Friday, January 13, 2017

January 13: Rumpus Room, PTSD, Body in the Road

And so on.  

Billy was working on this letter in the basement rumpus room of his empty house.  It was his housekeeper's day off.  There was an old typewriter in the rumpus room.  It was a beast.  It weighed as much as a storage battery.  Billy couldn't carry it very far very easily, which was why he was writing in the rumpus room instead of somewhere else.

The oil burner had quit.  A mouse had eaten through the insulation of a wire leading to the thermostat.  The temperature in the house was down to fifty degrees, but Billy hadn't noticed.  He wasn't warmly dressed, either.  He was barefoot, and still in his pajamas and a bathrobe, though it was late afternoon.  His bare feet were blue and ivory.

The cockles of Billy's heart, at any rate, were glowing coals.  What made them so hot was Billy's belief that he was going to comfort so many people with the truth about time.  His door chimes upstairs had been ringing and ringing.  It was his daughter Barbara up there, wanting in.  Now she let herself in with a key, crossed the floor over his head, calling, "Father?  Daddy, where are you?"  And so on.

Billy didn't answer her, so she was nearly hysterical, expecting to find his corpse.  And then she looked into the very last place there was to look--which was the rumpus room.

Billy Pilgrim is trying to spread the news about Tralfamadore and the Tralfamadorian concept of time.  He's older, feeble from the plane crash and sudden loss of his wife.  Yet, he isn't mourning, because time is not a steady forward march for him.  It's a series of circles and tangents.  Russian nesting dolls of past and present and future.

I'm wondering if Billy's condition--being unstuck in time--is a metaphor for post traumatic stress disorder.  That inability to shake off the traumas of the past.  Maybe that's why time is so unstable for him.  The closest experience I've had with PTSD happened several years ago.

It was early December, and I was driving my daughter home from a dance lesson.  The traffic was heavy.  Holiday traffic, cars shuttling from store to store.  Suddenly, I noticed all kinds of flashing brake lights ahead of me.  I started to slow up, but I couldn't see if there was a car accident or a dead skunk in the road.

Then, out of nowhere, I saw a human body sprawled in the middle of the highway, directly in front of me, as if the man had decided to take a nap.  I didn't have a whole lot of time to react.  I yelled, threw my arm across my daughter beside me, and jerked the steering wheel to the side.

I didn't hit the man.  Missed him by only a couple of feet.  After I regained control of my fishtailing car, I looked in my rear view mirror.  I could see all kinds of cars swerving and stopping behind me.  I didn't have a cell phone at the time, so I stopped at the closest gas station to phone the police.  The dispatcher told me that the accident had already been reported, and a cruiser and ambulance were on the way.

My heart didn't stop racing until I got home.  Later on that night, I heard on the news that the man in the road had been drunk and stumbled across the highway.  A car had struck him.  He died almost immediately.

For about a year after that incident, I couldn't drive past that spot without getting jumpy, especially at night.  Even in the summer, I would see that body in my headlights, lying on the asphalt, face down, not moving.  Over and over, I kept returning to that moment.  I guess you could say that I was a little unstuck in time.  I don't know if that is clinically PTSD.  Every once in a while, I still get anxious driving in the dark, expecting some human mound to appear in my headlight beams.

Maybe that's Billy's issue, only he summons up little green men along with the charred buildings and bodies of Dresden.

Saint Marty has to drive his daughter to dance tonight.  Hopefully, he won't be abducted by aliens on the way home.

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