When you’ve had a negative, traumatic experience, there will probably be times that the slightest thing will bring back that experience, even years into the future. That’s what is called a trigger…when something sets off a memory of such an experience. You don’t know when it will happen. It just happens. And the “traumatic experience” doesn’t have to have been first hand.
While reading the opening of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, that’s what happened! The circumstances were a bit different from what I experienced but it brought it all back. In the book, a driver in a Mercedes intentionally steers his car into a crowd of people waiting for a job fair to open, killing a number of people and injuring many. In July of 2003, I lived in Glendale, in southern California with my kids. My girls had gone to Santa Monica with friends. No real plans as to what they would do. They were just going to drive out to the beach and maybe walk around. I suggested they park the car and go to the Third Street Promenade, which was a very popular place for people watching and shopping and just hanging around. The Third Street Promenade is three blocks from the beach and is a section of the street, about two or three blocks wide that has been closed to vehicular traffic so people walk in the middle of what used to be the street and shop, eat, etc.
On that beautiful summer day, I was sitting at my desk, at home, writing. I had the TV on in the background but my back was turned away from it. Then there was a break in the program and I heard the news anchor come on and say they had a special report from Santa Monica. My ears perked up to listen but I didn’t turn to see what it was. He reported that a car had gone through the barricades at the Third Street Promenade and sped through, hitting pedestrians. I quickly turned to see the live footage they were running. My girls were there, I thought! My heart skipped a few beats! The footage being shown was horrific. It was pandemonium. Tears, blood, first responders, screaming. I called my son who was downstairs and yelled for him to turn on the TV. I was frozen. What should I do? What could I do? The girls didn’t have a cell phone with them, nor did their friends. I couldn’t check on them. A quick call to their friends’ mom told me she had not heard from them either and had no way of reaching them. More panic…hers and mine.
My son wanted to get in his car and go look for them but that would be crazier. I was sure he would not be able to get anywhere near the place. Then how would we keep in touch. None of us had a cell phone. So we sat and watched the news coverage, hoping to see one of the girls in the background so we would know they were okay. We waited to hear from them hoping they would find a pay phone and call home. The panic gave way to the feeling of being in a trance, waiting, waiting, waiting.
Eventually, the girls came home. It had been about an hour since we heard about the accident. They were fine. They hadn’t gone all the way to the beach. They had ended up having lunch which took longer than anticipated then they heard about the accident and came home. They were shaken by the whole thing because that’s where they were headed. I had their friends get on the phone and call their mom to let her know they were fine. Then they all stayed with me where I could watch them and know they were okay. We shut off the TV coverage and watched movies and tried to forget. I was more than happy to have my girls unscathed and home with me where I could see them. I kept them close to me that day and for many days after.
In the end, at the Third Street Promenade, 10 people were killed and 63 were injured. Far more were traumatized, even those of us just watching from home.
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