Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Veterans Day Project for Newsweek

In October, I was approached by an editor at Newsweek to rewrite an old (lousy) blogpost of mine, concerning PTSD and nightmares for a Veterans Day project. I nearly deleted the email, thinking it was spam, but as I reread my post, I was horrified by how bad my writing was and had actually been considering using that memory in my Journalism class this quarter. One of the stipulations was that I would be video recorded and the piece needed to be two to three minutes in length, or roughly 300-400 words. No problem--all of the crap was cut out, and a thought or two was kept, reworked, and completely rewritten. 

Here's the text:

The young boy watched me watch him. His eyes were black like the barrel of the AK47 in his right hand. He was lifeless and still like a four-foot-tall postcard, and looking through his eyes, I saw panic erupt from the petrified hollow of my mouth.

The cold sweat isn’t cold when writhing convulsions shake you from sleep. Or when the lungs contract from the repeated attempts to scream. In the despairing moments before waking, there are no sheets covering the body lying next to the spouse; there is no light or darkness in a room that ceases to exist; there is only recognition and exhaustion before the mind erases all but a single frame of that breathless night’s quiver.

I was not afraid of the two-dimensional boy wearing a dirty, white man-dress and carrying a cardboard machine-gun; I was terrified that his world had followed me home.

Months had passed since I was the overgrown boy in dirty combat boots stomping across the threshold of another man’s home. Now the favor of intrusion had been returned. But the postcard apparition in the corner of my kitchen did not move and neither did the gruesome and contorted face of my dream self.

And then I was awake; rigid and ashamed in my wife’s loving embrace, I felt like I had been rescued but not saved from the boy’s taunting, inevitable return. In watching him, I was watching myself remember every moment I, like the boy, had entered uninvited into the lives of the occupied. And as I watched myself, frightened and mute and held captive to the hell of a chemically induced sleep, the cold sweat disappeared and the images my mind created faded until finally, the boy was gone.