Walking through the fear; making a break for freedom

Day One – Friday, August 11, 2017

Maybe this is a kind of Break for Freedom journal. I am 63. There is no time to lose. Destroying my fear of going outside can never begin on a fear-free day. The fear will be there, like some kind of emotional fungus, and fungus is a bitch to get rid of.  I live with a brain injury and an ample dose of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) as a result of being held up and shot in the head in 1984. The bullet remains lodged in the brain.

I like to think of Nelson Mandela’s words about courage That courage a triumph over fear, not the absence of it. The exact quote is, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

I love Mandela. My guiding lights? Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Geronimo, Beethoven, Helen Keller. They all dealt with fear, and they all triumphed over it. I’m good on the role-model front.

But, here I am at 7:23 in the morning, preparing to go for a walk at eight. It makes me angry that this is terrifying for me. They use the word anxiety. Fine. But fuck that word. I’m afraid. I’m scared. I’m frightened. There’s no mystery to this. I long ago learned it is not weak to admit you’re scared. Were admitting it an act of weakness, why is it so hard to do?  I need to shower and go. I know I will shower again when I get back, but I don’t care. I feels better entering the fray, fresh and ready — sharp.

8:48 a.m. — I walked about half a mile: no dog, no music, no walking stick, no pepper spray. Just me. I came back my shirt soaked through with sweat, immediately drove to the store, picked up typing paper and a 64GB SanDisk. Now I am safe at home with Charley (my 10-year-old Black Lab mix).

Early in the walk I pressed the index, middle and ring fingers of each hand against the front of my thighs and kept them there. Feeling the muscles move and harden with every stride was comforting. I kept my fingers their most of the walk. It had not been a conscious choice. I just knew to do it; it happened; and it helped. Instinct. Perhaps the most precious gift life has to offer. It humbles me, this uncanny skill our species has for surviving, for keeping life, rather than relinquishing it, especially to a monster called fear.

Day one, under my belt. That this all occurred in under an hour blows my mind. It felt like hours. Now, Peter, breathe.

A couple of close-ups if you will. At one point, there was an inner dialogue, someone asking me, “So what are you so afraid is going to happen if you got out?”

“I’m afraid someone is going to kill me.”

“In Adams?”

To which, my unedited reply would be: “Listen, you stupid fuck. I wasn’t expecting someone to put a gun to the side of my head and blow my brains out when I was walking to work on a so-called nice block in Brooklyn. You let me know when you find a violence-free zone, you stupid shit, and I’ll move there. You think that’s strange? I met a woman who was sitting in a parked car in a nice community upstate, holding her baby, when a drunk driver crashed into her side of the car and her baby’s head was crushed right before her eyes. Like I said, you find me a violence-free zone and I’m in. In the meantime, shut the fuck up.”

I can tell you, this dialogue helped me cover a solid half block in distance. Imagination well spent. Tomorrow’s Day 2. I’ll see when it gets here.


For Chris Albee


My blood’s boiling

It is rare indeed when I get so angry the urge to be physically violent takes over. I got that angry (and then some) this morning when I read a Facebook post from the person I love and trust the most on the planet announcing he was on his way the VA Emergency Room because he’d received a letter from the VA giving him a hearing date so he can prove he is missing his legs. Michael Sulsona,a Staten Island resident, is a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran. A once (and always) United States Marine. He is an award winning playwright and screenwriter. He lost both  legs above-the-knee during the war in January 1971 when he stepped on a mine. Recently the VA has taken a merciless run at him and, no doubt, many others. First, it sends him notice informing him  it wants to reduce his disability because, it explains, he is only missing his feet. He recently quipped, “Hey, no one whose ever met me has called me the guy who’s missing his feet.” 

When it comes to veterans who’ve experienced the flat-out horror of combat, I don’t give a damn who you are; I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Libertarian, Independent, Tea Party, Coffee Party or no party, you (and I) are well-advised to show respect (I think most Americans do) and treat them with respect. Don’t even think about pretending you understand what they’ve been through.You don’t because you can’t. And, when you see any of them getting brutalized by the system, like the entire country is seeing now in the latest disgrace of veterans suffering and dying because of bogus Veterans Administration waiting lists, you should speak up.  Also, if you think the mistreatment of veterans goes on under this White House’s watch only, you’re dreaming. It’s gone on for years under Republican and Democrat administrations.

Were there justice for veterans like Michael, never again would they have to worry about receiving quality healthcare in a timely manner. Never again would they have to worry about having enough money to pay the bills and function comfortably in life. Never again would any of them find themselves in the humiliating position of having to prove the wounds of war, particularly when those wounds are so glaringly evident.