All things must end. To say I was unhappy with my lot would be putting it mildly, in the weeks following the shooting incident life seemed to be spiralling downwards. My marriage, not rock solid for years had begun to unravel and the mere thought of going to work filled me with dread. No more bouncing out of bed to nip off to the job I loved, the thought of even having a shave and shower filled me with gloom. Once in my car I headed off at the speed of dark, slow, stodgy a nuisance on the road. At the car park I had to walk through that front gate, every day it became harder and harder. Dreams I hadn’t had since Vietnam came rushing back, my moods changed and I became depressed. A quick trip to the doctor and he prescribed some happy pills designed to ward off the glums. I would take one before leaving the house. They were GOOD! And for a couple of days I managed to drag myself out of bed and put in the hours before fleeing home at knock off time. Hmm, if one made me feel okay how would two go? Pretty bloody good actually. Arriving at work early I popped two of the big green jelly like pills before getting out of the car. By the time I’d finished my first cup of coffee life looked extremely – “Man is that a butterfly?” Sitting in the corner of the office I spent the day laughing and joking with some unseen chum. We joked and sang the hours away, lying back in my swivel chair I dispensed wit and wisdom to whoever came to the door, granting boons and pardons to those who needed them, in other words I was out of my effing tree. The mood came down by five and I left feeling a little strange, and vowing to throw the pills out. They disappeared after two flushes of the toilet and I became determined not to fill the next prescription.
Life hurts, your body hurts your brain hurts. The thought of living for another day hurts. Those who haven’t suffered depression don’t realise that the pain of living can far outweigh the pain of dying. Nights spent fighting unseen foes in your dreams isn’t a healthy way to live, besides the lack of rest the frustration builds up inside. Faceless enemies swarm out of the long grass towards you, raising your gun you try to fire it. The trigger doesn’t work, no matter how hard you pull it there is no bang. The throng swarm over you and you awake screaming. Wanting to avoid the horror you stay up and lose sleep. Panic attacks began to emerge, I had two trips to hospital before they said it’s not your heart. Okay, so what do I do? Pride can be a terrible thing, especially when your health is involved. It became easy to adapt to the new paradigm in my life just block the feelings, ignore the pain, keep going. It had worked in the past.
I needed to get a screwdriver from my garage which sat at the end of the driveway, the afternoon had grown warm and I thought of nothing in particular as I walked along whistling a little tune. Unlock the door, lift it up and go to the bench near the back wall, I’d done it a hundred times. I don’t remember anything until I found myself standing on a 25 litre drum with a rope fastened to the rafters. The other end tied around my neck. The tilt-a-door stood wide open and I could see up the driveway. It seemed a little misty past the door, one thing stood out though and that was my granddaughter. Two and a half years old, cute as a button with her jet black hair tied back she looked at me with a bemused expression on her face, “Grandpa what are you doing, what are you doing Grandpa?” Nothing unusual there you think? She lived in Canada thousands of kilometres away and there, in my time of need she stood large as life in front of me. I don’t know if it was an aberration of my tormented mind, or some force of the universe coming to my aid, a psychic connection maybe. All I know is it stopped me making a terrible mistake.
After removing the rope I stepped down off the drum and walked towards her, then she vanished. My heart sank and I sat back on the drum and wept. Putting everything back I found the screwdriver and returned to the house, saying nothing to my wife until days later. The incident scared me and I knew then how easy it could be to end a life. How many people who have taken their own lives left not knowing what they had done? Now I was scared. So the next day I went back to work. The following week I turned up for my shifts and muddled my way through until Friday. We were expecting four camps to come in from the far-flung reaches of Queensland, Gary ( my dental victim ) ran the show that day and we were busy allocating rooms to incoming prisoners. I had instigated a routine where the camp officers would fax in the names of his prisoners and who they wanted to bunk with. One camp didn’t bother to detail who wanted to be with who and because of the need to write-up the board I allocated them alphabetically.
The buses came in and disgorged their passengers, one officer stayed at the bedding store, Gary filled in the log and I gave out room keys. Camp A prisoners came in and were disappointed when they saw that they wouldn’t be with their mates. “Tough titty boys have a go at your officer, not me.” Most grumbled, some whined, Van Tranh stood outside looked up at the board and began screaming at me in Vietnamese. I’m sure my sexuality, heritage and the marital status of my parents was discussed. When the accused stands up in the dock and says, “I’m sorry your Honour, I just snapped,” I understand where they’re coming from. Working at the camp had given me the opportunity to get fit again, I went next door to a gym that had been set up in the old bowls club and had taken to walking long distances. I can still see the look of surprise on Tranh’s face as I launched myself over the small veranda rail and dived onto him. Luckily he had his bedding bundle and bag in his arms, they broke my fall.
Calm, collected, unflappable Laurie had gone to be replaced by a stranger fighting for his life. Tranh had morphed into everyone who had pissed me off over the years. He became the whipping boy for the horrors of my childhood, the bullying, grief, loss you name it Tranh was it. The effects of the wasp sting and NDE, the ambush at the gate, he opened a well-spring of hatred I never knew existed in me. I punched him hard and often and don’t even know or care if he hit back. His eyes come to mind now and I know that perhaps I horrified him in some way. I apologise for that. At the time though it didn’t matter, nothing mattered. Gary, God bless him raced out and wisely stayed on the veranda, using his best parade ground voice he yelled out for me to stop. Amazingly enough I did. Good old army training shone through. Climbing slowly to my feet I gazed at Tranh, it was plain to see he carried my fear and demons now as he scurried along the ground backwards. Trudging up the stairs to the office I felt somehow lighter yet still something lurked inside. Gary grabbed my shoulder, “Mate, I think you’d better go home and not come back. Go on sick leave.” So I did.
After my report of the gate shooting went missing I had tried several times to contact the dog handler who attended. He always seemed to be busy or on days off, I became paranoid thinking that this whole episode would be swept away. After some stalking I managed to track him down and begged him for a report. He must have felt sorry for me and wrote one backing me all the way. The log book, huge as it was seemed to have gone missing, and then magically reappeared after I went on worker’s compensation leave. After doing the rounds of government and insurance psychiatrists they finally admitted that the shooting had made me unable to continue working, and had resurrected Vietnam. The stress of attending appointments and awaiting results became harder to take than the event itself. Then my doctor referred me to a wonderful shrink, the man who saved my sanity and life. I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD. I saw him for ten years, ten long tear filled painful years. We worked on Viet Nam, my life in general, my marriage at the time, relationships. You name it we dragged it out kicking and screaming. There were times when I hid in the bathroom at home not wanting to go. He gave me the insights I needed in my life that helped me move out of my marriage of thirty years. I won’t bag anyone here, I wasn’t exactly the best person to live with either. So there we have it tribulations indeed, trib·u·la·tion (tr b y -l sh n). n. 1. Great affliction, trial, or distress; suffering: Their tribulation has finally passed, and so it has dear readers.
In the finest tradition of my ramblings I’m travelling back through the years next week to the late sixties. I’m seventeen and off into the Australian army as a volunteer, look out world here I come. Laurie Smith: You’re In The Army Now, part 1. Leaving Home and First Impressions.