August 19, 2017

The clock on her dashboard read 11:27 PM. She smiled to herself, satisfied to have made good time on the drive home from the wedding. Though the party was still been going strong and there had been no signs of it slowing down anytime soon, Nora had reluctantly excused herself early, knowing that she had a long run to get through in the morning, just after sunrise. And so she had said her goodbyes, with plenty of hugs and kisses on the cheek left on the dance floor as she headed out to make the drive back to the city.

The lights and the jovial laughs faded into the distance as she pulled out of the drive and disappeared into the night. There weren't many other cars on the road at that hour; suburban life seemed to make sure of that. There was so much more space out here and it looked more like the childhood home that she had been raised in, but it was just so quiet, and years of city living had made that an oddity. She found a little more company on the interstate, but even that appeared to be fairly calm for the time being. With a favorite Spotify playlist going in the background, the drive seemed to go by quickly, so much so that she had been tempted to miss her exit if only so that she could enjoy a few more moments to herself, just her and the road. It wasn't long before signs for her exit began to appear, and so she followed them, eventually ending up on the familiar streets of Boston. Though their new apartment was only a few blocks away from their previous home, the West End was new and unfamiliar despite Nora's genuine attempts to go exploring every day now that she was starting to feel more settled in their new living space.

She turned into the parking garage and wound her way around the concrete walls and aisles so that she could find her assigned parking spot. Number 249. She pulled into the space and shut off the engine, doing her best to make sure that she was well-aware of her surroundings now that she was near home.

She grabbed her keys, phone, and purse, and climbed out of her car, carefully maneuvering her legs over the outside of the vehicle; getting out of a car in a dress meant taking extra precautions to ensure that a wardrobe malfunction didn't happen, even if she thought herself to be alone at this hour. She landed squarely on her feet, which are well manicured and don a pair of plain black flip flops. The cheap slippers were better for dancing than the heels that she wore for the wedding and were much easier for her to drive back home with without incident. She made sure she had all her belongings, picked up the black pumps sitting in the passenger seat, slung them over her shoulder, and locked up her car for the night.

The walk through the parking garage was quick and quiet. She heard nothing but her own footsteps and her own heartbeat pounding in her ears, and for that she was grateful. No other sounds meant that there was no one else around her. These days, she seemed to flinch at the slightest of sounds and movements. Always on edge, ready to run if needed, ready to defend herself if that's what it came to, even if she had no idea what she would do if she were actually in a situation that called for it. Her psychologist called it hypervigilance: constantly on the lookout for any threats of danger, hyperaware of her surroundings at all times. It wasn't uncommon for even the sound of a text message to set off her anxiety these days. It was tiring and draining but it was her new normal, one that she had to learn to live with while she worked on her own recovery.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder” was the diagnosis listed on her chart. She laughed bitterly sometimes when she thought about it, which seemed to be a new constant for her. She was a fricking trauma surgeon! She was supposed to help other people survive their own physical traumas! How could she do that when she couldn't even move past her own, when her own brain refused to let her process the events of that fateful night? That was the most startling and disturbing part of it all: she couldn't remember any of it. Dissociative amnesia, another phrase her psychologist had thrown her way. It was the human mind's way of protecting itself from traumatic events, he had explained, and though the memories could return eventually, that wasn't always the case. The notion that she couldn't recover her memory from that night and the days that followed was truly upsetting. How did her life end up this way? At what point did the universe think that all of this was something that she could handle? Forced to see a therapist before she could return to work as usual the hospital and out of work indefinitely until then, she suddenly had an overabundance of free time on her hands and no idea what to do with it.

She stepped into the elevator and breathed a sigh of relief as the doors closed behind her. She was alone again, but she felt safer, less threatened. Moments later, the doors opened again, this time leading to a winding hallway that would lead Nora to her apartment. As accustomed as she had grown to living in a real house over the past seven months, apartment life seemed to suit her, and she was approaching this new space as a clean slate. A fresh start where she could rebuild her life while her mind struggled to do whatever it was doing to protect her from harm.

She fumbled with her keys for a moment, trying to juggle everything she was holding as she worked her way into her own home. The apartment was quiet and she assumed that her roommate was already out for the night, so she made sure to be careful as she closed the door behind her and locked up for the evening. Nora took a few moments to set her belongings down and put them away lest she trip over them in the morning, then went about her usual nighttime routine. It was little things like that, rituals as meaningless as washing her face, that made her feel like her old self, and as she crawled into bed, she felt a glimmer of hope that all would be well again, and soon.