The kids were at their visit with their bio mom. Mitch was asleep because he had to get up in a few hours to work the graveyard shift. I can’t begin to remember what I was watching on Hulu. It was 5:15 pm on Thursday night. I was supposed to have the night off from the crisis line but I eagerly picked up an extra shift at the last minute. The phone was on, charged, and ready to be answered.
“Hi, this is Aubrey.” It’s the answering service. “Hello. I have a caller named Bob* that didn’t want to give out his information and said he’d like to speak with an advocate.”
The answering service connects the caller to me and within the first 1.5 seconds, I froze. It’s my dad. I haven’t heard his voice since my wedding day on August 2, 2008. Irrational. Irate. Infuriated. Ranting. Raving. Screaming. Swearing. Spitting. And this is about the time during the call that things start to go black for me.
If you’ve ever been to “da club” or “clubbin” or seen raves on TV, then you’ll know what I mean when I say how jagged people look when they’re dancing under a strobe light. It’s a bunch of 1 second stills, then it goes dark, then there’s another 1 second of light but the picture is different and so on. Jerking. Jostling. Jumpy. That’s what this call was like in my mind.
He’s yelling about how pissed off he is. He’s so angry and talking so fast that I can barely make out what he’s saying until he says, “I’m just going to kill all of them or maybe myself!” He has been unstable my whole life, so I’ve heard this from him before, but does he really mean it this time? How do I know? What do I do? I know! I will get him to calm down. Deescilate the issue so we can talk this out. I’ve seen my mom do this with him. I’ve tried to do this with him. I’m experienced in trying to deescalate my dad’s temper. These are all coping mechanisms a small child should know nothing about, but I know it all too well.
Me: “Bob. Bob…Bob, I need you to listen to my voice, okay? Bob. I need you to listen to my voice so you can take a deep breath, okay? It’s okay for you to be angry right now but I need you to breathe for me right now, okay buddy?
Bob: “Fuck you, you dumb bitch! You don’t have a fucking clue, do you?
Me: “Bob, you will not speak to me like that. I am trying to help you, but you are not going to speak to me like that again.”
My voice is firm. He calms down.
Me: “Bob, I need you to take a deep breath for me and tell me what your location is.”
Bob: “I’m at the convention center. I’m sitting on the bricks.”
Me: “Okay, now I’m going to ask you a question and I need you to tell me the truth. Do you have a weapon on you right now?”
Bob: (irate) “No, I don’t have a fucking weapon on me, I’m not going to hurt anybody!”
Me: “I’m going to call to have someone come pick you up. What are you wearing?”
Bob: “Nobody here takes me seriously, nobody is coming to pick me up! That’s why I’m just going to kill every one of these assholes!”
Me: “Bob, I’m sorry but I have to take these kinds of threats very seriously so I need to call someone to come get you. I have to hang up now.”
It took me 3 different transfers to get to the correct city 911 operator. When I get to the right gal she tells me they are very familiar with this guy. I give her the full details (many omitted for privacy reasons) and we hang up. I called my boss to let her know what transpired. She asks if I’m okay and I tell her I’m totally fine. We get off the phone. I go to the bedroom to check on Mitch since I’m sure I woke him up by accident.
He asks if I’m okay. I crumble.
For a good 20 minutes I’m hyperventilating on the bed, in my chair, on my back porch, and back to my chair. My legs feel week. I can’t stop crying. I HATE THAT I’M CRYING. The strobe light of memory lane flashes glaringly in my mind. My dad, all 6 ft 1 of him, towering over us in the middle of the night as we all quiver in the bed we’re sharing – begging of him to leave us alone and let us all sleep. The room is as black as his eyes but his casted shadow and his foaming mouth burn through us with the heat of 1,000 suns. He says the most awful things to the 3 of us. He is scarier than the monsters in the horror films I grew up watching. He is THE monster.
Maybe you’ve guessed by now that the guy on the phone wasn’t my dad, but his voice sounded just like my dad’s. It’s like I heard a ghost and when that happened, when that ghost kicked in the door, busting the frame, like he had time and time again, I instantly traveled back in time. Panicked. Shocked. Disbelieving. Yet, there I was, on the phone, trying to hold it together to help this guy calm down enough to get a description of what he was wearing, whether or not he was armed, and where he was at so I could report to police in the area he’s in since I have no tracking information like a dispatch center would.
I was truly terrified tonight. More terrified than I can remember being in years. It was a full on PTSD flashback and it completely drained me. At times, I couldn’t figure out if I was standing on my back porch or if I was hiding under the covers from the monster that my dad was. Thank God Mitch was here. He did such a great job at soothing, helping me breathe, refocusing my attention on that stupid tree in the back yard that I could barely see because it was dark, but dammit, he was going to get me to focus on ANYTHING other than the trauma I was reliving.
He grabbed my work phone, he called my boss, and he told her I couldn’t finish my shift tonight. She was extremely understanding and I appreciate that. I have been a crisis line advocate for a year now and this was the first time a call triggered my PTSD. I should also mention that the man I spoke with tonight has called multiple times before, and I truly like the guy. He’s a good man with a hard life. I think part of my tears tonight weren’t because of him, but for him. My heart cries out for where he feels insufficiencies in his life. Regardless of what the outside world perceives to be true or not, he speaks his truth to me when we are on the phone and his rage is not unfounded – it just came out in a different way tonight. I feel sad for him. Sad because I think he’s lonely and sad because, in his mind, his world is so chaotic and scary.
I really don’t know what I would have done if Mitch wasn’t here. I’m so glad the kids were on their visit with their mom during the call, but when they got home…oh, how I hugged and loved on them like no other. Not just because it made me feel happy to do so, but because it’s important for kids to be hugged and kissed and doted on by parents (or parental figures) in their lives.
Mitch, just as in many other scenarios, you were, once again, my hero tonight. Thank you so much for all of your courageous and heartfelt work to try to understand what it’s like for me to live with PTSD. Thank you for loving me when I’m sure I’m hard to be loved. And to anyone else reading this – thank you for reading, for not judging, and for continuing to encourage me to share whatever it is that’s on my mind through the written word.