B is for Battle

(Author’s Note: I first wrote this story in 1968. There was no Jack, just ‘the man’. He was not a police officer, just a Good Samaritan. The accident was a multiple car pile-up on 280 South, San Francisco, not the Marina District. Like Jack, he suffered tremendous guilt about his inability to save the woman in the car ahead of him when looters took advantage of the situation. I probably saw the accident on the news, and then my imagination took over. I tried to write this into the novel, but it works so much better as a backstory. Thank you in advance for reading it. Comments appreciated.)

If you were to ask Jack about his battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, he would probably shrug his shoulders, smile, and then walk away. Maybe, before he did so, he would offer, “Have a nice day,” depending on his mood, and what was bugging him, both externally and internally. After spending a lifetime deciphering premonitions or inadvertently reading the minds of others, he is tired.

In the beginning, he didn’t feel anxiety, just wonder. Now, the constant stimulus rips holes in his sanity. The first crisis happened on April 10, 2001, three days before Good Friday. He was twenty-five, cocky, a rookie for San Francisco PD, and eager to impress his superiors. It was his first Easter season as a married man, and his first child was on the way. It seemed especially poignant that year to celebrate. He was half-awake, half dreaming, when his Nokia screamed from the kitchen.

“Jack, what time is it?” said Meghan, starting to look like she’d swallowed a basketball.

“A little after 4:00 am.”

“Can’t you tell them to leave you alone at this hour?”

“Naw. I need to take this. I think there has been a car accident.”

“You can’t know that,” she grumbled.

“I know. Sorry.” He leaned over her and kissed her.

She quickly pecked back, then rolled over and cuddled into her pillow.

By 4:30 am, Jack was on his way to San Francisco’s Marina District not to check out a car accident, but to check out a complaint about altered manifests at Pier 64. It wasn’t something that needed to be checked at this hour. He understood it was a call for the rookie, but he was glad to be out on a fog-free morning before rush hour trapped him behind a snake of cars.

He exited King Street onto Third and as he did so, he glanced in his rearview. An eighteen-wheeler barreled toward him. The two trailers fishtailed across lanes on either side. Jack lightly touched the brake, hoping the driver behind him would take the hint and slow down.

He didn’t.  

As the driver lost control, Jack saw the front of the truck point east while the first trailer skidded forward, jackknifing the cab. The second swung toward him. Jack revved his cruiser, but just at that moment, a small car pulled in front of him, and he had to brake for it. The trailer kept sliding toward him, a groaning avalanche in slow motion. It shoved his cruiser into the small car. Jack saw the woman in the little car reach behind her at the same time that she tried to steer away from the inevitable nightmare crashing into her from behind.

Sandwiched between them, Jack watched in frozen horror as the chassis of the trailer subsumed the rear of his vehicle. The front of his car humped the vehicle in front of him, trapping the three of them in a bizarre ménage a’ trois of vehicles. He chuckled at the inevitability of death, and then the world went black.

He couldn’t have been out for more than a couple of minutes. Consciousness came haltingly, flashing vignettes of sound separated by the roar of silence: the inside of his head buzzed as if he stood next to a very active beehive, the blare of a car horn sounded muffled as if under water, a baby screamed in the distance. The vehicles groaned as they settled after the collision. The air was acrid with the stench of burnt rubber and oil. The sky was very blue. It hurt to look at it.

He tried unrolling his window. It worked.

“Hey,” he yelled. The woman was slumped in the front seat of the car under his. Her hand hung out of the window and blood dripped from her fingers. She wasn’t moving.

“Oh, god, no. No,” he said as he tried to shove open his door. It wouldn’t budge. In the distance, he thought he heard sirens, but the wheels on the big rig were still rotating, so maybe he heard them squealing. He looked around for the truck driver, but there was no sign of movement in or around his overturned cabin.

He wiggled out of the window. It hurt to breathe and he was dizzy but he had to get to the woman in the car under his. He was sure she had a baby.

As he dropped to the pavement, a wave of nausea hit him at the same time that a volley of bullets hit his car. Had he still been in it, he would be dead. He crawled to the car in front of him, but another volley of bullets flew around him. One of them grazed his head and he felt a flame of pain before the world blacked out again.

The next time he woke, he squinted against the brilliant white glare of lights in a room. An annoying beeping noise pummeled the air to his left. The top of his right hand stung as if a giant grasshopper had clamped its chomps into it. He stared. A bandage held a tube in place.  

“Welcome back,” said a deep voice.

“Where?”

“Mission Bay.”

“The lady and the baby,” said Jack as he struggled to get up.

“Hey, hey,” said his partner. “Your wife is on the way. We don’t want you mangled any more than you already are before she gets here.”

“God,” said Jack, as he sank into the pillow. “Did the mother in the car – ?”

“No. She took a bullet.”

“Oh, god,” said Jack. She needed him and he couldn’t get to her.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” said his partner.

“The baby?”

“Social Services until we can locate family. He’ll be fine.”

“Shooters?”

“Didn’t get them all rounded up. Bunch of thugs taking advantage of the situation. The truck was full of computer parts.”

Jack whispered, “Shit.”

“Yeah. The law of the jungle.”

A month later, Jack was still fighting to get out of that car. Every night he woke his poor wife and ruined his own sleep. PTSD was the diagnosis.

Six months later, the nightmares had settled into sporadic stress-induced seizures of anxiety. Visions of death and mayhem hit him like the bullet that grazed his head. He battled them by counting to nine, washing his hands, or tapping a pencil until he drove other people nuts, especially his wife who saw him at his lowest. At least twice a week, she found blood on the sheets under his pillow where he’d cradled his hands, after biting his fingernails to the quick.

On those mornings he’d ask, over and over again, “Are you going to leave me, Meg, are you going to leave me?” until she screamed at him to shut-up.  

By the next year around Easter, the shrink, hired by the precinct to work with him, declared he was suffering with OCD. He had always been open to psychic information, but now the errant thoughts distracted him. His job performance was suffering; his marriage was suffering. Trapped in a constant battle, he was the only one that could fight it. OCD was a demon, driven by its own sick need to exist. There could only be one victor between them. OCD could win and Jack would live a life of torment in Hell, or he could fight with all he was worth.  

Fight or give in.

There was really only one choice. With a son gracing his life, he would battle until he was victor.

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