I grew up with Terrance, spending long days with him fishing during school hours in the river behind his father’s house, smoking cigarettes in the barn while talking about the hot new girl at school, and eventually planning out life after high school together. More than college, actually. The military life.
Terrance came from a family much more stable than mine. He’d helped me get through hard times as a child, times when my father would beat me when he drank six too many of the beers he kept in our moldy fridge. I’ve always had a way of blocking things like that out, and I hardly remember being beaten- nor do I remember my mother screaming that she wished I had never been born, or the times Uncle Nate played games I didn’t want to play in the barn. They all seemed to just wash away. But they left psychological impact, and Terrance- well, Terrance helped scrub that away the best he could over the years.
“Don’t worry,” He’d say to me, “I promise it’ll get better.”
And I believed him.
So we went the military together, Terrance and I. I think I learned more in the military than I had ever learned in my life- I learned how to respect myself and others. I learned how to navigate, how to relay messages coded and uncoded, and how to survive.
We were stationed overseas for quite some time, longer than most. And one day, driving along a sandy colored road, the tires of our vehicle kicking up dust in the wind, something happened. Something terrible.
The entire right side of our vehicle went up in flames, the blast rocking it onto its two left wheels. And I remember that moment clearly, the look of surprise in Terrance’s eyes as shrapnel punched through the clothing on his back. And with my ears ringing, I remember crouching over him, shouting that he couldn’t leave me. That he was all I had left.
“Don’t worry, man.” Terrance had said, his life slipping away as blood pooled around him, “I’ll never leave you. And I promise you, it get’s better.”
Then he slipped away. And soon my tour was over, and I returned home. But I never was the same person.
I suppose I was able to block out his death, just as I had always managed to block out trauma. But my health suffered.
For one, I could no longer enjoy a movie. As soon as lights started flashing on screen, I found myself curled in a ball, my mouth frothing, my memory of the last few moments gone. Once, in a power outage, the lights in my house had flickered. I’d blacked out then too, rendered helpless by my condition.
Medication didn’t work. And as the time passed, my seizures only happened more frequently and worse.
It got to the point where I had to call another one of my army friends, Jeff, and see if he could live with me while I recovered. Jeff agreed, and moved in. And on the first night I had a seizure after the lightbulb in the lamp next to me started popping, and eventually extinguished itself. But Jeff took care of me.
Then, the next night, the television sputtered, losing connection with the satellite signal. Jeff took care of me again, but when I came to, there was a frown on his face. And part of me knew he wanted to say something.
The third time it was a car’s brake lights in oncoming traffic, and Jeff pulled over to the side of the highway while I recovered.
“Look, may,” He said, his hand on my shoulder, “I don’t know who is doing this, or how, but someone is messing with you.”
“How so?” I croaked, tensing, knowing the answer before he spoke.
“Because every time those lights flash, it’s morse code. And it’s saying it doesn’t get better.”
And I knew at that moment I didn’t have epilepsy. Instead, I was blocking something out.
And his message that after death, it doesn’t get better.