August, 2014: I awoke one morning to the silhouette of a man entering my room, screaming, with a gun drawn on me. There are no words to describe that moment other than terror – stark terror. My hands are actually beginning to shake as I type this. I’ve relived that moment more times than I care to. My first thoughts were fear of being robbed and shot. All I wanted to do was comply, but I was too confused to know what to comply to. All I had to go on was a large silhouette in the doorway of my very dark bedroom with a flashlight mid-mass and the yelling voice of a man. I raised my hands in submission, hoping to buy some time to figure out what was happening. The yelling continued – it seemed like hours – as I evaluated what I had of value to offer in place of my life. I begged for my life. I pleaded for this assailant not to shoot me. But, all I heard coming from my mouth was a jumble of gurgled syllables that didn’t even sound like English. Eventually, he turned on the light. It was a North Little Rock police officer.
Quick background: I worked nights at the time. It was around 10:30 am. My wife had left out to run errands with our only child at the time. The house should have been empty aside from myself. The door apparently didn’t latch shut when she left, eventually easing open and setting the house alarm off. I am a light sleeper, and struggled with sleeping during the day. So, the solution was foam earplugs (that I crammed deep into my ears) and a box fan for white noise. That made me deaf to anything happening outside my bedroom, including the house alarm. The police responded to the alarm. I am sure that they announced themselves as NLRPD loudly and often while inspecting the house. But, I never heard it.
In fact, my day started with loud knock at my bedroom door. My waking thoughts were wonder of why my wife or daughter (whom I thought were there, but weren’t) would be beating on my door instead of coming in the room. My response was a very sleepy and agitated “What?”
When he entered, everything spiraled into a chaos and fear I had never before experienced. After the light came on and I realized he was a police officer, I actually almost relaxed. Then it occurred to me that he had never lowered his weapon. At that point, I told him I had earplugs in and couldn’t hear what was going on. His response to that was to begin yelling “Don’t move! Keep your hands where I can see them!” I truly don’t recall having ever moved them. And I doubt that I did. My fright returned. All I really wanted was to be compliant. But, I was really concerned about clarity of hearing. I did request to take the earplugs out again. The yelling continued. Oh, the yelling continued. Over and over, “Don’t move! Keep your hands where I can see them!”
The mind is not designed to process this amount of stress. In fact, it is designed to shut down certain higher functioning parts so that it can process more basic self preservation functions better. We call it fight or flight. Reflecting, it’s an absolutely fascinating process. But, in the moment, here’s what it looks like: There was a point where I had decided that he was looking for a reason to pull the trigger. I understand that probably isn’t the case now. But, bear in mind, my higher functioning processes aren’t working at that time. You know, like the reasoning skills. I’m a generally rational person and relatively intelligent. But, once it became clear in my mind (at that moment) that he was intent on killing me, two thoughts flowed through my mind very vividly. The first was that I wished my pistol wasn’t locked up, so that I at least would not be so completely defenseless. The second thought was that there was cardboard in my window to black out the room. If I could clear the bed with enough force, I could make it through the window and the cardboard would protect me from glass. And, if I’m fast enough, I might even make it without getting shot. At that point, I just had to dodge through shrubbery a short distance to the end of my house. Once there, I could jump the fence and run through the creek to safety. Surely, I would encounter another cop that wouldn’t shoot me. It never occurred to me that I was entertaining this whole scheme in my underwear, in broad daylight. Fortunately, his partner finally came in and de-escalated him and I lived to tell the tale.
I had originally written this as a FB post during a time of a lot of tension to give a personal perspective on why people seem irrational during duress – because they are. It’s not meant to be a defense of behavior, but a promotion of understanding. That still applies, so I copied it and modified it a bit. Keep in mind that some kids coming into care have lived this exact hell as recently as the hours just before entering our homes. I now know, intimately, what post-traumatic stress is. I went through a long time where I was only getting a couple of hours of sleep a day for fear of awakening to that nightmare again. I would have to catch up on sleep during my off stretches when I could sleep at night. For a while, when I did sleep during the day, it was on the couch. No more earplugs or fan while sleeping. Ever. When I’m home alone during the day, I still make sure certain doors are closed depending on what part of the house I am in so that I will know when one opens indicating a person’s presence.
I don’t know what the “right answer” is for these kids, but I know we have to examine our expectations. It’s hard. And we have to be able to help them process this stuff, not shut them down.