Trauma is a special kind of insanity as each day the mind (dis)members what remains and reconstructs a “New Normal.” In the months following the loss of my son I continued working as a trial lawyer; incredulous that I now lived a story so foreign to my former life. I wrote other people’s stories; told other people’s versions of “who dunnit” but I had the right to remain silent. Didn’t I? I stood at the podium, my heart ticking loudly like a bomb. The room spun. The judge’s voice faded to white noise as I detached from my body barely registering the chain of inmates, the deputies on guard and the chatter, chatter, chatter of butchered words.
For seconds I drifted into a thin gray space then slammed back, stunned and shaken.
“What happened?” the cardiologist asked me the next day. After I nearly fainted at the podium I made an appointment to have an EKG. I was the fittest person I knew, weight lifted regularly, never ate a “bad” carb. “Are you under a lot of stress?” the doctor continued. “Because it’s not uncommon for people under extreme stress to have severe panic attacks.” He prescribed a heart monitor (the irony was not lost on me). I now wore my heart in a box, on the outside of my suit. Wires sucked my chest.
And yet I still tried to do my job: suit (check), court (check), jail ….(f**k!)
Visiting inmates in The Lower Buckeye Jail is a special kind of job hazard; the cells are underground. Access is through a tunnel. The elevator to reach the cells is padded. There are two. The first chamber drops attorneys into a long windowless corridor of white linoleum tiles. It reminds me of a scene out of the movie, Boys from Brazil; there is an old fashioned phone stuck to the wall at the end of the hall “in case of emergencies.” The “emergency” is being there in the first place. The second set of elevators opens into several connecting hallways with locked steel doors. Behind those are my clients.
I started “visiting” inmates through a television monitor because stepping into a padded elevator was no longer something I could do. It wasn’t part of my “New Normal” because frankly it was never part of my “Old Normal” and now that I wore a heart monitor the box went crazy when I stepped inside the vault. I was a “liability” because I now wore my heart and my insides were reflected on my outside I was no longer “allowed” to enter into a dark, heartless hole.
“I have some good news,” the cardiologist reported after thirty days. “No major issues with your heart. You won’t need surgery. But there is some unexplained liquid surrounding the chamber, a small leak, as if something inside seeped out.”