, my heart sank at the suggestion of hide-and-seek at every sleepover or summer camp. how i would slowly wander around and pretend to look for whoever was hiding. she didn’t know how my panic would build as i peeked around corners and looked under beds. how the moment of finding someone made me freeze and flash back. how a game that was fun for other kids was terrifying for me.
she didn’t know about that morning. as a 13-year old child, how i looked around my house for my dad, room by room, playing an eerie game of hide-and-seek. i checked the bedroom. i checked the bathroom. i checked the kitchen. i checked the basement. looking, looking everywhere for him. how i opened the door to our laundry room and found the worst surprise, the sickest of jokes. she didn’t know my dad died by suicide. and that i had to witness the horror.
she just didn’t know that a little fun with her kids in the cereal aisle could transport me back to my moment of trauma. how could she know? how could anyone know? this is the reality of being a trauma survivor: ptsd transforms the safe landscape of our lives into a minefield of fear. one misstep and i spiral back to the basement, opening the door, finding my dad. SURPRISE, amy, GOTCHA!!!!!!
but i came back to the present moment. i collected myself and chose to keep moving. i took a deep breath, wiped away my tears and wheeled my cart forward, onward, upward. walking past my ptsd in aisle 5.