With the piercing shatter of a glass, I hear it… A sound that starts from deep within my ears. A roaming crescendo of haunt that becomes so deafening it forces me from bed, plaguing me with a spasm that crawls along my spine. In those first, frightful moments of wakefulness, I am presented an unwelcomed confusion that plucks at my sinew. My breathing is rapid and my gaze, spastic. I wander over to the front door and press my ear against the cold wood. I close my eyes and listen intently to see if I can capture it in the real. But all I hear is a thunderous heart lamenting from inside my chest.
I thought I heard her screaming… again.
The argument could be made that I had… however, only by way of remembrance.
I stepped away from the door and fell seated with defeat onto my couch. A place and posture I have assumed many times before. Sometimes I think the screams are the worst. But then I remember the smells and the tastes… and it becomes near impossible to judge which is truly worse within the hierarchy of grotesque.
I will say this about screams though: I hate them. Especially hers…
It belonged to a young woman. A working professional that lived alone and was simply trying to make it in this rat race of life. On a cold, blackened evening in the dead of winter, a man broke into her apartment. He peeled back her sliding glass door and found her sleeping. What happened next was unquestionably scripted from the devil’s pen and written with the flaming ink of hell. This troglodyte began raping her without mercy nor care. When this monster had finished ravaging the poor girl, he stabbed her. And that’s how I met her; dispatched to her apartment after she had managed to call the police. The first thing to greet me upon entry of her modest place, was the tinny taste of copper—blood. A god damned river of it.
My partner (another male) and I proceeded into the bedroom where she lay. When her eyes met with mine and Frank’s, she squirmed with unease. But she had lost a lot of blood, and continued to lose that precious crimson currency of life. So, we had to work quickly. This meant, hands on. The moment my outstretched hand touched her, she screamed wildly and let free a barrage of unhinged kicks and punches. Her scream was of survival. A shrill knife that bit into the flesh of my ears, leaving an everlasting laceration. I guess in that moment, we both bled… but for very different reasons.
This woman’s brain was stuck in fight or flight. As such, she fought us the entire way to the hospital. She spat, bit, cried and lamented… right up until she could no longer. She still had fight in her, no doubt. But her body was getting weaker.
I cannot explain to you the sound a near dying woman who has just been raped makes in the back of an enclosed ambulance. All I can tell you, is that it is intensely unforgettable.
As I stay on my couch, wandering through the twists and turns of this rumination, I think back to how things where when I got home that night. I was in a relationship at the time. When I had rid myself of that blood-stained uniform, I crawled into bed, quietly. I did not want to wake her. I just wanted to feel her next to me and know that she was safe. That she was not scared, alone or battered. I put my ear on her back, and listened to her breathing. I could hear the relaxed ‘lub-dub’ of her heart, and the sound the wind makes as it caresses along the leaves during spring while she inhaled and exhaled softly. I clenched my eyes and tried not to cry.
How can this world be so cruel? How could anyone do that to another person? And then I continued to feel horrible because this woman, the girl who had been raped, took one look at me and Frank and recoiled with fright. Our likeness was conflated with the rapist. Nothing I did or said helped this woman… she hated me. I hated me. Not because I felt akin to the monster… but because it’s my job to make people feel better. To help them, keep them safe and warm. But all I was to this poor girl was a reminder of what took all that comfort away from her. Stripped her of her dignity. I couldn’t do a god damned thing. Except listen to her screech and wail in agony.
It was no use; I began to tense and jerk in an attempt at keeping tears hidden. This stirred my girlfriend. She rolled over to greet me and when she observed the crippled features of my face, she embraced the sides of my cheeks with cupped hands.
“Matty… what is it? What’s wrong?” She begged. I tried, but no words came out. I just locked eyes with her and refused to blink so that I could hold her in my sight and know that she was forever safe.
I carry the memory of that girl and her pain with me every day. I carry guilt that the rapist was never caught. Wondering if our interventions to save her contaminated any potential evidence… hard to say.
Her scream is not the only lash from the whip of memory that I hold. There are many screams and cries that come back to me, uninvited. But tonight, it’s hers…
In sobriety, I have some coping mechanisms for accepting and navigating these memories. But I would be remiss if I held from you the fact that all I really want in this moment, is the bitter warmth of a whiskey. It won’t take the screams away, but it will disconnect me from myself… at least, that’s how it was used in the past. I understand now that the only way to survive all of this, is to feel when I need to feel. And right now, right here in this moment, my heart is breaking. My ears are aching and my hands recall the slippery skin of a blood-soaked woman.
Sometimes, I think screams are the worst. Sometimes, I think I am… other times I blame the world. The truth may be somewhere in-between.
For now, I think I’ll just listen to a song, try and drown out the sound of the weak and wounded. Make myself feel love, instead of feasting on torment. Pressing play now…
The music calms the disturbing encounters in your life saving work. It is far reaching and meaningful. Peace.
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