I can blame the PTSD and I will, to a certain extent, give the fucking thing it’s credit where it’s due. Without it, ladies and jellybeans, conjuring up a performance like that over some deceased poultry would have been an impossible farce. (”I am not normal… I try to be, but I can’t remember how normal people act, what they do in these situations…”)
But I usually have some meter of control over flashbacks and trauma reactions. I’ve come to a point where I see them coming, shooting past somewhere in my mind’s peripheral awareness, and I am fast like lightning, like quicksilver. I grab them and push them under a thick woolen quilt in my mind.
It doesn’t make the flashbacks stop, or slow my heart or hitch the sobs. The section of my brain tortured by a trauma that most people view as shockingly unthinkable but I now see as normal continues to react and writhe like a slug in salt as the conversation, the scene, the smell, the whatever-it-is that’s set me off continues to invade my headspace. And I can feel it the way you feel the pressure of touch under a local anesthetic. I can observe it; and I do, from a distance, the part of me that’s pretending to be normal shocked and afraid of what’s happening, muffled and unseen, beneath that blanket in my brain.
But I can pretend, and there’s the value in it. While somewhere in my mind another part of me screams in burning agony, I can carry on a conversation, pretend to do my grocery shopping, play with my children. Visibly, everything’s fine, just fine.
|Ethel and Lucy- I’m so glad the awesome Kirsten Cox got this shot of them for me.|
But one morning last week, I walk down my back stars with a heavy basket of dirty washing against my hip and nothing more on my mind than not wanting to hang out the waiting load of wet washing in the cold. At the bottom of the stairs I stop, frozen.
Looking at me is a wolf.
It’s not a wolf, of course, but a dog that looks very much like one, and the first thing that strikes me are it’s eyes. One brown, one blue. It’s still a pup, really, not full grown, perhaps eighteen months old; and my god, it is a beautiful dog. There are seconds of calm while we eye each other off. I’m not really alarmed, I figure it’s my neighbors dog, they’re always trying to get through the fence. It’s not until I glance beyond the dog, away from those slightly hypnotic mismatched eyes, that I see the mess in the lower part of the yard. A first thought it seems to be one of the kids toys ripped open, white stuffing blowing over vibrant green grass.
It’s not, of course. It’s Ethel, one of my chooks, my baby girls. The dumbest animals in the world that I rescued from the local battery farm and bought back to a state of health and at least borderline sanity with tender loving care, plentiful scraps and total free range roam of my back yard.
While Mr Tree the cool cat replaced our dog Scarlette for my little boy, the chooks were my compensation for losing her. They followed me round the yard, stopped and squatted for a pat, loved a cuddle. They were, in my usual melodramatic fashion, a symbol for what I was attempting to do here. A new start, a new life. Different and unrecognizable from the suburban existence we’d had in the past.
Chickens required so little and showed no emotion. They were loyal and ridiculously grateful for whatever I gave them, looking at me with adoring if not intelligent eyes. And dammit, they were mine. Not in spite of but because of their emotional vapidity, they were the only things I’d allowed myself any kind of real connection to that was untempered by caution and mistrust since my husband died.
On realizing the stupid things were dead… I’m aware of that familiar numbness, that exceptional coping mechanism, sliding over the emotions like clouds over the sun. And it just pisses me off.
Because fuck this. Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it, fuck it all to hell. Have I not lost enough already? Have I not had to let go of enough shit that was important to me already? Really, a couple of chickens that would have died anyway, living a life more miserable than what they had here; is that too much to ask for from the universe? When I protect myself by coveting only the simplest things– my house, my garden, my cats and chooks; and I was content. The less you have, the less you want, the less that can be taken away.
I should have known, well and truly, that being content grants you no protection. God, karma, whatever useless thing is in charge of making the world spin, decided that a couple of dumb animals were too good for me to keep, too. And that’s why, in a fit of childless temper, I stick my finger up at coping mechanisms and let myself lose my shit in a big way. The shock of this, the bursting of the safe happy little bubble I’d created for myself within my own physical block of land, feels like a punch in the guts and I reacted liked spoilt child.
|Ethel and Lucy do the Today Show|
I scream and throw things at the dog, who growls when I come near it. The frustration of that is like cold water into hot oil and I scream hell unleashed. It’s then I notice Lucy, my other chook, laying on the ground, wings tucke
d as though she’s sleeping, but with one leg askew at an unnatural angle. The frustration becomes more of a powerless humiliation as it sinks in, with a familiar leaden settling stealing my breath and making me dizzy, that my girls are already dead.
I scream obscenities at the dog who simply stares at me in an almost arrogant manner, as if it’s wondering why this crazy lady is and why she’s screaming so; as if our roles were reversed and it was the human, bemused and somewhat entertained by this feral thing that’s reacting on instinct and temper alone.
I leave the yard, walk inside, still crying, my mind reeling, skating the slippery ring of a flashback that feels so surreal for it’s intensity and so pathetic, triggered over something so mundane. I call my mum, almost unable to form words, and she assures she will come, she will bring my stepfather, they will clean up the dead chooks. I can’t bring myself to do it, I can’t touch them. The too–heavy, flightless weight and feel of dead birds has always upset me and I’m not sure why. The dead weight of things now, in the After, it’s almost unbearable. I was brave enough to say goodbye when my dog died. This time I can’t. I know if I had to, had there been no one else to do it, I would have… that’s what I do. But I am so fucking sick of being brave.
The next half hour is shaking, hard breathing torture; feeling ashamed of myself and patently stupid but still caught in the threads of a flashback I can’t seem to untangle myself from. And why not? I am waiting for my mother and step father, sitting its my children, trying to pretend everything’s OK, unable to go into my backyard for fear of what I will see…
And it’s just like that hot, stiflingly painful afternoon all over again, in miniature. I sob with relief when my parents arrive. Lucy is still alive. My step father, a farmer with more strength than I may ever possess, takes care of her for me quickly and humanely and I can’t thank him or my mum enough. I am indebted to them for a thousand reasons… I’ll just add burying my pet chooks to the list.
I bury head in my mums hug and cry and sob and wail and I feel like I am that five year old who lives in a pink bedroom in the deep recesses of my mind. “I want my chickens” I sob, “and it’s just not fair!!” and I can see tears in my mother’s eyes and I can’t imagine how she must ache to see me in so much continual pain when she’s unable to do anything to stop it.
The same way I ache, I suppose, on telling my own children that two of their pets have died and gone to Heaven. I tell them the truth, and then reassure my naturally anxious son that the fence is now secured (and a new one goes up next week) and the dog next door will get in again, will not hurt him or sister or me or our cats.
It hurts telling them. It hurts a bit more watching them accept it so very easily, with no questions and confusion. The are distressed, my son especially, but it passes quickly. It’s so difficult to explain… but it’s so disturbing that my four year old understands death so well that his questions, when they occur, are on the finer points of Heaven and bodies, rather than the larger concept of what dieing is, what death means. As I’ve said so many times before, a chid so young shouldn’t have to understand death so well. It breaks me, over and over, that mine do.
I suppose, though, I’m somewhat the same. The feeling of histrionic unfairness becomes less frustrating every day– I’ve come to the point of expecting things to go wrong, waiting for the worst possible thing to happen. The optimist in me is slowly withering and dieing.
And I accept death without much question, too. Suck it up, get over it, move on. The only bonus this time round is that chickens by their nature are easily replaced… there is no guilt floating around to snag and catch at your conscious. And the chickens, they don’t have a say.