|shell-shocked or shell·shocked (shlshkt)
1. Suffering from shell shock.
2. Stunned, distressed, or exhausted from a prolonged trauma or an unexpected difficulty.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Overall, the break for Christmas and the New Year was wonderful. I got to see my niece walking at 9.5 months, spend heaps of time with my sister, reacquaint myself with my brother-in-law and enjoy the sight of the dogs going mental on the beach. With the sad exception of my brother and his girls, I got to see everyone in the family. This is a feat in itself due to the fact that my sister lives in North Carolina, my dad in Laos, mum at the South Coast of NSW, and my stepmum in Sydney.
Last Christmas was a disaster. It was one of those Christmas’ I’d always heard about but never experienced. Suffice to say, my mother didn’t speak to me for almost three months following. I was nervous leading up to this Christmas. The trajectory of my thoughts always led me to sing the first phrases of Wham’s “Last Christmas”
Mum and I did have a pretty big blowout. Ever since last Christmas (insert George Michael here) when I jogged her memory, leading her to tragically and dramatically rediscover that I am in fact NOT a burlesque dancer, our relations have been strained. Despite all that, my anxiety was more focused on seeing dad this year. My dad is a great person. He is kind, gentle, bi-polar, manic depressive, fragile, sensitive, academic, volatile and was once the most materialistic buddhist I’d ever met. He is a classic philosopher. One of those that will always mourn the state of the human race, and anguish over the rise of capitalism and greed. He sees little hope for us humans, but his face brightens and he becomes jovial when he talks about his dog back home in Vientienne – King KiKi.
While dad was there, mum took off to Sydney. My boyfriend drove 10 hours to come hang out with my family and meet dad. Eeeek! One night we went to the Bateman’s Bay Boathouse for the best fish and chips I’ve had in memory. My sister and I left the table and went outside to keep the baby occupied and left our partners to fend for themselves with dad. He has mellowed out over the years. There were no interrogations or lectures reported. My boyfriend did tell me that someone in the kitchen just behind our table dropped something that made a loud, metallic bang. Dad almost hit the floor. Literally.
I have seen this once before. When I was about 15 and my sister 18 at the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney. We were pleading with dad to take us closer to the action. He kept saying no and trying to divert us, but we were persistent. Reluctantly he led us closer to the noise and light. The streets of Sydney were vibrant. The fireworks were beautiful, raining glitter on the cityscape. One extra loud BANG and my dad went down. Forehead to the pavement, hands shielding his head. He remained there for a few seconds as people walking by turned their heads to look at him. It was heartbreaking. I held my breath. My heart expanded in my chest. Time froze. All the peculiarities, flaws and eccentricities of my father were explained in that moment. The feelings we had as kids when he picked us up every second weekend, not knowing whether he would be up, or down, manically happy or manically depressed, were, in that moment, compounded and magnified til I had a roaring deafness in my ears. How could we have been so stupid and selfish? I felt my sister and I had spent the years rolling our eyes at him, instead of responding with compassion. We couldn’t cope with his suffering, so we made light of it to each other.
When my boyfriend told me what had happened I was driving. I kept my voice steady and as we had a conversation about it, the tears welled up. Once again I felt the guilt of having dismissed the horrors of my father’s life. He was 19 when he was drafted to the Vietnam war. He hasn’t told us much. He wrote me a letter once when I was 17, I read it once then put it in a box and tried to forget it. Because of my father, I will never regard the armed forces with anything other than abhorrence and anxiety. When friends join the army or navy, I feel saddened that they might one day be a part of activity akin to that which fucked my dad up for life.
I once danced for a guy who was a sniper. I can’t remember which war it was for. Pre 2009 is all I can be sure of. I am not up to speed with the when and who of war. This guy was strange. At first he didn’t tell me what it was he did over there in that mystery war. We debated about the legitimacy and value of the army. Of war. I was starting to get upset so I stopped talking and just listened. That is when he told me he was a sniper. As he spoke his eyes glazed over and he acquired the vacant, soulless look of a serial killer. I guess he was actually a serial killer, so it makes sense. He explained to me how it was that he felt justified in killing these people. He had never met them. They had never done anything to him or his loved ones. None of the reasons I could imagine being incited to such violence applied here. He killed them in cold blood because he was told to do so. That’s that. We left on good terms. I gave up arguing. He got to tell his story and be a hero in his own telling. The music of the club receded as a familiar roaring silence filled my ears and I crossed the floor, went out the backstage door, walked downstairs to the dancer’s toilet, entered a cubicle and cried silently with my hands over my face. Shell shocked.