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Ghosts

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“It gets easier........”

“You won’t always go to bed remembering......... waking in the middle of the night, sweating, struggling to breathe, trying to escape........”

I replay the words I have heard my lieutenant, my partner, even my own voice, speak too many times to count.......but it is not calming the gut wrenching gasps that have become my breaths.

I let my eyes close, trying to hold the tears at bay.....if they start now, I don't think I will be able to get home, and I’m afraid that sitting in my car, here, like this, is too likely to draw unwanted attention........

The world has shrunk in on me. I’m looking at open space, but it feels like I’m being held down, trapped in a space too tiny to even let my chest expand enough to breathe.

My fists have been clenched since he recognized me.

It is so hard to project calm, to feign an interest in everyday catch up chat, to finish your duties, when all you want to do is dissolve into a puddle......I imagine myself as the wicked witch in the “Wizard of Oz”, melting away into nothing, over something the rest of the world sees as mundane..........but it’s not funny.......

Somehow I lasted..........I don't know how long I stood there......chatting, as society expects, when you meet someone you haven’t seen in so long, trying, vainly, not to keep losing sections of the conversation.

I need to get it together......to drive myself home......but all I can do is swipe at the odd tear that punches through, and gasp like a fish dropped out of its bowl.

Why is it not easier by now?

Why has so much time passed, but there are still nights spent battling ghosts, or lying in bed, too wary of intruders to sleep?

I feel so stupid.

This is not a warranted reaction........

It was not him.........

This man didn't hurt me.......but he didn't help!”, the deepest part of me screams. I feel bad at the accusation.......whilst not untrue, it is unfair............he probably didn't realize the extent of  the problem, or understand.........he probably didn't think I needed help..........

This train of thought makes the gasps more ragged, and the tears that escape my eyes, seem to burn my cheeks.

Perhaps more worrying than the nerves that quickly enveloped me as the conversation progressed, is that I didn't even recognize him.......there was no name recognition, no vague sense of familiarity.....nothing........

We were loading the evidence onto a forklift truck and he asked if we had worked together before........

It wasn't an odd question, there are a lot of cops, even in NYC....it’s easy to cross paths with someone and not remember them........

I didn't even look at him, not really, just a quick glance in his direction and a non-committal, “Probably!”.

As far as I was concerned, that was the conversation done.

I wonder if Carisi noticed how I stopped dead, when he asked if I had ever worked in Atlanta PD?

This raised my head, I really looked at him, but he still didn't look familiar........

“Eh......yeah”

“Sex Crimes? Robbery, Homicide?”

The voice that whispered, “sex crimes” wasn’t my regular one.........

“What did you do?”

I know he was still trying to place me, I could see him trying to join the dots, but the nausea swirled in my belly......

Once more the voice that answered wasn’t really mine...... “Detective....”

“What’s your name?”

I looked around, not sure if I was checking I wasn't alone, for safety, or in the hopes I could escape this conversation.........

“Rollins”

I could see the pieces fall into place for him, and he started grinning.......”That’s where I know you from........I was in on that Scott case.........”

That was enough to send the contents of my stomach hurtling for my throat. I swallowed down quickly.....my heart rate multiplied, my body started sweating despite the night chill.

The case itself was a big one, memorable for the multiple jurisdictional investigation, the fatally injured, sexaully assaulted woman, that turned into multiple murder victims, but that is not why every cell in my body is rebelling....the Scott case means something else to me....that is when my life went in a direction I could never have anticipated.

He kept rambling about how we worked together for months, and now we had to ask each other if we had met before.....

He began to tell me how he started a relationship with one of the administration staff during that case, how he thought he would marry her, how he spent the next years commuting back and forward to Atlanta, as I fought off the memories of how those months, and the years that have followed, have gone for me......

I’m not really sure what the question was, something about Atlanta PD I’m assuming, but somewhere deep in my brain, the polite switch had flipped and I found myself answering with a soft.....”Yeah, I left there soon after you did......I had problems with one of my colleagues.........”

I’m surprised at this admission. It wasn’t particularly warranted....but yet I found myself volunteering the information that not so long ago, would have been desperately hidden, no matter how directly I was asked about it.

I wonder if it is because of the “Me Too” campaign that those words slip so easily off the tongue?? I’m almost shocked at how easily I admitted what was, for so long, a deep, dark, secret.......

He looked at me, he didn't seem surprised.......or maybe he just didn't understand.....or care.......

He kept talking, telling me about the eventual breakdown of the relationship begun in the short months we were working together, telling me about the terrible health problems he has faced and the new lease of life it gave him when his recovery was better than expected...........

I listen, to the last few years of his life summarized in a simple phrase...........”I’ve been to a very dark place....”

My stomach was churning, and I was struggling to hold back tears.....I wanted more than anything to add...”So have I!!!” but politeness or some misplaced sense of self-effacement stop me from what feels like such a self-important pronouncement......

Why is it perfectly acceptable for him to say such a thing and I accept it as truth, but I would see the same statement from myself as self-importance???

This “politeness” , this “not wanting to cause a fuss” flashes me back again, all those years.......to when I was battling internally, between needing help, and not wanting to be the cause of ......trouble.......

I start to shake gently.........have I really changed at all??? Or would I still let someone hurt me, and say nothing????

All pretense at strength crumbles, as my head lowers to the steering wheel and the dam breaks...........

It is like I couldn't actually really live the experience, as it happened, and only now, when I am removed, and safely ensconced in my car, can I step back through the events of only about an hour ago, and really feel them.

He made some comment about “being so much further ahead than when we last met.....” and I questioned it.....”Are we really any better off now?”

This got his attention.......”You don't really mean that......do you?”.

He really looked at me......like he was looking into me..........

I got uncomfortable, and shrugged.......

I don't really know where the conversation went, I zoned out........but I was vaguely aware of Carisi being sucked back into the exchange......I know I nodded along at what felt like the correct times, but I didn't consciously participate for a few minutes........I’m not sure how things got back to Atlanta, but all of a sudden I found myself admitting how ostracized I became when a version of events became common knowledge.......

“Nobody wanted to work with me......my reputation was dragged through the mud....”...I point to a couple of people in the middle distance, my team....”Those people welcomed me, looked out for me...”

As always, I felt the need to mitigate my words.........

“But I can understand that........people weren’t there, they didn't see everything.......I can understand it is hard for people to picture someone they know.........”

He nodded slightly.....almost like it was the expected response he was giving me, rather than an honest one.............

But then he thoroughly surprised me...........

“No! I don’t really! I don't know, I can’t know, what it is like for women to work in this industry...........”

I don't know how my face betrayed me....

I think my jaw dropped.......

“It’s only in the last couple of years, I’ve realized how badly we speak to the women we work with...........”

This was almost the point that I lost control........frantically trying to distract myself with shoving another load onto the waiting forklift........

Now as I sit sobbing all over my steering wheel, all I can wonder is if he was remembering.........

If he actually remembered the things he heard, the things he saw?

Did he remember .............???

“My outfit would be lucky to have you.........if you ever wanted a change, they’d jump at you!”

He seemed to be sincere but it felt hallow........he doesn't know how good I am.....only that I’m still working.............

His phone blared into the momentary lull in the conversation.......and I grabbed a hold of Carisi’s arm.......as he turned away to address the call.

Carisi looked at me, his eyebrows knitted in confusion.......

“That case........was when I........when.......”

I could hear the panic in my voice, and I hate how weak I sound as I plead with my colleague...........I’m not sure what I want from him, but I need something....some sort of understanding or reassurance.......or just to know that I’m okay.

“That case was when everything happened with Patton........”

Carisi nods softly, understanding quickly replacing the concern on his face......

I never really felt threatened, it is hard to explain........the man we were talking to was a terrible reminder.......a human portal to a time I wish I could forget.......but somehow knowing that my colleague understands the difficult emotions involved in a simple conversation makes me feel safer. Whatever it is that has me shivering and swallowing down nausea, won't be allowed to happen now........

“What is his name?” I asked, looking around, knowing how odd it sounded......

“I didn't recognize him!” I admitted quietly.....”Not even that vague feeling of having met somewhere before.........”

How could I not remember him???? It feels like such a huge gap in my personal safety protocols.........

This man is no threat........he never was........ so why does it feel like such a huge safety failing that he went unknown????

But once the thread has been pulled it is almost impossible to stop the momentum, and my mind conjures up the face that sets all alarm bells ringing.......

I’m not sure when the features became so blurred, so as to be unidentifiable.......to anyone but me, it is nonsense but even in this form, the threat, the danger makes me freeze.

I have seen him quite recently........I know what he looks like.........so why is his face so hazy.........

I’m exhausted.......not just by the long hours of the previous days, but by the difficult emotions of the last hour.........I need to sleep, but I know this is one of the night’s that sleep won't come easily......if at all.......

I jab the key into the ignition, trying to rein in the internal tumult as easily as I brush back my hair.......not acknowledging the tears that still cascade down my cheeks.

It is ok!

I’m ok!

I keep muttering this mantra to myself........

As I drive home, grateful for the darkness that hides the teary red eyes from the world, I wonder if it is progress, that I know sleep may not come easy tonight.......that things may be hard for a few days......maybe even a bit longer.......but that it will eventually pass.

I won’t forget what happened, it won’t hurt any less...........it just won’t be at the forefront of every thought..........

I met someone tonight, who I haven't seen since Patton hurt me....he most likely wasn't aware of the events he reminded me of......maybe in some way he even validated my memories.......he wasn't shocked at the "problems" I mentioned. He even made a comment about understanding in more recent years, how badly women in the industry are treated.......surely there is some sort of corroboration, even support in those words......?

There will always be reminders........ghosts of a past long gone.....difficult dates........surprises that leave me raw and emotionally battered....like tonight....but it will get better. Sometimes the ‘ghosts’ are predictable and foreseeable, sometimes they appear, unannounced, in the middle of a sunny day......like today......

It sounds trite........it sounds like the most clichéd thing possible.........but I survived.......and I’m going to be alright...........even when the tears are still warm on my face, and the fear is still curled deep in my belly I know I’m going to be okay..........