Recently I was witness to someone having a flashback. This is the re-experiencing of a traumatic event. It's like daydreaming, or remembering, except that the memory is so all encompassing that the person feels as though they are back in the the very event. It is present to them, not past. To see it happen is surreal and a little frightening. But to experience it...
Flashbacks are often associated with extreme traumas, but our bodies remember trauma...even those that are not quite so severe to a full re-experiencing. So sometimes a smell, or a sound, or a phrase that someone says will bring up memories and the feelings associated with them in a powerful way.
Tonight I was reminded of a previous flashback that I experienced. I think it's the only one I've had...for that I'm grateful.
The flashback was triggered by an article in the University of Minnesota's daily newspaper. I read an article about a man who had accosted a woman at a lake in Minneapolis. The article triggered the following memory:
One day, coming home from class, I was approached by a man who was asking for directions. This was my second year in school...I don't know why that is important. The man was of middle eastern or south asian descent, and older. I gave him directions and he struck up a conversation. I can't remember the exact details, but I remember when he asked if we could go somewhere to talk that I knew that I didn't want to go anywhere private with him. I suggested the student union.
We sat down at a table - very public - and again, I don't remember much about what he said (our brains our funny at what they censor). At some point he began to ask about whether I was dating...did I have a boyfriend? I was not and I said so. He made another comment about liking to have friends over to his place, then - and this I remember clearly to this day - he put his hand on my thigh.
Up to that point, I think that I had been a bit clueless...a bit naive...a bit midwestern in my attempt not to be rude. But to intrude on my body when it was not welcome...
He asked if I would like to come to his place. I told him that I wasn't really interested in that (again I was trying to be polite). And Boom! He got angry. "Don't you like foreign men?" he asked. Wanting, frantically, to get out of the situation, I said, "No." He cursed at me, and walked away.
I remember that I was supposed to be at work not long after, but the feeling of needing to shower...of needing to get the feeling of his hand off of me was so strong. I risked being late for my job.
The newspaper article brought up the memory of this so strongly, that I felt the need to write a letter to the editor for the first time. I didn't expect much from it. In fact, it was a cathartic experience that helped me heal, I believe. I didn't actually expect a response.
But I got one. It seems that I was not the only one to respond. The newspaper called me...gave me the name of the man who had asked me for directions that day. Gave me his age and told me when he would be going to trial for assault. It seemed I was lucky. He'd physically assaulted other women who had turned down his advances...I can't imagine what might have happened if I had accepted his invitation to visit his apartment...
My letter to the editor was never published. I don't think they featured anyone else, actually. But the man in question was required by the university to never be seen on campus again.
The memory of the event has mostly faded; however, the experience of the flashback, the re-experiencing is strong...probably because of having seen another person have their own. Today I remember how shaken I was...to be in the midst of a class - something completely non-threatening - and read the events that so clearly mimicked my own. To feel the onset of anger and fear, as if I were there again. And the strong desire to have a shower...that feeling of being soiled by what was happening - even though nothing had happened except that news article which triggered my memory. (It's the only clear memory I have of a university class - writing my response to that article.)
The trauma is the injury...the flashback is the insult. In retrospect, for me, the insult is worse than the injury.
Tomorrow, I want to write about something happy or hopeful.
P.S. We had a "special" election here in California today. Results are still coming in, but it seems like voters are saying no to every issue (even the liberal ones that made it on the ballot). I guess the voters are just saying "no" to special elections!