My first thought is to get the girls away. I put the car in drive and begin to speed away across one intersection and maybe even two. I hear rustling from the backseat and next to me the girls are starting to panic. There’s rustling in seats, slamming on windows, so I locked the car to keep them in.
I grab the phone and dial nine-one-one. The operator picks up and I have to utter the words: “I’ve just witnessed a suicide” and chaos immediately erupts inside the sedan.
As I’m trying to relay the information to the operator, like the address, my name, and for some reason my birthday. I get a faint look from my sister with tears in her eyes and asks if Jason is going to be okay. In order to keep myself together I have to look away.
I pull the car over and get out because I cannot keep myself together inside with those two girls. I know that I have to stay, at least, calm and collected to keep them there and away from that door.
I finish relaying the information to the operator and they say, “Hang on, the police will be there soon.” And then click. The phone line goes dead. And the operator hung up. And I’m all alone.
I stand outside in the familiar neighborhood of Vista woods knowing that I am the only one that knows what just happened. The whole world is oblivious. A car drives behind me. Someone is mowing their lawn off to my right, and I hear little kids playing to my left.
Everything is normal as far as the rest of the world is concerned. But I am stuck in a different universe than the rest of the world. In a movie when something like this happens, the screen goes dark and ominous music comes from underneath. But it’s not like that. I was scared and I couldn’t do anything about it.
Now I tell you that story because today I want to tell you what it means to experience trauma. Sorry. So there’s no real book on parenting as all parents know. There’s no textbook you can turn to, to know what to do next. And even if there was a textbook on parenting, I seriously doubt that any of the chapter titles would have been “What to do when your child misses a shotgun suicide?”
So my parents did the best thing they could think of and took my sister and me to a talk therapist in town the very next day. And we set up more sessions for that summer, and throughout that summer we told her what happened and our feelings and stuff like that. And it definitely helped but it didn’t help where I needed it, which was in my psyche if that makes any sense. I’m really into knowing where people are coming from in their thoughts, actions, and words. And I subject myself to the same analysis.
And over the summer, I was doing these intrusive thoughts and what I was coming up with was I was milking it. I was fine and didn’t need any extra attention. And I think a lot of people go through that. I thought to myself: “This event is in the past Joey; just move on and get over it.”
So I start school here at Behrend in the fall and on the surface everything’s great. But there were these little things that were happening that showed me that everything was not great. For instance, I would be in my dorm room or in a classroom, I don’t hear kids down the hall laughing and instantly I would think that they were crying. It’s really amazing how much hysterical laughter and hysterical crying sound the same.
I would blank out into this thousand-yard stare replaying the event in my head and would be scared over something moving or someone touching my shoulder.
And finally I would cry myself to sleep at night, not a sad or angry cry, just there staring at the wall with tears rolling down my face.
So I’m a bit of a nerd and I started researching what was happening to me. And I learned that your brain talks through the exchanging of charged particles through neural pathways. And when these pathways get used more, it’s easier for your brain to follow.
Now most people have heard of “fight or flight” and what this is, is it’s an instinct that happens when your body feels in danger. Your amygdala which is the oldest part of your brain takes control and tells the rest of your brain what to do and your body.
Now if there’s a tiger in front of you, you’re really not going to benefit that much from thinking: what am I going to do next? Oh what’s the tiger going to do next? It’s a lot more beneficial for your longevity if you fight the tiger or run away really fast. And that’s what the amygdala triggers.
Now my brain thought that the right way to act in a sad or scary situation was to do what my amygdala set on June 15th, which makes sense. It was just trying to protect me. But what it was actually resulting in was a torrent of emotions that I had never felt before.
Now despite all this, I was just telling myself: “Joey, you’re just a freshman. You’re just anxious about this semester starting to ramp up, and you’re homesick.” Now you know that part in a movie where things start to really get bad, this is that part. And the part where they really started to not get okay were my dreams. I was struggling to sleep without nightmares and eventually started sleepwalking. And one night I started sleepwalking, left my dorm room, left my building, and ended up eight miles away from campus, in rainbow flip-flops.