Left or right; a simple decision, really… one of thousands of choices we make every single day. Left takes us to the coffee shop, right to takeout Japanese food. We waffle a bit – debating the merits of both – then choose left. We’ve had a good day, and our conversation drifts from topic to topic.
(At Clay’s last therapy session, he talked about a scare he recently had while on duty. A stuck fire door had come crashing down while he and group of soldiers where close-by. He and several others hit the deck instantly, while those who hadn’t been in combat just jumped back. Clay told the therapist he was afraid of something like this happening in a crowded pubic place, that he would lose control and that people would laugh at him.)
We continue our walk and, look – there’s the comp coffee cart from work, out in the open. I wonder how rude it would be to walk up and get some when it’s past time for her visit and it’s obvious she’s on her way somewhere else. I’m thinking I could save money that way and not have to walk so far, yet I might want to get a latte or…
Wait… wait… Something’s not right… Why does she look so intense? Why is it so quiet? Next to her I see someone kneeling down. That person is talking quietly and soothingly to someone lying on the ground. Clay and I walk up and quickly realize the person on the ground is one of my coworkers. Her face is a strange gray-blue color and she isn’t moving. Another person is holding her hand, saying, “Just squeeze my hand, Honey. Squeeze my hand, Sweetie. Come on, squeeze my hand…”
A coworker asks us to call the office and get someone to call this woman’s family. I call every number I can think of, and only get voicemail. I’m holding the phone to my ear, watching them treat her so tenderly, staring at her blue-gray face and suddenly there’s a lot of blood. It’s coming out of her ear and pooling by her shoulder. Now it’s soaking into her clothes – how could there be so much blood?
I hear voices around me, saying that she slipped and fell, saying she hit her head on the ground, saying they could hear the crack from far away… One of the voices now is Clay saying that he can’t see this and that he has to leave. I nod and stay to help. I keep calling and getting more voicemail. Clay’s voice was so calm as he walked away that I think he’ll be ok. I note that the blood has triggered something in him, but I am compelled to stay and help. He’s so calm, he must be fine.
The sirens get closer and I realize there’s nothing more I can do. I look around for Clay, but cannot find him. I walk to the coffee shop. He must be there. I look in the same corners over and over and over. I call his number and it rings forever before his trembling voice tells me to come get him. He says he can’t walk. I rush back to the scene and there he is, crouching and leaning against a wall.
The sirens from emergency vehicles are wailing and someone opened a nearby emergency exit door, causing the alarm to go off every few seconds. Every time the damn alarm goes off he covers his ears and yells as if he’s being torn apart by daggers. Now a vehicle with a piercing back-up beacon comes close and stops – but the beacon stays on. The stimulus is so intense that I can’t get through to him. I can’t get him up because he can’t feel his legs. “I couldn’t find you”, he repeats as my heart shatters into a million tiny pieces.
I have to get help, but I can’t leave him alone. I call everyone close by that I can think of, but no one will answer. My vision is now blurry from tears, but I see a friend – a beautiful angel – and run to her. I tell her to stay with Clay as I go for help. Clay is shaking, but he smiles and says “Hi” as she kneels down and takes his hand.
I run to my office. My boss is in a meeting. I interrupt and tell her it’s an emergency and I need help. She’s the only one I trust because her husband was in Vietnam and we’ve had long discussions about PTSD. We cried together when Clay was in Iraq – her 40 year old wounds still painfully fresh. She runs with me back to Clay. The three of us talk Clay down enough so that he can walk out of there. She gives us her office so that we can collect ourselves in private and then take the rest of the day off.
The blood was the trigger, but it really was a ‘perfect storm’ – the sirens, alarms, crowds, a coworker down in uniform… I have never felt so utterly helpless in my life. A setback? Yes. But this will not defeat us.
A few days ago Clay’s worst fears were realized. But he made it through. Yes – he made it through. But I wish to god we had gone right instead.