I know it isn’t there. I mean, logically I know it isn’t back there, but sometimes it is. Just a blur of color in my rear view mirror catches my eye just right. The panic hits immediately and causes me to jerk all of a sudden. That trailer isn’t back there, but sometimes, somewhere deep in my mind, it is.
Late in 2017, one of the manufacturers that I represented entered a new market. Long story short, I soon found myself towing a trailer that was 16’ long and was about 6,000 pounds of demo equipment. It was the extended height version and had an air conditioner on top of that and it was so hard to drive. On the interstate when you passed a semi truck, the wind would suck you toward it, then suddenly push you the other way. You had to truly drive at all times. The days I had it with me, I was completely drained by the time I arrived where I was spending the night. I drove with that trailer behind me for more that 17,000 miles in about 8 months. I slept in shitty hotel rooms because the don’t have truck parking at decent places. I learned to carry a comforter with me to cover the bed.
But I didn’t grow to hate it until I had a blowout at interstate speed. Coming into the Birmingham area, I was in the far left lane of the interstate because of the merging of interstates when one of the left tires suddenly blew out. When it went, I suddenly shot to the right across 5 lanes of traffic and onto the shoulder of the road. All I could see were the concrete barricades coming at me. As I tried to keep from hitting the median will, we suddenly veered back right and I finally regained control.
I pulled off on the next exit. When I looked down, I was soaked in sweat, shaking all over and scared to death. “Holy shit I almost died. Holy fuck I almost died”. It took me more than 30 minutes to calm down to where I could get to a place where I could change the tire.
Sleep was nearly impossible that night. Every time I would start to doze off, I would violently jerk awake flailing because I felt the trailer behind me. If I did manage to sleep, I dreamed about blowouts and would wake up covered in sweat. The bad part was, my week was just getting started. This was one of those weeks when I needed to be in Birmingham, but I also needed to be down on the coast. So I did both. As I drove to Mobile, I spent the entire 6 hour drive constantly checking the trailer. I turned my side mirrors down so that I could see the trailer tires at all times. My anxiety was through the roof and was truly terrified every mile I drove. It was on that trip that I grew to hate that big black trailer.
That thought from the previous night tumbled in my head over and over “you almost died.” Over and over and over and that was enough to get my brain started. “You almost died. You almost died. All that equipment behind you will rip out of that floor and through the thin aluminum and is going right through the back of your head. No way I survive a crash with this thing behind me.” More and more the thought bounced around trapped in my head thanks to the O in my OCD. I couldn’t let it go.
I finished my week and headed back home. It was on that drive, after 3 days of “you almost died” in my head over and over, that it first started. “I almost died……but….would that be so bad?” Now the 2 thoughts tumbled together. The thoughts had me outnumbered and it would only get worse from here.
My thoughts changed from “would it really be that bad” to, “man, I wish one of these tree suddenly would suddenly fall across the road directly in front of me? That would do it.” I was no longer questioning if it would be that bad if I died, I was sincerely hoping for my death. Driving up and down two lane rural state highways I would try and will one to fall over. Fall mother fucker. Do it. Just fall. KILL ME! Readyyyyyyyy now. Damn. Pick out the next one.” Apparently, the force is not strong in this one.
Then it was other drivers. “Just slam on your brakes lady. No way could I stop from here. Those machines back there are going all the way through me. What a mess that will be. No way I survive any crash with that stuff back there.” Or “pull out. Just pull out in front of me when I can’t stop.” “End it. End it already, I am miserable. I can’t do this any more.”
The three thoughts turned to 6, turned to 12 and on and on they came. Over time, they would get vicious. Taunting me in my head with constant racing thoughts. It kept going for the next couple of weeks. “You miserable failure. Everybody thinks you are an asshole. You are too loud. You talk too fast. Customers don’t like you.” My weeks became torture and my weekends would consist of shutting myself into my darkened room in the basement.
I didn’t care about anything or anybody. Just completely sick and tired of my every day existence and I was miserable to be around. I couldn’t concentrate and made mistakes. Simple ones and every time I did, I freaked out. It only got harder and harder to concentrate. Nothing made me happy. Nothing.
A few weeks later I once agina needed to go to Pensacola. The morning I left, I decided at the last minute to just leave the trailer behind. I had it with me every day I traveled for three or four weeks in a row and I was just tired of it. Tired of my hands cramping from gripping the steering wheel so tight. That decision, at least knowing enough that I simply couldn’t do it safely in the state I was in. At least I knew that much to not hook up to that trailer. That decision saved my life. With that one lucid thought, “don’t take that thing, dude. Leave it here.”
As I worked my way through Alabama toward the Florida panhandle seeing customers along the way, I found myself on a rural 2 lane highway somewhere between Andalusia, AL and Pensacola, FL. I noticed I was paying attention to the trees that were flying by my windows and so close to the side of the road. “Man that is a big tree. That one would do the trick. No, there is a ditch in front of that would be a problem. It would knock you off course and you’d probably fuck this up too. Stupid bastard. Do you do anything right? Leave it to you to not get killing yourself right.”
Killing myself? Where did that just come from? Kill myself? Is that where I am? Holy shit, that is where I am right now. It is. I can’t do this any more.
Then there it was. No more than 10 feet off the side of the road. “Nothing in front of that one. Damn look at that.” I turned my head as I passed the tree. “It looks even better from this side. Turn around and go back.” 7 times I drove up and down that road. The first several trips were to look and make sure there was nothing in my way. Back and forth, back and forth, all of the negative rushing thoughts got meaner, got nastier and more hateful toward myself.
“Wait a minute dumb ass. You don’t have the trailer this week? You are going to fuck this up, aren’t you? What a piece of shit you are. “Wah wah, the trailer scares me, boo hoo. I am going to leave it at home because I am a pussy. Wah wah wah. Poor baby. You fuck up. All you are going to do is bounce off all those airbags and live. What then? A trip to the loony bin? Probably just going to paralyze yourself and just be a bigger burden. Where is the trailer asshole? We could end it right here right now.” I finally passed the tree for a final time, that goddamned tree and pulled over where I had been turning around and had the worst panic attack I have ever had. I was shaking, sweating, short of breath. I was hysterical. I didn’t trust me and what I just did.
“Your wife. Your kids. Your mom. Your mom can’t do this again. Get the fuck out of here. Drive, drive, drive.”
As always when I travel, I had my pistol in the console of my truck. I knew one thing. I didn’t trust myself. After I had gotten everything that I needed to have in my room, I took my keys and gave them to the front desk clerk and told her I had found them in the parking lot. I don’t know the code to the keyless entry on my door. I knew if I didn’t have that remote, I couldn’t open the door. Couldn’t get to my gun. For the first time in my life, I didn’t trust myself. I knew if I could get through the night, I could get my keys back and get back home.
That night, I curled up in the bathroom of some beach hotel in Pensacola with the lights out crying and that is where I stayed for the next 9 hours. I was petrified of myself and what I almost did. I was disgusted with myself, shamed and embarrassed.
It was the next week that I started my Partial Hospitalization Program. I have come a million miles from where I was on October the 12th when I walked in the door of the hospital. But the trailer is sometimes still there.
Like I said, every now and then, something will flash through my rear view mirror. Every time it happens it scares me .. Because I know. I mean I know. I know with 100% certainty had I had that trailer behind me on October 3rd, that is the date they would have carved on my tombstone. 6,000 pounds of equipment through the back of the truck. “What a tragic accident” they would say. There was 0% chance I would live through that.
Today, I had to run an errand that caused me to have to pull a trailer. I thought I was ok to do it, but I was wrong. The 7 miles I towed that trailer were horrifying. I sweated and had a death grip on the steering wheel. It bounced around in my rearview mirror and I could feel it behind me, pushing me when I stopped, holding me back as I tried to accelerate. And all I could think was “had that trailer been behind me on that day, I would have killed myself.” I know it in my heart.
Though very much lighter than the one I drove and a different color, the big trailer is all I saw behind me. I couldn’t get done with my errands fast enough and to unhook from that trailer.
When I got home, I had the first panic attack I have had in months and it was a tough one to get control of. A year later, that trailer still haunts me. Still impacts me and causes physical symptoms. I threw up in the driveway as soon as I stopped the truck.
But there is this. Not for one instant did I think about death, dying or killing myself pulling that trailer today. It was just the fear of having it behind me and the feelings that it brought back. To recall that darkness of trying to look forward to tomorrow but seeing nothing but black in front of me. I can’t go back there. I won’t go back there. “Do you hear me? I won’t go back there.”
Yes, today was a tough day and those come. It is not a setback, just something I need to be aware of. But I managed it. I handled it. I used the tools that have worked for me and won today’s battle.
Win each play. I have told my football kids that for years. I won today. I am exhausted. But today, I won.