Reid, the protagonist of If You Walk Long Enough, experiences his first brush with PTSD in this scene:
He stood, wobbled the length of the barroom, steadied himself against the counter, and left a disorganized pile of bills. He swayed a minute, balanced himself, and lurched through the door into the heat and glare. The door banged close behind.
Out on the highway, a car backfired, the sound diluted in late afternoon traffic. A motorcycle gunned past, straight pipes screaming. An eighteen-wheeler decelerated, jake brakes chattering down. The heat became hot pins under a fingernail.
Reid’s face glistened with sweat. He crouched and ran along the outside wall, veered to his left and dropped low, shielding his head with his arms.
A couple across the gravel lot stopped and gawked, then shrugged and continued walking. A man circled and knelt an arm’s length away.
“Hold on, buddy. You’re home. Hold on a minute.”
Face down, Reid felt gravel grind into his forehead and nose. The stranger moved closer, placed a firm hand on Reid’s shoulder, his fingers dug into the muscle.
“We got ‘em, buddy. We’re safe. Point man took ‘em out.”
Reid glanced to either side and pushed his face back into the grit. He moved his tongue in and out of his mouth, the copper smell of blood hung in his nostrils. He lay still, breathing hard. Somewhere in the lot, he heard a hot engine ticking. A truck crunched across the gravel and dieseled onto the asphalt. He trembled.
Shadows quivered before him. He blinked and pulled himself to a crouch and spat.
“Yeah, man. I’m home. I’m okay. Sun got to me.” Beer curdled sour in his mouth. He rose, rubbed his eyes with his knuckles, and stumbled toward his pickup. “I’m okay now. Too much light. That’s all. Too much light.”
The stranger moved back, but continued to drone, “Point man wasted them. We’re safe. We’re home.”
Reid sat for a time, eyes closed and gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white. He stared at the potholes glistening with oil and watched a woman walk toward him on a sugar-sand beach, barely beyond the ripple of waves. She wore a long tunic with side slits, an áo dào, and flowing quan trousers. She carefully stepped around the potholes, a braided rope of hair hung down her back. Through the window, she touched his face, hovered for a single breath, and dissolved.
“No sense going on. Gotta stop. Can’t live like this.” He opened the door, vomited into the gravel, closed the door, and sat, head resting on the steering wheel. Not until he felt his shoulders spasm from the strain, did he gather himself, turn the ignition over, and ease out of the parking lot.
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