Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Views from a Troubled Mind
Scene #3
Deep Dream, Slight Sleep


Interrupted Conversation 

The cat was talking again last night. You know, those German glotto stops mixed with mewling and moaning. As if the poor creature of the night had something on its mind and just couldn't find the right words to express its troublesome thoughts. And to add to its failure to communicate, it began scratching at the wall beneath my bedroom window.

Its racket awoke me from a fever sleep. Damn Tramadol produces a weird waking dream awareness. If it weren't for the fact that my eyes are closed, I'd be wide awake. And usually I can simply ignore the ravings of the cat, who makes a nightly habit of visiting me right before bedtime to have this conversation. Tonight, it caught me in dead sleep with vivid dreams of being awake. 

Then something slammed against the bedroom wall. My eyes flew open. Is it trying to get in? But no. It screamed with that human voice. There was another sound outside. Another voice? Human? A neighbor awakened from sleep taking his anger out on the confused feline? The human glotto stops turned to infant cries of pain mixed with a helpless mewling. Then nothing. 

That's when I realized I was still asleep. I was dreaming I was awake. A coyote must have caught the plump cat, I surmised. I decided to wake up and look outside in the back yard. And so my dream turned to my going outside. The night was silent and cold. I had to pee. So I woke up for real and went to the restroom to relieve myself.

I considered that pissing out all this warm urine would leave me without any warmth. I should have held in the hot steaming piss to keep me warm on this freezing night. Too late. I returned to bed.


I closed my eyes. Dream returned. I was pissing into a hot water bottle. I awoke suddenly, afraid that I might be wetting the bed by dreaming of pissing. But my bladder was empty. Silly dreams. 

Then the screeching cut through the bedroom. Again something slammed against the wall, shaking the window pane. I was awake. I was sure of it. I went to the window and looked out. I wiped the frost from the pane. There was no coyote. There was no cat. The neighbor was taking out his early morning trash cans for pick-up. The wheels of the cans sounded like squealing. Someone was warming up their cold car engine, revving the motor. It sounded like the thumping engine was slamming against the hood. 

And so it all became clear. Till I saw the morning parrots on the telephone pole line. The revving engine sparked their squawking. It sounded like humans arguing with grunts and groans and words from a language not of this Earth. When the car drove off, the racket stopped. The silence returned.

And I was driving the car. Where was I going? Damn. I was still asleep. I turned the auto around and drove home. I parked, ran to the back yard, and saw the parrots feasting on the cat. 


I saw myself in the bedroom window staring at the carnage. Then he noticed me. I needed to escape. He couldn't see me or I'd never get any sleep. I flapped my arms and lifted myself from the ground, flying above the house, out of visual range of the bedroom window. In my talons I carried a cat. It was screaming like a baby whose bladder had burst. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Update Five
Trauma & Therapy
Two Reporters

A skull littering the roadside in the City of Juarez



Preface 
Anthony Servante

The Shrink wants me to move the trauma series to another page (blog). She says my current page is depressing. I told her that that's what "horror" is: Trauma with fringes. Guys in hockey masks, creatures from alternate dimensions, child rapists who invade your dreams. People feel safe from Horror in a dark movie theater or a cozy living room with a horror book. You can ride the roller coaster or you can actually fall to your death. People prefer the artificial horror. It's safer.

She didn't disagree, but she told me to consider moving my trauma page. I did. I won't. Let's move on.


Introduction

The commonality of the accounts we have shared so far seems to be the attention to detail. The circumstances surrounding the actual event are clear, but the specifics of the event itself are vague. In my own case, I remember the others in my group, but I don't remember my part. They tell me my part just like I tell them theirs. We cannot tell our own memories because we have none, or they are hidden, maybe lost to the traumatic circumstances that we personally suffered. Since we don't feel what the others suffered, we are detached from their trauma. We remember their actions for they had no bearing on our feelings of helplessness or terror. Those who do recall their own specific actions and emotions are more likely to have had different life experiences than those of the common folk. 

Reporters, for instance. Especially reporters who have covered many traumatic news events in their detached narrative voice have escaped the personal traumas from years of jaded detachment. That is, until the moment when something breaks down that wall that forces them to look inward instead of outward, when the subject matter is their own family or friends instead of another blank-faced family that is plastered on the front page right beneath the headlines. 

Today we have two reporters who have faced personal trauma. Two very different perspectives. Two formerly jaded men now telling their story accounts for the first time. 

Let's begin.



Reporter #1

An Anonymous (Trauma ) Account

As a reporter in Juarez, Mexico, you risk your life every time you write about the Cartels. Still, that's the job.

Even now I tremble to tell you these words. And hide behind anonymity.

Juarez is notorious for its violence, corruption, and ambiguities. The people of this infamous city are split in their opinion as to the source of the daily death tolls. According to documentarian Charles Minn, there are on average eleven murders a day in Juarez. The question is who is doing the murdering? The Cartels? The corrupt local government? The Mexican Federal Police? The American DEA?

At one time or another every source has been accused and written up in the newspapers. Mayors, governors, presidents, DEA and CIA agents have fallen under the scrutiny of the news media. But no matter who is accused, we never really learn the truth. The Cartels in the early 2000s killed a police officer a day in an effort to force the corrupt the mayor and police chief into the light. Neither the law enforcers or hit squads balked. The killings continued for months.

And there we were in the middle. Same as the other Juarez civilians caught literally in the crossfire.The Mexican government on one side, the Sicarios (Cartel hitmen) on the other. Everyone else running for cover.

It hit home for me when I received an anonymous threat. My high school age daughter brought home a note for me. It warned me to choose the "right" side in my next article about the police killings. It further stated that the "Feds" were behind the murders and the blame is being placed on the drug dealers in an effort to garner the favor of the US DEA.

When I showed the note to my editor, she told me to stay on track with the leads pointing to the Cartels. It was then I realized that she was in the pocket of our Mayor. Bought and paid for.

There is a term in Spanish: Plata o plumo? Money or bullets? Accept a bribe to look the other way or accept a 22 caliber bullet to the head. The 22 is strong enough to enter the skull but too weak to exit, so the slug bounces around your skull, turning your brains to mush. The choice was yours to make. The editor had obviously made her choice. I didn't make mine till it was too late.

My first mistake was letting my daughter return to school. My wife said that now that the Federal troops had arrived in Juarez, our little girl would be safe, that I should just do my job the way the editor wants. My second mistake was listening to my wife.

The next message my daughter brought home was her little finger severed and wrapped in a newspaper page with my article on Cartel involvement. While I rushed her to the hospital, my wife was being dismembered in our bedroom. They were in the house when my daughter got home. Who "they" are is still.not known. The editor disappeared the same day as my wife. But enough of my wife's remains were left behind for me to identify her. The editor simply vanished.

I took my daughter to El Paso, Texas, USA. We've been here for close to ten years. We fixed our papers with the help of the DEA in exchange for information from my laptop regarding my investigations. We have new identities. My daughter rarely goes out like normal young women. She still lives at home with me. We take care of each other. But every time I encourage her to go out on a regular date with a young man from the college, she sulks and withdraws.

It's not as if I'm setting a good example for her. I, too, stay home and avoid people. We spend most of our time in front of the television watching Spanish novelas (soap operas). We found that these TV programs have the least amount of references to the violence we left behind in Juarez.

Still, I have the urge to write again, to research the latest news from my country and share it with the El Paso readers. But I don't want to risk being recognized. The Cartel pays professional readers to follow all the news accounts of the Mexican newspapers that follow the drug trade or the corruption in government. I wouldn't know what to write to maintain a low profile. Luckily, the DEA gave us enough income to not have to worry about getting jobs. Still, I miss fighting with my editor.

My daughter and I are gaining weight, but our counselor says that we can always diet. It's a manageable addiction in the USA. It wouldn't be normal if we didn't put on a few pounds. I find her words condescending. I have a Master's in Journalism from the University of Mexico. A few pounds, my ass. But also patronizing is the American therapy for people in our situation. We get offered drugs, but we prefer food and TV.

I still see familiar faces staring at me when I walk to the store, faces from Juarez. It's the people with tattoos that worry me the most. Americanos, you know, the Millennials, love their tattoos. Vanity and cosmetic trivialities. In Juarez, Ink means the gang you're with, your rank in the organization, the number of people you've killed. Your Ink determines your upward mobility in the Cartel. Not necessarily your trustworthiness, because the Capos don't trust anyone, within the organization or outside (especially Politicos). Ink is power. It is a tool. Here in the States, it is a fashion statement, like a bonnet or a expensive sports shoes.

So, here I am writing about it anyway. It feels good. Like medicine. But ultimately, it is a medicine that will get me recognized by those still looking for me and my daughter. It is best to stick to home cooking, soaps, and counseling sessions with the therapist. I'm glad I could write this for you and your readers. If you want to help alleviate the problem in Juarez, don't buy drugs. But then this is America. You can't help yourselves, even as you displace thousands of civilians caught in the middle of the Drug Trade. It's only one rock of crack. I don't know why I waste my time. How could just one piece of crack hurt anyone? Why am I so drawn to write for those who would risk my life by buying that shit?

Pendejos. And I'm the worst of all.



A Typical Drug Tunnel for Smugglers



Reporter #2
Pack Mules & Hard Labor
(The Trauma of Amnesia) 

I wish I could remember the horror. I wish someone would tell me that I was beaten and raped so many times that I was like a limp rag doll tossed around between convicts in the State Pen. But it wasn't that kind of trauma. I was working a story, a big story, one that I thought would take me to the big leagues, to the Los Angeles Times. I held back on the details of the story from my editor at the Santa Monica Community Newspaper, saving them up for the big angle I was working for the LA Times.

My name is Chris W. Dubois. I'm still in my early thirties. I weighed close to two hundred pounds when all this shit started--the missing girl, the screwed up investigation by the cops, the crazy bus driver. Fragments of my kidnapping are clear but shrouded in dark patches. I got too close to the real story, and the people who took the girl took me too. To shut me up. To put me to work in the drug smuggling tunnels.

They tortured me. They wore masks--the captors. Big Bastards. Grrr-ed their words, grunted and whined till I did what I was told. Almost as if I was expected to know what to do without being told. I don't remember sleeping. I seem to recall sleeping as I worked. Me and the other captives cleared the tunnels where they kept us. They didn't feed us. There wasn't any hunger. If I stopped to look around, the masked Bastard closest to me lifted me with one hand and tossed me back in the pit of rocks. He had only two fingers and a thumb, but he was strong. He had to be to keep an eye on the bunch of us.

Yes, the bunch of us. Many. Slave labor. There were homeless people. There were women and children. Some worked, others didn't. I kept thinking that if I could escape, I could break the story: Transients Forced to Work the Tunnels. I would be the hero. The cops would come and rescue them from slavery. But escape was a dream in a world without sleep. Who would rescue me?

I don't know if it were day or night. I took one of my pauses to look around again. When the three fingers grabbed me, I noticed that I weighed about fifty pounds lighter. The Bastard tossed me like a Teddy Bear into the cold fire of the rocks. There were piles of rocks. That's what we did--piled up the rocks that the others pulled from within the tunnel. What were we building?

That's when I met a man. He told me we were building a railroad. I called him a liar. He laughed and walked away. The Big Bastards ignored him. They didn't even strike me for talking to him. I wish I had asked him more questions. But he was a liar. And I needed to find the truth. I was losing my mind. I needed to find something to keep my brain from spilling through my ears. Too late. The liar was gone. The Bastard grunted and I returned to work.

When we were rescued, I blanked out. I woke up at the UCLA Medical Facility in Westwood. An IV hydrated me for days. First the police talked to me. Then the counselors. Then the doctors and psychiatrists. They said I was a lucky man. That I was working in a drug tunnel for some drug smugglers. There were a few dozen of us forced into free labor. The thin air caused hallucinations. But the boils and open sores on my arms and legs were real. "How long was I down there?" The cop said, "According to the doctor, maybe about four, five months." "No way." And then I started crying. The nurse adjusted my IV and I stopped crying. I fell asleep.

But that didn't stop the dreams. Big Bastards still in my dreams. Yep. Still trying to make me work. Hallucinations! Ha! I had to get out of the hospital and retrace my steps. It took months of therapy before I was free to do outpatient visits with the doctors and psychiatrists. The cops come to my apartment and ask me about the Big Bastards. I pretend to not remember. I keep my appointments. I behave. I show them that I'm ready to return to work. My old editor at the SMN won't take me back though. Maybe I'll start a blog. Maybe I'll check in with this blog.

I'm going to find those Big Bastards before the cops do. It'll be my lead in story to get me back on top. It'll get me that job with the LA Times. The Bastards owe me that much. But first, I've got to find them. Their location is in my dreams. Have to get more sleep. Get more details. Hallucinations? No. Clues.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Views from a Troubled Mind
Scene #2
Hierarchy of the Homeless


San Gabriel River Bridge over Huntington Drive, Arcadia


Four bodies washed up in the San Gabriel River last week after two days of heavy unexpected rain. The corpses were partially devoured by coyotes and bears. No ID yet on any of the bodies, but our small community recognized Mountain Man from his clothing. He was a regular on the local bus line. He carried his daily haul of cans and bottles in a big sturdy trash bag to sell at the recycling center by the supermarket. 

He loved to talk. He wasn't one for listening. He seemed educated or at least well-informed on current economics, ironic given he was a homeless man. He always told stories of his shelter under the Huntington Drive Bridge over the San Gabriel River. He often explained the hierarchy of the homeless who populated the underpasses of the river.

There are three layers of living quarters along the river: The Skylight, the Trolls, and the Privileged. The first lives in boxes and shopping carts out in the open, under the sun, and only seek shelter under the bridges when it rains. The second lives under the bridges closest to the main Drive to have a quick exit for emergencies; often some of the homeless get sick or injured and the quick access to the street and the buses provide transportation to the emergency hospital (the hospital waives the $50 fee for hard-luck cases). The third lives under the smaller bridges close to the foothills, further away from the main street. When the police raid these homeless camps, the Privileged are frequently ignored since they do not cause problems or are simply to far embedded in the river for the police to trouble themselves with the long hike to and from their camp. From the bus one can see the Privileged on skateboards riding up and down the sloping banks of the concrete bedding of the river. 

Mountain Man was proud to be one of the Privileged, known to police, bus drivers, business owners, and community leaders alike. Everyone liked to hear him speak about his latest adventure with a bear or coyote. They come by day, they come by night, he'd say in his heavy Russian accent. But my camp has thick boarded walls and the best they can do is scratch and scratch. But they can't get in. They smell my food. But they can't get in. But the river of mud did break through. 

When the rains suddenly fell, there were Red Flag Warnings for the two days prior. Red Flags mean that the brush fires on the hills of San Gabriel left the dirt without plant-life to hold the soil in place. Even the slightest rain could fill the sloping, rolling streets of Arcadia with mudslides. The mudslides were harsh and cruel. They hit the Privileged first; the Trolls and the Skylight folk waded through the mud to reach the street. The Privileged drowned in the liquid dirt. 

As of this writing, we are still not sure of the identities of the four corpses, although we in the community have yet to see Mountain Man since the rains. Still, we hold out hope that he will make an appearance to tell us a tale of his miraculous escape from the mudslide. Those four corpses, on the other hand, tell a tale of their own. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Update Four

Trauma, Diagnosis, and Therapy


Feral Black-Hooded Parakeets in Santa Monica



Introduction
by Anthony Servante

The Shrink says she wants a bit more about me in this update. So let's talk about drugs. Marijuana is legal in California now. I've run the gamut of the legal system. Served three years probation for possession of pot when it was a felony. Today I'm trying to get my Doc to script me a bud. She says I don't need it, to trust in the meds that she wants me to take. What she doesn't understand (I know you're reading this, Doc) is that bud helps me sleep. Normal sleep. Normal dreams. No anti-anxiety pill does that. Quite the opposite. You can't obliterate frayed nerves. You need to quiet them. A good night's sleep means a good day's wake. If that makes sense.

The quality of my day hinges on the severity of my nightmares. The severity of my nightmares hinges on the side effects of these meds. You don't really sleep. You close your eyes. You know you're awake as the dreams go by. You're awake with your eyes closed watching the dreams. Participating in the dreams. But always aware it's all a dream. Like fever sleep or transparent dream. Only more lucid. You are standing on shore of some unknown beach. It is night. You think, "The dream's begun." Then you're back in bed. You open your eyes. Sip some water from the night-stand. Lie back down. Close your eyes. The beach is cold. You go for a walk. You look for the parking lot. Must have parked somewhere to get to the ocean-side. Only one car. Must be mine. I drive north on the Pacific Coast Highway. There's a six-pack of beer--Michelob Light bottles. But I don't drink anymore. All the more reason to drink. It's only a dream. Then I'm on the train. No beer. Got to get home. Where's home? Have to catch up to my sleeping body and wake it up. Something is following me. Where are all the passengers? I know this thing. We've met before. Do I fight it? Do I run? Do I escape? It's an important choice. Because if I live or if I die will determine my mood when I wake up. I can go through the day dead or alive. It's all up to the dream.

Two things help. Coffee and Church. Not Church. Temple. San Gabriel Temple. The Priest gave me some books to read. To learn. He said there are no answers in the books. Only guidance. I prefer the coffee. It offers alertness over guidance. On the days I wake up dead...coffee. On the days I wake up alive... guidance.

One last note about my waking time. The meds I've been taking since late last year, they've suppressed and mostly eliminated anxiety. Nervousness has been replaced by anger just below my skin. Like an itch I can't reach. But don't confuse the lack of nervousness for calm. The rage surfaces in subtle forms. In the form of sarcasm or cruel irony. I've developed a skill for cutting wit. I can see dread in the eyes of baristas at the Starbucks when they see me returning for my coffee. The cashiers at the Target stumble for the correct salutation. Good morning, sir. I mean, Good afternoon. Of course it's not morning. Ha-ha. They wait a moment to see what I say. I smile. It's a good day. I woke up alive. It'd be a grimace if I woke up dead. Or I'd lock eyes with them till they turned back to the cash register to finish ringing up the sale. Ironically, I heard "rage" is a side effect of Xanax. The anxiety reliever.

Doc, you've got a sense of humor.

But let's get to my guest today. I am happy to announce that my old acquaintance, Deputy Steve Baker, contacted me with his account and treatment. It's posted for you below.



Deputy Steve Baker (Trauma) Account

The Sheriff's Department have a routine for helping deputies who have suffered trauma. But let's get the language straight before we begin. They don't use the word "trauma". They call it "critical incident stress" (CIS). CIS is a phrase that applies primarily to law enforcement officers who have witnessed or been involved in a tragic event while answering a call. According to Deputy Andrea Wilcox, spokesperson for the San Gabriel Valley Sheriff's Department CIS Management Division, "Critical Incidents "overwhelm the usually effective coping skills of a deputy [or officer], provoking abrupt stress that falls outside the range of ordinary human experience." Even the most seasoned law enforcers cannot anticipate how they will react to certain events. As such, the affected officers must be debriefed within 12 hours of the event to gauge the level of CIS in order to recommend the appropriate treatment or therapy. The Commanding Officer (CO) of the deputy determines the treatment and decision to return the victim to street duty or reassign them to desk duty pending counseling goals.

I was kidnapped. I was held against my will for over a month. Maybe longer. Time passed strangely where I was held. I didn't eat or drink, but I never felt the need to. I don't remember sleeping. It all felt like a dream. Shock. That's what the CO told me it was. It was dark, but I could see everything. Workers going about their business. Tall supervisors keeping the work moving. Like ants. I didn't work. I watched. At first, I tried to talk to my fellow hostages. There were several. All ages. Men. Women. But no one talked. Except for one little girl who kept taking notes. I looked at her notebook and I saw my thoughts written down. Did I say that out loud to her? How could she hear me over all the noise? The clanging. The thud of rocks. The echoes. We were in a cave. It was so loud. Did I scream so she could hear me? Was I screaming from lack of food and water? The tall guards. They took one of the hostages. Put her to work. I tried to stop them. They were wearing masks. Awful masks. Bird masks. When my CO debriefed me to determine my mental fitness to return to work, he asked about the masks. Told me it was probably homeless men holding us hostage because we closed their camp. He told me to follow up on the bird masks on my own time as therapy and to report back to him if I recognize any of the birds. Then I got a new partner. And returned to patrol duty in the Santa Monica area. 

I found an article about birds when I started my home therapy. Figured the more birds I knew, the sooner I'd remember the type of masks the tall guards were wearing. The article talked about the infestation of parrots to Southern California. Wild parrots from Brazil were smuggled into Los Angeles via LAX in poster tubes. But these weren't the talky birds Angelenos know as parrots. These were feral birds that weren't afraid to attack humans. We were just another prey animal until they determined otherwise. The family that bought the smuggled parrots quickly learned that their toddlers were easy targets for the birds. And they were smart beasts. They could open the cages by trying this and that till the door opened. Then they attacked the smallest humans in the room. The kids. So the family released the parrots into the Los Angeles skies. 

In the past twenty years, these feral parrots have kicked out weaker birds from their territory. They've partnered with Black Birds to fend off attacks by hawks. Hawks now know to avoid the parrot territories across the southland. They've also learned that by gathering in hordes on the telephone wires above the suburbs, they can chase away the humans who are easily annoyed by the noise. Squawking, cawing. Even speaking the words they've learned from the humans who curse at them. "Fucking birds," they mock the humans. "Shut up!" they scream. The people who hear these voices in the early morning hours are at first surprised. But as they get used to it, the bird noise has joined the rest of the "white noise" of traffic and helicopters. There are those, however, who decide to move. But where can you go? The parrots are everywhere now. And now I hear that Black-Hooded Parakeets are infesting Santa Monica and other beach towns. 

I reported these infestations to my CO. He thanked me for the information. He didn't know but I heard him talking to my new partner. He told him to keep an eye on me. Come to think of it, some of the kidnappers took off their masks sometimes and I could see their human faces. But the human faces had bird costumes and the human clothes had bird masks. Fucking birds.


*************




Saturday, January 13, 2018

Update Three

Trauma, Diagnosis, and Therapy

Hardcore Chema shows her tats but not her face
(Born again Cholas show their face and not their tats).


Introduction

This is the latest update following my therapy and re-adjustment to my home life after surviving a near-death experience. I see my Psychiatrist twice a week. I am currently taking Tramadol for headaches, Xanax for anxiety and sleep problems. I started my sessions late last year after my health care provider approved my doctor, but denied my request for counseling with a regular Psychologist. As such, in exchange for short talk sessions with my Shrink, I maintain my medicine regimen.

The drugs are starting to kick in. They're placing distance between good memories and bad. It's like the schizophrenics conundrum -- only sick people take meds, but if you take your meds, the voices stop, so you are not sick anymore. So we stop taking the meds, and the voices return. But since we're well, the voices must be normal. They are good voices. Sick people hear bad voices. In my case, the meds are supposed to help me deal with my dreams, but the Tramadol makes them worse. My conundrum is that only sick people have bad nightmares; I have good nightmares. The Shrink says that they are good because I can remember them. I can't remember the bad ones, the ones that wake me up all shaking and sweaty. Another thing that the meds do is make me want to stop writing this blog. The Shrink has to twist my arm to return here with more accounts, but I guess I get it. These are the normal voices telling the Schizo that he's getting well, that I'm not the only one with these problems.

A friend of mine from the Maravilla Projects in East Los Angeles shared her account with me for Update #3.



Cecilia s Account 

I was 16 years old. I was living with my mom and two younger sisters in a duplex in Boyle Heights, California. I was attractive in my tight jeans and bra one size too small for my bust. The boys were always dropping by to see me, but my mom didn't let me go out. She didn't mind when her dates paid attention to me. She mostly dated old gang members. Veteranos (veterans). They dressed sharp and smelled nice with cologne. Sometimes two guys would visit me and my mom in the same evening.

Once my mom went to bed early and two guys showed up. I don't remember exactly because I change it so much each time I remember it, but I do remember teasing them. The younger one of them got mad and tried to slap me. The older one took out a knife and swung it at the angry one, backing him up.

That's when I noticed it. The young guy's eyelid was hanging. You could see his whole eyeball. It was looking for its lid. The older guy with the knife took off running down the long stairway leading to the street. The injured guy blinked his other eyelid furiously as if that would reattach his lid.

Mom woke up from the guy's screaming. So did our neighbors. I didn't even hear the screams. My mom told me to call 911, but I just kept staring at that naked eye. My neighbor, the nosy old lady, kept asking me, "What have you done this time? " So I punched her. She fell down the stairs. The ambulance took the guy and the old lady. He survived, but the old lady died, the police took me.

The cops didn't charge me and ruled it an accident. They said I was in shock. I stopped going to school and started dating older guys. My mom kicked me out when I got pregnant by one of her boyfriends. He ditched me. I lost the baby. I was smoking crack back when it was new in the hood. Lots of times it would explode. I had burn marks on my face. I wasn't so pretty anymore.

I joined a girls gang, the Maravilla Projects Girls (MPGs). Got busted a lot. But lucky I found God after I ODed on some good caballo (horse, herion) going coming through the neighborhood when the Salvatruchas tried to muscle the Mexican Mafia (LA EME) out of East Los. I wasn't used to such strong drag. I couldn't straighten up. I was in the hospital in a coma for about a week. When I woke up, I looked down at the floor and saw some sandaled feet by my bed. It had to be Jesus.

I cleaned up my act. I'm 40 years old now. Got two kids. Yeah, they're cholos but go to school. I go to church and go to therapy with our Pastor. I talk to him about my nightmares and my paranoia. I'm taking antipsychotics and antidepressants. I also counsel young cholas who recently joined girl gangs in the Montebello area. 

If there is one image that stayed with me that all the sex and drugs and shit couldn't erase, it was that naked eyeball. That young dude died a couple years ago. He once said hello to me, but I threw up and told him to leave. The second image is the one of the old lady at the bottom of the stairs. She appears all the time in my dreams. I can't tell her I'm sorry, but God forgives me. That's all that matters now.

Friday, January 12, 2018


Views from a Troubled Mind
Scene #1
On the Bus



When I got on the San Gabriel Valley Foothill Bus yesterday, the driver was engaged in conversation with a man in a wheelchair. They were both black, in their fifties. They were reminiscing. From sweet, poignant, to bitter. When the conversation turned to high school girlfriends, it got tense.
 
"Remember Eloise?" asked the driver.
"I spent the night with her," said the handicapped man.
"Eloise? Tall girl. On the basketball team?"
"That's the one. She lived with her mother. No daddy. Had a younger sister. Also played basketball. Her and her sister moved in together and went to the same college after their mom passed."
"Sounds right." The driver's doubt began to dissipate. "You spent the night before or after her mom passed?"
"Before. Said I was the only man to spend the night at her mom's house. Her sister was gone for the weekend with her mom and she had the house to herself. I called her and asked what she was doing and she told me real sassy like 'What's it to you?' And I said, 'Cause I want to go over, is what.' 'Come on over then.' And I went."
"Eloise." It was no longer a question. The driver just said the name. Passengers got on and off over the next few miles and he kept repeating every few minutes, "Eloise."
Last few miles were quiet although the wheelchair man tried to re-engage the driver in talk. The driver just said, "Wow, Eloise."
 
At the Santa Anita Avenue stop the driver unhooked the safety belts from the wheelchair tires. He lowered the ramp and the man rolled out the bus. The passenger and driver didn't even say goodbye. The ramp rose up and the driver eagerly closed the door with the flip of a switch. As he lowered the seats that folded out of the way for wheelchairs, the driver looked at me, smiled, and apologized for the smell of urine that the handicapped man left behind. He sat, clicked on his seat belt, and turned on the ventilation fans as he resumed his route.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Update Two

Trauma, Diagnosis, and Therapy


Art by Danny Quirk


Compiled, Researched, & Narrated
by Anthony Servante


Introduction:

My apologies for the long wait between updates, but I didn't feel like writing. That's it. No excuses. Just didn't want to follow the psychiatrist's instructions. It's these damn pills, you see. One for depression, one for anxiety, one for pain. I don't even have any pain. Maybe the pills are taking away the pain, you say. What pain? The pain of living, I suppose. Maybe it's because I often tell the Shrink about my headaches. So all she hears is "pain" and prescribes the Tramadol. Damm pills make the nightmares worse, so I avoid taking meds before bed--when the headaches can be numbing. But I digress.

As I continue to follow my [Shrink's] trauma therapist's instructions, I write another update in my blog regarding the treatment and reason for my sessions with her. As I have mentioned, my health insurance will not pay for therapy but does pay for a psychiatrist. She has agreed to provide counseling if I take my meds and write these blog updates as a valve to alleviate my pressure from stress. According to her, she will be reading these updates and discussing them with me. If I don't write anything, then it's meds and "see you next week". And I want the talks, so I will be keeping up with these updates. It's in these talks that I get to peel back the defense mechanisms that cover my bad memories.

These updates will consist of sharing accounts of trauma but hope to include accounts of treatment as well. I will speak of myself and allow other trauma sufferers to speak for themselves.

Thus I begin with the latest of the accounts I have received and find reflective of the subject matter at hand.


Testimonial: Bill's Account:

I am a Vietnam War veteran. Where we were stationed isn't important. What happened to snap my spirit is. Lieutenants came and went. They were mostly young ROTC punks or college kids with a degree. No West Point pukes made it to our corner of the Happy Hunting Grounds. Just the punks and kids. Not that we weren't kids anymore ourselves--that is, the survivors who managed to secure our little corner and keep our enemies far away from us. We were close to water, the jungle half a klick away: Quick extraction by chopper if necessary. And we posed no threat to anyone in the strategic scheme of things. We were a nobody platoon. The Brass forgot about us. We had time to barbecue and play music and get high. Pot was easy to get. Beer was harder, but we managed to keep ourselves well-stocked by trading rations and candy bars with the locals. We just had to keep our heads down and stay out of the war. Sure there were battles. They shot at us from the jungle skirmish line. We shot back. Except for a few flesh scrapes, there were no casualties. And those lucky enough to actually get shot got to picnic in morphine park for a few days. For me, the pot was enough. That and the beer.

It's just that the fucken Lieutenants kept coming. I'm your new C.O. You'll salute me, soldier. You boys are lazy. You need a mission. Fuck that. The punks and kids were never satisfied with the skirmishes. I want you boys to follow the enemy into the jungle and find their headquarters. They're underground, Sir, we always tried to explain. They got ten times more men than we do down in those tunnels. Why piss on the bee hive?! Because I'm giving you an order, that's why. I want a location by tomorrow. I'll radio the position to Command and await further orders. What do you mean, 'further orders'? You're the only one giving orders. You're going to get us all killed. He said 'getting killed' was the job description. They always talked like that. Like it was business. 

That night the first new LT arrived, he had us build a crow's nest and stationed a watch with optics, you know, binoculars. We rotated watch all night long every five hours, during which time the damn gooks took shots at the nest. The Lieutenant would yell at the watch to keep an eye on the origin of fire, that's probably where the tunnel entrance is. But the watch kept his head down. Fuck the Lieutenant. And every one of those punks and kids with their clean new uniforms and clean-shaven faces always had ideas about how to find the Viet Cong, the Chop Stick Calvary. The punks always wanted to meet the enemy and notify Command that we need support, we need to flank the Cong, we need to push them back, cut down the skirmish line of trees if we had to, we were there to win the War. Fucken Baby Politicians with a hair up their ass. 

The first Lieutenant was the easiest. We walked him into the jungle just past the skirmish line and led him into a field of 'bouncing Betties' or 'pungi stick' traps. By the second Lieutenant, we started building the traps ourselves. Click. Snap. Wham, bam, thank you, Bettie. A half dozen pungi sticks in the face and chest. We'd wait a few days to report it. No hurry getting a new C.O. Pop open a beer, bogart a joint, fire a few rounds into the jungle. It was the gooks who usually took the Lieutenants down and left his body by the skirmish line. Once the birds and insects began to feed on him, we'd have to call it in. It got stinky.

And so they left us alone--the Cong. And we bided our time. The boys with deep wounds during skirmishes got a ticket home--after losing a limp. They always wanted to stay a while longer before heading back. Medic would warn them about infection. They didn't listen. All they heard was the clang-clang of a Purple Heart. When a new Lieutenant arrived, then they'd go home. The rest of us didn't go home. And the routine got nastier. Some boys would shoot themselves, but Command always knew a self-inflicted wound. Shit, they'd seen enough to know the drill. And Lieutenants stopped showing up one day. And the skirmishes began to last longer. The medic said that the Cong probably wanted to put down the rabid dogs. But it was war, man. We didn't know we had become feral. Not until later. 

Then it just stopped. The war was over. We were being sent home. We weren't ready. We had our routine down pat. How could we take our routine back home with us. We needed our routine. Motherfuckers. So we took the routine home with us. The skirmishes. The traps for the new Lieutenants. The morphine drip. The haggling for beer. Smoking dope became a solo act instead of a sharing circle. The routine to keep our corner of the war safe for our company. They took it away and didn't give us anything to replace it.

I lost my family. My wife and little girl. Eventually the good-hearted landlord who welcomed me home kicked me to the street. I lived in the corners of Alhambra for many years. People gave me food. But no one knew about things like PTSD back then. And the VA counselors are still learning what it is. I have a place now. I have a part-time job. I am a counselor. It's like I remolded a routine that I can live with in my new corner of civilian life. For every new trauma victim I talk to, I tell them not to worry about remembering. That goes away. It's living with the re-remembering. That's the new goal to learning to survive again. It's still all about survival. Only now the enemy is yourself. 



WAR IS HELL!
A Short History of Trauma


A Frontal Lobotomy (antiquated cures)



The definition of trauma has changed over the years as science, psychology, and culture have given name to the state of the soldier returning home from war psychologically and physically changed by killing, surviving an attack or seeing the butchery of battle. In ancient literature, we've read accounts of the "war-weary" warrior or "nostalgia" during the American Civil War. By World War I, we had "shell-shock" troops, and in World War II, the term "battle fatigue" seemed relevant. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), named by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), DSM-II (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), after studying the depression suffered by Viet Nam War veterans. In DSM-III, the trauma symptoms became linked to survivors of rape, child abuse, assault, and domestic abuse.  Even today DSM-5 continues to expand the definition of trauma to include more and more cases over and beyond war scars and psychological distress victims.

In Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, the author lectures on the state of the human mind prior to undergoing a radical religion conversion. He terms this transition, "the sick soul". Symptoms include nightmares, depression, anxiety, manic mood swings, and darker thoughts involving suicide. These same symptoms echo those of PTSD, as defined by the DSM. But it's interesting to also consider that during this period of "the sick soul", James points out that a choice is made by the sufferer to accept a religious solution that places order on the chaos of the unsettled mind, thus giving organization and meaning where there was none before, where self-destruction seemed like an attractive alternative. Rather than choose death by one's own hand, one turns to some form of God (although James uses Christianity as an example, most any religion or religious text would suffice). Still others turn to other forms of "supernatural" relief, believing that the soldiers they have killed are haunting them, or that the rapist was a demon, for instance. Based on the culture of the traumatized victim, the choices to avoid oblivion can be found in The Gita, The Torah, The Koran, The Talmud, The Bible, or even the books of H.P. Lovecraft. In the Alcoholics Anonymous 10 steps, to overcome one's dependency on drugs or booze, one must accept a "higher authority" to lean upon in times of temptation back to "the sick soul". Often trauma is seen as a spiritual disease rather than a physical one.

But what of those who prefer traditional medicine or physical answers to their mental unrest. For there are those who do not have the temperament for supernatural support? Where does such a victim turn to for treatment. That's where science comes in. In my case, it's medication and dealing with my dark dreams or my stray thoughts about nature turning to chaos. For the sexual victim, it's dealing with the fear of authority figures by asserting one's self. For the soldier and law enforcement officer, there is formal therapy which deals with each case individually. In other words, there are professional therapists who guide us to deal with our daily lives.

Not all solutions are perfect. As I've stated earlier, this is an evolving field. New traumas are emerging, so new treatment must be designed to help this new form of troubled mind. For example, how does the therapist distinguish between a patient who finds God as a solution and a patient who finds the Devil for a solution? What approach can therapists use to treat "the sick soul" when science doesn't recognize a "soul" at all? Is the answer found in "the sick mind"? Where and what is the "mind"?

These are the current questions that PTSD treatment and therapy must consider. It reminds me of that old movie with Jimmy Stewart who had an invisible pal called Harvey, a six-foot tall talking rabbit. In the movie, Stewart's character is the most sane character while doctors are portrayed as "quacks" with their medieval medicine. I mean, in the 1950s, "shock therapy", "hot and cold running bathes", and "frontal lobotomies" were common tools for "curing" depression and other stress-related ailments. And that's why the patient must be careful not to find a radical cure too far away from science, but also not to rely too heavily on science alone when it may be an outdated therapy or, as in my case, very reliant on drugs to mask rather than "peel away" the defenses trauma builds and memory triggers.

This is some of the subject matter that we will address as we continue to post our accounts of trauma, our discussions of the latest therapy, and the alternative solutions that can be found in faith and religious instruction. And, of course, we cannot leave out the cozy sanctuary of the supernatural [the close cousin to religion], whether it be an omnipresent God, a six-arm divinity, or an escape from death in reincarnation. All possibilities within our limited updates will be considered.

Thank you, readers, for joining us.